Wednesday, June 30, 2010

special effects point zero

i was going to write a post for today about the first season of life on mars, touching lightly on john simm's ability to cry on cue (truly miraculous) and philip glenister's ability to bluster and mow down on sarnies, also on cue (also miraculous -- and slightly stomach-churning).

but instead i'm going to write about ray harryhausen because the man is 90 and he is awesome. in fact, he may be one of the top 10 "made of awesome" people ever. he even got his own evening at the bfi to showcase precisely how awesome he is: guardian coverage of same evening here. look at the people in that room: phil tippet (i want to see that short), dennis muren, rick baker, george lucas, james cameron, peter jackson -- the list goes on and gets more staggering.

this is all for a guy who, basically, spent a lot of time making octopi out of modelling clay and figuring out how to make a plasticine medusa scary. which seems really ridiculous until you sit down and watch it came from beneath the sea -- one of my personal favorites for the peculiar interpersonal relationship between the main characters alone, to say nothing of the huge octopus -- or clash of the titans or jason and the argonauts. yeah, they look stilted and kind of funny given the sexiness of effects we're used to now -- but if harryhausen hadn't put together his plasticine skeletons and clay octopi and made them work in a very real way, then there would have been no rancor, no terminator, no kraken, no predator--- the list just goes on.

i'm sure there are plenty of other people who should get listed with harryhausen as "special-effect pioneers" -- melies, lang, and lots of other people i'm not clever enough to remember the names of -- but harryhausen, for me at least, probably tops the list. if nothing else, working through his back catalogue will give you a really interesting netflix queue for awhile!

and the harryhausen stuff still works if i knew precisely why, i'd probably be a very highly-paid film executive somewhere living in a perpetual haze of air-conditioning and expensive espresso, but i don't and i'm not. but go and watch jason and the argonauts or the original clash of the titans -- there's something highly watchable about the claymation monsters and beasties. and, yes, part of the watchability is that if we look at the 1981 kraken, we can all look back a few years and see the 2006 kraken blowing johnny depp's hat off. and, yes, in comparison the hand-molded beastie does look a little silly -- but it's still kind of scary. and, if you're a little kid, downright terrifying. it's still big and inhuman and just damn strange. it's a monster in all the ways a monster is supposed to be.

and without the claymation kraken in 1981, there really is no cgi kraken in 2006 because -- well, why would there be? someone has to be the first to make it apparent that something is possible. and then other people take it, elaborate on it, invent quicker, better, shinier ways of doing it. that doesn't invalidate or devalue the original demonstration of what could be done.

which is precisely why in the corpse bride, the piano victor is playing on is called a 'harryhausen.' happy birthday.

Monday, June 28, 2010

short thoughts: "whiteout"

don't bother.



one of the few movies in the past...oh, year? or two? that i haven't finished.

and this is with a cast which claims, as headliners, alex o'loughlin and kate beckinsale.

first -- why cast o'loughlin if all you're going to do with him is illustrate him with excitingly detailed tattoos and show him in one totally gratuitous shirtless scene? i mean, yes, thank you, he's lovely without his shirt on but -- on a base in antarctica? i'd consider having my shirt permanently attached to me.

and that's it, folks, say hello and wave goodbye to the nice australian man.

and kate beckinsale should have known better -- there is nothing happening in this movie. really and truly. nothing at all.

it's a shame because with the cast -- solid b-list plus beckinsale, o'loughlin, and tom skerrit -- they should have done better. and the basic idea -- first murder (maybe) in antarctica -- is a good one. creepy, atmospheric, weird, definitely cold.

but it isn't any good at all, really.

there's a weak attempt at a plot twist which just comes too late to be of any use. there's a lot of mumbling early in the movie when there should have been some plot development and character introduction -- but there isn't. there's snowstorms which pass for tension-inducing. there's irrational leaps in the story which...well, they just suck.

personally, i turned it off to go watch the us get pwned by ghana.

Friday, June 25, 2010

friday fun times

enjoy some movie trailers, folks.

first off, we've got red, written by warren ellis.

it looks kinda like wanted for the driving miss daisy demographic but, hey, with that cast, how can i not watch it?

centurion, neil marshall's new film, which makes me happy because...

