March 30, 2005

'Allo, 'Allo

My new favorite site is Overheard in New York. All it is is snippets of overheard conversation, much of it bizarre, racist, sexist, and pornographic.

It makes me miss the city. (Not much else has, I must confess --- I find the abominations they try and pass off here as bagels merely depressing.)

But these snippets bring the city to life in a way other things don't---the absolute immensity of it, the sense of so many lives going on around you, the sense you get of the continual possibility of surprise, enchatment, chagrin, disgust in the glimpses you get of those lives. I think it's because it's people's actual words, the little bits of dialogue memorable enough to stick in the mind and be repeated.

Also, it's damn funny.

So far my favorite is this:

Kids These Days, I Tell Ya...

Kid #1: Paper beats rock. BAM! Your rock is blowed up!
Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

Posted by Diablevert at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

I fixed the comments.

...finally. Right now they're set so I merely have to approve them, but if it gets too spammy up in here I may have to change it so you have to register with Typekey in order to comment.

Now all I have to work on is fixing the Trackback spam. But in the meantime, some new short posts.

Posted by Diablevert at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2005

I do kinda want a Kentucky Airlines flight bag, though

So I didn't do too much last weekend --- went to see The Life Aquatic. And I'm trying to get in the habit of writing more here. Do you see where this is going? Indeed. I'm a gonna subject you to a movie review. I'll even do it up proper reviewy-style, with descriptions of the plot and whatnot.

