Saturday, July 21, 2012

Your Highness

Year 4, Day 202 - 7/20/12 - Movie #1,193

BEFORE: Natalie Portman carries over from "Black Swan", I've got a mini-chain of 4 films starring her.

I don't know if I've mentioned it here already (probably...) but in about a month and a half, I'll be starting a chain of films that will serve as the last chain for this calendar year.  About 63 films that may or may not have a lot in common, but they'll be organized according to the city or country in which the film takes place.  Taken together, they will comprise a cinematic trip around the world, not-so-coincidentally beginning (and hopefully also ending) in San Francisco, site of my recent trip.  So please stay tuned for that, it promises to be an epic feat of organized virtual travel.

But tonight, I'm going back into medieval times, in the land of, umm, whereever the heck this takes place.  Medieval-land, all right?

THE PLOT: When Prince Fabious's bride is kidnapped, he goes on a quest to rescue her... accompanied by his lazy useless brother Thadeous.

AFTER: This film could have gone really wrong - my first thought is that a fantasy quest film, played as a modern comedy, would be like mixing two foods.  Will it end up like chocolate and peanut butter, or pickles and ice cream?  It almost seems like something that shouldn't work on paper, but might be mildly entertaining if someone can cast the right actors and set the right comedic tone.  

Fortunately, the tone here was somewhere between "Clash of the Titans" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights".  Which places it somewhere close to an action/comedy like "Time Bandits", mixed with a bit of "Pineapple Express". 

If you can get past the dick jokes, and put up with medieval knights using modern curse-words, just hang tight, because the pieces all do come together at the end for an action-packed climax.  It did seem a little by-the-numbers, even for a fantasy epic, but I think it's the kind of film that could grow on me.  Heck, it's almost the kind of film I wish I could write - I've got the idea for a sword-and-sorcery film that ideally would also have comedic elements, and also serve as a relationship drama.  But I don't want to give the idea away.

What I should keep in mind is that it's very difficult for a film to be all things at once.  Most times I would say that a film needs to choose whether it wants to be an action film or a comedy, but since this one didn't take itself too seriously, it gets a bit of a pass.  And while the special effects won't take home many awards, they are there, and they're believably fantastic (meaning "of fantasy", not necessarily "great").  It just seems like the cast and the filmmakers were enjoying themselves, and that goes a long way - especially to lift my spirits after watching "Black Swan", what a downer.

I don't say this very often - "Sequel, please!"

Also starring Danny McBride (last seen in "30:Minutes or Less"), James Franco (last seen in "The Green Hornet"), Zooey Deschanel (last seen in "(500) Days of Summer"), Justin Theroux (last heard in "Megamind"), Toby Jones (last seen in "Creation"), Charles Dance.

RATING: 7 out of 10 lightning bolts

Friday, July 20, 2012

Black Swan

Year 4, Day 201 - 7/19/12 - Movie #1,192

BEFORE: From actors I sidestep over to dancers - truth be told, I'm thinking about Comic-Con, where one year I (and several other lucky chaps) had the honor of having Natalie Portman (last seen in "The Other Boleyn Girl") pose for a picture with me.  I don't remember which year it was (they all start to run together after a while) but her hair was still very short after shooting "V For Vendetta" so it must have been 2005 or so.  I saw her again there in 2010 while promoting "Hesher" - and in just a few more years, the restraining order will expire, and I may be able to talk to her!

Linking from "Venus", Peter O'Toole was also in "The Stunt Man" (which I suppose I need to add to the list eventually) with Barbara Hershey (last seen in "Hoosiers"), who appears in tonight's film.

THE PLOT: A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan, Princess Odette, but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

AFTER: I really don't know much about ballet, I've tried to avoid it over the years.  But perhaps I should read up on the plot of "Swan Lake".  I don't really see how the prince can mistake the black swan for the "identical" white one - aren't they, like, different colors?  Even a color-blind person can distinguish between black and white, right?

Turns out this film is pretty black-or-white too.  I went into it expecting a bunch of heavy symbolism, or perhaps a "Fight Club"-style mindfuck, but the first hour was pretty boring.  Second theory, I noticed that nearly everyone in the film was wearing either white, black or occasionally grey clothing.  Ah, it's all about the colors representing people's inner natures, and it's some kind of treatise on good vs. evil.  The people wearing grey are the conflicted ones, I guess - or the people in transition states.

So it's white swan vs. black swan, good vs. evil - but the lead dancer has to play both roles (since they are "identical", ha!) so the main character has to get in touch with her inner bitch, in order to dance like the Black Swan would.  (Really, it turns out she's already a whiny bitch, so she's halfway there - she just has to stop whining and keep the bitchy part)  The show's choreographer suggests that she go home and free herself by, umm, relieving the tension, if you follow me.

But herein lies a fallacy - why is the character only able to free her dance moves once she is sexually liberated?  How does touching herself enable her to play an evil character - because the act itself is inherently "evil"?  Nonsense.  How is sexual freedom evil?  Isn't that a bit simplistic - good girls don't, and bad girls do?  Shouldn't we, as a society, be beyond the madonna/whore stereotypes by now?  Why is a woman either a virgin or a slut, with no in-between?  Saying a woman can't play a sexual character without the act itself is like saying an actor can't play a doctor on TV if he's never performed surgery.

As in Darren Aronofsky's other film, "Requiem For a Dream", once a character starts drinking, or taking drugs, or having sex, it becomes the start of a long, downward spiral that ends in personal ruin.  Or madness, in this case.

