CAT | Movies
“Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” (“They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”)
- Gaius Cornelius Tacitus; 56 – 117 A.D.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is the second film based on Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy, set in the dystopian future state of Panem.
“Catching Fire” was preceded by “The Hunger Games,” (2012) to be concluded with “Mockingjay” next year.
“The Hunger Games” was pretty good. “Catching Fire” is better.
The Hunger Games are a high-tech gladiatorial spectacle held yearly by the despotic state of Panem. Each year 24 tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 drafted from each of the 12 districts are made to hunt each other until only one is left. The Games were founded after a rebellion of the grindingly poor districts against the rich and decadent Capitol, which resulted in the destruction of District 13.
Collins has citied inspiration from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the tale of the tribute of seven youths and seven maidens Athens was obliged to send to King Minos’ labyrinth in Crete. Reviewers also note Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game” (1924), and the film “Gladiator” (2000).
Older science fiction fans might notice elements of Mack Reynolds now-obscure novel, “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Princes” (1964).
Panem is New Rome, the latest incarnation of the first western world-state whose rise, decadence, and fall still fascinates us 1,600 years after the sack of the Rome by Alaric the Goth, 560 years after the capture of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II. The name Panem is an allusion to the Latin “panem et circensis,” the “bread and circuses” with which the Roman Empire kept the masses pacified.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) survived the 74th annual Hunger Games. With help from Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), District 12’s only surviving tribute, and fashion designer Cinna (Lennie Kravitz), they skillfully manipulated the audience with a phony star-crossed lovers story, forcing the masters of the games to allow both of them to live.
There’s a problem. For Peeta, it’s not phony. He’s in love with Katniss, who respects him but she’s kind of attached to Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) a boy back home.
There’s an even bigger problem. President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) is seriously teed-off at their defiance. Snow tells Katniss she and Peeta had better toe the party line on their victory tour of the districts or her family…
Haymish tells her the same. Their act is now a permanent fixture of their lives. But he notes there could be worse things.
“If you live to be a hundred you’ll never deserve that boy,” he says.
But Katniss and Peeta are caught up in a rising spirit of rebellion in the districts, at first reluctantly. Snow decides they must be eliminated, in a way that destroys their image as heroes.
Urged by the enigmatic new master of the games Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Snow declares a Quarter Quell where the tributes will be chosen from a pool of all surviving winners.
District 9’s only surviving female winner is Katniss. The only males are Peeta and Haymich.
They must make alliances with other tributes, but who can they trust when all of them know that in the end there can be only one?
Katniss and Peeta must again win the favor of the mob with the help of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Cinna, but this is a two-edged sword. They need the mob on their side, but the favor of the mob means the enmity of Snow.
All of this makes for a great story with dramatic tension to spare and great special effects that nonetheless don’t substitute for good plotting.
But there’s something that’s really starting to get to me about this story, and incidentally creating my own personal dramatic tension about whether I want to read the books now or wait till I’ve seen the final installment.
I know from experience that school children in this country know almost nothing about the appalling history of tyranny in the previous century.
They might know a man named Hitler killed a lot of people in their grandparents’ time. Seldom that Stalin killed murdered at least ten times as many, or Mao even more. Che Guevarra is just a face on a T-shirt to them.
They know nothing about the brutal technology of tyranny, how people are kept poor, fearful, without hope.
“The Hunger Games” trilogy is in fact a pretty good description of tyranny, though set in the future. It’s strange that young people should learn this from young adult fiction, but we may hope this will motivate them to learn some history.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
A former government agent, now one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals, walks into the FBI headquarters, identifies himself and submits to arrest. He offers to help them catch a seriously bad guy but he’ll only talk to a certain FBI profiler, who started work just that day. (Megan Boone playing FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen.)
They sure know how to hook you on “The Blacklist” and they haven’t let go yet.
James Spader plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, a.k.a. “the Concierge of Crime,” a master criminal with a list of the worst people in the world, some of whose existence the FBI isn’t even aware of. He offers to help the FBI get them all in return for immunity, but on his own terms only.
When confronting one particularly vile criminal, she says, “I thought the FBI had you.”
“The FBI works for me now,” he replies.
Reddington’s personality is essentially a carryover of Spader’s pervious role as Alan Shore on “Boston Legal.” He’s a cynical, witty guy with a rigid personal code of ethics but is not overly scrupulous about the means to accomplish his devious ends.
“You’ve killed three people,” one of his handlers says.
“Nobody’s perfect!” he says defensively.
And that’s the thing about Reddington. He helps the FBI close in on terrorists, human traffickers, and one specialist in disposing of dead bodies by a particular method that earns him the nickname, “the Stewmaker.”
But they all seem to wind up dead.
