Saturday, December 31, 2005

Damn. I forgot about Broken Flowers and Howl's Moving Castle. Years are too damn long.

Okay, the revised list;

1. Munich
2. A History of Violence
3. Broken Flowers
4. Serenity
5. Sin City
6. Brokeback Mountain
7. Grizzly Man
8. Revenge of the Sith
9. Howl's Moving Castle
10. Batman Begins

So now it's an even ten. Okay.
At last, a day stretching before me with almost nothing I need to do. I've been itching to post about movies I've seen lately, but Christmas put me quite behind on Boschen and Nesuko, so I've been drawing like mad all week. I'm nonetheless basically happy with the chapter as it stands, even though I changed it significantly as the week progressed. Sometimes I wonder if I oughta settle down on Boschen and Nesuko and simply write it as one of the sorts of stories it seems to be in certain chapters, but I get a certain glee from watching it hop genres.

Anyway, Caitlin posted a list of her favourite movies of 2005. Here's mine, of what I've seen--though it ought to be noted that I still have not seen King Kong;

1. Munich
2. A History of Violence
3. Serenity
4. Sin City
5. Brokeback Mountain
6. Grizzly Man
7. Revenge of the Sith
8. Batman Begins


Rarely have I left a movie theatre feeling more pleased. This is the most unsentimental Spielberg movie I've seen and I love it.

It's also the second best spy movie I've ever seen (Notorious is still #1). Mainly because it never falls into the two big spy movie traps--it never gets the dry bird's eye view of the political world and it's games (like a Tom Clancy movie), and it never treats itself like it's fake (like a James Bond movie).

Spielberg shows that the biggest influence on him as a filmmaker is probably Alfred Hitchcock, whether he likes it or not, because the main reason this movie works so well is that we see everything from Avner(Eric Bana)'s point of view. The stuff about Israelis and Palestinians is interesting, and always played intelligently without Spielberg giving a heavy hand to either argument, but instead allowing things to sit out in the light; cold, bloody, and tragic. But the presence of those details is important mostly because they enhance Avner's story;

Munich is about rationally deciding to kill for something you love, and then continuing to kill because it continues to seem like the most rational course action, and then waking up one day and realising you're a creature whose entire life is wrapped around killing others and avoiding getting killed yourself. The movie shows the strange deletion of beautiful, seemingly integral parts of the human perception. There are some critics saying this movie has a lot of fat to be trimmed, but I wouldn't remove a single thing. The reviewer at CHUD claims there's too much of the business of killing in the middle, but what I saw was a movie seamlessly moving through amazing action sequences to create the feeling of Avner's mind realigning to the new conception of life. Not just becoming good at killing but learning how vulnerable everyone is to a bomb under the bed, or in the telephone.

Here's a movie that says we've lost innocence and goodness, we're probably never gonna get 'em back, and no-one knows any solutions.

A History of Violence

I thought of this movie a couple times while watching Munich. They're both brilliant movies about the function of violence on our world, the effects it has on our lives, and whether or not it's worth those effects.

I talked about the movie in this post.


I talked about it here.

I've since watched the first five episodes of Firefly and, while I love the Joss Whedon written episodes, the others are only good. There was a ballroom scene in the episode called Shindig where Inara really didn't come off but Kaylee was adorable and it was somehow fun seeing everyone playing with what was essentially a standard ball from a 1930s or 40s Western.

Sin City

I talked about it here.

I've since gotten the extended edition, which is really nice, since it isolates the stories as their own short films. Now I can skip That Yellow Bastard with a clear conscience. I'm finding The Big Fat Kill has grown on me quite a bit, especially since I've read A Dame to Kill For. Really looking forward to the next movie.

Brokeback Mountain

Gorgeously shot, with Crouching Tiger-ish views of vast, mist shrouded mountains. Well acted with an endearingly subtle, grumpy performance from Ledger, and a charmingly Marlboro-ish Jake Gyllenhaal.

The premise of a love that everyone in the world forbids, yet persists anyway, is obviously the makings of a great tragic romance. Or a cheesy one. It's to Ang Lee's credit more than anyone else's that it is definitely the former.

The characters are real and complex and the movie, though it looks beautiful, never goes for the decadent and operatic, choosing instead to seemingly allow the real feelings speak for themselves.

