Monday, April 20, 2009

Movies on Cable last week

Here's the latest round of movies... two thumbs up and one stinker....

This was a fantasy adventure romance where Claire Danes plays a star which was knocked out of the sky. It was a very well executed on all fronts. Good writing, good acting, and stunning visuals. Shot almost entirely against a digitally created background, they created some awesome landscapes, skyscapes, and seascapes. This includes the large crater formed when the star impacts, the evil looking crevasse where the witches lair lies, and the steam punk sky ship captained by an ambiguous Robert DeNiro (I won't say any more about this character for fear of spoilage). They created a great fantasy world along with a fairly detailed but consistent adventure story. While it's not as swashbuckling or as epic as Willow, it sits firmly in the same category in tone and in execution. The humor actually leans towards the dark side... lots of grusome yet comical deaths, and seldome seen necromancy humor. Probably best for pre-teens and above. So if you're looking for a light hearted romance with witches, ghosts, pirates, and some awesome special effects, I highly recomdent this one.

Black Snake Moan
This is the one were Morgan Freeman keeps Cristina Ricci chained up in his living room in her underwear. Needless to say, this is not for the kiddies. I really liked this one. More than anything, this movie is a story about the blues. Not a history, just an example of the blues in it's raw form, as unfolded in a bizzare and extreme set of circumstances. What is that set of circumstances? Well, did I mention Christina Ricci is chained up in Morgan Freeman's living room in her underwear? It tugs at your moral underpinnings, sort of like "American Beauty" does... you really have to ask yourself, "would you?"

The Darjeerling Limited
Go back and read the review The Royal Tanenbaums, and just copy and past it here. Then add some more SUCK to it. This was the worst of the crop. What a stinker. Take Royal Tenenbaums, wrap Owen Wilson's head in bandages, put him on a train in India, and add two hours of boring, take away the cool soundtrack, and this is what you get. Yes, even though one of the characters has an iPod and keeps plugging it in to his speakers to play music, they fell completely short on the bizare hip music. The story goes nowhere, the characters are completely unlikeable, and even though it leads up to them performing a likeable deed, you still don't like them or care about them.

I will add one general comment to this whole line of films that didn't get mentioned in the previous post. They DO make an attempt to do some interesting camera work. In both this and "Life Aquatic", they apparently had to build a replica of the vessel (train or boat) in a studio as a cross section so they can pan the camera along it's length giving you a peak into the various compartments. In "Life Aquatic", they would follow somebody as they walk from the bilge, through various ladders and stairs, through hatches and doors, all the way up to the deck and then onto an elevated tower. In "Royal Tanenbaums" they followed poeple through the house, into closets, onto the roof, and even had views from an upper window looking down towards a lower window (and this was written into the story, as Gene Hackman saw Owen Wilson thinking he was unobserved as he slipped out the window below). In Darjeeling Limited, they were forever panning back and forth from compartment to compartment, and also sticking their heads out the window and looking from one to the other on the outside.

So I will give credit where credit is due for the attempt to use some interesting and innovative camera work. However if those techniques distract from, rather than add to the expirience, then they are just camera angles for the sake of camera angles. You can decide if they work or not.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Night out on the Town

So I'm siting home on Saturday night planning a big night of doing nothing, when I get a call from Ben Munch. He and a buddy were moving South on the Hutch on there way to a bar in Chelsea (on W 17th St), and asked for direction to my place so they could pick me up. I hemmed and hawed a bit and said, sure, why not.

Ben's buddy Howie (not Schimmel) is a local from New Paltz, and says that he built this bar. Did the wood work, including a gazebo that is the DJ booth. So we find this little hole in the wall called "Retreat" with not much on the outside except three bouncers and a velvet rope. Howie asks, is Cliff here? They say, "Who wants to know." They start to grill him a bit.. "What's Cliff's last name?" (and Howie didn't know) He finally says, "Just tell him CHAINSAW is here."

One guy disappears inside for a few minutes and comes back and says, "OK, they're good." So in we go to what is physically laid out just like a million other bars. A fairly narrow strip, some bench seating hugging one wall, then the bar on the same side, and a bit more opened up area past the bar w/ a few booths around the sides. The club music was blasting, DJ in the gazebo mixing and mashing tunes together with the steady thump-thump-thump all night. The place was crowded with a great ratio of guys to girls, girls all dressed in the height of fashion... population skewed a bit towards Asian, black, and Spanish. Definitely a downtown New York scene... not bridge and tunnel.

While the place is dimly lit (in night club fashion, w/ colored lights pointing upward and low lights around the bottom of the bar and furniture), our host tried his best to show us his great woodwork. "Look at the grain... see how I made these joints fit... " It was almost like walking into a trendy night club with Bob Fucking Villa. I gotta say, the woodwork was pretty nice, but seemed a bit too... uh... woody for this place. Rough sawn wood, probably better suited for a ski lodge. Though honestly, I probably wouldn't have even noticed if this guy wasn't pointing it out in great detail.

