Friday, July 28, 2006
As for me, I kind of liked it. Even sitting beside someone who was alternating between boredom and fury, I thought there were some great things about the movie. Of course, the biggest and best thing about it was the assistant editing. I know there were six credited on this one, but you could FEEL Kevin Hickman's personal contribution to this film. We stayed until his name scrolled up during the credits, and then clapped. Every now and again, a movie will come out that will tell everyone what they need to know about what's cool at that exact second. What cars are cool, what hair styles, what clothes, what jewelry, what everything. Miami Vice does that for the summer of '06. Mann shoots close-ups of jewel-encrusted watches, he shoots white, almost featureless Range Rovers as they pull up to the front of the club, what Crockett and Tubbs drive and wear seem to be important. When they have to get off of land, we see the very best in small planes and far-ranging "go fast boats" that allow their owners to drive from Miami to Cuba on a single tank of gas. Oh, and mojitos are the cool drink at the moment. I don't know what it was before, but now it's mojitos. The film's primary concern is dropping you fast and hard, naked and scared, right into the high-stakes world of undercover, narco-law enforcement. If you don't understand everything that's happening, Mann's not worried. If you have to feel along with the plot at certain times, he's fine with that -- even if it's not clear who sold which shipment of drugs to whom, or who's in league with whom and who's betraying who, you won't miss out on what's important. And the only time it gets boring is at the end, and that's not really all Mann's fault.
The ending was originally supposed to take place in a South American city where another part of the film was shot. The production started to film there, gun violence took place away from the actual filming but on the set, and so Jamie Foxx and his entourage were out and told Mann he wasn't coming back ever. As a result, Mann had to change the locale of his film's finale from this visually stunning, kinetic and frightening place no one's ever filmed before, back to the comparatively humdrum docks of Miami. As the final sequence degenerated into tired old drug deal cliches ("Show me the money and I'll show you the dope!" and "Send the girl!"), and then into gunfire, I could feel the bottom fall out of the movie. I would much rather have seen what kind of stuff would go down in this other part of the world (in which they'd filmed another scene earlier in the film) than how a gun battle on the Miami docks would go down. So the ending was a letdown. But anyway. It's Michael Mann, so if you're into film, you ought to go see it.
After I dropped Daniele off at the Marta station, I drove home and shortly thereafter finished The Ruins. I enjoyed it. It's a 319-page novel about four characters in a survival situation. It's pretty grueling at times, but after I was done, I felt almost viscerally that I had been there on that hill with those people, and endured what they'd endured. The geography of the book is minimal, just one big hill really, so there's not a lot to keep track of, but what there is seems to take on a life of its own in your head. As fast reads go, they don't come much faster than this book. There are no chapter breaks, so it keeps at you relentlessly all the way through. The whole novel's told in the third person limited voice, which means the narrator's inside only one character's head at a time. Each section is told from one of the four main characters' perspective -- one trick Smith pulls off is that he manages to make all four characters interesting and real -- not easy to do. I think for those who don't generally enjoy well-written genre fiction, specifically horror fiction, they may find the nature of the protagonist too silly to find much to be frightened by -- I was having a little trouble with it myself at time -- but for those who do appreciate these kinds of stories, the aims of their writers (to create in the reader a feeling of horror), than there is much to recommend about The Ruins. Ben Stiller's production company has bought the film rights to this one, and though I think this could make a great horror movie, I do wonder if a studio would let them make this the way it is. It's a dark, hopeless story, but exceptionally well-done.
All right. That's it. Have a good weekend everybody.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
And if that weren't enough evidence that NCSA SOF Class of '99 weren't taking over all media, belated Inanities congratulations go to Craig Moorhead, who's nominated for an Emmy. Read the post in full here. I guess when National Geographic films a lion kills a lion cub, Craig cuts that stuff together to make it look like the lion really feels bad about it, even though it doesn't. Right? Isn't that what NatGeo editors do? Actually, the stuff he was nominated for was some hard-hitting documantaries about Hurricane Katrina. Great job, Craig and I hope you win.
And finally, has anyone who reads this thing seen Entourage? Peggy borrowed the first season on DVD from someone at work, and I've watched four episodes. It's kind of okay as a show, but I find myself getting too annoyed to get into it. One guy makes it big as an actor. Starts his rise to A-list status in the City of Angels, and brings three of his friends from back home to be his assistants, his entourage. Only one of his friends is half smart. The actor himself, Vincent Chase, is so laid back about everything from his career to his lovelife to his finances, you want to grab him by his throat and shake him until he dies. The other actor half-brother, Drama, is a halfwit. The fat guy is a complete idiot, and the one guy who's kinda smart, isn't too interesting. Ari the agent is the only interesting character, and he's such a slime most of the time you kind of root against him. After having watched these four episodes, I'm kind of surprised this show clicked with anyone. Do people really enjoy watching a bunch of dumb mooks from Queens living it up in Los Angeles? Who have no real problems other than should they buy the $350,ooo car, or just lease it? Maybe people watch it for the cameos.
All right. If I don't blog tomorrow, have a great weekend.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
I saw this today and I thought it was very funny. For those of you who don't tune into the rap stations in whatever city you happen to live in, you may or may not get this cartoon. If you do, and you totally get it but still don't think it's funny, I'll just have to try to get a laugh out of you another day. Anyway, it's from this website. Check out the other cartoons if you get bored.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Monster House: Awesome. Lady in the Water: An Embarassment. The Internet: Dying. This Blog: Experiencing Declining Readership. The List Goes On.
Anyway. I saw Monster House and Lady in the Water over the weekend (yes, I know, I'm a studio executive's wet dream), and I'm just briefly going to talk about what I liked and disliked about each one. All right, let's get into it.
