Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Murderball

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Ya know that documentary about guys in wheelchairs playing rugby? No? Well, this is it. As "Murderball" was becoming this big documentary sensation and was being featured in magazines and in various online columns and it was described as one of the best films of the year at that time. But what is it about? What is this murderball? Murderball the sport is wheelchair rugby and is played by paraplegics. This documentary taught me that a paraplegic is a person who is impaired in all four limbs, not necessarily unable to use all four limbs. The degree of impairment is given a point value and a team can have a certain amount of points on the court at any one time. In all other ways, the rugby is played exactly the same as regular rugby (as I understand it). This is murderball.

Is this subject worth a documentary feature? Yes. It is a glimpse into a world that most people did not know existed and would not have considered before. It shows those who have suffered a serious life changing injury that they can still participate in physical activities. It entertains at the same time as it informs. "Murderball" is very "watchable". The cast of characters it presents are very outspoken and interesting. The primary focus of the movie is on Zupan, a tattooed hard playing man with strong opinions. He is the face of "Murderball" and he sells himself very well and with attitude.

This is a very well made documentary and it should appeal to those viewers who do not normally watch documentaries or would be uncomfortable with the subject matter. Excellent film.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Buffy, Joyce, and Aimee Mann

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Buffy Season 7 is shaping up to a good one. I've really enjoyed the first two discs, the Gnarl notwithstanding (and they put the Gnarl in the opening credits...). I still don't like Spike as a character, at least not without Drusilla, but the whole set up for the slow introduction of the Big Bad and the hints that this time something truly big is going down...it's great. I loved that moment earlier in this season where the Big Bad changed shapes into all of the Big Bads throughout the show, starting with Warren and ending with the Master (and Glory! Glory was a fun character). It sets up that everything that came before was only prologue. And while I know a little bit of what goes down this season (Xander losing an eye, for example), and a little bit about the ending, I don't know it all. So...I think that what has been going on is that there is this cult killing potential slayers, and picked off a watcher in the latest episode. That's my call. Of course, I only know this because I know later on in the season Buffy gathers potential slayers to her as her little army.

What I don't understand, however, is how Season 7's ending and all the potentials get put together with Joss Whedon's comic book Fray. Fray is set hundreds of years in the future and there are no more Slayers called until Fray is called...and there is no memory of what happened except a hint that at one point the last Slayer was killed and it was a blond girl (Buffy, presumably). Hopefully Joss's new Buffy comics will clear that up, or maybe some of the Spike DVD movies that are rumored...and how does this all fit with Angel, another show I need to finish up? The new Buffy comic is rumored to be Joss's Buffy Season 8, so I'm interested. I'll give it a go when it is released in Trade Paper.

Back to Buffy 7. I'm so glad Joss gave Kristine Sutherland a chance to come back one more time as Buffy's mother, Joyce. It was only in a short period, and I get that killing off Joyce made a lot of sense (and maybe Kristine wanted out) in the storyline, but I miss the character. So, seeing her again, for a moment or two was great.

What I didn't expect was Aimee Mann playing at the Bronze. Really? Maybe she's a fan of the show, but that was fun. And then she actually got to interact when she and the band stopped when a vamp was dusted, and then started again with a shrug...and even had a line of dialogue later saying "I hate playing Vampire towns".

The Dragonbone Chair

In many ways "The Dragonbone Chair" is typical high fantasy. Many of the stereotypes of the genre are here and this could also be "kitchen boy fantasy". The protagonist is named Simon, and he is an orphaned teenager living at the Hayholt, a great castle in the land of Osten Ard. Simon is one of the castle servants, but is something of a lay-about. Somewhat clumsy in his chores, he spends much time avoiding his responsibilities and goes off exploring the great castle and dreaming of different lives he could lead. There is the occasional mention early on about something to do with his birth and origins that is shadowed in mystery, so we get the typical fantasy glimpse that Simon isn't as simple as he seems. But this is to be expected.

The first 200 pages or so of the novel can be by far the most difficult because Tad Williams is giving a lot of exposition. There are small details that build the world and set up some conflicts for later in the book, but it takes some work to get through the beginning. I admit that it took me three tries over the past 10 years for me to finish this book. Not because the novel is bad, but because it starts so slowly.

In this opening section we learn about the decline of the old King Prester John, and the strife between his two sons Elias and Josua. Elias is fearful that Josua will take his birthright, but Josua wants none of it, and there is a twisted advisor whispering in Elias's ear. Finally the old king dies, Josua disappears, Simon ends up on the run when tragedy and treachery strikes, and the novel truly begins. "The Dragonbone Chair" is an epic high fantasy novel where a castle servant boy will rise to a level of importance he never imagined and travel the world on a great adventure with a goal of saving the world as they know it. It is fairly typical fantasy, but Williams writes it well enough that the cliches do not feel forced or distracting.

