Thinner

Darcy has a post up featuring Daniela Hantuchova, a Slovakian tennis player that she alludes to as having gotten “too thin”, perhaps due to pressure to appear glamorous. This struck me as interesting because an athlete’s first responsibility is to be functional in her sport.

You can’t put the shot and be worried about fitting into a size 0.

In fact, those two goals (emulating a super-model and excelling in your sport) might be contrary. The post stirred a memories of a couple of movies (as most things do) which illustrate–something or other.

First of all: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Captain Kirk is climbing up El Capitan. The close shots, of course, are 57-year-old William Shatner. The reverse angles–the ass-up shots, if you will–are of some guy with a much, much skinnier ass. These shots–presumably masterminded by director Shatner–set the tone of meta-silliness that pervades that movie.

Second of all: Her Alibi. Back when it still seemed like a good idea to make TV icon Tom Selleck into a movie star. Real-life Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova plays a Romanian acrobat, though completely lacking the body of an acrobat–or indeed, a body that was probably much good for anything, except looking at. Well, and snagging a rockstar husband. (All credit to her, though, since they’re still married 20 years later.)

But whatever a body that thin can do, it can’t do one thing her character could (and needed) to do: Climb a rope. And so we got the reverse of the Captain Kirk situation above. From one angle, skinny Paulina. From the other, a heftier stuntwoman.

I was struck by the fact that–much like Shatner–they couldn’t find anyone even close to the body-type of the actor chosen to play the part.

A propos of nothing, I guess. Just flotsam bubbling up in the ol’ Bit’s mind.

Manic Monday Apocalypso on Friday!: Terminator Salvation

We were going to see the new Michael Keaton movie (he directs) called The Merry Gentleman, but it had cleared out to make room for the new Terminator movie, so we saw that instead.

I would save this review for Manic Monday Apocalypso but I figured some of you might consider seeing this this weekend.

I’d skipped the third movie in the Terminator series, feeling that it was really James Cameron that was the heart-and-soul of those flicks, that raised them above standard B-movie fare. (I’m dubious of Harlan Ellison’s claim on the property. Not that Cameron didn’t steal the ideas, only that the ideas are both fairly generic and not at all the point.)

A chilling factor for me is that this movie is directed by the infamous McG, who helmed the two Charlie’s Angels movies. There was much to dislike about those strangely uneven films but they at least weren’t boring. And that’s not a bad way to describe the new movie, though it’s not nearly as uneven as those earlier films. Unfocused might be a better term.

So, let’s talk about the good things. Fine acting, as you would expect from Christian Bale. In smaller roles are Jane Alexander (who could be her own MMA feature for her 1983 role in Testament), Helena Bonham Carter and the great Michael Ironside. The primary supporting roles are played by Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood, who I thought were fine, but seem a little callow in comparison. (Partly and maybe mostly, this is their characters, and by the end I think the actors have fleshed them out more than the writers did.) Anton Yelchin, fresh of his Checkov role in Star Trek manages to come off pretty dang tough, and evocative of Michael Biehn in the original movie. They even have a little girl in the Newt role.

Elfman does the music, and does a fine job, though there’s not enough of it. This may sound strange, but there’s not an over-reliance on CGI. The T-800–the classic Terminator–has been slightly redesigned. It was a skinny, skeletal thing in the original, stop-motion animated. But we’re sort of jaded to that now, I think, and the redesign has a more muscular build–like it’s a guy in a Terminator suit. This is a good choice.

Also, the CGI is really good. That helps a lot. It might not be a guy in a Terminator suit, but if not, it’s smooth. This helps the action feel a lot more credible, and to McG’s credit, there are some good old-fashioned fights and vehicle stunts, instead of the CGI spectaculars that get so numbing.

There are a lot of other really nice touches, too, which I won’t spoil by enumerating here.

This movie falls well short of greatness, though. First, we have the time-travel problem. The story requires John Connor (Bale) be the savior of the human resistance, but he mostly seems like a pain in the ass. In fact, I went through 2/3rds of the movie wondering what the hell he was doing that was even necessary, given the way the war was going. That was nicely resolved, though, and ultimately made sense. So I didn’t count that against it.

