Since I had first heard about this film, my perspective on the subject matter has changed somewhat.  I wasn’t touched, personally, by the shooting at Columbine, and was sort of ignorant of how bad it was when it actually happened.  I haven’t had much more experience with that kind of violence – or any violence for that matter, and for which I thank my lucky stars – other than the DC Sniper incident in 2002 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.  I didn’t know people who were wounded or killed in any of these three events, but the fact is that the last two came close enough to just brush up against my life, and were geographically close enough to me to make me paranoid to go to school and to go into not just DC, but the suburbs where the shootings actually happened.  That being said, the DC Sniper incident was not school-related, but affected me in my school life, as the high school went on lockdown and security alert for over two months.

Needless to say, I had some preconceived notions about the theme of the film as I sat down to watch it.

Ultimately, the film is brilliant.  Visually, thematically, it’s remarkable.  The use of slow motion and editing are amazing, building up the suspense from the beginning to the end.  The film has no real introduction or conclusion, which, on the one hand is fascinating and brilliant, and on the other hand, is extremely irritating.  Which is exactly the point, I’m sure.  As an audience member, you keep anticipating when the moment will happen.  When the boys will walk into the building.  When the gunshots will start.  When the horror will commence.  Until the moment arrives, obviously, you’re never right, and even when it does begin, it’s pieced together in a way that surprises you.

There are so many single-shot scenes; it’s up on the level of Children of Men, if you ask me, and in these sequences are the use of slow motion, which I don’t think Children of Men ever did.  Not to diss Children of Men, however, I love it.

The other social points made throughout the film were marvelous.  Eating disorders for one, when the three girls go into the bathroom, seemingly to check their make up then use the toilet, but instead they all throw up simultaneously.  It was almost as grotesque as some of the violence, in my opinion.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film for me, was when the one outcast female character is changing in the locker room, and the preppy girls, nearby, are talking about her.  You never see them, only hear their comments.  I’ve been in that position before, hearing the comments, making myself not look, not cry, not care.  Some people find that hard to believe, but I was not one of the popular crowd; I was made fun of because of how shy I was and how un-cool I dressed.  The scene hit very close to home and I thought that the emotions captured and conveyed were some of the strongest in the whole film.

The person I watched it with gasped and reacted harshly as we watched it.  I jumped, certainly, but I didn’t react quite so strongly in the moment.  We both were surprised that the students and faculty and victims didn’t react more strongly to what happened around them, but I assumed that their lack of immediate horror was due to shock and incomprehension at what was happening.

*spoilers ahead*

I wasn’t sure when they decided to do the shooting.  They clearly plan it out, but I didn’t see them make the decision.  I’m not sure if I just missed it, or if there was supposed to be a missing piece of the puzzle.

Furthermore, I didn’t like the detached nature of the shooters.  Especially that the leader of the two kills his partner.  It turned him from an abused high-school shooter into a serial killer, the detached nature of his kills.  His partner, whom he shoots, had a vindictive nature, which is demonstrated as he yells at the principal, referencing how he “fucked with” them.  Perhaps what Ritchie was going for is the idea that if these instincts and characteristics aren’t stopped, then that’s what they become; the snowball effect.  In that event, I suppose I can understand it, but I’m not sure that I appreciate it very much.  In all of my experiences with these outbursts of violence in the school system, it’s been that there were obvious warning signs as to what would happen, that these were troubled, mistreated kids that were headed down a bad road, but which went unattended by guidance councilors and teachers and parents.  They had a specific goal, a specific intention, targets, and motivation behind their killings.  Furthermore, a huge problem was the lack of security, that the police didn’t arrive in time, and the only sign of that in the film was that there was no police.  I don’t think anyone even calls 911.  I can’t imagine that in that situation no one would, especially not now, in the age of the cell phone. I remember the news reports from Columbine where there were masses of people weeping, shocked, shaken and scarred by what they had witnessed and lost.  I didn’t get any of that from the film, just the raw, naked horror of the event itself.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the film hard to relate to on a personal level.

I found that I didn’t have a strong reaction while watching the film.  The impact of it all caught up with me later, as I was reflecting on it.  I suppose some of that was probably denial, but either way, it left me severely rattled and impressed.

I don’t know that I’d call it a “must-see” especially since the material may not be something everyone can handle, particularly if they have lost anyone due to this type of violence.  But I recommend the film, especially to filmmakers and anyone with a strong constitution.  It’s brilliant.

Twilight: Eclipse

Short version: New Moon was better.  Way better.

Long-ish version: Whatever New Moon managed to do that improved it from the initial Twilight, Eclipse managed to take a step backwards.

The color palate was still better than Twilight‘s overly-used washed-out blue tones; the acting was about the same; I noticed a lot more direct lines taken from the book; but, overall, it was rushed, choppy, and confusing.

