27 April 2005
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL is the greater movie, because it includes within its scope the conventions of film itself as well as the medieval romance genre. KUNG FU HUSTLE confines itself to the conventions of martial arts and Hong Kong gangster movies. But WOW does it do a lot with those elements.
Oh, it's really funny. But I had the good fortune to have a pair of big lugs sitting behind me who were Totally Into the kung fu aspects of the film, and they COULD NOT keep quiet.
"OHHHH! That's gotta hurt!"
"HA HA HA! Ow, man! That's heinous!"
So it is really good action, too... just hugely exaggerately for comic purposes. But that does nothing to diminish its action charm.
I think back about my favorite comedies in the past few years, and come up with SNATCH. SNATCH is lovely in its off-beat, off-rhythm humors and sharply particular setting. But SNATCH is a comedy. KUNG FU HUSTLE is a farce. The volume is set to '11'. Even though MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL had the volume set to "12", KUNG FU HUSTLE is still a hugely entertaining film.
**** Pure Entertainment. Worthy as a model of excess. Will stand the test of time, though may not ascend Parnassus.
Made for $100,000, and it looks it. Uneven, but hugely entertaining at its best. Just tough it out until the aliens change themselves into Earth people and visit the Nice Scientist and His Wife in the cabin.
*** for effort, genuine strikingly original entertainments, and making a movie for a dollar. WARNING: Some of this dialog betrays a writer's tin ear, or the absence of an editor, or having been written in five days. Don't be surprised. But some of the situations, characters, and dialog are a pure hoot.
20 April 2005
This is a short (76 minute) film made for Danish television in 1988, by Lars Von Trier, and it got on my list via Mr. Rolston's omnibus recommendation posting from earlier this year. I don't know Von Trier's work, but I now have a heap of new stuff on the queue.
This was an occasion where my weak knowledge of the classics came in handy. I didn't know how the story was going to play out beforehand, although the end was inescapable by the half point. I don't think I'm giving anything away... Jason (he of Argonaut fame) returns home with the Golden Fleece, bringing prosperity to the land and earning the hand of the king's daughter. He'd never have accomplished this mission without Medea, who in addition to helping him bring home the bacon, has borne him two sons. Not unreasonably, the king's daughter wants Medea gone before she'll take Jason to bed. Media is more than a little creepy, knows the dark arts, and wanders in the marshes a lot. So Medea is banished. Before she goes, she takes down the princess with a poisoned wedding gift, which also does in the king and an innocent bystanding horse. Medea heads for the border, giving her sons the last word. She hangs them, leaving their bodies dangling from a tree. "By their death, I can strike at their father."
Lots of memorable images, powerful in their simplicity. The poisoned horse running itself to death. Looks like it was all done with available lighting, and very minimalist costumes and sets. Most of it's played outside, on that gloomy, windswept marshland.
It left me thinking more about the underlying story than this particular production. How would it have played out, if Medea had given birth to daughters? Is she willing to murder her own children, even though she loves them, because she knows they can only grow up to become men?
18 April 2005
a. Vincent D'Onofrio, the star, is a remarkable actor I saw first in THE SALTON SEA, an excellent modern noir recommended to me by Don Riemer. Vincent D'onofrio is a mesmerizing villain in that film.
b. I was surprised to find D'Onofrio with several producer credits. I checked them out, and found one of those producer credits is on THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, in which he also stars.
c. I learned that THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD is about Robert E. Howard, a celebrated pulp writer, creator of Conan. Since in my day job [designer of lurid computer roleplaying games], I create Conan-like heroes and narratives, I had a professional interest in the subject.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover a delicate personal romance between Robert Howard and a woman, Novalyne Price, who later became a college teacher. And I found that the screenwriter, Michael Scott Myers, had once been a student of Novalyne Price. Myers dedicates the movie to her, and her memoir, 'One Who Walks Alone', of her time with Howard during the last years of his life, was the basis of the screenplay.
