This documentary introduces Alejandro Jodorowsky’s singular vision for Frank Herbert’s Dune and chronicles his gathering of like-minded visionaries and geniuses of the time to construct an epic science fiction film. And this was before the world was surprised and then enamored with Star Wars. While his movie was far more ambitious in scope and would have been equally, if not even more pioneering in terms of the special effects, Jodorowsky had it all figured out, creatively, practically and financially. But he could not get his movie made.
And what a movie it would been. Moebius did storyboards and character design. Chris Foss and H.R. Giger did concept design. And the cast would have included Salvidor Dali, Orson Wells, David Carradine, Mick Jagger and others.
In the documentary, Jodorowsky recounts how circumstance, persistence, charisma and understanding allowed this sci-fi prophet to gather and inspire his disciples/collaborators. While this movie was never made, its near existence has had its impact on those that have since been made, from Star Wars to Alien to countless more.
The original storyboards from the original trilogy are arranged into an annotated comic book format. But this is not a graphic novelization of the three movies, it’s more of document pieced together to illuminate cinematic development. Joe Johnston and others reflect on their inspirations, experiences and responsibilities as storyboard artists while the collected artwork allows readers to consider the evolution of memorable scenes, characters and designs.
At its beginning and at its end, the film Maleficent instructs its audience with a heavy hand that this is not the story they know. The story that came to mind was that of the movie Sleeping Beauty (1959), which this one sought to prove as false. But I’ll get back to that. This instruction also made me thing of other, more recent films that dealt with the empowerment of its female lead.
In Alice in Wonderland (2010), Alice’s muddled adventure follows the teenage girl as she runs away from the life planned out for her only to accept her place in the prophecy she is confronted with in “Underland” before being plopped back where she was in the first place. Hm. I did not care for the grotesque digital rendering of Wonderland, or renaming. To me, it simply didn’t fit the material. Perhaps the aesthetic later used by Laika for Coraline (2009) or ParaNorman (2012) would have been better.
In Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Snow White was a mediocre “The One” a la The Matrix (1999), and her personal growth could not compare to the portrayal of the tragedy and madness of her nemesis, the evil queen. For this I blame the casting. Kristen Stewart cannot compare to Charlize Theron in terms of beauty and the execution of their craft. This film aimed to distance itself from previous incarnations, most notably in the writing by paring down the role of Prince Charming. Prince Charming did not save the damsel in distress. It was not he who revived her with a kiss. This narrative choice did not belittle the titular character’s love for another; it simply didn’t make it the key to her salvation. The production design of this film was fantastic, seamlessly blending sets with CGI.
In Brave (2012), Princess Merida wants to change her destiny. She does not want to be married to one of the three suitors provided. She does not want to become her mother, who she sees as the polar opposite of herself. In a selfish and desperate act, she curses her family and threatens peace with the neighboring kingdoms. Compared to the previous films discussed, this one is much more intimate. It’s about family, communication and responsibility. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, the girl learns a lesson and changes her fate. But like it, and Snow White and the Huntsman, she is the hero, not some boy, and she saves the day with growth and maturity, as well as some spit and vinegar.
I heard a lot about Frozen (2013) before I finally watched it. And I liked a lot more before I saw it. As a 30-something male, I am not its audience. Its targeted demographic is young girls. Its story about two sisters, character design, and songs spoke right to them. Princess Anna needs to be saved by an act of true love. There are two acts of true love that could have potentially saved Anna, that of a snowman Olaf and mountain man Kristoff, but it is her own act of sacrifice to save her sister Elsa that does the trick. But I do find issue with some aspects of the story and what it says to kids. For example, there was no obvious consequence for attempting to murder the queen and princess of a neighboring country.
And this brings us back to Disney’s Maleficent, which focuses on the antagonist from Sleeping Beauty. Before watching the film, I wondered if the character would be explored to give new context to her actions as was done for the Wicked Witch in the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Nope. With a “See What We’re Doing!” attitude, the filmmakers stayed fairly true to the broad strokes of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, while constantly reassigning both action and dialogue from one character to another. Sometimes it seemed clever, other times like change for the sake of change.