And dead in ways that just reek of poetic justice. He dumps the Stewmaker into a vat of his own acid while rescuing Keen. He poisons a human trafficker who poses as a great humanitarian with an overdose of the drugs she uses to sedate her captives, then gets her to confess her guilt with the promise of the antidote.
Oops! Too late.
Keen asks, “What if you hadn’t had the antidote?”
“There was no antidote,” Reddington says. “I detested everything about her.”
There are plot complications aplenty.
Special Agent Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) doesn’t like the idea of working hand-in-hand with a criminal at all. But he likes getting results. He’s a strictly by-the-book kind of guy who insists on accompanying Reddington to a meet with a gangster.
So Red introduces him, “This is FBI Special Agent Donald Ressler,” and trusts him to wing it from there!
Keen’s husband Tom (Ryan Eggold) turns out to have a box hidden in their apartment containing several passports under different names and a pistol Keen confirms was associated with a homicide. Furthermore, Reddington appears to know things about them both.
Reddington asks Keen, “What if I told you everything you believe about your life is a lie?”
Of course right away you begin to suspect Keen is Reddington’s long-lost daughter, but that would be too simple. Is she possibly the daughter of an old friend Reddington swore to look after perhaps?
Not even Spader seems to know. Or at least he won’t admit to knowing anything.
“The Blacklist” is doing very well in the ratings and deserves to. The acting is good, the writing is original and there’s lots of room for character development.
I think part of the appeal of “The Blacklist” is we like the idea of scary vicious criminals brought low, but we’ve grown a bit suspicious large crime-fighting organizations like the FBI. So Reddington walks in and blithely takes over the operation. Of course that’s never going to happen but it’s kind of cool to think about.
Another is the vigilante aspect of it. The hell with building a case and arresting them, they’ll only have a slick lawyer get them off. Just kill the so-and-sos!
Of course we don’t really want that either, but it’s kind of fun to think about.
One problem with series based on progressive revelations of Deep Dark Secrets in the characters pasts is that they either have to keep the secrets buried and risk audiences getting impatient, then bored, or reveal the secrets and jump the shark.
I think they’ve got enough of a cast of supporting actors who can be brought forward into greater prominence with their own backstories to keep this going for a while though.
Another is that with plot complications like this you might not be able to jump into the series much past the first season.
Well then, if you have a taste for this kind of thing you’d better get on board. Something tells me this could be the next “Alias” or “24.”
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
Pirates! Cicero called them “Hostes humani generis,” “Enemies of all mankind.”
Pirates have been the scourge of the seas since ancient times. Julius Caesar was once the involuntary guest of a band of pirates.
America’s first foreign war was against the Barbary Pirates based in what is now Libya. The combined land and sea assault on the pirate capitol inspired the line of the Marine Corps Hymn, “…to the shores of Tripoli.”
Piracy on the high seas diminished when steamships became faster than sail-driven craft. Powered ships require refueling at friendly ports denied to pirates.
But piracy lingers in coastal areas where swift small boats can dart out from shore or operate from mother ships that appear to be fishing boats.
In 2009 the Maersk Alabama, under the command of Capt. Richard Phillips, was sailing out of Oman around the Horn of Africa bound for Mombasa, Kenya, with a varied cargo including a great deal of food aid for Africa. On April 8 the ship was boarded by Somali pirates operating out of the port city of Eyl. This marked the first seizure of an American flagged ship since the 19th century.
On April 12, Phillips was rescued by the U.S. Navy after Navy SEALs killed three pirates holding Phillips hostage on the ship’s lifeboat.
“Captain Phillips” is the story of the capture of the Maersk Alabama and the rescue of Phillips, played brilliantly by Tom Hanks.
Of interest to local audiences, the Somali pirates were played by actors recruited from the Somali community in the Twin Cities in an open casting call.
“Captain Phillips” is both a gripping real-life adventure story, and a character study of the difference between a civilized man and a barbarian.
The crew of the Maersk Alabama were civilian sailors, not military men. Though they had some anti-piracy training, they were hampered by maritime regulations that prevented them from carrying the minimal armament that could have repelled the pirates.
They must rely on fire hoses and what they can improvise. And improvise is what they do in the crisis, whether using their knowledge of the ship’s technology to cripple it in the water or scattering broken glass in a passageway to hinder barefoot pirates.
The crew are disciplined and used to taking orders. They have disputes, which ultimately resulted in a lawsuit filed by crew members against the shipping company alleging Phillips put them in danger.
But they settle their disputes according to maritime regulations, union rules and civil law. The captain does not stifle dissent, he listens to the men’s concerns. But ultimately the decisions are his and his alone.
The pirates are a band of brigands hastily put together on a beach.
The command authority of the pirate chief Muse (Barkhad Abdi) is tenuous at best. He and his crew spend a lot of time arguing and screaming at each other.
