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Archive for March, 2012

My Movie Year

The date is set. We are going live on Sunday 15th April. As mentioned before all you have to do is pick your favourite year for movies and back I up with five classics from that year, no more no less. You can do as much or as little as you want with your selections; a simple list, images and posters, reviews, trailers. Or anything else you can think of.

If you would like to take part leave a message below or email fandangogroovers@gmail.com

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Around five years ago a book that I love was made into a $200million movie that I hate. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say I love Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Books but I do like them and hope they don’t go the way of The Golden Compass the mess that was made of Northern Lights, the first part of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

In a dystopian future version of the United States, the country of Panem is split into twelve districts whose only purpose is to serve the people of the decadent capitol. In response to an uprising many years before, each year, two young people from every district are chosen to for the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death. When her sister is chosen, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place, and is sent to the capital along with her and fellow District 12 “tribute” Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). The skills Katnis has learnt as a hunter and poacher may be the thing that keeps her alive in the games.

A faithful and loving adaptation that successfully traverses the tightrope of what to cut and what to include. But it takes more than being faithful, it needs to be good, and The Hunger Games is very good. It is most likely helped by the fact that original author Suzanne Collins is amongst the script writers. The greatest challenge is how to adapt the first person narration of the novel to something more cinematic. This is achieved effortlessly with the addition of a pair of commentators (Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones) who provide exposition and explanation for those who haven’t read the books.

The casting is perfect; it is possibly because of the parallels with Ree Dolly, her character from Winter’s Bone but I can’t think of anyone other than Jennifer Lawrence who could have played Katniss. But it goes beyond that, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Paula Malcomson (who was great in Deadwood) are all perfect. I struggled to imagine Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, but as always with Harrelson he pulls it off. But as with the book it is all about Katniss, Lawrence’s performance is note perfect showing fear and emotion as a reluctant hero. The filmmakers aren’t afraid to make our heroine socially awkward and sometimes cold and distant. It is this that humanises the character making her more likeable.

A film about kids killing each other in was never going without violence and it is very much in evidence but a 12A (PG13 in America) certificate is needed for the target audience. This is achieved by not showing the audience quite as much as we think we are seeing, it is a tried and trusted and surprisingly effective trick. Coupled with a minimum use of blood it works and the movie gets a teenage friendly rating without feeling watered down. There are couple of pacing issues, there is a lot to fit in and it does rush through parts of the story then sags a little in the middle, but this is quickly forgotten when the games begin. When it comes, the action is well constructed and paced but not as plentiful as the trailer would have you believe. It is a surprisingly thoughtful movie spending little time talking about the immorality and unfairness of the class structure leaving the audience to draw its own conclusions.

A resounding success that is better than the first two Harry Potter movies and all the Twilight adaptations to date. A film that should satisfy fans of the books and newcomers alike.

With a budget of around $100million the movie needs to be a financial success for parts two and three to be made. With an opening weekend that could exceed £200million (worldwide) it’s a safe bet that we will be seing Catching Fire and Mockingjay in the next few years. My only fear, the first was by far the strongest of the books with the last been the weakest. To create a successful and memorable trilogy they are going to have to get creative with the script and possible invest a bit more money on the effects for parts two and three.

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What follows is more a selection of rambling thoughts on how John Carter fails as an adaptation of a book rather than a review. It does however contain plot spoilers:

I have never been one to go for the universal fallback criticism of a movie “its not as good as the book”, neither do I believe a movie should slavishly follow the plot of its sauce material. However, my biggest problem with John Carter is how much it differs from the book. Let me reconcile my contradiction, the plot or structure of a book may not lend itself to a movie, the script writers may have better ideas than the author, or in the case of previously filmed novels they may just want to do something new. None of these is true of John Carter. Now a century old having been first serialised as Under the Moons of Mars in a pulp magazine in 1912 and then later published as A Princess of Mars by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs has never been seen on the big screen (there was a direct to video version a couple of years ago, I suspect a chance to cash in on this movie). As mentioned in a previous article I read A Princess of Mars when I was at school and enjoyed it without being enthralled by it. The plot is relatively solid if a little disjointed in places.

