Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just Over the Edge

Last night's tweets;

Sunset is almost the start of a day.
Lobotomies cut down on lots of fuss.
Pissing won't really much change what you weigh.
There is no end to the water in us.

World of Warcraft turned out to be the best thing to do on practically no sleep, and I got Lelia to level 50 by killing a bunch of tree elementals in Felwood, a quest that was red to my character, meaning it was supposedly too difficult. But I beat it without dying or even using a healing potion. I've noticed the difficulty gauges tend to underestimate the warrior.

Playing WoW seemed to perfectly suit the tiny bit of my brain (brains!) that was working, making me feel fully engaged. I'd tried watching a movie and couldn't quite do it. My attention span for everything made minutes seem four times as long even as I missed a lot of details.

The movie I was trying to watch was Scrooged, which I hadn't seen since I was a kid. I hadn't realised before how many close-ups there are in that movie, it really is strange. Bill Murray's an actor capable of a lot of subtle expression, but I don't think his face was ever meant for such intense scrutiny. I can only imagine how strange it was on a big screen. It certainly very much feels like something shot for television. A big head fills the screen followed by another big head, often making the characters seem oddly isolated. This might have been okay with Ingrid Bergman, but even then you'd want to tie the characters into the same space more often. As it is, we're alternating between Murray's pot marks and Karen Allen's already profoundly demoralised bearing. What the hell happened to her after Raiders of the Lost Ark? The plucky spitfire's long gone, in Scrooged and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, she can't quite conceal the impression of someone who's totally given up on any hope of being happy. Maybe it's simply the public saying, "Raiders of the Lost Ark made us fall deeply in love with Harrison Ford while we could take or leave you." It's not like the movie was originally called Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Did Allen envision a universe with a Marion Ravenwood and the Temple of Doom?

But Scrooged is kind of quietly ambitious. Okay, the premise might simply be A Christmas Carol in modern times, but I get the sense here that Richard Donner wanted to make a truly great comedy while failing to gasp how to do comedy at some fundamental level. I suspect a lot of Murray's best lines are improvised, and that Donner studied comedy filmmaking so well that he knew it's important to give comedic actors a lot of slack. I remember when Ben Stiller was on The Howard Stern Show a little while ago and he and Artie Lange* reminisced about Mystery Men, a movie they'd worked on together, where the director, whose only experience was doing commercials, insisted on doing take after take while discouraging improvisation, resulting in the very slick but unfunny finished product.

On the other hand, Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha was originally to have starred a famous Japanese comedic actor named Shinatro Katsu, but Kurosawa dismissed Katsu after Katsu had insisted on a greater level of control in the film. The almost universal critical opinion of Kagemusha is that it suffers from having Natsuya Nakadai as a replacement, since Nakadai, while a talented dramatic actor, was unable to successfully pull off comedy. One can easily imagine a better film with an actor capable of subtle comedic expression performing exactly the same scenes with the same lines. So I guess it depends on the movie as to whether improvisation improves the comedy.

Anyway, Bill Murray, at that point in his career, was praised for playing roles with a certain lack of commitment to the fictional world of the movie, essentially goofing on the events of the film and thereby making him feel like an ally of the audience. Though I've long felt the appeal, especially in Ghostbusters, is in the fact that he very convincingly plays someone who does realise the reality of the situations he's in, but isn't easily excited.

In Scrooged, he seems at times to be self-consciously detached from the movie, as though he's taking the critiques of his past performances as a prescription for his future performances. He's clearly smiling at a child he's supposedly yelling at in thoughtless wrath in one scene, and in the same scene he seems to share in finding absurd his own intension to staple antlers to mice. All this actually implies curious layers of self-loathing and apathy that I don't think the movie ever really recognises.

And, jeez, I was surprised to see Robert Mitchum. I couldn't believe my eyes. "Well, that guy looks a lot like Robert Mitchum. But it couldn't be. Could it?" I checked imdb. "It is!" Gods, I would've loved a movie focusing on a relationship between Mitchum and Murray. Laconic, almost lethargic detachment meets comedic detachment. Add in Greta Garbo and you'd have the makings of a perfectly fascinating movie.

With breakfast to-day, I watched the second episode of a new anime series called Kampfer. As far as I know, this is the first action/comedy anime since Ranma 1/2 to feature a main character who routinely switches between being biologically male and biologically female. It made me appreciate again what a great job Kappei Yamagushi and Megumi Hayashibara did at sounding like the same person with different vocal chords. One of the Ranma soundtracks I have features the two performing a duet where they managed to blur their voices incredibly seamlessly. Mainly what made it work was Hayashibara's willingness to adopt not only male dialect (men and women, in Japanese, use different words for a few things. Refering to oneself, for example, "I", men informally say "boku" and women informally say "atashi") but also the brasher, traditional Japanese male vocal mannerisms.

On Kampfer, though, the voice actress playing the lead character's female form sounds like a typical female voice actress, which is odd since the character's default form is male and the male voice actor doesn't sound particularly feminine. This misses out on the comedy Ranma 1/2 mined from the macho martial artist Ranma fiercely asserting his manhood when he was in female form, though Kampfer actually has a few lines limply trying to replicate this.

Otherwise, Kampfer is strikingly typical--I saw "strikingly" because it plays hardball with its conforming to popular anime forms--it has the bright, white-ish colours, the spiky hair, the lots of fan service, the cute little animals who say humorously adult things. It's utterly typical, but that doesn't really work against it, because it tries really hard to be the great typical most people want. In the second episode, one of the many beautiful female characters all but begs the male lead to have sex with her but he completely fails to notice--the whole thing is kind of like that, as is much of modern anime, just a minor epiphany shy of porno.

*Boy, I was glad to see Artie Lange was back on The Howard Stern Show to-day after his depression had kept him in for more than a week. This after he'd done a charity show, so I think this probably ought to be an object lesson to people who dismiss depression as a sort of sham.

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