Author Archive

Critique by Mat Festa

Follow my work on Facebook, Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

Castor and Pollux are two friends with conflicting taste in movies. Castor loves mainstream fare while Pollux prefers pretentious art films. A quirky miss matched roommates sitcom is in the works.

BATMAN BEGINS (2005)

CASTOR&POLLUX: Wow!

POLLUX: That was amazing. I had no idea what to expect when I heard Nolan was making a Batman movie but that was excellent. The level of depth and complexity in the character development, the intricate layout to the structure – going back and fourth through time to show his growth as a person and evolution into becoming Batman simultaneously, and what a cast! Neeson, Watanabe, Oldman, Murphy, and Bale was as pleasant a surprise as Nolan.

CASTOR: I know! And the Joker is going to be in the next one! I’m so excited. I mean this one wasn’t perfect-

P: Yeah, the camera was too close and shaky during some of the fight sequences, but that’s an endemic problem for action movies these days. And that scene where Batman’s holding the guy upside down and threatening him getting a little over the top. Look, we know you’re Batman and you’re hardcore. You don’t need to growl at people. Meh, I’m sure they won’t do that in the next one.

C: What? I was talking about calling him Ra’s al Ghul. It’s pronounced “Raysh.” “RAYSH!”

P: Well, “ra’s al ghul” is Arabic for “the demon’s head” and “rass,” the way they say it in the movie is the Arabic pronunciation and the character was an Arab in the comics so… hey, come to think of it why do they have a Japanese guy in Tibet with an Arabic name?

C: The animated series called him “Raysh.” Dennis O’neil created the character and he pronounces it “Raysh!”

P: Whatever, we’re nitpicking. This was a great film. I can’t wait to see what they do with the next one.

C: Oh man it’s going to be so great!

[Three years of nerdly fawning, discussion, and praise ensue, and then….]

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

C: Holy sh-

P: Yeah, that was okay.

[Castor glares daggers at Pollux.]

P: …what?

C: This was incredible! It was mind blowing! So much better than Batman Begins. It was one of the best sequels, best movies ever! What could you possibly complain about?!

P: Whoa, ease up there, fanboy. It was a good action movie. It had the same sort of atmosphere of Batman Begins that I loved but the whole movie was paced and edited like an action sequence. Any sort of emotional impact that some of the scenes could have had just get glossed over because it races from one scene to the next. Not to mention all the weird little things that just didn’t make any sense.

C: Oh come on! This was so incredibly written. What didn’t make sense?

P: Okay, how about the fact that Alfred is the prim and proper English butler who has served the Wayne family for generations except for the summer he took off to be a mercenary in Burma?

C: You’re just looking for things to complain about. You can’t deny the amazing performance Ledger gave as the Joker.

P: Oh yeah, he was the saving grace for a lot of the movie. I love how of all the people to play the Joker over the years they’ve each had such a completely unique take on the character. …huh, look Heath Ledger died. That’s a pity.

C: He died? …THIS WAS THE GREATEST MOVIE VILLAIN THAT EVER WAS OR EVER WILL BE!

P: Speaking of villains why was so much of the movie spent on how Batman won’t go all the way and kill the Joker if it comes down to that – the Joker who has murdered who knows how many people, blown up buildings, and been terrorizing the entire city – but he murders Two Face without a second thought?

C: He was pointing a gun at Gordon’s kids!

P: So he couldn’t push the boy out of the way? Or knock the gun out of his hand like he does to criminals all the time? Or just jump in front of the kid since he’s wearing body armor that already stopped a bullet when Two Face was aiming right at him? Come to think of it why was Dent only Two Face for the last 20 minutes of the movie?

C: You’re the one always harping on about the importance of character development. They had to establish who he was to show his tragic descent into becoming Two Face.

P: Yeah, they keep going on and on about how perfect and valiant he is. That he can clean up Gotham and do a better job of fighting crime than Batman without having to be a vigilante. (And we always say “face” twice when talking about him and calling him the “white knight” because Batman is the “dark knight.” Aren’t we a clever little movie.) Then his girlfriend dies so he decides to become a mass murderer?

C: But there was just so much more to this one. May the Movie Gods forgive me for uttering this horribly overused word, but it was EPIC! Batman Begins never had any jaw dropping moments like the truck flipping scene.

P: What was up with that, anyway? Batman hooks a cable onto the front of the truck, drives under it, sprays it with his trusty Bat-Anti-Physics spray and it magically flips over head first.

C: Come on, that was incredible! You can’t tell me you weren’t shocked when you saw that.

P: Yeah I was. Shocked. Surprised. Confused. He didn’t even attach the other end of the cable to anything. I thought Nolan’s whole thing with his take on Batman was “realism.”

C: It was awesome!

P: But it didn’t make any sense! So if in the next movie Batman tosses a stick at the Riddler and his head comes flying off like he whacked him with a broadsword you’ll start cheering in the theater?

C: …Yes.

P: Okay, that would actually be kind of neat, but you know what I mean. Anyway, all I’m saying is that this wasn’t as good a film as Batman Begins. It was an okay action flick with a great antagonist but that’s about it. Oh, but you want to know something else that really bothered me about this one?

