Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry Potter

If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, then you probably know that I went and saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 early last Friday. I contemplated attending one of the Order of the Phoenix/Half Blood Prince/Deathly Hallows Part 1 marathon showings they were having in theaters Thursday night, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to stay up that long. So instead I got up nice and early and saw it with a moderate sized crowd. When Goblet of Fire came out, I was up in Jackson, Mississippi so I went and saw the movie alone, and since then it's been practically a ritual to see it that way. The good part is that I get to cry when the sad moments come without anybody seeing me. In DHP1, I was practically sobbing at a certain moment. The couple sitting in front of me were actually laughing. I think it was because the woman burped loudly a moment before. At least I severely hope they weren't laughing at me.

I came into the Harry Potter series a little late. I remember in the early days that it was sort of off my radar.. this book that apparently a lot of kids loved. The cover art did nothing to attract me, and let's face it, kids like really stupid things sometimes. Then the first movie came out, and thanks to a descrambler that we had at that point, I caught bits and pieces of it on pay per view a lot. I got to talking about it with a friend of mine, and he assured me that the books were not childish at all and in fact awesome. I saw one more friend with one of the books in hand who also gave it a glowing review and that was enough. I was able to get all of them through Order of the Phoenix on paperback, and then patiently waited for the last two books and now of course the films.

I thought about the possibility of reviewing DHP1 on here, as I pretty much do with anything I watch/read/play these days. The problem is that seeing these movies, I'm basically just waiting to see certain scenes in the book come to life, and I really can't judge them from an open view point, certainly not on the first viewing. Plus, I haven't read Deathly Hallows since it came out so talking accurately about what they left out or how they represented certain moments would be practically impossible.

So I've come up with another idea. I'm going to read each book, then watch the movie adaptation right afterward. This is NOT going to be a marathon, as I would probably lose my mind if I attempted to go through all of these quickly. I'll read the books as free time allows, giving updates on Twitter on about where I am in case you want to read along, and when I finish I will also mention when I'm going to watch the movie. If enough people are interested, I'll attempt to do another live watch via friendfeed. Once that's done I'll do a review of the book and movie, doing my best to separate spoilery things from nonspoilery things for anyone who is coming into the series late. If all goes well I'll be finished in time for Deathly Hallows Part 2 in July, but at the worst it'll at least get timed with the DVD/Blu-ray release.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spock's Existence: Illogical?

My interest in Star Trek began with The Next Generation, and as such it will probably always be my favorite version of Star Trek. Fun fact: I got into the series right around the time they had announced it was on its last season. Thanks to syndication, I had no idea what was a new episode and what was an old one, so it really didn't matter. After the 2009 film, I decided to delve more into the original series. I believe I saw Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at some point in my youth, and I went and saw Generations when it came out in the theaters, but beyond that I only knew that which has bled into popular culture. I went somewhat backwards, watching the films first, then the animated series, and then the original series. I guess I figured I could get through the films faster. What a mixture of pleasure and pain that was. I literally watched the majority of Star Trek The Motion Picture on fast forward, and I didn't miss a thing. I thought Wrath of Khan was ok with a particularly strong ending. I enjoyed The Search for Spock and loved The Voyage Home. Those two are definitely my favorites. The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country are both good for their character moments.. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelley were clearly having a lot of fun together, even if the plots and directorial talents were a bit lacking. For both the animated series and the original, it really just depends on what episode you're watching. I think with the original series in particular, they didn't do a very good job of keeping the facts in line. It makes it a bit harder to analyze a character like Spock when some writers are presenting him as completely emotionless and others show him a bit more kind-hearted. I should mention that at this point and time I've only made it through "Journey to Babel," so I'm not quite halfway through the second season and there may be pieces of the puzzle that I'm missing. After watching that episode, however, there is something that is bugging me that I need to address.

Given that Data is basically my favorite TNG character, it's really no surprise that I enjoy Spock so much. He's not actually my favorite of the crew. That honor goes to McCoy and all his wisecracks. Of course, his interactions with Spock are some of his best moments, so the two sort of go hand in hand. Whenever I see Spock struggling with his control over his emotions, I realize just how strong an actor Leonard Nimoy is. It's a shame he ended up so typecast and wasn't given much effort to explore other roles. "The Naked Time" is probably the best episode I've seen so far in that regard. "Amok Time" starts out strong, as we slowly see Spock losing control but then it sort of floundered when it shifted the focus off Spock and onto Kirk. Spock literally just stands in the background while Kirk moronically agrees to fight Spock, when even I could see the whole "to the death" angle coming from a mile away. For a man who figured out in about one minute that he had ended up in an alternate reality in "Mirror, Mirror" he sure was an idiot in "Amok Time."

