SFC12: Firefly & Serenity

Welcome to this, the second of my critical film essays, and more importantly the long overdue conclusion to the Summer Film Challenge 2012!  It has been a year and a half now since that Challenge ended, time rampant with some great movies and a few clunkers.  For this second article of my new year’s series, I am throwing out the rules established last time in order to complete the SFC12, and I must admit I am sorry to see it draw to a close.

To any lover of cinema, but particularly for those attending university to learn the craft of the cinema, I want to heartily and with all my sincerity suggest you start up your own Summer Film Challenge with a friend.  For Ryan and I, this has become more than just fun between cohorts. Each Summer Film Challenge gave us opportunity to expand our cinematic vocabulary, taught us incalculable knowledge about the arts of filmmaking and storytelling, and brought us closer as friends.  Ryan was Best Man in my wedding and a large part of the relationship we have today I owe to this thing we started four years ago in the Cougar’s Den over cheap pizza and pop.  Thus, I pass on the mission to you to keep this alive – start your own clubs or partnerships over a shared cinematic passion, and see what it can do for you.

Now, I turn to what will no doubt be the most difficult review I have ever had to write, SFC or otherwise. I have prepared for this critique, more than all the others, because I knew it would be the most demanding.  In this review – my last of the SFC12 – I have to take a show that my friends adore, and declare it not the marvelous pinnacle of quality they claim it to be.  It is not my intention to do this with disrespect; the friends who love this show are those whose opinions I respect the most.  However, in this case my stance differs and I must stick to it.  So, without further ado, let the Flame War begin as I commence my argument AGAINST Joss Whedon’s Firefly.

Animated Cast

1.  A Treatise against Whedon-ism

Let me begin with by far the least direct method of critiquing the show, and the most likely argument to win me a comment section full of nasty indictments.  One of the things which made me most hesitant going into the show and subsequent movie, and loathe to hastily put out this review, is the fierce loyalty of its fans to the creator, Joss Whedon.  One is considered almost remiss to speak of it as only Firefly, forgetting the all important personal moniker – “Joss Whedon’s Firefly“.

When I sat down to watch the show, the only Whedon work I had ever seen was his recent blockbuster, The Avengers, which I found fun and well-handled, more so than expected.  Many of my friends were infatuated with Whedon’s writing and direction, and put him on the same pedestal that culture places Christopher Nolan – as the phenomenally underrated cinematic Bard of our time.  And this worried me.

Before I go further, please hear me when I say this:  I too champion directors.  Without hesitation I would expound the brilliance of Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky, Rian Johnson, or Jim Jarmusch.  I believe promoting artists and their work is the only way to spread good examples of a medium and enhance the overall quality therein.

However, I have a problem with the over-eagerness I find when people discuss his work.  Friends or acquaintances speaking of Firefly or any of Whedon’s cinema carry a sort of mindless wonder of it.  Conversations about the show usually take on the following form:

P1:  “OMG!  Firefly!”
P2:  “I know, Right!?”
P1:  “It is SO good!”
P2: “I KNOW, RIGHT!?!?!?”

And usually this dissolves into both parties staring off into space, reminiscing about the grandeur of the show (mind you these conversations are held by the most learned of my film friends).

I do not want to linger on this point, but I am concerned about the Carte Blanche that fans seem to give the show.  Rarely do I hear an argument for why the show is good and rarer still do I hear a developed argument behind that “why”.  For proof, see this article of journalistic bumbler Hypable, which I offer as typifying the kinds of uncited and simplistic arguments made in defense of the show.  While this is one of the worse offenders, it does demonstrate the focus on generalities people use when speaking of the popular show.

I do not think Whedon a bad director, or that his work is bad.  Until I see the rest of his work, I feel it impertinent to make such a claim, particularly when I enjoyed Avengers so much.  What I will stick to is the fact that I have been put off by the fan/addicts of the show.  Liking a show is one thing.  Starting a fundraising campaign when lead actor Nathan Fillion quipped that, were he to win the lottery, he would buy the rights to Firefly – this demonstrates an unhealthy obsession.

Simply put, I am deeply concerned by the extremism they go to spreading their love of the show, resembling Scientology – spreading a “gospel” of the Western/Space Opera and silencing any opposition – far too powerful for an aging fandom.  I feel like a Union scab going up against the picket line by saying I do not like the show, and fear for the safety of my nice glass windows from hurtled bricks, but I cannot stand by people whose judgment of quality begins and ends with “Well it’s Joss Whedon, so how could it be bad!?”


2.  I really THOUGHT I would like this show

Before turning to the review, let me pacify the reader with the acknowledgment that I had every expectation of loving the show.  My friends were enamored with it; my professors extolled it; critics seemed to like it (before I did my research); and coming off of Battlestar Galactica, I had high hopes of falling in love with another ragtag crew of space survivors, and finding one more malnourished puppy on the side of TV Avenue with whom I could share love and attention.

The blending of two seemingly antithetical genres genuinely fascinated me, and was my primary motivation to watch.  In viewing, there were some elements of the show that I thoroughly did enjoy.  And however much I am not a fan of some things, I think I would agree most closely with Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe, who described the show as “a wonderful, imaginative mess brimming with possibility“.

I will leave the criticisms for the next section; suffice it to say, I do see why people like the show and certainly enjoyed the story universe.  The difference, I believe, between myself and the fan is that I was left adequately satisfied with what is, whereas others are left wanting.

Before proceeding, let me assuage some of your concerns and clarify that I was very aware going in that the original run of the show on Fox was marred by power struggles and narrative discombobulation.  Ryan did a fantastic job filling me in on the troubled history of Firefly and made sure that I was able to watch it the way it was intended to be seen.  Thus, I came at the show with the perfect set of circumstances to enjoy it, and to judge the narrative equitably.

How could Fox not like this!?
How could Fox not like this!?

3.  Overarching Issues

Now, at long last, comes the review.  Please understand that I will do my best to remove any subjectivity from my analysis to and focus on only that which is valid.  My issues with the series fall into four distinct, pervasive categories which I will detail below, followed by a brief examination of how these carried over into the subsequent film.

A.  The series grandiosely lacked the development needed to properly tell the story.

My overarching issue with the series is that it introduced a number of interesting elements, and then failed to develop them to the narratively demanded point – something I blame primarily on the oft-touted “seven year” plan of the show.

The narrative world of the story is a blending of two polar opposite genres.  First, one has the Sci Fi universe in which the story plays out.  This genre is one built on longer narrative arcs, demanding some plan or goal which the protagonists strive to achieve (or thwart) throughout the season or series.  Look no further than Battlestar to see what I mean: the surviving humans must outrun the Cylons in a desperate race for safety and their origin.  And while some would point to Star Trek as the counter-example of Sci Fi offering episodic delights, the show was founded on, and introduced each week by, Starfleet’s mission statement – the “five year mission” – which dictated every adventure the crew of the Enterprise ever had (not to mention the ongoing Klingon drama).

Though the show did rely on its second genre – the Western – for most of its procedural and serialized plot structure, the writers seemed to entirely ignore the needs of its partner Macro when designing the story.  The characters have no logical endgame (though a Star Wars-esque “overthrow the empire” theme is carefully teased in the subtext) and more importantly face no genuine antagonist throughout the series.  Thus, the creators set up the element of the overbearing Alliance as the watchful eye of the law these criminals must carefully skirt in order to stay in business – as well as the chaotic Reavers who, until the movie, do little more than show up as a scary ship in the pilot – before allowing them to settle far back into the unseen parts of the background where they no longer matter to the narrative at all.  These elements go undeveloped and stand as useless baggage weighing the scripts down.

