Okay, 95% of the people reading this will already know, and the other 5% are probably not interested – but for the remaining 0% (yes, that means you!), here’s the Watchmen trailer that came out recently:
Now, part of me looks at this trailer and thinks, “Wow… that is almost picture perfect!” Another part thinks that the last thing Watchmen is about are pretty pictures. This is a trailer, yes, which has one purpose: to get people excited and put asses in seats. But Zack Snyder strikes me as a director enamoured with glossy, stylised images – and that sort of thing tends to detract from the humanity of the characters. And one of the major points of Watchmen is that the superheroes in it (excepting Dr Manhattan, although that would make for a longer discussion) are utterly human. And the book is about ideas, not about wowing the audience with cool visuals.
Having said that, I like much of the casting. I like that Snyder didn’t go for the superstars (although I do think that Adrian Veidt could easily have been played by a good-looking star, since he is pretty much one of the biggest celebrities in the world he inhabits). I like the visual metaphor of the clockwork in the trailer. And I find the CGI representation of Doc Manhattan strangely affecting, especially in that shot where you’ve got three of them.
What worries me, though, is what I’ve heard about the ending. If it’s true… well, there’s one way of pretty much ruining Watchmen, and that’s by screwing with one or two elements of the ending. I just hope that they will be able to resist killing the ‘bad guy’.
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat entry – but I was just surfing DVD reviews and was reminded of one of my favourite trailers ever. So, without much further ado, here it is:
What else? I’ve started rewatching The Sopranos, and I’m surprised at how many of the scenes I remember best are actually from the first season. What happened in seasons 2 to 5? (I haven’t seen the final season yet, but I’m very, very curious. From what I’ve heard and read, I could imagine being one of those Hipster Douchebags(tm) who actually like the way the series ended.)
Apparently, Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette was booed in Cannes. Now that I’ve seen it, I am tempted to say that French film critics are pretentious shrinking violets with an utterly neurotic attitude to their own past. It’s not a great film, and I would rank it lower than both The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation (both of which I liked a lot), but it’s a well made film with some good performances, and it’s definitely beautifully shot and edited. Frankly, I don’t know what les critiques Françaises are on about.
However, Marie Antoinette has one big problem: the beginning is by far the strongest, most subtle illustration of the film’s main motif – a young woman taken into a world that is foreign to her and that regards her as an alien intrusion into their rules and conventions – and almost everything that comes after is much more obvious, much less elegant. Coppola’s use of anachronisms, especially in her choice of music (but also in one semi-witty image of a Converse sneaker among the hundreds of Baroque shoes the young queen tries on), works well enough, but once you’ve seen one scene indicating that “she’s really just a lost, rich, poor teenager… and in the end, aren’t we all?”, you’ve seen them all.
In addition, the film does suffer from being under-plotted. This may be strange coming from someone who loves Lost in Translation, hardly the most plotty of movies, but because Marie Antoinette sticks pretty much to history, there’s little of the smooth flow that a well-told story has. There’s a sense that you could walk out for five minutes, to get yourself a drink or have a bathroom break, and come back without having missed much. I don’t think that films have to be plotted tightly, and in fact many of my favourite movies aren’t, but if you know from the beginning where the story will end – off with her head, and all that jazz – then the film can’t really afford to meander.
On related news, I’m going to keep myself short on Deadwood and Six Feet Under. Just know that there are things more frightening in Deadwood than Al Swearengen on a good or bad day, Francis Wolcott, or even E.B. Farnum talking dirty to a leather bag…
P.S.: Brian Cox should be a fun addition to the citizenry of Deadwood… I wonder whether he’ll ever get that theatre built – I’d love to see auditions for amateur night!
No news on the game front, really; I’m still playing Stalker (pure nukular goodness!), Neverwinter Nights 2 (it’s okay, but I still don’t get the enthusiastic reviews), Anachronox (slowly getting to the end) – and a rallye game called Colin McRae DIRT, best proof that the streets are safer with me off them.
