Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Macarena for Bosnian Orphans, Dept.

Something I did not know before watching this video, itself a bit mid-’80s but also surreal: that large groups of people know how to dance Gangnam Style and will do so before a camera.  Not since ‘86’s pandemic of Los Angeles crowds walking like Egyptians has a Caucasian group reached across ethnic lines so enthusiastically to assume the identity of an ethnic Other.

It was, I believe, Martin Luther King Jr. who said,

“We are the world.  We are the children.
We are the ones who make a brighter day.
So let’s start giving.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm Bi. Curious?, Dept.

Missed Skyfall in its blow-your-face-off IMAX incarnation, unfortunately.  But saw it.

I was influenced by surprisingly good press.  Usually, the 23rd film in a series isn't very good...oh wait, I can't generalize to all those other 20+-film megahit franchises that don't exist in the global market.

Daniel Craig is the anointed successor to Sean Connery.  The others may have their adherents.  I do not number myself amongst them.  And very much not of panto spy Roger Moore, whom I can no longer imagine going through his shtick without hearing "Yakety Sax" for soundtrack.

Skyfall hit all the marks.  Action.  Love.  Loss.  Locales.  Humor.  Molten love interest in the form of Bérénice Marlohe.  It moves the Big Story forward.  The Mission: Impossible series tries to do that too, but as I don't relate to Tom Cruise's characters as any more or less real than his public persona, it all takes on a kind of flatness for me.  His character (what's his surname? Falcon? Neutrino? Thrust?) had a wife or someone who died or lived but thinks he's dead? or knows he's alive?  I don't care.  At all.  I didn't even remember he was married or engaged or petting above the waist.  So, I'll consider his films not to have met their half of our brief contractual relationship.  At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, I pretty much carried away that Han was encased in carbonite, to offer one particular benchmark for mainstream film series to hit.

So, Skyfall.  I neglected to mention (on purpose!) the Villain.  And gratefully it's not Sociopathic Eurotrash or Ethnic Megalomaniac.  But a proper, unhinged bad guy with a backstory that folds neatly into the theology and none of the "threatens to flambé Canada with a laser scalpel from space" Mooreiana.  I know...the co(s)mic scale of the mid-period Bonds gave them a sort of Barbarella camp, but I like martini Bond rather than drink-that-looks-naked-without-at-least-one-paper-umbrella Bond.  Javier Bardem, blonde and fey (or as Entertainment Weekly had it, "sexually ambiguous,") is restrainedly over the top, moving the Bond Villain closer to a Heath Ledger Joker.  I do wonder what motivated the decision to have the character exhibit a bit more polymorphous perversity.  Bardem's character range is popularly defined by the gamut of macho running from Vicky Cristina Barcelona's irresistible lover to the brutality of his hired killer in No Country for Old Men.  By contrast, he appears to play on both teams here, melding the omnivorous lover and stone killer, in his critically and popularly well-received interpretation of Raoul Silva.

Shanghai has a dazzling turn in the film's mid-section.  It's so interesting to see it portrayed as this glittering exemplar of exotic modernity.  Your sobsister was there in the early-mid '90s, when it was just just beginning to shed its Mao-era skin and lay down the foundations for the transformation east of the city across the Huangpu River.  It was the summer that sunglasses and sidewalk ice cream shops seemed to be every where.  In Skyfall, it takes on a Blade Runner-ish LED gloss reflected on new buildings, new windows, new walls.

So, go.  Run like the wind if you've not seen it yet.  Escapist fare with some chew to it.  And a finale not in space or astride a volcano but in raw Northern countryside familiar to Bond.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tears in Heaven, Dept.

From the Netflix film summary:
Austin and Julie Locke are devastated when they learn that their young son, Dax, has been diagnosed with cancer. But with courage, determination and faith, they decide to give Dax one last Christmas -- even if it has to be in October.