So the story is very personal, and the film is deeply touching and affecting. Renée Zellweger is splendid as Novalyne Price.
Recommended **** for exploration.
Today I was working hard on preparing a script for our upcoming game, OBLIVION. Patrick Stewart is the voice for the role of the emperor [a sort of Julius Caesar figure]. And I found myself arguing desperately with my producer that we COULD NOT stray from the tight, controlled, Stoic personality and dialog I had written for Stewart because games just flat CANNOT communicate any range of emotional depth in the faces of our actors.
And watching THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, it was clear how film CAN produce that emotional depth.
Of course, Conan doesn't need any great depth of emotional expression. Neither do Gandalf or any of the characters in LORD OF THE RINGS. Not many people will want to see a film like THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. They would much rather skip the deep emotional stuff and see some tough, wooden-faced Stoics beat the livin shit out of some orcs.
I really would like to try making a computer game with some emotional depth. But I doubt there's a market for such, even if we had the technology to produce animated, emotional faces.
This Dan Ireland-directed film stars Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price, a Texas schoolteacher with literary ambitions who falls for pulp fiction scribe Bob Howard (Vincent D'Onofrio) -- a man who gracefully traverses a world of words but can't seem to fit into real life. Howard's most famous literary hero is Conan the Barbarian; he, too, is a barbarian of sorts. He's a capable writer, but is he capable of love?
04 April 2005
Visuals are amazing... perfect.
Screenplay was very good. It often went over the top... which is okay, in some ways, because that's where the film wanted to go, but sometimes it went far enough over the top to draw attention to itself in a distracting way.
INCREDIBLES was a perfect movie. SIN CITY was not. And for me, the difference was the degree of love I felt for the characters. I loved everyone in INCREDIBLES. In SIN CITY, some of the characters were caracitures with either too little humanity or painted with too broad a brush to make me love them. In particular, the villains and women need to be lovable in film noir. Jackie Boy and Devon Aoki [Miho] are perfect. The stooges and gnomes and broads are comic, and serviceable as comedy, but they weaken the drama.
Still, to put my negative comments in context, I will probably see this film three times in the theater... the next time for pure visuals, and the third time for re-experiencing the characters, story, and dialog.
Dead Man is a Jim Jarmulsch western featuring:
a. Johnny Depp as William Blake, an Easterner lost in the West,
b. a screenplay that is at once lyrical-romantic and deadpan farcical, and
c. a compellingly loopy Indian visionary named 'Exaybachay'... or "Nobody", or "He Who Talks Loud, Saying Nothing," who is William Blake's poetic guide on his journey into the literal, figurative, and spiritual West.
The screenplay is the primary delight. The First Nations poetry -- the rhythms of the untranslated language and Nobody's goofy visionquest poetic speech -- is by turns comic caricature and mythic gravity.
Nobody: William Blake, do you know how to use this weapon? [a six-gun]
William Blake: Not really.
Nobody: That weapon will replace your tongue. You will learn to speak through it, and your poetry will now be written with blood.
When Nobody discovers the disabled Johnny Depp in the wilderness, Nobody is shocked and disbelieving when he is told the white man is 'William Blake'. Nobody quotes a Blake poem, and it is immediately clear that Blake has no idea what Nobody is talking about.
Gary Farmer plays Nobody, and why am I not surprised to find that Gary Farmer also plays a character named 'Nobody' in Jarmulsch's Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai?
There are several delicious comic scenes with odds characters and incredible dialog... one featuring Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jared Harris as an amazing bunch of backcountrymen gathered round a campfire... but my favorite group of running gags are the three hired guns sent out to kill William Blake. After one falls by the wayside, the remaining two continue on, painstakingly making their way on horseback from one edge of an extreme long shot frame to the other, and all the time, hearing the persistent drone of Conway Twill, an amiable killer and non-stop blather-box. Imagine you are Cole Wilson, legendary steely-eyed, cold-blooded killer, traveling the wide open spaces of the Great West, a slow, steady pace on horseback, in the company of Conway Twill as he talks on and on and On and ON, as the horses slowly make their way in extreme long shot from one side of the frame to another...
