Saturday, April 29, 2006

Spoilerific Sat. - Game, Set, and Match Point

It's not often that I feel compelled to write a full post on a movie, especially on the weekend, but every once in a while a film will effect me in a way that can't be adequately covered without going into greater detail about the details of the plot; Match Point is such a film. I'm still torn on exactly how I feel about it; lots of talented actors, but the main characters were so thoroughly irredeemable that it was often hard for me to enjoy them. And then there's the big shift in tone towards the end which totally changed the way I viewed the film, especially after I realized just how skillfully I had been manipulated. I don't know if I could recommend this as a "good" film per se, but it's definitely one that made me think; do with that what you will.

Going in, I had next to no idea what this film was about; I knew it was a Woody Allen film, I knew it was a primarily British cast, and I knew it featured Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a tennis pro who falls for Scarlett Johansson. For some reason, I thought it was a romantic comedy; I couldn't have been further from the truth.

In the early parts of the film, as I watched Jonathan Rhys-Meyers playing a nice, likeable character, I thought to myself that he has sure come a long way from the roles that first introduced him to me: the conniving, murderous Steerpike in the excellent Gormenghast mini-series and the conniving murderous rapist Chiron in the bizarre adaptation of the bizarre Shakespeare play Titus. Sure, he's popped up in likeable roles since then (most notably in Bend It Like Beckham), but I still tend to think of him as a darker character. And then, by the films second act I could see the darkness creeping out of him, as his character's desire for his future brother-in-law’s fiancé leads first to a brief act of betrayal, and later to an all-out affair between the two. As the affair grew more serious, and Rhys-Meyers' character began to lie to both his wife and his mistress, I found myself loathing him, a loathing that increased when he basically confesses to a friend that the only reason he's staying with his wife is because he's become accustomed to the posh lifestyle her family's wealth has provided him, and then even more so after he repeatedly tried to browbeat Scarlett Johansson into an abortion. As he avoided making any real decisions and she become more emotional and irrational, my distaste for both characters made me decide that the film was a waste of my time. But then something very interesting happened: Rhys-Meyers character snuck a shotgun out of his in-laws' house.

My first thought was that he was going to kill Scarlett Johansson to keep her from telling his wife about the affair; my second thought was that that was ridiculous, there was no way the film would go that direction; my third thought was that there was no better explanation. And just like that, the movie had sucked me back in again.

As skeptical as I was of the purpose of the shotgun when he first swiped it, I became even more confused when he smooth talked his way into Scarlett's neighbor's apartment and began reassembling the shotgun while she was in the other room. As he marched towards the elderly lady, leveled the shotgun and fired away, I knew that the film had turned a dark corner that changed the whole dynamic of the picture. So I sat there, mesmerized, as he ransacked the woman's apartment to make it look like a robbery, narrowly avoided detection from another neighbor, and then moved into hiding to await Scarlett's arrival; although it seemed inevitable at this point, there was a part of me that was still surprised when he actually pulled the trigger on her.

And then, as he made his escape and enacted his plan to come up with an alibi and cover his tracks, I realized something bizarre: I was actually rooting for him to succeed! Well, maybe not precisely rooting for him, but every time he came close to being discovered I would feel a knot form in my stomach and would start hoping that somehow he would be able to turn the situation around. This realization was the impetus for this post, because it made me cognizant of just how well Allen had manipulated me: I'd gone from liking this character to utterly loathing him to secretly cheering him on in his misdeeds, all in the span of almost 2 hours. In a way I could almost look at it like The Sopranos or The Shield, where you have these anti-heroes to cheer for, but there's a critical difference: on both of those shows the characters are charming, smart, funny, likeable, etc., everything that Rhys-Meyers' character was not during the second act of the film. There's absolutely no good reason why even a small part of me should have been hoping for him to get away with such a cold-hearted and calculating scheme, and yet there I was all the same, wishing fervently that he would hurry up and stash the evidence before his wife entered the room. How the heck did that happen?

Honestly, at this point I couldn't tell you; even after I was aware of the shift in my reactions to his character, I couldn't quite shake it. The rest of the film was me struggling with the dichotomy in my head, half of my appalled at the prospect of his escaping unscathed from his evil deeds, and the other half relieved at his constant escapes.

In the end, I think I would be much more willing to give this film a positive review if it had had better dialogue; as it is, the dialogue was all too often clunky and stilted, with the worst cases coming in Scarlett Johansson's lines. Whether a different actress could have delivered her lines more effectively or not, I can't say; she may have just been a victim of being the sole American in a sea of melodious British accents. Regardless, there were several exchanges that just made me cringe at how artificial they sounded.

To sum up: I don't know if I can say I enjoyed the film as such, but I definitely can respect the craftsmanship involved in the storytelling.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Next Step: Vending Machines That Don't Eat Your $&#*$& Money

My apartment complex, apparently moved by the realization that I will soon be leaving them, has taken the opportunity to spiffy the place up a bit.

Their first step was to redo the laundry area, replacing the washers and driers with ones that they own. The benefits of this are three-fold:

  1. If there are problems, you can now contact the office for maintenance, instead of having to call the 1-800 number for the old laundry maintenance company.
  2. The complex now offers change for the laundry in the main office, therefore no longer necessitating residents to squirrel away quarters in preparation for laundry day.
  3. Probably most importantly, the acquisition of new equipment means that for the limited time I have left here I no longer have to worry about playing the laundry equivalent of Russian Roulette, since with the previous driers only one out of six would work well enough to dry a load in one go, and you never could tell which one it would be beforehand.
The other big change is a massive repainting of the buildings, including the stairway railings and front doors. While this does make the place look a lot nicer, the shiny paint looks like it's some kind of perpetually wet, never-gonna-dry brand, so I'm insanely cautious when entering and leaving the apartment. I am glad that they managed to get the painting of my building done while I was at work, so I didn't have to have the shock of glancing out my window to see the face of one of the Eastern European handyman staring back at me from atop his ladder. I have enough trouble sleeping at night as is.

While the massive re-beautification project right as I'm about to disappear is a bit disappointing, I'm probably getting out at the right time: I have visions of coming home to find a note on my door from the management saying "We'll be installing new carpet in your apartment at 9:00 AM tomorrow, please have all your crap moved before then . . . or else."

Either that, or a "We're sorry, but your car is a horrible, horrible eyesore, and has been disposed of so as not to distract from our lovely green and brown color scheme."


Somwhere In-Between the Oscars and the Razzies

MTV has just enabled voting for the 2006 MTV Movie Awards As usual, the nominees are drawn more from the ranks of blockbusters rather than art-houses, but even so, several of them made me shake my head. Let's examine my pain, shall we?

  • "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Universal Pictures)
  • "Batman Begins" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • "King Kong" (Universal Pictures)
  • "Sin City" (Dimension Films)
  • "Wedding Crashers" (New Line Cinema)
Probably the only category I have no qualms about; although I didn't love The 40-Year Old Virgin as much as everyone else, I thought it was funny enough for this nomination to make sense. Naturally, I'd much prefer Batman Begins or Sin City to take home the Golden Popcorn, but I'd be cool with any of the above winning.
  • Joaquin Phoenix - "Walk the Line" (20th Century Fox)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal - "Brokeback Mountain" (Focus Features)
  • Rachel McAdams - "Red Eye" (DreamWorks SKG)
  • Steve Carell - "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Universal Pictures)
  • Terrence Howard - "Hustle & Flow" (Paramount Classics)
  • Reese Witherspoon - "Walk the Line" (20th Century Fox)
If you'll notice, MTV has done away with the gender separation in the performance category. I was pleasantly surprised to see Rachel McAdams' name in this list; I thought she did a great job in Red Eye, but didn't expect her to be recognized here. I find it interesting that, although it was Heath Ledger who got all the praise and accolades from the mainstream for Brokeback, it's the well-established heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal who gets the nod here.

  • Owen Wilson - "Wedding Crashers" (New Line Cinema)
  • Adam Sandler - "The Longest Yard" (Paramount Pictures)
  • Steve Carell - "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Universal Pictures)
  • Tyler Perry - "Madea's Family Reunion" (Lionsgate Films)
  • Vince Vaughn - "Wedding Crashers" (New Line Cinema)
Kind of odd that there are no female names here; personally, I think Anna Farris should have gotten a nod for Just Friends in place of Sandler. In fact, I bet I could come up with a list of quite a few performances this past year that were funnier than Sandler's performance in The Longest Yard; the fact that I have yet to see The Longest Yard is beside the point . . .

  • Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen & Romany Malco - "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Universal Pictures)
  • Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott & Jessica Simpson - "The Dukes of Hazzard" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans & Michael Chiklis - "Fantastic Four" (20th Century Fox)
  • Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint - "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Vince Vaughn & Owen Wilson - "Wedding Crashers" (New Line Cinema)
The fact that The Dukes of Hazzard got nominated for anything at all makes my head hurt. That is all.

  • Cillian Murphy - "Batman Begins" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Hayden Christensen - "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (20th Century Fox)
  • Ralph Fiennes - "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Tilda Swinton - "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (Disney Pictures)
  • Tobin Bell - "Saw II" (Lionsgate Films)
My vote went to Cillian, but could have easily gone to Tilda or Ralph instead. I'm not entirely opposed to Tobin's nomination, but think that Hayden's is totally uncalled for; really, his spot should have gone to Lucas instead.

  • Andre "3000" Benjamin - "Four Brothers" (Paramount Pictures)
  • Isla Fisher - "Wedding Crashers" (New Line Cinema)
  • Nelly - "The Longest Yard" (Paramount Pictures)
  • Jennifer Carpenter - "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (Screen Gems)
  • Romany Malco - "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (Universal Pictures)
  • Taraji P. Henson - "Hustle & Flow" (Paramount Classics)
I'm hampered here by not having seen half of the films mentioned; although I was surprised to see her name on the list I'd have to go with Jennifer Carpenter for Emily Rose, because that girl was danged creepy. But still, I feel like there had to have been some better contenders for this one out there somewhere.

  • Christian Bale - "Batman Begins" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Jessica Alba - "Fantastic Four" (20th Century Fox)
  • Daniel Radcliffe - "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Kate Beckinsale - "Underworld: Evolution" (Screen Gems)
  • Ewan McGregor - "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (20th Century Fox)
I'm sorry, but Jessica Alba does not belong on this list; both Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis ran rings around her in the super-hero department in that movie. And before I have to put up with all of the "but she was hot!" comments, yes, Alba was hot, but that's what the next category is for.

  • Beyoncé Knowles - "The Pink Panther" (Sony Pictures)
  • Jessica Alba - "Sin City" (Dimension Films)
  • Jessica Simpson - "The Dukes of Hazzard" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Ziyi Zhang - "Memoirs of a Geisha" (Sony Pictures)
  • Rob Schneider - "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" (Sony Pictures)
Now this category, Alba should win, hands down, although I have a feeling the Rob Schneider nomination could bring it on home.

  • Kong vs. the Planes - "King Kong" (Universal Pictures)
  • Stephen Chow vs. Axe Gang - "Kung Fu Hustle" (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Angelina Jolie vs. Brad Pitt - "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (20th Century Fox)
  • Ewan McGregor vs. Hayden Christensen - "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (20th Century Fox)
Another list of nominees that makes my head hurt; even the two films that I think deserve to be up here are nominated for the wrong fight scenes. Kong should be Kong vs. dinos, not planes, and there are several scenes in Kung Fu Hustle I prefer to that one.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal & Heath Ledger - "Brokeback Mountain" (Focus Features)
  • Taraji P. Henson & Terrence Howard - "Hustle & Flow" (Paramount Classics)
  • Anna Faris & Chris Marquette - "Just Friends" (New Line Cinema)
  • Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt - "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (20th Century Fox)
  • Rosario Dawson & Clive Owen - "Sin City" (Dimension Films)
I'm rooting for Anna Faris and Chris Marquette, just because I think they both deserve wider recognition than they usually get.

  • Rachel Nichols - "The Amityville Horror" (MGM)
  • Jennifer Carpenter - "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" (Screen Gems)
  • Derek Richardson - "Hostel" (Lionsgate Films)
  • Paris Hilton - "House of Wax" (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Dakota Fanning - "War of the Worlds" (Paramount Pictures)
Personally, I would only nominate Paris Hilton for "most horrifying" . . . not for her performance in House of Wax, just in general.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Personally, I Think It's Really Japanese for "The Devil"

Tuesday evening I got the latest issue of TV Guide in the mail. After I was done skimming the articles and marking up my schedule for the week, I tossed it down on the coffee table, only to have the back cover flap open and reveal something I hadn't noticed before: a Sudoku puzzle.

Now, up until that point in time, I had been able to steer clear of that insidious tool of time-suckage whose name is supposedly short for the Japanese phrase meaning "the digits must remain single," although the thing most assured to remain single is whoever gets drawn into this game, because it will absorb their every waking thought. Or, at least it will if they're borderline ODC, like myself.

Like I said, up until now I've been able to easily resist the temptation to try out the devil game, but this time I was snared by an evil trick: the TV Guide puzzle uses letters instead of numbers. In addition, one line of the completed puzzle will spell out the name of some TV related person, place, or thing. The allure of the word-game aspect piqued my interest and the rest, as they say is history . . . along with sleep and any free time I might have had.

I'm pretty sure it won't be too long before I burn myself out, or at least, I hope so; I'm afraid the game doesn't exactly bring out the best in me. Which is the oddest thing about this sort of thing: it’s not exactly like I get a whole lot of enjoyment out of it. Instead, the puzzles speak to the competitive part of my nature, the part that knows it can shave just a few more seconds off my solving time if I just do one more puzzle . . . and then one more . . . and one more after that . . . and another one after that . . . and a brief break to stop myself from punching through the computer monitor . . . and then another one . . .

So, if you're walking down the streets of Denton and you see a filthy, unkempt figure, crouching on the sidewalk, rocking back and forth and mumbling curses directed towards the sheet of paper in his hands, be sure to stop and say "hi": I'm sure I'll appreciate the company.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

There's Good Odds That, Just By Mentioning It, CoIM Is Part of the Mythos Now Too

No in-depth reviews today, I'm afraid; I was about a quarter of the way through In Cold Blood when a book I had requested through ILL came in. Now, while I had known that the novel (Hive by Tim Curran) was supposed to be Lovecraftian horror, I hadn't realized that it was actually Lovecraftian horror, as in written as a sequel to an actual Lovecraft story, At the Mountains of Madness. And that's when my borderline OCD kicked in . . .

You see, I didn't just think "Oh, if it's a sequel to this one particular Lovecraft story, I should read that Lovecraft story first." No, that would be normal and sane. Instead, I thought "Oh, it's a sequel to a story in the Cthulhu Mythos, so I really should read all of the Cthulhu Mythos stories in chronological order to make sure that I catch any and all cameos and passing references in each and every story."

The only difficulty with that is, depending on where you look, practically every story Lovecraft has ever done has been labeled as part of the Mythos; it's like a precursor to Stephen King's Dark Tower series in a way, since all a story needs it a passing reference to something that gets a passing reference in a DT book to be considered a tie-in; or, for the comic geeks out there, think Crisis on Infinite Earths on red skies. And, while Lovecraft was nowhere near as prolific a writer as Mr. King, there's still a sizeable chunk of fiction to track down.

Luckily, practically every Lovecraft story to ever see print is available online for free, although Arkham House wishes it weren't so; there's some dispute over whether his works should be in the public domain or not. Working off a chronological list of his stories, I marked which one were available in the print collections at the public library, placed those collections on hold, and started tracking down the other stories online. After reading the bulk of his writings between 1905-1921, I finally decided that due to time constraints I should just bite the bullet, read At the Mountains of Madness, read Hive (which, due to its ILL status, I only have for another week), and come back for the rest of Lovecraft's oeuvre afterwards. Of course, I wasn't even 10 pages into AtMoM before coming across numerous veiled references to characters and events which I'm sure are taken from Pickman's Model, The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, etc. *sigh*

Since my Lovecraft reading has been all over the place, I don't know the best way to go about reviewing his writing: by collection, by story, all at once? I will say that some of his early stories (The Beast in the Cave and The Alchemist are two of the more egregious offenders) tend to rely on these twists that the novice writer felt compelled to hammer into his readers heads with a final exclamatory sentence declaring the twist is as prosaic a fashion as possible, as if he didn't trust that the reader would understand what was going on unless it was spelled out for them in black and white; very off-putting, but luckily it wasn't a trend that he would follow throughout his writing career.

Probably my favorite of the 20-odd stories I've read so far is The Temple, narrated from the P.O.V. of a nasty German U-boat commander during WWI whose shortsighted cruelty calls down a curse upon his vessel; I think I enjoyed this one because, although it deals with the usual Lovecraftian tropes of alien intelligences and ancient civilizations and the like, the nature of the narrator is quite a deviation from the honest and well-meaning (if unlucky and eventually insane) characters that usually populate his stories.

