Archive for the ‘Movies & Entertainment’ Category.
This has been around a while but it is worth a repost as we approach Oscar film season.
Earlier today, New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff opined on Twitter about cuts in government services. It’s not every day that you see such stupidity displayed so confidently…except from the Left:
Imagine John Boehner home in OH, seeing an escaped tiger–and getting a msg that help is unavailable due to govt cutbacks.
Well, I don’t know about John Boehner. But I do know that if I received such a message, it’d be because I was trying to call up a government flunky to haul a tiger carcass away. And if I did get such a message, my very next call would be to a good taxidermist.
It’s an interesting glimpse into the worldview though. The unspoken assumption is that, without government tiger hunters, we’re all doomed to be mauled by wild beasts. Presumably, this is because we are all tiny, little children, utterly incapable of solving our problems without the intervention of our benevolent government overlords. It’s a worldview that operates on the assumption that the government is the only adult in the room.
A great example of this sort of mentality was the Bruce Willis action filmLive Free or Die Hard. The movie was a decent thriller, falling into the unlikely-buddy-movie genre (including also 48 Hours and most of the Lethal Weapon movies).
Like most modern techno-thrillers, it required a lot of technical suspension of belief, but what really struck me was the premise -- that somehow, if terrorists were able to really shut down the government, people would go into a panic and be totally lost and forlorn. Even the strong male hero buys into the premise. Can you even imagine a Clint Eastwood movie where Clint laments how scared Americans will be if they were to call the FDA to inquire if a certain product is truly organic and no one answered the phone? It makes for a sort of irony in the movie because in fact the government is completely useless in the face of the terrorists, who are brought down essentially by a few private individuals.
This is something my son pointed me to a while back. Many, many movies use the same scream. It sort of has become an in joke by movie makers. Watch the video, you have heard it a zillion times but may not know it.
IMDB has a list of 225 movies and games with the scream. As you can tell from the video above, Lucas puts it in nearly every one of his movies. And it is not surprising to see Tarantino on this list -- his movies are like movie trivia contests with all the inside jokes and references and homages to other films.
Well, I hesitate to recommend this movie, because the first three people I told about this as if it was some kind of clever discovery of mine said "Oh, yeah, loved it, saw it years ago." So maybe everyone else saw this movie a decade ago and I just missed it. But I really enjoyed an older Christopher Nolan (Inception) directed movie called Memento. It stars Guy Pierce (LA Confidential, one of my favorite movies) and Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix).
The movie is about a man trying to get revenge on his wife's murderer. The only problem is that somehow, from roughly the point in time his wife died, he lost all of his short term memory. So he can never remember things more than a few minutes. He has to trust notes he has written (including tattoos on his body) for clues that he pursues.
The clever part of the movie is that it is shot backwards. Well, I don't mean everyone walks backwards. It is shot in a series of 3-10 minute clips with normal forward action, but then the clips are reassembled in the film in reverse order. The end of each scene is therefore usually the beginning of the previous one (though there is a second thread in black and white that moves through the movie in a slightly different way).
This seems crazy and confusing, until you realize that at any point in the movie, you are in exactly the same place as the protagonist - you know nothing about the past, or even, in the start of the clip, how you got there. Its not a casual movie that you can watch while you are doing something else, it requires some concentration, but it worked well for me. The most incredible thing is that despite the fact you know how it all comes out, the movie is incredibly tense and exciting -- you don't know why it came out that way, and the movie is full of twists and turns.
Postscript: There was a movie last year of completely different style - straight forward plot line, uneven acting, more of an action movie - that had a sortof kindof similar plot. The movie was called Vengence, and it was about a man who was losing his memory and slowly degenerating trying to find his daughter's killer. It is a totally different movie, but cribs some of the Memento plot devices, such as labelled Polaroid pictures as a memory device. It is pretty good, particularly for fans of Asian-style action movies, and is directed by Johnnie To.
