ed_rex: (Default)

A girl's own adventure

14 year-old girl fights child-welfare authorities
in quest to sail solo around the world
waves goodbye at age of 14

Image: Poster of Maidentrip

Adventurers have long held a special place in the public's imagination. Brave and determined or selfish and monomaniacal, according to one's tastes, they are larger-than-life figures, accomplishing impressive — if arguably pointless — feats. Climbing the highest mountain, sailing the widest ocean, risking (and often losing) life and/or limb and leaving wives and children behind to wait, to wonder, and to mourn.

Why do it? we stay-at-homes might ask. Why trek from one coast of Antarctica to the other after failing to be first to the South Pole? Why try, not once but three times to be the first to scale Everest?

There probably isn't a better answer than George Mallory's laconic reply to a reporter before he died on that third attempt to climb Mount Everest: "Because it's there."

We certainly don't get any more a revealing answer from Laura Dekker, who at the age of 16 years, 123 days, achieved her years' long dream by becoming the youngest person to ever sail, alone, around the world, but Jillian Schlesinger's documentary, Maidentrip about her voyage is a moving and fascinating film despite its lack of firm answers.

The bare facts make for quite a story, and though its subject has disavowed the resulting film, if there is a young woman in your life who could do with something other than a Disney princess or a Kardashian as inspiration, click here for one hell of a girl's own adventure.

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No frabjous days, no frabjous nights:

Alice In Wonderland is no wonder at all



Detail of image by The Phantom Photographer, © 2010.
Click to view the original.

Tim Burton's movies just keep getting dumber.

Having now watched this bland and witless travesty of a take on Lewis Carroll's immortal diptych, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass, I can only imagine that Burton's next project will be a "re-visioning" of Winnie the Pooh, one in which the bear of very little brain — no doubt played by a pumped-up Johnny Depp — will be on a mission of vengeance: not to trap the heffalump, but to slay it.

Worst of all, Winnie-ther-Pooh, Heffalump-Slayer, will succeed in gory 3-D, only after we have been forced to sit through a back-story that includes Kanga's prescient investments in the Australian coal-mining industry and Piglet's unhappy marriage to Eyore's cheating cousin, Beyoncéyore.

Excuse me. I digress ...

Once upon a time, there was a young movie director called Tim Burton, who burst upon my consciousness with three arguably slight, but nevertheless well-written, witty and wonderfully visualized fantasies, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. (I suppose I should confess that I haven't seen any of these films in many years; it is quite possible my impressions are tinted infra-red. But I think I retain pretty clear memories of all three. Onwards.)

Burton showed a subtle comedic touch along with the ability to limn character with a few strokes of the cinematic brush, along with a love for the macabre and a strange and genuinely original visual imagination.

Yet signs of his onrushing senescence manifested almost simultaneous with those of his blossoming talent.

Enter the Batman ...

Though a box-office and a popular hit, Batman epitomized Hollywood block-busters at their worst.

The movie probably sounded like a fabulous concept when it was being pitched and the end-product looked great — Burton's Gotham is a decaying hulk of a once-great city; organic and sterile, futuristic and yet built upon the cast-iron fantasies of the early twentieth century; the aesthetic anticipated (or was at least an early example of) steam-punk, with atmosphere and imagery that suggested another Terry Gilliam in the making.

But unlike even Gilliam's worst failures, Burton's Batman had no brain. And, if anything, his Alice is even worse.

Read more at Edifice Rex Online, but beware of spoilers.

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A dance of slicey death
(with apologies to Eddie Campbell)

Hit-Girl takes a licking.
Hit-Girl takes a licking.
Chloe cuts with a knife.
Chloe cuts with a knife.

  Old books can be indecent books
  Though recent books are bolder,
  For filth (I'm glad to say)
  Is in the mind of the beholder.
  When correctly viewed,
  Everything is lewd.
  I could tell you things about Peter Pan —
  And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!
       — Tom Lehrer, "Smut"

 

There is a possibly apocryphal story that at a certain point in his career, Picasso (or maybe it was Dali) grew so cynical about his own fame that he took to selling blank canvasses alongside his paintings. The story resonates, because I remember seeing a Picasso at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Admittedly I was a callow youth and might have missed some brilliant subtlety in that enormous canvas, but what it looked like to me was nothing more nor less than a joke at the expense of whoever would be willing to pay money for such a sloppy monstrosity. It looked to me like Picasso had slapped the canvas with a house-painting brush until it was mostly filled by artless black lines and white spaces.

As I said, it might be that I missed some deeper layer of meaning but I suspect not. I've seen that Picasso damned well could paint when he was of a mind to, and I didn't see any evidence that that painting was one of those times.

That canvas is why I am so ready to believe the story about the blank canvasses. The fine art world is such a confidence racket (see Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word if you haven't noticed it for yourself) why wouldn't a succesful and cynical artist test it to see just how gullible it could be?

