J.R.R. Tolkien would not enjoy The Rings of Power.
Wait! Before you roll your eyes and seek out a piece with a less whiny opening line, know that this is a generally favorable review of the Amazon series inspired by Tolkien’s creations. Much has been written already about the liberties taken by showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, and sure: there are diversions, detours and a significant condensing of the timeline of Middle-Earth throughout the show’s first season, some of which result in frustrating missed opportunities. Entire diatribes have been dedicated to lamenting the fact that the Rings of Power elves have short hair, or that the Númenóreans should technically be like nine feet tall, or that mithril or the palantíri work very differently here (Erik Kain at Forbes has basically made a career these last few months mewling about what a “betrayal” the series is, at least when he’s not writing hard-hitting articles about Today’s Wordle Hints). So enough has been laid in print already detailing Power‘s departures from Tolkien’s source material, and yes, it’s all technically accurate.
And yet I have a hard time believing Tolkien would really give a shit about that. Before diving into why — and before getting to what the author’s real beef with the show would probably be — we’ll first issue a spoiler warning for The Rings of Power‘s first season.
Jordan Peele’s Us is nothing short of exceptionally entertaining horror. Starring Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as the mother and father of a prototypical American family, Us joins a long tradition of doppelgänger horror while still emerging from that tradition into definitive modernity. Like Peele’s debut Get Out, the American Dream — as a white-picket-fence fantasy and as a dark reality — is crucial not only to the implicit themes of the film, but to the reason both films are scary in the first place. Yes, Us has a preponderance of classic horror moments, from jump-scares to home invasions to creepy coincidences foreshadowing a coming threat. But these tropes become entertaining again only in context of a strong underlying assertion that speaks to something in our everyday life, and while Us may not speak as explicitly as Get Out, the potency of the film is drawn from a similar source.
That aforementioned line of doppelgänger-narrative-as-horror is an interesting one, and one that makes perfect sense for Peele’s sensibilities as a writer. It’s a premise that’s been used for terrifying stuff like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dead Ringers, Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, and a number of unsettling works from David Lynch. Last year’s venture was Annihilation, which played with the doppelgänger motif in a supernatural way. It’s elementally creepy, the idea of meeting yourself. The question it raises is as existential as it gets: if that’s me…then who am I?
One of the previews that screened before last night’s Boston premiere of Blade Runner 2049 was for next year’s monsters vs. robots actioner Pacific Rim Uprising, an inevitable if somewhat tardy sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original. Based solely on this trailer, it’s evident that Uprising centers on the son of the first film’s protagonist, alludes heavily to that first film, and possibly just revamps the plot with slightly louder explosions. I was reminded, regrettably, of Independence Day: Resurgence, which gave off a similar reek of franchise desperation.
And of course this was the general fear heading into 2049. It’s been 35 years since Blade Runner established a visual and tonal format for scores of futuristic noirs to come (Dark City, Gattaca, Strange Days, Automata, more), and this is apparently long enough to give up on counterfeiting and make it explicit: time for another Blade Runner. In 2049 we have K (Ryan Gosling), our new replicant-hunting LAPD hero-hunk, leading us through the same streets Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) traversed back in 1982. There is a new mystery at hand, yes, but there is also heavy allusion to the beloved original disseminated through visual cues, recycled dialogue, occasional cameos and, as is par for the course these days, a victory lap for Ford.
Among the many films that slipped through the cracks last year was Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentinian Oscar-winner of the same name. Actually, the original is El secreto de sus ojos, which a sane person might translate as THE Secret in Their Eyes, but even inclusion of the the makes for a clunky title. See, it’s not that each eye has a secret or anything — that would be Secrets, plural, in Their Eyes. Obviously the title tells us that there is a single secret, okay, and it’s in multiple eyes. Or maybe just one eye per person. The major reason this film failed at the box office and slid under the radar of pretty much everyone is that the title fails to delineate exactly which eyes we’re dealing with here.
Maybe it’s a part of the long game, though, this being the start of a new shared-universe franchise or something. Next up is Secret in Their Left Eyes, follow by Right, followed of course by Left v. Right: Dawn of Secret. Each of those would be hard-pressed to be a bigger waste of time than this film, and the possibilities really are endless if your only criteria for titling a major motion picture starring three Hollywood A-listers is “must contain words”. As Louis C.K. said about parents being giving free reign to name their babies whatever the hell they want: shouldn’t there be at least a couple of rules? What’s that you say? The Elements of Style came out in 1920?
I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?
Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.
Matt Damon’s return to the Bourne franchise is enticing the rest of the band back, too, as Julia Stiles is now said to be onboard the 2016 release. Viggo Mortensen is apparently in negotiations to play the villain, which is an addition that would no doubt wash the taste of The Bourne Legacy away for good.
