It Trailer #2 Thoughts

 

The summer movie season is winding down, and after seeing Dunkirk, there are still a few films I am excited to see. I still need to see Baby Driver and War of the Planet of the Apes. I have some reservations about Justice League but the fanboy in me is still very excited. However, the film I am most excited about at this point is IT. 

The book is one of the first Stephen King ones that I can remember reading, and I definitely plan to re-read it before this film comes out. The book involves a group of eleven year olds known as the Losers Club: Bill, Ben, Bee, Richie, Eddie, Mike and Stan.  Together, they try to combat IT, a supernatural entity in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. IT has the ability to transform into any child’s worst fears, but often takes the form of Pennywise the Clown. The book also follows the Losers Club thirty years later, returning to Derry to combat IT again. From what I understand, a second movie will focus on the Losers Club as adults.

Cary Fukunaga, the director of the first season of True Detective, was originally slated to direct during the film’s long stay in development hell. Andres Muschietti (Mama) was finally brought on board in 2015 to give us the film we’ll see in September.

The marketing campaign has been amazing so far, preceded by promotional images and the two trailers (technically one teaser and one trailer) that preceded. Everything from the music, to the more restrained use of dialogue and images of The Losers club and Pennywise has kept the film mysterious but also interesting.

I usually avoid watching too many trailers so that I don’t spoil the film. Fortunately, this third trailer doesn’t appear to give away the film’s best moments.

We do hear Pennywise speak for the first time, “Here…take it.” His voice was one of the things that book fans speculated about most, and these few words leave me happy that Bill Skarsgard will be able to embody the role.

 

There are more shots of Pennywise this time, and some shots leaves me slightly worried about an overuse of jump scares. Most of the memorable images in the trailer come from its use of unsettling music or imagery and I believe those are always the most effective scares in horror films. Looking back on all the moments that scared me as a child, they were never jump scares. However, I don’t want to rant about jump scares too much since the editing of the trailer itself can make them appear more plentiful than they will be in the actual film.

Bill’s dialogue at the beginning of the trailer, about losing the feeling of being protected as you grow older hits close to home and is a microcosm of the book’s themes about the loss of innocence. I am sure the film will cut out the orgy (yes, really) that happens in the book so it will be great to see this theme portrayed in other ways.

Along with the scenes in the previous trailers, Bill’s lines make me less worried about the child actors’ abilities. I wasn’t worried about Finn Wolfhard specifically since I already saw him as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. There are exceptions, but there are numerous times when child actors are either a weak link among stronger actors, or are absolutely dreadful. The Jungle Book (2016) comes to mind.

Let’s move back to the film’s most divisive element, Pennywise himself. YouTube and Instagram are littered with comments by people pining for Tim Curry’s version of Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries. This happens with pretty much every adaptation or remake. Some people didn’t want to see Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man before Amazing Spider-Man came out, some people thought no one would ever top Jack Nicholson as The Joker etc. People get attached to the adaptations they see first. Some people might grow up with Tom Holland as their first Spider-Man, and maybe they won’t want to see anyone else in the role if a new series is made twenty years from now. Likewise, this may be the first Pennywise for many people and if another IT adapdation is made in thirty years, they’ll refuse to accept another version.

I don’t like the attachment mindset, but I can understand it. What bothers me more is one of the biggest complaints brought up by Bill Skarsgard detractors. Tim Curry’s version wasn’t as faithful to the books, in terms of his look or his behaviour. He behaved like we expect a clown to. He was energetic and jovial. Lots of fans of the miniseries miss this sense of humour Curry brought to the adaptation and interpret this one as too grim or trying too hard to be scary. However, 2017’s IT (from what we see so far) is what we got in the book. There was no dancing or whimsy. Adaptations typically try to emulate their source material, not just other adaptations. The people who criticize this Pennywise for being too serious make it clear they never read the book. Also, we get little dialogue from Pennywise in the marketing so we can’t judge his level of whimsy just yet.

 

Moving on from misinformed people, I have to say that the music in the trailers continues to stand out. We get more of the creepy chimes from the first trailer, but also get the chants of “You’ll Float Too” throughout the latter half. The chants get louder as the trailer progresses, and your heart beats faster to match it. The music might not scare you per se, but it gets you excited. It’s the horror version of pump up music.

Hopefully, this trailer will be the last. At the very least it will be the last one I watch, I don’t want anything else revealed before I see IT, hopefully on opening weekend.

