Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fashion Faux Pas

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
Tonight I made the mistake of accidentally flipping to Project Runway on Bravo. This show is seriously addictive. I feel less guilty after a reviewer on NPR's Fresh Air gave it a nice review. It's NPR people.
I'm not sure how far into the new season it is yet, but I do have one pressing question:

What is up with Christian's hair?

Watching previous seasons of Project Runway has prepared me to expect certain style quirks from fashion designers.

Take Austin Scarlett from season one:

Slap some giant glasses on him and you have a younger, more flamboyant Tootsie.

Then you've got Santino Rice from season two, who looks like a flirty rabbi, but dresses like a gang member from a Jackie Chan movie:

And then there was last season's Jeffrey, who had the One Ring apparently tattooed around his neck:

All pretty eccentric, but this season's Christian takes the cake with a hair style that actually infuriates me. I'm only somewhat embarrassed to admit that I yelled at the screen at the first sight of him.
I haven't seen enough of this season to know if Christian is a good designer, but it may be irrelevant. I can't take anyone seriously who mistakes the side of their head for the back.

The picture above doesn't do it justice.
Watch some video for the full effect.

Movie Night 11

This is a bit late. Sue me.

1. The Big Empty -
Hey, guess what? It's another Wholphin short! This one from volume 1.
The Big Empty is based on a short fiction piece that originally appeared in a McSweeney's quarterly. I haven't read it, but I'd love to based on this film.
It's about a young woman whose vagina is a passage to an endless frozen tundra.

2. Black Snake Moan (2007) -
I love this movie for a number of reasons. First of all, I've had a crush on Christina Ricci since Addams Family Values (what? I was a weird kid). That being said, not only does she bear herself emotionally, but physically as well. Yeah, fellas!
Also, Samuel L. Jackson gives another great performance heavy with righteous fury. But he also shows a vulnerable side he rarely gets to in his roles. So there's more depth from him than I've seen in a lot of his other work.
And the soundtrack is fantastic. Sam Jackson learned to play guitar, and sings the songs himself in this, and it sounds great.
The story, if you don't know, is about a black man in Memphis who finds a young white girl beat up on the side of the road. He takes her home to nurse her back to health only to discover that she is a seriously disturbed nympho. The man decides that, in order to get right with God, he will help cure her of her sinful ways. His method for doing this involves chaining her to the radiator in his home.
The plot is out there. It's like a B movie premise with A-list talent. And it only works because writer/director, Craig Brewer, has the sensitivity and talent to balance the absurd situation with very genuine feeling.
This, more than anything, makes me want to see Hustle & Flow, which was also by Brewer. I heard it was good, but never got around to it. Now I'll definitely see it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007


There was no movie night this week for a number of reasons.
So instead I'll write about Beowulf, which I saw Friday night.

Beowulf is not the worst movie I've ever seen. However, I have enjoyed worse movies far more. The movie's major problem is Robert Zemeckis' insistence on forcing his motion-capture animation technique on the viewing audience. I haven't seen The Polar Express, but I've heard from more than one person that it was kind of creepy. After seeing Beowulf I know exactly what they mean. Imagine watching a story enacted by mechanical automatons with human skin stretched over their frameworks. That's pretty much what the characters in Beowulf look like. It's the stuff of nightmares.
Robert Zemeckis' belief that subtler performances can be gained from this style of animation just shows how little he knows about animation. All you have to do is watch a Pixar movie to know how subtle traditional animation can be. And if your goal is to perfectly capture an Anthony Hopkins performance, then make a movie with live actors and leave the animation to someone who knows what they're doing.

Ironically the movie's "terrifying" monster, Grendel, comes across as annoying at best. He's not scary, he's not even well-designed from an artistic standpoint. He looks like one of the animators let their kids design him. And his performance consists of a high-pitched scream that will make you want to jam your fists into your ears. In the few scenes that he isn't screaming you won't know what the hell he's saying anyway, since all of his lines are written in old English.
Actually, every scene with Grendel is either annoying or just silly. Beowulf strips down to nothing for his battle with Grendel. His excuse for doing this is so that he and Grendel are on equal terms. I'm not really sure how pants would give him a huge advantage, but whatever. This leads to the movie's first major action scene being more about the random objects that pop up to hide Beowulf's shame. These objects include, I swear to god, a large candle and the hilt of a sword. Zemeckis apparently took his action inspiration from a clever Austin Powers gag.
Also, when Beowulf punches Grendel in the ear it causes Grendel to shrink down to normal size. Taking the shrinkage even further, when Grendel's mom lays him to rest, his body has shrunk down to child size, yet his head hasn't shrunk at all. It looks really stupid.
Grendel is just handled very poorly in this movie.