No, the real problem is with the characters of Marcus and Blair. We see Marcus put to death in the first scene of the movie (in 2009, presumably), and yet he’s walking around in 2018, and Connor and Reese (Yelchin) are secondary characters to him, and–to a degree–his relationship with Blair.

But because the story really should be about Connor and Reese fulfilling the prophecy of the first movie, we get a lot of cuts from Marcus to Connor or Reese, sometimes disrupting the flow of the action. Also evoking Star Trek, in the sense that the baggage the movie is required to carry is both its strength and its weakness.

This forces some awkward scenes, such as Connor having to decide what to do with Marcus. He actually makes up his mind and then yells, inexplicably, “Who are you?!” Bale does a good job, but the whole scene–a dramatic focal point–flops.

The next big dramatic moment, where Connor delivers a speech about how humans are different from machines, also flops out of sheer silliness and inappropriateness.

And without giving too much away, the story hinges on this bit of information which allows the main Skynet base–and silly me, I thought the Skynet base would be, you know, in the sky–to be attacked. Things don’t come off as expected (do they ever?), yet the Skynet base ends up seeming ridiculously easy to get in and out of.

And there’s the other thing, the big thing, which is that the view of the future doesn’t quite hold up. The original concept had humans as a ragtag underground resistance. This movie carries that idea forward, but at the same time, features humans with subs and jets–neither of which would really be sustainable in that context–and says there are areas the robots haven’t ventured. (And, queerly, at the same time, those areas are not where the humans are strongly based.)

To top this all off, there’s a strongly hierarchical command structure and traditional military at the begining of the movie, with a suddenly completely casual rebel feel at the end. And they communicate via radio. Like, regular radio.

But I suppose I’m just overthinking it. One of the nice thing about those old WWII movies, though, was that were enough people around who had been there, that movies had a certain verisimilitude I’d like to see more strongly applied to post-apocalyptic stuff. (As you know if you’ve read this blog for long.)

Anyway, The Boy liked it very much, though he was a bit taken aback by the PG-13ness of it. And it’s true, this is a much gentler movie than the first two. There were certain things that didn’t hold together for him, but it didn’t keep him from enjoying it.

So, once again, a good summer popcorn movie, like Star Trek, but rife with flaws, like Star Trek.

Star Trek: The Next NEXT Generation

I’ve never been a Trekkie or a Trekker. In fact, my mom was a big fan of “Star Trek” and because I hated certain episodes (“Miri”, “And The Children Shall Lead”) but had to watch them anyway, it took me a couple of decades to where I could like the show.

I got into “The Next Generation” for a while but it got more and more ponderous as the series wore on. It seemed that every alien just needed a sympathetic ear and all technology was environmentally destructive. (I’ve heard that Roddenberry had to remind the writers that technophobia was not an appropriate attitude for the show.)

I loved “Deep Space Nine”. Which, it must be confessed, is barely Star Trek at all. Dark, with religion and spirituality woven in, reveling in the dark parts of society that Roddenberry would have us believe didn’t exist (yet which all turned up in the third season of the original series).

The less said about “Voyager” and “Enterprise” the better. (Well, okay, “Voyager” was “Star Trek meets The Lifetime Channel”. “Enterprise” should have worked. And yet, didn’t. Well, I heard it got better after I–and practically everyone else–stopped watching.)

So, was I excited about the new “reboot”? Nah, not really. “Curious” is a better word. The only JJ Abrams stuff I’m familiar with is Cloverfield, which is a good movie made of a pretty thin gruel. All good directors can do that. See The Birds or, hell, look at what Gore Verbinski did with the Pirates of the Caribbean or even Mouse Hunt.

This is kind of the reverse scenario. There’s too much in the “Star Trek” universe–much of it contradictory–to capture in a movie. And if “Enterprise” proved anything, it was that retconning is incredibly dull, except perhaps to die-hard fans.

