Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gonna Take Pollution Down To Zero

I was thinking of tossing in a movie and commenting on it, like Labyrinth, since I mentioned it in offhand manner in a previous post. But I’m just not in the right mood to remember the order of ‘y’ and ‘i’ in the word “labyrinth.” That’ll be for another time, and I promise, it’ll have a section on how “Dance Magic” belongs on every David Bowie Greatest Hits compilation.
Maybe I can write an entry on watching Captain Planet when I was a kid after school. Sounds good.

So watching Captain Planet back in the day made me want to club baby harp seals. I didn’t want to do that before watching the show, but by the end of an episode, I was damn sure ready to start.

That took considerably less time than I thought it would.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Not About Movies

Have you ever sat down to take a good hard mental look at why we name hurricanes? I mean, here are these destructive storms that have the capability of wreaking millions of dollars worth of property damage and leaving death tolls in the thousands, and we give them names like “Andrew,” “Katrina,” and “Bobbi-Sue” (maybe not that last one). Why anthropomorphize a force of nature? And if so, then why don’t we do the same to earthquakes, blizzards and tornadoes? What is it about hurricanes that gets the news all hot and bothered so they can say stuff like “the devastation left by Andrew was devastating for the devastated survivors.” Is that supposed to make the carnage “better” somehow? This is not a six year old who threw a tantrum and his Thomas the Tank Engine set across the room. These are real trains being thrown through houses, citywide evacuations, mass destruction swirling around. How does giving them the commonplace, mundane names of the W.A.S.P. neighbors down the street help anything? At least give them suitable names like Hurricane “Sonofabitch” of “Fuckshitup.”

Hypothetical situation: A hurricane blows down my house, turning it into a patch of kindling, brick and asbestos. That would make 2009 a bad year for me. It would suck royally. Then to add insult to injury, the scientists who watched the onslaught of wind approach named it “Stevie.” So “Stevie” knocked my house down. Why “Stevie?” Well, there’s a complex naming system for hurricanes, since more than one can occur in a season, so they have to enter a secret bunker in Colorado and offer a blood sacrifice to Dagon before spinning around a list of acceptable names in a hopper, then having a thalidomide baby reach in with their foot to pull out the winner. Meanwhile, hypothetical me has still had his house knocked down by hypothetical Stevie and is hypothetically cheesed off something fierce. Hurricanes are not cute and there is no purpose in giving them an anthropomorphizing name. The world has had hurricanes that f’ed S up for centuries. Ships have been sunk, cities like Port Royal were submerged. They did not have, nor need boring names for tempests that could shake the very foundations of the world.

You know what? Eff it. I’m going to start anthropomorphizing all sorts of weather systems. Hey look, here comes Summer Storm Joel to be followed by Heat Wave Tatiana. Last week we had Alberta Clipper Ishmael come through. See, I named them to make the weather seem less imposing. Next time, I’ll start giving them home addresses too so I can send them Christmas cards, because I’ll miss them and want to keep in touch.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Neverending Soda

Yadda yadda, Hollywood would rather go back to the well to dredge up old franchises instead of coming up with new things. You know the drill. If its critically & financially successful, a string of theoretically unnecessary sequels are bound to follow (Pirates of the Caribbean, Saw), or worse, a remake (The Manchurian Candidate) if the sequel machine has died down/is nonexistent. Its so common that most audiences are pretty damn jaded about the potential of said followups being worthwhile, usually accompanied by a hefty dose of internet nerdRAGE. Fondly remembered franchises from childhood are particularly prone to rage, so if you’re into seething rage at your fond childhood memories being violated in non-consensual sexual terms, this should get the hatred pumping through your veins.

However…it has been a very long time since 1984. (Wolfgang Petersen directed Troy also, a movie that fills me with rage) The Neverending Story is beloved for being a charming, well-made flight of fancy that stands on its own as a great movie. Yeah, there’s hefty doses of cheese in it, but also a great source of nightmare fuel for the kiddies, which any great children’s movie has (Those Sphinxes, man. Sphinxes with death beam eyes). Seriously, the best children’s movies are ones where the threats are truly disturbing and frightening so that you legitimately wonder how and if the hero overcomes it. Look at Labyrinth: Jennifer Connolly has to rescue her baby brother from David Bowie before the kid turns into a goblin muppet forever. Think about that for a moment.