"Anyhow, gettin' back to the beginning of the story, my granddaddy come over from Scotland, you see. He was actually part of the Mactwill clan. Uh, the, uh, clan tartan was kind of gold and purple, if I remember correctly. I never wore a lick of it myself. Dropped the "Mac" part of the name when he decided to come out West... on account of he figured it'd get him more work and all. How 'bout your family history there, Cole? Let me guess. Kind of figured you for a German, huh? I mean, am I right? Am I close? Austrian?..."
At the end of this extreme long shot of seemingly interminable duration, as, the horses exit frame left, cut to black, and you hear a gunshot. And you understand why.
My favorite set in a Makah village, with its Northwest Coastal Indian long houses made of wide spruce planks, its totems, and the icon-decorated walls, garments, and hats of the Makah Native Americans.
It's a beautiful movie, a funny movie, a movie in the tradition of the American western, and a charming piece of visual and dialog poetry. Watch the deleted scenes, too. There is another delightful extreme long shot of Conway Twill's persistent droning, a not-so-pleasant and graphic scene showing what happened after the cut to black and the gunshot that i'm really glad they cut out of the film, and a couple nice scenes between William Blake and Nobody... one that actually makes explicit the dramatic structure of William Blake's journey. I'm glad this scene was cut, even though it is a nice one, because I like figuring out the structure of his quest as it unfolds more than I would have enjoyed being told about it and then watching it unfold.
[BTW: I collected the lengthy dialog excerpts from the English subtitle files I found on the internet. That's my favorite source of dialog clips from surrent screenplays i admire.]
03 April 2005
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
I was coming into this film as a pretty big Ken Burns fan. I’ve found the numerous episodes of The Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz to be responsible for some of the very few moments in my life when I felt that America was a narrative, a grand story, a story with a meaning . . . and not merely a catalog of atrocities, greed, narrowness, and superficiality rouged up Tammy Faye Baker style in the colors of the flag. Not only have these films rather boldly implied that there is a narrative of America and then convinced me of the fiction, they also (in doing so) made me feel like an American, like I could see myself in relation to the national drama . . . not wholly alienated from it, but as one of its billions of cells. Ken Burns’ vision of
This tendency has its pitfalls, of course. For instance, the powerful elite have increasingly learned how to use our mass overanxiousness to focus too much attention on highly-visible individuals so as to establish a politics of misdirection (e.g., Republican NeoCon hawks courting the religious right with talk of “values”, usually prejudicial intolerances, to build up enough voter support to finance their true goals of colonial global corpocracy . . . which is not at all in the interest of the majority of the Republican voter base). When the individual in the spotlight is a meaningless, non-dangerous, petty indulgence and distraction, some celebrity or rich fool, all the better for the powerful. But, there is always a chance this approach will backfire, because individuals are not necessarily damned to be beholden to groupthink or to serve the whims of those “in charge”, to play as willing pawns.
Jack Johnson was that kind of player, that theatrical individual, unswallowable, who pricks the country into looking straight back at us, into briefly revealing itself on some essential level. Ken Burns is a master of illuminating these moments, pointing each out as a nexus where numerous threads of the American story tie together into a knot. He is a maker of the proverbial “picture that’s worth a thousand words”. His best films are both a mirror for the American everyman and everywoman and a portal into that smithy where
Of course, it isn’t just the writing or interpreting of these American stories that Burns does so well, he also tends to get great interviewees, chooses excellent pieces from literature, newspapers, correspondence and puts these pieces into the mouths of the best voice talent available. And, of course, he locates an abundance of superb film and photo footage out of which he creates narrative motion and emotional gravity. To my inexpert eye at least, he seems to pull all this together into a film in a way (with a formula) that is incredibly simple, but never cowardly or cheap.
