Archive for the Interesting… Category

Fighting depression and the end of the world: A look at Melancholia

Posted in Drama, Interesting... with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by judsonw

What if humanity discovered another planet that’s been hiding behind the sun since the beginning of the age of man. Would there be celebration? Or fear of the unknown as something capable of destroying our planet approaches closer? In Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, that question is one of many that is thrust upon the audience.

The story is split into two parts, each part devoted to a sister. The first part is about Justine (Kirsten Dunst) as she battles her severe depression on her wedding night. Her party is being thrown by her sister Claire in an enormously beautiful golf course resort that Claire and her family live on. Though everything is made perfectly for Justine, she can’t be happy. She seems to have everything but feels she has nothing.

It’s hard to watch this section of the film and not be frustrated. Justine comes across as ungrateful, selfish and even mean-spirited at times for someone who has a very privileged life. To put it simply, you just want to smack her and tell her to look on the bright side of things. Though this section is terribly depressing and seems to go on forever, it tackles an important issue. There are people like Justine all over the world, who simply can’t be happy. Dunst’s performance here is very strong and convincing. Though we’re not sure why Justine is so unhappy, the occasional blank stare at the table or the solitary walk on the golf course makes us believe that this girl has been through a lot.

The second section of the film is devoted to Claire and her fear of an approaching planet the size of the sun. She’s scared and is trying to find anything that will tell her that her fears are not unfounded. You see, there’s some people out there who believe that this planet, called (not subtly) Melancholia, is going to crash into Earth. Claire’s husband (Kiefer Sutherland) says this is nonsense. In his mind, this is a grand opportunity. He has his telescope primed and ready for the “fly by.”

It’s hard to describe the tone of the movie as the ending nears since it has so much to do with how it makes the viewer feel in that moment. Dread. Terrible, awful dread. As I watched these characters deal with impending doom, questions raced through my head. What would I do? Who would I be with? What would I say? The entire film takes place on the huge golf course resort so there’s no media coverage of the approaching planet nor do we see any other people dealing with the phenomenon. Finally, a disaster movie not about crashing buildings and flaming meteors, but about human beings. This is Lars Von Trier’s version of a disaster movie.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Von Trier. His movies come across as pretentious, mastabatory, over the top, and controversial for the sake of being controversial. This is the man who made a woman cutting off her clitoris the climax of his film, Antichrist. This is the man who caused Bjork to never act in a film again because her experience working with him was so scarring. This is the man who recently made some very public pro-Hitler comments.

That being said, I’m glad I watched Melancholia. It’s definitely not a feel good movie (quite the opposite, in fact), but it made me ask myself questions that I normally wouldn’t. So on that I say suck it, Roland Emmerich and your noisy disaster movies. Melancholia is a disaster movie that allows you to see more of yourself.

So long, Harry!

Posted in Action, Drama, Interesting..., Upcoming Releases with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2011 by judsonw

Like many others of my generation, Harry Potter represents something so much more than a young adult book series or movie franchise. It represents growing up, out of childhood into adulthood and all the pains and joys that go along with it. I read the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when I was 10 years old. I remember where and when I bought it (some old dusty book store right before closing) and how fast I read it (all through Sunday school the next day). I read the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when I was 18 years old and fresh out of high school. Now, the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” is being released when I’m 22 years old and fresh out of college! This story has been with me throughout the most important years of my life and I’m going to be a sad mope when the story concludes on July 15th.

While the books are definitely more complete and satisfying than the movies, the films themselves are actually all pretty solid. I’m able to separate both mediums…the books are the books and the films are the films. That being said, the movies are special. What other movie franchise has lasted this long (10 years) with pretty much the same cast throughout? What other movie franchise has captured its three main stars growing up and maturing both as characters and actors before our eyes? None, I tell you! Harry Potter recently passed James Bond as the most financially successful movie franchise of all time and it’s well deserved. The movies are pure cinema and the climatic battle in the final film will be a sight to see.

In preparation for the FINAL representation of the Harry Potter narrative on screen, here are some of my favorite things from the film series.

Best movie

There are things I like about each film and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. The third movie, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” however, is the most well made and marks the series’ turn from a children’s flick into a serious and dark form of artistic filmmaking. Director Alfonso Cuaron completely changed the tone of the series and got the best performances out of the trio. The final 30 minutes or so consists of one of best time travel sequences of all time and is incredibly emotionally resonant.

