Let The Right One In

by on Oct.31, 2010, under Movies

I suppose it’s horror week hereabouts. Just in time for Halloween! This blog will dress up tomorrow night as “Sexy Daily Kos”.

Cryptic spoiler ahead. I just watched Let The Right One In and I think its innovation to the vampire canon is this: vampires, it turns out, are born, not made.

One character gets bitten by the vampire and feels the lust for blood gurgle up inside. Another character longs for retribution against bullies and learns a valuable lesson in how to stand up to them.

Not at all obvious, from those descriptions, which one is ready by the film’s end for a long life of murder.

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Walter Mitty (1UP)

by on Aug.16, 2010, under Comics, Movies

Scott Pilgrim vs The World would have been the best video game movie if it was, in fact, based on a video game instead of on a comic book informed by video games. As it is, it’s a brisk and hilarious mishmash of comic book tropes, which work poorly, video game tropes, which work really well, and dreadful gender politics.

The comic book (which I haven’t read — maybe Big Josh will weigh in) introduced a video-game world that the movie faithfully reproduces. Chyrons spring up around characters and props, placing them in context and giving the viewer vital information as if about an opponent. When Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) fights each of his girlfriend Ramona’s evil exes, the fights are riffs on Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter and other arcade games from the period just following Q*bert and the collapse of my own interest (I will whup you at Ms. Pac-Man, but little else).

In addition to the video game stylistics, the movie also employs comic book stylistics, which suffer in comparison to the former. No movie has played with comic book aesthetics better than American Splendor. Ang Lee’s Hulk gave it a try, but Harvey Pekar’s story benefited from having the form address the content — it is the story of a man who tells his own life in comics. In Scott Pilgrim, the form and experience of video games is native to the original story, which (like The Hulk) happened to be told in comic book form. So effects like having visible ‘D-D-D-D-D’s come out of Scott’s bass, or animating the exit wound when drummer Kim pantomimes shooting herself, add nothing but clutter.

The style of the film is exciting in other, more light-handed ways. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) hopscotches through the first act, jumping from setting to setting while remaining in one linear conversation. I’ve seen it done before, but never so deftly or without care for suspension of disbelief, and it allows Scott’s world to be introduced visually without any expositional slowing.

Spoilers and gender politics-grumbling below the fold.

(continue reading…)

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Dream Logic

by on Jul.19, 2010, under Movies

“It’s a dream, Alex. You can do anything you want in here.”

Dreamscape (1984), the second or third PG-13 movie

Inception has a few good things going for it. Spoilers ahead.

(continue reading…)

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Things That Look Like Other Things IV-1

by on May.16, 2010, under Movies, television

On Glee a few episodes back, Rachel produces a revival of 70’s story-song “Run Joey Run” as part of a plot to vamp up her reputation. What Puck (or any other participant) doesn’t know is that she’s not just casting him alone as the love object, but instead has enlisted all three of her male attractors. The final video shows Rachel in a doomed romance with a boy played alternately by Puck, Finn and Jesse.

Since Rachel introduced her project with a suggestion that her audience might not have all the necessary film vocabulary to appreciate her project, I was prepared for some kind of winking acknowledgement of That Obscure Object of Desire (previously here). But instead, Rachel’s advanced film knowledge was just a jokey reference to her use of bad iMovie effects, and everybody got mad at her for showing how many boys she had revolving around her.

I thought it was cool. Buñuel vs Lea Michele! ¿Quien es mas macho?

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Dennis Hopper

by on Apr.21, 2010, under Los Angeles, Movies

Dennis Hopper looms large in my mind as a weird hybrid of hippie and roughneck. I know him as an early Sunset Strip art scenester, showing photographs at Ferus; as the archvillain of Speed, an evil mastermind hiding out on the skids; and as the director of Easy Rider, which I half-saw one night in college. I picture him as a kind of Dog Soldiers Malibu-hills Don’t-Tread-On-Me cocaine libertarian, a portrait probably not entirely distinct from Hunter S. Thompson. I know he’s dying.