I have read most of Stephen King's novels, and like many of them. But some of my favorites were the four novels he wrote as Richard Bachman, in part because they were actually, you know, novel length rather than thousand-page monstrosities.
I have discussed in other posts that the Bachman book "the Running Man" is one of the movies I would most love to remake. The movie was a silly farce where the lead actor (the governator) was out-acted by Richard Dawson, for God sakes.
This week while my daughter was sick I reread "the Long Walk." Its one of those love it or hate it things -- the Amazon reviews are split between 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews.
I would love to make a movie of "the Long Walk." It would not be that expensive to make -- the whole book takes place with a hundred teenage boys walking a couple hundred miles down a road. Seriously, 10-12 unknown teenaged actors, 90 or so other extras, a couple of steadicams on a flatbed truck. The crowd scenes at the end would take a lot of extras, don't know how expensive that would be, but I think a really interesting movie could be made. I picture something ala Kirosawa, maybe even in black and white. The concept also seems to suggest Tarantino, which reminds me of a movie called Battle Royale that is a sort of similar, but much more violent concept, which Tarantino once listed among his ten favorites.
PS- This would also be a really cool play. Picture a big moving conveyor belt from front to back of the stage, so the actors walk a steady pace through the whole show.
But if he were a Serenity fan, he would know that Saffron is quite arousing.
Yeah, I am a Joss Whedon fan-boy, but I just finished watching both seasons of Dollhouse. I will say that my expectations were low -- I was sort of expecting a revamped Alias with various weekly missions, with the highlight of having Eliza Dushku rather than Jennifer Garner.
The first 3-5 episodes were entertaining but really fell right in line with my expectations. After that, the show got much better. As a whole, the entire show is like a long essay on the banality of evil.
The pace gets a bit crazed at the very end, but that was because Whedon working in three or four years of planned plot development in half a season when he found out the show was being cancelled. A couple of other random notes -- Whedon works in a fresh high-tech take on zombies (really, it makes sense in context) in the season-ending episodes. We also get a couple of guest appearances from the new first lady of sci-fi TV, Summer Glau.
Also heard that Ridley Scott is doing the Forever War.
By the way, I was working on a list of SF stories that were completed screwed up as movies in the 80's and 90's, so much so they would be worth a remake. So far I have only a couple, but would appreciate suggestions
- Starship Troopers
- Running Man
- Total Recall (not as awful as the first two but had that same cheesy unserious style that brings it down for me)
I suppose some might put Robocop in this category but I am attached to that movie, in part because if there was an underlying novel I hadn't read it, and the campiness kind of worked.
Some surfing around on YouTube led me to this seemingly odd combo -- Slash playing with Chic on their song "le Freak." Slash comes out about half way.
I would have sworn I hated the whole Duran Duran catalog, but I was watching this video (because a friend of mine did the costumes, including the wedding dress) and I must say its not a bad song. So my apologies to Duran Duran.
By the way, my friend said that I would be surprised how many women later wanted to get married in exactly this dress.
Also, speaking of music videos, if you have never seen the Hugh Grant / Drew Barrymore movie Music and Lyrics, the plot is an utterly predictable romantic comedy (with Hugh Grant playing the same guy he always plays) but in the opening scene they nail the 1980's pop music video genre dead on. I can't embed it but the video is here. You can miss the rest of the movie, but the spoof is genius.
OK, I saw the Spiderman musical (still in pre-production) on Broadway last week. I thought I would share some thoughts about the show. Note that I like musicals and have been to a bunch but I am by no means an expert.
The show began with an unforced error, which seemed really dumb given the bad press the show has been getting (mixed reviews combined with some very high-profile accidents). I showed up 20 minutes early and found a line for the Will Call (not ticket purchase, but simply ticket pickup) that went down the entire long block. It took me 40 minutes just to pick up my tickets. The show started late, but I still missed the first number, and a LOT of people were behind me.