Now that I’ve seen it, my reaction is a kind of generally positive “Meh”. Read on.

Dropping the canon was an excellent choice: They actually manage to do some pretty surprising things by untethering themselves from the bloated beast that is the Trek universe, while still making plenty of references. And you can savor the irony of fans being upset by this by noting that the device used to justify the changes is a Trek cliché that formed the basis for half the movies and TV series.

It was also smart of Chris Pine, who plays Kirk, not to study Shatner. While I’ve long maintained that Shatner’s performance–his utter conviction in selling some truly awful storylines in front of papier mache backdrops–is a big part of the reason the original show is watchable at all, his performance style is too iconic to be imitated without creating an entirely surreal atmosphere. Pine–apparently drawing on Indiana Jones and Han Solo–still manages to evoke a famliar feeling Kirk.

Using relatively little known actors was also a good choice. The first person I recognized was Bruce Greenwood, playing Captain Christopher Pike, the captain that young Kirk is supposed to serve under. (OK, I “recognized” Eric Bana as the villain, but only because I knew it was him. Bana for some reason never makes enough of an impression on me where I could actually identify him.) I didn’t really recognize Winona Ryder (in Jane Wyatt’s old role as Spock’s mother), though, so maybe I should just give up that battle right there.

The acting is, overall, very solid. Casa Maelstrom favorite Simon Pegg does a nice job as Scotty and Karl Urban steals the show as “Bones” McCoy, channeling the late DeForest Kelley without seeming like a parody. Zoe Saldana plays the Uhura role Nichelle Nichols wishes Uhura had been wrttten for her. John Cho (Harold, of “Harold and Kumar”) plays a tough guy Sulu, while Anton Yelchin (Bird from “!huff”) does a super-young Chekov (with heavier accent than Walter Koneig) to round out the core crew.

The action is pretty good. Kirk is drawn as a rash, arrogant, cocky SOB, and this often results in him getting the crap beaten out of him. (He gets beaten up by redshirts! Who are actually portrayed as pretty tough in this, in contrast to the original series.) They resist the urge to make him a superhero, good at everything, which gives the rest of the crew a chance to do their things.

So, if I consider it a decent homage to the past and a good, fresh summer action flick, why am I sort of “meh”? I think because it’s not really great at either. One thing that Star Trek is known for is absurd plot resolutions, the sci-fi equivalent of deus ex machina. “The Next Generation” was so awful in this regard, that it probably put “reversing the polarity” into the cultural lexicon.

There are plenty of absurd situations which might be suspenseful if one didn’t know how things sort of had to turn out. And even if you don’t watch the show, there are certain things you know. So when Kirk is stranded on a remote planet with no way (in the story’s own terms) to catch up to the plot, you know that some sort of technological magic is going to have to arise.

This ultimately diminishes the movie. I would’ve liked to see a reboot like the Bond reboot that eschewed the dumber aspects of the franchise.

The other thing that really diminishes it is Leonard Nimoy. Not that I don’t love the guy, or that he does a bad job. It’s nice to see him don the ears again after 15 years. But he’s a crutch, the deus ex the machina. He acts as both fan service and plot device, and I thank God they didn’t resurrect Shatner for Kirk, despite the pressure. (Kirk pretty definitively died in the first TNG movie.)

The whole thing feels a little stale to me, even with the new angle and approach. Now I’m not sure a (much) better outcome was actually possible here–certainly much worse outcomes were–so I’m disinclined to cast any stones. The kids should like it, the fans (who are a shrinking base, I think) maybe less so, depending on how invested they are in the original history.

The Boy liked it quite a bit, saying it was a lot more than he expected. The two Trek fans I know (including the one I saw it with) also liked it. My mom’s convinced, well-trained as she is, that they’ll move the new franchise in to merge with the old history. I’m trying to explain that the whole point of the movie was to reimagine a lot of this stuff. We have a bet that a certain minor character that died is (or isn’t, I say) going to come back in a later movie as a result.