Dunkirk Review

I saw Dunkirk in IMAX on saturday, and after collecting my thoughts, I’m ready to share them with whoever actually reads my ramblings. I earlier stated that I hoped that this film would be a return to form for Christopher Nolan, since I didn’t like Intersetellar that much. I definitely can’t say Interstellar is a bad film, I just didn’t like it as much as his previous works. After seeing Dunkirk, Inception remains my favourite Christopher Nolan film. The Prestige and The Dark Knight might also edge out Dunkirk but it is nevertheless an engaging and brilliantly executed film.

Dunkirk is Nolan’s dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation, where Allied Forces were trapped in northern France. Military and civilian boats were then enlisted or requisitioned to evacuate the Allied Forces to England. Dunkirk focuses on three different narratives: land, sea and air. Fionn Whitehead stars as Tommy, an army private. Tom Hardy stars as Farrier, a British pilot and Mark Rylance stars as Mr. Dawson, a civilian heading to Dunkirk. The movie cuts between the three different stories, and the stories intersect more as the film progresses. None of the characters are directly based on historical figures, but some are meant to be composites.

I hate to focus on a film’s visuals, but it must be said that Dunkirk is a beautiful film. I saw the film in IMAX on 70mm, so that probably gave an enhanced experience. Aside from the film’s clarity, it must also be praised for its cinematography and minimal use of CGI. Everything from the planes, ships, explosions etc. are all practical, or at least look like they are all practical effects. There is nothing wrong with CGI in itself, but a film like this benefits from minimal use since you want to be immersed in the history that is being depicted. Nolan succeeds in building and maintaining tension, making you as anxious as the characters as they try to survive one attack after another. Perhaps IMAX made me notice more as well, but I also have to add that the sound effects and sound mixing were masterfully done, recreating everything from the infamous sirens of the German stuka planes to the explosions that are replete throughout the film.

One criticism that has popped up when discussing the film online or with friends, is that the characters were not well-developed. Mark Rylance’s character probably gets the most back story and dialogue, but Whitehead and Hardy both have relatively sparse offerings. However, I didn’t realize this until other people pointed it out. Dunkirk was able to make me invested in characters that were not that fleshed out. The story was enough to keep me interested, and I saw each character as representative of millions of other soldiers’s fear and hopes during Dunkirk. Dunkirk is Whitehead’s debut role, and he does well with his limited time. I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Styles, who arguably steals the spotlight from Whitehead during some scenes. Christopher Nolan says he wasn’t aware of Styles’s fame before casting him and I am willing to say that all of my worries about Styles’s involvement proved to be unwarranted. Fortunately, I also didn’t have to deal with any screaming One Direction fans in the theatre. Kenneth Branagh is somewhat infamous for chewing scenery at times, but he is a stand out here in a more understated performance as Navy Commander Bolton. Cillian Murphy also deserves honourable mention as a shellshocked soldier eager to get back home. There are several other characters introduced throughout and they all form a necessary part of the film’s fabric.

A less capable director could have made Dunkirk dull and repetitive. When you really think about it, the film just depicts one attack after another, with relatively little dialogue between. However, Nolan is able to craft a story of survival that is visceral, entertaining and memorable.

Dunkirk and Harry Styles

Batman Begins was my first Christopher Nolan film, a film that I later discovered marked his transition into high-budget blockbusters. The Dark Knight became one of my favourite films, thanks in large part to Heath Ledger’s performance as my favourite fictional character. Afterwards, I went back to Memento and then added Inception to my favourites list. The Dark Knight Returns and Interstellar were both disappointments, but only disappointing when compared to Nolan’s previous work.

When I heard Christopher Nolan was doing a World War II film it became one of my most anticipated films of 2017. The teaser and the subsequent trailer still managed to exceed my expectations and affirm my belief that this would be a triumphant return to form. However, I couldn’t help but detect one drop of poison in the cauldron. The YouTube comments on the trailers were hijacked by One Directioners, proclaiming their love for Harry Styles and saying that their baby better not die in the film. A co-worker mentioned that Harry Styles was in the film, but I hoped that his role was a small one that would not overshadow Dunkirk. I still don’t know how big Styles’s role as “Alex” is, but the billing online makes it seem like it is pretty significant.

