This wouldn't have happened with Gainsborough or one of those proper painters.

Monday, December 28


Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

42 Days of Summer #5

Directed by Irvin Kershner
Written by Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, David Prowse, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, James Earl Jones, Frank Oz
1980, 124 minutes

As I mentioned in my pre-review, while I'm very very late watching this film, I already knew almost everything about it.  I'd read the book, heard the score, seen images and clips and spoofs of the action, listened to entire podcasts about it...  I just hadn't seen it.

The good news is that the film holds up both to my expectations and to the 35 years since its release.  I watched the Somethingth Anniversary Digital Special Edition Release, which has toned down some of the earlier Lucasic fiddling, and which looks absolutely beautiful.

There's little about this film that doesn't work.  The stop-motion AT-ATs look a little odd compared to how polished and fluid the rest of the cinematography is.  And Yoda...  Okay, I can understand the attachment people have to the physical puppet over the CGI version in the prequels, but he's a puppet.

And the giant space worm is a goddam sock.  I'm a little surprised they left that in, but I'm glad they did.

Three and a half star wars out of four.  Having watched (or rewatched) the original trilogy, I give them all three and a half stars.  There are definitely things the latter two films do better than the first - cinematography, sets, costumes - but they both sag a little in the middle (the Dagobah and Endor parts).

You've probably already seen them, but if you haven't, highly recommended.

I also watched the first half hour of The Phantom Menace.  I'll say this: The first eleven minutes are not entirely terrible.

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The Lego Movie

42 Days of Summer #6 (yes, we're out of timetable order, whatever)

Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Chris McKay
Written by Dan Hageman, Christopher Miller, Kevin Hageman, Roy Lee
Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, and with a whole bunch of other people
2014, 101 minutes

What the hell happened here?  With three directors and four writers and being clearly nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy, this should have been a train wreck.  Maybe it would keep the kids quiet for ninety minutes so mommy could get some me time with a stiff gin and tonic, but you couldn't expect more than that.

The Lego Movie blows the doors off all expectations by delivering something that is smart, fun, and sincere, fast-paced, well-directed, and if it doesn't entirely make sense then for almost its entire 101 minutes it doesn't give you enough time to notice.

For a film about and composed of plastic bricks, it is endlessly inventive and visually stunning.  While the movie is almost entirely computer-animated, every scene is planned out as though it were to be built out of real Lego blocks.  I don't know if that restraint improves the movie itself or if it's just one sign of how much care went into the production, but it's clear that the production team failed a cynicism check and ended up caring deeply about what they were making.

The story almost doesn't matter in the whirlwind of inventiveness, but very quickly, Emmett Brickowski (Pratt), a Lego construction figure so everyman-ish that no-one actually remembers him, falls down a hole in a construction site and encounters the Piece of Resistance, a mysterious artifact that will allow a rag-tag group of freedom fighters to stop the plans of Lord Business (Ferrell) to destroy the world by unleashing the power of the Kraggle.

When the Lego Police show up to arrest him, led by Bad Cop (Neeson), Emmett  is rescued by action girl Wyldstyle (Banks) and...  Lego magic happens.

Almost everything about this film is awesome, including the score.

Three bricks out of four.  Recommended.

Oh, and one more thing: The Lego Movie is a better Batman film than Batman Begins.  Suck it Christopher Nolan.

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Batman Begins

42 Days of Summer #7

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson
2005, 1719 minutes...  okay, 140 minutes, it just seems longer

The first forty-five minutes of Batman Begins are almost unwatchable, while the remaining hour and a half is merely tiresome and unoriginal.  The only good thing in the whole dreary mess is Michael Caine, who tries but ultimately fails to rescue the film.

Everything about the story is both fomulaic and overdone.  We need an origin story (or rather an Origin! Story!) so the first forty-five minutes are wasted (and I do mean wasted) on that.  If they'd cut that entirely, and another thirty minutes here and there (even the action sequences drag), then maybe...

No, forget it, there's no saving this wreck.  It doesn't even look pretty, because you can't see anything.  And the score just phones it in.  They may as well have held up a card reading dramatic orchestral piece for climactic fight sequence.

Honestly, Gotham deserves whatever happens to it.  By the looks of the place they've been electing Democrats since 1927; they did this to themselves.

One bat.

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Sunday, December 27


Everything Is Awesome

Back on track with the watching, if not the reviewing yet.

That's a pretty good film there.  Three bricks out of four.

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Friday, December 25


Empire Strikes Back Pre-Review

Watched Star Wars for the fourth time today, and Empire for the first.

It's a bit of a strange experience, since I've read the books and seen bits here and there and in general been steeped in Star Wars culture for more than three decades, and I'd seen the first film at least three times before, but hadn't ever sat down to watch the later ones.  So I knew the characters and the actors and the story and the music and the cinematography and...


I'm watching the latest Digital Edition, which has most of the infamous changes, but not the most infamous changes.  The only one that really didn't work for me was the deleted scene from the original, where Jabba confronts Han before they leave Tattooine.  Because they used the original footage and stuck in a huge CGI Jabba, the composition is all wrong.

The Han vs. Greedo shootout in this version is something I'm basically fine with.  They fire more-or-less simultaneously, but Han is already dodging when Greedo shoots.  Which is more in line with Han's character as established later on...  But which gives him less character development.

The first film still holds up very well, though the second has noticeably better sets and cinematography.

Of all the things they could have changed, though, the three-dollar sock-puppet space worm was left in.  It looks like it escaped from a Jon Pertwee episode of Doctor Who - probably Carnival of Monsters.