1) the voice acting was excellent across the board.
2) Where the motion capture they did for Polar Express made me feel like I was seeing dead people, the motion capture in this one was very good and the lifelike human movements were really startling and fun to watch.
3) one of those rare movies that's as fun for kids as it is for adults.
4) voice cameos by Jason Lee (as Bones) and Jon Heder (as Skullington) are worth some serious laughs. Jason Lee's Bones pointing at the 12-year old hero and saying, "You lie," is a lot funnier than it has any right to be. That's the genius of Lee for you.
1) There isn't much here to dislike. If there was anything, it was a minor quibble. This movie was some very fun stuff and made me remember how fun Halloween used to be back in the day. They got a lot right with this one. Definitely reccomended.
Lady in the Water:
1) Paul Giamatti.
2) The cinematography. I know it's just a guy who gets out of his chair, hits a button on the Panavision, and then sits back down, but the team Christopher Doyle surrounded himself with did some interesting work. Nothing groundbreaking, but just solid, good-looking stuff.
3) One thing you can count on with a Shammy movie are some good scares, and he does some up right here. And though there are a couple that are just straight-up crank-up-the-volume scares, most of them are honorably obtained.
1) There's really too much here to list, but I'll try and detail the worst of it. The big one is SHYAMALAN'S TREMENDOUS HUBRIS. Was Spielberg this bad in the day? Hitchcock? I seriously doubt it. Spielberg was smart enough to know that putting his own mug in his movies wasn't going to help anyone, least of all him. But Shammy wants desperately to be one of those film directors who makes it into the collective unconscious as a spinner of tales, and a maker of dreams -- a la Spielberg and Hitchock -- and though the talent might be in Shammy somewhere, latent, to help him become that kind of filmmaker, his outsized ego is such that creating out and out classic movies, the kind that Spielberg and Hitch used to churn out every year, does not seem like a realistic goal for him.
You know how annoying Shammy is in his other movies. You know how with each successive movie it got a little worse until he gave himself a pivotal role in Signs? And though he backed off of this habit a little in The Village, he did himself one better for this one. Shammy plays a writer in Lady in the Water. A writer whose ideas are supposed to change the world. The whole reason the Bryce Dallas Howard character comes into our world from her world, the Blue World, is to see him. Because he's that important. His ideas are that good. His writing is that fantastic. If this character had been played by another actor, it would still be a blatant example of Shammy's titanic self-regard, but that he himself played this character, whom he wrote for himself, is such indescribable vanity, that it completely sinks this already bad movie. Just sinks the fuck out of it. The worst thing about Shammy being in this movie in such a large and pivotal role is something every reader of this blog (all 10 of you) already knows, and it is this: M. Night Shyamalan is a terrible actor.
He sucks at acting. He surrounds himself in this movie with real and talented actors and they make him look even worse than he is because they create light and he merely absorbs it. He's like Orlando Bloom in that respect, except Orlando Bloom can at least project Elf-like intensity. Shammy can project nothing. Shammy working at a dinner theater in the north Georgia mountains would be bad enough, but blowing his face up to a 20'X40' screen does his acting ability no favors. When a great actor delivers a line or a look on the big screen, it's fantastic -- it's one of the joys going to the movies affords. But when a bad actor delivers a line or a look blown up so big, like Shayamlan, all you see is his wooden presence, his infuriatingly and eternally placid expression, but most of all, you see his dead black eyes. Whether you're telling him to fuck off or telling him you love him, his dead eyes gaze upon all he surveys with the same implacable deadness. God damn him.
2) The story. Shammy calls Lady in the Water "A Bedtime Story". This is a cop out. Because he wrote a script that features scene after scene of exposition, pulls new plot points out of his ass, he calls it a bedtime story, because that's how you tell a bedtime story. You make stuff up as you go along for seemingly no reason at all. This whole script was a massive failure of imagination -- in that he was just as imaginative as he could be, but he couldn't think of a good way to fit all of this imaginative stuff into a 2-hour "M. Night Shyamalan Film". And that's half the work. Anyone can think of purple castles floating through a green sky where winged pygmies patrol the air and blah blah blah, but making us care about all of that crap is the real trick. You got to writer some actual characters to make us do that. And where the plot should seem like it couldn't have happened any other way, this one feels like it could have happened any thousand different ways, and probably should have. In a word: arbitrary.
3) The film critic character. A book and film critic moves into the apartment complex at the beginning of the movie. He's a sour and unlikable guy, of course. The hero, Giamatti's character, approaches the film critic for advice about midway through the movie. The advice turns out to be wrong, with unhappy results, and during the postmortem, what-went-wrong scene, the dialogue takes a turn for the stupid when the complex's group of helpers start to jump on the film critic in absentia for being "too certain". I know. Frickin; stupid. In the very next scene, the film critic gets his comeuppance, and it is so clearly Shammy taking out some of his anger at the critics who don't "understand" his films, that it comes off as petty and juvenile. This little film critic subplot makes Shammy look like a bratty child getting back at daddy for telling him to go to his room.
Like Aintitcool's Moriarty said in his review of the movie, this entire film is the result of Shammy going too long in his career post-Sixth Sense without anyone ever telling him "No." Now that Lady is on its way to tanking, methinks that if Shammy wants to make another big-budget "M. Night Shyamalan Film", he's going to have to give up final cut and script approval and some of those perks he's gotten, at least for a few films, because with Lady in the Water, he's proven that he can't handle them. I still think a great Shyamalan movie is in our future, and that he's capable of making it, but for a filmmaker with real talent, this movie is a real embarrassment.
