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A man like Neil Marshall makes Doomsday because he thought a futuristic soldier facing down a knight would be cool. A man like Neil Marshall makes two critically acclaimed horror movies and then obliterates expectations with his third.

A man like Neil Marshall is one the last great champions of genre cinema.

Though he’s in a league with Edgar Wright and Robert Rodriguez — the modern day John Carpenters of our world — he fell down with Doomsday, such that his next film, Centurion, went seemingly unnoticed, leaving his future in uncertain terms. It’s hard to believe, really, because the philosophy behind Doomsday was so genuine, though some might say naive. He wanted to make a movie so absurd you’d be compelled to laugh, but also find yourself enjoying some of the best R-rated sci-fi action in years — nobody makes movies quite like this anymore.

Dog Soldiers

I don’t think this is technically his feature debut, but it’s a strong start for a career nonetheless. Making use of minimalist settings and a creepy atmosphere, Marshall managed to make one of the few cool werewolf movies in existence. And certainly the last, though I’m sure a few movies made in direct answer to Twilight will challenge Dog Soldiers.

As one critic put it so well, this is like Alien, Predator, and Jaws all rolled up into one — but with werewolves. It feels derivative, but in that good way. It’s familiarity done with enough style and care that it feels fresh. There’s some gore, some ooh-rah soldier stuff, way too much foreshadowing, and a lame twist at the end. A formula for success, often necessary with such formulaic subject matter.

Right, there’s a lot of dog and wolf jokes/puns at the start of the movie. It feels like a beginner’s screenplay in that regard, but it isn’t quite enough to push it over the edge, into absurdity. Leave that for the one after next…

The Descent

I don’t care for this movie. It’s drawn out and the monsters are not scary or that well-designed. Visually, that is. In other regards, there’s implied history to them, and it’s pretty creepy, but I actually prefer the nonsense lizards from The Cave, or whatever the fuck. The Descent was white-knuckling in its first half, with these women being claustrophobic in caves, and getting stuck and running high tension. I can’t imagine a better place to set a horror movie. Cave-diving is not escapism, James Cameron.

The flaws of this movie, like the aloof narrative and out-of-the-blue moments could at the time be excused, or even appreciated, as horror movie unpredictableness, but the next movie would paint them in a new light.

Doomsday

When Doomsday was announced and the trailer was released, people whined. They said, “It’s 28 Days Later meets Mad Max meets Escape from New York.” Now, I don’t know what fucking planet these people live on, because no way does the combination of Mad Max and Escape from New York equal anything but Yeah. Was it just the derivative nature of the project that got people so frazzled? Perhaps it was an insult to their intelligence, because they perceived the movie to think it was being original, on the grounds that, well, most movies tend to do that. But of course the rip-offs were so glaring that it seemed to taunt the audience.

Doomsday, rather, the reaction to Doomsday, is proof that we live in a cynical movie-watching world. As soon as one watches the film, they’ll realize that the director was not only paying homage to these earlier movies, but having a complete blast with them. It’s the same principle, but on a much different level, as what Peter Jackson did with King Kong. Marshall wanted to introduce this genre to a wider audience, though he may not realize just how inventive the film actually is.

Yes, it uses the structure of Escape from New York as a base, but that’s fine because just like how Waterworld is a perfect Mad Max 3, this is a great sequel to Escape from L.A., following in the same conventions that that film set up — that being, this premise of crazy people clustered together is going to breed some batshit insane obstacles for the hero to meet. This post-apocalypse movie isn’t just about zombies or cannibals or viruses — Rhona Mitra’s character Maj. Eden Sinclair (awesome name) is going to fight medieval knights in an arena and get into car chases with barbarians who tape their beheaded girlfriends to one piece so they can drive together.

Doomsday in this regard recalls Total Recall, another gory 80s movie that didn’t come out in the 1980s. And much like Total Recall, Doomsday in its day was not well understood. There’s a joy in novelty and invention in Doomsday, and a lot of these scenarios and things are born out of sources we’ve all enjoyed, but kicked up to a new extreme. It’s not only one of the best sci-fi movies of the decade, but one of the goriest and most fun action movies too. This rabbit will be blown up by sentry turrets for — well, for absolutely no reason.

Marshall also introduces two things here that carry over into his next picture: a strong female character, and an impressive ability to have the audience invest in characters they know nothing about. For the latter, we have these two soldiers who survive by Sinclair’s side longer than they have any right to. I assumed they’d die at every encounter, because truly this is her show, and these guys have no characterization. What they do have, and this was seen in Dog Soldiers, is solid chemistry. Despite the carnage and the macabre setting, these two have a laugh as they take out cannibals with axes, and by goofing around — and even just surviving up to a late point — I didn’t want to see them die. For an action movie, this is a preferable, on-the-fly alternative to actual characterization. Good on you, Neil.

Then of course we have the tough girl, played by the woman who looks like a tough girl despite the beauty — Rhona Mitra. While she may not be as compelling to watch as the next female character to be discussed, Maj. Eden Sinclair is one cool chick, with a fake eye and a knack for killing gladiators. She’s a badass, but she’s a believable badass. Not only does Rhona Mitra look like an athletically capable woman (rather than Milly from Hard Revenge Milly, to use a recent example, who looks like a pretty normal person you’d see walking around), she isn’t the action hero god that trounces everyone. She gets beat up and tossed around, and this puts her on an equal playing field with the villains.

Last post I lamented the fact that Milly wasn’t the action hero god. That’s because I want a movie like hers to be a slasher flick, but with Doomsday, it’s more appropriate that Sinclair is a realistic badass. It heightens her moments of victory, and adds tension to hand-to-hand fight scenes with spears in swords… in the future.

Doomsday will keep you guessing, and Neil Marshall leaves you in good hands with Eden Sinclair, who’s got the tacit nature of her most obvious inspiration — Snake Plissken — with an all-soldier, no fucking around attitude that’s pretty rare, even for dude action heroes. It’s confidence without the one-liners, and the badassery to back it up.

Neil Marshall is also ballsy enough to take an unbelievably beautiful South African stunt woman and paint her face beyond recognition, and then behead her… and then reattach the head in vain. I am so ashamed that I skipped this movie when it came out in theatres. It’s right up there with Slither and so many others…

Centurion

Doomsday was a sci-fi movie that wanted to be a sword-and-sandals movie, so let’s just make a sword-and-sandals movie. While this one lacks the wacky nature and imagination of its predecessor, it has the same level of bloodshed and action. If you’re in town for a straightforward, bruising actioner, Marshall is your man. Centurion stars Michael Fassbender and Jimmy McNulty himself as soldiers of the Ninth Legion, which went missing during the expansion into Pict territory. This is that story, though historical accuracy is not something we come to a movie like this for.

