Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: December 2016

Saturday

31

December 2016

0

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Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Reaffirms the Value of Special Edition Releases

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The idea that a fourth Mad Max film would be any good, let alone nominated for Best Picture, still seems ridiculous a year and a half after its release in a world overpopulated with forgettable sequels and reboots. Fury Road succeeds on every level, providing a substantive action packed two hours free of the obligations to larger franchise ambitions. With no obvious area to improve upon, director George Miller’s statement that an even better cut of the film existed read like a perfectionist auteur never to be satisfied with his craft. That is, until Black & Chrome was released.

Miller cites a sound editing cut of The Road Warrior as the inspiration for Black & Chrome in the introduction to the Blu-Ray release. Given the scarcity of black & white films over the past fifty years, it’s not hard to see why a studio balked at removing color from a big budget release, but its absence makes perfect sense from a narrative perspective. In a post apocalyptic world where the characters are on a mission to find the “Green Place,” what color is there?

Black & Chrome offers a significantly grittier experience. Each characters’ scars and wrinkles become exposed without a palette to hide behind. The explosions in the sandstorm are claustrophobic in their presentation without the depth of color to serve as a reference point, much like what the characters would have experienced inside it. This comes at the cost of some of the technical marvels of the effects team, providing the kind of intimate experience that is rarely associated with action films.

What’s noticeable throughout the cut is that this isn’t a cheap cash grab designed to lure diehard fans into ponying up more money. Each scene is carefully constructed so that the black & white enhances the experience. Definitely a big step up from the b&w Instagram filter.

The Blu Ray version did not include the rumored silent version of the film. I’m not really sure how that would work in a way that didn’t rob the audience of its connection to the characters, though an enhanced score could give the film more of a Fantasia like feel. To use a whiskey metaphor, if Fury Road was a single malt, Black & Chrome would be the tiny drop of water that opens it up to enhance the flavor. Silent B&C could very well be the massive ice cube that strips it of its character.

Perhaps Black & Chrome’s greatest achievement is that it’s a superior cut that doesn’t eradicate the value of the original release. Miller may have preferred to have released this version straight from the get go, but it’s hard to imagine a world where the black & white version could have achieved the same level of mainstream popularity both at the box office and on the awards circuit. Fury Road occupies a special place in the film canon, being the only fourth entry in a franchise to ever be nominated for Best Picture. Miller himself remains a rare figure in cinema, having maintained creative control over his creation since the original came out in 1979. If B&C needed to wait, so be it.

Special edition and director’s cut releases have taken a hit in the streaming era, but B&C proves there’s still value in physical media, giving film aficionados Miller’s best cut without hindering the movie’s earning potential. Hopefully B&C will see a theatrical release as well. Some directors like George Lucas can’t stop tinkering with their masterpieces, cheapening them over the years with unnecessary CGI and blinking Ewoks. Blood & Chrome proved the exception, enhancing the experience through the absence of color. I was wary of the Blu-Ray’s $20 price tag, especially for a movie I’d seen multiple times already, but couldn’t resist adding it to my Christmas list. Blu Rays may be more of a niche market, but certainly not an irrelevant one.

 

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Wednesday

21

December 2016

1

COMMENTS

Rectify Goes Out On Its Own Terms

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The question of Daniel Holden’s innocence has always been Rectify’s low hanging fruit. If Sundance’s first original drama aired on network TV, the ads every week would feature variations of “did he do it?” along with some gripping music and a voiceover, but creator Ray McKinnon never made that the focal point of his masterpiece. In the week leading up to Rectify’s finale, I got the sense that we weren’t going to get any definitive closure. The four seasons we spent with Daniel remind us that life doesn’t work like that. Thankfully, the finale didn’t tell us anything different.

It’s easy to forget that the entirety of the show takes places over a few short months. The circumstances surrounding Daniel’s life barely change over the course of the series. He’s on the road to recovery and probable exoneration, but that’s about it thirty episodes later. Rectify’s pacing is a true marvel, moving at a glacier slow speed but with such precision that it’s easy to forget just how little time has passed, though for a show about a man who spent nineteen yeas in solitary confinement, it feels oddly fitting.

