The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – Review

Lilly Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower as Luke and Leia - uh, Clary and Jace

To watch this film is to gain a new level of identification with HAL 9000’s poignant brain-wipe in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: as MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES unspools before your eyes, you can feel your mind going…going…gone – until you find yourself humming a verse of “Daisy Bell.” In fact, the move is so mind-numbing that I cannot bring myself to review it; instead, I have enlisted my imaginary nephew Jimmy, who served similar duty on the first TWILIGHT film. As before, I will fix the grammar and vocabulary to provide a professional sheen that a sixteen-year-old might not produce on his own. Take it away, Jimmy:

Man this movie sucked almost as much as TWILIGHT. Not as much, but that’ s not a good thing – because at least with TWILIGHT I could laugh at it. This movie wasn’t even that much fun.
It’s all about some girl who goes out with her friend for her birthday, and he’s a real lame-o because she thinks of him as like being her brother but he really loves her but he is too lame to tell her. Anyway she sees some blonde dude in a hoodie kill some other dude but nobody else sees it. This is because they are all “mundanes” and can’t see monsters and demons, so she must not be a mundane – she’s a shadow-hunter, only she don’t know it because her mom never told her, like my mom never told me I was adopted or something.
Anyway, “Mundanes” sounded kind of like “Mondays” to me, so I kept wondering whether there were any “Tuesdanes” or “Wednesdanes” or – well, you get the idea. And I know that joke is hella-lame, so you’re probably wondering why I told it, so I will tell you: I wanted you to know how I felt in the movie every time they told a joke – exactly like you feel now after “Tuesdanes.” I know you don’t believe the stuff they say in the movie could be that bad, but it is.
Anyway, the girl is kind of like the girl in TWILIGHT: she’s really boring, but at least her face moves sometimes. There’s this funny part where a shadow-hunter girl dresses her up in her leather skirts, and the girl is like, “I look like a slut,” but she doesn’t look like a slut; she looks like some girl wearing someone else’s clothes, and I think this scene was maybe supposed to tell us that this girl is really tough and cool and she will become a great shadow-hunter too, but she just looks like she wants to go home and put on some other clothes that fit.
Anyway, this girl kind of falls in love with the blonde shadow-hunter guy in the hoodie, but he’s boring too. He’s always standing around and staring like he’s got a booger in his nose that he’s afraid will fall out if he smiles or something, so he just stands there trying to hold it in by keeping his face all still.
Anyway, there’s a bad guy who wants to find this mortal cup thing that turns people into shadow hunters, but the shadow-hunters who had the cup don’t want to turn people into shadow-hunters because that would be bad for some reason I could never figure out, like I could never figure out why the bad guy was the bad guy for wanting to make shadow-hunters when the shadow-hunters kill demons that hurt people. Maybe they will explain that in the next movie, but that won’t do me any good because I won’t be going to see that one.
Anyway, the shadow-hunters who are the good guys take the girl and her “boyfriend” to this place where they are safe, except you know they will not be safe because the guy who runs the place is the same guy who was Moriarty in that Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey, so we all know where this is going. At least I did, but the characters didn’t because they’re kind of stupid.
There are also some werewolves who help out but mostly they don’t turn into wolves; they just growl and show their teeth. And there’s this really funny part where the demons get into the shadow-hunters hideout, and the werewolves come to rescue them, but one of the werewolves says we came to rescue them; we don’t know how to fight demons. And I kind of wondered, like, what did you think you were rescuing the shadow-hunters from? A tornado or something?

Talk to the hand!
Talk to the hand!