The movie uses most (possibly all) of the main characters from the book, however the changes in plot drastically changes their actions and motivation. The character who suffers most is Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), the movie gives her little to do and less screen time than you would expect. Far more criminal than this is the complete lack of chemistry with John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). How the pair suddenly declare their love for each other could be written off as love at first sight if they had just a little chemistry. The same is true of the “bromance” between Carter and Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) that isn’t given any time to develop (despite the long running time). The movie also introduces characters not present in the book, most notably the Therns, a group of self-proclaimed gods who are actually introduced in the second book Gods of Mars. There introduction changes the whole dynamic of plot, this in itself wouldn’t be a problem and viewers who haven’t read the book would never notice, however the simpler plot of the book involving wars and conflicts between the Martians natives is a far better one.

On a positive note the acting isn’t too bad despite the appalling dialogue (that makes George Lucas sound like William Shakespeare). The film also often looks sumptuous and has some imaginative production design that seems to combine some original ideas with Flash Gordon and ideas from the book. 3D is a pointless gimmick that almost never works, true to form, it doesn’t work here. So poor is its use here that more often than not I actually forgot I was watching a 3D movie. The plot is simplified too far then drawn out to over two hours making it dull and tedious. At least it doesn’t use found footage. How could it have been better? According to IMDB Robert Rodriguez was attached as director with a reported budget of $100 million (the actual budget of the movie is believed to be somewhere near £300million. In the hands of Rodriguez it could have been what it should have been, a movie, a high budget B movie.

Lets hope The Hunger Games, the nest of the “2012 Movies Based on Novels I Have Read” is better.

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My local cinema has recently moved over almost totally to digital projection. The images are brighter, more clear and in focus (thanks to auto focus). However I still miss something, the warmth and magic of celluloid. The truth is celluloid in its true sense has not been in regular use for a long time. Safer alternatives were developed in the mid twentieth century and most film prints have used polyester film stock for over a decade, however the term celluloid is still often used in relation to all types of film stock. Celluloid is a thermoplastic first developed in the nineteenth century, its great advantage and the reason it was used for film stock is the ease with which it can be moulded and shaped. The downside, it is highly flammable and prone to decomposition. This is why safer alternatives were developed.

Cinema isn’t an art form, it is the coming together of many of the art forms that went before; combining the writing and performance of literature and theatre with the composition of painting and the sound and emotion of music. Beyond the invention of synchronised sound in the 20’s things haven’t really change much in over a hundred years. Sure, colour took over from black and white and gimmicks like 3D come and go but it all boils down to a thin strip of film passing through a projector at 24 frames a second. As the film runs through the projector, thanks to a lenses, a bright light, an optical illusion and the magic and imagination of cinema we forget that we are watching a series of still images. We are captivated by the glorious colour of The Red Shoes or the stark monochrome of The Third Man and get lost in the images and the stories they tell.

I have always felt that monochrome and three strip Technicolor films from the thirties through to the sixties look better than modern movies, both on film and digital. But it goes deeper than a preference for how things look, it is a matter of detachment. Before I ever stopped to think about how the image we see is reconstituted from a series of ones and zeros in a computer I knew there was something alienating about them. It first hit me when I saw Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009), the modern clinical look is in stark contrast to the period setting of the movie, It just didn’t fit. Made more than thirty years after it is set, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is far from contemporary but it feels so much more authentic than Mann‘s film. This has nothing to do with the subject matter or when they were made, it is just the medium with which they are projected. Bonnie and Clyde uses the same principles of projection that was used at the time both it and Public Enemies were set, this is reassuring an immersive, no in a conscious way, as soon as you think about it the illusion is broken and that’s what I get with digitally projected movies. There will be a time in the near future when a whole generation of moviegoers will know no difference just like the kids today who can’t remember a time before mobile phones and the internet.

