The Peeve

Went to see The Grudge with Drella today up in Marin. To quote Crow T Robot: “This movie’s really not very good!”

It wasn’t awful, I guess, and there were some genuinely creepy things going on. Especially at the climax. And I did like that they kept it set in Tokyo, and explained adquately why there’d be so many Americans involved in the story. But it just didn’t hold together at all and just seemed silly. A bunch of horror movie scenes strung together with a bare minimum of real plot or sense at all.

And there were some scenes that were just laughable. In particular the one where Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character does a web search for stories with the name “Tohio” occuring in the year 2001, and instantly comes up with not just one but both of the stories that are relevant to what she needs. The bit where a woman’s in the elevator and sees the ghosts of Tohio and his mother on every single floor was pretty silly too — I kept expecting them to go, “Um, lady, could we just… okay and the… could you stop the elevat… okay, but…”

When we were out in the mall waiting for Drella’s ride to come, a young Asian boy came crawling past us on the floor. (We’d been standing next to the kids’ play area). He stopped, turned and looked directly at both of us. We both got kind of a panicked look on our faces and backed away slowly; hope we didn’t traumatize the poor kid.

Free at Last?

This is the first weekend I’ve had that I can remember where I wasn’t either at work or feeling like I was supposed to be at work. It seems that this entire year has been one long crunch mode. Over and over again I’ve turned down offers to go out and do stuff, because I just didn’t have the time. My Tivo is hemmoraging perfectly fine programming that I just don’t have time to watch. I’ve got a stack of videogames that I said I’d check out when I got time, a stack of DVDs I’ve bought and haven’t yet unwrapped, and (most daunting) a stack of books that I’m determined to read to make myself more literate.

And this weekend I did nothing. Yes, I spent a lot of it just sitting and staring. Everything seems like too much effort; even watching a movie. I just wanted to be. I’ve been in that weird state of hyper-boredom — plenty of stuff to do, but not wanting a part of any of it, and still desperate for something to happen.

I did finally go see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and I thought that it was just amazing. Except for Gwyneth Paltrow, but she gave it her best shot. There was just so much that the movie got dead-on right, that it seemed like it came directly out of my subconscious — that is exactly what a ray-gun is supposed to look and sound like!

Other than that, though, nothing. And it’s been driving me nuts. Maybe I’m still just decompressing. I hope it’s over with soon.

No hay venda

Another night, another long-winded movie review. I watched Mulholland Drive last night, even though it was way way too late. I kept thinking I should cut it off, but it was so compelling I had to keep watching.

I’ve been hearing about the movie for years, but all I’d heard was that it was “long, obtuse, and nonsensical, but it had two chicks totally making out with each other.” I wish I hadn’t dismissed it so quickly, and I’d seen it sooner. Granted, I’m not the target audience, but the sex scenes weren’t all that spectacular, and definitely not the most memorable thing about the movie. And maybe it was just the sleeping pills talking, but it all made perfect sense to me.

This has turned into something of an unintentional movie festival, since the last few movies I’ve watched have all had similar themes: passion, obsession, desire vs. reality. The story, such as it is, has already been told hundreds of times before, but where Lynch’s genius comes in is making it relevant to anyone, instead of just another True Hollywood Story. Not everyone has had a dream of going to Hollywood and becoming a Big Star in the movies, but everyone knows what it feels like to have a dream deferred. It’s never a slow, inevitable decline into disappointment — you wake up and suddenly realize that you’ve been crushed. You’ve lost everything, to the point where you’re not even the same person you once were. And Lynch tells the whole story like a dream, “distilled movie,” where you’re not bogged down in a predictable story but having images implanted directly into your brain.

This movie made me realize that for all the artifice and obscurity, David Lynch is surprisingly sentimental and traditionalist. He does innocent characters better than anyone. Never mocking them, never reducing them to caricature, but genuinely following along with excitement as they start out on a new adventure and get wrapped up in the intrigue. They’re completely earnest. They’re naive, but not stupid. And when they lose that innocence, it’s always sad, never an inevitable part of growing up (although Audrey Horne from “Twin Peaks” might be a case of that). His stories have a clear delineation between good and evil — his villains are compelling but never sympathetic; they’re cold and inscrutable, or petty and venal. They are the ones who are caricatures.