This novel is the first of a long three volume cycle. Thus far we learn more about what sort of quest the series will take, a glimpse of the ultimate evil facing the world and what the stakes are, and how difficult things will become for the "good guys". The second volume, "The Stone of Farewell" is a somewhat shorter novel than the 600 page + "The Dragonbone Chair", but the conclusion "To Green Angel Tower" tips the scales at more than 1000 pages. The "Memory, Sorrow, Thorn" trilogy is one which will require a serious time commitment to read, but it is a favorite of many and is a classic feeling epic fantasy and is one of the most commonly recommended fantasy series. Right now I can't say that it is worth recommending above all others, but the story is interesting, the writing is good if a bit slow, and I hope that this is a series that continues to grow and develop in such a way that the set-up is worth the pay off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

All Rivers Flow to the Sea

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When I checked this book out from the library I knew that "All Rivers Flow to the Sea" was cataloged as a teen fiction book. Normally, that is a reading level that I don't even look at, but this was written by one of my favorite authors, and Minnesota resident, Alison McGhee. McGhee is best known for her novels "Rainlight" and "Shadow Baby", but is also the author of two children's books and a young adult novel ("Snap"). Everything she has written has been quite excellent, though I didn't love "Snap" the way I did her three adult novels.

"All Rivers Flow to the Sea" is a short novel about a teenage girl dealing with grief and loss. Rose and her sister were in a car accident, another driver hit them and her sister has been in a coma for months. Her mother hasn't been to the hospital since the day of the accident. Rose does not know how to live her life alone because she has never been alone and going back to school she does not know how to deal with the looks and the whispers that her sister is a vegetable and someone should pull the plug. What Alison McGhee gives the reader is a very real feeling story about Rose and how she deals, acts out, comes back, and finds healing in her life and acceptance about her sister. This is a novel that presents a true human challenge for Rose and one that I do not remember reading about, and certainly not quite like this. Likely, this novel will appeal to teenage girls and girls who have had to deal with grief in their own lives.

Alison McGhee has done something remarkable with "All Rivers Flow to the Sea." Not only has she written an excellent short novel for a particular age group, she has written a novel that transcends the age group. If I didn't know that this was "teen fiction" I would easily put this among her adult novels. She doesn't talk down to her reader, she is incredibly sympathetic, and "All Rivers Flow to the Sea" happens to be just as good as "Rainlight" or "Shadow Baby". That is high praise indeed, because those two novels (especially "Rainlight") are exceptional.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Willow and the Narl

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The episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7 titled "Same Time, Same Place" contained what is quite possibly the nastiest thing I've seen on one of my shows, and this includes the gruesomeness of "The X-Files". Willow was trapped by this demon called a Narl. The Narl was making these cuts on Willow's stomach (this part wasn't bad, we see this sort of stuff moderately often, a fair amount of flesh wounds on this show), but then we actually saw the Narl peel off two strips of flesh. My jaw dropped. Quite disgusting! It wasn't gorey or eye surgery, but that actually shocked me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brokeback Mountain: The Short Story

Thursday, December 15, 2005 0
The film "Brokeback Mountain" which is garnering all this critical attention, Golden Globe nominations and many other awards which are soon to follow is based on a short story written by Annie Proulx ("The Shipping News") and is from her collection "Close Range". I was able to read this story yesterday because The New Yorker has the story up on their website, so I copied it over to a Word File to read at my leisure. This isn't a very long story, only 18 pages in Word and 10,000 words. I'll be interested to see how Ang Lee filled out the story to make a 2 hour movie out of 18 pages of not exceptionally developed characters.

The basic story has Jack and Ennis as two young cowboys, not even 20 years old, getting a job working at a ranch out west. Ennis knows that he's going to be marrying his girlfriend Alma someday. Their job is to spend all their time out on the range and to sleep out with the sheep to make sure that coyotes and wolves do not thin the herd at all. They are supposed to be working separately but they spend a little bit of time with each other and one cold night after drinking too much out on the range they warm each other up rather closely. This is how it begins, with alcohol and perhaps loneliness. After that Jack and Ennis go at each other as often as they can and not always secretively. But when the season at the ranch is over, they both go their separate ways and each end up married to women. Several years later they meet up again and pick up the passion where they left off and we see the strain this starts to put onto their lives and relationships.

While it seemed like Annie Proulx rushed the beginning of this physical attraction, she does a very good job with building in only 18 pages covering years how their passion has impacted them and affect how they treat each other and how the fear of being found out is a big deal.