First he says he’s down to play Wolverine “until he dies”; then, word that Hugh Jackman’s time as Logan would come to an end after the next solo film. Now rumor has it that X-Men: Apocalypse will feature Jackman in a smallish role, maybe even just a cameo, showing that they haven’t quite learned that X-Men movies sans Jackman aren’t as interesting as the alternative.
Vin Diesel is making a Kojak movie, so. Yep.
Hall H regulars Marvel, Sony and Paramount are all skipping San Diego Comic Con this year, presumably because leaked documents are doing all of their marketing for them. Motion State Review will be skipping Hall H, too, which is yet another crippling loss for convention superfans. Next year.
A relatively quiet second episode of The Red Road‘s sophomore year provided a little more clarity with regards to the direction the show might take after a cracking first season. The impetus for much of the going-ons here is the murder of Mac, elder chief of the Lenape chapter of the Ramapo Mountains, which we saw at the end of the the second season opener “Gifts“. As suspected, Phillip Kopus is now the front-and-center suspect in Mac’s demise.
A recent interview with Jason Momoa touched on the “breaking” of the Kopus from the first season; Aaron Guzikowski, creator of Red Road and scribe behind Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, certainly seems to be heading in that direction with “Graves”. It’s interesting that Kopus more or less shuns the traditional trappings of his Lenape ancestry and yet seems to find himself cornered by it throughout the opening episodes of the second season. That disregard for the tribe led to Mac’s abandonment of him, which in turn presents a motive for people to attach to Kopus when Mac turns up dead. Even though the mountains have their own tribal police force, the method of attack on Kopus is the same as it has ever been, with a “half-assed lynch mob” (in Kopus’s disdainful estimation) beating him and covering him with tar.
– The legendary Leonard Nimoy passed away this week, spawning many a Star Trek marathon. We’ll have a logical time in his honor.
– Denis Villeneuve, auteur behind the dark and moody Enemy and the dark and moody Prisoners, is being touted as the director for the likely dark and moody Blade Runner sequel. It’s a weird prospect having Villeneuve direct such a massively commercial movie, but then again it’s kind of a weird prospect doing a Blade Runner sequel at all.
– Leonardo DiCaprio joined The Crowded Room, in which he’ll play a man with 24 different personalities. We don’t know much about the story, but it’s an awesome title at any rate.
I’m not typically a genre purist. I don’t believe an artist should be constrained to single genres, and I have a great admiration for movies that blur the lines to create something fresh. There are two very different, but very good movies in Prisoners that, in this case, don’t exactly result in synergy. The first is about two families dealing with the disappearance of their daughters. It’s haunting, gut-wrenching, and hyper-realistic. To me, this is the stuff of reality. The second is about the mysterious detective trying to catch the abductor. It’s creepy, riveting, and grotesque. This is the stuff of crime thrillers. Frankly, each one would be nearly perfect on its own. But together, in the form of Prisoners, they feel like a cheap blow below the belt.
Anna’s parents, played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, attend Thanksgiving dinner at Joy’s parents’, played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. When the two girls don’t return from playing outside, and it starts to rain, and a mysterious RV is spotted, the families go into panic mode. Days later, with the authorities on the case 24/7 and vigils being held for the missing girls, the families continue mourning and start resigning to the bad news that’s likely to come. But Keller Dover (Jackman) never really leaves panic mode. There was one suspect–the child-like, catatonic owner of the RV (Paul Dano)–but the cops had to let him go. So Keller does what any frustrated father who’s built like Wolverine would do and takes matters into his own hands. Next thing you know, he’s leading Terrence Howard into an abandoned apartment complex where the suspect is chained to a sink and badly beaten. Continue reading Prisoners (2013)→
When we first meet the scavenging Lou Bloom, it’s clear that he’s an opportunist. He steals anything – copper tubing, swaths of aluminum fence, manhole covers (“the nice thick ones”) – and sells what he’s stolen to a construction foreman. Then he fights the foreman over the price, and then he asks the foreman for a job. So Lou’s mentality isn’t so much “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, but more “I have no lemons, so I’ll take yours”. This is the strongest aspect of Lou Bloom’s character, and indeed at times it’s overwhelmingly strong. Jake Gyllenhaal and writer/director Dan Gilroy don’t nail everything in Nightcrawler, but they nail that.
There’s a definite stylishness to Nightcrawler that aims to capture the seedy neon after-hours of downtown Los Angeles and the surrounding, more affluent suburbs. Lou graduates from scavenging to a real (ahem, “real”) job when he happens upon a highway car accident one evening: crime scene photography, he learns, can be a lucrative business. “If it bleeds, it leads,” says Bill Paxton’s mentor-photographer in a very trailer-suitable explanatory monologue. So Lou buys a camcorder and a police scanner and begins working. He’s all about opportunity, so when it knocks Lou answers. Opportunity, of course, keeps knocking, and Lou keeps answering. Soon he’s creating his own opportunities, which means everyone except Lou is about to get their lemons jacked.