Anyway. As the month draws to a close, I'd like to draw your attention once more to the Literary Smackdown. Only seven days left in this month's competition, and so far only one entrant. Me. I know. Weak. What I don't know is where everyone went. Was the smacking too harsh? Did Troglodytis render the whole notion of winning and losing irrelevant with his agressively retarded voting? Do the monthly prompts suck? Is everyone busy? If anyone has any advice on how to make the Smackdown enticing to would-be writers, or whether Hinesy ought to close up shop on the thing for awhile, go ahead and let me know. All right. Enough for tonight.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Ugh! All I Do Is Watch Movies! Why Can't I Broaden My Frickin' Horizons A Little, Huh? Anyway, here are some more movie reviews.
I liked The Matador, though by the end I found it a little slight. It's about a hitman (played by Pierce Brosnan), who's starting to break under the pressures of his job. While doing a hit in Mexico City, he meets a businessman (played by Greg Kinnear), who's in town for an all-important pitch meeting that will make or break his career. Even though Brosnan's world-weary cynicism has made him into a drunk and a crass hedonist, he and Kinnear's square midwestern character manage to become friends. Back when it opened in theaters, The Matador was roundly praised for Brosnan's performance, and the adulation was deserved. He's excellent in the role and makes an essentially unbelievable character seem believable. I think Richard Shepherd, the writer-director of the movie, is to be commended for keeping his movie focused on his characters and their burgeoning friendship, but there were a couple opportunities they had to heighten the stakes of the movie, but Shepherd wastes, ostensibly to keep the stakes low and the circumstances suitably light-hearted. It's difficult to let on what I'm talking about without giving away some of the movie's low-key surprises, but I think that raising the stakes in a comedy is rarely a bad thing, and this movie could have used a little raising of the stakes. But aside from these blown opportunities, The Matador manages to be a fresh little comedy that made me smile a lot, even if it didn't make me laugh much.
I also watched the Sarah Silverman movie, Jesus is Magic. The majority of the film consists of one of her comedy shows in Los Angeles, and the rest consists of a bunch of little sketch-y vignettes that act as filmic riffs on the jokes in her show. None of these work too well, but the footage of her on-stage with a live audience is the heart of the movie, and she's hilarious in it. Silverman's whole on-stage character is an obliviously bitchy, racist Jewish girl. Most of her punchlines seem to involve one coyly-delivered revelation about her seemingly limitless racism after the other. Some critics have said her material is only funny because she's the one saying these racist things, and all of the "comedy" comes from the juxtaposition of the speaker and the speech, but I think she's funny because the person behind the persona is so angry, and, as with most successful comics, people respond to her underlying anger. She says in the bonus features, after she makes some off-hand cruel remark in her Sarah Silverman persona, and she smiles and shrugs and says, "I'm sorry. I'm always slipping into that cunty thing, but..." But it's her so-called "cunty" thing that people love. So when she says a joke like, "I think you always have to make fun of yourself. I'm constantly telling that to Asian people," what makes it funny is that it's cruel and it's pithy, but also that her naive, pretty girl persona makes the statement ironic, and therefore safe to laugh at. So all the racist jokes we hear that we feel offended by are now rendered safe because we're now laughing with Sarah Silverman at the person who would tell that joke and find it actually amusing instead of ironically amusing. And because she's made taken the teeth out of the hard racist edge of the materal, we can also, on another level, feel free to laugh with the "racist" at stuff we'd never laugh at under ordinary circumstances, and that freedom feels good. Maybe it's not as complicated as all of that, but Silverman makes it all look pretty easy and I laughed very hard pretty often. Ask Peggy, she'll tell you. Though she won't come right out and say it, she can get pretty annoyed by how loud I laugh sometimes. Big lungs, big laugh. How it is. Anyway.
Between the time I started this post, and the time I'm writing these words, I saw Monster House. I don't want to go into it now, but I will say it's an excellent movie. Judging by the reviews coming out today, seems like Monster House is a much safer bet than Shammy's Lady in the Water. Wow, is that one getting some bad reviews. Anyway, have a good weekend, er'rybody.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
While Hanging Out With a Trio of Pushy Keeshonds, I Watched Me Some cable TV. This Post Is A Chronicling of What I Watched
For instance, I watched the tail end of one of the so-called "lost episodes" of Chappelle's Show, and it was hilarious. It was the racial pixie episode. ("Say herro, Roro.") Damn funny. There was a thing where they showed a clip of MTV's Cribs and a rap duo called the Ying Yang Twins were showing their house to the cameras. They were acting very crazy and Dave Chappelle pops up at the bottom of the screen in blackface, complete with top hat and white gloves, and says, "I never thought I'd say this, but I'm embarrassed." Rough stuff, but also hilarious. I can't help but feel a little cheated that Chappelle left the show. I understand his confusion about whether his comedy was "sending up racial sterotypes or reinforcing them", as he said in the GQ interview, but damn, adjust your comedy to suit your new sensibilities, or start a new show or something --but just to leave us without any new Dave Chappelle content. A stand-up tour where tickets are going for $75 or more a pop isn't good enough. What about a Half Baked 2, huh? C'mon, Dave. We'll go see your block party movies if you take out all that boring Erica Badu music and do two hours of comedy. If $50 million dollars won't do it, what the hell will?
