Monday, November 29, 2010
It wasn't the most graceful win, I'll admit that, but a winner is a winner in this cutthroat game, and dammit I'm going to bask in my glory.
Boggy and I tied in the last round, ridiculously, with The Time Traveler's Wife and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. The former is a pedestrian, albeit serviceable, interpretation of a not very good novel; the latter is a message-heavy slip of a movie (a waste of Frances McDormand's talent and Lee Pace's good looks). The choices were grim because Gene was out of town when we started the nomination process, and it turns out that when Gene is not there we all stupidly refuse to play our A games. Gene is the cornerstone of this tournament. He is the competitor that we try to impress, even if we can't beat him. Apparently we need him here to keep ourselves out of the gutter.
The run-off movies were:
Beth -- Entre Les Murs (The Class)
Boggy -- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Putting aside for the moment that Lydia broke the rules by voting for Tangled (which we happened to see in the theater that day), Prince Caspian was a mess -- a couple of hours of horrible child acting and bloodless beheadings on LOTR-sized battle fields. My choice, Entre Les Murs, at least provoked some thoughtful arguments about whether the teacher was an idealist who had failed to reach his students, or a patronizing union drone, punching the clock. I deserved to win, and I'm loading up the Netflix cue, baby.
Friday, November 19, 2010
I’m going to admit right off the bat that Arceus and the Jewel of Life had a lot of potential for me as a movie. It is an epic tale following Ash Ketchum, a youthful nature enthusiast, on a Linnaean quest to capture, document, and taxidermy all of the pokemon in order to one day be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy of Science. However, in this installment of the saga, Ash’s late-Victorian paradigm of descriptive science is challenged when he encounters Dialga and Palkia, the pokemon of Time and Space, and Giratina, the Antimatter pokemon. When these legendary pokemon start to battle in the first few scenes, the ensuing story of the crisis of modern physics, the discovery of the unity of time and space, and the dual nature of the photon seems certain. Curl up, grab a handful of popcorn, and watch as Ash proves that Pikachu has both fainted and not fainted if he’s inside the pokeball.
But this movie even has potential appeal for those who more closely identify with “math class is tough” Barbie. Pokemon is also a coming of age story. In the first scene, for instance, we encounter our hero playing in a stream with Brock, Dawn, and their pokemon. When a few watermelons mysteriously float their way, the time is ripe for Upperclassman Kuno to pop out of the bushes and challenge Ash’s budding sexuality with an invitation to go on a date if Ash beats him in a fight. (I learned my sex-ed from Rumiko Takahashi; maybe Ash will, too.) In the words of a wise black man, “Pikachu, take notes.”
As if this isn’t enough, Arceus and the Jewel of Life even narrates a third, unanticipated story. This is a story of time travel, in which our heroes are thrown back to the ancient site, witness the religious ceremony in which the titular jewel of life was acquired, and interview the high priest of the lands, Damos. It is an archaeologist’s fantasy, an Egyptologist’s wet-dream, an anthropologist’s drug-induced vision, played out in artfully stylized animation.
What’s the catch, then, you might ask? Why was this movie not the first unanimous winner of the tournament? The answer to this lies in the unfortunate writing of the dialogue. Somewhere down the production line, an English major from a community college thought it would be a good idea to have the characters repeat each other for emphasis and to show surprise or shock. I present to you a brief, but exemplary, passage:
Ash: “What’s that?”
Sheena: “The time-space axis.”
Dawn: “Time-space axis?”
Kevin: “Yes, that’s right.”
Sheena: “We use it to investigate those places where time and space have been disrupted.”
Brock: “Time and space disruptions?”
Kevin: “That’s correct.”
About two minutes of this, and I was yelling at the screen.
Sheena: “You see, I have the power to connect my heart with the hearts of pokemon”
Dawn: “With pokemon?”
Sally: Nooo, Dawn, -- with squirrels.
Sheena: “Yes, and [Dialga] has surely lent me some of its strength.”
Ash: “Dialga has?”
Do the characters have the working memory of a goldfish, or do the writers think the audience does? Hard-core Pokemon viewers suggest getting over the annoyance of this literary style by “just watching Piplup” (which I was instructed to do many times). However, if watching Piplup can make this a more bearable – or perhaps even pleasurable – movie-watching experience for you, I’m guessing you’ll probably need the repetitive dialogue to be able to follow the plot.
Repetitive dialogue? Yes, the dialogue. Dialogue… you mean what the people are saying? That’s correct: you’ll need the dialogue repeated to understand the plot. The plot? Yes: the sequence of events. Oh, the plot! Pika!