I was surprised, but this is a good story, a western love story that just happens to be between two men. The gender issue is what raises adds the edge to the story because this is the unspoken, the thing that makes people uncomfortable. How this spare story will translate to the screen remains to be seen, though the critics are happy.


To give an answer to the South Park joke, I can't speak for the movie, but while there are gay cowboys, there is no pudding in the short story.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Comedian

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Not a fan of Jerry Seinfeld? Don't worry, neither am I. "Comedian" has as its primary focus, the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This is several years after the end of the "Seinfeld" sitcom and Jerry is getting back on the road as a standup comic trying out new material and working on his new act. As we know, Jerry Seinfeld is a fantastically successful man and if he wanted (or didn't want), he would never have to work another day in his life. So why do standup? Sure, this is his origins and where he came from, but it can be a tough life having to sell himself and his jokes every single performance with no chance of a redo. So, why? Jerry never directly answers this question during the movie except that he loves his work, but my answer is that creative men need to continue to work, to find an outlet for this creativity and this drive to keep performing. But that's just my guess.

Jay Leno says midway through the film, to Jerry, that he couldn't do what Jerry is doing. What Leno is referring to is this film, "Comedian". Jerry is giving away his act. Not on stage, but to us, the viewer. Jerry is letting us see his frustrations, his struggles, and even some of his jokes as a work in progress rather than letting audiences discover the jokes for the first time. That is exactly what "Comedian" is. Jerry Seinfeld a struggling comic. He has a name that will get him through any door and on any stage, but it has been years since he has worked and he is trying to put together new jokes and a new routine. This is untested stuff and he is unsure if it is truly funny or if it will connect with an audience or if it will connect with many audiences. He is trying to find his rhythm.

What adds to this film being so interesting is that other major comics appear in some scenes talking to Jerry. Chris Rock meets Jerry and Jerry tells Chris about his insecurity and Chris replies by telling Jerry about seeing a comic that they hadn't heard of before do a two and a half hour set, no intermission, telling joke after joke after story after joke and everything works. Chris says he felt like a fraud after seeing that comic. And this is Chris Rock! And this is Jerry Seinfeld who is having the same struggles.

The other side of the coin is Orny Adams, a young (early 30's) comic who is trying to make it. He is very much full of himself and feels that he is better than everybody and better than the audience and when a crowd only politely chuckles he blames the audience as a bad audience and not that he may not have been good that day...because Orny is a professional and knows what he is doing. We see Orny begin to work with the guy who helped make Jerry Seinfeld a success. But his attitude just kills. He may be talented, but he needs an attitude check.

This makes me wonder if this is what a Jerry Seinfeld or a Chris Rock or others were like on the way up the comic ladder. That it is only when you reach the level of success and then try to keep being funny with new material that you find you are unsure of your skill. And for this, "Comedian" gives a very insightful look into the backstage life of comics trying to hone their craft, even at a stage in their career where most people think they have it honed.

I wasn't a fan of the tv show "Seinfeld" and I'm not sure I would love Jerry Seinfeld's comedy, and I know I already don't like Orny Adams, but I thought that "Comedian" is an excellent documentary look into their lives as comedians.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I really think I gave the book a fair shake. When I heard that Anne Rice was writing a book called "Christ the Lord", I was intrigued and a little shocked. Anne Rice? Anne Rice? The Queen of the Damned herself? The lady who writes all those vampire books is writing a book about Jesus? And it isn't going to be about Vampire Jesus? This I have to read for myself.

And I tried. "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" covers some of the time when Jesus is a 7 year old boy. He is just realizing that he has these extra powers, like he accidentally kills a boy and then heals him not realizing quite what he is doing but knows that the "power" has "gone out of him". But most of this book is more of the ordinary life of the young Jesus as his family moves out of Egypt after Herod dies and back to Nazareth. We discover what Jesus knows of his family and what he knows of who he is as he hears the whispers of a prophecy and angels coming to his mother and a connection between John (the one who I believe will be "The Baptist") Jesus.

It just didn't seem to amount to anything. It was so dreadfully dry and dull that I could only make it 150 pages into this 300 page book. This book is supposed to be the first volume of three about Jesus, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to read them. Or maybe the adult Christ will be more interesting and worth trying out. "Out of Egypt" is just not very good.

I respect that Anne Rice has become a Christian and is striving to use her writing gifts to honor God. This is fantastic news and I'd rather Rice be a Christian than continue to write vampire novels and not believe. But if we still have to judge the book of its own merits, I can't recommend this one at all.

Of course, this whole thing may be an elaborate set up and we'll find out in the last volume that Zombie Vampire Jesus will destroy the world.

But I doubt it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

hallelujah

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While there may never be a more beautiful, haunting song than Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah", Brandi Carlisle does a very nice cover of this song here.

