No Time For Plot, Doctor Jones

We saw Indiana Jones and the [place] of the [spooky noun] Friday night and were amused enough not to get up and leave so I guess it was alright. I had medium expectations going in and they were met. I stopped expecting artistry from Lucus and Spielberg ages ago and now settle for passable craft form them and their plug and play lackeys. All was in order. The Koepp Scriptwriting software turned out a by-the-numbers story with no surprises that weren’t on the “so dumb I can’t believe they did that” end of the spectrum. The characters were slightly more than two dimensional (ranging between 2.2 and 2.8) and the egregious CG effects were kept to the animal kingdom, so no real foul can be called.

Spielberg has mastered the skill of keeping you engaged in a movie just long enough to make it to the credits. Maybe this has always been his gift. Not genius or even exceptional craftsmanship, but just good enough cinema-making skills to make an entertaining way to waste a few hours. There are worse skill sets to have. Though it is kind of sad that the trailer for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor looks more like an Indiana Jones movie than the actual Indiana Jones movie we saw.

But there’s no way for Spielberg to deliver on that sort of expectation. He, Lucus and Ford spent the last 18 years twiddling their thumbs and in the meantime, the movies changed. The audience changed. Some of that was Spielberg and Lucus’ doing but how sad is it that they were beaten at the game they invented?

I would have liked a better Indiana Jones movie but got the Crystal Skull instead. It wasn’t socks for Christmas but neither was it the BB gun I wanted. “That’s OK,” says Steven Spielberg. “A better movie would have just put your eye out anyway.”

Kate Blanchett clearly had fun with her Lulu wig and Russian accent. And hay, swords! Shia The Beef got to be in a movie with Harrison Ford. His Erdos-Bacon number just went up. Seeing Karen Allen again was great. Wish there had been more for her to do than drive a truck off a cliff but hay, I’m sure John Hurt wanted to be more than just a walking, babbling treasure map. No Joy, John. This is a Koepp script and there simply is no room for that much characterization.

There’s much to be said about the plot holes, the silly aliens and magic of magnetic crystal skulls, CG ants that look like killer M&Ms and those silly, silly monkeys. But why bother? See the movie. Enjoy your two hours and then try not to be bitter as you leave the theater. It is after all, only a movie.

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* He could be a world class pianist and Soviet History specialist put in charge of managing the foreign policy of the world’s only empire, fighting a pitched battle against an asymmetrical foe that is neither Soviet (or even Russian!) and wouldn’t know an F from a G sharp. Steven Spielberg is no Condi Rice, that’s for sure. George Lucus may be the cinematic equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld though. The case is still pending.

Birds, Planes, Etc.

This weekend, I picked up the hardback edition of All-Star Superman, collecting the first 6 issues and, speaking as a tenured comic book nerd and a hypercritical lit geek, it’s the best dam superhero comic I’ve read in years, maybe even since Watchmen. Seriously. It’s that good.

Grant Morrison is doing a sort of remix of Superman, picking up some of the crazy ass stuff from the golden age and mixing it in with some genuinely awesome sci-fi mythologizing. This is the Superman story you’ve always wanted to read: mad scientists with amazing toys, time traveling supermen form the distant future, Lex Luthor with a genuine evil plan (rather than the lame plot form Superman Returns, where Lex’s big scheme involves a shady real estate deal and some fucking kryptonite). I’m looking forward to volume 2 to see how it all plays out but it’s hot shit, right here. Frank Quietly’s art is also amazing and the two together are doing some real fine work. Makes me wish more writers were given the freedom to rewire some old characters and see what can be done.

And Then The Polar Bears

I was very disappointed by the Golden Compass. Inevitably, it will be compared to Lord of the Rings, mostly because the first trailer explicitly tried to tie this to it,like they were conjoined cinematic twins. But The Golden Compass is a far inferior film than any one of the the three LoTR chapters.

It bears repeating (mostly because the hardcore LoTR fanboys won’t shut up about Tom Bombadil not being in the films) but no film can contain everything from the book. Following the book exactly, Lord of the Rings would have been an eighteen hour long musical. But The Golden Compass doesn’t try to follow the book at all.

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Annual Turkey Day Film Festival and Review

It was a movie-filled weekend here for Thanksgiving. We watched a lot of oldies on DVD: The Thing from Another World, Charade, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which my Mom had never seen!), Forbidden Planet, and The Day The Earth Stood Still.*

We also went to see Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which is as bad as it sounds. How bad? You know all those great whimsical movies like Edward Scissorhands** and Amelie? Well, when writing those, innevitably there’s going to be a few plot threads or scenes that just don’t work. For whatever reason, they may seem like good ideas until you put them on aper. Then you read them and go, “Oh nevermind that’s shit. Scrap that.”

Mr. Magorium is all those leftover scenes that didn’t work in other movies, but filmed. None of it made much sense, the characters all dropped their motivations half way through and then it ended. Which was the best part. Leave whimsy and fairy tales to the experts, please.

My brother-in-law, Miguel saw Beowulf and said it was like Shrek, only with blood and gore. Make of that what you will.

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* Probably the single best Science fiction film ever. I see no reason to remake it, especially with Keanu Reaves as Klaatu.

** Which came out seventeen years ago. There are seniors in High School who were not yet born when that movie came out. Now, get off my lawn!