I’m not sure what they were going for.  They swung too far between all-out romance and full-on action and a bunch of other themes that didn’t mesh or make sense for the story.  I also thought that the direction in which they took Jacob’s character in this movie differed too much from New Moon, where the character was portrayed as far more mature and sincere than in the book.  In this one, he’s petulant, annoying and condescending…just like in the book.  And, like in the book, he irritated me the whole way through.

On the other side of that coin, the screenplay differed from the book in ways that made the film seem twisted and confusing, as I mentioned.  I recognized scenes from the book that were re-ordered and changed around significantly.  It didn’t manage to convey the passing of time very well, as it did in New Moon.  The vampires being “made of ice” and “shattering” like glass was just stupid.  A stupid effect, badly executed, just stupid.

There was one memorable shot: when the wolves make a dynamic appearance as a pack, jumping out to attack the vampire army (yeah, that’s right, vampire army).  It was pretty awesome, but I’m not sure if I’m just partial to it because I love wolves.  Hard to say.

Final verdict: I was unimpressed and I’m not sure what to expect from Breaking Dawn.  Or, I guess I should I say, Breaking Dawn, Part 1.

Can you say, “Harry Potter copycat?”

Twilight: New Moon

I went and saw Eclipse the other night.  I intended to review it just now, but I realized that I never reviewed New Moon,” here on my blog.  Considering how my reaction to Eclipse was strongly related to New Moon, I figure I should post both reviews.  So, first things first…

It’s no secret that I have issues with the Twilight series. Not because I really begrudge it at all – to be totally honest, I’m mostly indifferent with the material itself – it’s the fact that it has seemingly similar aspects to Companions of the Night, an all-time favorite book of mine that I would like adapt into a film someday. IT was published in 1995, a full ten years before Twilight, and yet now, should I approach a film adaptation of Companions of the Night, it might come across as Twilight-inspired. Totally not the case. In truth, they are very, VERY different. It’s only at first-glance that they appear alike. That, partly, is where my occasional resentment towards the series comes from, coupled with the fact that, in my humble opinion, I think Companions of the Night is a much better book in every regard.

That being said, I have read all four books in the Twilight series. I wanted to know what I was dealing with, so that I would have a thorough understanding of how, exactly, it is different from Companions of the Night and to know how to make them seem different, when the time comes. It’s that whole “friends close, enemies closer” concept. Furthermore, I want to do a lot of adaptation work in the future, so I have had a keen interest in the films of this series because it has a lot of attention and therefore the quality of the screenplay, direction, everything film-related will be under heavy scrutiny, both by critics, die-hard fans, the anti-Twilight crowd, and everyone in-between.

Twilight, I thought, was more comedy than series adaptation. Of all the books, I thought it was the second-worst of the lot, after Breaking Dawn, and the film didn’t, in my opinion, improve it much. It came across as campy in every aspect, from their over-use of slow-motion, voice-over, blocking, pacing, etc. The one thing I DID like about it was the cinematography.

New Moon, meanwhile, was entirely different. With Chris Weitz at the helm this go-round (replacing Catherine Hardwicke) the film managed to be, in my estimation, a success, both as an adaptation and in its own right as a film. It was, overall, well-adapted, well-structured, paced very well, the acting tremendously improved and the cinematography was just as great, if not better; I liked the color palette a lot better in this film. It didn’t have to have the blue, washed-out tones just to indicate the rainy weather. This one had more color, and yet you still knew that rain was always present.

Some things were changed from the book, yes, but honestly, it’s one of the better book-to-screen adaptations that I’ve seen in a long time. They changed some things about Jacob that I thought made him a much better character; I can now understand why there actually are people (mostly girls) who empathize with him in any regard. There were voice-overs, but they were used in a much more appropriate way; not just random passages spoken over the imagery as in Twilight. Also, considering that so much of the book has Bella hearing Edward’s voice in her head, they came up with a relatively decent solution to make such a thing more visual on the screen, with him appearing as this sort of ghostly figure that would vanish. It still seemed a little awkward, but somehow, still worked.

And, of course, Charlie was excellent. He’s probably my favorite part about the films – no exaggeration.

There were some things I did not care for, obviously. The slow-motion was still present and the vampires all still seem very made-up to me (literally, their make-up seems blatantly obvious). The most disappointing thing to me, though, is Edward. He still comes across as…fake to me, just like the other vampires, but more so; his blocking and dialogue still feel very staged, and this stood out a LOT more in New Moon because the rest of the film’s pacing and overall direction was much more sensible and easy. On top of that, he definitely does not look seventeen and I don’t think they’re making him appear very attractive at all; particularly throughout the time spent in Italy. I suppose they didn’t want him to “out-physicalize” Jacob, but I thought that, like in Twilight, too, his physical appearance didn’t really match up with what Bella described. I don’t think it’s for lack of trying, acting-wise, on Pattinson’s part, but I think the character still needs work. The concept of Bella’s “perfection” hasn’t been manifested on the screen yet. Hopefully they’ll figure it out.

