Monthly Archives: October 2005

The Weather Man

The Weather Man has been advertised mostly as a bunch of people throwing stuff at Nick Cage, not because of his naturally depressed expression or because his movies can be overbearing, even the actions ones, but because he sometimes predicts the weather wrong, and people apparently like to dress appropriately more than they like to hold onto their food. Although this has a bigger place in the theme than you might initially expect, it is nevertheless a very misleading portrait of what the movie is actually about.

It’s slice of life, just like Sideways that I saw early this year. Which means that I found the conclusion ultimately unsatisfying; as is nearly always the case with this kind of thing, the end result is an internal change in the character irrespective of the presence or (more likely) absence of a change in external circumstance. It’s not that I want the “good guy” to win or be happy or whatever; he could reach his lowest low instead, but the mind-numbing horror of the status quo terrifies me a lot more than Jason Voorhees ever could, whether he lived on to kill another teen or died to be resurrected later on (and, okay, still kill another teen).

However: the acting is pretty good all around, and my early without-seeing-the-nominations prediction is that Michael Caine can get Best Supporting out of it. The themes are not just adult, but uncomfortably adult, the kinds of things that could end up causing a divorce even in people who were compatible emotionally but not strong enough to get through bad times, never mind people like weatherman Cage and his ex-wife. It’s not exactly black comedy, and it’s not dark enough to be black drama, but it is certainly an oppressive piece of visual fiction. See it for the acting, but wait until you can afford to be introspective and quiet for a little while, to shake off the gloom; or, if you’re a death row inmate, or Saddam Hussein, or Scooter Libby or someone like that, see it to feel better about your circumstances. (Worst of all: I say all this fairly secure in the knowledge that what the weatherman got was a happy ending.)

Lord of the Flies

And now, a kind of new feature for Shards of Delirium, always assuming that the group lasts, which I do not. A batch of local friends have put together the idea of a reading discussion group. My personal estimations, for which I have absolutely no proof, are that about half the people are genuinely interested in the idea and about half want not to be left out of stuff. Also, we’re having a bit of a problem settling due dates and the like. I was thinking monthly or so, but it’s been at least a month since Lord of the Flies was suggested, and I only know of two people who have read it. (This includes me, and I only finished this weekend, after caving in and buying a new copy. So I’m not exactly shining, here.)

The last time I read this I was 14 or so. The movie came out right around then, too, and I wrote a perhaps overly glowing review of it in the school newspaper. (I suppose I could go in search of archives, but I don’t see that happening.) If I had a very clear idea of how I felt about it then, I could compare that with this time. But the stuff I can remember I still agree with now, so that would be useless. Also, it’s been out long enough and assigned to students long enough that I’m not going to worry about spoilers, so read further at your own peril.

A great lot of British schoolboys crash-land onto a small, deserted island in the Pacific, while rumbles of World War III inhabit the background. At first, they can all agree on the important things: what to do to get rescued, what to do about food, what child to label the outsider so that everyone else may safely belong. But the struggle for power between Jack (who in his former life had been the head of a boy’s choir, and was thus used to “command”) and Ralph (who was the original catalyst to bring all the lost boys together into one tribe) proves to be too much for one idyllic paradise to contain. A mounting death toll, at first the results of accidental fires and the hunting of the indigenous wildlife, grows quickly more horrific, as though they were following along with the district attorney’s criminal death checklist; by the end, every boy on the island is working toward the premeditated murder of Ralph, whose only crime is his struggle (as difficult to achieve in his own head as it is on the island) to maintain civilization.

So, yeah, we’ve got metaphor galore. Mankind’s impossible struggle against its animal past, for one thing. Coming from a Christian standpoint, the conclusion seems especially bleak, a declaration that God’s creation is essentially flawed, at its very pinnacle. And Golding had to have some amount of that idea in mind, considering the name of the book is a name for Satan, and was literally the voice of the theme, spoken through the mouth of the trophy pig’s head, left on a stake in the forest to sate (wait for it) the Beast, and turn aside his wrath. The fact that there is no beast (aside from themselves), well, there are ways and there are ways to plug that into Revelations. And coming from an evolutionary standpoint, the idea is initially untenable. After all, natural selection has brought us to civilization, so how could it so easily turn us aside from that path? Only, one of the children maintained his grasp on and desire for civilization at all times. The sad, nameless fat boy who was only provided with the foreshadowing thematic title Piggy, stayed the course right until the climactic moment of the story, when the hatred for everything he struggled to represent turned the lost boys from terrified killers to angry murderers. Looked at from that perspective, I feel like if the voice of civilization had been attached to a stronger personality, the boys would have been able to follow it. Which means, from the evolutionary perspective, that we must hold the people who brought us here in awe, and from both perspectives, we must always remember that we have to fight at some fundamental, internal (and sometimes external, unfortunately) level to keep what we have.