Of his motivation to make movies of wildly different subject matter, Lee often says that he's mainly attracted to stories of people trying to adjust to a world changing around them while not accepting them. And that was one of two things about Brokeback Mountain that reminded me of John Huston's The Misfits. The other thing being that The Misfits took place in relatively the same period in relatively the same society. It's not hard at all to imagine Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist competing with Montgomery Clift's Perce Howland at the rodeo.

And while The Misfits is about free spirited cowboys being broken by capitalism, and a divorcee being broken by the impermanence of love, Brokeback Mountain is about two men being gay in the middle of what could be one of the worst possible cultures to be gay in. And that's made clear by a flashback Ledger's character has of an old man being beaten to death for just maybe being gay.

It's a good, beautiful film. And yes, damnit, it's a little sad. Why is it I feel like I'm the only person I know who likes sad movies? Anyway . . .

Grizzly Man

Talked about it here. I gots to see more Herzog movies . . .

Revenge of the Sith

I still like it, bitches. I talked about it in this post.

Batman Begins

I said things about it in this post. For some reason I don't feel much like getting the DVD. I'm not sure why. You know, I don't get a hankering to re-watch Memento very often, either.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Don't eat lasagne before, while, or after reading the new Boschen and Nesuko chapter.

Ah, and, again, I recommend signing up for Caitlin R Kiernan's Sirenia Digest. It'll knock your socks off.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I feel like someone's scrubbed behind my eyes with a dirty little mop. Because Christmas day is all about frantic, tight schedules wherein many are angered if I fall out of step, I've taken the sleep upset Thursday and used it to quickly alter my sleeping schedule--I went to bed at 8am or so on Thursday, as usual, and then got up three hours later for the maids, as usual. Only this time I didn't go back to sleep when the maids were gone. Thus enabling me to go to sleep at around 8:30pm Thursday, and awaken to-day at around . . . 3:30am. Well, it was the best I could do. It just feels so strange sleeping at night; however sleep deprived I was, every time I woke up, I felt like I ought to leap out of bed and do something.

So I wasn't good for much that was very complicated yesterday. The two pages of Boschen and Nesuko script I wrote only demonstrated to me how boring I am when I'm sleepy. So I have a lot to do to-day, particularly since I wanna get ahead a bit.

Anyway, Merry Cephalopodmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I've seen The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And there's a very simple way to tell you why this movie doesn't work:

To-day's audiences are too jaded and emotionally atrophied for the real The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It's my belief that everything that's wrong with the movie--say, 81.7% of it--can be traced back to that problem. This was not the time for The Chronicles of Narnia to be made major motion pictures.

It's really too bad, too, because, at one time, Disney would've been the perfect studio to make The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Imagine if the folks that made Snow White had done this? That might have been beautiful.

I will say I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I was going to. I mostly liked the actors, and I was particularly surprised by how much I liked Lucy, who is very good, except when she cries, but I won't moan about that as it's probably hard to get convincing crying out of child actors, even generally good ones. I liked Edmund and his perpetual frown that reminded me of Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures. I liked the beavers--they were fun and engaging, almost exactly like they were in the book. I adored Tilda Swinton as the witch--she was threatening, beautiful, and cunning. I bet a lot of people left the theatre wishing she'd won (I know I did). I loved the design of the armour and costumes. Richard Taylor's team prove once again that they are brilliant at crafting these things. The colour schemes are very different from the Lord of the Rings costumes, with silvery armour and bright red, blue, and green tunics. It reminded me a lot of the Technicolor Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, which, to my mind, is the absolutely perfect note to strike with this material.

But my absolute favourite part of the movie was when Lucy came across the lamp post and met Tumnus. It was the only time in the movie where I actually sort of felt like I was looking at Narnia.

And the interaction between Tumnus and Lucy is, I suspect, one of the few pieces of the story that Andrew Adamson was able to connect with enough to actually put some heart into. It's also why the beavers worked--these were both Shrek-like bits; animals and mythical creatures talking absurdly like familiar humans, to humorous effect.

As for what I didn't like, I'll start at the beginning;

I'd heard a long time ago about Adamson deciding to make the opening scene be the bombing of London by Nazi Germany during World War II, even though this is not in the book, nor does the book begin on even remotely the same foot. When I first heard about it, I thought perhaps Adamson was trying to suggest that Narnia was in fact a means through which the children are coping with their experience of real war, with real death. I don't know if I'd necessarily mind such a story, but such a story is not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The book's a fantasy, yes, but such a manoeuvre with the movie would be to make a fantasy within a fantasy--essentially, it would be assuming the audience is too jaded and emotionally atrophied to take fantasy at face value. They'd need it justified with a reality check, a VH1's behind the scenes this-is-what-we're-literally-saying device, nothing so eloquent as actual art, thank you.

