This film was a real experience. As part of the “stunning visuals” I mention in my review, the stunning black-and-white presentation was a real surprise and metaphor in and of itself.
Very rarely does one come across a truly unique interpratation of the mermaid mythos. They usually fall into a trope of one sort: the sweet, feminine ideal; the monstrous siren; or some unsettling mix of the two. However, in Scales, Saudi Arabian writer/director Shahad Ameen explores the mermaid concept in a fascinating new way. Here is a depiction of mermaids as nightmares and deep-seated beliefs made uncomfortably real. The story, or what there is of one, takes place in a dystopian landscape and commences with the disturbing ritual in which the citizens of a fishing village must sacrifice one daughter to the “sea maidens.”
Between the new family in town, the somewhat-haunted forest, a local legend, one dying parent, an estranged relationship with the other, and running away from home, one might expect The Water Man to feel like a bundle of strewn-together clichés. Instead, David Oyelowo’s directorial feature debut is a well-paced and cohesive expedition into that strange and wondrous place where imagination meets reality…
I enjoyed “The Water Man” tremendously – even if it made me a bit misty-eyed.
I am really looking forward to whatever David Oyelowo is planning to do next!
One of the unexpected delights of working on a podcast has been creating the audio previews. I enjoy making captions anyway – even for my professional video work – and mining each episode for snippets, choosing backdrops, and creating these little sneak peeks is way more fun than it should be.
Our listenership is small at this point, but I’m having a blast with the project, and it’s proven to be a healthy distraction during such a turbulent year, which, in my estimation, deems it worthwhile investment.
That said… [shameless plug incoming]…if you haven’t checked out the podcast but have even a smidgen of interest in Stranger Things, 80s pop culture, nerdy stuff, or intellectual tv/film analysis, wander over and check out Coffee & Contemplation!
I’m a podcaster! The first episode of my new podcast, Coffee & Contemplation is now live. It’s a journey back through the world of Stranger Things from a post-season three perspective. Expect spoilers, in-depth, close readings of the story and technique behind the series, and gushing over our favorite moments and characters.
I have been a fan of Veronica Mars since 2006, when it moved from UPN to the CW to launch its third season. I’d noticed the occasional TV ad for it and became genuinely intrigued by the concept of a snarky, female Private Eye, balancing espionage and freshman year of college. Veronica struck me as a capable protagonist, sturdy in her lead role and fit to carry a show. I was still settling into my junior year of college at the time, so I was slightly distracted, but I made time for TV that Tuesday night and when Kristen Bell’s voice kicked in with her opening narration, I stuck around.
Here it is: first day of college. What do you say, Veronica? New school, fresh start…how about you try not to piss anyone off this time around?
I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but I watched the whole season and when it ended, I realized that somewhere along the line, I became hooked and felt the stirrings of fan-outrage over its cancellation. The biggest disappointment was that the network left the story open-ended and inconclusive, characters and their arcs floating around in limbo. One could argue that it gave the audience the chance to interpret the ending upon personal preference, but that was not likely the series’ intention. And it showed.
To calm the growing sense of withdrawal, I rented the first two seasons. Imagine my astonishment at how much more there was to Veronica’s story; how much better those first two seasons were. Baffled, I couldn’t understand why the show had not gained more attention from the start. And even season three –– while sub-par compared to its two predecessors –– suffered poor ratings largely due to its Tuesday night time slot, airing against American Idol and House. This was 2006, when House was one of the hottest shows on all of television, following Idol, which had not yet grown to be old news.
I’ve remained a fan in the intermediate years, with the help of reruns on various networks, but I felt very much like I was part of a small group; none of my friends had even watched the series, there wasn’t a lot of buzz online, and I couldn’t find reruns anywhere. I eventually purchased the series on DVD and heard the rumors about a feature film, but I didn’t expect to see it happen.