The link I gave is to a list of in studio appearances, so you're looking for the 12/08 appearance. The song is 14:30 into the file. Not Buckley, but it's powerful when all is quiet.

Miracle

As someone who has watched the Winter Olympics for twenty years and has been watching sports in general for perhaps a little bit longer than that, it would have been difficult to have not heard about the United States Olympic Hockey Team from 1980. You know, the one that shockingly beat the dominant Soviet team, a Soviet team so strong it was beating the NHL All Stars in exhibition games. I knew this, but I didn't really understand. "Miracle" is the story of the 1980 team and follows the team from the formation to the conclusion at the Lake Placid Olympics.

We open with coach Herb Brooks (a nearly unrecognizable Kurt Russell) talking to a group of me, probably the US Olympic Committee about his vision for the squad and how he would like to form the team. He doesn't want to pick the best players, he wants to pick the best team. He knows this is the only way to have a chance against the Soviets who work so well as a team against the All Star Teams which are made up of individuals. Making the players into a team will be a challenge, one which is suggested throughout the movie as Coach Brooks asks the players their name and what team they play for and the players give their names and then their college (University of Minnesota, Boston College, University of Wisconsin, etc). It is easy to tell what answer Brooks is going for and not going and it is a bit later in the film that Brooks gets the answer he wants and that the viewer knows is a key turning point.

One would think that knowing exactly how the movie has to end would rob "Miracle" of dramatic tension. Somehow the director is able to make the viewer doubt that this team really is good enough to win in the Olympics at all, let alone to face the mighty Soviet squad which had won the previous four Gold medals for Hockey. Even when we get to the Gold Medal match is the ending in doubt. The US may have won their previous games, but these are the mighty Soviets. So much credit has to go to the filmmakers, the actors, the director, and the editor for cutting this film together in such a way that even knowing the ending does not lessen the impact of the ending, the emotion of the ending.

It is clear that I like this movie. It is a "feel good" movie in the best sense of the phrase because it isn't sappy and sweet, but a hard played game that brought out the best in the players and the underdog (which the United States is not used to being) is able to come out on top in the end.

Riding Giants

Director Stacy Peralta's first major film was the documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys", a film detailing the history of skateboarding in America and how the big skating boom came about and those pioneers of which he was a member. Peralta followed up
"Dogtown" with "Riding Giants", a film which is semi-related in theme because "Riding Giants" traces the history of Big Wave surfing with a look at the early pioneers as well as where Big Wave is today.

There are really two kinds of serious surfing. There is the short wave surfing which we may see on television and competitions where there is a lot of flash and tricks and perhaps this is even where the glory is (movies like "Blue Crush" cover this end of the surfing world). Then there is Big Wave surfing where the surfer needs to get farther off shore to catch a wave that crests higher and breaks harder and may have another wave just as big right behind it so you better not mess up. Peralta tracks the origins and history of Big Wave surfing where guys (it is usually men) are constantly seeking a better wave, a more perfect challenge. They first just paddle out to deeper water and the narration mentions a time where two men paddled out for two hours to reach the spot where they could catch the wave they wanted. Then Peralta shows how Big Wave has changed with different surfing locations and when Jet Skis were used to start towing the surfer into the wave.

I imagine that most people know very little about surfing or Big Wave surfing. I freely admit that nearly everything that I know about surfing came from "Blue Crush" and maybe one or two broadcasts of a surfing competition on television. There are two ways that "Riding Giants" is a success as a film. The first is that the documentary is informative while being entertaining about the history and the present and possibly the future of Big Wave surfing. It's a world, a lifestyle, and a culture that I had never considered. The second way is that this is a beautiful looking movie. The sight of these big waves rolling in and the men attempting and in many cases succeeding in surfing the waves is incredible. This is fairly short documentary, perhaps an hour and a half, so there is not a large time commitment and I think it is one worth making.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sin City: Recut, Extended, and Unrated

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There comes a time when a review of the movie will have no impact on whether or not a person will see the movie in the theatre, or even buy a DVD of the movie. I think Sin City is one of these movies because in general, Sin City is a "love it" or "hate it" movie for critics and fans alike. Strangely, I was in the middle when I saw Sin City in the theatre. I was impressed with the visual style, and I liked the look of the movie, the sound of the movie, the hard bitten over the top language and action of Sin City. I admired what the director, Robert Rodriguez did in bringing Frank Miller's graphic novels to life. But I didn't love the movie. Since that time I've read the graphic novels and I've now watched this special edition extended recut DVD of Sin City and I've changed my mind somewhat. I'm even more impressed and I like the movie a whole lot more.

