Sunday, December 23, 2007

I know, it's been a loooong time since I wrote anything here. But it's almost Christmas, so here's a Christmas video for all of you loyal readers.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Finally! I finished reading something! And not just any something, but TekkonKinKreet. Originally released by Viz Publishing, it was called Black & White, and I have to say, I have the first of the trilogy. And I loved it. But I never bought the other books, because as much as I loved it, I found it a touch disturbing, a little too violent for my tastes at the time. And this a guy who loved Ichi the Killer. But this was before Ichi. This was before Imprint.

This summer, Sony Pictures released the film version of Taiyo Matsumoto's TekkonKinKreet, and of course I went to see it. Of course, I didn't do a write up of the film. I forget why. But thank God Viz Media released the series in one big honkin' book! Which I immediately bought this week, and read over the course of a train ride to my friend's house.

It is one of the most crazy, innovative manga I've read in years. The main characters, Black and White, aren't your typical Bambi-eyed characters. The lines aren't those Zen smooth lines you see in books like Love Hina, or Gundam. It's energetic, frenetic, violent, and a little feral. Just like the main characters.

So, the story: Two orphans, Black and White, fight rival gangs, Yakuza, the cops, and even a construction company in their city, Treasure Town. Times are changing, and so is the city. And as the city changes, so do the boys, who try to keep things the way they always were for their 10 short years on this planet. Black, the most obviously cognizant of the situation, does most of the fighting. White, on the other hand, seems developmentally challanged. He can't tie his own shoes, and he's just learned to count to 10. Their fight to keep their city whole is exciting and scary, but as the book moves along, I had to wonder, was it worth it?

The great part of Matsumoto's work is that's exactly the question. Can we stop change? If you listen to Frank Zappa, who said (and I paraphrase), not only is change necessary, it's inevitable, then no, you can't stop it. And why would you want to? I look around at Manhattan, and even Brooklyn and parts of the Bronx, and change is coming. Even in Queens, change is happening. Sometimes it seems like the city is turning into a great big strip mall. Other times, it's like a playground for the rich. Out on Rockaway Beach, some yahoo is building condos that'll start at 500K for a studio. You ever been to Rockaway? There's not much out there. Nothing to warrant a studio for that much money, anway.

That's just me being a little maudlin.

Anyway, back to the book.

How does it end?Does Black save his city? Can the city even be saved? Does the city even need to be saved? And what about White? Does Black save White? Or is the fight really the other way around? These are questions worth exploring for yourself.

Friday, September 14, 2007

I looove the Dead Kennedys, and I love the Foo Fighters (I met Dave Grohl in Alexandria, Virginia one night not too long ago), and I love System of a Down. This cover version of Holiday in Cambodia makes me wish two things:

1. I wish I'd actually been at the VMAs this year.

2. I wish there was a comparable band to the Dead Kennedys in the day and age.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jesus Christ! It's been more than a month since I've done this. And it's not like I haven't seen or read anything in that time. I've been reading, but I havent' finished anything, so that's part of it. And when it comes to the movies I've seen...

Go see The Bourne Identity. In fact, watch the first two films before you go, then head out and watch TBI. It's neat the way Paul Greengrass bookends the series with the closing image. It's the entire movie in two shots. And Superbad fucking rocked. It did the same thing with its opening and closing images. It's good writing, and good filmmaking. At least, I think it is.

As for the books I've been reading, I started Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, but I can't finish it. It's a mess. A lovely mess, sure, but a mess nevertheless. The man should have done poetry. There's no story to the book. But it's a pretty read.

I'm going back to school in two weeks. The New York Film Academy accepted me for their 12-week digital movie making course. And why shouldn't they? I'm beautiful. So if you think I've been slacking off lately, it's gonna get worse.

Friday, July 13, 2007

It's been a bit - about two weeks - but I saw Park Chan-Wook's new film, I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay at the New York Asian Film Festival. I've let it sink in, marinate, let it get a little tastier in my memory. And the thing is, I wouldn't say Chan-Wook fumbled the ball on this, but it's no Lady Vengeance or Oldboy. Those are hard acts to follow, and I can't say I'm disappointed by Cyborg - hell, Chan-Wook's movies are like pizza. Even when they're bad, they're good.

Man, I'm making this sound bad. Lemme start again.

Park Chan-Wook's new film, I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay is a whimsical film, a grand departure from Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and even Joint Security Area. And while that whimsy is enough to carry the movie from start to finish, it's not without its flaws. But first, what it's about:

Cha Young-goon (a young woman, played by Su-jeong Lim, who I think is actually very cute, despite the eyebrows) thinks she's a combat cyborg who's sole job is to get a set of dentures back into her grandmother's possession. While at work building a radio, she slits her wrist, and inserts some live wires so she can power up. This gets her sent to a mental hospital. And why wouldn't it? While there, she meets an interesting cast of characters, including the male lead, some guy named RAIN (his character is Park Il-sun, and RAIN was voted's most influential person in the world... go fig). Park's deal is that he steals. But he steals other people's mental problems. At one point, Cha wants him to steal her sympathy, so she can go on a killing spree and bring her mission to a close.

Yeah, I know.

My only problem with the film - and ultimately, it's a pretty big problem - is that Cha's problem isn't really explored, even though it's a pretty important part of the film. Why does she think she's a cyborg? It's obviously a defense mechanism, so why is it there? We get to see it in glimpses, and it's never really resolved. Now, I have no problem with it having no resolution, but I'd loved to have seen more of it.

Nevertheless, I recommend you check this out if it comes to a theater near you. There are plenty of good laughs here, and there are moments that move toward poignant (they coulda made it, too, had Chan-Wook delved into Cha's background more).

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The New York Asian Film Fest is in town. I found out from a friend, who linked me up with, where you can find all the details (and if you're not from NYC, you can weep with the envy of 10,000 movie geeks who don't live in NYC). Over the last week, I've seen two Miike films, Big Bang Love: Juvenile A, and just today, Zebraman. Tonight, it's Park Chan Wook's new one, I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay.

Since I've seen the Miike flicks, I'm going to do a mini review in order of both. You'll have to wait for Cyborg. I'm heading to North Carolina, and I'm not sure I'll have Internet access there. Not that North Carolina doesn't have the Internet.

As you know, I've been a Miike fan since 2001. And before this week, I've seen only one of his movies on the big screen: The Audition. So since I've had the chance to see two more, I took it. I've been busy this week. My bathroom ceiling sprung 1,000 leaks. I've been working overtime to get out of the office for my vacation. I haven't had time for friends. But this is Miike we're talking about. On the big screen.

Big Bang Love is about a year old now. And for those of you who want to see it expecting the usual kinetic camerawork, the usual arterial spray, the usual deviant behavior, well, I'm sorry. It's not here. Not that this isn't weird and violent. It's just not Miike violent. In fact, it has more in common in its staging with Lars Von Trier's Dogville than anything I've seen of Miike's, and at this point, that's about 2/5s of his films, which is a fair number.

The story is about two men, Jun and Shiro, who arrive at prison on the same day for the same crime: Murder. The film opens with Shiro strangling Jun, which strikes everyone at the prison as strange, because the consensus was that they were lovers. So an investigation is begun into the murder, and it's a pretty straightforward police procedural from there. Except, this is a Miike film.

In a jail where there seem to be no walls, only darkness, two cops question inmates, guards, and the warden, who's had a run-in with Jun before to tragic results. Everyone has a motive, except Shiro. In fact, Jun protected Shiro, and as I wrote above, people thought they were an item, the main evidence of which was a supposed tryst they had together in the shadow of a rocket ship and Mayan temple, both of which were just beyond the walls of the prison yard.

It's been said in other reviews that the temple represents faith, and the rocket science. And I think they're only half right. They also, I believe, reflect the natures of the two main characters, Shiro being the rocket ship, and Jun the temple.

