Friday, July 6, 2012

Spring Wrap-up Part Four

I'm a big fan of Andrew Niccol's directorial debut Gattaca but had not seen another one of his movies yet. S1m0ne was his second movie, which like Gattaca he also wrote the screenplay for.
Al Pacino plays once a once successful film director named Viktor Taransky who is now struggling for a hit movie. After a demanding star actress (she only eats red M&Ms!) leaves the production of his current film it seems all is lost, until Taransky is given a computer generated actress from a computer scientist friend, which Taransky can manipulate any way he wants and is indistinguishable from reality. We even get the see images of the actresses that Simone is drawn from, in a subtle but hilarious joke includes... Ernest Borgnine?!
It is probably the dream of every director to be able to control their actors in this way and its fun to watch Taransky directing the fakery of Simone. While this starts off with Taransky controlling her acting, it quickly leads to him also having to keep up the illusion that she is a real person due to her skyrocketing popularity!
S1m0ne was ahead of its time in that it deals with concepts such as CGI, holograms, Photoshopping movie posters, technology in films like Avatar, and even reality TV. The themes of hero worship, cult of personality, celebrity culture, "manufactured celebrities," are hammered home with imagery that focused on cameras and eyes.
S1m0ne is a satire that feels like a Charlie Kaufman film with the biting wit of Heathers. Since the movie is a satire it doesn't take place in the real world, but instead in a universe that is real enough only with exaggerated features to prove a point. For example, Taransky works for "Amalgamated Film Studios" and the other women up against Simone for the Best Actress Oscar all have the last names of software (Apple, Corel, etc.).
Here are some of my favorite lines:
"I can't imagine any other actress playing the part!" "Hal, it's a remake..."
"It was so artificial... I didn't believe it was 17th century Lisbon!
"The escalating threat of violence and all out war was overshadowed today by the Oscar nominations"
"We're okay with fake, just don't lie to us"
Although I really liked S1m0ne, it does have some flaws. The two paparazzi guys are funny enough but I felt they were never fully pulled into the story. From the beginning they felt like a humorous but unnecessary side story. At first I thought the pair were stalker fans until it was later explained that they work at a newspaper, which was confusing.
The concert scene in which Simone becomes a pop star is a showstopper. Sure its necessary to show how big of a star she is, but did we really need to listen to her sing an entire song to prove this point?
Without giving anything away, the ending is a deus ex machina. Satires usually have trouble with endings as they often don't have an answer for how to solve the issue they are discussing. This is the case with S1m0ne, although to be fair I'm not sure how else the movie could have ended without making a huge shift in tone. The ending basically accepts the problem of celebrity overload but a great satire should figure a way how to fix the problem. Even though I felt the ending was a weak spot and could have been better, it didn't really harm my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. I can't wait to see more of Niccol's work!

Ghost Rider
I'm not a huge comic book reader and have never read any Ghost Rider. This movie is based on the Marvel comic and is one of the few Marvel properties that got a film which Stan Lee had little to nothing to do. Mr. Excelsior is listed has a producer but we don't get a cameo from Stan the Man!
Nicolas Cage plays our main character, stuntman Johnny Blaze, who becomes the superhero (or perhaps antihero in this case) Ghost Rider. Cage delivers a fun performance. It is not one of his better roles but that has to do more with the screenplay than his acting.
The premise is a deal with devil story in the vein of Faust. Johnny Blaze makes an agreement with Mephistopheles to cure his father's cancer in return for Johnny's soul. This eventually leads to events which cause Johnny to become Ghost Rider.
Sam Elliot does a nice job as the Caretaker, a predecessor of Ghost Rider. The Caretaker in the movie is apparently an amalgam of the character of the same name from the comics and and the Phantom Rider comics character.
I don't usually get into spoilers but there was something near the end that bothered me.  Highlight the text below if you are fine with spoilers.
Near the end of the movie the Caretaker reveals his true identity. This sets up that Ghost Rider is going to team up with the Caretaker to battle the villain. But right before the big showdown, the Caretaker changes back to human for no reason and says he used his last change which means he has permanently lost his powers. It was so stupid and disappointing as I was pumped up for a cool final battle and it ended up being a letdown.
Ghost Rider is not a good movie but its not terrible either and entertaining enough. A sequel came out in February this year and despite David Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) having a writing credit I think I'll pass on it.

The Last Unicorn
Rankin/Bass is probably best known for their Christmas specials such as the stop motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and the animated Frosty the Snowman (1969). Besides these holiday specials they also made many TV series and feature films, such as The Last Unicorn. Peter S. Beagle wrote the fantasy novel upon which this film is based but I never read it.
The fantastic cast includes the voice talents of Christopher Lee, Keenan Wynn, Angela Lansbury, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, and Rene Auberjonois. The animation is also quite good though you'll never get it confused with a Disney film.The Last Unicorn is a kids movie but is intelligent and never plays down to its audience, which I highly respect. It's not the best animated movie ever but certainly something kids can enjoy with their parents. There is some slow pacing and weird stuff like the harpy and the "Red Bull" but I overall I liked it.

Thus concludes the final spring wrap-up post!

Next up: Two movies by a famous director, Two baseball movies, 2012 movies I have seen so far, and TV shows I am watching this summer.
And if you didn't notice the banner on the right, I'll be participating in the My First Movie Blogathon hosted by Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear in early August.


  1. Hmm... I completely skipped S1mone when it first came out. Might have to give it a shot - sounds like a fun satire.

    Yeah, Ghost Rider was pretty dull and lifeless. Nicolas Cage wasn't right for the role and the character is pretty silly anyway. Hard to achieve any kind of dramatic gravitas when the lead actor's head is on fire. Still have a little bit of interest in seeing the sequel because Neveldine/Taylor also made the crazy Crank movies and I appreciate their go-for-broke spirit and creative filmmaking techniques.

    Also, yeah I think it says something when Stan Lee isn't interested in doing a cameo.

  2. S1m0ne got a lukewarm reception at best when it was released but I'd recommend it. I think some people took it at face value as a zany sci-fi comedy and didn't realize it was a satire even though that was pretty obvious.

    I've heard the Ghost Rider sequel was worse but more fun. If you watch it let me know how it is.
    I think Stan Lee didn't do a cameo because he didn't have much if anything to do with the Ghost Rider comics. But I can't blame him from distancing himself from this movie no matter what!