Saturday, March 11, 2006

Reloaded Reconsidered

But not by me...By my friend Cbabbitt over at Ain't It Cool News.

In an article as fascinating as it is verbose, Babbitt attempts to reclaim the legacy of The Matrix II from naysayers like myself, who would argue that the Wachowski's simply fumbled in following-up one of the most popular films of our time. I remain unconvinced that The Matrix Reloaded even approaches greatness as a film, but the guy makes as convincing a case as I've ever read.

Just to give you my own take, briefly...I was never really a fan of the first Matrix. It has some great moments, and the last 20 minutes or so in particular kick ass. I love that shootout in the lobby of the building most of all.

But I always preferred the Wachowski's previous film, Bound. That movie not only has their trademark flourishes (like a shot that enters a toilet bowl and comes out through the plumbing in the apartment next door), but it's also loose and sexy and features some killer supporting work from Joe Pantoliano.

Matrix opens well, and has a very clever premise. And I like the cinematography and effects. But the movie's kind of boring and repetitive. Too much lecturing by Larry Fishburne (particularly in long scenes set against a plain white backdrop...Now that's cinematic!) Too many pointless, though cool, fisticuffs that don't lead anywhere and have no import to the story. And I don't really dig the design of the "real world" in this universe...Robotic squid, menacing though they might be, just aren't really compelling as villains. And they are the only representation of the Machine enemy that we have.

So, anyway, I didn't exactly go into Reloaded with massive expectations. Yet, still, the movie fell short for me. I don't need to get into all the ins and outs, but it's combination of slack pacing, silly asides, subplots that don't lead anywhere, overlong/cartoonish set pieces and nonsensical metaphysical jabberings were not exactly my cup of tea. Even the big crowd-pleasing moments - the fight against the 1000 Agent Smiths known as the Burly Brawl, or the large-scale freeway chase - lack the zip and fun of the original film (and other, better, sci-fi/action movies like anything in James Cameron's catalog).

Mr. Babbitt, however, sees things a bit differently. He chalks up the lack of favor among the fan community towards the Matrix sequels mainly to an excess of expectations, coupled with disappointment at the new direction the Wachowski's took with the new films.

Ambition and integrity were lost amidst a colossal backlash of an audience incapable of looking past faults and missteps to see something greater, but just a shocked, disapproving community that wallowed in the easily agreeable nature of collective disappointment. The supposed “Year of the Matrix” became quickly blasted and dismissed, the films unfairly forgotten, and the Wachowskis second guessed for their seemingly uninspired, uncreative contributions. The sequels had been officially deemed unsuccessful by the standards of most critics and fans, an undoubtedly dark moment in the careers of a tremendously exciting duo of cinematic storytellers.

I kind of feel like I embody the counter-argument to this position. I did not have outsized expectations going into the second Matrix film. There were elements of the first film I liked, and this coupled with the extensive marketing campaign that kicked in months in advance of the release, were enough to get me in the theater for the second movie. But I hardly feel like I had a standard already set in my mind for a new Matrix movie, and then took my frustration out on the second film when it failed to pursue this line of storytelling.

In other words, I don't feel like my lack of appreciation for Matrix Reloaded is due to what Babbitt would call "a moment of epic misunderstanding."

Anyway, the article continues as Babbitt goes through the film with a good deal of coherence and admirable depth. It's clear he's really given this some thought, and has compiled a fairly comprehensive guide to the pro's and con's of the film. I will grant that he makes some persuasive arguments, and overall that he's very fair (particularly in terms of the extremely disappointing opening act, which dithers endlessly around Zion).

And, to be perfectly honest, I never really followed the entire Mr. Smith storyline until reading this article.

The Wachowski Brothers create a mind-bending concept of bringing Smith into the real world by copying himself on a rebel and then using a hard-line to jack-out of the Matrix. The idea, like many in the film, is conceptually intriguing, but surprisingly unfulfilling.

So that's how he gets into the real world. This was never totally clear to me in the movie. It just seemed like, one minute he's this rogue program, and the next minute he's running around in the spaceship inside another guy's body. I didn't realize he could port himself inside a real person but still retain the ability to leap back and forth into the real world. It's almost like he's a virus that changes location from a computer system into a human brain, which is a pretty trippy, neat idea.

Interestingly (to me, anyway), Babbitt doesn't bring up the facet of Matrix Reloaded I found most impressive. He seems genuinely taken with the scenes featuring the Merovingian (who I thought resembled a bad European soap opera actor) and the Architect (whose extended, dry monologue typifies the problems in the entire trilogy, to my mind). I, on the other hand, admired the way the Wachowski's laid out a story that made logical sense in terms of computer programs and software.

All the elements of the story - from accessing the increasingly-complex infrastructure of The Matrix, to remnants of deleted programs lingering in a computer system, to reboot and reload mechanisms built into the basic programming code - hold true to the way computers and machines are ordered and operated. That level of complexity in a major, mainstream American film is something to be admired and commended. We're talking about an industry that thought The 40 Year Old Virgin was one of last year's best written movies, okay? And Matrix Reloaded actually includes thematic material relating to the inner workings of complex computer networks. Full respect.

So, I'm a little surprised Babbitt didn't make this case, because it's kind of persuasive. He tends to favor the film for its aesthetic, design component. Here he is describing the much-debated Zion rave sequence:

The dance is beautifully intercut with another criterion of human passion, a love sequence between Neo and Trinity. The imagery is exquisitely interwoven, resulting in a fairly potent piece of human symbolism and metaphor. Cinematographer Bill Pope does magnificent work in the entire trilogy, and this particular sequence represents the best of his abilities. He and uber production designer Owen Paterson bring a sufficiently earthy, dark, almost claustrophobic atmosphere to Zion, and this section demonstrates just how vital their contributions are in envisioning this world.

I, um, respectfully disagree.