Yet here we are, in 2014, eighteen days and counting until the feature film is released to the public; a film that got made by cracking every Kickstarter record on the books. The phrase, “look out, Veronica Mars!” is cropping up on fundraising campaigns all over the place now. The fanbase got the film made and everyone, including Rob Thomas, Kristen Bell and all the cast and crew are gobsmacked that there was a response so large.
And why? What makes Veronica Mars worth +$5.7 million? What is making 270 theaters release the film on the same day that it will be available to buy or rent online?
Is it the story? The series launches with the introduction of one sixteen-year-old Veronica, daughter of Keith Mars, Sheriff of Neptune, California until the murder of Veronica’s best friend Lily Kane changes everything. Keith wrongfully accuses Lily’s father of the murder and doing so leads him to lose his job and become the town pariah and Veronica, the school outcast. Veronica’s mother walks out on the family, leaving Keith to reinvent himself as a Private Detective and Veronica to hold her head high among her classmates. She goes to the end of the school-year party to prove that she is unaffected by her peers’ treatment…but she wakes up the next morning to realize that she has been drugged and raped.
And that’s just the pilot.
An overly dramatic premise? Undeniably. But it’s the smarts of how the story was presented that makes it work. Flashback is used to great effect, without being overdone and while there is a lot of exposition conveyed in the show, there could have been considerably more, but the writing expects its audience to be sharp enough to keep up and willing to play along, to accept the modern, noir-like tone. The focus of the pilot and the season at large, really, is centered on the relationships and characters. The story does dwell on the past, but always in a way that is relevant to the present; how they’ve dealt with the upheaval around them and the new patterns that they have formed in the disaster’s wake. Most significant here, is the long-established relationship between Veronica and Keith. Through it all, they have remained very close; Veronica has become his protege and they will protect one another, whatever the cost. Simultaneously, the new friendship Veronica forms with Wallace Fennel in the first few episodes becomes another anchor point of the series; soon, Wallace is her best friend and closest ally, through thick and thin.
Veronica herself is a firecracker, but she is also a teenager and the series never forgets that; nor does it beat the audience over the head with reminders, either. Veronica, too, is a great modern-day heroine. She’s sassy, tough and almost always able to hold her own against her many foes. At the same time, she wrestles with serious character flaws. She’s vindictive, headstrong and manipulative, and the people around often struggle to keep her in check.
When arguments happen, when lines are crossed, problems don’t just vanish into the mysterious void between episodes. Stories are entwined and while, yes, it does have the structure of episodic television –– including the one, big case per season –– it is, after all, a mystery show with a contemporary Nancy Drew at the center. In fact, it’s my personal opinion that Veronica may be the closest thing we have ever see to a female interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth; Wallace and Mac are, in essence, two variations on Dr. Watson to Veronica’s Holmes (and, for the record, I’d love to be wrong about that and see a female Holmes someday).
Veronica even slips into the cold-hearted aspects of Holmes’ personality upon occasion, with Wallace or Keith being the ones to pull her back to reality. She often takes them for granted and, more than once, they call her on that.
“You been paying any attention lately? I just learned my whole life is a lie… I’ve always been a shoulder you could lean on. You’ve given me no time, no sympathy. Nothing.”
(Wallace, Blast From The Past)
I could, very easily, go further about why I admire the series, expand on its uniqueness and –– eventually –– sum up to a simple explanation of “it’s just cool!” but the significance of this film is far bigger than the series itself, or even the cinematic continuation of it. This whole endeavor is the latest mile-marker on the digital frontier; never before has a US Hollywood Studio released a film in theaters and at home at the same time. It’s entirely possible that this will not be the last project to be produced and released in this way; but, again, apart from the simple fact that the show deserves this big break, why is Warner Bro.s willing to take the risk? How was such an achievement even possible?
Because it was possible; the reality is that the goal of Veronica Mars was actually within reach. Even at $2 million, the film could have gotten made. Sure, the extra $2+ million helped, but because of the setting, genre, time frame and the enthusiasm of those behind the project, it was 100% do-able. The fans out there scrambling for other beloved shows to get picked up again, but for them, a budget this size is just not realistic. Veronica, however, was within the realm of possibility and, rather than sit by, Rob Thomas and his team took a chance and it paid off. The time was right and this could, quite literally, be the starting point of a new branch of film and funding.