This video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz provokes a deeper consideration. Watching it, Hopper’s fragility leaps to the surface — the hard-luck cop in True Romance who dies rather than give his son up to Christopher Walken; the alcoholic coach from Hoosiers; flashes of tenderness, sensitivity, and weakness in dozens of Seitz’s clips. The art scenester appears an exponent of the avant-garde and a poet of nature and existence. It’s a moving tribute, well worth watching even at its considerable length for online video (24 min).

This, from Seitz’s short introductory essay, also rings true:

When I think about Hopper, I hear his voice in my head: the nasal Kansas vowels; the cowboy twang; and last but not least, the semicolons where periods would normally go, contributing to a sense that his thoughts, like works of art, are never finished, only abandoned, that he never really stops talking, that there’s always one more observation or pronouncement or dirty joke waiting just around the bend.

Jane Espenson’s warning against glib dialogue has been very helpful to my writing partner and me recently:

You probably loved it while you wrote it.  You could feel the emotion and poetry in it.  But when you reread it, it seems glib and overwritten.  If you take the poetry out, it feels flat.  In my opinion, the only thing wrong with the line is that it defies human psychology.  We don’t get articulate when we’re emotional — the opposite happens.  We get stumbly and tangled as we choke back our tears.

The trick, per Jane, is letting the poetry “creep back in when you write the next line, after the heat of the moment has passed”. Hopper seems particularly adept at a kind of unglib, poetic moment of rushing towards illuminated truth, as if the bends around which the observations wait all lead towards something bright, or fiery.

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Kick-Ass: The Movie

by on Apr.17, 2010, under Comics, Movies

A few months ago I complained about how the Kick-Ass storyline turned out and worried about the movie getting screwed up by following the comic too closely. Tonight I went and saw it and it was surprisingly good, even though it’s one of the more faithful comic-book adaptations I’ve ever seen. It did a much better job than the comic of setting expectations early and letting us know exactly what kind of story we were in for. It also did a little bit more with the idea of trying to dress up and be heroic without superpowers.

The action choreography and direction were particularly strong. As one of the people I went with pointed out, the action speeds up and slows down, Matrix-style, in a way that’s deliberately reminiscent of the way comic book action moves across panels. We see blurs punctuated by frozen frames, and it works.

A few words of warning. First, it’s gory. (I overheard one moviegoer say on the way out of the theater: “That was more violent than Quentin Tarantino.”) Second, it’s just an action movie. Don’t go in there expecting anything more.

That said, pace K-sky, it doesn’t suck.

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Football, Charlie Brown?

by on Apr.13, 2010, under Comics, Movies

This news cheers even me.

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Adventures in Stuntcasting

by on Apr.09, 2010, under Movies

“You’re a Jedi warrior? I…I don’t know what that means.”

—Ewan McGregor, The Men Who Stare At Goats

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Resolved: Video Game Movies

by on Apr.05, 2010, under Movies

Watching the NCAA finals tonight and seeing endless ads for Prince of Persia, a corollary to Josh K-sky‘s original proposition presented itself: there are no good movies made of video games. There’s never even been one that rose to the level of mediocrity. They’re all awful.

Movies based on toys also all suck.

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Resolved: Comic Book Movies

by on Mar.25, 2010, under Comics, Movies

The only great comic book movies are American Splendor and Ghost World.

There are no great superhero movies.

The only great bits of superhero movies are Doc Ock’s arms in Spider-Man 2 and Heath Ledger, mostly when he’s in a nurse’s outfit, in The Dark Knight. The bit with the pencil is pretty advanced, too. The bit with the Prisoner’s Dilemma sucks.

Michael Keaton was the best Batman.

Robert Downey, Jr. is funny to watch in Iron Man but “Robert Downey, Jr talking to the CGI/himself” is no substitute for “good movie.” It would be a good “viral video” though.

X-Men… eh.

Mystery Men was not particularly bad, compared to comic book movies in general. The Specials should have been a little better, but it’s pretty good for a superhero movie with no special effects.

Alan Moore is only wrong to the extent he thinks it’s specific to him.

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