Instead of developing a rich history/portrayal for the antihero, Maleficent is good at heart. Betrayed and mutilated by the one human she knew, and unfortunately trusted, the fairy protector walls off the lands she is responsible for and broods. But instead of having her revenge on her assailant, King Stephan, she targets his newborn baby girl, Aurora. But once her revenge has had its release, Maleficent begins to revert to her true, nicer self. The three fairies charged with raising Princess Aurora prove to be useless, and it is Maleficent that “reluctantly” becomes her fairy godmother.
My biggest gripe is that the whole film felt rushed. Relationships are not developed; they are suddenly one way or another as defined by the dialogue. Film is a visual medium. The audience should not be told something; they should be shown. Which is unfortunate due to how visually driven this film is.
First time director Robert Stromberg was the Art Director on 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. His fantasy creatures all have a certain creepiness that works well in Maleficent, although much of the film felt like set pieces and digitally rendered environments. Still, there are many picturesque moments, my favorite being Maleficent’s first kiss. My least favorite was the money shot during the film’s climax. It involves a window. The CGI Maleficent seems too statuesque to be a person, but Angelina Jolie’s work on the film was great. I liked the contrasting scenes where she first encounters the baby at the castle and then again in the cottage. But the oversimplification of the film did it a disservice. I knew where the narrative was going well before we got there. This was film about Maleficent and her surrogate daughter. Whose kiss do you think was the one to wake Aurora up?
I wish Maleficent’s horns were smaller and grew through out her maturity. Or perhaps if they painfully sprouted out of her hate for Stephan, further marking her victimhood, and were shed at the end of the film upon her victory and revenge. Visually, the film was very dark, skewing towards an older audience. But the content, the story spoke to the younger audience members, to whom they gave the happiest of endings. Which to me raises certain questions. What dark history followed, resulting in the propaganda, the false account of these events that we know as the film Sleeping Beauty? And what are we teaching kids by giving back the fairy’s wings?
Imagine waking up an amputee. It would be painful. Your life would be forever changed. But you could adapt. You could make yourself be more than your handicap. But imagine if this was done to you for no beneficial reason. Imagine of this was done to you because someone else felt entitled, believed that they had the right to do it to you.
The scene where Stephan decides to cut off Maleficent’s wings shows him reasoning that by taking them as a trophy, he is saving her from being hunted. Nobody thinks that he or she is the bad guy. People convince themselves otherwise. But this was an act of lust, a desire for power. Her wings were his key to ascending to the throne. By keeping her wings alive, by reattaching them, the horror of what Stephan did to Maleficent was trivialized. In a world where men respond to the gang rape of young girls by saying, “Boys will be boys,” this seems irresponsible. To me, Maleficent’s character arch culminated earlier in the film when she tried to first remove the curse. That was the point that kids need to embrace, the moment when Maleficent let herself love again.
As far as most of us who love Calvin and Hobbes can tell, its creator Bill Watterson has only ever wanted 2 things.
1. To make his comics on his terms.
2. To be otherwise left alone.
Nevin Martell’s book Looking For Calvin and Hobbes promised a rare glimpse of into the enigma that is Watterson. Selfishly, I hoped that it would. The first half of the book draws you in with the promise of an interview that never happens. Once the writer, if not the reader, realizes that this is the case, the focus of the book turns to Martell’s own personal, yet insignificant journey as he explores Watterson’s home town and harasses his subject’s parents. Anything and everything that offered any insight into Bill Watterson himself was quoted from speeches and book introductions that Watterson wrote himself , a bunch of which can be found online. I literally threw this book away in anger.
The only worthwhile information that this book provided was that ALL of Watterson’s original artwork is at the OSU Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum where you can make appointments to see it.
Joel Schroeder’s documentary Dear Mr. Watterson promised an eclectic mix of testimonies to the significance of Watterson’s work by professionals and fans alike. But then Nevin Martell showed up and received considerable screen time as if he were the Watterson expert. Schroeder’s film took a similar detour to Martell’s book and instead of focusing more on the professionals and fans that continue to be inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, we hear more about people’s fixation on Watterson’s refusal to merchandize as Schroeder focuses on his own experience and a specific cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes in a way that doesn’t really say anything significant to the audience. There are better stories that could have been told. And documentaries should be about their subjects, in this case the professionals and fans, but not those making the movie.