And still, in spite of my saying all that, I can’t help myself from adding that there really is something special about Veronica Mars. It doesn’t overreach and it doesn’t try to over- or under-estimate itself. It was “simple” done right. Veronica’s Neptune was a world I so enjoyed getting to know, as enthralling for me as Hogwarts or Gotham City. The film’s existence and upcoming release is a well-deserved accomplishment for the creative team. Whatever the outcome of the film’s quality, whether it warrants an Oscar or a Razzie, it got made and has changed the way the industry views crowdfunding. It’s one for the history books: Rob Thomas didn’t give up on his characters, the cast got behind it and the fandom spoke.
I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to a great many films over the last several weeks, so I’m going to provide succinct reviews for them in one go, rather than draw out long ones for them all. Although I might come back to some of these later.
Never Let Me Go. I was thoroughly impressed by this film. I’m surprised it didn’t get more attention from the Academy, considering it came out last year; I heard about it through my beloved EMPIRE magazine, and I’d seen it in other various entertainment magazines, praising the likes of Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield (post Social Network anyway) and Carey Mulligan. And they deserve every word of credit; they give wonderful performances (the best I’ve seen in a long while from Knightley), the cinematography is gorgeous and the writing is superb. The subject matter is directly addressed only once in the entire film and yet the level of intensity and heartbreak expressed throughout is astounding. It’s a film for which you definitely have to brace yourself, but it is well worth watching.
Winter’s Bone. Perhaps I’m just not indie-filmmaker-y enough to appreciate this film to its full credit, but, watching it, I just kept waiting for it to get to the action, the intensity, the core of the story. But it never seemed to arrive at it; the tone seemed fairly monotonous all the way through when, objectively speaking, the subject ought to have come over as very intense. I was impressed with Jennifer Lawrence, who leads the film in her performance. I expect that she is someone we will see again, often. She’s up next to play Raven Darkholme/Mystique in X-Men: First Class. I can’t wait.
The Duchess. The movie itself is pretty forgettable, but I was impressed with Keira Knightly in the title role. For all of her celebrity, she managed to deliver a very well-crafted performance. I don’t necessarily recommend the film, but it’s not quite so wholly bad as I had expected, largely due to Knightley.
Waking Sleeping Beauty. Any Disney fan should see this documentary. It’s impressive because it manages to tell the story of what was going on without bells and whistles, or any of the fanfare that usually gets thrown along with any Disney-flashback sort of film or featurette. They didn’t shy away from the realities that have been very-well hidden up until now. The fact that Don Hahn was able to do this really impressed me because I didn’t think the Disney company would let him get away with it. It’s not the best thing ever, but it’s very enlightening and very humanizing.
The Young Victoria. Another not-so-memorable film, but another example of why Emily Blunt is someone to watch. I look forward to seeing her career unfold.
Secretariat. One I intend to watch again, because it was not at all the film I expected. I can’t even say for sure whether or not I liked it; it’s not really about the horse at all. In fact, our leading lady doesn’t have much of a relationship with the horse. Or any horse for that matter. Based on just one viewing, I have to say that Seabiscuit was better.
Dorian Gray. I had only half-formed notions about The Picture of Dorian Gray, both the book and the various film adaptations of said book. I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by the story, by the mystery of it, and the fact that it’s not entirely clear in any version (save maybe the book) what, exactly, happens to the main character. My expectations were somewhat shattered when I saw this take on the story. It’s definitely more of a horror film, with very specific horror-movie gags and devices. I’m not sure how one would take this film out of context – probably not too well – but even in context, I was not entirely impressed. Big motivating factors for me to see it to begin with was Colin Firth and Ben Barnes’ involvement, both of whom do fine (and no one is surprised) but, again, not what I expected. In any sense. I have since picked up the book and found that it is entirely different in every way.