Anyway, I also saw the third and fourth installments of the new TNT miniseries, "Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes" while I was at my folks' house. This stuff is, surprisingly, really good. In all the years people have produced Stephen King material for broadcast on the small screen, this is by far the best stuff they've produced. The actors are first-rate (William Hurt, William H. Macy, and to a lesser extent, Tom Berenger and Claire Forlani), and the production value is very high. Each one-hour installment makes the 3-hour abomination that was Desperation look like an undergrad's film project. The first one's entitled "Battleground" and it stars William Hurt. At the beginning of the episode, Hurt's character kills the owner of a toy company. A day or so later, back at Hurt's tres chic, fortress-like San Francisco apartment, a mysterious package is left at Hurt's door. He opens it and finds a bunch of green army men. And then... that's right, you guessed it, they come to life and go on the attack. This is King's homage to Richard Matheson's famous short story, "Prey", where the doll comes to life to kill a hapless young woman, (incidentally, the teleplay was written by Matheson's son), and it works very well.
Though "Battleground" is, at heart, a silly story, it's got some really surprising whimsical flourishes that make it a lot of fun and much better than the typical Mick Garris-directed ABC miniseries crapfest. And, also, there isn't a single line of dialogue. The two I watched today, "Umney's Last Case" and "The End of All of That", were both in the same goofy but riveting vein. Here's why I think Nightmares and Dreamscapes is so good when most of his stuff that's been on recently has been so bad:
Stephen King has no creative involvement in it. He's not writing the teleplays, he's not behind the camera, he's not making cameos -- none of it. He's letting people who know how to make movies do their thing, and the results seem to indicate that he should never adapt anything else of his ever again. He should just write the raw material and let others do as they will. Let everyone play to their strengths.
Anyway, Nightmares and Dreamscapes is some good television. Ya'll would do well to check out an episode. "The Road Virus Heads North" is going to be a good one. I think that's airing this coming Wednesday.
Before I go, a semi-interesting note: I watched both the last 20 minutes of The Chronicles of Riddick and the first 10 today, and I was once again persuaded that the film is a minor pulp science-fiction masterpiece.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I thought of The Matador, and Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic. Here's a hint: I liked them both. Allright, I'm putting myself to sleep. I'm done.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
On Sunday afternoon, Peggy and I went over to the Tara and saw A Scanner Darkly, a film directed by Richard Linklater and adapted from a Philip K. Dick novel.
The film is set seven years into the future. America's current drug of choice is a mean little number called Substance D whose side effects include seeing bugs that aren't there, hyper-paranoia, and making the two halves of one's brain fight each other for primacy. Like marijuana, crack, and crystal meth before it, Substance D and those who use and sell it are target #1 in the War on Drugs, and the tools of the trade have become very sophisticated.
The film follows an undercover drug agent named "Fred" (played by Keanu Reeves) who works at the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Fred's undercover idenitity is Bob Arctor, a druggie who uses Substance D and pals around with a bunch of other D-heads, played by Robert Downie Jr. (who's hilarious) and Woody Harrelson (who tries to be). When he returns to his office at the OC Sheriff's Office, Fred wears a specially-designed suit that cycles through millions of other faces and torsos -- this so none of his colleagues in law enforcement can ever know what "Fred" really looks like. The cumulative effect of watching Fred in his suit is a little disorienting -- one second he's half black middle-aged woman and half white tattooed street kid, and the next he's half-white middle-aged businessman and half-Asian college girl. Maybe disorienting is the wrong word. Nauseating is better. Anyway, the plot, languid and slow-moving though it is, becomes slightly more engaging when Fred is assigned by his superiors to spy on himself.
The movie's not plot-heavy. Aside from the last 15 minutes, A Scanner Darkly concerns itself primarily with depicting the world of Substance D, particularly among those who are addicted to it. Most of the screen time is spent hanging out with Arctor and his D-stoner friends Jim Barris (Downie Jr.) and Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson). By lingering in their pharmalogically enhanced world, we get to see all of the negative side effects Substance D has on its users. One, they get very paranoid (and often with good reason). 2) They cease to make sense when they speak. So about half of the movie is chilling out with paranoid and incomprehensible idiots talking about whether a bike has the right number of gears, or experimenting with a homemade silencer. I laughed a lot during these scenes, mostly because Robert Downie Jr's delivery is brilliant -- he makes most of his lines sound improvised, which only amps up the humor. Though these scenes have humor in them, there is also a deep undercurrent of squalor, both environmental and mental, and hopelessness. A lot of the story is based on Dick's own drug experiences and you can almost hear his voice beneath the soundtrack whispering, "Don't do drugs. Don't do drugs." Because absolutely nothing good comes out of this kind of drug use, for anyone. By the time the credits rolled, I felt a little wrung out. I was happy to be out of the world of Substance D.
The animation aspect of the film, the rotoscoping, was visually compelling but I'm not sure what it added. It didn't really feel "trippy" if that's what they were going for. It was just interesting.
A Scanner Darkly isn't a bad movie, but it felt pointless, which itself was probably part of the point. There will always be drugs, there will always be people who use them, and our own governments will expend countless dollars and man-hours to combat it. The effort will always be futile and all of it, the abuse and the work to stop the abuse, is meaningless in the end. I sense that there's more to be gleaned from this movie and probably the Philip K. Dick novel that it's adapted from -- themes of betrayal, identity, and power -- but I wasn't inspired by the film to plumb its recesses for deeper meaning, or to read the novel. It left me kind of cold. Well-done and not boring, but not my cup of tea.
[Finally: What is it with Philip K. Dick and his weird pseudo-WASPy character names? In Blade Runner the hero was Deckard. In Minority Report, the hero was Anderton. Now Arktor. It's like the extent of his thinking on naming his protagonists was to think of a regular boring white-guy name, like Decker, Anderson or Archer, and then just change a letter or add one. It gets to a point where you can identify a Philip K. Dick story by just the goofy last name of the story's hero. Anyway, thought I'd get that off my chest.]
