Saturday, December 22, 2012

Xmas: Peanuts, 1964

Friday, December 21, 2012

75 Years of Jane Fonda

Controversial and whatnot, but I've always liked her as an actress.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Before It All Ends Tomorrow

Well, since apocalypse fever is going around today and tomorrow is either going to be the end or the most annoying day in the history of social networks, I just thought I'd put this up as a reminder to myself that, honestly, if the world does end tomorrow, it's not like the universe is missing out. This pretty much sums up my feeling of what the total contribution of humankind boils down to.

PS: Always bear in mind what Charles M. Schulz said: "Don't worry about the world ending tomorrow--it's already tomorrow in Australia."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Xmas: "Feliz Navidad"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #14. I love how merry it is. But mainly it's my Dad's favorite Christmas song, and hearing it just reminds me of Christmases with the old man.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

GUMDROP (2012)
Interesting, cute short film about a robot actress in a casting session. Nice special effects. ***

Tom Cruise runs, jumps, and screams after a MacGuffin, but with more wit and flair than usual, thanks to a screenplay and director that take the time to plug actual people into one of these fun-but-dopey action flicks. Easily the best of the Mission: Impossible movies, balancing out the hard action, fast editing, stunts, and scenes of Tom Cruise endlessly proving how young and cool he's desperate for everyone to keep thinking he is with some nice character moments and some real humor. Director Brad Bird doesn't quite make a tongue-in-cheek flick, but he does approach it knowing that there's humor to be found in how preposterous the whole thing is. For my money, Jeremy Renner steals the show, and Vladimir Mashkov is wonderfully droll as a Russian intelligence officer. Could've used at least 80% more Ving Rhames, but adding Simon Pegg in a larger role was an excellent choice. Let's have them both the next time. Hell, leave Tommy at home and let's just have a Pegg-Rhames-led flick, honestly. ***1/2

Beautiful-looking drama about a woman torn between the unstable lover who fills her with passion and the husband who offers her stability and love but not warmth or desire. Ultimately I found it too remote to really get wrapped up in, but Rachel Weisz is excellent in the lead. ***

I loved this flick. Coming on like the bastard son of John Waters and Russ Meyer, this is a hilarious, nervy, intense, sleazy, wonderfully over-the-top movie. Matthew McConaughey, in possibly his best performance since Lone Star (remember how he was an actor once?), stars in the title role as a police detective/contract killer hired out by a desperate family who has discovered that mom has a $50,000 life insurance policy and wants the money as soon as possible. It's a sinister, masterful film, one that delights in manipulation and begins a simmer almost immediately, coming to a boil with savagery and depravity and... well, I'll never look at fried chicken the same way again. The kind of film I rarely see, and which rarely works when I do, but this was just amazing. ****

KAUWBOY (2012)
Here. ****

Delightful Ghibli film based on Mary Norton's Borrowers books, which I have never read. Beautifully animated, and I really liked that the story was about a brave young girl without having to hit us over the head with lessons about feminism, as I get really tired of in American films. Show, don't preach, it's far more effective. I also like the way the film uses quiet and stillness to its advantage. That's something else I tire of in American animation: it's unrelenting loudness. Just a fantastic, beautiful film. ****

This reminded me a lot of a fantasy movie from the 80s, and I'll always like that feeling. Not really a great film, but it has some wonderful visuals and made me interested in finally reading the Earthsea books. (I read A Wizard of Earthsea in high school, and I'd really like to read it again and continue in the series.) Nice score. ***1/2

Here. ****

AMOUR (2012)
Unsentimental, yet heartbreaking. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva star as an elderly couple enjoying their retirement. One day, Riva's health begins to fail, and what follows is a calm yet harrowing examination not of the decline of our bodies and the inevitability of death, but the revelations of the true nature of loving someone for their entire lives. There will come a time either when you have to watch the person you love most in the world deteriorate before your very eyes, or when you will be the one who deteriorates and has to see the heartbreak in the eyes of the one who cares most deeply. What writer-director Michael Haneke is saying with this film, I think, is that the character of our love is not in happily ever afters or kissing in the rain, but in the real intimacy of trying to make your significant other comfortable as their days tick to an end. Haneke observes in a way that is confrontational, but not aggressive. It's a sincere, uncomfortable, excellent film. It's bracing and, as I said, unsentimental. But it's not cruel; it's vital. ****