This is a movie, I think, for Miike die-hards, though it doesn't reflect their taste in his movies. I'm not so sure it's a must-see for anyone else, other than the art-house crowd who are in to avant garde films. Miike takes big risks here as a filmmaker, mainly with his fans. Does he succeed? I'm not entirely sure. I get the feeling that he was interested in trying something out, and now that he has, he's moved on to Spaghetti Westerns and high school gang movies.

That curiosity, though, brings me to Zebraman, Miike's first "family" film. I write it that way, because the film opens with a Defense Department agent complaining of a case of crabs, and his partner scolding him about seeing cheap hookers. Also, various characters say "fuck" about three times, making this an R film in the U.S.

Zebraman is about a school teacher, Mr. Ichikawa, played by Sho Aikawa, a Miike regular. Ichikawa's life sucks. His wife is having an affair, his son is bullied at the school, and his daughter doesn't respect him. His only solace is found in an old TV show, Zebraman, which is very much like the... ahem... Might Morphin' Power Rangers. But when green gummy aliens invade, only Zebraman can stop them. So Ichikawa dons his homemade costume, and sets about ridding the world of these dastardly invaders.

Okay, this is definitely not Miike's normal kind of film. There's very, very, very little blood in this. And no one's really all that weird. There's no perverted sex, or anything! But I have to admit, I really liked this movie. It's not great by any standard. I mean, if I took a slice of it, put it between two pieces of bread and slapped it on a griddle, I'd have a nice grilled cheese sandwich. But damn if this movie doesn't have heart. And if Sho Aikawa weren't in the lead, this movie wouldn't work at all, and to be honest, there are times when I think it has no right to work as well as it does. But it does work, and I was clapping by the end.

Zebraman will be out on DVD later this year, which is part of why it's at the festival. I would suggest all Miike fans at least rent it, because it's goofy good fun. And if you invite your friends over to see it, well, make sure they're either drunk or high.

Monday, June 25, 2007

There are going to spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen Hostel Part 2, well, turn back now, I suppose.

The thing is, I went to this not expecting too much other than a visceral thrill or two, and I hate to say it, but I didn't get it. That's not to say Eli Roth isn't a good director. He's getting there, I think. But the script was flawed, and since the foundation of the story wasn't there, ultimately, the movie was a disappointment.

Some background: Hostel Part 2 picks right up where Hostel left off, which is all well and good. This time, it's about a group of college women off to Slovakia where they hit a spa, are kidnapped, and tortured. There's a twist at the end, which isn't much of a twist, though it's very interesting - or it could have been - and then it's over.

The problem for me wasn't so much the weak theme (money will get you out of anything), but how Roth presented the set pieces. It was as if they were jokes. I spent most of my time laughing at the movie, as did the rest of the crowd (except one guy, who walked out at the end, calling us idiots for laughing at the movie - he had an eastern European accent, so he may have been angry at Slovakia's portrayal... I don't know). The only part of the movie that got any "horror-movie" reaction out of me is when Beth is punched in the face.

The context of that punch is that she's trying to escape after her torturer has second thoughts. Then he kind of changes his mind. The punch comes out of nowhere, and I jumped. But when a girl gets her throat cut and there's arterial spray? Nothin'. When a circular saw gets caught in another victim's hair? Nada. When a torture dines on some thigh meat? That is so Hannibal Lecter.

Maybe it's because I re-watched Ichi the Killer the night before. That was a disturbing movie. But the relationship between the violence and the characters is stronger. And I think Roth doesn't realize that completely. Not yet anyway. Because his violence is divorced from the characters. He had a chance with the character Stuart to show us how horrifying this whole thing could be, but he doesn't, and that's a shame. Perhaps there will be more on the DVD, but I doubt it.

I'd say skip it, but considering its box office take, it looks like you already have.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A few weeks ago, I picked up The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I would never have done so were it not for Lost, since it's one the show's "reading list," which includes such books as The Third Policeman, A Wrinkle in Time, Watership Down, and The Brothers Karamazov (much to my chagrin). Henry James, as you may or may not know, has a reputation as being a hard read for casual readers. His sentences are complex, his descriptions can be dense. Nevertheless, this was a read for a great cause: Figuring out what the hell is happening on that damn island in Lost.

Turn takes place at a large country house in the English countryside. Our narrator is a young governess (never named, which seems to be a trend in the books I'm reading these days - see Grotesque) left with two young charges, Milo - the elder boy - and Flora, his sister. Flora is a kind enough child, but Milo is another story. He's been kicked out of school, for what we're never certain, except that he's a threat to other children.

Over time, the governess hears and sees strange things around the country house, including two spectral forms, a man and woman, who are the former (and late) groundskeeper and governess, respectively. Both died, it turns out, under curious circumstances. The governess perceives them as a threat, and takes what she believes is the appropriate action. The ending, however, is tragic.

Well, not really. Or, it didn't feel that way to me. Perhaps it's because I've been raised on Stephen King and Clive Barker when it comes to horror - and make no mistake, this is a horror story - but it didn't strike me that James had much of a grasp of the genre. Some might argue that he was making a larger point, but I'll be damned if I know what it is. As for Milo being a threat? It never really comes across, probably because we barely spend any time with him or his sister. Most of the novella is the governess running about talking to one of the housekeepers, Mrs. Grose. When Milo or Flora do speak, it's only for a few lines.

Did Milo kill the groundskeeper and his former governess? Perhaps. But I wasn't very invested in the story. Don't get me wrong, I get it: James is a grand writer, but I don't think his style fit the genre. I get the impression that in his other novels, like The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove, what passes for horror - or at least tension - are the little foibles and common loves of society's elite. Then again, I haven't read them, so what the hell do I know?

But most importantly, what does this all have to do with Lost? What does it reveal about the show? It perhaps reveals to us why Jack saw his father, Christian, on the island; why Ben saw his mother; why Kate saw that horse; perhaps even why Locke and Sawyer saw Locke's father, and why Richard hasn't aged and has forgotten birthdays. There has been mention of hostiles on the island, and perhaps they are all like the ghosts of The Turn of the Screw, reminders of the sins of the survivors, or of survivors past.

The more books I read from the Lost reading list, the clearer things become. I don't know what I'm going to read next, but I'm thinking Watership Down, which I haven't read in years. That, or Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Just to swing you guys around to my other blogs, they're back in business. So go look at them. The one for the movie even has a picture!

As for another post here, I'll have something soon for The Turn of the Screw. I was going to finish it this morning, but the train must have been running fast, or I was reading slow, and I didn't finish it. Perhaps tonight? I dunno.

I've also Netflixed myself recently. I took up their offer of two free weeks or whatever it was. Anyway, I already have a queue of nearly 350 movies, and I've rated nearly 2,000 movies, most of which suck. I never realized how much time I wasted in front of a movie or TV screen. And now I'm wasting a lot of time in front of a computer monitor. Is that a step forward? I don't know. I'll let someone else answer that.

The point is, I've already gone through six DVDs, and I've reviewed only one. I've been watching a lot of Takashi Miike's stuff, though tonight I'm going to watch The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, which I think is going to be a good time, because it's a Japanese Pink Movie, which means nudity and simulated sex. In this case, it's with George W. Bush's severed finger sometimes, so you know it's going to be... interesting.

Will I review all the movies I've skipped over? Probably not. I'll just say that Dead or Alive: Birds is rather lovely, Dead or Alive: Final makes sense in the context of the entire series, and the robot at the end is fucking awesome, especially its head. Gozu has its moments, and could have used a tighter editing, but overall it was a great movie. As for Terry Gilliam's Tideland, I'm not sure what to say except that the parts are better than the whole.

