Locke – Successful Film Experiment

Director Steven Knight teamed up with actor Tom Hardy on an idea: simple movie about a normal, everyday man who has to face a problem.  Show it in real time, follow the rules set before hand, and have it done in 2 weeks.  The result was Locke, a film going from festival to festival gathering acclaim all around, and one that I personally viewed at Sundance.  In an interview describing the process, it was revealed that the director said action and the entire 90 minute movie was filmed and acted out before “cut.”

The movie was great, but I write about this because I think it is a good sign for independent filmmakers and artists.  Movies have been done in real time before, but they do not come out very often and especially not with such high acclaim and success.  Tom Hardy is a superstar, being in a few of the most lucrative films ever made, but to step aside and make something for the art’s sake of it on such a small scale should really inspire those trying to break in and hold onto their creativity.

“Everybody said, ‘No you can’t make that [movie] — it’s too simple,” Knight recalled. “But because we had time constraints, it was easily arguable to just shoot it. So we put three cameras in the car, and just set off and did it, almost naively, chronologically from beginning to end every night, almost as if it was a theater piece.”

Despite the tight shooting schedule and challenging nature of the shoot, Knight called the film “charmed from the beginning.” “In terms of budget, in terms of everything it worked. It was a burst of excitement and energy, and I think that translates onto the screen.”

Still, Hardy did have some reservations about the process. “It was quite an elaborate leap,” Hardy said. “It began as a 30-page script that turned to 90-pages. That wasn’t the concern. [The concern] was, can we shoot it to a level at which we could all be happy, to a high standard with makes it a worthy endeavor?”

Creativity in the film industry is still a necessity.  Not everything has been done; new combinations of ideas lend themselves to what could be something great.  Of course, the issue is still getting it financed and produced, but creativity doesn’t have to stop with the script.

The Lego Movie: February Blockbuster

The Lego Movie is a bit of an anomaly.  It is a children’s film and is doing incredibly well.  It is critically acclaimed and making millions upon millions of dollars in February, months before blockbuster season.  ALL while the country has been experiencing terrible snow attacks and the Winter Olympics are going on in Russia.  It has been years since Pixar released a movie that was so well received. The good ole days where everything they released was a pleasure died with the release of Cars and hasn’t quite recovered.  The Lego Movie is also an eye opener in many cases to what the future of Hollywood may or may not hold… and it’s a fine line between scary and exhilarating.

The movie contains a plethora of characters in the Warner Brothers catalogue, including DC Comics and takes advantage by putting them out there to interact with each other and be toyed with, no pun intended.  But it makes one think: what does this mean for the studios?  They have tried to base movies (notably blockbusters) on toy franchises before, and while plenty of them made tons and TONS of money, very few have been critically well-recieved until now.  Battleship, Transformers, GI Joe, etc.  The movie has already well surpassed it’s $60 million budget, and since that is much smaller than most of these films are made for, the profit margin is going to be massive in returns.  And that’s before taking into account it’s about LEGOs!  It sells itself!  They’re probably producing Legos about the Legos in the movie as we speak!  So there is a lot of money being made and possibly more to be made… What do studios notice?

It’s a two-edged sword: the last time a movie made this much money and was this well received was The Avengers.  Maybe by letting people who care about the material take control of the movie, there can be money and critical success?  The answer is yes, but I am not convinced that the studios have quite learned this yet:  There have been a few more Avengers movies out since then, and none of them have attempted to break away from set formula or have been as well received.  Yet, the money poured in, so I remain unconvinced that the studios are ready to take some groundbreaking bold steps.

Still, The Lego Movie stands out because it is so successful and doesn’t go for the traditional seen it before tropes.  The question is if the movie will encourage studios to make bold moves and movies, or does it enable them to keep re-trending what we’ve seen with immediate remakes, sequels, reboots, familiar material, etc.  Do we need a movie about Sharpies to come out?  What about an Etch-A-Sketch?  I’d ask them to take some of this money, as there will be a lot to go around, and pay some writers to really go for something new.  This movie did it’s job well, but depending on what it teaches the studios, maybe too well.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

The Desolation of the Hobbit Trilogy

I tried so hard.  I really did.

I wanted to like this movie.  Heck, I was hoping to love it, but at the end of the day, the second installment of the Hobbit Trilogy: The Desolation of Smaug let me down, just as the first one did.

