Quick reviews
The following are quick reviews of films I wrote up in emails.




American Wedding and Alyson Hannigan
I just got around to watching American Wedding (aka American Pie 3) this weekend.  I love that band camp girl.  A nerd and a perv in the same cute body!  Wow!

Big Fish
Just saw Tim Burton's Big Fish.  Awesome!  Really amazing movie that, as one reviewer put it, is probably the first film of his to have the content actually used his talent for interesting visuals (i.e., neither overwhelmed the other this time around).  I really loved it.

Bruce Almighty stolen by Steve Carell
There's a deleted scene in Bruce Almighty where the co-anchor's head catches fire--- man, they should have left that in the movie!!!  I guess it was just a bit too intense for most people, but I loved it.  It's funny that that guy completely upstaged Carrey in that one scene alone.  My favorite is the outtake where he's screaming, "Neeeewwws...  Nnnnnnneuuuuuuuuws....   Naghnaghnagheeeeeewssssssss," and Catherine Bell, his co-anchor, keeps cracking up.

At one point she reaches for a tissue to wipe her eyes.  He reaches for a tissue as well, and you think he's finally about to lose it and start laughing, but instead he just dabs his forehead and gets ready for the next shot.  I don't think you can make that guy laugh.  I've been on the floor gasping for breath during some of the interviews he's done on the Daily Show, yet he never indicates he's aware of how ridiculous a situation he's in.


The Changeling
No kidding, I think this is one of the creepiest movies of all time.  Sure, there are a lot of memorable horror films out there, but they tend to be so for the over-the-top visuals (e.g., Linda Blair's head spinning, Hannibal Lecter's "fava beans" soliloquy punctuated with slurping, Jack Nicholson peering through the splintered door screaming "Here's Johnny!" etc.).  The Changeling gets by on the plot alone: no creepy atmospheres or any other gimmicks that aren't firmly rooted in the story.

Amy?
When Chasing Amy came out, I was really surprised how far Kevin Smith had come following Clerks and Mallrats.  This looked to be the unexpected revelation of a promising writer-director.  Wrong!  He followed this with Dogma, which should have been one of the most amazing parodies of religion ever... and then he went further downhill with the childish fantasy of Jay and Silent Bob!

Fight Club overdose
A few years ago when I was in the process of moving to Denton from McKinney, I was going to school out here when there was an ice storm on evening just before I was to leave for home.  Rather than driving back through a potential disaster on the highway, I decided to stay the night at my new place out here.  At that point I had only moved a few boxes of books over, so the only "real" things I had were an entertainment center I had just purchased the weekend before.  That is, a dvd player, big tv, and a vcr.

At that point I had no cable, no tapes, and only one dvd of Fight Club.  I had already seen the movie five times in the theater (easily a record for me except for the original Star Wars movies; I just kept dragging different friends to see it while it ran first at the dollar theater, then for several months at the Inwood).  Well, you probably guessed where this is going.  I'm almost certainly the only person who can claim to have actually watched the movie through all four audio commentaries and seen all the extras on disc 2.

I still love that movie, but I haven't seen it since then and don't know that I *ever* want to again.


The Fly
The original version of The Fly has to be the movie with the all-time stupidest group of individuals.  I can imagine conversations with the director on the set: "What's my motivation again?"  Director: "You ate a lot of paint as a child."

Jurassic Park III
I finally got around to watching Jurassic Park III the other day.  About the nicest thing you might say about it was that it was silly.  The one part that was actually interesting --if highly improbable-- was the least developed: the kid surviving alone on the island.  Now, we've seen that bit before in Aliens, but the story remains untold (well, minus an attempt in a comic book) just how Newt gets by.

What I would like to see is a version of Castaway with dinosaurs.  If you can tell the story of how a kid gets by on inventive applications of found artifacts of the previous inhabitants, then you've got a good story there!  For serious science-based novels, Crichton manages to turn out some amazingly B-movies.  Remember Congo?!?