When Betty and Rita are listening to the singer perform “Crying” at the theater, they’re genuinely moved. Their emotions are completely real. Even though they’ve just been told by the MC that none of this is real, it’s all artifice, it’s all a recording. It’s all real to them. And when the singer collapses but the song continues, it’s genuinely tragic. It’s not a case of “well, we warned you not to get too wrapped up in it.” It’s an incredibly powerful scene and an amazing message: don’t limit yourself, don’t hold back, don’t be afraid to really feel something.

With all the shallow, faux-cynical, and self-consciously ironic movies we’re drowning in, it’s refreshing to realize that the most sincere-yet-not-maudlin filmmaker we have nowadays, is the one who has scenes of violent masturbation, fatal auto accidents, severed ears, and dancing midgets.

Now I’m going to have to buy the soundtrack, just for “Llorando.” And Naomi Watts was absolutely amazing. It’s so cool to see an actress who just “gets” it. She had to be all over the place in the movie, from wide-eyed innocent to spent and embittered, and she played every scene perfectly. My friend Alex tells me that in real life she’s as dumb as a bag of hammers, but I have a hard time believing that. I suspect he’s just jealous because she can do a better American accent than he can.

Go Team Venture!

“I dunno. They just do that.”

Cool things seen tonight: The Venture Brothers, which didn’t get me at first, but now I think it rocks all kinds of ways. Granted, anything with Patrick Warburton in it is guaranteed to be at least entertaining, because he’s just the coolest. At first, I’d dismissed this series as just another “Jonny Quest” parody with the prerequisite “Dr. Quest and Race Bannon were totally gay!” jokes. But it’s a level higher, and it’s hip and just plain funny. It’ll be interesting to see how long it can keep it up. For now, it rocks.

Last week’s episode, Dr. Venture was given a truth serum and when asked his name, he traipsed around the room turning on lamps and saying, “Reading from the top: Lisa Carol Fremont.” Genius.

Another thing seen: Resident Evil: Apocalypse. I liked the first movie better. It wasn’t “good,” but at least it knew what it wanted to do: kill people in ingenious ways, all set to techno music, while showing as much of Milla Jovovich as possible. And yes, she’s wicked hot. So hot and so comfortable in her hotness that she’s game for anything and is willing to go into movies and get all bloody and dirtied up. And indeed, she does kick much ass in the new movie. And yes, you do get to see her naked; I was thinking that they wouldn’t show it since we’d already seen topless zombie hookers earlier. After the two Resident Evil movies and Zoolander, I’m liking Milla Jovovich so much I’m almost willing to watch The Fifth Element again.

But there’s just something missing. They went more cheesy action movie than cheesy horror movie. And so much of it was just by the numbers. And while it was a nice nod to the videogame that they included Jill Valentine, they just made her nothing more than Sultry Look Cop. I wished they had just gone ahead and cast Parker Posey in the role and let her have fun with it. Still, these are probably the best videogame-to-movie adaptations that have been done yet.

And I just saw on Yahoo! that there was a blast and mushroom cloud reported over North Korea. Kind of makes cartoons and zombies seem insignificant. Mercy. I thought we were allowed not to be scared of the bomb anymore, and we just had to be scared of jet planes, sarin gas, anthrax, assault weapons, genocide, xenophobia, and the Patriot Act.

When the Child was a Child…

On the drive into work this morning, I kept thinking about Wings of Desire for some reason. It’s really a beautiful movie overall — very European in that it has absolutely stunning sequences but kind of meanders and doesn’t hold together all that well, plus it has an American TV personality (Peter Falk) playing himself (more or less).

Still, while I like the central love story and the theme of angels wanting to live as humans, what really got me was the opening. There are scenes of people all over Berlin living lives of “quiet desperation;” we hear their worry and their stress in voice-over. And then, we see strangers walking up and putting a hand on their shoulder, and their thoughts turn to hope and peace. And we see that there are angels all over the place, watching over us all. It’s just a beautiful segment, both in concept and in the way it’s presented.

