Saturday, May 31, 2014

3 (+1) Short Paragraphs: Black Swan

2010, Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) -- Netflix

The young boy wakes up from his bedroom hidden in the back of the basement. It is long after his parents have crept off to bed and the TV room at the foot of the stairs is shadowed, the only light coming from the flashing 12:00 of the VCR. The boy pulls the TV On switch, quickly turns the volume down and switches channels until he finds a late night movie. Illicit but not blue. Beyond his ken but enthralling. Dramatic and alluring.

I watched a lot of movies this way when I was young, half understanding their meaning but often getting wrapped up in their tones, especially those heavy 70s dramas, full of style and cinematography. They were relegated to post-midnight airing, not always because they had nudity but because there was probably no prime time audience. And despite its Oscar attention, I feel that is when I would have caught this movie if it had been release in the 70s, as it carries a memory of movies past. It is almost always pregnant with meaning and intent, menacing and haunting. The parallels to the dramas behind ballet is intentional and enhanced by Aronofsky's tone.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a second-string ballerina always trying to please mama and get ahead in her New York ballet company. When the company puts on a radical vision of Swan Lake, she gets her chance. But she has to divest herself of the sweet, innocent demure thing she is and become the Black Swan, a temptress and betrayer. Already sliding into madness because of her mother, she dances us through her nightmares and hallucinations until she gets exactly what she wants.

I felt uncomfortable for her, watching her, almost immediately convinced I should be watching this with the volume low and all the lights off. I watched immaculate Natalie Portman play a swan with a broken wing not really a bad girl but with bad girl circumstances.  She is repressed, mentally abused by her mother and almost always afraid. With fantastical imagery (all around her metamorphisis into the character she is seeking to emulate) smacking more of Malefecient than a ballet drama, we experience a surreal performance from her mind, so much that the actual ballet performance is mundane. She learns to let go, to become the characters she needs to be but at great cost to her stability.

P.S. A perfect alternate fan made poster by Conzpiracy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fargo (TV)

2014, writer/showrunner: Noah Hawley

Oh man, Fargo.  Not so much a place as an idea, a theme, a feeling.

This is indeed a television series linked to the 1996 Coen Brothers masterpiece, but it's not a retelling, nor is it a direct sequel or prequel in that none of the character of the film find their way into the series.  Really, it's just a tonal successor to the film, a semi-homage to the Coen Brothers oeuvre whilst still forging its own path and own reason for being.  It's a crime drama (with darkly comedic undercurrents) set in northern middle America (Minnesota, basically, vacillating between the towns of Bemidji and Duluth) in the dead of winter where cabin fever rides high, and the sunlight lays low.  Vitamin D is in short supply.

David just mentioned his apathy towards the show after watching the first episode, and I get it.  If you've seen and followed the works of the Coen Bros, the first episode feels like a lite version thereof, more homage than copycat, but still not existing entirely on its own foundation.  I came into the show with the second episode, where the characters are all just starting to deal with the repercussions of the first (wherein a character murders his nagging wife, while also inadvertently sicking a hitman on a former childhood bully, and the hitman in turn murders the police chief).  I stepped back into the first episode and slowly had all the details of the plot slowly illuminate themselves.  In some respects this is almost a preferred method to watch.  The complexity of the puzzle already in place by the second episode drew me in as a viewer, and to see some of the pieces fall into place then by viewing the first was far more satisfying.

Over some fine Mexican tacos and spirits, David presented me with his opinions of the pilot, and it's seeming pale retread of film it takes its name from, and I, having one further episode under my belt, expressed my concern that the show couldn't sustain itself as a simple retread of the Coen Brother's eccentricities.  But I've just finished episode 6, certainly it's finest and most engrossing hour to date, and I'm utterly entrenched in the show.  It's true that the pilot, and even the subsequent episode take plentiful pains to capture the style and rhythms of the Coens (not just Fargo, but traces of No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man, Blood Simple and even the Ladykillers all seep into the characters and series tonality), but from there the characters and the weaving of the needlepoint plot take over and really abandon the overt ties to its progenitor... with few exceptions:

Each episode starts with the same disclaimer as the film, that it's based on a true story, names changed, etc.  It's a cute lie, but a constantly effective one, echoed in nearly every polite conversation the characters have with each other.  Meanwhile in episode 4, it's revealed in the opening flashback that there is a direct connection to the film, in that one of the characters found the briefcase of cash buried in the snow at the side of a desolate highway by divine interventions.

Fargo is a show unlike anything else on television.  It's those Echoes of the Coen Brothers, for sure, that hit you at first, but beyond that, things largely don't play out in the regular "television" way.  There are bright characters and dim characters, but those aren't necessarily defining characteristics, as the all behave in a natural way.  As I've learned over the first 6 (of 10) episodes, you can paint any character into one specific corner.  That's what's most surprising is the little and big leaps in character development that happen throughout the show.  The characters are as much a motivating force as the complex threads being stitched together.

The best way to talk about the show is to do a character breakdown.  SPOILERS AHEAD, but if you're waffling on the show, these spoilers may guide you more towards it (but may also drive you away knowing it's not right for you):

Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) - I think without Freeman I would have otherwise written off Fargo as a cable-TV curiosity, but with Sherlock, the Hobbit, and The Worlds End notably under his belt in recent years, Freeman is a genuine commodity and worth paying attention to.  His Lester Nygaard begins as an analog for William H Macy's hapless car salesman Jerry Lundegaard.  Here he's a faltering real estate insurance salesman, constantly emasculated by his wife, still bullied by his high school bully, and constantly reminded by his brother how big a disappointment he is to the family.  Lester, pushed to the brink, particularly by the malevolent force of Lorne Malvo (we'll get to him), snaps on his wife and beats her to death with a hammer. Things spiral out for Lester from there.  But, the difference between Lester and Macy's Jerry was I don't think Jerry really wanted to cause harm.  Lester, we're coming to know, has the seed of unrest within him, and he starts to let it out.  It turns out that Malvo, in his intention to muckrake in Lester's life, has awakened something more like himself.

Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) - There's a hint of Anton Chigurh in Lorne Malvo (a decidedly dastardly name if there ever was one), a real cool, collected, evil sonofabitch if there ever was one.  Malvo knows his place in the world: a loner, an apex predator, intelligent, and kind of bored.  Malvo is a Loki figure, a trickster, who inserts himself into people's lives for the sole purpose of making those lives more difficult.  But this nebulous figure reveals himself as parts of the real him seep through the cracks.  There's a misogynist under there, an anti-Semite, and probably a racist too (if there were any people of colour to speak of in this show...through and through in Fargo's setting and casting, it's awfully white).  He may or may not also be a religious man, he certainly knows his stuff.  There's no sense of what Malvo is really after, except to cause trouble and to not get caught.

Molly Solverson (Allison Tollman) - While Thornton and Freeman provide the marquee faces for the show and the perception, especially after the first episode, was that they're the show's lead, but it becomes quite clear that it's Molly, the assistant deputy in Bemidji, that is the show's center.  She's fiercely intelligent, though largely in the context of the other characters on the show.  She's observant, patient, and most importantly, unassuming.  She's constantly undervalued, dismissed even, but not by everyone.  Her dad, ex-police himself, is certainly aware of how good an officer she is (which also worries him), Gus also instantly recognizes how fantastic she is (to the point of being smitten), and her mentor, the now deceased police chief, was lining her up to take over his job.  Lester's never truly aware how fully on his case she is, and her new boss, Bill Oswalt, seems to dismiss almost everything she has to say out-of-hand.  Tollman is an unknown quantity but she has definite presence and busts out of the heavy-cast Frances McDormand shadow within two episodes.

Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) - Gus is a Duluth patrolman who's largely resigned to back-up animal control.  His boss and coworkers don't think much of him, largely because he hasn't given them much to consider.  It's not that Gus is dumb or lazy, but rather that he's in a job he doesn't want to be in,  or rather, even he doesn't think he should be in.  He comes across Malvo during a routine traffic pull-over and is sent scampering away with his tail between his legs.  When Gus learns that not only is Malvo an utterly creepy dude, but also wanted for suspected kidnapping and murder, he feels great weight and shame.  Unlike Lester who succumbs to his misdeeds and embraces the dark lifestyle, Gus wants his burden lifted as soon as possible, and he comes clean to his boss and to the Bemidji PD, where he meets Molly.  Gus's primary focus is raising his daughter, and keeping her safe, but he does realize that he has a job that he's sworn an oath to do, and despite his best judgement he's going to make right.  Gus and Molly are the moral centers of the show, around which all the nastiness orbits.

Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt) - Stavros, twenty years younger, and in a desperate plea to the Lord, found a case full of money on the side of the road.  With it, he built a grocery store mini-empire.  In present day, he's divorced with a dim-witted son whom he loves unconditionally.  But he's being blackmailed, particularly about the found money, causing him great measures of stress.  Malvo comes into his employ to take care of his blackmailer (the impetus for his arrival in the area), and, upon discovering the perpetrator, quickly takes over the blackmailing himself.  He senses Savros' religious leanings and leans on them hard, slowly perpetrating the ten plagues on him.  Malvo is less after the money than to drive this man insane.

Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard) - These could be perceived as the odd-couple hitmen like Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare's characters from the film, but they serve a little different purpose, especially with Malvo in the mix.  Malvo kills Lester's bully, a local shipping magnate who runs guns (and other things) for the Fargo mafia, and it's Numbers and Wrench who are sent in to take care of the problem.  But with Malvo's tangling with Lester, their mission becomes confused, and things are bound to get messy.  Wrench is deaf, which is, yeah, a quirk, but it plays out in great ways, such as Lester's escape from a sure and icy demise, as well as a wonderful scene in a diner where Wrench and Numbers argue furiously in sign language, still attracting attention no less.

Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) - Bill becomes chief of police after his predecessor's demise, and is placed there not out of competency (at which point it would surely have been Molly's job, as she was told) but out of seniority.  Bill does not have the faculties for hard police work, even more so than Gus.  He's willing to take everyone at their word, at total face value, to the point where he's largely unwilling to entertain anyone else's opinions or perceptions.  But, one of the show's most delightful moments, Bill isn't a perennial block for Molly's investigation into the connection between Lester and Malvo, he's just the impetus for her to work harder.  She gathers the evidence, presents it to him, and even Bill can't ignore what's in front of him, to his and the show's credit.  They present Bill early on as this numbskull obstacle but as they do with most characters they manage to provide moments of real depth that show there's more than just the superficiality.

This is only scratching the surface of the characters and layers in the show.  Lester's brother, Gus's neighbour, the widow Hess and her two sons, the appropriately named Don Chumph (Don's not bright nor very likeable but what happens to him is gut wrenching to watch), Stavros' ex-wife, his son and his henchmen, Gus's daughter... there's so many layers, and the relationships the characters have with each other add another sense of depth to the show that can't be ignored.  But then how the show weaves these disparate people, their deeds and desires together, it's utterly captivating.