I should start by saying I am a fan of the Lord of the Rings films and books, but that said, I rarely concern myself with fidelity regarding source text to film adaptation.  Take out what you need to, change what you will, add something new, I couldn’t care less: if it works, it works.   And once announced that the Hobbit would be produced into two films, I was rather excited to see what they would do.  Granted, that book is far shorter than any of the books in the LOTR trilogy, but once again, I wasn’t worried.  I figured they would take bits from the Silmarillion as well.

Then the announcement came that two Hobbit movies became three… I was unhappy.

It was immature of me, premature even, as the first film hadn’t been released.  However, that seemed like too much of a stretch.  Was it for the money?  Lack of decision in the editing room?  These are not short films, mind you, each one is closer to a 3 hour mark than a 2.  My worries were that one of the films was almost guaranteed to suffer, be it the second or third.

I will admit I was wrong here in a way.  But first, I had to be let down with the first film.

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While watching An Unexpected Journey in the theater, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy.  Halfway through the movie I was doubting myself, and when it was over, I couldn’t find the will to agree with my group of friends who loved it.  So, I paid to see it again, thinking maybe I was too hyped the first go around (though I didn’t feel I was) or I had overlooked something.  Alas, the results rang clear:  I did not like the movie.

I will not go as far to call it a bad film.  It is beautifully shot, and there are moments that may surpass the original trilogy, but overall it felt bloated and lacking at the same time.  Martin Freeman playing Bilbo was a treasure, breathing much needed life into the film.  And the music was probably the best found in all of the films.  But there are two main problems I found with it and unfortunately one is not easily dealt with: there is an inconsistency of tone, and it often follows the book in ways that doesn’t transfer to the film medium.

The book was for children.  That’s understandable.  I didn’t know whether Peter Jackson would amp it up to the level of the LOTR films or lighten it due to the Hobbit book being far more lighthearted than the trilogy.  The answer: he tried to do both.  It doesn’t work.  From scene to scene there are moments I was unable to take seriously because it was just too silly. The film would have benefited to go all the way with one of the other.  I don’t care which, either would have worked.  Additionally, the book is very event to event: Something happens, they run away.  Something else happens, they run away, etc.  That does not work very well for a film.  Granted, it’s a journey, a quest, but the lack of development in favor of these repetitive action sequences grind on you after so long. Additionally, there are too many characters (which is how the book will have it) and I don’t know if it is because of the double frame rate, but the CGI was more noticeable than it was in the Fellowship of the Ring film.  It looked worse than it did ten years ago.

There is one major exception: the riddles in the dark.  Bilbo’s encounter will Gollum is perfect.  The pacing, the CGI, the acting; this scene stands out (or shines out) in a film that needed more guidance.  The material added not found in the book didn’t hurt the story, but the overall film was a bit too dull for an adventure and I would probably rank it 2 out of 4 stars.

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A year later, we come to the second film: The Desolation of Smaug, which promises much more than the first one due to the dragon being in the title, and most likely this is what many want to see most.  I found myself enjoying this film a bit better, and went in with full cooperation that each film is different and to be judged on its own.

This film let me down as well.

It is often said that making a “middle” film (part 2 of a trilogy) is the hardest because they have no real beginning and no real end.  I can understand this thought, but I do not let it stand as an excuse.  My favorite film of all time, The Empire Strikes Back, is a middle film, and The Two Towers remains my favorite of the LOTR trilogy.

TDOS starts well, however.  It has a nice intro that sets a tone and gets back to the action we left off with in the previous film.  Then we moved to a new scene and are quickly to pass through it. I started to worry.  Completely pointless scene other than to throw-out a character mentioned in the Tolkien-verse.  The film then *SPOILERS* brings in Legolas with elves, and I want to say that it is just due to the popularity of the character, but I did my best to let it slide.

But I could not avoid what I knew to be true: this film wasn’t working, but there were different issues and not just the same ones to my small joy.  The tone inconsistency was not nearly an issue this time around, opting for the more “violent/young adult” option, and the many dwarves got to shine in their respective roles a little more because they divided them up.  Smart move, Jackson.  I’m sure you watched the first film and noticed.  This time, however, the added material was simply slowing the movie down, and I think it could be solved with a simple solution: remove the elves storyline.  It doesn’t work, it is not developed, and after the movie ended I made my decision that Orlando Bloom and his band were completely unnecessary.

