Monday, June 30, 2014
There are a lot of other goodies in the show but for a pilot episode, it's more important to get the main cast down--the family who didn't loose each other in the rapture but are lost to one another anyway. It's possible that the show may delve into the more theological aspects of a "post" world--God, angels, demons, and Satan may appear, but I somehow doubt it. The show doesn't much care for the how of the rapture and maybe not even the why, but the what now question. The people taken will likely never come back and the characters still around will never get an answer as to why they were left over. It's how they learn to deal with and live in the new world that matters.
Or maybe it's aliens. This is Lindelof after all.
--I'd encourage people to check the show out. It's an interesting hour of TV.
--There are a lot of characters so far and it's hard to keep them straight, but that's very LOST. There are also some flashbacks, but unlike with LOST and ONCE, they aren't important yet.
--Christopher Eccleston plays an American preacher. He'll always be the 9th Doctor to me, so it's a bit odd but I really want to know what caused him to start spewing information about those taken.
--Lot of interesting musical elements in the show--classical piano motifs cut in at intervals of violence or upheaval.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Over a year ago, when this blog was brand new, I did a series of books reviews. One of the fist books I talked about was John Green's "The Fault in our Stars." I gave it an A- and a rave review. I admit I am biased when it comes to John Green products. I've been a big fan of his for a long time, both as an author and as a vlogger. When I heard that Hollywood was adapting his New York Times best selling novel, I was both thrilled and incredibly apprehensive. How could they possibly hope to match the beautiful story John Green wrote? They couldn't manage to cast people who would do Hazel and Gus justice, right? Most of my fears were assuaged when I saw the trailer for the film--if the 1 minute long trailer could make me cry, then it had to be on the right track. You should know going in that this is going to be a rave. Honestly, this might be one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel I've seen in years. But, fair warning, if you go to see the film, take some tissues, you'll need them.
Let's do a quick overview of the plot before I get into what I liked and didn't like. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16 years old and dying. She was diagnosed very young with cancer, stage 4. She wasn't expected to survive long but went through all the treatment options we assoiciate with cancer: chemo, radiation, more chemo, and finally a "miracle" drug that managed to prevent the cancer from spreading any further. Despite the miracle, Hazel is still dying, just more slowly now. Her lungs "suck at being lungs" and she needs a constant stream of oxygen supplied by a tank. When the film picks up, Hazel is just living her life day-to-day as one might expect: she watches TV, she goes to the doctor, she hangs out with her parents. But her mother and father are worried that she's depressed, a side of effect of the cancer. Hazel's voice over tells us that it's a side effect of dying, but almost everything is. Her doctor and her mother encourage her to go to a support group. The group serves as a cliche piece of any "cancer story" you read about--a group of young people who must strive to find the beauty in life despite all the odds. They sit in the literal heart of Jesus Christ and talk about how they are doing today. Hazel hates every second of it. Unlike the plucky young heroine of other cancer novels, who's illness causes them to struggle admirably, Hazel has accepted that she is going to die and that oblivion is inevitable. Then Augustus Waters bumps into her.
I am going to stop the plot hashing here because I do not want to spoil the movie. Rather, go see it yourself or read the book or do both! To go any further means giving away some things that are very spoilery and this is a movie/book you should savor without knowing what happens next.
I have almost nothing to put here. Really. I have maybe 3 very tiny nitpicky things but that's it.
--There was one conversation between Hazel and her dad about the universe that I thought should have been left in, but it's not a reason to hate on the film as a whole.
--If you haven't read the novel, it might be hard to understand what "An Imperial Affliction" is and why Hazel and Gus love it. In the book "The Fault in Our Stars" Hazel uses it a lot as a benchmark of her life. She related to the lead, Anna, quite a bit (something that is important to van Houten as well). For example, the line "the risen sun too bright in her loosing eyes" is a phrase that Hazel and Gus discuss frequently, but the movie doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on the fictional novel within a fictional novel. I think it works well for the movie if you haven't read the book, but as a book reader, you do notice it.
--This critque is to Hollywood in general: do yourself a favor and find a scholar who can speak Greek and Latin in order to teach your actors how to say things in that language. It is not pronounced "harm-may-sha" it's "harm-ma-tea-ah." It only bothers me as someone who reads Greek and Latin.
--Everything. My sad paltry useless words cannot accurately convey how beautiful this movie was. The movie was an almost word-for-word adaptation of the novel, which is what I was hoping for. Why change something when it works so well? There is a lot of pain in this film, make no mistake. I lost count of the number of times I cried. But if there is one lesson (there are several) in this book/film: that's the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.
--Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgot. Casting for TFIOS needed to be impeccable and it was. When Ansel was cast as Gus Waters, I was very apprehensive. He wasn't quite what I pictured from the book, but he sold it in this film. Clad in leather, with a beautiful smile and kind eyes, but moving through life from metaphor to metaphor, he did it perfectly. Shailene has really proven herself in the past few years of being able to do anything. Her history with the book is well known; she wrote a letter to John Green expressing her love for the novel long before the movie was cast. She brought Hazel to life
--The smaller story line of Isaac was given just enough space to make Isaac a fleshed out character but not to detract from Gus and Hazel. He was also some much needed comic relief without being simply comedic. In particular, I loved the basement scene where Isaac is raging against the world while Hazel and Gus try to have a serious conversation.
--The soundtrack is also really good and I enjoyed seeing the pair in Amsterdam for real.
Just go see it. You have no reason not to. This isn't just another YA adaptation. This isn't another life affiriming sick movie. This is something more.
