July 19, 2007
I may have seen Kenny Baker

Random computing note: I find PC computing to be a calmer affair after I have gone through and pointed all my system sounds to the simple "Windows Feed Discovered.wav" sound. It's not even a beep, really, it's just a tiny chirp, and I've completely replaced all the harsh asterisks and critical stops and accusatory default sounds with it.

The Windows operating system throws enough crap in your way when you're trying to just read a web page or write a dang blog - every single change announced in a little cartoon bubble that has to be dismissed, every minor error wants to be reported back to the MS mother-ship, every progress bar that has to sit front and center - so if I can keep from being aggressively chimed by my operating system, then OK! Good for me!

I recommend you try it too: Control Panel > Sounds > Sound Tab, then for each of those "events" select "Windows Feed Discovered.wav." Or something other than the rude sounds they've picked for you. Get rid of the start-up and exit fanfare, too - as if the angels sing when I log in to my computer, for God's sake.

(Soon I'll be out of the Windows alert world entirely, when my Mac arrives - oh blessed day to come.)

Random star sighting: I am fairly sure I saw Kenny Baker in Santa Monica. That's awesome.

Yesternight I made it to the end of the screenplay, but I'm not sure this constitutes draft two yet. Sure, you could read it all the way through - in the same way you could sit down and eat an entire meal of unflavored tofu and rice cakes. It would not kill you but WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF, is what I am saying.

But yes, some magical switch WAS thrown when I got to THE END - I now suddenly feel released to start throwing out whole plot-lines that go nowhere, and start afresh.

Had a thought as I watched a bit of "Hackers" on TV the other day. I'm writing about financial things I know very little about in this story, bending them to be a little fantastic, and I thought just including the fancy terms was enough. I am basically using a lot of technical economic jargon as the made-up workings of my McGuffin. But as someone who's a bit technical, watching "Hackers" and listening to them basically appropriate cool-sounding tech terms without knowing anything about them, was lame. More research needed, perhaps.

My latest:

Jesus Camp. Thinking about moving to Sweden? Canada? The UK? But you're on the fence? Then watch "Jesus Camp," and lose any doubt over whether you should emigrate.

When I rebooted this blog I wanted to get away from just bitching about religio-politics, but JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL there are some strains of stupid out there so fundamental they can't be fought or reasoned with. There are people so utterly and basically wrong they ought to be studied.

Evil Dead II. Speaking of rebooting, here's an interesting series to study. It starts as the most grueling horror experience ever and two movies later is a full-out fantasy comedy with the same characters. Fantastic! Raimi and Campbell show an amazing capacity for energetic invention in this second movie. I think I started to get a little tired of Campbell's physical routine maybe 45 minutes in, and started to want a solid story - but that was 45 solid minutes of pure disturbing, frenetic, sometimes comedic and acrobatic horror that kept me entertained. That's 45 minutes of jumping and laughing at just Bruce Campbell throwing himself all over a little cabin and Sam Raimi's camera work almost a character by itself. Note how little time passes in the movie before you're fully in the swing of the action. It's a must see for how a great filmmaker handles an "unseen horror" story.

Ratatouille. The day a Pixar movie comes out should be treated like a holiday. Let the kids out of school early, wear short pants to work, send cards, make plans to cook out after. There have been ups and downs with their movies, but only minor ones, and only relative to their own amazing standards. They have not put anything out that is less than an "A" movie that should be seen by all.

"Ratatouille" has great characters, and the story moves quickly and takes interesting turns I wasn't expecting. A third of the way in Remy (Patton Oswalt) moves over to introduce a new human character; the main "plot" seems resolved and then there's a complication; a character set up to be a villain ends up an unexpected ally. There are some dialogue-free chases that are worthy of something out of a Chaplin movie. There's a moment when Remy is about to make it to freedom but just can't avoid throwing in dashes of ingredients to save a tureen of ruined soup, and a moment when - in about five frames - the filmmakers convey a complete turn of character with a food critic, that had me almost unable to breathe from laughing.

The movie has stars doing the voices but you won't be able to guess most of them. Solid stuff. I loved the animation - and it wasn't just the REALISTIC HAIR. Don't miss it.

Posted by Chris at 10:08 AM
July 12, 2007
Favorite moments at the multiplex

For no real reason, here are some of the most exciting moments I can remember as an audience member at the movies:

  • If there is one scene that completely sums up what was so great about seeing Star Wars films as a kid, it is the "sail barge rescue" sequence from Return of the Jedi. Artoo shoots something into the air just as Luke Skywalker steps off into oblivion - Luke does a flip and jump back onto the platform - then catches and ignites his brand-new green lightsaber. We went NUTS - kids and adults alike. I've never experienced a movie moment as exciting as that one.

  • I suppose my favorite way to be frightened in horror films is when you scream - then laugh at how much you and everyone else just screamed. Descent offered multiple such moments. In fact I remember a remarkable SCREAM - hahahahahahah - THEN ANOTHER SCREAM moment when one of the creatures was revealed.

    I'm also a big fan of "EWWWWW" moments, bits that gross you out without going too far over the edge. This excellent film had a few of those too. I only wish there had been more people when I saw it, but we were all enjoying this film and each other quite a bit. SO many horror films get made, and SO few achieve this sort of effect.