Speaking of "Mirror, Mirror," it's another example where the collective memory of society lies to you. I expected everyone in the alternate timeline to have beards and be evil. In reality, only Spock has a beard, and his counterpart really isn't that evil at all. Since he still denies his emotions in the alternate reality, he simply exists within a more violent world and plays by the rules accordingly. So if you run into a bearded version of yourself, don't go assuming he's a bad guy.

The most interesting thing about Spock is his mixed heritage: half human, half Vulcan, his two sides are at odds with himself in terms of expressing emotion. Watching the movies I had exposure to both of Spock's parents already, though I had always wondered how they had gotten together. If Vulcans find humans and their emotions so inferior, how could they possibly fall in love? How could a human woman not be frustrated with a Vulcan who couldn't express love? According to "Amok Time" Vulcan marriages are arranged, which makes sense. If you don't feel love, you would obviously marry in relation to class, business, etc. In "Journey to Babel" Spock actually asks his father why he married his mother, and his response is "It seemed the logical thing to do at the time." They all have a nice big laugh at this, but if I was Amanda I would have punched Sarek right in the arm, I don't care if he had just had major surgery or not. In the movies and TNG, we learn more about Sarek, but this was the only explanation we got for decades. Going on this episode alone he's pretty callous to her. Of course, nearly all of The Original Series is a sexist mess, so I guess this sort of thing shouldn't have surprised me. Despite the fact that Vulcans have a high priestess, wives are apparently required to follow their husbands around and do whatever they tell them to do. First one to say this is "logical" gets punched in the arm.

It seems to me that the real logical assumption would be that barring any obvious physical differences, men and women are equals. As humans it can be argued that women are sometimes more emotional than men, but since Vulcans don't express emotion, this point is moot. Also, I don't know about you guys but I think if I looked at most of my friends, I probably know more emotional men than women these days. It's funny how society is starting to shift in that regard.

The wikipedia entry for this episode says that when Sarek makes his reply, Amanda realizes they are just messing with her. I think that's a little too much of an assumption. Both Sarek and Spock showed repeatedly over the episode that if they do feel anything, they're willing to kill it off for their sake of their Vulcan ideals. Sarek barely acknowledges Spock in the beginning because Spock turned his back on Vulcan and joined Starfleet. Even when he tells Amanda in private that he's proud of Spock's accomplishments, he's not about to say it to his face. Spock is willing to save his father's life, but the moment Kirk gets injured it's "Let my father die, I have to run this ship." So even if deep down Sarek does love Amanda (and many, many years later, when an illness is killing him, we do in fact get this confirmation in TNG) chances are he never really told her so.

Vulcans may not be real, but they are a popular part of fiction because their ideals do appeal to some people. I think when any of us are going through a difficult time in our lives, we'd love to be able to turn off our emotions. I know at least a couple people who do this on a regular basis. Regardless of the old "opposites attract" rule, I think this is the kind of contradiction that could not work well. Can you really see a psychopath (by which I mean the official definition) dating a drama queen? If you lack empathy, you're not going to care when your partner is upset. And if you're upset, and your partner doesn't care, are you really going to choose to stay with that person? Assuming you have the self respect to walk away anyway. Amanda is appropriately emotional as she deals with her husband dying and her son's refusal to help. The hard smack she gives to Spock after his refusal I think also shows a healthy amount of self respect. So the real question to me is, how could she stay with Sarek for so long? How could Spock have ever even been born?

I suppose the problem comes back around to the time period in which this was written. Divorce was still strongly looked down upon and women were still looked at to be dutiful housewives. It's just a shame that while the world Gene Roddenberry created was supposed to be an ideal future society, apparently equality between the sexes was not one of the ideals they strove for. There's also a lack of equality between races, but that's a subject for a different post. I think that's another reason I prefer The Next Generation. While there are no doubt still flaws to be found there, there was also a marked improvement in these ideals, having a female doctor, a blind African American, alien races and an android who were all treated just as fairly as their white male counterparts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

It's something how when we don't like something we generally rush to tell everyone, and yet when we love something, not so much. I'm actually more than happy to tell you just how much I love Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The problem comes in when I think about talking about it in blog form, what exactly do I talk about?

From what I can tell, there are three kinds of people when it comes to this movie. Some of you may have just been taking the "wait until it's out on DVD" approach, and hey, guess what? It came out today! So go get it! Others have already seen it and love it as much as I do so I'm really just preaching to the choir for you guys. The last group is made up of people who have dismissed it, whether because they are feeling "Michael Cera fatigue" or it just looked like the kind of movie that isn't for them. It may be a fool's hope to change the mind of this last group, but I'm going to try.

