Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jumping On The Casting Speculation Batwagon

As The Dark Knight's box office gross approaches fifteen googleplexes or whatever it is on today, yet more and more speculation surrounds the next movie in the series, and who would feature in it (even though not a single plan has been put in motion yet). The old rumours about Johnny Depp and Philip Seymour Hoffman playing The Riddler and The Penguin are doing the rounds, which is only slightly less imaginative a suggestion than Angelina Jolie sleepwalking through a part as Catwoman. Come on! We've had the definitive Catwoman already. Why would we want to mess with that casting? Even the utterly insane rumour that Cher will play Selina Kyle as "a vamp in her twilight years" couldn't be better (and besides, it depends on Cher agreeing to play someone described as old; surely anathema to her).

Anyway, in the interests of offering yet another opinion to the overflow of currently existing speculation, here are my thoughts on casting choices for the third film in the series, The Batman Is A Badman On The Run With His Bike (official title). Luckily, I don't have to think about who could play Robin. Nolan has pretty much ruled out his inclusion, which is good news for all who have yet to get over the painful memories of Chris O'Donnell in The Schumacher Debacles (which was also the title of an unpublished Robert Ludlum novel). I've got nothing against the character (the current incarnation, Tim Drake, is terrific), and right now I think Nolan, Nolan and Goyer can make even the lamest character relevant, but I do recall the amazing Batman Animated Series becoming about 13% less amazing when Robin was introduced, so I'm fearful of the impact he would have on the series. This is in no way linked to the fact that DC Comics have made Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and the tragic Jason Todd all look so generic that it's utterly pointless trying to come up with suggestions for who could play any of them. Any chisel-jawed and nimble brown-haired male aged between 15 and 24 could play them. So that's no fun.

Though Catwoman seems to be one of the main choices for an appearance in Batman 3: Growly Growly PunchSneer, I reckon there are other possibilities for a female antagonist, something the franchise would benefit from now that the only female character in the series has been vaporised (and barely registered onscreen prior to said vaporising). Though The Joker has been incarcerated (and probably won't ever appear again, due to unfortunate real world events), his moll could still turn up. If so, who better to play Harleen Quinzel (aka Harley Quinn) than prat-fall specialist Anna Faris?

If I were to be honest, I was so impressed by the treatment of Ra's al Ghul (and Ducard) in the first movie, that I was almost disappointed at the end of that film when we were given a hint that the next film would feature The Joker instead of Talia al Ghul, which seemed to be a more natural progression. Of course, upon seeing Heath Ledger's performance, I forgot my objections. Still, the character could be a great addition to the Nolan-TheBatmaniverse, and who better to play the perfect woman than internet search engine hit magnet Moon Bloodgood!

Not all of the females in the Batman comics are antagonists, of course, and one of our hero's biggest allies was Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Until she went all unhinged and angry and became responsible for the death of poor Stephanie Brown. Except she was actually keeping her alive and hidden somewhere. Ah comics, if you were sensible half the fun would disappear! If this longrunning character was brought to life, I can't think of anyone better than Frances Sternhagen, last seen throwing things at Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist.

Of course, the success of The Dark Knight, and the amount of money it has made, will make the studio even more interested in the making of the third film, leading to the inevitable interference from suit-wearing coke-hoovers who think their job is to get in the way of "Creative". In which case, aged and kindly Dr. Thompkins will be played by acting colossus and pretty-clothes-wearer Jessica Alba.

Speaking of allies of The Batman, after Bruce Wayne was knocked out of action during Knightfall, his role as Gotham's protector was taken over by Jean-Paul Valley, who eventually became Azrael and then died or something. I don't know. I'm not the biggest The Batman fan, and only read him when he has a good writer on, like Grant Morrison. Anyway, there is a possibility (mooted by crazed Azrael fans, of which there are probably legion) that Azrael will appear in The Batman 3, and if that happens, there is only one possibility to play the long-haired foreigner; supermodel Fabio!

His name is Foreignese for Fabulous, you know. Of course, Jean-Paul Valley took over the Batman mantle after Bruce Wayne's back was snapped by the evil Luchadore of Lameness, Bane, who sadly appeared in Batman and Robin and Batgirl Too, which is of course one of the ten worst films ever made. Let's just say my response to the mention of Bane is similar to The Batman's reaction here.

Bane is ass. But, if we're going to have to put up with him stinking up the next movie, let's get a real luchadore to play him. Nacho Libre!

And Nolan needs to make sure Bane gets his ass handed to him by a weird goatboy thing just like in this photo, because there is no way he would beat the Dark Knight. It's just so wrong. Besides, there is a much more interesting villain mastermind out there (it's the brainy ones that stick in the collective memory, not the lumps of muscle). Many have suggested that Bats needs to go up against the evil genius Hugo Strange, whose slight frame hides a keen intellect. Who better to play such a character as late-period Richard Dreyfuss?

It's also nicely symmetrical casting, what with his real world familial similarity to Christian Bale.

Of course, the chances of the movie featuring multiple villains are high, which means Bats would need some new allies. If Nolan is serious about resisting the temptation to include Robin on the team, perhaps he will end up with someone different. Helena Bertinelli (aka Huntress) has promise, being just as tortured as Bruce Wayne, and tripping along the line between good and evil just like Catwoman, though coming down more readily on the side of justice. Who could play such a dark and haunting character? A man in an expensive suit says, "What about that Eva Longoria chick that's on that Desperate Housewife Swap thing?"