Although I personally loathe (trying to cut down on the use of the word ‘hate’) One Direction I didn’t want to let that hamper my perception of Styles. I have seen actors come from unlikely backgrounds and nail major performances. At one point, people probably thought it was ridiculous that The Fresh Prince would have Oscar-nominated roles. However, the horde of One Directioners that this film is apparently attracting does bring up some concerns.

Firstly, I bet most of the One Directioners barely know anything about World War II, or even care about the story itself. They just want to see their hubby on screen. I like to think of Daisy Ridley as my wife-to-be but there is no way I would watch two hours of a story I have no interest in just to see her on screen. I have never understood this level of fan worship, and I honestly think it represents the worst of fandom. As a matter of fact, the only time I would watch a film just for an actor is if I appreciate their acting talent. I saw Shame simply because Michael Fassbender was in it, but I also had some interest in the story. As much as I love Fassbender, I still avoided Asssasin’s Creed like the plague.

An even bigger issue with Styles is that his addition in this film seems so, for lack of a better word, random. Was his audition truly so spellbinding that it beat all of the competition? There wasn’t a single other talented actor with the right age and look? A co-worker argued that must be the case if he got selected, and part of me hopes that logic holds true. Nolan isn’t Michael Bay, he doesn’t hire actors just because they’re hot or marketable. Yet why was Style’s, an unproven acting commodity, casted before actors like Cillian Murphy? I’m seeing Dunkirk on saturday and if Styles’s performance is anything short of spectacular then I will continue to wonder why I had to see him on screen, while surrounded by screaming Directioners.

Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

Note: I was out of the country for the past week, with limited wi-fi. I am back in Canada now but my schedule will still be busier than normal, likely until the end of August. With that said, I will still do my best to post three times a week.

Also, this piece has spoilers for “Men Against Fire”.

When I started watching “Men Against Fire” I thought it would end up on the bottom half of Black Mirror. The acting was some of the weakest the show’s given us in a while and I initially didn’t find the characters or the world as enthralling as the ones in preceding episodes. Initially, the story was about marines with hi-tech equipment killing zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi and zombie stories but the plot was a sharp contrast to the previous episodes. However, I figured that if I can watch an episode about a man being blackmailed to have sex with a pig, I can give this episode a chance.

The end of some episodes were disappointing, such as “Playtest”, which was dulled by numerous fake-outs throughout the episode. Other preceding episodes also have great ending, especially “White Christmas” and “Shut Up and Dance”. However, those endings were paired with episodes that I found enthralling and entertaining from start to finish. The endings were brilliant, but they only helped to immortalize amazing episodes. “Men Against Fire” might rank as my favourite ending (last 20 minutes) simply due to its ability to elevate what came before it.

“Roaches”, the pale, humanoid monsters that the soldiers eliminate turn out to be humans. Their MASS implants limit their sense of smell and hearing, drowning out the smells and sounds of war. Michael Kelly is a stand out on House of Cards as Doug Stamper, and is also a stand out here as Arquette, the psychologist who shares the twisted truth with “Stripe”. As always with Black Mirror the technology itself isn’t the most interesting part of the story; the most interesting part is the human behaviour it highlights.

Arquette uses the statistic that only 15-20% of men fired their rifles at the enemy in World War II, even when under the threat of immediate danger. Although this statistic is hotly debated, a comment on this page did add that most deaths in the world wars came from artillery fire: long-range, impersonal attacks that avoided the Rambo-esque hacking and shooting of close quarters combat.  Scholarly books such as Denis Winter’s Death Men also assert that most military deaths came from artillery fire, especially during advances.

“Men Against Fire” gets more interesting after a roach shines a laser into Stripe’s eyes. It was obvious that the laser must have some impact on the plot, when Stripe’s senses were affected after being exposed to it. When Hunter and Stripe raid an apartment building there is also a blueprint of the laser in the roach nest. Some online discussion shows that plenty of people say they saw the twist coming, and then also argue that the episode is poor because of that. I have to say that a predictable twist doesn’t have to bring down an episode if it is executed well. I thought I saw a twist coming, but I actually misinterpreted what it was.

Although the roaches appearance is terrifying, you realize that they didn’t initiate an attack in the first raid. Their first instinct is to run, and the sniper who kills squad leader Medina is an exception, probably because the soldiers are closing in on their refuge. The roaches weren’t depicted as the mindless predators we’re familiar with from zombie films. They seemed like mutants trying to live peacefully. The characters frequently mention a global war that passed, and I thought the roaches were the offspring of radiation from that war. For that reason, I thought the laser was a device that was meant to make them only appear normal to others, before they were mutated.  I had an inverse understanding of the twist until it was revealed. The roaches weren’t trying to make Stripe see them as they used to be, they wanted Stripe to see him as they are.

