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June 01, 2011

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Gordon Cameron

I remember a pretty big "yeah!" beat when Sulu orders his ship to fire on Christopher Plummer in VI -- I think that was quite cheerleadery. Khan's death is more tonally ambiguous, and Reverend Jim's is colored by the much bigger emotion around the Enterprise exploding.

Now I have to go watch some football or something, in order to balance out the universe.... ummm, go team!

bill

So now you have to be a neocon in order to enjoy the deaths of fictional alien genocidal maniacs? Man, you guys don't have ANY fun at movies, do you?

bill

Not to mention, why do the mitigating factors of Spock's death and the Enterprise's destruction take away from the happiness the audience is meant to feel at the villain's death? Christopher Lloyd's death is constructed and written to elicite cheers. "I...have HAD...enough of YOU!" Kick, fall, lava, dead. It's so blatant as to be stupid.

And not only that, if mitigating factors count, why don't the death of Spock's mom and, you know, the destruction of his planet and most of his race count? More, even, than a ship blowing up.

Asher

I'm pretty sure STAR WARS is dire. And Dave Kehr agrees with me, which trumps the Abrams-basher's cite to some French sci-fi writer.

partisan

I don't really think either the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or the revived DOCTOR WHO are really trying to be badass or neocon in any real sense. By any standard the second BATTLESTAR was much more thoughtful and intelligent than the original, not the least by replacing the original clumsy robots with enemies were practically human themselves. If the ninth, tenth and eleventh doctors are occasionally ambiguous, so were the original seven. It would be hard to be find a more pacifist hero than the Doctor.

Also, GREMLINS 2 is actually one of the best summer blockbuster sequels, admittedly a not terribly distinguished genre. If not as good as THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or ALIENS, it is much better than INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM or indeed the original ALIEN.

christian

GREMLINS 2 is better than ALIEN?

MarkVH

FTR, MI-3 is a two-part episode of Alias. Abrams is a TV director through and through, for better or worse (some might say the former).

edo

"Lucas it was Brakhage, Belson and the underground movement."

Well, okay, so Lucas attended some of Baillie's first Canyon screenings and shot some stuff for Al Maysles and liked Brakhage... and then... he made STAR WARS...

And I sort of fail to see how Abrams's movies' screenplays are any worse than those for the STAR WARS franchise. I think they're quite superior in fact. In STAR TREK, the introduction of each new character through action - a demonstration of their talents, rather than a lot exposition or the kind of crude psychological shading we get in a film like, oh, THE DARK KNIGHT - is breathtakingly orchestrated.

That Fuzzy Bastard

GREMLINS 2 is *definitely* better than ALIENS. GREMLINS 2 is better than most things on this planet.

christian

Comparing GREMLINS 2 to ALIENS is like comparing SHAUN OF THE DEAD to ZOMBIE. I love G22 but it exists in a another film/genre universe. Oh, and it's a comedy.

edo

As a childhood fan of the Star Trek shows and films, I have to say I've never agreed with the idea that each new addition to the franchise should have to be faithful to, or, as expressed here, deeply engage with "Roddenberry's original vision". In fact, to my mind, the best Star Trek films - Nicholas Meyer's two entries, FIRST CONTACT, and the reboot - have been the ones that actively ignored it! I mean, Roddenberry wasn't God. Star Trek has grown beyond him, and that's perfectly okay.

Gordon Cameron

> "I...have HAD...enough of YOU!" Kick, fall, lava, dead. It's so blatant as to be stupid.

Hmm, forgot all about that beat. So yeah, rah rah Reverend Jim's death -- that's the tone they're going for.

Khan's death is weird though -- he's alone in his ruined ship quoting Melville, and he blows it up, and then it's all about the danger to the Enterprise. I mean, sure, he's the villain and you can be happy he dies, but anyway there's no specific beat where there's a rah-rah moment around it.

I guess the general idea here is that the Abrams movie undercuts the can't-we-all-just-get-along ethos of the original series and much of Next Gen, in which seeming villains often turned out to be just trying to defend their homeland etc. (Classic moment: Spock mind-melds with a murderous hunk of living concrete and learns it's a mother protecting its eggs! Seriously, I'm not being ironic. It's a classic moment! And Nimoy gives a masterclass in acting commitment.)

Abrams definitely pitched the thing more in rollicking-adventure mode, but I enjoyed it as far as it went. At least it felt like a movie more than like an extended episode, and Zach Quinto did a fine job of riffing on Nimoy. No question the screenplay creaked like hell in places, and Eric Bana's villain was a sort of vaguely angry nonentity.