...well, 'cause of lots of things really but look! there's mickey the idiot! i know, i know, his real name is noel clarke and he's an awesome actor and doing some great things not being mickey the idiot but, honestly, i'm pretty much always going to think of him that way, largely because i learned to love mickey.

and this just makes me happy because it finally looks as though maybe, just maybe, my birthday won't be used as a day to release movies which suck:

i love danny trejo's line: "does this look like a team-orientated group of individuals to you?" but i'm not sure about adrien brody as a "mercenary." admittedly, he might be great in the stealth department 'cause i'd sure never expect to see him armed!

there's also new resident evil which i was all kinds of excited about -- until i realised it was being released in 3-d. i have a very rough relationship with 3-d since i wear glasses. just like i can't be further back than the second row in a yoga class or i can't see what i'm supposed to be doing, i can't find a comfortable place to sit in a theatre and wear those stupid little damn glasses.

but for this?

i just might make an exception.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"a little fucking solidarity goes a long way."


first of all, lets get one thing straight. *ahem**kofkof*: sunshine, 30 days of night, alien, aliens, city of lost children, alien: resurrection, pitch black, the abyss.

and this is just a partial list of the movies that pandorum is really really obviously "inspired" by. there's a couple others that i know are out there but i can't quite put my finger on it. if i think about it a bit more, i'm sure they'll come to me.

i heard some really bad reviews of pandorum when it first came out that put me off seeing it in the theatres; had i realised that paul w.s. anderson co-wrote it, i would have had more faith. i know that this anderson -- there's another paul anderson out there in the film-making field -- isn't exactly "flavor of the month" for a lot of genre fans, but i think he generally turns in pretty solid, watchable work. occasionally it wanders into the bizarre, but, hey, you fire him off a franchise and you get shit like the 3rd resident evil and the 2nd alien vs. predator. the man knows how to put together your basic summer blockbuster.


so the rough outline of pandorum might be described as follows: huge spaceship out in the middle of nowhere. we get a very sketchy fill of recent past history: the earth is vastly overpopulated and dying. population is shoved onto said giant spaceship and sent off to colonize -- and probably destroy in the fullness of time but whatever -- a new planet discovered out in some immeasurably distant galaxy called tanis. of course, the shit is going to hit the fan here in some pretty big ways, right? it's just a matter of when, how, and precisely how much.

the squishy brown matter begins to strike the rotating blades when an unidentified crew member -- ben foster -- wakes up suddenly and unexpectedly from hypersleep. he finds himself in a powered down, cold, dark ship he only vaguely remembers. he doesn't know his own name, what he's supposed to be doing, how to do much of anything. as time passes and we wander around the ship with him, his memory comes back -- but he very quickly realises that he's stuck in a pretty small room. he knows -- rather vaguely -- that there's a lot more ship out there and that things aren't supposed to be like this -- but he can't really make anything work and he doesn't know what to do.

when another crew member -- dennis quaid -- wakes up, the problems begin to multiply pretty quickly. the ship's nuclear reactor is working and powering the ship -- a little spasmodically -- but it's set to go critical in a few hours; the other crewmembers are all missing, the door to the bridge and the door to the outside world are both locked -- but there are signs someone's been trying to force their way out. neither of the two men remember doing it -- but someone must have.

get the idea?

it's a pretty straightforward closed system monster movie; experienced fans of the genre will more or less be able to count out the beats in the pattern: one two three four -- discover near-feral ex-crew member -- one two three four -- get attacked by unrecognizable weird-ass monsters -- one two three four -- discover weirdly mutilated corpses...

so pandorum definitely doesn't do anything in the way of bringing brand new ideas into the genre or reinventing the space-going monster idea. the monsters themselves are -- competent and there are some great actors inside the suits doing some of the posturing and body language that makes them alarming if not outright frightening. but, really, they're just peter jackson's orcs crossed with joss whedon's reavers. there's nothing here you haven't seen before and once you realise that they work to basically human logic -- no funky extra limbs, strange powers, magic extra sets of jaws -- they're not too intimidating. so they like to hunt people, drag them down, and eat them alive. who hasn't had a bad monday, right?

so if the monsters are no big draw, why keep watching? well, what's interesting here is the attempt to create a meta-story around whether or not the monsters are real. and what's really happening on the ship.

as foster's character goes deeper and deeper into the ship in an attempt to reach the reactor and reset it to not blow the ship to hell, he meets up with other survivors of past crews who give him insight into other views of the ship and other views of what has happened to it.

meanwhile, back in our original locked room, quaid has drawn another survivor to him -- a shocked, naked boy tumbles out of the ventilation duct, gabbling about monsters and having had to "do" something. as time passes -- and the monster narrative really goes nowhere interesting; there are some suggestions that it might, but it doesn't so don't get your hopes up -- the interesting story is happening inside the skulls of foster and quaid. and maybe this new survivor -- cam gigandet displaying some nice scenery-chewing chops -- or maybe not. the survivor might be psychotic. or quaid might be. or foster might be -- if he isn't when he starts, he sure as hell might be by the time he finishes!

the special effects are good but really what kept me sitting here rather than hitting "back to browse" or reading a book were quaid, gigandet, and foster. and i'm impressed by a movie where there's a sidekick character who speaks no english (cung le as manh -- i don't actually know what he was speaking). and where the female character -- although the only one and something of a defacto token -- can take and deal damage on a level usually restricted to the hero or at the very least to male characters. antje traue (nadia) does an excellent job of being an independent, self-motivated character with only the occasional slide into t&a. she takes on a final confrontation with quaid -- in a revelation scene i won't spoiler -- with guts and style.