Then the demons kill almost all the werewolves but the girl paints this thing on her hand they call a rune, and it freezes the demons, but they don’t stay frozen for long, so they girl and her friends get away, but the last two werewolves stay to fight the demons, and I was wondering how come the demons could kill about three dozen werewolves really easy, but the last two werewolves would be able to have a fair fight with the demons.
The whole movie was like that. Stuff happens and I couldn’t figure out why, and sometimes the characters would say something to explain, but it was mostly like “What’s that rune that froze the demons?” And the girl would say something like, “I just now made it up.” Which was kind of like the whole movie – they just now made it up, and it worked because they said so.
Towards the end it got real confusing. Earlier, the girl’s mom drank something that did something to her, but we never saw what. The guy in the hoodie just says it was “no good,” so you think maybe it was poison, except the girl who is her daughter keeps talking about finding her mom, so I thought maybe her mom is not dead from poison. Well, they finally “find” mom, except they don’t really find her because they aren’t really looking for her at the time. She just happens to be in the shadow-hunter hideout, floating in the air in a coma, and I was like, “Did that thing she drank make her float, and did it make her just appear in that room, which was like in a crypt or something?” But nobody in the film cared about that; they were just happy to see mom, but mom never wakes up. And come to think about it, there’s another guy who gets hurt in a demon fight, and he never wakes up either, but he’s not dead either, so maybe they will tell us what happened to him in the next movie. Like I care!
There were a lot of fights in this movie, which is kind of surprising because you would think with lots of fights it wouldn’t be so boring, but it was boring. Because when you have a guy in a hoodie who is boring and a girl who is boring and they are fighting a bunch of boring demons, the result is – well, boring.
Also, I could never figure out why the girl’s mom sounded English, and so did the bad shadow-hunters who were hunting for the girl. Sometimes when I flip channels on TV, I see about two seconds of shows like MAGNUM P.I., and the bad shadow-hunters were kind of like those characters, and I thought if Magnum can beat them up, then it should be easy for the shadow-hunters to beat them up, but for some reason it isn’t.
At least near the end, the really bad lead shadow-hunter guy shows up, and he does lots of “acting” – which isn’t really good, but it’s kind of like when you see your best friend in the high school play, so you like it anyway. He does some more fight scenes, which are still boring even with him in them, and you get double your boredom because there’s another fight scene at the same time, and the movie goes back and forth so just when you’re falling asleep, you open your eyes because maybe the other fight won’t be so boring, but it is.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is that the bad guy looks about as old as the girl whose mother is in a coma, but he tells her he’s her father, which is really weird, because why does the girl’s mother look old but her father doesn’t? Also, it’s kind of like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and it’s also like RETURN OF THE JEDI, because the bad guy is also the father of the blond guy with the hoodie and the booger in his nose, so that makes the girl and the guy in the hoodie brother and sister just like Luke and Leia, which means they can’t be in love anymore, so I guess that means she’s going to get together with her other “friend” instead – the one she thinks of like a brother, which is kind of funny because she doesn’t think that way about the one who really is her brother. Oh, and “friend” she thinks of like a brother got bitten by a vampire and doesn’t need his eyeglasses anymore (like Peter Parker in SPIDER-MAN), so maybe he will be a vampire in the next movie, and you know I can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Anyway, the movie ends with Luke and Leia throwing Darth into a portal to another dimension, and hopefully he will end up in a galaxy far, far away. Because you know when you throw someone into a portal, it’s not like killing them once and for all; you know they’re coming back for the sequel. So when the movie ended and the credits started going on the screen and everyone left, I stuck around, because I figured there would be a seen like in KICK-ASS 2 where you see the bad guy is alive, so you know he will come back, but there was not a scene like that in this movie, so I just wasted five more minutes when I could have been in the rest room, which would have been a lot more entertaining than anything in this movie.

Thanks, Jimmy! I couldn’t have said it better myself! To be fair, the productions values are pretty decent, and the cinematography is nice. Despite the ridiculous and the intrusive attempt to shoe-horn in a song, the actual song (“Heart by Heart”) is not too bad: for a brief moment, you can close your eyes and almost enjoy yourself, as long as you can tune out the dialogue and sound effects. Jonathan Rhys Meyers resembles a young, dark-haired Malcolm McDowell, and he brings a certain intensity to the villainous Valentine, but his performance does not make me eager to see him in the new DRACULA television series. All that said, I’ve seldom had a harder time keeping my eyes open during a movie.
A strong recommendation to avoid this one
lily-collins-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-trailerTHE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES (August 22, 2013). Directed by Harald Zwart. Screenplay by Jessica Postigo, based on the novel by Cassandra Clare. 1130 mins. Rated PG-13. Cast: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Kevin Zegers, Jemima West, Robert Sheehan, Robert Maillet, Kevin Durand, Godfrey Gao, Lena Headey, Harry Van Gorkum, CCH Pounder, Jarde Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Richard Matheson: He Was Legend

Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson

Influential author and screenwriter passes away. Works included I AM LEGEND and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME.