We come because we know it’s going to be a ride, one with plenty of blood and running around in beautiful Scotland scenery. There’s also a lovely Olga Kurylenko all done up to look like a barbarian, whose Etain is savage as hell but still manages to look sexy. Indeed she is the greatest draw, and plays a great part in the film. Centurion, despite the violence and overall intensity (“I AM A SOLDIER OF ROME! I WILL NOT YAAYLD!”), borders on generic, and requires that iconic image of deadly Etain with her facepaint to stand out.

There was a moment in Centurion where I felt the story could’ve capitalized on the L.L. Cool J mentality from Deep Blue Sea, that of having two stories interwoven, where one is basically irrelevant and all the better for it, but the two soldier who get separated don’t have much screentime as such, and leads to an anti-climax within the narrative. I really thought that dude was gonna kill those wolves and make it back, which would’ve made no sense and been more Marshallian.

There’s kid killing and CG blood explosions — that which we adore from Doomsday, but none of the same elements that make you say ‘wow’ and sit up, save for a particularly nasty eye-trauma. Good, but not great. Memorable certainly for Etain, a performance that’s subtely animal, though we get the feeling that a great deal is blasting through that bloodthirsty brain of hers, maybe even some humanity.

Conclusion

Neil Marshall is a complicated thing. We’re not used to filmmakers who make movies because that’s their interest, and they want to make movies. Odd as it is to say. He’s not interested in the business or in making money, but having fun, which produces some of the most unpredictable and lively entertainment in movies today. Whatever his next movie will be, I can’t guess at subject matter, certainly, I can only hope that it arrives soon.

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Four Brothers was a faulty sign of things to come. While Baby Boy (2001) proved to be Singleton’s last filmed screenplay, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Abduction reach into realms I’m not entirely comfortable exploring. This revenge drama, while not his original screenplay, held promise. It tells the story of the titular four brothers, who return home to figure out and deal with those responsible for the shooting death of the kindest old lady on the block, she who took them all in off the streets. With the death scene, I was immediately reminded of a similar revenge movie I saw recently, Death Sentence, which took a lot longer to get to this same moment, the convenience store catalyst. Right away Four Brothers was doing things right, but it what it became wasn’t what I anticipated.

When the credits rolled I thought, “Okay.” I recognized that I had enjoyed it throughout the 100-minute or so run, but the movie limps to a pretty unsatisfying conclusion, much unlike other classic revenge tales like Oldboy or Death Sentence, or Death Wish III, or even the bad ones like The Punisher (2004). The violence level was really off the charts, but in a bad way. Singleton isn’t exactly known for being gratuitous with brutality, but I’d wholeheartedly hoped this would be a good time to try it out. Not a lot of action really happens here, which is a disappointment because not a lot else happens either…

The four brothers go around gathering information, and fighting amongst themselves, and their chemistry is ultimately what sells the movie, because a lot that happens is uneventful. Sofia Vergara raises a fit, Mark Wahlberg and Garret Hedlund sulk around, and every now and again there’ll be a chase scene, or one very dull shootout. Character interactions between these four actors is great, and makes the movie very watchable. I suppose it’d be up to you to decide if that’s a good enough reason to watch this movie, because it might just be the only one. It’s a fun script — a relief, and a great cast.

One of the actors in this movie I’m particularly enamored of is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who’s played sympathetic villains in two of the best science-fiction movies of the decade, and returns here for quite the opposite. He’s straightforwardly evil, which is fine, but it’s that he’s essentially a blaxploitation villain is maybe a little tonally inconsistent. It’s very nearly Punisher (2004) syndrome, where John Travolta plays a text-book bad villain, but we’re only laughing with Ejiofor, and not at him. Either way, he’s not really filling the role — Garret Hedlund in Death Sentence was more effective, and I guess he’s also pretty good here as well, on the opposite side of the vengeance.

I think I’ve been negative so far about Four Brothers, and that’s wrong, because I did think it was good, and at times, especially toward the beginning, fairly effective. Singleton is not only a great director of actors, but a solid storyteller. He knows how emotions translate through the camera, and he’s got a great, and unpretentious, eye for composition. The prevailing issue to me is that Four Brothers goes in directions in the second act. I sort of like the idea that a lot of unresolved thematic areas happen here, because it gives the movie larger scope than it had, but midway through the movie you figure everything out and think, that’s pretty good, only to have it not be the case later on.

The car chase is what I’m referring to. Marky Mark and Tyrese manage to run their enemies off the road, or the car flips over, and they rush out to go after the suspected killers. Hedlund is told to wait, and the two guys drag the murderers out, start beating on them, and shoot them. Hedlund’s expression here and the camerwork give us the idea that Four Brothers would be a Nietzschean fable akin to Death Sentence, but with that hood film twist. It’d be something about how these thugs were redeemed by this woman, but in attempting to avenge her, they began to return to where they started — you can never get out of the game. I think that’s what Singleton was going for in this scene, but… it was only a scene. The story continued on in its blaxploitation fun n games.

It felt more interested in the involved story, which dealt with a conspiracy of sorts, and organized crime, and even city government. This is fine, but it’s only fine, where Four Brothers could’ve been poigniant and maybe disturbing. Basically if it were injected with Singleton DNA — the same criticism I had for Rosewood — it would’ve taken that necessary step and been great. As it is, Four Brothers is good.

It’s an alternate 1985 where God exists and he’s American, a retired hero must rescue people from a fire to get hard, and a vigilante screams out to be killed in a world that’s turned its back on justice. Watchmen is the most celebrated graphic novel from Alan Moore, the man who coined the term, and it remains, after all these years, an incredible story that weaves hard-hitting images with political, philosophical, and revisionist text. A sharp tale making an entire medium of entertainment take a look in the mirror – it’s small wonder Hollywood’s been scrambling for ages to get the film produced. But Watchmen is like The Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t belong to Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, or DC Comics. No, no, no. It belongs to its fans, and they are many.

Fans claimed that Watchmen was unfilmable, just like the aforementioned Rings. Indeed it does feel like an unsavory prospect; we open these pages and see superheroes sharing panels with scenes of sex, superheroes behaving rather like Mad Max in the original Mad Max, superheroes who’d rather blame the blue guy in the room for shooting a pregnant Vietnamese woman than take the responsibility for himself. Aside from graphic content and themes, Watchmen is of course a 12-issue comic, and each issue is an episode. One episode jumps around in time – how do you do that in a movie and keep things moving forward? All too often filmmakers don’t appreciate the disparaties in mediums, and believe that translations will always work.