Most prominently though (and this is the part that will get me in trouble), the showrunners failed to develop much characterization for the supposedly magnificent cast of characters – THE element of the show that causes most to label Firefly as tragically cut-short.

As evidence, I offer up the following list of snippets about the characters and narrative pulled directly from the wikipedia article on the show, as well as a few other commentaries, the sum of which reveals the general lack of clarity and direct characterization by the show of its narrative.

“The film Serenity makes clear…”  [Used far too often]
“DVD commentary suggests…justifying the series’…”
“It is later revealed that…”
“According to the DVD commentary…”
“The DVD set’s “making-of” documentary explains…”
“…referred to in the DVD commentary…”
“As Whedon states several times…”
[about Shepard] “His hidden backstory would have been gradually revealed…”
[Cited as a source] Whedon, Firefly Companion, Vol 1, 12

According to a post series comic, Shepherd Book is operating under the name of a man he killed.

Only by clues from the DVD Commentary, and the much later announcement at DragonCon 2008, do we learn that Inara is dying of a terminal illness.

Overall, I found myself often wondering when I would learn anything meaningful about the characters, or if they would progress during the brief run of the show on television.  Only with Jayne did I find that desire satisfied.  Set up as a simple brute archetype, common to almost any genre, he is taken on a journey of softening, learning to care deeply about others which makes him a wonderful character to root for.  However, the remaining characters stood stagnant in their roles, not straying too far from the very light introduction we received them with – even the “will they/won’t they” of Mal and Inara was painfully slow and each time left both as emotionally unaffected as House, MD.

And before the uproar begins, I again acknowledge that the season was cut short and horribly mismanaged by the network distributing them.  However, my point is this:  Firefly, like any other show trying to find market on a network, failed to capitalize on the short start-up it was given and deliver a promise of longstanding narrative possibility for the audience.  One cannot judge the show on what it could have been, but rather must see how it used the opportunity it was given.  The story world was interesting if unexplored and the narrative arcs were potentially fantastic had they been developed more properly.   What I am left with is a story which left me adequately filled and wanting of no more.

B.  Firefly is a blending of two genres that do not work together by their natures.

I have already spoken at length about the requirements of the Sci Fi tropes established as the sandbox in which the narrative sits, so I will now turn to the Micro level of the story and examine the wants of the Western.

According to Frank Gruber’s 1967 work The Pulp Jungle, the Western genre can be broken up into seven basic narratives:  the Union Pacific, Ranch, Empire, Revenge, Cavalry and Indian, Outlaw, and Marshall stories.  Each of these plots centers around an immediate problem faced by a small band, and overcoming it expediently.  This kind of narrative structure lends itself well to the procedural series, and honestly would have stood fine on its own as the story of Firefly.

However, as mentioned above, Sci Fi focuses on epic, large scale confrontations with major arc plots for characters and arc plots for the franchise. Thus, the show tries to marry something demanding longstanding melodramas with one built on simple, solve-by-the-end, action pieces.  Certainly I am not saying they could not fit together but here they do so poorly.

No episode married the two together well.  For example, “Heart of Gold” demonstrates admirably the tropes and narrative structure of a Western, yet lacks completely the Sci Fi themes.  On the other hand, my favorite episode, “Out of Gas”, relies on none of the frontier story devices and focuses on an excellently paced, tense Sci Fi problem.  The other episodes seem lost in the juggling of the two genre’s demands which ultimately leads them in muddied directions and shortened arcs.

One final note on this mismanagement of genre: it did not take long before I became frustrated with the filmmakers cramming “IT IS A SPACE WESTERN!!!!!” down my throat.  From bar brawls breaking out over Space billiards, to the Space horses riding off into the Space Sunset, I quickly grew tired of the laughably blunt ways the show would try and convince me of the awesomeness of this world.  The Road Warrior tells an apocalyptic western tale without constantly calling attention to the minor things which make it so.  Perhaps a little more tact and subtlety when crafting the world-building elements would have left me with less of a browbeaten feeling.

C.  Firefly’s dramatis personae is blanched by underdevelopment and fan misconceptions.

Seek any review of the series, any critique of it, and all one will find is a fount of never-ending praise for the characters Joss Whedon crafted.  From Variety: “Firefly’s wide spectrum of characters is its greatest asset, since any of its ensemble could take center stage from week to week”.

However, the characters are not left out of the underdevelopment aforementioned.  People extol the rich fullness of each character and the forward-thinking writing for the female roles.  Yet after viewing the series in entirety, I found myself with far more questions about the characters than  answers.

For example, the rigid immobility of protagonist Mal Reynolds, both in his personal and relational development, left me searching through the secondary characters for someone to follow.  I found what I wanted in the simple setup and unexpected transformation of Jayne Cobb from pigheaded muscle to devoted and loyal crewman.  Also, I thoroughly loved the topsy-turvy casting of the typically gruff “Scotty” mechanic character with the adorable and highly competent Kaylee.

On the other hand, some characters operated throughout the series as practical non-entities – showing up only when needed, abandoned a dark corner of the Mystery Box never to be opened.  Paramount is the distressing Deus Ex Machina provided by Shepherd Book.  A man swathed in obfuscation, Book acts as the moral compass (swayed by the occasional “magnet”) for the crew.  He stands in as the sage character, offering them advice out of a lifetime of presupposed “Having been there”.   Yet, when the crew needs a good shot to hold down the ship in “War Stories”, Book suddenly reveals he is a master gunslinger.  When the crew needs access to Alliance medical care in “Safe”, Book provides the clearance necessary to get them aboard.  He knows far more than he should and, though posing as the pseudo-Christian pastor, has a morality that flexes as the needs of the narrative change [read – “Kneecaps”].

I know some are intrigued by this purposeful ambiguity, but I found it frustrating.  Book’s character never grows because he has all things already under his command, and the highly interesting story behind this jack-of-all-trades is entirely ignored – abandoned to be exposited far later in the planning of the story – to the detriment of the character’s introduction.

Further, if one could say anything about the show having the necessary Sci Fi arc, it would be about the stowing away by Dr. Simon Tam of his sister River.  This does lead to a majority of the Serenity crew’s problems, and yet it is done with disregard for that element’s development.  I would count the good Doctor as one of the few characters who has a clear definition to begin with, a driven goal to strive for, and change, which occurs once he is introduced to the characters and circumstances of the plot.  His relationship with Kaylee is one of the better narratives that developed in the short 14 episode run of the show.

Nevertheless, the plot really centers on his mentally fazed sister River, whom people champion both as a wonderful character and as a model of an excellent female character in television.  However, I contend that fans have come to confuse the image of her tacked on by the film with that projected by the original story.

In the show her role is relegated primarily to the standard tropes of a damsel needing rescue by the larger male company surrounding her.  At the beginning she is physically incapable of providing for herself, exiting a coma only to wander in torpid stupor.  As she becomes more aware of herself and the crew, she remains emotionally needy – only providing the random and sporadic Deus Ex assistance.  “War Stories” seems to be her burgeoning as a strong independent character.  However, she only provides a brief moment of intensity before retreating into the protected womb of the script which does not see her develop further until the ridiculous, rapid hyper-growth in Serenity.  She has a very interesting past which ultimately would have been fun to see revealed over time, but there was a needed unveiling at the start which would have made her someone to care about.

Further, though other women in the show are touted as heroes for feminist ideals, they exemplify an interesting potential to be so, but again are confused by fans as already having them.  Most point to Inara as anything but a “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” and perhaps she would have been, had the narrative continued to its endpoint.  However, that is exactly the role she plays for the series.