“You see me.”: The words of a refugee on the run from a genocidal society, relieved someone finally sees her as human. The military might be the ones killing the roaches, but the general public are brainwashed to see the roaches as literal monsters. Civilians don’t have MASS implants, the roaches are just other humans to them. However, they are humans that threaten the strength and purity of humanity’s bloodline. Arquette lists a range of defects present in the roaches, from higher susceptibility to diseases, to sexual deviancy and criminal tendencies. Arquette’s speech has all the cornerstones of eugenics and racism, and Trump’s comments on hispanics sadly mirror some of the ideas that criminality is ingrained in certain people.

In the aftermath of the war, one side went through great trouble to dehumanize the other. Cockroaches or “roaches” is what the Hutus called the Tutsis leading up to the Rwandan genocide, and even more recently used by a British politician to refer to refugees. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same term is used here. Dehumanization is a key part of genocide, birthed from propaganda that makes it easier for law-abiding civilians to engage in or support violence against the other. Civilians won’t even touch the food the roaches touched simply because they don’t want to get contaminated by a lesser breed.

“Men Against Fire” transitions from a war movie, to a piece that delves into the dark corner of the human psyche where prejudice reins supreme. As Stripe stands alone outside a dilapidated, graffiti-stained house, he sees a beautiful woman waiting to welcome him to their home. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other soldiers in this army had their memories wiped after they found out the truth.

Black Mirror: White Christmas

Picking a favourite episode of Black Mirror is a challenge. “The Waldo Moment” and “The National Anthem” aren’t contenders but there are plenty others, ranging from “Shut Up and Dance”, “Be Right Back”, to “The Entire History of You”. Among this list is “White Christmas”, which after careful consideration, I will have to say edges out the competition.

Like my post on “The Entire History of You“, I don’t want to focus on the plot itself. Black Mirror‘s central thesis is that technology can have corrosive effects on how humans interact with one another and I want to focus on how that is displayed here.

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) is undoubtedly a highlight of the episode, a character who is both charming and repulsive at the same time. The more vile aspects of his character emerge as his story unfolds. His past-life as a wannabe dating guru seems somewhat harmless at first. As a lanky film geek, I’d probably be an easy target for his services. However, it only takes a few seconds to realize that his real-time coaching is a grave invasion of privacy. Aside from the simple act of watching, Trent’s technology (referred to as the Z-Eye) also provides him with face recognition software he can use to research anyone his clients come in contact with, allowing him to feed any pertinent information to a party crasher. It gets only worse when we realize all of the members of his class share in their peers’ experiences, including any luck they get with unsuspecting women. The date that lands Trent in legal trouble also reminds me of the few I’ve had: promising starts with catastrophic endings.

It was great to see Oona Chaplin in another role, after seeing her for the first time in Taboo. She was undoubtedly a weak link on Taboo but does a better job here, portraying Greta, a wealthy woman about to undergo surgery. Prior to her surgery, a digital copy or “cookie” of Greta is created.

This cookie is intended to control Greta’s smart house, serving the rest of its “life” performing functions such as regulating heat and displaying Greta’s schedule. As expected the cookie is reluctant to spend its life this way, but Matt’s job is to make it compliant. By manipulating the time settings in the cookie’s digital world, he is able to make the cookie “live” for months at a time, stuck in a white room with nothing but a control panel. The room itself is only a projection within the cookie, but it is Greta’s prison now.

One of the characters, “Joe” remarks that this is slavery, but Trent believes it isn’t since the cookie isn’t a real being. I have to agree with Joe on this. Any sci-fi story that deals with the issue of consciousness, with Ex-Machina being a recent example, raises the question of what makes a being conscious and the morality of keeping a conscious being captive.

Is Greta’s cookie a conscious being? Matt doesn’t think so, because she’s just a string of code. However, if we analyze consciousness the way it is analyzed in Ex-Machina, then we understand that the components of a being don’t define its eligibility for consciousness. In Ex-Machina, Caleb argues that one of the central tests for consciousness is the “chess” question. A chess computer knows the game of chess and can make good plays, but can it describe what chess is? Does it even know what chess is? Simulation vs consciousness.