The question is why. I think the first and biggest reason is how this DVD is presented. It offers up the theatrical version of the film, which I feel is essential in any DVD edition which gives us an extended or director's cut. Let us compare. Robert Rodriguez does. The second disc of this set includes the extended and recut edition of the movie, but it's not like your typical extended edition. Since Sin City is based on several Frank Miller books and tells four different stories that slightly overlap, the recut version of the film is now four short films each with its own title card and each one has to be selected separately on the menu. I love it. This works far better for me because we get short films that are self contained and tell a complete story and I don't have to sit through two hours of film just to watch the 40 minute Marv segment "A Hard Goodbye". Even after watching the theatrical version, I'm not sure where the twenty minutes of extended footage came from. It's probably just 15 seconds here and 30 seconds there and not big new scenes. I can completely skip the short Josh Hartnett section if I want. This is the way I want to watch the film.

Besides this recut version of the film, there are also some quality bonus features included on the DVD. First up is Robert Rodriguez's "15 Minute Flic School". In this featurette director Rodriguez talks about how he decided to make Sin City after looking through his graphic novels and saw that shooting the film would both be possible and a challenge. He talks about specific ways that he was able to save money in the making of the movie as well as how few of the major actors were actually on set at the same time, even if they have scenes together. This is a very interesting look in how this man makes his movies. Next up is the "All Green Version" of Sin City. This is the Green Screen version of the movie and Rodriguez introduces it, saying that he sped the film up 300 times or so in order that we can watch the entire movie in 10 to 15 minutes, but it gives us the chance to see how little the actors had to work with and how much work went into getting what we see on screen to actually be there. This is a neat feature and it is remarkable how good of a job the actors did with so little on set. We also get to see "The Long Shot" where we see an on set take with some background footage where Rodriguez and guest director Quentin Tarantino just let the cameras roll for 15 to 20 minutes and keep the scene going. We see some of what Tarantino says to the actors, what actually made it into the movie, and how the actors work and figure out how to play a scene. This is another great feature.

Another feature is the Sin City concert. This is actually just a one song clip from Bruce Willis and his band The Accelerators doing a performance for the cast and crew of Sin City as well as Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly which was filming nearby. Surprisingly enough, Willis is quite good as is his band. Good stuff here. The last feature on disc two is a 10 minute cooking lesson from director Robert Rodriguez. Here we see Rodriguez explain how to make his homemade breakfast tacos. It looks good and I understand that he does this on his other DVDs as well.

The first disc of this set is the theatrical version of the film with other special features. Besides the commentary track, the other features are the obligatory “the cars of Sin City”, “the props of Sin City” and other related informative but not nearly as interesting as the disc two features. Two that are interesting are the story of how Rodriguez convinced Frank Miller to let him do the film and Quentin Tarantino as guest director for a scene in the movie. The rest are fairly stock features.

Overall this is an excellent set that really is worth owning if you are at all a fan of Sin City. This set does the movie and the books proud.

ANTM Cycle 5 Finale

Last night was the season finale for Cycle 5 of America's Next Top Model. This season there was nobody who really felt strong enough to win. Granted, I felt the same last year and thought Kahlen would win and I was wrong then, too. The final three were Bre, Nik, and Nicole. I figured, and my wife figured, that the Final Two would be Nik and Bre. But when the first cut came around, out goes Bre. Leading into that cut I had a strong feeling that Nicole would stay and that Bre would go, even though Nicole froze up during the commercial taping. But Nicole's Covergirl picture was quite a bit better than the other two. Her smile is better. So, Nicole and Nik. Nik seemed to be more polished and a better overall model and even improved throughout the competition and did very well during the commercial (unlike the first commercial weeks ago).

And yet...Nicole wins. Okay. Like I said, nobody felt like they should have won. I'm curious how the winners and non-winners compare against other seasons. Like, would Nicole win against Naima? I don't think Naima should have won, anyway, so I'd still probably stack the models as Kahlen, Bre, Nik, Nicole, Naima...but if they competed at the same time maybe I'd feel differently. I do think I'd pick Yoanna as the best overall that we've had.

So...are the previous winners still working? Adrienne apparently isn't since she's done The Surreal Life and then a tv show about dating Peter Brady. Eva is, I think, because she's popped up a few times during this season and was on that Kevin Hill show a bit. Naima is still under contract, I think, so she's still promised a job. But...where is Yoanna? Is she working in Bangladesh or in Europe or working not as a model but in the industry? She seemed to have the most knowledge and desire to be a model as any of the others did.

