25.12.10

Inglourious Basterds

I wrote a TERRIBLE piece on this film a while ago, which is one of the few terrible pieces I have penned that made me gag so much I had to subsequently erase it from the internet. I think my problem was trying to over-think it too much (haha, what's new?). The thing is, many bloggers I follow slavishly encouraged me to do so. But hey, really guise! This one is all too simple, no? I mean, it's all in Soshanna's cackling projected ghost crying THIS IS THE REVENGE OF THE JEWS!!! Tarantino could not BE more in-yr-face! Cinema, by portraying the Nazis as bloodthirsty, amoral robots who all get tortured, shot to pieces and burnt to a crisp, is fighting back for all the genocide they committed. Is such revenge fantasy a mature reaction to the horrors of the holocaust? Ummm.... NO! But Quentin's never really been one for maturity or complex ideas. No. REALLY, guise. He hasn't.

The thing with Basterds is tho. For a film this moronic, it ain't half bleddy long! Yes we get the slow-build tension-tension western pastiches, but did we really need all that stuff in the beginning, or all that stuff with the British? Couldn't you have cut to the chase a bit? It's not like there are any jokes here that top the banter of the 90s output. Keep the Landa stuff sure. I'm agreed with everyone on this -- Landa is a pimp. But the rest could have done with some serious chopping.

The problem with Tarantino is that he thinks he's a genius and everyone seems to want to encourage that belief. Well, we should stop, because he's getting self-indulgent. The films are getting bigger and the same old tricks are bringing diminishing returns. Smarten up, son. Or eventually you'll make a film so bloated and stupid that EVERYONE'S gonna realize the pulp cinema emperor has lost his clothes. Just some friendly advice. Hopefully, it won't make me gag two months down the line.

23.12.10

Toy Story 3

'Authority should derive from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force!' - Barbie

Good enough to be my film of the year, although really I haven't been blown away by anything I've seen this past twelvemonth. Very funny, very smart, but the ending was just a bit too soppy for my crusty cynical mindset. Andy needed to be just a tad colder, I think.

17.12.10

Sweet Tooth

Story of an innocent in a post-apocalyptic hellhole, whose naive faith in people touches the hardest of hearts. The relationship between Gus and Jeppard is very delicately, almost silently, portrayed. Also liked the way the action was depicted in these very sudden slow-mo bursts -- a flash like lightning and then quiet. And boy, the quiet! This book has atmosphere, bags of it.

I think the basic idea is captured by the choice of title: sweet but hard, fairy-tale meets horror western. I suspect the series will trace the balance between the two elements in Gus's (and perhaps Jeppard's) character.

Hellboy is the comparison to make here, useful in bringing out (for me) the book's limitations. Mignola's hero has more attitude, and is funnier, than Jeppard. The fantasy is wilder, weirder, more stylized but also more beautiful (Jeff Lemire's artwork is kinda scrappy, tho his arrangements and blocking are very clever). Then again, Hellboy and Sweet Tooth are about different things, and it will be interesting to see where the latter gets to in the next trade.

10.12.10

Thirst

Korean vampire film, naturally. The director says in the interview on the DVD that he storyboards EVERY scene in his films, lighting and all. And boy do you believe it! Firecracker frames every single one of them. Dude likes to keep his steady-cam running too. And he likes to get the crane involved as well. And he's got a good eye for odd wide-angle shots. Special effects, sound design, all carefully considered and expertly mixed in. Srsly, I haven't been this wowed by the look of a horror film since Pan's Labyrinth. LOVE-e-ly stuff.

But let's leave the superficial considerations to one side. What is this (really long!) story about? Our protagonist, a priest, condemns suicide but has a thirst for martyrdom. Interesting enough. Next, vampirism awakens a thirst for blood and sex. Slightly less novel. For me, the film is about how to negotiate with these unwholesome desires, which cannot be entirely eradicated, and yet have the potential to do enormous damage to others. The priest escapes from the strictures of Catholicism and falls in love, but his love cannot control herself. She turns from masochism to sadism, using her lover to kill, then killing on her own. Blind faith is a dead end, but so is complete freedom to do whatever you want. By the end of the film, the priest has made too many compromises. He didn't get the balance right, and so martyrdom is the only way out.

So it's what every vampire movie is about -- struggling with your inner beast. But being a 21st century vampire movie, religion isn't the answer either (ya heard that, Twilight?). Like I said, not novel stuff, but it's so godsdamn pretty that you'll forgive all shortcomings. Honestly, more fantasy / horror films need to look like this.

8.12.10

Moon

Clones on a space station. It really is that simple. The corporation is evil setup is a sci-fi staple. Also, the look of the film is very 2001. At least the AI is friendly this time. Two interconnected themes. First, clones and robots are people too. For what are people? Machines with memories and agency. Second, how can we trust our perception of the world if so much of our information about it is unverifiable? An all-conquering spirit of enquiry and a critical mindset might be good places to start.

