Friday, July 22, 2005

This Week In Movies

1. I ♥ Huckabees

When this came out, I figured it would be a pretentious piece of trash. Who sells their movie as an "existential comedy"?!? Douche bags, that's who.

The movie itself, though, is pretty entertaining. I wasn't sure what to expect, and while it's artsy-fartsy, the ideas it presents are legitimate. It's not pseudo-intellectual meandering, it's actual intellectual meandering. And that's pretty much what we do with our main characters... we meander in and out as failure strikes them in separate ways. Nihilism and existentialism are mortal enemies throughout the film, but in the end it doesn't seem to matter. Everyone reacts differently to their problems, but the fact that they all seek the same answers in the wake of those problems is what binds them together. I don't know how much I cared about the characters in the end, but the resolution is fairly clear, just so long as you’re satisfied with something simple.

Anyway, the acting was superb. and given how talky it was, it was extremely entertaining given how talky it was. It wasn't hilarious, but it was definitely witty, and even had some quality slapstick here and there. I'd like to watch it again to try and figure out the connections a little better before passing final judgment. But as it stands, I think it’s just as worthy as any of the other entries in the emerging “twenty characters, linked by fate, coincidence and circumstance, experience life-altering events together” genre of movies. Huckabees is closest in nature toMagnolia, but I wouldn’t say either is better than the other.

2. The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

I would have expected this movie to be dry and soulless... hardly. In fact, amidst the modern rash to remake perfectly iconic movies, this one stood out to me as the most unnecessary. The original Manchurian is the ultimate political thriller. It was dated, to be sure, but how could Jonathan Demme expect to improve upon it? He was asking for trouble.

This movie goes to show why Demme's in the movies and I'm not. He may not have improved upon it, but he definitely matched it. The updated story, where the conspirators are corporate instead of Communist, turns what had been a dated tale of conspiracy into a modern day 1984-ish paranoia horror story. Though the science remains far-fetched, the principles involved are extremely palpable. And the heightened sense of paranoia makes this movie tailor-made for Demme's trademark p.o.v. close-ups (where the actor delivers his/her lines directly to the camera)... seeing a face peering back at you, occupying so much of the screen, is discomforting.

The acting is phenomenal, just like you'd expect from the folks involved. Denzel is his usual perfect self. Meryl Streep might be the only actress who could challenge Angela Lansbury as the most manipulative, bitchy mother on the planet. And Liev Schreiber is the ideal choice for a modern Raymond Shaw... blank, sinister, presentable and sensitive at the same time, keeping us guessing about him until the very end. The support (particularly Jeffrey Wright) is uniformly excellent.

Just to really nail how wrong I was about this remake, I now believe this is precisely the kind of story that ought to be remade every few decades or so. The themes from the original Richard Condon novel are still relevant today, as Demme proved. I wouldn't complain if they made a Manchurian this good every 30 years.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter

Bought the new one Sunday, finished it last night.  Its main development (without spoiling other major developments) is watching Harry act less as an obedient student, and more as an independent, skilled wizard in his own right.  It's refreshing to watch him take matters into his own hands for most of the book, instead of waiting for someone more powerful, or more experienced, to do the heavy lifting.  I suppose Order of the Phoenix addressed that a bit, with Dumbledore's Army making an unaccompanied foray into the Ministry of Magic, but I felt like we finally got some of the payoff from watching Harry develop over the first five books.  It's also nice for us to finally spend some time with Dumbledore that really shows off who he is, and how intelligent he can be.  And while the book has plenty of plot digressions, Rowling keeps it under control much more than she has in the past.

It's far from perfect... there's a lot of "So, anyway, you were saying?" lines that serve little purpose besides breaking up long expository monologues.  And, much like Revenge Of The Sith, there is a bit of forced political timeliness in the climax of Dumbledore and Harry's private lessons... though Rowling handles hers far better than Lucas did his.  Yuck.

