Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fringe, Season 1: Pilot, Same Old Story, the Ghost Network

I haven't watched many movies lately, but I did watch the pilot and the next two episodes of the first season of Fringe last night. I have to say I was thoroughly entertained. There are a number of elements that are pretty standard for these kinds of sci-fi cop shows: a rugged cop with emotional scars (Dunham), a hapless but occasionally critically useful partner (Bishop junior), comedy relief (Bishop senior), a boss with mysterious connections (Broyles), a huge corporation with a corner on cutting edge technology (Massive Dynamic), and a great conspiracy involving said technology that threatens to rip the fabric of existence as we know it (the "pattern")! This is honestly a setup for just about every dystopian-reality plot out there.

Nevertheless, where it differs is in the types of, well, fringe scientific ideas it plays with. Granted, I've only seen a few episodes, so it could get worse, but the scientific subject matter reminds me an awful lot of a Warren Ellis script (I re-read Planetary recently, and am looking forward to the second issue of Captain Swing, so his style is fresh on my mind). He happens to be one of my favorite writers in comics. He's not as gloomy and occultist as Moore, and not as predictable and coy as Gaiman, but encompasses some of the better elements of both of their writing styles. And he, too, is apparently a fan of fringe science. In the series so far, we've got things like communicating with the brain waves of the dead, rapid aging, reading images off of an eyeball via electrical impulses, flesh-eating viruses... bring it on, I say! I have a feeling it won't take me to long to get through the rest of the first season, and I also have a feeling that I won't be getting much sleep this week.

I only noticed one continuity issue which I'd love for someone to explain away to me if they care to: the image that was read off of the dead woman's eyeball was that of a bridge. Dr. Bishop makes a big deal out of elaborating on how the last image a person sees upon death is imprinted on the retina. But the bridge was not the last thing the poor woman saw. She was still alive as Speedy-Gro was about to extract her pituitary gland. So he is actually the last image she would have seen. The bridge works better for the story, but it's sloppy and you can't do too much of that kind of thing in a series and expect the audience to play along every time. That's part of what ruined Heroes for me. I felt like the validity of the plot (if you could call it that, really) absolutely depended on my willingness to lend liberal dramatic license. I resented it after a while, even though I loved the idea of the series and hung on much longer than I really wanted to, hoping it would get better.

I only saw the second X-Files movie, which I sort of enjoyed, all the while imagining I would have appreciated it much more had I seen even a single episode of X-Files. No tomatoes, please- I was in college(s) when it was on, and didn't really keep up much with television. So, I will throw this out to anyone who's familiar with both Fringe and the X-Files: are there any similarities? I was wondering if I saw a bit of a Scully/Mulder vibe between Dunham and Bishop junior, and of course, fringe science and the paranormal would certainly share ample space in a Venn diagram.

I'm still looking forward to the rest of the season. I'll keep you posted if it seems worth it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Dreamers, or How I Suddenly Became More Interested in French New Wave

I watched The Dreamers a couple of days ago and really loved it. It's funny, because I struggled a bit with admitting that I'd seen it because of the stigma attached to the NC-17 rating. Shortbus had a whole lot more sex in it, and I've seen many, many films with more graphic violence than there was sex in this film. But Shortbus was unrated and, well, graphic violence is somehow more acceptable in this culture. I should really get over it.
Because the truth is that The Dreamers is really an excellent film. It tackles themes in a number of areas: history, sexuality, psychology, youth culture... I don't really know that I can talk intelligently about it having only seen it once. So, similar to my post on Vietnam War films, I'll just talk about random things that I liked.