This cookie, from what we understand, is mentally no different than the person it was spawned from. We see it panicking as it is extracted from Greta and Matt has to explain the nature of its creation and its assigned purpose. Essentially, a copy of Greta’s mind was grafted and planted into a different environment. Until Matt explained what she was, she thought she was a conscious human being. She may be just code, but consciousness isn’t about matter, it’s about thought.

Although the cookie is the most advanced technology we see in the episode, it is actually not what interests me most. We are probably all familiar with ghosting, the act of ending a relationship with someone by cutting off all communication without explanation. Ghosting is usually discussed in the context of romantic relationships, but can apply to anyone. Someone decides to end the relationship, but decides that they want to avoid the difficult decision, call or text required for that. Instead, they simply cut off the other person. Ghosting preceded technology such as phones and computers, and some may see it is just a new name for something old. However, I believe technology makes it easier to become disconnected from other people. We don’t have to move or  shred letters, we can unfollow, delete or block with a click. Ghosting is convenient for people who have become accustomed to hiding behind screens when they interact. It is spineless and immature, and technology only makes it easier.

When “Joe” confronts his wife about her pregnancy, she is quick to block him. She doesn’t do this on her phone or some app, she blocks his entire body using the technology her world has to offer. She sees nothing but a grey silhouette where he stands and can only hear muffled static when he speaks. When Matt’s wife is confronted with the truth of his actions, she elects to do the same thing. The people who would have previously gone for a walk or tried to avoid their spouse, instead of contronting an issue, can now feel free to block someone’s entire body. The current level of cowardice that we see doesn’t prove effective if you’re likely to see someone again at work, school etc. With the capability to block someone as we see in “White Christmas”, the ghosted may be able to see you but they can’t interact with you. When Joe confronts his wife, after she blocks him, she only walks away and then proceeds to file a restraining order. Blocking becomes legally binding and the argument that you simply wanted to be able to confront someone directly doesn’t protect you. The authorities take the side of someone who decided to block her husband because he insisted on discussing their baby with her.

I have no doubt that authorities would defend this behaviour. Ghosting is already on the rise. Find any article online that discusses it, and allows comments. You will find plenty of people criticizing the practice, but you will also find many supporting it for one reason or another. All of the positive reasons boil down to “It’s easier for me (or both of us)”. Article after article will tell you that people who get ghosted may be able to deal with a relationship ending, but hate the way that their partner decided to do it. Blocking takes ghosting to an almost sadistic level.

Speaking of sadism, “White Christmas” gives us another twisted ending. Once Joe confesses that he murdered his ex-wife’s father, the authorities decide to tamper with the time settings. Each minute becomes 1000 years to Joe’s cookie, leaving him trapped in a projection of the cabin where he committed murder. We’re already living in a society where policemen have killed civilians for a thrill, I can definitely believe law enforcement officials would take a little glee in messing with someone they view as a lowly criminal. Even better, I can believe they would punish a sex offender with not being able to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Black Mirror Season 1. This piece will not include full plot summaries of episodes. It is intended for those who have already seen them.

I completed watching Black Mirror two nights ago and can safely add it to the my list of favourite shows. The series is an anthology with twelve episodes, each focusing on the consequences of technology on society. With each story, the main character is challenged by a development borne from technology that is either common in their world, or is experimental. In most cases, the challenge does not truly come from the technology itself. The challenge comes from people’s misuse or exploitation of it.

Although I enjoyed most of the episodes, with “The Waldo Moment” being an outlier, I didn’t want to write about every one. The episodes that I found most interesting were the ones set in worlds the most similar to our own, e.g unlike “Fifteen Million Merits”.

With that said, I wished to discuss “The Entire History of You” first. The episode follows lawyer Liam Foxwell (Toby Kebbell), who suspects that his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) is having an affair. Liam investigates his wife using the commonplace “grain”, an implanted chip that records everything its users see and hear, and makes it available for replay and display.

Many devices we have now allow us to do this, but of course they are not embedded in our bodies. The grain is used to screen passengers at airports, and it also appears that 9/11 operators rely on it to authenticate calls, as evidenced when an operator hangs up on one of the characters because she doesn’t have a grain.

The aspect of the grain that I found most interesting was how people use it while they perform certain tasks. In particular, we see Liam and Ffion having sex, while using their grains to replay memories of steamier times.

