Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The Devil and Aeon Flux

Monday, May 8th, 2006

I watched the The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a biopic of a artist/singer-songwriter who made it sorta big in Austin before and while he was–not to put too fine a point on it–going crazy. He’s the guy who did the “Hi, How are You?” mural up on the drag.

The film begins with Johnston’s childhood in West Virginia, using Johnston’s home-made Super-8 movies and audio recordings of himself and his mother to recreate a childhood that, while not full of supportive warm fuzziness for Johnston’s arty ways, doesn’t appear to have been more crazy-making than anyone else’s.

The movie then follows Johnston to Austin, where he took root in the local music scene and came to collaborate with The Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth. The film conveys these times with more of Johnston’s audio tapes, which are a large part of what he is famous for, and interviews with Butthole Surfer frontman Gibby Haynes, Austin Chronicle editor Louis Black, and other local luminaries. Through interviews and well-shot, well-composed, and well-imagined original footage, as well as more of the omnipresent audiotape, the film follows the events of Johnston’s descent into the land of the not-so-very-sane, and then catches up with him today, living with his parents in Waller, Texas and playing with local bands there.

It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while, and I highly recommend it.

Also, last night, I watched Æon Flux. I’d avoided seeing it to this point simply because I really, really loved the shorts, and didn’t want a crappy screen adaptation to ruin it for me. I’d read enough horrible reviews of the movie to believe I’d made a good decision, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fears were in fact ill-founded.

A lot of the flack that the movie caught seems to have stemmed from three separate sources. The first is that the movie was not screened in advance for reviewers. These advance screenings are what allows you to read a review in the paper on the day that a movie opens, and when a distributor doesn’t hold one, it’s generally perceived as a tacit admission that the film will make more money on opening night without a lot of bad reviews to drive audiences away. Judging from the almost universal mention that the lack of a screening got in the reviews, it seems likely either that the reviewers were influenced for the worse by it, or MTV films made a wise, wise decision.

The second source of dislike for the movie is the set or the costumes. A lot of reviewers thought the costumes were as silly as the pristine neo-Bauhaus architecture of the future. Reviewers seemed find them ugly or annoying or simply find it improbable that garters or bob cuts would be in style four hundred years from now, although none offer any reason why this would not be the case, or any valuable insight into what kind of clothing might be. While everyone (especially critics) is entitled to their opinion, I chalk most of these complaints up to unfamiliarity with the cartoon, which was chock full of outlandish hairdos and costumes, not to mention sparse, outsized architecture.

The third source of complaints is the technology, with several reviewers apparently thinking that Frances McDormand somehow lives in Æon’s brain or stomach, another wondering how Sophie Okonedo had her hands replaced with feet (cloning, genetic engineering, and surgery, anybody?), and several people commenting on the lack of “technology” in the future. I blame these complaints on ignorance. If half of these reviewers had any idea how badly the technology of today is simplified and misrepresented even in ostensibly serious films, I doubt they’d take exception to a little artistic license with the future. In my view the movie made an admirable, if ultimately flawed, attempt to depict a high-technology future where the interface between people and their tools has become a very organic, intuitive thing that does away with all the silly mediation (mice, keyboards, displays, etc.) that we deal with today.

I felt that the movie, while far from perfect, did a fine job of translating the eccentric visual style and hyperkinetic flow of the animation to live action. Many of the shots and scenes in the movie, as even the most jaded critic admitted, have a very sharp, colorful, geometric beauty.

Even the plot is surprisingly similar in type to the series, with a layered, twisting structure that attempts to turn everything you think you know about Æon’s world upside-down every half-hour or so. Some of the twists are more satisfying and, well, sensical than others, but all of them keep the story moving more smoothly than any MTV films audience has any right to expect. Although the main story line pretty quickly dissolves into a conventional and predictable love story, it does a good job of retaining and evoking the complex lover/adversary relationship between Trevor Goodchild and Æon Flux in the series.

Thematically, the film is more cohesive than I’d have expected; it’s mostly concerned with death, but in a happy way. To say more would probably ruin it, so I won’t.

Peter Chung, the creator of the series, was not heavily involved with the movie–he read the various drafts of the scripts and made suggestions, but little else. Given that, the amount of fidelity to the look and feel of his work is pretty impressive, more so after after you’ve watched the special features on the disk and spent an hour listening to the director, producers, writers, and in fact practically everyone else involved with the move drone on about how marketable a property it was, its potential for demographic targeting, conversion to conventional Hollywood storyline, abundant opportunities for the creation of strong female characters (to put women’s asses in the seats next to the men, who presumably only require Charlize Theron in order to show up), and other MTV commerce drivel too horrible to mention.

All in all, it’s a good flick, and I’d recommend it. I’ll buy it next payday, so if you want to watch it, I should have it available

Underworld: Evolution

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

Yeah, so I haven’t seen that new Underworld movie yet. I’m going to go this weekend. If you haven’t seen it, you should come see it with me. Chris Taylor might be there. He was talking about coming up from SA this weekend.

Prolly Friday. Maybe Saturday.

The Man With the Screaming Brain

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

I went to an exclusive Austin engagement of the new Bruce Campbell movie, The Man With the Screaming Brain. He wrote, directed, and starred in it, and was on hand to sign my copy of Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way. He also gave a hilarious Q&A about the movie and the current state of his career. The movie was shot for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in Bulgaria, where he had to feed packs of wild dogs outside of his production house every morning to clear the way for the cast and crew.