-Certainly the near-incestuous dependence the twins had on each other could merit a long discussion in and of itself. I liked this twist- especially because their relationship was near-incestuous, never having been consummated. It is an exaggeration of other similar types of unhealthy sibling relationships, but it can still be compared and contrasted with them because, quite simply, incetuous sex would have put their relationship in an entirely different category. I like that Matthew calls them on this unhealthy behavior. He has been caught up in it, but at the end of the movie, he has to extract himself from their world for the sake of his own sanity. And yet he does find himself caught up in it. What is the attraction? Given the political upheaval going on outside the apartment, given Matthew's difficulty fitting in to a different culture, and given his excessive (almost incestuous, perhaps?) love of film, it is easy to understand why the very small world of Theo and Isabelle would be compelling.

-I loved the ending. Suicide would have been too typical, to easy. I read at least one review where Bertolucci is accused of artifice because of it- it is too sudden and jarring a way to bring the two realities- in and out of the apartment- together. But I think that its abrupt nature is what makes it so wonderful- the real world is so loud, and colorful, and full of stimulus- it is real, in fact. And the way the three protagonists react to it is so very telling. Being a peacenik myself, I believe that Matthew is correct in that the way to solve problems is through peace and love- this is the hard and unglamourous way. But violence seems romantic to Theo, so he rushes in, having had no real connection with what's going on to this point, moving himself from one fantasy to another. Isabelle refuses even to change fantasies, sticking with her brother even though she sensed, if ever slightly, a different kind of freedom with Matthew.

There is really a lot more to explore in The Dreamers. I wish I'd had more of a frame of reference when the three were talking film. I recognized only two of the clips (Breathless and Freaks), but it really sparked my interest in French New Wave. As a result, I currently have on hold at the library Shoot the Piano Player (which I've been meaning to watch since it's been talked about so much on your blogs), Mouchette (which was one of the films referenced in The Dreamers), Pierrot le Fou (I'm willing to give Godard another try), and Jules and Jim (having heard of it via Brandon's review some time ago). Because of course- wrapped in history and narrative though it may be- at its core, The Dreamers is a love letter to film, particularly film of a specific era, and that love comes through clearly and beautifully.

John, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I actually had an adolescence completely different from the both of you, but I can still certainly relate to that unique kind of closeness that you really only can experience at that age. We don't expose ourselves to each other as adults as much as we did as teenagers. And I think we're poorer because if it.

Brandon, I didn't read the spoilers, but I'm glad you wrote about TS3 so positively. I was convinced that simply by being a "3" it wasn't going to be as good. I'd hate to have waited to see it at home and missed out on a real treat. I'll have to get the family together myself and go to the cinema.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Perfect Time Travel Film

Note: There are a number of spoilers in this review, so if you have not seen this, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS POST. You have to go into Timecrimes with absolutely no idea of what it's about to be able to get the most out of it. So, please, go watch the movie and then come back and comment.

I am aware of one time travel theory that maintains that time travel is only possible once a time travel device is invented, and then one can only travel as far back as the point when the device was invented. Timecrimes seems to be employing that theory as the basis for a very clever plot that explores the consequences of interfering with the time stream. It works incredibly well. Why it works well, and not only well but better than perhaps any other time travel movie I've seen, is because it keeps its parameters small. All of the events in the film happen within a 24 hour period (which for Hector turns out to be much longer- heh). There are a set number of variables with which to work and fewer opportunities to get twisted up in the confusing logic of time travel. Certainly it could be argued that (assuming the theory previously mentioned) once you turned on a time machine, it would become a traffic jam of folks from all points in the future trying to go back to the furthest point in time possible. And then Hector has a lot more to worry about than making sure he stabs himself in the arm with a pair of scissors. But it's easy to argue that the time machine operator, having seen the machine's potential for great damage in this little episode, could likely have destroyed it and left the troubling technology for someone else to deal with.

I'm usually a time travel story snob- I can enjoy a good movie or book that involves it as a plot device, but it is very easy for me to spot the holes/flaws in its logic. It's not that I'm super smart- it's just that the very nature of time travel opens up practically innumerable scenarios with myriad causal chains. How could anyone make them all align? The answer, of course, is to keep your goals small, and that's exactly what director Vigalondo does. It's clear that he put a lot of thought into his script, so even if there are minor flaws, a discerning viewer can appreciate not having to do the bulk of the work via suspension of disbelief.

