Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: The Limey (1999)

“Okay, for real let’s try that Underneath thing again. I’ll get a [more] talented writer to help me.”

We’re stabbing into the heart of Soderbergh, lover of film and mainly of Point Blank, and later, ceilings. Similar to his last film, we have a simple story told in a non-linear fashion with a strong emotional core: a familial blood bond between a father and his freshly corpsened daughter. Also like Soderbergh’s last film, the story isn’t as complex as its characters’ motivations and responses.

Terrence Stamp, fresh out the slammer, decides to investigate the circumstances around his daughter’s abrupt death. What he finds is pretty much what he first figured and NO ONE… except for Luis Guzman… is safe from his wrath!

He must have realized he cracked some sort of code with Out of Sight, either before or during the production of The Limey, that prompted Soderbergh to run strongly in the direction of mirroring the main character’s state of mind through the stylistic choices. Think what Woody Allen did with jump-cuts in Deconstructing Harry, here with staging and brief glimpses of later scenes peppered under Terrence Stamp’s narration. The same conversation is filmed in three separate locations and edited together, a sudden dream sequence imagines a violent scenario four different ways, and the final shot of the film is placed at the beginning. It is the very definition of context -- a man is attempting to order his life, and the moment it makes sense to him, it makes sense to us.

Soderbergh pulls out stops in other areas, mainly in casting; a bunch of up-starters from the 60’s spiritually reprising their roles from Poor Cow, Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, whathaveyou. A theme of lost innocence from the 60’s is probably Soderbergh’s addition to the screenplay and coincides with his tribute to films of a bygone era.

Now, all of this is swirling around a story that is of the barest of bones. There is lengthy speech on Stamp’s daughter and their relationship, but much less about Valentine’s drug deal that incited it, the DEA’s involvement, and just how the hell Stacy and Kim fit into all of it. You can break the film down into four key scenes of action and the rest is window dressing. The climax is a siege on the villains’ stronghold… done from the villains’ perspective. Violence is brief, simple, and somehow far from visceral. Satisfaction comes from the theme. It does not come from the plot, nor the revenge itself.

There is so much to mull over regarding the film’s presentation, I don’t think it would have worked without the choices made by the director. Dobbs, the screenwriter, has gone on record (literally, the commentary) to say that film’s failing aren’t his, that vital scenes were cut out in favor of constructing the atmosphere The Limey currently enjoys. Dobbs fails to cite more than one example, and considering his next project with Soderbergh over a decade later, I think he needs to reevaluate his position. Perhaps Soderbergh has even saved it.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review: Out of Sight (1998)

George Clooney breaks into films (not quite banks) and Soderbergh wreaks some good-natured fun with zany criminal activity, the criminals and cops played by a slew of recognizable A-Listers including the up-for-anything Luis Guzman. Jennifer Lopez plays the tough broad assigned to solve the case and catch Clooney… in more ways than one OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH… hhhhhHHHHHHHHH so what I mean is, she gets weirdly into him after getting strongarmed into a trunk and grinding into his crotch for a long drive. Girls like it when you take a hard hand. Buuuut it ends up being pretty plausible and we as an audience hope that they get to fuck… for some reason…

The love story between them two is the real center of the film, the strong emotional core. Its stages of development are set between Clooney’s narrow escapes and Lopez’s dogged pursuits. It eventually becomes the fuel for the climax, and works better than one might think, perhaps because the diamond heist itself is not the focus, and as such, not as complex. Neither the story itself.

Since he cannot resist with the ballsy experimentation, Soderbergh goes for a minimalist crime-comedy without attempting to hide the minimalism, in a sense pulling out all of the stops by keeping them all in. Scenes are filmed in simple ways and staged in straightforward manners in natural locations or clearly built sets while he conjures naturalistic performances out of a television actor and a musician. It’s almost Sex, Lies and Videotape, with warmer lighting schemes. And there is, of course, the non-linear storytelling aspect.

Out in 1998, this film is another gift from Tarantino’s meteoric rise, and it’s a good one that succeeds where Soderbergh’s own Underneath failed. And in perhaps a unique occurrence that is doubtful to be repeated, it has a strong tie in continuity to Jackie Brown (also based on an Elmore Leonard novel) by way of Michael Keaton returning briefly as Ray Nicolette. One could argue that Samuel Jackson’s cameo as Hejira Henry ruins that tie SO WHAT DON’T YOU RUIN THIS FOR ME!

Out of Sight does well mixing likable criminals with the unlikable ones, weaving it into the framework of the love story, and finding the time for a theme; in a wild west mentality, there are levels of honor associated with your work, but otherwise men and women, cop and criminal, under no uncertain terms, are the same. How do you make that fun? This way I spose. However, for non-linear storytelling with a criminal angle, you know what the Rosetta Stone still is.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [17-22]

We enter Season 2. I think. Somehow the episode runtimes have lost an entire minute.

"The Pirates of Orion" (3/10)
I can’t help but think they are mispronouncing the name throughout the entire episode, like Oreo with an “on” sound at the end. That must cause some confusion when it’s written down in Starfleet reports.
--A combination of a terminal disease episode and a “Balance of Terror” style showdown, which you’d think would write itself. Close, but no, not quite. It’s another suitable story for a live-action counterpart, complete with awkward fight scene.

"Bem" (3/10)
A petty bureaucrat observes the Enterprise crew in a survey mission while at the same time sabotaging it. Things get WHAT THE almost immediately when he disassembles himself. Weird moment in cages.
--It at least have a couple of things going for it, like the Kirk/Bem political arguments and things like: after getting captured twice, Kirk says, “There are times, Mr. Spock, when I think I should have been a librarian.” A pretty good line so maybe AW BALLS ALL POWERFUL MEDIATOR FUCK!