Multiple sources (including io9 and the Guardian Express) are reporting that author Richard Matheson – the man Stephen King cited as the greatest influence on his work – has passed away at the age of 87. The news originated with a Twitter post by his daughter, announcing that her father had passed away after a long illness.
It is quite literally impossible to exaggerate the significance of this news. The world of horror, fantasy, and science fiction has just become smaller, now that one of its major lights has been extinguished. Although Matheson’s heyday as a novelist and screenwriter was decades ago, his work continues to inspire others. The recent hit REEL STEEL (2011), starring Hugh Jackman, was inspired by his work, and Matheson had been shopping his back catalog (over 150 novels, short stories, and screenplays) around to studios, with the plan of bring the material to the screen only with the author’s oversight and approval.
Matheson’s horror, fantasy, and science fiction novels include I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, Hell House, Bid Time Return, and What Dreams May Come, all of which were adapted into films, usually with the author working on the screenplay. His short stores filled over half a dozen paperback collections; many of them found their way in front of the camera, either for films or television.

A fight with a spider becomes an epic struggle for survival in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN
A fight with a spider becomes an epic struggle for survival in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

Matheson got his break into the feature film business when Universal Pictures sought the rights to film The Shrinking Man, which became THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957). As part of the deal, Matheson insisted that he be allowed to write the adaptation. Although the final version was reworked by Richard Alan Simmons (to get rid of the flashback structure), Matheson received sole credit, and was pleased with the result, except for the ending, which he felt over-stated the point he made in his book, when protagonist Scott Carey shrinks to infinitesimal size but realizes he will not cease to exist because “to Nature there was no zero.” In the movie, the line became, “To God there is no zero. I still exist.”
I’m not sure whether it is on record anywhere, but Matheson’s attitude toward THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN mellowed in his later years. During a question-and-answer session after a screening in Hollywood a few years ago, he dismissed any ill feelings about the ending, saying it was essentially what he wrote. (Matheson may have “got religion” during the interim. His early science fiction novels have a strong existential streak running through them; his later fantasy stories often deal with life after death, particularly What Dreams May Come, which includes a legnthy bibliography of non-fiction source material.
After THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, Matheson went on to a busy career in films, which including adapting numerous other books and stories to the screen for such classic films as THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968, a.k.a. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE), starring Christopher Lee; BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962, a.k.a. NIGHT OF THE EAGLE), based on Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife; and MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961), based on two novels by Jules Verne.
Peter Lorre and Vincent Price in an episode from TALES OF TERROR, an anthology scripted by Matheson from stories by Poe.
Peter Lorre and Vincent Price in an episode from TALES OF TERROR, an anthology scripted by Matheson from stories by Poe.

For producer-director Roger Corman, Matheson stretched the work of Edgar Allan Poe to feature length, often expanding the short stories into what were essentially original screenplays: HOUSE OF USHER (1960), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), TALES OF TERROR (1962), and THE RAVEN (1963). The latter two added comedy to the horror mix, a formula Matheson attempted again with his original script for THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963), which was directed by Jacques Tourneur (I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE).
For the small screen, Matheson penned numerous episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, including two starring William Shatner (“Nick of Time” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”). He also scripted the STAR TREK episode “The Enemy Within,” which split Captain Kirk into his good and bad selves. His other episodic work includes WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE; HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL; THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR; THE GIRL FROM U.N.CL.E.; LATE NIGHT HORROR; JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN; Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY; CIRCLE OF FEAR; and Steven Spielberg’s AMAZING STORIES.
In the 1970s, Matheson wrote several made-for-television movies, beginning with DUEL, based on his Playboy short story. Directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring Dennis Weaver as a driver mercilessly hounded by a big rig truck apparently out to kill him for no reason, the film is a classic thriller.
Darren McGavin and Barry Atwater in THE NIGHT STALKER, which Matheson adapted from a novel by Jeff Rice.
Darren McGavin and Barry Atwater in THE NIGHT STALKER, a telefilm that Matheson adapted from a novel by Jeff Rice.