Lord of the Rings
I still haven't seen the second movie.  Fantasy just doesn't do anything for me.  You're really limited to certain elements and you almost *have* to have some of them and you absolutely *cannot* have things outside of the set.  Let's say aliens show up?  The audience would freak.  You can't have aliens!  How about robots?  Nope.  Dragons?  Definitely.  In fact, you better fucking have dragons.  See, that's just too rigid for me.  The LotR series is well-made, but the films just don't offer me anything new.

Matrix 3
You know, I could go on and on and on about this, but I'll save it for later.  I have a feeling our overall feelings about this one are exactly the same.  This is the first movie I walked out of flat out depressed since Phantom Menace and before that, the Fifth Element.  As with those two, this was a powder keg of potential, and they pissed all over it.  No bang, just a fizzle.

The Animatrix
I liked the concept, but it was kind of a sell-out to franchise it thusly.  The only point beyond dispute is the quality of the visuals.  Still, I wish they had been to some more concerted effect.  Not only were they a little too far removed from the actual movie series, I thought they needed a little more direction.  Only "Last Flight of the Osirus" had the appropriate pacing.  I don't know if you know about Enter the Matrix, but that game bridges the aforementioned animation and the opening scene of Reloaded.  *This* is the kind of continuity and interdependence of stories I thrive on.  It also shows true forethought and not just fiscal opportunism.

Reloaded Revolutions
I remember the announcement of the titles of both sequels way before even the teaser trailers came out.  I get the impression they had a rough idea what they were going to film, but it turned into something different.  You just can't plan that far in advance.  I suspect there was supposed to be a revolt by the minds inside the Matrix that just didn't figure in with what they assembled by the time they were through with Reloaded (which, incidentally, is a dumb title too as it implies that the sequel is just a re-hash of old material... and that is hardly the case).  I believe, in time, Reloaded will be hailed as the highlight of the trilogy.  It took decades for people to come to that realization with Empire Strikes Back (another lame title), but that's the way people's minds work.

Office Space
It's a so-so comedy, one of my all-time favorite lines in a movie turns on in it.
So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life.

The Passion of Christ
It's this a snuff film with a lot of S&M.  Honestly, I haven't seen it yet (and really didn't plan to, but I put it on hold at the library last night while I was looking up other things), but I regard this as the singular entry in an apparently new genre: Christploitation.  Here's the story about a many-faceted guy with some great ideas who has some interesting experiences, but what does this movie focus on?  You got it: hardcore violence.  It's like the blaxploitation films of the '70s; every black woman is a large-breasted abused-for-the-last mutha-fuckin-time hooker out for vengeance against that no-good drug-dealing pimp.  Only in Mel Gibson's blood-thirsty version, every would-be messiah has to be brutalized for 90 minutes before his message is validated.  WTF?  Last Temptation was really good though.

Rocky Horror
The first time I saw Rocky Horror was a really great night.  The party I went to beforehand wasn't especially memorable, but the show itself was great.  I can't even remember how good the cast was, but the lines the audience had were absolutely great.  Granted, I've probably heard many of those same lines every time I've seen it since, but that was such a fun experience.



Run Lola Run
Dani and I picked it up just under a month ago.  It's been on my list forever since it's #93 on the IMDb.  I enjoyed it, but I wasn't especially crazy about it.  Before it started "looping" (for want of a better word), I was seriously wondering if it was going to be 100% style without substance.  Picture the scene where she throws the phone's receiver up in the air and they play techno music for another minute and a half before the goddamned receiver hits the cradle.  That's a fucking eternity if you haven't established a significance at that point.  It's a world of difference between that and, say, 1) the ball going through the net just as the endgame buzzer sounds, 2) the wire cutters snipping "green" as the clock winds down to zero, or 3) the proton torpedoes diving 90 degrees into the exhaust port of an battle station the size of a small moon with firepower greater than half a star fleet and imminently prepared to squash the small band of rebels seeking to free the galaxy of the grip of a tyrannical empire.  Or something like that.