The Life Aquatic reminded me a bit of Moby Dick. Not in that "an trailblazing attempt to refashion an ancient art form into a wholely new expression of an acutely American experience," kind of a way. Nor even in that "a story about a crazy guy who tries to kill a big fish," kind of a way. No, , what The Life Aquatic brought to mind was a thought I remember having while reading Moby Dick, viz. "There's way too much book in this book."
There's too much movie in the movie. To quote the inimitable Inigo Montoya, "Let me explain. No. There is too much. Let me sum up":
Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, a Cousteauian explorer of oceans, who's down on his luck (and funds). About two minutes into the movie, he announces his intention to set off on one last expedition: to find and kill the elusive and possibly imaginary jaguar shark, which has eaten his best friend and crewmate. You'd think the majority of the film would be taken up with this quest, and it is. But this is not a quest to be pursued as a furious, focused rush toward vengeance but a quest to be meandered along, a loose thread that allows Anderson to string together various set pieces. We start off with Zissou wheedling cash from his shady financier (Michael Gambon, who drenches his lines in accents so plummy you expect the words to issue forth in imperial purple) and his estranged wife (Angelica Huston, whose performance seems to have aimed for jaded and shot past it into an almost clinical lack of affect), and continue through a raid on the observatory of Zissou's rival Alistair Hennessy (Jeff Goldbloom), wherein Zissou's ragtag crew nick a literal boatload of state-of-the-art equipment from Hennessy (whose operation is all brushed steel, starched white linens, and pouty Aryan cabin boys who look as if they've escaped from a Herb Ritts shoot). Then there's a pirate attack, followed --- at length --- by a rescue mission which involves infiltrating an abandoned resort island-cum-pirate lair. And finally, the pursuit of the shark.
Plenty of material in there for a movie--a movie. This movie also has the mysterious return of Zissou's long-lost son, Ned (Owen Wilson) and his attempts to reconcile with Zissou, as well as said son's budding romance with a reporter (Cate Blanchett) whose feature story on Zissou may or may not turn out to be an expose, and who Zissou also has an eye on. Oh, and there's a mutiny. And five live running gags masquerading as interns from the Alaskan Oceanographic Institute. And Williem Dafoe as Zissou's faithful, jealous, put-upon second mate. As well as a half-dozen other crewmembers with backstories, among them a guitar-strumming Brazilian whose Portuguese covers of David Bowie tunes provide much of the film's background music. Let's see, have I forgotten anything? I know I skipped the bare-breasted script girl.
And so should have Anderson. (Though in fairness the script girl's three brief scenes were decidedly memorable. The actresses' face, I don't know about.) Keeping track of twenty different personalities and backstories is a courtesy most people don't pay their blood relatives, and it's a lot to ask during the course of a single movie, even one with a two hour run time. Anderson is efficient to the point of glibness in making all the introductions, but making sure everyone gets a gag in means that some major characters get too little screen time to establish themselves as more than a neatly labeled quirk in a cool outfit --- by my lights, only Blanchett and Dafoe manage to seem three-dimensional.
The only way to anchor this merry-go-round is to give it a strong central presence to revolve around, which is where Murray's Steve Zissou is supposed to come in. And here, I feel we run into a subsidiary problem: Zissou is kind of a prick. Which is perfectly fine, and appropriate to the character, and fits in neatly with Anderson's previously demonstrated interest in patriarchal decline. Royal Tennebaum was a prick, too. But Gene Hackman's Royal was also exuberant, zestful, scheming, charming ---- so much so that you forgave him, and wanted his the other characters to do so as well, no matter how many time he had dicked them over. There was a time --- the early 80s --- when charming schemers were Murray's stock-in-trade, but ever since his late-career resurgence with Rushmore, he's relied instead upon an unflappable deadpan weariness and his excellent comic timing, and for the most part it's served him well. With Zissou, however, Murray's subdued downplaying makes it hard to figure out what the other characters could possibly find inspiring about him. He registers as absence rather than presence, so that when he finally does take action, rising up to attack the pirates invading his ship, one thinks not "Finally! Go, Zissou, go!" but rather, "Ah, I see it is time for one of Anderson's patented Manic Musical Montages of Feisty Resurgence."
This could be remedied through a judicious use of footage from Zissou's previous films --- why else set the film in this milleu? --- but we get barely a glimpse of them. They illustrate little about Zissou's past and serve mostly to tantalize the viewer with what might have been.
Indeed, so overstuffed is the production that much of the elaborate mise-en-scene is given short shrift. Anderson includes a wonderful shot tracking shot that tours through a cross-section of Zissou's ship, but while delightful, it is also brief, so much so that I didn't remember the existence of an observation window in the very belly of the ship until the end of the film, despite the fact that several characters were shown dreamily peering out of that same window at various points in time. But I barely had time to idly wonder where the heck they were supposed to be and what the hell they were looking at before another shiny geegaw was held up to distract me and beg admiration.
Anderson has often been described as a creator of dollhouse worlds, all all meticulous background detail and characters propped artfully into stiff attitudes of whimsy. I don't know that I could quibble with that term in respect of this movie. But for Anderson's best work, I would choose another metaphor. The Royal Tennebaums and Rushmore resemble not dollhouses but the best children's books: they create slightly unreal worlds, too much like our own to be described as pure fantasy but caulked at the seams by enough magic to make them worlds whose rules you wished you lived by, and whose charms you covet. The first pleasure of such books, the key that unlocks all the others, is the pleasure of falling in, of immersing oneself in a new world and slowly discovering its charms. Ironically, it is precisely that sense of immersion that this film lacks.

Posted by Diablevert at 07:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

March 17, 2005

Green on FF

I have a short article on Fresno Famous this week. They're cool.

Posted by Diablevert at 03:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 13, 2005

The 'Rents Are on Their Way

The 'Rents are on their way,

The 'Rents are on their way,

High-ho the-merry-o,

I must clean my house of filth.