Another suit would leap up, spilling his cocaine everywhere. "Fuck that, you jag-off. It's got to be Megan Fox. She's on the front of Maxim and GQ and Esquire and Loaded and Sports Illustrated and Boobs Not Covered By Clothes Monthly. I get an erection when I see pictures of her."

A battle would inevitably rage about which vapid and inexplicably lauded shell of a human should get the part, with Longoria losing out due to age (sorry Eva!), and Fox being disqualified because no one is sure how well she can work without cue-cards, which means the suits play safe and hire thespian powerhouse and smiling addict Jessica Alba.

That she is the wrong ethnicity as well as being about six inches too short to play the character means nothing. Warner will be happy with the inevitable slew of lad's mag covers featuring Alba wearing her "intense" face. Nevertheless, this is a better outcome than if Nolan decided to introduce Kathy Kane (aka Batwoman), whose deviant sexuality and liberal mindset is so disgusting to God-fearing folk that DC have had to disappear her character (and cancel plans for her own comic) as if she was a red-headed, gay, crimefighting Jimmy Hoffa. Is this because someone somewhere blames the last couple of Crises in the DC Universe on God taking vengeance on it for not heeding his fictional call? Only Pat Robertson can tell us, as he has friended God on MyopicassholeSpace.

Speaking of despicable real world people who have an iron grip on the minds of millions and who use that power to make them hate people who have never done anything to harm anyone else their whole lives, many people have noticed the similarity between The Penguin and trigger-happy Vice President Dick Cheney. Though it would give me great pleasure to imagine that he (non-fatally) shot Harry Whittington with a gun hidden in the handle of an umbrella, I have to say I think he is much better suited to play the obscure villain Kadaver.

If you don't believe me, check out this passage from his DC Database page.

Mortimer Kadaver is a murderous criminal possessing a morbid and sadistic obsession with inflicting pain and death. His hideout is filled with a wide variety of means of murder and torture, including an iron maiden, a guillotine, a hangman’s noose, and even a pool of quicklime. Kadaver enjoys feigning his own death by methods such as dressing as a vampire and emerging from a coffin, but he takes even more pleasure in meting out suffering and death to others who cross his path.

Except that Nolan would be smart enough to make sure Kadaver would never refer to what he does as torture. It's just Exxxtreme Question Asking.

To be honest, casting speculation about The Batman's gallery of amazing villains can be a lot of fun, but it often means we end up going over the same villains again and again, many of which have been portrayed in the previous Batman movies, with varying degrees of success. Do we need to see Mr. Freeze again, after being definitively portrayed by Arnie? Or Poison Ivy? Maybe as a cameo with her as a crazed eco-terrorist, as hinted at by Uma Thurman in the Schumacher movie, except this time played by actual redhead Amy Adams. One fan, whose dedication to the cause is to be saluted, has even posited an appearance by The Riddler as a Zodiac-style serial killer, which is an amazing idea. That's the kind of thinking I really respect. It's not the kind I use myself, though, so here are my thoughts on using some of the more obscure (or not-so-obscure) The Batman villains just to mix things up.

Cassius Clay Payne, aka Clayface, a blob of sentient shape-changing clay (perhaps reimagined as a master of disguise) could be played by human chameleon Mike Myers (well, if chameleons were very good at pretending to be different kinds of camera-hogging lech).

Tragic scientist Kirk Langstrom (aka Man-Bat), whose desire to heal ends up dooming him, could be reimagined as a Goth romantic whose desires lead to murder. Who better than Nick Cave?

Drury Walker, aka Batman mirror image Killer Moth, could be played by Jake Busey, because their chins are kinda similar.

That rationale also applies to Nathan Finch, aka the second Gearhead, whose cryogenic freezing and subsequent life as a cyborg could be reflected by Nolan's effort to use manipulated footage of Jack Palance to play this villain. Surely the enduring popularity of this character demands this level of effort and CGI wizardry.

Mark Desmond, aka Blockbuster, is a scientist who took drugs to become stronger, and ended up becoming an irrational brute, and so adding him to the new movie's roster of villains means we can have someone like Bane without having to have Bane in it. Therefore, bonus points. However, when I say he should be played by acting genius Nick Nolte (seriously, I <3 him), I'm inspired more by his terrifying performance as The Faux-Absorbing Man in Ang Lee's Hulk than any real life resemblances. That this mug-shot echoes Blockbuster's appearance is merely a coincidence.

Paul Dekker, aka Crazy Quilt, can control people using a helmet that manipulates colours and light. As lookalike John Waters once offended me with the excessive use of pastels in Hairspray, I say he should get the part of a murderer who incapacitates his victims using bright lights, just like the Princess Diana conspiracy theorists believe.

Bat-Mite, aka Bat-Mite, is a crappy reinvention of Mr. Mxyzptlk that no one really likes much, though Grant Morrison has just reinvented him as a possible figment of Batman's imagination. Typically bold Grant Morrison stuff. Could Nolan do such a thing? Recreate this nuisance in such a way as to make audiences like him? Only with a further, even more radical, reinvention.

You know I'm right.

Tom and Tad Trigger, aka The Trigger Twins, a pair of cowboys riding around Gotham and creating mayhem in a way similar to that of Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland in the mostly unwatched action comedy The Cowboy Way. As those guys are busy working with Paul Schrader or saving the world, The Trigger Twins, who surely need no Nolan-esque reinvention, should be played by two Owen Wilsons, because I really like Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights.

