Monthly Archives: August 2006

Inferno on Film

Ever since seeing Vertigo again on Sunday afternoon (on a 70mm print no less!), I’ve been obsessing over spirals again and daydreaming how I would film that most spiral-infused of all works, The Divine Comedy. Then I discovered that there is a production of “Dante’s Inferno” that was made this year, though it seems not to have been picked up by a distributor yet.

It’s based on Sandow Birk’s illustrations which set it in a decrepit Los Angeles, and though its adaptation as a “toy puppet” production is interesting, the trailer does not seem to indicate a very sophisticated interpretation of the poem. But I’m up for it and would probably support anything that increases consciousness of Dante and interest in his work.

A Comedian for the Generations

Apropos of nothing, yesterday’s Bleat by James Lileks had me laughing so much I have to post it here.

Driving around today I was listening to the XM comedy channel, and Dennis Miller was on. I haven’t heard such labored allusions since Zeus popped that chick out of his forehead. (Get it? Labored?) It must take guts to stand up and make allusions no one gets; it takes bravery to be the smartest guy not only in the room but rooms not yet built. (Which would turn out to be entertainment facilities in Indian casinos, alas.) He made a joke about something being as obscure as Omar Sharif seeing the well, or some such reference to “Lawrence of Arabia.” Scattered chuckles. “That was a rather lean response,” he said.

Wow. I mean, it’s one thing to go for a Lawrence of Arabia joke, but it’s another thing entirely to follow up with a wordplay that requires a knowledge of the movie’s director as a means of explaining the previous joke’s failure. It required that the audience uppercase “lean” within a half-second of hearing the word. That’s brave. It’s like he was doing a routine For The Ages. Someday, they will pore over the transcripts, and say: ah. There was a man. I admired it. Didn’t laugh, but I admired it.

It’s funny on many levels, not the least of which is Lileks’ ability to get away with showing off that he did get the David Lean reference by claiming to admire Miller’s indifference to his audience, which must not include him.

But the funniest thing for me is the image of Dennis Miller telling a joke only for the transcript, like a Senator reading an impassioned statement into the record before a chamber empty but for a lone janitor. Someday, my performance will been found in the C-Span archive and appreciated for its marriage of rhetoric to emotion.

There Are Only Eight Planets

The Solar System has shrunk as Pluto is demoted from “Planet” to “Dwarf Planet”.

One thing I didn’t know is that the asteroid Ceres was considered a planet for 50 years until the rest of the asteroid belt was discovered. But as of today Ceres is considered a dwarf planet, along with Pluto, Charon (Pluto’s largest moon), and the misfortunately christened “2003 UB313” (but nicknamed Xena). They had been considered for planetary status last week but astronomers decided that a dozen planets would not only make the solar system too cluttered now but probably open the door to 50 or so “planets” being discovered in the near future. I mean, it’s a slippery slope, innit?

The most important effect of today’s decision to me, however, is that it makes the solar system more symmetrical, with four terrestrial planets inside of the asteroid belt and four gaseous planets outside of it, which are themselves enclosed by the rest of these bits and bobs of inferior status.

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Graphic courtesy of the BBC.

Here’s the text of the International Astronomical Union resolution:

Contemporary observations are changing our understanding of planetary systems, and it is important that our nomenclature for objects reflect our current understanding. This applies, in particular, to the designation “planets.” The word “planet” originally described “wanderers” that were known only as moving lights in the sky. Recent discoveries lead us to create a new definition, which we can make using currently available scientific information.

The IAU therefore resolves that “planets” and other bodies, except satellites, in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:

(1) A “planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

(2) A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

(3) All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar-System Bodies.” The eight planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

The IAU further resolves:

Pluto is a “dwarf planet” by the above definition and is recognized as the prototype of a new category of trans-Neptunian objects.

ANGEL-A

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Luc Besson’s new film seems at first glance like a departure from his previous productions, but it’s more a departure from seven years of producing often questionable movies, sometimes contributing to them at the writing level but letting other directors fall on their own swords. With Angel-A he finally brandishes his own filmmaking powers again, and they’re sharp as ever.

Angel-A is Rie Rasmussen’s first movie since her debut in Femme Fatale, and consequently her first speaking role. As a novice she has a few moments of amateurish acting, especially at the end of scenes when you feel Besson could have cut a bit earlier, but Rasmussen’s unstudied style endows her character with genuine spontaneity, revealing an innocence that belies her dress and attitude. In other words, a newcomer like her was perfect casting for the role.

The most obvious observation is that Angel-A is a response to Wenders’ Wings of Desire, and the commonalities are inescapable: it’s a black and white picture that exploits the character of a great European city to stage a similar story acted in the native language. But it is hardly a(n other) remake of Wenders’ film because ultimately Angel-A is an amalgamation of Besson’s own films — Nikita, Leon, The Fifth Element, The Messenger — in which an average person meets an extraordinary stranger in a noirish tale about destiny with occasional glimpses of the supernatural.

And at the same time it can also be read as a biographical fable about the making of his movies (this one no exception), during which he inevitably seems to discover a beautiful actress and, in the case of ten years ago, falls in love with and marries her, shortlived though it was. Though I dislike appeals to biography, reading Besson’s latest as the ballad of Luc and Milla not only explains a lot throughout the movie but its problematic ending as well. Everyone has wondered why Besson hasn’t directed a movie since The Messenger, released shortly after his divorce from Jovovich, and with Angel-A he answers both the personal and professional questions.