I think it's one of the better ones of the series.  I've always been partial to The Prisoner Of Azkaban as a favorite, since it's the first book in the series that has an ambition to be more than just a children's story, but this may actually be Rowling's best work.  I'd rank them as follows at this point:
  1. Prisoner of Azkaban
  2. Half-Blood Prince
  3. Goblet of Fire
  4. Order of the Phoenix
  5. Chamber of Secrets
  6. Sorcerer/Philosopher's Stone

I don't think there's any shame in Sorcerer's Stone being the worst of the series... by no means is it bad, or even merely mediocre.  (Certainly not as bad as its entirely unimaginative film adaptation; thank God for the adaptation of Azkaban.)  The recent entries have just been that much better.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

More On How Wedding Crashers Is Teh Funny

I was poking around Yahoo movies, looking to see if anybody had an ill word to say about Wedding Crashers (verdict: not really) and found this stellar review...
this movie suck
by tuttyxbox (movies profile) (Jul 15, 2005)
9 of 48 people found this review helpful

it is about 2 llamas who spit alot, then when they grow up they become spiderman and save people, then they eat out of the toliet. the end  
I wish I had as much fun tonight as these two 11-year-olds did!!!  (Actually I did have some fun.  I watched people take shots off an ice luge, then hid my drunk friend's hat and caused him to freak out.  When he complained that his hat disappeared beacuse he took a shot, I suggested that if he were to take another shot off the ice luge, it would reappear.  It did... it's an Alvistime miracle!!!)  Anyway, have I mentioned yet that those of us who HAVE seen Wedding Crashers thought it was insanely funny?  I laughed all the way through.  I've decided after some reflection that the movie itself isn't nearly as funny as Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Rachel McAdams made it.  There's plenty of lines ("Football and crabcakes, that's what we do in MARYLAND!") but the fun is in watching the actors clown around.  I know I already said all of this, but it bears repeating, because it's late and I'm tired.  Goodnight, Gracie.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Wedding Crashers

Just saw it. Dying to see it again. It lags a little towards the end, but for most of the movie I was laughing non-stop. For a movie that's basically just about two guys trying to get laid, it was unique and inspired. They didn't hold anything back. Plenty of scene-stealing performances, including a cameo that I forgot was coming by the time it happened (likely due to a lack of blood in the brain). Anyway, I wish I had more hands, so I could give that movie... four thumbs up! Enjoyable for anyone, especially for those of us who can imagine what the "bellysticks" game is on our own.

Near-Death Experiences

Nothing too serious.  The tales on my mind relate to the most dangerous software application on the planet... iTunes.

Just now I was working in my office, listening to the title track of Ben Folds' Rockin' The Suburbs.  The song is basically a snarky bitchslap of guys like Fred Durst, pretending to be hard but actually being Preparation H-hunting suburban pussies who do little more than dropping F-bombs and serve as a lightning rod for white suburban teen angst.  Anyway, the bridge of the song ends with Ben saying "It makes me real pissed off, and it makes me wanna say... / It makes me real pissed off, and it makes me wanna say... / It makes me real pissed off, and it makes me wanna say... / FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!"  Not too subtle, right?

Guess when my boss walked by.

I don't think he was paying attention, he didn't give me a funny look or anything, and he more than likely doesn't care.  But still, having him walk by just in time to hear some guy scream FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK was enough to give me a little jolt.

Then there's the time that my innocuous Jimmy Eat World album ended, and Coming 2 America by Ludacris started up.  "The royal penis is clean, your highness" is not what I expected to hear at that moment, and not twice as loud as Futures had been.  Yikes.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I'm back, after having been away for almost two weeks.

I spent 4th of July weekend in Seattle, playing in Potlatch, and having a generally good time with my old teammates. I had high expectations, and they were exceeded by leaps and bounds. I even played OK, which didn't happen last time at Potlatch.

After Seattle, I met up with Kate at Glacier National Park in Montana for a week. I saw some pretty amazing stuff... mountain valleys, wildflowers, waterfalls, birds, and of course a glacier. The glaciers are scheduled to melt away by 2030, so get off your duff and go to Montana. As a vacation spot, I think it's about as good as I've seen in America so far... the idiot-tourist factor is extremely low, since Kate and I were doing things that idiots generally wouldn't bother doing, like hiking 1500 feet into the air. But I've got a few good stories to tell... well, stories anyway. I bet a few of these fall into "you had to be there" territory.