But like I said, there were improvements. Martin Freeman, great in the first, stays true to form and expands on his role. Gandalf never develops much in any of the films, he is just here or not here as always.  The biggest character issue (aside from including pointless elf characters) is Thorin Oakenshield, aka the main character.  This movie favors Thorin over Bilbo and he’s a bit of a jerk.  We got that in the first one, but by the end it seemed a bit more resolved.  That was tossed away as he is back to his old ways of disregarding any other opinion.  Maybe you want him that way?  I, for one, had that in the first movie.

Yet, much like the first film, there is a saving grace, and a monster one at that.  The scene where Bilbo finally meets Smaug the dragon.  Masterful filmmaking.  The dragon looked great, the voice was great, and there was real suspense and intensity watching those two together.  Get away from all the other dwarves and side characters, leave them outside and watch Bilbo sneak around and converse with this monster, one of the greatest fantasy creatures to ever be put to screen.  The scene is perfect, and becomes a little less perfect once the dwarves re-enter.

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With a film filled with so many fights and battles, it is unnecessary to add so many cliffhanger moments within them (will he pull himself back up?)  The best action sequence is Smaug vs the dwarves, and that even gets comical at certain moments.  But the film ends with a logical cliffhanger bound to rake in more people for the third installment.  2.5 out of 4 stars.

I hope to one day find a way to look upon these films more favorably.  As you can see, I’ve found what I can to love and tried my hardest with the rest.  Should I have to try so hard to like a movie?  I don’t think it is too much of me to ask that a movie that should be good to simply be good.  Although the third film has yet to be seen, I still feel this story would have been better told as one long movie or dividing it up into two films.  As mentioned in the beginning, three is too much, and quite possibly the root of all my problems with them.  There is a great movie in there, but it is unable to surface like it should.  There is much to be wrapped up in the third one, and a lot of action is going to take place, again.  I only hope they don’t forget to add in the heart found in the story of a Hobbit.

The Lords of Salem in Modern Horror

Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem was almost doomed to fail.

Like him or not, the musician/filmmaker does it his way, and his films display a very distinct style that are usually more compatible to the highest reaches of independent film.   Lords, however, is a step in a different direction, which I found myself very excited to see.  Putting aside the hand held spontaneous look, Zombie takes time to set up the camera and have it slowly crawl down a hallway, or take in the full space of a huge ballroom.

In doing this, Zombie has crafted his scariest movie so far, easily.  Not his best, that still belongs to 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, but this film is branching out on so many levels in comparison to all of his previous work.

-Language:  I counted maybe 4 uses of the “f” word in this movie.  I very well could have missed them, but usually in the opening scene of a Zombie movie this number is shattered.

-Cinematography: I have already mentioned it but it deserves another, as I will challenge you to name a horror movie shot so well in recent memory. The Shining is too many years old to qualify.

-Gore:  I will get to the film’s content in a minute, but instead of being a bloody gore-fest as most of his films are, this one oddly has very little in it.  More things are implied and blood is rarely seen… I know, right?

However, this movie has some content in it that makes the viewer pray for the scene to end.  What is implied or not shown is something horrible and unsettling.  Additionally, the film takes the slow burn approach with moments of dread thrown in at unexpected moments.  I think the film will have a hard time finding an audience in the mainstream horror world.

WHY?

Lord of Salem does something most horror movies fail to do: present something “horrifying” to the viewers.  How is watching a bunch of annoying, whiny teenagers doing stupid shit and running from a killer scary?  It is not scary if you are waiting for these characters to be killed off.  That is not good horror.  That is poor writing and execution disguised as a scary movie.  The last movie to come out that was good horror was Insideous and despite it being “tame, PG-13” horror, it worked because it knows what makes moments suspenseful, be it darkness, timing, noises or lack-of, etc.  Granted, by the end of it, it was typical and kinda stupid.  But whatever.

Lords, on the other hand, does not have a typical ending, nor even a clear one, but that’s ok.  Without getting into the plot, the ending is faithful to the main character played by Sheri Moon Zombie, who I can only say has gotten better over the years and delivers her best performance yet.  The ending is psychological, it is what she is experiencing, at least to me.  You have to put your own version to it.

The movie was made at only 1.5 million dollars.  Even for Zombie movies, that is cheap.  It doesn’t look like an independent film though, and I wouldn’t expect it to.  By tackling subjects that are disturbing in thought and display, Zombie has made a film that challenges the most devoted horror fan.  Even if the mainstream horror filmmaking world isn’t ready to go into such grisly material, there is still much to be learned and they should be taking notes how to makes movies scary again past the first viewing.