I've seen a couple of movies recently which brought to mind the above anecdote, as well as the fable of the emporer's new clothes.

One is an art-house film, directed by one of Canada's regulars at Cannes, at director whose movies win prizes but sell few tickets. The other is a crass and violent film that made Roger Ebert "sad" and which has also appalled all sorts of people who haven't seen it.

One film boasts leaden dialogue, the other reparté that, if not quite Shakespearean, still sparkles by comparison; one boasts an utterly forgettable score of sacharine strings that bear no apparent connection to what is occuring on-screen, the other a soundtract carefully chosen not just to accompany but to augment each scene; one film opens with a narrative voice-over which is almost immediately forgotten, the other begins with the voice-over and — succesfully — maintains it.

One is (or pretends to be) a study of sexual obsession and a portrait of a family threatened by the estrangement of man and wife and by a sexually powerful interloper (which also gives the director the chance to get his actresses naked and to make out with each other though — since this is Art — neither of them appears to have any fun doing so.

The other is an unabashed fantasy of violence and vengeance, a portrait of a nerdy teenage boy who dons a costume to fight crime (and who mostly gets brutally beaten for his troubles) and of an 11 year-old girl who lives out her father's fantasies and really does succeed in slicing, stabbing, gutting, shooting and otherwise slaughtering a veritable legion of bad-guys, all while cursing up a blue storm (yes, folks, even the dreaded C-word).

No prizes for guessing which film I think is worth your time.

Warning: Come-on: Swearing and gratuitous nudity behind the fake cut to my website.

ed_rex: (Default)

A dance of slicey death
(with apologies to Eddie Campbell)

Hit-Girl takes a licking.
Hit-Girl takes a licking.
Chloe cuts with a knife.
Chloe cuts with a knife.

  Old books can be indecent books
  Though recent books are bolder,
  For filth (I'm glad to say)
  Is in the mind of the beholder.
  When correctly viewed,
  Everything is lewd.
  I could tell you things about Peter Pan —
  And the Wizard of Oz, there's a dirty old man!
       — Tom Lehrer, "Smut"

 

There is a possibly apocryphal story that at a certain point in his career, Picasso (or maybe it was Dali) grew so cynical about his own fame that he took to selling blank canvasses alongside his paintings. The story resonates, because I remember seeing a Picasso at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Admittedly I was a callow youth and might have missed some brilliant subtlety in that enormous canvas, but what it looked like to me was nothing more nor less than a joke at the expense of whoever would be willing to pay money for such a sloppy monstrosity. It looked to me like Picasso had slapped the canvas with a house-painting brush until it was mostly filled by artless black lines and white spaces.

As I said, it might be that I missed some deeper layer of meaning but I suspect not. I've seen that Picasso damned well could paint when he was of a mind to, and I didn't see any evidence that that painting was one of those times.

That canvas is why I am so ready to believe the story about the blank canvasses. The fine art world is such a confidence racket (see Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word if you haven't noticed it for yourself) why wouldn't a succesful and cynical artist test it to see just how gullible it could be?

I've seen a couple of movies recently which brought to mind the above anecdote, as well as the fable of the emporer's new clothes.

One is an art-house film, directed by one of Canada's regulars at Cannes, at director whose movies win prizes but sell few tickets. The other is a crass and violent film that made Roger Ebert "sad" and which has also appalled all sorts of people who haven't seen it.

One film boasts leaden dialogue, the other reparté that, if not quite Shakespearean, still sparkles by comparison; one boasts an utterly forgettable score of sacharine strings that bear no apparent connection to what is occuring on-screen, the other a soundtract carefully chosen not just to accompany but to augment each scene; one film opens with a narrative voice-over which is almost immediately forgotten, the other begins with the voice-over and — succesfully — maintains it.

One is (or pretends to be) a study of sexual obsession and a portrait of a family threatened by the estrangement of man and wife and by a sexually powerful interloper (which also gives the director the chance to get his actresses naked and to make out with each other though — since this is Art — neither of them appears to have any fun doing so.

The other is an unabashed fantasy of violence and vengeance, a portrait of a nerdy teenage boy who dons a costume to fight crime (and who mostly gets brutally beaten for his troubles) and of an 11 year-old girl who lives out her father's fantasies and really does succeed in slicing, stabbing, gutting, shooting and otherwise slaughtering a veritable legion of bad-guys, all while cursing up a blue storm (yes, folks, even the dreaded C-word).

No prizes for guessing which film I think is worth your time.

Warning: Come-on: Swearing and gratuitous nudity behind the fake cut to my website.

ed_rex: (Default)

It's 17:39 Eastern time.

  • Looks like the Habs have had it and I don't have the strength to pretend my cheers can make a difference.