An unabashed “companion”, Inara provides sexual, as well as emotional, favors for her clientele and is very clearly tied to a brothel in the blatantly titled “Heart of Gold”.  She offers counsel to the protagonist, Mal, and acts both as his moral guide and as his love interest.  She does run her operation independently and seems to have the ability to come and go as she desires, and yet is always placed in the protective arms of Mal and the crew.  She exemplifies to a T the traits and tropes of a “Hooker with a Heart of Gold”.  As a final indictment for anyone who doubts my read of the character, look no further than TVtropes.org – an online encyclopedia of stereotypes – which lists her among the examples of the trope.

Finally, one comes to Zoe Washburn.  Admittedly, she is the best example of a strong and independent woman I have seen in a series.  On top of that, I have to point out that she does not do so from a place of singleness, which is a beautiful thing.  I love that she exists as an interesting, confident, and competent character in a relationship with the other sex.

However, I think the fact that she is placed in a love triangle does diminish the effect slightly.  Addressed directly in “Safe”, she is placed in balance between Mal and her husband, Wash.  The captain uses his history with her to frustrate his pilot (and save his life), and Wash fights strongly to assert his right to his wife’s love.  I do not think this entirely devalues the work done elsewhere, but it does add a minor blemish to an otherwise fantastic character.

The characters were fun and a great blend for an ensemble piece.  I loved the mixing up of a few roles, such as having the girly-girl be the chief mechanic.  And ultimately, I do see elements of each character that pique my interest and that would have been interested in following throughout.  However, the lax development of these elements in the show’s beginning led me to a point of being only decently satisfied.  I have seen enough of a fun cast of characters and left without a burning desire to see more – the most vital thing a blooming show needs to establish.

Before we go further, I will again recognize that many will argue that all of these issues would have been addressed had the show been allowed to continue.  However, that model simply does not apply to any televised show and thus I cannot fathom why this is considered a valid defense.  If a show fails in its early days to capture the audience’s attention and provide satisfactory promise that excellent development of plot and character are on the way, the networks would be foolish to keep it around.  Firefly is no exception to this law of Hollywood and thus its poor ratings led to its demise.  It did not provide me proof that the show would suddenly pick up in its development and engage all of the intriguing plot threads it had weakly established.  It remains only “a wonderful, imaginative mess brimming with possibility“.

D.  The show is fraught with Technical Issues.

Finally, I took issue with a number of technical flounderings which both took me out of the story and made me question the creator’s decisions as a whole.

Namely, the fight choreography was atrocious.  My experiences on set with the designing and executing of a proper action scene, though not as numbered as possible, taught me enough to know a missed hit when I see one and I could not have been blind to the number of poorly executed brawls and battles throughout the series.  Missed connections, bad sound effects, and a general feeling of “Student Film” stunts work pervade.  Contrastingly, I found this video of the rehearsal for the big bar fight scene in the film Serenity which as designed by Ryan Watson – also known for his work on V for Vendetta and the upcoming 300: Rise of an Empire.

What did not surprise me greatly was this: when I searched for the Fight Choreographer of the show Firefly, my search did not turn up anyone with that title.  Instead, I found Nick Brandon, a Stunt Coordinator who apparently organized the scenes and is most responsible for the brawls.  Simply put, it seems as though the creators failed to shell out the money to hire an expert whose sole focus was designing and crafting the fight scenes for the series, and instead left it to the 11th hour with a crew of competent, but not concentrated, stunt men.

Second, the cinematography was acceptably interesting but I consistently found myself looking at shots with soft focus.  Every few minutes I caught a slight fuzziness to a characters face or to the subject of the shot and, according to Wikipedia, this was planned to mimic documentary-style filmmaking.  I understand the purpose of trying to make the show seem more real, rough-and-tumble, but when the motif is not consistent, the viewer finds his or her self pulled from the movie to note an odd stylistic deviance.  It worked against the show to have a camera technique pop in only occasionally.

Further, a constant problem was the sound editing and mix of the show.  Namely, the sound effects were very out of place and oddly chosen.  When looking at a magnum revolver, I expect some kind of violent, explosive sound – something that captures the metal of the piece.  So when Mal’s six-shooter emits a “PEW PEW PEW” sound, I stop believing in the reality of the moment.  When a brute gets thrown through the horribly impractical holo-window in a bar fight, I expect something with more pop and break to it – at least the breaking of an electrical field – but instead I get a sort of swoop sound which makes the whole thing seem ridiculous (and not the humorous “I see what you did there” way).  Overall, my attention was constantly being diverted from the narrative of the series by bizarrely out of place snippets of audio.

Finally, it meant nothing to me when the actors and actresses suddenly started into a vernacular for which I have no precedent.  I know people love the stylized quasi-western speak of the Serenity’s crew, but “shiny” does not mean anything to me.  Calling it the “‘Verse” seems like an over-colloquialism by Hollywood people, much like when Californian’s try to write what Southerners sound like (I admit I take this rather personally, as I am from the South).  But as much as I like the narrative inclusion of a merger between the USA and China, and though I like the idea of mixing the languages, I found myself entirely lost every time they launched into Chinese in the middle of a sentence.  Unlike Battlestar Galactica, which messed with the story world’s jargon in very clear and obvious replacements and which taught me how to understand these new terms, Firefly throws it at you and expects that it will just make sense.  Simply put, the words and phrases mean nothing to me and thus do nothing to build the world of the story, but rather drew me out wondering what they were talking about.

I know some will say that the low budget of the series led to all of these problems, or that they are excusable because they are stylistic (like Dr. Who).  And I recognize that each one of these issues is a series of nitpicks which alone would not challenge the quality of the show.  However, when viewed as a collective, one can see that the number of elements collect to distract from what the show is trying to do and disables the astute viewer from overlooking them for the good in the show.

4.  Serenity — Too Little, Too Late

Before wrapping all this up, let me speak specifically about the movie and how it did little more than prove what went wrong in the show.

First and foremost, understand that I liked the movie much more than I liked the show.  It fundamentally abandoned the Western motifs the series had leaned on in favor of focusing on the Sci Fi elements.  For the first time in the series, we saw an actual antagonism arise from both the overbearing Alliance and the terrifying Reavers.  However, as amazing as the tense camouflaged journey through Reaver territory and back was, it again proved to be something well suited for the long arc story of Sci Fi, not something that was well-implemented in the series.

Further, the Alliance finally shows up but in the form of a bizarre X-files rip off.  Again, it was nice to finally see the oppression by the hegemony, but it came in a form that was off-putting and which failed to capture the larger scope of what was essentially set up as a “Han and Chewie versus the Empire” story.  I am aware that it was mainly Fox’s decision to incorporate the odd G-men characters, but a bad idea is a bad idea, regardless of what individual or large media corporation made it.  What worked well was giving us a face to despise in a character that they finally got right: Jubal Early.

As I said earlier, the characters were left undeveloped, or taken to bizarre extremes that undid what the show had built up.  Once again, Shepherd Book stays entirely in the shadows, bringing us no closer to an understanding of who he is or was.  Some accept this as the mythos of the character.  However, I cannot allow the justification of poor characterization in the show to be covered by burying it in “Well, he’s just mysterious”.  That is how we got to the nonsensical and ridiculous ending of Lost. 

On the opposite spectrum, River transforms from a meek and frail damsel to a barbaric and methodical executioner – entirely dismantling her character in favor of one to which audiences and fans around the world could drink the Kool-Aid.  As intense and impressive as the “River Prime” had become, I couldn’t help noting the lack of connection to the original River, and I am frustrated that this last image of her seems to have switched itself in the viewer’s minds and rooted itself as the true nature of her character.