quaid and gigandet, particularly, help to hold the middle part of the movie together. gigandet goes from being a quivering sack of shock-ridden jelly to...well, lets just say someone with a lot more self-control in a very interesting way. i think ben foster could have picked up the ball a little more; there are definitely more than a few scenes he sleepwalks through rather than taking them and shaking them until their little necks break as he did in 30 days of night, but where he does pick it up and go, he goes well.

so, yes, don't go in with huge expectations; go in for a competent gore-party (it isn't a fest; it mostly isn't that bloody) and i'd say it's worth the hour and a half. there are bits that get a little draggy, but i think it's worth it to see quaid and gigandet face off.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

things look bad. send chocolate.

feeling kind of uninspired this week, folks. one of my jobs is ending, my other one is ramping up hours but only for a week or so, and there is continual construction near and about the apartment which is unconducive to rest and relaxation, let alone coherent writing.

so here are some other interesting things for you instead...

an article about justin cronin's new vampire book, "the passage."

a much more positive review of david kynaston's family britain than my own.

edited highlights from the saville report on bloody sunday (the one in 1972 in northern ireland). (and if you're thinking, "gee, you do irish history. shouldn't you have more to say about this enormously important report than a one-line write-off in a links list?" you'd be right. and i do. but i need time to catch up on all the coverage first!)

and some more relaxing things....

lots and lots and lots of pretty pictures of ilm special effects.

some absolutely fantastic costumes (and more) from dragon-con courtesy of jen at the epbot blog who also does the wonderful and wonderfully wrong cakewrecks blog.

and warren ellis's take on the england/us soccer match last saturday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

very very hot things (pt 1)

anna's introduction...

Summer has well and truly arrived in Boston, which means days at a time where the humid heat rises into the 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) and even after the sun goes down continues to radiate heat up from the ground where we've "paved paradise and put in a parking lot." We don't have a/c in our apartment, so weather like this means breaking out the fans, taking cold showers long and often, downing gallons of iced tea, and falling asleep with damp washclothes on our foreheads like I used to do as a child back in Michigan. The kind of weather that always makes me think of the passage on Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird in which Scout observes:
Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
How to combat the teacake-y feeling? Or at least distract when there's nothing to be done but wait it out 'til the next thunderstorm blows through? (again: I'm reminded of Garnet in Elizabeth Enright's Thimble Summer who lies in her bed every night listening to the distant echoes of thunder in the mountains, from rain that never makes it down to the shriveled plains) Why, watch movies, of course! Movies in which characters suffering from heat and humidity to a greater degree than you are suffering from heat and humidity (a little schadenfreude never hurt anyone, right?)! Movies in which characters are freezing their asses off and can only wish for the warmth you are currently enjoying in surfeit! And of course, for prolonged, multi-part distraction, television shows in which characters suffer heat and cold (sometimes both at once and more besides!)
Hanna and I have, accordingly, drawn up a four-part list of one hundred movies and television shows from which you can choose your distraction in the sweltering months to come. We'll be delivering it to you in four installments over the next month broken down thusly (links to come as posts go live).

Week One: Movies Wherein Characters Are Hotter Than Blazes
Week Two: Movies Wherein Characters Are Totally Chill
Week Three: Television Shows Wherein Things Happen Which Are Hot
Week Four: Television Shows Wherein Things Happen Which Are Cold

Crandall's Savoy Theatre

Obviously, as with previous such lists, the movies and/or television shows are chosen completely at our discretion and we reserve all rights to bend, twist, knot, reverse and otherwise alter the criteria of each week and the meaning of each movie to fit our desired titles on said list. We make no claims to comprehensiveness or gravity of thought -- these lists pretty much end up on paper (er, web pixels) as they pop into our heads, with little by way of composition or editing.

Please feel free to add those titles which you feel we have unjustly overlooked -- or merely those which you find help you out in an effort to beat the heat. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy!

Movies Wherein Characters Are Hotter Than Blazes

Jaws (1975)
H: jaws must be right up there in the ...oh, the top three, i'd say, for "quintessential summer movie watching." this first list is supposed to be "movies to watch when you want to feel hot" and this should do it for you. just when you're thinking, "gosh, that water does look nice and cool---" nope, not so much. that water looks nice and sharky. yeah, i know the shark kinda sucks -- it bounces and the teeth don't look right and the tail is a little weird but if you don't at least twitch when it rears up out of the water beside roy scheider, i think you're probably wrong in the head on some level.
A: Hanna finally made me watch this on a warm night last summer during which, if I remember correctly, they were performing horrendous road construction activities outside the window. Luckily, the dialog isn't all this has going for it -- though Richard Dreyfuss does a thoroughly charming turn as the enthusiastic shark expert from out of town, brought in on consultation that quickly turns deadly.