He also mentioned that his next project was a movie for Dark Horse (straight to DVD) about a town with monster problems. The townsfolk decide that what they need is the guy from the Evil Dead movies. Of course, they go and get him only to discover that he’s an actor, not a chainsaw-wielding maniac, and, presumably, hilarity ensues.

War of the Worlds –> War on your intellect

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

I thought War of the Worlds would be a cool, trippy movie to go see last night. Boy, was I ever wrong. I will say this about the movie: it’s very pretty. There is barely a shot in the movie that isn’t an explosion of cool shapes and colors. The aliens are very stylish, if incredibly stupid. Their spider tanks are cooler than they are.

And that, unfortunately, is the only positive thing that can be said about this movie. When I read Stephanie Zacharek’s review at Salon, I thought that she needed to get out more, and stop being so bitter about a bit of summer fluff–but she was right. This movie is offensive. It tries to pull those ol’ 9/11 heart strings in the most blatant, cheesy, downright insulting manner possible. Nothing anybody in the movie, human or alien, does makes any sense at all. Not a single one of the characters is anything but a stupid, grating, asinine moron. The acting is horrible. There might, possibly, somewhere on this earth, be somebody who could read these lines believably, but Spielberg didn’t hire any of them. The only exceptions are Tim Robbins as a creepy crazy guy and Morgan Freeman’s two minutes of voiceover that frames the movie. Dakota Fanning should perhaps not be blamed too much for her performance, as the few deliverable lines she has she delivers well; the rest, unfortunately, is just a bunch of screaming.

The only thing worse than the characters and the dialogue is the plot, a nonsensical story about aliens who have spent a million years planning an invasion of earth only to forget their inoculations on the way, who come here to Kill All Humans but do a spectacularly bad job of it. Or, perhaps, they came here to farm humans and for some reason decide to kill a lot of the produce instead. They have tanks with shields that don’t work if they operator gets sick, and prefer to individually investigate each house in the country rather than, say, just smashing all of them, which they evince plenty of ability to do.

If the aliens are dumb, the humans are not only moronic, but also mean-spirited and even more self-destructive than they seem to be in real life. NOTHING ANYONE DOES IN THIS MOVIE MAKES SENSE. Not even in an immediate sense. Run unarmed into instant and certain death to see something you can see from where you are? Sounds like a plan. Attempt to blow up a tripod tank that has previously shown itself invulnerable, and is also the only thing keeping you from a nasty 200 foot fall onto hard earth and trees? Brilliant!

The offensive part, though, is the theme. If I thought that this movie was a sly comment or satire on America’s reaction to 9/11, I wouldn’t be offended, but it isn’t. It can’t be satirizing America’s response because it doesn’t in the least resemble it. It depicts plenty of meanness in human nature, but it’s way too exaggerated and cartooney to make any point other than, perhaps, if you were to consider only the worst possible side of human nature and extract all the rationality, compassion, and, in fact, drive for self-preservation, then you can paint a pretty bleak picture. But goodness will win in the end after all, for no apparent reason. So, this movie plays of 9/11 quite a bit, but doesn’t bother to make a point with any of it. It’s just a bunch of cheap theatrics designed to put asses in the seats, and that’s just wrong.

The fact of the matter is that all of these things are the way they are because Spielberg has zero respect for the intelligence of his audience. He’s never been one to make movies that tax the brain too heavily, but this is a new nadir of stupidity. Why make it make sense when it’ll only be watched by people who wouldn’t understand the sense it makes? Why go for a subtle Tivo plug when you can just insert a 15-second commercial right in the middle of an establishing scene? Why try to say something about anything when you can just steal images from horrible things that happened and get the same emotional impact, because people are dumb? Why bother with scary pictures, or pictures that imply something scary, when you can just use a bunch of close-up reaction shots of Tom Cruise looking scared or determined, and Dakota fanning looking scared or, well, terrified?

Well, people are dumb. Really dumb. But, even then, they’re not as stupid as Spielberg seems to think . I don’t think I’ll watch another Spielberg flick again.

Which is a shame, because it really was a very pretty movie.

Batman Begins

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Batman Begins: Go see it. It’s the best Batman since Tim Burton’s, and quite possibly better. It dispenses with the hokiest of comic book conventions without losing track of the story. This is not hard to accomplish with Batman, easily the un-hokiest of superheroes in his original form, but Christopher Nolan accomplishes more than that, using Batman as a canvas to paint a picture of the birth of a hero, and delving with a fair amount of deftness into the well-trodden depths of the bat-psyche. I would not necessarily draw any deep life lessons from the movie’s philosophical underpinnings, but they are at least interesting and self-consistent, which is more than I can say for that other summer movie with a pretension at a theme. *cough* Episode III *cough*.

Nolan continues to pull sometimes surprisingly good performances from his actors, for such a young director, although it’s hard to get a bad performance out of Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, or Gary Oldman. Christian Bale has generally shown himself a capable actor, but be becomes the Batman in this film, and will hopefully erase the memory of the some of the more recent performances in that role. Katie Holmes seems a little out of her depth here, and I wasn’t the only person to notice it, but her performance isn’t bad–it just pales a bit in comparison with the others.

The story is, if not plausible, then at least taut and well-told, with fairly even pacing and a well-executed twist or two. The visuals are hallucinogenically bad-ASS, with a great, dark visual mood and sepia sensibility. My only real disappointment is the fight scenes, which are a blurry, close-cropped mess. Atmospheric, yes, but they don’t tell any kinetic story at all, and often get in the way of the rest of the story, as you’re never sure exactly what’s going on.

All in all though, this movie gets three thumbs up, or would if I had an extra thumb.