Tags: movies

in motion

ipsos custodes

Watchmen thrilled me, absolutely thrilled me, right up until the end. And then I felt a little bit like this:


It's not often I agree with Hitler (shown here in brilliantly mashed-up footage from 2004 movie Downfall), but changing the ending really did alter the meaning and significance of the whole dealio. I'm trying to understand why it was done... maybe a giant squid just seemed too silly on film?  Or maybe since Watchmen was first written, so many movies have used the idea of an alien menace bringing humanity together (see Independence Day, etc) that the idea has lost some freshness. But a perceived alien threat from the outside has entirely different ramifications than a threat created from within humanity (complicated by the wrinkle that the alien threat secretly is man-made), so it pretty well screws with the whole shape and meaning of the storyline to shift the blame onto Doc Manhattan. I can only imagine that the filmmakers wanted to make a different point, but I think it was the wrong choice. Even apart from wanting things to be Just Like The Book, I simply wanted better storytelling.

I also missed the little thread of scenes between newspaper vendor and the comicbook-reading kid, though the fact that the blast blows up two characters who look like them makes me wonder if their scenes might show up in DVD extras. I wish they had been in the movie, because the ordinary humanity of their scenes, and the beauty of their ending, was something that pulled the original story well down to earth for me. It also gave more emotional punch to their city's destruction, punch which was sorely lacking in the movie -- we see that a city blows up, but we're hardly allowed to care about it before the camera flits back to our heroes arguing up at the North Pole, then cuts to a quasi-happy aftermath. Since the entire first two hours' worth of plot has been built around the horror of this dreadful act, it is a major problem that the act itself is practically skipped over. Those scenes are all out of balance.

It was as though they were saying, "Okay, a city blows up, you've all seen this in movies before, you know how it goes, no need to dwell on the cliche." But it's not real to us unless they give it gravity and emotional truth. And that touches on another problem in translating the book to screen, which is how difficult it is to convey the true Cold War fear of mutual nuclear destruction. I was a kid in the 80s, and even I can barely remember how real it seemed that the US and Russia might blow each other up at any moment. Especially for a younger audience, I don't think you can just present that threat without working to convince us of its seriousness. The comic book came out in 1986, when the threat of an inevitable nuclear war seemed plausible. But here we are two decades later, and in retrospect, the threat seems highly unlikely: we know that neither side dropped the bomb. So if you're going to try and convince me that the threat (even in an alternate-world 80s with Nixon at the helm) is so desperately inevitable that the only way to avoid it is to blow up New York, you're going to have to try a little harder to sell that point.

Still... wow, did this movie get a lot right. The casting was stunningly well done, especially of all the male crimefighters; Laurie was less interesting but okay, and I did like her physical solidity. Seeing her stride/prowl through the prison break scene was the first and last time she really stood out as a powerful presence. Nite Owl, however, was a revelation, note perfect. And Rorschach in the movie was exactly the character from the book, only better. He's heartbreaking with his mask off, and with the mask on, he does some terrifically expressive physical acting. I didn't even recognize Billy Crudup until the credits rolled, but he managed to hit exactly the right mix of depth and remoteness as Dr. Manhattan, carrying the role almost on voice alone. Ozymandias was a bit more fey and flimsy than I'd pictured him, but he had it all going on: the megalomania, the pensive intelligence, the wheels within wheels that you can almost see turning when the Comedian (also perfectly played) sets fire to his superhero plans and introduces him to a whole new level of despair.

I could go on about the visual impact and atmosphere of this film -- it's freaking incredible -- but I'm sure there will be no shortage of people geeking out over this in one direction or another for a while, so I'll leave it at that.  In case my criticisms overshadowed my enthusiasm: let me make it clear that I was very impressed with this film.  I just wish, in a movie that did so amazingly well by the book in so many ways, they hadn't made that one decision about the ending that undermined so much of the story.


in motion

atta boy

 
Pär thought National Treasure was pretty decent entertainment.  I thought it was an abysmal piece of crap, so dumb and aggressively mediocre that it actually made me angry.  Therefore, when the sequel came out last year, we did not go see it.  But Pär is in Sweden now, staying at his parents' house, and they rented National Treasure 2

Jeremiah's been staying up really late over there because the sun only sets for about three hours in the summer nights, so they invited him to watch the movie with them.  When Pär told me about this on the phone, I started to splutter, and Pär said, "Yeah, I should have known; he's your son."  Here's how it went:

To give J an idea of what the movie was like, Pär showed him the trailer on YouTube.

Jeremiah solemnly watched the whole thing.  The minute it was over, he burst into tears. 

"That," he wailed, outraged, "was the LEAST INTERESTING TRAILER I HAVE EVER SEEN!

Then he collapsed into sobbing and had to be carried off and put to bed.