Anyway: pretty good book, yeah?

The Legend of Zorro

A random Friday movie occurred, and thusly, I update. The Legend of Zorro had, to the best of my recollection, everything I expected, and a few things I did not. In no particular order, then:

Swashbuckling swordplay. Defenestrations. Explosions. A casual at the best of times approach to historical accuracy. (An Alabama general in 1850 referring to himself as Confederate, not to mention Abe Lincoln signing CA into statehood in that same year. Also, he had a southern-accented gravelly voice. Oy.) All kinds of annoying child sidekick scenes. Elements of a cop/animal buddy movie, complete with animal vices. Multiple nods to The Miller’s Tale. Enough modern references to kill the suspension of disbelief still standing by now, but not nearly enough to convince me that they were doing it on purpose. A Christian bad guy so cartoonishly laid out that he has a never-explained scar on his face, in the shape of a cross. Shipments of evil soap. Translatable Latin and a secret society bent on world domination.

Worst of all: over two hours of film spool to leisurely tell the story that combines all of those elements. Best of all: Catherine Zeta-Jones has acceptable cleavage. Random: Although the music was composed by Howard Shore, I kept hearing phrases that sounded like Raiders of the Lost Ark, or occasionally Revenge of the Sith. Plus, it was Amblin Entertainment, so I was pretty well shocked to see it not be John Williams.

The Teeth of the Tiger

Then I read the latest Clancy book. Despite the agenda and the predictability, spy novels are pretty fun. I’ve got some Ludlum in the pipe too, and intend to snag a Cussler if I can ever remember which one to look for first while I’m in the store. But that’s neither here nor there. (Well, okay, it’s there. Sometimes, these idioms really don’t work in even the native language.)

In the case of The Teeth of the Tiger, the plan is to write an afternoon daydream in which we’re allowed to leverage all of that stock market know-how to fund an infrared ops organization who will analyze lots of data, pick out the exact right terrorist bad guys, and then go kill them without leaving a trace that murder occurred. Clancy pretty well succeeds at this fantasy; after all, it’s his novel. I can’t decide if this makes me a bad person since it’s fiction, nor if it was his intended outcome (probably not, since it’s happened in previous books too), but I find myself rooting for the bad guys. Maybe because the stakes aren’t high enough just preventing the bad thing, there has to be some fallout too. Or maybe I just groove on things going downhill. There’s plenty of evidence for that in my entertainment tastes, I suppose.

The problems are plentiful, though. First of all, you have the same Jack Ryan syndrome that has existed from day one, where this one guy is much better at analysis out of the gate than all the thousands of people with decades of experience. Which wasn’t so bad back in the day, but now it’s Jack Ryan Jr., and having a genetic lightning doublestrike seems unreasonable. (Oh, and to make matters better still, his twin cousins are the equally skillful assassins sent to do the jobs.) Based on multiple sets of dangling bad guys, expect CIA: The Next Generation sequels to be hitting shelves near you.

But the plot isn’t even my primary aggravation. It’s Clancy’s quirks. First, he makes sure that every noteworthy character has something like three names, minimum. And then he makes sure he never uses the same reference twice. I don’t want to have to work to figure out who is speaking or acting at any given moment, and I certainly don’t want to have to work at it when I’m reading an airplane book. Second, he takes exposition, a fine and necessary ingredient of anything containing a plot, and doubles it up. Constantly, you’ll get the same information presented in exactly the same way but a few pages later. Like he wanted to make sure you were really paying attention and didn’t just miss it the first time. It’s like he’s taking the necessary exposition, and then doubling it. (Annoying, huh?) All things considered, I’m pretty sure these novels were quite a bit smarter in the 80s. It could be that I was much less smart, though.

Oh, and although I’m pretty sure this is the kind of thing the terrorists have already figured out, I wouldn’t mind terribly if he’d stop writing up blueprints for the exact correct way to go about inflitrating our meagerly defended national borders. I’m just saying.

Doom

You know, I think we may be experiencing a video game movie renaissance. I remember a long stretch of the 80s and 90s — okay, basically since there were movies based on games — when they were universally terrible, the low watermark by which modern movies were measured. Whereas, these days it seems like every video game movie I see can easily hold its head level with the mediocre genre fare being made that does not happen to be based on lines of code.

