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Philip Jose Farmer, R.I.P.

Feb. 27th, 2009 | 12:06 am
location: The Apartment
mood: A Little Depressed
music: Clicking Keyboard

You will be missed.

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So, yeah. WIN.

Feb. 18th, 2009 | 10:50 pm
location: The Apartment
mood: Excited
music: The Good Eats theme song

Because, to be honest, zombies > vampires forever.

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Me Neither

Feb. 18th, 2009 | 12:25 am
location: The Apartment
mood: Very Amused
music: ....just listen to that song and tell me you can hear other music

I will never hear that song the same again.
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Paper Moon

Feb. 16th, 2009 | 04:43 pm
location: The Apartment
music: Bourdain's No Reservations theme

Something in me rebels against the "new wave" Hollywood directors from the late sixties and seventies. I don't know why. It took me forever to see the Godfather movies, and I never really bought into all the hype surrounding the wunderkinds of the seventies. Even Scorcese, who I admire on many levels, is a bit overrated--I mean, Kundun? I don't even like Raging Bull that much to be honest.

With that history in mind, you can understand why I never went out of my way to look up Peter Bogdanovich, whose directing history has a few good movies but has never really been as well regarded as many others. (Though now I kind of want to see Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women now.) Perhaps more important as a scholar of film than as a filmmaker himself, I never really bothered to look up most of his movies, and generally thought of him as "that guy who knows all those other guys"--and by other guys I mean legends like Orson Welles and John Ford, not just the Ford Coppolas and Scorceses and whoever all else. However, this last Friday I watched his depression-era film, Paper Moon, and found it to be not only perfectly entertaining and well-made, it actually made me want to go back and watch the other films he has done. Maybe not enough to actually do it, but I was tempted, nevertheless.

First of all, it's a movie about the short con, and it does a good job of representing the con in interestingly--completely relying on main actor Ryan O'Neal, who I had really only ever seen in Jake Kasdan's woefully underrated Zero Effect. He is both charismatic as well as a little reckless, something that seems appropriate for his character and somehow comes off as endearing, perhaps because his co-star in the movie is his daughter, Tatum O'Neal. She does an amazing job as Addie, the little girl picked up by Moses and incorporated into his schemes. Perhaps not the best depiction of how to raise a little girl, the movie still manages to create a perfectly believable relationship between two people who don't appear to have anyone else in their lives.

It is an odd film, using a relatively simple camera style that does not attract a lot of attention to its style, perhaps relying on its black and white film to provide the film an aesthetic of antiquity that it might not otherwise have--though it obviously lacks many of the classical Hollywood techniques that a movie actually made in the period would have used. Most of the time, the film works very well with its minimalist style, though at times I would have liked to see a bit more play in the camera that allows such a playful movie to unfold.

Great acting, good direction, and a solid sense of where it wants to go (almost so much that it feels telegraphed--though you might be surprised by the film's ending), Paper Moon is perhaps the best Bogdanovich film I have seen so far.

four stars out of five

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House of Dolls

Feb. 13th, 2009 | 10:13 pm
location: The Apartment
mood: Cautiously Optimistic
music: The Television, Singing its Siren Song

Unfortunately for Joss Whedon, his ideas are complicated and take some getting used to. Fortunately for him, I have gone through everything he has done with gusto, and I am willing to give Dollhouse all the time it needs to get fully going. I just hope Fox finally figures out that they just need to let him keep working and the audience will come. Of course, this time Whedon has sort of lucked into a pretty decent timeslot, and the 'hot chick' factor that attracts guys to The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Summer Glau and Lena Headey will certainly continue into Dollhouse's Eliza Dushku--but let's be honest, hotness can grab an audience initially, but there has to be a reason to stay.*

So we need to think about how this premise might work: a 'brain-writing' program that over-writes one set of memories and personality with another set might work. To be honest, I think it has potential--mostly due to the supporting cast, which is the real constant on the show right now. Since the primary actress really doesn't have a steady sense of self (yet), we are stuck getting to know the others for a while first. Thankfully they are pretty good: Harry Lennix, who has been working pretty steadily but I remember most from Taymor's Titus; Olivia Williams, the amazing Ms. Cross from Rushmore; Tahmoh Penikett, who did a great job as Helo from Battlestar Galactica; and finally Amy Acker, who has been in the Whedonverse before. These guys will keep us involved until someone starts helping Dushku's character, Echo, have more of a permanent personality--a situation I guarantee will happen or begin soon.