I'm so proud of my kid!
 
in motion

pasdar psa

All I have to say about the second season of Heroes is that I am so glad it's over, so I do not have to watch this ridiculous show in order to get my Adrian Pasdar fix. 

Instead, I am happily going through DVDs of Profit.  If you're not familiar with Profit: it was a short-lived tv series from back in 1996 starring Pasdar, co-created by David Greenwalt of Angel fame.  Pasdar is at his intense best here, playing a charming psychopath in the business world.  The show is smart, dynamic, disturbing, and tremendously fun if you like your humor dark.  There are only eight episodes; Profit never found more than a cult following and got cancelled quickly.  But it's amazing that it even got made on network tv in the nineties.  It's genuinely strange and original, and does its own thing with an independent integrity.

(Note to MB: have you seen this show?  It's tailor-made for you.  Just don't compare it to Dexter.)

If you want some vintage Pasdar, why not go further back to his cult roots and watch Near Dark?   Two significant vampire films came out in 1987.  The Lost Boys had pretty people, a budget, and the Coreys.  Near Dark had a nearly unknown lead, half the cast of Aliens, and a Tangerine Dream score.  They're both good movies, but Lost Boys, with its glammed-up pop 80's style, was the only one to become a popular success.  Near Dark is more adult, though; interesting and influential.  (Joss Whedon has cited it as a key inspiration in his vision of what Buffy could be.)  Unlike Lost Boys, Near Dark completely deglamorizes the vampire mythos.  There's nothing gothic about these bloodsuckers (the word "vampire" is never used in the movie), who roam the land like a band of cheap bad guys in a Western, wreaking vicious havoc and killing people.  A cute young Adrian Pasdar is the star, and while he has not fully developed his signature raspy voice yet, he's already got the smolder in his eyes. 

This has been a public service announcement for those of you who share my love for the Pasdar.  Enjoy!
in motion

devil wears prada

There's this scene at the end of The Devil Wears Prada. It's the inevitable "happy ending" where the nice girl, having learned her lesson about the dangers of losing her soul to the vicious fashion industry, goes back to her old life, her old boyfriend, her old (though jazzed up) look. The nice girl, Andy, opens the conversation by telling her estranged boyfriend, Nate: "You were right... about everything." He smiles incredulously, and they're back together.

I'm incredulous too. He was right about what, exactly? About all the pouting and refusing to talk to her when she came home late and exhausted? About telling her he didn't like the free clothes that looked fantastic on her? About the vague complaint that she was betraying "everything they believed in"?

What they believe in is never made clear; one presumes, between all the evenings where her friends hang out drinking and bitching about their crappy jobs, they've been thinking about maybe volunteering for the Peace Corps someday. Anyway, we get the point; their values have more to do with lifestyle than ideas. (No wonder they have to fight against the allure of fashion!) Fresh out of college, what Andy's crowd believes in, mostly, is maintaining their sense of who they are. Largely defined by who they're not: they consider themselves anti-fashion people, so placing any importance on fashion is a betrayal.

Andy knows this, and feels so guilty about it that it never once occurs to her to argue the reverse: that Nate has no respect for her hard work in a job that's changing her life. Instead, ultimately, she quits the world of her boss, Miranda Priestly, and sinks back into the comfortingly familiar and less demanding dynamics of her college relationships. You get the feeling she hasn't so much claimed her independence as given over control to a gentler tyranny.

The interesting thing about Andy's job isn't the fashion per se, unless you happen to be interested in fashion. What's fascinating is how it immerses her in a completely new world, in which she begins with no knowledge or competence, and gradually works her way up to being a capable, respected professional. The experience is also a springboard to whatever other kinds of work she might want to do. Not only for the reasons she thinks (resume, references, industry contacts), but because it's turning her into the kind of confident person who can get things done. It's teaching her to be an adult.

The job pretty much sucks, in lots of ways: it's stressful, often menial, it puts her in contact with awful people, and it eats her life.  But it's also an amazing apprenticeship and challenge. She's given herself a year to stay with it, which seems like the right amount of time for her; unlike Miranda, Andy doesn't want her life to revolve around this field forever. But then she doesn't stick out the year. Miranda is disappointed. I'm a little disappointed too.

Her boyfriend is thrilled. Right away he starts making plans for how she can come be with him when he moves to Boston. Never mind that she's applying for jobs in New York. You get the feeling Andy has learned her lesson from watching her boss's latest marriage end in divorce. She's overheard one argument between Miranda and her husband, and the fight wasn't about Miranda being a massive bitch; it was about her husband's anger that she's the more famous and powerful public figure. He didn't like being "Mister Priestly".

Andy isn't going to make that mistake. Just in case actually quitting her job and showing her soft white underbelly isn't enough, she sits there in that final scene and smiles while Nate reprimands her some more. He says that she had given him up, for what? For shoes, belts, hats, handbags. She meekly agrees with him, but he's wrong. It wasn't the accessories that took her time and attention away from him. It was the work.