As I titled the section, the film comes in with an opportunity to deal with a number of poorly developed elements from the show, but ultimately proves too little, too late.  It changed very little of my perspective on the series and only worked to add more things I wished had been handled better.  Admittedly, some of my qualms come because of network decisions, but Whedon and Co. failed to address the development problems and instead focused on shifting the story in other directions.

5.  Concluding thoughts

All of this adds up to a show and a movie which people trumpet as one of the greatest endeavors of television, ruthlessly euthanized by a short-sighted network, and yet which seems to exhibit a multitude of problems.  Of course I admit there are elements that I really like about the series, and further confess that some of my issues with the show are based on subjective dislikes.  However, as I have shown, there are a number of objective, narrative issues which would and have sunk other shows and films.

Firefly is NOT awful.  Far from it.  However, it is not as great as fans purport it to be.  Ultimately my opinion of the show remains as Matthew Gilbert says: “a wonderful, imaginative mess brimming with possibility“.  I had fun with parts of it and enjoyed the creative effort.  However, overall I found it a hodgepodge of innovative ideas only decently executed at best.  Though I feel the wrath of the Browncoats amassing against me, I hope they can see that I gave the show its best shot and it simply did not enrapture me as it does others.  I saw through the fandom and found a cornucopia of errors and underdeveloped elements, which proved it not to be the masterpiece people seem to think it is.

Rating  5//10

That’s it!  I am done!  Please light up my comment section with your yelling and threats.  I welcome them gladly and look forward to the many angry conversations to come. 🙂  Below I am adding a section of other reviews which agree with me that Firefly is not the greatest thing in TV history, for your viewing pleasure.


Additional Sources

http://jam.canoe.ca/Television/TV_Shows/F/Firefly/2002/07/22/734323.html —> “In space, no one can hear you yawn.”

http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Sci-fi-Firefly-is-a-bonanza-of-miscues-from-2768434.php —>  “Firefly” feels like a forced hodgepodge of two alarmingly opposite genres just for the sake of being different.”

http://www.ign.com/articles/2003/12/09/firefly-the-complete-series —>  Firefly took the whole western thing very seriously.”

http://www.metacritic.com/tv/firefly/user-reviews —> SeInAdams:  “The cast and crew should be fortunate that there are loyal fans out that will fall on to the sword for their success, because honestly, they would be dead and forgotten without them.”



Criterion Quickee #1

Being a lover of all things film and a devoted student of the Cinematic Arts, I join in the proud tradition of creating infinitely expanding lists of movies that my existence depends on seeing, and then hopelessly attempting to cross off all entries before my time here on Earth comes to a close.  Like all cinephiles, particularly my comrades in film school, I am dutifully trudging my way through the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list – 61 films seen thus far.  To this list of classics, I add films that I am interested in or which have been recommended to me.  And over the years, I have been able to see enumerable interesting and important movies because of these insatiable lists.

Recently I have decided to diverge to a degree from my fellows and attempt to complete another canon of films – the Criterion Collection.  I had heard of the mysterious foreign and avant garde films that the list comprised of and while they piqued my interest, I didn’t know much about them, so I avoided the Collection for the most part.  However, I recently rediscovered the list and upon closer inspection found it to be teeming with fascinating films that have more cultural significance (in my opinion) than half of the works on the AFI list.  Also, I received strong recommendation to try the list from my 18-year-old brother, Travis, who has seen roughly 250 of the 600+ titles.

Thus, as well as embarking on my third Summer Film Challenge, I have pledged to see as many Criterion films as possible this summer to better round my cinematic education.  This post is the first of what I hope to be many Quickee reviews for films of the Criterion Collection.  Over the summer, I plan to see more of the approved films and post the occasional Quickee compilation here to review them. So, without further ado, lets jump into this!

Trois Couleurs:  Bleu

The first films I sought out when I decided to take on the Criterion Collection were the stylistic and interconnected “Three Colors” trilogy from Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski.  His work was recommended to me by one of my professors who loves this trilogy and always refers to it in his lessons.  So, Ryan and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and rented the collection from our library one week.  I must say, my professor was right.

Bleu is the first film in the Couleurs trilogy and it is absolutely gorgeous, visually and in tonal atmosphere.  I created the picture above because after seeing the film, I came to realize that the best way to describe it is to label it as Amelie’s Doppelganger.  The film focuses on a French woman who has an emotionally stylized sense of the world and who searches for meaning and love.  Where Amelie is bright and cheerful in it’s vivid colors which reveal her inner childishness, Bleu creates a darker and more depressing world of blue and black tones which flawlessly mimic the character’s internal despair. Both women allow their view of the world to be shaped by their emotions and Kieslowski masterfully crafts this into his aesthetic vision.

Visually amazing, I found myself constantly impressed by the way the shot selection and music were implemented to craft a powerful emotional tone.  Bleu is a gorgeous and touching film that beautifully explores the harsh realities of sorrow, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cinematography, aesthetic motif in film, or people who are simply fans of a well told story.

 Rating:  10//10

Trois Couleurs:  Blanc

What I particularly enjoyed about the Colors Trilogy was that each film is its own stylistic narrative and yet they are all connected in the story world.  When I started the second film of the trilogy – Blanc/White – I was pleasantly shocked when the film started out with a scene of the new protagonist accidentally stumbling into the courtroom of the first film before going on to do his own thing.  The interconnectedness is only in that the stories occur in the same world but that level of detail in the creation of each story made it a joy to watch and see how each life intermingled with the two others.

Just as Bleu had a clear cinematic comparison, one can see that Blanc also juxtaposes another classic film.  Blanc centers around a Polish man who finds himself down on his luck because of a messy divorce and a vindictive ex.  He meets a man who smuggles him out of Paris and back to his homeland where, instead of continuing his career as a famous hairstylist, he decides to enter a life of crime in order to get back at his love.  We watch as this mild-mannered gentleman slowly dissolves into a darker place as he becomes the most awkward and love-driven Godfather figure of all time.

Largely different from Bleu in tone, Blanc had a great dark wit about it that was hilarious and somewhat sinister to watch.  It feels like a cross between the careful entrapment of “A Cask of Amontillado”, the dry wit of Life is Beautiful, and the plucky protagonist of Rocky.  An odd mix, I admit, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this Polish Hairdressing Nobody turn into a hard-edge crime boss, all for the sake of love.  The middle film of the Couleurs Trilogy is magnificently crafted, just like the first.

Rating:  10//10

Trois Couleurs:  Rouge

And so we come to the third and final installment of the Three Colors trilogy.  I have spent every minute since I saw this film trying to figure out what film Rouge/Red compares to and honestly I can’t find the right connection.  In a lot of ways, it reverts back toward the AmelieBleu connection – a woman meets an older shut-in and both discover what it means to live life, all the while circling around a man who is in need of love.  In fact, that analogy might fit better with Rouge than the former, but the reason I left it this way is because the latter lacks that extreme emotional overtone of Bleu.  Of the three, the third installment is definitely the most slice-of-life realist.

While this was probably my least favorite of the three, please don’t believe that this reflects poorly on the film’s quality.  It is just as well written and crafted as its predecessors.  My only qualm with the film is the lack of visual or narrative surrealism which make the Bleu and Blanc so interesting and fun to watch.  Rouge holds its own by having a great story and, most importantly, a great payoff.  I’d rather not spoil the ending but sufficed to say the narrative conclusion is satisfying in almost every way.  It completes the trilogy and gives the series its meaning – the conjoining of human life in immeasurable and incalculably intricate ways.  Please find some time to work your way through all three of Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs, because you will not find a better crafted story world with such powerful aesthetic cohesion.