Beyond the characters, this is a show that looks like little else on TV.  It's set a decade or so in the past so there's a bit of an out-of-time quality, that only exacerbates that sort of out-of-time feeling smaller-town settings.  The winter landscape is used to maximum effect with wide shots used not just for establishing a scene but also witnessing events play out at a distance.  What's most peculiar for modern television is the patience in letting a scene breathe.  Everything is so deliberately timed, such that even a sequence like the snowstorm conflict ratchets up the intensity by not moving at a faster clip.  And wow, that snowstorm conflict... 

3 Short Paragraphs: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

2013, Ben Stiller (Reality Bites, Tropic Thunder) -- download

The young boy stares out the car window watching the world blur by. The seemingly endless landscape of passing trees is broken as a man on a flying surfboard matches speed with the car. Up and down, over and around the obstacles, the not so silver surfer travels his own road. This was the kind of thing I was prone to as a child, and whenever I am rarely on a long car ride these days, I might slip back into it. The surfer may be replaced by a piloted giant robot or a man running faster than the speed of a bullet. I never will stop getting lost in staring in space day dreams.

Walter Mitty is a meek man prone to fantasy. It is not so much to escape his life, as his life is pretty good, being the film asset manager for a fictionalized version of Life Magazine. But his life is very stable, very unexciting. So he lapses into fantastical daydreams inspired by something in the background, say a travel poster into a mountain climbing alter ego or the fact the girl he likes having a dog gives way to a burning building dog rescue. If you take the trailers at face value, these segments dominate the plot of the movie, but truly, they just give a couple of characters a chance to notice Walter when he zones out. One uses the moments to bully him and one to actually acknowledge him. It is these noticings that have him decide to step outside his comfort zone and pursue real life.

The driving plot for this movie is the pursuit of a single negative. It is to be the last photo for the last cover of Life (which actually died in 2007), now converting to online only. The adventurer photographer delivered it cryptically, but it is misplaced, inspiring Walter to find him for an explanation. Thus boats, planes, cars and skateboards. Thus Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas. We the viewer know exactly where the negative is, but Walter doesn't. He also doesn't realize he is now living that daydream fantasy. A little heavy handed, but yeah, I loved it. Its my age, my life my legacy to be lost in fantasy while real life passes me by. But what does it say to anyone that one of my fantasies is to have a job like he did, one he was so wrapped up in that he spent his whole life doing the same thing and being full of passion for it until its very last day. It wasn't too late for him to find adventure; is it too late for me to find passion?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

One Episode: Salem, Fargo, Resurrection

Interestingly enough, the dark, moody & somewhat sexy series about the Salem witch trials was not CW-ized. In other words, the focus characters are not all pretty people in their early to mid 20s. This is a show meant for those enjoying American Horror Story and some of the lighter spooky genre fare like Grimm and Sleepy Hallow.

Beginning Salem, John Alden (Shane West; Nikita) and Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery; Human Target) are in love amidst a growing Puritanical movement in their hometown. Then John goes off to war (French/Indian I believe) and she is left pregnant. She never hears from him, so assuming him dead, is given a choice between facing the Puritans as an unwed mother or doing something... darker. She chooses the latter and sells the fetus, and her soul, to a dark spirit in the forest, with the coaxing, soothing help of Tituba, the slave girl.

But John returns many years later, a soldier who "saw things", a tortured soul, bitter that Mary forgot about him and married the wealthiest man in town. She now stands on her balcony looking over the town while John pines. Meanwhile Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel; Fringe), John's boyhood friend, is a full blown raving Puritan preaching Hell and Damnation while spending good coin at the brothel. When Cotton is not partaking, he is warning the good townsfolk about witches. The thing is, he is not wrong. There are evil witches in town, Mary Sibley being the gothy leader of them. With her toad familiar and third nipple (between her thighs) she controls her husband, and by extension, the town.

The show doesn't actually label a bad guy. Mary may be an evil witch, but we can see she is being manipulated by Tituba, and probably whatever dark powers want the town. Cotton may be a hypocritical Puritan finding evil where none resides, but there are witches and he may be the only one who can ferret them out. I imagine the show is going to be about John stuck between the two warring factions, trying to extract his love from either of their clutches, first the witches that have Mary as their leader and later on, the Puritans who have learned of her evil duplicitous ways.

I was looking forward to Fargo, it being one of my favourite Coen Bros movies. Like Hannibal is rewriting the books to create a series, I expected Fargo the TV show to rewrite the movie, but keep its quirky American mid-west sentiments and random shocking meets humorous violence. And seeing it was starring Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit) how could I not believe this would be great.

It was meh, IMO. First up, it is not a re-creation or retelling, more an ode to the sentiment of the movie. So, new characters, new story, same quirkiness. Secondly, try as he may, Freeman butchers that mid-western "yah" accent.  Freeman's Lester Nygaard is meek, mild and bullied by everyone. He beyond unfortunate and also not very likeable. He is ripe for the manipulations of Billy Bob Thornton's (Armageddon, Love Actually) Malvo, seedy and intuitive with a fondness for fucking with people. You see immediately things are going to go very wrong when these two connect. Meanwhile, we are still wondering about the half-naked man who froze to death after running way from Malvo at the beginning of the episode, and is now discovered by the local cops.

And that is as far as I got before turning to Marmy, "Are you feeling this?"  Nope?  OK.  Click.  But I will have to go back and re-watch as Kent said it gets much better.