Perhaps that is what happened here, but the end result was a fantastic experience, a movie version of a great story that maintains the great story and embodies the spirit and feel of the comic’s panel-to-panel nature. Every shot is thoughtfully composed – no doubt these guys took the Rodriguez/Miller route and went to the comics for the storyboards – the lighting and colors create a hyperreal image that only stops moving when the slow-motion button is hit. Just like in 300, Snyder’s use of slow-motion is appropriate because it slows on actions that were originally read on the page with eyes that linger and focus. It also gives the action an unusual rhythm as we move through hard streets and cavernous corporate buildings.

There’s a simple joy that fills me when watching a good adaptation, but it isn’t unqualified. As much as I like to study what actors were chosen and how well the themes translate, there’s something almost uncanny about hearing dialogue you’re familiar with. This was a major issue for me with movies like Memoirs of a Geisha and other flicks where I read the book right before watching (that one was for school): it feels very artificial when actors are speaking dialogue that originates from somewhere that’s not a screenplay; it’s difficult to fool yourself that these words came from the character’s head.

There’s also the issue that Watchmen is actually unfilmable, but I don’t believe it’s in the way that the collective masses tend to say. The problem is that Watchmen was a post-modern comic, and to nail this home (as if opening with Captain America’s death wasn’t enough) we have a comic-within-a-comic, which is read by a minor character throughout the story. We get glimpses of the macabre tale, Tales of the Black Freighter, every now and then, and it serves a purpose. Unless you’re watching the Ultimate Cut, a version that’s over 3 hours (the Director’s Cut is 2 hours and 40 minutes), you don’t get to see the Gerard Butler-narrated comic-within-a-comic. I haven’t seen it as standalone nor in the Ultimate Cut, but it doesn’t matter – it wouldn’t have the same effect.

Tales of the Black Freighter in Watchmen the movie would have no purpose because Watchmen the movie isn’t a comic. A movie that’s revisionist towards comics doesn’t have the same effect as the source material – it’d be like if Once Upon a Time in the West or Pulp Fiction were novels, and we had movie references from Shane and High Noon written out on the page.

I do feel like the problem is mitigated somewhat by the filmmakers – we hear the Ride of the Valkyries as the Comedian rides into Vietnam on a helicopter, a song that might as well just be called the Apocalypse Now song. That’s what it reminds us of, and coupled with Vietnam War imagery, we’re in familiar movie territory. That’s one instance where Watchmen the movie takes advantage of the medium’s asset to make it uniquely a movie.

I suppose that the superhero genre in film by the year 2009 was also in need of a revision, but of course Watchmen the movie made very little impact and like the equally R-rated Punisher War Zone a year before, didn’t make a box office splash. At least, not for a Watchmen movie. Hollywood would go on to take little notice, making Captain America, Iron Man 2, Thor, Green Latern, The Green Hornet, The Dark Knight Rises, another Superman, another Spider-Man, Kick-Ass, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class, Jonah Hex, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World from 2009-2012 (fingers crossed for Nelvedine/Taylor’s Ghost Rider). Aside from Scott Pilgrim, I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine and thought it was the dumbest crap ever, with precisely three seconds of gold (a wonderful reaction shot to a gazing Stryker during a ‘tense’ and ‘dramatic’ scene).

Without speaking for all of those above, X-Men Origins: Wolverine really captured what was wrong with the superhero genre. It’s stale, and it panders to a fan base. Instead of rich characters we have to fill out a quota of characters – alright we got steel man, invisible man, laser man, blue devil man, mega man, ultra man, woman man, cat man, Poke mans – and instead of a compelling premise from which to draw a decent story we have oh-my-gosh-let’s-pull-pages-from-this-this-this-and-this, ‘this’ referring of course to the bountiful source material in the case of X-Men.

Watchmen, to get back on topic, isn’t of course new, but is akin to Unbreakable and The Incredibles – yes we have superheroes, but we have a different type of superhero story. Many say, and I agree with this, that Watchmen is more a science-fiction story than a superhero one. It deals with cold war anxieties, experiments gone wrong, and at the end, alien invaders and outer limits – staples of the genre. Because we have a science-fiction structure with superheroes as the players in a greater tale rather than the center of the spotlight like the bat symbol, we open up so many narrative and thematic possibilities that modern filmmakers dare not tread. At the end of X-Men we’ve learned nothing – in fact nothing has changed for anybody. There is really no point except $300 million, or however much that particular movie made.

Maybe that’s cynical, but it did feel like a very, very commercial picture that didn’t go for the bar. Not that it was set high but anyhow Watchmen had aspirations, as a comic and as a film. As a movie, it had to hit upon what the fans wanted – an easy task, as everybody involved was a fan. It had to tell a cinematic story, not a simple adaptation. And most importantly it had to maintain what Watchmen was all about, asking questions about the measure of heroism and the morals of justice. Like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Watchmen treats every frame delicately, and the product is an extremely well-made film that looks amazing even during the most mundane bits. It’s violent, but not overly so where anything extreme, like sawing through arms or repeated strikes to the head with a cleaver, are very obviously CG and don’t look so great.

It’s a very nearly literal adaptation, but it’s a smart one. The filmmakers realized that 100% direct translation wouldn’t work – perhaps they heard the shouts – and went about constructing a slick, often disturbing, sometimes affecting, and always throught-provoking experience.

If you’re worried about the length of the Director’s Cut, I honestly don’t know what to tell you. I’m no good with long movies, and I watched this over the course of two nights. Personally I don’t see it as a problem because I like that as much of the comic was reproduced on screen as possible; this Watchmen is truly the definitive movie version – disregarding the Ultimate Cut, there will never be a more complete version, although the lack of the newstand guy and Black Freighter reader was noticeable.

If this is the first Dreck Fiction post you’ve read, trust me – this is unprecedented; I’ll never ever write another thing this long

Seeking out the films of Chan Wook Park after being exposed to Oldboy turned out to be a lucrative affair; JSA became an important movie to me while Lady Vengeance and Thirst were dazzling if difficult to penetrate. One thing was a constant across the five films of his widely available in the United States, something compelling and somewhat startling to me: there’s a confidence in his camera, in the composition, in the movement. Whether he employs the Steadicam or decides to shake around, the lens through which we experience brutality, terror, tragedy, and a startling breadth of human emotion and suffering is organic and the action depicted is unfaltering.

All too often in a movie will an actor stand up from sitting down in a medium shot and the camera will be too slow to follow, or try to rest after a slow pan and not quite settle for the duration of the shot. It makes me wonder why the director felt satisfied with the shot if there was a slight imperfection, a minor blemish. I may be paying too much attention to unimportant details but it feels like something of a compromise. Certainly there aren’t high brow camera techniques I’m getting at here, they’re ‘the details,’ and if a director is willing to map out a film to the details like these, they’ll go the distance, and this is evident in movies by Park, who was a master of the frame, as was Hitchcock and Leone. It gives the viewer the sense that goddamn these people knew what they were doing when they made those films.

