Trailer: Frankenweenie

I have to admit that I’m not a huge fun of Tim Burton’s and I found Dark Shadows to be a bit forgettable but I am looking forward to seeing Frankenweenie.  To be honest, I suspect that Burton’s vision is better translated in animated form and, if nothing else, it looks like this film might inspire me to shed more than a few tears. 

Here’s the 2nd trailer for Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Prometheus”

It’s funny how our expectations going into a film shape our perceptions of it while we’re watching it and, ultimately, our final opinions about it after we’ve seen it. Case in point : yesterday on this very blog I was talking about Snow White And The Huntsman, a movie I frankly expected nothing from, and about how, even though it delivered nothing but a substance-free series of pretty pretty pictures to look at, I wasn’t too pissed off about spending my hard-earned money to see because I wasn’t even sure it would deliver that much (or that little). Today, on the other hand, I’m going to be discussing a flick that I flat-out expected to suck, and that pretty much delivered on those expectations — yet left me feeling pretty well ripped off even though it, too was gorgeous to look at and even though, again, I figured it would be at least as bad as it was, if not worse.

I’m talking, of course, about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s completely unnecessary Alien prequel. The reasons I went into this with essentially no optimism whatsoever are numerous — Scott hasn’t made a good film since Blade Runner, the script was co-authored by some guy named Jon Spaihts and one of the chief culprits behind the unwatchable, thoroughly confused mess that was TV’s Lost, Damen Lindelof (who’s apparently irked huge segments of the online film geek community with a recent series of over-the-top-in-the-self-serving-department comments), and frankly because any film that set out to “explain” and “demystify” the H.R. Giger-designed evil aliens form the original film series sounded like something with the power to not only be completely pointless (some power), but to actively detract from the impact the first film had by filling in a bunch of blanks that are best left — well, blank.

Of course, there were reasons for optimism, as well — a first-rate cast, sure-fire scrumptious CGI effects, and a promised “return to the Alien series’ roots” after some rather unfortunate side-steps and detours all sounded pretty cool, but I still went into this one prepared for the worst.

I didn’t get that. Instead I got a confused, cliched, every-bit-as-unnecessary-as-I’d-expected mess of a film that, in its defense, at least really does look amazing. Which was enough for me to give Snow White And The Huntsman a pass, admittedly — but hyprocrite that I am I just can’t be as forgiving when it comes to Prometheus. Why not? Because at the end of the day I don’t really give a shit either way about the Snow White legend, but I do care about the Alien franchise. A lot. Scott’s first film rates right up there with John Carpenter’s The Thing on my list of all-time great sci-fi horrors, and I even enjoyed most of the various sequels to one degree or another. So it’s fair to say that, even though I didn’t figure it would be, I still wanted this flick to be good.

So where to begin with the reasons why it wasn’t? Well, how about we start with that stellar cast I mentioned a minute ago. It’s completely wasted. Apart from the film’s “Ripley-lite” protagonist, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, who turns in a heck of a good performance), none of the characters are developed at all. the very talented Idris Elba is stuck in a one-dimensional role as the titular ship’s captain and can’t even seem to decide what accent he should settle on when he’s speaking. Charlize Theron plays an ice princess — again. Michael Fassbender, at the top of pretty much every current Hollywood “hot” list, turns in a dry, uninvolved turn as the ship’s android that won’t be causing Ian Holm to lose any sleep (although, in Fassbender’s defense, the fact that Spaihts and Lindelof reveal that he’s robotic from the outset doesn’t help matters any). Guy Pearce, as old man Weyland, the expedition’s financier, might as well be replaced with a computer-generated stand-in. There’s even a completely pointless two-second cameo from Patrick Wilson inserted for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom. So much talent with oh so little to actually, you know, do.

Then there’s the script. Dear God, what a disaster. Shoehorning a bunch of unnecessary Chariots Of The Gods-style crap into the Alien “mythos” is about the worst direction these truly Lost writers could have chosen to go. Instead of illuminating anything (not , again, that much “illumination” was really needed — the original story stood on its own just fine), it just muddies the waters. There’s some laughably atrocious dialogue that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Ed Wood film (like when the ship’s geologist, in the midst of a massive freak-out, declares ” I like rocks, right? I really like rocks!”). And the main thrust of the action is essentially a direct carbon copy of the “story arc” from the first film (you know, for instance, who the only survivor is going to be from the outset). It’s like Spaihts and Lindelof can’t decide between trying to do something completely out of left field (albeit thoroughly confusing) or just settling on the same old blueprint so in the end, they go for both — and end up doing each competing narrative impulse a massive disservice.

