Film Brief: Maps to the Stars [updated]

Maps to the Stars - poster

Sometimes when watching a movie, I get the feeling that I am seeing a series of scenes strung together with little or no cohesion binding them together.  I’ll often throw out the word “disjointed” to describe such a film.  It’s another Maps to the Stars - text blockway of saying the film lacks a strong narrative thrust; the first two-thirds or so of Maps to the Stars suffered in this way.

It’s a sort of heartless, anti-Grand Canyon, or perhaps a weak cross of The UninvitedMulholland Dr. and The Player.  Inherent Vice kept running through my mind as well.  I found Maps to the Stars driving me, but ultimately it’s a broken picture that can’t put a spark to the kindling it has assembled.  Very much on the fence with this one, because there was a lot I did like.  A marginal thumbs-down; 5/10.

Note: I saw this film in-theater, but it is also available via VOD.

Updated 3/9/15: upgraded to 6/10

Sony Employee: “people using Macs were fine”

This from a Sony employee:

“… Everyone is a little calmer now after the initial shock.  A couple of people had their computers removed but people using Macs were fine,” she said.  She said most work is done on iPads and iPhones.

Lesson for businesses and individuals alike: stick to Apple for your tech.  Apple devices are not impenetrable, but they’re a lot more secure than the alternatives.

And following up on my post yesterday regarding Sony pulling the Christmas release of The Interview, a post I 100% concur with — with the exception that I understand Sony was bowing to pressure from the theatre chains.  From The Loop:

Vice:

It is mind boggling to me, particularly when you compare it to real things that have actually happened. Someone killed 12 people and shot another 70 people at the opening night of Batman: The Dark Knight. They kept that movie in the theaters. You issue an anonymous cyber threat that you did not have the capability to carry out? We pulled a movie from 18,000 theaters.

There’s probably no worse way for Sony to have handled this. Incredible how messed up this has become.

Paranoia will destroy ya.

Sony Cancels Christmas Opening of The Interview… and then there was Cuba

The Interview poster - AP Photo

AP Photo via NY Times. Click for full size.

From the Times:

To depict the killing of a sitting world leader, comically or otherwise, is virtually without precedent in major studio movies, film historians say.

One may argue that this is the greatest attack against the U.S. since 9/11, and a huge victory for North Korea and Kim Jong-un, or whoever is responsible.

And it’s a sad day for America.  It’s a sad day for the movie business and for freedom of speech, and a sad day for liberty around the globe.  The Interview looks to be juvenile and perhaps not very good, but it’s a terrible precedent to cower and relent in the face of this type of attack.The Interview - Terror Threat text block

Or look at the glass half full.  As Craig Ferguson said many times, “It’s a great day for America, everybody!”  Kudos to the Obama administration and Raúl Castro for finally normalizing U.S. – Cuban relations.  It’s about time.  Talk about a time warp.

Birdman, in the Flesh

Birdman - posterI liked Birdman, but not the way critics did.  It features a tour de force both in its performances and production, a film executed in whirlwind non-stop frenetic fashion that will hold you from start to finish.  It deserves high accolades for its successes.  But I found the story too monotone, or put another way Birdman has trouble breaking free of its self-imposed Alcatraz.  So for all its virtues, my mantra is: story matters.  It matters more than anything else, and when it is constricted so is the end result.

Part of my problem with this movie also lies in its marketing and primary trailer, which I think misrepresent the film as more of a superhero tale, and less one of the mad scramble of a man on the edge, fighting for survival while exorcising his demons.  Both Crazy Heart and The Wrestler better illustrated this dynamic.

But the movie-making virtuosity of Birdman is astonishing.  It’s one of those rare films I wouldn’t mind watching again someday, just to study the technique.  And one last note: I recommend Birdman, but it’s not for everybody — a good number of people will be flatly turned off.  7/10

Comparison Notes: Synecdoche, New YorkBoyhood

Birdman - text blockIf you watch the trailer, you’ll want to see Birdman.  Below is a more representative sampling.

Edge of Tomorrow Rebranding

See Verge article, “Warner Bros. is pretending ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ has a cooler name because it bombed in theaters”

Edge of Tomorrow is a good movie, much better than a lot of movies which have done much better at the box office this year — and that’s a shame.  Goes to show that marketing is important, and that the masses want to see plasticky one-dimensional superheroes who are never put in any real danger.