"The Practical Joker" (4/10)
“Captain, an unidentified energy field-” AAARGH! RUN! FUCKING RUN YOU MORONS!
--Like a spattering of other episodes I don't feel like going back and looking up, it has a complete script and a compelling story idea with the ship computer getting infected by a joke-virus and- whoa whoa whoa, wait a minute… The Enterprise has a holodeck?! That’s it, I’m outta here.

"Albatross" (3/10)
Spock in command position finally gets a win.
--I didn’t realize that they hadn’t done a trial episode yet, although it eventually becomes less about proving Bones’s innocence and more about finding a cure for the plague set upon them. It’s almost less-bad, just suffers from plodding along without many interesting things happening.

"How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth" (4/10)
They battle a Mayan god, KukulKAAAN! Seriously, more gods have come to Earth and caused a ruckus than... somewhere else where that has happened a lot. Then they pick a spot in space to take up residence until we stumble across them? I don't fucking buy it.
--We are introduced to the character Walking Bear, an Injun who happens to have the information needed to advance the plot. Where do you place him? At navigation, replacing the off-putting Ensign Erix who has weird skin and four legs? Or do you replace the beloved Sulu? Guess what they chose to do. Can that guy ever escape getting shafted? Maybe he doesn't want to OHHHHHHHHHH. They spring a sudden Galactic Zoo on you, but then diverge into philosophical territory. Ridiculous plot, good execution. By comparison, of course.

"The Counter-Clock Incident" (4/10)
The Enterprise runs into some Benjamin Button shit. Overuse of the word “universe.”
--They mess around with Starfleet history here, but my knowledge of it isn’t so good so I don’t know if having old Enterprise crew members is a contradiction. It certainly isn’t in line with the Abrams film but what the hell does that mean. Anyhow, the Crew ages in reverse at varying speeds, depending on the story requirements, Spock gets jobbed out of a command position and because we can’t very well leave our main characters as children, there’s a weird fix with the transporter similar to the one in “The Terratin Incident.” How funny that both Incidents do that. I guess I’m done now? Thank GOD.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [11-16]

"The Terratin Incident" (5/10)
Shit, a gas cloud. That can’t be good. Bones has gotten way too mouthy. There’s that damn “jury-rig” phrase again!
--Well, they tried a little harder. The animation on Cepheus looks interesting, they use some new camera angles, and the script is tightly plotted for being an “everybody shrinks” story. In fact, the writing is really strong in general. Is it a rejected script from the live-action show? Who is this gent? *looks up Paul Schneider* Oh SHIT he wrote “Balance of Terror!” … oh and “The Squire of Gothos.” But still!

"The Ambergris Element" (2/10)
The WHAT? Running a specimen retrieval gambit, the away team pisses off a monster and Spock and Kirk somehow get lung-fucked. Like Neelix! And a red shirt survives!
--This episode has elements of the John Smith/Pocahontas story, with an incredibly uninteresting progression of events ending in a violation of the Prime Directive. I’ll tell ya one thing: it’s good to know that fishwomen still possess boobs.

"The Slaver Weapon" (5/10)
Spock takes us on a journey through a short story full of big ideas and Stasis Box politics. Yes. I don’t even want to know what a “soft weapon” is.
--They get Spock down pretty well here, in the sense that he fucks up yet another command gig. Not that it wouldn’t have happened under Kirk’s watch too but c’mon, give the guy a win some time. The episode makes a couple of dumb decisions in the execution department, of course, but it ends up being another one that’s goddamn impressive, given the show it’s in.

"The Eye of the Beholder" (3/10)
After battling a series of monsters one after the other like assholes, the away team is captured by some giant snails. Is EVERY woman Nurse Chapel?!
--Another Galactic Zoo episode masquerading as something else until the last ten minutes. I’ll give that a difficult problem is established for the characters to overcome, and they do it somewhat cleverly. I’d rather they funnel that ambition into the universe they’re portraying. “Wait a minute! You… you… Hey!” Nailed it again, Bones. I’m glad you didn’t suffocate comically.

"The Jihad" (3/10)
Ready your asses for xenophobia sublimation and some obvious religious parallels. Are the birdmen… Jews?
--A Dirty Dozen style team goes on a tightly-regimented excursion to basically recover an artifact that proves the existence of god. It’s not as exciting as it sounds. Unnecessary plot twist ensues. I really wanted this one to be better, too. Don't ask me why.

"The Time Trap" (3/10)
Why is it that the Enterprise is the one that gets stuck investigating all of the disappearances? Why are there so many of them to begin with?
--They used the same character models from “More Tribbles, More Troubles” for the view-screen, but the Klingon captain looks different when we see him in his ship. The animation is incredibly shitty all over the map. Eh, who cares at this point, I guess. The plot of this one is like the Voyager episode where everyone is trapped in that void and trying to work together to get out, only here there is an annoying all-powerful mediator (cabal). You know how I adore those. I’d also complain about the awfully convenient way in which there is no racial overlap in the so-called randomly assembled void committee, but… Orion slavegirl…

Monday, May 21, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [06-10]

"The Survivor" (3/10)
Oh God, let’s watch them fuck up the Romulan Neutral Zone some more. Jesus, a cat lady!
--They took some precautions regarding Cutter’s identity, but didn’t report an anomaly with the medical exam and Kirk’s keyphrase from “Whom Gods Destroy” is not utilized. This episode is really really out of control with the re-used animation, and still it weirdly results in continuity errors when used within the story. And… he became a deflector shield?! Blugh to you, sirs!

"The Infinite Vulcan" (4/10)
Stuck in a state of denial about whether or not you can justify this series as canonical? Then keep in mind: there is a giant Spock on a planet somewhere.
--Hard sci-fi amid some stupid things. A crazy dude from Khan’s eugenics war clones himself over and over to keep his work going. Plant-based people search for a cure. Misuse of Vulcan mind meld, which is becoming this show’s set theory paradox. “Now wait just a minute, I can’t let you infect him with some alien…” *searches for appropriate word* “… dewdrop!” Nailed it, Bones. Nailed it.