Arthur Brown, aka Cluemaster (the father of female Robin Stephanie Brown), is a bit like The Riddler, only less interesting. Nolan could make him more interesting by changing him from a mere murderer into a band of evil psychedelic musical murderers played by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.

Otis Flannagan, aka Ratcatcher, is often considered to be a gamma level threat (he is targeted by an OMAC in the current continuity in order to negate the possible complicating effects of his incredible powers), but why would Nolan choose to add someone like that to his movie? Instead, let's just hire someone who looks a bit like a rat. Jon Heder. That'll do. (N.B. I hate Napoleon Dynamite like it was a sickness.)

If any of these casting predictions come true, I trust I will get my due for being prescient. Of course, I could be horribly wrong with all of them, and as I'm prone to reflexively hedging my bets, let's just assume Warner Brothers suits have no imagination but lots of power, and replace all of those possible actors with Johnny Depp.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Paging Dame Judi Dench

Is the Great Dame free at the moment? She needs to clear her schedule, as do Karl Urban and Thandie Newton, because they need to be ready to turn up for the next two installments of The Chronicles of Riddick, which Vin Diesel has announced are in the works right now.

Yes, we are as shocked as you are, Dame Dench. To many people (including at least one reader of this blog, and she knows who she is), this news is baffling, risible, proof of the delusions of Mr. Diesel. To others, me included, this is THE BEST NEWS EVER. Even better, judging from the enthusiastic responses on these pages, I now know I'm not alone. It's astonishing to find out that The Chronicles of Riddick, which has been used as a punchline for so long, actually has a fanbase. I really thought no one liked it. It's not like it set the world on fire, unlike what happens to the surface of prison planet Crematoria during daytime, if you know what I'm talking about.

Of course, Diesel is in the entertainment news a lot right now, as trailers for the fourth Fast And/Or Furious film has recently debuted, and his new movie Babylon A.D. is coming out on Friday. This is a cause for celebration for me, even though writer-director Matthieu Kassovitz is the man behind the appalling Gothika, a movie so utterly forgettable that all I can remember is that Halle Berry is in it as a ghost, or someone who sees ghosts, or as the girlfriend of a ghost, or as the lawyer/doctor of a ghost, or something ectoplasm-related. Whatever. It has ghosts in it. That much I know. Still, at least that shoot was where Robert Downey Jr. met his wife Susan, so something good came out of it (if you've seen RDJr's Inside The Actors Studio you will know how adorable they both are). As for director Kassovitz, he has been aiming his stinkeye at the cretins at Fox, blaming them for ruining his film with Diesel backing him up. Commenting on the state of the movie following its butchering in the editing suite:

It's pure violence and stupidity. The movie is supposed to teach us that the education of our children will mean the future of our planet. All the action scenes had a goal: They were supposed to be driven by either a metaphysical point of view or experience for the characters... instead parts of the movie are like a bad episode of 24... I should have chosen a studio that has guts. Fox was just trying to get a PG-13 movie. I'm ready to go to war against them, but I can't because they don't give a shit.


Babylon A.D. has been publicised pretty poorly by Fox, so it has very little chance of doing well, something I had originally figured was related to lack of confidence in Diesel's box office pull, before I read about the difficulties the crew had. It's an easy mistake to make. Diesel is often treated like a muscular lunkhead, but in interviews he has always struck me as an interesting guy (code for "he's a gamer, leave him alone"). That he draws ridicule so readily is one of the reasons, I suspect, filmgoers have been ready to point and laugh at The Chronicles of Riddick. If they don't like it, fair enough, but it's been laughed at in much the same way David Caruso's post NYPD Blue film career was. "Look at where your hubris and arrogance took you, Diesel", seems to be the cry. Screw that. It was a crazy-bold adventure filled with imagination and demented vision. I'd never argue that it was perfect, or a great film, but it was much better than many will give it credit, and it finishes on a perfect note. I've been eager to see the next installment ever since, and would have taken it in any format, be it comic, game, or animation. I can't wait, and I know for a fact that Brian Michael Bendoom is happy about it too. Upon hearing about the potential sequels, he said:

And no one would dare argue with... BENDOOM! (For background on Brian Michael Bendis' ill-treatment of the ultimate Marvel comics villain, check out these funny pages.)

Victory Is Ours!

Sometimes blogging feels like a meaningless exercise, a futile, insignificant self-indulgence, read by few and cared about by even fewer, absurd, trivial, unnecessary, fruitless. No fruit for Shades Of Caruso. Thank the benevolent constellations for moments like these, then, when we find evidence – concrete evidence – that all this isn’t just pointless gratification. The world reads; the world understands; the world takes action.

In February this year, I reviewed Heat magazine, the publication that arguably triggered the explosion in celebrity culture in the UK as it exists today. While generally in favour of the magazine’s attitude towards famous people, its readers and itself, I highlighted one or two aspects of Heat that were not so likeable, and suggested that these were responsible for its reputation as a force for social destruction and source of negative body image issues. The Circle Of Shame section was one such.

It’s unsettling the way Heat seems to relish identifying all the tiniest celebrity flaws and mistakes and foibles in this section. This is a fairly tame instalment, but the mag still finds time to rag on Eva Mendes for wearing – gasp! – a white bra under a black top and Serena Williams for having – no! – a perceptible sweat patch (an athlete!). Some of them are just ridiculous – a picture of Kelly Brook with one sunglass lens missing and evidently giggling about how silly it looks has zero to do with shame – but it’s easy to perceive an undercurrent of malice in all these pictures, a desperation to point out that not only are celebrities flawed just like us, they’re risible, moronic creatures who don’t know how to dress themselves.

