Posts Tagged ‘Movies’



August 17, 2009


Often times, films are marketed as “family movies,” and most times these films put the parents to sleep and only keep the kids marginally entertained. Ponyo, the latest film from Studio Ghibli director and legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, couldn’t have had everyone’s eyes more glued to the movie screen. Granted, my family consists of Studio Ghibli fans, and maybe it was our adoration of Hayao Miyazaki’s previous work that kept our eyes as wide as the film’s characters throughout our movie experience. But no one in my family that attended Ponyo was under nineteen. The children in the theater, however, were the real judges. And this is reasonable; children are the target audience here. As important as our “oo”s and “ah”s were, their interjections were key, ranging from laughs, sounds of surprise, questions, and if it could make a sound, their amazed silence. I’ll bet close to the same emotions were running through my head as well. Miyazaki’s films often have a way of making a child out of everyone; everything you see is new.


Which is not to say that every Miyazaki film is for children. 1997’s Princess Mononoke, rated PG-13, was intense even when I was thirteen (I feel sorry for all the parents who thought they were bringing their kids to another Disney Princess movie). 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle was often times violent and melancholy, and probably went over most kids’ heads. Even Miyazaki’s commercial breakout and one of the best children’s films ever made, the 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro, was sometimes a drama about difficult emotions and problems associated with growing up. Ponyo is a bonafide children’s movie, although it may contain some moments that have bigger consequences that children may only understand the basic ideas of (a complexity of relationships, unconditional acceptance of others and a subtle environmentalism among them; and really, who doesn’t like their kids to learn from a movie?). The film, about a small boy named Sosuke and his newly found pet goldfish Ponyo, plays out and even looks like a children’s book, with colorful landscapes and objects that explode with pastel and crayola-esque animation. The story, like that of many children’s books, is basic and fundamental, and yet completely new; I never had any idea what would happen next, and was delighted by each turn of events.

Sosuke (voiced by the youngest, least well known Jonas brother Frankie Jonas) lives in a pretty normal world, in a house on a green cliff by the sea with his mother Lisa (Tina Fey) and sometimes his father Koichi (MattĀ  Damon), who is a sailor and spends most of his days out at sea (to the great distress of Lisa). Sosuke spends his days at school while Lisa works at the retirement home next door, which is inhabited by perhaps the most charming set of old ladies in the history of old ladies. Once Sosuke finds and subsequently loses the little human-faced goldfish Ponyo (voiced by Noah Cyrus, yet another teen pop star’s younger sibling), his world floods with excitement. It turns out that Ponyo is the daughter of an undersea wizard-type figure named Fujimoto, and thus Ponyo isn’t exactly a normal goldfish. Her character is, like Miyazaki’s other great characters, electrifying and vibrant and can’t help but leave the secondary characters in the dust, as compelling and real as they are. When Ponyo licks a drop of blood off of a cut on Sosuke’s finger, everything changes: Ponyo begins to transform into a human girl, the sea rages with Fujimoto’s search for his daughter and the moon draws closer to the earth, causing a massive flood. Ponyo sets out to find her new friend Sosuke again while a storm brews behind her.


Visually, Ponyo may rest at the top of Miyazaki’s animation achievements. Like virtually all of his other films, Ponyo is done completely by hand and contains no computer animation whatsoever, a labor of love. According to IMDB, the first twelve seconds of the film contain over 1,600 hand drawn frames and I can believe it completely. The grand total is approximately 170,000 separate images, a record for Miyazaki’s long career. This may seem like a colossal amount of material for a one hundred minute film, and it is, but many of the images are charmingly simple, more than any other Miyazaki film to date. Sometimes frames contain mostly solid colors and well defined lines, and some other times the animation rivals the startling complexity of his most involved works, particularly the incredibly detailed Howl’s Moving Castle. Already an expert in the animation of nature, Miyazaki has the entire ocean to work with here, and he does wonders with it: thousands of jellyfish, prawn and amoebae float freely in the water, crabs ranging in size from tiny to humongous sidle along the ocean floor, enormous whales swim slowly through the ocean, waves represented as giant fish terrifyingly crash into the shore and hundreds of Ponyo’s young sister goldfish act both in synchronization and independence.

Ponyo has a startling amount of material and yet feels somehow quaint, like an elongated short film. For that reason, it resembles the surprisingly short 2002 Studio Ghibli film The Cat Returns (another kids film), more than anything. Even at one hundred minutes, it feels like forty tops, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat for most of it regardless of your age. The plot contains a few head-scratchers for Western audiences. Koichi prays to the goddess of mercy, Ponyo relieves an infants cold by rubbing her face against his, and unlike other children’s fantasy films, the adults here seem to be in on the magic too. These hitches probably need no explaining or hard thinking for their homeland audience; we need to remember that Ponyo comes from the other side of the planet. Miyazaki rightfully refuses to compromise his home country’s way of life or his vision for the sake of commercial viability. For that reason alone, Ponyo will likely never receive the success or acclaim that other undersea kids films such as The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo have, at least in the West, though it stands tall by them in quality. But perhaps these few alien concepts are all for the better. They may only reinforce that Ponyo, like Miyazaki’s other work, is like nothing you have ever seen before, except maybe only somewhat like his other work. Half of everything children see is brand new. We often take this for granted, and even forty odd years into his career, Hayao Miyazaki can still completely engross everyone in the theater, and in the process even the adults are reminded of where they came from.




January 27, 2008

Since it opened in theaters approximately a week ago, I have seen Cloverfield three times. The people who work at the theater must think I’m pretty weird, because having also seen There Will Be Blood, I have been to the theater four times in the past week. Such behavior is for me unheard of, considering the price of movie tickets nowadays. In fact, I have been seeing most movies in theaters twice lately (Juno, Sweeney Todd). But three times? The last time that happened was with The Lord of the Rings: Return of The King, which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and was a movie event for the ages. Why, then, did I not have any problems dropping money on seeing a (comparatively) low budget monster movie not once, not twice, but three times? Either I really liked all the people I saw it with (an obvious truth), or this movie has had some kind of draw, some quality that I have never seen in a movie before.

The first thing you have to know about Cloverfield is it’s marketing campaign, which is among the most successful viral marketing campaigns ever unleashed. For around six months, the details of Cloverfield had been relatively unknown, all the way up until it’s release on January 18th. In fact, for over half of that time, the only thing that was known about it was what could have been inferred from a short, cryptic trailer. The movie was simply known by it’s release date, 1/18/08, and the title Cloverfield was not confirmed until a short time before release. All anyone knew was that it is about a group of people who originate from the same going away party for a guy in New York City named Rob, when a giant monster inexplicably decides to attack the city, and that the movie is directed by JJ Abrams. During those six months, marketing tie ins ran rampant, and information was slowly released about the film. What shocks me about it is that nothing significant leaked before the movie’s release. This is the nice thing about making a middle budget film. You have big time corporation backing so that you can’t be taken advantage of, but you are also working small and have the benefit of utilizing a creative campaign like this. Movie buffs and monster nerds anticipated the movies release, and the identity of the then unknown monster, until 1/18/08.

My initial assumption was that the final product would not meet the hype, but that didn’t stop me from being interested. I did lower my standards however, because I knew that it would be hard for a movie to match my inflated expectations, but little did I know that Cloverfield would rock my world. I’m not even sure that I quite knew how much I liked it until I saw it for the second and third times.