Resurrection joins that convoluted collection of movies and books and TV shows, tenuously connected by the idea of the dead returning. No, not zombies, but *blink* a person is back, exactly the way they were on the day they died. No explanation, though we know in American TV, this must lead to a why.

The TV show Resurrection is based on the book The Returned by Jason Mott (2013). The book has the same basic premise as a TV show out of France called Les Revenants (2012).  The French TV series was in turn based on an older movie (2004) with the same title.  Next year, probably, A&E will be presenting its own adaptation of the French TV series, called They Came Back. Unrelated, there is a post-zombie movie called The Returned (2013) which is about people cured of the zombie plague but dealing with prejudice and suspicion, which in turn is the same basic premise as the British TV series (2013) called In The Flesh.

So, this TV series. A young boy, Jacob, wakes up in a rice field in China. He wanders into a local market place speaking no Chinese but somehow communicates enough that an immigration agent is sent to pick him up and find out where he is from. The kid plays with the agent's smart phone and writes out Arcadia on the screen. Somehow, the agent connects that word to a missing child story from Arcadia, Missouri but not catching the fact it happened 32 years ago.

Can I just state my annoyance at the fact the kid figured out a smart phone? As a viewer we are not supposed to know he died in the 80s, based on plot points, but EVERYONE would know this. So, its ludicrous.

Agent Bellamy (Omar Epps, House) returns Jacob to his parents, a little nonplussed when they tell him the circumstances. This is the real only gem of the show, depicting the reactions by his parents now in their 60s. Suspicion, fear but a deep seated knowledge this is their son. Thus the mystery begins, one that draws out questions about the details around the boys death, his childhood friends now adults and by the end of the episode, the return of more people.

This show needed more style. The details are chilling enough but not for me. I am saturated by weird mystery shows, strange supernatural occurrences. I need something a little more in genre fiction to keep my attention. I never did return to this show but I imagine its something I might revisit should it appear on Netflix. I suspect the A&E series will be more captivating.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Double Oh...20: Die Another Day.

2002, d. Lee Tamahori

Die Another Day Preamble:

Like every Bond film since Goldeneye, I saw Die Another Day in theatre, despite my vehement dislike of The World Is Not Enough a few years prior.  I remember liking it.  In the years since, especially recent years with my dramatic upswing in Bond consumption, I've only heard Die Another Day referred to in a negative context.  Surely I couldn't have been that off-base with my enjoyment of it.  I know the "invisible car" seems kind of extreme and the cartoon factor highly elevated, particularly in the wake of the Bourne Identity earlier in the year and it's acceleration as the first viable Bond competitor, but isn't the point of a Bond film to be somewhat surreal, a fantasy?  I have never really defended the film in the past, because I only ever saw it the once, and I always wondered if I would have the same reaction watching it a second time.  I think I kind of avoided watching it a second time for fear that all the negative criticisms of the film were right on the money, and that it was a horrid pile.  I entered into this viewing hesitantly.


In the opening sequence, Bond and another pair of agents (infamously) surf into North Korea (insinuating that Bond is a master surfer).  There they hijack a shipment of African conflict diamonds en route to rogue Korean military for a weapons exchange with Colonel Moon and his right-hand, the mercenary/terrorist Zao.  Zao is a master martial artist, with lightning reflexes enabling him to dodge bullets.  When he receives intel that Bond is not the South African blood diamond mogul they believed him to be, Bond triggers a detonator device in the briefcase, peppering Zao's face with diamond shards. 

Moon is the son of a North Korean General, he was western educated in hopes that he would help bridge their country with Western interests, but he instead was interested only in taking for himself. Bond manages to kill him, sending him sailing over a cliff after a pretty spectacular and destructive chase sequence on hovercraft where Bond has virtually every possible weapon thrown at him.  Bond is captured by by NK military and tortured for information

Zao is captured later, and General Moon, upset as much by his son's death as his son's betrayal of his country trades Bond for him.

I found it interesting that men in hazard suits immediately knocked him out upon retrieval to ensure he was carrying no biological agents.  M upset with both having to give up Zao, with Bond not having taken his cyanide capsule, and the intonation that he was "hemorrhaging" intel.  But Bond was set up in North Korea and someone set him up again to get him out and Zao free.

Bond gets a lead on Zao having a connection to Gustav Graves, a self-publicizing adrenaline junkie (doesn't need sleep), a master fencer who is introduced parachuting into Buckingham Palace to get knighted by the Queen.  He seems an exaggerated model after Bond, an Englishman with a cocky swagger and no shortage of fearlessness.  It turns out, in the end, that Graves is actually the thought-deceased Moon, having had a successful DNA transplant (as if that were a thing) that changed his appearance entirely.  The main threat of the film is Graves' Icarus, a second sun that's a giant solar reflector.  He announces it with benevolent intent (helping grow crops etc) but in reality it's weaponized, because of course it is.  I love the visualization of the space lazer decimating the earth below (like from Justice League Unlimited) and the final sequence with the plane flying through it is well visualized.

Bond Girls:

Jinx (Halle Barry) is American CIA, whose investigation into an illegal "DNA transfer" facility in Havana seems to cross paths with Bond's.  Bond is there on the trail of Zao, whose in need a of new face with all those diamonds stuck in his.  Jinx gets introduced with an unfortunately painful display of flirting and innuendo ("Ornithologist, huh?" -glances at his crotch- "Now there's a mouthful").  She's a ruthless assassin with no hesitation in her kills, which, coming from Halle Berry, who kind of looks like sunshine and lollypops incarnate, is never not shocking... thus quite effective.  She turns out to be a useful ally for Bond when they meet up again in Iceland, though, still requires rescuing when she's trapped in the melting ice hotel, leading to the worst on-screen CPR ever.  Jinx really should really have been able to escape herself, not need to be rescued.

Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), Graves' publicist, and an Olympic gold medalist fencer (and Madonna's apprentice, apparently), is also an undercover agent.  She tells M she is totally disinterested in dating anyone in company, Bond especially, whom she seems to find distasteful.  It's one of the angles I like about Brosnan's Bond, that not every woman finds him irresistible.  Only problem, though, is she still sleeps with him, and it becomes rather plain that she's the one who sold him out.

Ugh, Madonna appears, delivering some more bad flirting/innuendo/exposition.. a wholly unnecessary and again unbelievable cameo.. they've got to stop using Americans in Bond films, methinks.


The opening credits take up my suggestion from The World Is Not Enough and show Bond's 14 months of captivity and torture, dancing models representing different methods of torture: ice, electricity, fire, hot iron, water torture.  It's all reused from a flashback sequence that appears unnecessarily later in the film.

It's a great opening sequence, but attached to a theme song from Madonna that is not as utterly terrible as everyone makes it out to be, but certainly ruined by all-too-trendy at-the-time vocorder (aka autotune).  It's certainly a departure from previous Bond themes and trying way too hard to be "modern" when I think even by then it felt outdated.


Some people think that Pierce Brosnan was phoning this one in, and Brosnan recently came out to say that his Bond "wasn't good enough" and refers to Die Another Day as finishing in "rather shambolic fashion" but I think Brosnan's biggest problem was, sure the scripts weren't good enough, but also he didn't dictate enough of the character he wanted Bond to be (torn between the Connery and Moore).  Plus, at the time of their release, it was Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay making the biggest pictures in the world.  Absurd action movies like Armageddon and Independence Day were suddenly what Bond was competing with in popular culture, and suffering for trying to keep pace, rather than set their own.

But I like Bond in here, I like the things he does.  Like when he is in a secure medical room aboard a British naval ship, he controls his heartrate and escapes diving off the ship and swimming to Hong Kong shores.  From there Bond wanders into an upscale hotel in hospital pyjamas, scraggly hair and beard dripping wet, where he's recognized by the hotel manager and instantly afforded every gratitude much to the dismay of the upper class around him.

Bond is set up with a masseuse at the hotel, Peaceful Mountains of Desire, who works for the Chinese intelligence, as does the hotel manager.  Bond susses them out instantly and makes a deal with them, they help him, he kills Zao for them.  They direct him to Cuba where he gets to use his old Universal Exports cover in a Cuban cigar factory.  Here he has a sleeper agent whom he contacts for local support.  From Korea to HK to Havana, it's very, very, very Bond, with Bond going rogue.

What is most notable is Bond is remarkably in good stamina, health and fitness for having been tortured for over a year.

Bond and M reunite, somewhat bitterly.  Bond thinks he should have been rescued far earlier, but M thinks Bond should have taken the cyanide capsule in his tooth (he removed it long ago, he informs her).  But after it's confirmed that he was set up, that he leaked no real intel and that he has the scent of Zao, both are big enough to get on with the job.  But he's tested first with R's virtual reality training, making an ace run through the exercise. 

Bond is shown as being a tad too-capable at everything in this one, the penultimate being the windsurfing bit that follow the rocket sled/space laser chase and looks utterly terrible.


The film is big, excessive even, with ridiculous levels of nonsense technology and a heightened reality that bleeds into absurdity.  The action piles on top of itself with some leaps in logic, but the  effect gives the film a hybrid Moore/Connery feel.  People dig on this film an awful lot, but I find it supremely more watchable than The World Is Not Enough, and a better movie than some of the Moore's.  Anyone who vehemently dislikes the film, I cannot argue with them, as it will be a matter of taste, but I thought that it, like most Bond films, is a product of its time, and this definitely has a coating of 2002 all around it.  Graves isn't the best villain, but I liked Berry enough at the time to be interested in a spin-off (which I think was in the works, though scrapped when her starpower began to fade immediately post-Oscar, I'm sure killed completely by Catwoman).  I think Miranda Frost is a great Bond Girl/Villain, but undeserved by the story (which is never surprising for the female roles in a Bond film) by telegraphing her double-agency so well in advance.. I especially love her attire in her closing fight with Jinx.

The action sequences feature a dueling tricked-out-cars-on-ice that is flagrantly ridiculous but tremendous amounts of fun, with an i"anything you can do..." flair, it just goes on a tad too long.

As far as direction, it waffles between great and bad (mostly the CG moments, but Tamahori's sporadic use of slow mo throughout is annoying).


There's a bit of a tour through Q's dungeon, as R takes Bond through to the new things.  Echoes from the past abound (notable quip regarding the Connery rocket pack).
Bond starts the film with a watch with a detonator, which he uses to explode the diamonds in Zao's face.  R gives him a sonic agitator in a ring (assist in breaking glass), a new laser watch and an invisible car (Aston Martin Vanquish with "adaptive camoflauge")

Graves has his own arsenal, with his shock gloves, elaborate restraint tables, robotic arms with almost feels influence by the Star Wars prequels.  The fistfight amidst the robotic laser arms was total silliness though.  He also has Switchblades, which are one-man rocket sleds that he uses to set world speed records.  He also has a high-tech Icarus suit that helps control the space laser which looks mighty 2002 and I'm sure would be more Iron Man if made today.
This film is really sci-fi, the Brosnan era's Moonraker