I think it’s the use of the adjective “shame” that I object to most. Most of the mockery in the mag is lighthearted, superficial, harmless – but describing these trifling gaffes as sources of shame suggests contempt, disgust, even humiliation. The editorial line would no doubt be that readers lap this sort of thing up, and they’re just giving their audience what it wants. If Heat didn’t give the readers these pictures, would readers be calling and emailing demanding to see celebrities called out and shamed? Although one of the less vicious editions, this is still unpleasant, and it sits uneasily alongside the soft ribbing found elsewhere in the mag.

... [T]here’s an overall sense of fun that runs through the whole mag, and it certainly doesn’t leave the sour taste that reading, say, the Daily Mail does. The disagreeable Circle Of Shame is the exception to the general rule. Perhaps Heat would do well to quietly ditch it.

In calling for this action, I naturally assumed I was just shouting into an abyss, with no hope of ever being heard. But I recently picked up a copy of Heat again and was astonished at what I found.

Readers, Circle Of Shame has been quietly ditched! Granted, the essence of the concept has not disappeared – Heat is still gleefully pointing out celebrities’ shortcomings and sniggering behind its hand – but the part to which I objected most strongly, the ludicrously harsh term “shame”, has been dropped. (By the way, I am pretending that I did not describe said noun as an adjective in my previous post, and I’m sure you’re happy to do the same.) The feature has also shrunk in length by a third and, although I don’t have the issue I originally critiqued to hand, I believe the point size of the captions has decreased as well. These now seem almost hesitant, as if distancing themselves from the previous, “shaming” incarnation of the feature. They didn’t mean it. They’re sorry. It’s just a bit of fun.

Hoop Of Horror is far more appropriate, a silly bit of obvious hyperbole – no-one is actually horrified by anything on these pages, least of all Amy Winehouse with some white powder around her nose – and fits much better with the mag’s tone. Naturally, though, the best thing about the change is that it is clearly a direct response to Shades Of Caruso’s criticisms. Heat didn’t want to remove the feature altogether, so closely is it identified with the magazine’s brand, but it has excised the nauseatingly judgmental aspect of it, and reined in its shrieky excesses. Well done, Heat. And thank you.

Of course, the truly great thing about blogging on an occasion such as this is that I can blithely assume that someone in Heat’s Very Important Decision-Making Department read my blog, choked on his cigar smoke, underwent a combination of a moment of clarity and a crisis of conscience, and passed an edict to the editorial staff insisting that they come up with an alternative toute de fricking suite. If I was any sort of conscientious professional journalist, I’d have to phone up Heat and try to ferret out the reason why the offending section was altered – if, say, it was a decision from the outgoing editor Mark Frith, who stepped down earlier this year, or the first action taken by new editor Julian Linley (who takes over officially in September), trying to put his mark on the mag. Or indeed if it was summarily demanded by the stereotypical cigar-chomping executive I invented a couple of sentences ago. But the happy fact – or as we bloggers say to make things truer, FACT – is that it was all down to Shades Of Caruso. We did it. We were the agent of change. We made a difference. And the world will never be the same again.

Unrelated media news factoid of the day: Heat’s circulation dropped 15.8 per cent year-on-year in the recently announced magazine sales figures for the first half of 2008.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Frightfest: Where I Make A Fool Of Myself

Those lovely chaps at Film 4 are currently hosting Frightfest in the West End, which features numerous interesting film choices, including Frank Henenlotter's Bad Biology, the UK premieres of The Strangers and Paul W.S. Anderson's Death Race, and the poorly distributed Midnight Meat Train, which probably won't reach our shores until it's on DVD, thanks to some truly perplexing choices by Lionsgate. It's a crying shame it's been treated so bad, though my condolences go to poor Clive Barker, whose film career never really took off (and yes, I am one of the few who would have loved to see a sequel to Nightbreed). That said, Ryuhei Kitamura is responsible for at least one appalling movie that I wish I had never seen (Versus), and I've not yet seen anything else by him (an attempt at Azumi faltered about twenty minutes in out of sheer boredom), so who knows if it would be any good? Hopefully he has improved a lot. If anyone has any reliable info on that, let me know.

Due to time constraints, I have only managed to get a ticket to see Los Cronocrímenes, aka Time Crimes, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, the man responsible for the Oscar-nominated short 7:35 de la mañana. Time Crimes revolves (and I mean that in the temporal sense) around Hector (played by an increasingly confused Karra Elejalde), a man whose nosiness is piqued by the sight of a woman (Bárbara Goenaga) undressing in the woods near his new house. Upon investigating Hector is assaulted by a mysterious man in a long coat and a pink bandage around his head. It's an arresting image, but sadly it makes the strange attacker look like a camp Darkman, a realisation that robbed the character of some of his menace.

Chased by this crazed slasher, Hector hides within a nearby complex, and from that point on, "things" happen, "things" I cannot reveal for fear of ruining the film. I will say that while I enjoyed it a lot (and it becomes pleasantly twisty at about the halfway point), it suffers in comparison to Shane Carruth's Primer, easily the most head-bending time-travel movie yet made. That film will confound me forever more, I reckon, and as a result I'm still not sure how much emotional power it has. It's such a perplexing movie, almost alien in its savant-like dedication to its own obscure rules, that it might be really moving behind all of the cognitive dazzle, but it might not. Guess I should watch it again. And again and again and again and again and again.