Posted by Diablevert at 03:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 09, 2005

Billy Wilder is God and Dead

Oh, man. I just had one of those it-makes-you-despair-of-the-human-condition kind of moments. I was reading Izzle Pfaff which is a very funny blog I read pretty regular. It's written by a dude named Skot, an actor-cum-regular job haver, with a rambunctious sense of humor that veers toward the grotesque, usually with amusing results.
He's got a post up now about terrible movies, and that made me think of a flick called The Chase, which for over a decade now has earned a spot in my head as pretty much the worst movie I've ever seen. Sometimes other films contend for the title; Batman and Robin was pretty damn bad, and I walked out during the ending of AI ---- I couldn't stop laughing when the aliens showed up, and it was disturbing the other patrons --- but something about The Chase remained fixed in my brain. I think it was the part where the main character and his hostage make love while one of them is supposed to be driving a car 90 miles an hour during a police chase, into the sunset.
That's pretty much the movie, right there. Charlie Sheen plays the crook, Kirsty Swanson plays the hostage, the spend pretty much the whole movie running from the cops and improbably falling in love while hijinks ensue. Flea and Anthony Keidas have cameos. In retrospect, I think probably the worst thing about the movie is that it thinks it's a satire --- a huge plot thread concerns the attempts of the L.A. media to cover the chase, with much derision heaped upon the slavering ratings whores of the media. While meanwhile, the whole hostage-falling-in-love-with-criminal thing is played absolutely straight, and the love scene is supposed to be "steamy" rather than, "highly improbable given the limits of human anatomy and wholly impossible considering the laws of physics."
Now, I saw this movie when it came out, and IMDB tells me that that was in 1994, when I was fourteen or so. If youth does not present defense enough, I beg of you to consider extending further leniency when I tell you that we went to the cheap, shady theater because we were poor, and we intended to see something else --- irony demands that it was Speed, but my fallible memory cannot back that up --- and whatever it was was sold out. I don't recall that any of my fellow youths were shocked and appalled as I was, but I also don't recall that any of them liked it very much either.
Imagine, then, my renewed shock and horror when I idly clicked on IMDB to try and confirm my recollections of this shlockfest and discovered that it had a rating of 5.3 out of 10 --- average, but passable. What really caused me to despair, though, was reading the user comments, and there are dozens of them, by people who declare this to be their favorite film, a masterpiece of the cinematic art whose awesomness will be discerned by "anyone with a brain." Jesus wept.
Now, ragging on people for not liking the same things you like is the behavior of an asshole; I firmly believe that to each his own in matters of taste. You don't force me to watch "The Bachelor," I won't make you read Granta, we'll all live happily ever after. And I'm fine with the idea that this is a movie that many people would idly watch if it came on TBS of a Sunday afternoon out of sheer inertia. That most people might find it passable rather than terrible doesn't disturb me.
Nah, it's definitely the partisans that geek me out. I don't like to think of myself as a snob, but this movie is so bad, y'all. Hell, there's many a bad movie I've enjoyed in my life --- there's a strange alchemy that sometimes occurs when terrible acting, low budgets, and improbable and cliche-ridden dialogue is brought together with a terrible sense of earnestness, rather like how that last jigger of coke and twist of lemon makes the five different well liquors that go into a Long Island ice tea into a palatable, nay delectable, concoction. But these people don't like The Chase like you like a bad movie. They just like it. Out there is a crew of people, dozens, maybe hundreds of them, to whom its total and complete radical awesomeness is so apparent as to go without mention.
And I'm afraid that those people are who they're making all the movies for. And then I think maybe I ought to lock myself in a room with the complete works of Billy Wilder and just cry and cry and cry.

Posted by Diablevert at 06:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oh Yeah --- The Comments Are Busted

I'm gonna try and fix them this weekend.

Posted by Diablevert at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 02, 2005

Just a Note on the Schizophrenia of the Weather

The kitten’s at it again --- I woke this morning to fat flakes descending from the sky, and the clouds had that grey sway-bellied look that in America I would associate with a bunch of fat bastards who had just settled in for the day. Furthermore, there was a lightening flash and a peal of thunder while I was getting ready for work. But by the time I walked out the door the snow had stopped, and now as I sit on the bus the sky over the road is split --- on the left, Crayola-perfect sky blue, with a few ragged scripts of cloud, on the right, a solid ashy wall, like the underbelly of an under-laundered duvet.

Posted by Diablevert at 07:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)