One last thing. The trailer is up for The Prestige, Christopher Nolan's new film. The trailer's tantalizing, but more importantly, the film, starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Hugh Jackman, looks impossibly good.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Anyway, I've accumulated a bunch of stuff to blog about (mostly movie reviews, of course), but because I don't want this to be one of my needlessly bloated blog entries, I won't write about everything all in this one posting. I'm going tobreak it up over the week. I'll give you a little TC Boyle today, some Scanner Darkly tomorrow, maybe a smidge of Matador on Thursday. Who knows? I'm just going to stay loose and write whatevuh. I'm writing this post because I just tripped up a little in my novel-writin', and blogging right now is infinitely more attractive than going back to rewrite the last 6 pages that I just rewrote. Efrickinnuff already.
Anyway, so Thursday night Peggy and I went to the Margaret Mitchell House in downtown Atlanta and sweated to TC Boyle reading from his new book Talk Talk. (I say we sweated because the AC wasn't able to keep up with the global warming outside and the 100 or so fidgety writer-types inside). I don't know if you've seen Talk Talk in bookstores yet, but it's probably the least appealing cover you'll find on the New Fiction shelf. It's a close up of one corner of a person's open mouth and the title and the author's name are located inside of it. He told us he liked the cover for precisely that reason. "It's gross," he said. "I like it."
TC Boyle looks like Lance Henriksen's less craggy, less hungry brother. He came up to the lectern after a lengthy introduction that described what must be the perfect life for a writer. He's been teaching creative writing since he was 21. He has his doctorate in 18th-century English literature. He studied with John Irving, John Cheever and Raymond Carver at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He lives in the first house Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Santa Barbara (average temperature year-round: 72F). He works less than 40 days a year teaching at USC where he and Aimee Bender are paid to attract wide-eyed wannabe writers to USC's high-priced writing program every year. And he writes all the time, publishing a couple well-reviewed books every year. Thanks, TC. I guess it doesn't take as much to succeed in this business as I thought. I needed the reality check.
Anyway, he was a little stilted at first but warmed up quickly. He read the first chapter of Talk Talk, which was pretty good. He took questions from a bunch of folks and then we all went out to the porch of the actual Margaret Mitchell House so we could get our books signed. All I had was an old McSweeney's Quarterly thing (like a magazine, but this particular edition was hardbound) that contained not only a TC Boyle short story in it, but also a DVD on which he (among others) reads aloud from his short story. He was a little surprised to see it and said he hadn't ever watched the DVD but it had been a lot of fun to make. And that was it -- we were on our way back to the car and out of the heat. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He's the only writer I've seen who didn't sit behind a table to sign books. He stood in front of the table and received his visitors like he was glad they came. I got the impression he really preferred a little discussion over a polite exchange of pleasantries. As a result, the line moved very slowly.
Before he began his official reading Boyle asked how many writers were gathered in the audience. He guessed "about 97% of you are writers." There was a quiet murmur of uncomfortable laughter. TC did not smile. "I find that to be true in most cities." By the looks of the crowd -- pale, uncomfortable, largely unattractive -- I would say his estimate was probably close to the mark. But, if that's the case and the people who are primarily interested in literary authors and their literary books are other aspiring writers, than where are the readers of so-called '"serious" fiction who read with no alterior motive? Are we daft, dreamy, delusional few just writing for each other? That question, coupled with TC Boyle's impressive, almost impossible pedigree, took a little of the fun out of the whole thing for me. It all felt a little more unattainable. I managed to shake off the feeling later, however, and submitted gratefully once more to the warm embrace of my delusions.
Also, the MM House announced that Elizabeth Kostova, author of a novel entitled The Historian (an interesting reimagining of the Dracula story) is going to do a reading later this year, as is the brilliant but depressing Richard Ford, author of Independence Day and The Sportswriter. I'm looking forward to both. Anyway. I'm off to lovely Oxford to watch the dog's while my folks are away. More tomorrow.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
By Popular Demand, Chick Flick Entitled "The Devil Wears Prada" Reviewed! Also, A Hilarious Trailer for Your Thursday Evening Amusement
Based on a novel by Lauren Weisberger (whose own experiences working for the editor of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, form the basis for the novel), the story centers around recent Northwestern graduate Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathway), who comes to New York City looking to become a journalist but finds out that no one in the big city wants to actually hire her as a reporter. So she interviews for a job at Runway (the film's stand-in for Vogue) as the editor-in-chief's assistant. The Editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly, (played by Meryl Streep) is the Devil who wears Prada, and though her character isn't nearly as terrible as the title insinuates, she's very good as the tougher than average boss-lady. There are some movies that Meryl cannot come in and save, (like Prime and Prarie Home Companion for example), but what she can do is come into a solid studio entertainment like this, and then class up the whole place by being an actress first and a movie star second. I think they cast Hathaway in this because she's just playing a slightly older version of her role in The Princess Diaries. Apparently, people can't get enough of her going from frumpy bore to Audrey Hepburn in a single montage.
Here's what I liked: 1) Meryl Streep's character gives a fantastic speech to Anne Hathway that concisely explains how the sometimes ludicrous clothes we see on runways in Paris and New York filter down to the rack at Target. Great writing like that helped me believe, at least for the two hours I was there, that fashion really is important. Stanley Tucci's character adds a few stories that give weight to the idea that fashion actually can be an artform.
2) I had to think too long to come up with a second one, so I'll just say that everything else that is good about this movie is merely that: good. Nothing else aside from Meryl's assured and entirely believable performance, really stood-out.