Now, having seen the movie, I'm not sure Adamson's intent was anything so complicated. What the opening scene actually felt like was a sucker punch. Like Adamson felt the movie needed a big opening, and he needed to throw in the trauma of the childrens' separation from their mother, which we get in the following scene where they part at the train station. It felt like a cheap trick to get us emotionally involved, but it didn't work at all because we don't know the characters yet, and the shots of the bombing are terrifically dull. For one thing, it begins in the air with the German planes, then cuts to the interior of one of their cockpits. Since the shots aren't particularly interesting, and look fake, and the pilot is pretty anonymous in his mask, we don't really have a point of view yet, so the effect is somewhat inferior to what stock footage of actual WWII planes might have been.

And beginning the movie with emotional trauma is just a bad idea, as I think Lewis could have pointed out. He didn't begin the book that way, and with good reason--kids are resilient and not usually accustomed to grief and horrific stress. You really have to take them through it; you can't just drop them right in, particularly when your uncommunicative filmmaking style isn't helping.

The professor's house is introduced decently enough, and at this point in the movie, I was making a concerted effort to not be bothered, since I wasn't sure yet whether my chafing from the opening wasn't due to preconceptions. I was really watching Lucy because I remembered not much liking the look of her in the trailer. What's interesting is I don't feel like I actually got a look at her until after she went through the wardrobe. The scenes of the children in the mansion involve some sub-par dialogue and some very quick cuts, which reminded me of a quote I'd heard of Sergio Leone saying about the movies he saw in his youth never giving you time to actually look at the stars' faces. Leone, of course, was known for his long close up shots, so maybe his perspective was peculiar, but it's movies like this that give me an idea of how he must have felt.

The introduction of the White Witch was good--as I said, Swinton was a goddess on screen. But her dwarf henchman, described as hideous in the book, was far too cute, and made the audience giggle far too much.

It was nice seeing the kids deliver Lewis dialogue at Tumnus's house, where Edmund argues that Tumnus was a criminal, and we know why he would say that, and it's subtle character stuff. But those spots dissolve far too quickly into dumbed-down one liners.

One of the movie's biggest problems is that Aslan aggressively doesn't work. He looks very cartoonish, is introduced rather off-handedly, and we never sense the grandeur of Aslan as we do in the book, mostly because I don't think Adamson even began to know how to pull it off. I feel bad for the lion during the stone table scene, but only because I wouldn't want to see that happen to anyone, and absent is the shock of seeing the mighty Aslan so dressed-down. It made me a little uncomfortable, as though I was sitting through the funeral of a complete stranger.

The battle sequence at the end fails miserably, as Adamson attempts weakly to find a middle ground between modern, action war epics, and the unabashedly fairy tale quality of the story. It could have worked, but what it needed was a new vision, one that could interpret the fairy tale battle to moving pictures, instead of imitating Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings. There are several shots that are almost replicas of ones from Lord of the Rings, such as a minotaur standing on a rock, waving his hordes forward. Or the first clash of the armies, which looks identical to the warg battle in The Two Towers.

Again and again, I was impressed by the fact that Adamson wasn't up to this. There were too many obvious day-for-night shots, which Peter Jackson doggedly avoided, going so far as to do a month of night shoots for Helm's Deep. It's particularly bad in the stone table scene, where the table is obviously on a sound stage, with complete darkness outside the ring of torches, while Susan and Lucy are clearly looking on from a completely different, outdoor location, which glows blue with the lens filter. When the girls are finally at Aslan's side, on the table set, green screen is used to put the location shot in the background.

I was astonished by how many obviously artificial backgrounds there were in this movie, where there very clearly didn't need to be. One shot had Peter artificially placed in front of his tent. I mean, just a canvas wall, for gods' sakes! Adamson, if you can't plan ahead properly, then at least have the mivonks to do proper pick-ups once in a while.

Anyway, it was, after all, Adamson's first live-action movie, and only his third movie of any kind. All he'd done before were the Shrek movies, the success of which, of course, brought him this project.

I've only seen the first Shrek, and I liked it. But what made that movie good? Sly, post modernist humour. The sort that connects with--yes--a jaded and emotionally atrophied audience. I'm not suggesting it's bad. Not at all. Merely that it's almost the polar opposite of the unabashed, earnest fantasy of the Narnia books. Which also makes Narnia the polar opposite of what audiences these days are open to.

So. Maybe we can try again in twenty or thirty years . . .

Monday, December 19, 2005

Oh, yeah, and now guys can see if they measure up to Heath, penis-wise. This'll be the last genitalia related post for a while, I promise.
So, the other day I was craving vagina and a visit to Innsmouth. A few minutes ago, reading issue # 1 of Caitlin R. Kiernan's Sirienia Digest, I just about got all I wanted. Beautiful words conjuring sex, surgery, and strange sea things. That's what I call an evening well spent. If you're looking to have good evenings, I recommend subscribing.

Actually, I suppose it's morning for most people, now isn't it? I suppose I ought to make some attempt at sleeping earlier since I have about four Christmas presents left to buy.

In the real evening of . . . what day was it?--Sunday! On Sunday night I read this interview with Richard Taylor of Weta workshop--those of you who've watched the special features on the Lord of the Rings disks may remember him as the New Zealander with the peculiarly monotonous voice and Harry Potter glasses. Sounds like he's really eager to make an Evangelion movie, and he's eager to get the right director *cough*Peter Jackson*cough*.

I do believe it's possible for the Evangelion story to be made into a great live-action movie. But I think it'd be extremely easy to screw up, too, so I hope Taylor's earnestness has sufficient influence over ADV. Yes, I advocate influence, hahahahaha!

You may've noticed that Adult Swim's been showing Evangelion lately. Part of me's happy that the show might be getting a bigger audience, but another part of me resents that so many people'll be seeing the show for the first time in its English dubbed format. Like all anime series I've ever seen, Evangelion is horribly dubbed. I don't know what the hell the problem is, except every show seems to be dubbed by the same four or five reekingly incompetent actors. My guess is some translation studio executive is pocketing money that could be spent on a better dubbing budget.

On another subject; what do Mulholland Drive, King Kong(2005), and Ellie Parker all have in common? They all star Naomi Watts as a struggling actress. Think about it, won't you?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Don't be influenced, bitch!

Some people are so fucking stupid, they do shit like putting their fists into their mouths and letting their friends dress them in different outfits. How fucking dumb, man!

How about you? Are you a brainless fucking idiot? Well, are ya? Are you fucking high right now? You spineless little shit!

Why can't you be Above the Influence! Right now, there's a league of strong, clean, magnificent boys and girls. Their hair is shiny and blows freely and gracefully in the winds of the strong Utopia. For they are strong men, and strong women.

Do you wash your genitals in marijuana soap? Now, I know that ain't how your mommy and daddy showed you to wash.

At Above the Influence, our mission is not to pressure you, merely to teach you how to be clean and strong, like a Super person.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A new Boschen and Nesuko chapter is up. I coloured the last five pages to-day. That was a lot of hours. I really need to stick to colouring every day . . .

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Damnit, my hopes just shot way up.

At the very least, Studio Ghibli will treat Earthsea better than Sci-Fi channel. And, you know, if Goro's style is anything like his father's, this could be a perfect marriage. Earthsea could do with the slower, more contemplatively beautiful style.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ah, back on the old schedule. I didn't manage to get to sleep until 7:30am or so.

Instead of counting sheep, I like to play a variation of Degrees of Separation in my head--I pick two seemingly wildly disparate names from the movies and connect them. I went through several this morning, but I was proudest somehow of connecting William H. Macy with John Gilbert.

William H. Macy was in Fargo with Steve Buscemi, who was in Big Fish directed by Tim Burton, who directed Jack Nicholson in Batman. Jack Nicholson was in Terms of Endearment with Shirley MacLaine, who was also in The Children's Hour with Miriam Hopkins. Hopkins was in Trouble in Paradise, directed by Ernst Lubitsh, who also directed Ninotchka starring Greta Garbo. Greta Garbo starred in Queen Christina with John Gilbert.

