For every film made based on a novel there are a hundred books optioned but not green-lit. For every book optioned but not filmed there a hundred thousand not optioned. Many of the latter two categories read as pretty cinematic to me. So here is a list of novels I’d like to see turned into films. Or a series of films. Or a television mini-series. Or a television ongoing series. Whatever. This doesn’t include books I know to be optioned or have heard rumors to that effect.
So far, with some quibbles, I’m enjoying the second season of Daredevil. I do want to note one point to the writers. The character Elektra is shown on more than one occasion bellying up to the bar and asking for “Tequila. Mezcal if you have it.” This in an apparent attempt to show her as sophisticated and worldly, ordering a currently trendy spirit, instead of, say, scotch, or vodka.
The assumption the writer appears to be making is that mezcal is a subcategory of tequila. As if you click the “Tequila” tab and then select from a drop-down menu Blanco; Reposado; Ańejo; or Mezcal. The problem, however, is that Mezcal is NOT a type, category, or variety of tequila. Mezcal is distilled from many varieties of the agave plant. Tequila can only be distilled from blue agave. So if one wishes to nit-pick (which apparently I do) then the writers have it precisely backward: tequila is a subcategory of mezcal, not the other way around.\
It would be a stretch to say I’ve caught up on my movie viewing. But I did drop a few bucks at the Red Box while the rest of my family was in Mexico for a week and a half. Thus I was able to see a few of the explody, sci-fi, bullet-ridden flicks that I seldom have the opportunity to do now. And on the 65” hi-def screen, not the ten-inch computer screen that normally provides my viewing backdrop, thanks to late night viewing of Netflix.
When one’s two-year old daughter is sleeping behind a hollow-core door not too far away, one does not crank the speakers and slip — for example — From Dusk ‘Til Dawn into the Blu Ray player. Nor does one go to the theater to see movies on a whim. One must plan ahead, coordinating the movie-house schedule with that of the baby sitter. So I’m rather far behind on recent releases. “Recent” meaning anything that has come out over the last couple of years.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron held the honors as first flick teed up. I liked it. It suffered somewhat from what many sophomore entries in a series do: it tried for a greater gravitas than its predecessor, wanting to project a sense of its own importance. The film-makers forget that what the audience wants is more of what it saw originally. Instead, the film-makers delude themselves that what we want is an upping of the stakes, and a more thoughtful, mature work. This usually leads to a grimmer, less fun film. No exception here. But the movie managed to include enough of the humor and light-heartedness that made the first Avengers film so enjoyable.
Mad Max: Fury Road roared in next. It took me a while to warm up to it, to allow myself to be pulled into the story the film-makers wanted to tell. It didn’t seem to follow in any logical sense the previous entries. But I was probably expecting too much, and really, after the first one, the Mad Max franchise was anything goes in the outback. This new one is no different. Whether massive generational shifts of memory and culture could realistically occur during the few years of Max Rockatansky’s sojourn in the wilderness is beside the point. Shut up and enjoy the hours long car chase, Ken. And mostly I did.
Interstellar followed. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the first part of the film. I’d expected to want the director to get on with it, get to the good stuff. Maybe I’m getting old. The truth is, the later parts of the movie didn’t work for me. The causal relations made no sense. Normally I pay little attention to the film score, but I couldn’t help but feel that the music in this film was uninspired, flat when it should be moving. So while the acting was top-notch, the sets and effects were excellent, and while I do want to encourage serious, hard sci-fi in film, Interstellar failed to win me over.
Furious 7 certainly didn’t require any mental engagement. And I never expected the plot or the action to make any sense. So my low expectations were met.
Fury is a well made World War II tank film. Like Interstellar it was well-acted, and the production values were high. But while I could appreciate what the film-makers were doing, I kept wanting to turn Fury off and put in my copy of Kelly’s Heroes. I found Fury too unrelentingly grim to enjoy.
Ant-Man I saw at a second-run theater with the accompaniment of a slice of pizza and a pint of beer. No grimness here. It is a slight entry in the Marvel film repertory, but fun in a breezy sort of way.
Oddly, it wasn’t until my family returned that I saw the best of the bunch. And that despite the handicap of seeing it on, yes, the 10-inch computer screen I’m staring at now as I type. My wife wanted to see it, so I waited until she was home to watch American Sniper, thanks to HBO. I guess the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can get one right every now and then.
