This review of Scott Pilgrim reviews from one of NPR’s reviews puts its finger on something I see all to often in the reviews I read. Reviewing the supposed audience rather than the work itself seems to happen more in music than in movies, but it is everywhere in modern criticism.

As for the movie, I liked it. I had the hardest time dealing with the idea that Scott as played by Cera was in any way successful with the ladies. If his awkward wooing really worked in real life, I’d have had a very different high school experience. That ridiculousness aside, it was a fun movie. I’m right in the core demographic though, bass playing half Canadian who loves video games and was in a band that couldn’t get gigs? How could I not like it?

Detour: An interesting entry among the reviews was Anthony Lane’s review for The New Yorker. In his attempt to pick up on cultural cues that simply don’t stick out to him, he conflates random bits of the movie and interprets them as character cues… or something to that effect. What he says is that the fact that Ramona dies her hair frequently is what puts her out of Scott’s league. Interesting interpretation. Not really what I think the director was going for, but… interesting. He also gets bonus points for being a New Yorker taking a dig at Toronto in a review of a film that makes jokes about New Yorkers being snotty and dismissive of Toronto.

Great Happiness Space

June 1st, 2009

Netflix on Demand has provided me with an odd array of documentaries recently. I don’t know why, but I have been watching documentaries almost exclusively. When I begin to watch something with a narrative plot, I last about 15 minutes. I don’t really know why. Feel free to refer to my previous post for pseudo insight into that matter.

One of the documentaries that I have watched was The Great Happiness Space. It is about men in Japan who entertain women at bars, professionally. A sort of no sex twist on male prostitution, they prostitute the a certain type of fake relationship instead. These men spend the entire night drinking with women they pull off the street, and charge these women to spend time with them. The women often force(?) them to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. As the owner/entertainer of the bar that the documentary takes place in says, “My liver is pretty much fucked.”

For about five minutes I thought that they were simple assholes. Then for about ten minutes I thought that maybe there is a depth to them that you had not considered before. After this, a yawning abyss opened beneath me emotionally. If I looked down, and stopped viewing the film as a very limited character study, I would be forced to confront just how horrible human existence is for many, many people, even in very affluent nations. This was, I think, the real value of the experience. It allowed me to catch a glimpse of how horrible things were, while still being allowed to digest it over a period of time. The fact that the people who were being interviewed were often prostitutes, who carried out destructive behaviors in an attempt to cover up but whole created by the central destructive behavior of their life, was not hammered in. Instead, it sort of slipped in sideways, and then came to dominate. If you had to confront this at the start, without first being able to acclimatize to the amazing level of unthinking callousness of some of these people you might walk away before you really had a chance to see how deep the rabbit whole went.

Watchmen

March 9th, 2009

Well that was a bit of a disappointment. It isn’t a completely bad film. It has its moments. Still, I always find it interesting to see what happens when Hollywood gets a hold of a script. It was visible even in Watchmen, where the story was that the director had been given almost total control. One cannot help but think that it would have been better to try to convince Alan Moore to come in and give him total veto power, but that is just speculation. Moore probably wouldn’t have done it anyway.

What really interests me about movies is the way that they change certain rules about how you provide information. There is an old adage that if you introduce a gun in the first act, you have to use it before the third. Watchmen (the movie) seemed to operate under the assumption that if you didn’t introduce the gun in the first act, it couldn’t be used at all. Additionally, if you didn’t remind people of the gun’s possible existence five minutes before it was used, they would be too stupid to realize what had happened.

Alan Moore trusted his readers. If something happened, it happened for a reason, but he didn’t telegraph it by saying “this thing is going to happen for a reason in a little bit.” I don’t know why they felt the need to work it that way in the film.

As for the rest of it, the casting was great, the special effects were great (with the exception of the age makeup, which was hit and miss), and the dialog from the comic was usually delivered well. The dialog written to replace dialog from the comic? That was another story. The pivotal argument on Mars was altered greatly, and in such a way as to render it a sappy piece of crap. I’d give the film a C+ and if I hadn’t read the book… maybe a B-.

Changes clearly had to be made to adapt this to the screen, but as in seemingly all the adaptations that have disappointed me over the years, it was the small changes that I felt were pointless, and not the large ones made to fit the plot into two and a half hours, that really frustrated. As an example, there was a scene in which Rorschach kills a man for crimes that I won’t go into. In the book, he insures the man burns to death, a grim fate that the comic does not gloss over or sugar coat in an attempt to make Rorschach seem less warped. In the movie, he chops the man’s skull up with a cleaver. This nets no additional horror in the grand scheme of the man’s fate, or the question the view asks about the presence of, or lack of, justice in the world, or in Rorschach. What it does is allow the director to put more blood spatters in the movie. In the comic the cleaver is used on two dogs that had been fed a corpse. Now, the argument for the director is that this saved him visual time, and that he included a verbal homage to the dogs in Rorschach’s dialog, but it rings hollow to me because he played the cleaver scene out so long that he didn’t really save time.