The show was sold out on a Wednesday night. I don't know if this is a measure of its popularity or the new Nascar, waiting for an accident aspect of the show. A friend of mine said he went the week before and the show had three long halts (there is a lot of technical stuff going on in the flying -- the stops feel exactly like when the ride stops at DisneyWorld). We had only two very short ones.
The staging is amazing. Actors fly all around the stage, and more impressively, soar and fight above the audience, frequently landing on the railings of the balconies. The stage itself is well done - they do a nice job creating the illusion of great height when scenes take place on the top of buildings.
The dancing is fun, in a high energy way. Often it is more tumbling and gymnastics than dancing, but entertaining.
The plot in the first half is solid - the classic spiderman origin myth -- if you have seen the recent movie you have got it.
For me, the wheels really came off the bus in the second half. The villain is Arachne -- not some super villain with an appropriate name, but the actual Arachne from greek mythology that Athena turned into a spider. Arachne is a combination scorned lover, unkillable super-villain, and source of redemption and has these sort of spider minions around her. This whole plot angle did not work at all for me.
Why the problem? Well, they killed off the first villain in the first act. So, without even being a sequel, they created the sequel problem in the second Act -- how do you top the first villain? And like many sequels, it became over the top and incoherent.
OK, and now for the final problem: The music was entirely forgettable. There were no musical themes that helped unify the show (as someone like Andrew Lloyd Weber does). There were just a bunch of unrelated songs (I suppose there could have been a reprise, but the music being reprised was so forgettable that I forgot it). The music established the right moods -- dark or heroic or romantic, but it was just wallpaper behind the actors.
I would not have had trouble with it if Bono and Edge had, being new to musical theater, tried to do something really different and failed. But they simply cranked out a bunch of utterly bland show tunes. A couple were OK at the time, but I sure wasn't whistling them on the way out. In contrast, I saw Chorus Line 30 years ago and still can sing bits of several songs.
Weird Fact: Dr. Normon Osborn (who in the show is not only Green Goblin but also the creator of the mutant spider that gives Spiderman his powers) looks exactly like Madam Hooch in the Harry Potter movies. As Green Goblin he looks more like a green Gene Simmons.
Well, after flying 10 hours round trip to do 5 minutes of television (don't get me wrong, it was a new enough experience that I am glad I did it) I am going to reward myself by seeing Spiderman the musical tonight. Seriously, Bono, Edge, Spiderman, stage accidents? I have to give it a chance, despite mixed reviews. I will post reviews tomorrow.
We tried out the new IPic theater yesterday. They are shooting at a super-premium niche, and we went for the top package. For our money we got free valet parking, free popcorn, and an unbelievable luxury recliner seat as nice and roomy and comfortable as anything in your house. Waiters brought food and drinks (including cocktails) to our seats, and my wife got a nice pillow and blanket. Not sure I am taking the kids to the smurf movie (yes, there is one coming) at this place, but it was a great date night with the wife, and in the current economy had a sort of Fiddling While Rome Burned kind of vibe to it.
Found by my son Nic on Wikipedia:
The Wilhelm scream is a frequently-used film and television stock sound effect first used in 1951 for the film Distant Drums. The effect gained new popularity (its use often becoming an in-joke) after it was used in Star Wars and many other blockbuster films as well as television programs and video games. The scream is often used when someone is pierced with an arrow, falls to his death from a great height, or is thrown from an explosion.
The Wilhelm scream has become a well-known cinematic sound clichÃ©, and is claimed to have been used in over 216 films
By the way, Nic thanks everyone for their help on his blog and his writing project. He is writing a novel over the next year, dealing mixing his interest in sports with dystopian themes. This entry into the Hayek poster contest actually comes really close to the themes in his book. I thought he was getting on a wrong track by trying to use Atlas Shrugged too much as a model. While I love the book and it has had a profound effect on me, as a work of fiction it is pretty limited, with black and white characters and no character movement/development at all. I am making him read the Fountainhead right now as a better example of having more intriguing characters.