While their bodies move in a half-hearted attempt at intercourse, they both use their grains to replay sex that was probably from the honeymoon phase of the marriage. There may be many people who feel sexually unsatisfied with a partner, and the grain allows them to disconnect and relive those memories, even while they are with their partner. Like our present time, technology removes the intimacy from our encounters. I personally know people who confess that they need visual stimulation, like pornography, to get aroused for sex with a partner. Ffion’s ex-boyfriend, Jonas, openly admits to using the grain to replay or “redo” past sexual experiences so that he can masturbate to them. In a sense, past sexual experiences become the new pornography.

Don’t we all know people who spend half the time at a concert recording it instead of actually experiencing it? Or someone who can’t put their phone down for a few minutes for a conversation?I am not a luddite, but I can’t help but notice that, for some people, the visual proof of an experience becomes more important than the experience itself. We increasingly lose the ability to simply enjoy a moment.With the grain, your Instagram obsessed friend can now interrupt a conversation and use any tv screen in the room to broadcast their latest workout.

The grain also leads to more obsession with the past. Liam’s initial obsession is an appraisal at work, where he redos the moment repeatedly, analyzing the appraisers’ facial expressions and the movements of their hands to judge what they are writing down. His obsession then moves to his wife’s behaviour around her ex-boyfriend, Jonas. Liam scrutinizes and redos the way she looks at Jonas in contrast to him, the way she laughs at Jonas’s terrible jokes etc. When Ffion admits she dated Jonas only for a few months, Liam is able to search his memory archives and find Ffion saying she only dated him for a week.

We find out Liam’s suspicions were warranted. It is implied he has been suspicious for some time, and his suspicions could have led him to analyze his wife’s behaviour more, instead of suspicions arising simply due to the abilities the grain provides. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone could be led to paranoia if they were to overanalyze and replay certain parts of a conversation or encounter. People are already quick to judge their partner as a cheater or potential cheater if they go a certain length of time without responding to texts, if they seem distant one day etc. What happens if an insecure person is able to study every encounter with their partner, the same way Liam can?

“The Entire History of You” is both a story we have seen before, and one we haven’t. Infidelity plots are dime a dozen in entertainment, but Jesse Armstrong’s writing weaves in a science-fiction element to create something that is captivating, heartbreaking and maybe even relatable.

When I was looking up the episode to verify the writer’s name, I came across this review that said this episode is one of the weaker ones because the technology “wasn’t so crucial to the trajectory of the story”. I can enjoy the more technologically focused episodes like “Be Right Back” or  “Men Against Fire”, but I can still appreciate this episode. Sometimes, the best science-fiction stories are ones that only use technology as a backdrop to analyze our tendencies and behaviour. I can enjoy a story about a killer robot being sent back in time but it is also a treat to watch a story that simply asks “How would this development change how people interact with one another?”

Motion Capture

I no longer see films in theatres as much as I used to, and although I like to blame this on adulting, I believe the real culprit is the limited social circle I have where I am currently living. When most of your friends are out of town, you don’t have as many opportunities to go to the theatre. Most of my time in front of a screen is now dominated either by work, television or catching up on older movies. As a result, I sometimes lose track of upcoming releases. Logan was a dominant blip on my radar, and then Wonder Woman, Justice League and Star Wars took over.

Amidst these films I forgot about War of the Planet of the Apes. Its predecessors both exceeded my expectations, and the film’s main actor also brings me back to the character that truly birthed my love of film.

I remember seeing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back in 2002, and later learning that Gollum was performed via motion capture. Instead of being solely computer generated, Andy Serkis provided the movements and voice for the character, which was then edited in post production to give us one of the greatest CGI creations in cinematic history. Special effects age fast, but at the time Gollum could easily be mistaken for a real person (albeit a hideous one). Even today, Gollum still looks better than the CGI creations from more recent films.

As I look back on The LOTR trilogy, I can safely say that Gollum is one of the characters that marked my shift from a regular movie-goer to a true cinephile: The type of person that could discuss all details of a film all day. From that moment, I didn’t just talk about how attractive the actors were, like most people. I was interested in what went on behind the scenes, budgets, directors a.k.a all the details most people viewed as boring or geeky.