  • I'm about to release a critical analysis of the movies, Kick-Ass and Chloe. Perhaps surprisingly, there are parallels to be drawn. And also, it will give me my first legitimate chance to post photos of bare breasts on Edifice Rex Online. But click tomorrow, not now;

  • "The Hungry Earth" is far and away the best Doctor Who episode of the season; maybe going all the way back to "Turn Left" (which I know, wasn't really even a part one of two). Here's hoping we get even a decend follow-up;

  • Raven comes home on Monday. That makes up for everything bad and lays extra goodness on every dream of happiness.
ed_rex: (Default)

Hard Candy is hard viewing — as it should be

Hard candy poster
Hard Candy
Written by Brian Nelson
Directed by David Slade
Starring:
Ellen Page
Patrick Wilson
Released April 14, 2006

Hardy Candy opens with an angled shot of a computer screen, where a flirtatious on-line chat is taking place between Lensman319 and Thonggrrrl14. Before long, we learn that the former is 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) and the latter, 14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page. After a brief on-screen exchange and as the camera moves ever-closer to the screen, Hayley types,

          "okay, let's do it
          hook up i mean"

and the viewer knows they're in for some kind of ugly ride.

The camera cuts to a close of a piece of cake being bitten into with a fork and we here Hayley moaning with (almost) an orgasmic pleasure. When at last we see her face, she looks oh so young — and her lower lip is dirtied with chocolate.

Jeff approaches from behind, asks her name and Hayley, embarrassed, says she'd hoped to seem more sophisticated when they met. She asks if he wants some cake and he says yes, then cleans her lip with his thumb.

Page plays Hayley perfectly. Struggling for sophistication beyond her years, a little nervous, maybe even a little scared, but determined not to make a fool of herself.

Despite our knowledge that Kohlver is a 30 year-old man who has been knowingly flirting with that very young girl, Wilson makes him charming, even sympathetic. Maybe he's not a predator, maybe we're simply about to witness the blossoming of an unusual friendship, a la the under-rated 1999 Sarah Polley vehicle Guinevere, an age-gap relationship psycho-drama.

But this is not that kind of movie. No, it's a thriller (I prefer the old-school term, suspense, but that seems to have gone by the way-side) and I give little away by saying so.

By the 10:40 mark, Hayley has agreed to come back to Jeff's place.

The film includes almost no incidental music or sound effects, but the wordless drive to Jeff's very stylish digs is very effectively accompanied by a quietly ominous instrumental.

I don't want to bore you with an extended précis, nor do I want to risk giving away any of the many twists and turns of the plot. Suffice it to say that this movie is a thriller and that it is not another woman-in-the-refrigerator story.

Hard candy

I will say that, not long after Hayley and Jeff have arrived at his place, Hayley has drugged him and he awakens tied into a rolling chair.

And the thriller begins.

By "thriller", I don't mean gore, nor running and chasing and there are no big explosions here. Hard Candy is all about dialogue and suggestion, a battle of wills, not brawn (to be fair, there are a few scenes of physical struggle as well, shot in a low-keyed fashion that is nevertheless incredibly intense.

As in Hitchcock's Rear Window, first-time director David Slade makes the claustrophobic most of a single set and a dialogue-heavy script. There is no cheating here but only a relentless tension that doesn't break until the very end.

And that climax, when it arrives, does so like an unhappy orgasm; not so much a pleasure as it is simply a relief — one can only shout "Oh my god!" at the screen so many times before one is desperate for the ride to be over.

But is it Art?

Paedophilia is a pretty hot topic these days. Children are worried about and protected as never before — at least, as never before in my life-time nor those of my parents. Our instantaneous mass communications system means that a child abducted in Alberta becomes national news, perhaps international, and every incident adds another layer to to the burden of paranoia under which so many of us operate.

But Hard Candy isn't "about" paedophilia any more than it is "about" castration, nor even the psychology of revenge or the morality of vigilante justice.

And neither is it "about" any kind of feminism, except in the most implicit way. Hayley Stark is at no point an object in the film, she is one of two subjects, as fully (or as shallowly — your mileage may vary) realized a character as her antagonist.

David Slade and Brian Nelson seem to properly understand that didactic art is almost invariably bad art. There are no lessons in Hard Candy, no cheap psychology to "explain" the characters.

There is only a story and, when it is done, it is up to the viewer to make sense (or not) of what they have witnessed.

Both principal actors are excellent in their roles and a special nod must be given to Page, who was only 17 when the movie was shot. She is utterly convincing as a preternaturally sophisticated 14 year-old, by turns skittish and implacable, coquettish and naive (and when, at one point late in the proceedings, her plan seems to have come apart, her fear and desperation are almost tangible).

One may quibble that no 14 year-old has as sophisticated a vocabulary as is provided by Nelson, but then again, it's a big world and the variety of human capability is vast; while watching, I had no trouble suspending my disbelief and, in retrospect, I think I still can.

Hard Candy might not (quite) reach the heights of Great Art, but as a thriller, it is as intense and suspenseful a ride as I have encountered in a very long time and one that does not (as is so often the case in an age when "thriller" is too often synonymous with spectacular explosions and/or graphic blood 'n' entrails) insult neither the viewer's rational or their moral intelligence.