Which of course still leaves us with the question: if Hector 2 got the idea to use the girl to lure Hector 1 to the woods because he saw it happening as Hector 1, then whose idea was it in the first place? But brain breakers like that are what make time travel movies so fun...

You were right, John, I loved it!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Confession (plus April and May movies)

First of all, DC's Blackest Night threw me for a loop. I realized suddenly that I had a large stack of comics that I had not yet read, so I got to work. I have been reading a lot of comics in the past month and not watching too many movies. What I had been watching wasn't particularly noteworthy, even if I enjoyed it. I mean, how much do you want to hear me carry on about Amy Adams in Leap Year? I generally dislike romantic comedies, but I'm a big Amy Adams fan, from Junebug to Doubt to Sunshine Cleaning, I think she one of the most talented actresses out there. She can do funny and serious and even sexy in that girl-next-door kind of way.

Secondly, I got overwhelmed. There were so many good discussions going on and I had so much to say and couldn't say it all. I didn't intentionally drop off writing, it just kind of happened. I couldn't say it all, so I didn't say anything. In light of this, I have a proposal for you both- I'll try to be more consistent with my blog, and you two figure out how to get up here for a Dryden movie and a few drinks so we can have at least one nice face-to-face discussion about film this year! Wouldn't that be fun?

Thirdly, I'm on a big music kick right now as well. I got a new hard drive for my macbook (500 Gigs!) and have been busy filling it with lots and lots of songs. This has also taken me from my blog duties.

But I do enjoy this discourse with you both, and I hear that you value what I have to contribute to the discussion, so perhaps you will be hearing more from me.

In the meantime, here are a couple of lists of what I've seen the past couple of months.


The Invention of Lying- I've been disappointed in Gervais's movie career so far, though I haven't wanted to admit it.

Little Miss Sunshine (2nd viewing)- I will always love this film. Steve Carell's performance is particularly compelling.

Fantastic Mr. Fox- I thought it was wonderful, straddling that magical line between what is appealing to kids and to adults. I thought Anderson did an excellent job. True, it was a little self-conscious at times, but aren't all of his films?

The Hurt Locker- Excellent as well- see my notes from an earlier post.

Neverwas- It had a bit of a movie-of-the-week feel to it, but McKellen was lovely as the crazy guy. It had a pretty good cast, really- Eckhart, Brittany Murphy (RIP), and Nick Nolte (looking like shit, as usual).

The Hound of the Baskervilles- This one takes place in the late 1800's. It's interesting that they changed it partway through the series- most of them take place in contemporary 1930's and 1940's England. The scene in the cave where Holmes reveals himself to Watson is cinema gold.

It Might Get Loud- I'm a fan of all these guitarists, and I really liked hearing what they had to say, but as a whole the film lacked cohesion. Loved the animated bit about Jack White sleeping in a room filled with musical instruments and equipment.

Year One- Terrible movie, but I loved watching Cera and Black act like idiots together.

Princess Mononoke- I've been a huge Miyazaki fan for some time now, but it took me forever to watch one of his best. Adrienne and I and my wife and kid and his friend are going to be having a Miyazaki film fest this weekend- we're hoping to watch 4 of his films. The lineup is not solid, but My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and Howl's Movies Castle are very likely candidates.

The Reader- I really enjoyed this and thought the acting was excellent. Maybe the first film I've seen that hints at sympathy for a Nazi. Oh boy.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas- There are a lot of WW2/Holocaust films out there, so it's saying something that this film adds something new to the canon. The ending was chilling, but again, you're left with an opening to sypathize for a Nazi family. Even, God forbid, the commander.