There’s a lot about this movie that is really well done, too. The production values are quite good. They eschewed the trend of making things darker, both with the physical setting and attitude, and kept it light, even when things were, plot-wise, dire.

Strangely, the music is sort of disappointing. Michael Giacchino, who did the marvelous scores for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, never really delivers the goods with a iconic, hummable tune a la Alexander Courage (who wrote the theme to the original) or Jerry Goldsmith (who wrote the movie theme which became the theme for “The Next Generation”).

Maybe I’m just a grouch, here, or still burnt out from past disappointments, not feeling energized (no pun intended) by the new stuff, and not excited enough by the old stuff to really have that carry me through.

It’s not that I thought it was bad, it’s just that it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.

More Trooper York Fan Service

TCM and I have a Twitter relationship now. (It was inevitable.)

So when I followed this tweet, I thought of Trooper York: TCM’s five favorite bathtub scenes! Er, no, five favorite movies with bathtub scenes. (There’s a difference, I’m sure.)

  1. SPARTACUS (1960)
  2. PILLOW TALK (1959)
  3. PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
  1. THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932)
  2. THE WOMEN (1939)

Not bad. I think I would’ve picked–er, excluding the late night Cinemax movies which often have some stirring bathtub scenes–some Westerns. When I think of baths in movies (before considering actual titles), I think of Westerns, movies set in Ancient Greece or Rome, or maybe Japan.

I’ve having trouble thinking of specific titles right at the moment. The Cheyenne Social Club? I think Fonda and/or Stewart bathe in that one. Clint Eastwood was always taking a bath, it seemed like. Even in Gran Torino! Caligula had a lot of scenes in and around a bath….

OK, here’s one: My Neighbor Totoro. Great kids/family movie. Bathing is significant in that one. Though not as significant as in Spirited Away, which takes place in a bath house that services “demons”. Both Hayao Miyazaki.

Nightmare on Elm Street. Great horror bath scene. David Cronenberg’s Shivers (aka They Came From Within) had a horrifying bathtub scene used in some of the movie posters.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more horror bathtub scenes I can think of: The Shining, the absolutely horrifying drowning scene in The Changeling, Final Destination. Geeze, between Psycho for showers and these movies, it’s amazing anyone ever gets clean.

Lists You Should Not Take Seriously

Actually, most of them should not be taken seriously. But this one here is called “14 Bizarre Movies Everyone Should See”.

Do.

Not.

Believe.

It’s not that these aren’t good movies, nor that a serious student of film should have many of these on their list, but they are not at all “everyone should see” people-pleasing films. The whole premise is flawed. A great many people do not like bizarre movies. They should not be subjected to them. As a cinephile, I do enjoy many of these movies, and yet feel equally confident knowing that some people just would not enjoy them or find viewing them enriching experiences.

Some of these are slam dunks. Like Scanners. In some ways, David Cronenberg’s break-through movie, and a surprisingly deep and thoughtful horror film, for a movie which is most notorious for having a guy’s head explode. But the funny thing about it is that while the gore early on in the film is enough to rule out a good portion of the potential audience, the sedate, ‘70s hippie vibe that permeates the rest of the movie is enough to turn off a lot of those who like exploding heads. (The great Howard Shore scored the movie, but it’s hard on the ears.)

Clockwork Orange is in some ways very similar. Higher production values, obviously. But very much a combination of brutal violence and high art that is really not something that everyone has to, or wants to, see. And some folks just plain don’t like Kubrick.

Which brings us to Mullholland Drive and Eraserhead? Look, you probably know if you like David Lynch by now. There isn’t something magical about these movies that’s going to change your mind.

Same for Brazil (Terry Gilliam) and The Wall (Pink Floyd).

And so on. It’s not a bad list for someone looking for some interesting cinematic experiences, though it’s certainly not the list I would make. But everyone? Not even close.