Unforgivable Blackness struck me as on par with his best work. In Jack Johnson, Burns finds a microcosm of a stage of American stagnation. White bigotry, after being shaken by Johnson’s “outrageous” defiance, unquashable individualism, and undeniable supremacy in the sport of boxing, finally got to actualize its fantasy of his defeat . . . but in winning that battle it ended up losing the war. But it takes a portrayal of the man like the one Burns gives him to expose this. It was an ugly, ugly episode in our history. One in which, as the Jungians might say, the white man’s shadow rose up to land a stinging blow on the cheek of unconscious white prejudice. And, as always happens in the face of the shadow, the white man overreacted and proved with all available force that he himself is, in fact, the dark, raging animal, brutal, stupid, hateful, wrong.
Jack Johnson became the archetypal symbol for white fear of blacks in his time, the ultimate scapegoat for the evil of racial hatred, which had persisted beneath a shellac of pseudo-civilized posturing and political, “intellectual” rationalization. I’m not sure there was ever a more widely hated man in
We don’t have any individuals in our society today that are so large or so dangerous (to the establishment) as Jack Johnson, but to look back on a time when a man could rise so high and do so in the face of horrendous oppression and hatred, to do this and come to mean so much . . . to his race, to the country, to individuality, and to humanity . . . casts some light on the American myth of the individual: the individual as the maker of American consciousness. Maybe this will never be possible again as the powerful become wiser and more adept at suffocating or marginalizing the voices of individual dissent, yet I think it should be looked on with a least a crumb or two of hopefulness. We are, each of us, responsible for making
As in any scenario where story is the “truest truth”, we need, desperately need, great storytellers, men and women who can take stock of all the characters and events and weave them into a narrative of consciousness by seeing the potential connections, comprehending their worth, and by staying vehemently opposed to pimping for some political force demanding partisanship. I think Ken Burns does that as well as anyone else I can think of. He is one of . . .maybe even the greatest American storyteller of our time, this time in which big stories, like the myths before them, have largely faded into the subconscious of the language, and agendas, party platforms, self-serving think tanks, and other rhetorics of power are defining all the words we use to think, to create ourselves, our own Americas, our consciousness.
02 April 2005
But I also recognize that I had two, possibly conflicting things in mind when setting up this forum. I saw it both as persistent conversation, and as information retrieval system. I thought it would be nice to capture some of our witty and charming rambles, so we could be entertained by them more than once (as well as share them with the rest of the world). I also wanted a way to tap into the knowledge these rambles represent, by establishing some organizing principles.
Now I'm thinking that a Search is the best way to manage the latter objective. I also appreciate it's in the nature of the blog for people to read what's on top. So I'm withdrawing my request for any particular protocol on the use of comments versus posts. Just do whatever the hell you want!
01 April 2005
According to the creators of this film, it is the beginning of a new genre. If that is so, then let this be called, Quantum Evangelism. Really, Quantum Evangelist sounds like a pretty cool occupation. I can just imagine Leo bringing me in for show and tell some day. "My dad is a Quantum Evangelist." Then I could spend the next 10 minutes explaining to a bunch of 2nd graders just exactly what it is I do.
Ah, but that will never happen, I'm afraid, because I am a quantum misfit. I just don't get quantum physics. Possibly because my only contact with it is through documentaries like this one. I have also previously failed to comprehend String Theory . . . even after watching The Elegant Universe. It isn't that I refute such theories; I'm simply not convinced. And even more significantly, my mindset bends toward a more "phenomenological" light, so I often come away from these speculative theories saying, "So what? So how does this affect me and the world I actually live in . . . live as opposed to exist." This all derives form (or else results in) my preference for psychological ideas over philosophical ones. Unless I can hammer an idea into applicability, then it remains forever insubstantial to me, never attaches to emotion or valuation.