Also? Worst soundtrack I can think of. I can’t think of another that even comes close to being as intrusive and disruptive to the overall efforts of the narrative.

And as a small final note, the the ‘heroes’ in Watchmen, save one, are without super powers, but the director seemed to want to give them powers, as they did an awful lot of punching through brick and such in the movie.

I had heard for some time about an animated Earthsea movie. Le Guin was not very happy with it. It was supposed to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Then, at the last minute, his son directed it. Miyazaki was supposedly not happy with this development. The whole storyline of the production is a bit muddled when it comes to who did what when.

This, unfortunately, turned out to be the case with the movie as well. I hunted it down because curiosity got the better of me. Now I somewhat wish I hadn’t. The movie is like the plots of every Earthsea book put into a blender, then reconstituted into a dull porridge. The entire plot of the first novel is warped a little and given to a supporting character. The second book is a footnote in what is nominally the third book. I generally try to be supportive of changes made to adapt things to the screen, but this is totally out of hand. I seriously cannot follow what is going on because I get distracted by how randome characters from random books keep cropping up. The first book would have been a fine movie, had they wanted to make it.

They also change Sparrowhawk to a very tan white guy, which I don’t get. I cannot tell what lightening the color of the skin gains the plot.

Sadly, I am left with this. That’s two recent adaptations, both of which make the main character white for no reason, and both of which fail.

Trees, Colors, Kurosawa

September 30th, 2007

It has been an very warm early autumn in Minneapolis. Today I could walk around in short sleeves if I wanted to. It was raining, so I didn’t, but it was nice to tell myself that I had the option. Hopefully this will lead to a more even change of color on the trees (it won’t, I’ve been told that temperature has nothing to do with this).

After going on a short three day binge of video games things have gotten back to normal. I’ve been watching all the Akira Kurosawa movies that I’d never watched before. Today was the first half of Red Beard, a his last film with Toshiro Mifune. This is a film in which Mifune was forced to wear a red beard for the filming, despite the fact that it was done in black and white. This meant that he could not get other work, and Kurosawa dragged out the filming. When it was done, Mifune took a role in Shogun, because he was almost broke. Kurosawa held that against him for the rest of their lives, and they never worked together again. So yeah, Kurosawa, a bit of a dick.

Also, the Criterion Collection, by virtue of not having the principals do the commentary, actually manages to have commentary that doesn’t suck. Usually you get a bunch of stuff like, “Oh, that was filmed by Ted. He’s a really nice guy.” Movie critics can be a bore a lot of the time, but they seem to have bothered to learn most of the interesting stories about a movie.

Stardust

March 23rd, 2007

From Mr. Gaiman’s blog, I hear that the movie version of his book Stardust has a trailer now. Having watched it now? Meh. It’s not that I didn’t like the story, or think that it could be made into a good movie, but I actually finished the trailer less interested in it. It just looks so very… Hollywood. It starts out with a needless cgi star falling to earth. It may not even be in the movie, but wouldn’t a shooting star across the night sky be enough? Do we have to have “shooting star cam” as it careens into the planet? Do you need need water effects when he crosses the wall, and a little “whoooom” sound to go with them? As I watched it I could hear some Hollywood ad guy saying “Yes… can you ad more of a ‘Wow, exclamation points!’ feel to it?” All of which might not have any effect on the movie, but is dispiriting.

Big Screen

January 9th, 2007

While I was home for the holidays, I had a chance to check out the TV that my mother had bought. It was a wide screen HDTV. I took the opportunity to watch some classic movies on TCM. There is something about old movies, and I am not alone in this, that makes me sit still, almost regardless of how bad they can be. The wide screen only added to this effect. This leaves me in the position of contemplating a shiny new TV, to watch old grainy black and whites. There’s something about them, and I can’t help thinking that the nostalgia for the experience that movies used to be is it.

The latest New Yorker had an article on the state of the movies. It contemplates movie theaters where I might get a good martini, sit for a while and chat or read a book. Then I’ll wander into the theater and watch a movie. Not only does that appeal to me, (Cocktails and the movies? Together?) but it also makes me excited, like the author, and probably naively, for a future in which the movies can something close to what nostalgia tells me I wanted them to be, with smaller budgets, that don’t risk as much money, and some better plots wouldn’t hurt, but who am I to talk.

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