Originally posted to Edifice Rex Online

ed_rex: (Default)

Hard Candy is hard viewing — as it should be

Hard candy poster
Hard Candy
Written by Brian Nelson
Directed by David Slade
Starring:
Ellen Page
Patrick Wilson
Released April 14, 2006

Hardy Candy opens with an angled shot of a computer screen, where a flirtatious on-line chat is taking place between Lensman319 and Thonggrrrl14. Before long, we learn that the former is 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) and the latter, 14 year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page. After a brief on-screen exchange and as the camera moves ever-closer to the screen, Hayley types,

          "okay, let's do it
          hook up i mean"

and the viewer knows they're in for some kind of ugly ride.

The camera cuts to a close of a piece of cake being bitten into with a fork and we here Hayley moaning with (almost) an orgasmic pleasure. When at last we see her face, she looks oh so young — and her lower lip is dirtied with chocolate.

Jeff approaches from behind, asks her name and Hayley, embarrassed, says she'd hoped to seem more sophisticated when they met. She asks if he wants some cake and he says yes, then cleans her lip with his thumb.

Page plays Hayley perfectly. Struggling for sophistication beyond her years, a little nervous, maybe even a little scared, but determined not to make a fool of herself.

Despite our knowledge that Kohlver is a 30 year-old man who has been knowingly flirting with that very young girl, Wilson makes him charming, even sympathetic. Maybe he's not a predator, maybe we're simply about to witness the blossoming of an unusual friendship, a la the under-rated 1999 Sarah Polley vehicle Guinevere, an age-gap relationship psycho-drama.

But this is not that kind of movie. No, it's a thriller (I prefer the old-school term, suspense, but that seems to have gone by the way-side) and I give little away by saying so.

By the 10:40 mark, Hayley has agreed to come back to Jeff's place.

The film includes almost no incidental music or sound effects, but the wordless drive to Jeff's very stylish digs is very effectively accompanied by a quietly ominous instrumental.

I don't want to bore you with an extended précis, nor do I want to risk giving away any of the many twists and turns of the plot. Suffice it to say that this movie is a thriller and that it is not another woman-in-the-refrigerator story.

Hard candy

I will say that, not long after Hayley and Jeff have arrived at his place, Hayley has drugged him and he awakens tied into a rolling chair.

And the thriller begins.

By "thriller", I don't mean gore, nor running and chasing and there are no big explosions here. Hard Candy is all about dialogue and suggestion, a battle of wills, not brawn (to be fair, there are a few scenes of physical struggle as well, shot in a low-keyed fashion that is nevertheless incredibly intense.

As in Hitchcock's Rear Window, first-time director David Slade makes the claustrophobic most of a single set and a dialogue-heavy script. There is no cheating here but only a relentless tension that doesn't break until the very end.

And that climax, when it arrives, does so like an unhappy orgasm; not so much a pleasure as it is simply a relief — one can only shout "Oh my god!" at the screen so many times before one is desperate for the ride to be over.

But is it Art?

Paedophilia is a pretty hot topic these days. Children are worried about and protected as never before — at least, as never before in my life-time nor those of my parents. Our instantaneous mass communications system means that a child abducted in Alberta becomes national news, perhaps international, and every incident adds another layer to to the burden of paranoia under which so many of us operate.

But Hard Candy isn't "about" paedophilia any more than it is "about" castration, nor even the psychology of revenge or the morality of vigilante justice.

And neither is it "about" any kind of feminism, except in the most implicit way. Hayley Stark is at no point an object in the film, she is one of two subjects, as fully (or as shallowly — your mileage may vary) realized a character as her antagonist.

David Slade and Brian Nelson seem to properly understand that didactic art is almost invariably bad art. There are no lessons in Hard Candy, no cheap psychology to "explain" the characters.

There is only a story and, when it is done, it is up to the viewer to make sense (or not) of what they have witnessed.

Both principal actors are excellent in their roles and a special nod must be given to Page, who was only 17 when the movie was shot. She is utterly convincing as a preternaturally sophisticated 14 year-old, by turns skittish and implacable, coquettish and naive (and when, at one point late in the proceedings, her plan seems to have come apart, her fear and desperation are almost tangible).

One may quibble that no 14 year-old has as sophisticated a vocabulary as is provided by Nelson, but then again, it's a big world and the variety of human capability is vast; while watching, I had no trouble suspending my disbelief and, in retrospect, I think I still can.

Hard Candy might not (quite) reach the heights of Great Art, but as a thriller, it is as intense and suspenseful a ride as I have encountered in a very long time and one that does not (as is so often the case in an age when "thriller" is too often synonymous with spectacular explosions and/or graphic blood 'n' entrails) insult neither the viewer's rational or their moral intelligence.

Originally posted to Edifice Rex Online

ed_rex: (Default)

Star Trek: The first thirty minutes or,

Why I (almost) never go out to the movies anymore

More years ago than I care to count, the science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril taught me one of the only vital rules of writing.

"When you're editing your work, think about every word in every sentence of every paragraph. If anything doesn't have to be there, take it out!"

Never a dogmatist, Judy didn't mean that that rule (or any rule) had to be slavishly followed. She did mean that, if you broke a rule, you should know damned well why you were breaking it.

Which, yes, brings me — typically late to a Hollywood party — to J.J. Abrams' "re-boot" of the venerable Star Trek franchise.

Star Trek has received pretty good reviews. The Globe and Mail gave it three-stars, saying, "Star Trek gets its mojo back in J. J. Abrams's swinging reboot of the franchise. Smart and youthful, with a well-balanced package of humour, crisp action and character-based drama ...", and it's getting about 95% positive ranking on RottenTomatoes.com (whatever exactly that means).

All of which strikes me as at once bizarre and all-too typical of the (lack of) film criticism, at least when it comes to the latest "blockbuster" offering.

Now, the movies has its moments and I can assure nervous Trekkies (if there are any who haven't yet seen it) that Star Trek's casting and characterizations of the iconic characters are both pretty good. The new-comers successfully walk the fine line between imitation and interpretation of such stalwarts as Kirk, Spock and McCoy. On the other hand, there would be no movie were it not for its idiot plot — if you can tell me why Leonard Nimoy's "Spock prime" (as I think I've seen the character referred to) didn't just walk the 14 kilometres to the Star Fleet outpost on his own, I'll give you a gold star.

But never mind the plot details or the casting specifics; I want to talk about the film's first 30 minutes, a bloated and ponderous admixture of emotionally pointless action scenes and a pseudo-psychological, "realistic" background for the (re-booted) James Tiberius Kirk.

Star Trek clocks in at just under two hours, though the actual story doesn't really get underway until we're past that first 30 minutes, during which half-hour minutes, we learn the following:

  • Kirk's father was (for 12 minutes) a starship Captain who died heroically, saving his wife and his in-the-process-of-being-born son (I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of The Birth Scene);
  • as a child, Kirk was already a hell-raiser and had a poor relationship with his step-father;
  • as a young man, Kirk was still a hell-raiser as well as being a drinker who enjoyed (but wasn't particularly good at) bar-room brawling;
  • Kirk is nevertheless very intelligent, stubborn and an original thinker; and
  • er, that's about it (to be fair, four or five minutes of that 30 minutes is also devoted to Spock's childhood and early adult years).

That's an awful lot of time to spend learning so little and, frankly, were I not an old (if lapsed) fan, I'd have have walked at around the 15-minute mark.

Compare the above with what Russell T Davies managed in only two minutes, with his "re-boot" of the even more venerable Doctor Who franchise. (Here's a Youtube link, well-worth taking two minutes to look at. I'll wait until you're done.)

* * *

As (I hope) you'll have seen, in that 110 seconds, we learn the following about Rose, who would be the viewer-identification character over the subsequent two seasons of Doctor Who, and who was an entirely new character to boot.

  • The opening (not-quite) 20 seconds, panning from empty space, to the moon, to the Earth, to England, to Rose's alarm-clock, give us the sense this isn't going to be a domestic drama but rather one with a very broad scope;
  • Rose is young enough that she still lives with her mother;
  • Rose's mother doesn't seem to have a job;
  • Rose does have a job, as a clerk in a department store, and uses public transportation; in other words, she is working class; and,
  • Rose has a boyfriend, who appears to be a bit of a clown and who is, apparently incidentally, black, while Rose is white.

And at the one-minute, fifty-second mark, the story begins, while at the same point in Star Trek we've just witnessed a generic battle scene, the significance of which we know absolutely nothing about. If this kind of long-winded story-telling is typical of what Hollywood is producing nowadays, I'm going to keep staying away from the movie theatre, no matter how many stars are awarded by the critics.

With some judicious editing, and some repairs to the idiot plot and Star Trek would have made a decent one-hour television episode. At twice that length, I am simply baffled by its apparent popularity.

(Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.)

ed_rex: (Default)

Star Trek: The first thirty minutes or,

Why I (almost) never go out to the movies anymore

More years ago than I care to count, the science fiction writer and editor Judith Merril taught me one of the only vital rules of writing.

"When you're editing your work, think about every word in every sentence of every paragraph. If anything doesn't have to be there, take it out!"

Never a dogmatist, Judy didn't mean that that rule (or any rule) had to be slavishly followed. She did mean that, if you broke a rule, you should know damned well why you were breaking it.

Which, yes, brings me — typically late to a Hollywood party — to J.J. Abrams' "re-boot" of the venerable Star Trek franchise.

Star Trek has received pretty good reviews. The Globe and Mail gave it three-stars, saying, "Star Trek gets its mojo back in J. J. Abrams's swinging reboot of the franchise. Smart and youthful, with a well-balanced package of humour, crisp action and character-based drama ...", and it's getting about 95% positive ranking on RottenTomatoes.com (whatever exactly that means).

All of which strikes me as at once bizarre and all-too typical of the (lack of) film criticism, at least when it comes to the latest "blockbuster" offering.

Now, the movies has its moments and I can assure nervous Trekkies (if there are any who haven't yet seen it) that Star Trek's casting and characterizations of the iconic characters are both pretty good. The new-comers successfully walk the fine line between imitation and interpretation of such stalwarts as Kirk, Spock and McCoy. On the other hand, there would be no movie were it not for its idiot plot — if you can tell me why Leonard Nimoy's "Spock prime" (as I think I've seen the character referred to) didn't just walk the 14 kilometres to the Star Fleet outpost on his own, I'll give you a gold star.

But never mind the plot details or the casting specifics; I want to talk about the film's first 30 minutes, a bloated and ponderous admixture of emotionally pointless action scenes and a pseudo-psychological, "realistic" background for the (re-booted) James Tiberius Kirk.

Star Trek clocks in at just under two hours, though the actual story doesn't really get underway until we're past that first 30 minutes, during which half-hour minutes, we learn the following:

  • Kirk's father was (for 12 minutes) a starship Captain who died heroically, saving his wife and his in-the-process-of-being-born son (I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of The Birth Scene);
  • as a child, Kirk was already a hell-raiser and had a poor relationship with his step-father;
  • as a young man, Kirk was still a hell-raiser as well as being a drinker who enjoyed (but wasn't particularly good at) bar-room brawling;
  • Kirk is nevertheless very intelligent, stubborn and an original thinker; and
  • er, that's about it (to be fair, four or five minutes of that 30 minutes is also devoted to Spock's childhood and early adult years).

That's an awful lot of time to spend learning so little and, frankly, were I not an old (if lapsed) fan, I'd have have walked at around the 15-minute mark.

Compare the above with what Russell T Davies managed in only two minutes, with his "re-boot" of the even more venerable Doctor Who franchise. (Here's a Youtube link, well-worth taking two minutes to look at. I'll wait until you're done.)

* * *

As (I hope) you'll have seen, in that 110 seconds, we learn the following about Rose, who would be the viewer-identification character over the subsequent two seasons of Doctor Who, and who was an entirely new character to boot.

  • The opening (not-quite) 20 seconds, panning from empty space, to the moon, to the Earth, to England, to Rose's alarm-clock, give us the sense this isn't going to be a domestic drama but rather one with a very broad scope;
  • Rose is young enough that she still lives with her mother;
  • Rose's mother doesn't seem to have a job;
  • Rose does have a job, as a clerk in a department store, and uses public transportation; in other words, she is working class; and,
  • Rose has a boyfriend, who appears to be a bit of a clown and who is, apparently incidentally, black, while Rose is white.

And at the one-minute, fifty-second mark, the story begins, while at the same point in Star Trek we've just witnessed a generic battle scene, the significance of which we know absolutely nothing about. If this kind of long-winded story-telling is typical of what Hollywood is producing nowadays, I'm going to keep staying away from the movie theatre, no matter how many stars are awarded by the critics.

With some judicious editing, and some repairs to the idiot plot and Star Trek would have made a decent one-hour television episode. At twice that length, I am simply baffled by its apparent popularity.

(Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.)

ed_rex: (Default)
1985 saw me dabble in cinephilia. I spent a lot of time at the nearest repertory theatre (at least once, crutched down to Bloor from Saint-Claire and back again; but my Adventures With a Broken Leg are a matter for another day), mostly Hollywood's days of glorious black and white - Casablanca, The Petrified Forest, The Maltese Falcon and other noirish classics, along with features by the Marx Brothers - and who knew that Beat the Devil would turn out to be a comedy! I love Bogart and Bacall, Hepburn and Grant, and of course, Peter Lorre's utterly sleazy supporting roles.

But I did not entirely eschew the current cinema. Two films in particular spoke to me. It was a time, and I was at an age, when the possibility of a nuclear holocaust seemed a clear and present danger; when Ronald Reagan seemed intent on rewriting the word, America, with a 'k' in place of the softer 'c'; when anyone who wanted to know, did know, that "our" side was funding deaths squads in Latin America while undermining democracy at home.

In short, it was a time not entirely unlike today, except (hard as it is to believe) the American President was smarter than the one occupying that House now. And both Terry Gilliam's utterly bleak update of 1984, Brazil and Ray Lawrence's adaptation of the Peter Carey novel, Bliss, a film which matched Gilliam's cynical and despairing vision of our society, while still offering the viewer at least the possibility of redemption and possibly even love.

It was a film that made me laugh, that shocked and appalled me with some of its imagery, and that left me with tears of both joy and sadness with its final, simple, elegiac final voiced over line: "He was our father. He told stories and he planted trees."

Bliss


I've re-watched the film many times, sometimes alone, sometimes on dates (I even used it as a halfway serious way to vet new or potential girlfriends. The one who looked me in the eye and said, "That's the dumbest movie I've ever seen in my life!", well, we didn't last long. And come to think of it, Laura wasn't much impressed with it either; I should have paid more attention. But I digress), and it still brings tears to my eyes and a catch to my throat.

It's a film that moves me as very few have managed, that speaks to me, in other words.

Some 23 years later, I finally stumbled across a copy of the original, while on a spontaneous visit to my local Sally Ann. As you can imagine, I wanted to love the novel, as well. Since it's a pretty safe rule-of-thumb that the original book is better than the movie, I almost (the movie was too good to trust to rough-and-ready rules, of thumb or otherwise) expected to love it.

I did try Carey's more recent and very well-regarded novel, The True History of the Kelly Gang a few months back, but was unable/unwilling to finish it. The story didn't compel me, the slang (because I wasn't compelled) became a slog and one day I put it down and only picked it up again to shelve it.

I did finish Bliss, and even enjoyed it, but certainly can't bring myself to enthusiastically rave about it.

Bliss is the story of Harry Joy, a successful advertising executive with (he thinks) a wife and children who love him and friends who care about him. The near-death experience with which the novel opens (a heart attack, 9 minutes without a beat; an out-of-body astral projection) establishes both the slightly surreal tone of the book (and imagery in the film) and sets in motion the plot. For when Harry recovers, his illusions have been torn away.

His wife doesn't love him; his son deals drugs; his daughter is a communist who sometimes pays her brother for his drugs with service instead of money. The list goes on.

After a series of "tests" during his recovery, Harry decides that he is in Hell and that his only way out is to be Good.

Naturally, many obstacles and temptations stand in his way (not the least, yet not the most of them, is that his family has him committed to a mental institution whose only interest in him is the income he brings in) and not even the not-at-all stereotypical whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, Honey Barbara, can save him.

Film adaptations of short stories usually work better than adaptations of full-length novels. And maybe that serves to explain what is wrong with Bliss, the novel.

Though the novel clocks in at nearly 300 pages, the film includes nearly all of its scenes. With elegant and meaningful imagery, Ray Lawrence shows where Carey all all too often tells.

The scene in which Harry is told that an elephant sat on his car is, in the film, a very funny minute and a half or so; in the novel, it is several pages of exposition which left me thinking, Yes, I can see how that might be funny, but as Carey wrote it, it barely brought a smile to my lips.

There is enough here to keep you reading, enough to image how Ray Lawrence saw the bones of a very good film hiding among the exposition, but it is not, sadly, a very good book.
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... With A History of Violence, the notoriously weird and weirdly intense David Cronenberg has produced what may be one of the best films I've ever seen. Cronenberg has married his continuing interest in the grotesque and the violent with a clear, linear narrative thread that, for perhaps the first time since he made The Fly in 1986, is satisfying as "cinema" and as story-telling.

Thoroughly modern in its sensibility and including two of the most real sex scenes I have ever encountered on film (about which more anon), A History of Violence at the same time reminded me of such early Hollywood "gangster" films as the 1936 film, The Petrified Forest, combining action with psychology and wrapping both in an intense, compelling narrative drama.

In brief, the story concerns Viggo (yes, that Viggo) Mortensen as Tom Stall, a happily married family man, living and running a diner in a small American town. With a teenage son and a young daughter, he is not a wealthy man, but by all evidence, he is a happy one. He loves his wife and his children and appears to enjoy the life he has made for himself.

All this changes when three desperados hold up his diner at closing. Not only do they insist that Tom is actually a gangster from Philadelphia named Joey, they don't stop at robbing the place. They intend on rape and, almost certainly, murder.

And Tom Stall reveals a completely different side to himself as he takes out all three, leaving three dead bodies on the diner floor following a brief, brutal and not at all gratuitous battle. He is quickly proclaimed an American hero, his face flashed across television screens across the world - and across Philadelphia, where others too, believe they recognize the man known as Joey. It isn't long before an ominous black limousine is haunting his small town.

Beyond that, the plot follows two main themes: Is Tom Stall who he says he is and, whether or not, will he be able to deal with the vengeance meant for "Joey", and, if he survives, can he hold his family together?

For Tom Stall clearly loves his family. I mentioned that A History of Violence contains two of the best sex scenes I have ever seen on film. The first occurs early, when Tom and his wife, Edie (played by Maria Bello, an actress whose name I don't recognize, but who plays her role to perfection) manage to get an evening free of the kids.

Far from graphic, the scene nevertheless shows good sex in all its joyous, sometimes awkward, always loving splendour. Tom and Edie laugh, embrace, go down, and struggle to find the comfortable position, all while displaying the physical intensity of sex between two people who have known and loved - and still love - each other for 20 years.