Oh . . . say no more, say no more! A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat! Because "What the Bleep" advocates application! That is, it throws down some talk about influencing reality with our thoughts and feelings. The film itself is only very subtly evangelical in this claim, but the special feature interviews with the filmmakers on the DVD demonstrate a good bit of zeal to the tune of "It changed my life!" and "Every day I go out and create my reality with positive thoughts!" and "We want 100 million people to see this film . . . because it will enlighten them!" (my paraphrasings). It may be this behind the camera zeal that allowed them to take a leap from the speculative science of quantum physics to altering the material environment with your thoughts. That's a leap I won't be taking. In fact, clinically speaking, I think it is kooky.
Now, I don't think or understand “quantumly” enough to represent the filmmakers' line of reasoning accurately, but it seems to have something to do with electrons being in either one state or another, but never in between . . . thus, the positing of a mysterious "in between" existence (other dimensions, etc.). On top of that, there is this idea that, on the quantum level, observation affects reality. So, as I am told, light (for instance) appears to behave like a wave when we do not directly observe it, but like a particle when we do. It is thusly that observation affects reality. Ok, maybe so. I'm not dissenting, but I think extracting from this speculation that some form of active observation can affect non-quantum reality, and that harnessing such reality-affecting observation should be a "spiritual" goal is neither justified nor entirely healthy.
On the other hand, "What the Bleep" did deal with other topics that I could understand and even appreciate. For instance, that states of mind and emotionality can affect our physical bodies. This doesn't require quantum science to be explained, merely a bit of neurology and biology. It has to do with peptides and proteins and stuff (I'll spare you my lame attempt at explaining it). Some of the interviewees expressed the idea (my paraphrasing again) that human beings are addiction machines, and that, on the level of the brain, all sorts of repeat emotions (regardless of how pleasurable or not pleasurable they are) are chemically addictive. Even (and maybe especially) self-destructive behaviors, feelings, and thoughts can become addictive. Such habitualized emotions can have an impact on the way our bodies’ cells grow and reproduce. That is, the more we indulge particular states of mind/emotions, the more our cells will grow to become receptive to the neural chemicals that accompany those emotions . . . and less receptive to alternate chemicals/emotions.
Another thing I partially dug was the expressed notion that creation is the purpose/right/duty of the human animal. I have written extensively (though unscientifically) about this topic, so I was surprised and pleased to see other people (other wackos?) voicing similar ideas. But I say “partially”, because I ultimately felt that I meant this a bit differently than the interviewees in “What the Bleep” did. Some of these folks seemed to suggest that “creation” was a kind of determination of reality, a willful “ordering”. To Jungian-esque thinker like me, this is an invitation to disaster. The individuation process as Jung described it is specifically NOT to be mistaken for an act of will/ego that serves to “conquer” realty or the unconscious. Rather, the increase of consciousness involves an increase in flexibility, fluidity, and acceptance.
Jung thought that westerners operated on a different psychic paradigm than easterners. In the west, our struggle for consciousness is often symbolized as a battle against the darkness, a conquering of the darkness, so when we get our psychic paws on eastern philosophy that talks about perfecting mind or expanding consciousness, we mistakenly apply our conventional psychic paradigm. As a result, we too easily fall pray to a kind of “Orientalism” and apply our puritanical self-punishment to the “quest for enlightenment”. This results in discipline, maybe, but not enlightenment, because (psychoanalytically speaking) it is a repression of what needs to be a naturally emerging, consciously cultivated intelligence.
“What the Bleep”, I felt, leaned in this direction. To contrast, my personal experience has led me to see creation as the result of an increasingly large and increasingly “audible” dialog between the ego-self and the other-self, a cooperation, if you will. From that cooperation, a story is spun, a narrative fiction, which becomes the creation as it ceaselessly evolves . . . not into a unified or perfected thing, but into an elaborate eco-system of self and the connection of that self to others, The Other, and the world. This is maybe a bit more complex, poetic, and faith-driven than the New Aged take in “What the Bleep”, but it works better for me, seems more tangible, less . . . quantum.