Time Crimes, while more conventional than Carruth's experimental mindfuck, wears its capacity for emotional manipulation more readily on its sleeve, and yet the final moments, while pleasingly circular, don't convey the shock I think they are meant to, undercutting them with a teeny bit of humour (of which there is quite a bit throughout). Certainly Hector's resignation to the whims of fate struck me as a bit too comical, and I appreciate that is no kind of criteria to judge a film by, but that's how I have to call it this time. It's still an impressive movie, and I recommend it without hesitation, especially as the time twisting plot is presented very clearly and has been thought through with great rigour, but I couldn't help but keep wondering what the rumoured Cronenberg remake will be like. I can imagine he would make it even more clinical, but perhaps the final twist will be more shocking. Who can say? We don't even know that he's making it, after all.

So, to why I made a fool of myself. The festival is partly curated by film critic Alan Jones, whose reviews were hugely important to me when I was a kid. His erudition and enthusiasm for all genres treated by the mainstream as beneath contempt gave me enormous pleasure, and shaped my viewing habits to a great extent. There are innumerable movies that I have chased down as a result of his recommendations, and my love of film can be at least partly attributed to him. After leaving the screening, I saw him deep in conversation with other noted genre critic Kim Newman, and even though I didn't want to be a jerk I still decided to be rude and interrupt. Though I feel bad about that, I had to shake Alan Jones' hand and tell him how much his work had meant to me. Sadly, as I do not react well in situations where I have to think fast while nervous, my speech about his wonderful criticism and support for the horror and sci fi genres ended up sounding like this.

I also feel a bit bad for not saying anything to Kim Newman, but then I'm still pissed at the drubbing he gave Alien 3 on release. Two stars out of five? Looks like it was filmed through a bowl of oxtail soup? Yeah, I still remember that, sonny, and I can hold a real grudge. That grudge does not remove the embarrassment of the encounter though. Blurg.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Swear, I'll Shut Up About This Soon...

...But this was too weird not to share. Last week I tore into Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky as it had made me so very very angry midway across the Atlantic, and after kicking it around a bit, I mentioned one of my favourite movies, Theodore Flicker's The President's Analyst, a demented and joyous satirical classic from the 60s. I had no idea at the time why I did that; the combination of movies just seemed to make sense somehow. Anyway, after mentioning it, I was gripped with the desire to get a copy, having found out during my trawl for images that it had been released on DVD a few years back. It's a barebones release, sadly, but it needed to be bought.

So tonight I went to HMV Oxford Circus on my way back from work, and thankfully they had a copy left. As I was leaving, I noticed the shop had been partially closed off. And which cinematic titan had caused this?

Yes! There he is, signing copies of Happy-Go-Lucky for his adoring fans! I obviously made that connection last week using some primitive and confusing form of precognition. It's not a very good picture, as I had a feeling I would be mobbed by those fans if they thought I was disrespecting him, so I was kind of rushed. Also, I got very self-conscious. This also explains why I didn't run past him clutching copies of Con-Air and X-Men 2: X-Men United, screaming, "Balls to your movie! This is art!" Plus, you know, rude.

I will say this, though. He looked miserable. Leigh fans, if you stumble across this, feel free to disabuse me of this notion.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh Man, Two New Polls? Give It Up!

Yes, I have added two new polls to this blog, even though I still have one going. I've dragged out my superhero poll for ages because I'm enjoying watching the battle between Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr. so much, though I am predicting a late flurry of votes for Halle Berry, whose involuntary reaction to a blob of catnip moved me so much in Catwoman. Though I should end it soon so as not to clutter the sidebar so much, I felt compelled to gauge the opinion of our readership now that the summer movie season is ending, and what better way to do that than by starting two new polls, for favourite and least favourite films of the past few months.

I'm genuinely curious about how people felt the season went, and so please ignore my childish namechanging and give me some hard data. I know The Dark Knight split opinion down the middle (not helped by the pre-release enthusiasm), and some were angry about Indiana Jones (though I thought it was probably not as horrible as The Last Crusade). I also know that one regular reader will be tempted to vote for Hancock as worst summer movie about fifty times. Don't do it, man!

Anyway, I am aware that this blog is getting awfully busy, but I hope to rectify that soon with some nifty XML alterations that will get rid of this dreary Tic-Tac Blue template. That will, of course, involve effort and understanding of code, so it won't be happening too soon, but it will. As demented genius AV Club commenter Z0diac M0therfucker would say, "THIS SHIT IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE", as former Police 5 host Shaw Taylor would say, "Keep 'em peeled," and as Diddy would say, "Vote or die." (Apologies to Sean Combs fans if I got his name wrong; I lost track of it a couple of years ago and even Wikipedia is unclear, if you can believe that.)

Don Draper Watch: Juvenile Snickering Edition

While visiting family in the US, we made an effort to see the truly bizarre Step Brothers, a very funny movie that feels like it might be the final stage in the Ferrell/McKay/Reilly comedy experiment, so effectively did it stretch narrative logic and audience sympathy with its wilful disregard for the rules of storytelling, hewing close to them only to satirise them (at least, that's how I saw it). It was not quite as good as we had hoped (though perhaps good enough to silence some crazy haters), and it's already been eclipsed as comedy event of the year by the genre-bending brilliance of Pineapple Express (aka the American Hot Fuzz), but memories of it are still making us laugh; I'm still occasionally saying, "Boats and Hos" with no prompting. Plus, the finale, spoofing happy cinematic final act resolutions with Dada-esque rigour, was worth the ticket price alone, and it finally made us totally embrace Adam Scott (aka Palek The Vulcan Inseminatron from Tell Me You Love Me). His insane performance as Ferrell's asshole brother is possibly the highpoint of the film.

