Saturday, June 30, 2012

Total Eclipse of the Stars

        As a movie lover, I find few things more satisfying – or frustrating – than following the careers of actors I like. First, there are the promising up-and-comers, like Saoirse Ronan, Emile Hirsch, Josh Hutcherson and Garrett Hedlund, among others, who will (hopefully) blossom into the next generation’s A-list. Then, there are the already established thespians who, for whatever reason, haven’t been living up to their potential. I can list dozens of actors that I think are infinitely superior to the work they’ve been putting out lately or have faded from the limelight and deserve more attention: Russell Crowe, Edward Norton, Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington, Kate Hudson (though at this point, I’m starting to wonder if Almost Famous really was a fluke), Guy Pearce, etc., etc. I can guarantee you that every film buff alive has spent the past two decades wishing that Robert De Niro would return to his Taxi Driver/Raging Bull glory days. 

 Thank you, Ridley Scott, for getting my hopes up.

        But maybe more than anybody else, I would love for Tom Cruise to remind audiences why he used to be the biggest movie star on the planet. 

        Ironically, the things that most people dislike about Cruise – his immense fame and influence, his highly publicized yet strangely enigmatic personal life, his complete lack of self-consciousness – are part of why I find him so fascinating. I’ve personally never quite understood the fuss over a certain couch-jumping incident; yeah, it’s weird, awkward and maybe a tad self-indulgent, but as far as celebrity scandals go, it isn’t exactly  a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic tirade caught on tape or a conviction for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl, which apparently still gets you a petition of support from your colleagues who think that your unparalleled talent as a film-maker should pardon you from arrest. Anyway, the vast majority of people nowadays (at least judging by Internet message boards, which should always be taken with the utmost seriousness) may think of Cruise as a couch-jumping, secretly gay, lunatic Scientologist, but to me, he’s still the kid who slid across the room in his underwear to the tune of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” in Risky Business, poised on the verge of instant stardom. Even back then, he had this feverish intensity, this effortless self-confidence, that was hypnotic to watch, somehow seeming both vaguely superficial and entirely natural. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, after the passing of Elizabeth Taylor last year, Cruise may be the last genuine movie star alive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Say What? Writing Dialogue 101

Speech is what happens when two people get together and eventually feel too uncomfortable to stand around in silence. More romantically, it’s a way for people to connect and understand each other. But I’m not here to talk about conversations with real human beings; I’m here to teach you how to write fake ones. I can hardly make it through a real discussion without jumping out the window or swallowing my own tongue. I’m the kind of person who says “Good morning” at 6pm, and who makes loud, painfully unfunny jokes before laughing manically and diving into the nearest book. In general, I consider getting through any social interaction without physical harm or psychological trauma to be a raging success. I would literally chop off my own hand to provide a conversation topic if the silence goes on for too long.

Even a computer program questions my social skills.

We’ll start by tackling the snarly conundrum that is human speech by breaking it down into nice, organized, easy-to-understand categories. Haha, just kidding. We’re going to roll around in the scrambled word-discharge from my brain and hope that something sticks. Now roll, damnit! Roll!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Building Great Expectations

            It started with a single brilliant trailer and one of the most memorable taglines of all time: In space no one can hear you scream. Thirty-three years and four movies later, the Alien franchise is returning to its roots with Ridley Scott finally coming back to the director’s chair for Prometheus, which opened last Friday after months of hype and publicity.

           Again, it all started with a trailer (essentially a homage to the first one with a bit of Inception foghorn added in) and an intriguing tagline (“They went looking for our beginning. What they found could be our end.”), but this time, that was only the tip of the advertising iceberg. Next came the posters and official stills, the set photos and TV spots, more trailers and even a stunningly elaborate fake corporate website. Don’t forget the viral videos like this one, and this one. And this one. Oh, and did I mention that this was the movie that introduced the world to that increasingly annoying “teaser for the trailer” phenomenon? From December of last year, all the way up until the film’s June 8 release, the Prometheus marketing team scattered clues and tidbits throughout the Internet and the public’s collective consciousness, like Damon Lindelof and co. slipping philosophical and literary Easter eggs into Lost. At one point, it seemed as though we were getting new details about the movie every day.
             Of course, Prometheus is hardly the first movie to promote itself on such a massive, frenzied scale. According to its Wikipedia page, The Blair Witch Project has been commonly credited as the first widely released film primarily marketed on the Internet, posting fake police reports and interviews on its official website and sparking widespread, online discussions about its authenticity. Since then, numerous movies, such as Paranormal Activity and District 9, have turned to social networking sites and other avenues for viral advertising in order to attract an audience.  

