What You Should Know
This film fits into many categories but “Space Opera” seems to work the best. How do we define “Space Opera”? Wikipedia gives us:
Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, as well as chivalric romance, and often risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms “soap opera” and “horse opera“, the latter of which was coined during the heyday of silent movies to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and they continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, and video games.
This definition, as most definitions of genres, is fairly judgmental. Which is not to say it is incorrect. Jupiter Ascending features everything listed above. Does this have to be a negative? Jupiter Ascending is a – repeat after me – enjoyable film to watch. Feels weird doesn’t it? Especially in this age of superhero films that are often not enjoyable to watch.
The Wachowski’s once again made a science fiction film that delivers in terms of story and special effects. One of the things they do so well is to make special effect heavy movies that don’t call attention to the special effects (Not every time, I am aware!).
Case in point, Channing Tatum’s character wears special boots that effectively allow him to speed skate on air. This may not sound interesting or good to you, but it’s fun and if your inner child doesn’t stir while watching him glide on the air then your inner child is either stunted or boring.
Why You Should Reconsider
This film, much like Cloud Atlas suffered from negative press. I cannot point to specific example where it was obvious but I believe this was, in part, because of the directors personal lives’. People were very quick to judge Jupiter Ascending based on the character’s names, the basic concept, a complicated (or convoluted) plot – without seeing the film. All of which could be leveled at “The Matrix” and yet upon watching the films you see that they are incorrect.
This film is enjoyable, it is interesting and it has a heart. Notable criticisms from the online group Screen Junkies with their “Honest Trailer” focused on how the story ends. I won’t spoil the ending but to dislike and take issue with the ending is to not understand the story and what it was trying to achieve.
The acting in the film is good, it is what it should be. Characters that are supposed to be somewhat larger than life are and the everyday “normal” people are just that. Mila Kunis’s extended family feels real, which given the material is very impressive.
Which brings us to two aspects of the film I do not normally discuss, costumes and special effects. “Jupiter Ascending” is lavish, it’s lush. They created worlds and cultures and races. The things that people praised Neil Blomkamp for regarding Elysium seemed to fly over everyone’s head regarding this film. The film has moments of gritty reality and overdone pomp and they all work. They are appropriate and do not pull the viewer out of the story. The effects sequences are as seamless and perfectly integrated as those in the first Matrix. In short (if Cloud Atlas hadn’t come first) this is a return to form for the directors.
I’ve stopped reading reviews for the most part so all I can glean is that people thought this would be a more straightforward story. That it would be less “Space Opera” and more…space story? I don’t know. Channing Tatum’s character is strange as other other characters in the film but given that the film addresses other life in the universe it makes sense. If we can accept this idea with Star Trek can’t we do so with a film like Jupiter Ascending?
Back when we rented our films from video stores I recall a particular phrase was used often to promote new films. Either on the box or the poster or in the trailer for a film they would say, “If you loved _______, you’ll love ______”. Which if you think about it is a pretty great way to sell a film. If I were going to use that line to promote Jupiter Ascending I would say, “If you loved The Fifth Element, you’ll love Jupiter Ascending.”
The number of projects I have not begun, have begun but not completed or have nearly finished but essentially abandoned is large. When my defenses are working properly there are many wonderful reasons for all of this unfinished work. None of them are terribly original or interesting. In nearly every case the actual reason is the same: what is/was in my head did not/will not be as good when I make it. Perfection is a trap.
Today I was looking through the folders on my computer, for what I no longer remember, and I stumbled down a rabbit hole of past projects and memories that lead me, much like Alice, on a strange and mysterious journey. The journey concluded when I went to my YouTube page and saw that the last video I uploaded was two years ago.
Now, to be fair, YouTube for me is an afterthought. If I make something and want to share it I use Vimeo. The lack of commercials and the overall straightforward nature of the site is why it has become the place where I publish video content. Yet I do try and publish on YouTube because I can use all the views I can get. I am unknown and would like to change that.
Now before you start following links or Googling me the sad truth is I have made very little content to share with the world. Largely it is because I am a stay-at-home dad who mostly shoots videos of his children. I share these videos with family members who say they watch them.
