Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jestin' July, Alfred!

These monthly (well, not exactly but you get what I mean) movie posts are getting really old and stale. And not just in the sense that the movies I now write about were all shown a really long time ago. I need to shake things up a little - but how?

A question for another time.

The Happening
As with most Shyamalan flicks, the premise is interesting. And like most Shyamalan flicks, he fucks it up - only this time, he fucks it up way before the obligatory betcha-never-saw-that-comin' plot twist. The opening scenes are great, and there's one where construction workers jump off a building en masse that's terrific and terrifying. Then it quickly becomes simply terrible when nothing much really happens besides people standing around talking pseudo-scientific/religious gobbledygook and trying-very-hard-to-be-ominous shots of something that's patently non-ominous. Throw in one of the most ridiculous plot twists since the beginning of film and you get something that might work better as a comedy than a thriller, something that's quite frankly, not-happening (pardon the pun, it was begging for it).

Compared to the self-important stylings of Shyamalan, this almost seems like a breath of fresh air. Almost. Normally you'd think that I'd hate dumb movies. And you wouldn't be wrong. But sometimes something comes along that's so utterly, thoroughly, spectacularly dumb and is so much fun because of it that I cannot help but have a good time. Now, I never read the comic book, but it's obvious here that every single person involved in the making of this movie knew they were making something completely ridiculous. So they simply decided to go all-out, balls to the wall, and make it as entertaining as they can. Hence we get bending of bullets, lots of gratuitous slo-mo violence, preposterous plot developments (including my personal favorite jaw-dropper of a plot twist - The Loom of Fate), Angeline Jolie strutting around dressed only in tattoos, among other such delightful idiocy. It's pure over-the-top dumb fun - and how gloriously dumb it is.

The Strangers
This home invasion thriller has got the scariest trailer I've ever seen - a real little masterpiece of perfect editing timed for maximum creepy effect. Such a stunning trailer, while luring audiences in, inevitably also disappoints, because the actual movie can't help but be a letdown in comparison. Thankfully, the degree of letdown is rather small in this case. There are some missteps here and there, particularly with an unnecessarily protracted ending and an at-times annoying score. But, like the trailer, it is scary, almost masterfully so. The control of tension and dread is fantastic, and really so much more effective than so many stupid movies out there with bigger stars and bigger budgets. Hooray for awesome B-movies.

The Dark Knight
In short: A Shakespearean tragedy/crime epic in the guise of a summer blockbuster, with an unbelievably menacing Ledger as the Joker. Hands down, the best comic book movie ever, bar none. I award it "Movie Of The Year". In long: Read my earlier post.

幫幫我愛神 (Help Me Eros)
Good Tsai Ming-Liang films, while boring and repetitive at times, still have a certain lyricism to them and compelling characters that somehow manage to transcend their onscreen banality to draw you into their sad lives. Bad Tsai Ming-Liang films are messy and incoherent and frankly, off-putting. And worst of all are the Tsai Ming-Liang copycats. These are sad, pathetic movies populated by sad, pathetic people going about their sad, pathetic lives in a sad, pathetic way. It's all of the negative descriptions above without any of the good ones. It's overlong and pretentious, filled with blatant motifs that scream out at you but are ultimately as hollow as the characters' lives. It's the cinematic equivalent of the performance studies undergraduate. It's a waste of celluloid, a waste of money, an even bigger waste of time. It's this movie.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Del Toro revisits the weird and wonderful world of Hellboy, which means that we get to ogle at lots and lots of his crazy creature creations. With probably a bigger budget for effects than for the entirety of Pan's Labyrinth, he really gets to indulge his imagination, and we get a veritable orgy of spectacular creature designs. But he knows enough to keep everything pacey and entertaining, and improves upon the first movie, delivering an enjoyable fantasy-action flick that's loads of fun while keeping some delicious quirks. My personal favorite example is the drunken singalong scene - you gotta love that, even if you don't like anything else.

After the not-so-Happening, we get another wasted premise this month in Hancock, but at least this has a lead with more appeal in Will Smith. A drunk bum with superpowers? Sounds good to me. Unfortunately the screenplay suffers from multiple personality disorder and seems like a patchwork of wildly contradictory ideas stitched together. It tries to do so many things that it ends up not knowing what it is, straining both the seams of the story and the audience's credulity, as we're asked to swallow one world-changing revelation after another. If you thought I Am Legend was bad in that respect, well, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

赤壁 (Red Cliff)
What is this, the 69th Chinese war epic to hit theatres this year? Joking aside, while not exactly the most original concept, this is still better than most of the recent deluge of such films, despite needing a more vicious editor to trim out the fat. The war scenes are presented well, with minimal "artistic dirt" that seems to substitute for "realism" in these flicks, but with actual strategems and military movements that are really quite fascinating to watch. Compare that to the rampant stupidity and incoherence present in, say, Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon. The worst aspects are probably Woo's treating the audience like idiots, ramming his metaphors and points home repetitively.

Case in point: Before setting out on the climactic battle, the heroes go hunting - just like they're about to go hunting for the villain Cao Cao. OK, I'll bite, that's an acceptable metaphor. Then during the hunt, there's dialogue along the lines of, "Cao Cao is like a tiger. Vicious, cunning, etc. etc.". I groan and think, "Oh, I wish they hadn't done that." But wait, there's more. One of our heroes chases a tiger on foot and loses sight of it. Then it sneaks up on him. He hears a sound. Spins around, arrow at the ready. The tiger leaps - and John Woo fucking superimposes Cao Cao's face on the snarling face of the tiger.

Let me take you through that process again. After presenting the metaphor to us, he has the characters talk about it. Thereafter he fucking superimposes Cao Cao's face on the fucking face of the fucking tiger. What the fuck.

True, one doesn't go to a John Woo movie for subtlety, but I still wish he didn't lean quite so heavily in favor of the stupidly literal. We're not all fucking morons, you know. Despite all that bitching, I still think it's a decent movie. Really. Here's hoping the second act of this two-parter will be less... well, I'll just settle for less.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hope Rises

I don't think I need to say anything. Far more eloquent people have spoken far better words than I can ever imagine about this.

But damn, this is one of the best speeches I've ever heard.

Here's the transcript of Obama's speech:

Hello, Chicago.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.

A little bit earlier this evening, I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Sen. McCain.

Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign. And he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.

I congratulate him; I congratulate Gov. Palin for all that they've achieved. And I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart, and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on the train home to Delaware, the vice president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

And I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady Michelle Obama.

Sasha and Malia I love you both more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House.

And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother's watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight. I know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my sister Maya, my sister Alma, all my other brothers and sisters, thank you so much for all the support that you've given me. I am grateful to them.

And to my campaign manager, David Plouffe, the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best -- the best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America.

To my chief strategist David Axelrod who's been a partner with me every step of the way.

To the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston. It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause.

It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.

It drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth.

This is your victory.

And I know you didn't do this just to win an election. And I know you didn't do it for me.

You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.

There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after the children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage or pay their doctors' bills or save enough for their child's college education.

There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

I can only hope that one day, things will change here too. Until then, I suppose we'll have to take comfort in the fact that somewhere in this world, hope still exists. And until that comes to the shores of our little island, all we can do, is hope.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Part One... um... Episode One

Something I made over the weekend, in a little over 6 hours.

It's one of the best wedding videos I've done - not that I've done that many, mind you. Just about enough to point out when things can be improved during the process.

If I were one to use smileys, I'd probably put one right about here. But I'm not.