Category Archives: Movies

A Million Ways

This one has already been up and down the net, so I’m a little late to the party, but Chicago rockers Ok Go, frequent guest band on live shows of WBEZ‘s This American Life, put together a little video in their backyard to accompany the song “A Million Ways”, off of their newly-released album, Oh No.

It was intended to close out their live shows, and their label wasn’t enthused with it, but the band started handing out copies at the aforementioned shows, and… well, we know how these things go in the age of the ‘net, yes?

NPR interviewed the band’s vocalist/guitarist, Damian Kulash, and his sister, choreographer Trish Sie, who recounted the story of the clip’s genesis.

They mention that they spent a week practicing before recording. Even so, this thing was shot in a single continuous take, as far as I can tell. I wonder just how many tries that took.

All About Cinema San Pedro

The reasons why it is good to have friends like Paul and Liz are almost too numerous to count. (A place near the top of that list, however, must under any circumstances be reserved for Paul’s pulled pork.)

However, the reason for today — yesterday, really, but I’m slow — is that they know about, and actually attend, cool stuff that’s happening locally. Case in point: Cinema San Pedro. They’ve been talking about it since at least last year, but last night was the first time I mustered the energy to go. As with so many things, I found myself wishing that I’d done it sooner.

The venue is a hoot, for starters. With the consent of the restaurants fronting it, the good folk of the Camera Cinemas block off a section of San Pedro Street, parking a truck with a projection screen on one end, and turning the rest into open-air seating. Plastic garden chairs are made available to all, although one can opt to bring one’s own blanket and forego the chairs entirely.

The feature was 1950’s All About Eve. There are movies that age gracelessly, proving themselves too tighly tied to the time of their production. Others, like Casablanca, are timeless — the ones you hear about for years before you finally watch them, have realization dawn upon you, and say, “Oh. So that’s what all the fuss was about.”

All About Eve is one of the latter. It’s catty, crackling, melodramatic fun. There isn’t a bad performance in the lot, but George Sanders deserves special mention as the recipient of the Coiled Spring Award for Best Delayed Payoff.

Notes to self:

  • I should probably watch Gone With The Wind at some point, which is probably the most important on the gradually-dwindling list of absolute classics that I’ve yet to see.
  • I should more frequently follow Paul and Liz’s excellent judgement when it comes to local recreation, and visit the San Jose Farmer’s Market with them the next time they go.
  • I should also go to Cinema San Pedro again. Perhaps I’ll go earlier, show my appreciation to the San Pedro Restaurants by grabbing a meal there beforehand, and get even better seats. I should also bring pillows, or possibly even a beanbag. Mmmmm… beanbag.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Most humans do the reverse, inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Hayao Miyazaki breathes in ink and breathes out story.

I enjoyed Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, but Howl’s Moving Castle is the most enchanting of his works I’ve seen to date. To watch it is to quickly find oneself lost in a world where wonder lurks behind every corner and magic may hide in the most mundane of objects. That’s all I’m going to say about the movie itself, aside from “See it.”

I have a fantasy. In it, the major studios, having razed their hand-drawn animation divisions to the ground in the foolish belief that technology trumps the ability to tell an engaging story regardless of medium, realize the depth of their mistake and approach Miyazaki, cap in hand, to plead for his help in reaquainting themselves with the arts they so shortsightedly threw away. In the fantasy, he makes them crawl for it — although from everything I’ve heard about the man, he’s far too kind to engage in such vengefulness, even when it’s deserved.

Batman Beguiles

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that Batman Begins is better than it had any right to be, but it’s certainly better than it had any need to be.

I mean, it’s a summer actioner, right? Start with a mixture of fight sequences and car chases, leaven with formulaic macho dialogue, season with explosions as needed, bake briefly — halfway is fine — and you’re done. Motivation, character development, and similar frills are a waste of energy and effort.

Except that Christopher Nolan seems not to have gotten the memo.

And thank God for that, because his apparent ignorance of the way these things are supposed to be done has led him to create a movie that doesn’t for a moment assume that it can get by on its good looks alone. The dialogue, co-written by Nolan, crackles with intelligence and wit, and the actors attack it with both relish and considerable skill. But it’s the expert fit and finish of the story overall that really dazzle.

Thomas Wayne gets maybe five minutes of screen time — but under Nolan’s sure hand, that’s all he needs to establish himself as the cornerstone of his young son’s world. You have absolutely no difficulty understanding how the murder of such a man could shatter that world, and provide motivation enough to fuel a lifelong crusade.

Michael Caine has done his share of absolutely awful movies, but he nearly makes amends for all of them with his performance here. It may or may not be worthy of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but a nomination certainly wouldn’t go amiss. His Alfred the Butler is Bruce Wayne’s mooring to the rest of humanity, a source of warmth and humor for a man who sometimes seems at risk of forgetting his own.

Even the movie’s villains are a cut — make that two — above average. There’s none of the usual “observe as I revel in the delicious purity of my own evil” scenery-chewing nonsense. Tom Wilkinson is perfectly credible as the cynical, pragmatic crime boss, while Cillian Murphy is creepily detached as the man of science whose curiosity has completely eclipsed his decency.

This is, when all is said and done, that most hallowed and satisfying of comic-book forms: the origin story. That being the case, it almost can’t help but keep you waiting a while before giving you your first glimpse of Batman unleashing himself upon Gotham’s underworld in his full glory. But that’s just fine. Actually, it’s better than fine. It’s grand. Because while you were waiting, you watched Bruce Wayne forge himself into a living weapon — edged with fury, tempered with mercy — and are thus in a position to understand on just how many levels his opponents are hopelessly outmatched. When he finally attacks, he’s actually frightening, and you feel just the tiniest stir of pity for his prey.

Thomas Wayne wouldn’t want it any other way. Bless Chris Nolan for understanding that, and for using that understanding to make one hell of a movie.

The Shape of Things That Might Have Been

In the course of discussing Warren Ellis’s superb Planetary, specifically the subplot involving Project Artemis, Dirk mentioned Man Conquers Space, a work-in-progress pseudodocumentary that dares to imagine how events might have unfolded had some of the early 1950s’ starrier-eyed visions of near-future space travel come to pass.

Watching the trailer literally gave me chills, and filled me with a nostalgia for things that never were. I would beat down more than a few doors to gain access to the final film, whenever it comes into existence.

The Circle is Complete

One of my very earliest memories of childhood: I am barely five years old, and standing in my sandbox. (Actually, “mudbox” would be a more accurate description, but that was exactly the way I liked it.)

My father is kneeling down beside me with the vaguely conspiratorial air of one about to bestow a present upon a recipient who may not fully appreciate its import for some time to come. “Mañana,” he says, “te voy a llevar al cine, y veras los Jinetes Jedi, y las espadas de luz.” I nod, not realizing what a seminal moment in my young life is bearing down upon me. And it is seminal, even though I wind up hiding my face behind the seat in front of me when Obi-Wan and Darth Vader fight their final duel, and again as the Imperials whittle mercilessly away at the Rebel squadrons during the trench run.

Now, twenty-eight years later, I’m hoping that I won’t again feel the urge to conceal the sight of the screen from my own eyes — but for very different reasons.

Please, God, let this movie not be a complete disappointment.

Krid is my shepherd

Dirk was all over me last week, repeatedly urging me, in the strongest possible terms, to see Kung Fu Hustle. I finally got around to it on Saturday, and… well, he was right.

It seems, whether you look at blockbusters like Finding Nemo or more obscure films like Waking Life, that the trend is towards taking animation and making it look as realistic as possible, either in terms of texture and lighting, movement, or both.

Kung Fu Hustle turns that logic on its head — it’s a nominally live-action movie that feels like a cartoon. I realize that this might sound like damnation with faint praise, but the thing to realize is, it’s a very good cartoon, one that combines comedy and action in equal measure without ever forgetting its heart. It’s ultimately a story of redemption, if you want to look at it that way.

With ass-kickings. Lots of ass-kickings.

My charming companion for the evening was Celina; if there’s a better person to see a martial-arts movie with, I don’t know who it might be. (Getting to see her reaction to Steven Chow’s taking his shirt off was a little added bonus. She loves Jet Li, but she wishes he’d stop being so modest and bare his chest already. Maybe she’ll get her wish with the release of Unleashed, which looks promising in other ways, too. Bob Hoskins and Morgan Freeman? Yeah, I’d pay full price to see that team-up.)