So why am I writing all of this? Where is the bit about perfection?
I came across a video I made in 2007 today. It is called Marty. I am embedding it below. It is less than two minutes long and it would make me happy if you watched it now.
I’ve shared it on this site before but since I had forgotten about it, I am sure you did, too. Now, this is a very short film with almost no story that I made when I knew much less about how to make short films. Yet, it is one of a handful of short films I have made. And I think it is okay. Not amazing but not terrible either.
This past year I have gone to a number of film screenings in Vermont and I’ve connected with numerous filmmakers and watched their work online. What I have taken away from these experiences is fairly simple – it is better to make something and have it be “okay” than to make nothing. Pretty standard stuff, I know. Yet, how many of us are not making things, not sharing things because we feel it isn’t good enough? How many times have you sat down to write but stared at the wall, picked up your guitar only to put it down again, or closed your NLE because you felt your project wasn’t good enough.
I’m not a self help guy and I certainly spend more time feeling like a failure than a success. But, if I have learned one thing in the past year it’s this – people are winning awards making things I would be embarrassed to share. Don’t take this as me being snobbish or looking down my nose at others. Take this for what it is – these people are getting recognition and awards for doing – while I am forgetting videos I’ve made and staring at the wall.
“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
― Joss Whedon
Today I read an article on the Filmsupply blog – https://blog.filmsupply.com/articles/operation-avalanche/9
It is mostly an interview about the film, Operation Avalanche, that delves into the technical aspects of how they made the movie. I won’t spoil those details here other than to say their workflow was unusual. In order to properly emulate the look of 16mm film from the 1960’s they shot on digital cameras and did a transfer to 16mm film that they then degraded.
To answer the obvious question – why not just shoot on film? The answer is cost.
Why am I sharing this? Let me post an excerpt from the interview below:
Do you think it will ever be possible to achieve the full effect in digital without the 16mm intermediate?
JR: We tried. Honestly, I think if we could do it, then we would have done it. There’s something that happens — is it the uncertainty principle? It’s that thing you can’t predict. We could have given it to Conor, and he could have re-created exactly what happened in that shot from earlier in the movie. But those mistakes never happen twice — the way the colors shift in an unpredictable way, the way the highlights go a certain way.
AA: The way a hair would lie on the scan. You can’t design for that.
JR: You could intentionally do it, but you’d just be copying something you’d seen before. People are wired to pick apart images now. We spend all day looking at images and thinking about how they originated. We’ve developed a powerful vocabulary for seeing an image and knowing where it came from and who took it. That’s in our lexicon now through how much we learn by looking at images all day long. People are savvy to the point where they can subconsciously tell — whether they know it or not — if they’re looking at something from a certain era or a modern thing that’s trying to be that thing from a certain era.
Stranger Things is a great example of that. It has the look of an ’80s movie through and through, but you know it’s not an ’80s movie because you’re not watching it on film. Film does all these weird things that look like mistakes, but you can’t plan them. Through this process, we discovered that if you want something to look like it’s on film, the only way to get that look consistently is to actually use film.
What they say here, especially at the end, is of interest. As much as shows like “Halt & Catch Fire”, “The Americans” and “Mad Men” (the later seasons) achieve a film look – there are moments where the audience knows, somehow, that these shows are made differently than works shot in the 1980’s (and 60’s). This inherent knowledge is interesting and while it does little to settle any arguments about what format you should capture your work on it does speak to another concern which is distracting your audience from the story. If the audience is thinking about how your movie looks like film but isn’t film while they are watching then you have to wonder if it is worth attempting this trickery.
Take a look at the interview, it is an interesting, albeit technical, read.
To begin – this may be the best television show I have ever seen. I say may only because several other shows I discovered in this past year (which has more to do with my stubbornness than my ignorance, but that is for another time) are of such amazing quality it would be hard to select the “best” [see my post Favorite Film for my thoughts on choosing a favorite movie and apply it to television as well].