My daughter V.V., the budding Disney animated film enthusiast, is highly discriminating. But when she likes something, she is obsessive. This may be typical of the nigh-two year population at large: I don’t know; this is my first trip down fatherhood lane.
V.V.’s latest obsession is Big Hero 6, Disney’s first foray into animated superhero films after The Incredibles. This joins The Jungle Book, Lilo and Stitch, and The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in her arsenal of go to, view ad nauseum movies. Why these? Why the lack of interest in 101 Dalmations or The Aristocats? I have a theory that I hereby designate the Pooh Theory. V.V. is drawn to animation featuring rotund, cuddly, semi-neotenic characters. Winnie the Pooh was the first. Baloo the Bear followed. She always grows more animated when he appears on screen. He’s a more adult Pooh, but I think the connection is there. Stitch is a cuddly stuffed-animal sort of character, somewhat bear-like. And Baymax, the robotic health-care provider cum superhero, fits the mold. As exhibit 1 (and the only exhibit, really – this is just a half-assed theory, not a doctoral thesis) I submit that when Baymax appears on screen V.V. will occasionally say “Pooh.”
Victoria Valentina Lizzi reached a year-and-a-half of age about a week ago. She is becoming a discriminating serial viewer of Disney films. Highly discriminating and highly serial. I never thought “The Bare Necessities” and “I Want to Be Like You” could grow tiresome, but after the umpteenth viewing of “The Jungle Book”I want to strangle the shiftless jungle bum, Balu.
Still, there is no denying V.V.’s good taste in this instance. “The Jungle Book” is a fine animated feature. It little resembles its source material. But since the bones of the tale derive from Rudyard Kipling, the adaptors would have had to work hard to screw it up.
I enjoyed another signing recently. And I mean enjoyed; beer featured prominently.
The accommodating publicans at Journeys Pub, Bob and Shannon, offered to host a signing of “Reunion.” Not only did they offer the venue, they advertised the event and held all night happy hour. So, to all those who enjoyed the discount on beverages, “You’re welcome.”
A pub provides a different atmosphere for a signing than does a bookstore. Not an improper or unpleasant atmosphere, just different. The sale of books is not the primary purpose of the establishment. Most of the people there are present to consume food and drink. They aren’t thinking foremost about books. But a pub is a convivial place, and what better topic of conversation than books? Especially when you just so happen to have some for sale.
I had a chance to chat with several people, savored a pint of a pretty decent red ale, and sold some copies of my novel. Not a shabby evening, by any stretch. In fact, I’m wondering if there are any other Portland area pubs interested in having me monopolize a table and peddle my papery wares. Drop me an email, I don’t take up much space.
Oh, where to begin? Let’s try…”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the story of an elf-maiden and her forbidden love for a dwarf. No, that’s not quite right. ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is the story of a pudgy elf prince and his utter disdain for gravity. Or, ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” tells the comic misadventures of Alfrid, a cross-dresser struggling to stay alive and make a buck in a savage, violent world.
What ”The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” apparently is not is the story of a hobbit.
I suppose I ought to start with something positive, extol the good points of the film. Shouldn’t take long.
Unsurprisingly in a film called, before the colon, “The Hobbit” the best scenes are those in which hobbits appear. Those are sadly few. Martin Freeman is terrific as Bilbo. There, I wrote something righteous and positive for once. Let’s see, what else? The sets and scenery were well done, very nice to look at. There was brief bit with a dwarven army forming a shield wall that I found pretty cool. The opening scene was spectacular, Smaug ashes Lake Town with beautifully realized fiery passes. And…that’s about it.
Leaving two hours or so of fail.
Before going any further, I will state that I realize this isn’t a faithful adaptation. Certainly after the first two films I have no illusions about that. It qualifies as an adaptation at all in only the barest technical sense. And that’s fine. Peter Jackson and Co. are telling the story they want to tell. I do my best to take that story on its own terms and merits. It can be hard though, wanting to see a favorite scene from the book brought to cinematic life, only to be disappointed by its non-appearance, glossing over, transformation into something utterly different, or poor execution. So it isn’t possible for me to be completely objective. But given that, I think even taken as a discrete story, removed from the expectations and strictures of Tolkien’s tale, ”The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” falls short as a film.