Matheson then teamed up with producer Dan Curtis, scripting such telefilms as THE NIGHT STALKER, about a vampire in modern day Las Vegas. Other collaborations included THE NIGHT STRANGLER; TRILOGY OF TERROR; and DRACULA (whose lost-love-reincarnation plot greatly influenced Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA).
Later work included TWLIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1982) and JAWS 3-D (1983). Most of his subsequent screen credits (nearly 20 since 1990) are for previously published stories that were adapted into films, such as the  big-budget version of I AM LEGEND (2007), starring Will Smith. He also wrote the novels Earthbound (1989) and Now You See It… (the latter adapted from his stage play).
Matheson’s influence on the horror genre is incalculable. Outside of the 1950s science fiction films, horror and monster movies tended to use period settings; the traditional Gothic atmosphere seemed essential to establishing an atmosphere that would make the incredible events believable. However, this also established a distance between the cinematic events and the every day life of the audience. Matheson pioneered the art of placing horror in suburbia – not in a forgotten European castle, but right next door, and sometimes not as far away as that.
In Matheson’s novels, all manner of strange and bizarre things can happen in your very home- such as a daughter disappearing into another dimension in the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “Little Girl Lost.” Even when Matheson did opt for an isolated location, as in Hell House (which became THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE on screen), the setting was contemporary, and there was a patina of scientific verisimilitude that made the horror convincing.
Besides the numerous official adaptations of his work, Matheson’s shadow extends far and wide, reaching all the way to the recent release of WORLD WAR Z. Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (about a world overrun by vampires, leaving only one human alive) provided the inspiration for George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) (which basically turned Matheson’s blood-drinkers into flesh-eaters). Romero’s later DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) expanded the first film’s narrow scope to an apocalyptic scale, suggesting that the walking dead were eclipsing humanity. This became the template for all the zombie apocalypse tales to follow, including not only WORLD WAR Z but also THE WALKING DEAD.
Sadly, the greatness of Matheson’s novel has never been captured in the official film adaptations, which shy away from the existential shock of the ending, in which hero Robert Neville realizes that, in a new world of vampires, he is the outcast; he is the monster:

Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man.
[…] To them he was some terrible scourge they had never seen, a scourge even worse than the disease they had come to live with. He was an invisible specter who had left for evidence of his existence the bloodless bodies of their loved ones. […]
Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. […] A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortresses of forever.
I am legend.

His fantasy novels What Dreams May Come and Bid Time Return (the latter adapted in 1980 as SOMEWHERE IN TIME) are marked by a deep commitment to romantic love – which is portrayed as strong enough to outlive time and survive death itself. The films, although earnest and sweet, do not live up to the source material, which in both cases strives to sell the potentially treacly ideas with genuine dramatic conviction. (Even confirmed atheist Harlan Ellison, in his Los Angeles Times review of What Dreams May Come, admitted that Matheson made a damn convincing emotional argument for the afterlife.)
That is the thought which I hold in my mind now, more than the handful of times when I saw him in person, affably answering questions about  his work and autographic his books. I imagine him somewhere on the other side, whispering to us (or more probably to his surviving family members, like Robin Williams in the screen version of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME): “I still exist.”
Perhaps that is not quite the epitaph the author deserves. Better to note this profound truth:
For those of us with a Sense of Wonder, Richard Matheson was – and is – Legend.

Cinefantastique's Greatest Movie Cheats: Tangled

TANGLED provides our first look at the cinematic strategy of "movie cheats."
TANGLED provides our first look at the cinematic strategy of "movie cheats."