Rating:  10//10


For the fourth and final review of this first Criterion Quickee, I turn to one of the most beloved and most important Japanese filmmakers.  Akira Kurosawa all but invented the genre of the Samurai film and inspired a generation of filmmakers at home and across the sea in Hollywood.  Most of the Film Brats credit “the Emperor’s” work as inspiration for their own careers, and for inciting some of the greatest cinematic creations in US history – Star Wars, Magnificent Seven, and most importantly here, A Fistful of Dollars.

The last of this list is the 1964 American recreation of the 1961 Kurosawa film Yojimbo (meaning “Bodyguard”), about a rogue Samurai-for-hire who gets himself caught in between two warring parties.  Fun and funny, well shot with compelling characters, and despite being a bit too slow and long, Yojimbo is an excellent narrative story that is a joy to watch.  The modern viewer can clearly see the Western stylisms which merge flawlessly with this more ancient tale and the cinematography is wonderfully incorporated into that overarching genre motif.   Kurosawa crafted a fun and engaging tale that is great from start to finish and a perfect film to jump-start my journey into the Criterion Collection.

Rating:  9//10

And with that I come to the conclusion of my first Criterion Quickee.  I highly recommend each of these four films, both as excellent works of Cinema as Art and as great films to start into the Collection.  They aren’t overtly weird but they do give you a taste of what you are in for.  Check them out sometime and let me know what you think.

It should go without saying but I have a lot more reviews coming your way here really soon.  I am way behind on my Summer Film Challenge (as usual) but you can expect the first two reviews to be out very soon.  And, if I can figure out how to make it work, I will be sharing a special surprise that Ryan and I cooked up to make the Apocalypse Edition of the Summer Film Challenge even better.  So, be on the lookout for that in the near future.  Until then, have a marvelous week, enjoy something artistic, and I will leave you with this clue:  “It’s not an ooorrrrgy!  It’s a TOGA party!”

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A New Year and Some New Plans

Hello and welcome back!

I hope all of you had a fabulous New Year’s celebration and a wonderful holiday season.  My family and I enjoyed a nice, quiet Christmas with a few members of our extended family stopping by to spend some time with us.  I was truly blest to see most of my old high school friends and to eat a lot of good food again. 🙂  It really the most wonderful time of the year for me and I am so excited to be entering a brand new one!

Hopefully not like that...

Over my short break from posting, I have been taking time to figure out exactly what 2012 will bring for both of my blogs.  I want Soontobeangel and Art of the Trailer both to be constantly growing and progressing and I have big plans for this upcoming season.

First, let me hit the big stuff that will be changing with this blog:
One of my main frustrations this year has been trying to find a way to organize my Reviews page so that you can easily and conveniently get to any of my film/tv/video game reviews on one simple page.  So far I haven’t really had much success, but I recently hit upon a new system that I think will work very well.  So, look for an updated version of that page by the end of January.

For those of you who have been following Soontobeangel from its beginning in April, you might recall my struggles with keeping a consistent posting schedule.  Well, NO MORE!  That is the most important change that will transpire here:  Each week I will be posting something new Every Tuesday @ Noon.  The posts will range from reviews to rambles but I will be focusing all my blogging efforts on getting out something every Tuesday, so check back for that starting up very soon.

Last bit of big news:  I have been trying to figure out exactly how to keep my Art of the Trailer blog as current and up to date as possible.  I have always worried that it is constantly behind on the news of breaking trailers.  So, starting in 2012, I will be announcing which trailer I will be reviewing the coming Friday in my posts here on Tuesday.  That way I can make sure to catch any trailer coming out over the weekend.  Just keep that in mind when you check the post here on Soontobeangel – which comes out on Tuesday.

On that topic of posting, let me now turn to the detail level and give you a teaser of some of the specific posts to look for in the coming 2012 season:

  • Ramble about Reverence for Theatre and Film
  • A Comparison of 90’s “Pocket Monster” shows
  • Battlestar Galactica Final Season Review and Show Analysis
  • Last Reviews for the 2011 Summer Film Challenge (I know, FINALLY!)
  • Posting about the 2012 Summer Film Challenge
  • Reflection on A Christmas Carol
  • More Movie Reviews
  • Some new and exciting Video Game Review, including the third part of the Assassin’s Creed trilogy and another long lost review…

So, just to recap, let me remind you that the Reviews page is going to get a makeover early this year.  Also, be sure to check back every Tuesday @ Noon for a new post here on Soontobeangel.

Art of the Trailer is still going strong, with a new post on that every Friday @ Noon.  Make sure you get over there tomorrow for the start of the exciting 2012 kickoff with the New Year Trailer Extravaganza!  It is going to be really big, with a new trailer review up each day Monday through Friday, starting TOMORROW with the superb first-look trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  So check it out!

Thanks for sticking around!  I am really excited about how this new year is going to go and I can’t wait to share some small part of it with you here on my blogs.  So, thanks for everything, enjoy the rest of your break from school and work while you can, and a Happy New Year!

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Damn you, Woody Allen! Bein’ all Smart ‘n….Stuff!

I hate Woody Allen right now….just a little bit…. **Spoiler Warning**

Summer Film Challenge 2011
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Date:  6 August 2011
My Rating:  9/10

Damn you, Woody Allen!!  I got so into this movie and then it just dropped me flat.  The best way I can describe it is that it is a groaner. For those of you comedically uncultured, let me give you an example:

Twin brothers, one named Emal and the other Juan, grew up and moved out of the country. A year later, their mother receives from Juan a letter and picture of himself. His mother sighs and mentions she wishes she had a picture from Emal as well. ‘Why,’ replies her husband, ‘if you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Emal.’

At first you have no idea where it is going. It seems sort of random and odd, yet you are intrigued. Then there is a slight turn towards the middle and you begin to realize you know where it is going. From there you just watch it unfold until it takes the final turn at the end and then you realize how frustratingly funny it is.  Thus – the groan.

And thus The Purple Rose of Cairo.  At the beginning you really don’t know what is going on and where this insanity is headed.  As the film progresses you develop a belief (or perhaps a hope) of where the film is headed. As it goes on, however you begin to realize what it is trying to say and you watch it begin to spiral to that point. Finally at the end, with the last little twists taken care of, you arrive at the truth – Allen told you this was coming throughout the whole film and you just have to deal with the fact that he was right.  When I watched the movie I got towards the end and started saying to myself, “Don’t you do it, Woody!” Don’t you make your point!” But of course he did, and that is what makes this movie great.

Basically the point is this (and I can’t remember who said it in the film):  It Only Ever Happens In The Movies.  Cecilia, as well as we the audience, get suckered into truly wishing that things would turn out for the best – like they always do in the movies.  But of course that is exactly what Woody Allen wanted us to thing.  He masterfully manipulates our expectations so that when the true ending occurs, we see it new and fresh just like Cecilia. And while we hate him for it at the time, we realize upon reflection exactly how brilliant the thing truly is.

One final note about the style – I would say that this is the second of the very few ways in which a Defeatist film can really work.  It does pretend to be something that is fantastic and worth my time, and then drops it all at the end.  However when you take time to think about it, that was the purpose of the film – to get us to think.  It is meant to be jarring so that we can see the true brilliance of it.  I know I use that word a lot but in this film it has been earned – it doesn’t really go anywhere plot-wise but it takes us places spectacular. It is defeatist with an ironic point – to BE defeatist.