Coco Before Chanel. Very nice! It reminded me a lot of The Social Network, in the sense that while Coco Chanel was the creator of a huge movement in fashion, and she does create her business over the course of the film, it’s not really about fashion, the same way Social Network really isn’t about Facebook. It’s more of a love story and it’s beautifully crafted. I highly recommend this one.
The Oscar Contenders (albeit belated):
Black Swan. I liked it. I wasn’t quite sure at first, as it sort of leaves you feeling perplexed after first viewing, but I do like it, overall. Darren Aronofsky’s style is definitely an acquired taste, but this film wasn’t quite as crazy as some of his others. It’s still marvelously intense, but not so much that you can’t still see the underlying story. What I like about it is that, while it is a modified, altered version of Swan Lake, it’s ultimately its own story. Nina is not really Odette, no more than Lily (or, likewise, Nina) is Odile. They all fit into the character archetypes, but, separate from the Swan Lake context, the story manages to stand on its own. Again, I liked it. But not everyone did. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it sort of deal, I think. But go in with an open mind.
127 Hours. I’m glad the film got as much attention as it did. Under normal circumstances, this might have gotten swept under the rug, but in the hands of Danny Boyle and James Franco, the one-man-show is actually quite an achievement of storytelling. It reminded me several times of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the abstract visuals of the dream state, both when Ralston is dreaming and when he begins to lose his mind. The inevitable scene of him cutting off his arm is wicked intense; not because there’s a lot of gore or blood, but because of the artistic methods they use to convey the pain (i.e. musical score, lighting, etc.). I was very impressed. Highly recommend.
The King’s Speech. This was my vote for Best Picture all along. I didn’t think it would actually win, but I was very happy when it did. I thought that the story was very powerful and very touching. I could ramble on and on about it, but I will just say this: it’s beautiful, moving, funny and sharp. If you haven’t seen it, please do!
I’m not much for sports. I’m still not much of a film festival goer either. I’d like to change the latter, but I do, at the end of the day, love the Academy Awards.
It’s not necessarily because of the spectacle or the showmanship of it, but usually it’s because there is a film or two that I am wholeheartedly rooting for. This year, however, was a great year for movies. The award season was incredible. I had seen way over 50% of the films nominated for Best Picture, and more than just a smattering of the films nominated for the rest of the categories by the time the Oscars got here. So, needless to say, I was very excited for the show this year.
Now that they’ve passed, I have to say that I was pleased with the winners, overall. On the whole, they were well-deserved. I was pleasantly surprised that The King’s Speech won Best Original Screenplay and that it beat The Social Network for Best Director and Best Picture, differing from the results of the Golden Globes.
The only part of it all that I found frustrating was the overrated treatment of Toy Story 3. I liked the film, but it was not on the same groundbreaking level as Pixar’s other films (especially not Toy Story and Toy Story 2). At the Oscars, it was not only unjustly nominated for Best Picture (while films like Shutter Island and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World were completely snubbed), but it won both of the other awards it was nominated for. It took Best Animated Feature over How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist, while it took Best Song over “I See the Light” from Tangled and “If I Rise” from 127 Hours. Even the clip from How To Train Your Dragon completely outdid the one they chose from Toy Story 3 (the magic moment when Hiccup extends his hand blindly to Toothless, vs. Buzz Lightyear turning into a Mariachi).
The song, meanwhile, was a joke; I was personally hoping “I See The Light” would win simply because I’m a simple Disney Girl at heart; I fell in love with Tangled and I am a huge fan of Alan Menken’s work with Disney. But when “If I Rise” was performed live, it was the clear winner.
Now, after fuming about all this for awhile, I realized that the Academy is probably doing for Pixar what they did for the Lord of the Rings films; they held off on giving all the awards it deserved until the end. In the case of the Toy Story movies, though, the third installment was NOWHERE near the quality of the first two. That’s my only consolation for it beating Dragon. The song, however, was unfair no matter how you slice it; “If I Rise” and, yes, “I See The Light,” were both better than “You’ve Got A Friend In Me,” from the previous Pixar films.
