Monday, March 24, 2008

A Short Sabbatical

I am inundated with work these days. So busy am I that I can’t even find the time to reply to friends’ emails, visit my regular blog haunts, and wax poetic about film or TV. Things should calm down soon, but until then, you should check out the sterling work at the links provided on the right. Keep well, and regular updates should be back within a week or so.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C Clarke 16 December 1917 - 19 March 2008

In the postscript to one of his masterpieces, Rendezvous with Rama, I think, Sir Arthur C Clarke talks about a modern day epiphany that he and a friend of his had in early 1940. Trekking around Buckinghamshire at dusk, conversing about the future (what else), the two came across a small hill. As they cleared its crest, they were confronted by a view that would haunt both men for the rest of their lives. There, in the distance, illuminated by the dying beams of a crimson sun, and ripping through the thick evening fog like Excalibur, were giant barrage balloons. Forgetting for a moment the destructive war the blimps heralded, the two men imagined a future with spacecraft punctuating the sky, signalling to the universe that man had set aside all his differences, and was ready to take that next step.

One of my favourite authors, and arguably the greatest visionary of the 20th Century, Sir Arthur C Clarke is dead. I am at a loss for words, and I must turn to him once more. How does The Nine Billion Names of God end, again? Ah, yes:

"Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."


Monday, March 17, 2008

Paradise? Lost!

The current season of Lost is proving to be the best one so far. That is a major feat for any network show, but it’s an even more impressive achievement for Lost, which has struggled with long bouts of mediocrity in the past (actually, I am being nice, most of the episodes from the second season, and the first half of the third season, were flat out terrible). It’s not that the show has been providing a lot of answers to any of the original mysteries, or even the newer ones (Then again, the revelations are incidental to the show’s true purpose anyway, and coming to terms with that point makes Lost an altogether more enjoyable show). Instead, it has built on the game-changing, and excellent, third-season finale, and has developed a concise and fairly tight-narrative with a constant array of surprises and cliffhangers in almost every episode. That they have a definitive end point has obviously helped the producers tremendously – not every episode is great, but the course is set. Even during its less accomplished episodes, the show no longer feels like an interminable ramble through sci-fi and TV drama clichés. For the first time since its debut in 2005, I actually love the show.

Which is kind of surprising if you know me. I am a fan of sci-fi and mystery and all that geeky crap. When I first heard about the show in early 2005 (as I was doing my military service at the time, I had missed out on all the up-front presentations in May 2004, as well as the initial reactions when the show first debuted in September), I could barely contain my excitement. A plane crash in the South Pacific – a ragtag group of survivors on a desert island – weird shit abound: SPLENDID! Just the kind of nerdy set up that gets me all giddy inside. Yet as I sat down to watch the first episode in September 2005, a year after its US premiere, I was underwhelmed. I liked the show, but it lacked that final oomph to arrest me fully. That first season did have a few excellent episodes, such as Walkabout aka Locke’s first flashback (even though it telegraphed the final twist), Solitary aka the one where they all play golf, Numbers aka the one where a math genius helps his detective brother solve crimes with the cunning use of algebra (oh, wait…), and Exodus Part II, featuring Michael’s infamous cry of “WAAAALT,” which, to this day, reverberates in my ear drums. It wasn’t a special show or anything – definitely not the best show on network TV like most of its fans claimed it was – but it had potential to develop.

The creative indolence that would plague the show had a lot to do, however, with one element introduced in the first season: the fricking hatch. My memory of the second season is hazier than that of the first, probably because I was bored shitless throughout most of it. That whole plot about pushing the button, and Locke’s lugubrious transformation from crazy island-nutjob to desk-bound, humourless douchebag, and his subsequent man of science/man of faith nonsense-a-rama with Jack were dull to the point of anesthesia, not aided by the second most boring sub-plot in the history of the show, the survivors from the tail section. I don’t know how you can go wrong with such a fount of untapped crazy, but the producers managed it with aplomb. Even though Ben’s Faux Henry days of captivity, and Michael’s gun-totin’ return, brought the show home for a while, Lost fizzled into an incongruous heap of pointless twists and turns by the end of the second season. “We have no idea how we are going to wrap this up, so here’s a giant statue with four toes (I never understood why this is so weird – it’s like looking at Guernica and saying, ‘wow, the guy who painted this must be an alien – look at the bull; it has two eyes on the side of its head’).”

And if the sophomore slump was bad, then the first ten or so episodes of the third season were truly abysmal. The demystification of The Others (probably inevitable in the long run), which had started in the latter part of the second season, continued with the revelation that they inhabit a suburban pleasantville in the middle of the fricking island – complete with book clubs, jungle gyms, and Tesco’s (probably). This domestication was offset in the later episodes of the season by the introduction of the Hostiles, or whatever they were called, but at the time, it felt like the worst creative decision ever. But it was nothing compared to the monotonous Jack/Kate/Sawyer crappola as they remained captives of The Others, doing nothing but eating bear biscuits, and looking stinky. It was only after the show came back from its ratings-killer mid-season hiatus that things started moving. Desmond went mental and travelled through time (or did he?), Charlie found out he was going to die, some other unforgettable crap happened to other characters, and, one of my favourite moments ever, the two random castaways who were awkwardly introduced at the beginning of the season, Nikki and Lauda (I might have the names wrong), got buried alive by their friends. Looking back, it was that very moment (Billy Dee Williams was in that episode, for god’s sake – BILLY DEE, BILLY DEE, BILLY DEE, Billy Dee Klump) that marks the turning point of the show. It was probably then that Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse, showrunners and uber-geeks, threw up their hands in disgust and resignation, like a pair of pentecoastal cannibals, and said: “Fuck it! Let’s set an end date, and go all out mental.” The rest of the season was fast and fun. That was the one thing that had been missing in the show: fun. And the latter half of the third season provided that with style.

