December 28, 2010


I think I'm going to be changing the focus of my reviews. I mean, movie and comic book and book reviews are all out there . . . and easily a dime a dozen. Perhaps even a nickel a baker's dozen.

Originally, with my Nano-reviews, the intent was to just give short, maybe even pithy reviews of movies. Sometimes I succeeded . . . my Star Trek review was short and sweet. My Wolverine review was short, if not sweet. Pan's Labyrinth and The X-Files were probably the best example -- reviews that could fit in a Twitter post. Most times I didn't. Hello, Avatar -- I had a lot to say about you. And Voyage of the Dawn Treader . . . yeah, why'd I even label it "nano"?

My new tactic for film/book/comic reviewing is something I sort of was already doing. Often in a review, I would make comments about the storytelling and the like. I think this is the tactic I will be taking with reviews I do in the future. I'll still be recommending things (or not, depending on the situation), but I'll also be telling you what I learned from the movie or graphic novel or whatever in my own journey of learning to become a better storyteller. And maybe you, gentle reader, will be willing to do the same for me?

~ Ben

December 24, 2010

December 23, 2010

Nano Film Review #30 - Tron: Legacy, the film and soundtrack

Tron: Legacy is a movie that shouldn't exist. But I'm glad it does.

It's a sequel to a groundbreaking (in terms of technology) film . . . that's 30 years old. A film that doesn't hold up well if watched today (unlike the original Star Wars which, aside from some hair styles, holds up well because it was a ground breaking film that relied on physical models, not computer graphics). But the original is a good little film, if you watch it saying to yourself, "It was ground breaking 30 years ago."

Rumor has it that Disney has tried to bury the original Tron so young viewers won't think "they made a sequel to that rubbish?" and choose to spend their money on another movie instead. This is actually probably a good plan, whether they did it intentionally or not.

Tron: Legacy is also a solid film. It's got breath-taking visuals. Even watching the trailer, you can see deliberate symmetry in almost every shot. The graphics are mesmerizing, the action has a fluid motion that you don't find in other movies like this.*

The story is a weak spot. It's not terribly deep or complex, but it has an emotion and an energy absent in other movies like this.*

The characters are likable. Quorra, Sam, and Jeff Bridges as Flynn are all people I wouldn't mind spending time with (Quorra and Flynn more than Sam). The bad guys are cool, and the background characters are strange and interesting.

I saw it in 3D, which was cool and natural. I didn't feel like the 3D got in the way of the storytelling, but it also wasn't needed. I would have liked it just as well in 2D, I think. We'll see. If I see it again.

But the real star, to me, was the soundtrack. I've written about it before. I know nothing about Daft Punk, except that people got excited that Daft Punk was doing the soundtrack. But when I started hearing snippets, I started liking what I was hearing. And now the Tron: Legacy soundtrack has a permanent place in my regular rotation of atmospheric music and soundtrack albums. It's big. It's cool. It gets the blood pumping. And it fits the movie like a glove. To me, the movie almost becomes a visual showcase for the music. Daft Punk actually appear in the movie:

So, do I recommend the movie? Yes, if you want a visually stunning film with a great soundtrack and some fun characters. But Inception this ain't. It ain't meant to be. And that's one thing that I've taken away from the film. Just let your story be what it's going to be. They don't try to make it into something that it's not. It is what it is: a cool, sleek, elegant film with a cool, sleek, elegant soundtrack and cool, sleek, elegant characters. It's a popcorn film, it won't change your life, it's not changing cinema.

Do I recommend the soundtrack? Do you even need to ask?

Speaking of symmetry, I love the way the old poster (below) and the new poster (above) go together.

~ Ben

*When I say "other movies like this" I'm looking squarely at the Matrix sequels, and the first Matrix movie out of the corner of my eye . . .

December 17, 2010

Nano Film Review #29 -- The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

(Earlier Narnia posts: Read my review of Prince Caspian here. Here's Disney's admittance to releasing Prince Caspian on a bad weekend. And here's the news that Disney was dumping the Narnia franchise, but Fox was picking it up.)

Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some really great acting. Some incredible special effects. Great sets. Brilliant cinematography. Awesome creature design. It's a really good movie.

But, you know what, my review is going to be one of those "it was different than the book" type things. I feel bad even typing it. But it's true.

The kid who plays Eustace is spot on perfect. Edmund and Lucy, the same actors from the first two Walden Media Narnia films, fall into their rolls perfectly. Caspian does better as King Caspian than he did as Prince Caspian. The White Witch, brought back in a larger cameo than in Prince Caspian, is right on.

But they made so many changes. Unnecessary changes. Now, I understand the challenges of taking a story created for one medium and changing it to another medium. Most of my experience comes from comic books. I've taken historical stories and turned them into comic books. I've taken novels and turned them into comics. I've also done some small scale film projects and stage projects doing the same thing. And it is a challenge. Books are not visual, and so lots of action can happen within people's minds and it's really interesting, but on the screen or comic book panel or stage it's not as easy to do. But that's not the problem with Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They actually do a really good job of putting the internal conflicts of the characters on the screen in a visual way.

I understand that Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as a book, is not a long story with a beginning, middle, and end. It's a series of episodes, held together by a vague "quest" for seven lords who left Narnia long ago. There's no big battle at the end, there's no huge climax. So some of the "episodes" get rearranged. Two islands stops are combined into one island, saving a lot of time. The scariest and most dangerous island is moved to the end and turned into a fierce conflict. That all makes sense.

But apparently, rescuing the seven lords of Narnia wasn't enough. So they fall into the Star Trek movie trap: a story isn't big enough unless Earth itself is in trouble. So Narnia itself is in trouble. A vague evil is causing trouble, and it keeps showing up, and will eventually destroy Narnia if it isn't stopped. And the only way to stop it is . . . well, it's in the video below.

Yup, for some reason those seven lords of Narnia have a magic sword to place at on Alsan's table. And now our heroes must find the swords to destroy the evil.

Just curious about the logic here -- if it won't work unless all seven swords are brought to the table, what good could it possibly be to split up? Instead of seven guys working together to get teh job done, you've got seven guys trying to do it alone, and if even one of them fails, they all do . . . and they have no way of knowing if one of the others needed help . . . adding this element didn't help create a stronger story, it took a stable story and gave it a whole bunch of plot holes.

So we end up with a movie that becomes the "book to movie" cliche that they avoided in the first two movies. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, changes were made to amp up the action and the drama and to make it more epic. But the story remained the same. In this version, action and drama are amped up . . . but sacrificing the original story to do so. Iconic moments from the book are removed -- moments I was excited to see on the big screen brought to life by master visual effects creators. At one point in the movie, I felt like I was watching an '80's fantasy film -- "You must find the magic weapon to destroy the world-engulfing evil!" and I had images of the Glaive flashing in my head . . . normally not a bad thing.

So overall, we get a well made movie with familiar characters . . . but it's just not Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I'll watch it again. My son was excited about this Narnia movie in the same way I got excited about Star Wars movies. Fortunately, he loves the Narnia books as well.

It's not a bad story. It just felt like big budget fan fiction.

Now, were the spiritual elements lost in the midst of this? Surprisingly, no. There's some really good moments with Aslan and about Aslan. The director and writers were trying to be true, I think, to the intent of the book, and Lewis' ideas. For some reason, though, they just didn't have the same goal for the story.

(Let's address the Liam Neesan controversy for a moment. Mr. Neesan said, "Aslan symbolises a Christlike figure, but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries. That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me." You can't fault him, though, for misunderstanding the difference between Christ and Mohammed & Buddha. Christ is a personal, living part of God who wants a personal relationship with us -- not just a dead mentor. And this shines through brilliantly in the movie. Aslan reveals to Lucy in the end of the movie (and the book) that the reason Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and (eventually, Jill Pole) is so they might get to know Aslan better in our world. That's one of C.S. Lewis' intents for writing these stories as well -- to show us Jesus and help us know him better here.)