C: Not really.

P: Here’s a hint.  **ahem** …WHERE ARE THEY?!!

C: Gah! Don’t do that!

[Four years of ridiculing Christian Bale’s vocal cords, and then….]

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

P: Well that was a steamy pile of-

C: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE!

P: **Defeated sigh** You’re kidding me, right?

C: This was beyond fantastic! Genre transcending!

P: Holy plot holes, Batman. Where should I even start?

C: How about with how you insist on over analyzing everything and can’t just enjoy a movie?

P: If you want to start on a positive note then it is impressive that Nolan managed to make a movie even worse than Inception. Had to be really embarrassing for Caine, Hardy, Gordon-Levitt, Murphy, and Cotillard though. Sort of like bumping into someone you know at the VD clinic.

C: What are you talking about? The cast was remarkable! Bane was such a powerful chilling villain.

P: You mean the guy who sounded like he was doing a Prof. Farnsworth impression with a bucket on his head? “Wif no shurwivors!!” What’s so intimidating about a villain who talks like a kitten poster?

C: Bane was the apex, what all of this was leading to. RAYSH al Ghul was the beginning, the ideals which Wayne opposed, everything the lead him to becoming Batman. Then the Joker was the embodiment of chaos, all the madness that was inevitable once someone like the Batman came into being. Now Bane is Batman’s only equal, the strength, cunning, planning, everything that Batman is turned against him!

P: You know who Batman’s most dangerous enemy is? A therapist. One good session of grief counseling and his entire reason to exist will vanish.

C: Bane was the mastermind behind all of this!

P: Right, and remind me what his plan is again.

C: He was finishing what the League of Shadows started in the first movie!

P: Don’t they open the film by saying that all the crime, mob activity, and corruption that was the whole reason they wanted to destroy Gotham is gone? And seriously, what was his plan? First he isolates Gotham, which he can do because apparently Gotham is an island now.

C: They set that up in the first movie!

P: Right, “the narrows,” which they established was the small crime riddled slum that Batman was trying to clean up. Now the entire city – banks, mansions, football stadium, hospitals, everything – is all on that island. Anyway, so he cuts off the city from the rest of the world, makes Bruce Wayne go broke for some reason, releases all the criminals from prison except the Joker who apparently doesn’t exist now-

C: Are you so determined to not like a fun movie that you’re going to attack Nolan’s leaving out mention of the Joker out of respect to Ledger?

P: How is that respectful? This is a mentality that’s become more and more prevalent in recent years. It started with 9/11 after which the media started removing the twin towers from everything. It’d be like if when you were in your 40’s your parents died so you start saying you grew up an orphan. And on the subject of orphans, Robin knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman because the first time he saw Wayne – a man whom he already knew grew up without parents – he could see by looking in his eyes that he grew up without parents? Was this something like the last Harry Potter movies where the screenwriters went out, got drunk, left the script under a table in the bar and had to rewrite the entire movie at the last minute?

C: Want to get back to Bane now, Captain Tangent, or would you like to keep taunting orphans and 9/11 victims?

P: Right, so Bane releases all the criminals that the League of Shadows wanted to get rid of in the first place, arms them with assault rifles, and lets them terrorize the city so he can blow it all up (himself, the woman he loves, and all his henchmen included) with a nuke. Your master tactician hard at work.

C: It was to torture him! He wanted Batman to suffer seeing everything he worked for tear itself apart. That’s why he had him watch the TV in prison.

P: Yes, the “hell on Earth” prison in Fakeistan so mysterious it’s existence is only a legend but sits so close to a city you’d be able to see in the windows of the buildings the second Wayne climbs out of it. Considerate of Bane to put him in a prison with a personal physician and its own built in escape route by the way. At least all the prison scenes gave us another 50 chances to hear the “ketchup ketchup fish fish” chanting because the 90 times prior to that weren’t nearly enough. You know how Zimmer only used the “Batman theme” in Dark Knight twice because he said he didn’t want to have a catchy tune people would leave the theater humming? So glad he changed his mind on that because hearing “KETCHUP KETCHUP FISH FISH” every time Bane came on screen never got annoying at all.

C: THEY WERE NOT SAYING KETCHUP FISH!!

P: And where did Bane get these legions of devout adoring followers? All his brilliant plans just amount to blowing stuff up and his masterful combat skills consist of swinging his arms around like an eight-year-old throwing a dodge ball. But enough about Bane. Let’s talk Catwoman.

C: I am so glad Hathaway didn’t ruin the movie. Man was I worried when she was cast.

P: She gave what would have been the one interesting performance in the whole movie. Would have been nice if there was any point to have her in it. Another wonderful filmmaking innovation from Nolan in recent years: never show with one scene what you could say with long protracted speeches and half a dozen extra characters. It gets so needlessly convoluted that almost every scene she’s in the bulk of the time is spent with other characters rambling off justifications for her to even be there. If they’d just given her a prominent role and let her have the breathing room to act I think it would have been just as memorable performance as Ledger’s Joker. …even thought the writers thought so little of the character that she’s the only person in the whole movie dim enough to not know Wayne is Batman. Come to think of it did they ever even refer to her as “Catwoman?”