Classification [out of 01.0]: 00.5 -- It's got its plentiful flaws and vast absurdity but I quite enjoy this one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Noah

2014, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Pi) -- cinema

OK, let's skip the commentary on The Bible vs a liberal adaptation for the moment and harken back to how I learned of this movie. I had originally heard this was to be some sort of post-apocalypse Noah's Ark story, more allegory than adaptation. And that suited me fine; the idea of wiping what is left of mankind off the planet after they have done their best to wipe out the planet suits me fine. Unfortunately, these rumours were born of the brief shots of the gritty character costumes and some exposure to the graphic novel. Based on earlier scripts, it is brilliant, a euro style comic meant for a large format hardcover release, all painted images with gritty depictions of the decadent cities of mankind, full of waste and rampant industrialization. This is the seat of the rumours, that if the cities are industrialized then it had to be an other-than-Biblical world. Nuh uh.

But Aronofsy has not done a purely Biblical, as in western rewritten Christian story, movie but one that draws upon the more scholarly texts from Judaica. This considers Noah a 500 year old man, directly descended from Adam. We get to see the Antediluvian times, represented as Pangaea, a world covered by the megacities of the descendants of Cain. And hiding off in the wilderness eating only what they can gather, are the last descendants of Seth, Cain and Abel's other brother. The world is a wasteland, more Road Warrior than Eden. Cain's peoples have used up everything, in the not-even-attempted-concealment of a comparison to our own ecological behaviour. Their depredations encroach on where Noah and his family live in primitive peace, forcing them to flee into the even-more-wasted lands created by fallen angels. These are not beautiful and winged creatures, known as the Watchers, but rocky and disheartened over their treatment by both God and Man. And thus, Noah is presented with the dream of a flood.

We know the story. *deletes summary* The question posed here, is whether Noah's family was meant to be included in this replenishing of the planet or to join the rest of his species in drowning. At first, Noah is not sure, having not been given any sign one way or the other, but as time passes and the ark is being built, he becomes convinced that he and his family are meant to die. It horrifies them, especially when he claims he will have to murder the offspring of his son (a distractingly pretty man meant to play white Jesus in a TV movie) and daughter in law (not bad, need to be drowned people but adopted daughter). We see the weight this carries on Noah, a growing madness that breaks on the rocks as he holds the knife over his twin grandchildren. Even then it doesn't leave him, even after the waters recede and he finds himself drunk on wine and avoiding his family. He was not just an observer of the deaths of all other people, but a willing participant and no matter how much of a first person relationship he has with the Creator, that has to take its toll on him.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Veronica Mars (S1)

I don't know what I was watching in 2004 that distracted me from watching this series. I am pretty sure that by half way through the season, the Internet was telling me I was an idiot for missing it. Buffy was gone, Angel was ending, I was avoiding Lost and the only two shows I can definitely say I was downloading were Battlestar Galactica and Stargate: Atlantis. A browse through the old Blogger archives says I wasn't talking about much, so outside of working & socializing, I wouldn't doubt that I was just not watching much TV. Yes, there was a point in Toronto where I actually socialized, back when being a blogger was a cool thing that actually generated social interaction. You can laugh at me now. All I can confirm is that until the series came on Netflix recently, I had never seen an episode.

The first few episodes really caught me. The mopey dad, the dethroned popular blonde girl with the quick wit, the noir-esque murder mystery and the snappy writing. I actually commented, "this has better writing than most we are watching now." The premise is fun, ex-Sheriff dad working as a private eye with his daughter pretty much doing the same but for her classmates being the clients. She may not be popular but she is smart and she IS confident. This is not your typical TV alternative social pariah teen -- she is actually an extrovert with great social skills. The only real reason she is unpopular is her dad's reputation and the depressing murder of her best friend. But she is not perfect; she has terrible judgement, is still hung up on her ex-BF and occasionally gets herself in too deep. She is also pretty typically obsessed with getting her mom & dad back together even though there is some pretty seedy evidence her mom wasn't a saint. She is both appealing bright and realistic.

The problem I found, and it had me walking out on a few episodes getting bored or distracted, was that the writing and tone is incredibly uneven. They shift from focus characters to other focus characters, some come in, some fade out with no explanation. The murder investigation seems focused at the beginning but it ends as if the writers forgot who actually murdered Lily. The investigation counted for very little as the finale had a typical "stumble into the truth" plot hook. I wasn't sure if some plot points were fake-outs, so we couldn't guess who the murderer was, or just sloppy writing.  In the end, based on what I had watched all season, I couldn't quite believe the reveal, let alone accept how we got there. Besides, the fact that she would actually fall for the asshole just killed it for me.

Still, onto season 2....

Thursday, May 15, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: 47 Ronin

2013, Carl Rinsch -- download

Honestly, I knew from the trailers that this was going to be a movie I would enjoy. It looked like it was taking a traditionally sombre historical samurai drama and adding fantasy elements to it, much like Chinese wuxia is wont to do. I have nothing against sombre samurais but I am all for that that. Adding any D&D to my swords & samurai fiction is a bonus for me. But the general banter on the Internet, especially from those who loved the original material, felt this movie was to be nothing but doggerel. And let's not forget the expanded role of white man Keanu Reeves, the almost lone white man in the movie.

The original tale is straight forward enough. A daimyo, lord of a domain in feudal Japan, is manipulated into assaulting a representative from the Shogunate during a state affair, by the representative himself. Basically the guy was such an ass, the daimyo attacks him. This is a horrible offence and as punishment, he has to commit ritual suicide, his lands confiscated and all his loyal samurai become lordless -- ronin. They take revenge against the ass, condemning themselves as well but honouring their lord.