Star Wars (1977)
H: well, the first third takes place in a desert. i think that's reason enough, yes? beyond, you know, just everything else that's right with the movie.
A: Apparently, being of the female persuasion, we're supposed to be watching Sex and the City 2 this summer as the girl equivelant of the dudely Star Wars. Since I was pretty much hooked on the original trilogy the first time Leia appropriated Luke's gun, I cry "foul!" and suggest re-watching all three episodes back to back on a hot summer weekend.
H: everybody remember that scene on the death star when luke approaches chewie with the cuffs and says, "now, i'm going to put these on you---" not his wisest move, right? yeah, picture my reaction to anyone trying to get me to watch s&tc. at least without a healthy dose of irony on hand and, probably, a bottle of wine.

The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994)
H: "Oh, Felicia. Where the fuck are we." you want to know a fun way to make someone's mind bend? find a genre fan; make sure this process won't make them physically ill and then show them star wars: the phantom menace. then show them priscilla. then ask who they recognize. :) it also works with lord of the rings fans, but often not quite so well.
A: I was introduced to the soundtrack of this movie back when I was about twelve and spent at least one summer listening to it fairly incessantly -- on cassette tape no less! Likely on the Sony walkman I thought (when I got it for my ninth birthday) made me look like a totally cool teenager. Hanna (where would I be without her?) finally sat me down to watch the film last fall and I'm so completely glad I did. Really.

Sexy Beast (2000)
H: "But you're dead. So shut up." i'm tempted to say that i'd pay for someone to explain the bunny in this movie to me know what? i'm not sure i want someone to explain the bunny to me. it's weird and grisly and psychotic and kind of haunting and i think it's fine just the way it is. i never fully realised how creepy the bunny is until i saw this movie on the big screen last year. not to mention how creepy ian mcshane is. ray winstone comes across as quite cuddly by comparison. ben kingsley as don logan is just so far out in left field it pretty much beggars description. really, the best description of his character is the chill that goes over the dinner table when h -- not me -- reveals logan's imminent arrival. there's a table of four adults who have been chatting about their approaching evening and the mere mention of this man who is coming the next day is enough to change all their expressions, body language, voices, the whole nine yards. to say nothing of the scene in ray winstone's house in spain where kingsley and winstone are in the kitchen -- kingsley is out of shot most of the time, an unseen harangue of profanity and accent from which winstone is physically flinching. he's the bigger man -- he outweighs kingsley by a solid 50 pounds; he has weapons all around himself; and he's in his own damn house and he is flinching back as though kingsley is hitting him. it's like watching a badly one-sided boxing match.
A: And Ian McShane is in it! Although only in the London bits. But his character is slightly more understandable than the character he played in the recently-released 44 Inch Chest which was good excepting we aren't quite sure what the title refers to, what happened to the dog, or what the movie was about, really. So back to Sexy Beast which I promise I really did enjoy except that Hanna took me to see it in the Coolidge Corner theatre back when we were first dating? And to be honest, although I remember thinking the movie was brilliant, thinking back on it I mostly remember how thrilling it was that she let me hold her hand in the dark while we watched it.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
A: This was a "me" addition to the list, and I added it mostly for the quote I referenced in our intro -- since it takes places in the hot summer of the South, although that summer stretches into autumn. And when you ask children what they remember about the film, according to Robert Coles, what they remember is not the legal case or the commentary on American racism but the children's relationship with Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbor next door whom they are frightened of and drawn to and who -- in arguably one of the most gripping scenes in the story -- rescues Scout on a stormy Halloween night.
H: to be honest, i've watched this movie only once, many years ago, and i remember very little about it. i remember the courtroom scene -- i remember the last scene with boo radley -- and that's about it. um. this may make me a bad person.

The Fast and the Furious (2001)
A: I defer to Hanna on this one since she has a relationship with cars that, while I thoroughly admire and stand slightly in awe of, I do not intuitively share.
H: i have a theory about movies. it isn't much of a theory but as far as it goes it runs as follows: every movie has a moment that makes it worthwhile. if you run across a movie that doesn't, then you have found a true piece of cheese and you should be able to erase it from your brain. excellent movies, of course, are made up of more of these moments -- you can see how the rule expands or contracts according to need or personal opinion. f&f has several such moments: brian's lunch problems in the first half of the movie; dominic's reaction to the car brian dumps in his garage ("i retract my previous statement."); and much of the end of the movie. it's cheesy, yes; it's simple, yes; but, hey, there's something likeable about these characters; there is something to watch for other than the tricked-out cars.

