Saturday, April 16, 2005

Do not waste your time on these movies:

Duplex (with Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore)
The cover of the DVD says, and I quote, "Smart and wildly funny... you'll love this movie."
I can't tell you how wrong every letter of that statement is. It's like saying, "Ice cubes eat 8 meals a day and will read your mail for you," only even more wrong. The truth is 180 degrees from that statement. I'm... I'm speechless.

The Day After Tomorrow
The best claim the cover of this DVD can make is, "From the director of Independence Day." I rest my case.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
This one says, "From the director of Blade." Even worse.
And the really upsetting part is I love the books by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. They'd deserve their own post, but I strongly recommend them. They're "comic books", but for adults with a knowledge of turn-of-the century literature. Seriously intelligent and detailed.
I don't think there's an official site, but this one gives a good overview:
If/when you do read the books, check out the Annotations link from that Web site. It takes you to a fan's collection of notes where he goes frame by frame identifying the references and such. It will humble you. I thought I was clever and in on all of the references, but there's more than any one person could catch, so the Annotations are fun to read through with a copy of the book in your hand.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Frank Miller's Sin City

The movie, not the comic books.

What's the difference? One has live action and is projected on a big screen, the other is printed on pulp. But that's about it.

You think you've seen comic books come to life on the big screen before? You think Batman, Spider-Man, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Ghost World or The Road to Perdition translated the graphic novel to the big screen? They didn't do squat.

I can only draw comparisons to the little I've seen of Frank Miller's Sin City series of comics, but I feel very confident that this movie has truly captured Miller's images--as well as a live action movie can. ...and yes, I did toss a subtle pun at you there. Miller is in the movie, too.

I went in not knowing what to expect--or even if I'd really like it. All I knew was that Bruce Willis is cool and the film promised to be visually intriguing. I had looked into Miller's art a bit and didn't care for it at all. Still don't. I looked up Sin City to see what it was all about and found that there are several stories in the series. So I had an idea of the look we would be dealing with and the potential for multiple story lines. I went in skeptical. I came out very impressed.

Film noir has returned. Not the self-conscious indi films or the pseudo-stylized detective flicks, true film noir. I've since discovered that even that style was carried over from the comics and the narration nearly verbatim. I feel like I should discuss this aspect more, but really there's no better way to say it: this is film noir. Period.

Maybe this will help:
Film noir: -'nwär: noun
Etymology: French, literally, black film
: a type of crime film featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography and foreboding background music; also : a film of this type

And it is dark. Both visually and thematically. Don't confuse comic books with kids books. The best ones aren't. The Sin City stories are full of violence and deviant behavior. While not gory, they are graphic and there's a reason this film is rated R.

The movie has an all-star cast who I won't mention here. You can go to the Web site and see 'em all. Although I noticed Elijah Wood isn't listed on the Web site. ...Yeah, you want to see Frodo involved in some twisted sexual abductions and end up dismembered and disemboweled? This movie's got it!
But there is a true ensemble cast at work here. There are four or five different stories, each overlapping a little bit. Each story is told beginning to end, then it's on to the next one. Each time a story was resolved, though, I found myself thinking, "That's not how the whole movie will end, is it?" That was because of two things, I realized: first, the movie was packing so much in that I was losing track of time and thought the movie must almost be over; and second, I was looking for something to tie it all together. It delivered. The Yellow Bastard story endcaps the movie, starting off at the beginning and being resolved at the end, tying in all other story lines and giving the movie a satisfying end.

Sin City:
Graphic and disturbing behavior: three out of five severed limbs spilling white blood.
All-around quality and entertainment value: four out of five heroes that should have been dead 30 bullets ago.

Friday, April 08, 2005

His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is the first book in a trilogy by Philip Pullman called His Dark Materials. It's a unique piece of young adult fiction in that it's just as entertaining to adults as children. I fact, when we were at B&N the other day, we found it in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of the adult area, not the children's' section.

I won't spoil the ending, but it's difficult to discuss this book without revealing key bits of its uniqueness. When I read it, I enjoyed the way Pullman drops the reader into his world and lets you find your footing as you read. What I'm saying is, if you don't know anything about The Golden Compass yet, then I'd feel bad if this post spoiled any part of your reading experience and maybe you should stop reading this and pick up at least the first chapter or two of the book.

Still with me, eh? I doubt anyone is ever deterred by those types of warnings.

The book centers on 11-year-old Lyra who has spent her childhood at the feet and underfoot of scholars and theologians in Oxford. But this isn't the same Oxford that you and I know. This is... Ok, depending on the reader's perception, going any further here may actually spoil the end. Let's take a different route.

The book centers on 11-year-old Lyra and her daemon. Because, of course, all humans have daemons. Lyra is fated to play an important role in the history of the world, but must act of her own will--meaning that even those who know of the prophesy about her and have an interest in it have to have faith that by sheer dumb luck she'll stumble toward her fate. Think ancient Greek drama.