I couldn't quite get absorbed into the film's mood. Not Sam Rockwell's fault, I think. He gives a fine performance, in what I would imagine is a difficult role. But perhaps the writer could have given the madness a bit more oomph, more absurdism, more comedy. The pace also felt kinda saggy -- like this was an hour-long television drama stretched to film length. But there is just enough cleverness and charm to make it worth sitting through.

Mercury

The new graphic novel by Hope Larson, which is probably going to end up as my comic of the year. Two stories in parallel, with rather wonderful transitions between them, my fave being the switch from a hand clutching a tree branch to a hockey stick hitting a ball. Which rather nicely encapsulates the point of the book as a whole -- past mistakes / frustrations being corrected / resolved in the present. The most beautiful moment for me was when the crow (the cursed spirit of Asa) accuses Tara of being "a vindictive little girl", thinking she is her ancestor Josey, who incriminated him for murder and theft. But Tara is nothing of the sort. She asks only to help. And with that act of goodwill, Asa's spirit is purged.

This isn't karma across generations, which is the rather uncomfortable reading I first settled on. Rather, it is simply the present righting the wrongs of the past. And what spurs this transformation is the strong sense of the family as being rooted in a particular landscape, and the need to keep it that way. This is the other big theme of the book, and perhaps the most moving one.

6.12.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.13

Some notes:

Chuck continuity away, let's just go for the awesome. And just how bloody awesome was it! It's Dollhouse gone Firefly, edge of civilization struggle for survival. And the goal: get civilization back. DeWitt and Topher, making amends.

The Alpha / Echo / Ballard triangle was beautifully dealt with -- Alpha giving Echo THE hardest gift for him to give. And, as before, memory as imprint. Those that have passed becoming a part of who YOU are. Wonderful stuff.

Priya and Tony doing the happy families thang is nicely contrasted with Zone and Meg's split-up. But there's hope in the air. As Zone admits, it takes a while for him to process stuff. Maybe he'll be back. It's terrible lonely out there, particularly if you've been through hell.

But it's open ended, as every Mutant Enemy finale has always been. But it wraps up the series in fabulous style. You mos def leave the show with emotions bruised, the only thing you could ask for.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1

Oh so pretty! No, I'm not talking about Miss Watson, you pervert. On which note, what's up with that? On the pale, vacant English rose stakes, she's no Keira...

But we're off topic, the topic being OH SO PRETTY! Every location, every set, had this crisp sumptuousness about it. Harry Potter brings New Zealand's Lord of the Rings back home. It's not out of this world, it's this world, slightly out. Rowling's fantasy takes drab Britain and pushes the quaint, the eccentric, the scary and surprising to the fore, making the world familiar-but-not, strange but recognizable, delightfully weird. This film, even more than the three before it, gets that aesthetic effectively onto the screen.

Well shot too. The opening extreme close up is a stunner. Voldermort and Harry's 300mph air battle is another. Watch out for the snake, another stunner. The long animated sequence telling the story of the Deathly Hallows, another. In fact, almost every frame is gorgeous. I was in a state of constant stimulation all the way through.

Even tho Daniel Radcliffe is in it! It's pretty churlish, being mean about Mr Radcliffe. But honestly, there really isn't enough charisma there. My buddy Aitch concurs. And in a story where the relationship between these three friends is front and centre, Radcliffe's (lack of) presence leaves a huge hole. To be sure, the others don't get top marks either. Hermione's strop just doesn't convince (flipping HIT RON PROPERLY!). Watson is great at the snide and the troubled, but there's not enough love in between. Grint is better, but even he can't get the soppy speech about lights and hearts off the ground. If I were directing, I would have got all method on them -- getting the three to really go camping together for a month. ACTUALLY become friends. So that on screen, we can see those invisible bonds of affection that is such an enormous part of what Harry Potter is about.

I evaluate Harry Potter movies according to how many scenes make me wince. Deathly Hallows Part 1 only has one, which doesn't irritate so much as bewilder. Harry and Hermione's dancing was an interesting idea, but ultimately the experiment fails because it cannot replace what the film really needed -- a convincing portrayal of genuine friendship. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do, particularly if you have to be moody and silent all the time. Nonetheless, it's not there, and so (no matter how beautiful it is) the film leaves your emotions unbruised.

5.12.10

Body Talk

If this be the year of Robyn, then it didn't end very well. Sure "Call Your Girlfriend" is another smash, but "Indestructible" is a bit floppy. And the greatest hits package didn't quite include all the hits. Where is "Cry When You Get Older", this blog's favourite pop song of the year? "Include Me Out" gets dropped, but the woeful "Love Kills" gets a look in?