"The Magicks of Megas-Tu" (2/10)
If a Giant Spock isn’t enough, the fact that there’s a centaur dude seated at the center of the universe should do the trick.
--No sooner does Spock attempt a “science survey” that a bunch of things begin to happen way too fast. Then the Centaur Man makes fun of them for wanting to remain cohesive and asserts that his world operates on “magic.” A shot holds on Earth for a long time, stretching that animation budget. The crew learns to wield the power of the Megans with the simplest of arbitrary rituals. “stay with us no wait you have to leave no wait engage in a colonial trial sure why not PLOT TWIST satan SUDDEN BATTLE OF MAGIC wait we like you after all now you can leave.” That’s how ya fuck up a trip to Creation Point.

"Once Upon a Planet" (3/10)
Another This Again episode. Sulu gets rape eyes, Uhura sings (ugh), there’s a giant cat, Kirk even calls it the “Shore Leave” planet. You can’t say it isn’t trying to attach itself to the universe.
--Bones has a wild hair up his ass in this episode. Goddamn is he pissed about almost getting killed. We get to see the hangar bay, finally, and somehow the Enterprise has a shitload of smaller crafts now. Had a good moment where the planet’s computer tries to pilot the Enterprise by running through a familiarization program. Kirk dispatches the computer through negotiation this time, and forgives it of murder for some reason. All in all, it’s the most like an actual Star Trek episode so far. But a bad one.

"Mudd’s Passion" (4/10)
Harry Mudd again? Aww buttballs. Let this be known as the episode where Scotty fucks the Cat Lady.
--The crew kinda screws over Mudd in the beginning, apparently without appropriate jurisdiction, so they somewhat deserve the wackiness that ensues. The crew is euphoric again, wahhh wahhhhhh! Confusing fight with rock creatures ensue. Did Nurse Chapel get court martial’d for letting a prisoner go? Eh, who am I kidding, some parts are fun. Holy shit, am I getting dumber?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1973-1974) [01-05]

"Beyond the Farthest Star" (2/10)
You thought I was done with this, didn’t you you mother? Fuck no I’m not! Kirk and Crew utilize a different storytelling medium to explore a disgusting ship without the aid of spacesuits. Complaints about the quality of the previous aesthetics cease for all time.
--Nice to see the crew is back, except for Chekov but who gives a shit. You can tell Roddenberry didn’t have much of a hand in this to keep the rules (whatever those were) intact, and certain disconnects result in hilarious scenes. Listen to the contempt in Leonard Nimoy’s voice as Spock is forced to say “jury-rigged.” Off-putting character and set designs, animation used and re-used, poorly-paced garbage and not much to recommend, but a whole lot more I could say. obeyme

"Yesteryear" (4/10)
Starfleet is actively utilizing the stargate from City on the Edge of Forever. Wow, well, I’m impressed that we’re revisiting things from the previous sh- WHOA WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?! A BIRDMAN?!
--Kirk and Spock, after adventuring in spacetime, accidentally change the future in a most insignificant way. Before you can cry “Wait a minute, I didn’t know this time travel shit was revisionist!” they send Spock back to fix it. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense but the situation is at least compelling, more than the previous episode. It could have made it to mediocre if the general execution of the show wasn’t so torturous. This Vulcan stuff isn’t canon, right?

"One of Our Planets is Missing" (3/10)
Another cloud thing menaces the Enterprise and entire planets. Isn’t this plot used in a Next Generation episode? Or was that a giant crystal? Man, fuck clouds.
--Once again, we are trapped inside of a giant space amoeba, making the existence of them not so special. Develop some procedure for dealing with this things, you fools! A live action version of this might not be so bad, but y’know… the usual complaint…

"The Lorelei Signal" (3/10)
Bermuda Triangle in Space, recurring disappearance is a job for one ship and one ship only. Oh don’t worry though, it’s just some bitches causin a ruckus.
--Well, it’s gradually getting more on-point. Witness a slow shot of the Enterprise as a love-drunk Scotty sings a ballad. There’s an implication here that The Cage’s “I’ll never get used to a woman on the bridge” is true, else how would the female’s methods have worked for so long? And I guess no one on the Enterprise is a lesbian?

"More Tribbles, More Troubles" (4/10)
Everybody’s favorite furry blobs return to wreak some good-natured havoc more or less identical to the first time ‘round. Klingons still ain’t Klingony.
--I suppose there are just enough extra ideas to make it distinct from the last adventure. The major story beats from The Trouble with Tribbles remain; Cyrano Jones hucksters it up, high-density grain is eaten, the Klingons get stuck with the bill. And more on-point humor, like some good Kirk/Spock exchanges and that gag where Kirk keeps pushing the gradually growing Tribble off of the helm. Still: not enough.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: The Tree of Life (2011)

“Fuck a historical event. Let’s use all of existence.”

In the beginning, there was an explosion of matter, space, and time. There was intense heat, followed by a cooling period and some really shitty looking dinosaurs. Approximately 13.75 billion years later, Sean watched The Tree of Life and thought about it.

That above paragraph doesn’t tie into anything other than a vague satire of the film. Yes, you should be pissed at me.  Assuming that you experienced the same sort of childhood as Terrence Malick (and feel as intensely confused about it), the film might make some kind of immediate sense. For the rest of us, one would have to know going in that 1) we are in the Present in spite of the actors not looking sufficiently aged and Past Texas and Present Texas are too similar, 2) Sean Penn and Brad Pitt are related, 3) these are Sean Penn’s memories and musings, disregarding the contributions of the other characters to the narration. Either I am a somewhat dense individual and it is my own fault for not picking up on this, or, as I am more inclined to believe, it is the film’s fault for not speaking the language of cinema and is just jumping around in a self-indulgent manner willy-nilly. Hopefully I can convince you it is the latter. And off we go.