I walked into the theater expecting a monster flick. I’m a big fan of monster flicks. Old ones. It is a dying genre. The last monster movie I can remember seeing in the theater before Cloverfield is Godzilla 2000, and I don’t remember being impressed. But once we sit down and give ourselves in to Cloverfield, it flips everything we know about monster movies upside down and kicks them out the door. It is one of the most well written and well executed “flicks” I have ever seen, but it’s greatness is concealed, and it is either fortunately or unfortunately destined to be a cult hit.

The setup, as I previously mentioned, is simple and effective. The movie is filmed from the perspective of a handheld video camera, so we see what the characters see, and we know what the characters know. The trick is not new. The Blair Witch Project used it around the turn of the century, and it has been synonymous with that film ever since, but it is just as effective here. The screen is always shaky, and two of the people I have seen the movie with complained of mild motion sickness, but ultimately the shaky camera works, and we get a perspective on the film that is very realistic, and at street level. Cloverfield is not about the giant monster that is ravaging the city. It is about the people who are affected by it. And the characters are very realistic and believable. My father complained about how many scenes in the movie were not believable at all, but if you are looking for realism in a movie about a giant monster, you are fighting a losing battle. Most of the complaints were that even after the movie ends, the viewer knows very little about the monster or why it is destroying New York City. We are not supposed to know this. Ultimately, the only stock character in the movie is the monster itself, and it is very much a secondary character. Giant monsters don’t destroy New York or Tokyo for any particular reason, and if they do, it is stupid. I did not, however, hear any complaints from anyone about the characters themselves, except from a movie critic who said he was rooting for the monster by the time the movie ended. The only reason I can infer for this reasoning is to see more of the monster itself, but if you are even remotely paying attention during the movie, you will realize that this comment is utter bullshit.

The web of characters writer Drew Goddard creates is impressive to say the least. There is a small amount of cheese in the platter, but that is to be expected in a flick. But the character development is subtle, in fact almost unnoticeable, although anything but undeniable. The core of the movie is spent with six characters. Rob Hawkins, as we know him, is the representation of a youthful, passionate America. He may or may not be nonexistant, but in any case he is the direction of the film, as it progresses. His goal is to rescue the girl, which is a movie staple that we are more than familiar with. It is old, but it works. Also present are the dumb but loveable cameraman Hud, Rob’s brother Jason and his girlfriend Lily, and the apple of Hud’s eye Marlena. The final character is Rob’s love interest, Beth. The characters are set up with great precision at the party, and as the movie progresses, they show their true character, intentions, and flaws. Jason is among the most impressive. He is presented right away as a problem solver, a funny person, and a caring individual. He is the kind of person you would want to have with you should you ever need to escape from New York, and even within the first ten minutes of the movie, we come to love him. He is killed promptly. I don’t know if it was to tug at our heartstrings, to prove a point, or to leave our characters with something to be distraught about, but in any case we know that this is a natural part of the progression of the movie. We didn’t want him to die, but he did, not because he was an unfortunate victim of a roller coaster ride of a movie, but because he chose to lead the party to the Brooklyn Bridge. The only reason that the other characters were not killed is because Rob received a phone call from Beth, which he pulled aside to answer among the crowd of fleeing citizens. The other characters stay behind with him, trying to pull him along, when we see Jason perched atop a figure in the distance yelling, “WHY DID YOU STOP!?” At this very moment, a gigantic arm strikes the Brooklyn Bridge.

One of the most important scenes in the movie is when the party flees the bridge and is mourning Jason’s tragic, untimely death. We get a shot of Rob’s shocked, empty face in response to this. Michael Stahl-David plays his part wonderfully, and we see him break down, silently, before our eyes, after which he trudges off to an electronic store. Rob has realized that the reason he is still alive is because of Beth’s phone call, and if he doesn’t try to play the hero and rescue her, Jason’s death is in vain. So he walks away. His walking is key. For the rest of the movie, he walks in a delusional limp, and this is a very important detail.

But perhaps the most impressively executed (literally and figuratively executed) character in the movie is Marlena, “the bitch,” who the innocent, sweet Hud tries to hit on multiple times. We don’t like her. In fact, we want her to die, just because of how rude she is to Hud, who we love. Then, after she saves his life, she begins to crawl out of her stock character and turn into a person we love. And then she dies, almost immediately. Her last words, a yelp of desire for Hud, are genuine, brought to the surface only by her subsequent death. These characters are brilliantly written because they are natural and realistic, which is strange, because we don’t go to the movies to see realism. We go to the movies to see giant monsters. Camquarter documentations of tragic events don’t have good character development. And yet the character development in Cloverfield is good. Very good. By at least the second time I watched the film, I started to ask myself what I even wanted out of the movie in the first place.

Well, I wanted a flick. And I definitely got a flick. I got scared to the greatest degree that a movie could possibly scare me. This is a well made movie, but it is also a fright fest that reminds us of why King Kong and Godzilla entertain us. We do, in fact, get to see the monster, in several terrifying shots. We had to, because if we hadn’t Cloverfield would just be another Blair Witch ripoff. The evil needs to have a face. Cloverfield has some love, some heroism, and some terror, all woven within one another nearly seamlessly.

Why this movie is so scary, and why it left me shivering uncontrollably after the first viewing, is questionable. Some of my discussions with others about the movie have uncovered facts and opinions that I would have never thought of otherwise. When I asked myself, “why did this movie scare me?”, the only answer I had was, “because it was scary.” But it can be easily realized that Cloverfield is an indirect nod to 9/11. This movie scares us as the events of 9/11 did, or as much as a movie can in that respect. For seven years, America’s greatest fear is an unexpected situation like our characters in Cloverfield have to encounter and deal with. Widespread panic, mass hysteria, martial law. This fear has been relatively untapped in the film industry, except maybe for Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.

Cloverfield scares the shit out of us because a low budget monster flick should not feel so realistic, or close to our fears. Later in the film, Rob holds the camera to his face and tells us that if we are watching this tape, we know more about the situation than him. What makes Cloverfield terrifying is that we really don’t know any more than him. In fact, we know EXACTLY as much as him, because we have been following him closely throughout the entire film. I would almost say that the main character in Cloverfield is the camera itself. The movie is a chain of events, but unlike those of most monster movies, it is a chain of events that we do not question. The fact that the movie is brilliantly written is obscured by the slew of highly memorable cinematic shots and realistic effects. It is well written, well acted (surprise), well filmed (bigger surprise), and it works on the interior and the exterior. An excellent movie experience.



December 23, 2007

I have no better way to open a sentimental holiday post than with a simple fact. The weather here, in the Chicago area, is ass backwards. Last night at around midnight it was over thirty two degrees outside, I am completely certain. Everything was melting. It was one of those times when my town became a dripping playground of water. But the past few days since I got out of school have been generally very warm, but not quite as warm as yesterday. Yesterday, there was a thick fog blanketing the entire county. Driving in that weather is difficult. And it seems like everyone who is going well over the speed limit in thick fog also just can’t manage to turn their headlights on. This isn’t a hard concept. If you put a little snow on the ground, people drive like idiots. When it melts, that doesn’t seem to help.

This morning it is about fifteen degrees outside. It is frigid, but only because of the wind chill. Because so much of the snow melted yesterday, there is nothing but a thin, wispy layer left that flutters all around town in huge whirlwinds in the bitter wind. Tomorrow, it is supposed to get a little warmer, probably up to around thirty degrees, and I’m hoping that it will snow so that the Christmas snow isn’t quite so pathetic. I like having white Christmases. They are almost always white, so I guess the chances of it not being nice and snowy are unlikely. But now isn’t the time to get sentimental about snow. In February, I come out of my apartment on mornings like this in shock, because it feels like a heat wave.