After the film we conducted a post-mortem (punctuated by uncontrollable giggling over Richard Jenkins' dinosaur impersonation), and realised we needed to rewatch both Anchorman and its "sequel" Wake Up Ron Burgundy for, like, the trillionth time. Due to complications in life (i.e. playing Half-Life 2 and Mario Kart Wii) we only managed it this weekend, and it was much fun. As we are that type of couple that enjoys randomly quoting films we love in out-of-context ways, Canyon has been shouting, "I'm gonna... rip the lid off of it!!!" ever since, and I've been saying of just about everything in the house, "It's the pleats, it's an optical illusion," referring of course to Ron's explanation for why he appears to have an enormous erection while talking to his soulmate Veronica Corningstone.

So why am I bringing this up now, and what has it got to do with Mad Men?

Holy Secret Beatnik Sympathies, I don't think that's attributable to the pleats. My God, Don's packing! No wonder everyone defers to him. This sight totally distracted us for the next few minutes of screentime, which is probably a good thing as not long after that the recording went flooey and we missed the rest. Damn. I guess our modern machinery is no match for Don's fearsome 60s-era genitalia. As for the rest of the episode, he amused us greatly with his weariness and existential ennui caused by too much booze and sex and not enough spiritual and aesthetic nourishment.

Poor guy. Truffaut! Hurry up and make Jules et Jim! We want Don back on top, and pronto.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Adventures In Awesome: Eno + Byrne = Hyperintelligence

Another swift post, this time about my belated discovery of a new project by Lib-Dem youth affairs advisor Brian Eno and secret Scot David Byrne, called Everything That Happens Will Happen Today (I'm a sucker for long album titles). It's their first collaboration since the ground-breaking My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and here is the opening song, Home, as a taster.

If that whets your appetite, it can be downloaded from this site, in such a way as to bypass the music industry and its evil grasp. Indeed, they have put their album out there in a way similar to Radiohead's In Rainbows (and I love that they are following in the footsteps of a band named after a Talking Heads song), though the difference is you can't elect to pay what you want for the album. That's not really that much of a problem, though. I think they're aware that, despite their Amazing Powers Of The Brain and the exponential talent co-efficient that exists because of that fearsome combination of hyperintellects, they're not going to sell as many copies as Radiohead did, and besides, it's still cheaper to get it via their site than it would be on iTunes, and you can choose to purchase the actual-not-virtual CD copy when it comes out in November for a couple of $s more. Besides, this is all part of Byrne's plan to save music itself from exploitation by corporate scum. What a guy.

Is it worth downloading? I've only listened to it once, and it is certainly pleasant enough, and a far cry from their more discordant collaborations, with high praise going to the lovely Life Is Long, which is adorable, but then their recent albums have been fairly muted in comparison to their early works, so it comes as no shock. It reminds me of Paul Simon's underrated Surprise, released a couple of years ago with "sonic landscapes" by Eno. I'm confident that is an example of his computer-generated wit.

Speaking of Eno and his other projects, I'm kind of nervous about dipping my toes in the official website of The Long Now Foundation (a typically forward-thinking project from the great man, and several other great men), though my research has inspired me to get a pack of Oblique Strategies cards. However I did have a good look around David Byrne's less imposing and highly entertaining site, and was filled with regret that while in New York a few weeks back I didn't get a chance to check out his Playing The Building installation. Whenever I ponder the works of men like Eno and Byrne, I realise how much I envy and admire people who have such creative energy and confidence and education that they can just sit around conceptualising crazy shit all day long, and then implement it with the help of other intelligent and ambitious people. It would be a much better life than one spent in a gray office like the one I was stuck in today.

And yes, I'm aware that I'm being particularly whiny and pessimistic this week. Apologies. This post, written in Byrne's trademark innocent and guileless voice (as familiar to anyone lucky enough to have seen his wonderful directorial debut True Stories) really did make me smile though. Please read it. It's quietly funny, and perceptive.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Morpheus Turns My Frown Upside-Down

It gives me no pleasure to tell you a tale of waking to a grey day, of almost no sleep (goddamn Joker nightmares) and a miserable commute on a damp train to find my job is going flooey at a faster rate than I had previously thought. Obviously this is a typical morning for many. Perhaps mine seemed worse knowing that today was the day Happy-Go-Lucky came out on DVD, which meant more people becoming exposed to Poppy Fever, which is just like overdosing on heroin except with no beneficial side-effects. It also meant, yay, more of Mike Leigh's sunny, benevolent interviews.

I don't want to become one-note at all, especially after really going off on one last week, but I thought this was worth quoting, as it made me verbalise on the train loudly enough to wake up the Monday morning slumberers:

Q. Why do some people say Poppy is irritating?
A. I don’t know. I think she’s delightful. Right at the beginning, you could be forgiven for thinking she might be irritating but, once you get to know her, she isn’t like that. I don’t know why people say that. Maybe it’s lazy journalism.

Perhaps Leigh said it while laughing, and then pointed out, "Oh, I don't mean you, dear boy, you're very clever," but I doubt it. Beyond the fact that he seems to assume that disliking Poppy can only be caused by some kind of inability to engage with his incredible vision, he really is rude to his interviewers. While trying to find that online I stumbled across this old interview, conducted when he was directing the stage version of Abigail's Party.

Q. You studied at Rada. What made you move from acting to directing?
A. I was never an actor in any proper sense, so the premise of the question is ridiculous.