The acting was phenomenal!!!  Jeff Daniels definitely had the role I thought he always deserved (having watched all of his work in reverse).  His portrayal of two versions of the same man was great. I loved his boyish enthusiasm as Gil and his uncanny perfection as Baxter. Truly a phenomenal performance and he had a great leading lady to play off of!  Mia Farrow destroyed the role of the woman who loved the movies – who got lost in the reels of the cinema.  Really I feel she captured the essence of what all of us who know and are passionate about Story feel like – the immeasurable spaces we get lost in when we open ourselves to fictional lives.  Great work all around in that department.

The only issues I had with The Purple Rose of Cairo were with the flapper soundtrack – which was definitely a bit much at times – and the out-of-the-blue move by Actor Gil at the ending. His decision seemed unmotivated and while I guess it makes sense to say he put his career first, there wasn’t any explanation of that really.  He just wasn’t there all of a sudden (Yes it plays into the moral, but it still didn’t make much sense).  Other than that though it was really an amazing film that I am glad to say I have seen.  I look forward to more of Woody’s work in the future.

Why we in the Film Business do what we do

So there you go!  One more of the Summer Film Challenge down and out of the way.  I still have a long way to go to finish everything from that list so expect a lot of reviews in the next month or two. Thanks for sticking around and while you’re at it, check out my friend Ryan’s reviews of this film and, one of my personal favorites, Harvey over at his BLOG.

Up next is that Humphrey Bogart classic – “The Maltese Falcon” – which should be up fairly soon. Also, don’t think I have forgotten about the Legend of Korra review on my Art of the Trailer blog.  That will be up shortly after this one is posted.  Thanks again and check back real soon for more good stuff!

BTW – My Assassin’s Creed review has had three 100+ view days in a row now!  That’s awesome! Thanks for all the support!

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Surprise Entirely-Not-What-You-Expected Day!!!

My good friend Ryan has been having trouble with his Live Journal account recently and asked if I would upload this review for him.  So without further delay…We Present…..

Summer Film Challenge Report #8: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Rating: 9/10
Date: 25 July 2011
By Ryan Lagerstrom 

This is one of the few movies where all the individual parts, from the writing and the acting to the direction and the filmmaking are all phenomenal and yet one never eclipses the others. They all build each other up to make a fantastic movie. The movie is based on a famous stage play of the same name, and you can very much tell it’s based on a play. While that sometimes spells death for a movie, director Mike Nichols is able to make the film visually stimulating by keeping the camera moving and filming in rich blacks-and-whites, so even when the shot is static, it’s still beautiful to look at..
I really don’t have much to say about this film in a general sense except to say go see it. It’s a great movie that features some of the greatest American actors giving the performances of their careers, and it paints a very powerful portrait of a married couple trying their best to destroy each other, yet pretend that there’s nothing wrong. (It’s like Revolutionary Road, except less suicidally depressing). This is a movie that has so many layers to dissect and I can’t wait to see it again so I can properly dig in to it, because it’s definitely one of those movies. The next section will have spoilers.
The thing that I really want to address in this review is the title and how it relates to the relationship between George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) and, more specifically, their imaginary son. My friend Tyler had questions about this particular issue and here are my thoughts on it.
The title “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a reference to an old Disney short, The Three Little Pigs, which had a song called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” as well as a reference to the well-known author Virginia Woolf. As I did some research into the play and the film, I found a quote from the playwright, Edward Albee, explaining how he came up with the title:
I was in [a saloon] having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.

The way I understand it, there is no specific reason why Virginia Woolf is included in the title (I mean, besides the fact that it happens to rhyme with “Big Bad Wolf”), just that a university intellectual would find it funny.. As to the meaning of the title itself, it directly correlates to the imaginary son that George and Martha have concocted. Their marriage had disintegrated to a point where they not only had to pretend to other people that they had a normal marriage, they also had to pretend to themselves. Throughout the film, there is constant questioning about what is true about a person (or persons) and what is illusion. This contrast is played up between the two couples. While the majority of what George and Martha reveal about themselves is illusion (George’s “friend” who killed his parents), Nick and Honey tend to reveal what is true about themselves (Honey’s “hysterical pregnancy”). The breaking point for George comes when he is faced with the fact that Martha is unfaithful. When his illusion is torn away from him, out of spite and jealousy, he must tear hers away as well. In her case, it’s the illusion that she has a son. By the end of the film, they are faced with the fact that each other’s truths are fully exposed to each other. There are no more illusions, and as the title asks “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (or as Albee says, who’s afraid of living life without false illusions) Martha replies that she is.

Appreciation and Understanding w/ Dash of Irony

Hello all!  I thought I would take a break from my reviews to share some news, and have a little ramble.

First, my IRONY MOMENT OF THE WEEK!!!  I was cleaning my room recently, being all productive and stuff, when I found my old Pokemon Ruby Game. Now a bit of history: I have been playing Pokemon games since the first set (Red & Blue). I can still remember playing them on my Original B&W Gameboy at the ballpark when I was 10.  Good times… Anyway, in the 10 years I have had since I have never, repeat NEVER, beaten one. Seriously. I bought every game up to the ruby/sapphire generation and have never beaten any set of Elite Four and Champion. I either spent all my time focusing on completing the Pokedex or lost interest before getting there.

Now having said that, I decided to play the game a bit just for old times sake.  I had made it all the way to Stephen, the Champion, before but I could never beat him.  I decided to try victory road, again just for kicks and made it all the way to the final battle of the 5 and somehow, having not played in over a year now, I BEAT HIM!!! It was so crazy!!! I finally beat a Pokemon game!!! Part of my childhood had ended, IRONY, on the day that the Last Harry Potter film came out!! Just an amazing thing that those two coincided with….the battery died.

I was watching the final cutscene where May comes back and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then Prof. Birch comes in and is all surprised that you are the Champion and then he takes my Pokedex and says, “Here’s some advice…”  CLICK.  My battery dies….right there….. GAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

It was just hilarious that I had waited so long for that moment and when it comes I was robbed of it 🙂 I did go back and beat it about an hour later after I had gotten over how funny it was.  The ending was awesome just as i had always read in my strategy guide (JK!! Haha. Just…..just kidding…….totally not me………..yeah. I did read it cover to cover….yeah.) I loved the Hall of Fame thing and the credits (didn’t even know they did that!) and then….at the end….it says….”THE END”  😀


So now that the embarrassing, end-of-my-childhood moment story is over, I turn to a more philosophical thought.

Something which I have been trying to nail down for many years is how one appreciates a work such as film or book. Recently I had a breakthrough thought which I’d like to share with you for your thoughts.

Our society seems to stress two conflicting opinions.  First, post-modern culture puts forth that appreciation of art can be had in any form or way and by any medium, but I will focus on the thought that no Understanding is required for Appreciation. The Second worldview, coming from Academia, says that in order to fully Appreciate something, one must have full Understanding of it.

Let me give two examples to clarify.  The former puts forth things such as John Cage’s 4’33” or Jackson Pollock’s abstract art as important because each person experiences it differently and in unique manners. The Latter would take things such as Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and say that in order to fully appreciate it you must know that it was done as a fun exercise with his wife, and that each variation is based on one of his friends.  Obviously the two are in conflict and thus I turn to film.

My friend Ryan and I have a disagreement. Last year he gave me the French film Amelie as part of the inaugural Summer Film Challenge. When I started the movie and realized it was entirely in French without subtitles, I made the decision to watch it without them.  I had taken French in High School, but the true reason I made that call was because I wanted to see what the film was like unhampered by English text muddling the image.  I wanted to watch it as the French did, and I am not sure whether Ryan has forgiven me yet. 🙂

The reason I bring this film up is that I just ordered it on Amazon and I am not sure I will ever watch it with the subtitles, which brings us back to the original point:

What is the relationship of Understanding to Appreciation?