I think the reason I was reminded of it is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’ve always had someone appear for me at the moment I needed them the most. Every time I’ve hit a low point, I’ve had someone come along and pull me out. Every time I’ve been lonely, or hopeless, or just hating myself, someone has appeared and talked me through it, or took my mind off of it, or just said, “You know what? You are who you are, and that’s fine. It’s no big deal. Everything’s going to be okay.” And most of the time, they didn’t even realize what they were doing at the time; how significant it was.

No, I haven’t been drinking tonight. Why do you ask?

Black Adaptation

I’m going to make a concerted effort tonight to actually get new content on this damn website. If I’m successful, it’ll be up in the “Smackdown” section, because I gots lots more to say about Adaptation vs. Solaris.

And in unrelated news: I’ve been renting “Black Adder II” from Netflix and catching up on a couple episodes a night. It’s been years since I saw it last. I had forgotten just how brilliant Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I is. She steals the whole series.

Adaptation

I’d intended to keep all the movie-related stuff out of the blog and in the “Cinematic Smackdown” section, but apparently it’s going to take more time than I’ve got to get the rest of this website up.

I was talking about Solaris last night and was reminded of Adaptation, which is one of my Favorite Movies Ever That I’ve Only Seen Once For Fear That It Wouldn’t Be As Good the Second Time (I saw it again tonight, and it was just as good). It hadn’t occurred to me before, but in some ways they deal with similar concepts.

Even though I loved Being John Malkovich, I’d avoided seeing Adaptation because a friend had told me she’d hated it. Too self-indulgent, too much reliance on a gimmick. But I was out to see Chicago one night and could only endure about 15 minutes of it before I bolted and ran, sneaking into another theater.

Just an idea of how much it connected with me: It starts off with a voice-over on a black screen, and it took me a minute to realize that the movie had started and I wasn’t still listening to my internal monologue. Over the next two hours it talks about the creation of the world, orchids, romance, music, self-doubt, fear, over-thinking relationships, alienation, identity, irony, Hollywood, writer’s block, death, the creative process, the struggle to achieve, and movie-making. And a lot of people seemed to miss the point by thinking that the last 30 minutes or so were a cheap cop-out or a too-clever gimmick, when the “joke” ending is actually the core concept of the entire project, realized.

It’s too simplistic to say that the message of the movie is “don’t over-think everything.” Susan Orlean, in The Orchid Thief, cast herself as a character in the story and talked as much about her perception of the world she’d discovered as the flowers and the people themselves. She used the orchids and her travels with LaRoche as a metaphor for self-discovery and the idea that searching for something that’s always just out of reach can be more satisfying than actually discovering it.

In his adaptation of the book, Charlie Kaufman casts himself (and his imaginary brother) as a character in the story and uses the process of writing the adpataion as a metaphor for his own self-perception and his own self-doubt, the idea that his life could be like a screenplay — figure out everyone’s motivations, follow their story, and reach the logical conclusion. The world he knew existed only in his mind, and all the people he knew were merely, like his brother, different aspects of his own personality. He had to get rid of the notion of “this is the way the story is supposed to play out” and just let it play out on its own. And then find meaning out of it.

When you hear Orlean talk about the movie (she has an overly-cute but interesting and relevant Q&A with herself in the latest editions of The Orchid Thief) it makes that side of it even more clear. Is she offended by her ridiculous, over-the-top portrayal in Adaptation? No, and not just because it’s clearly a parody, but because that’s not her. It’s not even Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her. It’s Streep’s portrayal of Kaufman’s perception of the character of her as necessary for his movie. Kaufman (the character) spends much of the later half of the movie getting over his insecurity and trying to get to know “the real Susan Orlean,” and of course the ending reveals that he can’t and likely never will.

It’s a lot more profound than I can describe here even if this weren’t already over-long, which is exactly why it was such a remarkable screenplay. I really need to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because I hear it’s also got a lot to say about perception vs. reality, especially in regards to relationships. But it’s also got Jim Carrey.

