Monday, August 29, 2016
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
|The one-sheet by Kyle Lambert. I would|
call this composition form "Drew Struzan
Baroque:" The color fields, grouping
and eye-lines are nearly identical to
any number of his 1980's posters.
In 1983 Indiana, a young boy suddenly vanishes after a game of D and D with his friends. This sparks several searches and investigations by the missing boy’s friends, family and local authorities, which soon start turning up something unsettling, malevolent and supernatural lurking in the woods outside town. At the same time a strange girl appears, an escapee from a secret government site, embodied with telekinetic powers-- who may prove to be the key to finding the missing boy.
|Millie Bobby Brown as "Eleven." Apparently|
that buzz cut was not all that easy to achieve.
|The Duffer Brothers with Winona Rider on the|
set of "Stranger Things." Or is this an homage
to Dead Ringers (1988)?
A few notes:
|Castroville in da house!|
Cinematic New Mexico: this was the name of a TV and movie trope where cell phones are useless. In the days before wireless become omnipresent horror stories were often set in rural areas, so the instant communication afforded by cell technology was eliminated, which increased the isolation of the characters and intensified the drama. ("New Mexico" was, for a time, a mythical movie region where cell phones didn't work.) 1983 was definitely the pre-cellphone era. This allows places like a regular rural house to be completely cut off and vulnerable to attack from inter-dimensional monsters. The filmmakers even hang a lantern on this by having a regular land-line phone fry into uselessness not once, but twice. This was obviously not the entire reason to set “Stranger Things” in the pre-cellphone past, but it sure didn’t hurt.
Local Angle: Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), a friend of the missing boy, wears a “Castroville Artichoke Festival” t-shirt for several episodes. It’s totally unmotivated— He lives in Hawkins, Indiana: Castroville is in Central California, south of Santa Cruz. I do appreciate the shout-out.
* h/t to Jared N. Wright, who coined this one-line summary. Once he wrote it, I couldn’t get past it, so I just included it.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Monday, August 15, 2016
Monday, August 8, 2016
|Maybe reviewers saw the subtitle "Worst. Heroes. Ever."|
and took it at face value.
I left the screening wondering if the film’s many critical detractors and I saw the same movie. I thought it was pretty enjoyable.
Let me clarify.
We’re living deep in the Comic Book Movie Era. Superhero movies rule box offices worldwide. They are now nothing less than a fully formed cinematic genre, with major and minor characters, multi—year story arcs, and very solid and reliable generic characteristics. So, as an new entry into this well-defined genre, Suicide Squad fulfills most of its expectations: it’s filled with action and cross-franchise references and juvenile humor and even more juvenile depictions of adult relationships. It’s PG-13, so they are holding back quite a bit on the gore on this one, but the body count is also near the normal level for this genre.
I kept getting the feeling that critics were slagging on Suicide Squad as a bad film— compared to the totality of Hollywood movies. Maybe that’s true: it isn’t as good as Chariots of Fire or Michael Clayton or L’Avventura or Dodgeball: a True Underdog Story. But as a comic-book movie, it’s truly right in the middle of the pack. If you approach Suicide Squad as an entry in a superhero universe franchise— but if you are NOT a comic book fan or even that familiar with comic books— than the film works perfectly well. We are introduced to a group of new characters via backstory, given the signposts and guides to these new characters inside the universe, and the plot is set into motion. Sure, it was dumbed-down and expository scene’ed to death, but without exposition most audiences would be totally out to sea because this films stars some decidely minor DC characters.*
|Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in a rare publicity still|
with another character.
The main story— a group of rag-tag villains is banded together to fight an evil superpower— is another misfire, poorly motivated from conception, really. The main characters are so unwilling to be heroic that at one point they all check out of the story and go get a drink in a bar. From a screenwriting perspective, this is hilariously telling. There is an uncanny and spooky effect in the writing process where characters who are stuck in bad plots will try to get out. They will talk to the writer: “This is stupid: I shouldn’t even be here!” There’s a scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron where Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) hangs a lantern on this effect: “The city is flying and we're fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.” But poorly motivated final battles are a hallmark of comic-book movies, so again: I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
What does work in Suicide Squad are the characters you see in every publicity still: Harley Quinn and The Joker. the sheer amount insane energy Margot Robbie and Jared Leto put into their interpretations is evident on-screen, and both are so vivid they make every other character fade into the background— even Deadshot (Will Smith). People have been looking forward to Harley Quinn’s big-screen debut with as much anticipation as Wonder Woman’s— and she does not disappoint. Funny, sexy, wisecracking and fearless— she’s a character who will go into battle with a super-powered villain armed with a baseball bat-- and think nothing of it. Very much looking forward to her inevitable solo movie.
|The Joker, breaking the fourth wall to make you pee a little.|
Bad teeth and no eyebrows are menacing enough.
Strangely, what this film reminded me of most was not another DC or even a Marvel movie: It looked and felt a lot like Mystery Men (1999) a high water mark of the heyday of the Dark Horse Cinematic Universe. It has the same colorful design, outlandish, hand-made-looking costumes and grungy detail. it also featured a rather large roster of fairly unknown comic-book characters, juvenile humor and a somewhat limp main story. Much better villain: tho: I’ll take Casanova Frankenstein over The Enchantress any day.
* Both Marvel and DC superhero movies bury easter eggs in the credits. True fans always advise to stick around for these. But the coda at the end of Suicide Squad— no spoiler— I swear is nothing but Viola Davis and Ben Affleck spewing dense comic-book implications at each other for three minutes. I didn’t understand any of it.