WEEKEND (2011)
Interesting, surprisingly uplifting movie about two men who meet, make love, get to know each other, and go their separate ways over the course of a weekend. It's really a sort of series of conversations, but it's interesting how, knowing there's a deadline on their time together, they become so willing to reveal themselves. It's not forced; it's friendly and organic and the dialogue is very natural. My favorite thing to watch in movies is people making a connection of some kind, understanding another person, and this film was a lovely example of how difficult making a connection outside of what we're used to can be. One of the men, Russell, is guarded, slow to trust, and not very open about his sexuality. The man he meets in a bar, Glen, an artist, is much more open and easygoing, and goes straight to uncomfortable personal questions. Glen doesn't do boyfriends. Russell doesn't like to talk about sex in such a straightforward manner. The two of them manage to draw each other out and change each other. It's beautiful to watch. ****

Eh. *


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I had my trepidations for a number of reasons--mixed reviews, disinterest in the high frame rate 3D, the many times I've wondered if this really needs to be three freaking movies, the fact that I loathe Peter Jackson's last film, The Lovely Bones, with every fiber of my being--but of course late yesterday afternoon my wife and I went to see it and we both loved it.

Putting aside the question of whether it's really necessary that Peter Jackson take three movies to tell the story of The Hobbit, I thought the movie was exceedingly wonderful. The two biggest complaints about the movie seem to be that they don't like the HFR 3D--I just went to see it in perfectly adequate 2D--and that the movie is too bloated and too long. I kept waiting for the bloat and the filler and, honestly, I never saw any. Yes, I recognized that a lot of things were put in there that didn't happen in the novel or that weren't incredibly important to the story itself--except in the way that these movies have decided to also act as a stage-setting for The Lord of the Rings--but I don't really understand why that bothers anyone. Why should it? The Lord of the Rings movies were, for three years of my life, wonderful annual events that immersed me in the world of Middle-earth in a way that I really never expected them to. I underestimated the potential of those films, and they were wonderful surprises. A decade later, I underestimated again, and was just as wonderfully surprised.

So, it seems to me that the biggest complaints about this movie are really that we're getting too much of something great somehow.

Yes, the stakes are a bit lower. And yes, there is a lot more going on than in the original novel. But Peter Jackson has retained the heart of the story, which is that an Englishman goes to war and discovers himself and what he is capable of, and the true value of home. And that's a worthy story, and all of the additions and all of the time being taken to tell it do not diminish that story one bit. I wouldn't trade those magnificent stone giants, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy on a sled drawn by rabbits, or a single second of the escape from the goblins for a shorter running time. I really wouldn't. I'm in the best fantasy world ever created with the best tour guide I could imagine, and if he wants to take time out for subplots about warg-riding orcs or the White Council, I don't mind at all.

Some observations:

:: The running time gives Peter Jackson a lot of time to immerse us in the dinner scene and let us get to know the dwarves, and I love that. Yes, some of the makeup is a little silly--Becca noted that some of the dwarves' hairpieces look like combed-out rugs--but I like the diversity of the design and I don't think it's at the expense of being able to take the characters seriously. Richard Armitage is great as Thorin--Jackson shoots him in a number of slow, sexy close-ups, like he's on the cover of a dwarven romance novel--but my personal favorites are Ken Stott as Balin and James Nesbitt as Bofur. (Remember when James Nesbitt was going to be the Doctor? I really wish that had happened. Still hope it does, thought it won't.) The scene with the dwarves singing "Misty Mountains" is as good as I'd hoped it would be.

:: Some people don't like the introduction with Bilbo and Frodo, but I like knowing that he started writing There and Back Again on the same day as his "Long-Expected Party." (And yes, I do geek out, as I did in the LOTR movies, when they use the chapter titles in the dialogue.)

:: The way the film was shot gives it a high definition look that isn't quite as realistic as the LOTR films. I don't think it detracts, it's just something I noticed. This film has much more of a storybook sort of look to it.

:: Not that I need any more proof, but Barry Humphries is utterly perfect.

:: Lovely to be back in Rivendell, and I will never agree that the White Council scene didn't need to be there, because there's no such thing in a film ever as unnecessary Christopher Lee.

:: The actors are wonderful; Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis are of course excellent, but I can't say enough about how perfect Martin Freeman is as Bilbo. He plays Bilbo as an English country gentleman, which is of course exactly how Bilbo begins, and it is note-perfect.

:: The trolls were just so damn neat.

:: The "Riddles in the Dark" sequence somehow looks exactly, exactly as I picture it every time I read the book. The animation on Gollum was amazing.

I really have nothing bad to say about it. And from this point on, I don't see myself needing to engage in questions like "Is it necessary to have a three-film adaptation of The Hobbit?" because this film has satisfied me and I no longer really care what it "needs" to be, because I adore what it is. All I want to do now is go and see it again.


Spoilers, if anyone's interested.

This weekend, I saw a Norwegian film called Kauwboy. It was exactly the right film at the right time.

Last week was a hell of a week for me emotionally, starting with my devastation at Now Is Good and all of the feelings regarding my late sister that it brought up. I was emotionally worn out, and it turns out that was really a good place to be when watching Kauwboy.