And then came the third season finale, Through The Looking Glass, which was probably the show's best episode since Exodus Part II, the penultimate episode of Season 1 (the two-hour season finale was shown as two separate episodes here, as Exodus Part II and Exodus Part, wait for it, III). It was suspenseful, action packed, and, at times, rather moving. The back-to-basics feel to the episode, with all the Lostaways finally together on some – probable – fool’s errand, and finally an interesting – and pertinent – parallel-plot elevated the show above the levels of most other mainstream dramas. Not just that, but it was also unsettling in a way few shows ever dare to be.

First of all, I had always liked Charlie, and that had a lot to do with Dominic Monaghan’s pitch-perfect performance throughout his run. Even though it’s a shame he had to die, I think it was understandable from a story-point of view as there was nowhere his character could go from there. His final self-sacrifice was very moving: a testament to the character’s growth while on the island, as well as underlining the show’s overall theme of redemption/damnation.

In fact, that Yin-Yang relationship was made more obvious than ever before in the latter part of the third season as demonstrated by, for example, the developments in Locke and Sawyer’s respective characters. Locke’s inability to kill his father, or himself, or, in fact, Jack showed that he might not be the hunter/hero that the Island seemed to have molded him into. This subtle emasculation was contrasted by Sawyer’s transformation from a joker/con artist to a murderer. Whereas he was haunted by the memories of killing the man in Sydney, he did not seem to show any remorse for strangling Anthony Cooper, as attested to by his shooting Tom even after the latter had surrendered. Locke’s confrontation with Jack and Sawyer’s with Tom in the episode three finale were linked stylistically (of course), and thematically. The Others probably wanted Locke to kill his father because they wanted to see if he would be able to kill one of his own men should it ever come to it. Obviously he failed – but Sawyer would not have. Sidelined for most of the second and third seasons, Sayid, too, had a return to form as a very, very dangerous man – it was moments like these that formed a coherent whole around the episode.

The redemption/damnation motif also forms the basis of Jack’s story. I know that he is despised more than any other character (apart from Charlie, I suppose), but Jack is one of my favourites. It’s an old caveat of – good – comic book writers that it is far easier to write Wolverine than Cyclops. Similarly, Jack - an uneasy leader whose decisions usually produce ambivalent results - with all his genuine goodwill, heroism, altruism as well as his almost psychotic obsessiveness, sins-of-the-father issues, and, err, voice-control problems, is a much more complicated character than many others on the beach. His arc is the show’s arc (if I have to use the horrible “a” word) – damnation or salvation. And Matthew Fox’s performance, which, admittedly, comes and goes, was fantastic enough in the last seven or so episodes to rise to that larger challenge. So it was a combination of all these factors that made the final revelation in his flashforward that Jack was not redeemed all the more shocking.

Oh yeah – the flashforward.

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. When, last spring, we were talking about the show on an internet board, my good friend Graydon mentioned that he would like the series finale to be a slowly-revealed flasforward that would “flash back” to how the Lostaways escaped the island. I had entertained similar convention-defying possibilities before (not like that, you filthy heathens), and, albeit slightly similar to the Voyager finale, Graydon’s idea was great. A few days afterwards, I accidentally saw an avatar on another board of Leonidas/Jack, and, remembering the leap-in-time approach of the Battlestar Galactica third season finale (this is probably the geekiest post ever), I entertained whether a similar idea would be introduced in Lost. There were also a few tell-tale signs in the episode as well. The first one was the deliberate obscuration of the date of the paper, and the identity of the person who committed suicide. Another sign was Jack’s mobile, which was a Motorola Razr, and not released until 2005 (or, maybe, 2006) – having said that, I thought it might have been just an error (it obviously wasn’t, as proven by Jin’s bulky mobile in the most recent episode). Even though Jack’s mentioning his father threw me off at first, I thought it was too obvious a red herring, and that, if confronted, the producers could just write it off as Jack’s being high as a cloud at the time. Still, I was flabbergasted when Kate walked out of the shadows. It was such a bold, and imaginative move - setting up a great avenue to explore for the three seasons ahead. The fact that Jack had not been redeemed after all they went through (a line of Jack’s at which I raised an eyebrow) was an incredibly powerful way to end the show. It was like the producers’ saying: “Right, so you want answers? Here’s one: Kate and Jack get off the island, but they end up estranged, and, even better, Jack is more fucked up than ever! Happy now, bitches?” In one single episode, the show had managed to undo most of the effects of introducing The Others as regular characters, or the hatch, or, well, all the creative missteps of the past two seasons. Unlike the end of the second season, we were left with genuine questions. Who’s in the casket? What makes Jack go nuts? Whose boat is it? How do they get off the island? Why do they have to get back?

And it was with that new-found love for the show that I found myself counting the days to the fourth season premiere. Come back tomorrow for the second part of this post, where I’ll be reviewing the latest season so far, analysing the show’s technical aspects, and considering what might be in store for the last thirty-odd episodes…

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Here Hare Here

Like most of my contemporaries who were just a tad too young when it first came out, I first saw Withnail and I during my second year at university. I can’t say I instantly fell in love with it. My good friend Steve had just rented it at the local video store, but my other good friend Phil (with whom Steve shared a house) and I had other ideas. We were all into film, and used to spend Tuesday and Thursday nights watching at least two films a night, accompanied by a ritual consumption of delivery pizza. Not surprisingly, the end of the year saw our combined weights’ approaching that of a hippopotamus.