It somehow didn’t occur to me that Edgar Wright too was in this league until Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and on further inspection in a reviewing of Shaun of the Dead I’ve found confirmation of this stirring suspicion. Shaun of the Dead was beautifully orchestrated on every level; the thematic mundane demonstrated in the opening titles establish an early sense of repetition, which carries throughout and touches on the film’s thesis – which is seemingly never necessary in the first place – that we need to stop being zombies and change sometimes to be happy.

Shaun battling zombies is a visual manifestation of this thesis, its cinematic equivalent if the idea is first captured on paper or in the writer/director’s head. Shaun is a comedy film, so one might imagine that it didn’t need a message or an intricate, relatively speaking, thematic framework to be funny. But this is Edgar Wright. And this is a comedy film, and its clear that the man takes his craft seriously, regardless of genre. The humor is integral to the movie, and that’s why ultimately, Shaun of the Dead requires the message and the discussions of habit – and the zombies – it’s a vessel for the humor. It is funny when the patterns are recognized, when Shaun takes the identical trip to the convenience store and doesn’t notice anything, when we discover that the silhouetted couple making out outside the pub turn out to be one zombie feeding on another – these instances of clever comedy have depth rarely seen in other comedies, and are all in service to what Shaun of the Dead means as a movie, as the best horror/comedy in ages.

But there I go again with the superlatives. I’m not an ace at this review nonsense – I could blame it on my age but that might not bode well in the future – so I tend to praise a film by calling it the best of something (see the Reviews section of this site for dastadly confirmation). So by all means I surprised myself by the modesty in my voice when talking about Scott Pilgrim with various people. To Podcast Co-Host I said simply that it was something I was enamored of, and to another I think I just explained how embarrasingly in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead I was/am. I hesitated to call it a truly great film, and I guess I’ll continue to do so, because it just doesn’t sound right. I will say this: it’s a movie I love and it’s the obvious work of an obvious master.

The director’s confident camera is found in Scott Pilgrim, and so are the details and all that other stuff. It’s apparent in every shot that there was a great amount of planning and artistry set to work – it’s a smooth flow of film, if there ever was such a thing.

Wary of retreading an earlier review of the very same movie, I won’t talk about the technical aspects of the movie that I thought to cover before, but focus instead on the director’s craft. As mentioned earlier, Edgar Wright is a technical wizard, and not just because he keeps the camera still when an actor stands up or whatever, but because the movie’s visuals are both entertaining and significant on a higher level.

Every scene has a unique ‘gimmick,’ and that may sound bad but in the context of the film it keeps us engaged on a subconscious level. A few examples of the gimmick from scene to scene to note their differences: the Seinfeld laugh track after Scott’s second date with Ramona, which cuts off abruptly when Wallace hits a switch on the stove; Envy’s “Oh yeah’s” in between Scott and Ramon’s conversation at the Clash at Demonhead concert; the time cards during Scott’s dinner with Ramona; the censor bars over Aubrey Plaza’s dialogue; the labels for each of his friends (i.e. Stephen Stills, “The Talent”), and many more that are harder to approximate in words.

Because of the video-game influences and the ‘gimmicks,’ the latter of which were evident in Shaun of the Dead, as well as the absence of anyone over the age of 30 save the two ‘authority figures’ that later burst through a wall, it’s easy to call this a film for the ADD generation, or whatever name you give to such a thing. This makes for a high-energy experience, a film with a bizarre cadence and rapid pace. Not only does all of this translate to ‘uniquely entertaining comedy with some cool action and a distinct voice,’ but is consistent with the narrative.

Of course, one can dismiss these eye-popping visuals as eye-popping visuals and be on their merry; one complaint that I’ve heard about Scott Pilgrim is that it felt overdone, and this is not without justification. Obviously not everybody is going to appreciate a movie seemingly fixated on the ‘ADD generation’ because not everybody is from that generation (as it turns out, only one is… [laughs to himself]). Some older critics have said that the movie touches on feelings of nostalgia, while others say that it’s self-indulgent or whatever they say. Basically if you thought the only thing more nauseating and offensive than Crank was Crank 2 and that Avatar looked like a video-game cutscene (I don’t know what video-games you guys are playing, Christ) you won’t like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Speaking of Avatar, let’s look at the effects for a moment. Everything from the hearts emanating from kissing to the vegan superpowers; these had to be created in a computer in order to emulate the comic-book. When an audience sees a trailer for the next alleged special effects movie, though what they’re really seeing is the visual effects, they divide. One half says “Uh, give it a rest Michael Bay,” and the other half is twelve years old. This too isn’t without reason, as we as audiences have had a torturous cinematic history of bad special effects movies, exacerbated to new heights by the endless cycles of Marvel and DC $175 million dollar extravaganzas, which are rarely good.

The 90s and ‘2K era’ provided many Stan Winston films that made people scratch their heads and wonder, as the late screen magician did, ‘will there ever be a balance between special effects and story?’ Winston grew up with the science-fiction of the 50’s, you know, those types where if I said, “Attack of the Mars Snakes,” as a bad joke I might have named a real film, and he was upset that these movies were just effects vehicles that didn’t even show the damn Mars Snakes that much. That’s why he eventually turned to directing, but that’s another story for the Dreck Fiction to get into.

Jurassic Park may look good, holding up 18 years later while Carnosaur languishes in the embarrasing memories of a few, and even Walking with Dinosaurs seems CG-obvious nowadays, but where’s the human drama? Same with other major sci-fi movies that aren’t just straightup popcorn farces like Independence Day or Total Recall tend to be. Or John Carpenter’s The Thing, apparently, which is the movie I always use to begin one of the special effects arguments: it may look fascinating, but it’s ‘shallow.’ How wrong you are, critic #73, how wrong.

When will film use its special effects to enhance the story, when will story necessitate the special effects – when will a sci-fi or fantasy fulfill that audio/visual promise of the cinematic medium? It’s only rare this happens, and even rarelier from Hollywood. T2 I believe comes close, but some of the CGI feels superfluous. Only a little bit, but that’s just the Cameronman for you. Scott Pilgrim does this, but it isn’t necessarily an outstanding example – the outstanding example has yet to come and be popular/successful. Blade Runner may be popular now, but that’s what… thirty years later?

The visual effects in Scott Pilgrim are used to convey the two other major pieces of the movie: video-games and music. Romance is the main piece, and all three round out what’s important in Scott’s life. Here is where we get back to that point alluded to earlier with the purpose of the effects in the narrative…

Having never read or heard of Brian Lee O’Malley’s original comic series, Scott Pilgrim (the second volume’s title was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), I’m not sure exactly what was being said. I can make a guess however at the movie, and I have the strong feeling that it’s a movie, similar to Shaun of the Dead, about getting over yourself and moving on with your life to be happy. As much as the film was a celebration of retro-games, it was something of a criticism; I see their prevelance and significance to the fabric of the visuals as a metaphor for maturation on two levels. Not only are video-games typically ‘for kids,’ but we’re talking about retro-games like Zelda and um Tetris, which the medium left behind for our more modern Grand Theft Auto‘s and Call of Brothers in Honor Arms Battlefield Duty: Vietnam: Modern Warfare‘s.