I should be savoring this day. It’s an important day, to me anyway. It’s the last day before Christmas Eve, which is when winter inevitably starts to suck horribly. I love the holiday season. From about Black Friday to today, the world turns into something magical. I love that month… That is where you see the Christmas spirit. Windows at department stores, snow flurries, Christmas decorations, the shopping rush, warm clothing, the ever looming feeling of anticipation leading up to the day that the rest of the year has been leading up to, and that generally magical Christmas spirit. A lot of people don’t notice it, because they are looking too hard. And when someone on the radio asks you, “can you feel that Christmas spirit, Chicago?”, you really just want to blow your brains out. But it’s there. It’s definitely there. It’s subtlety is magic, and from Black Friday to today is my favorite time of the year, hands down.

And then there is Christmas, and the eve before it. I hate those two days. I hate them with a passion. Christmas is the most over hyped, corporate, disappointing holiday of them all. On Christmas, all those hopes and warm feelings are slaughtered in place of materialistic bombast. I’ll admit, I have never been an even remotely religious person at all, so maybe I’m missing half of the angle, that is the day of the Lord. See how I capitalized that “L?” Yeah, I did that for posterity’s sake. I don’t really care about what happened on the twenty fifth of December thousands of years ago. In fact, thinking about that just makes me grumpy. And following Christmas, as if that wasn’t bad enough, is another four months of dead, chilling winter. It’s not that this part of winter is so bad. It just lasts too long in Chicago, and you have to make it enjoyable on it’s own terms. It is usually depressing and lonely. I think the extreme cold does something to your neurons, and it makes one more easily disturbed by mundane things than usual. On a cold, two degree February morning, burnt toast scares me just as much as the walk to school, or the school itself. Etc, etc, etc. In any case, Christmas is worth it to me if just for the month that precedes it.

What I’m most glad about is getting off of school for two weeks. When I was a Freshman or a Sophomore, I might have felt a little differently, and I would have perhaps felt sad that I would not get to see the people I normally see at school for two whole weeks. But by now, I’m just sick of school, the workload, the social issues, and I just need a couple weeks off, which is exactly what I am getting, so as far as I am concerned I have little to complain about besides the inescapable grasp of the calendar. It feels good to not have to worry about English essays, or Calculus tests, or social strain. I’m getting a lot of stuff done that I don’t normally have time for. I am finally re-reading The Lord Of The Rings. My father gave me his nice copy of it, that he no longer uses, because he listens to them on tape. He has read The Hobbit along with the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy approximately twenty times, maybe a little more. He would always make obscure references to the books when I was a kid, and in an attempt to understand them, I tried to read The Lord Of The Rings when I couldn’t have been older than ten years old. Horrible, horrible idea. I know I got to about halfway through The Two Towers, but only to such a degree that my ADD stricken childish mind could have managed. My eyes read the words, but my mind did not process the meaning. I finally gave up when I picked the book up in the middle of some long speech that Gandalf was making, the context of which I was completely clueless to. I say I have read those books, but I really might as well not have. And I’m finally doing that now. The volume that I read from now is red, ornate, and contains all three books, maps of Middle Earth and the appendices. I’m finally appreciating this literature for what it is. It isn’t just the source of story for the films, which I really did enjoy a lot. The Lord Of The Rings is the apex of fantasy literature, and it is fantastically written, and I am having tons of fun reading it now.

I also finally have the time to watch a lot of movies. It is an appropriate time of year to watch movies at home like Fargo, The Thing, and A Christmas Story. I watched Sweeney Todd last night. Whoo, boy. Now that one was fun. It rivaled Pan’s Labyrinth in terms of degree of disturbance. Lot’s of blood spilled. I like that every once and a while, and it’s alright because it was a great movie, but it was just DRAINING. Interestingly enough, there are a ton of movies I want to see in theaters now. Juno, The Kite Runner, and No Country For Old Men, particularly. But I really have to watch my cash. I’m really low on it, and I’ve been spending like crazy lately, for gifts and for myself. Hopefully.

As far as Christmas music goes, there is always that bombardment of tunes and jingles in storefronts, and on the radio. But in terms of albums, my ears have been particularly fixated on three chilling pieces that accompany the cold very well. Substrata by Biosphere, Treasure by Cocteau Twins, and Vespertine by Bjork. Expect reviews for Substrata and Vespertine in good time. I’ve already done one for Treasure that is sufficient.

Everybody have a wonderful holiday.



Howard Shore – The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

November 4, 2007

This orchestral score accompanies Peter Jackson’s second serving of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of The Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. To many, including me, The Two Towers was the most interesting book and the most enthralling film, and the music has something to do with how tense and action packed the movie was. This is where hell breaks loose, and the music indicates as much. Most of the songs sway between quiet, mysterious movements and loud, dark, sweeping, full orchestra explosions at the drop of a feather. This keeps the score tense, progressive, and effective.

On one hand, the listener will hear many versions of the main Lord of The Rings themes that they have already been spoon fed hundreds of times before and probably won’t need to hear again. The Taming Of Smeagol, The Riders of Rohan, and The King of The Golden Hall are in this way songs that you may want to skip simply because you can already hum along to them. But even these songs carry the same urgency and sense of destruction that most of the movie communicated. This keeps even the familiar melodies rather fresh. But for the most part, the listener will most likely find the most enjoyment in the songs they don’t already know.

What Howard Shore has done here is craft an aural experience just as distinct as the visual and fictional experiences that it accompanies. There is a tint of Gaelic spirit in most every song, which adds to the overall coherency of the score. There are some songs meant to accompany the tense action scenes, such as The Uruk-Hai and Helm’s Deep, that do their damage very well, and recreate the dismal aura of Sauron’s lackeys.

When Tolkien created his books, he pushed his creative boundaries and created not just a series of books around his characters and events, but also a world. He wrote his own languages with their own phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary, and these languages are utilized here in several songs by accompanying soloists, as well as by booming female choruses. Isabel Bayrakdarian and Sheila Chandra sing exceptionally on Evenstar and Breath of Life respectively. But the real winner is, get ready, Liz Fraser appearing on Isengard Unleashed. Fraser has honed vocal emoting for decades using a language of angelic babel on her own, making her the most appropriate vocalist for this score. Her appearance, no matter how short, is deeply appreciated, and a bittersweet reminder that one of the worlds greatest singers still has her talent completely in tact after years of inactivity. There is some English singing on the closing Gollum’s Song by Emiliana Torrini, which captures the insanity of Gollum very well.

The most memorable themes that the soundtrack has to offer are The Passage of the Marshes, The Black Gate Is Closed, Evenstar, Treebeard, The Leave Taking, Breath of Life, and Isengard Unleashed. But this is a soundtrack worth picking up for it’s entirety. If you enjoyed any of The Lord Of The Rings movies, or have any appreciation for orchestral music whatsoever, you will really get a lot from this soundtrack, and really all of the Lord Of The Rings soundtracks. Don’t lie to yourself. Just because The Lord of The Rings has an army of ridiculous fanatics to back it up does not mean it is not quality literature. This soundtrack does great justice to the second Lord of The Rings film, which does great justice to the original book.