Case in point: Doom, loosely based in look on the third game of that series, in atmosphere on Alien, in plot on a freshman Ethics class, and in casting on Full Metal Jacket. You know how I mean. We’ve got the fear of God guy, the creepy coward guy, the strong silent black guy, the wisecracking black guy, the naively raw new guy, the, um, Asian guy (well, I never said it was a perfect mapping; or that I’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, for that matter). Plus our main characters: Hero-with-a-troubled-past guy, Scientist-who-shares-a-mysteriously-link-with-the-hero,-and-is-also-hot chick, and Sergeant The Rock.

So, you take all these guys, put them on Mars with some guns and some insufficiently hellspawned demons, and you’ve got the spam on a space station classic of 2005. Gallons more blood than I’ve seen in any new horror movie in several years, a massive body count, all kinds of scenery chewing courtesy of the gradually zombifying science board of Mars, a rolling head, a more gratuitous than usual breast, and enough vomit to recall the days when the audience would get sick in droves. You know, because of how shocking and violent the movie was. (This one isn’t, you understand; it just had a lot of vomit, is all. Space sickness. Spi- but I digress.)

Katamari Damacy

If I had to pick one game in all the world most likely to have universal appeal, Katamari Damacy would be it. There’s no part of it that has a downside. Well, okay, it’s perhaps too zany for some people. There is an undeniable zane element happening. And perhaps not everyone in the world likes Freddie Mercury. I’m willing to believe that’s true. But the King of All Cosmos is merely flamboyant, not actively gay. After all, he has a wife and a wee little son. So certainly the anti-gay lobby cannot complain here. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers might have a certain reasonable issue, what with all the stars in the sky having been destroyed. But nobody actually mentions alcohol so far as I can remember, and anyway, it’s not like anyone got hurt. Plus, the whole point of the game is to make it right again. So, basically, yeah. It’s the game for everyone!

Here’s what it has: a simple interface that anyone can pick up without ever having touched a video game in their lives, as long as they have working opposable thumbs; an engagingly quirky storyline following the crossing paths of a family of lego people and the family of the King of All Cosmos on a particularly fateful day; a brilliant Japanese pop soundtrack; and the ability to roll up things. This is both the simplest and the hardest to explain concept I’ve come across in quite some time. You take a roller ball, which we call a Katamari, and you roll it around the earth, where things that are sufficiently smaller than it will stick to it. Things sticking to it makes it grow, so that you can roll up larger things, which in turn make it grow faster, and so on. It may seem to you, the unintiated, as though rolling up things is not a particularly interesting task. I am here to tell you that it is not merely interesting, but actively fulfilling in a way that allows for nearly infinite replayability.

That said, I have not made the North Star, and I find it unlikely that I ever will. But this is due to impatience rather than disinterest. Seriously, though: universal appeal. If you do not have it and either have or can afford a Playstation 2, get this game today, and then play it. A lot. (But then, having played it once, I feel confident that the ‘a lot’ is an inevitable outcome whether I specify it or not.)

Knife of Dreams

So, I’ve been kind of dreading this review, in the back of my head, ever since I got going with the whole ‘review things’ idea. (Which, clearly, was mine alone, never before conceived in the scope and breadth of human experience.) It’s like this. I’ve got these books that I started reading in 1993 (when there were just the four of them) (sidebar: I can still remember reading over my girlfriend’s shoulder about some guy named Mat whining about whether to go home with Perrin or what he should do if not that; funny how much better I like him now than I did in that moment of first exposure), and they’ve shaped my life, if only to a small extent. Sure, none of my big life decisions have been informed by them, but they account for about half of my friends and at least a quarter of my entertainment budget; and when you think about it, the stuff you do because you enjoy it really is the important part, so I guess it’s fair to say they’ve shaped my life to more than a small extent.

My point is, there are these influential books, only the quality has declined over the past, well, sadly, more than half the years since I first picked one up. And every time a new one comes out, there’s this balancing act between sufficient excitement to get and read the book and sufficiently lowered expectations to not loathe it afterwards. And now I have to review Knife of Dreams. So, yeah, that’s the source of the dread.

Only: it wasn’t that bad. I can do you one better. It was actually pretty good. Sure, there’s the overdescription gene he got from Tolkien. Sure, there’s a chapter that had me rolling my eyes at the pointlessness of dwelling on a single event for that many pages. (In fact, it involves Elayne being wet, just like in the last book.) But that stuff was the small part, not the large as it has been for so long. Plotlines advance in significant ways, and some of them resolve. Some of them even resolve satisfactorily. And if some others seemed like he was working on completing a checklist rather than presenting high drama, well, at least the little box did get checked.