So, next time, a review of The Turn of the Screw, and perhaps of Sachiko. Who knows?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I've been tagged by Fermicat to do a meme, 8 facts about me, and then I'm supposed to tag 8 other bloggers. The problem is, I think Fermi tagged all the bloggers I know! So it ends with me - at least, this branch of it ends with me.

1. I blame my cousin for my taste in music. When I was 14 or so, I was visiting my cousin Bobby and his wife in Ohio. And in Bobby's CD collection was one of the few albums that would change my life forever: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. To this day it is one of my favorite albums, and one of my favorite bands. It defined a way of thinking for me. Punk isn't a musical style of me, either. Johnny Rotten has made that clear in the way he has evolved over the years. It's a way of being. Johnny Cash is Punk. So is Hank Williams, Sr. Takashi Miike is Punk, and he's a filmmaker. The guys who made Six String Samurai are Punk. And one day, when I'm dead and gone, I hope someone looks back and says, "Yeah, man, Chris was a Punk."

2. I lived near a notorious murder scene. Yes, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, until December 20th, 2006, I lived within two blocks of the murder site of Kitty Genovese. It used to be an apartment complex, but now it's a steakhouse, comic book store, barber shop, vegetable market, and cafe. It's an unassuming site, and looks nothing like depicted in Alan Moore's Watchmen. The fact is, part of me is morbidly proud to have lived there, and another part of me is sad whenever I think about it. No one did a thing to help her. I would like to think that things would be different nowadays, and from what I've seen, for the most part they are. Of course, I've been wrong before.

3. I'm a military brat. Air Force to be exact. I lived mostly in the Southeast of the U.S., and according to my mum, we moved 13 times in 11 years. I don't think that was to different states and/or bases. I think it was total. I remember moving twice within the Washington, DC area when I was between the ages of 3 and 5. So that's two. And I imagine more moves like that happened. I don't recommend having kids if you're in the military, especially if you plan on fostering your career and moving to wherever the military tells you to move. Some psychologists liken moving a kid around that much to abuse. Some want to classify it as such. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's not the best thing to put a kid through.

4. I lived in Singapore. It was only for about six months, back in 1997/98. I was with my ex-wife at the time - we weren't married. It was hot, sure, but it was the humidity that really did me in most days. And it was a lot of fun, to be honest. I worked as a Tech Writer - under the table, of course - and the only reason I left was because I couldn't get a work permit. I lived with my future in-laws, made nice with the locals at the food stalls, worked with a guy who had been an assistant to the Arthur C. Clarke, and sweat a lot. The food was fantastic. I'm not big on seafood, but over there, I could have eaten half the ocean's fish. And if you ever go - and you should go for about a week - you have to have the Hainanese Chicken Rice. There is no excuse.

5. I took Latin in highschool and college. It was actually my favorite class, looking back on it, especially in college. I wish I'd been better at it, because I actually still use it. When it comes to grammar and whatnot, I use a dictionary less than my colleagues. And it grinds my ass when people misuse words like "decimated," like when a newscaster says something like, "The neighborhood was decimated by the tornado." Well, decimated means 1/10th, you bastards! And you've gone and distorted our fair language and now it means entirely! I could kill someone over this, but I don't know whom to blame.

6. None of my jokes translate. What I mean is this: Right now, I'm seeing a woman who doesn't speak much English. In fact, she understands some English, but speaks next to none. She speaks Spanish. Normally, when I'm seeing a woman - wooing a woman - one of my... well, weapons isn't the right word, but it's the first one that comes to mind - one of my weapons is humor. So I started to think of all the jokes I know. And they all rely on wordplay. So I've had to rely on other things in my arsenal, like consideration, and sincerity, and so on.

7. Metal is my religion, and Judas is my priest. Not really, but it's a fucking awesome t-shirt, ain't it?

8. I'm just trying to be a better person. Like the show, My Name is Earl, where the hero, Earl Hickey, tries to reform his ways and make good so Karma doesn't kick him in the ass anymore. I was never that bad to begin with, but still, I want to leave the world a better place than when I arrived. I don't always know what that means, and not everyone wants help even if they so obviously need it (as I've recently found out). I've also found out that sometimes, to help someone, you have to be an asshole, and you sometimes have to be their rival, or even their enemy. Sometimes, I've found, people will take advantage of that. But when it comes down to it, though, I'd rather do something good and be taken advantage of, than do nothing at all, or even something bad.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I first encounted Takashi Miike back in 2001, with a screening of The Audition in Washington, DC. It blew me away, and made 10 people walk out in what I guess was disgust (needles and piano wire were involved, so I can kind of understand). One guy even fainted! It was the best movie of the year, and still one I hold close to my heart. Since then, I've been a Miike fan, and I've seen Ichi the Killer, Dead or Alive, Visitor Q, The Bird People of China, The Happiness of Katakuris, City of Lost Souls, One Missed Call, MPD Psycho, and even The Great Yokai War, (his children's movie).

Then I heard that Miike was going to do an hour for Showtime's Masters of Horror series. I was elated! Joy of joys! I mean, sure, in a way it is kind of odd that he'd be doing a horror film, because strictly speaking, only One Missed Call is a horror film. The others are Yakuza films, super hero films, fantasies, or family dramas. Nevertheless, I couldn't wait. I even had Showtime at the time. But then I heard that his contribution, Imprint, was banned.

Banned! From Showtime!!!


An aside: You know, writing "banned" three times, it nearly lost all meaning.

Anyway, it was banned from pay cable, and that made it all the more exciting. But I couldn't find it at the local Blockbuster (they did have a copy of Izo that was always checked out, and it's where I saw a few of his flicks, so I was hoping). I couldn't find it at the local specialty video stores. Lucky for me, there's YouTube. They had a clip from the movie, five minutes of joyous torture. Well, not joyous. I watched the clip with anticipation, and it paid off in spades. After watching a prostitute get wrongfully tortured, I nearly threw up at my desk! When I got up go to the bathroom to cool off (I was in a cold sweat), I nearly fainted! I say in all seriousness: AWESOME!!!

Then I joined Netflix. And the first movie in my queue? Imprint. Of course. So I saw all 63 minutes of the damn thing. And right around the midway point was that big torture scene. But some context first:

Imprint is the story of an American journalist named Christopher in 19th Century Japan. He's looking for a prostitute named Kimomo, with whom he's in love. He promised her he'd take her away to America where they could live happily ever after. So now he's wandering Japan looking for her. And his travels take him to a mysterious island inhabited by "whores and demons." When he doesn't find her the first night, Christopher spends the night in a brothel with a prositute who's face is deformed or scarred. During the night, he has her tell him a story, a story about herself. The yarn she spins is about his Kimomo, and her horrible fate.

I can see why Showtime would be leary of letting this thing out into public. For one thing, Billy Drago, the actor playing the American in this piece, is not... well, let's just say I think he would have done better with an English-speaking actor. The Japanese actors acquit themselves nicely, however, which is amazing since they're speaking phonetic English. And of course, the special effects are top of the line, leading me to wonder yet again if Miike is actually torturing people for his movies. Are these really snuff films? Or do the Japanese really, really, really know what they're doing? I bet on the latter, but the former would not surprise me in the least.

This isn't Miike's best work. But it is some of his most beautiful looking. Every scene is painted with deep color. Even the torture scene is beautiful to look at, though difficult to watch (of course). In the end, though, whatever tension Miike has built up is ruined by the big reveal, the twist in the tale, as it were. If the story had been a simple tale of jealousy, it would have been much more effective. Instead, it's a story that made me think of grade-Z horror film Basket Case. If you've seen it, you know what I mean.

I'd recommend it for real gore hounds and Miike fans alike, but don't expect it to become a classic in his canon.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I have been trying over the last few days to write - and finish writing - a review of Natsuo Kirino's latest book to be release in America, Grotesque, but I haven't been able to get anything out. At least, nothing with which I've been happy. I would say skip this book and read her first to be released here - Out is the title, and it's a much better, tighter narrative, though the payoff at the end is a little extreme.