Real Life Internal Dialog of a Hopeless Movie Geek

“Hmmm. Along Came A Spider? That’s one of those Morgan Freeman-Ashley Judd things where he’s the serial killer chaser and she’s the chasee/victim or something right?”
“Yeah. Except Ashley Judd isn’t in it.”
“…”
“Monica Potter.”
“Oh! Yeah! And they made her up to look like Julia Roberts!”
“…”
“What was with her nose?”
“I think that’s just her nose. Nothing for it.”
“…”
“Well, maybe she’s less moonbatty than Judd.”
“Hard to miss there.”

Manic Monday Apocalypso: If One Atom Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day, Two Would Probably Do You In For A Week

Today’s MMA recognizes Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man who survived the blast at Hiroshima, then went home to Nagasaki just in time to catch then next A-bomb!

It’s interesting to me that a victim meme has sprung up in Japan about this. I guess it all fits in with anti-American sentiments–oh, we’re so horrible because we’re the only ones to have used an atomic bomb in war–but it doesn’t seem exactly Bushido to bitch about being slapped by the guy you picked a fight with.

But then, Japan wasn’t acting very “Bushido” during that time period, anyway. I’ve heard that they don’t really study WWII that way. That is they don’t study their attack on China, and the atrocities there, or their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. As if WWII “just happened”.

I don’t know if that’s true. But it is kind of weird that the whole giant rubber-suited monster genre of movie–Godzilla (Gojira)–begins with an atomic blast, just from a symbolic level. If you’ve never seen the original Godzilla, I recommend it, too: The obvious parallels to Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a little surreal. Just that mix: Now you’re watching footage that looks like a documentary of a true horror, now there’s that goofy looking rubber suit.

Japan had its Apocalypse back in 1945 (though its roots go way farther back, obviously) and emerged a peaceful powerhouse, something I think few would have predicted.

As always, a reminder that while civilization is fragile, dedicated work can bring it back stronger than ever.

Sweet Coraline

One important rule of making it in Hollywood is to always be working on your next picture by the time your last one opens, and to have the one after that all nailed down. That way, if the one at the box office flops, you have two more chances before your career is finished.

This is probably impossible if you’re doing stop-motion animation. And so it came to pass that the director of Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach went eight years between movie releases: the disastrous Monkeybone and the reasonably successful Coraline.

I had held off going to see this movie, as it The Boy wasn’t really in the target audience–too old–and neither was The Flower–if not too young, exactly, then not particularly inclined to the creepy. But it has hung on and made an unexpected appearance at our local art house this week, when all the Oscar dross finally got pushed out. (Yay!)

The Flower seemed pretty confident that, as this was a fairy tale (my description), that they would all live happily ever after, and therefore it would be okay for her to see. But why o why, she lamented, didn’t they just tell you the ending beforehand? Then you’d know if you wanted to go see it!

This led to a less surreal discussion than the one I posted here (which occurred after the movie) between her and the boy about whether the ending was more important than how you get there.

So, about the movie: This is, indeed, a fairy tale about a young girl who moves from the big city into a sub-divided house out in the boondocks with her preoccupied parents. In the house, she discovers a tiny door with only a brick wall behind it. But if her parents aren’t around (asleep, away), the wall becomes a passage. And on the other side of the passage is a mirror image of her world, only this world fulfills her dreams of the perfect life.

Her other parents are doting and entertaining, her neighbors aren’t crazy old coots but magically talented, the garden is a living world of lights, and even her room is fantastically enchanted.

The only apparent thing that’s “off” is that all the people in this mirror world have buttons for eyes. (This, of course, is just a warning sign of how off the whole thing is.)

Creepy, eh? Now, fairy tales are creepy and horrific, in general. This isn’t much different, thematically, than Hansel and Gretel and the gingerbread house, or Celtic stories of “little people”, who were always doing horrible things. But if you’re going to take a kid to see this, make sure they’re not freaked out by eye stuff. (The other really disturbing part of the movie, that of the fat old women running around in skimpy clothing, was in the “well, there’s something you don’t see every day” category. The Flower recognized the reference to Boticelli immediately.)

The Flower is primarily disturbed by unhappy endings, so no issue with the eyes for her, though when the illusion of the other world started to come apart, my arm was grabbed and stayed grabbed for quite some time.

