Thursday, September 30, 2010

"The Crow' is great and terrible

"The Crow" is a magnificently unfortunate film. That's my review, in seven words.

"The Crow" has a great premise, fantastic action, and director Alex Proyas' beautiful visual style. It looks pretty much perfect. It's just hard to enjoy this amazing picture if you actually think about it.

A pretty nifty response to a cop saying "Don't move or you're dead!"

Eric Draven is living the good life with his kick-ass girl, Shelly. They have an absurdly pretty downtown penthouse loft. They are such good and happy people that you don't hate them for their fortune; also, the loft is in downtown Detroit. They're wildly in love, and Eric has just proposed (she said "yes!").

Shelly's a bit of an activist, trying to organize a group complaint against their landlord (given the look of their place, this is where you can't suspend disbelief). Devil's Night - Detroit's real-life yearly October 30th crime & arson fest - is when that comes back to bite them. She becomes victim to their home invasion and sexual assault. Eric arrives after they've done a lot of damage. He's stabbed, shot, and thrown out the window. The punks set the place on fire. Shelly slips away after a day and a half in the hospital.

A great scene, in any era of film-making.

So it's not exactly a laugh-a-minute thrill ride out of the gate. Have I mentioned how much I hate sexual assault?… There's only a few story-telling themes that could actually give this doomed pair a future: philosophy, religion, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror. It's sort of an absurd group, don't you think? Well, the story continues…

365 days later ('94 was a leap year), a large black bird lands on Eric's tombstone, tapping the marble with its beak. The poor stiff digs his way out - his wounds gone, he still wears the suit he was buried in. Getting back to the ruins of their home, he realizes he can see and feel memories when he touches people or objects like rings and guns. He also discovers that he's now incredibly fast, agile, and strong.

So he does what any other undead victim would do: he gears up, smearing his face with white makeup, and his eyes and mouth with Shelley's black lipstick. Then he goes to find and wreak bloody revenge on the murderers. Bloody and, when possible, "ironic" revenge.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Black Dynamite" - Netflix instant viewing to the rescue

2009's "Black Dynamite" looks and feels like a tailor-made sleeper hit. But as you watch it, you realize that creators must have planned on things like Internet buzz, the festival circuit, and quick dvd/video release. It doesn't take long to realize that "BD" is actually a tailor-made 21st Century fan favorite. Yet you won't complain because the movie does what it does well, amuses its audience in many ways, and never takes itself too seriously.

You can clearly see that this doesn't take itself too seriously.

Michael Jai White provides a solid and energetic lead. He works well as a capable ass-kicker whose quest to avenge his brother puts him on the trail of crime lords and wider societal corruption. MJW has more than martial arts skill. He has a lot of charisma and ability, and it's great to see him shine in this insane mix of "Shaft" (or "Superfly") and "Enter the Dragon." There's plenty of reasons why this guy should get lots of work, and I hope this movie's wide-spread critical success provides that...

BD, that rare 'Nam vet who believes he killed Chinese people.

His forceful, genteel-yet-explosive character is the smooth, proud Black Dynamite, a civic-minded martial arts genius and former government spook. Every woman wants him. Smart men treat him like an intelligent tiger. Anyone foolish enough to disrespect BD better pray for mercy - if they don't receive it, they'll get knocked out in a heartbeat. The movie sets the protagonist up for a lot of praise, from other parts and the audience. It's a toss-up as to whether he's supposed to be an anti-hero, but I suspect they only want him to be a 70's-style badass.

So many shows and films are being recycled - cop shows like "Starsky & Hutch" and "Hawaii Five-O," or cartoons like "GI Joe." It's actually a pleasant surprise to find a picture that neatly sticks to the attitude and style of its times. Ideally, "Black Dynamite" should be seen at a drive-in. Since that's fairly unlikely these days, you may have to settle for DVD or on-line streaming...It's actually a blessing that you can watch it so easily.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Art and The Audience

Hello, everyone! I'm adding this special birthday weekend/Labor Day edition of the blog with a mostly-healed eye and a new job that's taking up lots of time. [Note: so I needed a whole extra week for editing and finding pictures] This means that longer posts, like today's, can take a bit more time to finish and edit. Please enjoy, and know that I will have more new reviews up shortly. But I must warn you first: this post is freakishly long; I try to back my points up a lot and ultimately had to spend a great amount of time thinking about this just to justify how much time I spent thinking about this.

I have an artistic concern today, one brought about by the publicity for the "Lost" tv finale: do the desires of an audience undermine the quality of long-form stories in tv and film series? Other ways of looking at this question are: do tv series and film franchises have to get worse over the years? Is it necessary that ideas run out of steam, or is it a matter of poor execution or complacency? Do some story-tellers just promise more than they can give?

Wanna learn anything about this unearthly object? Tough - it's just a stupid plot device.

There are many variations on the relationship between an artist and the public, but it's an important dynamic, and I like to consider these topics. I tried to move further away from "Lost," so I could think about the issues rather than one silly show... My thought gave birth to still more questions, like: do demands for fan-gratification - through resolution and/or clarification - mean that repetition is the real problem? Is it worse nowadays, since more of the audience participates? What does this say about the dialogue between artist and spectator?

In looking at this problem, it made the most sense to confine myself to film and television. Although I might use some examples from literature, turning to books at the moment would simply complicate the discussion too much. It would also digress from what this site is about. In the end, film and tv are easier to discuss because of their popularity, their ease of access.

Throughout, I keep going back to the factors that affect audience and artist, sometimes repeatedly turning to the same issues. Sometimes I go to them repeatedly. I really hope this doesn't get too boring for anyone who reads this. At least no one could ever claim I didn't "write enough" over a two-week gap...

The Modern Age: Your Best Fans, Your Worst Enemies
As methods of story-telling, film and television series have a potentially unhealthy relationship with the internet's ability to generate high volumes of critique and criticism. At times, it's beneficial - the attention of devotees might be the sole cause for a show renewal or green-lighting a film.

It's true that complaining viewers might help steer a series from impending disaster. In the past, this merely happened through reduced ratings and letter-writing. The new forum of the internet provides a huge array of commentators, however. The problem is the same as before - some fans don't have good or selfless or thoughtful taste... Some are stingy and don't like thinking too hard, some are boring and focus on things that few notice, while others are so intelligent that everything seems moronic to them.

In any era, most people who voice their opinions, making an actual effort to address a complaint about some piece of art, have no training in artistic principles, and a small minority write more from idleness than interest. If a particular piece of art doesn't have to be "perfect" - if it can make bad choices, artistic or otherwise, over time - then there's a danger in listening to all those voices. In fact, there's a danger in listening to almost all of them.