I don't know about y'all, but I turn to film and television for entertainment rather than opportunities to peek into shattered lives.  Was this on the Bringdown Channel?  Or possibly PlathTV?  *ha ha*  No, no.  It aired on gmc, which, like KFC, hides its product behind a bland initialism.

gmc, the Gospel Music Channel--it probably lowercases its logo because that's just how humble and Christlike they are--was founded by the son of televangeli$t Rex Humbard as a "a positive, entertaining alternative to broadcast television," according to his business partner.

So, if you've ever had a hankering to have yourself a Touched by an Angel or Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman marathon, call your local cable provider and snag yourself some "Uplifting Entertainment™."

And if you happen to like Movies with Messages, you'll be shittin' in high cotton, cousin, with gmc's upcoming premiere Christmas Angel about the dilapidated and abandoned house next door to the telegenic little blonde narrator girl maybe being occupied by an angel who grants wishes?  Or perhaps you'd like to tune in for gmc's world premiere of its series I Forgive, in which viewers get to vampirically feed off the emotions of reg'lar folks as they forgive, on semi-national television, people who did unconscionable shit to them like murder their son.  Why?  Because the show offers "a welcome and much needed alternative to the often sensationalistic, exploitive and negative reality genre."

I guess the irony meter was broken in the marketing office the day that copy flew out the door.

Anyhoo, back to The Heart of Christmas.  It stars Candace Cameron Bure, who used to be DJ Tanner on Full House and is currently the sister of Rapture-lovin' Jesus-botherer Kirk Cameron.  She doesn't play the mother of the afflicted child, but, instead, a Woman with a Career who's Too Busy to spend time with her husband or go to her daughter's soccer games or take her son trick-or-treating--she will Be Moved by the family's story, okay? and probably change her selfish, ungodly, feminazi ways.

This made-for-TV film--"based on a true story of hope and compassion," according to the manufacturer--is apparently inspiring in that the family's community gathers around it in its time of trouble, much like George Bailey's in It's a Wonderful Life.  The only difference being that that's a nuanced film classic, and this is extruded product like Play-Doh stars.

One reviewer writes:
"I highly recommend this movie, please be prepared to cry as it is very very sad. I think it was extra hard for me because I've buried two of my children."

And I think: You've buried two children, and you watch movies about children dying of terminal diseases?  Me, I might watch some Star Wars or maybe Astaire-Rogers musicals, but I haven't walked a mile in that reviewer's shoes. 

So, yeah, The Heart of Christmas.  For when you want to celebrate the birth of humanity's savior by watching a film about the random yet relentless impact of disease on a young boy's life...sorry, about how a little boy played his role in God's Plan by dying of leukemia and inspiring people and stuff.  Enjoy.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Some Mistakes Were Made, Dept.


I'm a former military officer who thinks it pretty reasonable to have an affair with the head of the CIA with the expectation that no-one will ever find out about it.

I'm a married mother of two who sees nothing wrong with writing a series of threatening anonymous emails to a family friend of my married lover because I feel threatened by her.
I'm a journalist who needs a ghost-writer to actually write the biography of the man I'm bedding.

And I'm a highly educated academic who pretty much always wears sleeveless tops so you can see my cut bi- and triceps all the time.

From Bismarck, North Dakota, ladies and gentlemen, little Paula Dean Kranz! Watch as she attempts to dismantle her life from the inside out! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Assignment, Dept.

So, a week after seeing Cloud Atlas, I watch another film that burns through a series of movie genres and features an actor playing multiple roles.

In contrast to the former, however, Holy Motors does not take pains to make its point clear to the viewer.  In fact, it seems somewhat indifferent in that regard.  It merely offers images and stories and seems to say, Work with that, 'k?

I don't really want to offer too much detail about the film.  Although, given the fact that it's only here for one week, I wonder how many readers will even find it at their multiplex anytime soon.  Aside from the fact that it has stiff competition for moviegoers' entertainment dollars, opening, as it does, the same weekend as Skyfall and Lincoln, two films that are its polar opposite in terms of setting and meeting audience expectations.

That said, more than a few critics are touting Holy Motors as film of the year.  I think it unlikely it'll accumulate The Artist-level Oscar™ buzz--though both films are built around a love of cinema--simply because, as noted, it doesn't make things obvious or comfortable for the viewer, and a leading man who sheds his characters like a molting snake doesn't leave much for an audience to identify with.