Anyway, it was two against one, and Phil and I just weren’t in the mood for British comedy, which did not have its best decade in the eighties. Eventually, though, we sat through it, protesting that it was not what people had made it out to be. That half-drunk halfwits in pubs all over the land would quote (and misquote) lines from the film did not help matters either. I remember thinking about the film a lot during the next two days, and watched it again the following week. Slowly, with each viewing, I got more and more hooked. It wasn’t love at first sight, but Withnail and I is now one of my favourite films.

I have written extensively on the film on other blogs and forums over the years, but I wanted to write something to do with the film for my friend’s birthday. As Steve is in China, I decided to post a few frames from some of his favourite scenes. Ironically, Blogger is banned in China. It’s all very Withnail…

“Fork it!”

“I will never play The Dane.”

“Look at my tongue; it's wearing a yellow sock.”

“It's obsessed with its gut - it's like a rugby ball now. It will die, it will die!”

“How do we make it die?”

“Are you the farmer?”

“I shall miss you, Withnail.”

Note: Withnail and I was my contribution to Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project, which you can read by clicking here.

(Image Credits: Withnail and I Multimedia Archive )

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

No Mist Opportunities Here

I first read Stephen King’s The Mist when I was 11, and remember enjoying it tremendously – re-reading it a fortnight ago, I found it slightly less fulfilling, and the film does not improve on the source material (Aside: One of the reasons I have never re-read Dean Koontz’s Lightning, which was my mostest favouritest adult book when I was 10, is for fear of discovering it is actually a pile of pants). The story is a simple one, frequently recycled in horror movies of the past half-century. There’s a massive storm, which brings, in its wake, a mist gravid with all sorts of monsters – from Lovecraftian tentacles to bizarre insectoid monstrosities that would make David Cronenberg blush. A group of townspeople are trapped in a supermarket, some of them start going mental, some don’t, and then shit hits the fan. That’s really all there is to it. Even though the horror outside of the supermarket is outmatched by the horrors within its apparent shelter, the fact remains that the main thrust of the film is horror – it ain’t social commentary, which, albeit ironic, is nonetheless incidental. In more accomplished examples of the genre such as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, it is subservient to each film’s main purpose, even though the more enthusiastic fan usually (and wrongly) argues otherwise.

One element I found terribly distracting about the film was writer-director Frank Darabont’s decision to use 24-like fast zooms – Joe Wright used a similar technique, to risible results, in Pride and Prejudice. Even though it’s more fitting in a contemporary drama shot with a documentary style, they, nonetheless, bugged the hell out of me in The Mist. Mind you, one can say anything that distracts one’s attention away from the cliché-ridden plot might be regarded as a good thing, but still… Just when you expect the camera to focus on a group of people, stay on them for a minute or two, you get a dizzying zoom, altered in post-production to do away with focusing problems, and your mind immediately wanders away from the action. “What the hell was that,” is the immediate reaction, which is transformed after the third instance into “Here we go again.” It would have been a better idea to keep things out of focus – characters and monsters – letting it all play out in the background. The aisles and the store windows constrict the action anyway, and a sense of visual claustrophobia could have been achieved much more elegantly with a more conventional camerawork.

There are also holes in the narrative that you could drive a fleet of trucks through, and they are apparent in both the novella and the film. After the hero, David Drayton (Thomas Jayne), and a few others, have a close confrontation in the loading dock with some obviously not-from-this-world tentacles, and lose of one of their numbers to the beast, they decide to enlist the help of Andre Braugher’s bellicose out-of-towner Brent Norton. He dismisses the idea that there are monsters out there in the mist, which, I find, is the natural position to adopt when confronted by relatively frequent weather phenomena. However, when they say they have the severed tip of one of the tentacles in the loading bay, he refuses to even go in and take a look, thinking that this is all just a big joke being played on him by the locals. It’s such an arbitrary scene – so obviously a plot device – that it, too, distracts from the actual film. I wanted to shout at the screen, “just kick him the heck out of there,” which, given the film’s tone, is obviously not the intention. Another plot-device-cum-character is the religious zealot Mrs Carmody (delightfully hammed up to the max by Marcia Gay Harden), who starts ranting and raving the minute the mist appears, and who starts gathering followers with each passing moment. There is a nice point here about people succumbing to their deepest fears in times of great crisis, but the apparent dichotomy between Drayton’s positivists and Carmody’s nutcases goes up to eleven, and this lack of subtlety drains the confrontation off its emotional resonance (and timely relevance).

Nonetheless, during its better moments, the film feels like the more competent examples of mainstream horror of the 70’s, and I was reminded of middling, yet enjoyable, fare such as Deathdream, The Other, Burnt Offerings, or even The Nanny (OK, that’s the sixties, but still). It is also unflinching in its inexorable journey towards an unusually dark and disturbing catharsis. In a bizarre way, you can see the love that went into the making of this film, similar to the kind of love Darabont must have poured into The Shawshank Redemption (overrated) and The Green Mile (underrated). It might work better as part of a Friday night DVD double-bill (unless, that is, you have a life).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No Time for Subtlety, Dr Jones

The final one-sheet for this summer's eagerly anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has been released. Anything new and official from the Indy camp is good by definition. However, as with the teaser trailer (brilliantly dissected by Ted Pigeon here), the poster lacks that old-timey quaintness, which was promised by Spielberg et al in the recent Vanity Fair spread (and was captured perfectly in the teaser one-sheet). There is way too much happening in the poster - it's very crowded.