Here is what it looked like out the gate: we hear of the death of a character we haven’t gotten to know yet. Brad Pitt laments choices he made as a father we don’t get to see yet. Sean Penn mopes about a lost childhood we haven’t gotten to experience yet. And before we get to know any of it, we first have to endure the creation of the universe set to some overbearing choral score that seems like it is overcompensating. By this point, it is too late to be truly engaged by what is going on without that personal relation to Malick. It cannot even be enjoyed on a level of pure style (see: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) because, until we get to the shot of the bats racing across the sky, the film can’t hold on a shot for longer than three fucking seconds.

The Tree of Life suffers from a constant arrhythmia, its biggest folly also its most noticeable, and you’re not even twenty minutes in.

Throttling back a bit to talk about the story. After hearing about the death of his brother, Sean Penn slips into memories of growing up in Texas. Well, first we are shown the Big Bang and it is unclear if this is Penn’s doing or if it is illustrated to us by the universe itself. Anyway, we are submerged into childhood for a long time, witnessing the tiny nuances that make up the family’s ordinary life. The father tries to enforce discipline, the mother insulates them from father, the children act out, the family moves out of the house. Every once in awhile there is an out-of-place image inserted in the middle of the scene, or a voice whispering a question that given its placement in the narrative, can only be rhetorical. The final portion of the film is, spoiler alert, some more stuff.

Using the stone-to-statue analogy yet again (I’m proud of it, can you tell?), Malick has an immense stone slab of his own life and the life of the universe itself, which means a daunting amount of choices to make and near-infinite possibilities. It is clear now that it is beyond his ability to make the right ones, for the choices he makes are all the wrong ones, and he is content to do so. He had options of beginning the film with the abstract images of: the space ribbon, the Creation of the Universe, or the blue candle that Sean Penn lights in his apartment. He “chose” to begin with the Nexus, but went on to include the others anyway, at points chosen arbitrarily. Like they all deserved a share of the theme. Which they don’t. He could have chosen a linear story, saving the meditations for the end after we’ve experienced his past, the source of his pain. Instead, he scatters them everywhere. He could have found some way to focus, as he has done before. He is not interested.

The ultimate shame is that, like Christopher Plummer has eloquently stated, the photography of Creation and Earth’s evolution is nothing short of extraordinary, and in a better film would be wielded as such. Because we are spending an extended amount of time with Malick surrogates, an ideal theme would be that the trials of these people are part of a cosmic fabric, as beautiful as the formulation of a universe which may or may not possess consciousness (and which may or may not be an old man with a beard masturbating into an abyss, as per popular theory, but that is not the portrayal here). With the current juxtaposition, the characters aren’t endearing, but petty and goddamned irritating. Is that what he is meandering towards? Again, I could have stayed at home and you could have iterated this with a phone call. You stupid stupid asshole, why does it seem like you’ve suddenly unlearned everything?

It is quite a feat to create something more uninteresting than The New World. We have gone to an even further thematic impotence. “We test the boundaries of an impenetrable adult world by waging acts of wanton destruction.” And? “Our mother will always love us.” And? “We will eventually become our father.” So? Too, there’s something inherently incorrect about the statement of the film, nature vs. grace. There’s nature, the intense emotional reactions that accompany a dangerous situation, where the “grace” of going hungry over a dying dinosaur or crying over a woman’s underwear actually belongs. And there’s logic, the final causation, the search for meaning we assign form and function, how we order the universe after we see its effects, which is in a different class than both. You aren’t surrendering to the way of “grace” if you stumble around a city, looking up at the buildings and acting confused and then smile as you give up the struggle to understand your life. You’re a dumb animal, returned to the primitive, equivalent to the state of “nature” that you fear.

What do I want out of the film? Do I want a quicker pace? Do I want something “less personal,” whatever that is? Do I wish for a bank heist and some titties? Well, I want what I want from all films: a good product, both in economic and thematic terms. The Tree of Life is an inferior product, in both. It is inferior to The Fountain in terms of a love story dressed in science fiction's clothing, to 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of mankind breaching the unknowable, to Neon Genesis Evangelion in terms of an adolescent male’s psychological struggle, in marrying science with religion, in asking the big questions about existence on this planet… and just about everything else. Worst of all, it fails to be interesting.

And yet gorsh, I went on and on about it, didn’t I? Fuck me, I guess that deserves some credit. I’ll admit that for all its wretched stylistic choices, it is certainly a puzzle I want to solve, perhaps brought on by glowing reviews, which baffle me. I mean, it certainly is a puzzle. It’s broken in some way, and there's a clear picture in there somewhere. My desire to fix it is what is keeping it above the median line. If barely.

 I would hate to have been a producer on this thing, but not an editor. Hell, I’d really like to take a crack at re-editing this film right now, at least moving the creation of the universe to the beginning and the dreamlike imagery that is scattered throughout, to the end where the shots goddamn belong. I have to believe that at least one of the six editors (maybe even the first five) suggested this. When placed there, a question is asked. What eventually happens to the data we’ve gathered? Does it finally make sense or does it start to come apart? Is there more to do afterward? C’mon, Bruce McDonald made that possible for The Tracy Fragments, why not put the raw footage for this one online too?… You say it’s 2,000,000 gigs worth? OH.

Summary paragraph time. Speaking Malick’s language, The Tree of Life has been raised from a rough childhood from many different fathers who strive for balance and structure, and one mother possessing unconditional love and infinite patience but sheltering his child from discipline, boundaries, formulation, a common language… the unfortunate symptom of which is finally a lack of synthesis. Malick eventually steps away, as one has to, declaring “I am done. This is all I can do.” (See within the film the derision of the ‘not good enough yet’ mentality). More time or a stronger fatherly influence would have prevented this kid from being a total fucking brat.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: The New World (2005)

Englishmen arrive in the Americas and clash with the “naturals.” Less insightful meditations break up the tedium. By “break up,” I mean “add to.”