So . . . in reacting to this film as I have so far, I have indulged the filmmakers’ intents. I have used the film as a capsule of ideas, swallowed it, and “dialoged” internally (and now in blogsville) with its statements, its contents. Now, many would find such an approach simplistic or even inappropriate. I think specifically of the conventional contemporary academic attitudes toward art: art for art’s sake, art as an aesthetic pleasure, not a statement, not something with an agenda.
As a piece of art (sans agenda), “What the Bleep” is also interesting if ultimately not epiphanic. Along with the interviews, the film integrates a fictional narrative (starring Marlee Matlin) about a photographer (get it? An “Observer”, as the Quantumites say) set upon by a functional depression/existential crisis/reckoning with self. She’s uptight, obsessive, and self-hating . . . and it seems the immediate cause for her existential ailment is an ex-husband who cheated on her. As a result, she is “addicted to” seeing all men as betrayers and anyone who might want to get to know her as a potential invader/violator. With the help of some time, a few synchronous events, and a number of CG “quantum visions”, she comes (we are led to believe) to a better place by the end of the film. The space-time continuum heals all wounds, as they say.
The narrative adds some entertainment value (although a “climactic”, surreal Polish wedding sequence was too drawn out for my taste) but doesn’t entirely transcend its sideshow status or really even bring any further illumination to the ideas being discussed. Those ideas and the interviewees who espouse them are the real stars. And these espousers were given a pretty ritzy treatment. The film seems to have a pretty sizable budget ($5 million according to the filmmakers) for a documentary.
Ultimately, I think a film about ideas that intends to make people think is a good thing . . . especially if that goal is achieved (and it seems this is the case). Of course, any such film must develop some relation to its own potential to propagandize for its cause . . . and there is some awareness of this in “What the Bleep”. But, whereas they have a few interviewees giving hasty, superficial, but not altogether unwise critiques of Christianity, they don’t provide any anti-quantum thinkers. I don’t mean to suggest that they should toss a few fundamentalists in out of some prefabricated sense of “fairness” . . . I’m talking about real thinkers who understand quantum ideas and can offer scientific alternatives, or at least provide a sense of debate. In fact, although the film deals pretty extensively with theological issues, the theological talk is pretty narrow in its perspective, hoping (I assume) that because the ideologies expressed are not mainstream, they can be expressed without any real debate (i.e., they are the debate against the mainstream). So, on the God issue (that it purports to take on), I found “What the Bleep” rather lame, simplistic, superficial, and trendy. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that we don’t live in a very theologically complex age or place, but the film doesn’t do anything to counter this deficiency.
I would give the film 3 stars for achieving its agenda (spurring people to think and debate complex issues), but only 2 stars for failing to consciously recognize its own tendencies to be propagandistic and spurious, and also for failing to bring all the necessities of a legitimate, logical argument to the table. I glanced at a few Netflix reviews before I wrote this, and there were some angry Quantumites grousing about the “weak science” in this film. They are correct as far as I can tell. I might not know the science, but I know rhetoric pretty well (remind me to be forever grateful for my English degree), and such knowledge is all one needs to start gaining a critical perspective on “What the Bleep”.
Also, some Netflix folks brought into question the credentials of the interviewees. Some interviewees struck me as more loopy than others, but the obvious one stands out: the woman who is supposedly “channeling” some mystic dude (Ramtha?). When one has lived in
Still, 1 or 2 star ratings don’t do justice to what this film does achieve: the offering up of some ideas to think about. Very few films make us think . . . especially think philosophically or existentially. And really, if the dialog we adopt is one primarily of dissent (as is mine), is this actually such a bad thing? We are still thinking. We are still formulating our own reactions and disagreements. And if we do that with honesty, integrity, and consciousness, the result can only be positive.