He heads to the bar and comes back with some drinks... still not sure if he was paying or was getting comped. He told me my money was no good.

We had a good time, downing a few rounds, talking to some very attractive ladies... using "He built the bar" as the ice breaker. (I'm definitely gonna use that some time in the future.) For a while Howie had drifted away while me and Ben finished our drinks. I said "I'll get this round" and bellied up to the bar. "One Jack on the rocks, one margarita, no salt." "Sure... Here you go... that will be $23." OK, so I know how they keep the riff raff out of THAT place.

So apparently people who hang there have a lot of disposable income. It was a pretty young crowd, not many 40+, but the guys did look pretty professional. I doubt they would have gotten in the door in sneakers and jeans. And while the chicks were all decked out nice, I will say they were above average looking... but only slightly. Some super hot, some not so much... still everybody was friendly and seemed to be having a good time. We stayed until just after two and then split...

Then I missed a good deal on an XBox.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I wanted to jump on the Smallville bandwagon back when it first came out, but only caught it once or twice and never sat through an entire episode. Now they're re-running it on HDNET, in HD, with no commercials. Thanks to the DVR, it makes it extremely convenient to grab two episodes each day. Just the other day I caught the last episode (to date... I think there's a new season comming up), and then they ran the pilot and started it from the beginning.

The general comments that everybody gives is definitely accurate... too "90210". Still, there's more to be said about it.

First of all, the pilot sets up the scenario for the series in a smart way. Baby Superman's ship comes crashing down into a corn field in Smallville, Ohio (or is it Iowa?). But they included one detail that allows them to build a whole show. The first thing you see is Cal-El's ship flying through space, but it is not alone... it is in the midst of a swarm of meteors... apparently rubble from the exploding planet Krypton. As the ship lands, the meteors also crash to earth pelting the town and the surrounding area. They cause general destruction and chaos, including killing poor little Lana Lang's parents on the spot.

The series then picks up about twelve years later, where Lana and Clark are about fifteen years old in high school. By now, the meteor assault is just a local curiosity... just a sign on the edge of town "Smallville Population 50,001... Meteor Capital of the World". But the whole area is now impregnated with deposits of green glowing rocks from space, completely unnoticed by everybody.

So now they are set up with a method to create super villains every episode. All they need to do is have some troubled individual come in contact with the Kryptonite, and let the super powers ensue. Angry Coach of the football team has meteor rocks in his Sauna... obsessed pimple face kid with fascination for bugs captures bugs from woods who were exposed to kryptonite (and gets bitten by his bugs)... football jock falls through Ice into lake w/ meteors under water...

It also gives every episode the traditional Superman plot. Virtually indestructible Superman becomes vulnerable while confronting newly created super villain because there is usually kryponite nearby. This includes Lana Lang's necklace, which keeps as a reminder of her dead parents. So of course poor Clark has a hard time getting close to the object of his affection... at first he thinks it's just nerves when he come near her, but eventually figures it out. The necklace is used as a recurring plot device.

Another cool aspect is that they embrace death. In just about every episode the villain kills somebody... sometimes their own mother. Then each villain dies while fighting Superman. Of course he doesn't just haul off and kill them, but they either use their power too much and burn (freeze, electrocute, etc) themselves, or they get squashed by a falling piece of machinery that wouldn't have been falling if it wasn't for their own dastardly acts. So while Clark is essentially innocent, he is continuously surrounded by and confronted with horrific acts resulting in death.

Other plot points: most episodes Clark discovers some new power like X-Ray vision or Super Breath (but can't fly yet), Lex Luthor is not evil (yet) but is suffering from living in the shadow of overbearing father (why does this plot point come up all over the place? Tom Paris anybody?), eventually other DC characters start poping up (Green Arrow, Matian Manhunter), and there's a big tie in to Zod and other beings from The Phantom Zone. There's also some massive devestation, similar to what they keep narrowly avoiding on Heroes... a whole city gets raized... but that's much later in the show. Right now it's all about High Shcool, meteor mutants, and discovering powers.

I'm also fascinated by the way they construct super villains. It's the same basic technique used in many other programs, like Power Rangers and Sailor Moon. They take some characteristic of the character or the situation and build a villain out of it. Angry coach begins to cause fires when he gets angry, kid who falls through the ice needs to suck heat from his victims... basically, they start with some archetype that they can present visually, and then figure some plot line to inject that into a character. In Power Rangers (et al) they might have somebody laid up with a cold, and then up springs a monster made out of hypedermic needls shooting pills and medicine at their victims.

And finally two points about the 90210 aspects:
First of all, as sickening as it is, they are really good at what they do. The looks that say "I wish you loved me and not her", the "We're just friends" when it really menas "I wish we were more than friends"... typical soap opera stuff, but done PERFECTLY.

And the music... heavily ladened with the emo-pop-rock. You may not like that as a matter of taste or general principle, but it WORKS. They are masters at the back track, swelling to highlight the emotional scene as it fades to commercial. (except no commercials on HDNET!!!)