Later on:

Q. Because nothing's written down beforehand, when I bought the screenplay for Naked, was I buying someone's transcription?
A. Oh, don't misunderstand, as you obviously do, the whole thing.

Dear God, where does he get off? He has to be just chuckling all the way through, right? I mean, there's this question and answer as well. This tends to suggest he's not just being an incredibly rude, pompous, conceited jerkoff, right?

Q. If you were an actor, would you relish the chance to work with yourself?
A. Oh, I'd love it. It would be fabulous, great. But it's a very academic and slightly looking-glass question [laughs].

See? Laughter. He's like Santa, if Santa thought the lower classes were composed entirely of stylised stereotypes. The quote that interested me most, however, is this [italics mine]:

Q. Which directors influenced you when you were studying?
A. I came from up north, where I never saw anything except Hollywood and British movies until I was 17, when I came to London. It was the early 1960s, the time of the French Nouvelle Vague, so I discovered French cinema - Renoir; Italian cinema - Fellini and De Sica - who are influences in different ways; the Japanese cinema of Ozu and Kurosawa; and Satyajit Ray, the Bengali film-maker, who made fantastic family films, domestic studies of real life.

This is relevant as Canyon, who read my previous rant after I had finished it, commented on Leigh's dismissive attitude to having a bike stolen (where he said, "If they’ve nicked something, there you go basically. What are you going to do about it?"). In furious anger, she asked aloud if Leigh, the great film buff, had seen The Bicycle Thief, a movie about how an entire life can be ruined by the theft of a bike. And here he is praising Vittorio De Sica. I'm beginning to think he would say anything to defend his movie, including being pissy with interviewers and maintaining that he is a lot like Poppy in order to pretend such a sunny outlook is possible and not just a thought experiment gone horribly wrong. Still, I could be miles off base, and interviews with Mike Leigh could be a joyride, but even if I fluff that one, I was weirdly on the ball with this one. Again, italics mine:

Q. Do you rate any directors working at the moment?
A. Oh yeah, sure. I love Quentin Tarantino. I like Steven Soderbergh and I think Lynne Ramsay's great; I like her new film [Morvern Callar]. Todd Solondz's Happiness is a film I absolutely resonate with.

I''ll let you, the reader, make up your own jokes about his love of Happiness, but perhaps Morvern Callar was an influence after all. Shame he can't use his considerable clout to get Ramsay working again, seeing as how her IMDb page is depressingly static.

So yeah, that put me in a bad mood this morning, a mood that was surface-level and would have evaporated if I hadn't arrived at work to find out, the literal instant that I walked through the door, that my job had become a galactic-level clusterfuck the types of which are written in the holy books of aliens. This would have carried on for a while, but thankfully the cosmos heard my cries of misery and delivered this news to me; Laurence Fishburne will be the new lead in CSI after William L. Petersen leaves! Here he is investigating a freeway shoot-out, looking for shell-casings using a metal detector that looks suspiciously like a samurai sword.

If I were a religious man, I would sing hosannahs! Apparently:

Fishburne will play a former pathologist who is now working as an itinerant college lecturer, teaching a course in criminalistics. His focus is on understanding criminal behavior, how and why people commit acts of violence -- tendencies he disturbingly sees within himself. In the course of a murder investigation, he comes into contact with the CSI team and ultimately joins the Las Vegas Crime Lab as a Level-1 CSI.

Though today's woes were real and worrying, this news about something as inconsequential as a TV show still brightened my day, simply because I am crazy about Fishburne. He IS gravitas. Though many haters and fools think the cod-philosophy of The Matrix was risible and simplistic, it worked because when Fishburne says something, you damn well better take it seriously. Along with Hugo Weaving, the dialogue that annoyed so many worked just fine as far as I was concerned. Endless chatter about what purpose is, wordy threats of violence, discussions about the difference between knowing the path and walking the path; this stuff makes my heart soar when said with that booming voice. Seriously. So the thought of Fishburne talking about evidence, CODIS, and chemical residues is almost too much for me. I CANNOT WAIT! ::hyperventilates:: Here he is saying, "Meet my wife. Yeah, my hott wife. That's right. I walked the goddamn correct path, alright."

The fact that he has never seen the show doesn't faze me in the slightest. It's going to be The Balls, and will totally make up for him having to appear in one of the worst movies of the year (even though he was the best thing about it by some distance). Believe it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Newsflash: Clone Wars Not Disaster Shocker

Some quick thoughts on Dave Filoni's Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Episode Two and Three Quarters: Battle Of The Space Wars: In Space, which I just saw along with a lot of old people and their grandkids.

  • It's not terrible.
  • It's not particularly brilliant either.
  • I appreciate that this could have something to do with me having a baseline level of nerdery that means I get something out of even the most wretched sci fi movies, but seriously, this is not a catastrophe. It's a leaden but passable kid's film with a couple of fun action scenes. I'm glad I saw it, but I probably won't ever watch it again.
  • The animation is quite stiff; characters move less fluidly than most in CG animated movies, but it's not a deal breaker. It might account for all of the cut-scene comparisons the film has been getting, though.
  • I did like the character designs, though. Screenshots made their stylised features look silly, but seen on the big screen you can see lovely details. They look like moving clay statues that have been roughly painted, and as such almost have an analogue charm to them.