Best performance


This is a tricky one. Emma Watson is definitely the most talented of the trio but definitely not the strongest of all the actors. I would have to give that honor to none other than Dolores Umbridge herself, Imelda Staunton. Though she appeared in pretty much only one film, “Order of the Phoneix,” Staunton was able to create a character as evil as Voldemort and made you absolutely loathe her. Really though, it seems as if every single great British actor has appeared in these movies.

Best action sequence


Voldemort vs. Dumbledore. Fire dragons and water spheres. Bad ass wizards. Harry trapped physically and emotionally after the death of his godfather. A batshit insane Bellatrix Lestrange. Some incredible CGI. ‘Nuff said.

Most tear inducing scene


It’s pretty amazing that the filmmakers were able to take a character who was pretty much a joke for one film and turn him into the most tragic hero of the series in about 5 minutes of screen time. Dobby’s death on the beach in Harry’s arms is so touching that it had to have made millions of grown men cry. Just thinking of his final words “Dobby is with friends” makes the water works start running.

Best magical creature


Thestrals. Sure, I could chosen the enormous dragon or the loveable hippogriff. But there’s just something so mysterious about these flying skeletal horses that can only be seen by those who’ve seen death.

Best moment


There’s so many to pick from…Harry’s first Patronus, Sirius’s death, Dobby’s triumph, Voldemort’s return. But the most emotionally affected I’ve been during one of these movies occurred during Harry’s first flight on Buckbeak the hippogriff in “Prisoner of Azkaban.” The scene is relatively short but in those few moments, Cuaron managed to recapture my attention to a lukewarm franchise and ignite a fire in my heart. Like ET flying Elliot across the full moon, it’s pure magic.

Even though the story is finally ending on the screen, the story will be sure to live on through every generation of children, teenagers, and adults alike in the future. Here’s hoping for a satisfying conclusion!

The “next” Harry Potter? A look at The Hunger Games as a movie franchise

Posted in Action, Film Industry, Interesting..., Upcoming Releases with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by judsonw

On July 15, the final piece of the Harry Potter saga will unleash itself upon the world. After “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” arguably the most popular and loved series of books will officially end as a narrative (there will of course still be theme parks, online experiences, etc). So what new book series will take its place? The Twlight series may come close to Harry Potter’s rabid fan base, but that movie franchise is also coming to an end next year. And is there really a legitimate comparison between the two anyway?

The “next” Harry Potter franchise that everyone keeps talking about is The Hunger Games. Written by Suzanne Collins, the trilogy of young adult novels is about a post-apocolyptic America that is now called Panem. Panem is separated into 12 “Districts” that all serve the ruling “Capitol.” Each District has its own speciality. For example, District 12 is the coal mining district while District 4 is all about water. Long ago, the Districts held an uprising against the totalitarian Capitol, but eventually failed in their attempted fight for freedom. As punishment for this attempt, the Capitol now requires two “tributes,” one male and one female aged 12-17, to be sacrificed from each District. The tributes are then thrust into something called The Hunger Games, a reality television program where the kids are forced to fight to the death for all of Panem’s viewing pleasure. The Games continue until one tribute remains.

The protagonist of this story is Katniss Everdeen, a tough-as-nails 16 year old girl from District 12. Skilled with a bow and arrow, Katniss spends her days hunting for food so she can keep her mother and younger sister, Prim, alive. Katniss’s nightmare comes true when 12 year old Prim is selected for The Hunger Games. Katniss takes her place, immediately changing the lives of herself and everyone she knows.

The first novel, “The Hunger Games,” is an insanely addictive read. Ultimately a tale of survival, it features strong characters, great world building, and enrapturing action. It is currently being filmed for a March 2012 release. Here are five reasons it should succeed as a movie franchise and five reasons it may fail.

5 reasons it should work:

The cast

If you’ve ever seen “Winter’s Bone,” then you know Jennifer Lawrence can completely transform into a character. Katniss Everdeen is almost the exact same character as the character Lawrence played in that film, minus the bow and arrow. The casting for the main character couldnt have been more perfect. Josh Hutcherson (“The Kids are All Right”) shows some of the most promise of any young actor working today. He will be taking on the role of Peeta, Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12 and sometime love interest. Woody Harrelson will play Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta’s mentor for the Games and a former winner. I couldn’t imagine a better person to play a belligerent drunk with a heart of gold (and that’s a compliment!) Rounding off the pitch perfect casting is Elizabeth Banks as the spunky Effie, Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s stylist Cinna, Stanley Tucci as the Games flamboyant host, and Donald Sutherland as the Capitol’s evil President Snow. If this movie fails, it won’t be because of the lack of talent on board.