Anyway, if you are even a casual fan of the Matrix films, you owe it to yourself to check out this whole article. He's got a second edition coming out soon, about (you guessed it), The Matrix Revolutions. It's all in preparation for the Wachowski's latest venture, V for Vendetta, which they only officially produced but apparently shadow-directed as well. That opens next week, and I personally can't wait to check it out.

Hideous Sea Creature Given Own Reality Show

Oh, no, wait, it's just Osama bin Laden's niece. Never mind.

But even though it's not Cthulhu as I had initially thought, she's still a good subject for a reality show. She's shallow, vapid, talentless, famous only because of her family name and dim-witted. And in reality TV, as in every other arena of modern life, all of the above are major assets.

Osama bin Laden’s niece, an aspiring singer who posed for a sexy photo shoot in a men’s magazine last year, has signed up for a reality television show about her life and her as yet unfulfilled “quest for stardom.”

Wafah Dufour Bin Ladin, whose mother was married to the al Qaeda leader’s half brother, was born in California but lived in Saudi Arabia from the age of three to 10.

“I understand that when people hear my last name, they have preconceived notions, but I was born an American and I love my country,” Dufour said in a statement from ReganMedia announcing the deal to develop a reality TV series.

Preconceived notions? Oh, Americans have a bit more than notions about Osama bin Laden. You might even say that have full-fleged opinions about the man. Some of them even strongly held! This satatement reminds me of that Robert Schimmel joke, where he's given safety tips on how to react if a shark is bothering you.

"Bothering? Excuse me, could you please not tear my rip me apart with your massive jaws? I find that very bothersome."

Dufour has dropped the “Bin Ladin” — a different spelling of the Arabic name from that used by Osama bin Laden — and now goes by the name Wafah Dufour.

Definitely a good idea to drop the "bin Laden," but I'm not sure Americans are quite ready to embrace a pop star named Wafah Dufour either. I mean, if you're going to give yourself a made-up stage name anyway...She's probably be better off calling herself Slutface McButtstank, rather than an Arab-sounding name, if popularity and fame in America are her ultimate goal.

Based in New York, Dufour has been promoting herself as a musician and last December appeared in a sultry GQ photo spread, reclining on satin sheets wrapped in feathers and posing in a bubble bath wearing nothing but a necklace.

“Her story will bridge the gap that people feel exists between the cultures she has lived in,” ReganMedia President Judith Regan said.

This is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. How will Americans parading around the daughter of a beloved and respected leader naked on television bridge the culture gap? Oh, yes, that's exactly what the Man on the Riyadh Street wants to see...Young Arab girls being oolged publicly by thousands of American men.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with American-style public oogling. In fact, I'm objectively pro-oogle. I'm just saying that the very notion that this will do anything but infuriate the Muslims who hate America is ludicrous. It would be like George W. saying that outrage over the abuses of Abu Gharib have united East and West.

Come to think of it, he probably has said that at some point, in an accidental moment of candor. And I just didn't hear about it because all of the witnesses have been detained in Abu Gharib.

“She is also a young woman who falls in love, has her heart broken, worries about her looks, doesn’t always listen to her mother, and hasn’t spoken to her father in years,” Regan said.

She definitely needs to worry about her looks. I've only seen a few photos of the woman, and already I'm worried about her looks.

Are we sure that this isn't actually Osama bin Laden, evading capture by adopting a fiendishly clever disguise? Seriously, maybe he used all that time spent in the caves in Pakistan to work on his abs...shaved the beard...Something to think about...

Anyway, here's the best part of the whole article.

She cites U2, Depeche Mode, The Cure and The Cranberries among her musical influences.

Anyone who cites The Cranberries as a major musical influence should be barred from the music industry, permanently. Can't we get Congress on some legislation for this?

Welcome to the World

My friends Ray and Erin had a baby yesterday. Well, okay, fine, Erin had the baby. Ray came in to open the video store today, which represents a kind of employer loyalty that I will never understand.

I guess life goes on and all that, but I think if I had been a father for less than 12 hours, I'd probably still be in the hospital. Not to provide my wife with moral and emotional support, but because I'd be having acute panic attacks, coupled with nausea, dizziness and hyperventilation.

This is the bouncing baby boy, young Brayden. Which is a cool name, in that it sounds like the lead character in a Mel Gibson movie or a fighting game. No, no, I kid, I kid...

And now that I'm reading over that paragraph, perhaps bouncing is not really all that accurate a term. I'd say one should probably refrain from actually bouncing one's newborn infant for at least a few days. You've got to let the little guy adjust to life on Earth before sending him unpredictably hurtling through the atmosphere.

Anyway congrats to Ray and Erin are in order. Also, diapers and suggestions for how to get doody stains out of high quality fabrics.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Know Whut I Mean, Vern?

I'm always fascinated by how quickly and cruelly our leaders will drop dead weight. Remember Michael "heckuvajob" Brown, former head of FEMA. He was Bush's best buddy until that whole nasty-hurricane-decimates-large-chunk-of-America-while-Bush-enjoys-delicious-cake thing. After that, they threw him out to the wolves completely. I mean...those e-mails with him talking about shopping for suits...That's got to hurt!

And now there's this news today about Claude Allen, a senior Bush advisor (with the same salary as Karl Rove!) who was busted for...wait, what?...for shoplifting?

The Target Loss Prevention Manger contacted Montgomery County Police and through the police investigation it was learned that Allen had been receiving refunds in an amount exceeding $5,000 during last year. Some of the fraudulent returns were made at Target stores and some at Hecht’s stores. He would buy items, take them out to his car, and return to the store with the receipt. He would select the same items he had just purchased, and then return them for a refund. Allen is known to have conducted approximately 25 of these types of refunds, having the money credited to his credit cards.

Wow...A shoplifter in the President's inner circle. I mean...don't get me wrong. I think everyone in the President's inner circle, at this point, is a criminal to some extent. But, you know, at least a white-collar criminal, a behind-the-scenes, war criminal type criminal. Not petty scams usually reserved for dope fiends.