Just curious on this one. But probably not enough to try to find out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Passing on Shoah

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I've had the documentary "Shoah" out from the library for a week or so now and I tried to watch the first disc last night. I made it 20 minutes into the film before I knew that this just wasn't the time to watch it. This is a four disc, 9 hour 30 minute documentary on the Holocaust and is comprised entirely of first person accounts by the survivors of what happened to them. It is something that I've wanted to watch since the Spring of 2000 when Professor Kugler showed 40 minutes of the film in his class on Nazi Germany. I'm putting the movie back in my queue and I'll get back to it in another year or so and I suspect when I do I'll be more ready to watch it.

Some historians and some Jewish people object to the term "Holocaust" because the word means a "burnt offering" and in the Old Testament sense of the word when the Jews would sacrifice and offer a burnt offering to God, that was a holocaust and to say that the six million murdered Jews were a sacrifice, a burnt offering up to God is something that can be deeply offensive. Instead, the word "Shoah" to describe what happened. "Shoah" is a Hebrew word for "Catastrophe".

There's your history and linguistic lesson for the day.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Porco Rosso

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One of director Hayao Miyazaki's ("Spirited Away", "Princess Mononoke") earlier works is a film called "Porco Rosso". "Porco Rosso", like his other films, is an animated movie and this one features a pig as an ace pilot and bounty hunter. But before we think this movie is going to veer into the territory of Looney Tunes, Porco is the only character in the movie who is not human and we learn later midway through the movie that he used to be human but seems to be cursed in some way. The rest of the film is grounded a sense of reality, though a slightly skewed reality.

Porco (voiced by an unrecognizable Michael Keaton) is a sea-plane pilot and a bounty hunter. He works for money and usually to protect others (still for pay, not out of any generosity of spirit as he claims he has none). Early in the film we see Porco foil a kidnapping by a bumbling sea-plane pirate gang, and the pirate leaders from the region are out to put a stop to Porco's success against them. They bring in this American pilot (voiced by Cary Elwes), one of the fastest in the world. The American's job is to make Porco look silly and to put him out of a job, if not kill Porco.

"Porco Rosso's" storyline does not progress the way I would have expected. Even though the film clocks in at 90 minutes, "Porco Rosso" has a leisurely pace that feels as if Miyazaki knows exactly where he is going and is in no hurry to get there. I was surprised by just how much humor there is in the movie. The pirates bungle and bumble quite often, but they also drop these throw away lines that are simply funny, but only when you're watching the movie. Trying to list a series of these lines wouldn't be funny when one line that made me laugh was simply "okay", but it was when and how it was said that made the joke. The other thing about this movie was that I was interested in what happens to Porco, and what did happen to Porco, and what will happen. I cared about the character and also in his Engineer friend and the friend's granddaughter (voiced by Kimberly Williams) who is just as good of an engineer as any and a very important character.

Simply put, the movie worked. On all levels. Animation gives the false impression that it is automatically for children, and children can and would enjoy "Porco Rosso", but Miyazaki's films work for adults as well. This is just a good movie. Period. It joins "Princess Mononoke" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" as my favorites Miyazaki movies and is one I happily recommend.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kronk's New Groove

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Disclaimer: I have not seen "The Emperor's New Groove" and have no idea what the movie may be about, except that I imagine it has something to do with an emperor who finds a new groove. Whatever, exactly, that means.

Now, with that disclaimer out of the way let's talk about the sequel to that movie: "Kronk's New Groove". Kronk, to the best of my understanding, is a secondary character from the first movie who now gets his own film with his own misadventures. Unfortunately, the storyline here is a bit unclear. We start out with Kronk sitting in a puddle of liquid cheese that seems to have exploded out of a building and made a huge mess out of everything. He tells us that he used to be somebody and that all of his troubles started earlier that day. We flash back to earlier that day, but the events in the movie seem to take place over several days so perhaps there is another flashback that I missed as well.

Kronk is a big lug of a muscle-bound man with a bigger heart and the respect of the townspeople. Somehow he gets mixed up with an evil sorceress who is peddling some "youth potion" that doesn't really work but folks get kind of addicted to, but Kronk didn't want to get involved in selling the potions but he does because he thinks the sorceress can help with Kronk making his father proud. But all this goes away pretty quickly and Kronk is living his life, working at a camp, being a cook and he meets this woman who is also at the camp and things go well, and then the don't, and then there is a big lesson learned and things may or may not be all good in the end depending on what you believe Disney will provide for an ending. Shocking, all of it shocking.

Or, not so shocking. Honestly, midway through the movie I wasn't sure what "Kronk's New Groove" was all about. After the movie was over I wasn't sure what "Kronk's New Groove" was all about. As I'm writing this review the next morning, I'm not sure what "Kronk's New Groove" is all about. If I can't even say with any real certainty what the point of the movie is, I can't recommend it. There were too many musical montages, the movie didn't seem to have a point, the jokes weren't funny, and it was all fairly dull and unoriginal.