The director

The best way to predict if a movie is going to suck or not is to look back at the director’s previous work. Gary Ross has “Pleasantville” and “Sea Biscuit” on his resume. I’m sold.

The fan base

While The Hunger Games’ fans aren’t as widespread or rabid as Harry Potter’s, there’s still a fairly large following out there. Lawrence already made the cover of Entertainment Weekly in her Katniss garb, and more and more people are picking up the book every day. Come March, The Hunger Games may have as many fans as any other young adult book.

It appeals to both sexes

The Hunger Games is in the fortunate situation of doubling as a war and romance story. Katniss is a kick-ass, independent female hero that will be sure to draw in girls of all ages. There’s also a love triangle that is constantly building up underneath the surface between Katniss, Peeta and Katniss’s best friend, Gale. All of this is wrapped up in a testostorone-filled war zone with violent killings and explosions so you better bet that the marketing behind the film will push that to attract the male demographic as well.

No more Harry Potter

After this summer, the Harry Potter book and movie franchise will officially be over. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but there’s always another great story around the corner.

5 reasons it may fail:

The Twilight effect

For some reason The Hunger Games keeps getting compared to that vampire love story adored mostly by tween girls. The two series, however, couldn’t be any less alike. For one, the female main protagonist in The Hunger Games is actually a realisitic human being, not dependent on a man and not annoying as fuck. Katniss is what every young girl should strive to be…Bella is what every young girl should avoid becoming. While there is a romance angle to The Hunger Games, it isn’t as centrally focused as in Twilight. However, the Twilight franchise is currently bringing in the bucks, so sadly the people behind The Hunger Games films might play up the love triangle angle, resulting in an inferior product.

It’s too bleak and violent

At least on the page, The Hunger Games is gruesome, brutal, and sometimes hard to read. Collins is very descriptive in the tributes’ deaths, ranging from an arrow through the neck to beheadings to flying limbs. Mainstream America may just not be ready to accept a blockbuster about kids brutally murdering each other. The film is reportedly going to be rated PG-13, further proving the fact that the MPAA has no problem with kids-on-kids violence, but shudder at the sight of a nipple. Let’s hope for a hard PG-13 similar to “The Dark Knight,” and not a watered down version of the source material.

There’s not really an ending

Each book in The Hunger Games trilogy literally leads right into one another. There is no span of time between each book. If it’s faithful to the novel, the movie will end on a semi-cliffhanger, most likely upsetting many audiences who want more. A similar problem occured with “The Golden Compass,” which pretty much solely acted as set-up for a franchise that never happened.

The Games themselves

The largest, and most exciting, portion of the first book is the actual televised death match that Katniss tries to survive. During these Games, however, Katniss is mostly by herself, alone with her thoughts. Translating that to the screen will be difficult as her inner conflict over killing innocent people and trying to decide whether to trust Peeta make the book so hard to put down.

No more Harry Potter

As much as I love The Hunger Games, it doesn’t come close to the epicness of the story of the boy who lived. The final installment of the Harry Potter screen version may (hopefully) be so satisfying that audiences wont want another potential book adaptation movie franchise thrown in their face. Everything may just pale in comparison.

We’ll see what happens come March.

5 reasons you should see “Super 8” this weekend

Posted in Interesting..., Lists, Upcoming Releases with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2011 by judsonw

There are plenty of big time movies hitting theaters this summer. We’ve got Captain America joining The Avengers, Jack Sparrow hitting the seas once again, and the sure to be monumental conclusion to the Harry Potter franchise. However, the one movie that excites me like no other is “Super 8.” Though there is little known about the plot, it somehow involves a group of kids in a small Ohio town in 1979 investigating a possible alien invasion. Here are 5 reasons why it will be THE movie everyone will be talking about this summer.

5. Talented actors and new faces

While most of the actors featured in “Super 8” are fresh newcomers in the vein of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore of “ET,” there are also some incredibly talented veteran actors. Kyle Chandler, now done with his superb work as the coach on TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” steps in as one of the boy’s fathers. Elle Fanning lends her acting chops to the group of kids. The surprising number of newcomers is refreshing however, and will hopefully make the story more believable as we’re not forced to watch Abigail Breslin running from martians.

4. It’s incredibly mysterious

Ever since director JJ Abrams announced he was making a film in the vein of old school Amblin films, there has been nothing but secrecy surrounding the project. There are few plot details out there, leaving pretty much just the teaser trailers to whet your appetite. At the end of each trailer, images were hidden in the camera’s shutter (above), leaving the audience clues to what the film could be about. Sounds a lot like “Cloverfield,” which is a great thing to me.

