Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Demi Gods of Summer

Once the credits roll at the end of Clone Wars in a few weeks, my "summer" movie fest will have ended, and I will undoubtedly experience a moment of emptiness before I turn my face eagerly toward the fall movies. Daniel Craig's eyes in Quantum of Solace will definitely be a light after a short period of movie darkness.

However, before I turn away from the summer of 2008 forever I must do homage to the Demi gods of Summer. What are they you ask? Didn't you read my debut blog post? These are just the kind of people I've been raving about from the get go. My Demi gods of Summer are the people who produced, designed, wrote, directed etc any elements of the movies in the past few months that made me sigh in contentment, gasp in delight or even made my eyes go wet (I'm talking to you Wall-E!!!)

Don't know much about box office or diminishing theatre goer statistics or rising cinema prices, as usual I know what I like, so bring 'em on!

Robert Downey Jr. /The makers of Iron Man

Kudos to RDJ for coming back from a devastating period of drug addiction and jumping straight into the hearts of the viewing public. Everyone's glad he's doing so well, and they want him to keep it up. How does he do it? With acting ability I guess. He wowed everyone with Iron Man earlier this year and accomplished an even more amazing feat by making me fall for him - not head over heels, but through a gradual process which makes me think it's for keeps. He was funny; he was endearing. He was compelling. He also had great arms! Tell me you didn't notice in the iron pounding scene? He also worked well with the other characters including Gwyneth Paltrow as his secretary, the excellent Pepper Potts. His other co-stars were also excellent down to the robots – special props go to "robot with fire extinguisher" – excellent performance.

The whole of the movie was a treat because of RDJ and because of the story. It had heart, and it was mad fun as well.

Special mention must also go to the people who designed Tony Stark's home. Wow! I will gladly add it to my list of "Stuff From Movies I Want". (This list also includes a lightsaber, Arwen's necklace from Lord of the rings, various outfits from Jane Austen movies..... but more on that another time.)

The People at Pixar (Call me! I want to work for you!!!)

To all those who thought that Pixar could not do it again, I send a long, loud, sustained I TOLD YOU SO!!! I mean their track record is excellent. Take a look at Monster's Inc, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles and get back to me. If you did not think these movies were poignant, ground breaking, breathtaking and all out fun, I wash my hands of you, I give up, there's no hope.

Anyway you must know by now I'm talking about Wall-E. (His name by the way stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class.) Only Pixar could take a little robot with a body like one of those rusty, metal lunchboxes we used to have and a head like a pair of binoculars, and make a hero – "a little robot that could" so to speak. Just the type I like. I mean macho posturing is okay in its place, but characters that humbly but determinedly keep trying and trying and getting up whenever they're knocked down touch my heart, and Wall-E does that in spades.

His lack of speech makes him all the more endearing. He doesn't need to say more than the couple of words he knows and squeak his prerequisite sound effects; the work done on his body language was exemplary.

Again design is a big plus in this movie. I mean a robot that looks like Wall-E could conceivably exist in real life to clean up the streets (I know Port-of-Spain could use a few). The design of his counterpart EVE is beautiful; the sort of manmade design that leaves you in awe. Sleek, flawless, coldly deadly, she is the opposite of Wall-E. The perfect woman I say! But she has a "human" side too, and she reveals her heart and warmth as the story progresses. I loved her.

Some people have suggested that Wall-E, with its post-apocalyptic setting, is one of the darker Pixar movies, but the strength and hope are key elements in the story. The moment when several of the characters work together to help Wall-E made my eyes water (strong reaction for me). Wall-E himself doesn't give up – perhaps partly because he's a robot with a single minded purpose, but mostly because he is pure of heart, undaunted and determined – a true little hero on treads.
Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Crew
Everyone's seen The Dark Knight by now right? You've heard everything there is to know about it – it's dark; it's surprising; it has great acting, great story.
I attribute all that to the movie's director Christopher Nolan. Of course, we've seen credits at the end of a movie, a colossal amount of people are usually involved in steering the behemoth that is a feature film into harbour, but I usually like to give credit to the director.
So altogether: "All Hail Christopher Nolan!"
The guy did good work, and I appreciate a filmmaker who does good work fairly consistently. Nolan hasn't done much, but what he's done is quality stuff. It shows in his Batman movies which have good stories and good characterization.