Pullman crafts a decent adventure, but I felt the characters' motivations were very thin. For that reason alone, I consider this a young adult book and not an adult fiction. That's assuming children don't care or wouldn't notice that characters aren't developed and details like motivation aren't discussed in depth. Think Die Hard or any Hollywood action flick--or maybe more appropriately, the latest Lindsay Lohan atrocity. Well, maybe that shallowness isn't reserved just for children.

What makes the book great is that Pullman challenges his readers. He introduces a world that's familiar enough to get you from A to B; but he'll pass by C and make a stop at D along the way: quirks that are the stuff of everyday life to the characters but open the reader's mind. He won't settle for writing at a child's level, he writes to interest the child and carries them through the ideas and use of language to the realm of full-blown adult literature. And not just literature, but philosophy, physics, theology, and sociology. In fact, these are really what's at the heart of the story. Maybe this is what bridges the age gap: the child gets an entertaining fantasy adventure, while the adult gets the same, but loaded with thought-provoking material just under the surface.

So was this the greatest thing I've ever read? No. Did I like it? Yes--especially since it happens to touch on some out-there topics that intrigue me anyway. Would I recommend it? Yes. It'd be fun but challenging for youngsters and quick but not insipid read for adults.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

N 43° 59.509 W 088° 32.082

Saturday, April 2nd. Meg and I have spent the night in Waukesha with Joe and Andrew. She’s got a class to teach for First Stage in Hartford, but needs to pick up some t-shirts in Milwaukee first. So we head downtown to the new Milwaukee Youth Arts Center—which is very impressive and should serve the arts community and the children and families of southeastern Wisconsin extremely well for years to come. A short while later, we’re loading t-shirts in the Matrix and hitting the road. We have to swing by West Bend so Meg can drop me off at my car. (Meg often meets me at work on Fridays so we can head to Milwaukee together.)

We get to West Bend with about an hour until Meg has to be on the road to Hartford. We’re looking for a place to have lunch and decide to try a new restaurant in town, something with a 50 states theme. Our table taught us about Kentucky and Tennessee. It was the second time in as many weeks that we’ve tried a recently opened restaurant, and I’ve decided that in the future I’m going to let a new place take a couple months to get on their feet before visiting. Hint: if you walk in the door and see five employees hanging around the host’s area looking like they’re not sure what to do, you’re in trouble. The food was very good, though. Great burgers. During lunch, we’d briefly discussed how to spend the afternoon. It was a [relatively] nice day and we thought it’d be good to take a walk or do some geocaching. She didn’t know it, but she was already starting to play right into my hands. (Insert diabolical nemesis musing gestures here.)

Meg drops me at my car and heads out. I desperately need fuel, so I pay the $2.35 a gallon and head north. I know Megan’s not going to get home for about three hours, so I cruise straight up to Appleton where her ring is waiting to be picked up. Unbeknownst to Megan, I had spent the previous Friday afternoon selecting the diamond and buying the ring. Rushing back to Oshkosh, I’m itching to lay out the proposal scheme.

I get the exact coordinates of the place I want to propose to her and put together notes for a fictional cache at that location. It’s conveniently near our apartment and in proximity to another cache. It’s a safe bet if left up to her, she’ll pick this one to find today. I pepper the notes with puns and esoteric meaning. ‘Cause that’s my style, baby.

The trap is set.

She gives me a call from the road as she’s heading home. Am I going out? Can I pick up a couple things at the grocery store? Sure. I really do need to get my oil changed, so I might as well do that now. Before that, though, I’ve got a couple calls to make. Number one: the Links. I talk to Julie and let her know my intentions. Her advice: have smelling salts ready and make sure she’s sitting down. Call two: my folks. I talk to Mom and let her know what’s going on, too. Then it’s oil change, skip the grocery store because Megan’s almost in town so she’ll stop there, and back home.

“You want to do some geocaching this afternoon?”

“Sure,” she says.

“OK. I’ll go find some in the area that we haven’t logged yet.”

I collect notes on seven caches, including the fictional one. The plans begin to fall into place. We’ll go with George and Ona to the art walk. Maybe see a late movie. Before all that, though, we could get in at least a couple caches before it gets dark.

“Which ones do you want to do?”

“I don’t care,” I shrug.

“Why don’t we do those couple by Ardy & Eds?”

“OK.” (Excellent. Everything is going according to plan.)

I’m at the helm of the Matrix as Megan mans the eTrex and navigates us to the right location. It’s a small park—not so much a park as a boat landing with a small breakwater made of slabs of rock with a path along it and a few small trees. The coordinates seem to be pointing us out into the lake. Hmmm… maybe if we walk out onto the breakwater it’ll be closer. The GPS leads us to the northeastern corner, out onto the rocks. Well, it must be here somewhere… I get on my hands and knees to look under a couple rocks while Meg turns around, looking at the eTrex.

“Megan, come here!”

“Did you find it?”

“No… Megan, will you marry me?”

And the rest is history.

Shaun of the Dead

This is now one of my favorite movies of all time.

It’s a seriously funny movie that also happens to be a zombie flick.

Absolute genious.