Monday, May 31, 2010

100 years, 100 films 2: The Defect (1911)

This French film, directed by Louis Feuillade, is one massive step up from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - it is comprehensible, and has things like 'character arcs' and 'plot'. Rather than just putting the camera down randomly and telling thirty friends to just do pointless shit in front of it, the camera setups are often somewhat carefully chosen for clarity of image, and comprehension of story. There is even a camera movement! A shot that begins in one room, pans across to another, and continues there. Now that is innovative cinema.

The plot - a waitress working at a dancehall is unsatisfied with her lot in life. Her job is horrible, the clients are pigs, and her boyfriend (a medical student) just pumps her for her money. She complains of all this to a stranger who happens to wander into the bar. He turns out to be a sympathetic doctor, who runs a clinic to help the poor. On a whim, the doctor decides to hire the waitress as a sort of nurse/secretary type thing, and to everyone's pleasant surprise it turns out she is quite good at it. The doctor dies, and in his will states that the ex-waitress should be the new Director of the clinic. She is good at this job as well, and everyone is happy. That is until the medical student boyfriend (who she had dumped before becoming a nurse) shows up, demanding a job. She refuses, and out of spite, he decides to write a letter to the newspaper, revealing her origins as a waitress in a dancehall. The rich funders of the clinic find this scandalous, and sack the woman. She becomes jobless, friendless, and hopeless. So that is the plot of The Defect. If you asked me to explain the plot of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz I would be at a total loss (and that's despite the fact that I've seen the Judy Garland version, and read the book).

The problem, of course, is that a film being better than The Wonderful Wizard of Oz does not make a film good. This film is alright, it isn't bad, but it isn't good. There are two main problems with the film - due to the paucity of interstitials, it isn't always completely clear what the characters are talking about, and there are some pretty big occurences of the Idiot Plot.

To the first (and most important) problem - there are some scenes in this film that, though there aren't any screen cards, it is perfectly clear what is being said. These are well crafted scenes, and are often quite satisfying dramatically (because there isn't the pause every thirty seconds to explain what is happening, halting the pace). But there are other scenes when it is actually difficult to tell what a character is supposed to be saying, or what, exactly, their body language means. An example - the scene in which the rich people find out that the Director of their medical clinic used to be a dancehall waitress. When they read this in the paper, they act shocked and angry, so I thought, "alright, they're angry that their Director came from circumstances. I can understand that." But then the Director walked in to the room, and they were acting all sympathetic and nice to her, so I thought, "oh, so they weren't angry about her past, but about the fact that the newspaper felt it had the right to print it. I can dig that, they're cool dudes, they've seen the world." But then the waitress says some things that she seemed ashamed about, and the rich people acted shocked again and fired her. I presume what happened was that the rich people thought the article was a pack of lies, the Director declared, "no, it's all true," and so the rich people's anger, which was originally directed at the newspaper for lying, became directed at the Director, for having been a waitress. Well, alright, that chain of events makes sense, but did I really need to go through those first couple of thoughts (that turned out to be totally incorrect) in order to get there? Couldn't they have had one interstitial that said, "what a filthy pack of lies!" then another that said, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but the newspaper has been sreading lies about you!" and a third that said, "no! It's all true!" I mean, was that really so hard? And this scene wasn't the worst example of a lack of interstitials - there are some scenes where I still don't quite know what was going on. That was just the one that was most explainable.

Okay, on to the second (and lesser) problem with the film. The boyfriend's actions, as presented, make no goddamn sense. So he goes to ask for a job, yeah, that makes sense, I'm with you so far. She refuses, and so he gets mad. Yep, that's all good. So he decides to blackmail her. Yep, sure, he's an asshole, I can buy that. So he writes a letter. Yep, important part of any blackmailing operation. So he sends the letter to the newspaper. Wait, what? If you're going to blackmail someone, shouldn't you, you know, tell them first? And yeah, the way it plays out, it could make sense one of two ways. Either he wasn't blackmailing her, and was just writing the letter out of spite, or he told her he was going to blackmail her when he asked for a job, and I just didn't pick up on it because of the total lack of interstitials in that scene. But either of these options are totally destroyed by an interstitial that the movie did feel the need to provide us, which went something like, "Oblivious to the blackmail, the Director continued performing her duties as normal." How the hell is it blackmail if the person you're trying to blackmail is oblivious to it? That's pretty much the shittiest job of blackmail possible.

Even if you were to put aside these two pretty big flaws, the film still wouldn't have been that good. It was self-important, preachy, and humourless. But on the other hand, it moved at quite a good pace, it wasn't overlong, the acting was for the most part good (if not particularly exceptional), and the camera work... well, it was a relief that I could understand as much of the film as I did, so that was a major plus. All in all, it was a pretty mediocre film. But I'll take mediocre over terrible any day.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

100 years, 100 films 1: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)

This wasn't actually a 'fearure film'. It was just a short that ran for thirteen minutes. So yes, I am kicking off my 100 years, 100 films with something that isn't really a film. And while the first feature film in the modern sense was made four years earlier, in 1906 (the Australian The Story of the Kelly Gang), there wasn't an American feature made until 1912, so it seemed appropriate to start things off with where films really were at this point - in the short subject arena. (My next two films are shorts as well, although their both longer than this one - but from 1913, they're all features.)

So there's that out of the way, what did I think of the film? It was pretty lousy. I actually couldn't really tell what was happening a lot of the time - characters just sort of jumped off an on screen randomly, with no rhyme or reason. And the static camera wasn't helping to clarify things any - sometimes you'd have about thirty people on screen, all of them doing something, and you just simply couldn't tell who the hell you were supposed to be looking at. And not in some clever artistic way, no. Just in a lazy, jumbled garbage sort of a way. And what I could understand didn't make a whole lot of sense either - how come Dorothy stumbles upon a living Scarecrow before she ends up in the land of Oz? If she lives in a world in which Scarecrows can come to life, what the hell is so special or 'wonderful' about Oz?

I was then going to have a paragraph that began with the phrase, "but to be fair to the film, it wasn't all bad..." and then follow it up with things I liked about it. But honestly, I couldn't really think of anything. I had so little understanding of what was going on that I don't know what was good and what wasn't. I kind of liked the design of the lion head? The bit where all the workers who were building the hot air balloon stopped working at midday and danced because those were union rules was bizarre in a fun way? It was short?

So if this is where films were in 1910, they had a long way to go before they became good. Or comprehensible.

Metapost: 100 years, 100 films

I have decided, somewhat stupidly, to conduct a film experiment, or filmic challenge. Over the next hundred(ish) days, I intend to watch one film from each year from 1910 to 2009, in chronological order. I'll then review them here, with added bonus-y things, like a list of my ten favourite films from each decade that I have just completed. I will also use this as an opportunity to blather on about my idiosyncratic and probably incorrect views on film history, talking about each film and what it represents about its time period.

I have established some arbitrary rules for myself, because what's a pointless challenge with pointless rules. The rules are as follows:
1. I can't have seen any of the films I watch. They all have to be new to me. (And no. I haven't seen any of these films. Yes, I know, I'm a cinematic idiot bla bla bla. I'm trying, aren't I?)
2. There can't be more than two films by any one director, and those two films can't be in a row.
3. I can't watch any other films in between - these have to be the only films I see until I've finished. I can watch t.v. shows and stuff, but no other movies.

And that's about it. Now on to 1910.

Doctor Who episode 5.7: Amy's Choice

The last four episodes of Doctor Who have all been pretty shit. So it's nice to see that Matt Smith's Doctor can actually produce a good one every now and again. It was exciting and funny and sad and cool, and it was one thing that was perfectly welcome (because it wasn't handled terribly), it was romantic. Not in the ludicrous melodrama ways of the Russel T. Davies years, but in a sort of honest, sweet, quiet way. I mean, yes, Amy decided she would rather die than live without what's his name, but she doesn't want to make a big deal about it or anything. There aren't any ludicrous and infurating crying scenes, so it's alright.

I also like the revelation in this episode that the Doctor hates himself. I honestly didn't see that one coming, although it does make a lot of sense. Matt Smith has been playing the Doctor like David Tenant on speed and an asshole - I like the explanation that his somewhat dickish behaviour is caused by an intense self loathing that he tries to keep hidden under a facade of jovial pomposity.

Also, I just liked the actual plot of the episode. I liked how it was pretty obvious the whole time which world was real and which wasn't, only to turn out that we were all wrong all along. It was a well handled twist, surprising without nullifying everything that went before.

This was probably the best episode so far this season - hopefully they manage to maintain this level of quality, rather than reverting back to the crumminess that went before.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review: Madame de... (1953)

This is a great film. It starts, and you become sucked in by the luxurious settings, and the fluid camera work, and the beautifully filmed objects, and then before you quite realise what has happened, you become overwhelmed by the poignancy of the situation. And by the end you have become so totally emotionally invested in what's going on, that you forget to pay attention to the glorious camerwork, the sumptuous objects, the intricate costume design. Somehow the director, Max Ophuls, has managed to turn the characters into real people, and you feel so damn sorry for every single one of them.

The film starts as a sort of satire on the artificiality of the social arrangements of the upper class. Oh ha ha ha, the audience thinks, these people are so vapid and moronic, their lives are so empty, that they are no longer able to feel anything. And then, slowly but surely, the film changes, and whereas at first we were laughing at their social artifice, by the ending we understand just exactly why it is in place. If you don't love your wife, if you don't care about your husband, if both parties in a marriage accept the other's various infidelities, then it is impossible to be hurt by life. It is only when you discover that you actually do have feelings that everything comes crashing down around you.

We can see this change superbly if we compare the first and last sequences of the film. In the first sequence, we get one long tracking shot of a faceless woman touching her objects. Her biggest problem in life is that she has come upon some little debt (it is never explained what for, and it is totally irrelevant), and so she needs to sell one of her expensive little trinkets - the film here is obsessed with objects, not people, because the characters in the film are more concerned with their objects than they are with each other. The final sequence, however, is all about people's faces, and the characters aren't surrounded by objects at all - their emotions have driven them out of their pleasants surroundings and into the wild, where their harsh, brutal, emotional natures will finally be bared for the world to see. True, there are still objects that the camera focuses on, but whereas in the first scene these were objects of leisure and beauty, in the final scene they are guns - objects of death. And the camera has stopped its endless tracking and swooping as well - it does still move, it is still fluid, but there are lots of actual cuts as well - in a regular film, these cuts would be regarded as nothing special, but because Ophuls has set up such a leisurely camera, the 'quick' cutting appears positively frantic.

Review: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula is so intense and rivetting it is often possible to forget all of its problems. But then Keanu Reeves opens his mouth, you laugh at his stupid line readings, and you remember. This could have been a really good film, if it didn't take itself quite so seriously. As it is, it's still a good film, but one that seems almost totally oblivious to its own ridiculousness. It plays sort of like a deformed bastard child of a Sam Raimi movie and a George Melies short. The only difference is, Raimi and Melies were both trying to make the audience laugh as much as anything else - they understood the delight inherent in over-the-top special effects. Coppola seems to have forgetten about this delight, and so has shots of people's eyes superimposed over stormy clouds, and expects the audience to take them without any sense of irony. I'm sorry, but it doesn't work.

Except that, sometimes, it does. This movie has scenes in it that are so over-the-top batshit insane, and played so straight, that they actually surpass any possible ironic feeling, and become legitimately freightening again. And this works to pull you in and terrify you, until Keanu Reeves speaks, and you're right back out of the film again, marvelling at the terrible casting choice.

The first scenes between Gary Oldman as Dracula and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker are frankly bizarre to watch. Oldman is chewing the scenery so much, and Reeves is so confused as to what he is supposed to be doing (he seems like he so desperately wants to fall back on his old standby, "woah!" but can't because, you know, it's a period piece), that it almost seems like one of those Youtube clips where someone has edited two completely different films together for comic effect. Once Reeves is trapped by the three vampiresses the film becomes good, because he's not really called on to say much in that scene, and then the film goes for about half an hour without him making any appearances. And it's then that the film really takes off - but Reeves comes back for the climax, forcing the audience to acknowledge the ludicrousness of what it is witnessing.

I loved the insane cinematography, the gory, sexy, bloody nature of everything - like they were filming what was written between the lines in Bram Stoker's original novel. There has never been a mainstream Hollywood film version of Dracula that has so openly acknowledged the sexual nature of the material, and for that I applaude. And the film looks beautiful, as well. I mean, it steals visual ideas from Nosferatu, from the Bela Lagosi Dracula, from the Evil Dead movies, from shadow puppetry, from the terrible Hammer Horror films, and from about a million other sources as well. And it synchronises all these steals into one gloriously hodge-podge, beautiful mess. I loved the way the film looked, but I just wish it acknowledged its own artifice sometimes. The difference between the first-person-monster-running shots in Evil Dead 2 and in Bram Stoker's Dracula is that in Evil Dead 2 they were meant to be funny. It still looks cool, and it is still legitimately scary, but at the same time there is something silly about it, and Coppola just seems content to pretend there isn't.

Also, I've ragged on Keanu Reeves quite a bit in this review, but he isn't the only one who gives a bad performance here. Almost everyone else plays their parts so insanely over-the-top that you wonder what the point was. Obviously it was intentional, but why? Was there just too much scenery lying around, and Coppola didn't know what to do with it? He couldn't be bothered throwing it in the garbage, so he just let his actors feast on it. Winona Ryder is actually quite good, but everyone else spends the whole movie on some bizarre wavelength that the audience is never quite privy to.

None of my complaints add up to a bad film. It isn't - it is good. But it could have been great. It was so close, and yet so far.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: State Fair (1945)

All the characters in this film are so blandly cheerful that it is actually difficult to dislike them. There's nothing to object to - everything is just so pleasant and amiable. I mean, yes, the camera is static, and the characters uninteresting, and the plots contrived, and the jovial spirit somewhat forced, and the hokey Americananess of it all maybe just too much, and nobody in the world pronounces Iowa like that. But none of this really, truly matters. I mean, if these problems weren't there, the film would be better, obviously. But even with all these problems, the film does still manage to be legitimately entertaining.

I think part of its cleverness is the fact that it never focuses on the one character for to long. It jumps from one bland romance to the next, from a scene about mince meat to a scene about rollercoasters to a scene about pig farming, and it does it all at a fairly quick pace, so though you're never particularly interested in anything that's going on, the movie moves on before you actually become bored. Very little of what is happening is actually important to any of these character's lives - the stakes are rarely particularly high - but this doesn't matter, because it's so pleasant to see a film where the events aren't life or death, where nothing really matters all that much.

And there are some really fun scenes - even if the pronounciation of the word 'Iowa' is frankly insane, the number "All I owe Ioway" is still very good. And the scene where Dick Haymes annoys the ring-toss shyster is pretty great - both because it's cleverly constructed as a scene, and because it works well as wish fulfillment for everyone who has ever paid good money for a ring-toss game (either if they lost, or if they won). And I liked the romance between Blueboy and Esmerelda - two pigs from opposite ends of the sty.

I mentioned before about the static camera, but that honestly doesn't matter all that much either, since the colours of the film are so amazingly lush and beautiful. The colours never make all that much sense in the context of the film. Sometimes it will look like night time, despite the fact that the characters are talking about how it's the middle of the day. Other times an outdoor barn dance will be lit like a Tolouse Lautrec nightclub painting. But this total lack of logic is basically irrelevent, when the colours are this fun to watch.

This isn't a great movie, by any stretch of the imagination. It's barely even a good one. But it is entertaining, and sometimes that's all you want from a movie.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

This (or rather last) week's comics: Batman: Streets of Gotham City, Legacies, Justice League of America, Girl Comics, Deadpool, Atlas, et al.

Also: the Avengers, Atomic Robo.

This review is late because I didn't get to the comic shop until now.

Batman: Streets of Gotham City No. 12 story by Paul Dini, script by Dustin Nguyen and Derik Fridolfs, art by Dustin Nguyen. This was an alright comic - I do like the Carpenter as a character (particularly when she isn't around the terrible Mad Hatter), and her charm and lack of morals do make this reasonably entertaining, but the Director seems like a terrible villain. I mean, a villain obsessed with movies, or a failed-director-turned-villain would both have been good ideas, but a guy who wants to direct snuff films and talks in vaguely movie-jargon dialogue? Lame.

Legacies No. 1 written by Len Wein, drawn by Scott Kolins, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert. Hey, I've got a great idea for a comic! Let's do a series about a bunch of old superheroes that nobody cares about! Not only that, instead of actually attempting to show the reader why these characters are interesting and/or relevant to today, and why we should be reading about them, let's just push them into the background and focus on two irritating ten year olds and a boring police detective! Yeah! Great! And let's have all the dialogue be terrible, and everything about it boring! Genius!

Justice League of America No. 45 written by James Robinson, drawn by Mark Bagley. Why is this comic about superheroes I don't care about? Look, I like Donna Troy, and gorillas are always pretty cool, and, you know, Batman is good. But why is it Donna Troy and not Wonder Woman? Why is it Supergirl and not Superman? Why is it Golden era Green Lantern, and not a proper Green Lantern? I like the JSA and all, but introducing them into this mess is just making things worse - I keep wondering why D.C. aren't using their top-drawer superheroes in what is supposed to be the top-drawer superhero team.

Girl Comics No. 2 written and drawn by a lot of different women. This is an anthology comic (with the theme of female writers and illustrators), and as such the quality is variable. Some of it is excellent, like the wonderfully charming "Do You Ever?" written and drawn amusingly by Faith Erin Hicks, and some of it is terrible, like the baffling and boring "Rondeau" which had pretty good art by Cynthia Martin, but just an awful script by Christine Boylan. All in all, this anthology wasn't bad, but nor was it very good (except in places).

Deadpool No. 23 written by Daniel Way, art by Carlo Barberi. This was funny - not great or anything, but solid Deadpool. And I really liked the idea of a Bea Arthur lookalike contest.

Atlas no. 1 written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman. As terrible as Legacies no. 1 was, this was worse. At no point did I give any kind of a shit about what was going on. I just, I just didn't care.

The Avengers no. 1 written by Brian Michael Bendis, drawn by John Romita Jr. So if Atlas was Marvel's Legacies, then the Avengers is Marvel's Justice League. The difference, however, is that this was good. Not great, but a solid start. One of the things that is good about it is that *gasp* they actually decided to use *double gasp* superheroes that people give a shit about! Oh my god! What a revolutionary idea!

Atomic Robo vol. 3 no. 4. written by Brian Clevinger, drawn by Scott Wegener. This was my favourite comic of the week - it was really funny and cool. The dialogue was great, the art was fantastic, it had funny meta jokes without actually breaking the fourth wall. It was fun and colourful and cool and awesome. Two thumbs up.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: My Best Friend (1999)

The key to this documentary occurs about half way through, when Herzog talks about Kinski's autobiography. Before this scene, all of the stories have been about Kinski's madness, his rage, his anger, how frustrating it was to be around him. After that scene, the human side of Kinski is revealed - his compassion, his belief in Herzog as a film maker, his severe germ-phobia. The reason the autobiography scene is key is because it reveals that much of what Kinski and Herzog say about each other to the press and public is fabricated. Or, not fabricated, exactly, but not the whole truth. In the scene in question, Herzog reveals that he and Kinski wrote parts of Kinski's autobiography together - all the stuff in there about Herzog being a vile, despicable human with no redeeming qualities where written by Herzog and Kinski, sitting under a tree. The first half of this documentary is just repaying the favour - Kinski understood that his madness was what attracted the public to him, and was alright with that.

But whereas Kinski's autobiography (according to this documentary - I haven't actually read it) never said anything nice about Herzog, Herzog's documentary - by revealing the semi-fiction of their relationship - does reveal nice things about Kinski. He was a mad egomaniac, he did always need to be the centre of attention, he would rant and rave and burst into violence with little or no provocation. But he could also be gentle. And kind. And human.

Another interesting thing about this documentary is that it raises questions of how much of Kinski's mad behaviour was an act. How much of it was, "well, this is what the public wants..."? Herzog talks about Kinski's faux-love of nature - how he wanted people to think of him as in touch with nature and the jungle, despite the fact that he actually hated it. How he would talk about nature as 'erotic', despite never touching it, never going near it. How much of Kinski's other behaviour was like this? Was it all an act - a put on - a lie? Did he scream because he needed to, or because other people wanted him to, or because he perceived that other people wanted him to? I guess we'll never know for sure.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review: Wonder Woman (2009)

The action scenes in this Direct-to-DVD animated movie are so incredibly good (and so much more violent than you'd expect) that you almost want to forgive the rest of the film all its problems. And to a certain degree you can - I can say that this film was reasonably good. But it should have been better, and it could have been better, if the voice cast had been better utilised.

I mean, goddamn, this is a film with Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt, David McCallum, Vicki Lewis, Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. I like every single one of these actors (yes, even Vicki Lewis), but they are so underutilised here that you can barely tell that most of these people are actually good actors. Alfred Molina sounds no different than any other generic sounding Justice League villain, Oliver Platt sounds like someone doing a bad Oliver Platt impression! Rosario Dawson, David McCallum, Vicki Lewis and Keri Russell - I knew ahead of time that all these people were in this film, and I still had difficulty working out who was playing who. There's no energy in any of these performances - they all sound so bored.

The only cast member I recognised was Nathan Fillion, and I really wish I hadn't. I mean, I love Nathan Fillion, in Firefly, or Serenity, or Waitress, or Castle - he is a legitimately charming man. But you take his disembodied voice, attach it to an animated character that is much less handsome than Fillion himself (with the most illogical and ugly hair I have seen on a non-anime animated character, I think ever), give him some truly tasteless dialogue - that charming man becomes a stupid and annoying douche that I just wanted to punch in his stupid face every damn time he openned his damn mouth. And why was Wonder Woman attracted to him? It doesn't make any sense. I mean, I can understand the attraction of the bad boy to a regular female - the sense of danger, the vague but undefined sexual threat - I can understand that. But Wonder Woman wouldn't feel any of that - if anything, she should pity him for being such a damn weakling. And if you take away Steve Trevor's bad boy-ness (in this version anyway - normally the problem with Trevor isn't that he's a bad boy but that he's so bland that it's inconceivable that anyone would like him, so I guess they fixed that problem), you aren't left with some decent guy who just likes to have fun, you're left with an insecure douche who thinks he's better than everyone. Why is that attractive to her?

Apart from Fillion's annoyance and the rest of the cast's blandness though, the film is pretty good. I mean, they do actually fix up quite a few problems I've always had with the Wonder Woman origin story, like - how the hell do the Amazons have guns (this movie's version of the Bullets and Bracelets sequence actually makes sense, as well as being probably the best staging of that sequence I've seen), or why does she feel the need to fight in heels? Mix these legitimately good tweakings of the story with some really damn good action scenes, and it all makes for a pretty good film. I just wish they had utilised their voice cast properly. I mean, they got real actors - why don't they sound like it?

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.6: The Vamipres of Venice

This was kind of a mediocre episode, but that's okay - I was expecting it to be terrible. The fact that I wasn't actively annoyed by everything meant that I was just pleasantly bored by the whole thing. Nothing actually interesting happened, it was all pretty much just generic Doctor Who heroics, with the odd mildly good line of dialogue here and there, but I wasn't yelling at my television in anger, so it's a step in the right direction.

The main problem I had with the episode (apart from its lack of anything particularly good) was the fact the whole moral ambiguity at the end. I just sat there thinking, "man, you really haven't earnt this at all. Trying to make me feel bad for the death of this species - piss off." I mean, it could have been handled well if there was that sort of melancholic tone throughout the entire episode. If the Doctor had legitimately felt bad about the destruction of this alien race the whole time, it could have been good. But you can't go from, "You didn't even know here name!" justified anger to, "oh boo hoo this alien race is dying" without any discernable reason. It's just sort of sloppy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: Goin' to Town (1935)

Mae West is fun to watch, even when she is neutered by the Hayes Office. Here she gets off some pretty good lines, like after she was asked if she had consented to marry the cattle rancher, and she says, "sure I did... twice!" The fact that lines like that were allowed in just makes me curious to know what exactly the censors cut out.

The problem with this film isn't West, it's everything around her. The plot is so pointlessly chaotic, and not in a fun way. It feels like West and/or the director, Alexander Hall, just kept getting bored with what they were making, and decided to change it midway through. It starts out as a Western parody. Then it's a horse racing comedy. Then it's a Pygmalion story. Then it's an opera. Then it's a murder mystery. Then a love story. Then a musical. It just can't make up its mind. And while some of these individual elements are fun in and of themselves, none of them really work together properly. Even before the ending, where the film tries to be about four different movies all at once - even when the film is going through each different setup in a linear fashion, it still doesn't gel properly. Nothing leads in to anything else - it's so pointlessly jerky.

Review: Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

This movie starts off really well, with the introduction of one of those old and festering upper class English families, where everybody hates each other, and their suppressed frustration and rage boil over into bizarre and hurtful behaviour. And it sets up what should have been a nice dichotomy throughout the movie - these horrid and spite-filled shells of people, as compared to Dr. Watson's good natured befuddlement - it would have been fun to see these character's usual tactics of subtle terribleness totally fail to work on Watson, because he was too stupid to understand what was going on, and too nice to assume they were being mean to him.

But the movie looses this thread after about ten minutes, when the most spiteful and hate-filled of the family is murdered, and the characters all stop being interesting. That's not to say that the movie itself becomes bad or anything, it is still entertaining in its own ridiculous sort of a way. But the start of the film was so promising that I was kind of disappointed.

I was also kind of annoyed by the clock that struck thirteen times before anyone was murdered - there was no attempt to give this a scientific or rationalist explanation. They never claimed that the murderer had arranged the clock to strike thirteen times to fill everyone with fear, or anything, they just sort of... have it there. It seems to be implying the existence of actual magic, and this is difficult for me to take in a Sherlock Holmes film.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Review: Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (1959)

When I read Jack Kerouac's On the Road a few years ago, I found it to be one of the most tedious, uninteresting, overlong pieces of boring that I have ever read (or at least finished). So it was with some trepidation that I approach Burrough's Naked Lunch, considered to be the other seminal novel of the Beat Generation. But my fears where largely unfounded - whereas Kerouac can spend twenty fucking pages talking about him sitting in the back of a truck eating a watermelon, or can devote huge tracts to the description of what music was played at a party he went to (and how he spent most of the party walking around like Groucho Marx) Naked Lunch never spends even the tiniest amount of time on that kind of tedious detail. This is because Naked Lunch reads like an anti-On the Road. On the Road spends its whole time trying to convince the reader of its complete adherence to reality - Naked Lunch spends its whole time refusing to even allow the reader to contemplate the idea of taking the book as anything that could even remotely happen. On the Road reads like a teenager who's just gone on his first road trip and is determined to tell you about it in agonisingly boring detail - Naked Lunch reads like the ravings of a mad man. I'll take the loony over the teen, please.

I'm not entirely sure if I appreciated the book properly, though. I mean, I'm not sure that I got what Burroughs intended me to get from it. Burroughs writes in the Atrophied Preface for Naked Lunch (which takes place at the end of the book): "I am not an entertainer." What I think Burroughs wants us to take from the book is the whole: "oh this is what human nature is we are so vile and horrible we are all terrible people parasites we feed off each other and kill kill kill until we are nothing but empty shells" thing, but taking the book on that level, it just sort of becomes obvious and a little bit stupid. And pointless - if taken on this level, the novel implies that all people feed off each other, and that this is evil. It also implies that all art (including literature) is a form of feeding off each other. Therefore Naked Lunch itself is, in fact, a work of evil. I mean, yes, there is the whole "the good guys use the exact same techniques as the evil guys, but they use them for good" theme running all through the book, so I suppose Burroughs would answer that the ends justify the means - but what ends? What is the point of informing everyone that every possible thing they could do is inherently evil, and the only possible way you can do good is to continue doing the exact same evil things you were always doing, but with good intentions? That is a meaningless and pointless message.

The other point to the book, the fact that the book is a depiction of what it is like to suffer withdrawal from heroin, is much more interesting to me. The problem is that he keeps trying to claim that the world and everyone in it is constantly in withdrawal from something, and that his heroin withdrawals are just symptomatic of the problems of the world. No, dude. Your heroin withdrawals are symptomatic of the fact that you took heroin pretty much constantly for fifteen years.

But what I really liked about the book, what made it all worth it, was just the insane fun playing with language. Burroughs may claim that he isn't an entertainer, but I was legitimately entertained by this book. Maybe I wasn't supposed to be, but when you have passages like: "Robert's brother Paul emerges from retirement in a local nut house and takes over the restaurant to dispense something he calls the "Transcendental Cuisine"... Imperceptibly the quality of the food declines until he is serving literal garbage, the clients being too intimidated by the reputation of Chez Robert to protest," well, that is just really entertaining writing. It's just really, really funny. And yes, I suppose you could argue that much of the power of this sort of writing comes from its obvious satirical nature, but it seems more entertaining to me to just take it as a series of bizarre and insane jokes. And that really wasn't what Burroughs intended.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: Gaumont Treasures DVD 1: Alice Guy (Part 1)

The Gaumont Treasures DVD is a collection of three DVDs highlighting the work of three French directors (from Gaumont studios) from the early days of cinema. The first disc is the early work of Alice Guy. I'm not giving each film its own review because, well, some of these films go for a minute, and I don't really want to have to write more than one sentence about some of the others. The reason I have split this review up into parts, rather than just reviewing it all after I have watched it is because, quite frankly, if I don't write this down immediately, I'll probably forget what half these films were. Okay, so here we go.

Oh, by the way, these films are in chronological order, so in addition to talking briefly about each film, I'll maybe bring up how it affects Guy's progression as a film maker.

The Fisherman and the Stream: I put this DVD in, and this is the first thing that greets me. "Oh jeez," I think to myself, "this is going to be one boring arsed DVD." It's a minute long, and it's a fisherman getting pushed into the river by some young men. It is not a good start.

Bathing in the Stream: Then this starts, and I think, "are all these films about people in streams? What the fuck is this?" But no, this one isn't just about people in streams, it's also about dogs in streams. So there's Guy's first evolutionary step as a director: she added a dog.

Serpentine Dance by Mme. Bob Walker: And then this starts, and finally I can see hope. I mean, it isn't a great film, or anything, but it's visually quite interesting, and it doesn't play like someone you don't care about's home movies.

The Turn-of-the-Century Blind Man: This "comedy routine" is about a blind man begging for change, but it turns out (ho ho ho) he's not blind at all! Many of the films on this disc are like this. And, okay, I'll buy that people at the turn of the century thought this was funny, but did wouldn't it have been much funnier performed live? What was the point of filming this - it was obviously originally some crummy vaudeville sketch, now they've gone and sucked the colour and audio out, and removed the possibility of audience interaction. Hooray!

At the Hypnotists: Alright, this one was kind of amusing. A woman goes to the hypnotists, and it's pretty obvious that Guy just discovered the jump cut, because everyone's clothes keep changing! This is the other type of comedy on this disc - clothes changing magically. It is strangely more interesting than the bad vaudeville stuff.

The Burglars: This one is so incomprehensible and poorly laid out, I don't really know what's supposed to be happening. I mean, okay, I get that some burglars break in to a house, the police come, and then the burglars... beat them up... with the art they just stole? Huh? Wha'? And it's all set on this bizarre rooftop set, which doesn't simplify matters at all.

Disappearing Act: This one's on the exact same set as At the Hypnotists, but is much less good. It's the same sort of idea - fun with jump cuts, but some of them are pretty poorly handled, and I don't know why they used a monkey suit. This is another one of those things that would have maybe been fun to watch on stage, but here, when it is so obvious how it is all done, it's just unimpressive.

Surprise Attack on a House at Daybreak: This is another one where I was just "Huh? Wha'?" There's a... house... and some... soldiers (?) ... attack... it... or something? And then it just ends. Like, immediately. It's just bizarre.

At the Club: This is another one of those "comedy routines", except here I can't even tell what the joke is, if there was one. Maybe it was just supposed to be an accurate depiction of life. Two men are playing a game, one of them accuses the other of cheating, they get in a fight. THE END.

Wonderful Absinthe: This one's actually alright: A guy is at a cafe, he thinks he's drinking water, but it's actually absinthe. He immediately goes berserk. It's kind of funny, and recalls the comic drunkenness that was perfected by the American silent comedians (particularly Chaplin in 1 a.m.) I don't care what anybody says - I find drunk people in silent films funny.

Avenue de l'Opera: It's just regular footage of an ordinary Parisian street but (ho ho ho) the footage is being played backwards! Honestly, I can't really make fun of Alice Guy for this one - I remember in Year 10 Media Studies giggling myself silly at footage of me and my friends doing stupid shit played backwards. It is inexplicably entertaining, although I don't know why she felt compelled to release it commercially - perhaps because people at the time didn't have access to iMacs and cheap cam corders.

Automated Hat-Maker and Sausage-Grinder: This one is kind of funny as well. I mean, yeah, it's stupid, and everything is summed up in the title, but hell, it only runs for a minute - it's like a 1900s Far Side cartoon or something.

At the Photographer's: I assume this is Guy venting about all the stupid morons she dealt with as a photographer. A man goes to a photographer to get a photo of himself, but refuses to sit still. The photographer gets increasingly more and more annoyed, a confrontation ensues, the camera is broken, the end. It's not a good film or anything, but it's better than some of the other bad vaudeville sketches, because it feels oddly personal.

Dance of the Seasons: Winter, Snow Dance: When I saw this title I thought to myself, "oh good, we're going to get something else cool looking, like the Serpentine Dance." But it's actually pretty boring, as dances go. The only interesting thing about it is the fact that people are very obviously standing just outside of frame, throwing handfuls of snow at the dancer.

The Landlady: Filmed vaudeville with little to recommend it. It's almost like they hadn't invented the pratfall yet.

Turn-of-the-Century Surgery: I've got no idea what to say about this one. I just... I've got nothing. Wait no, here's something: it's terrible.

Pierette's Escapades: I'm not sure if this was the intent, but I believe this to be the first lesbian relationship portrayed on film. At least, I'm pretty sure it's a lesbian relationship. I mean, one of them is wearing pants, but she clearly has a bust, and is female. I don't know what people at the time thought of this, whether they just went, "that is a woman, but she is pretending to be a man, so it's alright" or what. Also - experiments in colour. Garish, but interesting.

At the Floral Ball: Another experiment in colour. This one is much more boring though. I actually found myself watching the weird gittering colours on the ceiling, rather than the performers.

The Cabbage Patch Fairy: Apparently this was a remake of one of Guy's first films, from before even The Fisherman at the Stream, but I can't really see why she remade it. It isn't interesting. And she decided to remake it again two films later.

Serpentine Dance by Lina Esbrard: I was like, "Serpentine Dance! Hells yeah!" And it was alright, but it wasn't as good as the first one. For one thing her movements were less graceful, as well as less wild. Also, the Lina Esbrard looks like she's really angry to have to be doing it. And at the end, it doesn't seem like she was intending to stop, it seems like she just drop one of the sticks, thought, "fuck it," and walked off.

Midwife to the Upper Class: More involved remake of The Cabbage Patch Fairy. So, okay, obviously Guy likes the imagery of babies coming from cabbages, so let us actually analyse this film. So, okay, cabbages do look pretty vaginal, so it is surreptitiously acknowledging where babies actually do come from, but she is saying that this is where the Upper Class gets their babies from. Maybe the point is that the upper class are so removed from their emotions and their human nature that they are incapable of getting babies the usual way. But because they have repressed the idea of sex, it comes out in twisted and illogical ways, such as getting babies from things that look like (but aren't) vaginas. Or maybe it's just a stupid fucking film.

An Untimely Intrusion: A man and woman are fighting, the cleaner comes in. That's it. Some plates are thrown, but apart from that, there is no point or punchline to this.

Miss Dindee and her Performing Dogs: Man, stuff like this, I always just feel really bad for the dogs. Especially the little one, dressed in the tuxedo. Although at the end I think he gets a blowjob from a dog dressed in a princess outfit, so I guess he's probably alright. It's really difficult to tell what is actually happening at the end, but Miss Dindee sure doesn't want that dog in the dress doing whatever it was doing to the dog in the tuxedo.

How Monsieur Takes His Bath: This is another of those jump cut films, and this one is so bizarre that it's quite entertaining. A man is trying to get undressed to take a bath, but new suit jackets, and vests, and trousers keep appearing on his person whenever he gets the old one off. I don't know what it means or what the point is, but it is oddly fascinating.

Faust and Mephistopheles: This one is fascinating as well, but for different, less good, reasons. I know the story of Faust and Mephistopheles pretty well - I studied Marlowe's play of it at Uni. And I think this is supposed to be the same plot as Marlowe's play except that at no point is it clear who any of the characters are or what the hell is going on. At first I was trying to go, "okay, so that's Helen of Troy... no wait, that's Joan of Arc... oh, she's gone now..." but then I just thought, "fuck it" and watched in detatched fascination as these people appeared and disappeared without any discernable rhyme or reason.

The O'Mers in "The Bricklayers": This one was... terrible. Just terrible. I can actually see how this could be entertaining on the stage, with live performers, but it just fails as a film. There's no logic to any of it - the camera doesn't follow the action, and there's often multiple things happening at the same time, so you just sit there going, "okay, so now he's climbing the ladder... wait, when did he get attached to the rope? And why is that guy rolling around on the ground? The guy fell off the ladder? I didn't see that. Just slow down, goddamnit! I can only focus on one thing at a time!"

The Statue: Well, this didn't have the problem of unintelligable action, but it did have the problem of being bad vaudeville. A statue comes to life and hits people. To be fair, this one wasn't as bad as most of the other actually bad ones, but it was still kind of bad. It did have some nice pratfalls in it towards the end, though, so that was alright.

The Magician's Alms: A rediscovery of the joy of swapping people's clothes. Except this time it isn't so joyous. It's actually kind of boring. Not terrible, but not good. And the characters all act like dicks. Oh, I suppose this is an important evolutionary step in Guy's film making: I'd never been able to tell if her characters where dicks or not before - she has discovered character development. Not particularly well utilised here, but we shall see if it improves.

Okay, so that's it for Part 1 - that's all I could take in one night. Tune in at some undisclosed point in the future for the further adventures of Alice Guy (soon she starts dicking around with sound).

Review: Modern Family episode 1.1: Pilot

This was reasonably funny - I mean, a pilot is rarely going to be the best episode of a show. The characters aren't fully established, the writers haven't quite worked out what really works well and what doesn't, the tone isn't necessarily fully worked out. All that said, this does show quite a lot of promise. I liked most of the characters (and I never thought I'd say that about anything Ed O'Neill was in,) and all the plots were pretty funny in their mixture of the ridiculous and the gentle observational humour. There were a few moments of "Comedy of Awkward", which is a style I'm really getting sick of, but hopefully those die out as the show goes on. I can see Ty Burrell's character Phil Dunphy becoming real goddamn annoying, but hopefully Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd, the creators, manage to steer the show away from that.

After all, Steve Levitan is the guy who made David Spade seem not annoying, in Just Shoot Me. So, you know, he's got a pretty good track record.

Is this going to be one of those shows where every single couple on the show kiss, except for the gay dudes? I mean, I love The Sarah Silverman Program, but gay guys do more than just bump fists (or, in the case of the Modern Family pilot, chest bump). They have sweet make-outs, people. If you are going to try to portray a realistic monogamous homosexual relationship, you really do need to hire actors who aren't averse to the idea of making out with other guys. Otherwise their relationship because weirdly asexual, like they're just best buds who spend a lot of time together.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: The Three Musketeers (1921)

This was the first Douglas Fairbanks Senior film I've seen, and I have to say, when I saw the first shot of Mister Faribanks, sitting on the floor, legs covered in a blanket, stupid grin plasted across his pudgy face, I thought to myself, "what? This is Douglas Fairbanks Senior? This is Errol Flynn's predecessor? This guy? He looks like he's mentally handicapped." And my opinion of him didn't really change until the first real swordfight scene, which occurs about half an hour in. And I was expecting some fun if vaguely tedious gentlemanly fencing of the "what ho! Sorry about that chap!" variety, but what I got was so ferocious and intense and suddenly it all made sense. "Of course he has a pudgy face - if it was any leaner, you'd lose all that animalistic fury." He swings that sword like he's never taken a Stage Fencing lesson in his life - sometimes it looks like he's actually trying to bash his opponent over the head with it. Watching this pudgy, pompous fool explode into a whirlwind of angry energy, overcoming his enemies through sheer force of will, that is cinematic escapism at its finest.

Sure, the film itself is far from perfect - the characters are all two dimensional, the bad guy telegraphs his evilness all the way across the English Channel (at one point he actually pets a pussy cat - who knew that cliche went this far back), the symbolism is so ham fisted it would be comic if it wasn't so annoying, the plot makes no sense. But none of these problems matter, really, because watching Fairbanks explode, it is a sight to behold. Errol Flynn could never do that. For one thing, he was too well trained.

Actually, the problem of the terrible symbolism, that one does matter a little. It was really, really terrible.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review: Batman: The Animated Series episode 1.42: Tyger, Tyger

This episode started stupid, and pretty much stayed that way until the end. The whole Island of Dr. Moreau pastische thing is kind of a cliche, and it wasn't particularly well done here, either. When they could have focused on the tragedy of the terrible lives of these poor mutants, they spent much of the running time focussing on the iritatingly-voiced scientist, Emile Dorian. And the whole Catwoman being turned into an actual cat thing was poorly handled, as well. What did she actually think of the experience? Did she like it? Hate it? Was she absolutely revolted by the idea? Did some small part of her think that it was what she really wanted? We never really find out - she spends most of the episode just sort of standing around, acting ambiguously cat-like. And why was that henchman called Tygrus, anyway? I mean, for one thing, it sounds like Tigress, but he's a guy. And for another thing, he's not a goddamn tiger. He's what, a panther? So why isn't he called Panthrus, or whatever?

The ending was kind of sad, where Tygrus realises that his entire life is going to be one of pain and misery, but why wasn't the whole episode about that? I mean, if you're going to do a Dr. Moreau pastiche, at least do it properly - make it explicit how sad and tragic these creature's lives are.

Also - furries be warned. The character designs are kind of ugly on the cat-humans. Just a heads up.

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.5: Flesh and Stone

Last episode I said: "oh well. Maybe it gets better in Part 2." Turns out: nope. It gets much, much worse. I mean, the whole crux of the episode just made no fucking sense whatsoever. Why the hell couldn't the Weeping Angels tell that she couldn't see them? She had her eyes closed, goddamnit - what, they can tell when you're blinking, but not when you've got your eyes closed? What does that even mean? And even if that somehow made any kind of goddamn sense, surely as soon as she was facing away from them, they'd be able to grab her from behind. When she tripped over, and her face was facing directly into the ground, surely at that point the Angels would have been able to work out that she couldn't see them. What, they're just standing there, thinking, "do you... do you reckon she's got eyes on the back of her head, or something? Is it alright to stop being stone now, do you think, or... should we just stay like this, just in case?" And when Amy is on the ground trying to find the communicator that she dropped - why is she having such a hard time finding it? I mean, yes, I get that she can't see anything, but had she gone deaf as well? It was making a perfectly audible beeping sound, and it was within easy reach of her hand. None of this scene made any sense.

The rest of the episode wasn't much better. Actually, that isn't true, the rest of the episode was significantly better, but it was still terrible. It was just the Doctor babbling on about the crack in time. According to Stephen Moffat, every fucking episode of this season is going to be about the Doctor babbling on about the crack in time, so hooray. We've got more of this bullshit to look forward to. Next time - Venice. And vampires. This is gonna suck. [ba doom ch]

I would just like to say, for the record: I thought the epilogue was actually pretty good. It was funny and interesting, unlike the rest of this utter garbage. And it makes perfect sense, from a character perspective - why haven't any of the other companions tried to seduce him?

Review: Armour of God (1987)

Jackie Chan is a fun guy to watch, and seeing him jumping around, kicking people is really enjoyable. The problem with this film is that, until the third act, we get to see hardly any of Chan in action. The openning sequence is fun, and there's a pretty good car chase in act 2, but the rest of the movie is people standing around, talking about their confused relationship problems. And all this stuff might have been okay, except Chan obviously has no real idea what to do with these scenes - they are almost allawkward and uninteresting.

Take Chan's relationship with the German woman - because this is an action-comedy, there needs to be a hot chick for the protagonist to fall in love with, and to provide eye candy when people aren't kicking each other. But their relationship is so clumsily handled, it feels as if the film is forcing these two together against their will. For example, the scene where she decides to go along with the hero and rescue the girl - why does she do this? The film gives no explanation. She doesn't really like Chan yet, we've seen no scene of her complaining about the tedium of being a spoilt rich woman or anything, we don't even get some token nonsense explanation. Just, "I'm going with you." "Alright." None of this would matter nearly as much as it does, if the film didn't spend a good half of its time talking about this completely pointless and incomprehensible relationship. Just get to the jumping and kicking, already. Jesus.

Even the relationship stuff that isn't incomprehensible and tedious is still pretty pointless. Like the "bedroom farce" scene, where every character is just wandering from room to room in a big hotel apartment, trying to find someone to sleep with. It isn't badly handled, exactly, it just seems totally out of place. And it does play somewhat like a mediocre episode of Frasier.

Review: Cobra Verde (1987)

This is Herzog's funniest film - it's a pity it isn't better. There are great moments here and there - the human telegraph pole is mesmerising, and I have never seen Kinski perform more insanely than he does here. But on the whole, it just isn't that great. It isn't bad, but compared to Herzog's other Kinski collaberations, it isn't really up to snuff.

I think a lot of the problem is that the film starts so poorly. The first few scenes have this weird structure, where Kinski goes somewhere, has a weird (but not in a good way) conversation with someone who is overacting horribly, then leaves. This pretty much goes on until he gets to Africa, where the film actually becomes good. It still doesn't become great, but it becomes good.

One thing I did really like about the film when it got to Africa was the implication that a leader pretty much has to be insane. We encounter the king of village, who has a joint leadership with the "Bush King," who is imaginary - the non-imaginary king declares that Kinski poisoned his greyhound, and so must be killed. After every single one of his insane pronouncements, all the members of the village cheer - one gets the feeling that if they don't, they'll probably be killed along with Kinski.

An uprising is being organised to stop the destruction that will inevitably come from the madness, with the king's nephew to seize power. The only problem is, that the king's nephew is even crazier than the king himself - his eyes bulge out of his head as if he didn't know he could close them. His incomprehensible declarations are even more bizarre than his uncle's.

And the other candidate for power, is Klaus Kinski. An actor who never played a sane person in his life, and who apparently refused to do anything but yell and scream at everyone. To be in a position of power, according to Cobra Verde, you must be out of your mind.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Review: Rushmore (1998)

I love Wes Anderson's style. I love the way his characters jerk into and out of his frame, always maintaining the screen's symmetry. I love the way his character's dialogue is often just bizarre statement of fact, like they couldn't work out what to say, so they just decided to describe their surroundings. I love his colour schemes - his use of rich, earthen colours often contrasts wildly with the film itself's total lack of realism. I love his soundtracks, and the fact that he doesn't believe that the score should be unobtrusive - sometimes he'll have a musical montage sequence just to show off some cool song he likes (and that maybe has some sort of emotional resonance or whatever). And I love the fact that he uses all this style, all this immeasurable coolness, to portray legitimate emotional experiences on the screen. I mean, sure, his movies are ultra self-aware, and are in fact showing us these genuine emotional experiences with a healthy dollop of irony, but that irony doesn't alter the legitimacy of the emotions, it just makes them more fun to swallow.

Let us take, for example, the montage in the middle of Rushmore, in which Jason Schwartzman's Max Fischer attempts to kill Bill Murray's Herman Blume. The most obvious thing about this sequence is that it has really cool characters wandering around while a totally kickass song by the Who plays in the background. But if we break this scene down, we can see that it is actually very cleverly constructed - ironic, yes, but also legitimate. So we start off the scene with Bill Murray in a hotel room. There's a close up on a bee and the audience thinks, "huh. That's weird." Bill Murray reacts to the bee casually at first, but then both he and we notice that the room is slowly filling with more and more bees. He starts to flip out, then notices that the bees are gaining access to his room via a tube through the front door. He works out what is going on while the first discordant sounds of the Who song start, and he smiles to himself in recognition, before realising that this revelation does not, in fact, mean that he is in any less danger from the bees in his room. We then cut to Jason Schwartzman as the song proper kicks in - he is in an elevator, wearing a hotel waiter's jacket and standing next to a box labelled "Rushmore Beekepers". He is more dishevelled than we have ever seen him before, smiling snidely to himself and chewing gum. The ridiculousness of the situation makes the audience laugh, but they also feel the palpable change that has come over Max - he is no longer the tie wearing nerd, but is now the gum chewing slacker - the song helps to sell this image of a new, 'cool' Max, one who has stopped caring about anything at all. When Max takes out the chewing gum and brazenly sticks it to the wall of the hotel the transformation is complete - he is now (in his own mind) a total badass. This moment is intentionally ridiculous on the part of Anderson - Max is not, and never will be, a cool guy, and the gum-on-the-wall represents the delusional fantasy world that Max's grief has plunged him in to. But, aided by the awesomeness of the song, along with the legitimate (if ridiculous) coolness that Max is displaying, the audience is allowed to understand exactly what Max is going through. We laugh at him, but we also empathise with him, and we do think, just for a moment, "he's actually a pretty cool guy." The laughter comes as much from the ridiculousness of the audience thinking that Max is cool due to his ludicrous actions, as it does from those ludicrous actions themselves.

And that is the genius of Wes Anderson - he is somehow able to present things to the audience in such a way that they are simultaneously ironic and sincere. We know what we are watching is bizarre, or over-the-top, or stupid, and yet we are affected by it anyway. He wants the audience to be hyper-aware of the artifice of his films, so that they are surprised when they actually produce genuine emotion. This surprise causes laughter, and this laughter, in some weird way, allows us to empathise all the more with the characters. If a show like The Office had a scene like the one in which Max pretends he was hit by a car in order to sneak in to Rosemary Cross' (played wonderfully by Olivia Williams) bedroom, it would be made as intentionally awkward and horrible as possible. The result would be that we would feel bad for all the characters involved, as well as feeling superior to them. The way Rushmore plays the scene, though, is hardly awkward at all. By removing this awkwardness, the audience is free to empathise with Max, rather than pitying him. We feel the underlying hurt that led him to this situation in the first place, rather than just the embarassment of the situation itself. Yes, we laugh at him, but we don't laugh at his shame, and I think that is an important difference.

Review: Dinner at Eight (1933)

All the women pretty much steal this one. The men are given very little to do, except stand around, looking handsome in a sort of aged way. They all bumble around, spurting out dialogue about how much trouble they're in financially, and how much the Great Depression hurt them. Oh yeah, I'm sure it was a big comfort to the millions of jobless people living in Hooverville that the people directly responsible for causing the Wall Street Crash with their complete lack of long term planning were suffering too - they might not be able to afford a table at the society benefit, and they might be forced to sell off their holiday home! Okay, yes, by the end of the film the big American bully guy (the guy we're supposed to think is really responsible for the crash, because of how much of an asshole he is) has learnt a small, tiny, miniscule amount of restraint, but is it enough?

Yes. In this film it is enough, because nobody's really paying attention to the men anyway. Nobody cares, when you have three of the funniest performances from three of the funniest actresses working in Hollywood at the time. Jean Harlowe is hysterical as Wallace Beery's disgruntled and manipulative wife. Marie Dressler is charming and endearing as the aging actress who both encourages and ridicules men's remembering her as she was in her prime. But the show is really stolen by Billie Burke in full on maniac mode, who spends the whole film worrying about the seating arrangements of a society dinner, when everyone around her's lives are turning to shit.

And it is because of these three wonderful central performances that the rest of the film works so well. I mean, none of the men are given particularly interesting characters or storylines, but we care about them inasmuch as they act as foils for the women. Harlowe uses Beery like Gracie Allen uses George Burns, or Jerry Lewis uses Dean Martin. You don't necessarily notice them when they're there, but you'd notice if they left. And the reason that Billie Burke's performance is so funny is because Lionel Barrymore's was so serious - he was losing his business and dying of heart failure, while his wife screamed at him because they didn't have the required number of guests. And Marie Dressler's performance is so endearing because you can tell that her self esteem is based almost exclusively on the adulation of men - now that she is old and wrinkled, the adulation has become confused with memory, and so she feels the need to trade on her former glory, while pretending she is perfectly content with herself as is.

George Cuckor, the director of the film, did a superb job - we care when he wants us to care, we laugh when he wants us to laugh. There are a few plots that seem a bit too melodramatic and pointless (the romance between the fading actor and the young woman engaged to someone else is somewhat irrelevant, and its conclusion is super-rushed,) but on the whole this works as a superb serio-comic portrayal of the lives of the rich during one of the bleakest economic times in American history.

This Week's Comics: Birds of Prey, Batman, Booster Gold, Batgirl, The Amazing Spider-man, Deadpool Teamup, Kato, The Green Hornet Strikes

Birds of Prey No. 1 written by Gail Simone, art by Ed Benes. I guess my expectations for this book were pretty unrealistic. I mean, I was so fucking excited about it- Gail Simone back on Birds of Prey! Shit yeah! And it was good, but it wasn't great. It was all just setup. Hopefully next issue will kick all that ass that Simone used to kick in the good old days.

Batman No. 699 written by Tony Daniel, art by Sandu Florea. I complained about this last issue, but - seriously D.C., stop ruining the Riddler. I mean, this issue he goes from being in a coma to being a villain again. Stop it! It's annoying.

Booster Gold No. 32 written by Keith Giffen and J. M. Dematteis, art by Chris Batista. Keith Giffen can be funny, or he can spend an entire issue talking about poop jokes. He chooses the latter option here, and the comic actually becomes annoying to read. The ending was unexpectedly emotionally powerful, but that's mostly just because everything that had come before was junk.

Batgirl No. 10 written by Brian Q. Miller, art by Lee Garbett and Pere Perez. I honestly did not expect Batgirl to be my favourite comic this week, but it was. As much as I don't really like zombies as villains, these were done pretty well, and Batgirl is awesome. The scenes of her attempting to cryptically tell people that she was Batgirl while in her civillian disguise were really funny, as well. A really good, entertaining comic.

The Amazing Spider-man No. 631, written by Zeb Wells, art by Emma Rios and Chris Bachalo. This was pretty good as well. I liked the internal struggle between the Lizard and Curt Conners, that was going on amidst the external struggle between the Lizard and Spider-man, and I liked the fact that it was legitimately sad, sweet and terrifying. The Lizard is normally a pretty crummy villain, but here he is awesome.

Deadpool Teamup No. 893, written by Rob Williams, art by Matteo Scalera. This was a reasonably good comic, even though I don't really understand what happened in it. Why would there be a weapon called "Cultureswap Tech"? Who would invent such a thing? And at the end, when Deadpool is going crazy-British, is he actually still under the effects of the Culture-swap tech, or is he just making fun of the British? He mumbles something about his healing-ability alterring the whatever whatever, but... so... what was happening?

Kato No. 1, written by Ande Parks, art by Ale Garza and Diego Bernard. Dynamite's run on Green Hornet comics sure do like to set things up for future issues, while having very little actually happen in each issue, don't they? This wasn't terrible, but nothing actually happen except for awkwardly executed character development until the very end, when a woman who had said a grand total of about three lines was [shock horror] murdered! What an emotional impact that would have had if I had at all cared about her, or this comic!

The Green Hornet Strikes No. 1, written by Brett Matthews, art by Ariel Padilla. Whereas Kato wasn't particularly good because nothing really happened, this book was actively bad, because too much happened, and I had no fucking clue what any of it meant, or was. Honestly, it's not just the jumping back and forth between the two seperate storylines (although that didn't help to make things easier to understand, given some panels I was like, "wait, which storyline is this happening in?"), it was also the fact that I have no idea what was going on in either storyline, but for different reasons. The one with the old Green Hornet telling the crime boss that he was the Green Hornet I understood basically what was happening, but had no fucking idea why it was happening, and just kept thinking to myself, "huh? wha'? why is he...? What?" over and over again. And the other storyline with the new Green Hornet breaking in to some building and doing... something, I had no problem with that from a character point of view, because I had no fucking idea what was happening, so I don't know if the characters were acting like idiots or not. Maybe this book will get better, but this was pretty bad.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (1967)

I love Angela Carter, and I loved this book. I loved the insane, fairy tale logic to everything. I loved the fact that the book felt like magical realism, despite the fact that absolutely nothing that happened was impossible, or magic. I loved the fact that every single character was a symbolic, stylised charicature of whatever it was they represented in the context of the narrative. I loved the imagery, the playful use of words, the use of literary allusions both subtle and obvious. I loved pretty much everything about this book.

But the problem was that the style of the book was virtually unsustainable. The insane logic, the literary allusions, the characatured to the point of ridiculousness characters, the highly symbolic nature of everything, the over-stylisation - these are all really fun things to read. For twenty or thirty pages. After that they become somewhat tiring - like it's an effort not to begin to think, "but hold on a minute, Uncle Philip can't possibly be that much of a monster. Why is he acting like this? What is his motivation?" In a short story the author doesn't necessarily have time to make every character fully rounded and human - it is expected that they will simplify, and the reader is usually not given enough time to consider whether or not each indivdual character is completely plausible or not. But in a novel, this refusal to complicate her characters with real motivations or logic becomes troubling. You have the time to flesh these characters out - so why aren't you?

None of this is to say that I think that The Magic Toyshop is in any way a bad book - it is a really good book, with a few flaws. It's just that I would rather read a Carter short story than a Carter novel. Not to say that I will never read another Carter novel, but, well, The Tiger's Bride from Carter's short story collection The Bloody Chamber is my favourite short story of all time. The Magic Toyshop is just a really good book.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review: Lowdown episode 1.4: Hart of Darkness

Well, it's good to see that single camera Australian comedies have finally realised that pretending to be The Office is a bad idea, given the fact that if the show isn't funny (and these shows never were - I like Wayne Hope, but he's no Ricky Gervais) it just becomes excruciatingly painful to watch. And the thing about making a comedy difficult to watch - turns out, its a bad idea!

This show seems to know that a comedy where you actually hate every single character is just no fun. I mean, yes, the two main guys in this were morons, but they were likable morons (or at least likable enough morons) so it was okay. I mean, it wasn't actually very funny, like, at all, I chuckled maybe, I don't know, twice, but it didn't make me change the channel in disgust, so this is a step in the right direction for Australian comedy (after taking so, so, so many steps in the wrong direction). It was fun enough, and the plot was interesting enough, and the characters were charming enough, to keep you watching. It wasn't great, but it was watchable.

So that's the mild praise out of the way, now for my problems with it. I didn't like the homophobia thing - it was weird and out of place. And sometimes the joke constructions were pretty obvious. And it really didn't explain why that woman's sister was sleeping in a tent in an art gallery. I mean, okay, her nymphomania meant she lost her job and her apartment bla bla bla, so her sister decided to let her stay with her, I get that. But why in a tent? And why in an art gallery? Wouldn't it have made more sense just to let her, you know, stay in your house? This was never explained, and there wasn't even a proper punchline for it, so... why?

Review: Doctor Who episode 5.4: The Time of Angels

Not content with just ruining the Daleks, the new season of Doctor Who has decided it would be a good idea to ruin the scariest monsters from the new series as well. Stephen Moffat's Blink was the best episode of new Doctor Who with its crazy intricate plotting and its completely clever mystery. But this episode was just... meh. It wasn't bad (although I have no fucking idea why Amy Pond didn't tell anyone she was turning in to stone - is she retarded or something? Is that her character ark for the season?) but it certainly wasn't as good as its predecessor. The image of the Angel emerging from the television was legitimately creepy, but apart from that it was all just been there, done that. And more doesn't mean better, just as making them a bigger threat doesn't make the episode better.

And did it really need to be a two parter? I mean, most of this episode was just people pointing torches at things in tunnels - surely you they didn't need all those scenes. Oh well, maybe it gets better in part 2. Although, frankly, I doubt it, since I can't imagine how they can make Amy's stupid actions not seem stupid, or how they're going to stop the Angels in a better way than in Blink.

Review: The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

This is a really funny movie. Or, at least, I think it is. It is so difficult to tell, because whenever I watch it I find myself repeating all of the lines along with the characters. A film that I have watched as many times as this, and that I first saw when I was, what, eleven? is very difficult to judge. It's the same with Billy Maddison, 10 Things I Hate About You and The Lion King. I've seen all these films so many times critical judgement is impossible. I know that most respectable critics panned the shit out of Billy Maddison, and thought 10 Things I Hate About You and The Lion King were alright, but not great, but I am totally incapable of looking at these films objectively.

Well, that's not true. I am incapable of looking at the jokes in The Emperor's New Groove objectively, but I am not incapable of criticising anything else.

For example - ugh the ending sucks so hard. For a movie that spent its whole time trying damn hard not to slip into mawkish sentimentality, this film sure does just dive right in it at the end. Not the big chase sequence or anything, I'm just talking about the bit where they learn to work together and go back-to-back up the wall of the castle. This scene made me so infuriated as an eleven year old, and it has not stopped annoying me for the last ten years. I suppose you could argue that the stuff with Pacha's family was sort of mawkish and sentimental as well, and you'd be kind of right, but that stuff has two things going for it that the ending doesn't. Firstly, that stuff is legitimately funny (even if the comedy there is slightly more gentle than in the rest of the film), so it is forgiven. Secondly, well, I mean, they're breaking new ground for Disney films. First pregnant lady, anyone? That's gotta be worth some points.

But, yeah, apart from that dreadful thirty seconds, I honestly can't critique this film. I love the look of it, the pacing, the voice acting (even David Spade, who I normally want to kick in the face), and, above all, the fact that it is a goddamn cartoon. It's like a feature length Looney Tunes cartoon, and that kicks ass.

One reason I suspect that this film isn't actually as good as I think it is, is because it was directed by Mark Dindal, who went on to direct the not-very-funny-at-all Chicken Little, which tries for a similar tone. There are legitimate differences between the two films that make Chicken Little worse - it's more sentimental, the soundtrack is really obvious (and relies almost entirely on mediocre Barenaked Ladies songs for its emotional impact - I love the Barenaked Ladies and all, but it's a bit much), the plot is less straight-forward, the character called 'The Ugly Duckling' isn't really that ugly at all, she just has glasses and was filmed at odd angles, Chicken Little is a male. But the main problem I had with Chicken Little was that the jokes weren't funny, despite the fact that they were quite similar in tone and execution to the jokes in Emperor's New Groove. I don't know - maybe they just fit in with the cartoonier world of Groove a lot better. Or maybe I was stupider as a child than I was an adult. I suspect not, though. After all, Roger Ebert gave Groove three stars, but Chicken Little only 2 and a half.

Review: Frasier: a bit less than the first half of season 10

Frasier is one of those shows that's just compulsively watchable. You put the DVD in, thinking, "I'll just watch one or two episodes," and before you know it, two hours have gone by and you're at the end of the disc. You think, "eh, I'll just watch the first episode of the next disc," and bammm! You're half way through a season. That didn't quite happen here - I did manage to stop after the second episode on the second disc, but still.

10.1: The Ring Cycle. This is classic late-period Frasier. A little too sure of itself, a little too "Oh! Look! Farce! We are doing farce! Look at the ridiculous situations our characters have gotten themselves in!" But funny, so it's alright. Although the climax of the episode doesn't really exist - it just sort of peters out.

10.2: Enemy at the Gate. This episode is funny, although it does sort of seem to be a it too much of a steal from the Seinfeld episode where all the characters are stuck in the parking lot. The bit where Niles decides to leave, then for no reason changes his mind, was annoying, as was the sentimental mush subplot about how much Martin is going to miss Daphne bla bla bla.

10.3: Proxy Prexy. This episode isn't that funny, but I like it anyway, largely because I like the fact that it actually shows the benefits of Frasier's pomposity and persnicketiness. If this were a lesser show, when Martin broke out from under Frasier's marionette strings, he would have made a great condo president all on his lonesome. But Frasier knows that the average joe schtick can only take you so far, and without proper planning and thought, you're probably going to become unstuck.

10.4: Kissing Cousin. Zooey Deschanel goes a long way to excusing this episodes faults - she's funny, even if nothing else in this episode is. The Kenny subplot is poorly thought-through as well. Why would we care if he had never unpacked his boxes before? Who gives a shit?

10.5: Tales From the Crypt. I normally hate the character of Bulldog, but here he works, for some reason. Maybe having him teamed up with Frasier makes him more... tolerable. Also, he doesn't have that goddawful horn that he was always obnoxiously honking in the earlier seasons. This is maybe the best episode of season 10, although in a way that says more about the mediocrity of season 10 than it does about this episode. There is also a terrible subplot where Daphne's mother (a terrible, terrible character, who is actually worse than Bulldog) has a trick or treat war with the worst child actor in the history of the world.

10.6: Star Mitzvah. This is another good episode, with some really funny jokes and probably the best appearance of the character of Noel throughout the entire series. The only real problem I have with the episode is when that kid who knows Klingon translates Frasier's speech into English, and then claims it was, "really cool." Nope, it wasn't. It was the exact same meaningless bullshit that parents always bore their kids with at those sorts of things. It was short, I guess.

10.7: Bristle While You Work. The main plot of this episode was kind of crummy, because the actor who played the new housekeeper wasn't funny, but the subplot - improbable things happening to Niles - was very funny. David Hyde Pierce is such a genius that he can make the line, "I won another fanny pack" laugh out loud funny.

10.8: Rooms with a View. This episode just drips with tedious, self important sentimentality - something season 10 kept threatening to do before this point, but it hadn't gone nearly this far. It's pretty much a 'very special episode', and therefore terrible.

Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Robert Zemeckis is one of those film makers whose idiosyncrasies can either lift a film up to greatness, or send it to the fiery pits of hell. His best work was done in the eighties (with the exception of his first film, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, from 1978, which was also quite good), when he was a young guy with boundless energy and a love for making his audience laugh. The fun if slightly derivative Romancing the Stone kicked his career into high gear, and then he went on to make the triple whammy of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Back to the Future Part 2. Then the nineties hit, the tedious junk that is Back to the Future Part 3 was released, and he's just never been the same. I mean, alright, he probably could have recovered from one crummy movie, but he followed that up with Death Becomes Her. He has never been the same.

There are people that would argue that Forrest Gump is Zemeckis's best film, but those people are wrong. Gump is overlong sentimental drivel with one of the most insane morals ever put to film - the mentally retarded should be treated with respect, because they can be geniuses too. I have nothing against the idea of treating the mentally retarded with respect, but it shouldn't be because they inadvertantly helped launch Apple, or because they invented the smiley face. It should be because they are people, goddamnit. It isn't more complicated than that.

And Gump is really were Zemeckis started to loose his way. No longer content with just getting laughs from his audience (maybe since they had dried up during his last two films) he decided that he would try to get his audience to feel every goddamn emotion he could think of. And he did it in the most contrived, manipulative, mechanical ways possible.

And all this was fine, when he was making comedies, or action-comedies. It's fine for a comedy's plot to be mechanical, for the film to work like an automaton specifically built to get you to laugh. It's fine for the character development in a comedy to seem so prefabricated and contrived that it is actually sometimes mistaken for genius. That's all alright if all the film wants to do is to make us happy. Well, it's fine if the film achieves it, which Zemeckis's eighties films did, consistently. But if you are actually trying to make me care about your characters as people, then you can't treat them like they're pawns to be moved around at the director's will. You have to actually make them feel like real people - they need to do and say things that real people would do and say. They can't all just be symbols for ideas, or plot conveniences. Or, actually, they can, given the fact that Gump was the most successful film of 1994. But that doesn't stop it from being shitty.

His treatment of his characters as automatons reached its illogical conclusion this decade with his terrible motion-capture idea. I mean, Jesus Christ, dude, your characters are depersonalised enough already. You don't need to actually remove their ability to do proper facial expressions as well.

All these things are what go through my head whenever I watch one of Zemeckis's good films. I can't stop myself from noticing the mechanical contruction, the plot contrivances, the fact that every single thing that happens during the climax of the film is so "perfectly" set up throughout the rest of the film that it actually becomes annoying. But I don't really mind all of those things, because he is managing to actually entertain me.

Back to the Future is really entertaining because of the manic energy of Christopher Lloyd, the fully utilised charm of Michael J. Fox, the weirdness of Crispin Glover, and the fact that I enjoy the central point of the film - the fact that your parents were once hormonally driven morons, just like you.

But the fact that I like the film does not remove my main problem with it, and with Zemeckis in general - why is the script so irritatingly planned? I mean, I know that a lot of screenwriting classes use the script of Back to the Future as a template of the 'perfect pop-movie script', because of how constructed it is, but when you're actually watching the film the construction becomes annoying. I mean, take the openning scene, for example. We see hundreds of clocks - someone is obsessed with time. We see some Rube Goldberg breakfast machines that are making uneaten food - an eccentric scientist is currently to distracted to eat (we also see that one of the machines is for feeding a dog. Yeah, Zemeckis couldn't just show you that Christopher Lloyd has a dog, he had to forshadow it for no reason). We then see Marty McFly skateboard in to the room - he's young and cool. He's wearing jeans and sneakers, and so doesn't really fit in to the world of the scientist, but he's wondering where 'Doc' is, so that means they're buddies. Marty then decides to plug his guitar into some giant speakers - establishing that he plays guitar. He then realises he's going to be late for school (establishing that he doesn't always play by the rules), and so skateboards to school by grabbing on to the backs of people's cars - establishing that he is a good skateboarder, and that he is able to best cars, using his skateboarding abilities. It's just so much setup. And it's not just that one scene, it's every goddamn scene in the film.

Like the scene where Marty is trying to kiss his girlfriend, but he is interrupted by a woman talking about how they should save the old broken clock, and she hands them a flyer about it. The girlfriend then writes "I love you" on the flyer. All this is setup for the climax of the film - they use the lightning that struck the clock tower to send the Delorean back to the present. Marty is reminded about the impending lightning strike when Doc starts talking about Marty's girlfriend, and Marty gets out the leaflet because she wrote "I love you" on it. It's all setup, and none of it makes any sense.

First if all, why the hell wouldn't the town have replaced the broken clock? If your town clock breaks, wouldn't you just, you know, fix it immediately? And, okay, so, let's say that it takes them thirty years to get around to fixing this clock. Why then are there people who don't want the clock fixed? I mean, the only signifcance the lightning strike had other than the fact that it stopped the clock, was the fact that it sent Marty back to 1985, but the protestors don't know that. Why are they protesting? "Grumble grumble grumble we hate to know what time it is grumble grumble grumble." It doesn't make any sense. And why did Marty's girlfriend write "I Love You" on the bit of paper anyway? Why didn't she just say it? Also, just the fact that he was sent back in time just a couple of days before the only lightning strike he had any information about struck this one specific spot. What if he had been sent back the week after the lightning strike? "Oh, wait! I know when and where lightning is going to strike! I got this piece of paper oh damn it was last week I guess I'm stuck here forever the end." It's just all so contrived.

I say again: I don't really mind the contrived nature of Back to the Future, or Used Cars, or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Romancing the Stone. I mean, it does annoy me that Zemeckis never even bothers to try and hide the plot contrivances, but other than that I don't care. I just wish that, when he moved in to more dramatic films, he left all the obvious and mechanical plotting behind him, rather than making it all he really cares about.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Review: Machine Girl (2008)

This movie was emotionally confused. It was never sure whether it wanted to be a ridiculous and funny gore-fest, or a serious exploration of the effect violence can have on people's lives. And so it just sort of randomly oscillated between those two extreme states, never being quite sure what it was trying to make the audience feel. I could buy a movie where the characters lived in a world of such ridiculous violence that they are desensitised to it. Or I could buy a movie with characters who are not used to insane levels of violence, and so they become traumatised by it. But I cannot buy a movie where the characters are both of those things, at the same time.

Take for example the scene where Ami's brother is about to be killed, and Ami is attempting to run to his rescue. While running, she comes across a group of men who attempt to rape her, she blithely beats them all up, and keeps running. Nobody in this scene seems particularly concerned about what is going on - I mean, Ami doesn't want to be raped or anything, and the men don't want to be beaten up or anything, but the scene is played as if this was just an every day occurance in the film's world. But then she sees her brother's dead body lying on the pavement, and she finds this experience emotionally crippling. So, why is the death of her brother emotionally crippling, but not a group of men attempting to rape her? It makes no emotional sense, and given the fact that about half of the movie the film seems to want the audience to take it seriously on an emotional level, this total lack of emotional sense makes the audience feel confused and bored.

Another example - the film begins with a pretty good action sequence, where a bunch of bullies are throwing knives at a schoolboy's face. A schoolgirl with a machinegun for an arm bursts in, shoots the shit out of all the bullies, then leaves. This seems to set the film up as taking place in a world of ridiculously exagerated violence - a world in which 'bullying' is intentionally deadly, and which a one-armed school girl just chooses to replace her missing arm with a machine gun. I can accept this world, as long as I am not meant to take any of it seriously - it is all ridiculous, and the scene seems to set the film's tone as being one of ridiculous, comical violence. But the problem is that, even though while watching the openning scene the audience doesn't care about any of the characters and just assumes the film is going to be mindless violence, the film takes a sharp turn, and seems to want its audience to retroactively give a shit about the scene they watched. Like, while you were watching the openning you were supposed to be thinking, "oh shit, this is awesome. I don't know what the hell is going on, but damn." But after the movie is over, you're supposed to realise that the openning scene, in retrospect, was supposed to provide catharsis, except that we hadn't seen what it was supposed to provide catharsis for. This is just really poor structurally. I don't know why this film wanted me to care about its characters.