The Dark Knight is an excellent example of this. Everyone is talking about Heath Ledger's work here, and he is very good. For one thing, if I did not know it was Heath Ledger, I probably would not recognize him under the crazy, wet clown makeup and with the slightly nasal voice and odd mannerisms. Christian Bale is a treat as usual. (I liked him in Little Women, Henry V and Newsies – ya gotta love Newsies). And I enjoyed the supporting characters like Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.
I like how ordinary characters get to be heroes in this movie as well; Batman doesn't do all the work. (This element was also pretty apparent in Spiderman II) In addition, there's Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, everyone's prince (or white knight), a sweet, brave, guy who you know you might really support and who you would grieve to lose. Alfred and Lucius are key players too; Batman couldn't do without them. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon is one of my favourites; he looks like a worn, hard working police officer, an ordinary man, and he performs his acts of heroism with ease, a sense of duty and a straightforward manner, no flair. He does what he has to do.
It's good to keep these characters in mind when so many others are criminals or are infected by the corruption which depressed me a little in this film (some of it struck a little too close to home). I attribute all this dark, enthralling goodness to Christopher Nolan. Very good job sir, I salute you.
I must make a quick mention of the entire staff who produced this movie's soundtrack. According to IMDB, that job goes to Hans Zimmer, so I congratulate him and his entire staff for making the decisions (I assume) of having large chunks of the movie without sound. At other times, an eerie whistle/alarm/siren sound accentuates the tension. It definitely amped my anxiety up a notch. I'm sure other movies have done this similiarly, but this is the first time it resonated with me so strongly.
Special mention again to whoever designed the bat bike. Add that to the list please: It actually looked like something you could ride on. I would add Bruce Wayne's gorgeous apartment as well, but all I saw was the bedroom with the massive bed, the cool, sleek interior design with the screens as accents and the lovely massive windows with the vista of Gotham city for real life wallpaper. We didn't see much else of the apartment though, no kitchen, no bathrooms, but wait there was his awesome balcony and a place to have a really lush and elegant party... oh and a secret tunnel – almost forgot that....heck it's going on the list.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
Indiana Jones was back with a vengeance this year, and I felt about him the way I felt about George and Steven: it's always good to see that they're still out there. I admit I wasn't always a Spielberg fan. For years I had a mental block against him. His movies were imaginative but always had elements I couldn't stomach, but eventually my block was dislodged by Spielberg's diversity. His movies cover a very wide spectrum of ideas and subjects- dinosaurs, the Holocaust, slavery, Peter Pan - and I don't know any other director off-hand who can do the same. It seems to me that he does whatever grabs him at a given moment; perhaps he's one of the few film makers who have that luxury, but you still have to give him props for doing it. He's still not my favourite director, but I no longer feel inclined to view his work with a jaundiced eye.
One of the reasons I started liking him better is because he works with George Lucas. I mean he's smart enough to see that Lucas is a complete genius. You might as well know that George Lucas can do very little wrong in my eyes. Yes, I know he makes mistakes, and his latter day Star Wars movies have inconsistencies and problems. I know he directed Howard the Duck, and all that, but I still look at him and think, "I can't stay mad at you!" One reason for this is that he is so deeply invested in the fantasy he has created. Like any good author, his story has background and depth to fortify what narrative is being presented to the audience. Another reason is that his ideas resonate with me more than Spielberg's. I get the impression that in some ways we think alike, that we can be awed or moved by the same things. This is the type of kindred spirit connection I've talked about before. You can read a good story or watch a good movie and think it's really good, but on a personal level it can connect with you and make it something more. The Star Wars trilogy did that for me, and it's the reason I am still invested in the mythology of it even though some elements of it have disappointed me.
Anyway the fact that George and Steven produced another riveting and exciting Indiana Jones movie made me feel happy and pleased to know they're still both out there dreaming their crazy dreams. This was not my favourite Indiana Jones movie, but it was a very good one. Some elements of it seemed to be more unbelievable than usual, and I am conflicted about that. Is it that when I was younger, I was more likely to accept the impossible things I saw in the previous films or was this truly the most unbelievable Indiana Jones films ever? I suppose taking a look at the older ones again will solve my dilemma, but it won't affect how I feel about the movie much. I mean the unbelieveable things were still cool. Only Indiana Jones could use a fridge to the effect that he did in that movie. No more details here though. Go see it yourself.
Honourable Mentions
I've already said my piece about The Hulk (see below), so I'll only say a word about the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I thought while I was re-reading Caspian that the plot was very spare, and I suspect that the director would have a lot of room to play with the story. That's basically what happened. Don't think the choices were always perfect or totally original, but I enjoyed them regardless. It was great seeing the children again. I think they all did wonderful jobs. As High King Peter, William Moseley still shines for me. He's going to be a real heartthrob when he grows up, and he has a kingly look. I enjoyed the way the duel he fought at the end played out, and I like the way he and Caspian kept clashing with each other, even though it was not what happened in the book. I liked Prince Caspian's character despite the odd accent. I also enjoyed the battle scenes which were very well done. Some fans have had issues with the castle attack scene, but I think it had a definite purpose to the story and the way Peter's character was developed in this narrative arc. And of course, it gave some great opportunities for some wonderful stunts. All the children performed their fight scenes wonderfully. And... oh yes, I want a talking mouse exactly like Reepicheep. No I'll take the little bad boy himself if he'll let me.
My last word is on Hellboy II: the Golden Army. Not a perfect movie, but an interesting one. For some reason I'm not a fan of Hellboy himself – too much of the big dumb smart mouth, but interestingly I cannot dislike him. I find I tend to prefer the other characters around him. It was the characters and the design which captured me in this movie. Forget the storyline, what about the amazing animated telling of a legend at the beginning of the story? What about the motley crew of creatures going about their business in a place intriguingly named "The Troll Market"? (I wanna go there.) What about the villainous fairy tale/nightmare creatures that popped up regularly throughout the story? The whole movie was living proof of the endless imagination in the mind of director Guillermo del Toro. While watching, I felt a spasm of delight as I remembered that the upcoming Hobbit movie will be in his hands. Hopefully he will take the story and make it his own and not a copy of the vision of Peter Jackson.
Anyway that's my parade of the demi gods of Summer. They've all done such a wonderful job. I hope that this is a definite trend for summers to come. Feel free to comment or disagree folks or invoke the names of the gods you think I missed. Talk amongst yourselves.