And I can do better than that. There were multiple scenes that had me talking to the book, in anger, in disbelief, in excitement. None of them bad things about writing or lameness, though; all about plot elements that I was engaged by. Better still: there was a solid sense of wonder moment, and I thought those had been long gone, this far into the series (because of familiarity with the world as much as because of the author’s failures of late).

If the author wrote like this for a standalone book, I’d roll my eyes a few times, but I’d have enjoyed myself. It’s nice to be able to say that again, even if it’s not the ‘You have to read these books, now!’ diatribe I inflicted on people until about 1998 or so.

A few spoiler-like materials lay beyond. Before that, though, one thing. As much as I enjoyed myself, and as much as I was impressed by the way the plot appeared to have momentum: No, I don’t believe he can finish in one more book, unless he really does cram in 1000 pages of small font with as much plot density as the sixth book. Still, this one was a lot longer than they have been since, well, they were last good. So I suppose that’s a positive sign.
Continue reading

Flightplan

Some time ago, I mentioned one of the best previews I’d seen in a long time, for a movie where Jodie Foster gets on a plane with her daughter, goes to sleep, and awakens to discover that not only is the girl missing, but nobody remembers seeing her and there’s no proof she even had a ticket for the plane. In the months that passed between my first awareness of Flightplan and seeing it this weekend, I came to realize that it had a fatal flaw. The setup was all laid out in the preview, leaving only the central question of the movie unrevealed. Is the girl alive and kidnapped, or has she been dead all along, and Jodie Foster is just coping poorly?

So, here’s the good news. Despite the film proudly proclaiming to anyone who’ll listen, ‘hey, look over here, we’ve got some kind of twist ending that you’ll never see coming!’, there’s still enough meat to make a satisfying movie experience. Plus, it works on the visceral thriller level, with lots of people to suspect, tight camera angles (I mean, it *is* on a plane; see also Red Eye) and perfectly adequate music.

The bad news is minimal. There’s a plotline that gets completely dropped, and I can’t for the life of me figure why, or what I’m supposed to think there. On the bright side, you can’t tell it was dropped until the movie is basically over, so it won’t bug you while you’re waiting. That, and Jodie Foster is officially old now. Even as recently as Panic Room, there was something there. Oh, well.

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D

Today was supposed to be disc golf day, but then Eric’s kid was sick and the weather was drizzly. Not to worry, we found a kid-watcher and the weather turned into a downright beautiful 60s extravaganza, so that part worked out okay, except for where I played really badly. But that’s not the point. The point is how, in the meantime, we headed off to the IMAX to see the Tom Hanks produced Magnificent Desolation, which is all about taking a bunch of astronaut quotes and voicing them with famous actors (including, obviously, Morgan Freeman) while Tom Hanks narrates and the astronauts keep kicking moon dust right in your face!!!

No, seriously, it’s pretty cool. Lots of magnificent, if desolate, scenery to gaze upon. Plenty of 3D, even if a lot of it was screen with data superimposed over the moonscape. A sidebar on how the landings themselves were faked. An examination of how they might have dealt with an emergency situation if they had one. (They did not; everything was pretty much blowjobs and funnel cakes.) Glimpses of the future. But mostly, people walking around on the moon in 3D. Let’s face it. If you go for that at all, the visuals with a completely silent soundtrack would have been sufficient to cover the price of admission.

Revenge of the Sith

I heard that the novelization of Revenge of the Sith fills in a lot of empty spaces left by the already high (if contrary to form) quality of the movie. There’s no question that Anakin seemed to fall easily, despite that I could get a handle on what wheels in his head were spinning. Plus, I could never quite get a handle on the very end, with Palpatine’s lie and Vader’s acquiescense, post- Force tantrum. And the part where I think Sidious was Plagueis’ apprentice who learned the secret of influencing midichlorians to maintain or create life, and how it indicated that he might have been the architect of Anakin’s conception in the first place. (Sadly, that last bit remains a mystery.)

So, the book. Found it on the cheap a few months ago, read it this week, somewhat faster than intended, but these things happen. At every point, Stover fills in crucial gaps in dialogue, stuff that I remember wishing the movie had been padded with in its original form, lines that would have made the movie maybe ten minutes longer all told while providing just the right depth to take away the choppiness that was the only real flaw. Even better, he has a gift for jumping into each character’s head and taking a mental snapshot for the reader. The best sections of the book begin and end with ‘This is how it feel to be Anakin Skywalker, right now.’

To sum up: as much as I was happy with Lucas for finally recapturing the spirit of Star Wars completely, it is my sad duty to report that the many people who have created bits and pieces of his universe since the 1990s are still, on the whole, more to be trusted with the creation than he is himself. But so be it. At least someone is doing this stuff.