Anyway, once the movie established its direction at the first repeat, I started to get a little more into it.  Curiously, a lot of people don't "get" it.  My take on it is that Lola dies, and in those dying moments she basically re-imagines how things might have been differently, both in the worse and, later, the best possible ways.  This is an old plot device, but I can't think of enough examples to make a case for this because I keep forgetting them.  However, the oldest one I can remember was a Nathaniel Hawthorn short story (later adapted on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," I believe) in which a man was about to be hung by his regiment during the Civil War (or American Revolution, more likely; it doesn't matter, adapt it to anything) and the rope breaks.  He immediately takes advantage of this fact and runs away.  Of course, the fighting breaks out at that point as the opposing forces attack just then (you could imagine, perhaps, that someone shot to rope, freeing our hero just as he was about to have his neck broken).  Well, he manages to get away from all the action and make his way back home to his wife and children back on the farm/plantation/'burbs/whatever, but just then there's a voice-over from a solder we met earlier at the gallows (or firing squad or gas chamber) who says "Pull" (or "Fire" or "Now") and the camera returns to the earlier frame of film where our hero is about to be killed, only this time he does, and the audience and suddenly *snapped* (with accompanying sound effects from his cervical vertebrae) back into his reality, that this was all a fantasy preceding his death.  Very nasty trick on the audience, but very effective.


Secondhand Lions
I saw Secondhand Lions the other day.  It was pretty good, but thematically it was very close to Big Fish in that both were about men in their twilight years who tell (apparently) tall tales with some varying degrees of truth to them. Big Fish also had the advantage of a better director (Tim Burton), one who knows how to keep what's on the screen interesting.  However, I think some viewers might be put off by Burton's style given that there's just a bit too much of it for some people.  "Less is more" applies to Cecil B. DeMille before Burton.

Slasher pics
I'm a little bored with the slasher pics.  If it's a single killer (or a family) without any superhuman abilities, you have to be more about the psychology than the spectacle.  This is why Silence of the Lambs works (although, yes, they did dwell on the visuals as well, but at least within a framework).  I would be more into something like Hellraiser where you have a whole underlying mythology that is at least as interesting as what's on the screen.  Here again, the Matrix fits this description.  I was more interested in the Matrix universe than in the kung fu and gunplay.

Torque
When Dani and I saw Revolutions there was a preview for some Fast and the Furious knock-off (same producers actually) on motorcycles.  As they put up the credits as the end of the trailer, this guy in the back of the audience shouts out what a few of us were thinking: "RENT!"  For this flick, not even that, my friend.

Tron
I just watched the special edition of the movie Tron.  I didn't watch the movie again (I had already seen it a couple times), but all the extras made it worthwhile.  There was a load of behind-the-scenes footage both from the original production and follow-up interviews with the filmmakers and cast 20 years later.

One thing that was especially interesting in it was a statement by one of the special effects guys: "No film before was ever made like this, and no film will ever again be made this way."  It was an interesting way of thinking about it, but the techniques used on the film were riding between two eras: optical printing (and related methods) and the emerging world of digital effects.  The amount of work to do the film was absolutely amazing.  In fact, here's an interesting fact covered in the extras that was reiterated in the IMDb trivia section:

At the time, computers could generate static images, but could not automatically put them into motion. Thus, the coordinates for each image, such as a lightcycle, had to be entered for each individual frame. It took 600 coordinates to get 4 seconds of film. Each of these coordinates was entered into the computer by hand by the filmmakers.
What they were doing was using 100 frames per second.  Each frame required 6 numbers to describe the position of the object.  In this case, say they were animating the "light cycles."  The first three numbers described the x, y, and z axis position, then they used three more numbers to describe the pitch, roll, and yaw.  Also, you should realize this was just *one* cycle with no moving parts.  There were often two or three in a given shot.  And to top it all off, they couldn't even *see* what they were doing until the entire process was complete.  In order to figure out the best points to program into the computer, they just drew lines on graph paper, then approximated where the points fell along the axes.  Talk about tedious.

Still, the film really looked terrific, even if it wasn't the Matrix of its day in terms of an engaging story or box office success.  However, its influence on the Matrix itself is indisputable.  Consider this plot outline (lifted directly from the IMDb's main page):

A hacker is literally abducted into the world of a computer and forced to participate in gladiatorial games where his only chance of escape is with the help of a heroic security program.
Sound familiar?  Even the MCP (the big bad guy he faces at the end of the movie) looks just like the thing Neo meets up with at the end of Revolutions.

