June 27, 2010

Now I've Seen It: The Worst Movie of All Time

All right, so that might be an overstatement. But I don't think it's by much.

Remember how, back in October of last year, I lamented the then-forthcoming issuance of another Tim Burton "vision," his dreaded reimagining of Alice in Wonderland? I wrote then that "I'm worried. I know it's gonna be horrible."

How right I was. Don't say I didn't warn me.

To be fair, I went into the viewing of this cinematic massacre with a completely closed mind, aided, of course, by the wonderful Trudi, who sat through the entire film with me. Together, we gasped at the ludicrous back story (what seems to be a specialty of director Burton these days), tittered at the dreary dialogue, grumbled at the overly ominous lighting and smirked at the obtrusive CGI that squeezed out and discarded any vestige of inspiration produced by Alice author Lewis Carroll and illustrator John Tenniel in the original tale.

And then there was Johnny Depp. As the Mad Hatter, no less.

It would be an understatement to call his performance "excruciating."

One of the peculiar things about this film was its dogged insistence on making Wonderland a sad, broken place...and Depp's Hatter some kind of tragic figure, who, like the other inhabitants of this creepy world, has found his joys and desires bound with briars by the e-vile Red Queen (played screechingly by Helena Bonham Carter).

Hey, we know the Red Queen's off her rocker and is totally, thoroughly unjust. But isn't the real fun of Carroll's world the same as that of, say, the Freedonia of the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup...that nobody gives a damn?

I mean, this is a Mad Hatter, for crying out loud. Not Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men.

Then there was the problem of turning this wretched piece of celluloid into an action movie. Didn't work, Timmy. You know why? Well, there's this issue called character development that the film completely skirted. Makes it damned hard to care about anyone when the script is as tight as tapioca pudding.

Honestly, I would've thought the thing was ad-libbed if it hadn't been for that expensive CGI...which, shockingly, looked cheap and rather unrefined, despite what appears to have been an unconscionable number of labor-hours involved in the generation of such effects.

Perhaps the headline of this post is hyperbole. There are plenty of bad movies out there that might top Alice, such as Manos: The Hands of Fate and nearly anything by Oliver Stone.

But Alice is definitely up there. And that leads me to one final thought.

I've indicated in at least one previous post that a remake of a classic has to differentiate itself substantially from its predecessor(s), and I'm not going to take that back. But I will add that if you're going to put your own spin on a masterpiece, you might want to run it by people of taste before launching it into the crowd.

My feeling is, if it ain't frabjous, don't make it. Not nowhere, not nohow.

June 20, 2010

Weighing the Love for 47 Loyal Ronin

I'm going to say it flat out: I'm not the biggest fan of Hiroshi Inagaki.

I don't count the Samurai series of films (I, II and III) as among my favorite jidai-geki. So I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect of sitting down to watch Chushingura, Inagaki's 1962 treatment of the famous Japanese tale of the loyal 47 ronin (masterless samurai). It was one of those things where I felt like I should see it, despite my reservations.

Well, I saw it. And although it was well made, it was typical Inagaki.

I say this somewhat contemptuously, because I feel Inagaki's cinematic "voice" has got to be one of the slickest, least critical ones in Japanese cinema. In Chushingura, the director fashioned a handsome-looking, straightforward version of the classic story, in which 47 ronin, whose lord is executed unfairly by corrupt officials, avenge their master against incredible odds...despite their inevitable fate: death. It's a story about love and unequivocal fealty, and the 47 ronin involved reflect the highest samurai standards, and are worthy of admiration through their sacrifice--a point made at the end during the samurai's long walk through the town after beheading their prime target.

Can you imagine how Kurosawa would've tackled this subject? Someone would've made a crack somewhere, I'll bet.

Inagaki's treatment is reverential, to say the least. He peppers the tale with a complex cast of characters but doesn't spend enough time on most of them for us to become too involved. That's all right, though--this is an all-star type of film with luminaries such as Toshiro Mifine and Takashi Shimura playing small but important roles. I'm OK with this kind of movie.

I'm not OK, however, with the lack of a perspective.

That is what most struck me about Chushingura...and it's what I least like about Inagaki's films. It's a traditional, spectacle-oriented treatment--without much social commentary. You're supposed to hate the corrupt official (played with expert nastiness and no redeeming qualities by Chusha Ichikawa) and applaud the ronin's dedication, though this loyalty even extends beyond family. The values of note are the traditional ones, not the new ones, and one cannot question a samurai's dedication to his master, even at the expense of his wife or children, whom he must leave to avenge his lord and, consequently, commit ritual suicide.

Don't you think Kobayashi would have something to say about this?

I don't think all films have to be critical, and there's something to be said for going "by the book" when adapting classic stories. But I do think Inagaki missed something in Chushingura, and that only affirms my belief that he was not one of the world's top directors. One of the ingredients that makes great cinema so special is vision, and only a few people have it. There has to be a reason for making a film of a well-known tale that differentiates the new version from others that preceded it.

This is, by the way, a systemic issue in cinema that's not solely relegated to Inagaki's canon. We do need more movie visionaries who aren't just purveyors of slo-mo and 3D.

I know you're out there.

June 10, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different...

...and that is the subject of publication (sorry, no movies today). Two of my short stories are slated to appear in July: one in Golden Visions Magazine, and the other in Beyond Centauri magazine, a print publication for younger readers produced by Sam's Dot Publishing. This is a first for me, and I'm very excited. Both publications offer a wealth of quality content. Golden Visions' online site will be down for about a week at the end of June while it reformats, and the print issue won't be available for purchase until after the first week of July, but there should be both print and PDF versions of the issue after that.

Anyhoo (I hate saying that, but I do it anyway), I will try to post more when the issues come out. 'Til then...