The first episode shows off some of the fun that this kind of story can have, and I am looking forward to seeing it mature a bit. However, if we get stuck in a 'character-of-the-week' kind of thing, I think will be disappointed relatively soon. I am willing to wait a bit, but I don't think I would enjoy having a central character without some kind of continuity.

Before I end, I am willing to make some predictions about future plot points:

1. The addition of more concrete memories to Echo's base template.
2. The discovery of another group using similar technology--or at least a splinter faction within the Dollhouse that uses the tech on the down-low.
3. The revelation that a character in the Dollhouse is trying to use it for his/her own purposes--a rogue faction of some kind.

Of course, these are a little generic, but hey, it's only been one episode. Let's see where we go from here. Whedon, you have my attention.

*Yeah, there is the Baywatch factor, but I don't think you can get that kind of success again--it was done once, but I am not sure it will repeat.

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Feb. 11th, 2009 | 07:25 pm
location: The Apartment
mood: Rested
music: "Kaneda" from the Akira Soundtrack

Reply to this post and I'll assign you a letter. List 5 songs that start with that letter. Post them to your journal with these instructions.

I was given the letter "A" by Iowayehudit, so let's see what iTunes cranks out for me...

"Abigail, Belle of Kilronan," by The Magnetic Fields - So I have a thing for war ballads. Sue me. This is a partially tongue-in-cheek play on the form, but it's also a great song about having to leave people behind--so it's fun but sad all at the same time. Brilliant.

"Ahab," by MC Lars - Yeah, so sometimes MC Lars isn't the best rapper ever, but he always has great ideas, and this rapped interpretation of Moby Dick is inspired. I can totally hear it in my head as I type this, and despite the odd concept, the song totally works.

"All Tomorrow's Parties," by The Velvet Underground - From their first album, "All Tomorrow's Parties" was Andy Warhol's favorite VU song, if not his favorite song of all time. Nico sings it, and her drugged-out emotionless voice works wonders here.

"Anorexic Beauty," by Pulp - Ah, irony--how I love thee. Seriously, if you need a song that talks about the fucked-up concept of sexiness somehow being equivalent to skinniness, then just listen to this song.

"Arco Arena," by Cake - I am not generally a huge fan of listening to lyric-less music, but this instrumental track from Cake is really great, and I find myself humming it whenever I am bored. There's something really catchy here that works without any need for words to mess it up, and I appreciate that.
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Well, it's a...liberal interpretation.

Feb. 11th, 2009 | 09:52 am
location: The Library
mood: Ecstatic
music: The peaceful quiet...

For those of you about to cry, I am sorry. For those of you about to cheer, I am also a little sorry. What is this terrible, earth-shattering news? What am I about to reveal that is going to be so divisive, so amazing, that it may very rip the heavens asunder? Just this, dear reader:

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Yes. Let that soak in a bit. Click on the link--it's not a rickroll, don't worry. I am serious. Now you see how insane this is, how brilliant. Some mad genius decided that, "Hey, you know what? 'What?' We should rewrite Austen as a horror story! 'What?' Seriously! It would be rad! 'You know you're just talking to yourself, right?' Yeah, I know. 'Awesome! Let's do it!' Fuck yeah!" And so it was done. For those of you who love Austen, this could be the final straw--though I should note that the best of the zombie movies have had social commentary at their core, much like Austen's books. Try not to kill people in a bloody rage is all I'm saying.

I am no Austen fanatic, though I have enjoyed what I have read of her as well as the movies I have seen--and I bumped into this link, promptly laughing out loud in wonderment. Some highlights include: "it was easy to imagine Bennet and her four sisters as zombie slayers, trained since childhood in the deadly arts of Chinese kung fu, and Fitzwilliam Darcy as a promoter of the socially superior ninja skills of Japan." I don't know that easy actually describes it particularly well, though I don't know what other word could be used to discuss the creation of this idea--except genius, of course.

Now I have to read the book--thank god I have until April.

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...it returns.......SXSW!!!