Of course, entering into a Lovecraft kick in my reading has also lead to my adding practically every Lovecraft adaptation imaginable into my queue, so you can be expecting some interesing Movie Mondays in the near future.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I Just Keep Having Flashbacks to Post-Sorkin West Wing *shudder*

Michael Ausiello, my favorite TV Guide writer, has just posted an interview with Team Palladino about their decision to leave Gilmore Girls. The fact that the denizens of Stars Hollow won't be reciting the words of Dan and Amy for what is probably the show's last season makes me very, very sad. Especially if the spoiler in the article is true. Which reminds me: if you don't want to know how the season ends, then when you see the words "Spoiler Alert" in the interview, immediately stop reading, and scroll down to the Palladinos' response, which responds to the major, season-ending spoiler without ever repeating what it was.


TV Tues - C'mon! If You Don't Laugh, It Just Seems Mean

There are times I feel like I should get into more detail with my thoughts on the TV of the week, since my coverage of each show feels skimpy when compared with my movie posts. But, on the other hand, with movie posts I don't have to worry about writing about the same show every week, so I guess it kind of evens out.

The preceding was only partially inspired by the fact that I had nothing else to say to intro today's post.

Veronica Mars: "And what enjoyment do the blind get out of Wheel of Fortune?" Why, my mom can tell you that, Veronica: Pat's witty repartee, of course.

Top Chef: Did Steven really say "Our food was fly"? Seriously? The whitest white boy around? With no trace of irony? Cracked me up.

The Apprentice: Finally caught the eps I missed while my cable was out on MSNBC. Once again, The Donald gets a thought in his head and refuses to listen to anything that runs contrary to it; when he kept telling Leslie that Lee's attitude on former jobs wasn't a factor, I wanted to scream. Of course it's a factor; if someone insists on playing "Debbie Downer" on every task, then it stands to reason that the other team members are going to take the pessimism and concerns with a grain of salt, especially when it’s perceived as the Downer just trying to save their own backside. Now, I'm not saying that Lee should have been fired; I think in this case Leslie did deserve the axe. I'm just saying that you can't say there's no correlation between past performance and present. As for last night's episode, it was kind of funny watching Lee sweating it while the other team was bombing.

Invasion: Is it wrong of me to want Russell and Larkin to get body-snatched in hopes that it will change their personalities into something less self-righteous and more likeable? On the flipside, Jesse's slide into "creepy gun-wielding teen" mode is kind of interesting, and the continuing evolution of the hybrids (particularly the high schoolers) makes me hope that this show somehow manages to get picked up for next season.

Gilmore Girls: The Lane/Zach wedding episode felt much more like the Gilmore Girls of old, for which I was thankful . . . up until the "Lorelei gets drunk and makes an ass of herself" thing at the end which made me long even more the end to the idiotic status quo of the April storyline.

Scrubs: The Janitor has always been my favorite character on the show, so I was glad that we got an episode told from his P.O.V.; I was also glad that I had just finished watching my Season 2 DVDs so that I caught the "Dr. Jan Itor" reference

Amazing Race: One of the few times you'll hear me say this: thank heavens for non-elimination rounds!

Bones: The uber-suspicious New Orleans cop got on my nerves, but I think the whole episode was worth it for the scene where Bones pokes the evil voodoo guy in the eye.

Survivor: While I always hate to see someone eliminated from the game due to health reasons, it does help my man Terry move one step closer to the end, although at this point as long as Shane doesn't make it to the final two, I'll be happy.

How I Met Your Mother: It's always fun to see the Eeeeeeeeevil side of Barney; I guessed really early on that Mary wasn't really a hooker, and was glad that the obligatory "she makes comments that we know are innocent but which Ted thinks are dirty" sequence was kept to a bare minimum.

Everwood: As much as I hated the latest development in the Bright/Hannah relationship, I do feel like it's not totally out of character; despite all of the growth Bright has shown, it wasn't that long ago that he was a giant horn-dog. Even though the big fight at the beginning felt a bit forced, the idea that a confused and hurting Bright would turn to casual sex for reassurance.

Medium: I loved the way they handled having the girls start to question their mom's job; it just felt right having the more innocent Bridget make the connections rather than the more self-conscious Ariel. I wasn't quite as pleased with the episode about Detective Scanlon's past; the sections with Ariel dealing with her moral quandary were good, but all of the stuff about the drug trade felt totally about of place on the show.

The O.C.: And the hits just keep on coming: Seth continues his lying, Summer's jumping to conclusions, Marissa's back to slumming it already, Sandy continues his transformation into what he's always hated, and Kirsten finally falls off the wagon; it's the last two which bother me the most. But at least we found out that the kid wasn't Ryan's (unless Theresa was lying, which I wouldn't put past this show now), so maybe he won't find his life derailed just yet.


24: Rocket Romano? Suddenly the evil president is in cahoots with Rocket Romano? Very interesting. At least the scene where Romano is handling Logan makes sense of some things; turns out Logan's a bit of a patsy after all. I feel much better now. I was almost hoping Audrey would just shoot Robocop, but at least he didn't get away again; that would have been a little too much to take.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Movie Mon. - Takashi Miike Is Miike Takashi

Lots of low budget horror and SF this week; shocking, I know. Some were complete wastes of time, but some others had a few redeeming qualities here and there. But for those of you who couldn't care less about horror and SF, I'll lead off with the sole comedy of the week.

Mrs. Henderson Presents: Film based on the true story of a rich British widow (Dame Judi Dench) who decides to bankroll the Windmill Theater, which becomes famous for two things under her patronage: never closing during the London Blitz, and finding a loophole in British obscenity laws which allowed the Windmill to feature nudes on stage. A charming, funny film about the eccentric and mischievous Mrs. Henderson and her love/hate relationship with her theater manager, Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins). As my one sentence synopsis suggests, yes, there are some nekkid women in this movie, but these scenes are handled tastefully . . . as tastefully as scenes with bare bosoms can be handled, that is.

The Scorned
: If this DVD doesn't get the "Commentary Tracks of the Damned" treatment from The Onion A/V Club, there's something wrong; from the instant the commentators say that Stacie J. did a great job, they lost what little credibility that remained following their actually being involved with this sorry excuse for a find themselves to be the victims of a horror flick. Unfortunately, while this is definitely a bad movie, it doesn't reach the "so bad it's good" level; most of the performances are merely mediocre, as opposed to laughingly bad. Not to say that there aren't some laughable scenes sprinkled throughout; Trashelle's "I know where you live!" scene was giggle-inducingly bad, as was Stacie J.'s little freak out with the poker scene, and don't even get me started on the "death by exploding lava lamp" fiasco. In the end, not even the joy of watching Jonny Fairplay get the crap knocked out of him could lift my spirits, especially since I knew it was just his female stunt double taking the hits.

Fabled: The story of Joseph Fable (Desmond Askew, who will always be "the British guy on Roswell" to me), a young man whose sanity is steadily eroding into a maelstrom of paranoia, set in counterpoint to a children's fable of a treacherous crow and scapegoat wolf which is narrated in bits and pieces throughout the film. Some of Fable's freak-outs were entertaining (like his work break-down), but the film as a whole left me cold. One reviewer on called this "The Machinist Lite", and I can't argue with that interpretation much.

House of 9: Thriller about a group of 9 people chosen randomly by a rich whacko to compete in a game for his amusement, a game that ends when only one of them is left alive. A film that alternately annoyed and pleased me; annoyed with its clichéd, over-the-top characters (in particular "angry black man") and their constant fighting; pleased me with some pretty unexpected deaths. But even more unexpected than the order of deaths was the fact that Dennis Hopper didn't drive me crazy in this one; that's probably due to the fact that, for once, he wasn't playing a crazy person. I think Hopper has been typecast as crazy and/or evil for so long that actually being chosen to play a fine upstanding priest shocked the scenery chewing out of him for a while. In the end, I don't know if I can in good faith recommend this film, which tried to cash in on the "psychological" aspects by slowing things down to a glacial pace, but while I didn't love it, there were a couple of redeeming ideas and twists that kept me from feeling like it was a complete waste of my time.

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis: Latest installment in the long dormant frequently tongue-in-cheek zed-word franchise; unfortunately, it's much closer in quality to the disappointing third film than the entertaining first two, and even the third film at least had some modicum of wit and originality. Bad acting, bad script, and an unbelievably atrocious performance by Peter Coyote make this a miss; I mean, seriously, how messed up is it when I see a more nuanced, layered performance from Dennis Hopper in a horror-thriller than I do Mr. Coyote? It's just wrong!