What I didn't like was this: 1) The dude who played the young actor who gets murdered in L.A. Confidential -- you know the blonde guy who got arrested by Kevin Spacey during the "Movie Premiere Pot Bust"? He's in this thing, and I don't know what happened to that guy in the nearly 10 years since that movie came out, but his eyebrows have become lfrightening, strangely-colored things that are far too big for his face. They looked like they'd been glued above his eyes by a nervous make-up girl. And though his character was supposed to be a suave, worldly writer, he was just dull and eyebrow-creepy in every scene. Blecch.
2) Meryl Streep's little smile at the end. Hathaway's character ended their professional relationship badly, Meryl's character has proven herself to be cold, though essentially human, and some days after Hathaway quits her job, the former combatants spot each other from opposite sides of the street. Anne waves and Meryl stares at her, doesn't wave, and then drops into her car. As they drive away, Meryl smiles wistfully. Completely out of character and it was the only time I didn't believe Meryl was this character. Not every character has to be redeemed, Hollywood. I promise.
Anyway. Not that any of you are going to rush out and see this thing, but if your wives or girlfriends want to go see it, I'm just letting you know it won't be as grueling an experience as you might have thought.
Also, I laughed very very hard today. Not House of Dogs hard, but very hard. I don't know if it was because I'd just read Moriarty's Miami Vice review on Aintitcool.com, but when I saw this trailer for the new Reno 911 movie called Reno 911: Miami, I about busted a gut. It is exactly the opposite of Michael Mann's movie. Click here and scroll down. It's hosted on YouTube.
Anyway, I'm off to see TC Boyle at the Margaret Mitchell House. I don't expect to talk to him because I'm not having any books signed, but I'll let you know how it goes.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Jonesing Hard for the Final Harry Potter Book, Peggy Asks the Important Question: Which Harry Potter Character Are You?
I stumbled onto this website called beliefnet.com that has a bunch of quizzes about your personal beliefs and religion and stuff. AMONGST them is, oddly enough, a quiz called “Which Harry Potter character are you?” I thought this was too funny not to take.
Regular readers of this blog will be surprised to learn that I was NOT Hermione, rather I was Albus Dumbledore. Apparently, I’m more eccentric than we knew!
Please share your results . . .
Monday, July 10, 2006
"Superman Returns": Still Disappointing. "Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest": Bloated and Farcical, But Better Than the First.
We were at the movie as part of a social event for Peggy's business school class, and we had a pretty good turnout. After the movie was finished (2 and a half long hours later), Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest was showing on the screen directly opposite our screen and that screening had also just ended. So half of the group went home and the other half decided to drive over and re-set-up and watch Pirates. Even though I was not particularly enthused to see the movie (I hated the original), there is something kind of fun about seeing a movie the rest of the country is obviously ga-ga for ($55 million in one day) on opening weekend. So here's the verdict: though Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest is not a great movie, probably not even a good movie, it is not awful, and it is a marked improvement over the first.
Here's what's good about it, in a SPOILER-FREE manner: 1) Depp. He made me laugh out loud a couple times, mostly because of that makeup they did on his eyelids. Maybe I was punchy because it was so late, but I thought it was frickin' hilarious.
2) Bill Nighy as Davy Jones. It's a brilliant performance (facial motion capture, I'm guessing). I think it's as nuanced and compelling in its way as Andy Serkis's work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Throughout Pirates 2, the CGI work here (as far as I could tell on the fairly distant drive-in screen) was flawless.
3) Davy Jones's crew. These freaks and monsters are genuinely, legitimately disturbing creations. For younger viewers (and probably not a few older viewers, too) these things are the stuff of honest-to-God nightmares. The hammerhead pirate-monster in particular stands out.
Here's the stuff that sucked, also in a spoiler-free manner: 1) Orlando Bloom. Holy Christ, he sucks. He brings absolutely nothing to the table. He is bereft of charisma, his acting ability ranges from angry and defiant to ... maybe that's it. He was very good at scanning the horizon in Lord of the Rings. Maybe we should find him more roles doing that.
2) The script. Terry Rossio (among others) throws a lot of stuff in here for the characters to chase after (a key, a chest, the content of the chest), and he has "fun" with the characters finding and then losing all of these things for 2 and a half hours, all the while, everyone else's minds have turned to mush watching this thing. When Orlando Bloom and some other guy have a swordfight on a giant, rolling water wheel, I realized that any hope I might have harbored for a comprehensible story (faint to begin with) were finally crushed. (Also: these Pirates movies, for all of their pretensions of being throwbacks to more swashbuckling fare, have the most reliably terrible swordfights I've ever seen. Why is that? Couldn't someone set up a screening of The Princess Bride for the writers prior to the writing?)
3) The length. Neither Black Pearl nor Dead Man's Chest need to be 2 and a half hours. Just not necessary. After an hour, you start to feel every minute of this thing.
On the plus side, the laughs are there, (though sparse and largely absent from the last hour and a half), and the CG effects and the hammy pirate acting are often interesting enough to power skeptical (not to mention sleepy) viewers through to the end of this bloated spectacle. On the other hand, if you liked the first one, you'll probably love this thing.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Putin Makes Everyone Feel Uncomfortable in Front of the Kremlin, and Klasfeld's "LA Riot Spectacular" Set to Explode at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theaters
The video opens with Putin standing in front of a small boy in a large city square (the Kremlin courtyard as it turns out). A crowd quickly forms around the two of them. Putin begins to kneel, hesitates as if reconsidering, and then takes a knee in front of the boy. It sounds like he says "Hello!" to the boy as the cameraman gets closer to the scene. The boy seems like he wants to get away, never really making eye contact with Putin. Putin touches the boy's shirt. The boy starts to walk away, possibly towards a parent, but Putin gently grabs hold of the boy by his sides and brings him back. Putin rubs the boy's sides while he looks at the kid, considers for a moment, and then lifts the boy's shirt and quickly kisses his stomach, as though if he does it fast enough, maybe no one will notice. There is a quick edit and we are in front of Putin and his security team and he is walking towards the camera at a brisk clip, and then he is off, headed camera right towards, one might assume, the Kremlin. The effect of the edit is that Putin is nearly running away from the scene.