All movies cheat, but horror, fantasy films, and science fiction films are a special case. Every motion picture shoots its scenes over and over, then edits the best bits together to hide the seams: camera angles conceal objects the filmmakers do not want us to see; lens filters enhance the look of real locations, while unreal locations are built on sound stages; computer-generated imagery airbrushes away flaws in live-action photography. Fantasy-oriented film-making takes this make-believe a step further: miniatures assume gargantuan proportions on the big screen; makeup alters men into monsters; and CGI creates not only imaginary creatures but also entire worlds in which they live.
In such a context, when everything seems possible and much of what is visible on screen exists only because it was created with special effects, how does one define a movie cheat? Like this: In most films, whether they are achieved with live-action, animation, or special effects, the techniques used are supposed to be invisible to the average viewer, creating a sense of verisimilitude. The film is meant to unreel as if the events are actually happening, and the audience accepts what they are seeing without questioning how it was achieved.
Some filmmakers, however, are bolder than this. Sometimes in order to make a dramatic point, or more often to spring a surprise on the audience — the filmic equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat — the filmmakers will violate the “internal reality” of the film with a clever visual or audio cheat. This is different from the special effects that create a fantasy environment: wizards and monsters exist in the imaginary world of LORD OF THE RINGS, so it is hardly a “cheat” to portray them by whatever means necessary.
In this context, a “cheat” means a piece of cinematic sleight-of-hand that pulls a fast one on the audience, that shows something contradictory or impossible according to the film’s own logic. In short, a cheat works because the trickery is visible – intentionally so – otherwise, the impact would be lost. You may need sharp eyes (or the reverse button on your DVD player), but you should be able to spot the subterfuge if you look for it.
Take, for example, Walt Disney Pictures animated gem, TANGLED (2010). Computer-generated imagery takes us so far into the realm of fantasy that one may question the wisdom of pointing out a cheat; after all, what reality is there to violate? Yet, this wonderful animated fairy tale does indeed include a classic movie cheat, one previously seen in Dario Argento’s TENEBRE (1982). Watch the following sequence of shots to see how directors Nathan Greno and Bryon Howard use a movie cheat to create an impossible surprise.
 Flynn Rider enters Rapunzel's castle and catches his breath. Notice the empty space to the right of the frame; clearly no one is behind him.
Flynn Rider enters Rapunzel's castle and catches his breath. Notice the empty space to the right of the frame; clearly no one is behind him.

When Flynn Rider first enters Rapunzel’s tower, he is seen in long-shot, clearly alone; there is nowhere for anyone to be hiding behind him.
The camera cuts in to a closer angle as Flynn Rider opens a satchel to admire his stolen prize. The space behind him is no longer visible.
The camera cuts in to a closer angle as Flynn Rider opens a satchel to admire his stolen prize. The space behind him is no longer visible.

As he pauses to open a satchel containing a stolen crown, the film cuts in to a closer angle, hiding the (previously empty) space behind him. However, before he can enjoy his ill-gotten gains….
As if from nowhere, a frying pan whacks Rider from behind.
As if from nowhere, a frying pan whacks Rider from behind.

Rider is wacked from behind, falling to the floor and revealing Rapunzel standing behind him, a frying pan in her hand.
After Rider falls, Rapunzel is revealed, occupying the space that had been empty in the long shot.
After Rider falls, Rapunzel is revealed, occupying the space that had been empty in the long shot.

How did Rapunzel manage to get behind Rider without being seen by the audience? In the long-shot that begins the sequence, there is nowhere for her to be hiding (unless her pet chameleon Pascal has somehow magically transferred his powers to her).
Presumably, Rapunzel sneaked up from behind, but there is a wall at her back and no object to provide cover. She could have entered the scene only from the right side of the frame, which should have made her visible to us – unless we are to assume that she crawled into the waist-high medium shot on her hands and knees, and then rose up once she had positioned herself so that Rider would hide her from the camera.
In short, Rapunzel’s appearance behind Rider is impossible within the “reality” presented by the film TANGLED. Does that make this a film flub? No, it is a wonderful example of an excellent movie cheat used to create a memorably effective moment that might have been mitigated by restrictions to the semblance of reality. This is movie magic at its best, using basic techniques of camera placement and editing to create illusions so convincing that we do not question them, even when they are “impossible.”
This article is the first in a series of favorite movie cheats visible in fantasy, horror and science-fiction films. These are all moments that catch the eye and/or provide dramatic impact because the films dare to violate the dictates of “realism.” Hopefully, exposing this sleight-of-hand will not undermine your appreciation of the magic; if anything, awareness of the cheat should increase your appreciation of the deft techniques used to achieve these remarkable and startling effects.