There is no discipline to speak of, except the rule of the strong and vicious. They are in an almost-constant state of panic. At one point Muse settles a dispute by killing a fellow-pirate with a pipe wrench.
The pirates handle firearms in a way anybody familiar with guns would regard as criminally reckless. They point them everywhere, fire them capriciously to get attention and beat captives with them. At one point Phillips asks a pirate using his rifle as a window breaker to please take the magazine out first.
There are so many cringe-making moments you expect an accidental discharge that it’s almost a relief when one happens.
This is contrasted with the fire discipline of the Navy SEALs who kill the pirates with one well-placed shot each, using thermal imaging scopes at night, firing from a ship at targets on a small boat tossed on the waves.
What is clear in the movie is that Phillips, though a captive at the mercy of the pirates is not helpless.
Phillips is an active participant in his own rescue. He prepares beforehand through drills and makes contingency plans. He is able to delay and confuse the pirates. He communicates with his men and the Navy under the noses of the pirates. And he keeps his head when they are losing theirs.
The pirates on the other hand seem driven by circumstances once their initial plan is thwarted. They have no contingency plans. Their ability to improvise is nil. They have no chain of command. Once Muse is lured off the lifeboat to negotiate there is no one capable of taking command.
“Captain Phillips” manages to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, even though you know how it turns out.
Don’t miss it because you do know how it turns out. There’s a lot you didn’t know and a lot of food for thought.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
“Gravity” is only an hour-and-a-half long, has only two stars on screen, has more monolog than dialog and less of either than background music. It’s going to knock your socks off.
It was directed and o-written by Alfonso Cuarón who wanted to be a film director and an astronaut as a kid.
As the film opens Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist performing repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope while astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is skylarking around nearby in a jet pack, anticipating this will be his last mission and the end of his dream of beating the world spacewalk record.
Stone is obviously uncomfortable in space, she’s a specialist not an astronaut.
They get word there is a Kessler syndrome event triggered by the Russians blowing up one of their old satellites with a missile.
Kessler syndrome is a theory proposed by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978. If something as big as the International Space Station were smacked hard enough to break it up, it would trigger a catastrophic debris chain-reaction creating an orbiting debris field in near earth orbit which would make it impossible to launch space missions or satellites for decades.
Before they can get back to the shuttle and initiate reentry a cloud of space debris moving at meteoric speeds damages the shuttle, killing all inside and one other astronaut on spacewalk. All communications satellites are destroyed, cutting off contact with the earth.
They are the only survivors, and Stone’s oxygen is running out.
There ensues a desperate battle for survival while racing against the clock. The debris field sweeps by every 90 minutes.
They must first get to the International Space Station in space suits, then to the Chinese Space station Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) to try and find a reusable reentry vehicle.
“Gravity” is set in the near future when we again have a space shuttle. The Chinese have expanded Tiangong, now a one-room efficiency in space, to the ISS-sized station they have planned.
It reportedly languished in development hell for four years while the technology to film it came online. While filming Bullock had to spend nine to ten hours a day in a specially designed chamber hanging from wires in a spacesuit, communicating only through a headset.
It was worth it, and it’s going to be hard for her to top this. Bullock is so good it’s hard to believe they even considered anyone else for the role. She moves from panic, getting a grip, courage, resolution, despair, defiance, and joy in the space of minutes with utter conviction.
There are some technical quibbles. Evidently the Hubble is on a slightly different orbit from the ISS making getting from one to the other in a jet pack problematical. At one point Stone swaps space suits for one off the rack in the ISS. I understand each suit is a million dollar custom-made one-of-a-kind. But since we get to see Sandra Bullock floating weightless in shorts and a T-shirt I’m not going to complain.
Legendary astronaut “Buzz Aldrin” said the view of earth was a bit too sharp – but he loved the movie anyway.
You could say “Gravity” is an action thriller, where the protagonist goes from one hair-breadth escape to another, and you’d be right.
You could also say it’s a special effects movie, with spectacular scenery involving lots of stuff blowing up in weightlessness and the eerie silence of space, and you’d be right too.
It’s a wonderfully precise character development movie. Wisecracking Kowalski brings out everything, I mean everything you need to know about Stone in one short dialog. Stone was a mother once, whose little girl died in a freak playground accident. Since then, she hasn’t had a life, she has a job.
Heck it’s a lot of things. It’s “Men Against the Sea” in space. It’s a fictionalized “Apollo 13” (1995) on “Speed” (1994), complete with Ed Harris back in mission control.
But most of all it’s a story about courage, perseverance and fighting to live when it would be so easy just to curl up and die.
It is in fact about all the qualities we’ll need to take on the endless adventure that awaits us beyond the sky.
How many times has Robert DeNiro played a gangster?
We could refine that question. How many times has De Niro played a mafioso? As opposed to a Jewish gangster (“Once Upon a Time in America,” 1984), a half-Italian wiseguy (“Goodfellas,” 1990) or Al Capone (“The Untouchables,” 1987).
(Capone was Neapolitan, the mafia is a Sicilian thing.)
De Niro has played young Vito Corleone (“The Godfather Part II, 1974), Lorenzo Anello (“A Bronx Tale,” 1993) and Paul Vitti (“Analyze This,” 1999, “Analyze That,” 2002). The guy either got typecast early or there’s something about him that looks like a mafioso, although De Niro is in fact only part Italian, along with Irish, German, French and Dutch ancestry.
So how often has De Niro played a mafioso? Maybe once too many times.
“The Family” is a French movie directed by Luc Besson. Though made in English with a largely American cast, it has a certain je ne sais quois, a French sort of feel to it. I kind of liked it, but I kind of didn’t feel good about liking it.
De Niro plays mafioso Giovanni Manzoni, a.k.a. Fred Blake because he’s in the witness protection program with his family: wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), son Warren (John D’Leo) and dog Malavita (title of the novel by Tonino Benacquista it’s based on).
As the film opens the family is relocating from the French Riviera to Normandy. It appears they have a problem being inconspicuous. This is brought home when De Niro unloads a body from the trunk and inters it in the garden of their new house.
Immediately and in spite of warnings by their FBI handler Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), Frank and Maggie start to use muscle on locals who disrespect them and their children have organized their own mini-mafia at school.
Frank puts a plumber in the hospital for trying to shake him down. Maggie burns down a grocery store after the proprietor and customers are really nasty and offensive to her. Belle beats a would-be high school rapist to a pulp. Warren does the same to the leader of the gang that beat him up the first day of school.
All of this falls in the category of black comedy wish fulfillment fantasy. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if you really could beat those high school bullies who made your life miserable to a pulp? And wouldn’t it be great if you could do it not just with brute force but with masterful planning that made them realize they’d messed with the wrong people?
Ever been cheated by a crooked businessman and been told the cost of the lawsuit would be greater than the sum you recovered? Ever have meaningful fantasies involving baseball bats?
Of course you have, everybody has.
That’s part of the appeal of “The Family,” the dream of obnoxious people getting their comeuppance.
Another part of the appeal is, the Manzoni/Blake family is loving and close. Fred loves Maggie, they both love their children, the family atmosphere is warm and affectionate.
Belle however, wants out of her life on the run and is saving herself for true love. So you know she’s bound for heartbreak.
Maggie is friends with the two FBI guys on stakeout across the street and brings them delicious Italian food. They in turn are indignant about the cad who breaks Belle’s heart.
Stansfield and Fred have a complex relationship. Fred calls Stansfield, “the guy who made my life living hell for six years.”
Nonetheless there’s an element of respect there.
Fred himself is discovering his voice as a writer, which would make any writer envious of the material he has to work with.
There are some very clever allusions to previous gangster films. Watch for the way Belle loses her innocence, the baseball bat and Fred being invited to discourse on “Goodfellas” at a meeting of the local film society.
But… the essence of black comedy is comeuppance. What happens to the victims is supposed to be at least a little deserved. The motives of the avenger at least a little sympathetic.
Black comedy ceases to be funny the moment an innocent is killed.
“Prizzi’s Honor” (1985) was another black comedy mafia film that was pretty amusing, until an innocent woman walks in on a hit and is shot dead by Kathleen Turner.
When the mob catches up with the Blake/Manzoni family due to a chain of incredible coincidences, there is a holocaust of innocents.
The family prevails and all is well – except for the carnage left behind.
There could be a subtle point in there Besson is making. Or it could just be the writer wrote himself into a corner he couldn’t write himself out of.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
Film making is changing. One sign of this is when an unknown brother and sister team who have only made shorts before come out of nowhere with a feature-length film that knocks your socks off and sweeps the awards at the film festivals of Tribeca, Berlin, Brasilia, Deauville, Athens Ft. Lauderdale, Stockholm, India, and Oaxaca.
The other is that you can actually see it even if you don’t live in a city with an art house cinema. You go over to Amazon.com and rent it for $6.99 to watch on your computer or Kindle.
The latter is remarkable because “Una Noche” (“One Night”) has an underlying theme that is not popular in Hollywood, where luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson make the pilgrimage to Havana to schmooze with Fidel and dine out on stories of what a hell of a guy he is.
The basic premise is, Cuba is a rotten place to live.
Since 1959 when Cuba traded the corrupt but easygoing Batista for Fidel and his crew of murderous psychopaths, Havana, once one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere, has become a decaying corpse rotting in the tropical sun.