And come apart it does as the mystery of the “other mother” unfolds.

Wonderful voice work by Teri Hatcher (who shall forever be Lois Lane to me) and Keith David (as a savvy cat nemesis to the “other mother”), as well as Dakota Fanning as Coraline, John Hodgman as Father, and the comedy team of French and Saunders as the crazy old ladies next door. Ian McShane, late of Kung Fu Panda, plays an old Russian guy training mice in his apartment.

Ultimately, this is a satisfying movie, with solid Fairy Tale logic. Everything hangs together. I would swear I’ve read the tale before in another form; certainly the concept of a fairy world where illusions make very mundane or even nasty things seem marvelous is not new. But I can’t remember any particular fairy tale that goes that way. (Fritz Leiber wrote a Fafhrd/Grey Mouser story called Bazaar of the Bizarre in that vein, and the theme of great-illusion-masking-horrible-truth was used in the 2000 version of Bedazzled.)

And Selick’s work is good here. He demonstrates (again) that much of the visual artistry of Nightmare Before Christmas was his, if you didn’t pick that up from James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone. (His pallette is less ruthlessly grey/white/red than Burton’s.) Since it was meant to exploit 3D–my brain doesn’t do 3D so we saw it regular-flat-style–it has more than a few moments that are conspiculously sticky-out-of-the-screen-y, but it’s not horrible in that regard.

And the stop-motion is very fine, indeed. It’s even more impressive to think that, in this day-and-age when computers can simulate this style of animation (or even more, that computers fulfill the needs stop-motion animation was originally meant to address), that there are teams of people out there moving little dolls around a millimeter at a time. And you get to marvel at the broken mirrors, the running water, and all the other little things that seem impossible with just stop-motion. (There are some parts that were surely computer animated, but not that many!)

The only caveat I have is that the movie is probably over-rated. It’s very good, but not a mind-blowing revelation. I think a lot of the hype comes from the fact that Neil Gaiman–a comic book luminary along the lines of Alan Moore or Frank Miller–wrote the story on which this was based.

It’s a fine story. And a fine movie. Part of the reason for both, though, is that it doesn’t have grand pretensions. It’s a nice, moral fairy tale. Enjoy it for being that.

“You are a smelly pirate hooker!”

The little business with the Irish PM has particularly provoked a comparison in my mind with the dopey, funny, revisionist history that is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. I maintained throughout the election that Obama was no great orator. It’s one thing that his speeches were vacuous and contradictory, however mellifluously delivered, it’s more that he needed a TelePrompTer, which is the mark of a lazy speaker.

Forget about his debating skills (please!). He was (and is) at a huge disadvantage as far as any interactive discussion goes, because he has to lie. He had to sell a 95% tax cut (in a country where only 95% of the population doesn’t pay taxes. He had to sell a “net spending cut”–one of the baldest lies since Clinton campaigned on taxing the rich, while constantly lowering the threshhold for “rich”. He had to sell not being a socialist, though that at least is easier because, frankly, most Americans are socialists now, even if they don’t use the word.

(That’s the big lie the left has been successfully pushing for years: Refusing to label socialism for what it is.)

I’m not the only one who has made this Obama-Burgundy connection. VodkaPundit has ripped a page from the script to come up with this plan.

Anyway, a lot of the recent shenanigans and goin’s on made me think of this debate.

Ron Burgundy: I’m not a baby, I am a man. I am an anchorman.
Veronica Corningstone: You are not a man. You are a big fat joke.
Ron Burgundy: I’m a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. That’s what kind of man I am. You’re just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It’s science.
Veronica Corningstone: I will have you know that I have more talent and more intelligence in my little finger than you do in your entire body, sir.
Ron Burgundy: You are a smelly pirate hooker.
Veronica Corningstone: You look like a blueberry.
Ron Burgundy: Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?
Veronica Corningstone: Well, you have bad hair.
Ron Burgundy: [insulted] What did you say?
Veronica Corningstone: I said… your hair… looks stupid.