The Proposition (2005)
H: what a movie. hot. every frame of it leaches heat. it's hot, it's dry, it's desert-baked in a way lawrence of arabia never thought of. it is hard to watch. the acting is sharp -- there isn't a dud note in it, down to the extras that populate the half-horse town. strange, violent, strangely violent, depressing, and hopeful.
A: Yeah, I'm with her on the hopeful, though you really, really have to hang in there till the end to get there. Through a really graphic rape scene (for those of you who can't watch them) and brutal, brutal violence. It's a movie that pulls no punches, but offers some really fascinating moral dilemmas for its characters to deal with -- and refuses to let them off the hook. At all. Meathooks. And you can't get away from the scenery, which is really a character all its own.
H: well, really, if you can't handle the first scene, just don't go further. really. honest advice here, folks. this movie is bloody. nasty. unpleasant. unpicturesque violence. the characters and the story coming through all of that are worth it in my book. the reaction of the townsfolk to the public punishment of an arrested boy alone makes much of the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile, but there is no use in torturing yourself to get there.

Do the Right Thing (1989)
H: never seen it. er. sorry.
A: This was my pick! My brother Brian, if memory serves, introduced me to this Spike Lee movie a handful of years ago. I've lost the specifics now, but remember the contours involving heat, heat in the city, and the short tempers that inevitably break when the heat is so damn hot you can't remember what it felt like to be cool.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
A: Mary Louise Parker is kick-ass, and really the reason to watch this movie. I mean, okay, there are lots of reasons to watch this movie, but as a young adolescent I mostly watched it to watch Mary Louise Parker kick ass. And cook the bad guy and serve him up for dessert.
H: oh! and there's that great bit where the tiny little cook whangs the awful rapist child-thieving mean dude with the frying pan! i love that bit! so satisfying! plus the bit where ruth dies in the book made me cry when i read the book in college and understood what was actually happening.

Wizard of Oz (1939)
A: To be honest, Oz scared me as a child -- it comes from the same genre of out-of-kilter children's fiction as Raggedy Ann and Andy stories, in which unhinged characters do things you really wish they wouldn't, and punishment is meted out unpredictably and by some sort of foreign logic known only by the story creator themselves. L. Frank Baum was not a well man (possibly he spent too much time holed up in his summer cottage located in my home town, writing about the denizens of Oz). I'm with Gregory Maguire on this one: the Wizard of Oz is not a benevolent man, Oz is not a happy place, and the Wicked Witch of the West is not the one we should be frightened of. That having been said: it's a classic MGM musical with all the bells and whistles, which starts and ends with a tornado in Kansas. What could be more summery than that? Just settle in with a emerald-colored Mojito and enjoy.
H: who wasn't scared by oz as a kid? seriously -- put up your hands so i can fail to believe you. if it wasn't miss gulch, it was the tornado. if it wasn't the tornado, it was the munchkins -- or glinda -- or the trees -- or the witch -- or -- or -- or -- you gettin' my drift here?

The Mummy (1999)
H: there is rachel weisz. there is brendan fraser. there is john hannah. there are just so many things that make this -- and pretty much every other -- stephen sommers movie a great ride. i've never been able to understand why so many people seem to hate what sommers does -- why spend all that time and energy hating something that's so much silly fun? and so good into the bargain? yeah, he clearly loves him the old universal monster classics -- and what's wrong with that? hell, if they really are going to go ahead with a remake of the gillman, i'd vote for sommers to do it any day. at least i could have faith that he's seen it! A: What she said. There's a librarian who (at least some of the time) saves the day, And John Hannah whom I will pretty much follow to the ends of the earth regardless of what he's in, and Brendan Fraser who always looks like he's having so much damn fun. And when you've finished this homage, go read Elizabeth Peters' first installment of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, Crocodile on the Sandbank from which so much of these chracters were so obviously and lovingly pilfered.

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
A: Strictly speaking, this a a film suitable for any season as it is set in four parts, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. but again with the pull-all-the-stops MGM musical genre and it opens with an ice wagon, which is how people used to get ice for their refrigerators (ice boxes) way back when, which is fun. It pedals nostalgia like scalpers selling tickets, but as long as you know that's what you're getting it can be fun. And as a bonus, you get the winter bit too--so snow and ice and silly Christmas songs as well.
H: um. never seen this either. but i have seen the trolley song on some documentary about musicals somewhere! that counts, right? A: It totally counts -- the trolley song is one of the best things about it. Oh, and little Margaret O'Brien doing soft-shoe.

Twister (1996)
H: "we got cows!" oh, what a silly movie. what a deeply silly, very wrong movie. and yet somehow so deeply, deeply watchable. not least for helen hunt in a frequently soaked tank top but also for the group dynamic and the kind of cheerfully paced action movie that, lets face it, jerry bruckheimer does so well. does it make sense? well-- -ish. does it follow established scientific fact? well, there's that bit where-- does a lot of shit go fast? and explode? yes. absolutely yes. and there is philip seymour hoffman. and, bewilderingly enough, cary elwes. and the guy from george of the jungle. explain that one.
A: I was traumatized by Cary Elwes being run through the head by an iron T-bar and can now never, ever drive behind trucks carrying long slender things which might fly off the back of said truck and through my windshield. Other than that, great summer fun and some totally adorable Movie Science(tm), including, if I remember correctly, something beautiful involving lots of ping-pong balls taking flight.
H: you do realize, anna, that you cobbled that scene together in your own head, right? it's his driver who gets impaled. And it's through the chest, if memory serves. A: Oh bah.