Where The Thin Red Line was a giant leap forward, The New World is twenty seven short steps backward. The narration is worse, the editing is worse, there’s only the supposed existence of a narrative, no shortage of compositions which fail to impress, even John Savage played a better crazy person last time. They broke their inertial cage hard.

If you’ve seen the Disney film Pocahontas or have read John Smith’s contested accounts, you’re aware of the gist of the story. A Virginia colony has trouble synthesizing, along with a peaceful treaty, and a roustabout falls in love with a 12 year-old. So in that last regard, we’re in familiar Malick territory. The New World goes a bit further with the story and shows the destruction of the tribe and the Princess’s eventual trip to England. Y… ipee?

With a bit too much data in favor of the Injuns to be another Cosmic Perspective thing, we watch glorified melodrama unfold in the most disengaging way possible. Colin Farrell wanders about the countryside, whispers some trite shit about selflessness, receives foodstuffs during the hard winter, there are some battles I think, then he attempts to put his colony back together before abandoning it outright, exits after he has won what he supposedly possesses an intense love for. And you still have 50 minutes of film left to assign some sort of motivation for the characters and the filmmaker.

Assuming that stone-to-statue method I mentioned in the last review has been transferred to this film, it looks like immense raw footage cut down to a somewhat tolerable length, but somebody accidentally kept all the wrong scenes -- the goddamned outtakes. Major events, Captain Smith’s torture or the battle of Jamestown Fort for instance, don’t stick. They just happen. As though we are a lesser form of God and half asleep, and every time we blink we see something recognizable but not enough of its cause or consequence, and when we fully wake up, we won’t remember it at all.

BONUS VIDEO: Christopher Plummer is the man.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Thin Red Line (1998)

That twenty-year gap spent walking around and thinking about nature really did Terrence Malick some good. Sure, he does the same shit he’s always done, but this time, there’s focus.

This is an all-star cast, so brace yourself motherfucker. Nick Nolte spearheads a campaign into Guadalcanal with Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Elias Koteas, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Thomas Jane, Tim Blake Nelson, John Savage, and allegedly Kick Gurry. John Travolta and George Clooney even stop by to say hello. And those are all just the actors I recognized, and I suck at that. Anyhow, explosions occur, people die, things are terrible for the characters for awhile, eventually a victory is declared by one not present, and we leave the island. The job to record the events is one for somebody else.This doesn’t fit easily into the category of ‘war film.’ The common tropes and beats, morality, bravery, disassociation, national pride and so on appear very briefly. The film is more interested in an analysis of the cosmic perspective, an objective camera view as a spirit floating over the tall grass from soldier to soldier, switching suddenly to a subjective view of their memories, their thoughts while a horrifying, mainly unseen enemy tries to kill him. Death as both paralyzing and the ultimate climax with nature. While you could look at it as every character suffering from PTSD at all times, it is not so much as a claim on realism or an anti-war push. We aren’t watching soldiers per se, not the proficient killing machines who have passed the academy and do their country proud by being good at their job. Forget about that shit, don’t even let it enter your mind. We don’t see the men themselves, but the men’s souls, and the immediate effects of violence while they struggle to comprehend their own behavior. We see men who are uncommonly honest, who slip easily into blissful memories of home, who intimately explore their surroundings, who speak different languages but appear to understand one another perfectly. This is a far cry from the cynicism (near nihilism, actually) that we have seen previously.

Only at the 2:10 mark does it begin to lose its power, quickly closing out arcs of minor characters and showing clips of scenes that were probably complete in the alleged six hour work print. It unfortunately sucks the life out of an otherwise extraordinary film.

There’s an inertial cage -- the novel The Thin Red Line, the original adaptation, and sure, the actual historical events at Guadalcanal that deserves a share of the success. And there’s the sensibility of a director that, as I now understand it, has worked very hard to create a giant stone monolith, complete with raw data but without form, and later, painstakingly carves a statue out of it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Days of Heaven (1978)

My mistake. This one is also under two hours. I would hardly call it merciful, though.

Richard Gere, far too pretty to be the workin man his character is, loses his job (somehow) and rail-hops with his wife and their surrogate orphan daughter to Sam Shepard’s wheat field on the American plains. Some romance novel shit starts up pretty quickly. Or rather, slowly. And then the film runs out.

Filled with more jarring, rule-breaking cinematic abstractions than Badlands, we watch as a thin plot resolves itself in a far-too-long hour and a half. Between the critical action, we are given improvisations from both actors and director (save for the occasional well-choreographed shot of locusts swarming away from the farm). A good version colors the landscape with naturalistic, serendipitous performances. A bad version tends to stray outside the narrative, pad the runtime and become noticeably useless. Worse times, they transition between a logical contradiction and a claim for a salient contrast. A scene in particular shows this new family, most of whom come from abject poverty, joyfully throwing food at one another. This comes thirty minutes after a scene where Richard Gere wastes food defending his wife’s honor, the meaning of the sacrifice now ruined. A statement about their newfound prosperity bought by corrupt means? If it is, it came about by pure accident. But okay, the film might be saying that mankind’s state is completely transitory. It is then foolish in the first place to attach an efficient causation to the story. When Richard Gere returns to the farm in the third act, does he bring the plague of locusts with him or would it have happened regardless? Does our nature have an arbiter or doesn’t it? The Shakespearian overtones of the story say it does, Malick’s sensibilities as a director say it doesn’t.