Andy Serkis is undoubtedly a pioneer of motion capture, which has evolved since his days on the set of Lord of the Rings. Motion capture is becoming more common in films, tv shows and even video games. Productions ranging from The Last of Us to The Revenant have utilized it to create CGI animals or characters whose movements and features are more realistic than ones we could get otherwise. Older films have used humans as props for their CGI e.g. using an actor as a prop who would then be edited in post-production. However, this form of “motion capture” mainly helped the other actor by giving them a spot to look at during filming. One infamous example is The Fellowship of the Ring using a tennis ball as a reference for the Balrog’s location. If this scene was done with true motion capture, the Balrog’s movements would be performed by a human in some form of motion capture suit, like the one scene below for The Last of Us.

Some people used to argue that voice acting isn’t real acting since it is more limited. I never believed this and viewed voice acting as a comparable, if not greater feat, since it deprives actors of the tool of body language for conveying emotions. Many actors end up doing some voice work in post-production, where they have to redo lines in a studio in order to counter all of the background noise from the production reels. In the era of motion capture, many actors become voice actors during principle filming. We don’t see them on screen, but they are the ones providing the movements and/or voice for a character. In the case of Bradley Cooper, he only does the voice for Rocket Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, while the director’s brother does the motions. For other productions, such as Grand Theft Auto V the actors end up doing both. Video games increasingly use motion capture and I wouldn’t be surprised if motion capture is involved in every game’s production in fifty years, if virtual entertainment doesn’t dominate by then.

War of the Planet of the Apes will undoubtedly prove to be another marvel of motion capture, just like the series as a whole.If Matt Reeves ends the series on a strong note, it will be all the proof I need that the solo Batman solo film is in good hands.

Sense8 Cancelled

I gave my thoughts on season 1 of Netlix’s “Sense8” a while ago and was happy to see that some of the gripes I had about the first season were addressed: “Whispers” received more development and so did the Biological Preservation Organization (BPO), the organization that is hunting the sensates. In addition to that, we also got more development for the sensates and got to continue the stories we loved from the first season. Sense8 continued with its emotional gravity and action, while also offering more of the unmatched feel good moments that fans fell in love with in the first season.

Even better, the second season also managed to tackle its themes of discrimination and acceptance without being as preachy as the first season, or even the Christmas special were at times. The action scenes were better, not just bigger and the season left us with a cliffhanger that raised questions and excitement for season 3. I finished the series about two weeks ago, feeling like Sense8 had potential to become something truly iconic. Then a co-worker told me it was cancelled.

I have been meaning to share my thoughts on this development for a while and I figure later is better than never. The main reason cited by Netflix executives and even actor Brian J. Smith (Will) is the issue of return on investment (ROI). Unlike many shows and films, Sense8 shot all of its scenes on location. Production involved filming in eight different countries, which lent more authenticity to the show but also drives up the production costs. Along with The Get Down, Sense8 becomes one of the first notable Netflix original cancellations (at least in a while). The streaming service doesn’t release viewership data, so cancellation is sadly one of the few indicators audiences get of a show’s viewership. This is not to say that Sense8 necessarily resulted in a loss for Netflix. CEO Reed Hastings said the streaming service had too many hits competing with one another. Perhaps Sense8 didn’t make a profit with its last season. Or perhaps it made profit but not enough to justify its budget, in the eyes of Netflix executives. In such a situation, profitable and well-loved shows can end up getting pushed aside for ones that are even more profitable. We are living in a golden-age of television, with a diverse and critically lauded slate of tv shows that is arguably more enticing than what Hollywood offers. Even Hollywood A-listers understand the power of the “small screen”, from Kevin Spacey, to Dwayne Johnson to Matthew McConaughey. Competition is fierce on cable and especially on Netflix due to its smaller stable of original programming. A passionate fan base isn’t enough to bring it back with its cries or petitions, and it appears Sense8 is simply a casualty of entertainment economics.

A part of me holds on the hope that the show will return at some point, similar to how Young Justice is now slated for a third season, three years after its cancellation. When asked why Young Justice was returning, the president of Warner Bros. Animation said that “The affection that fans have had for Young Justice, and their rallying cry for more episodes, has always resonated with us”. I want to believe Netflix could have a similar change of heart but I don’t want to indulge false hope.

Sense8‘s cancellation is all the more upsetting because of season two’s improvement, and the epic season that it was building up to. Now, fans can only imagine what would come next. Maybe that will have to enough.

Geostorm Trailer- The Sombre Song Trend?