So, I do hope Walden Media gets the chance to do Silver Chair, which they should find less challenging to actually use the story as it is. I want to see more of Eustace, and he can carry that film. And I really want to see The Horse and His Boy made into a film (which would allow Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to appear). But I fear that this is the last we'll see of Narnia on the silver screen. I had hopes for all seven movies to be made, but as of December 15 (six days after opening) Dawn Treader has only made back $112 million of its $155 million budget. It will make money, I think, but it's not a smash hit.

Final thoughts: it's a good movie, it's fun, it's kid-friendly (more than the other two). But I'm a grumpy old man . . .

~ Ben

December 7, 2010

Ruminations on The Weight of Glory Brought on by . . . a Chick-Fil-A Video (?!?)

A friend of mine posted a link on Twitter to this video. It's a video from Chick-Fil-A -- not sure the context. It's too long to be a commercial. And really, other than being set in a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, it's not a commercial. It's actually a touching, beautiful reminder to how we should live our lives.

Recently I got into an online "discussion" with someone, where I was trying to make the same point this video makes. How often do we, wrapped up in our own lives, just choose to forget that every single person we interact with has a life of triumph and tragedy as well. That person whose tailgating us? Could be more to the story than that they are just impatient and inconsiderate. The teller at the store who was rude and not as quick as we'd like? Could be more to the story than just they're a jerk who doesn't care about their job or serving us. The person smiling at us and telling us everything is just fine? Could be more to the story than them just being fine.

A while back I refered to a C.S. Lewis quote from The Weight of Glory (in this post here). Here's the actual quote.

Here's the quote from his essay that sticks with me most, and has become the backbone to my dealings with other people and my own calling to children's ministry:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the are and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is with immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins ins spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat -- the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

This is why we do what we do. Or it should be. It's a pretty tough standard, once you start applying it. (And I fail frequently, not just with "uninteresting" people, but with people in my own family.) But let's be honest . . . would you rather rather fail in trying to achieve a high standard than succeed at achieving a low one?

~ Ben

December 6, 2010

Tron: Legacy soundtrack with extra track . . .

UPDATED!  You can purchase both the original Tron soundtrack ($7.99) and the new Tron: Legacy soundtrack ($9.49, available tomorrow, December 7 UPDATE: $3.99 for how long? Special thanks to my friend John for pointing this out . . .) from Amazon as digital downloads for pretty cheap. Click on the links here or the images below to do so . . . and you'll get an extra track!

Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+digital booklet]

If you purchase from iTunes (not sure how to link for that, but it's as simple as opening iTunes and searching for Tron: Legacy) there are some extra tracks as well.

The soundtrack to the original Tron film is cheaper from Amazon than from iTunes (by $2). Both Tron and Tron: Legacy are $9.99 on iTunes.

I'm just not sure which way I'm going to go. Generally, I'm an iTunes man . . . but today . . . I just don't know. I think I'm just going to have to wait until iTunes puts it up and see how the iTunes extra track previews stack up against the Amazon extra track previews . . . Then again, buying an album on Amazon is supposed to give me $5 for viewing Amazon "on demand" rentals. (Did you know you could digitally "rent" movies on Amazon? I've gotten some credit from items I've purchased, not knowing that I was getting credit . . . it's kinda cool, although not something I'd actually spend money on.)

Meanwhile, I've been avoiding reviews as much as possible. I want to know nothing more about this movie. I'm even avoiding looking at track names on the soundtrack . . . which is going to make comparing Amazon and iTunes track listings quite difficult.

Update: the extra tracks on iTunes are "Father and Son" and "Outlands Pt. II", and are each available for $.99. I just may splurge and spend the extra $2 for the extra two tracks after getting the actual album from Amazon for that incredibly low price . . .
~ Ben