There's a strong suggestion here that another character in the film may just be a manifestation of the lead's imagination, or represent an aspect of her personality  (Aha! "Fight Club"!  I knew it!) but if that's the case, the pieces don't really fit here.  Perhaps that character is only imaginary part of the time - but that doesn't help the audience figure out what (or perhaps who) is real, and what isn't.  Why bring up the possibility that a character is imaginary, and then prove that to be impossible?

I can sort of justify it in the love scene between them (you know the one...) - but if they're the same character, isn't she just making out with herself?  And if she sees that character having sex with a man, is she somehow just watching herself do that, from afar?  It's impossible and quite contradictory, but it seems to be the gist of things, so I can't just ignore it.

And if the character IS imaginary, is it supposed to be her evil side asserting itself and trying to take control?  And if not, then what exactly DOES it all mean?  Too darn many times when I didn't know what was real, and what wasn't.  Is it all a metaphor?  Is life otherwise devoid of meaning?  Is nothing real, are we all just brains floating in giant jars, receiving stimuli?  You feel it too, right?  Or maybe they were just going for "arty" and "oblique".

Also starring Mila Kunis (last seen in "The Book of Eli"), Vincent Cassel (last seen in "Jefferson in Paris"), Winona Ryder (last seen in "Reality Bites").

RATING: 6 out of 10 mirrors

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Year 4, Day 200 - 7/18/12 - Movie #1,191

BEFORE: I'm back from San Diego and San Francisco - Comic-Con was a financial success, and it looks like I will be going back next year, but beyond that, the future is uncertain.  The boss doesn't think it's a very profitable endeavor, even though we had record sales - admittedly, he does have to pay for his flight, his hotel, my hotel, the cost of the booth, the cost of the merchandise... I've got to crunch the numbers later this week to show him just how profitable it was.  We did take credit cards for the first time, so I have a feeling the numbers will tell a good story.

As for San Francisco, my visit to a certain movie company in Marin County got scrubbed, due to circumstances beyond my control.  My contact there was busy off-site, so a tour was out of the question.  I tried to make the best of it and see as many of the tourist sites in the city of San Francisco as I could.  I took a tour of the Presidio (thanks to an absolutely insane cab driver), popped into the ILM lobby for some pics, then walked to Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman's Wharf, visited the Musée Mechanique (an archive of arcade games dating back to the early 1900's), took a boat tour around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge, walked up some big hills, saw Lombard St., and wrapped it all up at the House of Prime Rib.

Getting back was an adventure - thanks to bad weather in New York, my flight time kept changing.  Even after boarding, we sat in the plane for about two hours before it took off.  They played the inflight movie ("The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") while we were still on the ground, but I didn't watch it since that would have broken up my chain.  Finally we took off, and I got in to JFK airport around 11 pm, and just paid for a cab home. 

Speaking of my chain, when I left off it was a film about actors, and I think this one continues in that vein.  Incredibly, Richard Griffiths from "Stage Beauty" carries over into this one, and I didn't plan that.

THE PLOT: Life for a pair of veteran actors gets turned upside down after they meet a brash teenager.

AFTER: Essentially, this is intended as a romance story, but a very unusual one.  The romance is between a much older actor and a young, brash, twenty-something (?) girl.  The girl is the granddaughter (or daughter of his niece, or something) of the actor's best friend, and while the age difference (and, um, certain physical limitations) prevent them from having the typical physical relationship, he is content to take her shopping, or out to dinner, provided he gets to kiss her shoulder, or smell her neck.  Really, it's not creepy at all - OK, so it's kind of creepy.

Hey, just because Gramps is on a diet doesn't mean he can't look at the menu.  The spirit may be willing, even if the flesh is weak.  And it works both ways - she eventually learns she can get nice clothing, or that tattoo she's had her eye on, if she goes out on a "date" or flashes a little leg.  Really, what's the harm?

I do wish that the film had a point to make, other than that old men are kind of pervy.  I'm trying hard to find the life lesson or a little bit of wisdom beyond what obvious actions were on the screen, and it isn't easy.  Maybe that the older folks are more experienced, and they don't have time to play the same little love games that the young folks do - they just know what they want, and are prepared to ask for it.

I could make a stretched connection here and tie this to Comic-Con - after 10 trips out to San Diego, I'm now something of a grizzled veteran.  I can pack for the event without forgetting anything, and every year I learn a few new tricks, or as my BFF Andy says, each time I go, I get a little less dumb. The people who are there for the first time don't know all the tricks, but they eventually learn.  I'm like the old, worn-out actor in "Venus" - I know just what I want out of Comic-Con, which is this week's comics, a couple t-shirts, some nice dinners in town, and a beer float or two.  I've got it down to a simple routine, and I more or less stick to it.

The newbies still have this wide-eyed optimism that they can somehow see it all in four days (they can't) or believe they'll get some concrete information about the upcoming plot of the latest sci-fi blockbuster (I kind of doubt it) or that their life will somehow be enhanced by buying that hot new collectible toy (yeah, right).

From the trip to San Francisco, where nothing seemed to go completely right, but I had a blast anyway, I learned it's good to have a back-up travel plan in place, and that I'm not so set in my ways that I can't visit a new city once in a while, and just amble around, getting to know it.  With the help of my smart phone and suggestions from Andy and Twitter people, I had plenty of options.

Also starring Peter O'Toole (last seen in "The Lion in Winter"), Jodie Whittaker, Leslie Phillips, Vanessa Redgrave (last seen in "Anonymous").

RATING: 4 out of 10 modeling gigs