Some weeks are lazy and restful, others are this one. I spent much of this week away from the Matt-Pad, and quite frankly, my bed and I need a little quality time together. But I did get to knock another of my all time favorite films off the ‘to see on the big screen’ list. I also picked up, but haven't had time to listen to, the new St. Vincent cd. Maybe next week.
Pompeii: Brace yourselves. I know you were expecting greatness. But sadly, I must report that this movie was, in reality, quite terrible. In 3D for some reason (it was the only showing we could make it to), the most impressive element of the movie was the writers’ Herculean effort to cram every obvious cliché and awkward turn of phrase imaginable into such a relatively short (but way, way too long) runtime. A boy’s family is killed by an evil Roman (played by a terrible Kiefer Sutherland). Of course, he then becomes the ultimate gladiator of Londinium, as we see all the usual gladiator movie sequences. Naturally, he attracts the attention of a powerful man, who then takes him to Pompeii, where, yes, you guessed it, the evil Kiefercus is being evil at the locals. In the usual fashion, our gladiator hero (who somehow maintains not only an absolutely grueling gym routine from the looks of his abs, but is also a charismatic rebel leader in the making…I guess) wins the heart of a ridiculously modern woman (Her slave-girl is her bestie, she loves horses, and she’s so against the oppression of Rome and stuff, or whatever. And that slave boy who likes horses, too? Oh, he’s just too dreamy.). Then he befriends (wait for it) a black gladiator, who has a well rounded and deep background that makes you care so much for him. You see, he’s…Um…He’s a black gladiator…And he, um…Well, he wants to be free. Or something. Whatever. That’s what they did in Spartacus and Gladiator, so that’s what they’re gonna do here. And after every scene ends with a shot of the mountain, the mountain explodes. But don’t worry (they’re not), there’s still plenty of sequences of people chatting, leisurely looking into each others’ eyes, and generally not running the hell away from the exploding mountain. I’d say they broadcast all the twists, but there aren’t any. This is a shoddy, boring rehash of every flipping Sword & Sandals movie ever made. When it’s not defying logic and sense, it’s denying excitement and charm. And at no point in this film are you unaware that it’s PG-13. It’s bloodless, sexless, and toothless.
101 Dalmatians: This early 60s Disney film has a good story, with plenty of adventure, and not a lot of time wasting. It’s quick, it’s cute, and it’s got plenty of heart. Cruella De Vil is a solid, demented villain, with a couple of fun, dopy henchmen. After being disappointed with my recent viewing of Alice in Wonderland, it was nice to see a good Disney cartoon from its classic age. And Rod Taylor!
Vikings Season One: This is a show I’m pretty darned shocked to find myself really enjoying. It starts out kind of wonky, but by the mid-point of the season, I was on board, and by the season finale, I was excited to see what would happen next. It occasionally feels a bit restrained, probably in light of shows like Game of Thrones, which could never be accused of restraint. But it’s pretty violent and full of complexity that I find refreshing. Ragnar is no angel, his wife no saint. But as a pair, they’re fascinating to watch. And the rest of the cast is pretty good. The only major issue I have with the first season is Gabriel Byrne. I like Byrne, but every time he was on screen, it felt like the writers left the room. I don’t know what was going on, or what the thinking was, but his character was not well written, plotted, or thought through. Still, overall, a surprisingly good show.
Streets of Fire: “Tonight is what it means to be young.” I just love this movie (it’s #15 on my all time favorites list). And finally, thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse, I got a chance to see it on the big screen. Like Brazil, it’s set in a no-time/no-place that I find particularly appealing in its 80s/50s way. The characters are all archetypes, the story is basic Western, and the music is wonderfully eclectic, from sleazy Rockabilly to operatic Jim Steinman, and the acting is…well, it’s charming. I love the action and the attitude. There really aren’t a lot of other films out there quite like this one. It is part of that 80s thing, where if you dance or rock hard enough, you can change the world. But it’s so much more than that. Watching it puts a big smile on my face. But like a lot of films that came out before the advent of the internet and modern hipsters, you’ve got to watch it with your heart on your sleeve, and without a cynical thought in your head. Just bask in the fantasy of this Rock and Roll Fantasy.