H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds: A while back I had heard that there was a truly faithful version of War of the Worlds being made (as in set-in-Victorian-England faithful), so when I saw the title H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds available for rental on Netflix I immediately thought that what it was; I couldn't be more wrong. Instead what I got was a lower budget, lower quality version of the recent Tom Cruise version. This time around it's C. Thomas "Ponyboy" Howell as the protagonist trying to make it across the blasted countryside to find his wife; at least in this version there weren't any annoying kids tagging along the whole time. Unfortunately, that's about all this version had going for it. I mean, Howell does a fairly good job with what he has to work with, which is a not-so-stellar script, and even the few good performances contained within are lessened by the clunky dialogue and scores of pitiful supporting actors. Add onto this some truly sub-par editing which failed in any respect to accurately represent the passage of time, and some laughable special effects, and you have quite a groaner.

Hostel: Horror film about a group of horny backpackers who become victims of a grisly business catering to wealthy men wishing to indulge their darkest and most murderous impulses. From the first time I saw a trailer for this film, I was actually kind of nervous about watching it; the implication of graphic torture sequences made my imagination run wild, and the more I heard about how over the top the film was, the more nervous I became. And now after watching the film all I can say is: what was the big fuss about? Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed the film a lot. Atmospheric, very well shot, and some nice surprises along the way. I just think that director Eli Roth summed it up best on one of the many, many commentaries on the disc when he said that he wished people could have gone into the movie knowing absolutely nothing about it. You see, all of those snippets of torture scenes in the trailers? The ones that could almost give you nightmares trying to picture what was going to be in the actual film? Well, for the most part, those snippets were about all that you did see; while there was a goodly amount of gore shown, the bulk of the action occurred off-screen. If I had gone into this movie with no expectations, never having seen any trailers, I probably would have been much more disturbed than I was seeing the cameras cut away before the "money shot." The only thing in the film that really made me squirm in my seat had to do with something that always freaks me the heck out: the injury to the eye motif. And believe me, while I've suffered through a lot of injury to the eye scenes over the years, I don't think there's been one quite as disturbing as Hostel's. Now, although the film wasn't nearly as hardcore as I had been expecting, it's still not for the squeamish, but as long as they don't buy into the hype I think most horror fans will appreciate the film for what it is. Interesting note: Japanese director Takashi Miike, who is well known for making some of the most disturbing films around and whose Audition Roth cites as one of his inspirations for making this type of film, had a brief cameo as a Japanese businessman partaking of the torture service; he's basically listed in the credits as himself.

Joshua: Horror film about Kelby Unger, a man who returns home for his convict father's funeral, only to have the long buried sins of his past come back to haunt him. My thoughts on the film can probably best be summed up as "Wow. Just . . . wow." I mean, as soon as the film opens up with the world's worst pratfall by the perpetrator of the world’s worst "drunk" acting, I thought to myself "here we go, low-budget horror at its finest!" Turns out, that thought might have been a bit more appropriate than I knew, if less sarcastic. Because once past the opening sequences, I found myself confronted with an intriguing, well-acted, likeable character in Kelby, followed quickly by off-beat performances from Kelby's two childhood friends, the creepy killer James and the off-kilter cop Wally; I know Wally's performance could be off-putting to some with its over-the-top quality, but as the story unfolds, his oddball behavior became more understandable. At the same time, as the story unfolds I found myself first drawn in by its unusual storyline, and then more and more disturbed by the directions the twists began to take. Now, I'm not going to say that this is the most disturbing film I've ever seen, but man, do a couple of aspects rank up there. Honestly, I felt more disturbed by the truth about Kelby's past than I did about just about anything that happened in Hostel. Now, on the downside, although the look of the "evil warrior" was pretty creepy, almost every other makeup and gore effect in the film was pretty sad. Also, there were a few scenes which screamed "low budget film/first-time writer-director" (mainly Kelby's dream sequences), and some things felt a little unnecessary (Uncle Tom being the prime example, although the part with him, the corpse, and the knife was interesting). But despite these shortcomings, there was a lot of potential here; this film is definitely not for everyone, but I think horror fans who go into it with an open mind might be pleasantly surprised, in a "dang, that was hella disturbing!" sort of way.


Where Will I Find the Time?

Movie post coming a little later today, due to a large portion of my energy this weekend (not tied up in traveling to OKC or embarrassing myself playing disc golf & basketball with some of the Singles, that is) being spent on tinkering with my new side-project which will be unveiled precisely one week from today. The side project (hereafter referred to by its acronym, TCFEK) has been slowly percolating for awhile, and should have enough of a buffer built up that it won't interfere with my CoIM duties . . . except, of course, when it does.

Like today.



Friday, April 21, 2006

Sitting at the Top of the Tower Would Be So Much Cooler If I Could Actualy See . . .

As I've noted before, my weekends in April and May are pretty booked, primarily with Singles stuff. Tomorrow it's an All-Singles day trip to Oklahoma City to eat at the excellent Mexican restaurant Ted's Cafe Escondido, followed by a visit to the OKC Memorial. As of right now I'm pretty sure I'm the only member of my class going, since the few others who had signed up have since called to let me know they were dropping out (which reminds me: Magic Pants, if you're reading this, Freezeout asked me to tell you "you're a wiener”), but that should give me a chance to mingle with the folks in the other class, and all you blog monkeys know just how well I do at mingling, right?

But that's what's coming up; as for last Saturday, it was Easter weekend, so a group of us did what all good Christians do on the Saturday before Easter: we went to Six Flags Over Texas.

Now, the decision to go to Six Flags the day before Easter isn't as random as it might seem; because it was Easter, it was also Christian Youth Weekend, which meant that in the evenings there were concerts with contemporary Christian artists. Although there were lots of folks interested in going to Six Flags in theory, there were only three of us who were able to go: Cap'n Cluck, who was excited about seeing MercyMe in concert; The Anti-Cap'n, who was excited about seeing Natalie Grant in concert; and myself, who was excited about having friends who (a) were willing to buy season passes (b) love riding roller coasters as much as I do, and (c) don't live over three hours away.

I was wanting to get on the road pretty early so that we could beat the rush to the lines for season passes and the Batman roller coaster. However, Cap'n Cluck is not an early riser, so we delayed my preferred departure time by about a half hour. I headed to Cluck's place, and then we headed over to pick up The Anti-Cap'n. As we were pulling up in front of his house, Cluck realized that she had forgotten to give him a wake-up call like he had requested, but she didn't think much of it, since the last time she was supposed to give him a wake-up call he really didn't need it.

Of course, since she forgot, this time he did.

Apparently, The Anti-Cap'n had woken up in time, but had promptly fallen back asleep; as a frequent perpetrator of the same offense, I can't really say much about that. After knocking on the door and ringing the bell for a while, Cluck actually had to go around the side of the house and tap on his bedroom window to get him up. Although we had to wait while he got ready, it did give me a chance to check out my new digs. Oh, yeah, don't think I've mentioned that upcoming change: at the end of May I'm moving in with Anti-Cap'n and Bizarro-Zinger; lots o' adjustment coming with that, since I haven't had a roomie since the Year of the Flunky. Could make for some interesting blogging material in the months to come . . .

Anyway, we finally got on the road, and then had to stop to get some gas, an endeavor that take an inordinate amount of time since the gas station we pulled in to wasn't as empty as it seemed; all of the unattended pumps were out of order, and the ones that were in use seemed to be taking forever. When Cluck started filling up, it became apparent why, as the machines were pumping something akin to molasses. By the time we finally got to Six Flags, it was almost noon, so we decided to go ahead and eat our picnic lunch there in the parking lot before heading inside.

Our first stop was the line to get Season Pass IDs printed; I already had mine, since I had just renewed the one I had last year, but the others were first timers. The line was nowhere near as bad as it had been the first time I had gotten one with the Core Four, but we still had to wait for a bit. Cap'n Cluck suggested I take the opportunity to get a new ID, which resulted in me once again brandishing what has to be the goofiest picture known to man to my friends' delight; if I had a scanner, I’d be sure to post it for everyone’s amusement, but darn the luck, I don’t. The Anti-Cap'n realized he hadn't filled out the information on the back of his paperwork, which lead us to bemoan the fact that Magic Pants wasn't around with her Magic Purse, a deceptively small bag that holds a near-infinite capacity, a good 3/4 of which is taken up with ink pens; the first time we witnessed Magic Pants pulling item after item out of the Magic Purse, Cap'n Cluck made a comment about Mary Poppins' bag. I, being the geek I am, instead thought to myself "It's like Doctor Who's TARDIS*." But I digress . . .