Dream Theater – Score DVD

September 29, 2007

I had the privilege of seeing Dream Theater play in Chicago during the 2007 Systematic Chaos tour. I am not even that huge of a fan of Dream Theater, but I will admit, I got my ass kicked by that concert. It was just one of those concerts that everyone should go see just because of the technical proficiency involved in the playing. Even if you find it hard to sit through a Dream Theater album, a Dream Theater concert will rock your face off. John Petrucci was, as always a beast, and his solos were top notch, faster and more blistering than usual. As a bass player, my eyes are always half glued to the axe wielder, and John Myung is an intense player, always standing stationary like some kind of ghostly brigger nailing out progressive grooves on his massive six string. I don’t think I need to say how ridiculous drummer Mike Portnoy is. He has to be one of the greatest drummers ever. His stage presence is massive, if nothing else, because his kit seems to take up half the stage anyway. Keyboard player Jordan Rudess is probably the least rocking member of the band, mostly because he spends most of his time on stage either reinforcing Petrucci’s already powerful chords or producing some cheesy, unnecessary solos of his own. But I was still impressed with his various keytar solos, even though they lasted far longer than they should have. He is the weakest link, if Dream Theater even has one. I used to think James LaBrie was the weakest member of the band. His vocals always annoyed me. But at that concert, he was impressive. His voice has not declined in twenty years, and he brings a certain amount of clarity to the music.

Despite the fact that Dream Theater are a rock band, they do have that clarity about them. Which is a big reason why people dislike them. Even for a progressive rock band, they always sound clean cut. They have the long, cheesy, cliche solos. LaBrie is, in many respects, too good of a singer and is not interesting in his delivery. Either you appreciate Dream Theater, or you don’t. Either you find them entertaining or trashy, both reasonable opinions.

So if you don’t like Dream Theater, this won’t convince you of anything, except maybe that they know how to produce a concert well. If you do like Dream Theater, Score is an asset, more so than any other bootleg or DVD, just because this is the band at their tightest and best sounding, with their most rounded set to date. If you don’t know Dream Theater, I guess this is as close as you can get to a greatest hits, because this is a 20th Anniversary concert and the band stretches out their entire career into the set.

But you have to consider two things here…The music and the video. You can buy the Score 3 CD set or the 2 DVD set.

For listening, Score is a real winner for Dream Theater fans. The setlist is really balanced. The first portion of the concert contains songs from the bands first ten years or so, hitting favorite numbers such as The Root Of All Evil, Under A Glass Moon, and the power ballad classic The Spirit Carries On. If you are the kind of person that appreciates that signature Dream Theater cheesy solo heroism, you will find some really good stuff here. After the first set, the Octavarium Orchestra is introduced, a full orchestra that accompanies the band for the rest of their set, for two disks, playing massive epics such as the forty minute long Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Octavarium, Metropolis, and some other good ones. The orchestra adds an extra level of talent and puts new angles on all of the songs. Their inclusion is the most appreciated part of the concert. The music here is great for what it is.

But what I found while watching the DVD was… It was a task. I mean, it was impressive, but there isn’t much to see, except all the solos. The show is so massive that it is really hard to hold ones attention through the whole thing unless you are big enough of a fan to recognize all the songs. I am not THAT big of a fan. And to be honest, each Dream Theater song develops in so many different directions that no matter how much I listen to them, I doubt I will ever become truly acquainted with their catalog. It’s not that Dream Theater are a band that you either love or hate. Of the ten people who I saw the concert with, only two of them were truly fans, and the rest of us just casual listeners. We really liked the concert. And if you like Dream Theater, you really should see them, because their live experience is half of what makes the band who they are. The energy of the concerts are really amazing. There is no replacement for hearing those opening bass licks of Panic Attack and just watching the whole venue light on fire with enthusiasm. When you are in the middle of them, Dream Theater concerts are fast, relentless, impressive. Pretty damn metal.

But I didn’t get much of that excitement from the Score DVD. You really have to be there to feel the energy. The visual component of Dream Theater is the live shows, but it only works if you are actually there. It’s really something I can’t explain any better, the energy just doesn’t translate to recording. Watching the band do what they do best on DVD boils down to one succinct advantage. You can sit on your ass and watch the carnage. It’s just not the same though. Especially this concert. It’s just to well produced, too perfect to feel like an authentic, dirty, dark rock and roll show. And besides, if you aren’t actually there, what you will be watching from a DVD like this is just what the musicians are doing with their hands, and your mind could have filled in those blanks anyway. I guess you can say that about any band though. In any case, the DVD didn’t impress me that much.

For the music, Score is a real winner. You can’t argue with a thirty piece orchestra doing that much collective damage and sounding completely tight, playing with the worlds finest progressive rock band. It adds a whole new angle to the music. But for the DVD, save your cash unless you are a big fan. If you are a casual fan like me and want to relive the concert experience a little more accurately, there are better options. I enjoyed it, but not THAT much, not more than Budokan anyway. A good release from a good band that won’t please everyone.


Five Shitty Movies

July 9, 2007

For years, one of my favorite hobbies has been watching horrible movies. Yes, it sounds stupid. But there are few things I enjoy more than making popcorn and watching a shitty movie. To me it is one of life’s finest pleasures. And trust me, I have seen a lot of shitty movies in my time. I have seen movies that I was told were shitty and turned out to be great, and I have seen movies that are said to be great and turned out to be shitty. Although it is all about perspective, some movies just take the cake, and are horrible films that I simultaneously love. I enjoy a bad movie, but it takes a special breed of shitty to make me feel the certain euphoria that drives the hobby. There are about five of these such movies that truly take the cake, my favorites I guess. Watch them. Soon.

The Blob

There are a few movies that I would consider very priceless and classic to the creature flick genre, the first and foremost being The Creature From The Black Lagoon and possibly Attack of the Giant Leeches. But The Blob is special in it’s own way, not just because it is a classic. What this gave birth to was the sub genre of creature flicks that featured a pathetically stupid antagonist, in this case a gigantic gelatinous pile of goo. This is, in some ways, a science fiction flick too, because The Blob does come from space. In the time that the beast spreads its greasy reign of chaos, it eats several residents of a small suburban town. When it sneaks into a movie theater, a classic shot is spawned when what feels like hundreds of innocent bystanders (a mildly impressive amount of extras anyway) race out of the building screaming, some with their 3D glasses still glued to their face. The final showdown between the blob, a terrified family, and the rest of the town is a joy to watch. As expected, the acting is horrible and the story is horrible. But it’s worth it just for the dull earthshaking bad ending. This is truly a great place to start in the realm of bad movies, because the realization that what you are watching is completely ridiculous takes a while to set in.

The Buddhist Fist

Another quintessential bad movie sub genre is the chopsaki kung-fu flick genre. I’ve seen a lot of chopsaki flicks. But I don’t think I have ever seen one as genuinely bad as The Buddhist Fist. It was one of those movies that I felt, at least for a time, was the worst I have ever seen. For sure it is the worst chopsaki flick I have ever seen. Every other movie of this kind has at least some kind of redeeming quality… Good one liners, good martial arts, good screenplay, SOMETHING. The Buddhist Fist is so astoundingly bad that there is simply nothing purposefully good about it. Instead, the movie is of worth on terms of hilarity only. The plot is incoherent and almost completely nonexistent, but you get the feeling if it did exist to a bigger extent, it would be severely retarded. It has something to do with two brothers who were both trained in martial arts, or something, that end up being enemies in the end. One of the movies best moments involves the lead actor killing his brother in the end, after which his master simply pats his shoulder and says, rather quaintly I might add after absolutely nothing is revealed or any higher ground is reached in the plot, “Now you understand.” I don’t feel bad about spoiling this, because it will make your eyes widen when you watch it even if you know it’s coming. Embarrassingly horrible moments like this are not few. The plot progresses with little to no rhyme or reason. The director is Yuen Wo Ping, who did the choreography for the Matrix. By those standards, I was expecting something at least half decent when I first bought this, but in fact, the choreography is absolutely horrible with obviously rhythmic and calculated, and completely stupid, “martial arts.” One of the catch lines was that this is also a humorous movie. That’s true. But only because of how much it embarrasses itself. The original dialog probably wasn’t even close to funny in it’s native tongue, let alone when dubbed poorly. The camera quality is deplorable on numerous occasions, the characters aren’t likable… You know what, I’m going to stop there. This is an astoundingly shitty movie that only reveals more faults every time you watch it. Essential martial arts film.