  • The clouds of the various planets also look painted, resembling the slowly morphing backgrounds in the superb Xbox Live Arcade game Braid, though they are not as expressionistic. It's not a spectacular visual orgasm or anything, being made for TV and therefore being cheaper than Pixar movies, but the budget constraints haven't stopped Filoni and his animators making the most of what they've got in order to create something that looks interesting.
  • The dialogue is quite dreadful, mostly comprised of flat exposition, bland jokes, and first draft clunkers, which is a very clever move on the part of the writers, as it exactly matches the dialogue in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. I have a feeling that a lot of the vitriol poured on this movie for having dialogue that works on a Age 5-8 level is that it reminds the audience that the prequel films, heavily anticipated and watched avidly by original prequel fans, were meant for kids first, adults second. Fans probably don't want to be reminded that they had invested a lot of energy in something that was not meant for them.
  • Disclaimer: I was one of those fans. I'm right there with you, nerd brethren, but I'm over it now, thank God.
  • All of the nerd-hatred poured out about Ziro the Hutt (i.e. the hatred not inspired by his perceived sexuality) might be justified if you are steeped in Star Wars continuity and are furious that he is meant to be the uncle of Jabba but ZOMG Hutts procreate asexually and only have one child each so how could Jabba's father have a brother?!!!?11!!?1!!@/@1!#???!! However, it's a really accurate impersonation of Truman Capote, which has struck many as a derogatory statement against homosexuals, but besides that is so out-of-place and eccentric (actually, "demented and immune to logic or rationality" sums up Lucas' decision-making processes) that it momentarily transcends sexual politics and ends up getting an astonished laugh from the audience (well, me, anyway).
  • Ziro is a godawful and poorly-judged caricature, though. What the hell were they thinking?
  • Lucas is apparently quite insane, and I think the Star Wars movies and forthcoming TV show would benefit from other celebrity impersonations, especially if it stops him creating characters that sound like awful racial stereotypes. Why not have a Neimoidian who sounds like Ed Sullivan? A Mon Calamari who sounds like Bette Davis? A Kaminoan who sounds like Groucho Marx? The Star Wars movies would have been so much more entertaining with more of these inexplicable whims from Lucas, the beardy-weirdy.

  • Hey, Lucas, Amidala was boring, is boring, and always will be boring. Plus she gets rescued by C3PO. Space fail!
  • Too! Much! Boring! Plot! (Again, keeping in line with the other prequel movies.)
  • The biggest crime of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, one that I can't blame the actual filmmakers for, is that it is not Star Wars: Clone Wars, which, if you are filled with nerd blood, makes more sense than it seems. This movie, The Clone Wars, is unremarkable and overplotted (though watchable), while Clone Wars, directed by the incredible Genndy Tartakovsky, was magnificent. It moved as fast as a rocket, almost entirely eschewed lumbering plot discussions, and featured many of the most innovative and exciting sequences of the entire filmed Star Wars series.

  • In fact, this might rank among my favourite moments of nerd cool ever committed to film and accounts for why my favourite Jedi ever is Mace Windu (well, that and the casting of Samuel L. Jackson, who I won't hear a bad word said against). Whenever people complain about ADD editing in action movies, complaining about Michael Bay and his ilk, I want to show them that clip to prove that there are still people who understand how to construct, block, and edit an action scene so that it not only makes sense but also generates the majority of its emotional charge through rhythm and escalation.
  • There is nothing even vaguely as cool as that in the new movie, and by the end of the film I was falling asleep from the repetitive fight scenes, but early on there are some fun moments. As I said, I probably won't ever rewatch this, but I keep watching the Tartakovsky version over and over again because it is so unbelievably cool and fun and fast-paced and even, at times, epic in a way even the live-action movies forget to be. It's kind of an insult to the great man that Lucas never thought to bump his work onto the big screen, but was happy to do that for something that is bland and underachieving in comparison.

  • It struck me mid-way through the current Clone Wars movie that it's very odd to be watching a story told in this order. First the last three films, then two prequels, the previous Clone Wars series, the last prequel, and now another story set between the series and Revenge of the Sith. As a result we've had to deal with a lot of cognitive dissonance as we are expected to feel empathy for a bunch of Clone Troopers we know have been subconsciously programmed to kill Jedi on command, and overlook the fact that the hero of The Clone Wars, Anakin, has been given a Padawan trainee, the obnoxious Ahsoka Tano, who is only a little older than the "younglings" he massacres in Sith. I doubt that introducing a young character is a way to foreshadow that, as the film never hints that that is to come, and she seems merely to be an audience surrogate for the kids the film is aimed at, but it did make me a bit uncomfortable.
  • Nice touch getting Christopher Lee back to play Count Dooku. He added some class to the proceedings. Sam Jackson, on the other hand, got to say nothing particularly interesting. Wasted opportunity.

  • The conversations between Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka are endlessly dull, going around in circles and never containing even an atom of wit. Midway through one of these seemingly infinite back-and-forths (many of which repeat information from earlier on, betraying its multi-episode TV origins), I realised that if the terrifying hyper-sensitive Political Correctness Gone Really Mad future world of Demolition Man ever came to pass, Lucas-style banter would be what replaces humour. It was an epiphany that chilled me to the bone, and made me want to see Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder even more than I already do (i.e. a lot).
  • Clone troopers know martial arts? Whuh?
  • Er...
  • That's it.

Oh, and Moriarty continues to be the best thing about Ain't It Cool News. Lucas should send him a bunch of flowers or a few hundred thousand unsold action figures for treating with such childish disdain. Lucasarts, though it might occasionally strike gold, has no class. ::Prepares for hissy fit from visionary director of THX 1138::