How can these revelations get any more embarrassing for the White House? I mean, as if the Vice-President shooting an old guy in the face wasn't enough to deal with...What's next? Has Donald Rumsfeld been stripping the copper wiring from abandoned crack dens for the recycling money? Does Condi Rice has several unlicensed exotic animals in her apartment?

This guy resigned myseteriously a few months ago, and the White House lied and said that he quit because of the pressure the job put on his family. I think they just lie as a reflex action at this point...There's no point at all to that lie. Everyone's going to find out anyway, and the guy was already agreeing to step down. That's just a "I always lie to the press so why not keep going" kind of lie.

We should test the theory. Reporters should just start asking the President what color his tie is, and see if he makes some shit up.

"Well, it may look like I'm wearing a blue tie, but I have some news for you, Helen Thomas. Some news that might just shock and discredit you...I'm not wearing a tie at all!"

And while I'm on the subject of Republican scumbags (one of the few key subjects of this blog, after all), here's an additional item. An advertisement for Congressional candidate, and all around swell guy, Vernon Robinson. Do yourself a giant favor and check out the ad via the magic of Crooks and Liars.

That's it, I'm moving to New Zealand. I'll see you assholes later.

Okay, I just went and checked out airfare to Aukland. I'm selling a screenplay, and then moving to New Zealand.

But I'm still not happy about occupying the same hemisphere as Mr. Robinson. He apparently thinks the largest problems facing America, in order of threat level, are the following:

(1) Fags/Lesbians/Felicity Huffman
(2) Darkies
(3) Flag burners
(4) Feminists
(5) Uppity darkies
(6) Mooslims
(7) Unseen armies of librul judges forcing adorable blonde children to cover their mouths after any reference to God through the use of stern gavelings
(8) Dirty border-hopping Mexicans
(9) Roe and/or Wade

Not to mention, this guy obviously has no real idea what a Congressman even does. You won't get to screw around with feminists protesters or stop boys from kissing, Vern. (Well, maybe if you're from South Dakota...)

I'd like to add that Vern may be the first politician in history to purposefully compare himself to The Beaver. Everyone knows that Eddie Haskell was the cool character on that show. Even this guy's taste in 50's sitcoms sucks.

(I'll leave out the long, shrill paragraph about how Vernon and his like-minded Republican whackjob friends are now openly pining for an America that only exists on lame sitcoms...If you're going to actually run the nation in a way that emulates an old TV show, why couldn't it at least be "Dobie Gillis." Ooh, or "Have Gun Will Travel." That show kicked ass!)

Finally, I have to say a few words about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her comments to the people of Georgetown University. She warned that the United States is in danger of falling into a dictatorship.

I'd post to a link of the speech, where she calls out Tom DeLay and John Cornyn (not by name but by deed), but she didn't allow the speech to be broadcast. That's very telling, right?

So let's review. She votes for the atrcious Bush v. Gore ruling, which unfairly handed to Presidency to a half-retarded Boy King. She goes quietly about her business before retiring, allowing Boy King to select and push through confirmation a suitably loyal replacement. Then, after her opinion about anything no longer matters, she finally says what everyone else has known for a few years already. And even then, she won't allow her speech to be broadcast!

What is this woman afraid of? I mean, her career is over, she can retire and live out her years quietly. What could the Republicans do to her if she attracted media attention to this story. Hire Jeff Gilooly to bust her in the kneecaps with a length of pipe?

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Japanese director Takashi Shimizu made Marebito in a little over a week, during a break between filming his horror film Ju-On and its American remake, The Grudge. Unsurprisingly, it's a lot more interesting than either of those movies. This peculiar slice of meta-horror is like an alternate-reality remake of Little Shop of Horrors, written by H.P. Lovecraft and directed by David Cronenberg.

I can't say the movie is entirely successful. Although occasionally creepy, it's never all that scary, and it's a lot better than building up tension than it is at paying off any of the various terrifying revelations it sets up. Still, for a movie shot on the fly, with digital cameras, in a week between making other, larger films, Marebito works well enough. Any movie that's this imaginative, unsettling and interesting is worthwhile, even if it's overwhelmed by its own style and it stumbles in the final half-hour.

Japanese actor-director Shinya Tsukamoto (maker of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and star of Miike's famed Ichi the Killer) stars as a Tokyo cameraman slowly losing his grip on reality. Yes, this is another one of those movies where the supernatural events may all be in the head of an unreliable narrator. This whole "twist" is kind of being played out, particularly in Asian horror films, and it's only one of the unoriginal tropes that forms the basis of Shimizu's story. Somehow, he's able to fuse a lot of rather tired concepts into a story that feels somewhat fresh, but he's not wholly successful.

The cameraman, Masuoka, is gathering footage in a subway when he happens upon a man committing suicide. He captures the man gouging out his own eye with a knife on film, ad watches the tape over and over again. The look of horror on the suicidal man's face becomes an obsession. A cold, unfeeling, emotionless individual in his own right, Masuoka wants to experience the object terror that he sees in this man's face.

The quest eventually drives Masuoka underground, to the hidden, mysterious wasteland lying beneath the surface of Tokyo. He finds, among other things, a feral girl chained up in a craggy environment called "The Mountains of Madness" (the film's lone overt reference to the horror stories of Lovecraft), and of course he brings her back to his apartment.

Masuoka ritualistically films everything on a digital camera, and Shimizu continually cuts from his film to this grainy, dimly-lit footage. There are a number of scenes cleverly cutting between the two types of film, and the technique is occasionally successful at generating scares, but it's way overused during the course of the film. By the end, Shimizu's constant cutting back and forth has become annoying, diluting the tension right in the midst of a theoretically-scary sequence.

