Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reviews for September 29, 2013

Blue Jasmine is a Woody Allen film but it is the rare kind of Woody Allen film that goes beyond the writer/director’s usual quirks and gets at something deeper. This movie may not be the kind of typically funny picture that audience’s associate with Woody Allen but in many respects it is something better.

Prisoners is a tough and sometimes unsettling movie but it is also a terrific thriller. This film is smartly plotted, excellently acted, and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of what people will do in desperate situations. That complexity is welcome in a movie marketplace that often gravitates toward simplicity.

Behind the Candelabra is a well-made film with some terrific performances. This is a thoughtful story about living in the spotlight and the cost of fame.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Film Screening: Night of the Living Dead

Sounds of Cinema is sponsoring a film screening of the original Night of the Living Dead on Friday, September 20th at 10pm. The film will be shown in the Science Lab Auditorium (located between Pasteur and Stark Halls) on the Winona State University campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Named one of the scariest movies of all time by Entertainment Weekly, added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and called “one of the great American films” by author Carol Clover, Night of the Living Dead is a horror classic. In the forty-five years since its release, this film has emerged as one of the most influential movies of all time.

View the trailer below:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Film Review for September 15, 2013

Here is a recap of the films reviewed on today's show:

Riddick is an entertaining sci-fi adventure. That is all the film is trying to be and it succeeds, so its problems are forgivable and the filmmakers deserve praise for their unique stylistic choices.

Getaway is a direct-to-video feature that somehow made its way into theaters. The movie is passably entertaining as a mindless car picture but it’s too stupid to be taken seriously.

I Declare War is not a film that can be described as “politically correct” but it does come across as truthful and that is far more important. It is flawed but what the filmmakers have managed to accomplish in I Declare War is exceptional and at times extraordinary.

Battle Royale is an outrageous movie but it is also well made with demonstrable intelligence to complement its sense of showmanship. It has become a very influential picture in the sci-fi death match subgenre and fans of movies like The Hunger Games should check it out.

Remember you can find the full reviews in the review archive.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Film Reviews for September 9, 2013

Here is a recap of the films reviewed on today's show:

The Spectacular Now is a tough but sensitive movie about growing up and despite some shortcomings in its ending there is a lot in it that is refreshingly honest. The picture has some exceptional performances and it deserves to be regarded alongside movies like Good Will Hunting and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Closed Circuit is a sloppy thriller. The moviemakers wanted to make a statement of some sort but it doesn’t seem like they knew what that statement was. The resulting picture is a mishmash of thriller clich├ęs and wild conspiracy theorizing that goes on for ninety-six minutes and then it stops.

Passion is an erotic thriller is neither erotic nor thrilling. This is a lousy movie that is soporific and stupid.

Stoker is a terrifically strange movie. Because it trends on so many taboos and is so unconventional its potential audience may be limited. But its strangeness is exactly what makes it special and Stoker is one of the best thrillers of the past few years.

Remember you can find the full reviews in the review archive.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Someone Has to Stand Up to the Fans

In the past month there have been two major fan-base meltdowns over high profile casting decisions. The first was the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman for the Man of Steel sequel. The other was the backlash against the casting of Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson for the upcoming movie adaptation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Fans unhappy about the casting decisions have used social media to protest. The furor over Fifty Shades of Grey was intense enough to prompt the producer to defend the decision.

These protests echo similar complaints to be found in blogs, discussion boards, and Twitter feeds in which fans of popular source material hurl insults and grievances over changes made by filmmakers. There was last year’s flap over the casting of actors of color in The Hunger Games, the critiques of alterations to World War Z, and disappointment with the elimination of Tom Bombadil from The Fellowship of the Ring and the loss of the scouring of the shire from Return of the King.

I’m sympathetic to the passion these fans have for the stories and characters that are important to them and it is certainly true that filmmakers have turned great novels into disastrous movies. But the protests of fans—usually worded as “They ruined the book!”—reveal a fundamental misunderstanding about what filmmakers are supposed to do. The job of a filmmaker isn’t to translate a novel—or recreate the version of the novel in your head—and put it on screen without comment. Adaptation is a craft and it requires filmmakers to change the material from a literary source and into the cinematic form. Things that work better in a comic book or as prose may not work on screen.

