14 September 2010

Explode with Kermode

Now I'm not normally one to stick something like this on the blog but I felt this was an exception as it's relevant and is about films and my comments on them:

In case you didn't spot it, at 1:36 Mark Kermode reads from my comment about the top and bottom 5 films of the year so far (this was mid August). From my post he picks out Four Lions and Ponyo. Both of which I liked a lot. I guess I'll talk about my list a little while I'm here.

My full top five were as follows:

5. Four Lions (review)
4. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (review)
3. Ponyo (review)
2. Toy Story 3 (review)
1. Inception (review)

My bottom five were:

5. Alice in Wonderland (review)
4. The Wolfman (review)
3. The A-Team (review)
2. A Nightmare on Elm St (review)
1. Zonad (review)

Oh and also:

The original Kermode thread I posted the lists on: The Year in Review
The new Kermode thread including my comment reading: The Year in Review Reviewed

Now as I said earlier that selection is a month old so it's not exactly what I'd pick now. It'd mostly be the same but I can be certain that if I picked it now, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would be in there somewhere as I really loved that.

 I guess I'll say a few things about all these movies and why I picked them.

Four Lions - I've been a big fan of Chris Morris for years. I think that everything he's done has a certain poignancy and truth to it and Four Lions may be the strongest example of this. I was really moved by the characters and how it was nothing but a few mates simply getting in way over their heads. As I imagine the majority of people in their situation are.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Terrible title aside, this really surprised me. When I first heard about this remake/reimagining/removie and then saw the trailer I had no idea what to think. On the one hand it looked like some sort of Wicker Man remake type disaster, on the other it seemed like it might be deliriously fascinating. Fortunately the latter was true. This is what I get for doubting Herzog.

You can trust me

Ponyo - It took me a while to go see this one but when I finally did I was captivated. I haven't seen many of Miyazaki's films but from what I've seen I've gathered that there's an honest simplicity to them. Ponyo felt very much like the characters were just allowed to behave and live comfortably and we just happened to be watching. It also has the distinction of being a Japanese anime film that's cute without being irritating.

Toy Story 3 - It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since I first saw Toy Story. It's had a profound effect on my over the years. Towards the end of this one I had tears literally streaming down my face. While I've often cried at moving moments in the cinema, nothing has ever hit me like Toy Story 3 did. What was running through my mind at the time was how these characters were a family who I felt a kinship with, seeing as they'd been there at key points in my life when I was growing up. Powerful stuff!

Inception - As Kermode puts it, Inception is proof that big budget massive blockbusters don't have to be dumb as nuts to succeed. Inception was dazzling and interesting. Any who claimed to be confused or lost by it were simply not paying attention and there is no excuse for that. If nothing else, seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a shifting gravity fight scene will always be a cinematic highlight for me.

Alice in Wonderland - For all the barking that this wasn't a remake, it was in fact an original story conceived as a sequel to the Lewis Caroll novels, no one seemed to notice that it was just a weak adaptation of Jabberwocky with the Wonderland characters thrown in for good measure. Far too long, far too over-designed, far too dull. Also, did anyone else burst out laughing when the Jabberwock opened its mouth and Christopher Lee's voice boomed out? Just me? Ok then.

The Wolfman - Half moody and serious costume psychological horror, half giant monster fighting b-movie. One look at the wolfman design and the film collapsed instantly.

The A-Team - Half the film I couldn't hear what anyone was saying, the other half I wished I couldn't hear it. Excrutiatingly bad dialogue, action and characters. A lovey dovey bit of rubbish shoved in for good measure. Utter crap really. Well, Sharlto Copley was pretty funny I have to admit.

The Nightmare on Elm St - Any sort of subtlety that existed in the original is thrown straight out the window and we spend the whole film building up a long boring backstory only to have it shattered at the end. Useless. I guarantee there'll be a sequel though... and another... and another...

Zonad - Everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

So yeah, that's a thing. I felt I had to make a mention of this as I can promise you this blog wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for me listening to Kermode's unique take on cinema for a few weeks. He serves as an inspiration for this blog and for that I salute him. If you don't follow his show (I usually download the podcast) or his blog I highly recommend it. Oh, and I should probably get round to reading his book.

02 September 2010

The D Stands for Dickhead

James Cameron likes his films.

Who'd have thought these things'd be so controversial?

Hello all. It's been a while since I waffled. I feel bad about it. I apologise to the 6 (on a good day) of you who read this. You guys are great.

Anywho, I've been musing over doing a waffle about 3D in film for a while but haven't really felt the urge to really go for it until now. This is sparked by hearing the comments by some Canadian guy named J.F. Cameroon or something. I don't know who he is, I think he's up and coming. Either way, he was shooting his mouth about the recent film Piranha 3D (here's what I thought), saying that it "is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3D horror films from the 70s and 80s."*
Dammit James!

Now, it's clear that this is mostly just mean spirited and frankly rude. James Canton, a producer on Piranha 3D has responded by saying that "His comments are ridiculous, self-serving and insulting to those of us who are not caught up in serving his ego and his rhetoric".