Fire (1996)
H: i'm out.
A: Oh, sweetheart, I should really sit you down and make you watch this one sometime :)! It's the first of a triptych of films by Indian director Deepha Mehta (
Earth and Water being the other two, more historio-political, installments) and tells the story of a woman in a traditional Indian family who falls in love with her brother-in-law's new wife. It's a good messy family drama with, ultimately, a fairly happy ending. 

H: oh, i've heard of it. i've just never watched it.

Murphy's Romance (1985)
H: a romantic comedy from before the days when "romcom" had become one of the worst slurs in film reviewing. A: And at the end of that brief, sweet-sweet era in which gutsy women characters (in this case a woman who's trying to make it on her own with her teenage son after walking out on an unhappy marriage) could win the man without losing the independence that made them great characters to begin with. Oh whither the day?
H: in all fairness, she hasn't "walked out" -- there has been a divorce. it isn't like she's hiding out from "Bad Husband (tm)." A: Hehe. True, I was mostly remembering how he showed up later wanting to hang around and patch things up. The ex-who-would-not-leave...

French Kiss (1995)
A: There's sunshine, I remember that, and cheese. I'm leaving the rest to Hanna.
H: this isn't a very "hot" movie. yes, there are some lengthy walks in the countryside of the south of france where our two protagonists -- kevin kline and meg ryan -- do look very warm, but that's about it. no slogging across deserts; no thirst-defying treks. but it is a very sweet, very funny romantic comedy -- absolutely perfect for a disgustingly hot evening in the real world when you just about have enough energy to get brie, crackers, and a cold beer (or glass of wine, if that's your preference) and lie down in front of the tv with a fan blowing on your head. oh, and did i mention there's a kick-ass soundtrack? and that kevin kline has a french accent? and a black leather jacket? now i have. :)

American Graffiti (1973)
H: god, i love this movie. i really should have been more suspicious of my last ex when i realised she didn't care for it all that much. this should have been a clue. a lot of the people who started out in this movie now own large chunks of hollywood. really, very large chunks. you get to watch george lucas indulge his antique car fetish; his thing with the '50s (which he doesn't try to indemnify or make into a harmless place and time (entirely)); and his fascination with growing up, something i'm not entirely convinced he's ever done which probably makes him a very happy, contented person.
A: It's Wolfman Jack, really. Hallie Flanagan, one-time director of the Federal Theater Project during the great depression once said "The power of radio is not that it speaks to millions, but that it speaks intimately and privately to each one of those millions." Somehow, Lucas makes that point through film, which really deserves a gold star.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
H: everyone in this movie is hot, almost 99.99% of the time. if there's a frame where richard dreyfus isn't sweating, i can't remember where it is. A: Maybe they filmed in Texas in August?

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
A: This is a hard, hard movie to watch, but absolutely breathtaking in its brutality and (yes) hopefulness, I think. Hopefulness that despite all the overwhelming evil in the world there will be people -- often unexpected people -- who continue to perform small and courageous acts of kindness, justice, and bravery. "Heat" in this context could, I guess, stand for both the intensity of the situation and the burning passion of those survivors who carry on.
H: um. yes. that. go with that.

Hellboy (2004)
A: I'd say it was wrong of us to pack the list with two del Toro films, but really, can't have too much of a good thing and aside from the unmistakable stylistic markers, it really is a world away from Pan's Labyrinth in tone, though I suspect the same underlying fairytale morality underlies both films. Anyway, how could we possibly skip a film that involves a character who's a demon from hell and a young woman with a talent for bursting into flames?
H: and the cats. don't forget the cats. and john hurt. oh! and the seriously creepy clockwork bad guy. can't forget him.

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
H: god bless this strange little remake. if i hadn't gone to see it -- in the theatre, no less -- then when christopher eccleston was announced as the 9th doctor, i wouldn't have been able to say: "wait -- but wasn't he the bad guy in gone in 60 seconds?" and thought: "oh my god we are so screwed." and then have to eat both words and thoughts within, oh, approximately, 15 seconds of him showing up on screen in "rose." anyway, the point here is not to hymn the wonders of christopher eccleston as doctor who (although that is always fun!) but if you're in the mood for cheap one-liners, great cars and some unexpectedly good acting -- mostly from eccleston, giovanni ribisi, vinnie jones, and angelina jolie ("hello, ladies---") -- see this. it is hot -- it's so-cal in the summer time: how much hotter do you want? -- and there's also timothy olyphant playing a gleefully numbskulled cop which, after watching him play an entirely ungleeful law enforcement man in deadwood is worth watching the movie for all on its own. there's also a kick-ass soundtrack ("flower," by moby; "too sick to pray," a3, and "painted on my heart," by the cult top the list, definitely) and more leather than you know what to do with. oh, and cars. did i mention the cars? this movie cemented my love affair with mustangs and the shelby. god bless eleanor. :)
A: I'm out on this one...Hanna hasn't caught up with me on my delinquency yet!