A good example of that is this year’s version of The Great Gatsby. That novel is primarily a literary work, which is to say it is a book whose greatness is not found in its plot or its characters (elements that can be readily translated into a feature film) but in the subtleties of its language. When Gatsby is adapted to cinema, it loses the very thing that makes it special. This is evidenced in the difference between the party scenes and the driving set pieces, which are terrifically cinematic, and the dialogue-heavy dramatic scenes which are a drag.

There is an assumption that source material, and especially books, are inherently better than film adaptations but this is a baseless prejudice. There are plenty of examples of movie adaptations that removed significant parts of their source or made radical changes that ultimately improved the text: Dracula (1931 and 1992), Psycho, Jaws, The Godfather, Die Hard, and The Lord of the Rings.

We are in an age in which fans have been enabled by social media and in many ways that’s great. When filmmakers adapt a beloved piece of literature or other art and do a lousy job fans can make their voices heard. But the creation of art cannot and should not be a democratic activity. Filmmakers must be able to take a character or a story, including those that are beloved, and make something interesting out them. Sometimes that means the movie you get isn’t the one you expected.

But innovation isn’t the trend in the Hollywood marketplace. Films adapted from preexisting material are increasingly faithful to their sources, often to a fault. In fact, several recent high profile adaptations of popular novels turned out to be duds because they didn’t make changes. Consider the Twilight series and the adaptations of Dan Brown’s books The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. All of those films were headed by competent directors but the filmmakers barely strayed from the source material when they clearly should have. These films were terrible because their source material was terrible.

This problem isn’t likely to change because it is systemic. Hollywood studios are especially risk adverse and are producing movies from a shallower and shallower pool of material, making sequels and spin offs until they run aground, and then discarding the property or rebooting it. At the same time these studios are committing tremendous amounts of resources into blockbuster movies which need to become megahits in order to support the Hollywood business model. One of the ways they’ve found to ensure success is to court the fans. Conventions like Comic-Con, which were once small gatherings of devoted enthusiasts, are now major corporate showcases. It’s nice to see that studios are taking an interest in what the fans want but their efforts to appease the fan base may result in movies that appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Fandom is vocal and passionate but it is also fickle and sometimes wrong. When it was announced that Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker in The Dark Knight, fans reacted with disdain. Less than a year after the film was released, fans (probably the same ones) were demanding that DC Comics retire The Joker from all future Batman films out of deference to Ledger’s performance.

Not all creative decisions lead to great films. But creativity requires risk taking and a commitment to artistic vision. Fan outcry can deter bold casting and innovative filmmaking. As much as filmmakers may want to court the base there has to be a point at which they take a stand. Otherwise the studios might as well just film cosplay activities, covert it to 3-D, and broadcast it to theaters. Then maybe the supposed super fans will have what they really want: themselves on the screen.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Film Reviews for September 1, 2013

Here is a recap of the films reviewed on today's show:

The World’s End is disjointed but it is also one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer of 2013. Despite its similarity to Edgar Wright’s other films, The World’s End is refreshingly distinct in a movie marketplace that is increasingly homogeneous and it’s a whole lot of fun.

The Mortal Instruments is another failed attempt to launch a film franchise from a young adult fantasy series. Whatever potential the books may have had is wasted in a film that does nothing interesting and is often boring.

Planes is a mediocre movie. It isn’t terrible and very young children may find it holds their attention but for a theatrical release from Disney this is well below expectations.

You’re Next has some great stuff in it and for horror fans the movie is a must-see. General audiences will probably be flummoxed by it but You’re Next seems destined to develop a cult following and it is the kind of genre piece that horror fans will rave about.

Would You Rather is a successful combination of Saw and Rope. It’s nowhere near a perfect movie but it is quite well done and a unique addition to the torture films that have been so popular. It’s much smarter than many of them and it’s the kind of movie that horror fans and academics will find fascinating.

Remember you can find the full reviews in the review archive.