Saturday, March 31, 2012

Game of Thrones

A good friend of mine, David, has taken it upon himself to keep the masses on the internet informed on the details of the new HBO series "Game of Thrones", which is based on a book series entitled "A Song of Ice and Fire", on his blog "The Bimillennial Man". Last year, the first season of the show, he wrote up a recap of each episode after it aired as well as his thoughts and a grade. His posts were rather popular. As David is an excellent and intelligent writer I was not surprised by this. The recaps were great but took a lot of time and energy for him to write which caused David to consider not doing them again this season. He was quite honest about his concerns but his rabid fans, myself among them, practically begged him to continue during this second season. His recaps were insightful, informative, professional, and highly entertaining. Especially to those who had not read the books as we have. Well, I am proud to say that David has capitulated to his avid fans and admirers and decided to continue his recaps for "Game of Thrones" for the second season.

The "A Song of Ice and Fire" series is written by George R.R. Martin. It is a fantasy epic full of knights, kings, swords, fights, a bit of magic, and of course DRAGONS! (Here is an excellent resource of information for the books.) But what truly sets this series apart from most other fantasy stories is it is light on the fantastical and heavy on the political intrigue and family and house alliances, hence the title of the first book, "A Game of Thrones", where the show gets its title. Also what sets it apart from other tales, is the author plays no favorites with his characters. Characters who would normally be the "hero" and live will actually die and others you loathe and wish would die will live. Just like in the real world, being good and honorable does not always yield good consequences, and being bad and dishonorable doesn't always yield punishment. This is the true appeal of the series, and the transfer to the physical, visual medium of film has been beyond wonderful.

Mr. Martin has remained closely tied to the show as a producer. Contributing writing duties for some episodes himself, as he is also an experienced TV writer, he is truly devoted to the story he has created and that closeness shows. This is truly the finest transfer from book to screen I have ever seen. Usually so much is lost or changed in the book to screen transfer that the film/show is nearly unrecognizable to the readers. Not so with "Game of Thrones". Naturally there will be changes and all the changes so far have not only been necessary but enhanced the story experience, again, very uncommon but a huge bonus.

I've linked David's first season recaps above, and here is the recap of the first episode of the second, which aired on my Bornday, April 1! Go check out David's excellent musings on "Game of Thrones" and I promise you'll enjoy yourself

Bonus: Here is an excellent article on about the women of the series.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Films that I love that should not work but actually do.

Conan the Barbarian
I love this movie. I'm talking about the 1982 "masterpiece" that made Arnold 'Ahnuld' Schwarzenegger an american movie star and not the 2011 reboot. Now, it is filmed poorly and most of the actors are not very good, yet I love this movie. Why?

Well, how cool does that look?! Pretty cool, I think. What makes this movie work is the story is great, Arnold looked great as Conan, and the music score by Basil Poledouris was awesome!

Conan the Barbarian was the creation of Robert E. Howard, an american author who wrote in many genres and with the creation of Conan also birthed the sword and sorcery genre of Speculative Fiction. Conan was an ancient warrior who lived during the Hyborian Age. Since his creation he's gone from the straight written word, to comics, to film, and online.

This movie and the character were the perfect vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger to make his big break into american movies. Arnold was pretty well known as a world class bodybuilder and so had a built in fan base in his career change.Though Arnold became a very famous movie star, no one would really call him a good actor. Unfortunately Arnold was not the only novice actor in this movie and it shows. Of all the principle characters only three were real, trained, and experienced actors: James Earl Jones, Max Von Sydow, and Mako. James Earl Jones as the main villain was a great casting choice as was Mako as one of Conan's devoted companions. These two actors alone really elevated this movie beyond the cheese it could have been.

The story of Conan is a great story. The execution of the story in this movie is a bit rushed and the liberties taken with the beginning of Conan's life left fans of the original tales very upset. His transition from child to adult was handled in a ridiculous way. In the stories Conan had a full childhood with his people, the Cimmerians, but in the movie his village and people are destroyed, he's taken as a slave and we watch his growth in a montage of cutscenes as he pushes a wheel. Yeah, very weird. In establishing the character as a skilled and intelligent warrior, the movie took some seriously questionable shortcuts and though it stretched the suspension of belief, which is necessary for most movies, to the breaking point it did flow. It didn't flow well but it did flow.

What really makes this movie the joy it is and one of my favorites is the score by Basil Poledouris. The music for this movie is the best score written for a movie, ever! The music is so perfect that it is almost a character itself. Every single scene has a memorable piece of music brilliantly composed for it. Take a listen:

Tell me that is not awesome! And that's just the opening scene! I love it.

Poor transition of story to film, bad editing, bad and poorly delivered dialogue, and bad acting should have made Conan the Barbarian an unwatchable piece of crap, however, the mythos of the original tales, three experienced actors, and music that perfectly embodied the spirit of the story make it not only watchable but, to me, a classic.
He did look cool as Conan


Next up is the movie Belly. Another movie that was filmed badly, had some questionable to atrocious acting, a semi-decent story, but pretty good music. Again I love this movie. Why?

Pretty cool movie poster, right?

 A large reason I like this movie is DMX. DMX is a musical artist, a rapper, who surprisingly has a real talent for acting. He was a hugely successful music artist at the time he made this movie and I was an avid admirer of his music. He was the lead actor and he pulled it off very well. The same cannot be said of his co-star, fellow rapper, Nas. Nas CANNOT ACT!!! Every time Nas was on screen nearly caused, and still does, physical pain. He's really that bad.

 Belly was directed by Hype Williams. It was his debut feature film. Hype had made a name for himself directing music videos, mostly for rap artists. He was highly in demand. Unfortunately, the music video format does not translate very well to a full length feature film. Belly nearly plays out like a very long music video, when it should play out like a serious crime and redemption drama.

Which brings me to the story. The story is basically a generic version of Malcolm X's life updated to modern times. DMX's character, Tommy, is a criminal. Robbing people and selling drugs is what he does and he is good at it. He eventually gets caught, makes a deal to kill someone to get out of jail, but refuses to carry out his mission in the end thus redeeming himself. The end is kind of rushed and rather heavy handed on the redemption of Tommy. It's not done too badly but it could have been done much better.

Belly did not have a traditional score. With the principle actors being rappers, and the director being primarily a rap video director, the soundtrack was basically the score. So, no orchestral magnificence here, which is really not a loss as the songs put together for this movie worked perfectly well within it, though no where near as well as Conan above. I dare say that the soundtrack was better than the movie.

Novice filming, simple story, a rushed ending, and abominable acting by Nas should have ruined Belly. Especially Nas' dreadful acting. I found it personally offensive. Seriously. However, DMX's surprising skills as an actor, as well as a few of the other actors in the film, really made Belly watchable. The positive ending was as redeeming to the movie itself as Tommy's redemption within it. Oh yeah, and the music was well matched to the film. Here is a sample, D'Angelo's "Devils's Pie".

Actually a good actor

A horrendously atrocious "actor"

The separate technical parts of these films make them seem like unwatchable wastes of film but the wholes they create far exceed the parts. Conan the Barbarian and Belly: Two films that should not work but do and I love them both. Check them out if you have never seen them. You might surprise yourself and love them too.