The historical tale is time honoured but like much of history, tragic but dry. The movie adds elements of Japanese fantasy, including giant beasts (kirin?) and mystical monks (tengu) and witches. Keanu is along as a half-breed who is a key figure in the manipulations against the shogunate. His punishment is to be sold to  the Dutch colony on the coast, a place of slavers and pirates. But he is asked back by Oishi,  the leader of the now ronin to help avenge their dishonoured Lord Asano. It may be vast and sweeping and full of colour & beauty, but I can understand why the did not resonate with American audiences -- it was still very Japanese in sensibilities but I imagine their audiences were of the opposite opinion. Still, I rather like it and it will probably join my shelf of Sword & _____ films.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One Episode: The Bridge, The Tunnel, The Bridge (Bron/Broen)

This is a new segment where I talk about shows I have watched one, or most of, one episode of. I want to watch less volume and more quality but that involves wading through a bunch of shows of meh. Sometimes I find gems and for one reason or another I don't (or haven't yet) watched another one.

Bron/Broen is a Danish-Swedish crime TV series, rather acclaimed, about a body left on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark, left exactly on the border line between the two countries. Two cops, one a family man recently having received a vasectomy, and the other a single woman who is a little bit... odd. Some might call her socially inept, others would consider her on some spectrum of the Asperger scale. Nobody ever really says what. But the two have to work together, overcoming language and cultural barriers and their own personal frictions.

I first saw the American remake, The Bridge, knowing of the original but not pursuing it. I admit, I first thought it might be an American reboot of the lame Canadian TV series where the bridge in question is in Toronto, from affluent Rosedale to less-than-so St James Town. But no, this is set on the bridge between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. The male cop is from Mexico with the female cop (played by Diane Kruger) is from the States.

In this rendition, she definitely has something on the spectrum. Its by the numbers, Sheldon Cooper level of oddness & rudeness. The two are forced to work together when (**SPOILER**) it is quickly determined there are two bodies, a lower half in Mexico and an upper half in the US. A bit of investigation determines the lower half was a young woman who disappeared, never really searched for due to the corruption of the Mexican police establishment. The upper half is a politician known in El Paso. Det Sonya Cross is required to investigate while Det Marco Ruiz wants to despite his superior's apathy.

There is something very compelling in being thrust between small city America and small city Mexico. The differences between the two countries and cultures are never more apparent as the crime is investigated. The first episode plays the majority of its scenes in the US where Ruiz does his best to relax the team he will be working with,  but in the end, he has to return to Mexico where he feels disheartened by his employers and his family situation.

To close out the first episode, we are given the scene with a summabitch reporter, whose car was identified as dropping the bodies, being trapped in said car with a bomb ticking down. Sonya proves a bit of skill and sympathy by talking to him when its quickly determined the bomb squad cannot help in the time given. But the bomb is a fakeout and now they have to determine how the reporter is mixed into this killing, perhaps a serial killer?

We then caught wind that the British & French had done a series as well, called The Tunnel. Its so obvious to use the chunnel between France & Britain, its hard to believe the American series beat it. Stephane Dillane (Stannis Baratheon on Game of Thrones) and Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour in Harry Potter) are the leads. The former seems less hassled & tired than his Mexican counterpart and the latter is just plain prettier, more fey than Asperger.  Its odd, but I remember next to nothing of this version. I do recall it felt it was going to go more along the direction of suit & ties political corruption than The Bridge, but until Graig mentioned how much he enjoyed it, I was not convinced to continue it.

Finally, we have the original. Sweden & Denmark, only over the bridge from each other but two languages and separate cultures. This is the key that makes this story, I believe. They are so close, and yes people do pass from A to B every and all day, but they are still so different. When Martin Rohde explains to a room full of Swedish cops, he has to slow down and speak more clearly. They mostly understand what he is saying but don't use the language on a daily basis.  The show also reminds the viewers of how similar the two countries are with tons of connecting shots of typical urban backdrops, all city is city is city. The similarities yet differences is what the show is about, with easy going, laughing family man Martin and serious, odd and single Saga. But both are good cops who care about what is happening.

The US show comes the closest to making the same connection, the idea of so close yet so far. But its more likely a room full of El Paso cops speak Spanish. I wonder if they could have done a Canadian analog, set between fictional American and Quebec cities across the border from each other. The divide would never be more apparent.

I am tempted to watch each show in a parallel state but I think I would end up just mixing side plots up and confusing characters between shows, especially the British/French with the Swedish/Danish. Still, it would create an interesting summary of the first season a few months from now. Failing that, I will probably complete Bron/Broen first, then the American and finally the British. All are worth watching.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Apollo 18

2011, Gonzalo López-Gallego (Open Grave) -- Netflix

The trouble with scifi as horror is that it often dispenses with the wonder of space for the act of being scared of it. In one movie, say Gravity, a character will look through their visor and see the wonders of the stars and the sun rising over the earth. In a horror movie in space, they will see only the emptiness of the void and suffer some sort of traumatic reaction -- ignoring the idea they would be tested for that. In a discovery space movie, even one tinged with horror, say Europa Report, there is wonderment and delight at finding new life or a new place.  In a cheap horror, that new life wants to eat you and that is pretty much all. In Apollo 18, it asks the question we didn't know to ask, "What happened to Apollo 18?" With Apollo 17 being the last branded mission, only this found-footage tells us what happened on this fate-less mission.