That being said Orphan Black is nothing short of outstanding. I am using some big, powerful words here and I am not throwing them about carelessly. This is a meticulously crafted show, where each aspect is handled with such care and precision that, under normal circumstances, it would be difficult to point out the one aspect that makes this show exceptional. None of the traditional sins of television apply to this show. There are no disposable characters or “retconned” storylines because the people making the show decide to go in a new, exciting direction for no apparent reason. Everything in this show is there for a reason. It is pleasing and rewarding to watch something where so much thought and effort has been devoted to the planning and execution of what you are watching.
I could and want to go on about everything this show gets right. It is simpler to say it gets everything right. I have watched the first three seasons several times now and I can say, without hesitation, that there none of those moments that the viewer has to accept, knowing in their hearts that what they are watching is wrong/bad, in order to stay with the show.
All of this being said if I had to offer you one reason to watch this show (which is horrible and unfair and should not be done) it would be Tatiana Maslany. She is out of this world, insanely good doing something no one has every done before. Don’t try and remind me of Kind Hearts and Coronets – that was a movie, not a television show (meaning the duration is much shorter and easier for a feat like this) and at no point did you cease seeing Alec Guinness and only see the character he was playing.
I have watched these episodes multiple times, I know everything coming and still, still I find myself forgetting that I am watching Tatiana Maslany playing a character. It is incredible. It is the reason why in every interview she gives people try and get her to explain the “how” of her acting abilities.
I have attempted to not spoil the show for someone who has yet to watch an episode, which is not easy to do. If I have tipped you off I apologize, but let’s be honest the show is about to start it’s fourth season and if you are still somehow in the dark you should not be reading random blog posts online. If you have a reason for not watching Orphan Black allow me to try and address it here.
- The title is awful. I do not care about the actual meaning and how if you watch the show you come to see how appropriate it is. Anyone who has not seen an episode comes across this title and thinks, “Orphan Black? What is that? It sounds awful. Bad things happen to Orphans? No thank you.” Or something like that. Or you think of Kevin Klein and how orphan can be mispronounced as another word and golly, wouldn’t that make for a good song. Either way – don’t let this title put you off and confuse you. Ignore the title and watch. I assure you, when you get what the title means you will no longer have feelings about the creepiness/silliness of the title.
- The artwork. It’s creepy. It’s weird. It is meant to be. Ignore it. Let it be. Watch the show.
- Patton Oswalt. In his attempts to champion this show and Tatiana Maslany he has, inadvertently, kept some people away from it. I have no proof of this, only my own feelings. Before I saw the show I followed him on Twitter and aside from teaching me that you should not follow comedians on Twitter it also taught me that one man’s fan is another man’s off-putting Internet commentator who needs to calm down and let things be.
That should cover matters. Do yourself a favor and watch this show if you haven’t.
What You Should Know
If, like me, you have been avoiding this film based on the following criteria:
1) It is a Tarantino film and the posters/things you heard have lead you to believe that this film is nothing more than “Jewish revenge porn” and/or
2) The trailer for the film gave you the sense that the movie largely consists of Brad Pitt and a group of men running around Europe killing Nazis, you need to reconsider.
Why You Should Reconsider
Aside from the last twenty minutes of the film if you were able to come across this movie knowing nothing about it you would never guess the director. The first section of the movie is unlike anything I have every seen from Mr. Tarantino (as an aside I have since seen Django Unchained and I expect The Hateful Eight fit neatly into this category as well). The locale, the pace, the dialog none of it feels like anything I have encountered from this director before.
This is due partly to the look of the film, which is very rich but subdued. The first section could be referred to as being pastoral. It’s partly due to the dialog which is much more “natural” and devoid of pop culture references and (aside from Brad Pitt) guys trying to talk tough. The pace is also quite slow so that even in sequences where there is tension concerning possible death and violence, the usual uncomfortable claustrophobic atmosphereI typically associate with Mr. Tarantino’s films is pleasantly absent.
Which is not to say that people do not die, or that the dialog isn’t snappy. Lots of people die and the dialog is certainly snappy at time. I would be hard pressed to put my finger on what, exactly, is different about this film from Mr. Tarantino’s previous efforts but there most certainly is something. Call it maturity, call it scope but what you get from this film is more rewarding and interesting than what has come before.