I don't know why it's been so hard to write a review of Grotesque. Perhaps it's because it's a sophomore slump in terms of quality, though the story is interesting enough (the murder of two prostitutes is told through the POV of one of the prositutes' unnamed sister). But the narrator was rather unlikeable all the way through that it took a bit of dedicated effort on my part not to put it down. It's better than a lot of books I've read over the years, but it's certainly not the best of this year, or of Kirino.

So what's next? I'm reading Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, mainly because it's a Lost book. It appeared in one of the episodes in Season 2, when Locke and Jack found the orientation film for the Swan Station. If you're not a fan, fair enough. I'm reading it for the clues, though I have to admit that it's been easier going than I expected. Henry has a reputation of being a taxing writer, and that's certainly apparent in Turn of the Screw. The sentences are compound to say the least, filled with enough commas and asides to put off most readers, I think.

But it has been a rather rewarding read. Perhaps it's so easy because it's a simple ghost story. Things aren't going to end well, of course - this is a Lost book - and the journey hasn't been all that tense, but the writing is lovely for what it's worth. And here's hoping that there will be clues for the show. Once I finish it, I may posit what I think it has to reveal about Lost, if anything at all. Of all the books I've read for the show, I think the most revealing was The Third Policeman, though A Wrinkle in Time certainly goes a long way to explaining why no one can find the island.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monday night, I had the chance to see the "new" Luc Besson movie, Angel-A at the Sunshine cinema in New York. It was sponsored by, and since I subscribe to their newsletter, I got an invite to the screening, and the Q&A afterwards with the director and lead actress. While standing in line with my friend Tiger, we started talking to some of the people around us. Someone with a Trio or Blackberry or whatever looking up Angel-A on The damn thing was only 38% fresh. But at least I was going to see it for free, right?

The thing is, the movie stars the guy who played Lucien in Amelie (Jamel Debbouze). So I had high hopes for his part in the movie. I didn't know the woman who played Angela from Eve (it's a filmmaker named Rie Rasmussen, who is from Denmark), so I had no expectations either way. So, Angel-A is about a conman named Andres, who owes money to every gangster in Paris (or so it seems). He's a liar, and a thief. And when things go from bad to worse, he decides it's best to jump into the Seine and be done with life. But just as he's about to jump in, he's sees a tall, leggy blond in a very, very skimpy black dress about jump in, too. So when she jumps, he jumps, too, in order to save her.

What follows are their adventures over the next 30-some odd hours through Paris trying to pay off Andres' debts.


The frist act, when Andres is alone, trying to solve his problems, getting deeper into it, is great. I would have followed Andres anywhere. But then the shift into act two happens, and we get Angela. Great. Look, the actress is lovely, and her legs go up to the sky. That's great, too. But it seems to me the only reason that she was in the movie was because Luc fancied her. Or he was doing her. Or whatever. But have you seen Luc Besson? I mean, he's talented, sure, but come on!

Anyway, the point is that the moment she comes into the movie, the life of the film is sucked away. And it's not entirely Rie's fault. I think Besson gave her too much leeway, and she overacts in some scenes. My friend said she could tell that Rie wasn't a native French speaker. I have to admit I didn't catch that, but I think it's because of the black hole Rie brought to the film. The other point I'm trying to get my way to here is that once Rie's in the movie, Jamel, who was carrying the film rather well up to this point, has to carry her as well.

I said it wasn't entirely her fault, right? That's because the script is talky. Which is all well and good. But give these people something interesting to do! Most of the time, they're sitting across from one another. Talking. It's a pair of talking heads. And that's boring. This seemed like a personal film for Besson, but it was obvious that he's being lazy at this point. I will be cash money that there was only one draft of this script.
Speaking of, I should have asked during the Q&A. But as is the norm with these things, most of the questions were sycophantic cock-sucks (sorry about the language, but it's true). In fact, all but one of the questions were like that. They pretty much open with something like "This was awesome, and I think you're a brilliant filmmaker. I was wondering, how does it feel to shit gold every time you put images to film?" Or something. You get the point. And this was no different.

Don't get me wrong - I hope I'm in that position one day: "Mr. Theokas, how do you get through the day not only being perfectly beautiful, but also being the very definition of a cinematic genius?"

It could happen!
So, Angel-A, perhaps not 38% rotten, but certainly not something you'll want to waste your money on. Go rent a Miike movie.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Zazie has come from the countryside to Paris to stay with her uncle Gabriel, because her mother wants to spend the weekend with a lover. And as we all know, a precocious 10 year old is not the kind of distraction you want around when you're with your lover, right? So Zazie is in Paris with her uncle, and all she wants to do is ride the Metro, one of the oldest in the world, if not the oldest... hang on... the oldest one is in London, but that's not the point. Zazie wants to ride the metro, but there's a strike going on, so she can't. And being a precocious 10 year old, she complains. A lot. She's like a precursor to South Park, though not as vulgar, because this is 1958 we're talking about here.

Thus begins Zazie in the Metro.

This is one of those books that's a bit misleading. It's slender, and since it's about a kid, you might think this is a children's book. But it's not. Not really, anyway. Zazie's uncle is a cross dresser who performs in a gay bar. He's straight, but Zazie doesn't believe him. He gets accused of being a homosexual fairly early on, and for a good part of the book, she asks him what a "hormosessual" is. I thought the best answer is a man who wears perfume.

Gabriel works at night, and he expects Zazie to sleep through til morning while he's out and his wife is home. But Zazie sneaks out, and of course gets into all kinds of trouble. Trouble includes "blewgenes," sexual deviants, hormosessuals, German tourists, a fish-faced widow, traffic cops, kidnappings, and a cabaret show. It all makes sense in the book, which you should be reading. It's a romp of a read, because the author, Raymond Queneau plays around the language, as does the translator. Words are run together, changed to phonetic spellings (like "ksplained"), and so on. Usually this can make a book a tough read, like Trainspotting, but in this case, it's used relatively sparingly, and since the overall pace of the book is fast, it still moves.

My only complaint is, well, the pace. Because it's so fast, sometimes characters get lost in the mix. Because the cast grows and grows, and the action gets more and more manic, it's easy to lose a sense of who is saying what to whom, and what these people look like. But there's a part of me that thinks that's the point. Am I letting Queneau off the hook? I don't know. I don't think it really matters with a book like this.

After the book came out in 1959, it became a big sensation (deservedly so), and a year later, it was released as a movie directed by Louis Malle. I plan on seeing the film as soon as I sign up for Netflix, or at my local arthouse video store.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Nothing is more Punk Rock than a Japanese girl with a guitar...

Except maybe Bikini Kill...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

So I waited to see Grindhouse, because, you know, I was expecting huge crowds over the Easter weekend when it debuted. Silly me. Grindhouse hasn't been the succes that pretty much everyone was expecting it to be. There are so many theories going around, including the running time of three hours, the fact that its release weekend was Easter, and so on. Those are probably all right. But Grindhouse should have had a better opening. It should have had a bigger audience.

In case you've been living under a rock for the past few months, Grindhouse is the pet project of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez, a double-feature that harkens back to the 70s and early 80s when schlocky movies played in grimy theaters in urban centers, films that were shot on the cheap, with sex, guns, and gore. The scripts were usually pretty bad, the acting worse. But the taboo of what was on screen usually - and I stress usually - made up for it.

Rodriguez and Tarantino created their own grindhouse movies, Planet Terror and Death Proof, respectively. Between the two, I preferred Death Proof. It seemed like Tarantino crafted a real grindhouse style film. Not that there's anything wrong with Planet Terror, but there's a bit at the end that would probably exceed the budget constraints of a real grindhouse picture. You could argue that by using such high list talent like Rose McGowan, Kurt Russel and the like that the filmmakers have already gone beyond the constraints of the "genre." But I would disagree, mainly because that's not the point. The filmmakers seem to be trying to recreate something they loved.