It's the story of a 10 year-old boy, Jojo, who finds a jackdaw chick fallen from a tree and takes it home to protect and care for it. But the emotions that linger at the surface and almost refuse to rise to the top are the real story, and here's where I can't talk about it without spoiling the film's revelations.

Throughout the movie, Jojo speaks to his mother on the phone. We don't know much about her, other than she's a singer. We hear her recordings, and Jojo talks to her about how he and his father are, glossing over the messy bits--the father has a temper on occasion, and is especially against Jojo raising the bird, whom Jojo names Jack. What we find out gradually is that Jojo's mother isn't away; she's dead. She's died in an accident, and while the father refuses to grieve, the son refuses to accept that it's happened. His relationship with Jack, then, puts him in the position of being a caregiver, a nurturer, and a teacher. It gives him a connection to something alive and vital that his father is too emotionally closed off to supply and his mother is sadly not around to give him. The way Jojo cares for Jack in secret is at times fraught with tension, but always immediate: without Jojo to care for him, Jack will surely die. But at the same time, caring for Jack gives Jojo confidence and strengthens him.

The feelings are very complex, and the true complexity of them is only gradually revealed. And then comes the big, shocking scene, where Jack is suddenly killed. I assume going into any movie about an animal that the animal is going to die, but when it comes, it's so sudden and shocking that you almost can't comprehend it for a few moments. I assumed I would be devastated for the second weekend in a row, but I actually wasn't. Even as Jack's death reminded me of Thumper's death, which is still so fresh in my mind, I think I was all cried out. But what happened then was that it allowed me to move on from the death and see the real magic of the film, which is the way the death of something Jojo had reared and nurtured and cared for and had an emotional connection with finally allowed him to accept and mourn the death of his mother.

I liked that the film was ultimately about the way death is a part of life, and the way that having someone suddenly taken from us is hard to face, but eventually can be faced. There's no pat, generic happy ending; the triumph is that Jojo and his father both accept what's been taken from them and can finally begin to process their feelings about it instead of running away from them. It's the film I really needed this week, after last week's emotional workout, and I appreciated so much that it didn't shy away from how difficult a child's life can be, especially when that child feels cut off from his emotional support. The realism and matter-of-factness with which a lot of this is approached really saves it from being sentimental or devastating.

It's somehow the most affirming film about death I've ever seen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Song of the Week: "Christmastime Is Here"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #13. The best Christmas songs have a twinge of sadness.

My Only Thoughts on Marvel NOW So Far

I really like Thor: God of Thunder. I don't like most of the others so far because the entirety of Marvel NOW seems to be "Hey, isn't it funny that the Marvel Universe now has ten thousand heroes and eight lifetimes of continuity that we've all got to keep meticulous track of because somehow every one of these dopes is integral to the entire structure?" And to that extent, I really don't care. The Marvel Universe is, in my opinion, even more fucked than the DC Universe, because at least the DC Universe knew enough to pretend to stop everything and start over. It botched the whole thing, of course, but at least it's almost sort of possible to figure out what goes on in the New 52. Kind of. Nearly. But I am at sea with these Marvel books, and a lot of them just suck, anyway. The whole impetus seems to basically be "Hey, you liked it when Joss Whedon did it, so now none of our books are serious at all, and everything is a joke AND has dire consequences AT THE SAME TIME" while basically ignoring that the characters in Joss Whedon's movie were, like, people with problems and emotions and not just jerks acting cool all the time.

I enjoyed what Mark Waid did with the first issue of the 87th volume of Fantastic Four in remembering that Reed Richards is at his most compelling when he's sharing his fascination with science. The set-up for the new adventures sounds like it could be marvelous. But the whole "Well, first we've got to decide who's going to be the new FF while we're gone" angle is wheezy and done to death. Seriously, Reed, who gives a shit? I think if Galactus comes calling maybe one of the other ten thousand superheroes running around in the Marvel Universe can handle it, alright?

It's another one of those soft reboots they always did in The Avengers every few years: let's decide who the new team line-up is going to be by bringing in every character who was ever an Avenger for even a single issue and have an intense, unexciting meeting about it, thus reminding everyone why this book has been too frustrating to pay attention to since Secret Wars. Because why have stories and characters when you can just have roll calls?

Seriously, how can you expect us to value the abilities and uniqueness of your superheroes when ordinary humans are now the minority in your fictional world? How special is the Thing when you've got 14 characters with pretty much the same abilities running around? And why spend so much time right at the beginning of Marvel NOW reminding us of how badly you've cheapened the characters by overpopulating the place? So many of these new issues were just big jokes about which superheroes are going to be on which made up teams, which is about as exciting as watching kids in a backlot pick stickball teams, with the same level of emotional sophistication.

Can you tell a fucking story, please?