It is understandable, if not downright essential, that the poster be dominated by Indiana Jones's giant noggin, and his equally huge fedora. The hat is a crucial part of the character's iconography, more so than the wip, and in the image, its size occupies the same amount of space as Indy's face. That might seem like stating the obvious, but it goes to show that whenever we see the character in action, our mind is taking in the same amount of information with regards to the hat as to the head. In The Last Crusade, the curious boy-scout only becomes the character we know when he puts on the hat. In all the films, the motif of the character's losing his hat, and his subsequent attempts to retrieve it, are repeated, thus solidifying the inseparability of the head and the hat.

Drew Struzan has framed the poster with the silhouette of jungle flora and Aztec(?) relics, appropriate since the film takes place in the jungles of South America. This is also a better use of Struzan’s usual penchant for constricting his posters with thick borders – his work for the Star Wars prequels featured increasingly expanding black frames. It’s a valuable, if slightly simplistic, technique – one which calls the viewer’s attention to the centre of the frame. It also has the misfortune of constricting the image, making it look too cluttered, even before the addition of other elements. Since Struzan likes to cramp in a lot of detail, one of the greatest devices of his trade also becomes one of its worst enemies (the large snake on the top right hand of the frame points directly at Shia LaBeouf’s character. If it weren’t so obvious that he plays Indiana Jones’s son, I would be inclined to suspect some sort of treachery).

The not-quite centrality of the eponymous skull is also necessary in the theatrical poster. Struzan likes to scatter the various elements of his designs somewhat haphazardly, which must be born out of his rush-hour-in-Cairo-like nature of his compositions. There have been some rumblings that the revelation of the skull’s obviously alien origin is given away too early. Well, this is an Indiana Jones film. The title says the skull is crystal. I think people would have made the connection to some sort of other worldliness, and not Damien Hirst (yes, I know his piece was made out of diamonds, but still). Besides, the skull is a MacGuffin, just like Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stone or The Holy Grail – its nature is incidental to its purpose. One of the things that drives me wild about genre fans (and there’s a lot that drives me wild) is their obsession with explanations – they are suckers for literalism, which the better examples of genre fiction very deftly avoid.

The remaining figures in the poster are dispersed slapdash beneath Indiana Jones’s face, with Shia LaBoeuf and Cate Blanchett's characters’ taking prominence. They are both featured with the one accessory that seems to define them in the film (this based on production photos) – LaBoeuf’s character’s motorcycle, and Blanchett’s sabre (she seems to have adopted a pose similar to the one Obi Wan did in the Attack of the Clones' theatrical poster, also by Struzan). Underneath Blanchett, we see the floating heads of Karen Allen and Ray Winstone, the latter looking like a cross between Rembrandt and Dom DeLouise. My favourite part of the poster is Indy legging it from the angry tribesmen behind him – a nice visual homage to the beginning of the first film. I just hope there aren’t too many of those, visual or otherwise, in the film.*

Compared to the other three posters, this one feels way too crowded, even though it features around the same amount of characters, or elements, as its predecessors. It’s just that the composition has made it look clunky, and amateurish; kind of like those fan posters where everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in for no other reason than the überfan’s central philosophy of “more is more.”I still can't wait for the flick, mind you.

And just a reminder: I will be hosting an Indiana Jones blog-a-thon to coincide with the release of the film in May. Come one, come all...

*OK, OK, maybe just the one:

(Photo credits: USA Today, and

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's Only a Movie, Lauren

Over at The House Next Door, Lauren Wissot has a particularly abrasive review of 10,000 BC. I caught the film as part of a double bill yesterday (along with No Country For Old Men – what a combo), and it was my intention to write a few short paragraphs on how ridiculous it is. Nothing major – just a mishmash of thoughts on a particularly pointless and inconsequential little movie. Then I read Lauren’s piece, which considers the film only slightly less offensive than the Holocaust, and was compelled to delve further into the film, and the issue of critiquing such trash with self-righteous indignation.

10, 000 BC is a gewgaw, and not to be taken seriously. The film opens with a series of shots scanning a vast, snowcapped wilderness of what I assume to be the late Mesolithic(derived from the Greek word for hirsute) Period, as a disembodied, heavily-accented voice begins to tell the tale of the kid with the blue eyes, Evolet (Camilla Belle), and the other kid who loved her, D’Leh (Steven Strait), and…whatever – I wasn’t really paying any attention. As foretold by the tribe’s shaman, an old woman perceptibly called The Old Woman, the blue eyed girl will facilitate some sort of change that will lead the tribe’s people to safety. Here is another safety tip: move away from the top of the fucking mountain. Hide in caves. Do anything but live on top of a hill of rocks in the middle of fucking winter, with no water or vegetation in sight. If early humans were as stupid as these fuckers, we would have been wiped out years ago (and no, the film is not set in the ice ages, but, ostensibly at least, the last glacial period).