It's very very weird to me. When I saw it, I theorized that, perhaps, this clip might have given us a glimpse into some dank, repulsive corner of Putin's psychology. After seeing the video, the word that seems to stick in my head is 'helpless'. Putin seems totally helpless NOT to mess with this kid, even with a camera there and a large group of bystanders. I shudder to think what might have happened had Putin come across this kid where there weren't any other people. I think the tenor of this scene is ickified because the child is not in the same frame with his parent (nor does Putin seem to look for one to ask permission), and the child does not seem particularly cheerful about the attention. Anyway. Enough icky theorizing.
Apparently, this video has been broadcasted all over the Russian TV networks and everyone over there's buzzing about it (which makes me think I'm not the only person who's developed some unsavory theories about the Russian President). So, yesterday, Putin did a Kremlin Internet Conference, which was open to questions from average Russian citizens and people from all over the world. Thousands of the submitted questions were about the stomach-kissing incident. So Putin responded. This is what he said:
"He seemed to me very independent, very serious, but at the same time a boy is always vulnerable. He was very sweet. I'll be honest, I felt an urge to squeeze him like a kitten and that led to the gesture that I made. There was nothing behind it really," Putin said, smiling."I don't think this statement does much to put to rest any lingering feelings of ick, but there it is. Thought it was creepy enough to share.
Also, the movie I worked on back at the end of 2003, Marc Klasfeld's opus, The L.A. Riot Spectacular, will be playing in Los Angeles on August 11th at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theaters. So if you're in Los Angeles and an outrageous musical version of the LA riots appeals to you, head on down to the Sunset 5, plunk down your $14 or whatever it costs in Los Angeles these days to see a movie, and watch the thing. Then let me know how it is. Apparently Variety liked it, though I am a little suspicious of the ellipsis before the word 'hilarious". The DVD's supposed to come out in the fall, but it would be awesome if this thing had some luck in theaters. Anything can happen.
Anyway, that's what I've got for this week. Have a good weekend er'rybody, and I'll be back to blab more next week. Peace!
Thursday, July 06, 2006
First, let me say that I thought Brandon Routh was perfect as Superman -- it did take a little convincing for me to believe that Routh wasn't just a soap actor who got lucky, but after the jetliner sequence, I was sold. Routh is Superman. I don't think anyone will ever trump Christopher Reeve for sheer Supes perfection, but Routh is as close as we're going to get, and that's fine with me. What was most surprising about Routh was how much he often sounded like Christopher Reeve. He could have been a voice double. Also, Kevin Spacey was great as Lex Luthor -- though I don't think they gave him a whole lot to do -- I guess I feel the same way about Spacey's Luthor as I did about Hoffman's Mission Impossible villain. Both movies would have been much improved had they been given more screentime.
The only real casting misstep for me was Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Bosworth's very much a girly girl, and I think the role of Lois Lane calls for more of a woman -- I think of Margot Kidder's Lois back in '79 and I compare her with Bosworth's Lois in '06, and they could still be mother and daughter. What's sort of peculiar for me is this: Bryan Singer wants me to believe that Superman, who could have any woman he wanted in the whole world, is still hung up on this mousy girl with the limp-curled brown hair and the anorexia-stretched skull-face? Didn't buy it so much. Part of the reason for this (aside from unfortunate hairdo choice and Bosworth's obviously overrestrictive diet) is that Bosworth is only 23 years old. According to the film's backstory, she and Superman are supposed to have romantic history (the first two Reeve Superman films are supposed to be a part of this film's narrative continuum) -- he left 5 years ago and now he's back. So Lois was already an intrepid reporter at the Daily Planet at 18? And an unwed mother to boot? Where did she find the time to raise her kid and win a Pulitzer all before she was done being a teenager? Maybe I'm quibbling here, but this is, to me, an instance where Hollywood's youth-centrism has gotten out of hand and has found a way to undercut one of the most expensive movies in history. I think Singer made a real boo-boo here.
I also noticed patterns in the movie that, sad to say, got tedious for me. Once Superman officially returns in the film, the action seems to hinge on whether Superman can fly fast enough or lift something that's very heavy. The objects get increasingly larger and unweildy, but Superman's always up to the task. Ahem. OF COURSE he's up to the task. He's Superman. Which probably touches on the primary difficulty in making a Superman story interesting. He's invincible. He can do pretty much anything. The fun comes in watching him be invincible and doing stuff that no one but an all-powerful alien could do, and watching him try and hide all of that talent beneath the nerdy Clark Kent disguise. The ace in the hole that all Superman writers have used (and have had to overuse), is Kryptonite -- it never fails to make Superman vulnerable and, thusly, interesting. So when Singer and Co. introduce Kryptonite in Superman Returns, everyone prepares for some new complexity in the plot. Well, not quite. When Supes gets his first taste of the green stuff since the end of his 5-year hiatus, he gets beaten to hell and nearly drowns. And even though he has a Kryptonite shiv broken off in his back, he manages, somehow, not to drown. This puzzled me. I always thought that Kryptonite made him mortal -- if he's got some of it literally lodged in his body and he's underwater for too long, doesn't that mean he'll drown like any other human would? Apparently not. Later, when he's lifting the trillion-ton rock from out of the Atlantic, there are giant shards of Kryptonite sticking out all around him. Supes has got some big worries now. He won't be able to keep lifting all of this weight when there's Kryptonite so close to his face he could lean forward and kiss it, right? Well, actually, he can keep lifting it. Why? Because Bryan Singer says so. The Kryptonite doesn't effect him so long as the plot requires the giant rock he's in the process of lifting be carried off of our planet. And then Superman gets it out of orbit, then he falls, lands in Central Park, people think he's dead, but then he's not, and I'm thinking, "Huh?" and everything kind of stops making sense. Not to say that Superman Returns necessarily has to be cinema verite and all the rules that have ever applied to Superman must apply perfectly to this new incarnation, but I would expect a little consistency from one reel to the next. Compare Singer's disregard for these basic tenets of the Superman story in Superman Returns with Goyer and Nolan's reverence for the central tenets of the Batman story when they did Batman Begins and the comparative quality of these two films becomes somewhat more stark.