The Killer Shrews

This is just one of those movies that would have it’s effects tripled by gross amounts of marijuana. For several years, this has been the shitty movie of choice in my group of friends for many reasons. It was probably the first truly shitty movie I ever saw, introduced to me by my own mother, an avid fan of bad movies herself, when I was much younger. I can picture her screaming in laughter on a ratty old couch back in the seventies watching this movie, as the parade of dogs dressed up as Killer Shrews invade the house where our protagonists live, trapped on an island isolated from anyone who doesn’t smoke or drink in every shot. Some people actually cite this as a classic creature flick, which might be true. Sometimes, it actually does make some kind of sense, and it does progress in a way that could be entertaining to a mass audience. Perhaps this is why we like it so much…because we can make some kind of case for it. But make no mistake, the movie is absolutely abysmal. The acting sucks, the shews themselves are deliciously cheesy, and funny details are revealed upon numerous listens only reinforcing that this is one of the most poorly thought out movies ever. Just for a few small examples, the movie is obviously quite racist (think the classic quote “Automatic pilot can’t play Dixieland jazz on those banjos like I can!” and also the fact that god himself seems to smite our poor, sensible black accomplice), the main actress having an orgasm underneath the bizarre trashcan contraption that the team makes to escape the island, and the absolutely monumental train wreck of dialog in the final scene on the boat. This is a movie you come back to. This is a movie you watch every Halloween. Just say the name out loud, right now, in front of your computer monitor. The Killer Shrews. You know you want to watch this movie. Positively unfathomable.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

The phrase “worst movie ever” may be thrown around lightly in the world of film, but if you ask any given expert or film fan what the worst film ever made is, the chances are actually very good that they will mention Plan 9 From Outer Space. It is a movie that people talk about for a reason. Something this quotable or statistically loathed has to have something running for it, and it is true, this movie just might be the shittiest in existence. It probably isn’t the funniest in terms of poor quality, or even the most obvious, but it is a classic shitty movie. Astoundingly shitty. Written by cult hero Ed Wood, the movie is about bureaucratic aliens raising a select few zombies from the earth in hopes to take over the world, or at least save it from making the universe explode (a controversy that at first seems interesting until the viewer realizes how grossly implausible and stupid it is). And I suppose this detail might fairly represent how down-to-business this movie is in terms of it’s poor quality. From the getgo, people say stupid things, act poorly, and spot deliciously cheesy wobbling flying saucers in the sky. The magnitude of silly quotes in this movie is really uncountable. There was one good actor, Bela Lugosi, possibly the greatest hero of this entire genre. But he was given a part that held absolutely no significance to the movie and involved no dialog, the part of an old man who shortly after death was zombified by the aliens. At first this seems pretty awesome, because his specialty is bad movies. And in fact, he uses the same cape that he used in the original Dracula back in the day. But he died halfway through filming, and another extra was forced to wear the cape and hold it over his face, as if his part actually mattered or anything. Anyway, this movie definitely deserves it’s title, and perhaps through the years of shitty movies and endless questioning, it might still be the worst movie ever made. Ed Wood would accept no less.

Teenagers From Outer Space

In the great scheme of things, the most hilarious movie in the vein of “so bad it’s good” classic cinema is by far Teenagers From Outer Space. Almost nothing is good about it, and yet every bad aspect leads back to hilarity. This is the quintessential science fiction shitty movie. The premise is somewhat believable. A race of aliens that happen to speak English, and none of which are teenagers, seek to enslave the world to aid their lobster growing economy, except one of them, the son of the race’s supreme ruler (named Derek no less), who befriends the humans and wishes to turn the rest of the invaders back home. It makes some sense. The dialog is cheesy, and the acting is deplorably bad. The strongest point of the movie is it’s consistency to surprise. While movies like Plan 9 and Killer Shrews have their low spots where they are boring and do not surprise with any particular moments of idiocy, Teenagers From Outer Space stays really bad all the way through and has more memorable bad moments than other favorites. The sheer magnitude of stereotypes covered in this movie is, to many, off-putting, but it is likely that this movie staked many of them for the first time. Experts (aka my friend who knows ten times more about bad movies than I) cites some of the films best moments as the awkward alien/human cheesy love affair, classy rayguns that immediately turn all humans into the same plastic skeleton instantaneously, and the fact that the main nemesis is not a lobster, but the SHADOW of a lobster. I find few words to describe this movie. You really should get it. In fact, if you are going to get only one bad movie on this list, you had best be getting this one.


Blades of Glory

April 9, 2007

I know what you are thinking, and I know what you want to ask, so I’ll just ask it for you to save you time. Alex, why the hell did you see blades of glory? Because I love seeing movies, that’s why. I wasn’t expecting much at all, but fortunately this was a very funny movie whose problems dig deep. So deep in fact that they go unnoticed to everyone watching. The fortunate thing is that this is a good comedy flick and worth your time if you want some laughs. It may not be a memorable movie, and it won’t gain cult status like other related movies have, but it’s definitely a step up in both main actors careers, even if it doesn’t really show any promise.

The premise is everything you would have expected from a movie containing either main actor. Jon Heder plays a dumb but ultimately sweet pretty boy who has gained cult status as a flawless ice skater Jimmy MacElory, and Will Ferrell plays a half-skater half-sex idol Chazz Michael Michaels. Jimmy “still looks like a fifteen year old girl but not hot,” and Chazz’s personal philosophy is “clothing optional.” They are warring rivals in the competitive (and apparently completely ridiculous) world of figure skating, and they both get banned from the men’s singles division when they beat each other up when they tie during a competition. After three and a half years of vomiting and selling skating related products, they reunite to compete in the doubles competition. Together. With twin dongs. The plot is as always predictable and stupid, but this movie was never meant to be anything more than predictable and stupid, so it’s not really bad when the main characters fight over a girl who is equally as stupid as Jimmy, have to deal with an unbelievably cliche rival brother-sister pair who you always knew would end up making out with one another in the end, and building an awkward friendship despite their differences.

The noteworthy part of this movie is the humor and laughs that it delivers. Not on any sophisticated levels, but what were you expecting from a movie with these two people in it. Like Anchorman, this isn’t afraid to be obnoxious. And in a good way. It’s all lighthearted humor, but it’s not afraid to touch on the gay stuff. Which is good, because it’s the kind of humor that people appreciate in this day and age. Maybe not the people who may have gone to see Ricky Bobby, or perhaps more accurately not the people who were too offended by their “sport” being slammed to go see Ricky Bobby. In any case, only a certain niche of people will appreciate the two actors 69’ing on the ice while fireworks are exploding out of their feet, or for that matter anything in the semifinal which is by far the gayest ice skating performance you have ever seen. And no one won’t laugh when they see the historic North Korean ice skating footage. This movie is well written and funny, and half of the humor will most likely go past a thirteen year olds head.