I also haven’t watched any new films (or rewatched old ones), so I’ll take this opportunity to write about films that I expected to like – but didn’t. Usually when that happens, it’s that I like the director’s previous work a lot, but then fail completely to connect with the film. Or it’s that a reviewer I like gives the film a glowing review that I fall for. By the way, I don’t share the dismissive arrogance many people have when it comes to reviewers – good critics don’t necessarily share my opinions 100%, but 1) they have to recognise what a film is trying to do and 2) I have to know where they’re coming from after reading the review. What I do hate is critics who pan a genre film, for instance, because it isn’t Truffaut, critics who mistake their dislike for a certain kind of story or storytelling for its inherent unworthiness. And with a good reviewer, it doesn’t really matter whether they liked a film or not – I will have a good idea from what they write and how they write it whether I’m likely to enjoy the film.
Before I get started on this in earnest, though, I’ll have to come up with a list of films that fit. I’ve got a few ideas: Punch Drunk Love, for one, and my own favourite, Russian Ark. (Okay, technically that latter one is a “Film that this blogger hated with a vengeance”, but more of that later.) So, tune back in very soon!
P.S.: Films that – ironically, predictably – didn’t click for anyone, part 1:
”[Madonna’s character] is a beautiful woman. But when the trial is over you will see her no differently than a gun or a knife. Or any other instrument used as a weapon. She is a killer and the worst kind—a killer who disguised herself as a loving partner,” Mantegna thunders to the jury. Now, far be it from me to challenge the veracity of anything said by a character played by Joe Mantegna, but I would argue that the worst kind of killer is one who wears a necklace made out of puppy skulls and a rain poncho made out of the stitched-together torsos of murdered kittens. That, to me, is worse than a killer disguising herself as a loving partner.
The title should already give it away: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is not the kind of movie you watch in order to find out what happens at the end. If that’s why you go to the movies, don’t see this film. If you tend to use the words “pretentious” and “artsy” fairly often when talking about films you didn’t like, don’t see this film. If slow equals boring when it comes to movies as far as you’re concerned, don’t see this film. If you’re hoping for gunslinging action, don’t see this film.
However, do see this film if you want to see a beautifully written and shot, psychologically fascinating, immensely atmospheric and deeply sad movie, and especially if you’re interested in good acting. Down to the last part, The Assassination has an impressively talented cast; for instance, even the few scenes that focus on Garrett Dillahunt’s Ed Miller (I’ve been a fan of his ever since watching Deadwood) tell volumes in themselves. But the film stands and falls with the two title characters, and they both carry their share of the load with distinction. I’d only seen Casey Affleck in the Ocean’s Double-Digit films, where it’s difficult to judge his acting, but his Robert Ford is a complex, riveting creation: in turn wheedling, puffed up, disturbing, pathetic, deluded, but finally truly tragic, he’s a relative of Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley. At one point James asks him: “Do you want to be like me? Or do you want to be me?” Their relationship recalls that of Tom Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) in Anthony Minghella’s movie, but it goes further than that. And Ford’s longing, loathing looks at Jesse James carry so much.
I must admit that I am also becoming quite the Brad Pitt fan. I used to think that he was a star, but not much of an actor – and there are films where you need stars. It was only in Babel that I recognised he could play a part that was in no way that of a movie star. In that film I forgot for the first time that he’s a pretty boy, and I saw him as the character. The star quality is back in The Assassination, but it needs to be – Jesse James is a myth, so Pitt has to portray that facet of the character – and it’s made deeper and richer by Pitt’s performance. This quasi-mythic outlaw is also a paranoid, superstitious and at times cruel and petty bastard, and he’s got a deep streak of self-loathing. When he turns his back on Ford for the last time to wipe the dust of a picture, we’re basically seeing a suicide at least as much as a murder. While James is no Christ figure, Ford is as necessary as Judas to complete the narrative – and to some extent this is because James lacks the courage himself to end it all, nor to live on. It’s by no means clear whether Robert Ford is really the coward that the title suggests.