Monday, November 15, 2010
The Tracy Fragments (B-)
An Education (D)
You'd think that, when choosing a movie, the members of our family would look for a movie they want to see, hoping they might convert others to their choice. Unfortunately this tournament has turned us into a group of sycophantic whores. I speak for everyone when I say that I would gladly sit through The Star Wars Christmas Special or watch whatever experimental films Alex Lake sleeps through at Doc Films if only it meant I could beat Gene at a movie tournament. An example of the basest pandering of all is the choice of The Tracey Fragments and An Education in the first round of The Tournament. Lydia did not choose The Tracey Fragments because she cares about avant-garde cinema -- they could keep re-animating Dragon Ball Z and she would watch it every time -- and I certainly don't care about period pieces. In both cases, the movies were nominated solely to pander to another player. For my part, I thought, "If I can get Gene to vote for An Education because Carey Mulligan is cute, I only need to pick up another vote from John, Beth, or Sally, who love historical shit." Meanwhile Lydia knows that I want nothing more in the world than to meet Ellen Page in person and not have the balls to ask her on a date (my fantasies can be pretty mundane).
These movies represent the failure of sycophants, though. Neither got the votes of the horny teenagers they were intended for. There was nothing in these movies for a Carey Mulligan fan or an Ellen Page stalker to latch on to. It turns out that in An Education, Carey Mulligan was not playing a 1950s Sally Sparrow (Doctor Who: Blink). There was no puzzle-solving, no enigmatic Doctor, no evil alien-statues and no crappy love interest. (The crappy love interest is an important lie to convince male audiences that they could get a girl like Sally Sparrow.) With all those essential elements missing, Carey Mulligan was reduced to a female Holden Caulfield who was a chore to watch.
Similarly, Ellen Page does nothing to make you fall in glove with her in Tracy Fragments. In Inception, she is thrown into a giant dream ocean and comes up, wet, salty, and choking for air. In Juno she gives birth drenched in sweat and gasping for air. In Whip It she's thrown in a hot tub and -- oh my God what is wrong with me this is revealing a dreadful pattern.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
So before I tell you this story, I have to give you some background information.
1. Yesterday we began another round of nomination viewing.
2. There are only four of us in the tournament, because Gene is in France and Sally is doing homework.
3. John -- no surprise here -- messed up yet again in the nomination process, so that we all know which movie choice was his. (And because we each know our own choices, and we know each other so well, and there are only four of us playing, we have therefore easily deduced everyone's movie choice. Nice going, Daddy.)
Anyway, this morning Boggy told me that he actually liked John's movie choice, Absurdistan, which Poppy handed to John on a silver platter, no research required, in front of us all at Sunday Dinner, but never mind that. The fact that Boggy liked John's choice wasn't as surprising a revelation as it sounds, because you'll recall that Boggy is one of three open-minded players in the tournament. No, what surprised me was what he said in the next breath: "Now I don't know which movie to vote for."
Keep in mind #1 from above: we've only seen one movie in this round of nominations -- the aforementioned Absurdistan -- and there are two others that Boggs could vote for (mine and Lydia's). So I said, "You haven't seen the other movies yet!" And he said, "I can always tell ahead of time what movie I'm going to vote for." And I said, "That's not fair! I keep an open mind until we've seen them all, and I consider them together in my mind on the day of voting."
Whereupon I realized that there are no rules about how to formulate your opinion in this game, so he is technically playing by the rules. Whereupon I realized, with jokers like this, what an uphill battle nominating a winner actually is.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
You may ask yourself, how the heck did Lethal Weapon win one week of this tournament? It's not a classic. It wasn't the first buddy-cop movie, or the first white-and-black-partners movie. It wasn't even the first movie in which Mel Gibson lost his wife, went nuts, and acquired a devoted canine BFF. It's not a cinematographic wonder. The dialogue is made-for-TV. There are completely implausible plot points, like the neighborhood six year-old who can identify that Mr. Joshua had the same tattoo as Riggs (from across the street). There are ridiculous only-in-the-movies moments, like when Riggs is tortured nearly to death through electrocution, and proceeds to rescue Murtaugh and his daughter, Rianne, and then chase Mr. Joshua barefoot down a freeway. Or when Murtaugh lets Riggs mud wrestle with Mr. Joshua for the WWF title after they've already arrested him. There are eew scenes in which Riggs seems mildly intrigued by Rianne, who is not only his partner's daughter, but somewhere in the vicinity of sixteen years old. Shall I go on? OK, how about this: other than some Stanislavski-rated sweat glands, Danny Glover can't act his way out of a bag in this film, and the entire 21st-century world knows that Mel Gibson and Gary Busey were both just playing their bonkers selves in the late 80s, no acting required. And, last but certainly not least: oh, god, the mullet.