Altman Biopic on Epix + Color Nebraska

Altman poster - medium

As someone who pays through the nose for cable TV, yet does not receive any of the “premium” movie channels such as HBO, Epix is one of the few channels that offers uncut HD movies.  Sundance and IFC used to, before becoming trash-hounds, so it’s down to little more than Epix and TCM.

Which is not the worst thing, since both offer good programming on occasion.  I caught some of the Epix-exclusive biography Altman the other night.  I think Robert Altman was very much a hit-or-miss director, making such essentials as M*A*S*H and The Player [prior post], but also the forgettable, horribly overrated Gosford Park.  I’ve not seen most of his work, but his filmography — including TV shows and shorts going back to the early ’50s — is impressive to say the least.

Certainly this documentary reminds us that he was a prolific director heavily involved with movie production over the span of six decades, and as such a leading and prominent figure in Hollywood.  From what I saw, I recommend Altman for those interested in film production, Robert Altman’s movies or the man himself.

Nebraska in color - text block

In other Epix-related news, the network Sunday night aired last year’s Nebraska in color.  Didn’t we learn a lesson with the Ted Turner colorization efforts?  I caught some of it, and must say: what a disaster.  It’s remarkable how much you lose by adding color.

A check reveals this interesting tidbit from Variety:

[The director Alexander] Payne had previously said that a color version had been made for specific television outlets in countries such as Moldova and Sierra Leone in which television deals had “only color” stipulations, though he had hoped that no one would ever see it.

That’s a good one.  Moldova and Sierra Leone.  God forbid we offend the audience’s expectations in Moldova or Sierra Leone.

* * *

On an absolute scale, Nebraska still works in color, especially with the muted palette employed by Payne.  But having seen it in its original contrasty black & white, I have to ask, why?  Epix claims on their Facebook page that airing of the color version was a one-time event.  Let’s hope so.

Something unexpected came out of all this: seeing a bit of the movie (even in color) reminded me of its staying power, and made me realize that I have a fondness for it that did not come to me upon my initial viewing.  I then stated:

… it was reaching for the kind a philosophical depth that came easily to the Lynch feature [The Straight Story].  I have to believe filming in black & white was also part of this strategy, and these attempts seem a bit forced.  The film mostly fails to achieve that extra dimension it desires.

I think I was a little too harsh.  Nebraska is an understated, charming little movie with memorable performances and a storyline just punchy enough to fit its players and theme.  As such, I am upgrading my 6/10 rating to 7/10.  Which is to say, just outside of the Top Ten of 2013, and about on par with Dallas Buyers Club.  Just make sure you watch it in black & white.

Nebraska - trailer screen capture

2014 — The Year of the Blockbuster

Does it seem like there are more big (as in big budget) movies this year?  It occurred to me watching trailers a while back that this year if filled with one giant production after another.  I remember when each year would welcome three or four big-budget, special effects-laden movies.  Not the case any more, it seems.

There’s the Scarlett Johansson movie Lucy.  Written and directed by Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element), I’m pulling for it.  Now start adding on: Godzilla, Captain AmericaX-Men sequel, Transformers sequel, Spider-Man sequel, Edge of Tomorrow, Johnny Depp’s movie Transcendence, Expendables III, Planet of the Apes sequel, Hercules, Jupiter Ascending (The Wachowski brothers return to sci-fi), Guardians of Blockbuster movies post - text blockthe Galaxy, and for good measure a Twister remake, Into the Storm.

Now add on the Age of Antiquity films I wrote about: Pompeii, the 300 sequel and Noah.  At Christmas is coming Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Now that is one HELL OF A LOT of big-budget movies.  Complete saturation.  And I am quite certain I am leaving a few big ones out.  So what’s my point?

I heard a news flash a few weeks ago that box office revenue is up this year, but somehow I doubt enough to keep up with all the spending, which begs the question: have these studios learned nothing?  I refer to my post Big Movies Go Bust — from just last summer.  I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see if all the expensive projects this year translate into profits, because all I see is Hollywood quadrupling-down on the blockbuster.