Upon walking into the theater I had middle ground hopes that were surpassed. No question, this is Will Ferrell’s funniest movie since anchorman and Jon Heder’s funniest (well, only funny) movie since Napoleon Dynamite. And yes, Will Ferrell was at one point a funny actor, most notably in Zoolander and the Ladies Man, with a funny over the top style, and no, I don’t care what you contend. Anchorman is the obvious winner though, and I could probably watch that movie one hundred times and still laugh when Steve Carell harpoons the Spaniard on the horse. And yes, it’s true, I love Napoleon Dynamite. It may have been ludicrously milked by the constant ‘Vote For Pedro’ t-shirts and endless quotations, but it would be criminal to call it anything other than a well written comedy. It’s a cultural staple too, whether or not people like it. And I think the fact that I love both of those movies made watching Blades of Glory a little more subtly painful. These characters are not original. In fact, their personalities and actions almost completely mirror that of their previous films. Jon Heder is still, for all intents and purposes, the dumb teenager that he played in Napoleon Dynamite. He is awarded with blue skittles on numerous occasions, drinks juice boxes, plays gameboy, and does odd choreographed skating while dressed as a peacock. The good thing is most of these details are subtle and they build his character over time. Will Ferrell on the other hand is an obvious mesh of Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy, and we’ve seen his character one too many times.

Standing alone this movie is pretty damn good, but it’s unoriginal as all getout, even when it tries not to be, and I can only imagine the writers thinking to themselves how smart they are for milking characters that have already made millions. And not just the characters, but the styles of their preceding movies as well. Yes, it’s still funny when Will Ferrell tries to get Jimmy to “carve some ice with his weiner,” but that really doesn’t mean anything because no one is going anywhere. It’s the same humor as Anchorman and Napoleon Dynamite crammed into one movie, which might be what you’re looking for. I laughed when Jimmy tells Chazz he is stupid because night is dark for everyone, to which he responds “Not to be people in Alaska. Or dudes with night-vision goggles.” It’s an alright movie, and possibly a relevant movie in the careers of two otherwise completely irrelevant actors. My advice, if you think you have seen this before just skip it, it’s not rewarding and you won’t be too surprised, but if you are looking for a movie to see over the weekend and you grow tired of all the slasher flicks, this WILL make you giggle, however silly and stupid it is.


Pan's Labyrinth

January 21, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

First off I would just like to say that there are going to be some spoilers floating around in this review, both major and minor, so if you had wanted to see this movie and haven’t yet, I’d suggest skipping this. If you haven’t heard of it, then I wouldn’t worry about it so much. Reading this wouldn’t actually destroy too much of the worth of the movie.

Anyway, anyone who tells you that Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale for adults, no matter if they are a big name reviewer from a respected newspaper, is lying through their teeth. That’s what I was told about this movie before going in to see it and I had the completely wrong idea. Although this movie does contain some fantasy elements, there just aren’t enough to consider this a fantasy or fairy tale movie. But some parent is bound to be stupid enough to see the tagline “fairy tale” and take their kid to see this while ignoring the conspicuous R rating. The kid will consequently be scarred for life and there will be no one to blame. Just be careful. Don’t go watching this movie thinking that it is a movie that only adults will enjoy buy doesn’t necessarily have adult themes. It’s rated R for very good reasons. There is excessive violence, blood, gore, strong language, and disturbing images.

But even through all of this, the previews made the movie out to be a charming fantasy. I think this may have actually been intended though, because the beginning of the movie also purposefully fools the viewer into thinking that the movie will be lighthearted. The film begins with a story sequence describing the daughter of the king of the underworld escaping the kingdom and being blinded by the lights of the world above, shocking her and taking away her memory. In this short little montage, the girl dies and the king of the underworld then waits for an eternity until she would return. Then, much like other movies like Shrek, we find that this story is in a book being read by someone else. In this case it is a little Spanish girl named Ofelia in a car on the way to a mill where her “father” is, with her pregnant mother. On the way the car is stopped and the girl does several things that happen in many lighthearted movies. She places a stone eye into a statue and meets what she believes to be a fairy, which follows the cars after she takes off again.

What happens next is almost a reality check of sorts, and the girl ends up in the mill where her mothers husband lives, a Captain of the Spanish army of fascists. This is the tipoff that the movie is not in some distant universe and the movie actually takes place a little after World War II. The Captain is a fascist officer, and a total prick in the truest meaning of the word. Not more than a half hour into the movie do we see him shoot several people, beat an innocent rabbit hunter to death with a glass bottle, and snidely chose his unborn sons life over his wifes. Throughout the movie, he doesn’t get any better either, and he only continues to make himself out to be a worse and worse person. In some way, he is the evil step-mother of this story, but that is one of the few structural paralells I could make to an actual fairy tail.

To be honest, the entire fantasy part doesn’t come in until a little later, and even then it doesn’t end up being the majority of the movie. The big theme in this movie is the intertwining of these fantastical images that Ofelia sees and the outside world of her adult companions, constantly bickering and getting in trouble. The first thing that Ofelia sees that is in this fantasy wake is the fairy, which then leads her to a mysterious underground ruin by the side of the mill, carved of creepy water-worn stone. And she then meets the faun, a mythical messenger of sorts who mysteriously has no speakable name.

The Faun

What interested me so much about the scene of introduction between Ofelia and The Faun was the tiny little details that tip off what the viewers will eventually come to realize in the rest of the film. By midway through the movie, I hadn’t even come to question whether these fantasy elements were actually real, but by the end of the film when we see Ofelia, broken and tattered looking at a creature which her evil step father cannot see, the viewer starts to question the validity of everything they have seen. Even just this first scene with the Faun can say a million things in underhanded ways. First off, being realistic, most grown adults would freak the fuck out if they saw The Faun, and their first reaction would be to smash his face with a baseball bat and run as far away as possible. And yet, Ofelia walks down the spiral staircase like many fantasy heroes would, and meets The Faun almost a bit casually, not even questioning it when he tells her that she is a princess, born of the moon, and that she must complete three tasks so that she can return to her true home. The viewers have by this point been exposed to the cruelty of the Captain and how Ofelia would most likely love to get away from all this. And yet, the Faun is creepy. Ofelia knows it, the viewer knows it, and it’s on purpose. This was never supposed to be a walk in the park. It won’t be long until Ofelia starts questioning The Faun.

As soon as it starts to be magical and fantastic, the fantasy world runs dry. What seems like a fun adventure into a tree trunk ends up being riddled with disgusting bugs that don’t disturb her at all, and a giant playful hungry frog deflates and Ofelia is left to wander out of the tree trunk into the rain, her beautiful party dress completely ruined. She stands cold and lonely in the rain, unsure of both this new world of creatures and the old one of sadness and disappointment. It’s a beautiful scene, albeit melancholy. The fairy tale only gets worse too. Ofelia’s recovering mother dies, The Faun abandons her, and this baby-eating creeper is met.

I see you!