I just realized I’ve gone off on a tangent. So, anyway, before you go off on a rampage about how the remake’s gonna suck and how it should never be made and wah wah wah, ask yourself, did you ever read the book? Yeah, I know, “don’t compare the book to the movie because the book’s always better.” But, that’s kind of my point here. The movie’s great (the sequels, I’m told are considerably less so) but the book is bloody amazing. Think G’mork is freaky in the movie? Ten times more so in the book as he has his showdown with Atreyu. The Nothing eats away at creatures while they try to warn other characters to get away. The movie is only the first half of the book, roughly. After Bastian gets to Fantastica (yes, Fantastica, which is much cooler sounding than Fantasia; which reminds me of Mickey Mouse in a wizard hat), it actually gets darker as the book examines a child with the powers of a god and wish fulfillment. Then it gets darker still before the heartwarming ending. Its fantastic, and throughout, Michael Ende’s narration is full of wit and charm (ok, yes, my copy’s an English translation, but the wit jumps the language barrier).

My advice? Swallow the rage. Calm down. Read the book and think of the potential that something like this has at being awesome. Think of someone like Guillermo del Toro directing a two movie situation with an effects team as experienced as the Jim Henson Company. Not that it actually will happen, but oh how sweet it would be. Of course the execs could screw it up royally in a bid to make some quick cash, but the concept itself of a more book loyal adaptation has got legs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

‘Kay, I Don’t Make Films, But If I Did, They’d Have A Samurai

Oh look, the day after Mardi Gras, must be time to try out another 40 day marathon of updates. Wonder how long it’ll last this year?

Movies come in a few flavors: Commercially Average movies that are forgotten a year later (most Comedies), Bombs that critically & financially flop (Delgo, just... Delgo), Guilty Pleasure/Cult Films that make up for questionable quality with enthusiastic moxie or winking self-awareness (Army of Darkness), Oscar Bait that tries to remind you that Cinema is serious business (critically acclaimed, frequently ignored by average filmgoers), Legitimately Good Movies that most everybody agrees are damn good times (Braveheart), Financially Successful Movies that Suck (The Phantom Menace) and the list can go on. However, there’s also a category of films that are regularly elevated above the rest of the pack. Movies that aren’t just Good, but also Good For You, in a creatively inspirational way. Transcendent experiences that click on the visual, acting, writing and basic concept level. Movies that good creative teams will try to spiritually emulate and bad teams will outright rip off (there IS a difference).

Which brings me to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Those who’ve seen this movie can see where I’m coming from. High Five your screen with me. Those that haven’t seen it, well, you actually have seen this movie, just wearing a slightly different hat with the same plot. A village is helpless to defend itself against raiders and sends out a few members to recruit some champions who’re willing to work for a pittance but all bring unique skills to the table. There’s usually seven of them. Adventure ensues, with doses of comedy then heartwrenching drama (particularly in the final showdown with the raiders). It’s a simple formula, that done right can yield awesome results, such as successfully transplanting Samurai from the Warring States Period to Cowboys in the American Southwest, but if done badly, provides a checklist for hacks to tick off.
But that’s not why this is a great movie. Seven Samurai is great because it throws in a whole mess of themes, from the coming of age of a young warrior to class conflict and so on, and makes them all work.

Released in 1954, it’s a black and white film in Japanese (natch), directed & co-written by Kurosawa and clocking in at a hefty 206 minutes in its original Japanese release, the move is an epic that gives the audience an intermission. It combines violent action scenes with grim resolve and dynamic visuals. Yes, it runs long, but every scene has a point. Is it perfect? No, there are flaws in every film, even this one (the love story angle is kind of *meh*), but that doesn’t matter when you get to the samurai themselves. Badasses to a man, the biggest badass of them all is Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo.

Kikuchiyo is, for all intents and purposes, insane. Laughing at bandits firing muskets at him, jumping around with the energy of a meth addict, shouting very loudly very often, and carrying around a gigantic Nodachi sword. Mifune goes full blast with Kikuchiyo, layering the character more than a simple berserker; giving him sympathy, a sense of humor, a temper, flaws and the biggest heart of the seven, and possibly one of the funniest true badasses of cinema. Mifune steals every scene he’s in, no question. Runner up goes to Seiji Miyaguchi’s Kyuzo, a stoic, frighteningly skilled duelist who volunteers one night to single handedly raid the bandit camp to claim a rifle and runs off into the darkness, leaving the rest of the heroes wait nervously (especially the youngest samurai). Some time later, he walks back to the village out of the fog, carrying a rifle. He drops the rifle, simply saying “got two,” and TAKES A NAP. Hardcore.

I suppose I should at least mention The Magnificent Seven, which is the 1960 American remake, which does not suck. In fact, it’s a classic in its own right, and features a team-up of domestic badasses by the likes of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner and James Coburn, but that I suppose would be a discussion for another time.