Mr. Nobody: What can one say about a movie like this? I think it comes down to ‘did you enjoy the ride?’ And in my case, yes I did. A meditation on the paths life takes, the paths it might have, and everything in between. And some stuff about string theory and the multiverse. Sure. The actors are all good, though it almost felt like casting Sarah Polley as the horrible, depressed woman was stunt casting. She’s so very good at making you hate her, it’s like a superpower. And she’s rockin’ it in this movie. Almost every time she opened her mouth, I wanted to Lennie Small her ass. It’s a head scratcher, for sure. And it’s not going to be for everyone. But for this cat, I think it’ll require an eventual re-watch, and I may just come to really enjoy it. I do like at least part of its message, about the value of different paths and different lives. It’ll make you think. I’m sure for a philosophy major, it’s pretty shallow, but compared to pap like Gravity, it’s pretty good.
Magnificent Butcher: This is a bit of a challenge. On the one hand, the fighting is pretty cool, and a lot of various and sometimes somewhat obscure forms are on display. Great. However, the tone is so all over the map that it becomes distracting. For the first half, it’s all pretty light hearted, with comic misunderstandings and occasional brawls. Then a guy gets too handsy with a woman…then murder. Cold blooded murder while failing to sexually assault. Um. That’s not funny. And then, a moment later, a comedy scene about finding the body. What? From there on, it’s up and down, from comic to brutal as various kung fu fighters clash, goof, and kill. Even the final battle feels pretty awkward, as the ‘evil’ master isn’t really that bad, and he’s trying to avenge his son. And then it ends on a laugh. OK. Chinese comedy has never played that well with me, and this is no exception. But the fighting is really cool.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (extended version): I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood, or if I responded better to the takes used in this version, but I enjoyed myself a heck of a lot more the second time around. From the musical number and the Spider-Man hate, to the alternate family dinner scene, I found myself more engaged and getting more belly laughs. Unlike Anchorman’s alternate version Wake Up Ron Burgundy, this extended cut is essentially the same film from a story standpoint, but with many alternate takes and extra scenes. I think this felt more in tune with what I loved about the first film. But again, it may have been different circumstances that led to a different opinion. I don’t know.
5 Centimeters Per Second: This is the third film I’ve seen from writer/director Makoto Shinkai, and if he’s not careful, he might start to change my overall feelings toward anime. Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days were very effecting, beautifully animated movies that practically burn with intense nostalgia. And I mean ‘nostalgia,’ the mix of happiness, sadness, and longing. Though his character design is in keeping with the near ubiquitous style of Japanese animation (simple shapes, androgyny, big eyes, and pointy chins) the rest of the film stands out as a visual feast. His color palette, framing, and detail are all gorgeous. This film consists of three short stories, each dealing with hearts at a distance, coming together and moving apart. Though I found the final story a bit of a let down, I think it does work with the whole, and it gets the message of the film across. It just wasn’t as satisfying as the first two. Shinkai’s work is something I’m going to keep my eye out for. His is a voice I want to hear more from.
On Saturday, Satnam and I got the material and did preliminary work on building the set for the film he’ll be shooting in a few weeks. You can sure see how having a budget would make the potential set more interesting, more detailed. I think what we’ve got will be fine, and most importantly, won’t distract from the acting. But with a few thousand dollars, a couple of trained artists/builders, and a few weeks of work, I could see building a really good set. It makes me think again about my idea for doing a public access type sci-fi show. I think it could be done.
|It looked nothing like this.|
Later on Saturday, we got together for another meeting of the graphic novel discussion group to talk about Thor: God of Thunder. The group was a bit smaller than usual, but still a good turn out. I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to find the feelings on the book divided mostly on gender lines. At no point while I was reading the book did that come into my head as a possible problem point. It’s dealing with religion was what I thought would get the most disagreement. I loved the book, and it wasn’t about getting in touch with my 12 year old self. It was more about enjoying a classically mythological tale told within the Marvel universe.
So, that was the week, and this next one is already looking brutal. When did I become this guy? When did I get such a busy and active social life? I’m still the same introvert I always was. I still need to go home, hide in my room, and not deal with people. That time to recharge has been limited recently, and I’m going to have to do something about that before too long. Still, a lot of good memories being made.