What all this irreversable pain conveys to the viewer, and I really do believe this is on purpose, is that this world is NOT a figment of Ofelia’s imagination. If it was, then her mind would surely have created loveable and less scarey images, right? Maybe. And yet there are hints dropped constantly at these things not being real. But the whole movie is not this gnarled fairy tale, and actually the majority of the room onscreen is spent with the other characters, be it the cruel and ingeniously hate-able Captain or the sneaky servant Mercedes. What the viewer realizes after not too long is that all the negative stuff in the movie roots from either Ofelia’s fantasy world or the Captain, a power hungry cruel fascist. And even then, is it possible that these “dreams” also root from The Captain? If he was a truely supporting father and good person, these “dreams” would not need to be there to act as escapes for Ofelia, at least as far as the plot goes. But then one has to consider why these escapes are so horrible and creepy. Even then, the dreams seem insignificant compared to how horrible of a person this man is. The political edge deals with fascism and how horribly unfair it is, and how the individual can overcome what is wrong by doing what they feel is right and not necessarily what they are told to do. I won’t say too much about the last scene because if you have read this far chances are you will want to see the movie, but one wonders what would have happened if Ofelia had given her brother for the blood. But she didn’t, and this decision says tons about her character.

There are strong political undertones in this movie, but the majority of the lessons that can be learned from here are universal. It’s no fairy tale, but it says something about them and what they can teach, and how life can be simmilar and different from them. As someone pointed out to me, by the end of the movie it’s completely irrelevant what is real and what is not. You can kind of take it both ways… I think Del Toro left it open like that for a reason, but from reading interviews and such it seems pretty obvious to me that the fantasy was in fact real. But that is not something one can completely understand without watching the movie more than once. It’s not an easy movie, and you won’t like it, but you’ll learn something, I promise.


Jet Li's Fearless

October 2, 2006

The problem with this movie isn’t even brought upon by itself. The curious thing is, the movie is advertised as an epic blockbuster, Jet Li’s last starring role in a martial arts movie. And it is made to seem like this movie will end up being an action extravaganza, with fists, legs, and swords flying constantly. However, this is not the case at all. The truth is, this movie is not even an action flick. If you go into that theater expecting lots of action and don’t make the connection midway, you will only leave frustrated. While it lacks in the action department, it makes up for it by being a simply fantastic movie dealing with morals, life lessons, and great imagery.

I’ve only seen a handful of other Jet Li movies. Beyond a few select scenes from other movies like The One and Once Upon A Time In China, I’ve seen four others besides this. The first was one called Born To Defense, which I believe came out in the mid-eighties. It featured Li as a war hero who (you get to see him in some pretty badass Chuck Norris like warzone activity at the beginning) came home only to find himself and his fellow Chinese friends bullied and victimized by abusive American jock sailors. He puts up with it, but decides he needs to do something about it when his good friend ends up getting killed due to the reckless morons. So he does something about it, and the movie concludes with a fierce adrenaline pumping battle in the local fight club, a scene which I now associate with Dream Theater’s song Panic Attack. I remember it being a great movie and the shots of urban China being pretty cool, but not a great deal more.

Another I have seen was the 95 gimmicky but deliciously bad action blockbuster The Enforcer. It featured guns, explosions, kung-fu, “thrill a minute” action and a stereotypical punk antagonist that would even the best bad-guy actors impressed at his assinine and utterly silly nature. And beyond that, it features the infamous “Jonny Spin,” a really short sequence that will strike the viewer as being one of the most awkwardly silly but hilariously awesome fighting techniques ever used against more than one enemy. I liked it. I saw Hero too, which was only a few years ago. For some reason, I liked that one too. But I would probably prefer The Enforcer over it even if I know Hero was downright better. There was some sort of lack of too much real action, and a lot of the effect came through learning lessons. It was more of a drama from the ancient east with swords and spears occasionally thrown in with sort of a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon angle, much like House of Flying Daggers in the operatic sort of way, but better. I saw Unleashed too, which I was also entertained with. The action was sort of minimal in that too, but the movies charm came through the brilliant characterization. Morgan Freeman played a wonderful piano tuner and Bob Hoskins played one of the better bad guys I have ever seen.

Anyway, while he’s no Bruce Lee, he is at least more tasteful than Jackie Chan usually is, and can kick out the action better too. Which is why I was expecting this movie to be much more fast paced, you know, to make the mans send off more thrilling. Instead, the approach is decidedly more tasteful. While there is some great martial arts and swordplay, a lot of the movie revolves around Jet Li as a character and how he changes, much like Unleashed, and much in contrast to his stoic but effectively non-changing character in Hero. Jet Li plays Huo Yuanjia, a Chinese master of a wushu style that his father forbade him from practicing during his living years. Of course we are talking about Jet Li, and Jet Li don’t take no shit from no one, so not only does Jet Li end up learning the style, but also fights his way to the top and gains pride and fantastic glory in the fighting circle.

But that’s where this movie gets you. It’s Jet Li’s last starring role, so he is more than likely portrayed as a flawless character who does a lot of ass-kicking, right? No, very wrong. In fact, the movie almost throws every chopsaki stereotype into the movie at first, and then brilliantly disassembles them all as soon as they are up in full force. Huo ends up having an extremely overinflated ego, and when one of his students comes home injured illegedly at the hand of the only master that Huo has not yet defeated during his flawless battle history, his reason to fight the man is only rekindled. So he disrespects him on his own birthday, and lets loose the scene for a massive battle in a restaurant almost made for a grand chopsaki scene.

I won’t delve into those specifics, but then things go awry, and Huo ends up finding a myriad of people dead, including those he loves. So he does another very Unleashed type thing to do by exiling himself to a far off land where he reluctantly starts over and makes friends with a charming blind girl named Moon and a nice old woman only referred to as Grandma. He learns new angles in life and realizes that he must travel back to where he came from in order to set things right.

Huo as a character develops marvelously in Fearless, not much like you would expect him to, but in a great way. The fact that Huo as a character already has some ego issues makes for a very interesting transformation. The movie itself is built as an epic drama type of thing, and the filming and imagery is top notch. The action is cool too, even if there are only so many fighting scenes. They are all top notch and great, but most of them take place right away. In this way, the writers and directors trick us and reveal to us what this movie is truly about later on when Huo smells the breeze in a rice field. While not a quintessential action movie, this film is a great send off for the great actor/performer that is Jet Li. People with a taste for action movies but wants something with a little more clarity will love this, and fans of Jet Li will like it even more, as it is him doing exactly what he wants to be doing, in a very peculiarly beautiful way.


Lost In Translation

August 10, 2006

The reason why Lost In Translation is such a brilliant film is because it is clearly about people who don’t say anything. And the reason why it is ingenious is because these characters say exactly what they want to say without opening their mouths and actually saying it. This might be due to the fantastic people behind the movie; Sofia Coppola has some real talent, and you almost wouldn’t have believed she was the little girl from the Godfather. And while Bill Murray is no spring chicken, he surely knows how to act any role and still has the talent left in him to star in whatever kind of movie he wants. He might just be my favorite actor. Scarlette Johansson is quite the up and coming star, and considering she was only seventeen when she was in this movie, she did an absolutely spectacular job. To be honest, it’s not that often that a movie with such big stars does such a good job. And in such an independent film type of environment too. This isn’t a big name drama, it’s not a love story or a chick flick, it’s a movie that really tries to say something. And it plays off of the viewers outlook as well and really gets them involved. And for a movie that features people who don’t talk, the viewer ends up knowing about the characters and loving them enough to truly get what they were supposed to out of the movie. The imagery, great dialogue, and realistic characters are enough to make this one of my favorite movies ever.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

These are the words that Bob Harris is told to say “with intensity” on the set of a commercial for whisky. Bob used to be a huge movie star in the seventies, actually much like Bill Murray, and he has traveled to Tokyo Japan to endorse a whisky that he ends up drinking every night in the bar of his expensive hotel. He has a family, as evidenced at first by the fax he gets at four in the morning from his wife asking for his advice on what shelves to buy for his study. Bob is not only charismatic, but also witty, and he can hold up a conversation with someone very well, even someone who does not speak the same language as he does. Although he seems to have trouble communicating with his wife back home. It is pretty obvious that he loves his wife, and his kids too, but his wife does not quite seem to love him back and their relationship is slowly drifting away. While Bob is a middle aged guy who is probably going through a midlife crisis, he seems practical to the point where he probably never really grew up in a certain part of his mind enough to really merit being described as “middle aged.” The phrase is a tad misleading anyway, because it is connected with a lot of stereotypes. Like Porsches.