C: Get over it. What, are you going to complain that they called it “the Bat” instead of “the Batwing” too?

P: Actually-

C: Dude.

P: Fine, you want to stick to story points? How about the fact that the entire second and third acts of Dark Knight were devoted to trying to find out who Batman really was but in Dark Knight Rises everyone already knows and doesn’t seem to care.

C: Not everyone knew.

P: Gordon, Robin, Bane, Talia/Miranda, but you’re right not everyone knew. All the people who had it handed to them on a silver platter like Catwoman and the police whose job it’s been for the past eight years to figure it out would have had an easier time solving a Rubik’s Cube with oven mitts on.

C: Why do you have to pick everything apart? If you want to overanalyze every last shot of a movie go watch a von Trier film or something. It’s just a simple fun action movie. What’s so wrong with that?

P: There isn’t anything wrong with just pure entertainment flicks but Nolan’s whole intent with Batman, which he carried out so beautifully in the first film, was delving into a truly realistic depiction of a concept as operatic as a superhero, an idea which the Batman title is perfectly suited for. Now everything is goofy, implausible, ridiculously over the top as ever but it still maintains the pretention of being “realistic.” Except now in place of sincere and well-developed characters and plausibility we get Bush quotes and pseudo-political ramblings. It’s like all the 9/11 references in Transformers 3 or the abortion talk in Twilight; as if shoehorning in pathetically trivialized versions of actual social issues will somehow legitimize works that are so inherently silly.

C: What was so ridiculous about this movie?

P: Bane, someone who was so horribly beaten and poorly healed that he needs to be constantly fed painkillers through a facemask, punching through cement walls. One man dangling a string through a sewer grate providing enough food, water, shaving supplies, and laundry detergent to supply hundreds of people trapped underground for months. Gordon being bedridden and hospitalized for months because he fell in the sewer but then getting up and being perfectly fine when it’s narratively convenient. Batman harping on and on about how he won’t take anyone’s life when he’s already killed dozens of people-

C: ONE! One person. He killed Two Face to save Gordon’s kid.

P: Yeah, Two Face, Ra’s al Ghul-

C: He didn’t kill al Ghul. He just left him on the train and-

P: PASSIVE GUILT! Jigoku!

C: Stick to movies more than five people have seen, please.

P: As I was saying: he’s killed Dent, al Ghul, Watanabe, and all the people trapped in al Ghul/Watanabe’s house when he burned it down. Plus no one seems to care about the murders of the police that he took the blame for to protect Dent’s memory, which was the whole point of the finale of Dark Knight. Everyone thinks he’s just taking the blame for murdering Dent. Of course he’s taking the blame for that! He threw him out a window!

C: Look, the simple fact of the matter is that this was an action movie and provided exactly what action movies should: ACTION! It was fast, exciting, and just fun, and – brace your pretentious brain for this one – that’s what most people go to the movies for! They don’t want to spend their little free time on the weekend away from their tiring, frustrating jobs going to see some depressing drek that you need a masters in ancient literature to understand.

P: And there is nothing wrong with that. But if you want to call something “pretentious” aim it at a silly action flick with more plot holes and goofy characters than a fourteen-year-old’s fan fiction that forces in speeches about morality and politics every third scene, and still claims to be a paragon of “realism” when a billionaire who dresses like a rodent gets into screaming matches with a body builder wearing vacuum cleaner spare parts on his face.

Advertisements

Mat Festa

matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

For the month of July only if you follow my work on Facebook or Twitter you will receive an ebook of Miséréri Nobis, my first graphic novel (a 238 page book) free. All you have to do is ‘like’ or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, email me at matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com, and I will send you the link to download the book.

Follow my work on Facebook, Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

Mat Festa

matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

Follow my work on Facebook [July only: LIKE my Facebook page and get Miséréri Nobis, my first graphic novel (238 pages) for free], Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

Greetings ladies and gentlemen, my dears and darlings. Today for thy enjoyment, enlightenment, edification, and lots of other fancy words that begin with an ‘e’ I offer you a step by step breakdown of what went into the creation of one of my recent artworks, ‘Silhouette #3.’

0. This preliminary step, silly as it may sound, is of vital importance. This is a problem faced by amateurs just starting out and the most seasoned of veteran artists alike. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a blank page. [Blank canvas, paper, etc. For this project i used bristol board.] It does not bite. Do not be afraid of it. WHEN you make mistakes – it is not a question of “if” – you can fix them, paint/draw over them, work them into the piece, or just throw it out and start over. Canvases can be re-stretched. More paper can be bought. [Paper is cheap. Even fancy paper can be cheap.] It happens. Relax and go with it.

1. The reason behind the first step here won’t be immediately apparent. This is an acrylic wash that I sponged on with a rag. Instead of using water to make washes like this I tend to use a high concentration (90%) rubbing alcohol. It has a slightly thinner viscosity – better for leaving a textured pattern – and evaporates much quicker, which dramatically lessens the amount of paper/board buckling.

