25 June 2012

I Go to the Summer Movies: Brave

Who would think at the start of the summer that Brave was concealing more of its plot and themes than Prometheus? Strange days, my friends.

Ninety percent of the trailer for Brave comes from the first twenty-five percent of the movie. And to continue with percentages, fifty percent of Brave is a great film, and worthy to stand beside earlier Pixar classics. But except for a few flashes in the trailer, Disney and Pixar have revealed nothing of this later-running time greatness to you. The marketing department and directors Andrew Jones and Brenda Chapman have even specifically asked reviewers to hide what the center of the movie is about.

This is not a case of concealing a twist ending or a mid-movie shocker, but disguising the core of the film. Imagine a trailer for Pinocchio that never reveals that the puppet comes to life: it’s the story of a sad woodcarver and his pets who meet a blue fairy, and later on an enormous whale may peep into the plot. Or a trailer for King Kong that not only never shows the eighteen-foot gorilla, it never hints that there might be a giant monster of any sort in the film. According to this trailer, King Kong looks like the tale of a young woman who goes on a voyage with a film crew, possibly to find (dinosaur- and gorilla-free) adventure and romance away from dreary Depression Era New York.

18 June 2012

Conan the Barbarian (2011) Blow-by-Blow & Play-by-Play

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I have a week-long break between summer movie reviews—the gap between Prometheus and Brave—so I have chosen to return to Ghosts of Summer Pasts. Not long past. Just last year. Ladies and gentlemen, Hyborians and Hyrkanians, the 2011 Conan the Barbarian! [Insert tepid Monty Python and the Holy Grail “yeah” here.]

Many movie websites do play-by-play reviews, essentially a one-post blog-thru of a film, providing comments along with time stamps. I’ve wanted to try my hand at this for years, and this short summer break opened up the opportunity to exercise this review format on an awful film that sword-and-sorcery fans don’t want to talk about. But if I can find a way to wrench some entertainment from the Blu-ray of this movie (yes, I bought it—but used at a bargain price), then let it be so.

It was August of ’11 that saw the release and immediate flop of the Marcus Nispel-directed Conan the Barbarian. Critics savaged the movie, but most fans of Robert E. Howard saw the dire writing in the ancient language of Acheron on the wall long before the release. I gave up hope for the movie when I heard that Nispel was attached to it. Nothing I had seen of the man’s previous work indicated he had any notion of theme or subtlety—or even how to stich together a comprehensible action scene. The guy came across as a refugee from an awful ’80s metal band who decided to get into directing so he could show “awesome!” stuff on screen. In other words, he was picked for the job because of a superficial resemblance to sword-and-sorcery, not because the man has any affinity for filmmaking or Robert E. Howard.

08 June 2012

I Go to the Summer Movies: Prometheus

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

If you plan to see Prometheus this weekend, know that you are in for an endless buffet of visual astonishment, especially if you spring to see it in IMAX 3D. Ridley Scott belongs to the breed of filmmaker who can justify the use of the 3D gimmick. He poured everything at his disposal to make his new science-fiction film worth the extra dollars, euros, pound notes needed to watch it in an immersive environment. Prometheus is visual and aural splendor for the cinema.

Know also that you will meet flat characters who often do idiotic things (“Don’t pet the freaky alien snake-thingy! You call yourself a scientist?”) and more idiotic things (“Don’t take off your helmets, you morons! You call yourselves space-explorers?”) and more idiotic things (“Don’t go down into the basement alone!” Well, that doesn’t specifically happen, but many equivalent things do); a script that turns its initial concept into a shapeless mess by the halfway point; and the general disappointment of watching what promised to be an amazing return for Ridley Scott to the Alien universe he helped create end up as standard science-fiction thriller pulp.

Does this add up to a good film? Uh, I’m willing to say it does. And whether “good” is enough for you when it comes to Prometheus will depend on how much you anticipated its release and how much you devoured of its brilliant promotional and viral campaigns.

04 June 2012

I Go to the Summer Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Summer movies, like boxes of Crackerjacks (does anyone still eat those? I never see them for sale any more), come packed with surprises. And, like Crackerjacks toys, often they are lame surprises. Let-downs. Occasionally—and it usually happens only once per summer—the toy you dig out of the same-old same-old carmel and peanut glop is a Hot Wheels car with flame details and killer sci-fi spoilers that somebody in the Crackerjack plant accidentally dropped into the box while leaving hastily for a smoke break.

Snow White and the Huntsmen is one of those positive summer surprises. I hope it isn’t the last “Hot Wheels” shock of the season, but in the month-long lull that followed the boffo fun of The Avengers, I’ll take it and cling to it.

A high-fantasy film like Snow White and the Huntsman (the ampersand only appears on publicity material) should not be a hard-sell to my usual readers. But the marketing and trailers pushed hard to get the Twilight fan-base to show up, so fantasy lovers pegged it early on as “not for us.” But it is! The Twilight viewers will love it, but they’ll like it for the same reasons other viewers will: it’s a broad-appealing, well-constructed, marvelous-looking, fun fantasy romp.