 How can you not want to see a movie that uses ads like this?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Prometheus explores the mysteries of life – or does it?

One of the great mysteries of our time – or at least the past year – has been solved. Ridley Scott’s insanely secretive new sci-fi thriller Prometheus is indeed a loose prequel to his 1979 classic Alien. The cryo-sleep capsules. The obligatory ambiguous android. The slow title reveal. The mysterious alien spacecraft many viewers will remember from the original movie. The connections are much too obvious to be ignored, putting an end to months of speculation fueled by deliberately cryptic trailers, viral videos and promotional interviews. In fact, the undeniable presence of Alien DNA underlying the story may be one of the only things the movie manages to make clear, and even so, there is a plot point or two that doesn’t quite add up.

If that sounds like a brazen put-down, it is – sort of. Full disclosure: I’ve been intensely excited about Prometheus for months, ever since that first spine-tingling teaser trailer was released, but as much as I would like to gush over and rave about the final product, I can’t deny that, narratively, the film is a bit of a mess. The script, written by polarizing Lost show-runner Damon Lindelof, takes some rather befuddling leaps in logic, and certain character motivations are either weakly hinted at or never really explained at all.

That said, though it may not sound like it thus far in this review, I enjoyed the movie, and luckily, most of the plot holes don’t distract from what’s going on onscreen, only becoming evident upon subsequent musings. Part gory monster/horror flick, part cerebral meditation on faith, humanity’s origins and all life’s other Big Questions, Prometheus is endlessly compelling, thankfully deviating from the slow pacing and ponderous tone of the original. Ambitious and visually breathtaking, it effectively generates both an intense sense of dread and genuine awe, sometimes in the same scene. A fair number of moments, especially a sequence involving an emergency C-section that is disturbing, to say the least, in its can’t-look-away gruesomeness, are guaranteed to linger in the minds of audiences long after the theater lights come back on.

Like in any monster movie, the aliens (who, in this case, are also accompanied by the ever-enigmatic Engineers, a species of creatures that might have created mankind) are only as interesting as the people fighting them, and the crew of this particular ship happens to have been very well-chosen. After making her Hollywood debut with a thankless role in last year’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace gets her first lead role in an American movie as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, the inquisitive and driven archaeologist who, along with lover Dr. Charlie Holloway (played by charming relative newcomer and Tom Hardy look-alike Logan Marshall-Green) sets up the mission that takes our heroes to the planet LV-223 (not the same planet that served as the main setting for Alien, as observant fans will notice), where they encounter said aliens and the Engineers. With her surprisingly melodic voice and unique, sophisticated beauty, she brings conviction and a subtle vulnerability to her portrayal of a fiercely determined woman who struggles to stave off despair as what was initially a scientific exploration collapses into a fight for survival. Also worth noting: with his piercing blue eyes, suave yet unflappable demeanor and uncanny ability to convey nuanced, contradictory emotions without letting them fully surface on his face or in his voice, Michael Fassbender, who plays the android David, represents one of those rare instances of absolutely pitch-perfect casting. Furthermore, as the enigmatic and bitter Meredith Vickers, Charlize Theron is at her ice-cold, calculating best, the character’s disappointing end notwithstanding.

While it is far from a masterpiece and the murkiness of the plot, much of it possibly intentional, will likely infuriate many a viewer, Prometheus is still utterly fascinating and well worth watching. It’s a theater experience you probably won’t soon forget.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman: Insert Apple Pun Here

CE Jenkins
            Snow White and the Huntsman made for a good palate cleanser between my third (and hardly final) viewing of Avengers. It had some things going for it that propelled it above the generic action/fantasy movie crowd, but its weaker elements did everything in their power to drag it back down again. Also, I’m going to be referring to it as “SWATH” from this point forward, because come on, awesome acronym much?

             SWATH was strongest when it stuck to its fairy tale roots. At times it managed to capture, or at least allude to, the eerie beauty and brutality of the old stories as imagined by the Grimm brothers. But then the characters got thrown into a bunch of fight scenes, and then Chris Hemsworth was Thor with an axe.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

5 Basic Traits Every Writer Needs

             Motivational post time! 

             It’s impossible to pin down exactly what it takes to become the next name on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf. Being good at writing isn't always one of them—wow, already my cynicism wins out. Sorry guys, I'm really not good at this whole motivation thing. Grim realities aside, there are some things that you as a person should possess in order to improve your writing. Changing every facet of your being to fit this model won't necessarily get you published, but I guarantee it won't hurt. So let the mind-molding begin!