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart is not one of my favorite Lynch movies.  The acting has been criticized as being exceedingly "over-the-top," even for a Lynch production.  I figured that was intentional and that a lot of it was for fun rather than an exercise in serious drama.  The whole Wizard of Oz-as-roadtrip-movie was a little too campy for me.  The original novel had none of the touches that are characteristic of a Lynch movie.  In fact, I was very disappointed reading it because I had expected it to go more into detail.  Instead, the novel is a very short, bare bones story outlining Sailor and Lula's trip to get away from her domineering mother.  That's it.  All the "extras" sprung from Lynch's mind.  I suspect he saw the basic story as a vehicle (if you'll pardon the pun) to drop in little stories of his own (e.g Lula's uncle who dressed up as Santa Claus with a sack full of sandwiches... and later cockroaches).

X2
Dani and I just saw X-Men 2 since it was in the dollar theater around here.  It wasn't too bad, but I'm always left wanting more.  When you know so much about the universe in which the story takes place, it's disappointing how little they can get to in 2 hours.  Still, there wasn't a lot of mystery or puzzles to think through, you just had to wait for the good guys to show up.  Wolverine's "origin" was a big let-down.  What do we know now we didn't before the movie started?  A bigger mystery is what nut job figured out that Stryker’s kid’s brain juice was a good mind control substance?  I’m going to be up all night trying to figure that one out.

And what the hell did that title mean?  That’s about as empty as “Batman Forever.”

At least the plot was better this time around.  Same for the set design.  Magneto's lair in the first one was just about the stupidest thing I have ever seen on film.  It was the archetypal comic book villain's lair, but was about as photogenic or realistic as yellow spandex.  Speaking of which, I appreciated the overt parallels of mutant-phobia to homophobia.  That’s a lot more relevant than the previous incarnation as a Nazi parallel (which they probably realized was already overdone to lesser effect in the last movie with Magneto).

Anyway, Dani hadn't seen the first movie or read any of the comics, so it was fun to fill her in as it went along.  It's too bad she didn't get to pick up on the "easter eggs" along the way, but I told her about a few after it was over.  I'll be interested to see where they'll go with X-Men 3.  There's a strong indication that they'll do the Phoenix storyline, but I can't imagine how.  Then again, I never thought they’d be able to cast Wolverine.

I would like to see the series develop into something along the lines of a James Bond saga, with a format the audience could expect each time.  For example, the pre-credits "episode" of each Bond picture is a given.  I would like to see something similar with the X-men (a la "X-Man") in which one character (e.g. Nightcrawler this last time around) gets to show off his powers in a solo escapade that introduces some element that will figure into the story as the plot thickens.  However, unlike the 007 series in which continuity is limited almost exclusively to casting (i.e., who's playing the lead, M, or Q), I enjoy the teaser at the end of the X-Men movies.


A couple random thoughts:

Movies
I don't see the point in buying movies.  One of my hard and fast rules is to never watch something twice.  There are occasions when there is cause to break with that, of course (e.g., Fight Club, the original Star Wars trilogy, Contact, Matrix Reloaded, etc.), but I would rather devote my time to watching something I hadn't seen already.  Granted, it may turn out to be junk, but I'm willing to take the risk.

Production Design
This was a really great show about an under-recognized part of the industry, and I was really happy to see a show on PBS recently where they went into more detail on some of my favorite pictures like Blade Runner (regarded almost universally as the pinnacle of achievement in design).  One of the reasons I enjoy sci-fi movies is that they explore what "might yet be," and even the worst science fiction movies are humorous when they fail at this.  By contrast a bad horror movie simply fails without looking ridiculous.  Science fiction movies in particular live and die by good production design and, especially, by good set design and construction.  No matter how good the story, script, and even the special effects are, a movie like Total Recall ends up looking terrible because all the depictions of Mars simply look like paper mache with orange spray paint rather than real, iron-rich rocks whereas the original Star Wars trilogy tended to use a lot of natural environments or built very elaborate sets to convince the audience that they were someplace real.




Copyright 2005 In a gAle[x]y far, far away....
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