It isn’t just about how the film is projected, it is also how the films are being shot. I had a thought after seeing Supper 8 last summer. The kids in the film are making a super 8 movie; when the have finished a take they have to wait days for the film to be processed, not knowing how it has worked out. Similar minded kids in the present day could shoot a movie (of better quality) on their mobile phone and edit it on a PC or Mac or even on the phone itself and upload it to the net. More importantly they get an instant replay allowing them to know if they should re-shoot the scene. This you would think would be a good thing from an artistic point of view, but is it? Visionary directors from previous generations have had to strive to make the most of the limitations of the medium and with this have learnt their trade and created not just movies but art. Limitations and the imagination required to overcome them is what makes great art. Having the technology and budget that mean you are only limited by your imagination can result in tedious rubbish, look at the work of Michael Bay, James Cameron and George Lucas this century for evidence of that! As what is new becomes the norm new limitations will always challenge film makers and this is a good thing but as with all things in life, embracing the future is always more positive if it is done without forgetting what has gone before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total Luddite, the advantages of digital projection make up for a lot of the deficiencies and artists will be artists regardless of the medium. The problem, I just miss Celluloid.

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I read the book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs many years ago when I was at school although I enjoyed it at the time hadn’t given it a second thought until the trailers for the movie John Carter appeared a few months ago. Judging from the trailer it is a lose adaptation at best taking characters and ideas but not the plot from the novel originally published nearly a century ago (1917). Given the number of versions Edgar Rice Burroughs other creation, Tarzan it surprising to learn this is the first big screen outing for John Carter and “Barsoom” series of novels. Tomorrows releases got me thinking about other books I have read that will be hitting the cinema this year:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: From a novel I read a long time ago to one I have only just read. I saw the box set of the three Hunger Games novels while Christmas shopping last year, having seen the movie trailer I purchased the books and read them over Christmas. Although it loses its way in the third book and isn’t as good as Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale with which it will be forever compared (despite Suzanne Collins insistence that she was unaware of the Japanese novel) it is still worth reading. The casting looks to be perfect most notably Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a character with clear parallels with Ree Dolly, her Oscar nominated role in Winter’s Bone. Release date: 23rd March.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac: The adaptation of this seminal novel of the Beat Generation is a bittersweet one for me, I have often thought it could make an excellent movie but my anticipation is tempered by fear that it will never live up to the book. It is in short, one of my all time favourite novels. Fortunately producer Francis Ford Coppola (who has owned the rights for many years) has chosen a perfect director in the shape of Walter Salles who did a fantastic job with The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and has assembled a talented young cast. Release date: 21st September. 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2: The startling revelation, I have read the Twilight books. As for the movies, the first and third actually aren’t bad. Depending on your point of view, spitting Breaking Dawn into two movies is the only way to do justice to the epic final novel or a cynical attempt to extort the maximum amount of cash from the franchises loyal following. I’m going for the latter. Still as with the final part of Harry potter, Part two promises to better than the dull part one. Release date: 16th November

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: With four adaptations to date do we need another? The 1974 version staring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow is a good film but is somehow lacking, it fails to capture the mood and the magic of the novel that is as important to “The Lost Generation” as On the Road is to the “Beat Generation“. I was a little dubious of the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire but actually think it could work. It is a novel that deserves a great adaptation, Baz Luhrmann could be the visionary director to give it to us, but why does he have to make it in 3D? UK release TBA, USA: 25th December

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My Movie Year

You may have previously taken part in or read A Life In Movies and/or Desert Island DVD’s. Its that time of year again! So what do I have planned this time?

Bloggers often comment on it being a good or a bad year for movies, but which was the best, or even your favourite year? For “My Movie Year” all you have to do is pick you favourite movie year and back it up with five movies that support your claim for example:

  • 1941: Citizen Kane – The Maltese Falcon – Dumbo – Suspicion – High Sierra
  • 1977: Star Wars – Annie Hall – Eraserhead – Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Smokey and the Bandit
  • 1994: Pulp Fiction – The Shawshank Redemption – The Lion King – Leon – Forrest Gump
  • 1999: Fight Club – The Matrix – Star Wars: Episode I – American Beauty – Magnolia

Once you have your list you can do as much or as little with it as you like. Reviews, images, trailers or just a simple list.

As before we will all publish on the same day (date TBA, it will be late March, early April) . I will also publish a list of links to all participants.

If you are interested in taking part please email me at: fandangogroovers@gmail.com with the following information:

  • The name you want to be know by on the final list.
  • The Name of your Blog.
  • The best email address to contact you.

Alternatively you can respond (with the same information) in the comments section below

Finally, the more people who take part the better so please invite any blogger you think may be interested in taking part.

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