What I will share is that Holy Motors will leave you guessing even as it doesn't demand that you "get" the film to have enjoyed it.  And fans of Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face will get a treat.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Wait for the Book, Dept.

Okay.  So I gave Cloud Atlas the best shot I could.  Watched it in a sparsely attended Thursday showing at an IMAX theater.

Eyecatching movie.  Poor adaptation.  E for effort.  Would not watch again.

Sorry, kids.  I read the novel on which the film is based in order to watch the film with a clear and recent sense of its source material.  And I feel that for someone who hasn't read the novel, he or she is getting some odd, truncated, oversimplified version of the story, like relating Joyce's Ulysses in the form of an org chart or PowerPoint presentation.

Basic background: The book comprises six novellas involving people in six different times: a notary aboard a Hawaii-bound ship leaving the Antipodes in the 19th Century; a British composer in Bruges in 1931; a reporter in California in 1975; a British vanity press publisher in the current day; a clone restaurant server in mid-22rd-century New Seoul; the half-literate survivors of The Fall in 24th-century Hawaii.  Their stories interweave.  In the book, each narrative is cut in half and resumed after the furthest-future story is told in its entirety.  In the film, one flits from moment to moment to scene to scene.

[SEMISPOILER ALERT: Basically, eight actors play most, if not all, of the principal roles.  So, we see Tom Hanks as a scheming doctor in 1, a hotel manager in 2, a thuggish memoirist in 3, an actor in a film-within-a-film in 4 and the protagonist in 5.  Lotsa makeup.  Lotsa weird, unconvincing prostheses.]

I feel that the filmmakers feared that the translation from complex text to film would be too far a leap for audiences with no context outside what they're shown because they've changed the book in fundamental ways that either (i) pander to the audience (kewl CGI chase scenes!!) or (ii) try to make the connections between the six novellas really obvious.

And that's my problem with it.  The source novel by David Mitchell is 500+ pages long and moderately complex in its statement and recapitulation of themes and images and words.  In order to make this comprehensible for an audience that does not have the benefit of a text through whose pages it can retrace its steps and remind itself of names and events, the filmmakers chose to take the basic theme--the continuous transmigration of souls (limited by the author to the character bearing the comet-shaped birthmark in each story)--and expand it to every single character in each novella.  So that everyone shows up reincarnated in every story.  Which was not the author's intent, at least that I could read.

The film sorta kinda ends up being about love transcending the specifics of one time or place, but also sorta kinda  about the same eight people's imprisonment in an unbreakable cycle of reincarnation.  Which are not the same thing.

Also, major changes were made, presumably to make the film more accessible, so that, for example, the subtle and engrossing story of the intellectual and spiritual awakening of Sonmi-451, the cloned server, becomes a whiz-bang antigrav shoot-'em-up, complete with a studly hero who saves this weak female who is also a Vessel of Wisdom.  Urgh.

Even at almost a three-hour running time, the film contains a fraction of the detail that the book offers.  Thus, the weaving relationships between the young composer, the established composer whom he serves, the composer's wife whom he beds, the composer's daughter whom he despises, themselves a mirror of contrapuntal themes of music, are elided in favor of a simpler story.  The fascinating backstory of how the corpocratic New Seoul came to be and of how Sonmi slowly achieves self-actualization are dropped in favor of a flashier, more traditional sci-fi narrative.  The far-future story, narrated in a post-apocalyptic pidgin that's reminiscent of the speech in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, is fascinating on the page, but unintelligible on the screen (and not just because some scenes seem to have had the directorial instruction: "Mumble!").

Can I recommend it?  It's intellectually, formally and artistically ambitious, certainly, which one doesn't hear much in discussing $100M films.  It's visually engaging, especially in IMAX.  The whiplash editing has its own advantages over the ordered structure of the book and creates its own rhythms and juxtapositions.  So, yes, I'd say see it as a film experience.

But read the book first.  Really.  That's Cloud Atlas.  The film is Cloud Atlas: The Anime.