I mean, I think I get what he was going for. Masuoka is incapable of experiencing the world directly, preferring to view people and places through a camera. His quest for "terror" indicates his strong desire to relate, in an immediate sense, to what's going on around him, without the filter of recording equipment. But this concept is expressed early on in the film - continuing to jerk the viewer back and forth between two types of film becomes a pointless exercize in style after a while.

I'm also not sure how this Cronenberg-ian, technological-paranoia thriller links up to the fairly-traditional horror story with the primal girl from Underground. The girl (Tomomi Miyashita), known to Masuoka as F, consumes only fresh blood, leading to several scenes that are, unfortunately for Shimizu's purpose, highly reminiscent of the hijinks from Little Shop of Horrors.

Masuoka discovers her forbidden cravings after he cuts his finger, and she begins to suck it dry of precious bodily fluids. (I think Shimizu meant for this scene to resemble oral sex, but all I could think about was little Audrey II). Later, Masuoka will have no choice but to prepare a freshly-murdered corpse for consumption in his apartment. (No, it's not a dentist).

Campy allusions aside, this stuff is all pretty silly, particularly when the albino sewer monsters are introduced. By the time Shimizu returns to his Grudge bag of tricks, resorting to creepy girls with bangs covering their eyes and ghosts appearing in elevators, I started to tune out. I much preferred the psychological horror stuff about the cameraman losing his shit, mainly because of Tsukamoto's eerily distant performance.

Still, you have to give the guy credit. This movie has a lot more going on than, say, that American Grudge remake. I mean, it had a few decent sequences, but the thing didn't really make sense at all. Also, as a general rule, you don't want to kill off Bill Pullman in the first scene, if your only other star is Sarah Michelle Gellar. Something to think about...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Go Ninja Go Ninja Go

They're really making a new, CG-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or TMNT, to those of us in the know) movie? Really?

Who is the imagined audience for this spectacle? People around my age, who grew up with the Ninja Turtles? Because, yes, like most nerdy males my age, I used to like the Ninja Turtles. I saw the first two films in theaters and even had one of the horrible Nintendo games, which consisted (if memory serves) almost entirely of driving around in a van and climbing in and out of sewers.

But surely an animated Ninja Turtles film can't be aiming for mainly 30 year old former fans. They must want to convert a younger generation, that can discover for themselves the joys of four juvenile humanoid turtles performing bad martial arts choreography in between bites of pizza and lame slang held over from Valley Girl.

Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe nostalgia alone will catapult this film to massive success. It's possible, I guess. I'm certainly curious about what an animated, harder-edged adaptation of the Ninja Turtle comic book would look like. But am I curious enough to actually shell out (har!) money to see a new Ninja Turtle movie? Probably not.

So, it seems that the long talked about CG NINJA TURTLES flick has nailed a pair of distributors. Warner Bros has it overseas and The Weinsteins are releasing it domestically, with a release date of March 30, 2007.

I think I'd be a bit embarrassed sitting in a theater, waiting to watch a film about ninja turtles. That sinking feeling of being a near-30-year old loser with nothing better to do than watch cartoon reptiles fighting inconsequential skirmishes against a tinfoil-clad weirdo named Shredder. I'll probably wait for DVD just to sidestep that rather unpleasant, introspective moment of shame.

Oddly, I wouldn't get that same pang of anxiety and self-consciousness waiting to see, say, a double-feature of trashy 70's exploitation films in a scummy hole in Hollywood. I cannot explain this blatant double-standard, and for that I apologize.

I'd also like to add that, if they were going to get Corey Feldman to return as the voice of Donatello, that would be an entirely different story.

[NINJA TURTLE TRIVIA OF THE DAY: Kevin Clash, the actor who voiced Splinter the Rat in the old Ninja Turtle films of the 90's now does the voice of Elmo for "Sesame Street." It's true!]

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Argument Clinic

I've really been having it out in the comments with this guy Ben over the past 2 weeks or so. First, he came and left a comment in one of my abortion rants, and we started to argue. (What had set me off, I think, was that Ben presented the notion that the pro-life movement makes some strong points, and dismissed the notion that the right to domain over one's own body makes a persuasive case for legal abortion.)

So, okay, no harm no foul. We argued but it remained as civil as possible, I thought. Then, yesterday, Ben started commenting in another column, about Paul Haggis and Crash. Again, we tusseled, but this time, for whatever reason, the conversation stuck with me. Ben had basically argued that I was being unneccessarily hostile, that I was haranguing him for no good reason and trying to pick a fight.

And looking back over our comments now...I think he's right. Ben came on here and made some general comments about an article I had linked to, and I bet his head off.

What made me go after him? Honestly, I have no idea. Here's some of what Ben said:

A friends girlfriend recently suggested I was homophobic because I didn't think Brokeback was any good and it really pissed me off. I thought then, as I do now, that such a criticism was not only unjustified, but was downright cowardly. Brokeback lost because it peaked too soon and oversaturated the market. If the Oscars were held a few weeks ago it probably would have won, but the facts were that the populist Brokeback wave had already started to roll back by the time people were casting their votes.

And here's how I replied: concern me. You really do. I feel like, every time you leave me a comment, you're trying to excuse your own intolerant, closed-minded point of view. Frankly, I'm getting a bit sick of it.

Yikes. That's kind of personal and mean, and totally not appropriate for the tone of his initial comment. What got into me last night?

Ben does kind of say things in a roundabout way, and I can kind of see now why I got turned-around and flustered communicating with him. Sometimes, he'll make comments that seem connected to what I was talking about, but actually move things in an entirely new direction. Like, I was arguing that Brokeback Mountain should have won the Oscar because it was the far-superior, memorable and more important 2005 film, and then Ben came on and said that Brokeback had not lost because of the Academy's secret homophobia. A fair enough point, but not exactly the thing I was talking about. And most blog commenters don't do that, so I got taken off-guard.

