Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (Peter Jackson 2003) - Talk about whimpers and not bangs. The first film at least had moral decisions and uneasy alliances--y’know drama--while the second could be excused as middle-act wheelspinning. But this one just plods along so much that various story problems (armies that march days travel in a few hours, blundering military strategies, totally implausible means of communication, etc; and while I’m at it have I been conditioned by too much fantasy novels and games but do wizards in Middle Earth seem a bit wimpy? Gandalf’s staff doubles as a flashlight and he does come back from the dead but other than that he might be more useful with a crossbow), anyway those various problems really stick out. By now there’s not much drama since it’s pretty clear how things are going to turn out and even characters that might make choices are now more or less insane (Frodo, the steward). And maybe I’m just too much an American to care about returning kings anywhere; in fact much of this film seemed almost creepy to me in that respect.

Out of the millions of people who saw this, I’m willing to be that most of them would look down on the good vs. evil of superhero comic books. Sure there’s enough of that present but comics can seem pretty gray compared to LOTR. Just think of the past two years where one hero’s arrogance led to another’s suicide and his own violent sweep into head of the underworld (Daredevil), a hero so obsessed that he’s authoritarian and emotionally crippled (various Batman titles), cold and popularity focused celebrities (X-Statix), etc.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

After several months I finally made it to a regular video store (ie not a funky, art store). I was amazed at the piles of stuff I’d never heard of, especially all the quasi-comic crime films (guess Tarrantino has some seriously long shock waves or is it just The Sopranos?). The rentals:

Gigli (Martin Brest 2003) - It’s odd all the frothingly negative reviews this got. Not because the film is good--in fact it is pretty bad--but because it’s not that bad. And in a year that brought offensive garbage like Bad Boys II, Terminator 3 and The Haunted Mansion then Gigli actually looks a bit better. Admittedly one problem is that Brest was trying to do something a bit different by tweaking Affleck’s usual character, throwing in peculiar plot twists and exploring a different type of dialogue. The problem of course isn’t that he tried this but that most critics didn’t want to go along (reading some of the reviews it’s hard to tell that they even saw the film, certainly not that they understood what was happening).

Crime Spree (Brad Mirman 2003) - Here’s one of those flubbed-crime films. It was completely new to me but with a cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Gerard Depardieu and Johnny Hallyday I figured it might be worth a chuckle or two. Alas, a chuckle or two is all that’s here. Otherwise this is a completely DOA misfire that wasted all the potential in its premise (French crooks in the Chicago underworld).

28 Days Later (Danny Boyle 2002) - This should have been perfect for me but is instead a good example of a film ruined by people who think they’re too smart for the genre. It’s a sort of twist on zombie films (with a science fiction explanation that’s really no improvement though it’s interesting that animal rights activists become the bad guys) but the overall impact is that they were trying to make a Big Statement. That’s why characters run around talking about struggle and survival while later pointing out domestic family pleasures. This is all contained pretty much every other post-Romero zombie film ever made so having it spelled out isn’t just a waste of time, it’s downright tedious. All in all, a complete botch.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

I’ve just watched the first three discs of the first season of Alias and will admit to being less than excited. Reports made it sound Buffy-smart but instead Alias isn’t smart at all. Where Joss Whedon was a comic and B-movie fan who intimately understood how those forms can--in fact have to--work on multiple levels, Alias is merely the work of a TV writer, which is not meant to be a compliment. It’s not just that implausibility is a structuring principle but that there isn’t much of a point to anything. Missions could be more or less swapped between episodes, the emotional parts are forced to say the least, there’s no sense of building and has anything in recent memory had such clunky exposition scenes in every freakin’ episode! That’s not made any more palatable by a “humorous” tech guy clearly based on Bond’s Q (and which reminds me of the chapter title in a James Kincaid book called “Who Is Relieved by Comic Relief?”). The commentary on the pilot gushes about the actors but there’s not much for them to work with, especially the head bad guy Sloane who is a complete blank. This isn’t CEO blank or restrained menace blank but more like they started shooting from a script draft without any character information. A further problem is that Sao Paolo looks like L.A., Athens looks like L.A., Germany looks like L.A. but fortunately the Argentine countryside looks like Southern California. And the terrible music choices don’t help either. It’s TV, it won’t have a big budget, but least they could have made a joke out of it, considering that the rest isn’t very serious.

Still, I won’t deny that there’s enough narrative momentum that I’ll probably watch the rest of the season. Unfortunately, like with comics I read collected in TPBs instead of individual issues, I already know a few of the key plot twists. It would be cool if some thought had been put into rewatchability (sort of how The Murder of Roger Ackroyd still works even if you know the killer’s identity) but the show is so heavy-handed with twists I didn’t know about--at least not until a couple of minutes before they’re actually revealed--that the overall thinness is no surprise. Sydney’s journalist buddy, the only fully conceived character on the show, is the focus of the best story line so I’m hoping he gets moved forward. If not, well there are DVDs of The Shield and West Wing waiting, at least until I find out if these are any good either.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Newest blogging trend seems to be discussing your Netflix queue so being a dedicated follower of fashion here's mine. Too bad I just deleted about 30 titles a few weeks ago (which included some Bollywood, A Night to Remember, Satan's Brew and a bunch of indies and such that are easily found at local video stores). It's hard to tell if these things are too revealing, inaccurately revealing or mostly irrelevant. For instance, despite the numerous listings I'm not a James Bond fan. A year or so ago, though, I realized that I hadn't seen most of the earlier films in the series and decided to watch them all in order, something made a bit harder when they went in and out of print while the studio cynically manipulated consumer demand. In my case no demand, just an attempt to fill a pop culture hole when maybe I should have been reading Henry Green novels. Also, without cable and with spotty over-the-air reception I don't watch TV anymore. So this is a good way to fill in what seems promising. I did catch the first two episodes of 24 however long back that was and lost interest as soon as it became obvious that they were blatantly cheating on the real-time gimmick. But people say I would like it and so to another chance. People promise the same with Alias; more on that later; the first disc was mildly amusing but nothing more.

The Isle

A Brief Vacation

The Shield: Season 1: Disc 1

24: Season 1: Disc 1

Afraid to Die

On Her Majesty's Secret Service


Fidelio: Beethoven: Royal Opera House


Diamonds Are Forever

A Touch of Zen


Joe Gould's Secret

The Notorious Concubines

The Dish

Black Rose Mansion

Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note

Fulltime Killer

Alexandria: Again and Forever



Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen

Die Fledermaus: Strauss: Royal Opera

Hidden Agenda

The Harmonists

Carla's Song

24 Hour Party People


Secret Defense

32 Short Films About Glenn Gould

The Gleaners and I

The Center of the World

Good Men, Good Women

The Last Broadcast


The Circle

Shanghai Grand

The Phantom Lover

Siberian Lady Macbeth

Bloodsucker Leads the Dance

The Man with the Golden Gun

The Spy Who Loved Me

Licence to Kill

Something Weird: Special Edition

Perfect Love

Just For the Hell Of It / Blast-off Girls

Ecstasy of the Angels

Mantis in Lace

The Cheap Killers

Nightmare at Noon

The Bodyguard from Beijing

Tale of Time Lost

More Dogs Than Bones

Cold War

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge

Comrades: Almost a Love Story

Hold You Tight

Alias: Season 1: Disc 3

Alias: Season 1: Disc 4

Alias: Season 1: Disc 5

Alias: Season 1: Disc 6

Decasia: The State of Decay

So Close

The Sopranos: Season 4: Disc 2

The Sopranos: Season 4: Disc 3

The Sopranos: Season 4: Disc 4

24: Season 1: Disc 2

24: Season 1: Disc 3

24: Season 1: Disc 4

24: Season 1: Disc 5

24: Season 1: Disc 6

The Shield: Season 1: Disc 2

The Shield: Season 1: Disc 3

The Shield: Season 1: Disc 4

Comedy of Innocence