On the whole, I was more impressed by the good elements than the bad ones.

This doesn’t, by any means, signify that I am now a fan of the series. I still think thatCompanions of the Night is a much better book. I still don’t really “like” Edward or Jacob in particular. I still think that there’s better “vampire” material out there, even beyond Companions of the Night. And, on that note, I still want to finish Dracula.

But in the context of the series itself, and compared to it’s predecessor, New Moon was, overall, well done. And I think I will probably see it again before it leaves theaters.

post script: if you haven’t heard of or actually read Companions of the Night, I highly recommend it, whether you are a fan of the Twilight series or not.

TV Meme ~ Day 3

Day 3 – Your favorite new show (aired this t.v season).

The Tudors.
A dramatic series about the reign and marriages of King Henry VIII.
Official Show Website
Brief Historical Overview

I know that The Tudors isn’t really a new show, but I haven’t gotten into any new ones this season. That being said, The Tudors is the most recent show of which I became a fan, so it seems to fit the bill.

I’d heard about the show since it had first started, but I had been more about BBC’s Robin Hood at the time (but that’s another story). When we got DirecTV last year, our package included Showtime, and so I decided to check out The Tudors, which was, literally, just starting the third season, which opens with Henry’s marriage to his third wife, Jane Seymour. It was a curious place to start watching, since the most famous part of Henry’s life is his audacious split from the Catholic Church, his divorce Catherine of Aragon, his re-marriage to Anne Boleyn and his swift execution of Anne when she failed to give Henry the son he longed for. That story has been done to death (no pun intended) almost as much as the story of Anne and Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I. But the first episode of season 3 really sucked me in with the production value and the almost instantaneous connection to the characters. I didn’t really know what happened after Anne was executed, other than Henry married and killed off several more wives, not the details of that period of history. So I was fascinated to watch and learn how much went on, how much intrigue and deception and religious upheaval still went on and for so long. Further still, the show impresses me because it manages to convey the weight of how much was going on in that part of history. It makes the various films on the subject pale in comparison to the show.

While I was working at SOCAPA last summer, I bought Season 1 for fairly cheap and watched it within a few days. I was in withdrawal when the season ended. When I returned home in the fall, Season 2 started over on Showtime and I managed to catch up. Likewise, they handled the story and character of Anne Boleyn very well. I particularly liked the episodes that led up to her death, because it was not what I expected. They really drove home the tragedy of the whole situation, despite everything else that she and her family had done.

And that is what, I think, makes the show so great. It does what historical dramas are supposed to: breathe life into these historical figureheads, these people and events that are, otherwise, no more than names and dates in a textbook, brushstrokes on a painting’s canvas. They take your expectations, your pre-conceived ideas about what happened, who these people were, and throw them out the window. You’re rooting for a certain character one second, and a few episodes later, you’ve completely switched sides, and you’re not even sure how or when it happened. Yet, it also fulfills your expectations at the same time, because they’re staying relatively true to history (which, in and of itself is rare), so you know what happens ahead of time. It’s the way they convey it that is so brilliant.

I am devastated that this, the current season, is the last. Not so much in that I wish they would drag it out more; Henry is getting old, they can’t really do that, but they’ve really established his oldest daughter, Mary Tudor (a.k.a. Bloody Mary), as a powerful, intriguing, sympathetic character. I really was hoping that they would continue the story; do a spin-off show about her, then Elizabeth and Edward and Mary, Queen of Scots, who they’ve mentioned in these last few episodes. But no. Showtime’s next show will take place in Italy and will focus on the family that was the inspiration for “The Godfather,” which is fine, but I had been really hoping for more of the English history, since they have done it SO well!

A bartender I work with also watches the show and told me that her theory is that they are planning another show about the English Monarchy, just not right now. And they’d be stupid not to; The Tudors has worked wonders for their ratings.

She also said that she was disappointed that their new show is such a dud – Italy? The Mob? Sorry, but been there, done that. Granted, it’s similar to the way most people thought of Tudor England before the show, but in this case, there is, in fact, The Godfather to compare it to, and it’s a classic. The Tudors really was unprecedented in my opinion. Jen, the bartender, said that she thought the Russian Royalty could have been a better choice; perhaps the history leading up to the Romanovs. But nope. Italy.


Watch The Tudors. It’s excellent.

TV Meme ~ Day 2

Day 2 – A show that you wish more people were watching.

Lie to Me.

Quite timely, too, as Season 3 is due to air next week (Monday, June 7th, to be exact). Needless to say, I am absolutely stoked.

This show is brilliant. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, take it from me, it’s completely worth your time.