For such a recluse, Watterson is pretty outspoken, when he chooses to speak. Instead of wasting your time with the book and movie I’ve described above, I suggest that you get to know Bill Watterson through his comic work and his other writings. Here are some links to a few things I’ve found online at The Derkins Libary for Calvin and Hobbes Research.
The Cheapening of Comics. A speech by Bill Watterson delivered at the Festival of Cartoon Art, Ohio State University, October 27, 1989.
Some Thoughts On The Real World By One Who Glimpsed It And Fled. A graduation commencement speech Bill Watterson delivered at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH on May 20, 1990.
In all the various books collecting selections of Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson offers his readers insightful introductions to each body of work. Here’s a link to the introduction from Calvin and Hobbes – Sunday Pages 1985 – 1995.
Find these books. Read Watterson’s words as he intended them. Read his comics. Watterson is in every shape, letter, line and color.
Bryan Singer’s original two X-Men films, X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003), set the bar for what was delivered in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic vision for Batman and MARVEL’s continuing, interwoven film endeavors. Unfortunately, when Singer decided to make Superman Returns (2006) for Warner Bros., Fox, determined to prove they could not only deliver an X-Men movie without him but before his movie’s release, moved ahead with another director, ultimately Brett Ratner, for what became to fans the most regrettable installment in the X-Men franchise: X-Men: The Last Stand.
Lets say that the financial success of a film sequel is owed to the creative and financial success of the previous installment. As X2 surpassed its predecessor, expectations for The Last Stand were pretty high, and it earned more at the box office than the previous films, but it lacked Singer’s intelligence, vision and craft. One of X-Men comics’ greatest storylines was butchered and it didn’t seem like Fox noticed the incredible decline in their product until after their spin-off, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), which unfortunately established the bone claws. Lame!
Singer was approached to direct X-Men: First Class (2011) and he wrote his own treatment, using the Cuban Missile Crisis as a backdrop. Due to other commitments, Singer stepped down to produce the film, which was directed by Mathew Vaughn. For a while he was going to direct The Last Stand, and his stepping down was a huge disappointment. First Class is enjoyable, but Vaughn’s sensibilities downplayed the pathos and tragedy embodied by Singer’s. Singer turned down The Wolverine (2013), but director James Mangold made great steps to returning to the tone and quality that Singer first established.
Brian Signer returned to the director’s chair for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). It is two days since this new movie and I’m excited to see it again. It runs a bit over 2 hours and felt long, but fluid and thick with plot twists and action. The Internet was abuzz about scenes cut from the movie, and there are more in the commercials that didn’t make it into the film’s final cut. I would have liked to see the conversation between Mystique and Wolverine; I’m sure it would have related to their scene together at the end of the film. I’m hoping for a loaded Blu-ray disk.
This film works well in broad strokes. The special affects are beautiful. Like all the previous films, the costume and character design is not what I would have done, but it looks great on film. Everyone in the cast does a great job. Hugh Jackman’s work in The Wolverine finally delivered something of the character that fans of the comics have been reading for years and he continues to do so here. Wolverine is a Clint Eastwood-type. He should NEVER cry.
The comic book logic of Days of Future Past is shown as it’s explained to keep audiences up to speed. There are moments when things happen, or don’t happen to service or simplify the plot. For example the process that allows Wolverine’s mind to be pushed back in time into his younger body is dependent on his keeping calm. A dramatic scene proves the case, but during the film’s climax, when Magneto neutralizes Wolverine, I would have expected him to be upset enough to be forced back to the future. By ignoring this detail, we are given a very satisfying end to the movie.
The time travel in this film is used to rewrite the franchise’s film history to the best end possible. Now Fox can retell the Phoenix Saga how it’s meant to be told. I’d like to see it combined with other material for X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). And I’d like Fox to ensure that Bryan Singer directs it.
The 2014 movie Godzilla seeks to balance the spectacle of titans duking it out with the perspective and concerns of the mere mortals baring witness, attempting control the situation or simply trying not to be trampled under foot. The strengths and weaknesses of this 2nd Americanization of one of Japan’s greatest cinematic exports parallels those found numerous Spielberg movies. The fantastical elements are teased and delivered effectively with skill and care, but the human element lacks the same finesse.