After securing our IDs, we then began our circuit of the park, first hitting The Conquistador (which is practically always the inaugural ride on any of my Six Flags visits) and then moving on to The Titan, Runaway Mountain, and the Flashback, each of which had a fairly short wait. We then moved towards The Batman ride, only to see a line that stretched all the way to the entrance, which is not a good sign; that's probably a good 2-3 hour wait, even more if you want to ride in the front row and, trust me, Batman's hardly worth riding if you don't ride in the front row. We headed in to Mr. Freeze instead, where I had one of the most unique line experiences ever, as we were followed directly by a crowd of approximately 15 very loud, very aggressive, very rowdy, and very profane teenagers.

Nonstop chanting, rapping, singing, taunting, and wall-banging began as soon as they entered the very enclosed and echo-chambery line. I could look around and see the disapproving looks on the faces all around them, but you could tell nobody wanted to be the one to say anything and get all of that rowdiness focused on themselves; what was particularly entertaining was to watch the faces as the group dropped f-bombs and sexual innuendos at the top of their lungs; don't forget, this was Christian Youth Weekend. After about an hour or so, the headache-inducing banging on the walls prompted a security guard to come and get on to them; I thought for sure we were going to have a small riot on our hands for a minute or so, but after the guard didn't back down from their back-talk they became much more subdued, and we spent the rest of the time in line actually being able to hear ourselves think.

After that experience, we were more than ready to rest our feet and get some grub, so we walked on over to Cheddars, where we cooled off and stuffed ourselves. Once back at the park we picked up our tickets for the concert (all in-park concerts being free with a Season Pass) and got in line for Superman: Tower of Power. The Anti-Cap'n was a bit nervous about it, not having ridden anything like it before, but Cap'n Cluck and I assured him of its awesomeness. As we progressed through the line, I regaled them with my comic geek knowledge of exactly why all of the Superman Family cut-outs were out of date: Supergirl being Kara Zor-El instead of Linda Danvers, Lex Luthor being a regular super-villain instead of a tycoon again, Superboy having just been killed off a week earlier, etc. I'm sure they were highly impressed. Since I was wearing my Alex Ross Justice League shirt we also spent some time with them trying to name as many characters as they could, and Cap'n Cluck quizzed me on the reasoning behind the garish coloring of most super-heroes. But the real fun in line came as we neared the end and were treated to a rare sight: a teenager on the ride had decided to ignore the numerous "no carry on items" warnings and had worn his hat, which was ripped off of his head as he was rocketed towards the sky and spirited out over the park. When the ride came back down, the kids were circling around the towers, looking for it, not quite seeming to grasp that it was long gone.

After the Superman ride we headed over to the amphitheater for the concert, discovering then exactly why the tickets we got were free; although in all fairness, while they were pretty high up, they were also in pretty good line-of-sight of the stage, which was nice. We were really enjoying the concert, too, until Cap'n Cluck made a little kid cry and we had to leave . . . but that's a story for another time . . .

*Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, in case you were wondering


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Return to Escape to Green Mountain

It's been a while since my trip to Green Mountain Falls, Colorado with the Book Monkeys, but I finally got access to some pictures.


Our trip mascot, Elizabeth

Here's a first at CoIM: video!

Thrilling, isn't it?

The boat ramp at scenic Optima Lake


If you were able to look to the left, you would see me squeezed in right there; this would be the precursor to the "Where do you think you're going" incident.

In addition to police encounters, our trip to Manitou Springs netted the girls some killer Mardi Gras gear . . .

. . .and some high scores for Rebel Monkey (C.R. being her non-blog-monkey initials)


The next day we headed to The Garden of the Gods

While we were there Rebel Monkey did her best job to hold up the rocks . . .

. . . but eventually had to be helped out by Rose "Atlas Shrugged" Hips

The obligatory "group posing on the scenic outcropping" picture

The obligatory "not quite as scenic close-up version"

The obligatory "okay, everyone, look like a spaz!" shot

If you look closely, you can see the walk-up rock climber

And here's most of us marveling at the rock climber

Although you'll notice that The Mag is off be her lonesome, pining for her own carefree mountain climbing days

I figured that I'd go ahead and wrap this post up with some scenic shots sans Book Monkeys, so that our stunning good looks wouldn't distract you from the scenery.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Not Quite as Premium

Last month I was inspired by the movie version to check out the novel. As expected, some things in the movie were verbatim from the novel, and quite a few others were vastly changed.

Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safron Foer

This is the story of Jonathan Safron Foer, a young Jewish writer who has traveled to the Ukraine to search for Augustine, the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II. It is also the story of Alex, a Ukrainian man hired to act as Jonathan's interpreter; his grandfather, their driver and guide, despite the fact that he has claimed to be blind ever since his wife died; and Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., his grandfather's borderline psychotic seeing eye dog. But, perhaps most of all, it is the story of Trachtimbrod, the small shetl that is both the ancestral home of Jonathan's family and the end point of his quest. As Alex narrates their journey, and Jonathan narrates the history of Trachtimbrod, old secrets are unburied and both men find their worldviews changed.

Everything is Illuminated is a literary novel which alternates between Alex's straightforward (if inventively phrased) narration, Jonathan's fictionalized (and stylized) version of his family's history, and Alex's letters to Jonathan which serve as a commentary on the other two narrative streams. Much like The Toy Collector, although the author and main character share the same name and some similarities, this is not a true autobiographical novel; while Foer did indeed once travel to the Ukraine to track down the woman who once saved his grandfather, he says the real life journey and the journey in the novel are quite different.

A book like this can be a hard sell; the shifting of narrative voices and styles can alienate as often as it entrances. For me, I enjoyed all of the sections told in Alex's voice; his unusual take on the English language, his false bravado, his outsider's perspective, and his sense of humor all combined to make an entertaining read. I can't quite say the same for the Jonathan sections; there was humor there, and interesting characters, but the language just did not flow as well as the Alex sections. It was the literary equivalent of speeding down the highway only to have the road turn to mud underneath you; you can still get where you're going, but it's going to be a bit more hassle than what you've come to expect.

I do have to wonder if my preference for Alex's tales was influenced by the fact that the film only references Alex's point of view; the tales of Trachtimbrod are never touched upon in the movie. Was I just put out because the Jonathan sections were depriving me of more Alex? Possibly. Is that a sign of weakness on the part of the story, or of the reader? Who knows? I think I'm glad I saw the movie first; otherwise I might have been upset at the fact that the secret held by Alex's grandfather was changed from the novel; having already enjoyed the film, I was able to look on the change with more forgiving eyes.

In the end, I enjoyed Everything is Illuminated quite a bit; I would have been happier if Foer had stuck with one voice of the other for the entire novel, but hey, that's just me . . . I'm guessing your mileage may vary on that one.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

He Might As Well Be Fighting Fin Fang Foom!

The latest fan film to sweep the comic geek world: Secret Wars Re-enactment Society


TV Tues - I Think I Liked You Better When You Just Hit People With Your Stick

I don't think I mentioned anywhere that my cable got fixed last Wednesday in time for me to watch Lost; I've been able to get caught up on most of what I missed thanks to the kindness of others (many thanks again, Cap'n Cluck!).

Now here's my two cents on the week that was in TV Land.

Lost: The look on Henry's face as Locke's banging on the door screaming about the numbers may very well be the creepiest thing I've seen since the Gentlemen on Buffy. I'm glad that Rose's talk with Locke seems to have gotten him back on track, especially after my marathon viewing of Season 1 during the cable outage reminded me of just how focused and cool he used to be in the beginning. My favorite line of the episode, though, had to be Bernard's comment to Mr. Eko about how he liked him better when he just hit people with his stick. Oh, did anyone else out there recognize that the faith healer was played by Wayne Pygram, the guy who played Scorpius on Farscape? No? Well, me neither until The TV Gal pointed it out, but I have a feeling that in my case it was just because he was practically unrecognizable without the makeup, while in all of your cases it's because none of you have watched an episode of Farscape in your lives.