2. Once the wash was sponged on and dry I began laying down the water colors. Making a painting from water colors alone is very difficult and takes a lot of practice. It is still a medium I am no where near skilled enough to work with. However I love using them to lay down colors, patterns, textures as a component part of a more complex and layered work. With some pieces I do in this manner I’ll just throw the paint down abstractly and let it fall as it may, but going into this one I had the finished composition in mind from the outset so I put the paint down in a specific manner – albeit still loosely. The figure, a solid black silhouette, was going to be centered so I had the yellows, the brightest point, start there and move toward the reds, the darkest, at the edges. This keeps her pronounced and the largest point of focus in the piece.

3. At this point I began the penciling of the figure herself. As you can tell from this my pencils are little more than vague sketches. This is the main reason I didn’t include my preliminary concept sketches in here. Some graphic artists and illustrators will plan everything out in their pencil work before beginning to ink. As for myself once I have the image that I want in mind the pencils serve mainly to orient it all on the page.

4. Inking. As far as graphic design and illustration work goes inking is by far my favorite part and the medium I am most comfortable with. This is also the reason why my pencils are, for the most part, rough and simplistic. All the fine details and nuances of the piece are worked out during the inking itself. The ripples of fabric in her skirt were done with a brush, then the outline of the silhouette with a fine tip pen, and lastly all filled in. As I said prefer to plan everything out in the penciling stage – this allows you to erase, experiment – but personally I find more freedom and have more fun doing it this way. Now, go read that last sentence again. Yes, I said I have more FUN doing it this way. Fun is of the most vital importance. If you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing and enjoy the doing of it then why are you?

5. Leaving her just as the inked silhouette felt unfinished. She seemed to be ambiguously floating on the page, so to frame the image I added this henna styled pattern around the boarders. This was made with pen and colored ink. You can buy colored inks but this was one that I made myself using a solution of acrylics, ink, and water. [Water used here instead of alcohol because of the way it is being applied. Using a dip pen it needs to have a much higher ratio of pigment to solvent in order to be opaque. If alcohol were used it would be thick, sticky, and wouldn’t flow from the pen. These are things you only learn from trial and error. This isn’t about using the “best” materials, it’s using what you’re most comfortable with to achieve the look you want. Play around. See what works for you.] None of this was penciled out at all but was done freehand as the inking largely was. It takes a lot of practice to be comfortable doing it this way. A large mistake here or with the inking could mean having to start over from the beginning, and believe me there are plenty of mistakes in there. Hopefully they are small enough to not be noticed when looking at the work as a whole.

6. This last step doesn’t have an image to accompany it because by its nature there isn’t one. Namely, digital compositing. This is NOT a part of the making of the piece itself but is an essential one for allowing people to see it. The nature of the ‘industry’ being what it is today the overwhelming majority of the people who see a work like this do so via digital means. Even prints, should any be made, would be created from the digital files. What this means is photographing or what is much more often the case, as it is here, scanning the art. This can drastically change the look of a piece. For starters a scanner is an intense and close light source. This will not only change the color of water colors but makes them translucent. This is where the initial acrylic wash comes in. I wanted the background to have a crackling fiery look to it and the wash beneath the water colors adds this extra texture. You can see it looking at the piece itself and in the scanned image. Photographing the work, while it could provide a high enough quality image for reproduction, wouldn’t be able to pick this up and would leave the background muted. Also under the intense light of the scanner the ink becomes highly reflective. This can leave huge white and grey blotches all over it. To counter this these scanner artifacts are digitally painted over with solid black. The largest advantage photographing art has vs scanning is being able to capture the whole piece at once. Due to the size of the scanner bed this work needed to be scanned in four sections and then pieced back together. This is a lot of tedious work and is difficult even at the best of times to hide the seams. This doesn’t make the work itself a digital piece – the art itself was finished with the ‘henna’ inking – this is making the digital facsimile as close to the physical work as possible so that you can see it how it truly is. Being conscious of reproduction is a concern that in all honesty I’ve only recently become aware of.

7. Ta-da! YOU ARTED!

Mat Festa

matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

Follow my work on Facebook, Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

Ladies and gentlemen, my dears and darlings, I have heard your cries and they shall not go unanswered. So great is your craving for comics outside of the mainstream industries superhero obsession that I can deprive you no longer. For the entire month of July every new ‘like’ of my work on Facebook or ‘follow’ on Twitter will receive Miséréri Nobis – my first book, a 238 page graphic novel – completely free. All you have to do is go to Facebook here or Twitter here, ‘like’ or ‘follow’ respectively, message me your email and I will send you the link to download the book. That’s it.

Miséréri Nobis is a dark and expressionistic story about Mary, a single mother searching for her abducted daughter and all the people whose lives end up intertwining with hers on her journey. Most similar in style and mood to the early Silent Hill video games the story gradually grows more surreal as it goes along. The world begins to reflect the fears, doubts, and insecurities of each of the characters until by the end they are virtually walking through their own dreams and nightmares.