Anyway, the two kids grow up, they fall in love, breath heavily into each other’s faces (yikes – cavemen breath), and promise never to part. Oh boy. After a lugubrious mammoth hunt (again, if early humans were as clumsy as these fuckers, the woolly mammoth would never have been wiped out), D’Leh is anointed the chief hunter of his tribe. The glory doesn’t last for long as he gives back the ceremonial white spear confirming his status to his mentor Tic’Tic (how to make a “native” sounding name: take a word, add an arbitrary apostrophe – voila), and there is a subplot involving the former’s father, and how he abandoned his tribe, but he never actually did, but it’s all just padding to flesh out the story. On the night of the hunt as the tribe is asleep (no one keeps watch – idiots), slave traders ransack the village and kidnap Evolet, and a few others. D’leh and Tic’Toc, accompanied by fellow hunters Tinky’Winky, Dip’sy, Laa’Laa and P’o, start off on a quest to rescue their tribespeople.

10, 000 BC is an incredibly sloppy film. The effects are terrible to begin with – the first time the hunters spot the mammoths, I could almost count the 1’s and the 0’s where there was supposed to be a herd of giant beasts. There’s all sorts of unintentionally funny scenes. The Old Mother, who resembles the Ewok Chief Chirpa from Return of the Jedi, has a new interpreter in every scene, each of whom manages to decipher messages most complicated from utter gibberish:

The Old Mother: Gligligligligligligligligligliglgilgigliglgigligligli
Random Interpreter Number 1: The girl with the Fremen blue eyes will bring peace to our land.

The Old Mother: Gligligligligligligligligligliglgilgigliglgigligligli
Random Interpreter Number 2: The boy with the white spear (aye!) shall rescue his love from the clutches of the man-gods.

The Old Mother: Gligligligligligligligligligliglgilgigliglgigligligli
Random Interpreter Number 3: A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.

There are also anachronisms galore from terror birds (which went extinct a million years previously) to pyramids (the first of which is thought to have been constructed about 6,000 years later) to One Tree Hill like teen-psychology. Of course, I am fully aware that looking for anthropological or paleontological accuracy in a film like this is obviously self-defeating. But it’s fun – in fact, it’s probably the only fun aspect of the movie for me. The film exists to be ridiculed, and I enjoyed basing my mockery on other unrelated interests. A cross-pollination of hobbies, if you like – not only did I get to watch a film, but I also flexed my memory of the latter parts of the Stone Age: as such one can even say the film was educational in its crapulence. The film is less La Guerre du Feu than it is One Million Years B.C.

And that is as far as I was going to go, until I ran into Lauren Wissot’s review. It seems we saw two different films because what I found utterly inconsequential and instantly forgettable (you can see how hazy my memory is of the film in the previous paragraph), she considered offensive to her tastes and her intellect. Lord, if I have to start taking offense at everything that insults my intelligence, I would need a brand new computer every time I get on the internet.

Ms Wissot begins her review by quoting Steven Strait from the film’s Press Kit, “There’s something very beautiful about how the human condition hasn’t really changed over the millennia. What makes us human beings hasn’t changed since pre-historic times – love, compassion, conscience, sympathy. You see all of these things in this film. And you can relate to that no matter what era you live in.” Utterly risible in its pseudo-existentialist philosophising, that quote is the sort of third-rate copy that actors get fed by their publicity people while promoting any film (even much better ones than this piece of shit), yet, according to Wissot, it might well be the epitome of all evil since she finds it “without a doubt the scariest thing about Roland Emmerich’s underwhelming, CGI-infused epic.” Wasting a perfect opportunity to point out how Hollywood is its own worst enemy, not to mention Emmerich’s seemingly congenital humourlessness that permeates all aspects of his films, Wissot gets up on her high horse, and sets out on her petulant rant. I am not disparaging Wissot or petulant rants – I have enjoyed her writing before, and I revel in longwinded petulance. It’s just that the film doesn’t call for it.

Wissot carries on by labeling Emmerich and the film creationist, accusing them of disregarding Darwinian evolution. There is nothing in the film that even aspires to having any allusions beyond that of what is on the screen. Calling the film creationist would be an intellectual elevation for this piece of trash. I don’t know whether Wissot used the phrase creationist for its meaning, or as some sort of an architectural fragment within the sentence, the same way she misapplies anthropomorphism to a sabre tooth later on – “it looks good within the sentence, so let’s roll with it.” In fact, she succumbs to creationist pseudo-science herself by calling the tribes on screen Neanderthals, even though they died out around 20,000 years prior to when the film is supposed to be set. Normally, it’s an easy mistake to make for a lay person. But Wissot is so fired up that her fervour demands 100% accuracy. One should really get their facts straight when one is bitching about someone who doesn’t have their facts straight.

One of the main points that Wissot makes is how the film is ridden with clichés. That is true. Yet, again, so is her review. She compares the film to a PlayStation game, she says there is hardly any characterisation (but there is plenty of habitual action, which should render expositionary characterisation invalid – even though it doesn’t), she guffaws at the sub-par CGI. I see her point, but these are nothing new. Comparing a blockbuster to a computer game, for example, is just lazy writing. The CG is bad, yes, but Wissot makes her point by saying it is so bad that the mammoths look like hairy elephants, the birds look like giant ostriches, and the sabre tooth tiger like a tiger with dental problems. Think about that for a second. And then please remember that those are the views of someone who, in her first paragraph, chastised the filmmakers for knowing nothing from Darwin.

Then comes my favourite part where Wissot has an epiphany, and states “it’s almost as if Emmerich believes that bigger and louder is better.” Hang on, hang on! Are we talking about the same Roland Emmerich who directed Universal Soldier? Stargate? Independence Day? The Patriot? The Day After Tomorrow? No. Surely not! If a reviewer is going to great lengths demolishing a target as easy as Emmerich, I expect something more substantial, and less unoriginal, than “the guy likes his explosions.”