No matter. In the age of the mp3, albums are malleable things, and Robyn's Body Talk series positively encourages you to construct your own playlist. Here's mine. Sequencing is pretty unimaginative, but I work on the assumption that the artist knows what they are doing in this area:

1. In My Eyes
2. Include Me Out
3. Fembot
4. Dancing On My Own (Body Talk Pt. 1 version, which is rawer)
5. Cry When You Get Older
6. Dancehall Queen
7. Get Myself Together
8. We Dance To The Beat
9. Criminal Intent
10. U Should Know Better
11. Call Your Girlfriend
12. Hang With Me

Bonus / hidden track: Dancehall Queen (Diplo and Stenchman Remix)

2.12.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.12

Some newts:

Yo Boyd! Wadup man? You gonna tell us wagwan with the last two seasons of this show? You know, when you were the nice guy, but no really you were the evil genius behind the whole thing? What was that all about, huh? You wanted a family? You wanted to cotch with the people you were planning to exploit? For TWO YEARS? Sounds pretty strange, doesn't it? Sounds like your character suddenly stopped making sense a little bit, no?

Yeah. At least on a first impression. But thinking about it for a spell, I'm starting to see what the show was trying to say with this contrived piece of idiocy. Boyd saw the implications of Rossum's research before anyone, and found Caroline body to be the only possible way out. But he didn't want to just save himself. He wanted a family: someone to care for as the world went to hell.

So he played Topher, DeWitt and Echo -- pushing them, changing them, giving them principles and the will to live (and die) by them. He kinda turns into Ballard squared: freeing loved ones only so that they serve his purposes. He is the ultimate patriarch, encouraging his children to excel whilst expecting complete loyalty from them. And if they don't return it... well then there's always force.

Which is why Boyd's end is so fitting. The tables are turned. He is robbed of all agency, and the people he has deceived and exploited give the orders. The children become the parents, and exact vengeance for their sins.

But all of this clever exegesis doesn't do away with the fact that my initial reaction to this episode is one of distressed bewilderment. Particularly as I had invested quite heavily in the Boyd-Saunders relationship, and to see their whole characters flipped was a bit of a downer. But more generally, as with the previous episode, the emotional and comedy beats were all strained and warped under the overriding pressure of PLOT and TWIST. There's cleverness there, but it gets crushed under breakneck nonsensical storytelling.

Then again, this is Dollhouse. Like, what's new? I guess the balance went too far the other way. I can be incredibly lenient about the show's nuts-and-bolts problems, if there were enough ideas to digest afterwards. With these past two episodes, I'm not feeling the clever so much as the confused.

A word on Ballard and Mellie. I THINK the idea was that Ballard had to become a doll before understanding that dolls can be complete human beings. Except that when he tells this to Mellie, she has been programmed to love him, which would suggest that she is NOT complete. EXCEPT except: she has been told this, fights it, and then gives into it. Is that agency enough? If we had doubts, then her suicide answers them. But again, as with all this Boyd stuff. Very clumsy.

Will the finale make things better? I hope so. Because right now season two does not look like it will surpass season one's achievements.

1.12.10

Dollhouse Episode 2.11

Some naturals:

Talk about PLOT. This one moved so quickly that the strain on plausibility became almost too much. Twists packed in like sardines. Topher and Bennett sorta had to fall in love in five minutes. Security Man materialized to deliver a warning and disappeared again. Saunders came in, had her heart broken, then totally switched. Boyd became a daddy, got shot, went away, came back, and then WHAT THA FUUUUUCK???

Didn't see that one coming!

Making the drama work in an episode with so many elements was always going to be tough. In this one, Topher really shone, doing awkward funny, awkward cute, completely broken down, resolute and selfless. In what felt like ten seconds. Ideally, you would have given the character (and the actor) more time for each phase. But under the very severe constrains he had to work under, I thought Toph did pretty well.

Not really digging the Ballard revelation. In "Epitaph One" the distance between him and Echo pointed to some interesting history between them. But no, Toph just scooped out his love for her and that's that. Bit of a letdown, really.

Similarly with Saunders. Her arc in "Echoes" was the show at its very finest. So to see her all loved up, all weepy, and then to find out that she had no agency AT ALL was a bit of a downer. A more interesting character was traded in for ohmystars THAT TWIST!

Caroline ain't ALL nice, which was a good little idea. The scene where she gets busted by Bennett displayed some fine work from Dushku. She seemed to be not only callous but TIRED of being callous. There was a faint air of dispiritedness both to her false friendliness and to her determination to bring down the evil corporation. You know what? Echo IS stronger.

Was that the point? Was that the plan all along? Here's to hoping the final two episodes make this switcharound make sense...