Or it would seem that way. It was mentioned in a review - I forget which one - that Rodriguez's film seemed like it was made by a guy who had read a lot about grindhouse films and then made one, whereas the Tarantino offering was a real grindhouse film. I don't know, mainly because I grew up while the grindhouses were disappearing. I never saw a real grindhouse film in a theater. Still, Planet Terror seemed closer to something Troma would put out for most of its running time, which is perfect for a grindhouse cinema, until the end, which, as I wrote above, seemed to be out-of-the-grindhouse in terms of budgetary constraints.

Death Proof on the other hand, was certainly the better of the two, and deserved top billing. It's basically two stories, both starring Stuntman Mike, a killer with a car. He goes after young women, God only knows why, but that's not the point. I wanted to see car chases and dead bodies. And that's what Tarantino gives us. Twice.

What's great about Death Proof are the car chases. Tarantino knows how to shoot one, which surprised me. The second chase is the better of the two, with Zoe Bell hanging on the hood of the Dodge Challenger. She's not the greatest actress in the world (if she had more roles in front of the camera as an actress I think she could get much better and be a decent action actress), but she's excellent as the stunt woman she needs to be for the role. It was edge-of-your-seat excitement! I loved that car chase... better than most of the shit Hollywood's been putting out for years, not the least because it was real, not CGI bullshit.

I'm going to cut this short. I havent' slept well in the last few nights for various and sundry reasons. Let's just say that Grindhouse kicked a lot of ass, and you should go and fucking see it if you haven't.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I've been a busy little bastard of late. Since I've moved, I haven't watched as much TV as I used to. Mainly that's because my cable has become very, very basic. Besides the big six, I get TNT, TBS and the Food Network. There are, of course, the two PBS's, and various city channels, not to mention the cable access channels. But I've been watching so much less TV of late. Instead, I've been reading.

Right now, it's Zazie on the Metro, but I haven't finished that yet. I have, however, finished Farseed by Pamela Sargent.

Back in either Junior High or right before it, I checked out from my school library Ms. Sargent's book Earthseed, which I loved. It went out of print for a long time, and the copy I own I bought on It's just been reissued by Tor, and I bought a copy, you know, to put some shrapnel in Ms. Sargent's pocket, as it were. Anyway...

Earthseed was about a ship, which had an AI named, well, Ship. It was Ship's job to transport a bunch of teenagers to worlds across the galaxy - if not universe - to seed worlds with human life. Apparently, things had gotten so back in our solar system that it was time to get out of town and save the human race from... well, Ship implied some catastrophe, but it never became clear until the end.

I fell in love with the main character, Zoheret, a girl born of the egg and sperm of two Arab scientists who helped create Ship. Now, bear in mind, back when I first read Earthseed, I didn't realize how "Benneton ad" the kids were. I mean, Zoheret was Arabian, her boyfriend was Scandanavian, her rival was Chinese, another guy was Latino, and so on. But when I read it, I didn't see any of that, mainly because Ms. Sargent didn't broadcast it. And for that, I am thankful, because I wasn't hindered by preconceptions.

By the end of Earthseed, Zoheret, her new boyfriend Manuel, her rival Ho, and all the other teenagers are dropped off on a new planet, now named Home. Ship sticks around for a few years to make sure the kids are all right, and then leaves. Zoheret is one of the leaders of the new settlement. And once Ship has left orbit, Ho approaches her, tells her he's leaving with another group to start their own settlement. An uncertain, fractured future lays ahead of Zoheret, Ho, Manuel and the rest of the settlement. But it seemed hopeful.

Earthseed was published back in 1983. It's been 24 years, and now Ms. Sargent has published the sequel, Farseed. And on Home, 24 years have passed. Zoheret has a daughter named Leila. Ho has a daughter named Nuy. It seems Ho's settlement has taken some very hard hits. He and his people lived by the ocean, but Home hasn't been kind to them. They're starving, hunting small game, just getting by. They've been hit hard by disease. From a group of around 50, there are now only 12 left. And to make matters worse, they haven't been in contact with Zoheret's settlement in a decade because of that disease, whatever it was. According to Ho, it was Zoheret's group that brought death to his settlement. And now Ho is paranoid, and more than a bit mad.

When three of Zoheret's people travel to Ho's settlement, Nuy finds them before anyone else. She leads one of them to Ho, where he is promptly killed for the death he may be bringing, and Nuy is banished for the same reason.

Cut to Leila and Zoheret's settlement. Leila and her friends want to explore the world around them. Home is their home, and the people of the settlement know very little about it. Leila and her friends don't want the involvement of the adults, because they know that if that happens, their expedition will be taken from them. But they don't have much of a choice in the matter. If they are to get the supplies they need, they need to involve the adults on some level.

And when they propose the idea to Zoheret and the other adults, some of their fears come true. The adults do get involved. But since most of the adults grew up on Ship, they're more than willing to let mostly kids - teenagers of course - handle this little trip. Zoheret might be going along and leading the expedition, but Leila is the one who's "in charge."

When Zoheret's people come into contact with Ho's people, of course things don't go well. It's a new world, but old rules still play out. They've crossed the galaxy, but human frailty still determines how the humans deal with one another.

I've always liked the world Ms. Sargent created with Earthseed, and I was a bit worried that things would be so different with Farseed because 24 years have passed. Styles change. But somehow, Ms. Sargent has made a seamless transition for fans of the first book. Some of the social interaction between the groups and characters is pretty progressive. One of the illicit thrills of Earthseed was that the kids were having sex and drinking! I loved that! And Ship approved (kind of)!

There will be a third book - this is the "Seed Trilogy" - and I can't wait to see what she's going to put across in that. At the end of Farseed, there seemed to be a balance between the ideas in the books about exploring the world and about change. Each book has always been about the fight between moderation and extremism, and that looks like it will play out in the third book. I personally can't wait.
I've been neglecting my other blogs, but to be honest, since I moved recently, I haven't been hard at work on those things. But I have been doing things, like reading books and watching movies.

Speaking of...

Most people remember Joseph Gordon-Levitt from Third Rock From the Sun, as the oldest/youngest alien in a family of aliens come to Earth to see what life is like here. The acting was broad at times - and by "at times" I mean all the time - and it had its moments. But ever since leaving the show Mr. Gordon-Levitt has had an outstanding run as a dramatic actor. Starting with Mysterious Skin in 2004, through Brick in 2005, he's managed to restyle himself as an amazing dramatic actor. He's shown that he's serious about acting, and he's well worth watching in any film in which he appears.

Which brings me to The Lookout, his latest film.

The Lookout is a heist film crossed with a character study, and it works very well. Don't get me wrong - this is no Brick or Mysterious Skin. In fact, Gordon-Levitt makes it a better movie than it should have been. This should have been run of the mill in a lot of ways. Director Scott Frank wrote a lot of good movies, including Out of Sight and Minority Report. And he knows his way around behind a camera.

The story is pretty simple: While driving his friends down a dark country road one night, promising high school hockey player Chris Pratt turns off the headlights of his car. This is a beautiful image, because the sky lights up with millions of fireflies. The car shoots through the night, surrounded by dots of light, and it is magical. You can see why he'd risk it, but not for as long as he did.

Because at the end of his little joy ride, there's a combine harvester stalled out in the middle of the road, and he doesn't see it until the last minute. There are four people in the car, including Chris. One is his girlfriend. Two people die. Chris lives with severe brain damage.