As for the Christian overtones that some of the critics have been talking about (I think Time magazine referred to Singer's "savior complex"), I noticed them, and I thought in some cases they were overt and more than a little calculated, but by and large I wasn't bothered by them. The mythology of Superman was inspired by the Jesus myth from day one. Jor'El sends his only son, Kal'El to Earth to serve as humanity's Protector. Fairly straightforward substitutes for God and Jesus. It's kind of a take it or leave it thing because the Christian themes are so inherent in Superman's backstory. So when Luthor's thugs are beating Kal'El in what felt like an indulgently drawn-out fashion, either intentionally or unintentionally mirroring parts of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, I thought Singer's sin was that he didn't more fully explain Luthor's seemingly limitless (and irrational) rage towards Superman, not so much that he borrowed liberally from stock Christ imagery. (I'm not sure, but did Singer want us to watch the original again so we could remember how Hackman's Lex Luthor came to hate Superman? I don't remember Gene Hackman's Luthor to be a quarter as sadistic as Spacey's Luthor, so the rage really seems to come from nowhere).
It was more than obvious that Singer was intent on playing up the similarities between the Superman mythos and the Christian mythos -- at their core, both are about (as Kevin Smith once said) battling superheroes -- and I do think he let it get away from him a few times. First, when Superman flies up above the atmosphere after seeing Lois with her new family, he has this extended moment where he "hears everything", and when he hears something bad about to happen, he bolts earthward to save the day. This is, I imagine, not too far off what many Christians imagine Jesus does. Not that he's necessarily hovering above the Earth answering prayers, but that he's always there, listening, prepared to act. The scene reminded me a little of Bruce Almighty, which isn't a good thing. And then later, near the end, when Superman is sitting on the bed beside what turns out to be his 5-year old son, and says, his face beatific and saintly, "The father becomes the son, and the son becomes the father," I thought it sounded fishy. I get the second part as it relates to the story -- men who have children become fathers where before they had been only sons -- but the first part sounds suspiciously like a nod to some of the more devoutly Christian moviegoers, something designed to allow them a knowing and self-satisfied nod at the true meaning of this phraseology (something about the Holy Trinity, I don't know). But these are the only moments when I think Singer's and Warner Bros.'s intent is nakedly calculated to win the hearts and minds of the Born Again demographic, but otherwise this film only borrows, usually subtly, from the Jesus story. Superman Returns is no Chronicles of Narnia.
The main thing Superman Returns does is shake the dust off the character as it exists in the minds of most people -- as those old Christopher Reeve movies from the 80's -- and makes it viable and relevant again. Though Superman stories rarely make for compelling drama owing to Superman's usual invincibility, they're perfect for high-stakes, big-budget, special-effects laden popcorn movies with loads of spectacle and mindless entertainment. And if a Superman movie allows us to reexamine our need for heroes (or "saviors", as he's called), or even lets us look inside our capacity to mindlessly rally around a leader we view as "good" and "pure", in other words our capacity to embrace fascism (Frank Miller, for example, has always viewed Superman as a fascist character), which Superman Returns does, then all the better.
As for the 3-D aspect of Superman Returns: The IMAX Experience, I give the 3-D a definitive thumbs down. I don't know much about how the 30 or so minutes of 3-D footage came to be in this movie, but I know that I've seen much better 3-D in other films and I expect that if James Cameron and George Lucas are so excited about 3-D that they think it's the future of cinema, then they're obviously talking about something different from what I saw last night. When it came time to put your 3-D glasses on, a set of green 3-D glasses appears at the bottom of the movie screen -- this means you have about 3 seconds to get those things on your head before the screen goes all blurry. The 3-D effects were blurry and streaked here and there with inexplicable shards of white transparency, as though I was somehow able to see through the projected image to the blank screen behind it. Very disconcerting. Each time it was a relief to go back to the regular image. The trailers were also shown in 3-D, but the 3-D effects on the CGI animated trailer for Open Season were pretty great -- which made the 3-D sections of Superman Returns all the more disappointing.
I'm seeing it again at the drive-in on Saturday, so if my opinion changes on a second viewing, I'll let you all know, because, of course, you all are dying for my opinions.
Monday, July 03, 2006
Early in the clip, Mitchell asks Bennett a question about the legality (or morality) of releasing classified material (rightly or wrongly classified) -- he starts to answer and then Andrea Mitchell cuts in with a quote she's got a graphic for, and then, without giving him a chance to rebut, she goes to Bill Safire. Tim would have let Bennett respond. And then later, Mitchell is talking to one of the other panelists and says, "But what Bill Bennett would say to that," even though the Bill Bennett in question was sitting right next to her. Anyway, it was a weird segment and I think Mitchell, who's guest moderated before, is out of her depth in Russert's seat. He's got to stop letting her do it.
Anyway. Hope everyone had a good weekend, and have a spectaculnormous Fourth.