Apocalypse Now (1979)
H: i'm out.
A: I'm in, mostly because of Martin Sheen whom I will follow to the ends of the earth in necessary (oh, President Bartlet, I do miss you!) and also because I associate
Heart of Darkness with this incredible history of the Belgian Congo I read in undergrad, by Adam Hochshield (Leopold's Ghost) and the two together pushed me to finally watch this movie -- which is basically a remake of Conrad's novel set in Vietnam. With the heat and the subtropical humidity and the sick, twisted imperialism.
H: well, i'm only "out" because vietnam films make me uneasy. what i know about
apocalypse i know from film documentaries and jarhead which is deeply disturbing.

Predator (1987)
H: as far as atmosphere goes, note-perfect stifling, hot, and sweaty. about as macho as a movie can reasonably get without knotting itself up so tightly it can't move. i haven't seen rambo which i suspect might out-testosterone this. but this movie also has one of the all-time great, classic, world-beating creatures. who the hell puts together a sci-fi action thriller where you can't see the monster for 3/4 of the movie?! john mctiernan and stan winston. of course, they also incidentally created a franchise with a 20+ year span, but we can't hold them responsible for the second avp abortion. (and i use the word "abortion" advisedly. yuerrgh.) also, this movie falls under my previously mentioned movie rule -- the key moment here is, i think, between, bizarrely enough, schwartzenegger as dutch, the nearly-mindlessly tough commanding officer and bill duke as mac, whose sidekick blain has been killed in an encounter with the predator. dutch, trying to make mac feel better, says of blain: "he was a good soldier." mac pauses for a minute, thinks, looks up at dutch, and says, "he was my friend." A: I remember lots of jungle and rain and cool hunting sequences.

The Painted Veil (2006)
H: out.
A: It's a curious film, adapted from a 1925 novel by English author W. Somerset Maugham. It's a story about an abusive, desperate marriage (adultery on her side, autocratic control on his) between an English debutant (Naomi Watts) and a doctor (Edward Norton) who takes his wife to a remote part of China where they encounter a cholera outbreak and are forced to come to terms with the expectations each of them brought into their hasty marriage. Toby Jones and Liev Schreiber do solid turns as secondary characters, and there is a wonderful cameo appearance by Diana Rigg, who plays a mother superior at a mission school.

Friday, June 11, 2010

friday fun times

this is a long one, but worth it! 'cause who doesn't value conformity, right?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

this will do nothing but it might make me feel better

announcement to the world at large: i love comments on this blog. really, i do.

but the only languages i speak are english and french and the only languages i read are english, french, spanish, and enough italian to make me truly dangerous.

if you want to leave me a comment, do it in one of the above damned languages or you will make me sad because i will have to delete it.


so there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

history notes: david kynaston, the "britain" series

having semi-successfully fought the head cold to a stand still, i took the opportunity of so much time in a prone position, to finish the second volume of david kynaston's giant -- and i do mean giant, the volumes are only a little under three inches thick -- history of britain, family britain. i already finished off austerity britain a few weeks ago. the first volume covers the years 1945-1951; this second, 1951-1957. each of these two volumes is actually an omnibus of two original volumes printed under different titles. i can only assume that this was a publication decision made for an american market: each of the four, individually printed, wouldn't do well, so bung 'em together and call it a day. i can't say that i think this was a bad decision; it certainly makes them easier to get through like this.

the good stuff: endlessly amusing anecdotal evidence; plenty of stuff about pop culture (the origin of the bbc, 1940s-1950s radio and tv programming which i find fascinating and familiar); good leaves of photographs; broad coverage of all kinds of events from political to personal; nice index; good sources if you feel like wading through all the freakin' end notes. (really. end notes are just made of evil. you know the references are in there but finding them is like wading through an unfun labyrinth.)

the bad stuff: the anecdotal evidence. while it's charming and kynaston depends on a small crew of diarists -- mostly middle or lower-middle class -- to bring out "ordinary" life in britain during the period, he's also totally unanalytical about it. just because someone wrote it in a diary that, presumably, wasn't meant for public view or publication, he takes it as truthful, unbiased, "genuine." "genuine" is one of his favorite words; as is "authentic." the thumbnail rule here is: the lower the class, the more authentic.

this is very obvious bollocks.