Clark Kent on the Night Beat

Jim Roeg’s description of “the Metropolis story” genre of Superman tales reminds me of one of my favorite radio dramas called Nightbeat and “starring Frank Lovejoy as Randy Stone,” a reporter for the Chicago Star who strolls the streets of windy city in search of a story for tomorrow morning’s column. Airing from 1950 to ’52, Nightbeat was a superior production thanks in large part to Frank Lovejoy, one of the finest radio actors with a distinctive voice that nonchalantly exuded cool, making his occasionally Chandlereque narration sound completely natural rather than self-consciously stylish.

Though his stories were usually the type that found their way to private investigators like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, the fact that Randy Stone was a reporter searching for a human interest story made him, if not less cynical, at least a little more sympathetic than the ordinary noir protagonist.

This situating of a reporter in a noir tale made for one of the best installments of the Bruce Timm-created Superman animated series. Titled “The Late Mr. Kent”, the episode not only features first person narration but one of the darkest endings of a children’s cartoon ever!

It begins with a memorial service for Clark Kent witnessed by Superman who then begins narrating in noirish voice-over how Clark’s “death” came about while investigating a murder. Not only does it end with a very crooked cop being executed via gas chamber (a Saturday morning first?), but he realizes Superman’s secret identity seconds beforehand, making Superman an unwitting beneficiary of his death!

Diet Coke & Mentos Performance Art

Synchronized Music Video:

Diet Coke and Mentos

HT: Jeff Massie

Stranger than Fiction trailer

Remember when Buddy met his maker?

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Animal Man #26 (August 1990), page 7

Grant Morrison’s metatextual masterpiece is coming to the screen! Well, sort of.

Even though it stars Will Farrell, Stranger than Fiction just might become my favorite movie of the year.

LADY IN THE WATER

I appreciate that instead of publishing a lengthy self-defense of his personal theory and practice of storytelling in a magazine or journal somewhere, MNS instead related it in movie form. After all, it is (nearly) always more interesting to watch a movie about movies than to read about movies. However, the best such movies that comment on their own medium are those that keep their commentary, no matter how obvious, in the subtext. The plots of Rear Window, Cache, and even X-Men 3 are good enough to keep you interested in their stories alone. Of course they also invite you to watch them as films about the medium itself, but their stories are self-sufficient and don’t rely solely on their metaphorical meanings to make them interesting.

Lady is undoubtedly a movie about MNS’s own movies, especially (it seems) his post-Sixth Sense ones. Unfortunately, its allegory is so bare that it is impossible to think about it as a movie about a nymph named Story without also thinking about it as a movie about story, or storytelling, or MNS’s storytelling. Worse, as  a “bedtime story” it isn’t very interesting; its first half is enjoyable but thereafter its interest is derived only from its metaphorical value.

The themes of the literal-level plot which people seem to appreciate are those he has already done, such as everything and everyone (or a few people anyway) have an undiscovered purpose (Unbreakable, Signs), and fairy tales should be taken seriously because they might turn out to be true (Unbreakable again, though the Village reminds us that some stories are false). The only thing that Lady adds to these themes is using the plot itself as an allegory for writing and directing movies (not to mention producing them, as we are ever reminded). But so much attention is given to exposing such mechanics that the purpose they serve, ironically, is neglected.

I love self-awareness in art, works that recognize their medium and production as essential to their effect, both positively and negatively. I have to give MNS credit for casting himself in the role of the Important Writer because anything less would have been a cop out on his part. I loved the bit where the critic tells the audience what our reaction should be.

But the end result in the case of Lady is unfortunately a more boring version of Adaptation and a more pretentious version of Scream that applies to a much smaller genre (members: 4 films). I admire MNS’s brazenness in pulling back the curtain to show us the inner workings of his artistic process, from inspiration to execution. But in this process unfortunately story got the axe.

Perhaps that is the inevitable result of beginning with critical theory then trying to conceive a story to illustrate it, instead of letting yourself be inspired by Story before all else. If that’s the story in this case, then shame on MNS for not following his own criticism. Since that’s what Lady in the Water is more than anything else, it’s more suited for the Secondary Texts section of a film class bibliography than on the page of Primary Sources.

MIAMI VICE

How boring was that?

Collateral is superior to Miami Vice in two big ways. First, Collateral is just a lot more interesting to look at. While both movies take place mostly at night, Collateral is full of lights and the layers upon layers of reflection in glass that only night can bring. But Miami Vice, apparently in order to distinguish it from the brightness of Scarface and Bad Boys, is simply very dark. Even if their lead characters were comparable, Collateral would already be more rewatchable on visuals alone.

But in fact Collateral showcases two interesting personalities that are perfectly matched, producing the most unlikely yet compelling antagonistic partnership since Ed Norton and Brad Pitt. Both Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise were actually cool instead of just acting cool like Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell, whose lack of charisma is eclipsed only by the drug dealers who are so stoic (read: comatose) that you suspect their purpose is just to make the leads appear more dynamic by comparison.

Even the jargon-gorged script is excusable since the plot is intelligible without really knowing what anyone is talking about, but I still can’t believe I couldn’t understand any of the words(?) uttered by Foxx’s girlfriend from 28 Days Later (when they’re having breakfast with Farrell in the apartment).

Thirdly I guess, there is simply nothing new in Miami Vice. The only memorable scene is a view of the interior of a car while it gets shot up, and that’s over with early on. When the movie finally becomes a little interesting in the third act, it’s too little too late. And for that matter, it might have seemed so only because the first two were so boring.

I enjoy looking for redeeming qualities in even the worst movies (see my review of Transporter 2) but I’m already sorry I’ve wasted 300 words on Miami Vice. Collateral is a riveting stage drama accentuated by bursts of action in an expertly paced arc. Miami Vice is a few bursts of action interspersed with two hours of nothing.

Make me a bicycle, clown!

I’m not sure who actually did it (please tell me if you know), but Chris Hunter found and posted a cool photoshop manip of Heath Joker:

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