The most interesting human characters, Joe Brody played by Bryan Cranston and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa by Ken Watanabe, are minimized in favor of the young U.S. Military bomb expert Lieutenant Ford Brody, played by a numbly detached Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Given this route, I think it would have been better if there were a more tragic parallel between the Brody men where duty trumps their own personal concerns. Imagine if Ford could not forgive Joe for his involvement in Ford’s mother’s death and then has to make a similar and equally responsible choice. Juliette Binoche and Elizabeth Olsen who were both sadly underused played the Brody wives.
When Taylor-Johnson’s character returns stateside after a year+ of active duty, the challenge of adjusting to being back home as a civilian is simply mentioned and then forgotten. This is dealt with more in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, first in a conversational way, and then we briefly see a therapy group, which I think is a huge step.
A possible route that could have been taken in Godzilla would have showing that Ford cannot adjust to being back, or suffers post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His and his family’s struggles could be intercut with the revelations concerning the monsters. The two narrative threads intertwine and are drawn tight with tension. Giant monsters erupt onto the landscape. When Ford is called back into duty, he struggles with his responsibilities to his country and those to his family and securing their safety. But when his hometown is turned into a disaster zone, it all has an air of familiarity. Ford’s training kicks in and he functions in the ways that everyone around him need him to.
Maybe an idea for the sequel or some fan fiction?
But lets get back to this movie. The pacing of the film was very deliberate. The audience is made to linger and contemplate the devastation created by the monsters. We are teased with glimpses of the monsters, which caused one theatergoer to yell out, “Come on!” But there were some wonderful moments revealing the shear scale of these ninja-like monstrosities. In many movies, nothing is smelled or heard until the characters actually SEE it. Even Godzilla, whose every step makes the earth rumble and quake, can sneak up on you. But forgiving that, my favorite monster reveal is at night when the mountain in the background moves to shift its weight. And that tree behind the actors? That’s no tree.
The other monsters created for this film were designed to be cold, geometrical and alien. They are referred to as parasites. Writers Max Borenstein (screenplay) and Dave Callaham (story) and director Gareth Edwards present them as wild animals, doing what animals do. But we are not meant to sympathize with these creatures; we’re supposed to be rooting for the big guy. And we do.
Godzilla is THE alpha predator. Watanabe’s character poetically talks about the titular character being nature’s way of balancing the scales. It’s probably more that something surfaced that could challenge his dominance so he comes up to kick ass and then goes back to whatever he was doing. The action was fun and surprising. Great use was made Godzilla’s atomic breath. Its visual/biological process and reveal were well executed and dramatically done. The quick glimpses we get of the monsters during most of the movie are fun, cool and awe-inspiring. And once the climatic battle gets going, you get what you came for.
Marvel’s films have an episodic quality to them. While I have seen them all, I wonder how many moments or narrative connections might be lost on those who have not. For example, Gary Shandling returns as Senator Stern in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, reprising his role from Iron Man 2. Now this wasn’t a significant detail, but a nice thread that lead back to the earlier film. But as the web of narratives grows with each new film existing in Marvel’s shared cinematic universe, will the audience eventually be handicapped by not seeing one of the previous films? Or will expert exposition keep everyone in the loop?
This shared universe also creates another narrative challenge. When the world as we know it hangs in the balance, why would one hero not enlist the aid of the others? Sure there are real world constraints, contracts, schedules, etc. But as I watched The Winter Soldier, I wondered why Captain America or the Black Widow didn’t try contacting Iron Man. The simplest solution could have been that this film’s narrative took place during the same time period as Iron Man 3. Seeing the news broadcast reporting Tony Stark’s supposed death in the background would have done the trick.
The only other complaint I had was the design of the Winter Soldier himself. I realize that it presents a visual contrast between the titular characters, but I was more interested in the similarities. It would have been better to present the Winter Soldier as what Shield was trying to turn Captain America into. Old school carries a shield; new school has a mechanical arm.
I think Chris Evan does an admirable job in his portrayal of Steve Rogers/Captain America. The character is never simply the straight man to the crazy world around him. Evans brings believable pathos to a man-out-of-time struggling to live not the life he lost, but the life he has now. Over the course of Evan’s multi-picture deal with Marvel, audiences are sure to witness an evolution of the character. I hope that they follow the comic’s lead and give Sebastian Stan’s Bucky a chance at the mantel rather than recasting Rogers. But in the meantime, Evans is giving us a Captain America we can believe in. His moral compass never wavers. The right way might be the hard way, but it’s the way it’s got to be.