“The darkest shadows of self-judgment and loss are explored in this extremely atmospheric blend of Kafka-esque eccentricity and psychological Lovecraftian horror.” – Dave Baxter of Brokenfrontier.com Read his entire review here. [Note: he lists the book as being 232 pages, which at the time was accurate, but what you are being given here is the second edition of the book which includes an extensive notes section. This gives you a running commentary that offers insight into the nuances of the story as well as a behind the scenes look at the production of the book.]

Again, all you have to do is:

  1. Go to FACEBOOK or TWITTER and ‘like’ or ‘follow.’ [Note: of the two Facebook is updated the most frequently and is where you will see the most new work.]
  2. Email me at matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com
  3. I’ll email you the link to download the book.

That’s it. The entire book is yours FREE, but during JULY ONLY! Take advantage of this now or live a life of regret.

Mat Festa

Follow my work on Twitter, Facebook, and Tiamat’s Garden.

matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

[Note: This is a film critique, not a review and is intended for those who have already seen the movie. This will contain ‘spoilers’ and if you have not seen the movie in question – Prometheus – then much of this may not make sense.]

The most intriguing aspect of the series of Alien films is that while each individual movie is well made and enjoyable in its own right when looked at as a whole it’s a tangled mess of contradictory nonsense. The Alien series, which was never envisioned nor intended to be a series, is a mosaic, not a seamless cloth.

In my youth this was a continual source of frustration. Alien was then, and remains to this day what I consider to be one of the finest American made horror films. A movie I would put in the same group as Jacob’s Ladder, Antichrist, or Lake Mungo as a pinnacle of the genre. Whenever a person would mention that they consider Aliens to be the better movie – a sentiment that to this day I still hear frequently echoed – it would send me into a naïve pretentious rage that such an exquisite horror film should not only be followed by but considered inferior to an action flick. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to look at each movie in the Alien ‘series’ individually and only then did I appreciate them each for what they are.

Alien, as I’ve just mentioned, is a masterwork of horror. The atmosphere of dread and isolation is palpable. The pacing is agonizing and the threat of violence is visceral. This is a film that exists is the endless but immeasurably brief moment after you’ve lost control of the car but before the accident occurs. Every inch of your body knows the crash is inevitable and can see it hurtling toward you, but you are helpless to prevent it. However, while the structure and pacing of Alien are immaculate what truly sets it apart from so many other horror movies, and indeed what makes it a truly great film, is how steeped in symbolism and metaphor it all is. This is due largely to Giger’s seductive and repulsive design work. [For a detailed analysis of this see the artist’s own book H. R. Giger’s Film Design.]

Then came Aliens, an action movie. While Aliens does have all the trappings and failings inherent to the genre – minimal plot, one-dimensional characters (with the possible exception of Ellen Ripley, the one carry over character from the first movie and only connecting thread through the ‘series’ as a whole) – but that having been said it is an incredibly well made action movie. The pacing and structure and wonderfully adrenaline inducing and the characters, while insubstantial, are relatable enough that you actually care about what is happening. From a visual and conceptual standpoint the aliens themselves are already a world apart from the creature of the first film. What was in Alien a physical manifestation of sexual anxieties in Aliens was reduced to swarms of insects, and even the very idea of what the aliens themselves are was drastically changed, but more on that later. Lastly, speaking from a purely artistic point of view, while the aliens themselves are a far cry from Giger’s creation the actual creation and execution of the creatures on screen is a sight to behold. Made in the blessed days before rampant cgi the costuming and animatronics that bring the aliens to life on film, especially the intricate queen in the finale, are creature fx at their finest.

Alien 3 is a much harder film to pin down. The original release of the movie was greatly marred by frequent changes in production, scripting, and directing, but the version released years later, called the “assembly cut” is the best version and supposedly the closest to what the film was originally intended to be. On the surface it would seem to be an attempt to recapture the horror origins of the first film. The setting is remote, desolate, the threats abound, coming not only from the alien itself but also for Ripley herself (again the protagonist) from the majority of the other characters with whom she is trapped. In a much broader sense though the monster/horror aspect of the film is really just a backdrop to a fairly unique character study. The nearest film equivalent could be, oddly enough, is The Name of the Rose. A collection of curious, unique minds – those that would seek out the lonely devotional life of monasticism or the inmates who chose to stay in a prison after it is abandoned – hemmed in by an ever increasing threat – an unknown murderer or the alien beast. All the necessary beats to make a suspenseful film are there but what truly holds it together and makes it such an interesting film is the nuances of the characters themselves and their reactions (and increasing mutual antagonisms to one another) in the strange harshness of the situation.

As for Alien: Resurrection I don’t know what else to say beyond that it’s a Jean-Pierre Jeunet monster movie. If you haven’t seen his other works that there is little I can put into words that will accurately describe or do the faintest justice to how deliciously quirky, bizarre, silly, and beautiful they are. Watch The City of Lost Children. Then try to imagine the mind that created that making a monster movie. That’s Alien: Resurrection.