As previously stated the trailer and reviews for this film gave the impression that this was Reservoir Dogs meets World War II. There are some wonderfully rich characters in this film, who I found myself genuinely caring for.
The sections containing Brad Pitt feel to me very much like the Tarantino we all know and love/hate/whatever you feel. Yet Mr. Pitt and his men are in very little of the film. Couple that with a significant portion of the movie not being in English – and that we spend time with some fantastic actors like Christof Waltz, Michael Fassbender and the true star of the film Melanie Laurent.
This would be a great film to show someone who has given up on Mr. Tarantino and I think for someone who has never seen one of his films. It builds on his previous works and adds new components to deliver an interesting, satisfying film. Give it a chance, I think you might like it.
If there is one question I have struggled with it is, “What is your favorite film?” Granted, this question is nowhere near as important as: “How do we achieve world peace?” or “How do we stop global warming?” but then people never seem to ask me either of these.
So recognizing the proper ranking of the importance of this question let me now try and address some of the assumptions being made regarding movies.
First – that all movies are alike and are comparable. I touched on this briefly in another post when I mentioned comparing Cliffhanger to Citizen Kane. What I was attempting to show with this comparison isn’t that one film is lesser but that different films are made to satisfy different conditions. Cliffhanger needs to be exciting in order to be successful as an action film. The stakes in a film like Cliffhanger are life and death and therefore the story being told has to make the audience care whether the characters live or die. We need to worry when they are in peril, cheer if they manage to evade death and feel satisfaction when the villain (unless it is the Earth which is tricky) gets his due.
The same isn’t true for Citizen Kane. I don’t need to spell it out, different kinds of films have different rules, have different problems and different goals. So while we can attempt to compare them in terms of the overall experience there are still many cases where this is a fruitless exercise.
So in thinking about awards like Best Picture and answering the question of “what is your favorite movie?” I cannot help but dwell on these differences because they do matter.
Take for instance the different between comedy and drama. Forget subcategories for the moment. The comedy wants to make you laugh. It wants to make you happy. The drama usually wants to make you feel some deep emotion like sadness or longing or ennui or some other wonderful thing. I am being unfair but the truth is not far off. Comedy seeks to entertain you and make you happy, the drama usually attempts to make you experience some unpleasant emotions, possibly entertains you or it tries to teach you something.
This distinction is important and why you rarely see a comedy being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. For some reason we have decided that this is okay. That Comedy as a category does not compete in the same realm as Drama. Okay.
Yet, if you were to poll most people concerning their favorite film many would name a comedy. So what gives? The second distinction: is this a film you watch once in your life or never again?
We have all seen amazing, life-changing films that have moved us in ways words cannot properly express. Yet once seen we have no desire to ever see these movies again. Not in a Usual Suspects kind of way where once you know the story watching the film becomes less interesting. This is more that you have had an incredible experience and are glad to have had it but the thought of going through it again, even if it were somewhat lesser holds no appeal for you. A good example of this is Schindler’s List.
Then we have the other category, the film you can watch repeatedly and it is always enjoyable. The film that when you are sad or sick or just looking for a nice night on the couch you know will give you what you need. These films are usually comedies of some sort. For me the best example is The Philadelphia Story but I could list dozens that fit this bill.
So we have comedies and dramas. We have one-offs and we have endlessly watchable films. With just these four categories I find myself at a loss. How do I pick a favorite? What are we talking about? Pure entertainment? Something that helped shape who I am today? It becomes impossible for me to make any kind of choice because I need to explain the criteria involved in making that choice.
So, yes, this is not the most important decision a person will ever face. In fact, it is somewhat silly. Yet, and this is why I bothered to write all of this out: when I try and pose these questions to others I always find them puzzled at my response. “Why can’t you just pick one?” I can’t help but feel that when it comes to the awards that are given out that this must be the attitude of many who do the voting. Something must be chosen, so just pick one. They are only movies, so what does it matter.