West Wing: I'll admit it; the episode dealing with the death of Leo made me tear up quite a bit. Now, whether this would have happened if it had just been a TV show stunt, and not a necessity created by the real life death of John Spencer, I have no clue. On the other hand, the funeral episode didn't really get to me until the scene where the President tells Josh that Leo thought of him as a son; that did it. The funeral episode was almost like old home week; interesting that Zoe Bartlett could make it to Leo’s funeral, but not her sister’s wedding, huh? I guess being a psycho-killer alien hybrid on Invasion only conflicted with the earlier episode. It was also good to see the return of Ainslie, even if for a minute or two.

Amazing Race: I can't believe it; I just can't believe it. The most fractious team left got eliminated, and the team I like the most finished first yet again. Freaky. I was a little worried that the hippies might get the axe, and was glad that their penalty didn't cost them the game.

Top Chef: Gotta love how they kept cutting to shots of Dave blubbering in the back while the judges were talking about how he needs to keep his emotions in check. Was sorry to see Andrea go, but I don't think it was necessarily a bad decision, what with her already being eliminated once before.

Veronica Mars: Once again, as the season begins to wind down, the speed of information dissemination ramps up; and, once again, it feels like a little too much, too fast. While I did enjoy Veronica's bus dreams, the rampage of revelations struck me as a bit much.

The O.C.: Oy; a week filled with bad character decisions: Seth's lie, Sandy's secrecy, Ryan's one night stand, Kirsten's near relapse . . . this episode wore me out.

How I Met Your Mother: While not a stellar episode, it was all worth it for the guest appearance of Alexis Denissof (Wesley on Buffy and Angel and Allyson Hannigan's real-life hubby) as Robin's horny and inappropriate co-anchor

Everwood: I hate it when the promos give away the climactic moment in an episode's storyline; in this case, it was Hannah's declaration that she was done letting Amy dictate the terms of their friendship. I was looking forward to seeing the ramifications of that exchange, only to have the episode end without any more scenes with either party; quite a letdown. However, I am happy that Hannah is finally standing up for herself, since Amy has been a total bitca ever since she started hanging out with Jack Bauer's Dead Wife.

Harry Shearer: Now You See It: A DVD compilation of different Harry Shearer TV bits, including clips from Saturday Night Live, a short-lived sketch comedy show called Likely Stories, and a full HBO special. Despite the presence of one of my all time favorite SNL skits (the male synchronized swimmers), and some really impeccable impressions by Shearer (the man does the best Alan Thicke I've ever seen), I found myself tempted to fast-forward through far too many skits out of sheer boredom.

Law and Order Criminal Intent: Not normally on my viewing list (have actually never watched this particular L&O spin-off before), but it was a slow TV night on Sunday, and for some reason the ad for this episode that played during West Wing peaked my interest. While the plot about a method actor who got a little too into his serial killer role (played by Desmond Harrington, most recently seen as Wylie on Sons and Daughters, but here returning to the roots of his starring role in the awesomely creepy (and darkly funny) psycho stalker film Love Object) was sort of interesting, I spent the bulk of my time watching it trying to figure out where the heck I knew the drunk friend of the murder victim from; I kept flashing on her as playing a teenager, but couldn't quite place what the source was. Thank heavens for TV.Com and IMDB, which identified the actress as Emily Bergl, who was star of The Rage: Carrie 2 and who also had a recurring role on Season 3 of Gilmore Girls as the manipulative Chilton student Francie.


24: I suppose I can accept that President Logan's ineptitude earlier on in the season was merely a by-product of his trying to cover his own ass as much as possible (it at least makes the way he dealt with the Walt Cummings situation more palatable), although his ineptitude last season seems to fly in the face of that being the only reason. I do find him slightly more likeable as a bad guy than just an incompetent boob, but only just. I will say that this is probably the best season of 24 yet, in terms of keeping the mystery and adventure going and holding my interest without falling into a mid-season rut. I am getting a little tired of every secondary character that helps Jack getting bumped off (the bank worker last week, the Secretary's agent this week); they may as well start having them wear red shirts. This show has made me paranoid about almost every character now; when Bill asked Jack where he was meeting up with Audrey and her dad, my first thought was "don't tell him, he's probably in on it too!" Similar thoughts about Audrey's dad as well, although both of them may have been shaped from having seen the previews with shots of her being held hostage. Was glad that neither one of them turned out to be on Logan's side (yet), although I definitely thought Jack was naive to think that Audrey's dad would go along with a plan to discredit the President; his decision to put Jack into custody and take care of things behind closed doors felt totally in keeping with the character.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Movie Mon. - Mixed Bag

While I enjoyed bits and pieces of several of the films I watched this week, there was only one which I fully enjoyed with no reservations whatsoever.

On to the reviews.

Fun with Dick and Jane: Jim Carrey vehicle about a downsized couple who turn to armed robbery to keep their family afloat. A lot of the film's enjoyability rests on whether you're a Jim Carrey fan or not; I am, for the most part, and so liked the film, for the most part. The part I didn't like occurs during the first third of the movie, in particular the couple's struggles with making ends meet; a few funny bits here and there, but quite a bit that left me cold. The last third of the movie was slightly stronger, but still not a tour de force of comedy. But the middle of the film . . . the middle of the film, focused on their crime spree, was comedy gold. My favorite bit in the film was the voice-modulator robbery, which gave Carrey a chance to do his usual wacky ad libbing (or at least, so I assume). Not going to go down as a classic by any stretch of the imagination (the pointless "race to the interview" sequence saw to that), but it made me laugh often enough for me to say it's probably worth a rental.

The Dark: Horror film about an estranged couple whose daughter disappears while visiting the father in a Welsh village which was once the site of a religious cult's mass suicide. I'm a little disappointed in this one; it had a strong start, and kept me interested for the bulk of the film, but the ending left me unsatisfied with its "ha-ha, got you!" mentality. I almost hate to recommend it, since the ending is more likely to tick people off than anything else.

Ellie Parker: Indie film starring the talented Naomi Watts as the titular character, a struggling actress on the verge of quitting the business for good. Yet another film that I only enjoyed in pieces; the first section of the film focusing on Ellie's audition process and the like was entertaining, especially the sequence where she's driving from one audition to another, transforming herself from a Southern belle to something resembling a trash mouth Jersey hooker on the way, highlighting the schizophrenic world actors live in. But once the film moved away from the inside look at the acting world, and into Ellie's crumbling personal life, it looses focus, and I lost interest. Despite Watts' usual fantastic job acting, I came out of the film feeling like I had just wasted an hour of my life.

Little Fish: Australian film starring Cate Blanchett as a recovering drug addict trying to rebuild her life, only to find her efforts thwarted both by society's refusal to accept her rehabilitation as a true fresh start, and by the continued presence of other junkies in her life, including her brother and her former boyfriend. Quite a bleak film; watching the main character's attempts to better herself slowly disintegrate before her was often painful. The blurbs for this one made it sound like a thriller, and while there was a little bit of action revolving around some drug dealers, the main thrust of the story is all interpersonal drama. A well-acted film, but not one that I can say I particularly enjoyed; I don't have any concrete complaints about the quality of the film, I just had a hard time getting into its depressing mindset.

An Unfinished Life
: Drama about a grizzled rancher (Robert Redford) whose life is thrown out of balance by the arrival of his estranged daughter-in-law (Jennifer Lopez), on the run from her abusive boyfriend, along with the granddaughter he never knew he had. Kind of a paint-by-numbers plot, in a lot of ways, as the granddaughter melts the old man's heart, leading to his reconciling with her mom, but there are enough fresh touches in the characterizations to keep the film from feeling like the same ol' same ol'. The scene between Morgan Freeman and the bear was a little heavy-handed to me, but other than that, an enjoyable film.

The Ice Harvest: Dark comedy about a nervous mob lawyer (John Cusack) who teams up with a cold-hearted pornographer (Billy Bob Thornton) to rip off a mob boss (Randy Quaid) around Christmas-time. Despite an impressive cast (which also included the very funny Oliver Platt as a very drunk friend of Cusack), the film never gelled for me; for something that billed itself as a comedy, the truly funny moments were few and far between. I think the trailers may have done this one a disservice, as they made it appear to be a much wackier, faster-paced film than what it truly is; it's possible that the clash of expectations and reality colored my perceptions a bit too much. My biggest complaint acting-wise was that the character of Renata (Connie Nielsen) played the Femme Fatale role a bit too much on the nose; to me, she felt like she belonged in some old film noir, which was a tad jarring. I'd have to give this film an over-all rating of "so-so."