Crap like 10,000 BC is not beyond criticism. Just because it is meant to be light-hearted genre fare doesn’t mean the film should be spared an analytical look. But is the film that offensive? According to Wissot, it is:

“As for the "angry rant" part, why shouldn't I be angry? Roland Emmerich wasted nearly two hours of my life that I won't get back. I sometimes look at film criticism as a public service. If I can keep others from wasting their time - and money - then I've done part of my job.”

Lauren Wissot. Actor. Critic. Prophet.

Fulminating against a film like 10,000 BC is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s like tripping a dwarf. It’s like doing both those things and then, to celebrate, stealing candy from a baby. Is the film terrible? Oh, God yes! Does it call for self-righteous indignation? Only if you have nothing else to worry about in your life.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Watch out!

I used to be a huge comic book nerd. Then I grew up. To this day, one of my favourite pastimes is ripping into people who consider comics a serious art-form. Sequential art, they say. Bollocks, I reply. I will write a longer diatribe on how laughable it is to lionize comic books, especially mainstream ones, at a later date.

Having said that, sometimes it’s impossible not to get lured in by a work of seminal genius (a phrase I use sparingly, unlike comic book aficionados). Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is one of the few comics (or graphic novels, if you are being pedantic) that is a complete work in itself. In fact, it is the Citizen Kane of comic books if you will, not just for the story, but for its use, nay mastery, of the comic book form – including, but not exclusive to, all its natural limitations.

Anyway, a film version, long, long in gestation, will be out exactly a year from now. 300’s Zach Snyder is at the helm, and even though that film was an abysmal piece of trash, Snyder has the visual mastery, as well as the nerdish excitability, that a project like Watcmen demands. He’s finally posted the movie versions of most of the characters from the story. Most of them look great, though I am not sure why Ozymandias is wearing George Clooney’s costume from Batman and Robin.

The Barbers of Seville

I can’t watch football anymore. I mean, sure, I can; I am physically able to; my eyes don’t give when I sit down in front of the telly, or in a stadium, to immerse myself in the delights of 22 sweaty men charging after a ball. It’s just that whenever it’s a team I support, be it Fenerbahce, Turkey, Newcastle, or England (an embarrassment of riches, eh), I simply lose any sense of reality, betray all my convictions, lose all my mirth, forgo all custom of exercises. I get taken over by obsessive-compulsive idiosyncrasies, which hound me like the Furies did Orestes, and get reduced to an arbitrary combination of random ticks, routines, and chants. Double that, if you please, when what’s on the table is something that’s important. Say, qualifying for the last eight in the Champions League. Which, incidentally, is the predicament I found myself in on Tuesday Night, that glorious, beautiful, divine Tuesday Night. It was the second leg of the Knockout Phase to qualify for the quarter finals, and Fenerbahce were going in with a 3 – 2 first leg victory over Seville, UEFA Cup winners of the previous two years. For those of you who aren’t aware (and most of the readers of this blog are from the US and Canada so I feel I should explain), that’s not the greatest of results. It’s a victory, sure, but scoring two away goals would mean that a one goal lead at home would be enough to qualify for Seville. Within the first 10 minutes, they had two.

I wasn’t going to watch it. I’d stopped watching the first game after Fenerbahce’s hopelessly unlucky defender Edu tiptoed in an own goal in the first leg, only to wake up to go to work the next day, stop by at the cornershop for some gum, and discover Fenerbahce’s wonky 3 – 2 win. The thing is, the last 15 minutes of Pushing Daisies (a show I still like, but one that needs to get on with telling its weekly stories – I spent most of the hour worrying about Anna Friel’s complexion, for God’s sack) coincided with the first fifteen minutes of the game so I simply had to switch back and forth between the two. Fine. That wasn’t something I could help. To recap my reactions to those formative minutes of the game, I shall now refer back to my journal, in which I was taking notes on Pushing Daisies:

Hmmm, that wig, or wig-like hair do, on the lovely Ms Chenoweth is not that fetching – oh well – let’s see what’s going on with the game – CLICK – ooh, four minutes in and – Hell – Selcuk tackles Keita (or was it Kanoute) to concede a dangerous freekick to Seville, 25 meters from the goal. Right, not to worry. Volkan, the Fenerbahce keeper, should be ready for crap like this from their opponents – Or maybe not. Shit. We’re down one nil after Alves machetes the ball through Volkan’s fingertips and right into the goal. Great. CLICK.

I switched back to catch the remaining few minutes of Pushing Daisies, though exactly what the hell was going on, I couldn’t tell you. My ears were poised to take in the hysterical cries of victory that were sure to emanate from my neighbours. I live on the Asian side of Istanbul, close to Fenerbahce’s home ground, and it’s a positively fanatical neighbourhood. Thunderous, animalistic chants reverberate through walls whenever Fenerbahce scores a goal, which is exactly what I was anticipating. Alas, no joy – an eerie silence, and nothing else. Oh, sod it – I thought; everyone’s watching the game, I shall do, too. Ticks, tricks, warts and all…

Seville’s second goal arrived like a bolt of lightning a scant 30 seconds after I switched back to the game. A misunderstanding between Fener’s middling midfield and drowsy defense was spotted by Keita, who picked up the ball a good 30-meters from the goal, and thumped it with the drive of a thousand monster trucks towards Volkan, who gently caressed the ball into the back of the net. Fuck. I was distraught. “So this is as far as we can go,” I thought. But Fenerbahce had other ideas. The boys stuck to it, and I almost destroyed my vocal chords when, 20 minutes in, Deivid’s half volley bounced past Seville and Fener players alike to defeat the home team’s keeper. Get in! We can do this. Come on, lads. You can see how easily my opinion can sway…