Everybody hustles to make a living. Since the subsidy from Fidel’s patron disappeared with the Soviet Union, Cuba has been turned into a brothel where rich tourists come to take advantage of poor and desperate Cubans. “Una Noche” shows this brilliantly with few words and a lot of inspired camera work.
“Una Noche” was written and directed by Lucy Molloy, an Englishwoman and Oxford grad who studied film at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. It was produced by her brother Daniel among others.
Molloy spent years in Cuba gathering 35 mm film footage and worked entirely with non-professional actors. Someday the story of how this movie was made is going to be a fascinating documentary in its own right, because it could not possibly have been authorized by the Cuban government.
In 2010 during production, Molloy was awarded a Spike Lee Production Grant Award. I haven’t felt good about Lee since he essentially publicly solicited the murder of George Zimmerman’s parents (and got the address wrong), but this was a good thing.
“Una Noche” is the story of three teens: Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) and her twin brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián) who share a bond closer than anyone can imagine. Until Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) comes into Elio’s life.
Lila and Elio are the children of a soldier and his wife. Raul’s mother is an aging HIV-infected prostitute.
Raul wants to escape to Miami where his almost-forgotten father lives. Elio would like to go with him, but is torn by the need to protect his tough but vulnerable sister on the cusp of womanhood. Lila is afraid of the sea.
Raul is collecting the materials for a raft to make the 90-mile trip across the Florida Straits. He barters for inner tubes. He steals scraps of lumber and breaks into a car to steal a GPS.
He buys black market anti-HIV drugs for his mother, and medical glucose solution to provision the raft from a nurse out of the back door of a clinic.
“Don’t let anyone see that list,” the nurse cautions, “or they’ll know you’re leaving the country.”
Then Raul is accused of assaulting a tourist, a crime only a little less serious than subversion in Cuba, and his desire to leave becomes an urgent necessity.
“Everyone in Havana knows you can’t run from the police,” Lila says. “You can choose to hide or make the most of the time you have left.”
Everything leads up to “One Night” at sea on a makeshift raft. Where the nature of Elio’s love for Raul comes out, and Lila’s womanhood ripens in the midst of confusion and catastrophe.
There have been many films that have attempted to show what life under tyranny is like. Notable ones from Latin America include “El Secreto en sus Ojos” (“The Secret in their Eyes” Argentina, 2009) and Cuban-American Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” (2005). Most of them are about affluent, intellectual people who can discourse on the meaning of tyranny. Few have captured the “nervous desperation” of life under tyranny like “Una Noche.”
“Una Noche” is about the lives of poor, superstitious, entirely unpolitical people.
When the boys determine they are going to risk the trip across the Florida Straits that have claimed an unknown number of lives, they don’t discourse about freedom, they consult a witch to tell their fortune and make them a good luck charm.
When “Una Noche” premiered in the U.S. at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Javier Nuñez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, disappeared, reportedly defecting.
UPDATE: I found out recently the film was actually shown in Cuba to wildly enthusiastic response from audiences – then it was banned.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is the film adaptation of a book in the young adult urban fantasy genre. The book is the first of five, soon to be six, in a series. There is also a prequel trilogy set in the Victorian Era, and a planned sequel trilogy set in the near-term future. So fans will have a lot to look forward to if “City of Bones” is a box-office success.
I haven’t read any of them.
This presents a problem only insofar as I can’t speak to how well and faithfully the movie was adapted from the book. I can say I haven’t yet heard any reports of an outraged author, Cassandra Clare (nee Judith Rumelt).
Interestingly the books include some references and cross-characters to works by Clare’s friend Holly Black, author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and other children’s fantasy.
There is, as several critics have noted, virtually nothing original about the plot devices in “City of Bones.”
That’s not necessarily bad though. Mythic material is part of our common heritage, stories we’ve heard many times before and never grow tired of hearing. Writers like Charles DeLint and Stephen King have done wonderful treatments of old familiar stories such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Monkey’s Paw” respectively.
What matters is how well the material is adapted for modern audiences, and here I’m going to have to say the jury is still out.
The plot elements are all there: the tribes of faerie, the hidden world coexisting with our own, the young hero unaware of her heritage coming into her own and discovering her powers, the identity of the true father, the quest for the objects of power.
Clarissa “Clary” Fray (Lilly Collins) is a teenage girl living with her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey). She has no father but mom’s boyfriend Luke Garroway (Aidan Turner) serves as a father figure. Her best and only friend is Simon Lewis (Robert Sheehan) a nerdy boy who is, obvious to everyone but her, smitten with her.
Clary is having more than the usual teenage problems though. She starts to compulsively sketch a peculiar rune and she sees people others can’t see. Then she sees one of the people only she can see kill someone only she can see.