There're probably closer connexions than that, but I like to think of interesting ones. I did think of some nicer ones, like connecting Selma Blair with D.W. Griffith (Selma Blair-John Hurt-Anthony Hopkins-Katharine Hepburn-John Huston-Marilyn Monroe-Billy Wilder-Charles Laughton-Lillian Gish-D.W. Griffith).

I've been listening to a lot of audio commentaries while drawing lately. A couple days ago, I listened to Brian Singer and Newton Thomas Sigel's (cinemtographer) commentary for X-Men 2. It's a sad thing to listen to as they discuss quite enthusiastically some of the things they hope to do with X-Men 3. Oh, why did Superman have to come along? And why did the people at Fox have to be such dicks?

So when I finished drawing last night, I watched X-Men on the big 42-inch television. I'm pleased by how rewatchable those movies are--the actors and sets all work together so well, it feels like returning to a favourite television series.

I've mainly just been rewatching movies lately, mostly because VHS tapes don't seem to work on the flat screen television. I finally got around to buying the Indiana Jones collection on DVD. It'd been a long time since I'd watched any of them in any format, especially Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I don't believe I'd watched since I was age 15 or 16. There's such a natural flow of action and fun and danger in that movie that it is, when you step back from it, awe-inspiring. When you're in the middle of enjoying it, of course, you just feel happy and absorbed.

I think I enjoyed the second movie almost as much, although in different ways. But I was surprised and dismayed by how disappointed I was by the third movie. It's as though invention ended with the poor reception of Temple of Doom, replaced by a desire to produce a Well Made Indiana Jones movie. And to be sure, The Last Crusade is well made in a lot of ways. There's definite evidence of a more technically adept Steven Spielberg than the one who directed Raiders of the Lost Ark. I sense the earlier Spielberg probably couldn't have handled the Venice boat chase. And yet I never felt as engaged by any of the action sequences as I did by the ones of the previous films--though, make no mistake, I did enjoy them. In fact, the boat chase and the motorcycle chase were two of the highlights of the movie for me, in no small part due to John Williams' score. I love the theme he composed for "Chasing after the Joneses." And I admit I didn't like the overuse of the Raiders’ march at the beginning of Temple of Doom.

And yet, it really didn't bother me because the beginning of Temple of Doom is so damn wonderful. One spectacular surprise after another is pulled out of a hat. And then, it gets better because the movie gets grim. I mean, it's Temple of Doom that most gives the feeling of Indy-as-unlikely-hero. You're talking about one little archaeologist up against a big, really menacing Kali cult, and he's not just trying to get away from them. No, he's going to steal diamonds and try to save a bunch of brutalised kids. It could easily have felt sappy and fake, yet you really get the feeling of a big damned Temple of Doom casting a shadow.

Now, again, there are elements of Last Crusade I like. In spite of the fact that I think bringing in Indy's father was a bad idea, and that Indy essentially becomes a different, less interesting character around his father, I do like the dialogue they have on the airship; "We never talked." "Well, I'm here now . . . what do you want to talk about?" "heh . . . I can't think of anything . . ." "Than what are you complaining about?" Much better than just a few minutes later when Indy, after revealing his limited knowledge of flying, is startled to find that his father thinks he's talking about time when he yells, "Eleven O'clock!" Oh, that old chestnut. Did we have multiple, un-credited writers for this movie? Yes, we did.

But what really bothers me about the third movie is the last act. Suddenly it's about whether Indy believes in Santa Claus and Angels and love and it just soggily sucks. I mean, the Ark in the first film worked on God juice and I didn't care. It was great--melting faces, physical peril, and MacGuffin. It's a good show, because what's interesting is whether Indy and Marian escape and get the MacGuffin and what and how. Not whether or not Indy can bring himself to believe in God.

Even invoking Siiva in the second movie, it was fine because it was bloody cool.

Anyway, all this has made me lot less eager to see the fourth movie, if they ever do get their act together on it. And my belief that Schindler's List and Jurrassic Park ought to've actually been back-to-back Indiana Jones movies has sort of been reaffirmed.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I was looking at the top 100 lists of the highest grossing films of all time, adjusted and unadjusted for inflation, and I noticed that in the unadjusted section, Return of the Jedi beats The Empire Strikes Back, while in the adjusted section, it's the other way around. There are some other, even more severe examples than that. Number three seems to be the weird one on both lists; Shrek 2 and The Sound of Music? And where the hell's Casablanca? And what the hell's Sergeant York doing on that list?