The second, much later in the film, when the marriage threatens to unravel amidst the possibility that it has been build upon a foundation of lies, is brutal and intense, but still entirely real. Cronenberg shows how sex can communicate not only love, but anger and fear.

But in the sex scenes, as in the violent ones, Cronenberg shows an admirable restraint; we see only what is necessary to move the story along. There is no pornography to the violence - no lingering, loving shots of blown-off heads or balletic fight scenes - as there is no voyeuristic eroticism to the sex. Instead, we see emotions and intellect. I have seldom seen a film-maker so deftly, so subtly, follow the writer's dictum, "Show, don't tell."

Despite the theme of a man beset by evil forces, this isn't High Noon. Tom Stall's town is not one of cowards and his family stands by him without question, at least until they began to wonder if he is telling them the truth.

It is, of course, too soon to tell, but after one viewing, I have little hesitation is saying that A History of Violence is a masterpiece. Go see it; you have never seen a movie quite like it.
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My period of sobriety lasted almost exactly half as long as scheduled.

In retrospect, my timing was lousy. Laura has been very busy, with school, with work, and with hanging out 'till all hours after working. I have found myself waiting up like some neurotic father while worry, jealousy and resentment played hideous, destructive tunes in my mind's ear.

Some of my complaints are legitimate, others much less so. There is the fact that I do the lion's share of the domestic chores around here; there is the fact that she has a tendency to say she'll be home at, say, 9:00 and then roll in at 1:00 in the morning.

But she is only 18 and she wasn't raised doing chores (our kids, if we ever have them, will be, by damn!). She is going to live in the moment more now than she will when she is 30, let alone 40. And we are, slowly, working out the balance around here.

Otherwise, I am not dealing as well as I'd hoped with the changes in her life and the resulting tensions those changes cause in me.

Anyway. Friday afternoon found me on a bench outside work. Laura was supposed to pick me up at 5:00. She arrived - running - at about 5:55. I was puffing what I intended to be my final cigarette, determined to ride off into the incoming evening without leaving a forwarding address (can we say "passive-aggressive", boys and girls?).

But she did arrive, properly apologetic (meaning: sorry, but not grovelling; these things happen) and patient with me as I grunted a greeting and proffered a perfunctory hug and kiss. We had planned on going to a movie (actually, don't click the link; it's one of the slowest, most annoying sites I've seen in years), but we clearly weren't going to make the 7:00 o'clock show.

"What do you want to do?"

"I dunno."

"Are you hungry? Where do you want to eat?"

"I dunno."

"We'll eat, then go to the 9:00 o'clock showing."

"Ugh. Maybe."

And fucking cetera. Yes, I was sulking, an ugly trait I can't seem to shake.

She did drag me out for a meal. And, in my over-tired (no, not drinking has not done anything for my recent insomnia), over-stressed state, I decided - fuck it! - and ordered the best reasonably-priced brew on tap at the Bishop and the Belcher - Alexander Keith's, which - let's face it - is only a decent brew when compared to Ex or Canadian. But I digress.

So, yes, I broke my fast a week early.

But strangely, I don't regret it. The alcohol did its job and helped loosen me up, to the point where I (I think - I hope!) was able to calmly lay out the reasons for my stress, ask for certain changes from Laura, and, mostly, get it out of my system. The situations are new to both of us, and both of us will have to adapt, compromise and work out ways to share one another's lives without one of us suffocating the other.

By the time we left I was in reasonable spirits - though still exhausted (Thursday night saw me get five and a half hours of sleep, possibly a record for the week).

And so we saw The Aristocrats, a documentary about an apparently ubiquitous joke in the world of comedians.

In a nutshell, it goes like this (and no, I'm not giving anything away):

Guys goes into a talent agent's office, says, "You've got to see this act! It's amazing!"

Agent says, "Yeah? Tell me about it."

"Well, it's a family act - father, mother, two kids and a dog..."

The guy then proceeds to describe the filthiest, most perverted and disgusting "act" any particular comedian can come up with - incest, foecal matter, vomit, are all common themes, the longer, more grotesque and elaborate the better.

The agent is not impressed, but still morbidly curious. "Geez, that's really quite an act. What are they called, anyway?"

"The Aristocrats!"


So. Yes. It's a documentary, featuring comedians ranging from Phyllys Diller to Bob Saget to South Park's Cartman, telling what might be the dirtiest joke in the world. And there were times when I was literally having a hard time catching my breath, when tears rolled down my cheeks.

Highly recommended.

And meanwhile, Laura went out to a party last night and I was, happily, utterly comfortable with the fact she was going without me (in fact, I'd said no). I finished my review of Quicksilver, ate some Chinese food and read Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, only four years late. (It's not bad; but I fear superheroes are no longer something I can take seriously, no matter how well done.)

That's it. Pointless meandering over for the moment.

July 2017

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