Finally, Ben does one thing that I really really really don't like...He picks nits. Now, this isn't to say that I never make fun of some other blogger or commenter for messing up their spelling or grammar or something. But Ben likes to pull out sentences you've written and "correct" them for you, even if it's stuff you could never have actually known. I referred to him as "an American" once, because we were arguing abortion, and then he threw in my face that he's not actually American, so there.

Then, in our last discussion, I said "obviously, I didn't mean to offend you." And then he shot back "It wasn't obvious." Not exactly fostering smooth, open communication there.

But I don't want to turn this around on Ben. It's my fault. I was being a downright bad host. I'm never going to convince people to come on here and read this stuff every day if I bite their head off whenever they try to provide feedback. Criticism noted.

Losing Neverland

Years ago, when I used to read scripts for Cruise/Wagner Productions, I came across a screenplay called Neverland. It was kind of a modernizing of the Peter Pan legend, setting it in the world of Manhattan junkies and low-level criminals. In Neverland, Peter Pan was now a dope fiend, addicted to and occasionally selling a powerful narcotic called...

Well, why not guess. Ten seconds...

If you said the drug was called "fairy dust," congratulations. You might have the makings of a complete hack!

Anyway, Peter eventually brought into his crew ("The Lost Boys") an innocent young runaway ("Wendy"), who joined him in evading the cruel detective who lost his hand the previous year while pursuing Peter. Yeah, it was lame.

I wondered, at the time, why anyone would even attempt something like this. Adapting a really famous story into a modern context like this creates numerous problems. Sometimes, the material is just an awkward fit for a modern setting (particularly Tiger Lily, who in Neverland was an exotic dancer/informant). Also, your audience already knows the outline of the story, so it's hard to build suspense.

I understand that the Peter Pan allusion was the guy's hook (har!), and without that there was nothing compelling about yet another witless, gritty riff on Drugstore Cowboy. But if you want to write a story about cops and junkies, just write that story. If you want to write Peter Pan, write that story. But don't mix stuff that just doesn't mix. It never works.

Which brings me to this item from Ain't It Cool News today. Here's Garden State-lovin' Quint with all the details:

This one concerns a film called PAN, which is a sort of bizarro world take on the Peter Pan legend, where Hook is a cop hunting down a psychopathic villain with the supernatural powers of Pan. New Line has picked up this pitch by Ben Magid. I don't know more than that, but that sounds pretty effin' cool to me.

Effin' cool, eh? This new concept, Pan, is not at all like Neverland, really. It turns the Peter Pan story into a serial killer riff, with Pan as the psycho and Hook as the protagonist cop. How peculiar.

I guess that gets around the second problem I mentioned...Audiences won't really know the story in advance if it turns it around enough to make Captain Hook the hero. Hopefully, Magid will dispense with the tired, racist Tiger Lily storyline altogether (unless that actress from The New World has a spot open in her schedule, in which case she can be the coroner or something.)

The first problem, that Peter Pan remains an odd fit for a modern story, remains a considerable obstacle to writing a good movie. How can you turn Peter Pan into a serial murderer and still make it Peter Pan? Is Neverland now the nickname for his Basement torture chamber? When Peter asks Wendy to fly, is that really just code for rubbing the lotion on its skin and then putting it in the basket?

And I don't even want to know what will become of Tinkerbell in this new adaptation. Schizophrenic hallucination urging Peter to kill? Murder victim #1? Sassy female rookie cop? Guess I'll have to just watch the movie when it gets made, which should be a few months after never in a million years.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Okay, this will be the very last post about the Oscars, I promise. I'm even sick of hearing myself talk about the Oscars.

But there was some summing up to do, I felt, after last night's blitzkreig of disillusionment and disappointment. Yes, my least favorite film of 2005 has won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I'm learning to deal with it.

Some across the Web have implied that I care too deeply about such a triviality. Well, they are probably correct. It doesn't really matter, in a Big Picture way, what movie wins. But speaking as someone who works in a video store...The films that win these huge awards do remain in the public consciousness, do become a part of film history. People remember them.

It has not been an exclusive list for some time. Dumbass, unworthy winners like Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago and Gladiator have long-since tarnished the title of Best Picture of any given year (as if The Greatest Show on Earth and Oliver! hadn't done so already).

But still, Crash will stand as one of the notable, important films of 2005. This reflects poorly on the film industry and on the American public in general. It is a shamefully shallow, trite, meaningless piece of puffery. If this is where the American people are at, intellectually, on the issue of race, then we're all Doomed with a capital D.

Okay, so, I'm not the only one who thinks so. An Oscar attendee (who shall remain anonymous) told me today that the audience was not particularly in Paul Haggis' corner. I believe his exact quote was, "I don't know who all voted for Crash, but none of them were in that room." The mystery nominee also told me that Jake Gyllenhaal was visibly upset at Brokeback Mountain having lost to Crash. "Any of the other nominees would have been fine," he allegedly said. "But not Crash."

The real girlie, backstabbing bitch-fighting was between the makers of Best Picture Crash and those who brought us Brokeback Mountain, the clear favorite, up until a couple of hours ago.

I asked Crash producer Cathy Schulman backstage what she thought about the already sizeable bitterness I was hearing about her flick eclipsing Brokeback. "Well," she sniffed, holding her Oscar (which, if you ask me, says it all), "I loved their film. Sorry they can't feel the same for us."

Yeah, but, you see, Cat...their film was good. Right? So that's why you liked it. Remember? When words like "good" or "bad" actually line up with real-world concepts and qualities? They don't have to love your film just because you made it. You are not a beautiful unique snowflake. Deal with it.

And those are just the mean-spirited comments from other Academy Awards attendees. They have a good reason to be nice...They're standing 10 feet away from the people they're shitting on.

Accordingly, everyone in the general public seems equally dumbfounded and aghast in the cold light of day. Kenneth Turan at the LA Times essentially calls the Motion Picture Academy cowards for picking Crash and avoiding conflict about the gay themes of Brokeback.