I propose these thoughts on this issue:

  1. I think that everything is art, and some of it is good, but only a rare bit is Great Art and that is what we must focus on. (More on this in a Ramble to come)
  2. While I can get how Knowledge in tandem or conjunction to a piece of art that helps me understand it’s origins and purpose enhances the experience of it, I wonder if we are losing a part of Appreciation by doing so.
  3. The Appreciation lost by seeking understanding I shall call Wonder or Awe. It might be aptly titled “Magic”.
  4. The Wonder I experienced when watching Amelie in French was that, though I could understand only the occasional word or phrase of the dialogue, I was able to understand the film’s plot and message remarkably well.

As my friend Ryan pointed out to me, I did miss the full meaning of the “Counting Orgasms” scene.  However I was able to appreciate that sex plays a major role in the life of Parisians in Amelie’s world and that she is keenly aware of the sexual world around her while remaining aloof of it. I was able to gleen that without being told it by verbal means. This shows me that their is a level of appreciation which is obtainable and important because you experience something unobtainable otherwise.

If you enter into something without understanding and experience it, you are able to return later with understanding and have a new experience (see – INCEPTION).  However, this path cannot be traversed the other way; if you know going in, you can’t experience that Magic (see – INCEPTION again). You can never watch Fight Club, Memento, even Jaws the same way you did the first time, so I stress the importance of not missing appreciating something as wonderful, magical and worthy of our awe.

Just to point out, I do see the irony that I am discussing “Magic” both in the context of the fanciful film Amelie and on the eve of the finale of Harry Potter franchise. 🙂

Thanks for sticking around.  Please tell me what you think about how we appreciate art, film, etc.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Donnie Darko vs. Michael Bay

2 for 1 Special Sunday!!!

It’s Sunday and you are getting two short review for the price of one! Lucky you.
First up, it’s that atrocity of cinema: Transformers 3!

First of all, I must make it clear that I am impressed and awed by how Epic Transformers 3 is. When I say “epic”, I mean that the production was spectacular in how it was done (like Pirates of the Caribbean or 10 Commandments).  The locations are breathtaking and exotic and Not CG. The CG that was there (ie – the Bots and explosions) was spectacularly blended into reality. And the fights were great as the spectacle that they were and for the depth to which they went – going to the dark point of death.  Ultimately the film is incredible in the Epic category; however that is the only aspect of it that I can use the word “incredible”…or even a positive adjective.

The story sucked. The writing sucked. The editing sucked. The acting….meh. Let me explain:


The story just wasn’t that good.  It started off well, using the classic story of ally turning on ally. I actually was very excited about the blending of the 60’s space race with modern world. However they basically dropped that story after the first 20 minutes and went back to the fighting. One positive note, they did drop the sex-i-mean-love story from #2 and kept the focus on what matters:  you can’t be focused on the girl during the end of the world.

The writing also plays into why the story sucked. Basically, in typical Bay style, it contains no Ramp and no build; it is just hardcore, over-the-top action the whole way which doesn’t let us get excited about it. Another thing, why is “I’m not a hero. I am just a messenger” the main arc for LeBeouf? That makes so little of him, the protagonist, that I really stop caring about him. Also, Who the BLEEP is Dutch and why the BLEEP is he Deus Ex Machina!? You need a personal assistant? Dutch. You need a kick-a body guard? Dutch. You need a tech-savvy hacker? Dutch. Why don’t they just make this guy God and get it over with!?

Speaking of Deus Ex Writing, why did they bother making obstacles when they take them out without any problem? In particular I refer to the bridges in Chicago. They make it a big deal that the bridges to the middle of town are up so the special forces guys will have to figure a way around tha….wait. No. Just have Dutch from some mystery place hack it in two seconds and remove that obstacle. “Somebody’s watching over us!” Yeah, the writers are.  I could go on and on about how the obstacles really never factor in (plane gets them into the city, giving them weapons to take out Starscream just before they fight him, two small guys get stuck on the big ship right as Bumblebee is about to be killed) but i won’t do that.

Editing falls under the same category. I said it on facebook and I say it again: Where are Simmons and Mearing during the final battle? “Headquarters, duh!” Oh, headquarters! Is that where they have the tech set-up or is that the war room? Or maybe was that the roof that they were on at the end? I can’t tell you how many times I was raising my hands during the movie saying “WTF! Where did that/they come from?”  The fight stuff was well cut as always (because that is the only part that matters) but everything else I thought was useless. One final question – Why are his parents there?

Finally, the acting was…okay. It wasn’t spectacular but because everything around it sucked, it stood out as some of the best stuff of the movie. Other than one obnoxious “OPTIMUS!” from LeBeouf, I thought it was well-performed and a good job of the actors to overcome the bleep that was the script.

Ultimately if it wasn’t for the circumstances in which I watched it, I would regret every second of that night. However it was fun to watch this piece of bleep with friends super late at night and to despise Michael Bay with all of you here, now.

Looks pretty but entirely not worth my time and money.

Btw: I am officially starting a boycott of Michael Bay films. You are welcome to join me if you like. Until I hear the he has final stopped making bleep and starts making quality, intelligent films, I am out. $11 less for the multi-millionaire.


The second of this Review double-feature is actually a Summer Film Challenge 2011 Film, Donnie Darko.

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #5
Date:  10 July 2011
Film:  Donnie Darko
My Rating:  9/10

This film…
I am really not sure how exactly I feel about this film and I think that those of you who have seen it know what I mean.  My thought is this film falls somewhere between “WTF!?” and “Holy BLEEP!”  It is definitely an amazing film, deep and dark. I am just not sure I know what Richard Kelly was trying to say. Thus it is not a 10.

Going into it, I really didn’t know what it was about. I knew it was dark and had the creepy, apocalyptic version of Harvey but other than that I really didn’t know anything about it. I was surprised by how many people I recognized in it: Battlestar’s “Madame President” Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal (who plays Rachel in the Dark Knight), Jake Gyllenhaal – the star, and the Dirty-er Dancing, pedo-Ghost Patrick Swayze. Great cast that really sold a tough script to me.


Not much to say about the plot, because I don’t think that is what I am supposed to think about. So I focus on what I believe this film to be about.  The time-travel thing and the liquid worm-hole thing I think come back to one throw-away conversation in the middle of the film.

Donnie starts talking with his physics professor about time travel, etc, and at the midpoint of thef film, they have a conversation about Predestination – sort of. They are actually discussing his liquid worm-holes that he sees and how they seem to guide his path in life. They discuss whether following a physical manifestation of “God’s path” for them constitutes free choice or a predestined life (ie – “Can we escape fate?”). I think this is what the whole of Donnie Darko is about. Donnie’s whole experience with Frank after the escaped accident seems to explore what happens when you escape fate (similar to Final Destination). Donnie is granted sight into the chaos of the world without the order of destiny and thus comes to choose (not follow blindly) to follow the path he should have taken. I think these lines might help clarify what I mean:

“Freedom is having a desert open and bare before you, free to be roamed at leisure, and instead you choose to sit in the sand and weep.  Freedom is knowing all angles and vertices of the argument, understanding that which is right and which is wrong, and confining yourself to half-truths plastered on feltboard for children’s comprehension.  Freedom is being able to walk past everyone in the courtyard and out the gate, on to whatever life you choose, and instead you bend your neck down onto the chopping block.”