There are a couple of bonus features on the DVD. First off are two "games". The first game makes no sense at all, but is kind of funny. You are to help Kronk complete three tasks by selecting items that will help him in the task. Kronk then goes through a description of how that item will help in the task and then says whether or not the idea will work. Let's just say that the descriptions of how the items will help are by far the most creative and entertaining part of the movie. The second game is "Pyramid Scheme" where you need to amass a certain number of points by answering three questions to move to the next round. The questions are about the movie and also a little bit about the Incas. I answered all of the questions correctly, so it wasn't too difficult. The other bonus feature is a short documentary about how the movie was made. Not as funny as it was intended to be.

Here's the bottom line: I am a 26 year old male and I normally like Disney's animated movies. "Kronk's New Groove" did nothing for me because I believe it is really intended only for children. Children younger than the age of 10 will likely love this movie as it has bright colors, some silly jokes, exploding cheese, a nice moral message at the end about family and friends, and it should be fun for the youngsters. So, parents should feel safe buying this DVD for their children. Personally, I think there are far better options out there for children's movies, but this is a very safe, harmless movie for kids. This movie will fit nicely into the children's market for which the movie is intended. Unfortunately, this is not one which adults will enjoy as much as the kids. It doesn't really work on that second level. And that's fine too.

Adult Grade: D +
Children's Grade: B- (I'm just guessing here, I don't have kids yet).

Hawkmoon

Michael Moorcock is best known for being the author of the Eternal Champion series in the fantasy genre. He has written other things, of course, but the size and scope of Eternal Champion and its impact on the fantasy genre is Moorcock's true legacy. This is a fantasy series spanning decades in the man's career. Started back in the 1960's (I believe), Moorcock has only recently published the final Eternal Champion novel. Most of the books have been collected in omnibus editions which group the novels by theme or character.

The Eternal Champion is a warrior who has had multiple incarnations in various eras, worlds, dimensions, times, and has fought for Balance in the multi-verse (multiple universes). Some of the aspects has known that there have been other lives, others have not. This volume, "Hawkmoon" is the third Eternal Champion omnibus out of...thirteen (?). It collects four short novels about the Hawkmoon aspect of the Eternal Champion who is fighting in an alternate Earth against the Granbretons (Great Britain) invaders of Europe and their Dark Empire which has nearly conquered the globe. There are swords, and magic, and wondrous beasts, and great valor, magic talismans, and darkest evil, and grand adventure. In short, "Hawkmoon" is a collection of some classic pulp fantasy from the past.

Moorcock is able to spin these stories in such a way that I remained interested the entire time. There are heroes and villains, but the lines aren't always as clear as we initially think for some characters but others are fairly stock with the classic heroes of Count Brass and the classic villain of Granbreton's evil empire of insane warriors. It works, though. While a whole lot of bad, nasty things happen in these books, they are fun. They a fast paced classic fantasy in which a Conan character would not be out of place, but Moorcock's writing is still good.

It has been suggested that Moorcock only wrote the Eternal Champion novels so that he would have the financial freedom to work on other, less successful projects that he cared more about. That may be so, but Moorcock has also created a lasting series of fantasy which has impacted the genre and other authors.

I gave this series a try after seeing so many online recommendations of Moorcock's work, and in general I have truly enjoyed it (though less so for the "Von Bek" volume). There is no question that I'm going to continue on with this series which only seems to be available via Interlibrary Loan at my library.

Control Room

My perception of the Al Jazeera television network was that this is the network that broadcasts the Osama Bin Ladin messages and that it is the most popular news network in the Arab world. This is, of course, filtered through a very American lens. It is difficult to say what the reality of the network is without actually being a part of that world or even that network, but "Control Room" attempts to bring us that perspective. We are invited into the world of Al Jazeera where the network producer tells the viewer that it is his job, his passion to have an entirely fair news broadcast that presents different viewpoints and gives voice to those who are willing to speak. The network has criticized Arab governments and has been officially banned in several nations. It sounds so democratic.

At the same time the people at the network are talking up Al Jazeera there are clips from speeches and press conferences held by Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush saying that what Al Jazeera is doing is wrong and it isn't balanced and that the network is trying to undermine the war in Iraq (this film was shot in the early days of the US invasion) by showing the violence and aftershocks of the violence and that the network is distorting the truth. Al Jazeera counters with saying that they are only showing reality and that United States can't have it both ways, to have a war and also to be shown as entirely peaceful. This is as much of a clash of ideology as it is about the truth in Broadcasting.