Michael Cera

I'm not going to pretend like he's some kind of master thespian. I've seen him in Arrested Development, Juno, and Superbad before this, and I'm willing to admit it's all practically the same character. The way he plays Scott Pilgrim.. it's a slightly more belligerent version of that character. I've only read volume one of the comic so far, and already I'm willing to admit that it's a bit different from the graphic novel version characterization. But it's not like it ruins the entire film. Is that same character he plays over and over again really that bad? There are so many other characters, so many absolutely fantastic supporting characters around him at pretty much all times, that it's easy to ignore.

The Rest of the Cast - in case you don't believe me

Kieran Culkin - Wallace is hands down my favorite character in the movie, and it's all Kieran's fault. His dry wit and sarcasm had me laughing through pretty much every scene he's in.

Alison Pill - speaking of dry, how could you not love Kim? She's got Daria's sarcasm and she's a drummer. Awesome.

Aubrey Plaza - if you watch Parks and Recreation, you already know how awesome Aubrey is. Her role in the movie is small, but she owns it.

Chris Evans - He already proved he could play a thrill seeking cocky pretty boy in the Fantastic Four movies, so he's fully enjoyable here as Lucas Lee. Though it still makes me wonder how he's going to pull off Captain America...

Brandon Routh - From Captain America to Superman, Scott Pilgrim sure has to take on some serious tough guys! The poking fun of veganism here is fantastic, and Brandon does a great job of playing this smart yet not so smart pretty boy. Also.. bass battle! Woo!

Mae Whitman - She was "that Ann" on Arrested Development but you wouldn't really recognize her as such here since she's playing a kick ass ninja lesbian.

Jason Schwartzman - I've kind of had this grudge against him ever since my brother made me watch Rushmore, swearing it was funny. It wasn't. That may enhance my feelings of dislike toward the slimy asshole he plays here, but I think even without that he's just the type of character that you'd love to punch in the face.

It's Not For Me

I suppose, if you've never played a single video game in your life, some of the references might be lost on you. But surely if you were alive in the 80s you've played an arcade game at least once? Enough to know about life bars and points and coins and one ups? Sure, it might not fill you with as much out and out glee as it does me when I see these scenes, but it's not like you're not going to understand what's going on. There's plenty of humor and action going on throughout these scenes that you'll still be entertained whether you recognize the soundtrack to Zelda: A Link to the Past or not. Edgar Wright made me enjoy a zombie movie back when I couldn't stand horror films and a buddy cop drama when I had no interest in such stories. You're going to have to trust me when I tell you he will make you love a comic book adaptation with video game references.

Also, it's a love story. Knives is in love with Scott, Scott is in love with Ramona. Those seven evil exes Scott must defeat? It's symbolism for the baggage that everyone brings into a new relationship, the things we learn as we get to know about someone's past and how it makes them who they are today when we're with them. This is one of those fantastic stories that you can either appreciate on its shallow flash and substance level or dig deep and think about and analyze and make comparisons and write essays. I've already figured out I have six "evil" exes.

No matter what your reservations are, I highly recommend giving this one a chance. It's beautifully shot, extremely funny, and not your average action adventure OR romantic comedy. If you grew up during the 80s, it's entirely possible you have just found your new favorite movie. Even if it's not all that, I guarantee you'll have spent a good two hours of your time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blue Velvet

This post is rated R for language. Given the nature of the film I didn't see a point in censoring myself.

I go through periods where my tastes in movies change. Sometimes I can't sit through slow moving artsy type films to save my life, and others I'm happy to sit back and watch them happen and try to decide just what the filmmaker was trying to represent. I've noticed that lately I've been feeling the latter, so I decided it was time to dig into some David Lynch. I had really wanted to start with Twin Peaks, but it's only available via disc on Netflix and the first disc has a "long wait," whereas Blue Velvet is available for streaming and was just sitting there waiting for me to watch it.

I'm going to get all spoilery now. I went into this movie about 90% blind, and I think that blindness helped me enjoy it a lot. So if you haven't seen the film before, I wouldn't suggest reading this unless you're 100% sure you're never going to watch it. It's definitely odd and not for everyone, so I can't demand that you do, but I will highly recommend it.

We start off with images of a picturesque suburban town until we cut to an old man struggling with his hose while watering the lawn. He suffers from a stroke and falls to the ground. A dog jumps on him, obliviously drinking the water coming from the hose while a toddler waddles up in the background. We zoom from the old man to the grass where we see beetles writhing around. This opening scene is a warning for exactly what you're in for. Things start off the way you expect them to and at first slowly then quickly take a turn toward the odd, strange, and downright disturbing.