With a cast of Canadian TV regulars, whom you cannot name: Warren Christie (that guy from Motive), Lloyd Owen (ok, not so familiar) and Ryan Robbins (that guy from Sanctuary, Falling Skies), we are shown a final Moon landing mission shrouded in secrecy. If found-footage, it is from crappy low-definition cameras known about at the time, but in order to give us some non-grainy footage, a new hi-def camera, the first of its kind, is added to the roster when they reach the Moon. They only know they are there to install some equipment, some sort of transmitter. But almost immediately (one of those cliche descriptive phrases that applies to so many horror movies I watch), things start to go weirdly wrong. Who moved the flag? Whose footprints are those? The dusty Russian lander and dead cosmonauts tells them they might need to know more about their mission.

** SPOILER (why you care, I don't know) **

Suffice it to say they discover an unknown life form on the Moon -- walking spider rocks. And the walking spider rocks are E-eee-vil. Or at least they act with no real motive but to fuck with us and infect us. They hide in plain sight, they sneak out of the corner of our eyes, they burrow into us from inside spacesuits and when it is most appropriate (boo!!) they revert back to spidery legs and run around. There is no rhyme or reason but to scare us and those poor astronauts. The movie doesn't even hint that earth scientists might want to capture this life form. In a twist of cliches, the earth scientists would rather abandon the astronauts on the Moon than have them bring the life forms to Earth.  Ohmigawd, the rocks have legs, fuck dat shit, we are not touching that!! And thus we don't know about the mission and we haven't been back to the Moon. I dunno, a pet spider rock could be cool as long as he didn't try to eat me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Afflicted

2013, Derek Lee, Clif Prowse (some shorts) -- cinema

The first thing I learned was that, yes, vampires can be caught on video. And even video blogs. Afflicted is an indie Canadian movie about a pair of world-travelling video bloggers who don't get very far before a casual sexual encounter has led to an unfortunate SDT -- vampirism. OK, he didn't get it from that but that he was bitten during the encounter. Despite my dismissive tone, the movie is quiet effective and serious about Derek Lee's transformation and the ramifications of becoming a creature of the night.

Derek and his best friend Clif are embarking on a world trip, video blogging all the way (thus, found-footage style movie) because Derek has been diagnosed with a condition that will make this his last likely trip. He could die any moment and wants to do what he loves most. Clif is the camera geek following him with all sorts of camera equipment. Almost immediately their trip leads to a rather violent sexual encounter in Paris. Derek avoids doctors or hospitals, knowing they would learn of his condition and send him back to Canada. Nope, that's not going to happen. Not even when the bite starts to have weird side effects, like extreme strength and a rapidly increasing cravings. They get the vampire thing very quickly but are so fascinated with the super heroic antics, they forget the bad part. By the time Derek's condition worsens, and moral gray lines are passed fully over, Derek's only goal is to find her and be cured.

The camera work is rather fun, always inventively from Clif's point of view, as the two test out Derek's vampire super powers, jumping from Italian street to building wall, running like a 6 million euro man and accidentally sending motorists flying through the air. When full on vampirism takes hold, Derek is a ravening beast with spooky eyes and a camera strapped to his chest bouncing from one victim to the next, ignoring a hail of bullets. The fact that he is still somehow uploading all this footage to a YouTube account is a little silly but I suggest you ignore that and run with it. The movie is not without the tragedy of becoming a supernatural predator, leading to the shotgun blast and its minimal effect, from the movie poster. Rest assured, he is not cured and given success, sequels are left open.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Oldboy

2013, Spike Lee (Jungle Fever, Malcom X) -- download

This goes to show that, as you get older, time gets all messed up and bent out of shape. When I think about the original Korean Oldeuboi I remember a seminal movie in my arthouse exposure, something from my deep past that astounded and amazed me. What? It was only 2003? I was already jaded and bored and moaning my lack of movie watching by then. Hrrmph. So, more likely it was a breath of fresh air in my viewing habits. And I saw it here in TO.

So, ten years later Spike Lee comes along with a pretty faithful remake of the original, with a few tweaks to the story here and there, along with the Americanization. We are told the jarring story of a business man kidnapped and confined to a small room for 20 (15 originally) years. Act one is all about his life inside the room, dressed to look like a crappy hotel room. He is fed dumplings, vodka and occasionally gassed & shaved. He doesn't know who took him or why. He goes from despair to self-realization, transforming dumpy 30ish salesman into bulky, musclebound 50s over the 20 years. Act two is about him escaping and recreates the stylish, almost jarring, combat scene of a man with a hammer single-handedly taking down dozens of (mysteriously dressed in 80s thug regalia) mooks. Act three wraps up a disturbing story about why he was taken and the revenge the two took on each other. They retain the somewhat shocking (we so jaded in GoT era) final reveal of the movie.

This begs the standard remake question -- if you are going to remain so faithful to the original, why remake? Ignoring the standard answer of "Americans won't watch subtitles" (as neither of these movies, nor Spike Lee, are for most Americans) I saw it as an act of artful recreation. Spike Lee may have done this as much for himself, as for the money and repertoire. His signature 80s & 90s films have faded in most minds (was Red Hook Summer an attempt to remind us?) and he could approach this one as an experiment with style & story. I think he was mostly successful, but when you read some of the material around the making of the movie (often bemoaned producer tampering), I don't think he would agree.  He should have been allowed to be even more stylish, more crazy Samuel L Jackson and Sharlto Copley characters. Finally, I have to commend Elizabeth Olsen, the youngest Olsen sister, who I only knew as "another scarily thin Hollywood actress" who was very dressed down for her role.