Struck By Lightening: in limited engagements January 11

Tribecca Films opens this high school comedy (currently available via Video on Demand) in limited theatrical engagements. GLEE’s Chris Colfer (who also scripted) stars as high school senior Carson Phillips, who is struck and killed by lightening in the opening scene, then proceeds to narrate to us the details of his life in flashback (a la SUNSET BOULEVARD and AMERICAN BEAUTY). Despite the fanciful premise, director Brian Dannelly keeps the proceedings down-to-earth in style and presentation, as social outcast Carson goes about turning the tables, blacking-mailing fellow students into writing for his literary magazine (an extra curricular activity that Carson hopes will help land him in a fancy college). The cast includes Allison Janney, Dermot Mulroney, Christina Hendricks, Sarah Hyland, and Rebel Wilson.
struck-poster-2013STRUCK BY LIGHTENING opens on January 11 in these theaters:

  • New York, NY: AMC Empire 25 – In-person Q&A with Chris Colfer on Friday 1/11 after 7pm show — SOLD OUT!
  • Los Angeles, CA: Laemmle Noho 7 – In-person Q&A with Chris Colfer on Saturday 1/12 after 7:45pm show — SOLD OUT!
  • Denver, CO: Denver FilmCenter/Colfax
  • Portland, OR: Living Room Theaters
  • Phoenix, AZ: Harkins Shea 14
  • Columbus, OH: Gateway Film Center
  • Clovis, CA: Sierra Vista 16

Laserblast Podcast 4.1.2: Storage 24, John Dies at the End, Struck by Lightening

strorage-struck-johndies copy

Step right up for this year’s opening edition of the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast – focusing its sights on all there is to cheer and fear in the world of horror, fantasy, and science fiction home video. Laserblast Episode 4.1.2 (following hot on the heels of the CFQ Spotlight Podcast regarding the new theatrical release TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D) not only runs down the Blu-ray discs, DVDs, and Digital Downloads available on Tuesday, January 8; the podcast also shines a light on a trio of pre-theatrical rentals – films available via Video on Demand prior to appearing in limited engagements on the big screen. STRUCK BY LIGHTENING (from GLEE’s Chris Colfer) open on Friday, January 11. STORAGE 24 (from DOCTOR WHO’s Noel Clarke) opens on January 18. JOHN DIES AT THE END (from PHANTASM writer-director Don Coscarelli) opens on January 25.
Also under consideration are A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the recent Blu-ray release of the 1951 film version starring Alistair Sim; KURONEKO, the black-and-white ghost cat movie now available through Hulu; and PLANET OF THE APES, whose fine Blu-ray release from a few years back is now discount-priced, benefitting those DVD owners who had been reluctant to upgrade. Listen in as Lawrence French, Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski tell you all you need to know.
Note: This post has been edited to revise the release date for STORAGE 24, which (based on information from IMDB) was originally listed as January 11.


2012 Roundup: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 3:52

The Faces and Feats of 2012.
The Faces and Feats of 2012.

The future is a bottomless well, its mysteries yet to be revealed. The past is the road that stretches behind us, a strange and twisted route littered with ghosts, demons, hobbits, hostile aliens, Dark Knights, the gods of myth, and far too many teenagers lugging amateur camcorders. 2012 is over, a year that, as with many before it, failed to keep all its promises but in compensation offered up enough surprises to remind us why we so love the films of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. So as the calendar rolls over, Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons offer up their lists of the top-ten genre releases of the year, with more than a few surprises in the discussion. Click on the player to hear the show.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – film review

What's missing from THE HOBBIT poster? The Hobbit! Sort of a metaphor for the film itself
What's missing from THE HOBBIT poster? The Hobbit! Sort of a metaphor for the film itself

