May 24, 2004

Prostitutes and Virgin Priestesses

Okay, so Saturday night, a friend and I decide to go see Troy. I drive by her place to pick her up, and I'm a few minutes early. We're going to the late showing, so it's nice and dark, and starting to rain a little. I pull up in front of her house, slow down, and I see someone who looks a little like her waving at me. Hair's a little different, but what do I know? I shave my head rather than getting haircuts. I stop, pop the lock, and she gets in.

Yeah, it's not my friend. This woman says something and reaches over and grabs my crotch. Ummmm, yeah. Yeah, she did. To my credit, before I slipped into complete shock, I asked her to step out of my car. I had to ask her three times, and refuse her request for a dollar (bus fare?), but she did finally leave. It took a bit for the cloud of perfume wafting off of her to do likewise. I drove a couple of blocks, windows rolled down, and just sat there dumbfounded. Five minutes later, pulled back up, my friend came out, no further surreality.

As if that wasn't enough.

So anyhow, made it to Troy, watched the epic, dropped my friend off, made it home, again without any additional incident. What did I learn from Troy?

  1. Our country's fetish with Nordic blondes as the ideal of beauty apparently stretches back to ancient Greece (iow, I agree with Aly)
  2. This was the one thing that the movie had in common with Clash of the Titans (Ursula Andress as Aphrodite).
  3. Orlando Bloom now need only play Robin Hood to cement his status as the greatest cinematic archer of all time.
  4. My tendency in contemporary epics is to appreciate the second-tier roles far more than the central ones--that's where the real acting seems to occur.
  5. There's a new movie about King Arthur coming out that appears to buck that trend.
  6. Brad Pitt makes a more convincing Achilles when his mouth is closed.
  7. Hector > Hulk, for Eric Bana's career.
  8. Peter O'Toole is still alive and still talented.
  9. I wouldn't mind seeing Sean Bean reprise his role as Odysseus in an adaptation of the Odyssey.

All in all, not bad. They made some serious choices about the story, certainly, not the least of which was to seriously downplay the role of the gods, but it's hard to fault them for that, given their audience. Most of their choices, in fact, seemed to have to do with stereotypes about American audiences. Not a full price epic, but probably a matinee.

July 11, 2004

The 1st Annual Clive Owen Film Festival

Okay, so not really.

Nevertheless, I did manage to catch Clive in perhaps his three best-known movies this weekend. First, I went to a morning (which was for me about midnight) showing of King Arthur, and had the entire theatre to myself. Second, I was buzzing around the dial that evening, and found that they're hyping the Bourne Supremacy by showing Bourne Identity nearly every hour on the hour. Finally, I found a copy of Croupier in the bargain DVD bin, and snatched it up.

Croupier is a decent movie--not stellar or anything, but I remember seeing it on the big screen way back when. One of the things that makes Croupier is Owen's emotional distance as an actor. It's almost certainly a Brit thing, but his character in Croupier is a writer who ends up getting back into the casino life and writing about it. He's in it, but he's also watching himself in it, and the struggle between those two selves (Jack and "Jake") propels the movie. Owen's understated performance makes that work pretty well.

Unfortunately, his acting ability hasn't really changed that much in the 5 or so years since, which makes him an odd cast in the role of Arthur. His charisma in the movie is almost intellectual or philosophical--he's an idealist half-Roman, half-Briton who follows a particular philosopher and commands a band of Salmatian knights. He and the rest of the knights are gritty enough, I suppose, but there's not a great deal of drama in the movie. Stellan Skarsgard plays the Saxon chief who's Arthur's primary nemesis (other than the decadent Roman bishop), and his acting is understated as well. He's the chief of this huge Saxon horde, but he comes off more cynical than dangerous.

Hmm. It's no accident, I suspect, that if you check the poster for the movie, the "main" character is Keira Knightley as a leather bikini-clad warrior princess. They don't do much more than hint at the love triangle, and they kill Lancelot before there's a chance for it to develop, but then development isn't really a strength of this movie. Even the climactic scene, the wedding of Arthur and Guinevere, doesn't really feel like it's been earned. And that's true of most of the movie, which gestures towards historical accuracy by opening with some mention of archaeological finds, downplaying all of the magic, grounding it in a specific time period, etc. But what happens is that the story loses a tremendous amount of its juice as a result. I didn't have to sit there like I did with Troy and bracket off all of the obvious Americanisms in the treatment of the story. But that's not to say that there weren't any. Arthur is clearly drawn as proto-American, with decidedly unhistorical beliefs about the fallacy of the Church, the equality of all humanity, etc.

Ugh. I'm talking myself into a lower opinion of the movie than I originally thought I held. I paid matinee price for it, but I'm not sure it was worth that. This is probably one to wait for, maybe a rental...

July 16, 2004

The 1st Annual Bridget Moynihan Film Festival

At least, it would have been, had I gotten a hold of Coyote Ugly and Serendipity and watched them. As it stands, I did happen across The Recruit a couple of nights ago, and more to the point, I caught a matinee of I, Robot this afternoon.

I must admit that I didn't expect the movie to be as good as it was. Not great or anything, certainly, but better than I thought it'd be. And I'll happily admit that I expected it to be either a horrible abuse of Asimov or yet another Hollywood installment of "are we in charge of our machines or...[dramatic pause]...are they in charge of us?!" There's a little of the latter going on here, certainly, and I'm sure I'll see some Asimov purists slapping at the movie, but by and large, I don't think I'll regret seeing it. Reminds me of the pleasant surprise I had from Enemy of the State--both movies slide in a little bit of scifilosophy in the guise of an action movie. There'll be some who wanted more action and others who wanted more scifi, but for a movie that tries to do some of both, this was pretty good.

Anyhow, I found out afterwards why I was pleasantly surprised--I went in without knowing that Alex Proyas directed this. He's the guy who did Dark City and The Crow, both of which are a little underrated as scifi films, I think. There were some nice touches that brought the movie above average for me, and it was less surprising when I saw his name. Proyas doesn't pass on opportunities to tell story through setting and scene, and scifi films are some of the best examples of this--think Blade Runner and more recently Minority Report. There's a little of that going on here, specifically in the tension b/w old and new that comes across on a number of the street scenes. Some of that tension is ham-handed--Spooner's obsession with a "vintage" pair of Chuck Taylors drove me up a wall, but thankfully, that was minimal. An especially nice touch comes when Moynihan, who's Smith's technophile mirror, is bewildered by Smith's CD player, which isn't voice-activated.

And the play between Smith and Moynihan isn't bad. There's one point where we get beaten over the head with the fact that the two of them are mirror images (him as unthinkingly technophobic, her as unthinkingly technophilic), but the two of them together also end up serving as foils for Sonny, the robot who triggers the whole plot. It's not as subtle as it could have been--Moynihan's character is a little too intentionally stiff (i.e., robotic) in the beginning--but it's also not as heavily played as it could have been. The plot works like a much more nuanced version of Paycheck in that there's a trail to be followed, but it unfolds more naturally than did the trail in that movie. The only complaint I had in that regard is that we don't need to see a copy of Hansel and Gretel in the lab (!!!) to realize that there's a trail to be followed.

I got a vibe off of Moynihan that reminded me a little of watching Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man, and I wonder if Moynihan won't break through in the same way. This is really her first genuine co-star role--each of the movies mentioned above positioned her as furniture more or less, and here, she actually has a chance to be a person who changes over the course of the movie.

The acting's not bad, the plot is better than average, and the CG is actually pretty stellar. I could see the conflict that Proyas may have felt between telling the story and "making the blockbuster," and I'd say that he did a pretty good job sneaking enough of the former in there to make the movie worth seeing. I doubt it'll be top-5 for the summer, but it's not a bad movie if you've got an afternoon...I'd make it a solid matinee.

August 26, 2004

From dream to nightmare in one easy day

There is nothing in my life that I find quite as luxurious as the freedom to go back to sleep. You know, when you wake up not quite refreshed, but still awake enough to get up, so you get up, maybe have some breakfast, start your day, and then realize that you'll get more done if you trade a couple of sleep hours up front for the improved alertness that it'll bring you for the rest of the day? Yeah, that's what I like. So I caught a couple extra hours this morning after having been up for maybe an hour. And the true luxury is that, on a good day, I'm a lucid dreamer, and today was a good day in that regard. In my dreams, I'm a capital-B boy--most of my lucid dreams are action-oriented, with me in the starring role. This morning, I dreamed myself into an episode of Alias (having checked a couple of days ago to see when the Season 3 DVDs were coming out, this wasn't surprising). Most of the details have since faded, but we were infiltrating some sort of warehouse that ended up being a front for a secret bad guy lair. Fun stuff.

And then, tonight, I made the mistake of going to see Aliens vs. Predator. If it weren't for the Cinematic Supervillain Showdown post over at Defective Yeti, this movie would have had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Y'see, it turns out that the human race was basically cattle, feed stock for the aliens, whom the predators bred occasionally as creatures against whom to test their fighting abilities. Wait. It gets worse. The pyramids were actually alien factories, and as we learn by the end of the movie, the predators are actually an honorable race of super, stellar warriors. All the way through this craptacular void of a film, we are treated to some of the worst dialogue ever crafted. At one point, one of the predators marks its helmet and skin with the acid blood from a defeated alien--pretty straight-forward, right? Apparently not. For you see, "In ancient times," according to the Italian archaeologist (who partway through the movie suddenly acquires the ability to read Egyptian, Aztec, and Cambodian glyphs with complete fluency), "warriors marked themselves with the blood of their kills." You don't say? Or rather, you don't need to say.

Post-AVP conversation focused on pinpointing the exact moment for each of us when the movie basically lost us. For me, it happened pretty early. The story is this: Lance Henriksen plays the rich guy who owns the company that built the androids for the Aliens movies (AVP occurs in 2004). He picks up a heat surge in Antarctica on one of his many satellites, discovers a lost pyramid, assembles a crack team of dead meat, and they find an abandoned whaling village, 2000 feet below which lies the pyramid. That's 2000 feet of solid ice. When they get to the village, the predator spacecraft has blasted a tunnel from the village to the pyramid, and vaporized portions of buildings as well. Our crack team knows that the tunnel didn't exist the day before, so they have to know someone else is interested. I was pretty much done at that point. Someone possesses the technology to accomplish in less than a day what it was going to take their high-tech, super-expert team a week to do, and their next thought is, "Well. Let's jump down the shaft then." Umm, yeah. Apparently, the ability to reflect, even for a moment, was not a prerequisite for membership. Ugh.

Thing about this movie is that it's a lose-lose. I'm assuming that most people couldn't give a s*it about aliens vs. predator. The people who are interested would be fans of 2 or 3 of the 6 movies (Alien(s) 1-4 and Pred 1 & 2) that the characters have generated, and those people (this person) will find it to be a colossal waste of time and money. (If you liked all 6, then get to the theater now! Really! It's gonna be great!) So basically, AVP divvies up the movie-going public into two camps, those who are uninterested and those who will hate it. I've thought about it some, and I think that there may have been a way to make this movie successfully, but it would have involved inserting the predators into the Alien storyline, and that would have been a very different movie. And one that I'd probably still be kicking myself for having spent full price on.

August 31, 2004


Let me start by saying that Hero was easily one of the best movies I've seen in a long, long time. Unlike AVP, which I needed to purge from my system as quickly as possible, I've spent the last few days holding onto Hero, thinking about what I could say to explain my reaction to it.

I went and saw it Friday night, before cruising the various reviews, and I'm glad that I did. Yes, Hero is full of the kind of "wire fu" that most US audiences will associate with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, there are competing accounts of particular events, which apparently reminds some critics of Rashomon. And yes, this is not a movie that is character-driven or story-driven, not in the sense that movie audiences expect.

Visually, though, this is a dazzling movie, and it does have interesting characters and it does tell an important story, albeit one that most US viewers won't be familiar with (namely, the founding of China). But it's not a historical movie so much as it is a mythic one, with scenes that are orchestrated down to every detail, and in many cases, the characters themselves are simply part of those details. Most critics note the color changes from version to version of the story, but my guess is that colors only form part of the iconography that drives each scene--the settings change (forest, desert, lake, etc.), as do key elements (water, wind, earth, fire), as do associations with different arts ("chess," music, calligraphy, etc.). Each facet of each scene is so carefully controlled, in fact, that I left the movie thinking that there was probably an entire cosmology of associations that we as an audience simply weren't privy to.

Not that this was necessary. The movie works in broad strokes, telling much of its story through implications that almost achieve the level of the iconic. Because it's focused so much on the visual, the story is almost told in outline fashion, and I suspect that this was much less objectionable to audiences who already knew the story. This movie focuses instead on the telling details, those which achieve the most mythic impact in the smallest and sometimes most subtle space.

One last thought that occurred to me today, and that's that I wonder if our expectations were somewhat askew because we're more familiar with Jet Li than with the other actors. That is, I don't think it much of a stretch to see the would-be Emperor as the protagonist, as he changes as much during the course of the movie as any of the other characters. And it's ultimately his epiphany that decides the outcome.

Okay. That's enough for now. I highly recommend seeing Hero on the big screen, and I myself plan on seeing it again there before it leaves. "See it twice" is the highest honor I can bestow on a movie, and Hero deserves it more than any movie I've seen in some time...

November 23, 2004

Well, obviously! Their new uniforms are red...

I haven't been doing much by way of movie reviews lately, due mostly to the fact that I haven't been going to see movies lately. I did get out with a couple of friends two weekends ago, though, to see The Incredibles. It was quite good, both from a technical perspective and as a superhero movie that manages to present broadly in terms of audience.

I really hadn't planned on writing about it, though, until I came across Andrew Sullivan's review of it over at the New Republic site. I have a lot of respect for Sullivan normally, but his review, I must admit, pissed me off a bit. There's nothing wrong with treating comics, cartoons, et al. seriously, but his review was of the "think globally, nitpick locally" variety. That is, he looks at The Incredibles and Team America basically as a pretext for explaining (AGAIN) just how it is that the lib-elites are out of touch with mainstream America:

The Incredibles in some ways portrays normal American life as stultifying. Its brutal parody of family squabbles is by no means an encomium to traditionalism. It's not anti-family, of course. But it is pro-talent and pro-opportunity. It is in favor of the urge to get out there and achieve things without apology. Within the right-left rubric of American cultural discourse, the movie is therefore rightward-tilting. And that's why many critics on the left have decried it.

Because, of course, they couldn't decry it for its "less inventive" characters, its "more contrived" plot, or the fact that "its jokes [are] less wry." Yes, only critics on the right (hunh?) are capable of treating a movie as a movie, rather than the localized expression of an overly simplistic and largely rhetorical dichotomy foisted upon them by the news spindustry. And goodness knows, no critic on the left could get on board with a movie whose villain attempts to win the support of an unsuspecting populace by propping up a fake enemy and then posing as a hero by claiming he's the only one who can keep us safe. I mean, that's just too fantastic to be believed!

Oh darn. Was that a spoiler?

Nor could any critic on the left place The Incredibles in a cultural context other than "Pixar films," because to do so might be to connect them with a fairly substantial tradition of "post-superhero superhero comix," including books like Moore's Watchmen, Miller's Dark Knight Returns, or more recently, Bendis's Powers, because, you know, to do so would be to buy into the implicit post-superhero critique of the kind of jingoistic, blind optimism that is often associated with so-called Golden Ages, a critique that Incredibles largely abandons in favor of a story about a single middle-aged hero who learns that his mid-life crisis isn't such a crisis after all. But then, placing it in that context makes it tough to claim, as Sullivan does, that

The fundamental moral of the movie is that this restraint is wrong and needs to be overcome: Letting the talented earn the proud rewards of their labor, and the fruits of their destiny, harms no one and actually helps those in the greatest need.

Except that, of course, there are two major restraints in the movie, and the one that Sullivan ignores here is the family. By the end, Mr. I's attitude is most certainly not that he should "overcome" them, but instead accept that his power doesn't exempt him from the same set of responsibilities as the rest of us. He learns that he's responsible for people beyond himself, and that his selfishness placed his family in danger.

Then again, what do I know? I'm not very good at spinning a web of rationalized, psuedo-Nietzsche Shrugged, trickle-down fantasies. All I know is that none of the above had to do with whether or not I enjoyed the movie. I thought it was very clever, exceptionally designed, and that it probably skews a little older than Pixar's earlier movies. I recommend it, and more to the point, I suppose, I recommend avoiding any reviewer who thinks it useful to label movies red or blue.

December 14, 2004


Thanks, all, for the good wishes. Tonight, in celebration of the departure of the alien in my belly, I hunkered down for a little screening--tonight was the first half of the SciFi Channel's Legend of Earthsea, a four-hour versioning of Ursula K. LeGuin's classic novels.

When I say classic here, I mean it. Wizard of Earthsea was published a month before I was, and along with Narnia, Shannara, and Middle-Earth, Earthsea was one of the lands I cut my geek teeth on way back when. I've since bought new copies of the books, but I still have the ones I bought back in the late 70s, frail as they are now. So it's no exaggeration to say that they occupy a pretty soft spot in the swirling mythologies of my fandom. That in itself was almost reason enough to pass on the movie version, but I held out hope. From time to time SciFi does a nice enough job with shows. About a month ago, I read about LeGuin's own reaction to the movie, where she writes:

I've tried very hard to keep from saying anything at all about this production, being well aware that movies must differ in many ways from the books they're based on, and feeling that I really had no business talking about it, since I was not included in planning it and was given no part in discussions or decisions.

Uh-oh. And then there's this in response to the director's claim that the movie is a "very, very" faithful treatment:

I wonder if the people who made the film of The Lord of the Rings had ended it with Frodo putting on the Ring and ruling happily ever after, and then claimed that that was what Tolkien "intended..." would people think they'd been "very, very honest to the books"?

Yeah. Not so encouraging. And still, still I was hoping that maybe there was enough redeeming value to warrant watching it. Well, so much for that hope. I won't be watching the second half tomorrow, and I'm a little sorry that I caught the first.

Of course, changes had to be made, for the sake of its movieness. A year or two can pass in a chapter of Wizard, but movies don't have that luxury. And the gradual unfolding of scale that happens in every great fantasy novel? Again, a luxury that movies can't afford. And so, instead of a coming-of-age story about a young man who's constantly trying to catch his wisdom up with his power, we have visions of Kristin Kreuk, prophecies, conquerors, teen rebellions, and a suspiciously Potteresque Island of Wizards (complete with Draco Malfoy Jasper of Eolg), mixed together with a few nifty special effects, some pretty atrocious dialogue, and a perfect example of a movie that's quite faithful to an apparently random assortment of details from the book while violating its spirit, plot, and intelligence repeatedly.

Oh, and did I mention that every single time one character left another, we heard pseudo-Enya, pseudo-Celtic, muzak-y Uillean pipe and pennywhistle. I mean, every single time. It worked in LOTR just fine, but it's stupid and utterly cliched here. Ugh.

I can't go on, at least not in this vein. The NYT review just about captures the level of dislike that I felt by the end of part 1 tonight. Keep in mind, though, if you will--every time Martel implies (or outright says) that the movie is derivative--that the books themselves predate everything that the movie is deriving from. And there is some saving grace in the fact that Borders is one of the sponsors--maybe some of the people who watch it, if they're able to make it far enough through to see the ad, will go buy the books instead.

As for me, I've already got them. And I'll spend an hour or two tonight wiping the disappointment from my short-term memory. Ask me in a couple of days, and I'll spin an entry here about how Earthsea prepared me for a career in rhetoric. Really.

That is all.

January 14, 2005

La Vie Aquatique

Before I left for the frozen tundra, I had occasion to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It's gotten mixed reviews, not the least reason for which, I think, is that it's a pretty subtle movie, far more subtle than Wes Anderson's rep. And so, alot of people are going to go see it, and just not get it. And that was the case in the audience with whom I saw it--no one really knew when they were supposed to laugh, and there's nothing quite so painful as watching a movie as dryly funny as LASZ with people expecting something different. I thought it was hilarious, but then, that kind of humor is right up my alley.

So here's the deal on the Life Aquatic. If, like me, you grew up watching shows like Wild Kingdom, then the flat, affect-less, documentary style of Zissou will seem familiar. The movie makes a big deal out of being eleven years old at several points, and that's really Zissou's target audience. He doesn't know a lot about science, he's not much of a leader, and he's been performing for so long that he doesn't have a lot of personality outside of the role that he adopts in his films. For adults, Zissou is a pain in the ass, but for eleven year olds, wow. Eleven year olds don't need the packaging that adults do.

So the movie begins as kind of a pomo critique of that documentary style, a style far more suited to the pre-Internet days and suited for kids old enough to be curious but young enough to suspend cynicism. And eventually, we come to see Zissou as someone who's trapped by the niche that he's created for himself, a niche that doesn't really allow him genuine relationships with his peers, his wife, his crew. When his best friend dies, he embarks on an Ahab-like quest, but even then, it's documented ceaselessly and pretty flat. The humor in the movie is incredibly deadpan, and once you realize this, it's equally ceaseless. From the exercises they do, to their uniforms, to the layout of the ship, to the dolphins, it's hilarious.

I won't spoil, bc I do recommend seeing it. I will say this, though. At one point, towards the end, Cate Blanchett's character says, seemingly out of nowhere, that "In twelve years, he'll be 11 1/2" in reference to her unborn child. This happens at a weird moment, but as I thought about it, I think the message there is that there needs to be space in the world for 11-year olds, and that Zissou's career, which caters to this audience, is thus worthwhile and worth continuing.

I'll also note that there's one tight focus on Bill Murray's face that's perfect. It's the scene that the entire movie leads up to, and I'm sorry to say that I think most of the audience around me missed it. You'll know it when you see it. That one shot, though, is the soul of the movie.

I'll note finally that Willem Dafoe is high-larious in this movie. High larious.

That's all.

January 17, 2005

The House of Flying Daggers

Braved a light snow tonight (or last night, technically) to catch a late showing of House of Flying Daggers, Zhang Yimou's followup to Hero, or at least American audiences' followup. I'm still absorbing and reflecting, so this will probably be short.

Critics who whined about the "complicated, obscure plot" of Hero will be happy to know that there is certainly a simpler plot at work in HFD. The movie's no less visually sumptuous, but struck me as a little less caught up with the iconography of color, season, etc. than Hero. But (again) that may just be me as an American, and that's also not to say that this isn't visually stunning.

I found myself, towards the end, hearing echoes of Romeo and Juliet in the plot, although there are some crucial differences. Nevertheless, characterization comes with small, incidental details, in a way that leaves the characters feeling almost archetypal in the same way that Shakespeare's work functions for us. The movie's set as a period piece, but it's not really "historical." It's focused on the love story, but it does so with broad, sweeping gestures that don't really bring the characters close.

If I had one qualm here, it's that, as I thought about it, it seemed like there were parts of the movie (early ones) that, upon reflection, were designed for the viewer rather than for narrative consistency. Coming out here as quickly as it has on the tail of Hero (I haven't even watched the DVD of it that I got for Christmas yet), it's hard to avoid comparison. For me, HFD was a notch below Hero, even as it maintained the high standards for visual production that Hero displayed. Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi are very charismatic, but their characters were a little less so for me than those in Hero.

All of which is to say that I'd still rate HFD very highly. I didn't regret paying full price for it for a second. If I have more to share about it, I'll return to this post, but for the moment, that's all.

February 27, 2005

Oscar and Eastwood, sitting in a tree

It was on in the background, but I wasn't really watching. Instead, I was working, and every so often, I'd check in over at Chuck's live-blog of the thing. I didn't see them handing out awards in the aisles, I didn't hear any of Rock's standup, and by and large, I didn't feel as though I missed all that much.

Striking to me was the contrast between the two best actor speeches. Swank sounded like someone who'll never be back (I'd like to thank my lawyers?!) and Foxx sounded like someone "who's been somewhere."

They could have given me 10 minutes of Charlie Kaufman, and it wouldn't have been enough. It would have been a deal-breaker for me had he not won this year for best original screenplay, but only slightly more shameful is the fact that it was only his first Oscar.

Finally, I haven't seen MDB yet, and I'm not likely to see the Aviator anytime soon, so I can't speak to the Director/Picture sweep except to say that it's becoming clearer and clearer that Oscar loves Eastwood.

April 1, 2005

Love, Exciting and New

Fellas, grab your sweeties! The cinematic treat destined to go down as the "date movie" of the year just hit theaters today, and so naturally, I just hit the theater today to see it. I'm talking about Sin City, Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of the classic graphic novels by Frank Miller.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Collin, how in the world can you call that a date movie?! I've seen the trailer, and it looks like a non-stop festival of violence, as we might expect from the guys who brought us Kill Bill and From Dusk to Dawn..." That's what I thought, too, at first. But then I went to see it, and I realized that the trailers were more than a little misleading.

Rodriguez's bold decision to film SC in black-and-white evokes a simpler time, far from the violence and corruption of the present day, and it gives us a chance to get to know the characters as individuals. In many ways, SC is driven by dialogue--you may find yourself at times getting lost in the peaceful rhythms of the characters' everyday lives, as they live and learn and grow as people. In this sense, Sin City is reminiscent of Merchant and Ivory in its ability to capture and represent both the contentment and growth that suffuses the lives of its characters.

And the romance--oh! the romance! From Marv's unwavering (albeit at times confused) devotion to Goldie, to Dwight's almost primal respect for Gail's strength, to Hartigan's 8-year correspondence with Cordelia/Nancy, Sin City is almost a movie where we might say that even the main characters themselves support the invisible protagonist Love. Even in the opening scene, Josh Hartnett (in a cameo) sets the tone with a heartfelt vow to protect Marley Shelton from the demons that haunt her, a vow that, as we see it culminate, can't help but last forever. In some ways, Miller's novels represent our generation's contribution to the great love stories of all time, and this cinematic adaptation cannot help but cement that reputation.

Perhaps you will see some reviews that refer to the occasional outburst of violence, but truthfully, those rare episodes are overwhelmed by the sensitive characterization that Rodriguez manages to evoke in this film. At the end of the film, it was all I could do to choke back tears as Hartigan finally manages to resolve his differences with the man that loved Nancy before he did. Marv's single-minded pursuit of the truth, even in the face of resistance, is inspirational. And Gail's struggle to maintain her independence is nothing short of a story about the stirring triumph of the human spirit.

Sin City is a movie that just might change the way you think about movies. And it's a movie that, as part of an evening that begins with a quiet, romantic meal, can't help but provoke lively interchange afterwards. Really. What more could you ask for?

April 30, 2005


A little TV on in the background this afternoon, and at one point, I am urged to rush out so that I can "Own this Oscar-winning movie on DVD today!" The movie in question is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I didn't see it, but I might want to--I've got nothing against it per se. And yet, across the screen in small print as I hear this exhortation, I learn that LSSUE won the Oscar for Best Makeup.

I don't object to Academy Awards that reward the hard work of all the people behind the scenes--it takes a village to make a movie. But c'mon. How far are we away from the day when some studio literally hires some guy named Oscar, whose job it is to "nominate" movies for something meaningless, so that every movie they advertise is "Oscar-nominated"? If the studios are hiring the same marketing flacks responsible for telling us about the varying amounts of flavor present in the largely flavorless bottles of water that pass for American beer, then it shouldn't be too much longer.

That is all.

May 20, 2005


Nope, not yet. Every time I get to thinking that I might go and see it, I flip on the tv and see Chewie (& the whole gang by the end of the commercial) whoring for one of the cell providers, Yoda whoring for Diet Pepsi, Darth Vader whoring for BK, etc. Hell, Toyota's even got Phil Jackson dressing up as Obi-Wan. For someone who's as reportedly as controlling as Papa G, he's clearly pulled out all the stops in an effort to (a) make all of the money in the world before it's over, and (b) ruin any sort of integrity the saga once held. Oh wait, that's right. Pod races. He's still clearly trying to make all the money he can, though. Hell, I could probably get Boba Fett, or Wedge at least, to pose with me for $20 at this point.

Maybe, I'll ease out of hiatus by, once a day, posting the funniest lines I can find:

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith� seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace� and “Attack of the Clones.� True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

That's from the New Yorker, and the review as a whole has put me back on the fence. I know that it won't be worth full price, although it might have been Wednesday night had I just gone to make fun of the costumed. But now I'm torn about shelling out matinee price, too.

September 2, 2005

Broken Flowers

It will be interesting, I'm sure, to see the various reviews for Broken Flowers (IMDB)--my guess is that they'll split pretty evenly among people who like Jarmusch's films and those who don't. Since I'm a member of the former group, here's why you should see this movie.

The rhythm of the movie is at times painfully slow, fighting against the same inertia that has overtaken Murray's life in the movie. There are places, many of them, that almost beg for a quicker cut to another scene or angle, and I have to think that Jarmusch is imposing this pace on us. In some ways, it reminds me of Paul Auster's work, the way that it reminds us of our own insistence on locating meaning where none may exist. There are a bunch of narrative connections that the movie allows us (and Murray and Wright) to draw, and the pace of the movie encourages us to "figure it out" in ways that are often misleading.

So yes, it is an unsatisfying movie on some levels. For me, this meant thinking about the very desire for satisfaction, a desire that Wright's character embodies and for which Murray's character almost serves as an antithesis. The movie is less about solving its central mystery and more about all the ways that we build our lives in order to avoid solving mysteries in general. The funny thing about this is that it's a movie that really prefigures its own critique. Someone will tell you, "It's slow. It's boring. Nothing really happens." And when they do, you'll know which of the characters that person identified with.

Me? I liked it quite a bit, and I flatter myself into thinking that it got me thinking about life in precisely the way it was meant to.

That's all.

September 8, 2005

It's not magic; it's just shiny

Perhaps the fact that I didn't rush right to my computer this past weekend and throw up a gargantuan review of Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm (IMDB) will give you some hint as to my thoughts about it. The thing about BG is that I really, really wanted to like it, much more than I did. Gilliam is one of my favorite directors--I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt, even for his so-called 'flops.' I have a lot of respect for any filmmaker who can break through the haze of mediocrity where most of Hollywood lives and breathes.

That being said, it's hard for me to be anything other than ambivalent about Brothers Grimm. The concept is a pretty good one--the brothers are, in fact, cynical guys who prey upon the gullibility of their contemporaries, recreating all sorts of witches, monsters, and villains so that they can take money from towns for "banishing" them. Much like "Shakespeare in Love" or even the Shrek franchise, the idea is that the movie is meant to be allusive, rewarding our ability to spot all the various references to well-worn fairy tales that pop up throughout. There are some really clever moments, and some dark moments as well, both of which are hallmarks to my mind of Gilliam's work.

At the same time, the movie felt pretty unsustained to me. I've seen reviews that claim that the plot is spotty, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. What I ended up with was that it felt like there were three or four different directions that the basic premise could have been taken in this movie, and all of them are attempted almost equally, to the overall detriment of the whole picture. Matt Damon is tolerable, and I'm appreciating more and more Peter Stormare's ability and comic timing. Jonathan Pryce and Heath Ledger, though, were both distracting at best (particularly the garble that was Ledger's "accent"), and Lena Headey's performance seemed to veer close to Keira Knightley's turn in Pirates of the Caribbean at times.

I don't know. I'd like to believe that the movie is a good one that's just suffered because of my high expectations, but I think that it's more the case that Gilliam felt those expectations and tried to meet all of them at once. The result is a movie that I have a hard time recommending beyond matinee prices, honestly.

That is all.

July 15, 2006

PC2: Dead Man's Chest

My reward for completing round 1 of the tenure process, the compilation of materials for outside reviewers, was to get myself down to the local megaplex to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (IMDB). And get there I did. And see it I did.

The first movie was something of a surprise to me. Basing a movie on a circa 1970s amusement park ride did not strike me as a particularly interesting strategy, I must confess. But I saw the movie, and was really pleasantly surprised by it. It's hard to find the right balance among all the different elements, and the first movie really seemed to manage it nicely.

That said, it was hard not to go to the second one with high expectations. I've seen split reviews--some say it wasn't as good as the first, other say it was better--and I would have to place myself in the former camp. It's enough like the first one that lots and lots of people will enjoy it, but at a number of different places in the movie, I kept getting the feeling that Verbinski was working from a list of characters, situations, and touches that worked in the first movie, and saying to himself, "Now I need to do the same thing, only more!" In other words, it was almost too much like the first movie for me to think that it was as good, since so much of it felt derived from it.

Which isn't to say that there weren't some fun parts, some rollicking action, some Sparrowesque amorality, and killer effects. All of that is as true of this movie as it was of the first. But there are places where the "just like the first only more!" strategy kept me from immersing, and that was unfortunate. For example, the movie is simultaneously more graphically violent and more cartoonish in places--neither is necessarily bad, but both together work against any kind of consistency.

Ah well. It was a strong matinee, and for a lot of people, worth full price, I suspect. It wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped it would be, but that'll teach me to expect so much. I'll still see the third one on the big screen.

That's all.

July 23, 2006

A Scanner Darkly

poster for A Scanner DarklyThe centerpiece of this evening's Guys' Night Out, other than an Uno's pizza that left us feeling well and truly stuffed, was Richard Linklater's latest, his rotoscoped adaptation of the PK Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly (IMDB). It's an interesting little movie, and the first sign of that was that our local megaplex tucked it away in one of their three downstairs screens, the ones reserved for smaller audiences a more intimate viewing experience. To be fair, it was larger (slightly) than my 1-bedroom apartment. Anyways.

I can't really talk too much about the movie without spoiling it, so I'll abstain from too many specifics. Like a lot of Linklater's work, SD is a mix of genres--when it works it works, and when it fails, it feels jumbled. There were spots that didn't work as well as they maybe could have, but generally they were places where Linklater was relying on either audience knowledge or sophistication. In some ways, the movie worked a lot like a graphic novel, and specifically the way that you must often fill in the gaps between panels. Particularly with the ending of the movie, there's a fair amount of extrapolation that has to take place, but there are places throughout where this is also true. That's going to be the source of some criticism from expositiophiles, but I didn't find it all that troublesome. And in fact, it was a welcome break from some of the truly crappy, overly expositional dialogue that appears in standard Hollywood fare.

Although you can't really speak of the acting in a movie where there's such heavy direction, Downey and Harrelson (and even Cochrane, although he's a little more caricatured) definitely steal the show from Keanu, who's appropriately cast here (if never approvingly), and Ryder. Downey, for me, after this movie and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has almost become a class of actor unto himself. There aren't a lot of people I'd rather watch on the screen more than him right now.

I've heard that the Dick estate really liked this movie, and I can't blame them. It's a much "smaller" movie than, say, Pirates, which in its second week was being advertised, aggressively, as the "cultural phenomenon of the year." I liked Pirates, but the things about it I didn't like were all of the little Hollywood touches, and that kind of crap is absent from SD. It's a really faithfully executed adaptation of one of Dick's most personal books, and the bar against which future adaptations should be measured. If you're not bothered by scifi or by visual experimentation, then this is a full price movie, I think.

December 9, 2006

Hobbits, Potter, and....Alethiometry?

The IMDB, if I remember correctly, has started up some tech that allows people to "play" movie seasons in the same way that fantasy football works for the NFL. It's too early to start picking movies for next year, but if I could drop a little money on a movie, I'd place my bet on the Dark Materials trilogy, the movies based on Philip Pullman's books.

I just found out that my birthday next year is on Pullman Eve, the day before The Golden Compass is coming out. Looks like a strong cast (Lord Asriel makes a lot more sense, all of a sudden), and if they do it right, it should be a lot of fun.

As for me, I'm trying to gear up for the annual holiday pilgrimage, so expect pretty light blogging over the next couple of weeks.

April 15, 2007

Moviefest Royale

I probably should have waited until my Netflix copy of Battle Royale II arrived, because really, 2 movies do not a moviefest make. But I was so pleased by the purely unintentional coincidence that I couldn't help myself. After having misplaced my copy of Battle Royale for some months, I happened to find it on Friday, shortly after receiving a copy of Casino Royale. And thus was born;

Moviefest Royale!!
Battle RoyaleCasino Royale

Now, you might be saying to yourself that surely these two movies--the most recent Bond reboot on one hand and on the other, a somewhat obscure Japanese post-apocalyptic exploitation movie--cannot have enough in common beyond their names to be yoked together into a seamless movie experience. Ahh, there you would be wrong:

Although this may be the first time ever that Judi Dench and Beat Takeshi have appeared in the same sentence, both operate behind the scenes, and neither is completely in control over the events that take place. Only one dies, however.

Both movies involve scenes with unconventional bladed weapons--sickle (BR) and machete (CR)

Both movies have major characters with facial scars, although I would have to admit that the motivations driving Kawada and Le Chiffre appear to be a little different.

Much of the action in both movies takes place on islands--England and the Bahamas (CR), and the abandoned deathmatch island in BR. To be fair, there are no "danger zones" strictly speaking in CR.

In both movies, characters have an alarmingly easy time hacking the government's computer and information systems.

Perhaps most importantly, in each movie, damn near everyone dies.

And now, you may have revised your earlier opinion, and be wondering how it is that the people who brought us Battle Royale haven't sued the makers of Casino Royale for copyright infringement. (First they'd have to go after the WWE, whose latest Steve Austin vehicle probably could have been called Battle Royale 3.) There are a couple of crucial differences. The subtitles in BR are atrocious, making the movie a little more surreal than it might otherwise be. To my knowledge, there's no poker in BR. And there's no crazyperky introductory video in CR, nor dream sequences featuring basketball and/or walks on the beach with ice cream. And only one of the two, as far as I know, has been compared to Clockwork Orange.

But don't take my word for it. Watch them both yourselves.