Edgar Wright tends to see the movie as something of a daydream of Scott’s, where he imagines he’s the hero of his very own film. The feeling that we are in the guy’s mind is evident in the every scene, every piece of the frame; it’s so goddamn subtle. Sounds in the background like the thudding of suspenseful music will morph into some guy tapping a distant microphone – it’s a subconscious effect, and it works. If this movie sort of happens inside his mind, it makes sense that a big ol’ “VS” slaps the screen before a battle, anticipating the massive “KO” or in one instance a “BASS BATTLE,” as in “BOSS BATTLE” from a side-scrolling beat-em-up or fighting game. It is then internally logical that he doesn’t dump quarters in when the arcade screen from ‘Ninja Ninja Revolution’ prompts him to CONTINUE? 9, 8, 7… because he’s ended up with the right girl, not just the one of his dreams but the one he’s confident enough to say he’s in love with. He’s moved on from his world of Final Fantasy II and through the door, the thingy over there.

The video-game stuff and the visual effects stuff, which serve each other, are in tandem here to elevate the main theme of romance. As much as this is an action comedy, it’s a story of romance threatened by the past and bad habits.

If Scott ended up with Knives Chau the story wouldn’t have worked in the end because we’ve followed Scott and Ramona’s development, their making peace with the past (sometimes by headbutting it so hard it bursts) and trascending dabbling in being bitches by being with each other. Staying together after they go through the door is sort of the solution to the equation of their relationship. The only character arc Knives goes through is becoming a ‘badass,’ something that I do take issue with.

So the central theme is romance, and I’m not a coinesseur in romantic films so I can’t tell if it’s a ‘good romance,’ or a hackneyed one. My perception of this romance as ‘good’ is also probably sabotaged by that aforementioned crush, which is hilarious.

Anyways, Knives is one of the only characters, perhaps the only one, that I didn’t like. She certainly changes throughout the course of the film, starting out timid and dorky (she says “I’ll be quieter” really softly even though she hadn’t been saying anything, which was kind of funny), and then being driven crazy by Scott’s relationship with Ramona, the fatass white girl. By the end of the movie we’re supposed to believe that she is indeed too cool for Scott, and that’s why she can leave and Scott can finally have a peaceful breakup.

This is derived because as I think Edgar Wright had said she’s become something of a badass by the end of the movie, note the Gideon fight where she fought both Ramona and then Gideon with swords and a rather long scarf that was quite the trouble during production. I can see what they were going for here, that this evolution of the character from timid dorky schoolgirl into rocker badass ninja was what makes her ‘too cool’ for Scott, but there’s a major problem. Crazy as it sounds – I didn’t even notice that she was a rocker badass ninja.

When she flies out of the ceiling to fight Ramona I didn’t think anything of it. I mean didn’t we just see Ramona totally kick ass like five seconds ago? Or what about Scott Pilgrim, a normal kid, when he suddenly knew kung-fu and got the first hit off in the Matthew Patel fight? The movie employs an absurd logic, but it’s consistent, so Knives being a crazy fighter didn’t seem out of the ordinary when I guess it should have.

Another issue I had with Knives was her all the time during the second act of the film, after she’s seen Scott with Ramona for the first time, and notes that this blue-haired girl must be like twenty-FIVE. That whole montage of her changing her hair to blue and plotting to get Scott back all while accompanied by her straight-man friend was played for the laughs, but that wasn’t really my type of humor. Though to think of it, the things that I tend to laugh at the most in this movie aren’t even jokes so I’m probably wrong.

I just thought that her going crazy and acting out was too much comedically for this actress to handle, or maybe it was just uncomfortable to watch because it’s a weird stalker sequence. Who knows.

But anyways, I like the jokes in the movie, like the “She dusts,” bit, or “Is that the Uma Thurman movie?” (because seriously who the hell is ever gonna reference My Super Ex-Girlfriend? Though on second thought it was a new movie when the comic was coming out… who knows who wrote the line?) but it’s actually little moments in the dialogue that get me the most, certain deliveries like Brandon Routh saying “Thanks tool,” and Chris Evans saying, “It’s called a grind bro,” or “You really think you can goad me into doing a trick like that?” or saying “Prepare-” before ripping the background on the movie set and trying again with his ‘menacing’ delivery. That’s the kind of humor that’ll stick to a movie, but there is comedy in the film that won’t last.

Like Family Guy, some of this stuff is just too cutting edge. Only instead of being so modern you’re referencing the goddamn commercials of the day like that show does, Scott Pilgrim has a lot of comedy that is meant to appeal to that ADD Generation, the kind of implaceable humor that’s hard to describe, but I know isn’t my type and isn’t many’s, and won’t be cool for very long. Stuff like “Why is he dressed like a pirate?” “Are you a pirate?” “Pirates are in this year…” Hm.

But then Thomas Jane crashes into the wall with the bad guy from Crank 2 and he says, “Milk and eggs, bitch,” and everything’s back to normal. I swear – Edgar Wright in his technical commentary of the movie (a movie he’s made, mind you) had the same reaction to Thomas Jane that I and hopefully many others did: *laugh your ass off* “Holy shit it’s Thomas Jane!”

As great a film that I accuse Scott Pilgrim of being, it’s not something that I can just show off to people like I could with Strange Days or City of God – undeniably cool and interesting films, movies that even if you dislike, you are compelled to recognize as good. It’s a movie for teenagers, and it’s a comedy with very specific humor, some of which I don’t even appreciate. It’s also a Michael Cera movie in this post-Youth in Revolt, Year One, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Superbad world. I was clever enough to avoid all of those movies and so I never got burned out on the guy – I still think he’s funny. I’ve only seen the first season of Arrested Development and some of Clark and Michael, and both of those are hilarious, so I’m still a fan of his.