City of God: Very well done Brazilian film based on the true-life story of gang wars in the Rio de Janeiro "favel", or slum, known as Cidade de Deus, as told through the eyes of would-be photographer Rocket, who bears witness to the rise of the sociopathic hood known as Little Ze. From the opening sequence where a heavily armed gang races down the crowded streets of the favel to capture a runaway chicken, I knew this was going to be a different sort of film; alternately funny and gripping, this film is even more impressive when you consider that the bulk of the actors were not only unknowns, but actual "never acted a day in their lives" residents of Rio's favels. Man, I thought Carandiru (another excellent Brazilian film) painted a stark picture, but at least that one was set in a prison. As I watched the film, all I could think about was how totally alien such a culture of thievery, drug peddling, and murder seems to a 30-year old white boy from Wyandotte, Oklahoma such as myself; I can't even conceive of how I could have coped growing up in a situation like that, although I'm pretty sure I would have been close to Rocket's "I'm scared of getting shot" philosophy. I'm curious about the Brazilian TV series inspired by the film, City of Men, which unfortunately hasn't been made available in the U.S. on DVD yet. Many thanks to Coronela for loaning this one to me.


Minding My Ps and Queues

Haven't done this for a bit: here's a brief run-down of movies I just added to my queue.

X3: I have greatly mixed feelings about the upcoming X-men movie (where's Nightcrawler, dagnabit?!?!), but you know I have to see it regardless.

IFC’s Greg the Bunny : Movie parodies featuring the cast of the late, lamented Fox puppet sitcom.

MI:III: I thought the first Mission Impossible film was good for what it was; I've only seen parts of MI:II, and wasn't impressed; I'm hopping that the selection of J.J. Abrams, he of Lost and Alias fame, will make this one watchable.

Ant Bully: From the man responsible for Jimmy Neutron comes another computer animated film, this one centering around a kid magically shrunk to the size of an insect and put on trial for crimes against the ant world.

Doogal: Animated film about a group of animals banding together to save the world from some mystical menace. To be honest, the trailer didn't do all that much for me, and the reviews haven't been all that kind either. Odds of me actually viewing this without some rave reviews from someone I trust are pretty low.

The Fast and the Furious : Tokyo Drift
: I have yet to watch any of this franchise, and the plotline for this one looks as hackneyed as they come, but man, do the driving scenes look cool.

Stick It: The writer of Bring It On turns to the world of gymnastics. BIO was a surprisingly funny movie; from what I've seen, I don't think this one quite lives up to its predecessor.

The Reaping: Hillary Swank plays a disillusioned missionary-turned-religious debunker who gets pulled into a strange phenomenon she can't explain.

The Triangle: Sci-Fi Channel mini-series about the Bermuda Triangle starring Sam Neil, Eric Stolz, and Bruce Davison.

Entourage Season 3: Season 2 of this HBO series hasn't come out on DVD yet, and they already have Season 3 available to be put in the queue. How weird is that?

Deadwood Season 3: Ummm . . . see above.

Red Dwarf Series 8: Rumor has it that the 8th series of this SF Britcom features the return of Rimmer, which is music to my ears; series 7 just wasn't the same without him.

Heirloom: Taiwanese horror film about a haunted house and family curse.

The Scorned: Comedy gold here, people; a horror movie written, produced, and starring former reality TV stars: Big Brother, Survivor, Real World, Road Rules, The Apprentice; you name a reality show, odds are pretty good at least one member is represented here somewhere. If nothing else, rent this so you can see Johnny Fairplay get whacked. This one should be in mailbox today or tomorrow.

Alchemy: Romantic comedy starring Tom Cavanaugh and Sarah Chalke. I don't even need to know what it's about; with those two in it, it's a must see for me.

Headspace: Horror movie about a psychic whose powers go out of control; lots of familiar faces here (William Atherton, Mark Margolis, Udo Kier), even if you don't recognize the names.

London: Drama starring Chris Evans as a man whose attempts to win back girlfriend Jessica Biel at her going away party get derailed by the mysterious drug-peddling Jason Statham.

Standing Still: Romantic comedy taking place during a pre-wedding party; placed in the queue due to the presence of the excellent Amy Adams, who really should have gotten the Supporting Actress Oscar for Junebug

Bushinsaba: South Korean horror film about a deadly spirit released through an ouija board.

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party: Documentary about Stephen Tobolowsky, an actor whose name probably means nothing to you, but whose face will almost definitely ring a bell. Seriously, check out his IMDB page; with 169 films and TV shows to his credit, odds are pretty good you've seen him before. To me, he will always be Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day


Friday, April 14, 2006

Filmtastic Friday - Admittedly, I'm a Little Biased Against This Sort of Film

Here are my spoiler-laden thoughts on the recent “thriller” Stay (albeit spoilers you could probably guess from the trailers like I did, but still . . .); all I’ll say before I get into the details is that there were some really, really cool visuals throughout, but that the overall film was a disappointment.

WARNING! Here be spoilers

Stay: Ewan McGregor plays a psychiatrist whose world begins to unravel after an encounter with a strangely prescient suicidal patient (Ryan Gosling). And by "unravel" I don't mean "his personal life becomes a shambles; I mean "unravel" as in "time and space seem to lose all meaning, as does the barrier between life and death." Let's start out with the positives: director Marc Forster (probably best known as the man who practically forced the Academy to give Halle Berry a pity Oscar after she had to do a sex scene with Billy Bob Thornton in his Monster's Ball) pulls some really interesting visual stunts throughout, crafting a world where the lines between reality and dreaming are blurred, and you're never sure what's going to be coming around the corner: a stranger stepping off of a subway car smoothly transforms into McGregor's wife, McGregor and Gosling inexplicably alternate positions during an otherwise conventional tracking shot, a crowd shot seems almost inexplicably wrong until you realize that it is comprised of digitally imposed copies of the same small group of people reproduced endlessly . . . suffice it to say that, while I have problems with the film, I thought the visual aspects made sitting through it all worthwhile. And what sort of problems did I have with it? Well, I could just refer you back to the spoiler-filled explanations for my dislike of a similar film, but I'll go ahead and quote the relevant text here:

'd like to take this moment to make a plea to all of the burgeoning filmmakers out there: please, if you suddenly feel yourself overcome with an idea to make a strange, non-linear, surreal film where nothing makes sense, and characters find themselves trapped in loops or confronted with huge logical inconsistencies in their surroundings which build and build until the final reveal that the central character is either (a) dead or (b) dying . . . if you feel yourself driven to make such a film, then please, I beg of you, for the sake of my sanity, please reconsider. It's been done before, multiple times; I'm not generally one to wave people away from certain plot structures because they've been used before (would I be such a fan of horror movies or quest-based fantasy novels if I was?), but in this case, I'll make a huge exception.

I suppose there could be a situation where such a film doesn't make me miserable; I'm sure that if there's enough clever dialogue or innovative cinematography or likeable enough actors that the big reveal at the end won't do more than make me roll my eyes in a "not again" fashion . . .I guess my biggest quibble with most of these "look, he/she's really dead/dying, isn't that clever and unexpected?" films is that all too often it feels like the screenwriter and/or director are banking on the shock of the "ooo, isn't this a cool twist!" factor to win the audience over.
That's right, all of the unraveling of reality is because the Ryan Gosling character is dying after a car wreck, and his failing mind is working all of the people gathered around his expiring body into this weird fantasy world. But while the painfully obvious truth behind everything made me roll my eyes, the increasingly self-referential and recursive world that was created managed to hold my interest; as a matter of fact, during one scene I thought to myself "this feels almost like a Michel Gondry video", which is high praise indeed coming from me. In the end, Stay was a mixed bag for me; inventive visuals mixed with a pedestrian and ultimately predictable plot. Do with those mixed emotions as you will.


First Comic Week

2 Guys Buying Comics, the latest addition to my "must read" blogs has proclaimed that this is "First Comic Week", creating a nice blog meme asking folks to talk about their very first comic. How could I pass this up?

The biggest problem with the idea of a "first comic" is that I honestly have no clue what the first comic book that ever caught my interest was; I got hooked on my uncle's comic book collection before I can remember, so it's highly possible that my first comic was Nova #1 which I don't recall ever seeing at the time, but which my uncle says my young toddler hands destroyed. However, while narrowing down whether I was first entranced by Avengers #147 and the appearance of the Squadron Supreme or by my cousin's issue of Showcase #100 which featured practically every character to ever appear in that book is next to impossible, thanks to the beauty of the Grand Comics Database I was able to narrow down the list of suspects for the first comics I ever purchased myself. Being the sort to go overboard in all things (and, being totally overwhelmed by nostalgia by the whole process), I've decided to not just focus on my first comic, but on my first year of comic purchasing which, if my calculations are correct, began with the cover date of February, 1979. And what would that first crucial title be?