Crank 2: High Voltage- Did I mention that I'm a sucker for Jason Statham? I'm not a big action film buff, but I've seen 3 Transporters and 2 Cranks, and Cellular. These are not particularly good films either (the first Transporter was pretty good, actually). What is it about him? That accent, maybe? I have to mention as well that Snatch is probably in my top 10 favorite films, so there's a little of an explanation...

Appalachian Impressions- A very nice low-budget documentary about the AT.

Briars in the Cotton Patch: the Story of Koinonia Farm- an off-the-beaten-path civil rights-era documentary well worth seeing

Comedy Jesus Show- Jesus as a stand-up comic is a great concept, but this sucked.

Breathless- You already know how I feel about this film.


How to Train Your Dragon- Amazing start- the first half of this film was the best kids' film I've seen in a long time. The second half was just like just about every other Hollywood kids' film I've seen. Average them together and it's still a very good movie, though.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes- We are almost done watching all of the Rathbone/Bruce Holmes films. Only one more disc to go! This one also takes place in the 19th century. Moriarty's in it and it's also very good. It was interesting to discover that this one's not actually based on a Doyle story.

Babies- There were a few moments that didn't seem genuine (extra-clever camera angles, and a couple of particularly "precious" scenes), but overall this was a wonderful film. I would watch it again.

Rollerball (James Caan)- I hate to say it, but the further I get from having watched this, the less impressed I am with it. It is a facinating study of seventies filmmaking what with the endless zooming in and out and the long closeups of brooding faces. The message seems to be "it's important to be free" but Caan's character didn't seem to be particularly enlighted in his pursuit of freedom. And what the hell was with the exploding trees?
But the Rollerball sequences? Awesome.

The Karate Kid (2nd or 3rd or 4th viewing- who knows? I watched in on HBO more than once after it came out)- I wanted to show this to Ethan before we went to see the new one with Will Smith's kid in it (for which he had free preview passes). I suspected the new one would be crap (which it pretty much was) and Iwanted him to see it framed by the originals, which are a couple of the best mainstream films to come out of the eighties. After all these years, it really holds up well. It's still very watchable, and at the end, when the asshole blonde kid congratulates Danielsan, it makes the movie nearly perfect.

The Karate Kid, Part 2- Kind of like Kill Bill 2, this movie is much better when viewed closely after the first (I said "kind of" like Kill Bill 2). The whole first scene, after all, takes place right after the tournament in the first film. Part 2 rambles a bit more, but there are some great classic scenes (chopping the ice in the bar and when Daniel exposes Sato's nephew as a fraud, for example). True, the plot is essentially the same as the first, but Miyagi takes a more central role- as he should, as these films are really about him.

The Karate Kid (the new, crappy one)- There are exactly two scenes that I enjoyed in this film- when Jackie Chan beats the poop out of a bunch of ten-year-olds, and when Chan and Smith climb a mountain to this awesome temple with a lady on a ledge dancing with a cobra. The rest of it is crap.

Iron Man 2- I know it's not as good as the first (everybody keeps reminding me)- but I thought the cast and the acting was excellent- RDJ, Cheadle, Rourke, Rockwell, and Paltrow were really fun to watch all the way through. I'm still totally on board with this franchise.

Date Night- Sort of a run-of-the-mill plot, but these two are REALLY funny together. I laughed pretty hard at the theater.

The Princess and the Frog- I liked it as much as Aladdin and The Lion King but not as much as Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. It's better than a lot of the stuff in between then and now, like Mulan, Pocahontas, et al.

Saw VI- I will keep watching these as long as they keep making them. Those traps fascinate me, really. It's why I keep watching. I don't really understand a damn thing about the plot anymore.

Ninja Assassin- Really cool SFX, kinda lame story. But sometimes really cool SFX is enough.

Leap Year- I know I'm already married, but I want to marry Amy Adams as well. I adore her acting. I even loved Enchanted.

So there you have it. 2 months of movie watching. Questions? Comments?

Now I just need to catch up on reading your blogs...