Sunday, November 30, 2014

Rattle and Hummmmmmmm: The teaser trailer for STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Has there ever been a movie trailer that has sparked more conversation, outrage, and all around hubbub than the one for STAR WARS, EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS? According to, the 88 second long teaser trailer was viewed (cue Dr. Evil) 20...million...times - and that's just on YouTube! In the three days since Black Friday - black as in Darth Vader-black - the clip was been dissected and replayed more than the Zapruder film. Of course, it was going to be a big deal no matter what but the level of anger and skepticism towards the J.J. Abrams directed reboot (read: resurrection) has been nothing short of staggering.
While the overall impression seems to be positive, the fanboys and Jediphiles among us have their Skywalker Underoos in a wad over a very specific detail: the electric hilt on the lightsaber of a shadowy figure lurking in a dark wooded environment. The way many of these fans are reacting you would think Harrison Ford appeared onscreen as Han Solo wearing a pink negligee. Articles have since appeared both refuting and affirming the notion of a lightsaber hilt.
To that I think I speak for many a viewer when I say who gives a Tauntaun's furry ass? I'm sure the movie will illustrate the necessity of a lightsaber having that particular feature so RELAX, my nerdy brethren. By next Christmas, fanboys both young and old will want lightsabers with hilts under their Christmas tree.
Another sticking point with the cogniscenti is the absence of footage of favorites like Luke, Han, and Leia. Anyone with a pulse knows that original cast members Mark Hamill, Ford, and Carrie Fisher will all be reprising their characters in older form and the lack of any clips of them in the teaser was seen as a huge disappointment. Myself, I think it was a brilliant marketing decision as Abrams and (sigh) Disney will be rolling out more and more footage over the next eleven months like freshly churned butter.
It's why it's called a teaser, kids.
As of this writing, some articles have been posting about controversy stemming from the very first shot of the trailer: a young black actor (John Boyega from ATTACK THE BLOCK) dressed sans helmet in a Stormtrooper uniform. Honestly, I don't even want to go there as that sort of reaction really has nothing to do with the Star Wars universe. Suffice it to say, you can't please everyone and what is the Internet but one giant forum for everyone and their brother to opine about what is irking them at that particular moment. It's the written form of white noise and often times it's best to just turn the damn thing off.
I totally get that a lot of this sturm und drang is coming from a bunch of cry babies who had their pristine Star Wars memories besmirched by the evil known as The Prequels (cue "Vader's March" theme.) Yes, they weren't as good as the first ones - how could they be?? Yes, Jar Jar sucked. Yes Episode III was a downer but that was a given from the word jump. But The Prequels have come and gone and now it's time to look ahead, yes with a new hope, and try not to judge the movie based on a mere 88 seconds of new stuff.
For this dyed in the wool fan/nerd, the teaser did exactly what it intended to do - it made want to see the movie. I can't to see the Millennium Falcon evading TIE Fighters on the big screen. I can't wait to see my old friends, both human and otherwise. I can't wait to hear John Williams' thrilling score blast throughout the theater as the familiar Star Wars logo is emblazoned onscreen.
I can't wait.
I. Can't. Wait.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Strangers on a Really Big Train: SNOWPIERCER (2014)

What is it about trains that make them so inherently cinematic? From the dawn of cinema where audiences were literally bracing for impact when the titular vehicle from THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903) barreled onscreen toward them to Hitchcock's deliciously macabre thriller STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) to Andrei Konchalovsky's superb existential adventure RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) trains have held filmgoers, as well as some famous actors, captive aboard steel locomotives which, like sharks, stay in constant motion merely because that is what they are meant to do. In that respect, trains are like movies - they must continually moves towards a destination, either predestined or unknown, or else risk blowing a gasket and breaking down.
Joon-ho Bong's (2006's THE HOST) sublimely offbeat thriller cum social treatise SNOWPIERCER earns its place among the best films that use the claustrophobic mileu to peak effect despite its wavering sense of tone. Set in a semi-distant future in which Earth has frozen over and nearly all human life has gone the way of the dinosaur, the film takes place on the Snowpiercer - a miles-long train - or rather, a microcosm of society complete with deluxe amenities for the luckier citizens - that is carrying dozens of grimy, downtrodden survivors, who are constantly being inspected by an itinerant (and armed) security team straight out of the recent ROBOCOP reboot.
Amidst these forgotten souls is Curtis (Chris Evans aka Captain America) a scruffy, pissed-off, prisoner who is constantly eyeing the timing of the automatic doors whenever the guards come in for roll call. It's clear Curtis has a plan and sure enough, he and fellow captives Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) are helping him lead a mini-revolt and escape the filthy confines they have called home for the past fifteen years.
Joining them along this grease-stained yellow brick road (yes the OZ allusion is intentional) are the father/daughter team Yona and Fuyu, both Chinese and both drug users addicted to an amalgam of "industrial waste" known as Kromole. The Wicked Witch in this journey is Mason, an androgenously-named caricature of Margaret Thatcher played goofily to the hilt by Tilda Swinton. Speaking in clipped British through cartoon-like fake chompers, Mason is at once quite congenial to the unwashed masses in the caboose to demeaning and cruel when it comes to making the underlings more socially acceptable.
It's the scenes featuring Swinton's absurd overacting (director-approved no doubt) where both the story and the suspension of disbelief start to come off the tracks. In a film so bleak, tense, and yes, dystopian, the comic scenes don't serve as relief but rather Terry Gilliam-inspired buffoonery. Ok, we get it, the authority figure is a stooge, but does the movie need to suddenly feel like a Three Stooges short?
So yes, our not-so merry band of heroes will indeed find The Man Behind The Curtain, the steam inside the engine if you will, and without ruining the surprise, it's a humdinger of a cameo that leads to a satisfying and poignant conclusion. Like Neo in THE MATRIX films, Curtis finds himself holding the keys to an uncertain future...or is it a preordained destiny with doom?
You'll just have to take the ride to find out.