Some of my objections might be alleviated by the extended edition. Armored sheep appearing without any foreshadowing or explanation. Beorn’s arrival and contribution to the battle being given absurdly short shrift. I can imagine the extended version mitigating these inadequacies.
Other problems are too deeply baked in to be reparable. The White Council scene at Dol Guldur is an embarrassment. PJ and Co. thought fleshing out the suggestion in the appendices of the White Council flushing the Necromancer from his stronghold would be cool. And, yeah, that could be pretty cool. But having committed themselves to the notion, they seem at a loss as to what to do. Instead of the might of Rivendell and Lorien coming to siege Dol Guldur, we get the White Council as a superhero team battling ghosts. Did we really need another dose of Saruman’s staff wizard-fu? A cool idea in the end added nothing to the story. A wasted opportunity.
The love triangle: Is it truly inconceivable that people would be willing to watch a film that doesn’t include a love story? Again, this is PJ and Co.’s version, so we don’t need to delve into the Silmarillion and explain why dwarves and elves don’t get it on. But this film didn’t need a love story any more than the book did. The romance never came across as believable or real and it sank scenes that had a chance of actual drama with its bathos.
When the battle finally began, I – fool that I am – said to myself, ‘All right, he can’t screw this up.” Yeah, it seems I will buy that bridge you’re selling. After setting up the battle, and providing more unnecessary comedy relief in the form of Billy Connolly’s Dain, we get to it. And PJ immediately decides to dispense with the whole alliance of Men, Dwarves, and Elves, y’know the whole point of the chapter in the book, sending the Laketown army off to fight in the ruins of Dale. Fine, his story. He can do what he wants. But then he seems to tire of the battle, his entire interest in it seeming to be coming up with a bestiary of baddies to aid the orcs. (Look, its the sandworms from Dune. And some sort of giant trolls. And a warpig. Lovely.) Instead the writers seem to think they can’t concentrate on the individual stories they want to tell – gold-sick Thorin’s vendetta against Bolg, and the star-struck Fili and Tauriel – with this battle going on. So they just sort of forget it, let it run on autoplay, and send Thorin, Fili, Kili, and – I think – Oin the off on conveniently appearing warsheep (yes, warsheep) to an absurdly undefended orc command post.
And so the bulk of the titular “Battle of Five Armies” occurs off-screen.
This film really didn’t work for me. It’s full of nonsensical behavior – continually trusting Alfrid with positions of importance, a two against one hundred battle (that’s never actually shown, come to think of it.) And a head-scratcher I just can’t get over: Thorin and Company spend days in armor, full head-to-foot panoply, waiting for an attack on the Lonely Mountain. Then when the time actually comes to kick down their wall and engage the orc army, they’ve changed back into their travelling clothes. In what universe does this make any sort of sense?
The good news: in some countries (I’m looking at you, Canada) J.R.R. Tolkien’s copyrights will expire in 2023. “The Hobbit” will fall into public domain. Someone could take another try at an adaptation. Would be hard to do worse than this three-film folly.
I don’t write about comic book movies often. One reason is it’s too much like thinking about my day job. Another reason is I rarely see movies in theaters, so any review I might write would hardly be timely. Case in point: I finally saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” last night, on Blu-Ray, sitting on the couch.
The baby woke up early from her evening nap, necessitating about a two hour viewing hiatus after the opening action scene. Did I say I rarely see movies in theaters? I rarely see them at home either. Intermittent viewings of Netflix on my little Chromebook screen, one movie spread out over the course of a week when the baby and MBW* are asleep is usually the best I can do.
Saturday afternoon I attended a panel on Science Fiction, Film, and Technology. The panel boasted a pretty good line up, including Daniel H. Wilson of Robopocalypse fame. I enjoyed the discussion. Though I was struck by the thought that I may have spent too much time reading and thinking about this stuff. Wh? Well, during the course of listening to the flow of the conversation I would conceive a thought, a reference, a quote, etc. Within the next thirty seconds to a minute, one of the panelists would vocalize that exact thought. Perhaps I’ve spent too long marinating in the sci-fi pond, or perhaps it is growing stagnant.