John Malkovich's character is far scarier, though unintentionally so. Of all the characters in the movie that suffer from Zemeckis' zombie animator machine (or ZAM), he comes off the worst by far. Malkovich has an odd, stilted style of vocal performance anyway. Add this to the ZAM and you really get the feeling that something unholy is taking place before your eyes. In stunning 3D, no less!

I do want to mention the 3D, because it is the reason I payed full price to see this movie (actually 3D movies cost more). I love, love, love digital 3D and what it is capable of. Even in a movie like The Nightmare Before Christmas it looks fantastic, and that movie wasn't originally filmed for the format. To see a movie that was built from the ground up for 3D was spectacular in a lot of ways. There are shots in the movie where the camera is low to the ground, and the landscape appears to stretch off into the far distance. It looks amazing.

Unfortunately there are many points in the movie where something is popping out of the screen simply for the sake of doing it. It's neat, but in a movie that tries to take itself somewhat seriously it's also very distracting. There are moments of drama or danger that fall flat (pardon the pun), because your mind is simply marveling at the pointy thing that's coming right for you. Zemeckis is so in love with the technology that he re-uses several gags within the same movie. There are two dream sequences that end with something scary suddenly leaping toward the screen. Still, with this movie that was the most entertaining part, since the characters don't engage you on an emotional level.

No doubt there will be directors in the future that will use the 3D effects in subtle and engaging ways. Until then I'm sure there are going to be plenty of films that try to cram as much 3D spectacle into every frame possible (see: Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, coming to theaters in 2008!). It's like the new CGI - really only effective when it serves the scene, rather than being the entire point of the scene.
Although it's likely 3D will always remain firmly in gimmick territory. It's hard to imagine a truly serious film ever using it. Imagine someone trying to make a holocaust movie in 3D. There's just no reason for it.

I should also mention the script, since it was co-written by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favorite writers. I've read a couple of his novels, but mostly I'm familiar with his writing in comics. Considering he wrote Beowulf it makes it that much more disappointing. It's hard to say if the script would have come across better in a live action movie, or even an animated film that was well animated.
There were some things I liked about the story, such as the exploration of how legends are made. Beowulf is painted as a braggart, whose boasts evenly match his legitimate deeds.
But then there is the inclusion of Hrothgar's queen, who is almost more of a prop than a real character.
And none of the intentional humor really lands. Again, it's hard to tell if that's the fault of the script or the awkward execution.

I think I've sufficiently ranted about Beowulf. Hopefully next week our regular movie night will be back on schedule.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Much Needed Daily Show Fix

Thank you, Daily Show writers, for delivering content to the fans in the midst of the strike:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What Would Jesus Buy?

This recently became one of my most anticipated holiday movies:

I love documentaries.

Monday, November 12, 2007

O How The Mighty Heroes Have Fallen


Remember the simplicity of, "save the cheerleader, save the world?" Even though season one took off slowly, at least we quickly learned what was at stake. We knew there was a clear villain, a lot of potential good guys, and a terrible catastrophe that threatened them all. Sure it got a little convoluted, and the "save the cheerleader" bit turned out to be a bit of a red herring. But by the time we figured that out we were so engrossed it didn't matter.

What happened?

I find myself less and less interested in the characters I came to love. Even my favorite, Hiro, has been completely wasted in what turned out to be a long-winded origin story for a villain introduced much too late. All that build-up for Mr. Nightmare, only to find out he's just a pawn in the grand scheme of a 400-year-old British samurai? Really?
And the future virus outbreak seems like a pale shadow of the nuclear disaster in New York from last year. I guess more people stand to lose their lives, but I just don't feel the danger. Too much time spent on Peter's amnesia, Micah's foster family, and Sylar's road trip south of the border, have confused the story to the point of being tiresome.