Now, as for the film at hand, Prometheus is simply put a movie with wonderful ideas pathetically executed. This was the first foray Ridley Scott has made back into the series since it’s inception. Although it was originally not intended to be a prequel to the original once that decision was made a great deal of the film was devoted to recreating various aspects of the original, nearly all of which came to the detriment to the movie as a whole.

The first and most obvious flaw is that which would occur when making a prequel to any film more than thirty years after the original: retconning. [For the sake of clarity from here on the aliens whom were sought out in Prometheus will be referred to as ‘Engineers’ as they are in the film, and the aliens of which are the subject of the rest of the series I will simply call ‘Aliens.’] Retroactive continuity changes are rampant throughout the entirety of Prometheus, from the minor easily excusable ones – the visual differences in the surface of the world on which the derelict Engineer ship was discovered – to the completely nonsensical – the Engineers weren’t killed by the aliens (what they did die of is never explained), the pilot of the Engineer ship (commonly referred to as the ‘space jockey’) not only didn’t die from an alien chest-burster but died miles away from the location where his body was in Alien, the Aliens seemingly didn’t even exist on the Engineer ship where hundreds of their eggs are found in the original, and so on. The most frequent bit of retconning though is one that is an increasingly common occurrence as prequels of this nature are being made so long after the fact of their originals: new technology. The simple fact is cgi is bright, flashy, and attention grabbing. For all intents and purposes you can animate virtually anything that you can imagine, and when it comes to the sci-fi genre depictions of exotic technologies are the first instinct of the purely superficially minded filmmaker. The problems it creates in Prometheus are:

  • 1. The technologies depicted (large scale holograms, recording and real-time viewing dreams, etc) did not exist in the time of Alien, which occurred at a much later date in the continuity.
  • 2. The portrayal of the technologies in question is so far flung and exotic that when it comes time to show that of the Engineers – supposedly a far more advanced culture – there is little to nothing available to distinguish them. And most importantly of all:
  • 3. The addition of these adds nothing whatsoever to the film. The only feeble argument that could be made for the dream viewer would be for the development of Elizabeth Shaw’s character, but nothing comes from it that could not be brought out (and much more elegantly) through ordinary exposition.

As I mentioned above many of the problems that occurred in Prometheus were in trying to recreate aspects of the original Alien. There were numerous small instances throughout the film but there are two which stand out prominently in mind:

  • The crew: In Alien the basis of the ship’s crew was simply “truck drivers in space.” Strange though it may sound this was an elegant solution to several problems. Having the characters be such ordinary working class people grounded the fanciful futuristic setting and made it relatable and understandable. Again having an ordinary group of people working a completely unrelated job stumble across the derelict ship, and thus the alien, simply by accident made their unpreparedness and the threat presented all the more potent. In Prometheus however the same aesthetic of “truck drivers in space” is sought for most of the supporting crew, but here – on a highly funded archeological expedition traveling to an uncharted world specifically to seek out an intelligent alien civilization, apparently, though never specifically stated, the first in history – it makes no sense whatsoever.
  •  Flamethrowers: In Alien the crew was completely isolated and had to scrounge together whatever tools and bits of the ship they could manage to fashion a means of defense; a crude flamethrower being one of these. This became a prominent visual theme during the panicked encounters with the alien and is brought back in Prometheus. While a flamethrower admittedly does look neat it is probably the most ridiculously impractical weapon ever created and would be the last thing you would think to bring on such an expedition. This may seem like minor nit-picking but I think it’s evidence of how a mistake so seemingly minor can go so far to pull a person out of a scene.

All that having been said there was also a great deal I deeply enjoyed about the film. More than any other film in the Alien series Prometheus holds true to the subtle philosophy of life being birthed from death. In the original Alien as conceived by O’Bannon, Shusett, and Giger the alien feeds off of its prey’s blood once it has them cocooned. As they grow weaker and the cocoon envelopes them their bodies become the egg from which a ‘face hugger’ will emerge to latch onto another victim who will die to birth the next generation, and thus the cycle continues. This was changed in Aliens to the more easily understandable simple structure of a queen based insect colony. In Prometheus however everything the Engineers do to create life comes at the expense of life. In the very first scene of the movie it is shown than an Engineer will kill himself so that his body may break down and become the seed to germinate life on that world.

Visually this is Ridley Scott at the top of his game. Although not without its flaws – the holograms are needless and over used, and the cesarean scene is just outright ridiculous – this is a visually stunning film. The crash of the Engineer ship towards the climax has such a physical mass to it you can feel the massive bulk of it in your marrow as it tumbles achingly slowly to the ground. There is an incredible array of creatures and while they are all unique the variations on a theme of the original alien and face hugger are easily visible. I was delighted to learn that Giger himself was brought in to consult on how his designs would be extrapolated out into other species. This is however another of the films problems though. There is no consistency whatsoever to the behavior of any of the creatures or Engineer related experiments. Often they seem to be made completely randomly without any attempt at logic.