I do not for one minute question the sincerity and integrity of the people who made "Crash," and I do not question their commitment to wanting a more equal society. But I do question the film they've made. It may be true, as producer Cathy Schulman said in accepting the Oscar for best picture, that this was "one of the most breathtaking and stunning maverick years in American history," but "Crash" is not an example of that.

I don't care how much trouble "Crash" had getting financing or getting people on board; the reality of this film, the reason it won the best picture Oscar, is that it is, at its core, a standard Hollywood movie, as manipulative and unrealistic as the day is long. And something more.

For "Crash's" biggest asset is its ability to give people a carload of those standard Hollywood satisfactions, but make them think they are seeing something groundbreaking and daring. It is, in some ways, a feel-good film about racism, a film you could see and feel like a better person, a film that could make you believe that you had done your moral duty and examined your soul, when in fact you were just getting your buttons pushed and your preconceptions reconfirmed.

Folks, read this entire Kenny Turan article. He totally fucking nails it, right on the head. This is everything I've been thinking and saying about Crash since I saw it in the Fall.

It took the film winning Best Picture for me to discover that I'm not alone. I've been in my little bubble of Crash hatred, thinking the entire rest of the world adored this movie, and now that it has won real recognition, the truth is coming out. Morons have advocated this silly piece of shit for months, with sensible people simply remaining out of the conversation, not wanting to make people feel bad or start a fight. But now that the notion of Crash as a geniunely worthwhile piece of filmmaking has become a real possibility, the daggers are coming out.

There's always inevitable Best Picture backlash. All movies that take the prize become somewhat less esteemed in the years that follow - American Beauty, Million Dollar Baby, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, even Titanic...Can we say that any of these movies are still regarded as the absolute BEST of their respective years?

Is Haggis' film doomed to join the list of ludicrous Oscar flubs, along with Marisa Tomei's Supporting Actress Oscar for My Cousin Vinny and Ron Howard's bizarre win for A Beautiful Mind (compared at the time by Robert Altman to watching your mother-in-law drive your new car off of a cliff)? Probably. Only time will tell.

One more thing I'll mention about Crash. Today, I took a short break from work and went to move my car, to avoid getting a parking ticket. Turning the key in the ignition, it seemed like the engine was taking far too long to actually turn over. It was struggling. This was odd, because I had just taken the car in for service, so it should be working fine. When I accelerated, the vehicle lurched. I figured, though the dial said I had a little less than a quarter-tank left, that I must be out of gas.

I only made it halfway to the local gas station before the car lurched to a halt. Right in the middle of an intersection (Pico and Prosser, for locals). Before I even knew what was really happening, a group of five guys had all rushed over to help me push the car across the street and to the Shell Station. I didn't have to motion for help, ask a soul...nothing. (Okay, afterwards, one of the guys hit me up for a few dollars and another tried to sell me coloring books. But they didn't ask for anything before helping me, which is all that really matters).

These were strangers, of a variety of races and creeds, and they all pitched in to help me for no good reason. I didn't even have to ask. (And, no, I wasn't even blocking their cars. They were just helpful passers-by).

No one expressed any racist sentiments, or any anger at all. No motorists flipped me off or got in my face. Does this mean racism and misplaced anger doesn't exist in Los Angeles? Of course not. It just means that Paul Haggis is full of shit, and LA is nothing like the teeming cesspool of racial hatred that exists in his overripe imagination. If the real world were like Crash, I'd have been beaten up by angry motorists, sexually molested by the LAPD when they arrived in the scene and kidnapped by an evil old Chinese guy for use as slave labor.

Howl's Moving Castle

PIXAR Studios, the reigning kings of American animation, work with classic formulas and high concepts. What if toys came to life when kids weren't around? What if kids really did see monsters under their bed when parents turned out the lights?

That's why it's sort of surprising how much all the PIXAR guys worship Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Not that he's not an animator to be admired. Miyazaki's films rank among the most visually-impressive traditionally animated films of all time. It's just that his mode of storytelling is so far removed from what PIXAR does. Or what anyone else does, really.

Every Miyazaki film is a completely original, unique, handmade creation. Personally, I think some of them work better than others. But every single one of the man's films contains elaborate flights of fancy, a tremendous outpouring of imagination and ingenuity, and beautiful, richly-detailed animation. Howl's Moving Castle is no different. In fact, along with Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke, I'd say it ranks with Miyazaki's best work to date.

It's without a doubt the best animated film of 2005, and on the short list of the best animated films of the decade thus far. A total triumph.

This is the story of a girl named Sophie, who is turned into an old woman by an evil witch before stumbling upon the enchanted castle of a wizard named Howl, who uses the magic powers of a fire demon named Calcifer to fight against a twisted, tyrannical regime that would engulf the entire world in non-stop war.

Where does Hayao come up with this stuff?

Unlike Miyazaki's last film, Spirited Away, which practically required a Master's Degree in Japanese Folklore just to understand what the hell was going on, Howl's Moving Castle deftly bounces between exciting set pieces. Sure, it's confusing, particularly because most of the main characters have a tendency to morphn into other forms (a standard Miyazaki motif), but the film never gives you a chance to get lost. Carefully following the ins and outs of plot takes a backseat to tone and wild imagery, and even if it doesn't all make total sense, the movie eventually develops a curious logic all its own.

Howl's castle, lumbering on spindly mechanical legs and coughing smoke through a flat, grassy Wasteland, takes on a looming, ominous presence in the film. Like it's master, the castle seems to change its form throughout the film. Sometimes, it's like a small two-story home; other times, it's an amorphous, mysterious cathedral filled with shadowy corridors and secret, locked hideaways. Along with the non-verbal magical scarecrow, Turnip, and the silent dog, the castle demonstrates Miyazaki's amazing ability with character - using only subtle gestures and sound effects, his animation can breathe life into essentailly inanimate objects.