Last week finally seemed to be turning things around. But they lost the momentum with a flashback episode this week, that managed to fill in some holes without adding anything new to the overall story.
The thread about D.L. not actually being dead just so he can die anyway was probably the most pointless thing to come out of this show yet. Even Niki's reaction to D.L. getting shot a second time was more of a shoulder shrug than a life-altering event. And couldn't D.L. have retained the dignity of dying at the hand of Linderman, rather than some greasy nightclub guy?

The only part of tonight's episode that gave me any thrill at all was the scene at the beginning when we saw the season one climax from Nathan and Peter's point-of-view. For a brief moment I remembered how good the show was at one time.

I gave the second season the benefit of the doubt. After all, the first season spun its wheels for a few weeks before becoming the show it did. Unfortunately, it's now clear that nothing in season two is going to reach that previous level. And with the season being cut short, due to the writer's strike, they only have three more episodes left.
It's just as well, since the writers seem to have gone on strike much earlier.

Movie Night 10

1. Spellbound (1945) -
Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Alfred Hitchcock, and Salvador Dali? Good lineup!
This isn't one of Hitchcock's best films, at least in my opinion, but the Dali stuff is definitely worth seeing. I just wish there was more of it. And according to Wikipedia there was more (about 20 minutes!), but producer David O. Selznik nixed most of it. The bastard.
Anyway, what really drags this movie down is the abundance of outdated psychoanalytical jargon. The story is basically all about using psychoanalysis to help patients, but the ideas (mostly Freudian) are all ancient history. This leads to some unintentionally laughable situations. When the main character claims he doesn't believe in all the Freudian nonsense, one of the other characters (a doctor strongly resembling Freud) basically tells him, "You're crazy - what would you know?"
The movie is not irredeemable, but time hasn't been kind to it.

2. Dark City (1998) -
There was going to be another Hitchcock film here, but some of our group left early and the mood shifted. So I put this in, as it's one of my favorite genre films, and the remaining group hadn't seen it yet.
It came out only a year before The Matrix. It's unlikely it had much influence, but there are definitely some stylistic similarities between the two movies. But these are more genre conventions than specific plot points.
A man wakes up in a strange world he doesn't understand, pursued by mysterious adversaries in black who wield strange powers, discovers powers within himself, saves the world from false reality. Both movies owe much to film noir and comic books. Otherwise they are completely different.
Whereas The Matrix wraps its story in semi-plausible science fiction tropes, like virtual reality and artificial intelligence run amok, Dark City is pure pulp fantasy with evil aliens and matter-bending psychic powers. So they work on different levels. The main characters of both movies are Christ figures. The Matrix pounds that theme into the ground (especially in the sequels), while Dark City is having too much fun to care.
The cast is great, with William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland doing his best Peter Lorre impression, and Richard O'Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show, anyone?). And I think this film was the beginning of Jennifer Connelly's rise to become Hollywood's most dark and depressing leading lady.
I love it.

To Boldly Go...

Hey there, Trek fans!
The first trailer for episode one of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission is online. It's just a teaser, really. A quick introduction of the crew.
But my voice can be heard!

Direct link

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Movie Night 9

Halloween is over. Moving on...

1. Cat Soup 2001 -
This surreal anime short follows a young cat and his older sister on a journey through space and time to recover a lost piece of the sister's soul. Along the way they encounter a wizard, befriend a pig (and then eat him), and almost get cooked into soup by a perverted android.

2. Steam Boy (2005) -
This is an incredible adventure film set in an alternate, steam-punk Victorian England. It's directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, director of Akira, probably the most famous anime of all time. The animation is better than anything Disney has done in well over a decade (Pixar excluded). Further proof that 2D animation is not dead by a long shot.

Ray Steam discovers his father and grandfather are involved in a new invention that will change the course of mankind. Trouble is, his father is using the technology to create war machines of the future. Ray struggles to find a way to stop them from being unleashed on the world, while trying to figure out who he can trust (if anyone).
One of the things I love about this movie is the character depth. The adults are all portrayed in varying shades of gray. While there are good guys and bad guys, no one is completely good or evil. It's a level of depth unfortunately lacking in many family films. Hell, it's just not a very popular concept in American culture at all, these days.

Monday, November 05, 2007

We Thus Propose Do Bussiness With You

I've been getting a lot of emails lately with subject lines like the title above. Apparently all these deposed foreign dignitaries are desperate to share their millions with me.
Anyway, it reminded me of this guy who strung one of these scammers along in a very amusing way. READ