What I love about it is that the science behind the premise, that you can read lies in people’s faces, isn’t bullshit. Since I’ve started watching the show, I’m actually seeing those traits in people. And not just lies; signs of real happiness and sadness too. It’s not something that writers just fabricated out of thin air. They may exaggerate it at times, but they do so in ways that work, and it’s absolutely fascinating.

Plus – something I REALLY like – it takes place in Washington D.C., because the Lightman Group, the business upon which the show is centered, works with the Government on a frequent basis, along with local police for more subdued cases. Several episodes have even taken place in Maryland, like Salisbury and Baltimore. This is nice all on its own, that it’s the permanent setting of their business, rather than just a place that the characters go upon occasion for sparse episodes, but its also nice that the production value doesn’t feel fake. When they’re in D.C., they don’t have the characters sitting on a bench with the Lincoln Memorial in the background, too close so that they’d be sitting in the Reflecting Pool (like they did on Bones…no offense to Bones fans, though).

I like how the show touches on relevent issues like our war in the Middle East and on Homophobia here in the US. Tim Roth in the lead role of Cal Lightman is fantastic and so are all the supporting cast. I particularly love the girl who plays Lightman’s daughter, Emily. She makes a great addition to the show and she’s had a primary role in some of the episodes without being over- or under-played.

Season 1 was better than Season 2, I think, but I enjoyed them both and I really can’t wait to see where Season 3 takes us.

Here’s a good promo I found (ignore the subtitles):

Shutter Island

Short version: See it.  It’s amazing.

I’ve never been much of a Sorcese fan.  As a film kid, you sort of have to acknowledge him as one of the greats – along with a few others, like Hitchcock and Walt Disney – even if you don’t necessarily love their work to pieces.  It’s like an unspoken rule.  Still, none of Scorcese’s films have ever really touched my life personally; his films don’t usually attract me much to begin with, but I respect them from a detached distance.  Shutter Island, however, changed all that.  I was curious and interested from the first time I saw the trailer (on my home TV via my latest Netflix rental), to the point that I kept track of it and decided that I wanted to see it in the theatre….if someone would tell me the ending ahead of time.

See, I’m slightly skittish with psychological thrillers.  I’m not much of a horror-movie-goer in general, but when you get into the “mindfuck” stuff, I admit that I scare easily.  Since I knew greenapplebeware had already seen the movie, I asked her to tell me the secret, the mystery, the ending, ahead of time.  I’m not sure what my experience of the movie would have been otherwise, but knowing that made watching the film actually quite enjoyable for me (something that rarely ocurrs with me and horror films) and absolutely fascinating.  The movie, lest you have any doubts, is amazing.

From the opening credits to the closing ones, the film has you – hook, line and sinker.  The cinematography alone is excellent.  I was ecstatic that the film landed the cover story of American Cinematographer, and I soaked up every word of the article.  The direct, while uniquely poetic imagery of World War II Concentration Camps are both horrific and beautiful – a combination I didn’t think would be possible to achieve.  It uses classic thriller techniques (i.e. arms reaching and grabbing, monster-like, out through the prison bars at our hero; the criss-crossing shadows and spiral staircases, etc.) but they are utilized well and minimally, so that it isn’t overdone and they don’t come across as cheesy, but frightening and real.

There’s been some talk of how the story is “unoriginal” and “done to death” but while that might be true of the overall concept, the telling of this particular film is delivered in an original way, with its own context, well-developed characters and an engaging set of circumstances.  The story deals with issues of violence and human nature in a frontal way, while exploring the concepts of sanity, the loss thereof, and mental illness in a very sophisticated way.  Even knowing the ending in advance, I found that the answer didn’t seem to stare you in the face from the start.  There are signs to indicate something’s not right, something’s being “worked,” but it wasn’t as though the production was keen on hiding red flags, hoping you’d figure it out, unlike The Sixth Sense, which practically beat you over the head with symbols and indications all the way through.  Effectively, yes, but Shutter Island didn’t seem to do that.  At least, not nearly as much.  The ending, when all is more or less revealed, it’s done without musical score, cinematic tricks or otherwise.  There is a flashback sequence, yes, but even that is done in a straightforward manner, without bouncing back and forth to the present or anything else.  The dialogue and action are delivered straight-out and stand on their own, and, if you don’t know the truth ahead of time, or even if you’ve guessed by that point, you’re likely to be unsure who to believe all the way to the end.  It’s that good.

On top of all this, I was impressed, truly impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio – and for the very first time.  I caught Titanic on TV the other night and it’s remarkable how tremendously he has changed since those days.  Of course, at the same time, I continue to fall further and further in love with Mark Ruffalo with every film I see him in.  The two of them worked very well together in this film; equally, rather than one or the other stealing the show, which is an achievment in and of itself, I think.

So see it.  It’s amazing.