Part of the beauty of Rectify is that we’ll never know if Daniel really did it or not. The show supplied enough details to suggest Chris Nelms killed Hanna Dean, but never fully lets its lead off the hook. Daniel himself claimed to not remember in the season opener, understandable considering he was on mushrooms that night. Most shows would be ripped apart for not definitively revealing the killer, but Rectify managed to frame its narrative so that it almost would have been a cop out to supply the answer.

That’s also really not what Rectify was ever about. As Daniel put it in the finale, an exoneration would be only good for an occasional visit home, plus any future Google searches by artsy companions. He won’t get his years back. Some people in Paulie will always think he did it. Rectify never tried to trick its audience into thinking otherwise.

I didn’t think the season finale was the best episode of the season. I’m glad it didn’t try to be. There were so many deeply moving scenes throughout the season that you almost couldn’t imagine that there were any heartstrings left to tug. Of course Rectify managed to find a few, but the goodbyes offered in the final episode ended on a happier note than what we’ve come to expect from the show over the years.

Rectify’s conclusion had all the makings of a proper TV finale set through the lens of one of the most unique shows ever to air. We got to see familiar faces one last time, without the kind of shock scene that would have felt out of place. The best TV finales are the ones that remind you why you loved the show to begin with. The final dream sequence offered the only kind of conclusion Rectify could offer, bringing the show to an end knowing full well that Daniel Holden’s story is far from over.

Few shows demonstrate such mastery of the craft. Like The Wire before it, Rectify won no major awards and never achieved a sizable following while it was on the air. Both are fairly unwelcoming in their brutally honest deliveries, which rarely spare punches to their characters. Hopefully history will rectify Rectify’s standing in this so-called “golden age of television,” but until then we can rest easy knowing what a fantastic piece of art we got to enjoy.

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Monday

19

December 2016

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Rogue One Sets A Strong Template for Standalone Star Wars Films

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We live in a post-film era for big blockbusters. Being an entertaining, self-contained, couple hours of fun isn’t enough anymore as franchises work their own larger continuities into the mix to keep fans coming to the theatres. While criticized for being a largely derivative film, The Force Awakens was praised for setting up the franchise for future annual offerings. As a standalone film, Rogue One demonstrates what a movie can be without the weight of obligation.

Rogue One takes place during the long eighteen year period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, enough for General Motti to remark, “your sad devotion to that ancient religion,” in the latter film. There’s a few familiar faces in the supporting cast, but the leads are complete unknowns. The presence of rebels not related to the Skywalker/Solo/Kenobi/Binks clans was rather refreshing as the mind tends to focus on the film itself rather than the potential parentages of the characters. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna captivate in the leading roles, never once suggesting that the two may be related or that one owned a droid built by the other’s father.

The film moves at a rapid pace, taking little time to explain who its characters are. You probably won’t remember most of their names. There is a natural inclination to knock the film for giving the audience little reason to get behind the characters, except the film’s standalone nature and lean 133 minute runtime stand in direct contrast to most action films these days. Rogue One doesn’t have the luxury of spending the entire film setting up future entries for its characters and it’s better off for not trying. I liked the characters enough to care if they survived various explosions. Isn’t that enough?

Which isn’t to say that it’s a perfect film. The cast is a little bloated and the story relies heavily on dramatic clichés to advance the plot. I’d care more, but I was having too much fun watching a movie that wasn’t trying to be a different movie or sell me on the next one.

The idea of standalone Star Wars films has existed since the Caravan of Courage/Battle for Endor duology back in the 80s. The world George Lucas created offers endless storytelling possibilities, which made J.J. Abrams’ decision to remake A New Hope and The Force Awakens incredibly frustrating. Rogue One doesn’t deviate quite as far from the original films as the Ewok movies, but certainly demonstrates what the franchise is capable of when separated from its beloved characters.

Rogue One succeeded for many of the same reasons as the original. It offered satisfying escapism with breathtaking special effects. It pays homage to its predecessors, offering numerous easter eggs for dedicated fans that don’t take away from the enjoyment of those who don’t even know what the Ewok movies even are. It doesn’t shoot for the stars, but one has to wonder if any film is going to in the Disney era. If this is as good as it gets, I’ll take it, as long as there aren’t any post-credit scenes.

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