All too often, modern animated films are tempted to fall back on celebrity voice casts to give their characters personality. Honestly, do any of the characters in Shrek define themselves through their physical mannerisms and outward behavior? Even their facial expressions are kind of indistinct - the filmmakers rely on Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy to do the heavy lifting, to make their characters likable.

What Miyazaki and PIXAR share is a reliance on, and reverence for, the techniques pioneered in previous generations, largely by Walt Disney and his early team of animators. Really breathing life into still drawings using craft and careful, studied technique. It's truly something marvelous to see when done correctly. In one scene, Sophie is trying to pull a crashed helicopter (of sorts) out of the front end of the castle. As she pushes with all her force, the castle itself pulls in the opposite direction, and almost seems to wince from the effort. The animation captures the castle's "expression," the intense effort of pulling backwards to free itself from the plane. It's just one amazing sequence out of many.

Additionally, the level of detail in the film's animation is nothing short of remarkable. From the backgrounds teeming with trees, puffy clouds and mountain-side villages to the tiny observed details of Howl's bedroom to the endless grassy fields stretching out into the horizon, every shot of Howl's Moving Castle is downright painterly. A triumph of traditional animated (jazzed up, obviously, for the digital age), Howl's Moving Castle is one of those perfect little counter-points against those who would argue that CG Animation alone is the wave of the future.

So all that being said, if I had to guess as to what Miyazaki's trying to say with the film...I think it's probably something about the confusion of adolesence. Having been transformed into an old woman by the evil Witch of the Waste, Sophie discovers that with age comes certain handicaps and responsibilites, but also great wisdom and confidence. She discovers a world of activity and import beyond her own immediate, personal needs, and finds great satisfaction in helping others and joining with a cause and a community.

But you could probably make up any number of "explanations" for the story of the film. The point isn't so much what specifically is being said, but the way Miyazaki creates an entirely new universe from whole cloth, and populates it with bizarre characters and fascinating innovations.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Some Oscar Night Top Ten Lists

Top Ten Things Overheard in the ABC Control Room During the Academy Awards

10. I need more reaction shots from Jamie Foxx! Get me more Jamie Foxx reaction shots!
9. Odd that Dolly Parton would opt to actually have a facial peel in the middle of her Best Original Song performance.
8. What's that on Charlize's shoulder? Some kind of growth?
7. We should have a more animated, lively host next year. Like the corpses of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.
6. Wait, Felicity Huffman's not a man?
5. No, running the Spartacus DVD on double-speed doesn't count as a montage.
4. Holy shit! Someone just drove a flaming car on stage...Actually, you know what? Let's run with it.
3. We're low on gay jokes. Get Vilanch in here!
2. Wait, Hilary Swank's not a man?
1. Paul Haggis is a Scientologist

I know that last one's not funny...But you all should just know that information.

Top Ten Films More Deserving of This Year's Best Picture Oscar Than Crash

10. My Date With Drew
9. Batman fan film Dead End
8. Daredevil: Extended-Edition Director's Cut
7. That shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark that those kids put together
6. 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
5. The Game: Stop Snitchin', Stop Lyin'
4. 8 MM 2
3. R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet
2. "Lazy Sunday"
1. David Cronenberg's Crash, awarded retroactively

Top Ten Comments Made by al-Qaida Members While Watching the International Broadcast of the Academy Awards in a Cave Near the Pakistani Border

10. How come when we criticize America, they try to kill us, but when Paul Haggis does it, he gets an award?
9. If this glamorous award show doesn't come off as planned, then we will truly have won.
8. I hope they give it to Reese! She's just as cute as a button.
7. Hey, guys...How come we aren't trying to bomb the shit out of them right now? All the famous, good-looking ones are gathered in one spot!
6. What the fuck happened to Dolly Parton's face? Did we do that?
5. I don't get it. How is Sound Editing different from Sound Mixing?
4. All of these Hollywood liberals and their anti-war, anti-Bush rhetoric have emboldened me!
3. I told you guys we should have called ourselves the Three 6 Mafia. Well, it's too late now!
2. Wait, Hilary Swank's not a man?
1. Any of you guys see Munich? Yeah, me neither.

Like Sweet Glorious Music

Lots of blog traffic here in the immediate aftermath of Oscar Night 2006. People are searching for the phrase "Crash sucks" and "Haggis bullshit" in record numbers, and they are again and again finding themselves here at Crushed by Inertia. I couldn't be more pleased. Keep hope alive!

Oh, and here's the brilliant immediate reaction of Brad at Sadly, No! to the Crash win.

Whoa. Crash won? That's, like, the least controversial movie they could chose. Wimps.


Jon Stewart's in Serious Trouble


Okay, so I had to take off from work and go home, and once I got here, I had basically missed a good deal of the end of the show. Then, my Internet connection didn't work because my roommate's router went out, so we had to reconnect and wait around until I could get back on line.

And then I get back and discover that Crash has just won Best Picture. You've got to be fucking shitting me. I mean, Original Screenplay...I saw that one coming. But Best Picture? Have you all lost your minds? You have now awarded this guy Haggis and his unique brand of painful, self-important horseshit the Best Picture award two years in a row.

Seriously, this is the worst back-to-back run of awarding in Oscar history, and Crash is...the single worse ever win Best Picture. Mark my words. I'm ashamed to have watched the whole show. Sickened. And then they get up there and give this awful speech, calling this a "maverick" year in cinema and pretending to be these crazy, outspoken radicals.

Tell me...what subversive, maverick message was espoused by Crash? Please feel free to actually state, in plain English, what was maverick about Crash in the comments below, if you're a fan. This I've got to hear. That racism is weewy weewy bad? That people being mean to one another make baby Paul Haggis cry? Grow up, people.

Also, Memoirs of a Geisha won for Cinematography, which was a big surprise, and Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress, which was not at all a surprise.

Worst Oscars ever.


