Sunday, September 14, 2014

Motivation, smotivation and a collection short reviews

Let's talk motivation, cause I've been having a little trouble.

As you can tell, we've not posted Picks for a few weeks now and honestly, it's probably the fruition of months of ennuie.  Yes I just used that word unironically.  Now Matt has been running around at TIFF so you can expect to see some great reviews in the coming weeks but in the mean time I thought I would take a moment to outline some of the things I HAVE enjoyed this summer (rather than dwelling on those I have not):



20 FEET FROM STARDOM
This film is a engrossing look at an oft misunderstood profession.  And before you decide that the backup singers won't make for an interesting documentary, I'll tell you this: you're wrong.  The women of this film are honest and interesting, nostalgic and surprisingly calm considering the travesties visited upon many of them by a music industry that refused to celebrate their talent in public.  Now it's not perfect, far from it, and eventually devolves into somewhat of a comeback vehicle for Ms Darlene Love (who deserves one, given the terrible things she had done to her career over the years).  But the film does demonstrate that there are many untold truths out there just waiting to get their time in the limelight.

THE ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
This film was reviewed by Matt a few months ago but I'm only now getting around to watching it.  Yes, accessibility is an issue to my moviegoing experience but certainly one of my own making. Now all that aside, this film was beautifully shot, well acted and quietly unnerving.  That said, it was sort of my film equivalent of beautiful poetry: while I loved the form and focus and there were some terrible pleasing moments, it felt a little too long and I had to will myself to get through it.  I love poetry and in short doses it can be some of the most moving stuff I've ever read but there's a reason I've never made it though the Illiad and had to be forced to finish Paradise Lost.  While the film is beautiful and offbeat and intersting and quiet, it is also long and a little disjointed and often buoyed by the performances of its leads.  As immortal lovers, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are absolutely perfection and the dynamic between them and Mia Wasikowska (once she arrives) is deliciously familial.  This one's not for everyone but I did quite enjoy it.

CABIN IN THE WOODS
Taking a turn towards the more popular films, I recently (finally) watched Cabin in the Woods.  Now I have a lot of friends who love horror films and I won't be one of those, "it's an inferior genre" people.  In fact Let the Right One In is still (to me) a triumph, but of course that is a different sort of horror movie.  But I'm by no means a fan of the genre as a whole so what got me here was Joss Whedon.  As many of you know I have a weakness for Joss Whedon projects.  I like his tone, I enjoy his slightly offbeat sense of humour, and I'm willing to forgive him for re-using the same joke here and there.  Since I DO have friends who like horror movies I've been hearing about this one and the "twist" and how I had to see it as it was fantastic.  So I though, "Okay, I'll give it a try."  Unfortuantely my problem with this one wasn't that it wasn't good.  It was that it started off so well that I was severely disappointed by the ending.  Part of that may be the "buildup" I talked about earlier but I think a lot of it is that they front loaded their clever presmise into the film.  Without giving too much away, there's a reason that all horror films follow the same narrative pattern and this film's reasoning for it was brilliant.  But rather than letting that be the big reveal, it becomes just another part of the story arc and leaves the audience feeling unsatisfied by an ending that doesn't take that premise any farther.  Quick, somebody get ahold of the people who re-cut Arrested Development and Momento into chronological order!

OUTLANDER
So this one's a TV show and I'm only going to talk about it breifly because it's really only in this list our of sheer surprise.  After being told (many years ago) that the Outlander series of books was quite enjoyable by some members of my family and friends, I borrowed it from the library and gave it the old college try.

I hated it.

The basic setup (for those who are unaware) has a military nurse fresh out of World War 2 going on a second honeymoon in Scotland with her husband (who also managed to survive the war).  While there she stumbles into a fairy ring and, "POP!"  she ends up in 17th century Scotland, held semi-captive by clansmen and pursued by the English.  Now as romance novels go it certainly has a lot more plot than others I've seen, and the premise itself isn't terrible.  But unfortunately one of the overriding themes in the book is Claire (our lead) being physically compelled into situations and actions she'd otherwise not have chosen.  The need to force her into anything (thereby removing desire and preventing us from needing to shame her for her wanton ways) bugs me on a few levels.  At any rate, about a third of the way in I had to give up on the book because I was getting too angry.

Cut to this summer when I realized that Ronald Moore, showrunner for Battlestar Galactica (which I loved) has taken on showrunner of Outlander the series (greenlit earlier last year).  So I gave it a try, and I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised.  As I said, my main problem with this books was Claire's lack of agency in anything she did, and the series has managed not only to imbue those same choices with agency (giving Claire some much needed interest for me) but also to provide a venue for all its female characters to be shown as strong and sufficient in one way or another.  This is difficult to do and while it's not perfectly executed, I've been impressed thus far, here's hoping they're able to keep it up for what comes next.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
I believe I've talked about this elsewhere but while I applaud Marvel for hitting the perfect tone on this one and managing to introduce five totally new characters all at once, it did fall a little flat for me when it came to some of the female leads.  That said, I still enjoyed it and it fulfilled my need for a summer blockbuster (I refuse to go see Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, I don't care if they've greenlit number two).

CLASSIC ALICE
After finishing Emma Approved (which is great and if you haven't seen it you should totally go back and warch all the episodes from the beginning), I went looking for some more series I could watch.  Video Game High School is coming back for its third, final and kickstarter funded season soon but I wanted something to tide me over in the mean time.  I tried watching The New Adventures of Peter & Wendy but felt pretty unsatisfied after watching the series so when I discovered Classic Alice I was excited.

Alice Rackham is a university student at Valeton University studying English Literature in hopes of becoming a writer.  When a teacher gives her a B- on a writing assignment and tells her she doesn't seem to understand human emotion (harsh), overachiever Alice decides she's going to start living her life according to classic novels.  Her friend Andrew Prichard (a film student) decides to film the experience for his thesis and they begin with book one: Crime & Punishment.  As you can imagine, it doesn't go too well.  What gets me about this one is not necessarily the premise (though in a sea of re-imaginging classic novels this is a slightly more innoveative twist) it is the performances.  Leads Kate Hackett and Tony Noto are perfectly matched and Elise Cantu (playing Alice's friend Cara) steals nearly every scene she's in.  While the "in-world" tie ins (characters tweeting each other, suplemental YouTube Channels and character blogs) aren't quite as smooth as a big production like EA, the series itself is more than enough to keep me watching all on its own.  I'd suggest checking this one out as the episodes are all between three and seven minutes long.

I KNOW THAT VOICE
I've always found voice acting to be fascinating.  In fact, one of my favourite episodes of In The Actor's Studio is the one where James Lipton interviews the cast of the Simpsons on stage.  About two thirds of the way through be begins inteviewing the characters.  While this one's a little long (and more than a bit disjointed) it showcases the talent of many of the voices you may already know.  While it won't teach you anything new about the history of the voiceover industry, it certainly will give you a healthy respect for the medium (and maybe inspire some renewed interest in animation).  Now available on Netflix.

I think perhaps I'll leave it there but rest assured that with the fall premiers on their way there's more to come.  What were your favourite films and tv shows this summer?

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