Thursday, June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini 1961-2013

It just seems so wrong. It seems wrong when an actor who is still so vital, still always working, still in the prime of a career, dies suddenly. 51 is too damn young to go. I remember seeing Gandolfini in Get Shorty in 1995 and thinking this guy's time was coming. I had already been struck by him in True Romance. And though I didn't really watch The Sopranos (maybe one day), I was glad to see his talents put to use somewhere that worked for him. A couple of years ago, he starred in Welcome to the Rileys, one of my favorite movies of the decade. I found him very moving in that, and I'm sorry he won't ever get to do something like that again. It's just too damn young.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

HIT & RUN (2012)
Better, quirkier and more inventive than I was expecting, to be honest. Dax Shepard plays a former getaway driver in witness protection whose past is revealed when he resolves to drive girlfriend Kristen Bell to LA for a job interview and he's pursued by the criminals (led by Bradley Cooper) he testified against. I like the homemade quality of the movie; Shepard as writer and co-director doesn't always nail some of the comedy beats, but the relationship is genuine and the driving scenes are really well done. Mainly it's Shepard's tribute to Bell and to his car, both of which are amazing. And I do always love to see Ryan Hansen do pretty much anything. ***1/2

Great concept for a horror movie, but executed in such a grim way that it becomes unrelenting and confusing where it wants to unfold and reveal. Jessica Biel's best performance, for what it's worth to you (I think she's underrated, but I know most people don't). Good idea, they just didn't really pull it off. **1/2

I pretty much said what I wanted to say about this yesterday. ***1/2


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Brief Word on Man of Steel

I see this is yet another movie that the audience has decided to approve or disapprove every element of, rather than talking in terms of, say, enjoying or not enjoying it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

But I'll put in my two cents on that scene everyone is talking about.

Spoilers, spoiler, spoilers, boogedy-boogedy-boo.

Okay, so the scene generating the most controversy with Superman fans is that Superman ends up snapping General Zod's neck to save mankind from his rampage. It's a shocking moment, and one that a lot of fans have had trouble reconciling with Superman's morality and his stance against never taking a life.

I think it's a credit to the film that this moment is really bought and paid for emotionally. It has an enormous impact on the character, and I think that's the key here and why, ultimately, I'm okay with this moment.

Superman's choice to murder General Zod to keep those people from being killed was a hard choice, clearly, but it was the right choice, morally and ethically. He saved innocent lives. Yes, there are many great Superman stories where Superman finds an option that involves not killing anybody at all, but to me it doesn't make this one a bad one just because he couldn't. Because here's the thing: the guy's only been Superman at this point for, what, a day and half? He hasn't found that option yet. He was panicking. There was nothing else he could do. And when he killed Zod, it cost him. It cost him and the film shows us that it cost him. For all we know, since this is the beginning of a story, we could be seeing the moment when he makes that choice that killing is wrong and to always strive to find another way. It could be the development of the moral code that people are talking about the last few days.

I understand that asking a fanboy to be patient and let a story unfold is as big a fool's errand as asking a fanboy to enjoy something for what it is rather than be angry about what it isn't, but that's how I feel about this. Sorry Superman hasn't yet embodied the Christ symbolism you've so clearly internalized yet constantly complain about seeing in Superman stories. He's not perfect. And I think in being impatient with allowing the character to grow and experience and change as a result of those experiences, you dehumanize him and turn him into nothing but the symbol you're always complaining has no humanity. To me, Superman is all about humanity, and it was nice to see that in this movie.

My problem with the Christopher Nolan Batman films was that lack of humanity and the heavy focus on symbolism. And even in Batman Begins, we're presented with a Bruce Wayne whose moral code against killing is supposedly absolute, and yet he blows up the League of Shadows to prove that he doesn't kill, and then his big "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you" is played as a satisfying revenge moment. There's no examination of his moral code past the first forty or so minutes of the movie. You're just supposed to believe it's there because he keeps saying it is. Man of Steel at least exacts a toll on Superman for what he had to do. And in a summer movie season with death after death after death, I think that's important.

As for the complaints about the destruction of Metropolis, I don't really have any concerns over it. It's almost funny that my running thought was "Who's going to pay for all of that property damage?" and then I started thinking about public works programs. We didn't really see people dying, and I didn't really feel the danger to people because it's a Superman movie, and to anyone saying that we've never seen anything like this in Superman before, you really just mean in live action, because a lot of the animated films practically revel in the destruction now. Again, didn't bother me, and I loved Laurence Fishburne's moment when he thought they were all going to die. Well-acted.

About the only things that really bothered me were the score (or tones, more accurately, but it was as bad as I expected it to be, since Hans Zimmer hasn't even bothered to try to write a melody since he got caught plagiarizing so much of the Gladiator score) and the product placement. Did enjoy seeing the Lexcorp logo on some stuff, though.

I loved it. Not as good as The Avengers, but much better than The Dark Knight Rises.

And in the debate over the death scene, we really are losing the fact that Amy Adams is the best Lois Lane we've ever had, and that this version's twist of actually figuring out that Clark Kent is Superman practically before he's even really Superman is brilliant because it actually respects her formidable intelligence.

The Rite of Spring

I came across this great graphical representation of the first part of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, one of my favorite pieces of music ever. I knew it was complicated, but seeing it this way really gives me new appreciation for how this is performed. This is an incredibly complex work, and I find a lot of works from this time period that have so many moving parts and create so much tempestuous beauty out of dissonance and even noise fascinating and powerful.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Song of the Week: "Isn't She Lovely?"

Happy Father's Day, fathers.

Father's Day Peanuts