Way to go, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, winner of tonight's Best Actor award. "Capote" wasn't really one of my favorite films this year, but it was a good movie and he gave a great performance. It's really a career achievement award for a guy who has been pretty much the most consistant, most entertaining to watch character actor of the last decade.


"Crash" has won its first award of the night, for Best Editing. It was somewhat inevitable, and yet I'm still disappointed that, forever now, we'll hear about "Paul Haggis' Oscar-winning 'Crash'". Dang.


Why did Richard Pryor have to die? That sucks.


A guy just came into the store...A regular customer. British guy. He said he wasn't watching the Oscars this year because of all the glaring omissions. In particular, he was upset to see "Match Point" nominated for Original Screenplay. Actual quote:

"Speaking as an Englishman, that was a very offensive movie."

Offensive? Wanted to ask him if he meant it was actually offensive, like, to his nationality. Like if he meant it makes all Englishmen look like murdering dandies. Or if he just found it generally, aesthetically displeasing. Like, "offensive to the senses." But in that case, why add that it's particularly insensitive to an English person. Like, they have more elevated taste than we do, and thus would be more irritated by a poorly-conceived film set in their homeland? Nope, I'm sorry...I don't get it.

And I'd ask him, but I don't want to actually run the risk of getting into an extended, dumb conversation. Better to just let the silly comment pass and get back to the show.


If you're going to perform a song called "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" on the Oscars, you might as well just sing the word "bitches." Because the line "a whole lot of WITCHES jumping ship" in a song about pimping doesn't actually make any sense. Now, I understand that you want to make it appropriate for the whole family...BUT THE ENTIRE SONG IS ABOUT BEING A PIMP, YOU IDIOTS!

Congrats, though, on the big win. First hip hop song ever nominated for an Oscar, and the first win! Pretty cool stuff...The Three 6 Mafia are now Oscar-winners, and they managed to get bleeped AND give it up to George Clooney. And, did anyone else notice, they were the first winner of the night to thank Jesus? Take that, Christian Oscars!


No clips from "California Split" in the Altman montage...What the hell! One of my favorites of his films.


What Robert Altman movie featured Meryl Streep? I can't come up with it now, but she must have been in SOMETHING, because why else would they have her out there to honor him? Anyway, Altman...truly a guy worthy of an honorary award. One of the great modern directors.


Glad the "Brokeback" score won. Along with the unnominated "Batman Begins," probably my favorite original score of the year. Just can't shake the feeling that the show's particularly boring this year. I mean, it's always kind of boring. But this year just feels particularly like a slog.

Even the montages of clips from old films are kind of rote and pointless. And having all the presenters hype up "seeing movies on the big screen," as if Jake Gyllenhaal is going to convince people that shelling out $15 to see a movie is the way to go instead of downloading it free to your iPod.

Don't get me wrong...I like theatrical screenings of films as much as anyone. I personally prefer to see a big movie in a theater. But if you're not te kind of person who feels that way, an Oscar montage of big moments from all the expected EPIC-SIZED films isn't going to change your mind.

And "Around the World in 80 Days"? That movie's boring and lame no matter what format you watch it in. "Pearl Harbor"? "Apollo 13"? Pick some better examples of widescreen composition, would you please?


Who knew there was so much love for "Memoirs of a Geisha." We have one guy who comes in the store all the time who's always raving about how it was the BEST movie he saw this year, and how AMAZING it was on a technical level. But I just ignored him because he's a huge idiot. He may be on to something, though...

Ironically, with "Geisha" already taking two Oscars, it will probably overall do better tonight than Spielberg's "Munich." Steve was going to make "Geisha" years ago, but then dropped the project and chose to produce, focusing on other films instead.


More wacky teleprompter hijinks. J. Lo seems to have had trouble getting out her introduction. And, while we're on the subject, why is she there? Didn't she have to shoot an episode of TRL or something important today? Barely even in movies any more (and with good cause!)

And let me just say, even putting aside my feelings about the actual film, that interpretive dance/sketch/Burning Man recreation in honor of the "Crash" Original Song nominee "In the Deep" was just retarded. How exactly do minorities walking through smoke symbolize the film "Crash"? Hey, it has minorities! There is occasional smoke!

I thought we were done with the Interpretive Dance-based Oscar performances. Never a good idea.


Either Lauren Bacall can't read or the teleprompter guy was asleep at the switch. That was pretty embarrassing...I thought she was just going to give up about halfway through, but to her credit, she just kept plugging away. I think all the clips in this Film Noir montage are from movies the editors rented here at Laser Blazer...Dug the inclusion of Richard Widmark pushing the old lady down the stairs. Nice touch.


Did Colleen Atwood just thank "The people of Japan" for having geisha, so she could later win an award for designing their costumes? That's kind of a weird acknowledgement, right?

Also, it seems odd to have the characters from "Chicken Little" to present awards when it's not even nominated for animated film. I'm generally irritated by the character, only because he's voiced by Zach Braff. I hate that guy even in CG animated chicken form.


Just checking in from work here...I'll make a few live-blogging style posts tonight, I guess, as long as I have a chance.

First things first, Jon Stewart...yikes. What happened? Why didn't he write his own monologue, instead of turning it over to some intern throwing together Leno-style "ripped from the headlines" groaners.

Seriously, for those of you not watching, here's a sample J. Stewart line...

"Millions of people from over 50 countries are watching the Oscars tonight. And 25% of them are currently in the process of being adopted by Angelina Jolie." Ugh.

Also, George Clooney wins Best Supporting Actor for "Syriana," meaning (as he indicated on stage) that he won't win anything else for "Good Night and Good Luck." Too's better than most of the award-bound films tonight. Thankfully, "Crash" remains awardless thus far. I like Matt Dillon, but fuck that film.

Finally, why didn't anyone tell me Dolly Parton had fallen in a vat full of sulfuric acid? That's the kind of thing I'd like to hear about when it happens. Will she be playing Two-Face in the next "Batman" film? Cause that would be dynamite.