There are many things to be said here. Clearly James F. Cameron (the F stands for Fuckin'... at least... that's what he wants you to think) is taking a shot at the idea of using 3D as silly fun rather than something more artistic. The problem here of course is that he's ignoring the building blocks that allowed him to reach the point he's at now. If it weren't for the 3D of the 70s and 80s, would he have thought to pursue the technology to create what he wanted to create in Avatar?

Not only that, but was the 3D in Avatar all about creating an immersive environment to help pull the audience into the world and become more engaged in the emotion? Is that why the dialogue was so bad? Was none of Avatar intented to be fun, popcorn entertainment? The big robot at the end, was that artistic expression or was that adrenaline pumping action?

This one represents my father

The big problem here is that Cameron has been mislabeled as a master storyteller so has now started to believe this himself, despite his stories almost always being terrible or at the very best based on old reliable formulas. Do people return to Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the (hamfisted) emotional ending where Arnold Schwarzenegger gives the thumbs up? Or do they return for the scene where Robert Patrick chases a motorbike with a giant truck? Do we remember the relationship between John Connor and his mother? Or the really cool bit where the T-1000 gets shot in the face?  There is no doubt that James Cameron is a spectacle based filmmaker. If he has a problem with rollercoaster 3D then why did he make T2 3-D: Battle Across Time? Yeah that's right, the one that essentially IS a rollercoaster! (The only place to see it is a theme park.) I saw it James... and the story was shit. Even by your standard!

This part always makes me cry

I hear you all saying "What about Titanic eh? That was more emotion and story based!" Now, that's a fair point and one worth raising. There's no doubt that what people remember about Titanic is the love story between Jack & Rose and not the action shots of the ship sinking. I'd be happy to let that slide if it weren't for this. That's right, he's converting Titanic to 3D. Seems the spectacle is taking hold again.

There are cases to be made for 3D. For example, Mark Kermode has recently said of Toy Story 3 that he forgot he was watching a 3D film but was unsure if this meant the 3D was effective or just that the story was engaging enough. Either way, I felt the same and I felt that the 3D certainly didn't remove me from the film. The same cannot be said about Avatar. A goal of any film should be to cause the viewer to become so immersed in it that they forget that they're watching a film and think only of what's happening on screen. Now of course it's a rare film that does this fully but when a film's effects make you stop and think very strongly that you are watching a film I think that this is a failing. In Avatar, when flakes of ash fall down around the characters and they appear to be very close to your face, do you feel like you are there in the scene with them, or do you think "ooh, wow it looks like it's very close to my face"? For me it's certainly the latter. That's one of the more pleasant examples, I won't go into how often I went crosseyed and got a headache, further removing me from the film.

Oh no does Neytiri still love Sully???

Another mistake made with 3D films these days is the attempt to have actions lunging towards the audience. Like an arm reaching out or a car tyre bouncing towards the camera. I have never seen this done successfully and here's my theory why: When you're watching this happen, you're eye can see that there's a big frame around the action and cops on to what's happening, ruining the illusion. I imagine in an Imax setting these actions are far more effective but it's still a failing of any film screened outside of an Imax theatre. 3D on regular cinema screens is far more effective when it's used to add background depth rather than foreground reach. Avatar is full of this.

Another point raised by Canton in his response is how Cameron is ignoring genre cinema as an important area of filmmaking. He says "Shame on you for thinking that genre movies and the real maestros like Roger Corman and his collaborators are any less auteur or impactful in the history of cinema than you." He goes on to say that "Not everyone has the advantage of having endless amounts of money to play in their sandbox". Yes, I absolutely agree. I'm far more impressed by Roger Corman types who can work and find creative ways of working with a small amount of money, making something from nothing than someone who needs to make the most expensive film ever made (twice) to get his vision across. You'd think with the amount of money spent on Avatar he could have afforded to hire a better scriptwriter than himself. As well as all that, some of the best cinematographers in the world started off in low budget genre cinema. Some examples include Wally Pfister (Inception), Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) and Mauro Fiore (Avatar).

Ok now make her boobs explode

Cinematographers are of course not the only people who get their early starts in genre cinema. There are many directors who started there too. Some examples would include David Cronenberg, Peter Jackson and of course... James Cameron. Now, I've held off mentioning this because he did bring it up in the original interview and Canton mentioned it too but it can't go unsaid that James Cameron directed the sequel to the original Piranha, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. Now he says he was fired off of working on it after a few days and I believe him. I can understand why he'd have bad feelings towards it and he doesn't consider it as part of his official filmography but it can't be denied that his name is on it. Seems more like Cameron has a grudge against the Piranha franchise rather than having a problem with the new film's utilisation of 3D. Doesn't stop what he said from being rude and assholey though.

In the end I think the problem here is that Cameron seems to see himself as above it all and as an artistic soulful fimmaker when in reality he is more on the popcorn entertainment scale of things. Clearly he has a problem with being labeled as this but if that's the case, maybe he shouldn't make those kinds of films. It's not like he has problems getting a budget together. Really I have 3 words of advice for Cameron. If he abides by this simple phrase I think he can take steps towards making more interesting films and saying less callous comments about other filmmakers: James... get over yourself.

* Cheapens the medium eh? Kind of like how Aliens cheapened Alien? Cough.

Cameron source
Canton source