  • Montana happens to be Grizzly country, so throughout the trip I was worried that we'd see a bear at our campsite. Luckily for me, it didn't happen. However, my gain was Kate's loss... she would have gladly had a bear run-in. All trip long, whenever I saw something interesting on the side of the road, she would excitedly ask "Oooh, is it a bear???" only to be disappointed when it wasn't. (Personally, I think she just wanted to play with the $46 bear-grade pepper spray we bought on day 1. Though I suppose if she wanted to play with it, she could have just sprayed me.) Besides lack of bears, she also lamented the lack of bighorn sheep, especially after having passed so many "Please Don't Feed The Sheep" signs. There were no sheep to feed!

    So on our way out of Glacier, Kate reminded me that we hadn't seen a bear, and how disappointing it was. Shortly thereafter, I noticed the cars in front of us were slowing down to check out a park ranger who was guarding a black mass off in the distance. Kate, on cue, asked if it was a bear, and it turns out that it was. We couldn't really slow down and look, but I did see it move its head around in a bear-like manner. I don't think it was everything Kate had dreamed of, but at least we'd seen a bear. After a few miles, as we pulled up to the Logan Pass visitor center, Kate said, "I'm pretty happy now... we saw all the animals we could, but it'd be nice to see a bighorn sheep by the side of the road." After nodding my head obediently, I pulled around to look for parking. I turned into a parking spot that appeared empty, but upon further inspection was in fact occupied... by a bighorn sheep. It was a total sitcom moment... it had to have been written. Watching my girlfriend materialize a bighorn sheep with her mind was pretty impressive.

    (Epilogue: her reaction to discovering psychic powers was to say, "It'd be nice to see $300 by the side of the road." $300?!? That's it? Gee whiz, why don't you rein in those expectations??? But I guess this is to be expected from someone who has dreams about checking her email, and nightmares about asking me to fetch stuff from her file folders, except I keep bringing the wrong things because I don't know her filing system.)

  • I won an interspecies game of chicken with a mountain goat. I turned a blind corner on the Hidden Lake trail a little too quickly, and found myself charging a mountain goat who was likewise racing along the trail. Once we realized we were on a collision course, we both had the same reaction... GA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A... but the goat turned around and ran in the other direction. I... am ALL that is MAN. No, just kidding... in fact the biggest victory in our run-in was me not needing a change of underwear or a defibrillator. I screamed like a bitch. I'm just glad the old Bill Cosby line ("first you say it... then you do it!") didn't apply.

  • We saw a marmot fight! These two marmots were apparently fighting over this woman marmot, who was lounging on a nearby rock. Pretty neat. And yes, they were marmots, not ferrets.

  • In another intraspecies battle, Kate and I went to dinner on our last night in the park. The restaurant had these "IQ Tester" games at our table. It's a peg game where you have 15 holes in a triangle, but 14 pegs. You move a peg into an open spot by leaping over another peg, removing said peg in the process. The goal is to leave only one peg. According to the game, those who leave one peg are "very smart," while those who leave three pegs are merely "so-so." Kate only got down to three, but I managed to get one. You may draw your own conclusion, but it ought to have something to do with me being Very Smart. It's worth mentioning that Kate seems to have dedicated some brainspace to her psychic abilities, so that may have stunted her performance a little. That, and her Harvard diploma. Actually, given that she's from the Ivy League, I'm impressed that she completed the puzzle without drooling on the board or eating the pegs.

  • Couscous is ideal for camping, because it's instant by design: just add water. Kate and I made a good deal of couscous during our trip. I made the mistake of telling this to my Dad, who informed me that Kate and I were homosexuals. I won't make that mistake again. Maybe I'm not Very Smart after all.

  • Lots more happened, but not much of it translates into words. When Kate comes back from her adventure, we'll sort through the pictures and get them posted. In the meantime, you'll have to settle for vivid descriptions of the above irrelevant nonsense.