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Wednesday, December 23


The Iron Giant

42 Days of Summer #4

Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Tim McCanlies and Brad Bird from a story by Ted Hughes
Voices of Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald, and featuring Vin Diesel as a big inarticulate monster
1999, 86 minutes

In a small town in Maine in 1959, people are mysteriously dying of cancer.  Like, all of them.  A young boy points the blame US government nuclear "tests" and sets out to...  No, wait, that's Iron Giant II.


In a small town in Maine in 1958, a young boy gets the Christmas present he always wanted: A genuine Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Mk VII self-assembling killbot.  Things go awry when the usual Sirius Cybernetics QA problems arise and the killbot switches operational modes without password confirmation.

I know some people love this film, but I'm just not feeling it.  It's neither good enough for me to rave about it, nor bad enough to elicit an entertaining rant, nor is it a flawed work whose faults can elicit an interesting discussion.  It's just there.  Perfectly fine.

I do like the fact that when the adults see the giant killbot, they say, oh, right, giant killbot.  It's the late 50s, we have giant killbots now.  I'd like to compare that with the original story, because this film was made in the 90s, but the story was written in 1968, and a typical 50s or 60s film with similar subject matter would feature a great deal more running about and shrieking.

I don't like the laziness of the characterisation of the government official, whose actions would in reality have caused the agonising deaths of everyone in the film.  Happy ending my arse; this film has a MESSAGE, and the message is DUMB.

Oh, maybe I can rant about its flaws after all.

Two and a half autonomous repair systems out of four.

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Tuesday, December 22



42 Days of Summer #3

Directed by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
Written by Steve Purcell, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi
Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
2012, 93 minutes

Merida, a young princess of the Nac Mac Feegle, horrified by the Kelda's plans to marry her off to another tribe, conspires with a hag to turn her mother into a newt and her brothers into tadpoles.  This backfires when a fire-breathing salamander arrives and lays waste to the kingdom.  Now only Merida and her trusty poodle, Macguffin, stand between the Feegles and utter bewailment.

This film looks pretty - probably the best-looking Pixar film I've seen, and that's saying something - and it's great to see strong female characters, even if they're complete idiots.  But this is a children's film from start to finish, failing to grasp for something more the way Pixar have succeeded at many times (Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up).

It's unexceptionable, but unexceptional too.  I'm left with just two observations:
  1. There's a reason we used to burn witches.  Nowadays we'd just sic the FDSA on them.
  2. Did the Kelda ever apologise?  Everything that happens in the story is her fault.  She's loving and protective and dumb as a bug.
  3. It reverses - again, though in a different way - the previous night's film, in that the moral of Brave is that there's nothing you can't fix with determination and courage and a willingness to utterly rewrite the rulebook.
Two and a half ravens out of four.  I think it's the weakest Pixar film I've seen, but that's with the proviso that I gave up on Cars after only a couple of minutes and don't count it.  And that most Pixar films are brilliant.

Next up: Brad Bird's The Iron Giant.

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Monday, December 21


42 Essences

As a daily quickie, something that captures the essence of something.  

Essence #1: Postmodern Jukebox

(Postmodern Jukebox seem to default to ragtime, but this is one of their best songs and also one of their best videos.  It's the essence.)

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42 Scores Of Summer

Not talking about film scores, though I might do that at some point.  Just talking about how the scoring system works.

I give each item I review a score out of four.

Four things (the things vary) means the film (or whatever) was everything it could have been and everything I could have wanted.  It's rare for a film to do both; I'm not objective in my ratings and don't pretend to be.

Three things means the film was very good, well worth watching, and recommended.

Two things means the film was... Adequate.  Or perhaps it was well-made but didn't grab me, or it grabbed me but was badly flawed.  Something you might watch on a rainy afternoon and not count your time wasted.

One thing means the film was not very good at all.  Not recommended unless you are feeling particularly perverse.

Zero things is a stinker with no net merit whatsoever.  A black hole where talent and money went to die.

Negative things indicate a film that is not just without merit, but actively makes the world a worse place.

And finally, five things - out of four - indicates a film that is so remarkable that it made me recalibrate my conception of what our species is capable of.  This doesn't happen very often.

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Twelve Monkeys

42 Days of Summer #2

Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples
Starring Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Madeleine Stowe
1995, 130 minutes

Bruce Willis is James Cole, survivor of a global bio-warfare plague unleashed in 1996 by a terrorist group known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.  He is sent back in time to try track down an unmutated sample of the virus to help scientists in the future - our future, his present - create a cure or a vaccine.  Madeleine Stowe is Dr Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist who helps Cole when he inevitably gets locked up in the nuthouse.  And Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, a nut who turns out to be [spoilers go here].

But this is a Terry Gilliam science fiction film, and that means two things.  Three things.  First, the future looks like it was disassembled by ferrets, reassembled by raccoons, accidentally set ablaze, and finally extinguished by a tidal wave of moose piss.  Second, the present looks like a Baltimore dumpster fire.  And third, nothing goes well for the hero.

This film has none of the problems of Sky Captain: Smartly written, tightly directed, and with terrific performances from both the leading and supporting casts.  The one weakness is that Terry Gilliam can't help being Terry Gilliam and laying on the fevre dream icing a couple of layers beyond what was really needed to bake this particular cake.  But given the overall craftmanship of the piece, I'm willing to forgive him that foible.

This is not a happy film, though.  It's not entirely bleak, but a consistent theme is that there are some things you simply cannot fix.  If this film and Groundhog Day ever collided, their mutual annihilation would be visible from the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy.

I give it three twelve monkeys out of four.

Next up: Pixar's Brave.

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