Young guy Jeffrey comes back home because the old man we just saw was his dad. On his way back from the hospital he finds an ear in a field. Would you just pick up an ear you saw laying around? Seems to me like you shouldn't disturb a crime scene. The detective he brings it to doesn't seem to mind though, nor is he really upset that someone in his town got his or her ear chopped off at all. I guess a lot of strange stuff goes on in this town regularly.

The movie is set up like an old film noir, where the ladies either walk in mysteriously from the night or sing on a lounge club's stage. Jeffrey gets caught up with two very different women and slowly starts to unravel a deeper and deeper mystery as the story goes on. I was reminded of Rear Window in the beginning. He's so determined to find out what happened and who that ear belongs to that he breaks in to a woman's apartment to try to find out. It seems like just your run of the mill mystery, but then Dorothy (Isabella Rosselini -who I swear I could listen to for hours talk about anything she wanted) starts acting strange, and then Frank (Dennis Hopper) shows up and the oddness gets cranked up to 11.

Jeffrey is hiding in the closet and can't make a sound because Frank will probably kill him. He (and we) are forced to watch as Frank huffs a gas (Netflix lied to me and said it was helium. Some people say it's nitrous oxide, Dennis Hopper claims it was amyl nitrite. Whatever it is, it's bad), becoming more insane with each huff. He rapes her, smacks her around a lot, and brings what looks to be a pair of scissors way too close between her legs for my comfort. It's fucked up. Jeffrey remembers this scene later and cries, and I don't blame him one damn bit.

On the sort of up side, I now know where the "Cassie Eats Cockroaches" middle quotes came from. The scene did a great job of disturbing the hell out of me. I wasn't expecting it at all. It's horrible and yet you can't look away.

Dennis Hopper really knows how to bring some scary bastards to life, doesn't he? Later, when he takes Jeffrey for a ride, I had actually seen a piece of this scene already, specifically the part where Dean Stockwell lip syncs to Roy Orbison's "In Dreams." It seemed so odd when I first watched it and I thought it surely couldn't have fit in place with any movie ever made. For whatever reason, seeing it now in it's context I found it fit the mood almost perfectly and doesn't seem out of place at all. Dean Stockwell is just great by the way. So wonderfully low key and just fabulous. It's a brief part but the movie is better for it.

From there we get to see Frank get high again and threaten Jeffrey, while putting on lipstick and kissing him. He compares love letters to bullets and generally just had me fearing that he was going to rape him. It's really, really intense. Luckily he goes the more traditional route and just beats the crap out of him instead. I'm starting to understand why Dennis Hopper has the reputation he does. It's also disappointing knowing how mild most of his roles are these days by comparison.

The weakest points of the movie are between Jeffrey and Sandy (Laura Dern), who is a high school senior and daughter of the detective Jeffrey brought the ear to. I've seen Laura Dern do better jobs elsewhere, but here her delivery is kind of stiff and the dialogue between her and Jeffrey just comes off awkward. It's at its worse when we're forced to listen to her try to sell the most pretentious part of the movie, this description of a dream she had where the world was gray and sad until the robins came and brought happiness. They also do the thing I hate the most, where people who have only known each other for a week are suddenly in love. Even when she finds out he slept with Dorothy, she forgives him almost immediately. It's possible I may be too harsh, maybe most teenage girls are stupid enough to do that.

I was worried that the strangeness of the film meant we weren't going to get any answers, but mercifully we do. Things get wrapped up almost a little too nice and neatly for my tastes, but I think that was the point. See, we see a robin eating a beetle in the end scene, so the happiness has come and the dark underbelly of the suburban life is now going away. I took from the film the idea that sometimes horrible stuff happens and we don't know why but we can take comfort in the fact that we can also get the white picket fence and the cheery girlfriend sometimes too.

I could tell Lynch wanted colors to represent things, as there are lots of vivid ones, both in dress and set pieces. What they meant I have no idea, but it was pretty to look at. It reminded me of a much milder version of Tim Burton's style. I also noticed a lot of times he would use quick cuts and close up shots of items, usually street or building signs, that would quickly move us from place to place or represent the passage of time without feeling the need to spell it all out for us. There's a lot going on in this movie and I appreciate the way he kept it moving forward.

So.. that wasn't so bad really. Don't get me wrong, there's some really crazy ass shit that happens in the film. It's odd, but it seems to exist in a universe where odd is common place. It's possible that had I seen this movie when I wasn't in one of my more open minded moods, I might have hated it but I don't really think so. I think the way Lynch tells the story makes all the difference. I liked it a lot and it definitely left me with a desire to see more of his work.

I'm still kind of afraid to watch Eraserhead though.
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