He needs to keep lists. He needs to put little signs everywhere to remind himself to take the keys for his car, to use soap in the shower, to turn off the alarm clock, and so on, throughout his day. He lives with a blind man named Lewis (played by Jeff Daniels according to IMDB, but it could be Bill Pullman - you know how it is). Lewis and Chris hang out a lot, and Lewis helps Chris make his way through the world.

At night, he works as a janitor in a tiny little bank out in the middle of nowhere. Every night, a local sheriff's deputy (Deputy Ted) stops by with a box of doughnuts. And every season, farmers from across the county come to collect cash to pay their workers.

Chris is trying to make his way through his life after the accident, but he can't forget the way he was before, and he certainly can't forget the results of the aftermath. Those two lives lost hang over him. His guilt is palpable. But he wants to be more. Early in the film, he talks to his boss at the bank where he works about becoming a teller. He has to write down everything he'll need to do, everything he'll need to remember, and his boss isn't impressed. It's an important moment in a tight film filled with important moments.

Later, when Chris is at a bar, he meets a guy named Gary. Gary is slick, charismatic, and when he lets Chris in on his plan to rob a bank - the bank where Chris works - Chris suddenly feels useful and wanted again.

Of course this wouldn't be a heist film if things didn't go wrong. Conscience takes hold of Chris. Plans go wrong. Good people die. Money falls into the "wrong" hands. And we know how this is going to end. We've all seen enough heist movies to know how they end. But in the case of The Lookout, it's not really about that. Because like all great movies, it's not really about the heist. It's about the people.

Because The Lookout is a character piece more than anything. It's about Chris' journey, not the money. And if there were a lesser actor in the role of Chris, this wouldn't have worked. Mr. Gordon-Levitt pretty much has to carry this movie. The actors around him aren't simply plot devices, nor are they one-dimensional. But this isn't about them. Chris is in nearly every scene of this film, and he needs to be. Because, like I wrote, it's not about the money. The payoff isn't the millions. It's Chris moving forward in his life, about finding his way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I love this song soooo much right now. Can't stop listening to it, in fact. So here's the video, of Hank III, grandson of Hank Williams, Sr. It's full of F-bombs. So don't watch if your delicate ears can't handle it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

This one's for you, Wa11z.

Back in 1999, I actually caught Fight Club in the theaters. I can understand why it wasn't a hit at the box office. On its surface, it had a nihilistic world-view, but by the end of the film, facing death hand-in-hand with his girlfriend, the narrator of the tale was giving us some kind of hope. Not necessarily hope that we would be free from credit card companies, but hope that we can carve out happiness and individuality for ourselves in a world where corporations are co-opting rebellion.

Choke the book followed Fight Club the movie two years later. If I remember, it was published before 9/11, so perhaps reading it now, six years later, I come to it differently than I might have on, say, September 10. The thing is, after having read Choke, I think it still speaks to us now just as much as it did before.

Choke follows the life of Victor Mancini, an ostensible sex-aholic who runs a scam to pay for his mother's treatment at a nursing home/mental hospital. By day, he works at a colonial village, recreating life in the 1700s. He and his co-workers spend their time getting high and feeding the visiting school kids the true story of life in colonial times, instead of the sanitized version that they're supposed to.

Victor's mom has Alzheimer's, and from the sound of it, she was a pretty radical chick in her day, dragging him from place to place, causing fun trouble along the way, whisking him off onto new adventures along the way. Victor's also a med-school dropout, so as we follow him along through his story, we learn little do-dads about what can happen to the body, like what happens if, say, plastic spheres block a certain opening in, say, the bowels.

Thematically, Palahniuk is on pretty much the same ground as he was in Fight Club, or it's incredibly familiar ground, but it followed Fight Club, so that's to be expected, right? And like Fight Club, it ends on a hopeful note with Victor and his friends. They - metaphorically at least - build a new world for themselves - so there is a departure here for Choke. Hope through construction rather than destruction.

However, it takes the story a while to get to the idea. If this were a movie, the seeds of the construction would have started much earlier. And it's something I'm wasn't too happy with here. Also, the plastic balls would have come into play much earlier, too. I think it would have been a stronger metaphor for the story. The resolution of said balls, though, is perhaps my favorite part of the story. It's horrifying, funny as fuck, and - for me, anyway - something of a slight physical relief. I suppose you could say that I physically empathised with Victor in that moment. Not literally, but... well, you'll get the point if you read it.

I blame this on the editors, mostly. I could rant for days about slack editors. They aren't doing their jobs anymore. And that's mostly due to the fact that the business has changed for book editors. They don't edit as much as they used to, instead spending most of their time pitching books to the sales teams, who then pitch them to chain stores. I heard that there's basically one person who controls the flow of fiction through either Barnes & Noble or Borders. And if she likes your book, then you're guaranteed a great place in the store.

Anyway, Palanhiuk did need an editor for Choke. It only needs a slight rejiggering, but I think it could have been a shining, perfect novel. As it stands, it's merely great.

I bought Choke from Murder Ink - or its sister store, anyway - up around West 92nd and Broadway in Manhattan. Murder Ink is out of business now, thanks to places like Barnes & Noble and Borders. I knew that my buying Choke and The Road wouldn't keep Murder Ink in business, but I wanted to show my support. I'd just found them, and it broke my heart to see them going under. So if you buy Choke - or any book for that matter - try to do it at a local mom-and-pop bookstore, or a local chain at least. Perhaps it's going to be inevitable that Barnes & Noble and Borders and their ilk are going to take over the retail book world, but I don't think we should go out without a fight.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Two nights ago I saw Hot Fuzz.

And you didn't.

Yeah, see, my friend David had passes from the IFP for a screening, and he invited me, because I've been talking about this movie constantly since I heard about it. So it seemed like the kind thing to do, I guess.

If the Oscars were held today, Best Picture would have to go to Hot Fuzz. It would be a first in a long time. The Oscar hasn't gone to a comedy in a couple of decades at least. But still! This is the best movie of the year so far.

The story is pretty simple: Nick Angel is the best cop in London, doing 400% better than his peers. So to keep everyone from looking bad, he's promoted and transferred to the safest town in the UK. Of course, he finds crime around every corner, including accidents he thinks are really murders. Of course no one believes him. Except, of course, his new partner, Danny Butterman. Danny wants more than anything to be a cop like he sees in action movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II. And, of course, by the end he gets what he wants.

If you liked Shaun of the Dead, then you'll love Hot Fuzz. I think HF is at least as funny. There was no sophomore slump here. There is at least a joke a scene, and all of the jokes are funny. I got a workout from laughing the for two hours straight. The only complaint I have - and it's not much of one - is that the director, Edgar Wright, needs to work with his editor on the fight scenes. They seemed too manic, and I wasn't always sure what was happening. But this was only with the fist fights. The gun battles were fine. Great, in fact.

So run, don't walk, to your local cinema, and demand that they show you this movie today! TODAY! It's not out until the 20th of April, and even then in limited (what the fuck?) release. And to prove I've seen the film - since there's not much in the way of spoilers here - I'm going to spoil a bit.


But not much of one. There's a lot of blood in this movie. About as much as Shaun. But the grossest bit, beating even Shaun I think, is when the reporter gets the spire tip from the cathedral through his head. Absolutely disgusting, and hilarious. Or, when Timothy Dalton's character gets the miniature church spire through his jaw! Oh, god that was nasty. And hilarious.


After the film, three men came out to answer questions.

Edgar Wright, the director.

Simon Pegg, writing and star.

And Nick Frost, star.

Simon slouches when he sits, by the way.

Anyway, we got to ask questions of them, but it was the usual crap, like where'd you get the idea for this, what genre are you going to spoof next, and so on. They were off-the-cuff funny, which was a nice surprise. They talked about the homoerotic moments in the movie, citing Lethal Weapon as being a really gay movie, especially at the end, with Danny Glover cradling a topless Mel Gibson in the rain. Brokeback Weapon they called it.