3. It will make you feel like a kid again

Who didn’t get goosebumps seeing the Amblin logo (with ET flying across the moon) before the “Super 8” trailer? There’s something instantly nostalgic about Spielberg’s early films like “ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The setting of a small town with realistic kids will almost certainly bring you back to a time when life was simple and innocent. Add in the fact that the kids featured in the film spend their days making homemade movies with each other and your imagination will be reinvigorated.

2. The two men behind it all

Steven Spielberg’s name is synonymous with quality blockbuster movies. JJ Abrams is becoming the next Steven Spielberg. The two can now call themselves collaborators with “Super 8,” Abrams acting as director while Spielberg takes the producer role. However the film turns out, there’s no doubt each man’s impact will be felt. The two both grew up making movies with super 8 cameras as kids so this is sort of a passion project for both. Abrams’ directing resume has been excellent (“Lost” pilot, “Mission Impossible 3,” “Star Trek”) and there’s no reason to think that will change now.

1. A completely original story

Believe it or not, “Super 8” is not based on a comic book, board game, novel, amusement park ride, or an already existing franchise. Whatever we’re gonna get is going to be completely new, no matter what influenced it. There will surely be a sense of intrigue, surprise, and awe as the story unfolds for the first time in front of our eyes. I for one can’t wait.

How does this exist: Kids murdering kids in “Battle Royale”

Posted in Action, Interesting... with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2011 by judsonw

“At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence and, fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act, AKA the BR Act….”

This is the title card that opens Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film “Battle Royale.” What is the BR Act, you ask? This act forces classes of students, who the adults are simply sick of being so disrespectful, to an isolated island where they are forced to fight to the death until one student is left standing. The teenaged kids are all gassed on the bus ride for their “class trip” and wake up with the scary realization that they all now have electronic collars fitted around their necks. Where are they? And what exactly is going on?

Well those questions are quickly answered when the students’ teacher appears and explains just why the kids are here. With the guide of a dementedly humorous video from a quirky Japanese bombshell acting like a kindergarten teacher, the rules of the game are laid out. The kids have 3 days to kill each other until one is left. If after 3 days there is not one student left standing, all the collars will be detonated and explode around their necks, killing them instantly. These collars also prevents the kids from going into certain “danger zones” on the island, forcing them to confront each other.

At this point in the film it’s hard to take this teacher’s words for real. There’s no way that the government would allow innocent children to die horrible deaths, right? Think again. To prove his point, the teacher chucks a knife into a young girl’s forehead for whispering and then demonstrates what happens when the collars explode on a certain mischievous student.

The whole sequence is shocking, disgusting, and incredibly sad to watch. Yet, I couldn’t take my eyes away from what was happening on screen. From this point on the movie becomes an insanely tense action movie that tests the depths a human will go to survive. Alliances are formed while most of the kids stick to the cliques they belonged to in school. Others go after the cliques that never accepted them, murdering them in cold blood. Each student is given a bag. The contents of the bag: food and water and a weapon. However, every kid’s weapon is different. One gets a machine gun, one gets a pot lid, while another gets a glass of poison. It’s the luck of the draw.

One of the reasons I loved “Battle Royale” is the fact that a movie like this would never be made in America. Can you imagine a movie where Abigail Breslin shoots a crossbow into Dakota Fanning’s chest, narrowly missing the ax heave from behind by Selena Gomez, who’s teamed up with Joe Jonas to fight to the death? Parent and religious organizations would be rioting in the streets. If a harmless risque photo spread of the Glee kids causes a controversy, what would happen with a movie like this? Foreign cinema, Japanese films especially, take risks that can’t be found at the average American multiplex.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop”: Is Banksy’s directorial debut for real?

Posted in Documentary, Interesting... with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2011 by judsonw

Banksy. It’s a name many of us have heard. To some, it describes a talented street artist. To others, it describes a way of thinking. Of creating and interpreting art in entirely new ways. Well, Banksy is in fact a man. He’s risen over the past decade to become the face and soul of the street art movement, even though his identity is still completely anonymous. For all we know, “Banksy” could be a woman or a group of people who create the works of art instead of one singular person. However, all evidence points to Banksy being one man, especially because he was just credited with directing his first documentary film called Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s a fantastic and unusual documentary, following a somewhat off kilter Frenchman named Thierry Guetta who is determined to craft a documentary about the mysterious Banksy. However, once Thierry meets Banksy, he ultimately turns the tables on him and Banksy begins to create a documentary about Thierry, who Banksy thinks is a much more interesting subject than himself.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Not only does it completely inform the viewer on a subject that may have been previously unfamiliar (street art), it’s also incredibly entertaining with its numerous plot twists. The film gets you thinking once the credits roll and Richard Hawley’s fantastically appropriate song “Tonight the Streets Are Ours” plays. Even the title itself sparks discussion. What does it mean? Think about it. Whenever you go to an art museum you almost always pass through the gift shop on the way out. Art has become commercialized. It’s all about the money. And Banksy takes on that problem head on with his documentary. However, ever since the film premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it has garnered criticism over whether it is in fact a true documentary or a hoax created by Banksy himself.