But it's all about the meta game, baby. About accidentally nailing the family's common denominator, which weaves and bobs elusively and unpredictably every week. This film has non-stop action. It has bad guys and good guys. It is precisely an hour and fifty minutes long. It keeps you watching. It has a sappy ending. It is not depressing. You don't have to read subtitles. Sally stayed bundled on the floor, instead of putting her pillow and blanket up and announcing she had homework to do. After the fact we can say this was obviously a week in which people wanted something fun. It was not a week for carefully-written classics (The Sting), for lush period pieces with cop-out endings (An Education), or even for indie movies with the adorable Ellen Page (The Tracey Fragments). Before the fact, who knows?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Road Warrior is among the rare breed of films that, in seizing total beauty by the neck, transcends its medium to reach into the misty dimension of art. This is no movie. This is life, vivisected into 24 pieces per second, splayed over your bedroom screen. This is film.
The film opens with the past – film-reel history of a world of dashed hopes and abandoned dreams. Humanity’s oil reserves destroyed in war, society quickly devolves to its roots, an anarchic Outback of twisting highways and merciless gangs. As much as Road Warrior is a treatise on the future, it is a treatise on the past. Max is our tortured protagonist, driven to desolate thievery and disconsolate solitude by the death of his wife on the road. With nowhere else to go he rides the highway in search of the precious oil that fuels his car and his life. When he stumbles upon an oil rig under siege, the last dying vestige of the old world order, he must make a choice to protect it from the savage Humongo gang or to tap its resources and continue his life unfettered by attachment.
The central struggle, the dichotomy that permeates the film, lies in the question of demarcation between the hero and villain implied by Max’s choice. Max and Humongo, by the assumption of the audience, inhabit polar roles of morality – but who are we to make that call? We see the question in Max’s catchphrase “I’m just here for the oil,” in the rig society leaders’ face when Max threatens to leave, in Humongo’s open arms during his offer for peace. Here are two leaders by their own right, ejected from and ruled by their parallel pasts, more complicated than the Outback war allows. During his speech to offer a truce between the rig and the gang the camera catches a glimpse of the dashboard of Humongo’s car: there’s a photo of a man with his wife and child. Is it Humongo himself? It could just as well be Max.
The main conflict, then, is not the war itself but Max’s struggle for self-identification. Faced with the true nihilism of the post-apocalyptic Outback personified in the masked Humongo – a nihilism so profound that, when it finds voice in his speech to the oil rig, it is indistinguishable from love – Max must find a way to define himself without resorting to his haunting past. As an audience, we know that this struggle must come to a head. When Max, wounded and nearly destroyed, must choose to watch his car and his only friend burn by his own hand, the total loss is almost palpable. Yet as Max knows well, that loss is among the most powerful emotions in the canon of human experience. As after the death of wife, it drives him to his choice.
Road Warrior, at its heart, is a love story – not one of cheap romance or tired cliché, but of the profound and inseparable connection between family and humanity, of man’s undying need to connect his definition of himself to someone else. The final shot displays Max, bloody, battered Max, seemingly alone on the burning road as he looks out upon the camera and the outback – and yet, as the audience knows, the camera itself shoots from the perspective of the bus. Max is not staring into the void; he is looking back at his family, the family that he will never see again. This is his family – this is his present – this is him.
I cried, Mel Gibson. I cried at your horrible, god-awful movie, and I don’t forgive you.
Monday, November 1, 2010
The-Blond-One and Ganondorf plotting away.
The Sting, like its friends Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Singin' in the Rain, and Boring, is an old American "classic." From my understanding, when I was watching, the plot was roughly as follows:
the Main character, named The-Blond-One, is a dashing fellow who does big scams to make money, and basically the plot is about him and his co-worker Ganondorf doing this big scam filled with twists that aren't twists because they were spoiled by Daddy.
Personally, this movie did not fit my high cinematographic tastes. It showed its age, this old, interminable, movie, with its Poker scene that dragged on throughout the Ages (wtf does anyone understand this card game? Where are the life points?) Truly, the highlight of the movie was when The-Blond-One transmuted himself a Pokéball from which a large Nidoking came to battle GoneAgain - the guy they were trying to scam. Nope, that was a dream I had when I fell asleep.
Despite my complaints with this movie, I would highly recommend it for any other person. Maybe I just don't understand why Ganondorf wasn't the bad guy and how Poker works. The-Blond-One does indeed pull some badass maneuvers that are definitely worth the wait, and the many twists are oh so twisty if not spoiled. But most importantly, I recommend this movie because Mom and Boggy voted for it.