Gremlins 2 better than Aliens? Well, that's an awfully apples-to-oranges comparison. G2 is one of those movies that wants to be smarter than itself, is too cool for school, etc., whereas Aliens just goes in whole hog. In my opinion, Aliens is a far better movie, though G2 has its moments. It's probably deconstructing lots of stuff and more fun to write about, but then, Aliens constitutes a wonderfully operatic take on motherhood, if you want to get all theme-y with it.

But were we referring to Alien or Aliens?

Kent Jones

Edo, at the Bruce Baillie/Apichatpong event, Baillie went into quite a bit of detail about Lucas financing alot of the restoration of QUICK BILLY, until he threw up his hands or something - it was unclear what happened, but the funding dried up. Also unclear is why the "master" was a Digibeta.

STAR TREK is "dire," "pandering," "depressing," "badassified," "Bauer-ized," and, my favorite, "neo(ret)conned" - whatever THAT means.

That's a lot of adjectives.

edo

I thought Bana was wonderfully entertaining in STAR TREK myself. A non-entity perhaps in the sense that there isn't much depth to his character's motivations. But STAR TREK is not meant to be that kind of film. Frankly, I'm tired of blockbusters that feel they have to be 'important' or 'deep' like Nolan's films...

christian

"Frankly, I'm tired of blockbusters that feel they have to be 'important' or 'deep' like Nolan's films..."

You should be thrilled then. Which ones are those besides Nolan?

edo

Let's see here, besides Nolan's Batman films and INCEPTION, there are:

THE HULK, V FOR VENDETTA, WATCHMEN, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (Ugh, Brett Ratner is the bane of my existence), X-MEN, X2, SUPERMAN RETURNS (though I think Singer's films are actually pretty okay at what they do), DAREDEVIL, QUANTUM OF SOLACE...

Shall I continue? Or is that enough for you?

edo

Oh, then there's also Paul Greengrass's entries in the Bourne trilogy.

christian

10 films over the course of ten years to represent the tidal wave of "smart" blockbusters, okay.

edo

Uh, that's more than ten films, Christian... I count 14 precisely. And why don't you add to that TERMINATOR SALVATION, THE INCREDIBLE HULK (the Norton one), THOR, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, the currently-in-production Wolverine film, headed by Darren Aronofsky, which practically guarantees it will take itself way way too seriously, and the currently-in-pre-production MAN OF STEEL, being shepherded into existence by none other than Chris Nolan...

But I also didn't say it was a tidal wave, nor did I use the adjective "smart". I don't think they're smart. The operative word is really "serious". These are films that load themselves down with all sorts of melodramatic weight and dreary portent...

edo

Yes, and then there's THE MATRIX trilogy, which practically gave pretentious a whole new meaning...

Scott Nye

Edo, man, I am with you there. Even the damn Transformers movies are overloaded with the hero's journey. Which is incidentally why I adore Abrams' Mission: Impossible III - it's breezy, simply-shot (by which I mean the cinematography is clean and effective; he presents the action compellingly without embellishing it), inventive-but-familiar spy stuff. And it takes some great shots at its own genre while it's at it, by not giving us the scene in which Tom Cruise breaks into some well-guarded lair to recover the Rabbit's Foot, only to have him reemerge and totally interrupt two characters are doing that fake-action-movie-bonding thing where the writers realize they haven't dedicated any time to them so one tells another a story from their childhood. All that AND they never tell us what the Rabbit's Foot is, which may come across as lazy writing, but to me read as the definitive example of the MacGuffin.

Abrams' Star Trek, by comparison, tries to have it both ways. When it's breezy and rolling, it's great, but Abrams lacks the capacity to take anything seriously when he should. When Spock's planet blows up, he (Abrams) pauses for a moment, then shoves it aside and continues. By the end, I was so totally disconnected from the final battle because Abrams effectively communicated that it didn't matter. I agree partially with the sentiment that reboots tend to be a little too gung-ho for their own good, and I don't even know Star Trek well enough to say he took it too far as an adaptation, but for a film whose bad guy is mostly just pissed that Spock ran over his wife with a black hole, it is pretty certain of who's allowed to push who off of a ledge.

I also really, really hate his use of lens flares. I know that's partially just a gut-level thing, and I get the motivation, but that doesn't mean they need to be in every damn shot.

And cultural influences aren't everything, until they show up in your work - the classics palpably affected Spielberg, particularly his period in the late 70s and early 80s, while Abrams seems very content just recycling the superficial elements of what his target audience is already familiar with. Spielberg's debt to Lean or Capra or Wilder or even Hitchcock wasn't just in that warm feeling in our tummy or the airtight suspense, it was in how to effectively tell a story with images or convey endless emotion with a single shot. Abrams just has not done that yet. And for something like Mission: Impossible III or even Star Trek if you're into that sort of thing, it's fine to be big and poppy and superficial, but I'm more than a little skeptical about this Super 8 business, which is supposed to be his big personal film.

