Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Andělé a Démoni.

I had no plans to see Angels and Demons, director Ron Howard's sequel to his yawn-inducing The Da Vinci Code. But Stacey has a soft spot for Angels co-star Ewan McGregor, I have a soft spot for cineplex nachos, and we were on vacation with a couple of hours to kill. So I figured, "what the heck?"

In hindsight, we should have re-visited Star Trek. Actually, Monsters Vs. Aliens, which I bet is a hoot, was playing in 3-D, but I didn't want my first viewing of that flick to be a version dubbed in Czech (Angels was original language, subtitled for the locals).

Though not as bad as Code, Angels and Demons has the same problem--the underlying story just isn't that cinematic. The protagonist, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) knows a bunch about history and religion and secret societies... Look, it's cool stuff, the kind of stuff I would spend hours reading about on Wikipedia, but I can do that on my own time. No need for some studio to spend millions of dollars to make Wikipedia: History, Religion, and Secret Societies: The Movie.

Here's the flick in a nutshell: there is a puzzle of some sort, Langdon spits out a bunch of obscure information, he uses that information to solve the puzzle, the solution leads to another puzzle. Repeat five or six times, roll end credits.

I guess that's not all. I mean there's something of a plot, involving a dead Pope and kidnappings and anti-matter, but it's less interesting than those three elements might lead you to believe.

Oh, Angels does have one thing going for it--it was filmed in Rome, and Rome is a beautiful city.

I think both of Howard's Langdon "adventures" are trying to be Raiders Of the Lost Ark movies in a contemporary setting. But Indiana Jones is a well-defined character who happens to know a bunch of cool stuff. Langdon happens to know a bunch of cool stuff, and that's where the character definition ends with him. Plus, Indy solves his share of puzzles, but he doesn't say much. He just solves that shit. Oftentimes with a gun or a bullwhip or some bare-knuckle fisticuffs... you know, actions that can be captured on film.

"Show, don't tell." Has Ron Howard somehow forgotten this most basic tenet of filmmaking after 30 or so years in the director's chair? Or are screenwriters David Koepp (who should know better) and Akiva Goldsman (who probably doesn't) to blame?

If you're still interested in Angels and Demons, let me save you a few bucks. Go to the library and borrow a book about Rome, one of those big coffee table books with lots of photos. Then get on Wikipedia and look up "Catholic Church," "Illuminati," and "Galileo." Don't be afraid to follow whatever hyperlinks those pages offer up. Your cost: nothing. If you're dead set on spending some money, go on a Roman holiday. Or maybe just invest in a bag of Tostados and a big can of Rico's nacho cheese sauce.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lens flares, plot holes, and the new Star Trek.

Some people have complained that the screenplay to the latest Star Trek movie is pretty stupid, and those people make a good point. Trek is one of those movies that starts to fall apart if you think about it too much on the ride home from the cineplex.

I've also heard complaints about all the lens flares in the movie, but the flares are kind of brilliant. Trek director J. J. Abrams is a smart guy, and I think he built on an idea from another successful science fiction remake--the Sci Fi channel's Battlestar Galactica. Ronald D. Moore (also a smart guy) and the rest of the Galactica creative team (full of smart guys and gals, I'm sure) employed ragged, hand-held-style camera work to "film" their space ship battles, and it made the stuff seem more like a documentary and less like what it really was--a bunch of pixels beefed up with some nice sound effects and music.

The practical shots in Trek--especially on the bridge of the starship Enterprise, which is lit up like a Christmas tree--are chock full of lens flares (these are crazy anamorphic lens flares, mind you, not piddly little spherical flares). When there's a cut to some exterior shot of a space battle or a planet getting imploded or whatever, the lens flares added on top of the underlying pixels add a certain weight to the shot that I don't think you'd get any other way.

And flares aren't the only trick Abrams uses to sell his computer-generated images. Our now young Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) gets chased by a couple of big monsters during a small-scale blizzard. These critters would likely look pretty goofy on a sunny day, but all that snow blowing around almost makes you believe something really is chasing Kirk. I say "almost" because some of the compositing seems a little off in the Kirk v. Monsters scene, but the story has built up so much momentum at this point in the movie, I don't know if any but the most nit-picky (like me) will notice.

Yeah, I said earlier that the script is pretty dumb, but it ain't slow. The movie's two-plus hours feel a lot more like 90 minutes. Add a terrific and game cast to all that gorgeous real and virtual camera work (and meticulous sound design/mixing--I expect this movie will kill on Blu-ray), and you get a movie that's a textbook example of "crowd pleaser."

How good is that cast? I'll just say that I'm a big fan of the original Trek television show from the 60s, and I accepted the new Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), Scotty (the always-welcome Simon Pegg), et al, from the get-go. In fact, I was ready to see this cast in a sequel or two about 45 minutes into the movie. A month ago, I wouldn't have foreseen a world where there is room for more than one James Tiberius Kirk, but Pine proved me wrong. And is it too much to ask for some more Bruce Greenwood ("Captain Pike") in the sequel? That guy doesn't get nearly enough work.

If there's a problem with Star Trek, aside from those plot holes, it's that it sometimes feels methodical in its efforts to entertain. Is J. J. Abrams too smart for his own good? If a director works too hard to show us a good time, does that make a movie a little less fun? Well, maybe. But I saw Trek a week after watching Wolverine, a quarter-assed flick that strives for half-assedness in its best moments. If Abrams' only sin is putting 110 percent into every frame of Star Trek, I think I can forgive him.

Last night in Prague.

Stacey and I are spending our last night in Prague--a lovely city full of lovely people.

Off to Budapest tomorrow. For some reason, I decided to write a review of a movie that's been in theaters for almost two weeks. I'll post that in a minute.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gone too long.

Wow. More than a month since my last post. And after all that time, nothing to say. Well, maybe a little to say.

Stacey and I are going on vacation soon. Before we leave, I want to get the current cut of Interplanetary (clocking in at an even 83 minutes) submitted to a few fests, including Sidewalk here in Birmingham, AL. Ted's still working his magic on the audio mix, but I think the version I'm sending out next week is pretty good. Better than any previously-seen versions, at least.

The new Wolverine movie isn't very good, but the new Star Trek movie is terribly entertaining. A strong cast and interesting cinematography/sound design more than make up for the plot holes in the Trek script.

Stacey and I are finally mostly settled in the new house, and things at my day job have kind of returned to normal (after a pretty rough couple of years), so I hope to get back to regular blogging after I return from vacation.