The photo above is of the mysterious and elusive Banksy. Well, at least that’s what we’re supposed to assume. The only times he’s not presented in the shadows with a machine altered voice are some over the back recordings by Thierry of him creating his art. Watching these recordings almost feels like a privilege; watching a master at work. This is a feeling that Thierry doesn’t seem to have as it all apparently goes over his head as he continues to record everything. This just makes Thierry’s future career path even more peculiar.

***SPOILER ALERT***

A few months after Thierry’s escapades with Banksy, he takes the street artist’s advice and dabbles in the art form himself with the name “Mr. Brainwash.” Though he possesses no discernible talent, he takes the street art world by storm and becomes a millionaire in the process. Banksy’s final point seems to be that the public has been duped by a talentless bumbling buffoon. Much of Mr. Brainwash’s work comes from other artists (including the picture above). There’s no meaning behind his work, yet people still pay thousands of dollars for each piece because the public says it’s deep and cool. Mr. Brainwash earned his reputation essentially through an LA Weekly cover story with quotes from Banksy and fellow street artist Shephard Fairey.

So is Mr. Brainwash real? Or is he just another creation by Banksy, who is actually creating his art? Well, Thierry and his persona Mr. Brainwash are both definitely real as there have been art shows where people have bought countless pieces of his work. However, Thierry’s rise to fame as Mr. Brainwash almost happens to smoothly in the film to be real. Tons of details are left out of Thierry’s life prior to becoming an icon and Banksy’s descriptions of events in the film sometimes sound scripted. It’s hard to imagine someone so daft (but likable) as Thierry becoming so successful in the street art scene, but sometimes things in life are hard to imagine. Whether Mr. Brainwash is a Banksy creation or not, the film still furthers the discussion of what is art. Is something art right after it’s created or does it become art once the public makes its views known? Exit Through the Gift Shop seems to side with the latter, as Mr. Brainwash’s work would be nothing without the public’s fawning. It’s a fascinating look into a world many of us will never see and/or understand.

Hollywood’s “female problem” as shown by the Bechdel Test

Posted in Interesting... with tags , , , on January 1, 2011 by judsonw

Think of the last movie you saw. Were there 2 or more female characters (with names/personalities)? Did those 2 female characters speak to each other? Did they speak to each other about something other than a man? If the answer to those 3 questions is yes, then that film passed the “Bechdel Test.” The test became popular in 1985 after it was brought up in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip called The Rule. Think about all your favorite movies. All the big blockbusters that come out every summer. Many movies that Hollywood releases into theaters today do not pass the Bechdel Test. What does this say about the people behind the movies, if it says anything at all?

I recently watched Inception for the bajillionith time the other night and couldn’t help but notice how that movie, which is an amazing feat of filmmaking, doesn’t pass the test. The two female characters, Marion Cotillard’s Mal and Ellen Page’s Ariadne, are both fairly strong characters with their own personalities and talents. However, Ariadne can almost be seen as a character who is only there to explain to the audience just exactly what is going on. Mal is a straight up femme fatale and could be considered the true villain of the picture. Christopher Nolan has been criticizied in the past for having a “women problem” in his films, so I shouldn’t be surprised here but it’s still a cause for concern.

So what does the Bechdel Test actually mean? Well, it’s simply a sign that Hollywood is overrun with male directors, producer, and writers. The lack of a female point of view results in a diminished female presence in the majority of Hollywood movies being released. One exception to this explanation is the fantastically witty and enjoyable Easy A. That movie has a very strong female main character who interacts with the other women in her life over something other than men. After I saw it I was shocked to see it was written by a man, albeit a gay man. Whether a film passes the test or not doesn’t necessarily determine quality, as a great movie like Inception fails it while a piece of shit like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen passes it with flying colors. Still, it’s something to keep in mind with every movie you see.

To see a full list of movies that passed and failed the test dating back to 1900 (!), check out http://bechdeltest.com/.