But I’m trying not to let these missteps of the Academy bring me down; I loved the introduction with James, Anne, Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the songs performed live, watching the children’s chorus perform “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I got a kick out of Anne Hathaway and James Franco’s hosting (though a little eccentric at times) and I’m thrilled for the entire production of The King’s Speech, The Social Network, 127 Hours, Black Swan… SO many of the the films were amazing this year. I’m ecstatic for Colin Firth; I’ve been a fan of his ever since Pride and Prejudice and I still say should have won the Oscar last year for his role in A Single Man, and completely deserved it this go-round for The King’s Speech. I’m so happy for him.
At the same time, Jesse Eisenberg’s performance was Oscar-worthy as well. One of the interviewers on the pre-show was interviewing him and made a comment that he would likely be back to the Academy Awards many times. I sincerely hope they’re right.
I am too much of a Harry Potter fan to give a normal review for this particular movie. So, based on what I’ve seen some others do, I’m going to proceed by laying down:
The Good – the things I enjoyed, loved and approved of
The Bad – the things that I disliked, did not approve of, could have done without or did not understand
The Ugly – the things that sucked, didn’t make sense, I personally hated and refuse to accept.
Before I move into those details, however, I want to make it clear that, on the whole, the film itself was, I think, a success. I think it may be one of, if not the best film in the franchise thus far. The choice to split the final story into two parts paid off; the details, nuances that cropped up throughout the film were all possible because the film had time to work them in. Even things that might have escaped the notice of people who didn’t read the books, they’re there for those of us who did (i.e. Hermione’s reference to perfume; the perfume Ron gave her for her birthday). I also firmly believe that the kids, the stars (Radcliffe, Grint, Watson, Felton, etc.) have never given better performances. They clearly handled this film (and, likely, its companion due out next year) with extreme care. It shows, and I, for one, am grateful.
I’ve heard several reviews that say the film is laden down with too much plot, too many devices, details and new information, but that’s hardly its own fault; the book presents all of those things originally. Yes, the book had more pages than the film has screen time, but considering how much the book introduces here in the home stretch, how many new things have to be incorporated and made known, it seemed to work well. Things got cut, and things got altered, but in ways that worked and, in the end, leaves us with a film that is gripping and heartfelt.
News that a fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise being developed and, eventually, planned for release in 2011, was – let’s be honest – hardly a surprise. The three films were massive in every way; in scale both on and off the screen, and financially, both in production and in the box office, despite the fact that films 2 & 3 (Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End) didn’t even begin to measure up to the first film, Curse of the Black Pearl. With the second film, you even see the beginnings of the three-word-title trend. Um, can I just ask, what was wrong with five words?
Don’t get me wrong; there are many things I enjoyed about. . . At World’s End. Okay, and Dead Man’s Chest, but you have to really want to see them, as the negatives really do outweigh the positives. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the first film hadn’t been so damn good.
So, despite the predictability of a fourth film, hopes were not especially high. Not for me. I had even hoped that maybe it was just a rumor.
But the official posters and the May 2011 release date were hard to ignore.
When I got word that the trailer had been announced, and posted on the world wide web, I decided to take a gander to see just what they were putting forth, what their gamble was looking like at first glance.
And, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Take a look.
While I’m not crazy about the premise, them searching for the Fountain of Youth (excuse me while I yawn), I’m encouraged by this initial presentation of it, and several things jump out at me…in a good way.
The biggest surprise is the change of director. Rob Marshall brings a credibility that I think the films sorely needed. My eyes about popped out of my head when I saw his name and my interest in the film sky-rocketed just at that. He definitely has good credentials, unexpected hits in genres that usually aren’t critically [and publicly] successful (i.e. Best-Picture Chicago), so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Score a point for Disney.