If you are a fan of Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, good fortune has smiled upon you this weekend, because THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY contains more of what you enjoyed before – much, much more. In fact, there is so much LORD OF THE RINGS that there is barely any room for THE HOBBIT. Unfortunately, instead of simply adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, Jackson has opted to use the story as a jumping off point for a convoluted prequel that threatens to do for Middle Earth what George Lucas’s STAR WARS prequels did for a galaxy far, far away.
The strategy yields a schizoid mess that buries Tolkien’s simple tale beneath an avalanche of expository dialogue and CGI action  – the former intended to tie the events into the previous films, the latter intended to pad the story into an action-adventure epic. The problem is that, unlike before, this story is not big enough to support the epic length. Whereas THE LORD OF THE RINGS felt dense, even with each film clocking in at over three hours, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY feels thin – a good first act (of what should have been a two-hour movie) stretched to interminable length in order to fill a feature-length running time over two and a half hours.
The result is strangely disengaging – a virtual remake, hitting all the beats of its predecessor but missing the emotional resonance. The similarity is certainly inherent in the source material (when Tolkien wrote his sequel to The Lord of the Rings, he reused many story elements from The Hobbit), but Jackson has deliberately emphasized the echoes in an effort to recreate his winning formula of expanding the author’s literary prose into stunning cinematic visuals.
For example, like THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY begins with a massive battle in which monster-thingy smites a king whose heir must set things right, and it ends with our heroes standing on a hill looking into the distance at a forbidding mountain to which they will travel in the next installment. The images look just as spectacular as before, but this time they feel like empty spectacle.
Which wouldn’t be so bad if the spectacle were a little more…well – spectacular – but Jackson seems to have lost sight of how to build thrilling action scenes in which characters are caught in dangerous situations but manage to find a way out through ingenuity or perseverance. There is a surfeit of CGI long-shots of animated characters running around toppling bridges but less of the eye-level live-action camera work that drew the audience into the action to build suspense. The aesthetic here is less LORD OF THE RINGS than it is the silly T-Rex trapeze sequence in Jackson’s KING KONG 2004 remake. In a weird way, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY even recalls Toho’s giant monster films of the 1960s, when less and less live-action was filmed, reducing the city destruction to a series of crumbling miniatures bereft of any human scale.
Gollum (Andy Serkis) wonders "What has it got in its pocketss!"
Gollum (Andy Serkis) wonders "What has it got in its pocketss!"

Every once in a while, a scene comes alive in a way that makes a viewer yearn for what might have been. Gollum’s riddles in the dark with Bilbo are creepy and funny – the scene works as a stand-alone moment in in this film, and it foreshadows events that will happen later in LORD OF THE RINGS – without any heavy-handed cinematic threading to tie the incidents together. Ian McKellen is wonderful as ever as Gandalf: when he delivers his message in favor of mercy to Bilbo, he really does seem to be channeling a higher wisdom worth remembering. And Bilbo’s explanation of why he decides to help the dwarves is genuinely moving (Bilbo yearns for home – something the dwarves do not have).
Too bad THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY could not have focused on these considerable strengths instead of drowning them in a sea of CGI set-pieces and ill-conceived ret-conning. Tolkien’s tale is a fairly straight-forward children’s fantasy about Bilbo Baggins joining the wizard Gandalf and a dozen dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug. His Lord of the Rings sequel trilogy is much deeper and darker, and Tolkien himself had to do a little revamping to stitch the two together (rewriting substantial portions of Gollum’s appearance in Chapter 5 of The Hobbit). However, when Tolkien later sat down to do a complete rewrite of The Hobbit, to bring it more in line with Lord of the Rings, he abandoned the task after three chapters, when someone told him “It’s not The Hobbit anymore.” Sadly, Peter Jackson did not heed the lesson of this anecdote. The humorous antics of the original (e.g., the three  trolls arguing over how to kill and cook Bilbo and his companions) remain, but the tone of these sequences jars with the grizzly, quasi-horror material that has been added.
In the appendix to Lord of the Rings and in various post-humously published stories, Tolkien laid out the connections (particularly in “Quest for Erebor,” in which Gandalf explains that, while the dwarves may have been concerned only with reclaiming their homeland from Smaug, Gandalf was eager to prevent the dragon from becoming an ally of the dark lord Sauron). Apparently, Jackson’s goal is to incorporate these ulterior motives and behind-the-scenes machinations into his prequel trilogy. Consequently, non-essential bits of business (e.g., the Necromancer – originally conceived as a plot device to get Gandalf off-stage for a while and later re-imagined as an incarnation of Sauron) end up being over-emphasized. Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Eldrond (Hugo Weaving) also show up, so that Gandalf can voice to them his concern about the evil brewing in the east. As interesting and admirable as it is to use the cinematic format to synthesize these elements together in a way the novel never could, the unfortunate side effect is that poor Bilbo, the little hobbit who could, gets pushed too often to the sidelines, obscuring what should be the main narrative.* And for all its attempt to satisfy the geeks audience by maintaining continuity between the films, Bilbo’s acquisition of the Ring plays out quite differently here than in the prologue from THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is not a complete disaster. There is still a good little movie in there, wishing it could escape from the epic aspirations forced upon it; the production values and special effects are excellent. The cast give it their all: Andy Serkis is as fun as ever as Gollum; and as Bilbo, Martin Freeman is a serviceable replacement for LORD OF THE RINGS Ian Holm (here seen only in a prologue to set up the flashback to earlier times). However, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY continues the downward slide that has afflicted all of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations. It bodes ill for the future films – an omen neither from Mordor nor the Lonely Mountain but from the accounting office in Hollywood that demanded another tent-pole franchise from source material ill-suited to support one.
Bilbo's "warrior face" is a bit unconvincing.
Bilbo's "warrior face" in this poster is a bit unconvincing.