I watched 2081 on video the other day -- it claims to be based on a Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, which I will have to take on faith because I never read that short story. The film is only 20 minutes or so long, but I thought it was a pretty powerful statement on egalitarianism. Recommended.
Just when I was climbing on top of any number of issues at work, and was ready to start blogging again in earnest, Civ 5 was released yesterday. Yes, it has all the time destruction potential of its older versions. Some quick thoughts from a few hours of play
- Beautiful interface.
- The things that were removed (ie religions) are not missed
- The only thing I don't like about the interface is that the new way of showing armies makes it harder to distinguish what type of troops they are.
- Love the new combat system and the elimination of absurd stacks. The new city defense system is a nice add as well.
- More barbarians on the loose in the early game, but if they attack you no combat units (workers, settlers) they drag them back to their encampment and you can go and free the hostages
- Early game very different -- not a headlong race to settle open space. Early game city states change the early dynamics, for the better I think.
- I like not having to build transports to send armies overseas. This certainly will make oceans a less formidable barrier to conquest, which I think is good.
- Can't comment yet about balance or unbalanced strategies, not far enough along, but am very happy so far.
Glenn Reynolds has a discussion of projectors as an alternative to flat screen TVs. I have been a projector owner through 10 years and 3 generations and am a big fan of them in certain applications.
I have an Epson 8500UB, which is close to the top of their line and can be bought under $2000 (which is amazing - the projector price drop in the last 10 years has been stunning). It is a 1080p projector with great blacks and color. I have it ceiling mounted with a 110-inch diagonal 16x9 Stewart screen. I have one of the silver fabrics (I think the Firehawk) that enhances black levels over the white fabrics (there is a reason movies used to be shown on the "silver screen.") The screen is acoustically perforated so the speakers (except for surrounds) are actually behind the screen (as in movie theaters).
In the evening, with the lights down and the projector adjusted correctly, the effects is awesome. Not to be missed. I have had to kick many visitors out of my house. Sports are also amazing, particularly in HDTV.
As Glenn's commenters mention, you have to be careful with light. I picked this Epson both because it is really about the best in its price range, but it also is very bright. Unlike my last generation projector, it can overcome some ambient light. I have to have blinds in my den, but with the blinds down but the room still lighted well I can watch sports on the bright setting quite well with this projector (you really don't want to watch a movie with this bright setting - movies are all about the blacks, and to get those looking great you need darkness).
Anything 60" and below, get an LCD. But if you really want a ridiculously large screen for movies and sports, this is the only way to go and I highly recommend the Epson line -- they have projectors at many price points and they are mostly all very good.
I was watching the Elizabeth Hurley remake of Bedazzled (mainly to see, you know, Elizabeth Hurley) and thought the guy in the video below should be in the Obama cabinet. Y'all may know the story - guy gets 7 wishes from the devil, and each wish goes wrong in some way. In this wish, he wants to be really sensitive to get this girl he is after, but he is unable to take any meaningful action because he is just too caught up in expressing the depth of his caring.
Every once in a while, something occurs in the real world that will help thousands of movie audiences continue to suspend disbelief. Today's story: Russian sleeper agents in America.
Apparently the makers of the movie Downfall have demanded takedowns of all those various Hitler-speech parodies on YouTube using clips from the movie (I linked to one here, which still seems to be up).
If this is true, it is stupid. I really enjoyed Downfall, and likely would never have rented it had I not been exposed to it via YouTube parodies.
Update: Some meta parody. Pretty dang funny.
Yeah, I watched the Oscars, though I seldom find them entertaining any more. My wife and I were able to attend about 20 years ago (the year Clint Eastwood won for Unforgiven) and go to the Governor's Ball afterward so we have a certain nostalgia for the event. Only one image really sticks with me, and it was before the show. It was an image of George Clooney high-fiving his fans, but doing it separated by a chain link fence. Even the President still greets the public in person from time to time. To me, it was a brutal caricature of a Hollywood actor trying to pretend he is engaging with the common man but utterly failing to do so.