I keep coming back to the amazing visual prowess Scott’s CGI gurus display here consistently from start to finish, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning one more time just to balance the scales here a bit, but what’s that old saying about lipstick on a pig? Prometheus cakes on the makeup, but underneath, its true face is still that of the victim of a particularly nasty car wreck. And like an accident victim, it’s so disfigured and tragic that you’re almost tempted to feel sorry for it — until you learn that said victim was driving drunk at 150 mph and the person in the other car (I guess that would be the audience in this case — bear with me as I stretch this metaphor way beyond the breaking point) didn’t make it out alive.

It takes an almost Herculean effort to not be as bad as I was fearing Prometheus would be yet still somehow leave me feeling even more cheated and let down than I would have felt had it actually been even worse (if that makes any sense at all) —yet that’s exactly what Scott, Spaihts, and Lindelof  have managed to do here. File that under “go figure” and then, to return the already-worn-out accident metaphor, move along, folks — nothing to see here.

Dance Scenes That I Love: Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem from Jesus Christ Superstar

Today, Arleigh and Pantsukudasai have left town to attend the Anime Expo and I find myself momentarily alone here at the TSL Bunker, curled up on the couch in my beloved Pirates t-shirt and Hello Kitty panties, and cursing my asthma.  As I lay here, it occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve shared a “scene that I love” here on the site.  So, why not rectify that situation now?

Norman Jewison’s 1972 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar is a film that I’ve been meaning to review for a while but for now, I just want to share my favorite scene from that film, the performance of Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem.

There’s several reasons I love that scene but mostly it just comes down to the fact that it captures the explosive energy that comes from watching a live performance.  Larry Marshall (who plays Simon Zealotes) has one of the most fascinating faces that I’ve ever seen in film and when he sings, he sings as if the fate of the entire world depends on it.  That said, I’ve never been sold on Ted Neely’s performance as Jesus but Carl Anderson burns with charisma in the role of Judas.
Mostly, however, I just love the choreography and watching the dancers.  I guess that’s not that surprising considering just how important dance was (and still is, even if I’m now just dancing for fun) in my life but, to be honest, I’m probably one of the most hyper critical people out there when it comes to dance in film, regarding both the the way that it’s often choreographed and usually filmed.  But this scene is probably about as close to perfect in both regards as I’ve ever seen.  It goes beyond the fact that the dancers obviously have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that they all look good while dancing.  The great thing about the choreography in this scene is that it all feels so spontaneous.  There’s less emphasis on technical perfection and more emphasis on capturing emotion and thought through movement.  What I love is that the number is choreographed to make it appear as if not all of the dancers in this scene are on the exact same beat.  Some of them appear to come in a second or two late, which is something that would have made a lot of my former teachers and choreographers scream and curse because, far too often, people become so obsessed with technical perfection that they forget that passion is just as important as perfect technique.  (I’m biased, of course, because I’ve always been more passionate than perfect.)  The dancers in this scene have a lot of passion and it’s thrilling to watch.

A Warning From The Past: The Road To Ruin

Good Morning!  It’s Thursday and we all know what that means.  The weekend is approaching and that means that all the usual temptations of the weekend are approaching as well.  These temptations include drinking, smoking, dancing, premarital sex, prostitution, and near incest.

These are the temptations that are dealt with in the 1934 film The Road To Ruin.

Do you have an hour to spare?

If so, consider watching this film (a personal favorite of mine) and learning from the mistakes of Ann Dixon…

Here’s a few interesting facts about The Road To Ruin:

  • The Road To Ruin is a prototypical example of the first independent films.  Films like this one dealt with “social problems.”  Typically, they would be about an “innocent” who would be led astray for 55 minutes before spending the last 10 minutes of the film either repenting or suffering the consequences of their actions. 
  • Since these films were shot outside of the Hollywood establishment, they were also “free” to show things that studio films wouldn’t even hint at.  By today’s standards they may seem “tame” but for the 1930s, they were considered to be quite scandalous.
  • This film is an almost shot-for-shot remake of a silent film that was also called The Road To Ruin.  The first Road to Ruin was the top-grossing film of 1928 and was directed by Norton Parker.  Helen Foster played the lead role in both versions of the film.
  • According to the opening credits of the 1934 Road to Ruin, the remake was directed by Melville Shyer and “Mrs. Wallace Reid.”  Mrs. Wallace Reid was actually Dorothy Davenport, a former silent film starlet.  After her husband — the actor Wallace Reid — died of a drug overdose in 1923, Davenport directed several “social problem” films as Mrs. Wallace Reid.
  • Despite the fact that this film is, technically, quite primitive, I love it for several reasons.  The historian side of me loves that the film basically serves as a time capsule, preserving the society and the attitudes that produced it. 
  • The film lover in me loves just how melodramatic this film is.  Seriously, I love how smoking cigarettes and sneaking a drink always serve to pave the road to Hell in films like this one.  It’s interesting to contrast a film like this with modern-day anti-drug propaganda. 
  • Finally, as a lover of exploitation films both new and old, I love how this film shows off everything that it’s claiming to condemn.