So go see it.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
When I was younger, Sleeping Beauty was a classic favorite. Like most young girls growing up in the middle of the Disney Renascence, I loved the songs and the story and I found Maleficent to be particularly terrifying. To this day, I would still rank her among the scariest Disney villains. The wicked fairy who turned into a larger than life dragon is still quite the iconic image for Disney. The latest venture back into the world of classic stories is another in a long line of revisionist films in which the villain is transformed into a misunderstood anti-hero and the "real" story is told through the eyes of a character who was previously denied a voice in their original tale. The last example, in theaters at least, was Oz the Great and Powerful in which we learned how the Wicked Witch became wicked and of course, Once Upon a Time has been doing the villain into anti-hero into hero take for three seasons now. Most of these ideas are following in the rather large footsteps of Gregory Magurie's "Wicked" saga in which the Wicked Witch of the West is given a name and a voice and a story that cannot be reduced to "ugly witch tries to kill a good girl." Where Maguire succeeds is in his character of Elphaba--that her story is outside of normal anti-hero woman tropes; her love life factors in, but only much later. How she became "evil" is a series of events beginning with her birth. And this is what Disney--be it Oz the Great and Powerful or Maleficent--fails at. They are still stuck in 1959. The moral of this new bright and shiny Maleficent movie? Don't have sex. Sex is bad. Virginity is good.
I want to do a quick, down and dirty plot explanation before moving into the problems I have with this film--and, to be fair, what I did like about the picture. Be aware that this is NOT spoiler-free. We are told from the first few moments that this is not the story we have been told before, but that what we are about to see is the true version of events. Long ago, there were two kingdoms, the human one and the fairy kingdom (called for some inexplicable reason The Moors). The two kingdoms were incredibly different--the human or "real" kingdom was populated by men who warred and were gluttonous and envious and revengeful. The mythic fairy kingdom--the realm of the divine--was beautiful and glorious, an inner sanctum only accessible by those who were magical and pure themselves. The king of the human land hated the fairies and wished to see them destroyed, but a tentative peace has been established at the start of the film. Inside the divine realm lived a little fairy by the name of Maleficent who was--as you might expect--good and kind and proper. She heals trees and is friends with the various mythic inhabitants that live in her realm. She's also an orphan because this is Disney and all heroes are orphans or have lost at least one parent (no, I'm not kidding. You tell me one famous Disney figure who has both parents living happily with them). When she is still quite young, a human boy wanders past the threshold of the mortal and into the divine. Heads up--in mythology, transgression into the divine never ends well.
What I Liked
--Angelina Jolie was born to play this role. When this movie was announced and you heard who would play the lead, I bet most of you said, "of course." She is deliciously wicked and broken in the role. She wears the leather costumes with ease and those prosthetic cheekbones fit her to a T. You can tell that Jolie had a lot of fun with this role, really sinking her teeth into doing some good ol' fashioned scene chewing.
--The costumes are to die for. Or at least Maleficent's are. The snake skin horned head wrap is stunning and I imagine there will be an Oscar nomination for the film's costuming department. The costuming for Aurora is perfunctory; it gets the job done. The princess is rendered in soft virginal hues of pink, peach, gold, and blue.
--The curse scene was the best in the film. Straight up Disney brought to life, and I'm not going to complain. Jolie had a ton of fun filming that one, and it works for her.
--Let's talk about sex. This movie is predicated on the fact that sex is wrong and virginity is to be celebrated. I gave this deceleration to my mother as we left the theater, to which she responded "what?!" What essentially happens to Maleficent, her driving motive for the whole film, is a loss of sexual innocence and purity. The removal of her wings as she sleeps is a stand in for both the wedding night and, as I mentioned, rape. It is this incident that turns Maleficent into the mistress of all evil; while she was still virginal and pure, even though she knew the ways of the world and the wickedness of man, she was still "good." The writer of this film decided that they only way to make Maleficent an interesting character was through sex, motherhood, and most damning of all, a man. Once she meets Stephan, her entire center becomes the love she bears for this man. We are told nothing about her life in between Stephan's visits, only that when he is gone, she mourns for him. And when he robs her of her sexual power--takes her divine feminine--she becomes a leather clad, staff wielding, baddie. The land of the divine, the fairy land, becomes dark and sinister, thorns overtaking the flowers and peaceful nature because Maleficent has lost her heart (and virginity). The woodland creatures live in fear of what Maleficent has become, a sexually aware woman who's entire modus operandi is focused on a man. Now, I am not trying to diminish rape even in the slightest, but this movie is one giant fail of the Bechdel test because everything revolves around a man: be it the dying and vengeful king; young boy Stephan; teenage heartthrob Stephan; horrible father Stephan; and crazed Stephan who must die. You almost expect Maleficent to pull out a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and her Adele "21" CD and sing "Someone Like You." It is only when Maleficent if gifted her sexual power back--in the form of her divine angelic wings--does she manage to conquer the man who stole it from her in the first place.
--The three fairies, who were the best part of the Disney move, are incredibly annoying and shrill. They are the comic relief of the film and spend more time shrieking and fighting with each other than they do anything else. In the Disney film, they are actually quite helpful and powerful. Another case of turning women into simpering idiots, I suppose.
--A lot of quiet moments of no action or advancement. Now, I complimented Jolie in this role and I meant it. But too much of this film is the director having Maleficent sitting or standing and simply looking. She spends a lot of time watching and gazing and the director takes advantage of Jolie's looks and makeup and costuming to find ways to light her and angle his camera to capture her beauty. It was fine the first few times because she does look incredible, but after awhile, I began to get annoyed with the constant close ups and focus on her cheekbones and eyes.
--Maleficent doesn't turn into a dragon. I am going to repeat that. Maleficent doesn't turn into a dragon. Good lord--even ONCE got that part right!