The Devil Wears Prada isn't a truly great movie, but I can't dismiss it as just another smug cautionary tale of a naive girl who loses and then regains her integrity.  That may have been the original intention of the book it was based on.  But the subtle way the film undercuts the obvious surface message, mainly through the contrast between Meryl Streep's smart, passionate, powerhouse performance as Miranda and Anne Hathaway's pretty/vacant Andy, makes the moral more complex.  We know from the start how the story will end, but I didn't expect that saccharine conclusion to turn out so bittersweet.
in motion

not enough apocalypse

Someone had loaned us a pile of DVDs.  We sifted through them: comedies, action flicks, dramas, and then... The Order.   I stared at it.

"Surely we've seen this," I said.

"What is it?"

"Apocalyptic crap!  With Heath Ledger!"

"I've never heard of it," Pär said, taking the box.  He glanced at the cover and his jaw dropped.

"What?"

He read the full title out loud: "'The Order: The Souls Of The Bad.'  They're not evil, or wicked, they're just... bad."  He turned the box over, and read from the back: "'For centuries, a secret order has existed within the church...'" He stopped, and tossed the box to me.  "Yet another secret order within the church!  At this point, is there any part of the church left that isn't a secret order?"

"It's like one guy," I said, "and nobody invited him to be in any secret orders.  He's just plain Catholic.  He can't understand where everyone else runs off to on Sundays."

"They can't all gather on Sundays; they have to schedule around each another, so people who belong to multiple secret orders won't miss any meetings.  Like, 'We get Tuesday evenings for plotting ancient relic excavations, you can do your black arts rituals on Wednesday mornings.'"

The back of the DVD box showed a gothic cross with a series of mystical power words emblazoned across it.  I read them off:  "'SCIENCE.  FAITH.  IDENTITY.  DUST.' ...  'Dust' is supposed to get me excited about the story?"

Pär looked dazed by the list.  "BADNESS.  There should be one for BADNESS."

"The Souls of the Mildly Naughty."

"THE DEVIL SHALL CLAIM YE OF THE FAINT UNPLEASANTNESS AND LACK OF GOOD HYGIENE."

"Okay, so this movie is at the top of our list, right?"

And he had to agree that it was. 

So we saw it.  And five minutes in, realised that we'd seen it before... because yes, we truly have viewed every piece of apocalyptic crap on the market.  But we watched it again anyhow.  It should have been good!  Three of the lead actors had worked together in the terrific A Knight's Tale the year before, under the direction of the guy who wrote, directed and produced this movie, and who has a strong list of writing credits under his belt.  And also, uh, something called 976-EVIL, which maybe should have tipped us off.  Even some scenes with Peter Weller, who can be wonderful (hello Buckaroo), did not improve the situation.  On the imdb trivia page for The Order, it is reported that "Peter Weller did extensive research for his role by studying old religious rituals and histrionics."  I think maybe that last word was meant to be "history"?  But this way works too.

*

So last night I went out to the video store on an assignment to find new apocalyptic crap.  There is a surprising dearth of it this month; I guess horror is selling so well that anything edging toward it, Exorcist-style, just topples all the way in and becomes a cheesy slasher flick.  Whereas it looks like everything with supernatural religious tendencies is trying to be The Da Vinci Code, which I have to say is a dismal aspiration even for apocalyptic crap.  But I was steadfast in my quest.  I called Pär from the New Releases section.

"If you're near a computer, can you get to imdb and look up The Covenant?"

"Yes!" he said enthusiastically, responding, as I had done, to a title that was practically guaranteed to deliver the goods.

In fact I'd called him the moment I saw the title, without investigating further.  While Pär searched online, I skimmed the copy on the back of the box.  "It seems to be about the descendants of witches in the town of Ipswich, and takes place at a prep school."

"I'm looking at The Onion's review... oh dear."

"What?"

He quoted from the review: "'Crimes: Turning the story of five teenage boy-witches into a flagrantly homoerotic episode of Charmed... Allowing the line "How 'bout I make you my wee-yotch?!" to make it through every stage of production.'"

"...Yeah."

I heard his sigh.  "I suppose we could break down sometime and see Constantine..."

"Can't.  It hurts me."

"Okay, then you know what we have to do."

Half an hour later, we were snuggled up in bed to watch The Covenant.  The DVD menu came up, replete with driving rock music over flashes of the obligatory flaming pentagram, spooky mansion, boy and girl holding hands, grimacing boys throwing magical energy at each other.

"I'm worried," I said, "that there is not enough apocalypse in this movie.  Which would leave us with just plain crap."

"I suspect it is not Scottish."

"So far the best thing it's got going for it is that it might be like a homoerotic episode of Charmed."