It does make me wonder though where Edgar Wright is headed next. This was his biggest financial disappointment thus far, which is not good, as it was his only American movie, and his only PG-13 rated movie. I believe he’s co-scripting the Tintin movie and he plans on doing Antman and a third “Blood and Ice Cream,” flick, rounding out a trilogy following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with the old Simon Pegg/Nick Frost team. My only concern there is with the Antman movie – Scott Pilgrim seemed to fit his style almost uncannily; the material and the director were a perfect match, just like the casting of Robert Downey Jr. to Barris in A Scanner Darkly. Some things, man, they just work. Will Antman allow for such visual trickery and thoughtfulness? I know it’s a humor-based superhero, but beyond that I know nothing of it.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but with this guy at the helm and his three movies as evidence, I’m sure it’ll be wowyeah, wow

For those who read this site, there’s another to read instead – the Genrebusters.com, who have recently lifted their four or five year hiatus. Christ, that was a long wait, especially since I just found out about them right after they stopped putting out posts and recording podcasts. Well, they’re back posting, and everything’s totally cool. To celebrate their return, I figured I’d steal from them, and recycle a feature that I always liked from their site. The main guy wrote up reviews for each of his 100 favorite movies, and his culmination in Once Upon a Time in the West is what spurred me into renting that particular film, because it was such a high recommendation from a trusted source. And goddamn that movie is awesome.

Somewhere on the site there’s a secret Top 100 List of my own, but I’ll go in-depth with them ten at a time. I don’t have all that much to say about some of these movies, but I’m still young, and ten years from now, this whole list will be gutted. I haven’t even seen The Shawshank Redemption yet. And that reminds me – somewhere high on this list would usually be The Mist, but it actually slipped my mind. Wow. One of my favorite horror movies ever, and I just completely forgot it. So somewhere along the way I’ll have to make a note of where that would’ve been, and this will then become a Top 101 List.

So no this isn’t a Top 100 Greatest Movies Ever list, because nowhere will you find garbagio like Sunset Boulevard. This is a personal list, and hopefully it’ll serve the purpose of recommending in short some cool movies, or maybe making you look twice at some title you thought earlier was crap.

100. Slither, Dir. James Gunn

This movie freaking tanked, man. According to the profesh, and anyone with a sense of logic – it was that classic case of ‘too scary to be funny, too funny to be scary,’ that shied audiences from Grindhouse and I guess Snakes on a Plane. It’s true; the movie trailers for this one both freaked me out and made me laugh, but since back then I was a pussy (back then, that’s right), I didn’t want to see it. I think Grant Grant’s final form gave me the creeps because of the mouth. Even today, that’s a pretty wicked design. But don’t do what I did back in the day when I was a pussy, go check this one out, because it’s more than just another zombie movie. And in terms of genres, horror/comedy is my second favorite, and Slither is certainly a wonderful entry. Nathan Fillion is the man, man.

99. The Mummy, Dir. Stephen Sommers

Yeah this movie is garbage, and so is its sequel, and so is its spin-off, but I love all three. Well, I like The Scorpion King, but I really like The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Both of them have a great sense of adventure akin to Raiders or Jurassic Park. The first one especially is pretty well paced, and the visual effects and creature designs always stuck with me when I was younger. Every set piece was different, but they were mostly all cool, and always had a cool new monster. A guilty pleasure, probably, but it’s only the first, as we’ll see very soon.

98. Doom, Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak

While not a big fan of the original video-game – I was more of a Halo guy myself – this movie is a surprisingly high quality video-game adaptation, and if that wasn’t the most apologist way to begin a review, well just show me Ebert’s various Tron reviews, I guess. I’m a sucker for space marines, because I like it when big guys with big guns run down hallways and shoot aliens. And let me tell you – these guys are big, and they sure do run down hallways a lot. Screw the Spartans from 300 – if I want burly dudes doing manly things, it’s gotta be Doom, or DOOM, rather. This movie is so balls stupid, but a lot of fun. The creature effects were done in part by Stan Winston, so even though the notion of a genetically engineered demon is… idiotic… it’s a great visual action picture with sci-fi trappings that are sadly lost on America. Holdin’ out hope for Scott’s The Forever War

97. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe

I actually saw this before viewing the series, which is possibly the most well-known anime of all time, at least in America, as it is quite western, genre-mixing noir with sci-fi with… jazz, with spaghetti westerns with blaxploitation with crime drama – it’s basically the best show ever this side of Stand Alone Complex. If I wasn’t such a GITS fanboy I’d say on the whole it’s probably better, and the movie is a great little reward for all those fans jonesing for more adventures with Spike and Jet. This movie is actually downright philosophical, and makes for an interesting watch.

96. Pitch Black, Dir. David Twohy

I’m glad I didn’t have to put The Chronicles of Riddick on this list because as much as I love it, it really, really sucks. Pitch Black on the other hand, is a genuinely solid sci-fi thriller starring Vin Diesel, of all people. It’s got a good premise, cool action, cool monsters, and – much to my surprise – a strangely poigniant arc for our future-super-double-unkillable-badass Riddick, who turned out to be a terrible character. Let’s try to remember when he was still good…

95. Appleseed, Dir. Shinji Aramaki

I used to think that this movie was just straight garbage, but I enjoy the visuals way too much, and even if the story is just a bootleg Ghost in the Shell, there are worse things to be. The action scenes in this movie are spectacular, and they make me realize that as much as I love the 80’s action genre, it’ll never quite be the same as a bunch of crazily designed robots shooting up the place.

94. Chasing Amy, Dir. Kevin Smith

Never thought a romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck would be… good. Well, The Town was a romantic comedy, but no, that was crap, so never mind. Chasing Amy on the other hand is a great Kevin Smith movie about people sitting around talking about sex. God, nothing I can say makes it sound good, so you really have to just see it. Once again this was a movie that the Genrebusters recommended, citing the friendship between the two main dudes as one of the most organic and best written.

93. 12 Monkeys, Dir. Terry Gilliam

People who talk about Brad Pitt have a lot of good performances to draw from: Fight Club, Seven, 12 Monkeys… I didn’t like those first two, but 12 Monkeys is the first Terry Gilliam (and last) I’ve seen – I’m still waiting on Brazil and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, aside from Holy Grail, I think? It’s bizarre and feels like something by the Jeunet/Caro team, who had paid homage to Gilliam with their Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. It’s a high concept story based off of a short film called La Jetee, and if you’re looking for a totally wacked-out experience, look no further.

92. 2010: The Year we Make Contact, Dir. Peter Hyams

Hard science-fiction is hard to come by in film, which is why all of it that I’ve seen is further on this list – Silent Running, Sunshine, and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey. The oft trashed on sequel, which has kind of a Terminator 3, Godfather 3, Mad Max 3 complex – exactly how do you follow that up? Well, you take the straight approach. This isn’t a cerebral, philosophical journey into both our minds and the deepest reaches of the universe, it’s a space story without the lasers, and an interesting drama with slightly overwrought political overtones, but the message is positive and not too Avatarized, if you catch what I’m sailing out there.

91. Grindhouse: Planet Terror, Dir. Robert Rodriguez

This was originally The Rock. That it is now Planet Terror is a testament to the fact that all these movies up here are kind of… shaky. I like them all, but The Rock just doesn’t match up, and so instead of bumping the whole list, I’ll just take it off. It’s still with us in spirit, at #102. Planet Terror on the other hand is a Rodriguez through-and-through, chock full of guns, explosions, blood, zombies, goo, and Tom Savini being thrown into a car made out of tin foil. It’s great fun, and has an excellent cast and a damn good script.

