Thursday, August 27, 2009

Eternal Earth-Bound Pets

This wonderful organization of animal loving atheists is dedicated to taking care of the pets left behind by those taken by the rapture. It's a lovely gesture, and I hope to become a member!

[via Boing Boing]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds

I'm a big Tarantino fan. I look forward to everything he does, and haven't disliked one of his movies yet. I've been following the Inglourious Basterds rumors for years, and have been dying to see what he would do with a WWII film. Now that I've seen it I'm not really sure what to make of it.

On the one hand Basterds features some of Tarantino's best writing and direction. But at the same time the movie seems to be lacking something. Like Kill Bill, the tones and styles of Basterds come from all over the place. But they don't seem to gel quite as well as they did in Kill Bill. Some of the stylistic flourishes are jarring. Most of the scenes are deliberately slow, building tension up to a sudden (usually violent) climax. And because the scenes are so drawn out, whenever Tarantino decides to insert a quick cutaway, usually for a laugh, it disrupts the flow in a very awkward way.

The scenes that work in this movie work very well. The lengthy opening scene, or "chapter", is the best example of the slow buildup that Tarantino re-uses multiple times throughout the movie. It's a scene almost entirely of dialog between two men, one of whom is one of the best villains I've seen in a movie ever. My other favorite scene comes later, and has pretty much the same effect, only with more people thrown into the mix. Neither of these scenes focus on the Basterds themselves.

The trailer for this movie is pretty misleading. This is not just a movie about a group of American soldiers running around Nazi-occupied France and collecting scalps. That's only about half of it. The other half centers on a Jewish French woman who runs a movie theater that has been chosen for the premiere of Joseph Goebbel's latest propaganda film. The two stories of the film are barely connected, but they converge at the theater for the film's final conflict.

With the exception of maybe Brad Pitt's character, none of the Basterds are ever fully developed. A few of them get a single moment to shine, but for the most part are relegated to the background. Their story has some really great turns, and most of the movie's fun comes out of their scenes, but again it feels like something is missing. Perhaps two major plot threads were just to much to sustain in such a slowly paced movie. I'd be interested to see if there is much deleted material, or is this was Tarantino's vision from the start.

Both stories are revenge fantasies, neither one quite as satisfying as the one in Kill Bill. But it's a fun movie, more about WWII films than the actual war itself. I feel like I need a second viewing now that I know what to expect. I could see this one growing on me over time. I just don't feel it's quite up to snuff with the rest of Tarantino's work.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Legion" Makes Armageddon Fun Again

Legion could do for Armageddon what Slither did for alien apocalypse:

You had me at "demon granny gets blasted off ceiling with shotgun."


I was disappointed to see that Ponyo (or Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea, to use its full translated Japanese title) was playing at the large Pinnacle theater as opposed to Downtown West like all the previous Miyazaki releases. If it had been released at Downtown West there might have been a good chance of seeing it in Japanese with subtitles. Showing on one screen at the biggest theater in town pretty much guarantees a dubbed release. But it seems unlikely that Disney even released a subtitled version in theaters, and that was probably a smart decision. Outside of the ardent anime fans (and Miyazaki fans in particular), the audience for this movie is really young. More Totoro, less Mononoke.

But I'm a fan of all Miyazaki's work. Even - if not especially - movies like Kiki's Delivery Service, which features no greater conflict than a young girl trying to regain her confidence. But under Miyazaki's masterful direction movies like this absolutely brim with charm and beauty, and even a sense of serenity. When's the last time a movie simply made you feel content? Miyazaki handles tenderness and youthful wonder with such a sure and honest hand that it never gets bogged down in false sentimentality or schmaltz.

So, even with the dub (and it's really not a bad dub) it is a fantastic movie. The story of a young sea creature that wants to become a human is obviously inspired by The Little Mermaid, but it is grounded in a unique world. It's a fairly loose adaptation, filled with all the incredible detail Miyazaki is known for.

The only real action scene takes place about halfway into the movie. The rest is saved for great character moments, adventure, and a pleasant story that takes its time to unfold. Even when the entire world is in peril you never get the sense that anyone is too worried about it. The characters in Miyazaki's lighter films prefer to take things in stride, and that's something I can get behind. It's nice to spend time in a world where even evil isn't entirely committed to getting its way all the time.

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker has been receiving a lot of hype lately, and I will now add to it. The movie somehow manages to show what life on the ground is like for an American soldier in Iraq while not getting overly patriotic or sentimental, and while keeping you on the edge of your seat for the majority of its running time.

The tight focus of the film is centered on a group of soldiers who get called in to disarm IED's. Part of what makes the movie so successful is that it doesn't stray outside these few soldiers' points-of-view. It's done with a near-documentary style and almost a complete lack of musical score. There also isn't much of a story, so much as a series of vignettes as the company counts down the last few days until they get to go home for a while.

Any further description might spoil the layers of tension that are masterfully built up through the movie. It is easily one of the best movies I've seen this year so far.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

My new music from July:

1. Allen Toussaint - The Bright Mississippi
2. RIP SLYME - Time To Go
3. Regina Spektor - Far
4. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns
5. Au Revoir Simone - Still Night, Still Light
7. We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls
8. Future Of The Left - Travels With Myself And Another
9. Focus - Hocus Pocus
10. The Move - Message From The Country
11. Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
12. RIP SLYME - Talkin' Cheap
13. Beirut - March of the Zapotec & Realpeople: Holland
14. An Horse - Rearrange Beds
15. The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
16. M83 - Saturdays = Youth

Bobby McFerrin Is A Wizard

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

[via Boing Boing]