I’m in pain, I got my foot banged up. Wanna see it?

Charlotte is a young newlywed fresh out of college, visting Tokyo with her husband John. John is a photographer and ends up being pretty busy on the trip, so Charlotte is sort of on her own most of the time. She is a very short spoken person, who enjoys making conversation but doesn’t seem to be too much good at it. But beyond that, she is a kind caring person who seems to lean towards an idealistic personality more than practicality. She seems to enjoy wandering, as the country is a new place, and hanging around the hotel is a little boring. But she does that too, and only then does she realize that her life may not be going in the ideal direction. Her husband is really a twit who does not care to know her, while she is struggling to know him. Even a phone call to a personal friend lets her know that maybe no one really knows her.

When you think about it, the two are very different. Bob is old enough to Charlottes father, maybe older. And while Bob clearly loves everyday conversation, Charlotte is a little more shy and isn’t quite used to talking to strangers who are thirty years older than she is. But really, they are more simmilar than different, and at that, more simmilar to one another than they are to their own spouses, at least as far as the viewer sees. They are both very kind and easygoing and a little confused with which way their lives should be going. While Bob is a middle aged former star actor who doesn’t really know where he’s going, Charlotte is a very young but very lost person who doesn’t know where she is going. And beyond that, both of them are confused because they are in a place that really doesn’t make sense, and both of them are horribly jet lagged and can’t get any sleep at all. And that leaves Bob in the bar drinking the whisky that he is endorsing and Charlotte sitting next to him smoking cigarettes. Two Americans in Japan.

A lot of the fun in this movie comes from the humor. Bob Harris is a hilarious character who is constantly wisecracking or making witty comments. And when he is not, he is melancholy and trying to figure out aspects of the culture that are giving him troubles. The funny thing is, I’m almost certain that Bill Murray is like Bob Harris in real life. I have seen him in many interviews and he acts very simmilar, and some of the lines in the movie from him were even improvised.. In fact, Sofia Coppola wrote the part specifically for Bill Murray. Charlotte does the same kind of exploring, though through curious observation. And while he is a pill, Charlottes husband John is really an ingenious character. The actor, Giovanni Ribisi, did a great job on him. Really, he is a character that many people will not understand, and those people will be the kinds of people that are simmilar to him. He is rather clueless and even a little heartless, and he simply doesn’t care about Charlotte enough to stay with her and keep her company. The relationship is clearly shakey, but really only due to him and his lack of understanding and interest in his own wife. The way he talks, moves, and communicates is enough to make any viewer cringe and scoff. He’s a twit, that’s all there is to it. But sadly, there are people like him in this world, and that’s what makes his character so great and funny.

I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase.

And a lot of what makes this movie truly great is the imagery. Anyone who watches this movie will want to go to Japan, I’m sure of it. The camera work and the amazing shots of urban Tokyo and even some more natural areas later are impeccable. What Sofia Coppola has essentially done is immersed her actors in an ocean of neon. Yes, how the characters react is really the heart of this movie, but the soul is quite simply the imagery. I was blown away the second and third times just as much as the first by the absolutely beautiful visions of the city and it’s bright lights, bustling people, etc. It got the Oscar for best screenplay written directly for a movie, actually. I can’t think of a film more deserving.

What Bob and Charlotte end up doing to remedy their sleeplessness and boredom is venture out and experience authentic Tokyo nightlife. They spend some time at clubs, in arcades, and in other exotic and beautiful locales out in the city. One of the better scenes in the movie is when the two are running out into a busy intersection wondering where they should go next. But the entire nightime sequence is great, and it really makes you feel like Charlottes random invitation for Bob meant something.

I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.

You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.

You could make hundreds of arguements on what this movie is really about. In reality, it is about a myriad of things. It is about direction in life, and it is about what life really means. It is also about what really matters to people, and about not speaking your mind. The direction in life thing is very touching, as both characters aren’t really sure what they should be doing with themselves. A conversation that the two have one night really sticks. Bob talks about what his life is like now that he is older, and how beautiful his children are, and how even though you may not have the relationships with people you wish you did, things can still turn out okay. But I still stand by my statement, this movie really is about people who don’t say much. And yet they still end up getting out everything they need to. The other main thing it is about is friendship. Both Bob and Charlotte see things in one another that they don’t see in their spouses. Perhaps that is some kind of vague understanding. They both know their spouses, and they both care about them to some degree, but neither of their spouses really understand who they are as people. The relationship that Bob and Charlotte have is one of some type of outsider understanding. They are only going to be around one another for so long, and that means they can play off of one another in whatever way they want. They can say and not say what they please. And in addition to that, they can come to an understanding with one another that feels comfortable but not overdeveloped. For this reason, the friendship between these two characters is friendship in it’s most natural and primal state. Yes, a lot of what the characters feel in this movie is not said. Sometimes they just exude emotions that they don’t say, and that becomes part of the melancholy. The viewer will almost be talking to the screen, “say thank you, say you are a great friend,” and all that jazz. But the conclusion of this movie is what is most striking, where while the viewer might not necessarilly understand it, what needs to be said clearly is said and both people seem very happy and satisfied, so it doesn’t really matter what. And that is part of the beauty of this film.

The music is also worth noting. I first saw this movie over a year and a half ago, and the soundtrack is what really started to diversify my tastes. And things I have reviewed here reflect that. The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Air, all of that great music. I’d give the soundtrack a solid ten out of ten too. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine actually arranged the soundtrack and did four original pieces himself. And anyone who knows me knows I’m totally obsessed with My Bloody Valentine right now. I’m practically mentioning them every post, and I will no doubt do more reviews of their work. A lot of the soundtrack is divied up between pleasent little blurbs that create an atmosphere and very fitting full length songs. No one will ever pretend that the ending sequence when Just Like Honey is played isn’t absolutely gorgeous.

Anyway, it’s a fantastic film and it is one of my favorites ever, standing up there with One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Edward Scissorhands. However, you need to understand that this movie isn’t quite for everyone. I would like to think of myself as midway between practical and artistic and I absolutely adored this film. But I think very practical people who don’t understand fine art would probably think to themselves, “what is this? It’s a movie about nothing.” But if you just take it all in, I have a feeling every viewer gets something different out of it. For a purchase I’d give this a ten out of ten easily. I was worried at first because I got the full screen version and some people bitched to me about how I should have gotten the widescreen edition. So I did. I seriously just went out and bought the widescreen edition and gave the full screen version to my dad who gave me the minisucle amount of money it cost. He wanted a copy anyway. Now everyones happy. The special features are cool, and it includes a documentary on the filming called “Lost On Location,” and also some other goodies like deleted and extended scenes, the full version of the talk show scene, and some other stuff.

See this movie. That’s all I’m going to say. Unless maybe you are a really sharp critic, or are just flat out heartless.