And on a personal note, since this is a blog after all, this has been a very weird weekend. Weird, but wonderful. I think I’ve finally started to realize that I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably will never have everything figured out. But I’m no longer horrified at the concept. Once you’ve figured it out, once you’ve reached the happy ending, the story’s over. And I’m still enjoying myself too much, seeing how everything plays out.

Solaris

I finally started to make headway in my Netflix queue, and one of the movies I watched was Solaris, which a friend had recommended. (The Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney version, not the original).

It was definitely well-made. I like Soderbergh’s movies on the whole, and I especially like that they’re a great balance between mainstream and art-film; he doesn’t pander to the audience, and he takes artistic risks and shoots things in a novel way, but he doesn’t get all pretentious, either.

Natascha McElhone as the wife was really, really impressive — she could’ve turned out either completely unsympathetic, or overly idealized. Instead, she seemed like a real, interesting person. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t dislike George Clooney. He’s not a particularly notable actor unless he’s doing comedy, but I’ve never seen him give a bad performance (since “The Facts of Life,” anyway), and he does a good job of being generally smarmy but overall likeable in whatever he does.

Set design, music, and effects were all good too. Nothing over-done or too flashy; this is a psychological movie, not an effects showcase. The story did seem to jump around and leave a lot of stuff unexplained, feeling as if significant parts of the plot had been edited out. But better that than to bog down in unnecessary exposition and detract from the central relationship.

Still, I hated it. Just found it overwhelmingly depressing and bleak. Maybe I was going into it with the wrong frame of mind, but my take-away message: No matter what, you are going to die alone. Even if you find the love of your life, and they love you back, you will never truly know them. At best, you can only know what they choose to show you. You can only know how they make you feel; the things that you love about them. The person that you think you know, the person that exists in your mind, isn’t real; it’s nothing more than another aspect of yourself. Only in death can we truly know and understand each other.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, Steve. I really needed to hear that right now.

I ate a big red candle

I just realized that my blog entries, although sporadic, have been consistent in their Eeyore-ness. I’ll counteract that by being upbeat tonight.

I saw Anchorman over the weekend. It was no Dodgeball, that’s for sure. But it still had its moments, including remarkably well-done Planet of the Apes references. Steve Corell, as functionally retarded weatherman Brick, stole the movie. I would’ve thought that Will Ferrell would’ve insisted that this be completely his star vehicle, so it was a nice surprise to see everybody else on the cast get a chance to do their bit.

I’m realizing that moving to San Francisco was an all around good choice. I’ve been out with friends twice this week and am planning to go out again tomorrow; that would’ve been a month’s worth of socializing back in the soul-crushing suburbs of Walnut Creek. (No offense to residents of The Creek, but your city sucks and people only go there to die.)

Elevator Lady

Tonight was the Pixies show at UC Davis. The show ended a little over an hour ago, and I’m just now regaining my hearing.

This was a really big deal. Big reunion tour after something like 10 years, tickets sold out in less than five minutes. My friend Matt bought tickets off ebay and we both spent too much money on them, but seriously: the Pixies are one of the best bands in rock history. I’d had a chance to see them in Athens, back when I was at UGA, but turned it down because I’d heard Doolittle and didn’t like it. (“What’s with all the screaming?”) Later, I’d become a huge fan, but the band had broken up and I’d missed my one chance to see them. I’ve cursed myself for that ever since. Especially since, as anybody will tell you, I’ve got an unhealthy fixation on Kim Deal, who’s just about as cool as a person can be. (I’d gotten to see her with The Breeders a few weeks ago, again thanks to Matt).

So it was great to see the band together, and it was a good show, but I just left feeling really old. It was really loud, and the acoustics were such that I couldn’t make out anything but the drum and bass on most of the songs — I heard the recording of the show on the drive home, and I would never have thought it was the same show I’d just been to. It was very crowded, and very hot, and everyone there looked like they must’ve been at least 10 years younger than me. After the whole thing, I just felt like I’d been beaten up. Either I’ve prematurely aged, or even scarier to think about, I’m just old. Or, it could be that I just wasn’t Born to Rock. And that’d be a shame, because I’ve got the soul of a rocker.

Still, “Levitate Me” was really cool live.