The Army's press liaison asks an Al Jazeera newsman if the people at the network can be entirely unbiased and report only the truth with no shadings of interpretation. The newsman counters by asking if the Americans can do this. Of course, we know the answer is no. Fox News and CNN and all of the other channels shade the reports, especially in the early stages, with Pro-American slants. It is expected, though not truly "fair". I think that the issue the United States officials and military has with Al Jazeera is that it doesn't blindly support the United States and that it does offer differing perspectives and that it does give voice to those the US finds offensive. Perhaps even the network is Anti-American, though the film does not truly give that opinion. The perspective the film is showing us is that Al Jazeera is a truly free network and possibly the only truly fair network. But even that is spin.

"Control Room" is an excellent documentary and gives a rare look into a world Americans never see and a network that Americans only hear rumors about. Here is another side of the story, one that is worth watching, and one that is well worth learning about.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Kronk Quickie

Sunday, December 04, 2005 0
I watched my review copy of Kronk's New Groove today. Not so good. Now I just have to figure out what to say about it. Ah well. Sin City has to be done this week, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

ANTM, Lost, Clean House

Thursday, December 01, 2005 0
I am so glad Jayla got the boot. She should have been gone weeks ago. It's been bugging me in the judging room at the end that the judges have been saying that she's so beautiful in person...yabbut, she looks bored in every picture. And she's a bit of a punk trying to tear down Nik by saying Nik has the same expression in every picture. Hello!? Pot? Kettle? Black. This year that isn't even a fair complain because nearly every girl gives the same expression. I really liked Kim and wished she lasted another week, but she had the same problem. Kim, at least, brought a different look to the table whereas Jayla just looks boring and like a poor reflection of dozens of other print models.

The finals? Should be Bre and Nik. My wife has been a big fan of Bre for some time now while I've been wavering on her all season. The editors showed some personality, then showed Bre acting out and acting in such a way that I wouldn't want her representing my product...if I had a product. Nik has steadily improved and is taking some of the better pictures right now, but she has no personality. Bre is all personality, but it is semi-negative. Bre also takes very good pictures. Nicole is just boring. My wife has hated her since the first episode where Nicole said that her sister was jealous that she was the pretty one in the family. I just don't see that her pictures are that good or that powerful. She's pretty enough, I guess, but this is a modeling competition, so there aren't going to be any fugly girls on the show. Nicole doesn't seem to bring anything original or different or strong or anything that is better than the other two girls.

And that's why Nicole will be one of the final two. I'm just not sure which one she'll replace.

Sandy has been saying all along that Bre is probably going to win and that there is a good reason her picture has been in the center of the cast photo at the end of every episode and how strong of a picture it is. Something to think about.

Something else to think about? Lost. What the hell is up with that horse? I mean, the polar bear is one thing, and the fact that even though I don't remember white and black stones folks are curious about them, but the horse? And that Kate saw it when she first escaped from the FBI/police? I'm baffled.

The missing part of the filmstrip is confusing, too. So...don't communicate with anyone else with the computer. But, they can't. Locke couldn't type anything else. At least, not until Michael was communicated to by...somebody. It's not Walt, so let's get that out of our mind right now. And what was this previous Incident? Last book I read that had an "incident" had the biblical plague of the first born, but I don't think that's where JJ Abrams is going with this. Decent episode, but we're going to get two episodes of filler from this before we find out anything about Michael's "message" from "Walt". Just wait.

This morning I was watching some sort of show called "Clean House", or something like that. It's on the Style Network, a channel that I've never, ever, ever watched. But, Sandy and I cancelled our cable yesterday so we can get the Dish Network on Saturday and save a good $50 per month on the cable bill. But the cable is still on even though we don't have the cable boxes anymore. The living room has all the channels (except we can't get to IFC because it is 371 and the tv only goes to 99 or so), but the tv room with my old tv doesn't. It's easier for the cable company to switch off my cable rather than the main tv because they can turn off our line to the one tv, but the technician needs to shut off the household doing some work outside, and that's on the 8th of December. But, I still have CNN and TBS and AMC. Channels 2-11 are all the same, but AMC is now 14 rather than 60 something. And I have 2-24, but no ESPN. And that's why I watching Style this morning. So, this show Clean House was about having a team come in and totally revamp the household of this woman. They take her possessions (almost all of them), sell them in a garage sale and restock her house with a whole new set up. Some furniture went, much "stuff" and then they repainted. Ugh, the dining room was some purple color and this other room was "daquiri", which is a sea greenish color. It looked nice, but nothing I'd want to live in. Sure, they made a nice looking house and removed clutter (and removing clutter is a good thing, I'm finding), but it's not "home". It wouldn't be the comfortable home that Sandy and I made, ya know? Sure, remove clutter and clean things up, but some things are home and just replacing everything kind of gives it this "hotel" feeling. Not anything I ever want to do.
 
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