By far though the most captivating part of the whole film is the character of David the android played by Michael Fassbender. After the initial shocking revelation of Ash’s character being an android in Alien their existence is entirely taken for granted throughout the rest of the series. In Prometheus on the other hand the first introduction we have to the characters is through David, and we spend a good deal of time with him before any of the others come into play. While all the human crew members are in a cryogenic sleep during travel David spends that entire time awake, alone, for over two years. During this time he not only does the needed research for the expedition but reads, watches movies. Supposedly emotionless and existing only in programming he tries continually to find himself, creating his own personality. In the most poetic of touches he draws greatly from the Laurence of Arabia (which he frequently quotes), a film about Laurence’s own quest of self-discovery. Sadly on the other hand as captivating as David is he comes at the expense of all the other characters, about whom we know virtually nothing and get only the vaguest caricatures and hints as to who they are.

In keeping with the uniquely diverse tradition that the Alien series has made for itself Prometheus is first and foremost a sci-fi movie, and given the subject matter had the potential to be a truly philosophical one. Unfortunately, while the subtleties were all in place the larger pieces were so terribly mismanaged that it ultimately falls apart. The first impression I was left with after watching the movie was that it felt like a first draft, not a finished work. Having read some of what Scott and others involved have said about the production it would seem that a large portion (30 minutes to an hour) of footage was removed from the original cut for the theatrical release. The addition of this could go a long way toward filling the gaps that felt so glaringly exposed in the movie as it is. An extended cut has already been announced and I’ll reserve any ‘final’ judgment until having seen it – Ridley Scott has proven himself far too great a filmmaker over the years to outright dismiss any of his works so easily – but as it stands now Prometheus is a movie of excellent ideas but terribly fails in realizing its ambitions.

Mat Festa, matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

Look for more of this nonsense on Twitter, Facebook, and Tiamat’s Garden.

The Avengers

An Honest Critique of an Awful Film and What We Can Learn From It

[Note: this is a critique, not a review of the Avengers movie. If you have not seen it and are not already familiar with the characters therein then much of this will not make sense.]

The immediate difficulty that crops up when attempting to critique a movie like The Avengers is that there is extraordinarily little which can be said of it that does not also apply to innumerable other films. This in a sense is the problem in a nutshell; because of its phenomenal and inexplicable financial success and popularity The Avengers has typified a collection of failings that have become increasingly pervasive in cinema.

The simplest place to begin is with the characters and plot, or more specifically the complete lack there of. One of the most frequent bits of praise I heard from people regarding the characters in the film is that since they all had had previous movies devoted to their origin and exposition this once could be devoted entirely to the interplay between them. In principle this is a wonderful idea, and considering the enormous cast of characters Marvel has to work with – and indeed needs for the Avengers title/franchise – it is a practical, albeit mind-bogglingly expensive approach. What made it to the screen however is a far cry from this. The banter between the characters that I was told repeatedly was hilarious and clever amounted to little more than making moderately snarky and childish jabs at one another. The character’s individuality is only costume deep. Virtually any of the lines of dialogue could be switched randomly around and said by any other character and they would make an equal amount of sense, which admittedly is little at the best of times. For a movie with a larger principle cast than most TV shows there is not depth or sense of personality to any of the characters. This is most disheartening in the case of Captain America.

While I grew up reading Marvel comics Captain America was never a character that held any interest for me. The 2011 film however was to my immense surprise and delight incredible. The protagonist and all the supporting characters were thoroughly developed with true arcs of growth, the plot was well written, paced, structured, and never broke its own internal logic, and was in all other ways a well made and thoroughly entertaining 50’s era pulp-style action adventure movie. Not without its flaws by any means – the largest of which being the jarringly abrupt ending – but I would easily place it alongside X-Men (2000), Daredevil (2003), The Punisher (2004), and Batman Begins (2005) as one of the best made superhero comic adaptations.

In Avengers on the other hand the only character to go through even a modicum of change would be Tony Stark/Ironman. That being that he imperils his own life in order to save others in the climax, which was painfully predictable the moment Captain America said that it was something he would never do roughly halfway through the movie. In essence relearning the same paper-thin lesson from his own equally abysmal 2008 film.

All the failings in character development combined don’t come close to equaling those of the plot. The story, much like the dialogue, alternates between being predictable and completely nonsensical. Listing all of the absurdities that occur throughout the movie would amount to a small novel in its own right but here are a few of my favorites:

  • The Tesseract (Cosmic Cube in the comics) is an ultimate weapon capable of anything and a source of infinite power but needs a separate item (lump of mineral) to actually be used and a separate power source to be activated.
  • The ‘secret’ Bruce Banner has for preventing his transformation into the Hulk which he alludes to numerous times throughout the movie is that he is ‘angry all the time.’ After saying which he transforms at will and joins the long tedious final action sequence. During that battle he is seemingly completely aware of his surroundings, recognizes everyone, and is in total control of himself and his abilities. Ridiculous as this reasoning may be – along the same lines of saying you avoid all infections by rubbing dirt and mold into the wound anytime you get a cut – it would be almost moderately acceptable if it was at least consistent throughout the movie. However it was already contradicted by the only other time he changed into the Hulk earlier in the movie; in which falling to the ground apparently made him uncontrollably angry, transformed into the Hulk, and behaved as the savage beast totally oblivious to his surroundings and the identities of everyone therein.
  • The emergency fail-safe plan to kill the virtually indestructible Hulk if need be (and later the God Loki) is to drop him out of a plane.
  • Loki’s first action toward taking over the world is to blow up a car and yell at everyone standing around him to kneel. No actual explanation for his trying to take over the world – nor for the Skrull/Chitauri wanting to wage war on every world – is ever given.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first plan to find the Tesseract is to tap phone and CCTV transmissions; which in all fairness would have worked had Loki called his friends to brag about having stolen it or turned it into a gaudy Flavor Flav style necklace and worn it while walking past an ATM.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second plan to find the Tesseract comes from Banner, an expert on gamma radiation whom they brought on because the Tesseract emits gamma radiation and whose brilliant advice is to check for gamma radiation.
  • Loki wants to kill the Avengers (a group which no one knows of because it did not exist before his coming to Earth) in a public spectacle because seeing this humanity would then allow him to take over the world. His first attempt at doing so is by attacking them on the top secret camouflaged airship while it floats in the middle of nowhere.
  • By far the most morally and intellectually insulting part of the entire movie is that the act which convinces all the petulant bickering heroes to finally work together as a team is the death of Phil, a single S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was virtually anonymous save for his obsequiousness. Bearing in mind that several scenes earlier they made the point of saying Loki had already slaughtered 80 innocent people, and dozens of others were presumably killed in the subsequent large action sequences including the one in which Phil died.

Picking the plot to pieces could go on endlessly – what is listed above are roughly a tenth of the notes I took while watching – but they are all only symptoms of the larger problem. The main issue from which all the other flaws stem, the problem that has been rampant among “big budget” films and has only grown worse over the years is the overwhelming superficiality of it all. Time and again when I would bring up these or any of the other problems with the movie to those praised it – more than one going so far as to call it the greatest superhero film ever made – I would be met with replies all along the lines of ‘it doesn’t matter,’ ‘the plot/characters/writing/etc aren’t important,’ and ‘I don’t care.’ What it ultimately boiled down to is fan service. In the broader sense beyond just the Avengers/superheroes this is cinema as spectacle. Other recent offenders on this scale being the Transformers trilogy and James Cameron’s Avatar. – In fact after two viewings and a good deal of time devoted to pondering the matter the only difference I could think of between Avengers and any of the three Transformers movies is that the individual characters in Avengers are visually easier to pick out in the action sequences, and that is only due to the more or less keeping with the traditional character designs from the comics (all except of course the Skrulls/Chitauri who were reduced to moderately shiny dirt colored nonsense). – If you take this argument though, that appearance without any substance is all that matters, and apply it to other media the ridiculousness of it rapidly becomes apparent. ‘What does it matter that the novel is just 300 pages of random words? This typeface is beautiful!’ ‘I don’t care that she’s singing Mien Kampf, her voice is gorgeous! Who listens to lyrics anyway?’ The only instance in which this line of though seems to hold any validity is, oddly enough, pornography. In which there is only one specific intent that comes literally to the exclusion of all else.

I have been frequently told that I take movies too seriously and that I am expecting too much from “just an action movie,” but film is an art. Simply because a movie is of a particular genre doesn’t mean it can and should be lacking all substance. Action films can be intellectual (Body of Lies, Syriana, Children of Men), poignant (Blood Diamond), philosophical (The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Innocence), even spiritual (Kingdom of Heaven). They can have richly developed characters and stories (Collateral, Tombstone, Fearless, Hero, The Warlords), and even those that are just silly and fun can be beautifully well written (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Kung-Fu Hustle, Brotherhood of the Wolf). If you are content with the superficial works than there is an enormous volume out there to satisfy you, but do not think that that is what defines the genre nor that it is the measure by which films are to be judged.

Please direct all hate mail to matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com

Or harass me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

As the endless dance of the seasons waltzes once more into the months of summer the first thought to return is invariably the same. …Holy flerking schiznit it’s hot! Or at least it was when it came time to do this weeks cartoon. I can’t speak for the rest of you but personally when it gets to those days where you curse the sun’s very existence with a venomous passion all I want to do is nothing. Absolute uninterrupted nothing. In the spirit of said seasonal lethargy here is yet another Rejected Sport.

If you ever find yourself overcome by your own boredom and wish to murder it in the traditional manner of piddling away time on the interweb be sure to check out my art on Facebook, Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

This is what happens when you cartoon while hungry.

Further comfort food available on Facebook, light snacks on Twitter, and the main course on Tiamat’s Garden.

What are the warning signs that you have begun crossing over from the real of ‘artist’ into ‘obsessive compulsive lunatic’ territory? The symptoms can be subtle at first. One clear indicator is that you spend hours meticulously illustrating and arranging individual specks of glitter with an end result that differs little if at all from what could have been accomplished in a few minutes with the simplest of brush techniques.

Look for further updates on my gradual descent into madness on Facebook, Twitter, and Tiamat’s Garden.

Matfesta@tiamatsgarden.com