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Warner Brothers, December 14, 2012). Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro, based on Tolkien’s novel. Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Lee Pace, Barry Humphries. 169 minutes. PG-13.

  • In a similar way, the 1994 INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE film adaptation marred its narrative by incorporating scenes and ideas that appeared not in the original text but in its literary sequels.

Brad Bird on THE IRON GIANT – Fantasy Film Podcast


In 1999, Warner’s released THE IRON GIANT. Well… released may not be the best term. Slipped into theaters under the cover of night so that anyone who might be remotely interested couldn’t possibly know of its existence… yeah, that’s the term. Despite the stealth marketing, director Brad Bird’s animated tale of a young boy who lives in red-scare, 1950’s America and manages to bond with a giant, gentle, metal-eating robot managed to catch a few discerning eyes (mine included), and has since been championed as a tremendously entertaining animation classic. As for Bird, well, the guys at Pixar took note, too, and Brad wound up helming a couple of minor trifles you might have heard of: THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE.
The staff over at New York’s Film Forum clearly know a good thing when they see it, and this year, they decided to treat their audience to a limited run of THE IRON GIANT as a holiday treat. It’s running from December 22nd through the 28th, and to commemorate the event, I got an opportunity to talk with Bird. We were able to discuss the creation of GIANT, plus look into some of his other projects, including his live-action debut: the Tom Cruise-starring MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL.
Click on the player to hear the interview.

The Tempest & Amazing Stream-of-Consciousness Episode – CFQ Post-Mortem Podcast 1:43.1

The Tempest - Prospera and her daughter confront Caliban

Having survived the rocky shoals of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons decide to kick it freestyle (as the kids all say — the kids do all say that, don’t they?) in a wide-ranging, nay, recklessly random episode of THE CINEFANTASTIQUE POST-MORTEM PODCAST. Covered in the discussion are Larry’s impressions of Julie Taymor’s daring adaptation of THE TEMPEST, Dan’s reactions to Bill Plympton’s impertinent animated short THE COW WHO WANTED TO BE A HAMBURGER, and Steve’s serene confidence amidst his critical brethren. Plus vag-monsters, John Lasseter, the COMMUNITY Christmas special, competing George C. Scott impressions, and the waning tyranny of THX Certification.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Cinefantastique Podcast 1:43


For the second week in a row, Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons immerse themselves in a magical, 3D kingdom for this episode of The Cinefantastique Review. This time, though, instead of Disney whimsy, it’s C.S. Lewis faith-tinged adventure, as they join siblings Lucy and Edmund Pevensie (Susan and Peter appear to be away on assignment) and thorn-in-the-side cousin Eustace, plus King Caspian (king!)  for the newest chapter of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER. Can the forces of darkness be vanquished by only a pair of Narnia royalty, where four were needed before? Does the film profit or lose by running a half-hour less than its predecessors? And is it any coincidence that Edmund’s greatest fear is a monster whose features resemble a certain female orifice that many teen boys find intimidating? These and many other questions will be discussed in this week’s episode. Plus, the usual round-up of news, events, and home video releases.

We're Getting the Band Back Together: Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and King Caspian (Ben Barnes) reteam one more time for THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER.
We're Getting the Band Back Together: Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and King Caspian (Ben Barnes) reteam one more time for THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER.