Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies, Movies, Movies

A Very Long Engagement - Oh, hell yes. Right at the start, one of the greatest opening shots of a movie, ever: The camera, overlooking a trench during WWI, pans down to reveal a piece of wood. A disembodied arm hangs from the wood, and as the camera pans down further, we realize that the arm is not, as we may have thought, the severed arm of a soldier, but rather the arm of the shattered sculpture of Christ that once adorned this broken crucifix.

This is one of those movies that makes you glad motion pictures were invented. As with Jeunet's earlier film, Amélie, one of the interesting things about this is the way it doesn't telegraph the ending. Throughout most of the film, the two possible outcomes of the story, "Mathilde learns Manech is dead" or "Mathilde learns Manech is alive", seem equally likely to come to pass. We, the audience, hope along with her that he lives, but it is truly hope, not a bland confidence that All Will Be Well; a dream, not an expectation. Each possibility could function in the story, each would make sense, each would even satisfy the audience, and so it becomes impossible to predict what she will ultimately find.

But that's only one of the interesting things about the film, and there are many. The way the story of what happened in that trench is pieced together, gradually. The scenes of trench warfare that do for WWI what Saving Private Ryan did for WWII. Indelible images, such as the soldiers emerging from a burning cornfield, their cartridge-boxes exploding like fireworks. Magnifique.

One side note, to prevent you from being distracted by wondering, "Hey, isn't that...?" when one character is introduced: Yes, that is Jodie Foster, even though you've never heard her mentioned in any of the publicity for the film, and her name isn't even on the DVD packaging. Apparently she was in Paris dubbing her own performance in Panic Room into French, and contacted Jeunet expressing a desire to perform a role in French.

Batman Begins - Best Batman Movie Ever. This demonstrates rather clearly the difference between handing your franchise to an uneven-at-best director like Joel Schumacher, and handing it to a talent like Tim Burton or, in this case, Christopher Nolan. Not to neglect the cast: Every last one of them is great, but let me just specifically mention that Gary Oldman is absolutely perfect as the young Jim Gordon.

Let me also say how happy I am that the film basically proceeds from the assumption that none of the previous Batman films ever happened, nor ever will happen, to this Batman. In movies (and comic books, for that matter), there is often a reluctance to allow even iconic/archetypal characters to "exist" in multiple, unrelated versions/interpretations. But I like the idea that different filmmakers could be allowed to put their own personal "stamp" on a character, without having to worry about "continuity" with earlier movies made by different people. I like living in a world where Silence of the Lambs made no attempt at all to connect to Manhunter (even though they did feel the need to "fix" it later by making Red Dragon). Part of me wishes the upcoming Superman Returns wasn't using footage of Brando as Jor-El.

Cannibal: The Musical - Early Trey Parker/Matt Stone opus. Somewhat more Pythonesque in many places than their later work. Not as good as South Park or Team America, though certainly, there are signs of Parker's genius already in place - the tribe of "Indians" particularly had me doubled over with laughter. Not a Great Film, by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly well worth seeing, especially for Parker/Stone fans like myself.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Its too bad she won't live. But then again who does?

A Japanese researcher has developed what appears to be a Nexus-1.

"Repliee Q1 can interact with people. It can respond to people touching it. It's very satisfying, although we obviously have a long way to go yet."

Me, I'm just waiting for the inevitable day when their technologies get picked up by these guys.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Romanes Eunt Domus!

Here are some pages collecting ancient graffiti from the walls of Pompeii.

Among the ones I particularly want to remember for special occasions:
Lucrum gaudium - Profit is happiness
Myrtis bene felas - Myrtis, you do great blow jobs

And, of course:
I.4.5 (House of the Citharist; below a drawing of a man with a large nose); 2375: Amplicatus, I know that Icarus is buggering you. Salvius wrote this.


Woman annoyed at being groped by airport security gropes back.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Given that Pittsburgh is where George Romero lives, and he has filmed most of his movies in the area, I wonder if we should all perhaps be a bit concerned that not only is Pittsburgh the home of the ominously-named Safar Center for Resuscitation Research, but researchers at the Safar Center have now managed to reanimate corpses drained of blood, up to three hours after death.

I realize these are probably not zombie dogs, in the strictest sense. However, with only a vague description of some of them being "stricken with serious physical or behavioral problems" it's difficult to be certain...

(via John Reilly)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Yet More Movies

Hey, I'm unemployed right now, what else have I got to do?

Million Dollar Baby - To answer Morgan Freeman's question at the end about what happened to Clint Eastwood, I prefer to think he went off, tracked down that German bitch, and went all Dirty Harry on her ass.

Yes, it's a very good movie, and deserves all the praise it's gotten. I'm still not sure I would personally have given the "Best Picture" title to this over The Aviator. They're both great, it's really a toss-up between them for me personally, so I'd probably give it to The Aviator solely because Clint already had a couple of Best Picture Oscars to his name, while Marty only ought to.

Riverworld - The Go For Broke? Why? Leaving aside the obvious fact that the Not For Hire actually sounds like the sort of name Samuel Clemens would give to a riverboat, whereas Go For Broke sounds more like a T.V. game show, why would you even bother making a pointless change like that? What benefit is there?

That's sort of my whole opinion of this one - it's a basically competent, if uninspired, adaptation of the essentials of the books, combined with some pointless changes that add nothing. Why change the main character from Nile explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton to a generic 21st-century astronaut? Why do the grailstones appear to only have slots for about two dozen grails at a time? Why is there apparently no shortage of iron ore due to the constant barrage of meteors? What's with the brief shot of the Ethical Council of Twelve at the very end, with one of them saying, cheesily, "Their voyage has begun. But will they make it in time...?" Hey: They engineered an entire planet, if there is some bizarre reason they need these half-savages in their little wooden riverboat to get to the source of the river, why don't they just go get them?

I gather this was conceived as the pilot for a series, and that since the production company and the Sci-Fi Channel renewed their option, there's still some chance of that happening. I will happily concede that as a series, the obvious thing to do is set it up as Clemens and company traveling along in the fabulous riverboat, since that allows for new and interesting things to happen all along the journey. Like Wagon Train in space, but along a river, as it were. For that purpose, I'll grant the change from a single Resurrection Day to ongoing resurrections, since it means Our Hero can arrive to find the Not For Hire already completed, rather than having to insert an awkward "Five Years Later..." transition somewhere in the pilot. That change has a purpose. I can accept that; some changes are always necessary in adaptations. It's all the pointless ones I don't understand.

The Discreet Charm...

So, I was looking at upcoming DVD releases on Amazon, and saw listed Avant Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s. Down at the bottom of the listing, where Amazon puts links to lists written by users that they think might interest anyone looking at this item, one of the links was to a list of "Films for the bourgeoisie to walk out on." Oh, yes, those awful, awful bourgeoisie.

Because, you know, there's nothing the proletarian working man loves better than experimental cinema of the 1920s. Yep, the salt-of-the-earth workers just flocked to see Lars von Trier's Dogville, didn't they? No, the audience for those sorts of films certainly doesn't consist almost entirely of over-educated, upper-middle-class, bourgeois assholes, not at all.

Stupid prick.

Mind you, my point here is not that there's anything wrong with being an over-educated, upper-middle-class, bourgeois asshole. Look, I once used the phrase "self-consciously post-modern" to describe House of 1000 Corpses, and I either own or have enjoyed viewing a bunch of the movies on this dork's list. My point, rather, is simply that "bourgeoisie" has a specific meaning, and that meaning is not "common rabble whose tastes I find boring", and that in fact, the people not walking out on films like these are, precisely, bourgeois.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Movie Reviews, By Request

On our way to the theater today, the car overheated. We managed to get it into the cinema parking lot, and Brenda called our mechanic to come and deal with it. Since it took him more than 90 minutes to fix, we ended up seeing two movies while waiting. Starting with the film Chameleon has been asking me to review (which we actually saw second):

War of the Worlds - Spielberg practically invented the summer blockbuster, and really, no one else does them quite as well. As an adaptation, this is very much a post-9/11 version of the story. The scenes surrounding the initial attack are full of imagery that could have come straight from some of the video footage from New York, from people running through the city streets to the dust and ash that covers them. The film plays on the same fears we all had that day, the suddenness and inexplicability of the attacks, the scale of the destruction. I like the fact that the film stays rooted to the point of view of Tom Cruise's character, as this means that much of the conflict and devastation is implied rather than displayed, and it allows Spielberg to avoid having to explain too much: Why do the aliens need blood? What is the purpose of the red weeds? Some of these things are explained by Wells in his book, but here, to Ray (and therefore to the audience), they remain simply incomprehensible.

I have a few nitpicks: Boy, it sure is lucky that the airplane that crashed into their house managed to miss their van parked in the driveway. And, for that matter, that the debris from the crash left a path for them to drive the van out later. Also, the idea that the tripods were buried millions of years ago in preparation for this attack is just silly. This may have been an attempt to draw a parallel with terrorist "sleeper cells", but it's still silly. Granted, we have only the word of a single character with no real knowledge that "they've been planning this for millions of years", but the idea of the war machines being buried ahead of time is also mentioned by the reporter, so this seems to have been the intended explanation of how they got there (rather than, for example, postulating that the machines were either "teleported" in, or fast-assembled on site by nanotech, either of which could have been part of the "lightning" strikes). Granted, it would make some sense if the aliens had, for example, manipulated human evolution into a form they could "harvest" later (for our life-sustaining blood), and they were just waiting until they needed us (perhaps they harvested other planets in the meantime...). Fair enough, but then why vaporize a whole bunch of us when the tripods first emerge from the ground? If we're a resource they're harvesting, isn't that just wasteful?

But, again, the sheer incomprehensibility of it all is part of what makes it terrifying. And it is successfully terrifying. Definately worth seeing.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Tim Burton's visual style is absolutely perfectly suited to Roald Dahl, so this new film looks stunning. Freddie Highmore is perfect as Charlie. Deep Roy is great as all the Oompa-Loompas, and their songs are consistently more fun than those in the earlier Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (if only because it isn't the same song over and over again). As for the Big Question: No, Johnny Depp doesn't improve on Gene Wilder's portrayal of the character. However, I wouldn't say he's "worse", either, it's just a very different version of the character. My primary objection to Depp was always that he seems too young (he may not actually be too young, mind you, but he seems too young). When I read the book as a child, I got the impression that Wonka was sort of a wizened old man, though a rather spry one who had entered his "second childhood". Depp certainly has the "second childhood" aspect down, though, perhaps even more so than Wilder. He also seems more genuinely like someone who has had no human contact with anyone but the Oompa-Loompas for many years.

I was generally not very happy with the added subplot about Wonka's relationship with his father. I don't remember this being in the book, and in a way it seemed like part of the same misguided trend of psychoanalyzing classic characters that resulted in all the fluff about the Grinch's childhood traumas.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It won't replace the earlier adaptation (note that I am steadfastly refusing to call it a "remake", since it is more accurately a new adaptation of the same source material), but it will live comfortably alongside it. I wouldn't be at all upset to see the same team follow this up with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Oh, and I'm not sure this is important, but the opening title sequence reminded me of the opening of Tim Burton's most underrated movie, Mars Attacks!

As an aside: On the way out, I noticed that along one outer wall of the cinema complex, there were four movie posters. Three of them were The Pink Panther, The Bad News Bears, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If only they had put up War of the Worlds in place of The Weather Man, they'd have been, four-for-four, all remakes/re-adaptations (of stories previously adapted to film). I find that somewhat unsettling.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hot Polygon-On-Polygon Action!

You know, I didn't previously have much interest in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but now that Hillary Clinton is demanding a government investigation, and introducing legislation to punish stores that sell adult-rated games to minors, I'm tempted to go buy a copy, just to help the company out with their legal fees.

While I still can.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Another Movie Review

Chronicles of Riddick - First of all: The original Pitch Black was a pretty pedestrian sci-fi/horror Aliens rip-off, but it had one redeeming feature: At the point where the "anti-hero" is supposed to suddenly demonstrate that he's really a rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold by risking his own life to save someone else, he doesn't.

To some degree, this sequel compromises that, by having Riddick apparently care about people other than himself, to whatever limited extent. Having said that, this is otherwise a perfectly servicable epic science fiction film, and I really don't understand why it seems to be so widely disliked. Granted, it's not 2001, but there are some beautiful shots, and some well-choreographed action scenes, and some not-completely-generic characters to watch. I enjoyed it, personally. Even the science is mostly non-absurd. The biggest criticism I can come up with is that it doesn't make much sense for the evil conquering empire to allow a single merc ship to come to the surface of the planet they're conquering, take a prisoner, and then leave to travel to another system. But that's a single awkward plot point in a two-hour film, which I would say is probably better than average.

It seems vaguely reminiscent of Dune in some ways, perhaps because of the combination of an emphasis on religious beliefs and a production design that looks an awful lot like some of the H. R. Giger designs for the Dune movie that was never made. I can think of a lot worse properties a movie could be somewhat reminding me of.

Also, I watched the PG-13 theatrical cut. There is apparently a "director's cut" on DVD that's even better in most ways.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Weekend Movie Roundup

Resident Evil: Apocalypse - Yippee, another bad zombie movie. When they're done well, zombies are one of my favorite horror monsters. When they're done poorly, it's amazing how boring they can be. First of all, here's a thought: When the bio-weapon virus your company has created gets loose and starts turning dead people into flesh-eating zombies that can only be stopped by shooting them in the head, and a crowd of people has gathered around the gigantic concrete gate you've just closed to seal them inside the city to contain the virus, (A) is it really all that necessary to disperse the crowd? Are you afraid they'll form a human pyramid and climb over the wall? And (B) if it is necessary to disperse the crowd, perhaps ordering your troops to fire machine guns indiscriminately into the crowd isn't the best way to accomplish this goal, since it will result in a large number of people who are dead as a result of injuries other than a shot to the head. You see where I'm going with this? Here's another thought: When you are surrounded by hordes of flesh-eating zombies, the reanimated corpses of the dead, perhaps the shortcut through the cemetary isn't the best way to go?

House of the Dead - Wow, this one's bad. Way worse than Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Almost bad on an Ed Wood level. As in, the director thought that since it was based on a video game, it would be a good idea to just randomly insert a few frames of footage from the game into the film every few minutes. As in, the "rave of the century" appears to consist of about two dozen people standing aroung talking, rather than dancing to the music. As in, there's a long action setpiece in which we see Matrix-y slo-mo revolve-around shots of every single character, of which there are half a dozen or so remaining at that point. I think there may even have been a couple of characters who got multiple shots like that. They were so generic, and the scene went on for so goddamn long, it was hard to tell after a while. And boy, are there plenty of gratuitous breast shots in this movie. Speaking of which, the zombies in this film are apparently both relatively intelligent and downright mischevious: During one gratuitous breast shot of a random woman/victim skinny-dipping, her boyfriend (who remained ashore) disappears. She goes looking for him, enters the creepy ancient house she wanders to, and finds him, standing there looking dazed with some blood coming out of his mouth, at which point a zombie arm emerges from his abdomen for the Big Scare before she gets eaten. Which means the zombie must have subdued the guy (without actually killing him), dragged him up the beach, through the woods, and into the house, and then stood there waiting for the girlfriend to show up, so that he could stick his arm through the guy and freak her out. I'm just surprised the zombie didn't yell "Boogidy-boogidy-boo!"

Punk: Attitude - This was a documentary on IFC about punk rock and the related "scene". Very well done. One of the things I particularly liked was that the time normally thought of as the core punk period only took up about the middle third of the film. There was a lengthy section at the beginning tracing the roots of punk through the early proto-punk bands, and even back to folks like Little Richard, and then a chunk at the end tracing the influences of punk and things like the brief connection between punk and hip-hop. I liked that, because there is often a tendancy to treat punk as if the entire punk scene had sprung fully-formed from Malcolm McLaren's brow, and it's just not true. I suspect that myth endures largely because of McLaren's gift for self-promotion. My main criticism is that with such a wide domain to cover, the film barely scratches the surface. There's virtually nothing about "new wave", which was closely related to punk in many ways. The film also really glosses over the whole neo-nazi skinhead movement (other than briefly mentioning the Dead Kennedys song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off"), which was a rather unfortunate outgrowth of punk (it sort of evolved from punks wearing swastikas just to piss people off, into punks wearing swastikas because they admired the ideology behind it...). Watching this, I think you could very easily expand the history of punk into a Jazz-like miniseries.