Tune in next week for 90-81, easily the best of the 100. Well, probably not.

 

 

 

I don’t want to keep talking about Chan-Wook Park, I’ve done it so much. But I recently happened across a French movie called La Haine. Haven’t seen it yet, but it seems interesting, kind of a Boyz N the Hood but with Vincent Cassel, which is fine by me. I looked up the director, and it seems that the latest movie he did was Babylon AD, AKA shitty Children of Men. This is a pretty common thing, and I don’t know why, but you see it all the time: foreign filmmakers coming to America and destroying their careers. Only John Woo made it back. And it’s usually like horror remakes they do – there was a time where if you saw a trailer for some PG-13 horror remake about ghosts, it’d have some Asianguy name attached to it as director.

Chan-Wook Park was offered to remake The Evil Dead in the United States – that surely would’ve ruined him just like America did Ryuhei Kitamura and all them. And that sucks because America already has a bad reputation when it comes to foreign movies. There’s a video on YouTube called something like Akira: the American version. It’s a funny video in execution, but deadly serious in premise. All the comments below fight the good fight the video does in it’s anti-American movie cause. It’s crazy how narrow-minded people can be; I recall one of the more egregious comments being something like “I hate it when people make a movie but don’t understand the source material.” How the hell do you know that nobody understands the source material? I haven’t read the manga, but the movie isn’t deeper than every American movie ever. Goddamn.

Foreign filmmakers aren’t the only ones who can fall victim to the biggest film industry in the world – so too can our homegrown. Give them too much money, and fans will note to the end of time how they got too much money. For the most part it seems to be true, at least, that’s how it’s percieved. David Twohy did Pitch Black, and then he did The Chronicles of Riddick. Kurt Wimmer did Equilibrium, and then he did Ultraviolet. I haven’t seen Ultraviolet, but critical consensus has steered me clear. James Cameron to a lesser extent also seems to get worse with increased budget, but that’s more complicated. Terminator 2 was totally sweet, but Avatar… not so much.

One of the more tragic examples is Alex Proyas. This is one frustrating filmmaker, not only because he’s so damn picky with scripts he seemingly barely makes movies, but because he’s had a visible downward spiral. I haven’t seen The Crow but was told recently it was pretty meh. I haven’t seen Knowing either but I’ve heard it’s pretty bad. I tend not to believe that because anything with Nicolas Cage is both a hater-magnet and the greatest thing ever. The thing is – Dark City was really good, and I, Robot, while good for what it was, is a startling step downward in quality and step up in budget. All of the visual opulence from Dark City was there, though I am a dead sucker for cyberpunk anything, but the attention to detail, the lack of cliche, the script – it was all gone.

When studios give writer/directors these big budgets, they tend to flounder and seemingly forget whatever style they had used before. Why did John Singleton stop making personal movies about South Central? I’m not saying that that’s the only thing he’d be good at, but I don’t care for 2 Fast 2 Furious, aside from the obviously great title.

I watched a trailer for Insomnia, a movie by Christopher Nolan, and it looked very similar to Memento – a briskly paced, possibly clever psychological thriller. When the studios handed the job down to Nolan to do Batman, I’m sure there was someone who feared a ‘dumbing down’ of his style. But rather than do as others before him had, he made the Batman movies very much in the fashion of the smaller budgeted Memento rather than just making the Batman movies like the Burtons and Schumakers had before him.

Inception, another big budget movie, cements Nolan as someone who hasn’t lost the touch, hasn’t forgotten his roots. When the roots are good, we hope that these guys don’t forget them, but unfortunately Nolan is rare. And certainly the Batman movies aren’t as deep as Memento, but that’s not really important – I believe that the two movies were a test, and that he arrived on the other side unchanged is a major victory for everyone.

Major spoilers for Baby Boy

 

Just as the greatest lessons are often taught outside the classroom, as Higher Learning tells us, some things in life are not meant to be taught, but understood. The opening monologue and first image of the film explain that the young African American male has been conditioned to be a ‘baby.’ When the family unit in South Central is impeded upon by a ‘baby boy,’ a full grown young child, there is destruction, but this destruction is followed by rebirth. John Singleton’s Baby Boy is the second spiritual successor to Boyz N the Hood, once again taking place in the South Central LA of Boyz and Poetic Justice. It’s a movie similar to the famous debut, but one larger in scope. Boyz N the Hood was about surviving the problems created by troubled black youth in the hood, and Baby Boy is about preventing them.

Baby Boy was a script Singleton had for awhile, shortly after the success of Boyz N the Hood, but he decided to shelve it when rapper/actor Tupac passed away. The writer/director believed that the rapper was the only one with enough soul to play the part of Jody, the main character. When Tyrese Gibson sat down with Singleton and said basically that this script was his life, that he could relate to it, a new Jody was soon to be born. More on Tupac later…

Tyrese Gibson was a model and a singer, and Singleton sure loves to use ‘fresh’ actors: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., etc. This was his first movie, and it’s quite the daunting task. Not only is he in every scene, but he has to display a breadth of emotion. The character Jody is probably Singleton’s most complex to date, and an example I’ll use to illustrate this I learned about listening to the director’s commentary — Gibson’s smile, an example of broad acting. Physical acting, showing and not telling, was something picked up from studying Kurosawa. Jody gives a smile every once in a while, but it’ll fade away just as fast as it comes: happiness is fleeting, and there’s a lot on his mind.

Tyrese Gibson was a model and a singer, and Singleton sure loves to use ‘fresh’ actors: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., etc. This was his first movie, and it’s quite the daunting task. Not only is he in every scene, but he has to display a breadth of emotion. The character Jody is probably Singleton’s most complex to date, and an example I’ll use to illustrate this I learned about listening to the director’s commentary — Gibson’s smile, an example of broad acting. Physical acting, showing and not telling, was something picked up from studying Kurosawa. Jody gives a smile every once in a while, but it’ll fade away just as fast as it comes: happiness is fleeting, and there’s a lot on his mind.

He’s a complicated character, but like the Boyz and like Lucky and Malik, he’s a product of his environment. He’s on the precipice of becoming a victim. His actions are driven by a fear of dying. He, and by extension the audience, listens to Tupac music (a song from his final album) and there’s a big Tupac face poster above his bed. Tupac Shakur rose to the public limelight and where the late rapper and his music are a real-world and constant reminder that the young black male, no matter how famous, can be victimized by the streets. Life always hangs in the balance in the ghetto, and Singleton believes that the actions of these young black males are influenced by that fear of death: the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude favored by Tupac indicates that they live fast and die whenever.