Further still, I’m very impressed by the casting of Penélope Cruz. Even from this trailer, it seems to me that she and Johnny Depp have an unusual chemistry. It’s not overwhelming or obvious, but I think that the two will play nicely off each other and not in an annoying way. She’s a good pick, too, because she’s not someone for whom you have to necessarily suspend your belief; you see her in the badass-pirate-chick costume, slinging the cutlass around and, well, it works. It reminds me – a lot – of Zoe Saldana’s [incredibly under appreciated] role in Curse of the Black Pearl, Anamaria. It was before she was famous, but she was still awesome and memorable, and she had very distinct chemistry with Johnny Depp.
If you don’t remember her, this is the scene in which she was introduced (starting at 6:23):
(Just watching that one scene and is such a staggering reminder of how Curse of the Black Pearl really is in a different league.)
In a perfect world, we would have seen Anamaria/Zoe Saldana return, even way back in Dead Man’s Chest, but I’m pleased with what I see here from Penélope Cruz. Her cultural background, too, plays perfectly into the film, the geographical territory and naval/pirate history. (Score another point for Disney.)
And speaking of history, it is about goddamn time they brought in a figure from actual pirate history and lore. And Blackbeard is a great one to go with. Who knows how accurate it’ll be, but God knows we have seen so many invented characters, it makes me dizzy. Not one real historical figure even mentioned in passing until now. Seriously, it’s high fucking time.
It’s nice to see Keith Richards again. His role and performance in At World’s End was one of those few positives I saw in the film. He was a surprise. I thought that his character would just be there for laughs, as a joke, and a tribute to Depp’s inspiration for the role, but I was unprepared for the seriousness and depth of the character and in the scene between him and Jack. So hopefully we’ll get more of that. I just hope they don’t overplay their hand with him.
And I just have to ask – are those girls Mermaids or Sirens? They seem dangerous, luring the guys under the water and all, and Mermaids are usually more benign, so wouldn’t that make them Sirens, not Mermaids?
And Zombies? Really? They always seem like such a cop-out, at least from a writing standpoint. But I guess in dealing with something like the Fountain of Youth, it could make for a nice metaphor. Maybe. I’d like to hope so because otherwise it just seems pathetic and borderline cheesy, especially depending on how they’re portrayed and executed.
Okay, and so we’ve dropped Will and Elizabeth, but, hmm, curious that we have those two poignant shots of a young man and a young woman, who, thanks to the editing, look very much they’re looking at one another. Could this be our new romantic couple, stand-ins/replacements for Orlando and Keira? Inconceivable! (<—insert sarcasm here)
My more serious concerns, meanwhile, are that, (a) Jack seems to be over-doing his antics like he did in the last two films (different from the first only in the lack of subtlety that was so incredible when we first met him) and, (b) The spectacle seems to be, well…there’s a lot of it. The first film was, again, so brilliant in that they didn’t just dry to overwhelm the audience with as many effects, myths and ideas as possible. It was about taking the one idea, the undead pirates walking about as corpses/skeletons in the moonlight. The scenes of Barbossa and Jack fighting in the cave, dipping between, through and around those shafts of light is far more epic and gripping than ANYTHING that took place in the jungle (i.e. on the island) in Dead Man’s Chest or the silly, never-ending malestrom in At World’s End. What I mean by this is that it wasn’t about the effect, not really. They weren’t trying to necessarily dazzle us with new tricks and effects; they weren’t pointing to it and saying, “hey, look what super-cool trick we learned how to do!” They made it seamless, fluid so that you weren’t caught up in a “hey, that’s pretty, must have taken hours to render the effects,” thought bubble, but watching, transfixed, wondering who would win the battle, or if the pirates would over-take the naval ship out in the cove. No huge explosions, no huge cyclone or seastorm, just simple storytelling.
But I digress.
Hopefully we won’t get beaten over the head with these effects. Again. But, as I said before, Rob Marshall knows how to handle himself. Perchance he won’t let it get too out of hand. . . ?
So, in the end, I might actually be seeing this when it comes out. Not right away, I’ll wait for the reviews to come in first, but it’s nice to see that they have made some good choices and not just a whole slew of rotten ones. My reaction to this first trailer is much better than the one I had to At World’s End, so hopefully the film will be better too.