In a response to the recent complaints about Malick’s Tree of Life, Days of Heaven proves that he has actually been making nature documentaries since the 1970’s. We the audience are an anthropological survey team, watching the rituals of a strange and alien culture that happens to be our own. Rituals that go on unexplained, without motivation or reason, and mostly without synthesis other than how we feel watching the construction of a massive failure of integrity. And we shouldn’t interfere. Well, I could have done that without seeing the film in the first place. “Let’s end this… here.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Badlands (1973)

A 25 year-old wants to run off with a 15 year-old. The father says “Uhhh” and then is killed. Then more stuff happens.

Terrence Malick is one of those “Oh, okay,” directors. What I mean is, you know what you’re getting into, down to a level more precise than say, Clint Eastwood (it could be good or bad) or even David Fincher (it could be good or fucking awesome). He’s close to David Lynch’s “Oh, okay, I’m about to be confused and probably angry.” Malick is “Oh, okay, I’m in for some slow pacing and beautiful shots of nature. And the main characters are going to be losers, or at the very least, bad at their jobs.” Badlands might be the only time you can add “At least it’s under two fucking hours.”

What we’re watching in Badlands is a road trip movie with a lot of boring moments and the occasional murder. Martin Sheen drives and provides provisions and escapes by velocity, Sissy Spacek talks about it in a way that I can only assume is directly from her diary after all this happened. Or maybe it’s testimony. They have some quiet moments together where they sit around and love one another like an ordinary couple, until eventually they need to kill someone again. It’s all Texas justice and animal chaos, no mention of morality whatsoever.

While this has shades of an actual “movie” movie, something that easily could have been made by Hal Ashby or Arthur Penn (there’s a car chase), Malick at this early stage manages to assert his desire to film banality and put narration over it in the hope that it comes across like a modernist novel. Martin Sheen stashes a body in the basement, comes back out with a toaster in his hand and says joylessly “I found a toaster.” Then we listen to a choir as the house burns down. Very suddenly some sepia toned B-roll footage appears over some more testimony, and other strange stylistic choices blast you out of the movie. Whatsitall mean? Other than sublimating our mass-murder fantasy… prob’ly nothin I reckon. *shot of clouds*

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1966-1969) [69-80]

"Wink of an Eye" (6/10)
Some Superfasties need the Enterprise for a Thing. Horniness prevents the bad guys from succeeding. Choosing an alliance is a coin-flip.
-- I figured out what was happening before the big reveal at the 15 minute mark. I thought it'd be cooler if instead of some horny woman, Kirk had time traveled and had caused all this ruckus to prevent the Enterprise from doing something. I admire what's presented, though, including a really good Kirk moment where they tell him not to touch something so he touches it for like ten seconds. How are the aliens moving around the ship so quickly if the doors take forever to open for them? Oh well.

"That Which Survives" (5/10)
Space quake! Inexplicable being! You'd think an anti-matter constructor would find a more effective method of quote defending itself unquote.
-- Buncha residual characters in this one, and has a bit of a "The Cage" vibe. In fact, in seems like a draft of the Pilot episode. Evidence: Spock is suddenly incapable of detecting hyperbole from the eccentric Scottish engineer and is generally somewhat of a dick. Evidence: phasers can help dig graves. Evidence: most of those peripheral characters die. This plot is old space hat, but it's a bit refreshing to see a danger alien have an animation that accompanies her sudden disappearance, instead of the usual jump cut. She leaves like Mega Man sorta! Ooo hey, suspenseful seqeuence aboard the Enterprise where someone finally uses 'reverse the polarity,' ultimate solution for everything except a supercomputer. Speaking of which, a nameless redshirt just gets to shoot the fuck out of one this time 'round.

"Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (6/10)
Oh, this is the blackface/whiteface episode. Did Kirk just say "southernmost part of the galaxy"? That don't make a lick a'sense. The level of Starfleet operation I imagined from the beginning.
-- The DOP got all crazy with the zoom feature on the camera when the ship goes into Red Alert - whoa, never mind, this shit's a tour de force! It's a shame the aliens were headmakeydo, I was really enjoying the down to Earth (the southernmost, if you will) nature of the political battle. We even get a glimpse of the complex self destruct system and it's all suspenseful and shit. Badass!

"Whom Gods Destroy" (6/10)
Prisons are never your forte so stay the fuck away. A much better example of a back-and-forth between hero and villain than previously shown. Distracting boobs.
-- This one's a little all over the place, but each place seems to be well executed. The opening before the shapeshift reveal was kinda spooky. And then it wheels onto being HILARIOUS after holy shit, Kirk actually prepared for the possibility of being imitated down to the cell and taught the Enterprise crew a keyphrase. Good man! Now bang that Orion slavegirl, bang her good this second.

"The Mark of Gideon" (5/10)
A dystopian novel needs Kirk for a Thing. Pro 'needs of the many' mark. Contraception is probably a better idea, are you sure this isn't an Imitative society?
-- Kirk's getting better at this Captaining job. When he beams alone to the Enterprise replica, he immediately thinks that it's an unknown intelligence that has done it. Too bad he's off about what is actually happening (awesome in itself). Artiface, woo! It's almost a great one, but the plot kinda fizzles out in the last ten minutes when Spock beams to the Enterprise replica rather easily and makes some incredibly wild leaps in a confusing voice over.

"The Lights of Zetar" (4/10)
Oh no, a crazy ass electrical storm! Get out of its path! Hide the peripheral female charact- ooop, too late, some sort of headmakeydo is in her now.
-- Eh, this one drags a lot. We get to see the return of the pressurization chamber in this episode. I bet they've exhausted the uses for it now. I'm sad that everyone died on Memory Alpha, it sounded like a kickass planetoid. Knock another con 'needs of the many' argument onto the tally and I Didn't Like It.