For the rest of the first half, Fenerbahce had impeccable control at times – I counted 18 passes between the players before Kezman tested the Seville keeper (either just before the the Fener goal, or just after – don’t remember), and it felt to me like that most important second goal, which would have confirmed Fenerbahce’s place in the quarter-finals, was imminent. Shows you how much I know – just before half-time, it was Seville scored their third goal of the game, sending me into a lethargic acceptance of a grim fate that must now surely await my beloved team. I brushed my teeth, and got ready for bed, waiting to pounce into a depressed slumber after the fourth goal.

Oh, but wait – the second half started, but Fenerbahce had not given up. It was the industrious Alex who tested Palop first, and then Aurelio, and Ugur had a go, too. But, only fifteen or so minutes from the final whistle, Deivid scored his second goal of the match to bring the aggregate result to a draw, thus confirming extra time, which was lacking in decent football, but not in decent drama. By the time of the penalty shout out, I was a nervous wreck, unable to sit down, pacing round my living room, praying to all gods man had hitherto prayed to, and making up my own ones just for extra good luck. I can’t really recall what happened – I had my back towards the telly most of the time – but that final save by Volkan is etched forever to the back of my eyeballs, as well as his subsequent manic sprint around the pitch, chased by his jubilant team mates. Gosh – it was a sight to see.

Now this is actually not a huge thing to celebrate. Any of the other big teams in Europe, in fact the other six who have so far qualified for the quarter finals, would have been only mildly happy, already thinking of the next round. But not us. Fenerbahce have always had a chequered past in Europe, and this was a glorious victory for us to remember in years to come. I still don’t have all that much faith that we can go any further than this. If we do, that’s great. And if we don’t… Well, we’ll always have Seville.
(Photo Credit:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


On her always sassy and delightfully vivacious website, Sheila O’Malley recently posted a film meme. Incidentally, meme, pronounced “meh-meh”, means breast in Turkish, but that’s not important right now. Anyway, she’s invited others to have a crack at it (the meme, not the breast), so here I go. The list looks like it’s IMDB’s Top 250.

The rules are simple:
Bold movies you have watched and liked.
Turn red movies you have watched and loved.
Italicize movies you saw and didn’t like.
Leave as is movies you haven’t seen.

The Godfather (1972)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Casablanca (1942)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Star Wars (1977)
12 Angry Men (1957)

Rear Window (1954)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Goodfellas (1990)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
City of God (2002)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Psycho (1960)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Citizen Kane (1941)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
North by Northwest (1959)
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Fight Club (1999)
Memento (2000)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The Matrix (1999)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Se7en (1995)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
American Beauty (1999)
Vertigo (1958)
Amélie (2001)
The Departed (2006)
Paths of Glory (1957)
American History X (1998)
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Chinatown (1974)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Third Man (1949)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Alien (1979)
The Pianist (2002)
The Shining (1980)
Double Indemnity (1944)
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Leben der Anderen, Das [The Lives of Others] (2006)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Boot, Das (1981)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Forrest Gump (1994)
Metropolis (1927)
Aliens (1986)
Raging Bull (1980)
Rashômon (1950)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Rebecca (1940)
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Sin City (2005)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

All About Eve (1950)
Modern Times (1936)

Some Like It Hot (1959)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Great Escape (1963)
Amadeus (1984)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Touch of Evil (1958)
The Elephant Man (1980)
The Prestige (2006)
Vita è bella, La [Life Is Beautiful] (1997)
Jaws (1975)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The Sting (1973)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The Apartment (1960)
City Lights (1931)
Braveheart (1995)
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Batman Begins (2005)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Notorious (1946)
Salaire de la peur, Le [The Wages of Fear](1953)
High Noon (1952)
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)
Fargo (1996)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Unforgiven (1992)
Back to the Future (1985)
Ran (1985)
Oldboy (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Donnie Darko (2001)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
The Green Mile (1999)
Annie Hall (1977)

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
Gladiator (2000)
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Diaboliques, Les [The Devils] (1955)
Ben-Hur (1959)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Life of Brian (1979)
Die Hard (1988)
The General (1927)
American Gangster (2007)
Platoon (1986)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
The Graduate (1967)
The Princess Bride (1987)

Crash (2004/I)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Heat (1995)
Gandhi (1982)
Harvey (1950)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
The African Queen (1951)
Stand by Me (1986)
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
The Conversation (1974)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Wo hu cang long [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ] (2000)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Cabinet des Dr. Caligari., Das [The Cabinet of Dr Caligari] (1920)
The Thing (1982)
Groundhog Day (1993)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Sleuth (1972)
Patton (1970)
Toy Story (1995)
Glory (1989)

Out of the Past (1947)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Ed Wood (1994)
Spartacus (1960)
The Terminator (1984)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Exorcist (1973)
Frankenstein (1931)
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
The Hustler (1961)
Toy Story 2 (1999)
The Lion King (1994)
Big Fish (2003)
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Magnolia (1999)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

In Cold Blood (1967)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Dial M for Murder (1954)
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
Roman Holiday (1953)
A Christmas Story (1983)
Casino (1995)
Manhattan (1979)
Ying xiong [Hero] (2002)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Rope (1948)
Cinderella Man (2005)
The Searchers (1956)
Finding Neverland (2004)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
His Girl Friday (1940)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
And speaking of memes, here is another one you might find interesting.