I don’t want to go on too much, because otherwise this blog entry will rival the film in length. If you don’t mind slow, long films, if you don’t mind portentousness, if you think that the western genre can do tragedy successfully; if you don’t mind hearing the same three pieces of music repeated frequently (and they fit very well), if you don’t mind artsy choices in the photography, editing and writing. Or simply if you want to see Nick Cave hamming it up with a guitar in a Brad Pitt movie. If any of these apply, go and see the film.
Yesterday I started watching Miami Vice, Michael Mann’s recent film update of the quintessential ’80s neon series. I’d seen it at the cinema, and while I’d enjoyed the gorgeous visuals, I’d been rather underwhelmed on the whole. Now that I’m seeing it on DVD (in a slightly longer version), I like it a lot more. Some of that is probably down to the lack of expectations on my part. (I’ve talked about my Mann-love here before), some of it may be due to the Michael Mann atmosphere: his films tend to have a strong streak of loneliness going through them, which may not work as well in a packed cinema.
It’s rare that my appreciation of a film changes from “meh…” to something better on repeat viewings. The opposite happens a bit more frequently, but it’s still fairly unlikely. But sometimes I see a movie at the cinema and something about it stays with me. SOmehow my brain knows it needs to give this film a second chance. And sometimes it’s those films that I end up liking most.
Just for the record: 12 Monkeys was a film that I needed to see two or three times to like.
And now, for your appreciation, some more Mann love:
Videogame critics keep saying that there’s precious little humour in video games (or at least humour that isn’t unfunny at best and cringeworthy at worst). Now, it may be true that the humour in most games is made up of stale wisecracks and one-liners that make you groan… but then, most movie comedies aren’t really very funny, are they? There’s little good comedy in games as in films, but there are of course gems in both media. The games I’m thinking of, for instance, are many of the old LucasArts adventures (Grim Fandango, Sam & Max Hit the Road, the Monkey Island titles minus Escape from…), No One Lives Forever, Psychonauts – and Anachronox.
I never finished Anachronox when I originally played it; the pre-patch version was so buggy that it started to crash frequently halfway through the story. Now, thanks to some new tech and inofficial patches, I’m finally able to play it again, and in spite of the engine showing its age, I’m riveted. The game’s the strange offspring of Japanese RPGs, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Raymond Chandler crime novels. It’s got some of the best writing and voice acting ever in computer games. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy the gameplay itself, I still can’t stop playing, no matter that I’ve got newer games waiting for me both on my computer and on PS2.
It’s a shame the game didn’t sell very well at all, since it was meant to be followed by a sequel. As it is, Anachronox ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get the follow-up. Which is roughly like ending Lord of the Rings on The Fellowship of the Ring, with Frodo and Sam going off to Mordor – THE END. NO, WE WON’T TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS. It’s a crying shame that good writing sells less well in videogames than big boobs, big guns and uninspired franchises.
P.S.: Anachronoxis a good illustration of my theory that humour is usually funnier when the characters aren’t just Punchline Delivery Agents(tm), but are actually fleshed out. There are moments of surprising poignancy in the game, which make the comedy shine more brilliantly.
P.P.S.: Here are some more trailers of genuinely funny games – because it’s these kind of games the medium needs if it wants to be more than just adolescent (male) power fantasies. I also hear that the new game Portal, scripted by Eric Wolpaw of Psychonauts fame, is very funny, and very good.
Today’s entry is very short (for a change). Since I went on at great length yesterday about appreciating great craftsmanship, here’s an example of brilliant genre cinema that isn’t deep or existential – but it may just be the best film in its genre.
I still get the same kick out of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark as I did when I first saw it, even though Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was my first Indy movie. Arguably, it’s one of the most fun films ever.
And who couldn’t love a film that has this scene in it?