"The Cloud Minders" (4/10)
George Lucas rips off the show again! Ehhhh sorta, this shit's ripping off Metropolis after all. Positive interpretation: improve working conditions. Negative interpretation: reports of a mentally deficient working class are true.
-- Someone got too literal with the social caste war, and it's clear who the bad guys are going to be before it's over. At least there's a scientific explanation and eventual solution operating behind it all. Is that any reason to fuck the Prime Directive again and do a score of illegal shit? No is the answer.

"The Way to Eden" (3/10)
Star Trek shows that in spite of being embarassingly out of touch, they are willing to co-opt a political movement for their own purposes. Fuck hippies.
-- Cry Herbert, there were a lot of songs in this. All them squares was taken over rather easily by these starchildren. Daddy-O. Y notice how that Russian woman's nose moves up and down every time she speaks? And did this brazen crossing of the Romulan Neutral Zone result in anything? In spite of liking how it turned out (ie the hippies died because they're so fucking stupid), I Hated It.

"Requiem for Methuselah" (4/10)
Good thing that robot can't aim, or the away team would have been killed before you finally told it not to kill them!
-- Here's another clear instance where Kirk flexes his power to get what he wants. Flint is not so off the case about Starfleet looking chiefly after Starfleet interests in spite of their own rules (assuming Kirk is, indeed, representing Starfleet policy accurately). You can't even make the excuse that Flint is a fascist leader this time; he only wants to be left alone. Then these assholes come in and demand a cure for something and then try to fuck his wife. But I guess the real focus of this is that a woman, even Bette Midler's clone, makes her own decisions. Strange ending ensues.

"The Savage Curtain" (5/10)
A zenith of bizarreness reached, you charming negress. To paraphrase a line from How Did This Get Made's best episode: someone said "Hey, you guys wanna do some 'shrooms and write an episode of Star Trek?"
-- And it's one that is well executed enough that I have a hard time hating it. From the rock/poop creature's lights that match what it is saying, to the (initially) correct(ish) perspective of the Enterprise's recorders, to finally the crew voicing the apt concerns with jesusfucking Abraham Lincoln coming onboard, things oddly follow an operation of logic. I like that Kirk and Spock don't "win" so much as "survive." Perhaps the best all-powerful-mediator episode, JFA Lincoln's presence is the only thing keeping it locked below the good.

"All Our Yesterdays" (6/10)
Lighthearted dealings with a strange old man lead to major problems. Less-early Holodeck genesis?! Ohh, no, looks like actual time machine.
-- Well, we could take the 'in another time' statements figuratively, and the atavachron is a giant computer simulation for criminals, hence why the away team can hear one another. But we lose the poetic nature of Spock's loss (as well as the nonsensical reason he begins to act irrationally) if we go that route. And may I say... that was one provocative cavegirl...

"Turnabout Intruder" (6/10)
Sadistic women have apparently been trying to teach us about their oppression since the late sixties... by brutally murdering helpless men.
-- Like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer body-switch two-parter "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You?" this episode is uncommonly unshitty given the nature of the concept, with suspenseful moments and a creative showdown provided by a legal Court Martial (proving that Starfleet indeed has a much tighter system in place than the monarch/republic/whateverthehell in Sonic the Hedgehog #233). We are even gifted for the very first time: references to previous adventures. It's nice to see it go out on a high note finally, I'm looking forward to the next seas- oh, wait.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: Star Trek (1966-1969) [57-68]

We enter Season 3.

"Spectre of the Gun" (4/10)
More subdued opening theme, eh? Shatner doesn't look so fit. And the Enterprise seems to be missing some fill lights. And Uhura's... hair... sucks.
-- Well, the special effect on the space buoy is an improvement over the usual crap the ship comes across, disregarding the general strangeness of finding geometric objects that spin in space. Wish I could say the same for the devildoll with the glowing eyes. Did their budget take a nosedive? Will every planet be covered in impenetrable fog? Oh of course not, there'll be Earth parallels too, how silly of me to forget them. It's not a total loss in that the idea of executing someone by making them play the losing side in a reenactment of a historical event is neat, and the set that this plays out in is all abstract... and... there's a sign floating in midair! Could this be a seed of the Holodeck idea? I'll annoyingly pester Leonard Nimoy at the next convention. He loves dumb questions. Just loves em.

"Elaan of Troyius" (6/10)
A racial tete-a-tete with a spoiled princess, a dignitary immune to stab wounds, and a hidden Klingon warship off the port bow. A series of small but deadly problems need to be solved. The plot, like the general quality, is better than the title would have you believe.
-- Kirk resists the poorly set up Love Tears rather well, considering the story requirements, but I don't know why Spock wouldn't relieve him of duty, just to be safe. He even has a good recommendation from Bones. I enjoyed how straightforward and cliche-twist-free the story was, that it all boiled down to just getting the princess to Troyius without getting blown to bits. Oh, a small complaint, but it's one I have for Robinson Crusoe on Mars too. It's a shame the princess isn't some weird looking alien, like a reptile or something with long fingers, but just some hot looking human. Having her look as strange as the visiting ambassador would have upped the suspense and really driven home the "strange new worlds" theme of the show, not to mention making the biochemical tears a little more believable (Recall: barn scenes in Splice). I guess going that route means that I want Enemy Mine, but in my mind it's less stupid shut up leave me alone.

"The Paradise Syndrome" (3/10)
Earth parallel! It's one of THOSE KIND too. You know what I mean... Indians (wagon burners)... half-assed ticking clock element... Enterprise races to a piece of crumpled paper...
-- Someone didn't inform Shatner proper CPR techniques, ie you're not trying to fuck the victim. Then they zoom in on the guy who has a problem with all this WILL HE BE THE EPISODE'S VILLAIN? What the hell is HAPPENING? WHAT IN GODS NAME AM I WATCHING Still want to claim that Starfleet's Prime Directive is defended to the death? Because allowing a pre-warp civilization to be destroyed by an asteroid would be following that directive. Y'know, problems of this nature can be avoided if you resist the urge to beam down onto every planet you come across. At least the episode gives us an explanation as to why there are so many of these planets throughout the galaxy. But do The Protectors ever come back in a later episode/show? I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't. Either way, this is probably the worst thing that has ever happened on Starfleet watch. Somebody needs to lose their job.

"The Enterprise Incident" (4/10)
Initiate Implausibility Gambit reminicient of a Sonic the Hedgehog comic story. The one where Sally goes on a secret mission without telling anybody. Do you remember which issue it is? I looked but I can't seem to find it. It's one of the early ones. I won't discount the possibility of it being in the miniseries. I want to say it's before issue 25, but anything is possible. It's going to bother me so somebody please tell me.
-- Being that my favorite aspect of the show was that uncrossable Romulan neutral zone, I'm disappointed that it is broken in the first five minutes of an episode by a ridiculous Kirk. It's one of those secret missions that require impossible feats of intuition regarding enemy actions. And no War Bird? More like no "Balance of Terror." No I won't stop harping about it.

"And the Children Shall Lead" (3/10)
Rule 4675: When you beam down to a planet and see nothing but a bunch of dead bodies, beam the fuck back up. There might be a horrible disease or worse, children. Then you'll have to beam down headstones and a whole ordeal ensues with a disembodied old guy who cannot act his way out of balls.
-- There is a part where Kirk beams crewmen out into space and writes them off as dead before even a minute passes. You guys perform medical miracles all the live-long day! You can't like, TRY? The only part I enjoyed is when Chekov and Kirk started yelling at each other. A low point for certain.

"Spock's Brain" (4/10)
"His b-what?" Ugh. UGH. Bones should have been controlling Spock's body with an NES Advantage.
-- This group of female brainthieves is fucking annoying; I'da resorted to smacking them way closer to the beginning. The plot of the episode is really unclear... the women don't seem to have much of a working knowledge of their own culture and why do they need Spock's brain again? I don't know, and the Enterprise crew moves against a 'needs of the many' argument to save Spock. I should have been keeping a tally this whole time. I know of this episode's reputation, but Worst Ever? It doesn't strike me as such, especially after the previous one.

"Is There In Truth No Beauty?" (6/10)
Watch how often I get the title wrong when mentioning it to others. Some Lovecraft for you.
-- I'm surprised at how geniunely horrific this episode gets, and it's sort of a first season style episode. The concept of an alien race so ugly that they inspire madness in humans and all of these crazy precautions need to be taken is a great idea. Followed by liberal use of a fish-eye lens. Once they solved the problem I was like "Oh, how do we still have ten minutes left OH SHIT SPOCK FORGOT TO PUT ON THE GLASSES." Next time I need a body to ride around in, I know who to choose.

"The Empath" (4/10)
Leave it to Kirk to yell at a mute girl... the extremely overacty mute girl with the injury transfer powers and superhealing abilities. The show's writers find a way to set an entire episode in a dark warehouse. Bones hates underground dwellings too?!
-- Fucking ouch on the wrist wounds! Man, Star Trek has a prejudice against aliens with big heads. They's always motherfuckers. It's another powerful-mediating-race in disguise, the twist being that our heroes have to convince them to stop being assholes. Which actually isn't a twist at all.

"The Tholian Web" (6/10)
Has the starship designation Defiant been used elsewhere? Seems like it has. *takes nap, wakes up* Worf's ship from DS9/First Contact! I'm the fuckin MAN!
-- Neway, the crew's spacesuits look way more practical than they did back in "The Naked Time," if also way more ridiculous looking. There are bunch of small, silly moments in execution (more fish-eye lens!) between a bunch of cool stuff (Kirk waiting on a silent bridge in the middle of a bunch of dead bodies while they work frantically to beam him back). Spock is making a mess of things under command again, do Vulcans just suck at it like black people suck at being humble? Heh, racism. I'll stop Bonesing, Spock does a much better job this time around. And I'm especially a sucker for the web that increases in size and complexity as the episode goes on and the situation gets more dire. Is there a last-minute continuity error? Vulcans ARE capable of lying, then?

"For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" (5/10)
A dramatic terminal illness episode?! In THIS show?! Are we certain this planetary body is an asteroid? It looks a lot like a planet, what with the sky and everything. Oh I get it, it's like a thing they're doing.
-- It's strange having a 'we love Bones' episode right after a 'we love Kirk' episode, but then again, what order am I watching these things in? To be honest, I don't know how I feel about this one. There's nothing too stupid about it, but it doesn't go many places. I'd almost say it was... hollow?

"Day of the Dove" (4/10)
Steve Aylett is right: Kirk sometimes looks like a grotesque monster. Look at the way he beams down to a planet in hunched aggression. He is clearly a danger.
-- What is with this episode? Kirk tells somebody 'go to the devil,' Chekov calls the Klingons 'cossacks,' the Federation may have death camps, the Klingons complain about the violence of another culture, Chekov is overcome by what I assume is patriotism and gets the rape-urge in him... does that glowing electric ball have something to do with it? I sense another all-powerful-being episode... or it's a thinly veiled metaphor for... stem-cell research...

"Plato's Stepchildren" (4/10)
Uuuuuuuuggggghhhh, a midget is always a bad sign for a television episode, I've been known to think. Does that make me a bad person? Yes.
-- Moving on, this is also a *sound drop* Earth Parallel AND about a race with psychic (psychokinetic? PSIONIC?! headmakeydo) abilities. Just to make matters a little bit worse, the story requires DeForest Kelley to throw himself around the set, which he is the worst ever at doing. It's better than "The Squire of Gothos" because of awesome wire work and more intense villains that torture our heroes... with a surprisingly tame interracial kiss. Humph. I didn't like it, what do you want from me?