I saw the trailer for Geostorm in front of Wonder Woman last week and although the film seemed generic, with the apocalyptic scenario and the subpar CGI, the cover of “What A Wonderful World” stuck with me. The new rendition added a great deal of irony and the song itself was hauntingly beautiful. In true nerd fashion I went online to see if anyone else shared my opinion, and came across this article. This well written (no sarcasm) rants details the “trend” of trailers using sombre covers of famous and well-regarded songs, which apparently started with The Social Network using a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.

This first article mainly lists examples, mainly from movies that I haven’t seen, such as The Great Gatsby and  Fifty Shades of Grey (which I will only see if someone gives me The Clockwork Orange treatment).

I have to point out that this list still only includes a small minority of the trailers released over the past few years, trying to make it seem like every other film trailer follows the trend nowadays. There are enough examples for us to say a trend is at work, but why are we acting like these examples warrant a call for a moratorium?

I digress. This blog post comes as a reaction to a linked article. This article also breaks down the history of the trend and uses Suicide Squad as a case study, comparing the teaser that used a cover of Bee Gee’s “I Started a Joke” to the second trailer that used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The reason I feel the need to discuss this: The thesis of the article is that the second trailer is better because it is more “fun”. I have previously discussed my disdain for the belief that fun always equals good, while serious or “dark” equals bad. However, I have mostly discussed this in relation to comic book films, with my article on Kingsman being an exception.

There has been a drastic shift in the reception of dark comic book films since The Dark Knight era. That is not to say that there isn’t a single dark comic book film that gets good reception these days e.g. Logan, but as a whole people value their “fun” now more than ever. People love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for its insistent levity and humour, and despise the DCEU (partly) due to its “dark” tone. Note that a lot of the positive reviews for Wonder Woman attribute its rating to its “hope” and “fun”.  I am not a miserable person, I don’t mind levity and “fun”. I just don’t mind darkness or anything that is serious either. It seems like people desire simple escapism now more than ever, where everything should be “fun”, regardless of the subject matter.

I must agree with the author on one of his points. In some cases, especially Avengers: Age of Ultron, the song choice adds gravitas that the film does not deserve. The Age of Ultron teaser built Ultron up as a frightening threat, who was ultimately neutered and played for laughs. However, I have to say that this issue of misdirection is not isolated specifically to sombre covers of well-known songs. Any dramatic score or serious song can have the same effect on a movie’s marketing. Many people hated the Matrix sequels and the music used for that marketing would likely be deemed just as “self-serious” to this author. It honestly seems like the covers of the well-known songs aren’t the author’s real issue. He just hates the serious or “grim” tone that it bestows on the trailers.

In this case the author calls the Geostorm trailer and its accompanying music, “self-serious”  and “grim”. As I’ve noted before, the focus on tone ends up overriding any other issues of artistic merit, since “fun” becomes synonymous with good and serious of “dark” becomes synonymous with bad. Let’s look at the author’s comments on Suicide Squad as an example. He argues that the second trailer, with Bohemian Rhapsody is more fun and markets the film better. Obviously the second trailer will market the film better. The second trailer isn’t a teaser, therefore it is meant to show us more of the characters backgrounds and their interactions. Yet as expected, this author thinks the trailer is better ONLY because it’s tone is improved.

Many people, who do not know comic book characters as well as they think they do, insist that these films should all remain colourful and fun, no matter the storyline or characters being portrayed. Although I disagree, I can understand how a simplistic notion of a certain character or fictional world can lead people to think that one size fits all in terms of tone. However, Geostorm is not an adapation, yet alone an adaptation of “lighter” source material. Why does it have an obligation to be “fun”? It is a film about a global catastrophe, a dark tone suits it. Of course, some apocalyptic films can also have a lighter tone e.g. Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean that they all have to follow Independence Day’s example.

Pictured above: A perfect opportunity to use some “fun” music

Why can’t any film be allowed to look serious for a few minutes at a time without people labelling it pretentious or depressing? Even if a film is depressing, it doesn’t mean it is bad. Unless the film is explicitly meant to be a comedy, a film’s rating should not suffer because it didn’t make you laugh or smile enough. Since when did we become so sensitive that we need films to cushion us from the ugly realities of life? Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. People argue that is why films should offer us fun, but I argue that is the best reason that they should offer us whatever the director or editor feels. Films often reflect reality, why have we forgotten that? There is nothing wrong with films having different tones. We can choose to watch different films based on our moods. There is variety. I would hate to scroll through Netflix or Kodi and come across a library of films that are all the same tone. Likewise, I would hate to go to the theater and have one preview after another with the same tone, whether it is dark or light.