Super Friends #17 Feb. 1979. Honestly, I feel embarrassed that this is the first comic book I ever purchased. Not because it was Super Friends; well, not just because it was Super Friends. No, I'm embarrassed because there's absolutely nothing about this cover that I find appealing today. Which bring up an interesting point; not a single one of my well-worn issues of Super Friends still has a cover; heck I'm not sure any of them still have all of their pages. In fact, it's been so long since I've seen any of the covers that I had to double-check that this #17 was even the issue I thought it was, since the cover left me so under-whelmed. Even the story inside isn't all that great, all things considered; the Super Friends have been separated and tossed through time and space and have to find a way to survive. Of course, this issue did serve to instruct me in a few of the basic rules of the pre-Crisis DC universe, like the idea that the whole red/yellow sun thing wasn't just a Kryptonian thing, so that if a sun suddenly turned blue or white normal humans would suddenly become like Superman.

But while this issue doesn't hold up as well under my present-day scrutiny, I'm much more forgiving of the other issues of the series I purchased. For example, there's #23, which featured the Wonder Twins squaring off against the Mirror Master; #24, featuring the Wonder Twins evil twins; the Halloween themed #28 featuring Felix Faust and faux versions of Swamp Thing, Bizarro, Solomon Grundy, and The Demon (and which is one of the earliest memories I have of buying a book solely because of the cool cover); and my favorite of my Year One purchases, #25, where the mind controlled Super Friends try to take over the world and are stopped by a wide range of international heroes including future Justice League members Green Fury (who would later become Fire) and Tasmanian Devil, as well as Wonder Woman's African counterpart, Nubia. That's right, Nubia.

Man, sometimes I miss the 70s.

Seriously, how cool would that cover be to a four year old?

One month after picking up my first issue of Super Friends I moved on to the series it was descended from with Justice League of America #164 (March, 1979). Again, the cover doesn't strike the 30-year old me as anything that would catch my eye, but the story inside had more than enough off the wall goodness to keep my young mind entertained. While the cover focuses entirely on Zatanna's search for her mother, the first half of the book is actually concerned with the League's battle with Anton Allegro and his magic synthesizer. There's a great scene where Zatanna uses her backwards spell casting to give all of her teammates magic earmuffs to block out Allegro's attack; again, I really miss the 70s. I only bought one other issue of JLA during that first year, but it was a doozy: #171 (Oct. 1979), featuring not only a JLA/JSA team-up, which helped to fuel my love for all things Earth-2 already kindled by a few of my uncle's comics, but also the death of a hero. True, it was Mr. Terrific, someone I'd never heard of before, but still a pretty significant event. Unfortunately, it would be many, many years before I would be able to track down #172 and finally find out who the culprit was.

The next month I branched out to my first solo title with The Flash #272 (April 1979). Now, as goofy as the cover might seem (homicidal clown using a super-calliope to paralyze The Flash), I can see why it would have appealed to almost-4-year-old Cap'n Neurotic. Like a lot of titles at the time, the cover story only took up the first part of the book, while the second half set up a couple of mysteries which would consume the next several months of the series, primarily the creation of a character who I'm sure almost nobody else remembers, but who holds a special place in my comic geek heart: Clive Yorkin, crazed emotional vampire who for a time was the primary suspect in the death of The Flash's wife. Yorkin would play a big part of the next issue I bought, #278 (Oct. 1979), which also introduced me to perennial Flash villains Captain Boomerang and Heatwave; the scene where Flash kicks Boomer's butt was one of my favorite sequences of any book back then. It was rivaled only by the fight with Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash, a few issues later in #281 (Jan. 1980). Surprisingly enough, the Zoom-splits-in-half thing promised by that eye-catching cover actually happens in the book itself.

That same month I picked up my first Flash I also picked up the Superman team-up title DC Comics Presents #8 (April 1979). Again, not sure exactly what possessed young Cap'n N. to pick this title up, although I have a vague thought that this one was purchased for me, not necessarily by me; I could be wrong. Anyway, the comic itself is filled with all sorts of freaky scenes, like Swamp Thing having his arm ripped off and then slowly growing a new one, or him accidentally creating an army of Solomon Grundys, all of which probably added to the appeal. This is also the first comic I have a really strong recollection of making my dad sit down and listen to me read out loud. I also picked up #16 (Dec. 1979( guest-starring Black Lightning; this issue confused the heck out of me at the time, as it featured a character who jumped all over the evolutionary ladder, a concept that I wasn't quite up to speed with at the time. Plus, the whole "Black Lightning puts on an afro wig as part of his costume" thing didn't quite make sense to me at the time.

The next month I continued my exploration of the DC universe with Green Lantern/Green Arrow #116 (May 1979). This is another case of "I don't remember ever seeing that cover before in my life!" Also, this issue features an obscure villain that always springs to my mind when I think of GL, but which probably only a handful of other comic geeks know exists: The Crumbler. I always liked the visual effects of his power, for some reason, which is probably one of the reasons he's stuck out in my mind for so long. For once, I actually bought the subsequent issue, #117 (June, 1979) which featured the first time Guy Gardner donned the power ring; I just re-read this last night, and it's really odd to see a hesitant, unsure Guy, as opposed to the loony toons versions of Guy which would dominate during Giffen's run on the Justice League titles in the 90s.

My next new title to purchase was Superman #337 (July 1979). I've never been a big Superman fan, and would buy very few issues of this series over the years; in fact, the next issue I wound up buying years later was a direct result of my early love of this issue. The premise of the issue is that Superman is having a horrible day, as he's attacked by one super-villain after another, from the well-known (Brainiac, Bizarro), to the moderately well-known (Metallo, Toy Man), to the "who the heck is that cowboy, and why does his horse have wings?" (Terra Man). This issue would color my perceptions of each of these villains for years, even though they all turned out to be imposters . . . but perhaps I've said too much. Anyway, the character of Terra Man was just oddball enough for me to pick up any other book I saw with him on the cover, hence the later issues purchased.

Look, an actual Marvel title! Will wonders never cease? That's right, it took me around 8 months to finally join the ranks of Marvel consumers with my purchase of The Invaders #41 (Sept 1979). Another book whose cover has been gone forever, but as soon as I saw the scan on GCD I thought "that's it!" From what I can tell, this was actually the last issue of the series, and it’s pretty much non-stop action. Don't know for sure when I figured out that the series was set during WWII; I do know that the character of U-Man was directly responsible for me learning what a U-boat was.

Once the Marvel floodgates were open, they just didn't stop: next up was Micronauts #9 (Sept 1979). I had already been exposed to the Micronauts thanks to my cousin having a couple of issues, but this was a world of difference. His issues were set on Earth, where the heroes were the size of toys; this issue was set in the Microverse (yes, the Microverse) and introduced the warrior world of Sparta (a name which meant nothing to me at the time, but which now makes me roll my eyes). Even though I had a great love for the Micronauts at the time, the series was hard to find in my neck of the woods, and it would be many years before I would be able to expand my collection.

Next up I made a return to DC with the anthology title Adventure Comics #465 (Sept/Oct 1979) which featured four different stories: a Flash story where he talks to dolphins; an Aquaman story where he deals with underwater villains in Arctic waters; a Deadman story which boggled my young mind because I didn't realize that the reason nobody was reacting to his speeches was that nobody could see Boston at all; and, last but definitely not least, a Justice Society of America story which introduced me to The Huntress and prepared me for the JLA/JSA team-up that was to come out a month later.

Finally, we finish up my first year of comic buying with the reprint series Marvel Super Action #15 (Jan 1980), which featured an early adventure of the Avengers where they traveled back in time and witnessed the death of Captain America's sidekick, Bucky, a pretty pivotal event in the Marvel Universe. My grasp of the Avengers was pretty weird at this point in time, since I had gorged myself on all of my uncle's Avengers comics, which spanned a huge amount of time, from the first line-up, to the first big line-up change, to the days of the Serpent Crown saga. I had no clue how it all fit together chronologically, and yet it didn't matter; all that mattered was that they were all really, really cool, and I couldn't wait to read more.

And thus ends a brief (well, briefer than it could have been) run-down of my first year of comic buying as best as I can recollect; if I were to extend it just a mere two months, you would get to hear about the first issue of Uncanny X-men I ever got, smack dab in the middle of the Dark Phoenix Saga, but that's a story for another time.