I wrote that immediately following my watching this film. Hopefully it makes clear what I am trying to say – freedom is having every option and choosing the hard one.  Thus Donnie, who is fully able to avoid his fate, chooses to stick to it.

I think I will be analyzing this film for quite a while. Not sure this film is fully accessible to everyone (or anyone), but it is deep and, I think, important to discuss and figure out.  I loved all of the references in it (King’s “IT”, Last Temptation of Christ, Evil Dead). Not sure exactly what is meant by all of them but it does add a nice level of depth to the film.

I really wish I had watched Donnie Darko with people. Not because I am freaked out by it, but because I wish I could have discussed it with them. This really is a thinking person’s film and I look forward to unpacking it as the years go on.

So there you go! Two films reviewed – one bad, one good. Thanks for stopping by, please comment and subscribe, and here is your clue for the next review:

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Who IS Virginia Woolf and Why is She so Scary!?

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Report #4
Date:   28 June 2011
Film:  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
My Rating:  8/10

First of all, this is one of the best written films I have ever seen, and for obvious reasons.  I really enjoyed watching this scene (and it really is one or two scenes) and the George and Mary relationship play out. Really fantastic.

This to me is what every indie film tries to be: a dark, yet honest representation of real life and real people. What makes it stand out (besides the lack of indie music) was that it takes place over the course of 5 hours one night.  Most films try to show so much of life over several months or a solid week, but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? proves that with excellent writing it can be done in much shorter time.  Beautiful writing that really challenges you to think.

However, I still feel like I missed the “joke”. Going into it I knew that Virginia Woolf was a writer, probably a poet, but that was all I knew. After seeing it, I educated myself on the subject.  And still I don’t know what the point is.  She was a feminist and the parallel can be draw there from the strong woman she was and the strength of Margaret’s character, but I am not sure that is the full extent of the point being made.

Also, I really don’t get the ending.  I mean I understand what happened but I have no idea what happened. All I will say here is that, again, I followed what occured but I am not sure I understand how it got there and where it goes from there.  Below, I am including a section that will go into more detail about this issue, but that includes spoilers.  Check that out to see what I mean.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I don’t get these two things, but I don’t get them sort of like I don’t fully get Inception or The Departed. I don’t understand it but I know that it is deep and amazing.  I just need some time to let it all sink in.  Good stuff that you can’t just accept and move on.

One final note in the spoiler free section about the acting.  Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton give near flawless performances, really nailing these two incredibly difficult roles. The supporting cast….not so much. Watch and see what Nick (New Bio Teacher) drinks after his wife throws up. It must be 1000% proof because in a matter of seconds he goes from calm and collected, if not a little nervous, to smashed out on the lawn. I know acting drunk is hard but Taylor and Burton nail it (the couple being very used to drinking works well) versus the other two start in control and, after a few drinks, completely fall apart.  That wasn’t great but it was covered well by the phenomenal performances by the every beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and the wonderfully calculating Richard Burton.

In summary, a great movie, a bit tough to watch but on the whole, amazing and well worth the chance to watch it. I look forward to unpacking it over the next few weeks. Btw: 20th post!!! 🙂

Do you fear death?

***Spoilers below***


What I mean is this: I understand that they don’t have a son. That I can follow, but I don’t really understand it. I guess that the game is that they can’t mention the game (sound familiar?) and they both are in charge of the creation of their son’s life.  I guess it just doesn’t make much sense to me how deeply they are connected, partially through a neurotic fantasy life of their imaginary child, yet are so evil to each other on the surface. Both traits are believable but I am just not sure how well they work together. Really going to need some time to unpack this whole debacle.  That’s it.  Thanks!

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The Town: A Meh Title for a Meh Film

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Date: 15 June 2011
Film: The Town
My Rating: 6/10

First of all I need to clarify the reason for this film being on my Summer Film Challenge List.  It is not because this film is widely heralded as an amazing bit of cinema, a modern classic.  It is not one of Ryan’s favorite movies that I needed to see in order to understand the real him.  I watched The Town because I don’t like the title. Ryan pointed out that I was judging a book by it’s cover (ie – title) and made me actually read it before passing full judgement.  Unfortunately for the axiom, it seems I was right all along – the title isn’t that great (which I will get into) and the film is only just above “meh”.

Basic overview: It was okay.  The production value was good, story was pretty decent with a few nice tweaks, and the acting was definitely above average.  Particularly, I thought that Blake Lively destroyed her small role as the drugged-up whore girlfriend of Ben Affleck.  I thought she did an amazing job.  Otherwise, it was just okay. Followed the typical “last job” pattern with a bit more grit and a lot less “wow! this is totally new and amazing!”

My biggest issue with the movie is that, while there was more “Town” in it than I expected, it still isn’t the focus of the film, and thus I don’t know why it is called that.  I went in expecting the focus to be entirely on the characters and not the setting but there were a few references Charlestown, especially the beginning, which did give some validity to the name but not nearly enough.

A title tells me what your film is about.  It is the last profound punch of the film.  It focuses me one what the artist is trying to convey – be it answer or question.  If you call something THE something, you had better be right.  “The” implies not just an individual but a singularity, an importance, a point that this above all else stands out.  Let me give you some examples:

  • THE Godfather
  • THE Lord of the Rings
  • THE Silence of the Lambs
  • THE Bible
  • THE Once and Future King (read it!)

“The” has dropped from its truly royal position in the kingdom of words to that of a lowly article, simply the filler between the important nouns and verbs.  That really doesn’t jive with me. When I see a “the” I think “Singular” and “Important” (it is not called a murder weapon; it is called THE murder weapon.)

Having said that, I really don’t think that this film is about the town of Charlestown or it’s effects on the characters.  There is the influence but the filmmakers chose to stick with who the characters are more than how the community has ruined them.  I do like the parallelism that occurs at the end with the scene from before (no spoilers). That was a nice touch. However it isn’t about the locations of the people but the connections between them.
Another thing I wasn’t crazy about was the long monologues detailing backstory. Affleck had at least two spots I can think of where he just laid his whole past on the table.  While I get that he is reaching out for acceptance and understanding in a female figure, I doubt that someone having come from a tough-as-nails, fight-to-live environment like Charlestown would just totally go teenmo (teen emo) on their first real girlfriend.  Just saying.

So there you go.  You just got my rant about movie titles with “The _____” and my third Summer Film Challenge 2011 review!  Freebie!  Thanks and I’ll leave you with the only face of Ben Affleck:

Yup…That’s it!

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“Blazing Saddles” – Not So Hot

Summer Film Challenge 2011
Date: 25 May 2011
Film:  Blazing Saddles
My Rating: 7/10

It comes down to this: it was good and a little bit fun, but it just wasn’t as amazing as Brooks other stuff.  The main jokes were good (ie – “the sheriff is a n___” and the self holdup) and the meta joke at the end is okay.  What I found wrong with it is that it just isn’t as funny as his other stuff.  Hedley Lamarr, Lili Von Shtupp, even Mel Brooks’ Governor character get pushed to the wayside for the mains (Little and Wilder).  While this is normally a great thing, they decided to cut the potential for great jokes amongst the minor characters and go with the 20 minute long break of the fourth wall. The end makes little to no sense – it is a cheap, throwaway joke that really wrecks the train of the film.

It may seem like I don’t like the film, but that is not true.  I thought the bit about the toll road was hilarious, as was the incredible quantity of racial jokes.  It was funny.  I enjoyed it and am sure you would as well.  It just wasn’t my favorite Brooks film.  He has done better work.

In short, watch it and enjoy!  It is a fantastic parody of the Western Genre and it is really funny.  Just realize it might not be the same as some of his other stuff and that the end will be weird.

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