Great list, by the way, Glenn. Interesting to trace Spielberg's development across it, too.

Jon Hastings

Hi Kent -

On "neo(ret)conned" - just a little joke on my part. There's been a trend over the last fifteen years or so in pop sci-fi and fantasy where characters and stories have been revised to make them more like Tom Clancy novels. I've seen it in Brian Michael Bendis' AVENGERS comics and Mark Millar's ULTIMATES comics, where the super-hero team is reimagined as a paramilitary strike force. It's at the heart of the reboots of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (which does go on to complicate matters quite a bit) and DR. WHO (which even features a monologue where the Doctor tells us, yes - he IS the most badass person in the universe). So, yeah - it depressed me that the guys who wrote the STAR TREK movie decided to follow along with this trend rather than buck it in a way that would have felt a bit more like Roddenberry's STAR TREK and less like a Mark Millar comic.

Mr. Ziffel

Glenn, I have no problem with you stretching the release date for THE ROAD WARRIOR; I must've seen it five times that summer. bill is right - it's an action masterpiece.

But no Romero DAWN OF THE DEAD? Seems like that one played almost all summer back in 1979. Audience reactions alone made it worth repeated viewings.

Other than that, great list!

edo

Last night, I found myself projecting MEN IN BLACK for a crowd of drunk college students. It holds up pretty well. Smith and Jones play off each other beautifully, and the supporting cast is just amazing: Rip Torn, Tony Shaloub, Siobhan Fallon, Linda Fiorentino, and especially Vincent D'Onofrio. Talk about a Marvel production that just has some fun with its premise!

"N-Y-P-D. Means I will KNOCK. YO. PUNK-ASS. DOWN!"

jbryant

edo: I thought Aronofsky opted out of the next Wolverine. Did he opt back in?

As for pretentious blockbusters, I think that a certain earnest "importance" comes with the territory, at least with comic book adaptations. Perhaps that's understandable when the stakes often include the potential end of the world and such. It may also be over-compensation for the unabashed silliness of people in tights flying around shooting death rays at each other.

edo

I just double-checked this, and you are correct, sir. I hadn't heard about it, but sounds like he left the project nearly three months ago.

edo

Yeah, I don't know about earnest importance necessarily accompanying the material. It's clear that the folks who made MEN IN BLACK didn't feel that way. Nor did Favreau's IRON MAN team. And I think Del Toro walked the tight rope between silly and serious quite well with the HELLBOY films, and even then his films are less self-important, and more just grotesque and disturbing.

All that said, the nicest thing about Singer's two X-Men films was that they tried fairly earnestly to imagine what the reality of being a mutant outcast in contemporary American society might be like. In the first film, those scenes between Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin are very sensitively performed. I think it helps that Singer brought some of his own experiences as a gay man to bear on the films. That said, he also had a sense of humor about it. The 'coming out' scene in X2 is pretty hilarious.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Yeah, the reason Singer's earnestness succeeds while so many others fail is that he actually draws on real-world emotions and events without confusing them with comic-book events, the way Nolan does. That's the difference between a pop artist and a special pleader.

jbryant

I don't mean to suggest that all superhero blockbusters are full of pseudo-significance, nor that they should be -- just that they do often reflect the material from which they're adapted, which, if anything, can be even MORE puffed up with "significance" (granted, I haven't followed comics for decades -- maybe they're all much snarkier and larky now). But the majority of comics I grew up with used humor mostly as witty quips the heroes delivered while battling villains, a nice respite from the overriding sturm und drang of their personal lives (especially in Marvel comics) or the prevailing evil threat of the moment. So it doesn't surprise me that MEN IN BLACK and IRON MAN feel more like exceptions to the rule. Can't wait to see what Whedon brings to THE AVENGERS; if anyone can find a balance on this issue, it's him.

Andrew Campbell

Must strenuously object to the exclusion of the 'original' BATMAN ( particularly when another '89 entry, GHOSTBUSTERS II, made the list. And even the 'argument' for it is almost entirely apologetic). BATMAN was a huge phenomenon- Burton's assignment heralded the 'egdy' property, Nicholson's perf set the bar for star-turns in blockbusters, Keaton's casting riled the geeks months before release- in pre-internet days, and WB's decision to shrink the video window heralded sell-through as a integral the film business.

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