One of the points politely contended was if the sort of films marketed as science fiction are truly science fiction. Or are they simply films of a different genre supplied with sci-fi trappings. An interesting question. Another question, that I don’t recall being addressed iis how interested would an audience be in a film that legitimately delved into hard sci-fi, the sort of technologically driven story written by scientists and engineers with a penchant for fiction, like the OG writers from the Golden Age of science fiction. A few films do tackle sociologically driven stories. But I believe those are easier to translate to compelling film.
The final question, delivered via Twitter, asked the panelists what their favorite science fiction story was, in any medium: film, novel, short story, etc. Now that is a broad question. I don’t think I could answer it. I cordially dislike most such arbitrary quantifications. Must I have a favorite? Cannot I enjoy multiple items equally? And of course one must separate ‘favorite’ from ‘greatest’, yet another arbitrary decision. Also the question eliminates categories. I don’t like requiring to pit novels against short stories, or short stories against film, or televisions shows against novels, etc. I suppose I should toss out some ideas. Dune, I could contend, is the greatest science fiction novel. But is it my favorite? I’d probably go with an old short story, something from RAH, or Fredric Brown. Or perhaps one of Jack Vance’s short novels. How to choose? Can’t do it. Same with film. I think Inception is a terrific science fiction film. But is it my favorite? Which would I rather watch again? Inception, or something like Robocop, or Predator, or The Terminator, Aliens, or hell, even Starship Troopers?
What do you think? Any favorites?
Courtesy of my local library, yesterday I watched “Knights of Badassdom.” I’ll say at the outset that I had low expectations. Unfortunately, I hadn’t set them low enough.
“Knights of Badassdom” is the story of a LARP gone horribly wrong. For the uninitiated, LARP stands for ‘Live Action Roleplaying.’ It is tabletop roleplaying – e.g., Dungeons and Dragons – removed from the table, taken outside and mashed up with amateur improv. It isn’t a pastime I have any experience with. Nor, frankly, do I have any interest in it. I believe it was Jerry Holkins of “Penny Arcade” fame who said “not everything is for you.” Sums it up, I think. Those that dig LARP, dig LARP. That it isn’t for me shouldn’t mean a damn thing to the aficianados.
I remember reading “Dream Park” as a kid and thinking how cool the concept sounded of taking on fantastical adventures in person. It doesn’t appeal to me as an adult. I don’t think I could get past the amusement park aspect, the self-consciousness of acting a part. I’ve watched a few Society for Creative Anachronism combats. As a form of fencing, a regulated combat sport, I can appreciate the draw. But the rest of the in-character theatrics doesn’t move me. I don’t think I’d be able to get past the artificiality of it. Sitting at a table with a few friends and rolling dice is about as far as I can go with adult make believe. I’m just playing a game then, not pretending it goes any further than sheets of notebook paper and a map. And even that I’ve not had an opportunity to indulge in for too long.
The point is, I approached this film as an outsider. How an actual LARPer might view this take on his weekend fun, I don’t know.
So, on to the film. It is a mashup film, a nerd comedy crossed with a horror film. Nothing wrong with the concept. Cross-genre entertainments can yield fun results. Here though, the experiment failed. The horror is played for laughs, along the lines of “Army of Darkness” and the gore and special effects are of comparable quality. That is, deliberately campy, the scares so cheesy that they are obviously not intended to be taken seriously. While that worked for “Army of Darkness” it fell flat here.
The actors gave it their all. In fact the acting was fine across the board. And that is about all the praise I can bestow. Steve Zahn and Peter Dinklage are both excellent, but they can only do so much with the flat, caricatures they were given to play.
The hero’s journey is predictable, the love interest unlikely. I suppose the film was intended as some sort of wish fulfillment fantasy. I don’t know. I do know that I’ve seen better films exploring the sub-culture that is LARPing. “Role Models” for instance. Maybe some of the laughs were mean, but I found the film largely sympathetic to both LARPers and LARPing. And unlike “Knights of Badassdom” the jokes are actually funny. Even the no-budget “Unicorn City” provided a more interesting story and deeper characterization.
So, “Knights of Badassdom.” Can’t recommend it.