That person is Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) a shadow hunter.
Clary it seems is also a shadow hunter, a race of half-angelic beings who hunt demons. Furthermore, her mother has had he memory blocked by a powerful wizard.
Events move swiftly. Clary returns home to find her mother gone and her apartment trashed. Then she’s attacked by a demon, a really icky one. Jace arrives to save her. Pretty soon she’s seriously crushing on Jace.
Of course the course of true love can never run smooth. It seems there’s a teensy little problem here, Jace may be her brother.
Oh yes, and Jace has a partner, a guy who’s secretly crushing on him (Kevin Zegers). Gay is evidently a big no-no among shadow hunters.
Not to mention they are apparently the children of the main villain, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Valentine is a former shadow hunter who wants the objects of power, in this case the Mortal Cup that can change mundanes (that’s us normal folks) into half-angels. Valentine is willing to deal with demons to get it.
There is much to like about “City of Bones.” The magic starts out visually understated without an over-reliance on special effects. The transition from Brooklyn to the hidden world is quite stunning. The characters are appealing enough. Lilly Collins is still the adorable pixie she was in “Mirror Mirror” it’s hard to realize she’s 24.
Some stuff doesn’t jibe. What are all the British accents doing in New York?
When Jase and Clary are enjoying a first kiss at Clary’s door and Simon opens it on them, Jase reacts like an child rather than a warrior seasoned by a life of fighting demons. It’s quite frankly painful to watch.
There are said to be three objects of power, the first of which is the Mortal Cup. I’ve peeked at the book blubs and another is a sword. That’s two out of four suits of the Tarot cards, which figure prominently in the movie. The others are wands and coins. So is there a fourth?
This series has promise, even if you haven’t read the books.
Quibbles? It’s nothing I wouldn’t be perfectly happy with my children seeing. I just wish there was more heroism and less teen angst and I wish the mythic material hung together a bit better.
And I think it’s kind of chickenpoop to have angels and demons, but no mention of God or Satan.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TC Guide of the Marshall Independent.
“We’re the Millers” looks like it started out with some clever ideas and got assembled by committee.
Aw heck, it’s got some funny moments that are worth some of your time and you get to see Jennifer Aniston doing a strip tease, not too tacky! But overall it’s disappointing.
And do not take your children!
David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a pot dealer and has been since college. They’ve obviously made it about pot rather than harder drugs to generate some kind of sympathy for this loser. He deals pretty significant amounts, but the real money is made by his mega-rich boss and former college chum Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms).
This seems somehow appropriate. Pot is the drug of choice of perpetual adolescents who don’t actively destroy themselves, but never seem to get anywhere in life either.
David gets all his stash and cash ripped off while doing something conspicuously noble, saving a runaway girl Casey (Emma Roberts) from getting robbed and maybe worse.
You’d think a street-wise dealer would have 1) put his stash away before confronting the hoods (And why is he carrying so much cash and weed anyway?) or 2) just offered them some to let her alone. Never mind.
Brad wants his money, but sees a way out if Dave will head South of the Border and bring back a major shipment in an RV. As in serious time in a Mexican prison major.
Dave gets an idea so brilliant you wonder why he’s not the boss. Recruit a very, very middle-class looking family to come along as cover. (I’d tell you mine but I’m hoping for a big-time offer.)
The wife: Dave’s neighbor Sarah (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper who quit her job in high dudgeon rather than take the next step down into actual prostitution.
The son: Kenny (Will Poulter), Dave’s neighbor whose mother left to go out with friends – a week ago.
The daughter: Casey the homeless girl.
Dave’s first order of business, get a haircut so he doesn’t look so obviously like a dealer and why didn’t he do that when he was wandering around the street with a man-purse full of pot and cash?
Complications ensue. They pick up the load in the RV – except it turns out they’ve unwittingly ripped off a powerful Mexican drug lord. Oops!
Get back across the border with an RV loaded with weed – and run into a vacationing couple who turn out to be a DEA agent (Nick Offerman), his flighty and somewhat kinky wife (Kathryn Hahn), and their beautiful redhaired daughter (Molly Quinn) who Kenny falls hard for.
OK there is plenty of good material here for a decent comedy of errors. The trope of being chased by bad guys while unable to go to the police can be used either for thrillers or comedy oddly enough.
It also falls within the “fake family bonding” genre, wherein a group of unrelated people are forced by circumstance to assume family roles and grow into them.
The acting is decent, much of the dialog is witty, and it does succeed in achieving some moments of knuckle-biting suspense. It just doesn’t hang together, and that’s all about the writing.
Dave’s character transformation is all over the map. He’s goes from unambitious loser to master planner. He does something inspiringly noble at the very beginning, and then tries to persuade Kenny to submit to gay rape to bribe a Mexican cop a few scenes later. Just a little after that he’s offering to die for the people he dragged into this situation.
Sarah is a hard-as-nails stripper, who somehow has kept away from actual prostitution and recoils in horror from it. She talks like a foul-mouthed hooker on occasion then goes icky-sticky gooey protective of the kids.
The narc Don starts out as incredibly dense and kind of kinky-weird, but comes through with courage and masterful fighting skills when needed.
Don’s wife Edie however remains in ditsy character throughout.
Out of this they’ve got to pull a happy ending, where the characters become real family or it wouldn’t be a comedy. “We’re the Millers” does that with an admittedly clever plot twist.
One has to wonder about the meaning of that. In a time where we have so many dysfunctional, so many broken families, was this intended as a message of hope? Yes you too can create a wonderful family out of the most hopeless situation.
If it was, I just wish they’d been more convincing.
If you see this on DVD or cable you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more than if you spend $8 apiece for it plus popcorn.
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
On the strength of precisely one feature-length movie, “District 9” (2009), South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2009, by Forbes magazine as the 21st most powerful celebrity from Africa, and by legendary director Ridley Scott as a “game-changing filmmaker.”
“Elysium” grossed $11 million on opening day, and $139 million box office to date. It’s already made back the $115 million production costs.
“District 9” was made for a paltry $30 million and did $211 million box office. So it’s a safe bet Hollywood is going to let Blomkamp make more films.
That is unless they catch on to what he’s up to. Then he’s toast.
“Elysium” is set in a very dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2154. The city is a third world slum populated by a massive influx from Latin America.
Max (Matt Damon) is the rare underclass Anglo. He’s a former car thief/convict who works in a factory which makes robot police. The same ones who beat the stuffings out of him for sarcastic backtalk.
Overhead in orbit is Elysium, a wheel-shaped space colony (technically a Stanford torus) populated by one percenters in the ultimate gated community.
Lots of the earthly poor would like to get there, not least because every mansion has med-pods which can fix anything short of death.
Most get shot down by Kruger (Sharlto Copley) an operative with a thick South African accent, employed by Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
The squeamish president of Elysium wants this to stop. Delacourt cooly asks him if he has any children, as she does.
Delacourt has a stake in the future, and is willing to protect it at any cost – including staging a coup.
Back on Earth Max is trying to go more-or-less straight, but is forced to hire on with a gangster in a job to invade Elysium when he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work. He’s got five days to live and needs to get to a med-pod.
Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), a nurse, also has an interest in the job because her daughter is dying of leukemia.
Hollywood loves to hate rich people running evil corporations who get warm fuzzies oppressing and exploiting the poor and downtrodden.
Hollywood is of course the home of humble craftsmen toiling in a cottage industry.
Reviews have been wildly divergent. Some conservative media have dismissed “Elysium” as socialist claptrap.
On the other side of the aisle, Ben Kenigsberg at Roger Ebert’s site calls it a “class allegory.”
Me? I think Blomkamp is trying to make us think uncomfortable thoughts about problems which have no easy solution – or perhaps no solution at all. An unforgivable sin in Hollywood.
Blomkamp is an Afrikaner, descendant of Dutch, French Huguenots, and a mixed bag of European dissenters. He was raised during the last gasp of Apartheid, and saw civilization in South Africa start to unravel after it ended.
His mother took him and his siblings to Canada after a 17-year-old friend was murdered by carjackers in his own driveway. He once saw a black janitor beaten half to death by a gang of blankes (whites).
On a trip to Tiajuana, just across a thin line from San Diego, Blomkamp was kidnapped and held for $900 ransom – by the police.
Note the fictional Los Angeles of “Elysium” was filmed in the very real Mexico City.
What Blomkamp presents us with fictionally, is the reality that industrial civilization provides us with a lot of nice stuff, not least of which is medical care that prevents most of our children from dying in childhood.
But that’s not the case in much of the rest of the world. From our southern border to the tip of South America are millions of people who would like to have what we have. People who love their children as much as we love ours.
But what would happen if the borders fell?
Apartheid was morally repugnant. So is what happened after the apartheid regime in Rhodesia fell to the joy of all right-thinking peoples who don’t live there. So is what’s happening in Blomkamp’s native South Africa.
And maybe Los Angeles soon enough, the city Blomkamp calls “Johannesburg lite.”
Anyone remember that Cuban and Argentine working classes once had higher standards of living than the United States?
Blomkamp sees that civilization balances on a knife edge, and appreciates it more than those who’ve always had it ever can.
Hollywood evidently saw “Elysium” as a movie about the virtuous poor versus the villainous rich. They didn’t see that Blomkamp’s vision of the future is much more complicated than that.
Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell them, and maybe we’ll see more movies from this game-changing filmmaker.
UPDATE: OK, “Elysium” has been out for a while and I can indulge in a spoiler in good conscience. I just had a conversation with a bud who told me a conservative friend complained the movie was 10 minutes too long – referring to the scene at the end where the shuttles take off from Elysium full of med pods and land in the slums.
Joyous mobs of people rush to the shuttles to get all their ails fixed. Because of course the only reason the inhabitants of Elysium never did this of their own free will is that they are heartless one-percenters who enjoy being the only people who can fix everything that goes wrong with their bodies.
What struck me was, maybe the movie should have gone on for another ten minutes.
Millions of people rushing to… how many med pods? People who can neither build nor maintain them.
And how much energy do they use? How much computing power, if they are fixing things on the DNA level? How much rare or hard-to-get material do they use? How often do they break down and what does it take to fix them?
And what’s going to happen when the next thousand people in line, assuming these people do lines, hear “Beep, beep, beep. Only ten fixits left on this med pod.”?
Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
“Pacific Rim” is director Guillermo del Toro’s take on the Japanese genre of Kaiju and mecha films, with he says a dash of inspiration from Francisco de Goya’s painting “The Colossus.”
“Kaiju” means “strange creature” in Japanese and is used to describe big monsters who destroy Tokyo regular as clockwork. The original kaiju is of course, Godzilla.
“Mecha” describes a gigantic humanoid armored fighting vehicle. Not exactly a robot, it’s controlled by human pilots in the head. Mechas came into Western entertainment media via the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
“The Colossus,” (“El Coloso”) also known as “El gigante” (“The Giant”), “El pánico” (“The Panic”) and “La tormenta” (“The Storm”) portrays a giant striding through a landscape with terrified people and animals fleeing in all directions.
So out of a combination of trashy Japanese pop culture and inspiration from a painter called “the soul of Spain” you get…?
Something not as terrible as it sounds actually.
Del Toro is known for fantasy and horror films. As a film maker he leads kind of a double life. His English-language films are often adapted from comic books, such as “Blade II” and “Hellboy.” His Spanish films “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” are critically acclaimed works about life in Spain under the dictatorship of Franco.
But del Toro sees them as part of the same movie, the one movie a director makes all his life.
“Hellboy is as personal to me as Pan’s Labyrinth,” del Toro told Twitch Film, the website devoted to independent and cult films, in January, 2013.
“Pacific Rim” is set in the near future after Earth is invaded by monsters who come through a dimensional rift in the ocean floor and rise up from the sea to attack coastal cities.
The kaiju can be killed by lots of tanks and planes but with great losses. So the nations of the Earth unite to form the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, and build giant mechas called “jaegers,” German for “hunter.”
Jaegers are controlled by two pilots whose nervous systems are linked in something called the “drift,” which meshes their minds and memories.
Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) is a beached jaeger pilot, traumatized by the death of his brother and co-pilot while linked in the drift.
Becket is brought back into service by his old commander Stacker Pentecost (Idries Elba) because the short-sighted powers that be are winding down the jaeger program in favor of big coastal walls.
But nerd scientist Dr. Newton Geizler (Charlie Day) has used drift technology to link with kaiju brains and discovered their plans for Earth. Plans which don’t include us. The remaining jaegers have to push back before the Earth becomes the kaiju buffet table.
Of course, Becket needs a new partner and it so happens Pentecost has a lovely adopted daughter he rescued from the ruins of Tokyo, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who has performed way off the charts in jaeger simulators and is itching for revenge.
Mori obviously wants to team with Becket, but pairing pilots in the drift is psychologically exacting, and they’re both damaged people.
What follows is a courtship that starts with a match fought with quarterstaffs, after which Raleigh will have no other for a partner. Pentecost says no way.
What follows is cliche. They try it as a team, blow it and are taken offline. Then circumstances make it necessary for Pentecost to put them back into action. You’ve seen this a bunch of times before.
But Del Toro puts an interesting spin on it. It’s a love story with a difference.
Jaeger pilots are all tightly knit teams. There’s an Australian father-and-son pair, a Russian couple, and a set of Chinese triplets. Becket and Mori have to open up to each other on the fly and forge a relationship closer than has ever been possible before drift technology.
Del Toro shows close intimacy developing between the couple by skillful indirection, culminating in a brief forehead touch at the end – which conveys more raw emotion than a porno.
There are some interesting supporting characters with their own story arcs, such as a black market dealer in kaiju parts Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman).
Unfortunately there’s not a lot of time amid all the action to develop what could have been some interesting character development.
There was evidently a lot taken out of the final cut to make the movie manageably long.
But word is that co-writer Travis Beacham and Del Toro are writing a sequel so maybe we’ll be seeing more of the characters.