Feb. 9th, 2009 | 02:47 pm
location: The Writing Center
mood: Excited
music: The Hum of the Computer

Yes, fellow travelers, South by Southwest Film Festival is coming again, and again I am going. This makes three years in a row--and they have been good experiences all. Some stuff to look forward to:

Jason Segal
Seth Rogan
Joe Dante

Yeah, I know they are all people. I will be hopefully blogging my thoughts about the movies as I see them. I might blog about people if I see them. If I see Jason Segal I might embarrass myself to get a picture with him. I will keep you in the loop.
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Feb. 8th, 2009 | 12:58 pm
location: The Apartment
mood: Still Sleepy
music: Nightmare Before Christmas theme running through my head...

Children's movies are awesome. Wait, I have to amend that: children's movies CAN be awesome. Which basically makes them like everything else, I suppose. I just want to stipulate that I am not a hater when it comes to the idea of kid-centric film, I remain as much of a snob about that as everything else.

So, Coraline, then? It's pretty damn good. My girlfriend and I saw it in 3D last night, which is probably the best way to see it, despite the exorbitant costs of the 3D screenings. Unlike most 3D movies, it doesn't push on the "it's coming right out of the screen at us" thing, focusing more on depth--in fact, one of the most exciting parts of the movie, the extended tunnel moving away from the camera's POV, is totally about depth. Strangely, it reminded me of Vertigo's shots of the stairwell falling away from Jimmy Stewart. I wish I could show you guys the 3D version, but here's the trailer in case you haven't seen it yet.

Let me just say that I really appreciate the creepy-factor that this movie creates, so that despite the fact that you know everything is probably going to work out okay in the end (though this isn't necessarily true), moments of the film exhibit a commitment to some truly fucked-up and bizarre ideas, and the central threat of the movie is actually terrifying, if never really jump-out-of-your-seat scary. The movie works, and it doesn't dumb down the threats just because it's for kids, it just transposes them--dolls instead of people.

This gives the movie the ability to play with some scary ideas and images while also remaining totally within the genre of the children's movie. Coraline isn't the first to use this idea--Samurai Jack brought awesome martial arts action to kids by having all the enemies be robots--but the idea remains functional and works well here. All those button-eyed people are pretty scary, and to be honest I thought it might be fun to be a button-eyed version of myself for halloween (though currently I have another idea).

I don't have many complaints about the movie, though it starts abruptly and could have perhaps used another minute or two of explanation before we really got into the story as a whole, and at times the pace seemed to slow down dramatically. The story really works as a modern fairy tale--right on the edge of that mean, nasty one where everyone is eaten at the end and the moral is don't go into the woods--though given Neil Gaiman's reputation with fairy tales I am not surprised.

The acting is fine, the animation is amazing, and I think you will enjoy yourself if you are willing to view this movie as a fable, instead of another piece of kiddie fluff.

* * * * stars out of 5.

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Feb. 4th, 2009 | 11:00 pm
location: The Apartment
mood: Amused
music: Mission Impossible movie score

So the bijou continues to bring awesome movies to the Iowa City area, and JCVD is no exception. What is this cinematic gem, you say? Well let me provide you a trailer. I'll wait while you watch it.

It is somewhat odd that this year would bring us two aging stars primarily known for their physicality (Van Damme and Mickey Rourke) both attempting a comeback of some sort, and while I have not seen The Wrestler just yet, I intend to do so when I have the chance--though I am not sure if it will be better than JCVD. Seriously.

This movie is not a glorification of Van Damme's career, nor is it a straight-up attempt to demonstrate that he should be hired again...though both of those things play a role here. Instead, we are left with a movie that walks perhaps the hardest razor's edge in fiction: the serious/not-serious movie, the movie that is aware of its own silliness but does not cripple itself with "the meta." It feels true and fake all at the same time--an amazing feat.

At times the camera and the lighting can be distracting, but they don't feel unnecessary, just awkward. Van Damme's acting is pretty amazing, and the film itself works, even if you don't feel perfectly satisfied at the end. It fits neatly into the strange space it makes for itself--it's worth watching, for sure. I expect that it will be forgotten within a year's time, unfortunately. It deserves more attention. Van Damme himself deserves another look. Now who wants to closely analyze Maximum Risk with me?

* * * * stars out of 5

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