As to the rest of the film, I liked a lot. The script kept its cards close and had a nice pace to how and when they were shown. Chris Evan had great chemistry with Scarlett Johansson, and I was impressed with how his soldier to her spy was played throughout the movie. Samuel L. Jackson was exactly what was Nick Fury was expected and needed to be. I did miss the inclusion of Greg Clark’s Agent Coulson, but Anthony Mackie’s debut, as Sam Wilson/Falcon, was perfect.
The superhero aspects of Captain America were on full display. Running, jumping, punching, kicking, there was never any doubt to the power of the character. This also played really during long shots where Captain America was a tiny figure making his way over massive vessels like the new Helicarriers.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has the sensibilities of a Saturday-morning cartoon. It would have been great in that 30-minute increment and context, but given the sophistication and expectations of today’s comic book film audience, the film falls on its face. I will admit though, that in the way I will watch (the terrible) Man of Steel to watch Superman fly, I had a blast watching Spider-Man swing.
Because of the amassed source material and the quality of previous adaptations to the screen, comic book movies now have narrative expectations that previous action movies did not. And Marvel’s films continue to maintain a bar that other studios are simply not reaching. The various creative and financial forces behind the current Spider-Man films seem preoccupied with where the franchise is going, rather than where it is now. And if they don’t care, about the here and now, why should the audience?
The whole film feels rushed with hopscotch caricature development rather than character development and underuses its cast. One example is Jamie Fox’s Max/Electro, who could have been a downtrodden everyman, whose goodness was worn away until all that remains inside him is a pure, primal rage. Instead, Max/Electro is a caricature of a mentally unstable nerd, obsessed with Spider-Man. How the character is ultimately beaten, and dealt with in terms of the overall franchise is similarly thin, but fitting of a morning cartoon and the intended audience.
Jorge Vegas plays a boy, also named Jorge, who looks a lot like Max Charles, who plays Peter Parker when Peter last sees his parents. Jorge first meets Spider-Man when the boy’s science project is broken by a group of bullies. Spider-Man frightens away the bullies, fixes the Jorge’s project and then walks the boy home. Jorge’s presence is woven into the film two more times to thoroughly engage the film’s target audience: 8 year-old boys. The film’s goal: Make young boys want to be Spider-Man, see the movies and buy the toys.
And that’s fine. What is unfortunate is I believe the filmmakers are underestimating their audience. Sure they might want to shy away from challenging their audience, but they don’t need to talk down to them. And long term, I think this, and other decisions will make this incarnation of the character forgettable.
Nobody gave a toss about Peter’s parents, and now that this film dealt with them, we can all move on. Sally Field’s Aunt May simply isn’t that likeable to the point where we, like Peter, don’t care enough to think about her. Everyone in this family is me, me, me, which is a terrible contrast to the genuinely loving relationship that was written into the comics. And what made the comic book Spider-Man interesting and relatable was how he juggled his fantastic and mundane responsibilities, because they were all important. In these newer films, Peter seems only capable of obsessively focusing on one thing at a time, and that sells our hero short.
The only one with any strength of character, decisiveness and resolve is Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. And they killed her. The only thing that made the audience care about Peter Parker was dynamic of his relationship with Gwen Stacy, and the chemistry Andrew Garfield has with Emma Stone.
I think it would have been wiser and more effective storytelling, to secure both Garfield and Stone for a series of movies. Where Mary Jane’s character in the previous movies was always that of the damsel in distress, Gwen was an active participant, on her way to becoming Peter’s partner. Imagine if this thread was followed for at least another film so that we could see how they succeed and fail together as a couple in a real relationship, not as two individuals on the fringes of a relationship.
And then when Gwen inevitably dies, Peter would not only be dealing with his guilt over involving her in the Spider-Man part of his life, but he would not know how to be Spider-Man without her. I think kids can handle this kind of complexity. Or it may go over their heads now, while playing to older audience members, and give the kids a fresh perspective on the film when they re-watch it in the future.
That all being said, the staging and environments felt like a video game, the animation, perspectives and choreography of Spider-Man swinging around was a lot of fun to watch. Sony has an opportunity to do a reboot within their reboot. I hope they take it. My two cents: make Peter Parker as likeable and important and Spider-Man.