"Without Alyssa Milano," Pär pointed out.

"Oh god!  What have we done?"

"Too late to turn back now!" he said.  The movie had begun.  On the screen was writ:

No one really knows how the Power came to be.

Not even the Book of Damnation recorded its beginning.

But those who mastered it have always been hunted.

I was giggling so hard the tears came, tears of sweet happiness.  "We have hit the jackpot of crap!"

The opening credits rolled over silhouetted witch-burning scenes accompanied by a soundtrack of techno-lite; with fine-tuned connoisseurship, Pär immediately pegged the genre subcategory as "MTV-Evil".

The story opened with some pretty boys flying off a cliff to a beach party.  "Evil beach party!" I announced, keeping the optimism alive, but it turned out to be not so much evil as just a beach party.  Various witch boys sported the same preppy haircut and generic teen-dream features.  "All these witch boys look exactly alike," I complained.  "I can't tell" -- I forced myself not to say which witch is which -- "them apart."

"I know," Pär said.  "Don't worry, soon some of them will die and it won't be a problem."  Sadly, this did not happen, and it was several minutes into the film before I could sort out the main characters.

At the beach party, the cops showed up.  The kids scattered, running off alone into a dark and spooky forest.

"Death Forest!" Pär shouted, but he was to be disappointed; everyone got away, leading the police on a merry chase that culminated in a flying car and the line "Harry Potter can kiss my ass!"  The police were left silently scratching their heads at the supernatural getaway.  I gave them a line of dialogue:  "If there's one thing I can't stomach about living in Ipswich, it's all the damn witches."

"Look how shiny that boy's face is.  Why does everyone in this movie have a sheen?"

"The omnipresent fog leaves them permanently moist.  Also they are sweating in anticipation of the reviews.  That one kid has some good charisma, but this movie would be better if Alyssa Milano were in it."

Alas, she was not.  And there was nothing apocalyptic about the plot.  Which left only... well, you know.

*

In summary: good times!
in motion

compass


I stopped reading the His Dark Materials series after the second book -- not out of pique or anything; I started out loving it, and then after a while just sort of forgot to care what happened next -- so I haven't been paying much attention to all the hype around the upcoming movie. However, since my f-list is full of people playing the "meet your daemon" game, I figure some of you may also like looking at this gorgeous alethiometer made by the artist at Curious Goods:





The entire Curious Goods site is astonishing, a personal site full of wizardly creations and information about the making of them.
in motion

dreamgirls

Dreamgirls?  AMAZING.  Reviews have been mixed and I went in expecting a good soundtrack and a so-so movie, but it was an all-out powerhouse.  Stagey and simplistic only in the way that all musicals are drawn in bold lines, but so well done that a wealth of personal and cultural meaning comes through.  Jennifer Hudson's performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" is hands-down the most incredible musical performance I've ever heard on film.  When she finished singing it, Pär (who unlike me is not a huge fan of musicals, and had to be dragged to see this) turned and stared at me and I turned and stared at him and we sat there hardly able to breathe.  Not the only time that happened during this movie, either.

Brilliant showcase for all the actors.  Beyonce is a little blank but it's appropriate to her character that she come across that way, and by the end she's pulling out all the stops.  Eddie Murphy runs the range and has some heartbreaking moments.  Danny Glover shines, and Jennifer Hudson is beyond outstanding.  Excellent casting across the board.

A central theme of Dreamgirls is the appropriation of soul/r&b music for crossover appeal, but the movie doesn't go into a close examination of the complexities within that situation.  What it does instead is to show us characters embodying different paths taken, and how they're each affected by this aspect of the business.  When we see Hudson's character painfully pulling her broken life together to shine in her strength at a nightclub, only to have her song turned into someone else's commercially successful glossy disco hit, the contrast speaks for itself. 

It adds resonance to be aware of the people these fictional characters are based on, because the movie does interesting things in showing the changing times in which parallel events took place.  But don't go into it worrying too much about how accurate the storyline is or where it diverges from reality, because ultimately it's a musical, and musicals are their own worlds.  They envelop you and take you into a place of showy ritual and symbolism, where all the things that usually get held in, or said wrong, or stuttered out in drab bits and pieces over a lifetime, can pour out in glorious song, making them less realistic, but resoundingly true.  Catch this one on the big screen.
in motion

gonna try with a little help from my friends

In The Getaway, about an hour and a half into the movie, just as Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw are pulling into the drive-through: the camera lingers for a few seconds on a man riding past on a motorcycle, with a white dog sitting on the back.  Is that Ringo Starr, doing an uncredited cameo?  I ran the scene in slow motion trying to figure it out, and either it's Ringo, or there were just a lot of Ringo-looking guys around in 1972.  Either is possible.  Does anyone know?

I would so love to believe there's somebody in my life who knows this.