the more you think about it, the more crap it becomes. it presumes that someone living at a certain income level has a more direct line to "truth" than someone else at a different level. it would be nice if it were true; then all you'd have to do is find the lowest socio-economic denominator and, boom! one history book per period and truth is found! unfortunately -- or fortunately 'cause how boring would that be? -- it doesn't work that way. the lack of context, lack of analysis, lack of thought put into the use of these sources -- which are mouthwateringly wonderful to someone with a pickier turn of mind -- is really a shame. they're more or less wasted on the page, reduced to being just another form of history as just "one fucking thing after another."

kynaston also comes across as more than a little pedantic and condescending to his lower-class subjects in a very obvious way that can be kind of cringe-making to read. in the second book, particularly, his attitude veers from the patriarchal to the outright snobbish to the overly sympathetic, "we're all lads together." the lack of analysis i talked about a minute ago leads him to take almost everything at face value; therefore, the presentation by the sources of lower-class and working-class life as a constant race between work, home, and the pub is, for kynaston, the truth as revealed by the source. he quotes a page and a half from a working man's diary, then summarizes it as being work, alcohol, betting, and says that this is what you could "call" working-class "culture." the snobbery practically drips off the page. while the rest of the english world, apparently, was fascinated by the comet airplane and the premiere of "look back in anger" and "waiting for godot," the poor benighted (largely northern) working-class just couldn't get its head out of the pub or the football game.

and this is beyond the fact that the diary as quoted says no such thing! an analytical historian would have been able to pick out threads of family life, concern about wages, worry over ailing family members, pleasure day trips -- a whole world of concerns and enjoyments outside of the pub and the football game that kynaston is happy to subsume in a stereotype.

Monday, June 7, 2010

where's the bunny?

i'm a fan of the weird movie. i like endings that don't entirely make sense or aren't conclusive. i'm good with plots that wander a bit or seem to take strange detours.

with all this in mind, i rented 44 inch chest from netflix a few weeks ago; i liked the original effort of the writing/directing team, sexy beast, so this one seemed just up the right street.

and it is -- and then again it isn't.

slightly spoilery plot summary: colin diamond, small-time businessman and part-time thug, is trying to deal with the emotional aftermath of his wife wanting to leave him. some of his buddies have clustered 'round to try and help him out -- or try and help themselves out. or both. with this in mind, they've kidnapped the younger man diamond's wife wants to leave him for and have him binned up in a wardrobe, awaiting diamond's decision as to what to do with him. cast includes ray winstone (diamond), ian mcshane, john hurt, tom wilkinson.

chest is much, much slower than beast -- not that this is a bad thing. almost all the action takes place either inside diamond's head or in one small, dingy room in an abandoned office building the men have taken over for the duration. there are only about 6 characters; 5 of them are on-screen for 90% of the film. if you don't like the look of these guys, get used to it or watch something else; they're here for the long haul.

it isn't -- complicated, exactly, but it can get hard to follow, particularly the last third as events spiral in and out of taking place entirely in diamond's head as he flashes back to the last confrontation with his wife. i think there's a strong possibility that the entire movie simply takes place in his head -- the other men are elements of his personality arguing and debating endlessly over his wife and her lover and what should be done about them.

going against this perception of things is the fact that the other men pretty clearly have lives outside of diamond; the first time we see archie, for example, he's having dinner with his mother. meredith is spending a placid evening with a rent-boy. they seem to exist as people in their own right -- but they also serve to reflect what's going on in diamond's head as he fights with himself over what he has done and what he could -- or could not -- do now. archie really just wants him to make a decision; mal would like to see some blood split, as would old man peanut; meredith is just interested in how the whole thing plays out and there is a brilliant scene where he talks diamond down from an imminent panic attack. mcshane's rough black velvet of a voice is hypnotic to listen to.

i'm not sure what i think about chest, though -- i'm going to need to see it a few more times before i figure out what i think about what's going on. on the whole, if you saw and liked sexy beast, i'd say you'll probably at least enjoy being puzzled by this. other than that, i'm not entirely sure who might like it! ray winstone fans, definitely; this is a great role for him -- the emotionally under-developed, slightly thick, injured bad-boy thug is what he does best as far as i've seen. he doesn't necessarily want to hurt anyone, but he knows that's what he should do and what he should want -- so why doesn't he want to do it?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


you know what really just sits on all your blogging plans like a bollog with no head and crushes them into tiny smithereens? a head cold.

no, really, it does. sudafed and ibuprofen do not make you smarter. they don't even let you stay awake for very long periods.

so here are some people who are much cleverer than i am at the minute....

a video, courtesy of the guardian, of bill bryson at the hay festival.

another one, still from the guardian, of simon schama.

jo brand, who i used to love when she was part of the team doing the mary whitehouse experience on bbc radio. hilarious stuff, if you ever get a chance to listen to it. i know there was a tv series, too, but i never got to see it and i lost all my (probably totally illegal) downloads of the radio shows in a laptop crash a few years back. very sad.