They claimed to have watched 138 action films of all kinds, including a few Westerns, including High Plains Drifter and High Noon. They watched a lot of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal (who both get nods in Hot Fuzz.) There's a peace lilly in the film that Nick Angel cares for, and that's a nod to Leon. They're wating for some money to clear the music rights for Spaced, so it can be released on DVD in the US. There were other things, but it wasn't as personal as I would have liked, with answers to questions like, where'd you get the money to make this damn thing. But what can you do, right?

So there you go. Hot Fuzz. I saw it early.

And you didn't.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Finished House of Leaves over the weekend, by Mark Danielewski. I figure I spelled his name right. As you can gather, I'm totally over the world about the book. Actually, I think you should read it, because it's great fun. But I'm at work, and that always just overwhelms me with enthusiasm and joy.


Anyway, House of Leaves is a strange book, about a guy named Johnny Truant who moves into an L.A. apartment of a man named Zampano. There's a tilde over the o at the end. Anyway, Zampano is dead, and that's why Johnny gets the apartment. While moving in, Johnny finds a manuscript on which Zampano was working, about a movie - a documentary - called The Navidson Record.

The Navidson Record is about a guy named Navidson - a Pulitzer prize winning photographer - and his girlfriend Karen, and their kids, who move into a house that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. And Zampano wrote his book all about this. And Johnny tries to take the scraps of the book and put them together for whatever reason. Johnny becomes obsessed with it. And in doing so, his life goes down the tubes. He loses his job. He loses his friends. He loses lovers. All because he's reading this book.

Throughout the book, there are quotes from famous people about The Navidson Record. Quotes from people like Stephen King, just to name one. But of course, The Navidson Record doesn't actually exist in our world. And the funny thing is, it doesn't actually exist in the world of House of Leaves either. At least, Johnny can't find it.

One of the best things about the book is that Johnny is an unreliable narrator. He actively changes something about The Navidson Record to reflect his own life. He writes to us that it's a better parallel. So how much of this story is true? How much of it is false? In the end, I think the answer is that it doesn't matter. What really matters is this: Is the story any good?

Yes, it is. Now go buy it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I saw two movies in the last week, The Host and 300. I'd say skip both, but at least wait for The Host to come out on DVD.

Let's begin, shall we? All right, The Host is basically a monster movie with politcal overtones. The politics belong to Korea, where The Host was shot, and you don't have to have kept up with Korea to have some fun at this movie. The story is pretty basic - after a lot of formaldahyde is dumped into the Han River in Seoul, a monster is born. A large, CG monster that blends rather seemlessly into the background. Kudos to the guys who did the effects here. It's better than a lot of what Hollywood puts out.

So, in the first act, the monster comes out of the water in the middle of the day. It's a big reveal, and it's really early in the film. Normally, this might kill any suspense a monster movie has, but it's loads of fun, a little bloody, and a great ride. Our hero, Park Gang-du, helps his dad run a food stand on the river. Gang-du is rather lazy, falls asleep at odd intervals, and so on. His story is pretty clear. He's going to rise to the moment.

His daughter, Park Hyun-seo is taken by the monster to its lair where she's kept for a later meal. Then the second act begins, which is where The Host runs into problems. It's flabby as second acts go. A good script editor could have shaved a good 15 minutes off this thing, and nothing would have been lost. But the third act does kick in, and Gang-du and his family come to the rescue of Hyun-seo in a spectacular face-off with the monster.

Final verdict: Wait for the DVD, but see it.

Then there's 300. I've been kind of hyping this to my friends, but I admit that a few weeks before it premiered I was already getting ambivalent about it. The Spartans were a pretty rigid group. I read somewhere that rooting for them was like rooting for North Korea. And the fact that they were pedarests to the man, well, you can see why I'd be kind of bothered by rooting for them.

Now, in the movie, the Athenians become the boy lovers, and everyone fights wearing leather loincloths, and so on. I can accept the loincloths. But don't bring up the man-boy love thing if you're going to distort it. Just let it drop.

Then there was a feeling I had, that the whole thing was a little more than vaguely racist. It was Greek versus Persian, but in the movie it was a bunch of white guys against a bunch of brown people and yellow people. There was one scene that had a fade out straight from the 20s. I wasn't too uncomfortable with it, because it didn't really surprise me. But I had to wonder what the filmmakers were communicating to the audience. Does Zack Snyder really know what he's saying with this movie? Does he care?

It was pretty, but it wasn't very groundbreaking. This style of filmmaking has already been done in so many other movies, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sin City, Immortel, Casshern, and arguably the Star Wars prequels (especially 2 and 3).

On top of all of this, the dialogue, which kind of worked in the comic, just doesn't work here. Mostly there just needed to be less of it. In one scene, when the Spartans are watching the Persian boats lashed by a storm, the narrator says something along the lines of "Only one of us kept his Spartan reserve." The camera goes to Leonidas, whom we already know is the king of the Spartans. The narrator continues: "Our king. Leonidas." You know, just in case we missed it or weren't sure. There are more moments like that, but that's the one I remember most clearly.

There were scenes added to the story from the graphic novel, of course, in order to flesh out the run time. These scenes are of King Leonidas' wife, Gorgo, trying to get the council in Sparta to send the army to Leonidas' aid. Whenever they came up, the pace of the film ground to a halt, or nearly so. Dominic West, who plays Theron, the bad Spartan, is the only saving grace in these scenes. But because they were so not great, I'm not sure if they - in their concept - should have been excised from the script or not. I just can't tell. They didn't add anything to the story that I could see, but if they hadn't been there, the movie would have been exhausting to sit through.

It's too late to warn you all away, of course, because 300 has made an ass-load of cash. And it was destined to. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen it, skip it. Don't even wait for the DVD.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I've been reading lately, and I recently finished J.G. Ballard's Cocaine Nights, which didn't really impress me as much as I wanted it to. It's the whole descent into... well, not madness, but adoration? Anyway, since Ballard wrote Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition, I was actually expecting more from him - more violence, more sex, more violent sex and sexy violence. I was expecting something that would make me queasy like Ichi the Killer made me queasy. But this didn't do it. So read Empire of the Sun, and read Crash, but I think it would safe to skip Cocaine.

On the other hand, I started Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and I had to stop. It's just too precious. I didn't buy the boy's voice at all, and he seemed too precocious for his own good and my gag reflex. But I feel kind of bad, because this is one of the first post-9/11 novels to deal with 9/11 in some direct fashion. I just wish it hadn't been treacly, or gooey like it is. And that's even before I got to the pages with the text that all ran together into big blocks of... well, text. At some point in the book - I looked ahead, but I didn't read ahead - the text starts to run into itself, until it because a big mass of black ink. I don't get this, but then I didn't read the section. The problem is, I was driven away by the rest of the story, so I never got that far.

I'll give Foer one thing: He at least gave it a shot. It just didn't work for me. Of course, I didn't like Everything is Illuminated either.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I can't stand it. I'm done with The Brothers Karamzov. I can't bring myself to read it anymore, and I suggest that if you want to read some good Dostoyevsky, stick to Crime & Punishment. It's got many of the same themes, but it's a much better book. Karamazov was Dostoyevsky's last book, and it seems to me that he was given a lot of leeway and deference when writing this. As I wrote in other posts, he got away with a lot of stuff that would have fucked a first time writer, or even a mid-list writer. And that pisses me off, because this thing is touted as a masterpiece. It's a piece of shit, really.