  • I hadn't heard much about Blair Witch Project before it came out and then suddenly it was at Piper's Alley in Chicago and EVERYONE IN THE WORLD WAS THERE AND TALKING ABOUT HOW IT REALLY HAPPENED and the theatre was putting up those hastily-made cardboard signs explaining where the lines around the block had to stand. In the theatre, the experience was memorable not for screaming but for a total uneasy silence during the whole movie. I also have never been so unsettled and frightened that I broke out into a cold sweat even afterwards.

  • The Others is a great old Gothic horror film that I love to recommend. Not tons of jump moments, but there is one reveal shot towards the end that literally made me scream OH MY GOD!! as loud as I could in the theatre, just like some terrorized villager in a horror comic; and then I started laughing at myself because usually it's more like a muffled curse when movies do that to me.

    And we saw this film at the sort of cineplex that tended to bring on a noisier, less focused crowd. Lots of babies, lots of cell phones, lots of teenagers - you could just tell they were going to ruin the movie. And EVERYONE screamed and enjoyed it.

  • I've never seen a comedy that made people laugh so much that I could barely hear the film as A Fish Called Wanda. Fantastic.

  • Being such a political film, it's no surprise that Fahrenheit 911 would make people break into spontaneous applause. It's not like the movie was changing a lot of minds - this was a movie playing to an audience of the faithful. But sitting with that group of people at that desperate moment in time, cheering at the same things, released a lot of tension in a way that hasn't happened since. Oh, the tension is back now - but for those two hours, sitting in a small, temporary bubble of common sense and shared outrage, it was an almost emotional experience to be allowed to catch your breath for a moment.

  • I'd never seen a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - and after the first rooftop chase between Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang, there was a moment of stunned silence - then the drumbeat stopped - and then everyone burst into applause.

  • I don't think Snakes on a Plane is the equal of any movie on this list, but I've never experienced such a rowdy and excited reaction to the gimmick of this film. Good for them, I guess.

    Posted by Chris at 1:57 PM
  • Sicko

    I forgot that I saw:

    Curse of the Golden Flower. This one does not rank as high as my other favorites in the wuxia* genre, "Crouching Tiger," "Hero," and "House of Flying Daggers," and seems kind of faint compared to them. If you love those movies, though, or just love the sight of Gong Li or Chow Yun-Fat, you could do worse.

    *Which I define as a period Chinese movie with massive battle scenes, lots of warriors on horseback with color-coordinated banners, and some flying around during sword fights. Others might define it with a bit more detail, like this Wikipedia article that has a definitive list of films, or this in-depth article from Heroic-Cinema. Wouldn't it be interesting if someone tried to apply historical fantasy like this to American history?


    The Killers. Always good to close in on having seen all of Kubrick's films, but this was not memorable. Maybe it's unsettling to see a movie where you start to identify with Elisha Cook as an ineffectual criminal.

    Sicko. I think Michael Moore sometimes makes his own credibility problems, and maybe he does it on purpose for the added PR of a good controversy. It would seem easy enough for him to include a few quick and minor balancing statements about the state of health care in other nations - Cuba, the UK, Canada, etc. I simply don't believe that it's a health care utopia in all of those places, although I have NO problem believing they have a better system than we do.

    I don't see how it would detract from his overall message to back down from his glowing endorsements of NHS, the Canadian system, etc. Are such over-simplifications based on showmanship and the importance of keeping a message simple for easy transmission? Maybe so - the man is a master propagandist.

    But I'm as amazed at the blowback to this film as I was at that for "Inconvenient Truth." Certainly the authors of these documentaries come with their own baggage, fair or unfair - but are the messages really that controversial? Isn't it common knowledge that pollution is bad for the planet? Is there anyone who feels totally comfortable that if they get some serious disease that they're going to be totally covered by their insurance?

    Gore and Moore don't get to be immune from criticism just because they take on righteous causes, but couldn't Dr. Gupta and friends put at least as much effort into questioning Kaiser and Aetna and Blue Cross as they do Michael Moore?

    Devil's Backbone. Or was it Devil's Labyrinth, or Pan's Backbone? Beautiful but uneven and unfocused, like "Pan." Del Toro's villains tend to be striking and handsome and about 250% more cruel than they need to be. I don't think you need to have your villain actually cut a child's face, for instance, or gut-shoot his lovely fiance for no reason.

    1408. Not sure the haunted hotel story works when it's compressed to one room, and I recognized too many elements from previous Stephen King stories: protagonist haunted by dead child (Pet Sematary), hand smashed by haunted item (as in Christine, though this might have been just the film version), of course the intensely haunted hotel room (The Shining), a harrowing walk along a building ledge (Can't remember this short story's title). There are also a few false endings to disappoint, but on the John Cusack scale, it's a successful one-man show, and there were a few moments that made us jump. Rent and enjoy.

    Hannibal Rising. A poor adaptation from a story that probably didn't need to be written anyway. To give author Thomas Harris credit, the book was a thrilling read that took me two plane trips to finish, pretty much all I wanted from it. And if you ARE going to risk dilluting an interesting anti-hero by adding an origin story, I do think he came up with a pretty good catalyst for Lecter's personality.

    But I don't need to understand Hannibal Lecter's motivations too throroughly - I prefer to have the lingering suspicion that he's not totally human. I don't like to think that he's a sort of evil Batman, basing his entire murder career on a code of revenge. The film especially seems informed by a "Batman Begins" sensibility, especially as Hannibal takes up the Samurai sword of his aunt Lady Murasaki (Gong Li again). And as light as the novel skipped over key events, the film skipped even lighter.

    Posted by Chris at 10:20 AM