It’s possible that Jody wouldn’t care about any of this. I mean he’s a terrible womanizer and con man (successful con man, I should say, though it’s more like straight up criminal), but there’s a problem. He lost his brother when his mama’s then-boyfriend moved in and had him kicked out. He died in the streets, and now Jody’s mom is afraid to let Jody go. But he’s a twenty-year old with a family, and a pain in the ass. Not to mention Ving Rhames, the new boyfriend, is moving in. Things are going to change.

The order of which I explained him – motives and then actions – are revealed reversely in the film. He’s a pain in the ass to his girlfriend (“I’m tired of you messin’ around on me, Jody”) and his mom (“When are you gonna surprise me and move out?”) and then we find out why. If only we give people the chance to explain, perhaps then we can hope to sympathize with them.

Just like Ricky in Boyz N the Hood, young Jody has a son. He also has a daughter, played by Cleopatra Singleton, by his other ‘Baby’s Mama.’ The one who owns his heart, Yvette, has the son. In one scene, Jody explains that he has the kid because he wants to leave behind a part of him, essentially create a legacy. Singleton is reminding us that not only does Jody fear death, but he’s expecting it soon.

There is a heavy emphasis on cycles in this movie. In the director’s commentary, Singleton notes that even Jody’s mom was a baby when she had Jody – there’s this problem of babies having babies. The issue stemming from this is the resultant troubled black youth seen in this film and in Boyz N the Hood, which is always at odds with what Ving Rhames’ character Melvin represents. The cycles come at the audience in a few different ways, whether in the dream sequences where we see a juxtaposition of life and death imagery, or just in the everyday life of Jody, spending each day going around visiting different women and feeling pretty content about it. One scene in particular is a study of the cycle of violence, where Jody, after picking up some liquor, is jumped by the ‘young cats,’ of which Singleton believes to be the most dangerous among people in the ghetto.

Jody struggles, riding his bike, to reach his buddy Sweetpea. They go out and find the guys, and rough them up, kind of. Even though their vengeance isn’t as harsh as what Jody got, what’s going on here is these elder ‘gangstas’ maintaining the cycle. Singleton thinks that the younger cats are the most dangerous because they have the most to prove; a lot of what’s seen the movie is posturing. I think too that they’re dangerous because when a young person is violent, that’s just the beginning of a new chapter that says the cycle will remain unbroken.

The last image of the film was initially going to be where the titles “Written, Produced, and Directed by John Singleton” apprear over – Jody and Yvette are on the couch with Jojo (the son) on the floor watching TV in Yvette’s apartment. But the credit sequence continues over a few more scenes, where we see the cycle broken. This is of course after Jody’s realized what he must do, and we now see that the seemingly endless squabbles between Yvette and Jody are over. Because we need to get confirmation on this idea, this becomes a sensible way to end the film, more sensible than the “So yeah Doughboy gets killed,” ending in Boyz N the Hood (more on that later).

The character Melvin represents the type of ‘cat’ that has weathered a storm or two; he is a killer but don’t push him. He might have that whole wise-man/tough-guy thing going on (note the scene where he is waiting for Jody’s mom for a date, and Jody sees him, looks him up and down, studying him. Melvin is just like ‘whatever’ because he’s already studied Jody) but he’s pretty insecure, and this is understandable. He’s survived the streets and prison and just wants to settle down with a woman. He took his life into his own hands and became something greater than what he once was. Now he’s gotta deal with Jody, who is his opposite.

There is a scene toward the end of the film that sees a bit of a reversal of the “Give me the motherfucking gun Tre” scene from Boyz N the Hood. After Jody has assisted in the killing of Rodney, he comes back home and fears that he’s gone to a place he won’t return from. In the murder sequence, Jody sees himself on the ground, his image alternating with Rodney’s, who’s lying there yelling at him, legs shot out. Sweetpea has to pull the trigger, at which Jody is surprised and regretful, at least immediately.

Now he’s in his room, gun in hand. Melvin comes in and takes the gun away. When Furious does this for Tre in Boyz, it’s an attempt to stop his son’s involvement in local warfare. When Melvin does it, they have a type of connection over the street violence. This scene represents Jody coming to grips with Melvin, who’s been established as something to with redemption. This man takes away the gun, takes away street violence, and ensures that he won’t let Jody slip down that slippery slope. They’re a family now, and Melvin’s not gonna lose him to no bullshit, you hear?

Speaking in terms of the conveying of theme, I think Singleton has matched or possibly surpassed his debut. The composition in this film is excellent; the blocking and the shots chosen all accentuate the themes. There are two shots that mirror each other in the movie: Melvin first meets Jody in the garden, and Melvin leans over to talk with Jody’s mom. We see in the background Jody, standing there, physically between the two. This shot is paralleled a sign of high tension, where Jody and his mom are arguing, and Melvin appears in a doorway to chuckle at Jody’s “spoiled ass.” Now it’s him coming between. At the very start of the movie, Yvette, after coming home from the clinic, sucks on her thumb in bed, reminding us that she’s still so young. They’re all babies, and they’re having more babies. This is a more subtle example of getting ideas across without saying them.

The script of course is just as great as expected. If John Singleton continues down this road of directing only, we’ll be missing out on a lot. From what I got of the commentary on this movie, he’s got a lot more ideas that could be set in South Central LA. Baby Boy and Boyz N the Hood were both financial successes; I don’t know what’s stopping him.

There is only one issue I had with the movie, and, thinking about it, it’s a strange complaint to have. I don’t get why Rodney did not actually rape Yvette. He hits her and forces her on the bed — his intentions are made clear. He’s an evil, despicable man, but he’s stopped. I understand the practical considerations behind it – there was a very young child actor in the scene (trying to stop Rodney) and Singleton didn’t want him to see certain things. However, the character Rodney would’ve been a lot more evil had he done it, and Jody would’ve had a more legitimate reason to kill him – making his choices later on that much more difficult. As it is, the character is evil – up to a point.

I understand if the intention was to just create realistic characters with consciences and layers, but in a movie like this, where the narrative is of the utmost import, I don’t think that complications are necessary. The character is meant to fill a certain role, and in a movie that’s all about the hero Jody, he needs to exist in terms of Jody. If he’s fleshed out, that’s good. If he goes against what is most important thematically, that feels almost like a compromise. Of course, I don’t want to see rape, so it’s a tough one. It could’ve been implied, but instead Rodney just eases off.

This is the last film that John Singleton had directed and written. Our journey here has only two more steps: Four Brothers, and Boyz N the Hood. This movie represents something very important in his filmography – it’s a deeply personal film (the character is inspired by his cousin and Tupac, and a lot of what happens is from his life, just like Boyz) and it’s the last of the written/directed bys. Even though that sucks, it’s a great note for a writer to go out on.

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