So skip it. Don't waste your time, like I did mine. I'm not going to sell this thing on eBay or, because I wrote in the damn thing. Then again, maybe I will. Of course, when I list it, I'll write about how great it is, and what a masterpiece it turned out to be. But I'll be trying to sell it, so you understand.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I saw Babel this weekend. As some critics are saying, it's the Crash of 2006. You know, so many story lines, so little time, no matter how long the stretch out the running time. That's not to say Babel is bad. Babel is great. My only complaint is... well, it's kind of two-fold, or a one-or-the-other proposition. Either they should have extended the running time to three hours, or they should have cut two of the stories.

I mean, I get it, we're all connected. That's great. It's nice to know that my actions will somehow effect some untouchable in India (nothing like that happened in the movie, but you get the point). Anyway, the story is pretty basic: Two Morrocan boys fire a rifle into the air, hit an American woman on a tour bus, causing an international incident. Meanwhile, the Americans' young kids are heading to Mexico with their nanny to see the nanny's son get married. And in Japan, a deaf-mute teen girl is acting out against her father. That connection isn't as clear at first until we see a badly photoshopped photograph of the deaf-mute's father on a hunting trip in Morroco. I say it's badly photoshopped because it is, though it's not supposed to be. It's not a clue in a mystery, it's just bad production values, which was rather surprising to me.

Anyway, I'm picking on Babel a little here, because it got the Oscar nod over Children of Men, which is a superior movie in my mind. However, that's like saying something that scored a 10 is superior to something that got a 9.85. While true, it's not much of a difference.

Oh, and the other thing I wasn't too keen on in Babel was how quickly they cut from one scene to the other. Just when things got interesting, they would cut from one scene to the next. Just when I'm getting into the scene, or I feel like I'm learning something about the character, we're off to another part of the world. And that's why I think it either needed a longer running time, or it needed to kill two of the stories. I knew I'd get around to writing that eventually.

See, the pace was excellent, because Babel is a pretty long movie to begin with. And it moves fast. And toward the end, we do stick around with the characters. But still.

Nevertheless, go see this in a theater. It's worth your money.

And again, 2006 was a great year for Mexican filmmakers.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I finished Hannibal Rising the other day. If you want Hannibal Lecter to remain a mystery, skip it. Then again, I'm still not sure why he became a cannibal in the end. It's not like he was showing the signs of serial killing or whatever when he was a child. And it seemed to me that there was more motivation for him to actually not be a cannibal than for him to take it up, even as a hobby. Nevertheless, I'll probably still see the movie.

I read some more of The Brothers Karamazov, and by more, I mean another chapter. The scene is still at the church where the Karamozov family is meeting with the church's elder. While waiting for the eldest brother, middle child Ivan has a discussion with the priests about the separation of church and state. What I gathered by the end is that he believes that the church should be held as the highest standard in terms of moral and personal governance, and the state should try to attain that standard. The church should lead by example, and the state should follow it.

This is all well and good. But I know now that Dostoyevsky was getting paid by the word, because there's no way anyone would stand for this shit in any other novel.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I saw Pan's Labyrinth over the weekend. It was great. You should see it. The Mexican directors had a great year in 2006 apparently, though I haven't seen Babel, (the other Mexican directed film being, of course Children of Men). So I'm thinking maybe I should just do the trifecta and see Babel and get it over with.

Anyway, back to Pan's Labyrinth. Oh, and there will be spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you don't want to be, well, spoiled. Okay, while I preferred Children this is defintely worth your time, your dime, and your effort. Pan's is a fairy tale through and through. The story is basic, a young girl, Ofelia, is going with her pregnant mother to live with her stepfather, a captain in Franco's fascist army in late 1930s Spain. While there, Ofelia learns her stepfather is a pretty rotten bastard. First fairy tale trope - evil step parent - check!

You know how in Disney movies, they always have the friendly, helpful servants? Pan's Labyrinth has them, too! Except they're allied with the communists hiding in the hills! So we have another fairy tale thingee going on here.

The list goes on. And that's before we actually get into all the creatures, like the Pale Man, the Faun, the fairies, and so on. It's a basic story, but there's a lot of question as to what's going on here. Is Ofelia really seeing the Faun? Is she really a princess? Is she just crazy? I think she's just dealing with the fact that her father has died - hey, another fairy tale trope! - and her mother settled for a real dickhead of a new husband. And if that means she's seeing fantastical creatures, more power to her.

Because in the end, not only is there a strong story here, it's beautiful to watch. The Faun, the Pale Man, the fairies are all wonders to behold. While I loved Del Torro's Hellboy it seems to me that his more personal stories - like The Devil's Backbone and this - are the better films.

Next up, Babel, Tears of the Black Tiger, and god only knows what else.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I saw Children of Men last week. This is the best movie of 2006 in my opinion, and I saw Brick, Hard Candy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Men is less of a trick pony than Brick and Vengeance, and it didn't make me nauseous like Hard Candy (though it was the best bout of nausea I ever had).

I won't go into details about it, but there's a sequence in Men - one long shot - that follows Clive Owen as he runs for point A to point B that's worth the price of admission alone. Just the technical aspects of getting that shot must have been boggling, and the fact is, I felt like I was right behind Clive as he made the run.

But this weekend is a long weekend, and I intend to make the most of it. I'm definitely going to see Pan's Labyrinth, but I'm also tempted to see Tears of the Black Tiger, the trailer for which you can download here. It's a Thai Western, and it looks like it was actually shot in the 50s, though it was shot in 2000. It's out in New York this weekend, and I'm really thinking of catching it on Monday. I get that day off, and what the hell am I going to do that day, right?
Dostoyevsky has this thing about going nowhere slow. For two chapters - that's about 15 pages - this religious elder has been tending to his flock. Basically he's been talking to a bunch of women (it's specifically women, but I get the impression that it could have been anyone) about their travails.

I'm about 70 pages through this book, and it's taken Dostoyevsky that long to truly start the action. Now that the elder is back talking to the Karamozov father and son Ivan, we're getting into a discussion on the separation of Church and state. Ivan is all for the combination of Church and state it seems. That's as far as I've gotten into this little conversation. I'll get into his argument after I read it more fully.

But let me just write this: It's taken 70 pages to get this heap moving, and we're still sputtering along. I read somewhere that Sigmund Freud thought this was the greatest book ever. Someone should dig up Siggy and beat the dead shit out of his body (it would be difficult to beat the living shit out of it).

Dostoyevsky's got 30 pages to pick up the speed and start telling his story. Otherwise, this bitch is over.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road over the holiday. It's shown up on a few best-of-2006 lists, and I can kind of see why. The thing is, it's a pretty loose book, not much happens, though it's a lovely read. And it has an unhappy ending, so it's par for the course for me.

The story - such as it is - is about a man and his son (no names, just "the man" and "the boy") who wander a post-nuclear wasteland. I'm guessing post-nuclear, because there are references to explosions, and burnt out cities. There's nothing explicit, though, and the holocaust could have been anything. But that doesn't hurt the book, and instead makes it eerier. Nothing is alive, it seems, except for a few human beings. No animals populate this book, and it seems the only plant left is grass, and even then I had doubts (there's only one explicit mention of grass, and it's in passing).

The man and boy see horrible things in their travels - cannibalism, murder, disease, and so on - and can do very little about it. The man carries a revolver with two or three bullets. When he leaves the boy alone, he tells the boy how to commit suicide, you know, just in case cannibals attack.

My one reservation is that as great as the writing is in this book, there is no story. The man and boy wander around for a while. Sometimes they're hungry, other times, they find food. Sometimes they see horrible things, usually they don't. The man is sick. The boy is malnourished. That's about it.

This is all written in beautiful prose, but since I left the book at my parents' house, you're not going to get to read any of it here. I would say you could see where this story is going, but since there's no real story of which to speak, there's not much to forsee. The man is sick. What do you think happens? The boy knows what to do with the pistol in case cannibals show up. What do you think happens? I'd say read it to find out. But either wait for the paper back, or get it out of your local library.

And yes, it has a depressing ending, just in case you were wondering.