Eat the Fucking Madeleine Already!

I couldn’t do it. There’s just no way I can say anything intelligent about In Search of Lost Time without coming off as flippant.  the prose is alternately brilliant and claustrophobic, like you’re wrapped in a blanket and being dunked in your grandmother’s perfume. It’s enjoyable, sort of. There’s just so much memory going on that whatever plot there is gets stretched out nearly to infinity. You’d have to read, at minimum, fifty pages a day to keep up with the plot, which I simply don’t have time to do. I can only read 5 maybe 10 pages at a stretch before the sheer weight of the words knocks me over.

Now, here’s the weird thing: I recommend reading In Search of Lost Time.But don’t expect to plow through it in an evening. If you can manage it, jusyt pick it up from time to time, read a few pages and enjoy the florid prose and then move on, come back to it later. Or maybe you’re one of those people who can just dive in to a 4000 page novel and enjoy it as a whole. To which I say you are a better man than I.

Telling Stories With The Doctor

I downloaded Season 3 of Doctor Who a few weeks ago (yippee for Bittorrent!) and have watched the whole thing, so for any American fans who haven’t seen the last episode (scheduled for Friday Night here on the Sci-Fi Channel) you may want to skip this post.

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Sounds From Up North

Picked up the new They Might Be Giants album, The Else* this week and my faith in the Johns is restored. where The Spine was a little disappointing (felt like Left over B-sides from John Henry) the Else has a fun mid 90’s alternative rock edge to it, which is surprising for They Might Be Giants. Also, not at all unappreciated. With the limp pop music of the last few years fluttering all around, sometimes you want to reach back to those high school days when there was some good music still played in public spaces.* And boy is it a sad day for Justin Timberlake when he gets his ass rocked off by They Might be Giants.

I also just got the New Pornographer’s latest, Challengers. Still absorbing it but it’s good. Mellow. Much more so than their previous stuff but more textured as well and still with the ponderous lyrics as always.
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*I say public spaces rather than radio because seriously, who still listens to the radio?

Harry Potter and the Order of Procrastination

Where did the week go? Seriously, I had grand plans. I was going to rant about the government, pontificate about the Pope and generally chew the scenery. Then Wednesday night we went and saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’ve been on a nice little buzz ever since and have let the other stuff fall by the wayside (except for my real writing.* News about my novel will be forth coming).

Harry Potter was great! I had some trepidation going in– after all, translating a 900 page novel into a 2 1/2 hour movie means some pretty big ideas are bound to be omitted but all in all, a satisfying movie. Thing’s moved rather fast, Harry wasn’t as whiny as he was, for as long as he was in the book and all the high points of the story were hit and in an effective manner. Any film maker out there wondering how to turn that giant door stop of a novel into a cohesive movie that still maintains the spirit of the author’s intent should use Order of the Phoenix as their model. Sure, I would have liked to have seen a few more character moments but what is there is great. the actors have all grown into these roles and I think that is the key to the success of the picture. Doing so much with so little is not easy and these actors, al of them children, manage to do something other actors twice their age have problems with. Bravo to them!

Now it’s off to play Super Mario Bros. 2 on the Wii get some writing done!

Not Much More Than Meets The Eye

Just saw Transformers and it was everything I expected: big and loud. Cars turned into robots. Things exploded. A good time was had by all.

One question though: What is this?

Update: Phil Plait, the best bad astronomer around, reviews the science of the movie. He too wants to know what’s up with this whole Cloverfield thing.

An Antidote to the Poison In The Well

I don’t often agree with Christopher Hitchens. His midlife flight from Trotskyism has, in many ways, turned him into a cranky reactionary, siding with Neocons when occasion suits him and generally being contrarian for the sake of pissing people off. Which is fine, the world needs it’s contrarians and I don’t have to agree with a man entirely to recognize when he is making sense. Which is why I’m glad he put the gin bottle down long enough to write God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Firstly, you probably won’t discover too many new pieces of information here, though I did learn a few things about how the Koran was edited together that were new to me. But Hitchen’s offers a much needed complementary view to atheism in general and Atheist writing in particular. The unavoidable comparisons to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are made in just about every review of Hitchens’ book I’ve read and they probably will form a sort of unofficial atheist trilogy. Where Harris comes at the problem of faith and belief in god form the point of view of a philosopher and Dawkins tackles it from the perspective of a scientist, Hitchens offers us the much needed insight of a journalist and man of letters.

It’s this literary perspective that is most necessary to help encourage skepticism and disbelief to spread among the general public. Far too often, atheists are seen as cold, calculating rationalists, robot men who have amputated the limb of faith and are lacking in something vital, all in the pursuit of reason. Hitchens does a service in showing that disbelief is not the result of prolonged exposure to rare intellectual isotopes but the natural and organic process of simply living in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. Atheism and skepticism has a long and glorious tradition, rooted in Enlightenment values of free thought, unrestrained inquiry and above all imagination. Some of the greatest writers and thinkers of the last three centuries have been men and women without faith. These are not freaks and outsiders, hammering away at the foundation of Western Civilization. They are they architects of our culture. Showing that the Bible is just shoddy literature, with very human (and often bloody) fingerprints all over it will go a long way towards undermining its authority as an unimpeachable resource, one to be eyed with the critics skeptic eye than the true believer’s blind faith.