In 1869, Sisters Did It For Themselves...

There is something transcendental, almost zen-like, in the line “In 1963, Betty Friedan wrote the best book ever.”

Monday, March 3, 2008

This is this? No, this is it.

Jason Bellamy at The Cooler has started an interesting project about the phrase “This is it” in movies. Taking his cue from that most beloved of masterpieces, Titanic, he observes:

“'This is it!' is an exclamatory line found in oodles of movies. But the implementation of “This is it!” in Titanic speaks to the phrase’s ubiquity. We’ve grown so accustomed to its presence that we hardly notice it, even though the line is often meant to cue the audience. When Jack yells “This is it!” he isn’t really speaking to Rose. Instead it’s Cameron speaking to us, and what the filmmaker is actually saying is: “This is it! It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The doomed ship has stayed afloat for almost 3 hours, but now it sinks at last! Watch this!”

How long have screenwriters been writing this way? And why do so many movie characters utter that popular line, considering how rarely people seem to use it in real life?”

Of course, “this is it” is just one of those lines that writers use to telegraph the point home. Exposition and narration are two terrible afflictions of mainstream movies, be they verbal or visual. But Jason is not concerned, at least not yet, with an analysis of exposition in general, and the phrase in particular. Instead, he has asked his readers to try to come up with as many instances of its usage as possible. So, without further ado, here’s a list of a few movies, off the top of my head, that tell us what is what:

- Slim Pickens’s Major TJ “King” Kong in Dr Strangelove: “Well, boys, I reckon this is it: Nuclear combat toe to toe with the Ruskies.”
- Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde: “You know what? When we started out, I thought we was really going somewhere. This is it. We're just going, huh?
- Rick Moranis’s Louis in Ghostbusters, just after the Ghostbusters building blows up: “This is it!
- Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People: “This is it. The birth of rave culture.”
- Reginald Gardiner’s Commander Schultz in The Great Dictator: “Oh, there it goes. We're out of gas. Well, this is it then.”

And even though the circumstances are slightly different, Indiana Jones’s first line in Raiders of the Lost Ark, is also “This is it.” I have a few more but I'll let others have a pick at it. Head on over to The Cooler, and offer your submissions.

The Sunny, Delightful Adventures of Fertile Myrtle

Juno opens with the eponymous heroine staring at a recliner with a curiously blank expression on her face, as her disembodied voice informs us that it started with a chair. I have seen the film twice now, and I am not sure what it is that started with a chair. It’s a fallacy – a non-sequitur at the beginning of the film. The line serves no purpose other than to sound cool and funky – like most of the film’s dialogue. It sounds less like the work of a confident storyteller than a wannabe filmmaker, frantically dropping enigmatic lines here and there in the vain hope that supererogatory equivocation might be mistaken for quirkiness and whimsy. That this was Cody’s first script makes that hypothesis all the more plausible. The ultra-recherche, nails-on-a-chalkboard dialogue permeates the film yet, after the first few minutes, I grew to tolerate and then, honest to blog, love it. Like many of its characters, it’s a terribly insecure film – but it’s so full of joy that one can’t help but grin at all the shenanigans.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Juno, who observed of the film, “it’s great, if you like your teenagers to speak like jaded 35-year-olds.” That’s true, but only on the surface. Juno McGuff is an exceptionally happy teen – happier, maybe, than she should be considering her condition. As the film begins, she is already pregnant, with help from Paulie Bleeker(Michael Cera), her long-time boyfriend-cum-best friend (no pun intended). After a heavy-handed scene where she decides against abortion, Juno confronts her parents (the wonderfully sour JK Simmons and the always-brilliant Allison Janney) with the news, and expresses her intention to give the baby up for adoption. In the Pennysaver, she spots a trendy young couple Vanessa and Mark (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner – though not necessarily in that order), who, she believes, would be the perfect parents for the baby. The rest of the film centres on the way Juno deals with her pregnancy (well), her parents (OK), Bleeker (not so well), Vanessa (badly) and Mark (fucking hell).

Juno is a coming-of-age tale not unlike the overrated Knocked Up, in that the subtext is brought to fore by substance, namely teen pregnancy. With impeccable work from an amazing cast (Arrested Development fans should watch the way Bateman delivers his monosyllabic line once he finds out Juno is not named after the town in Alaska – and then weep for hours on the fate of their beloved show), and assured direction from Jason “Spitting image of Edgar Wright” Bateman, it deals with the issue surprisingly well, and most have ignored this aspect to berate on the dialogue. Which is not an egregious angle to carry on, since the dialogue is overbearing. One has to be in the mood for it – though what that mood might be, I couldn’t tell you. I was also slightly unnerved by the way abortion is portrayed as an inherently bad idea – it’s a rash decision, sure, the film says, but abortion is also evil. The scene where Juno decides not to go ahead with an abortion is well done, but it left a bitter aftertaste. Like the rest of the film’s many shortcomings though, it fizzles against the glorious fun that is Juno. The film, and the character.

Note: Even though most of the faux-folk soundtrack is pretty good (Barry Louis Polisar's All I Want Is You is particularly excellent), there should, nonetheless, be a moratorium on the use of Velvet Underground’s I’m Sticking With You in wacky indie comedies. And while they’re at it, they should just go ahead and destroy all existing copies, analogue and digital, of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah.