Monthly Archives: October 2007

Dobkin and Berlanti Green Lighted in a Flash

According to the MTV Movies Blog, the director of Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers, and Fred Claus has been hired to direct The Flash. According to David Dobkin:

“It’s designed to work as a spin-off from [‘JLA’], so we’re honoring the story and we’re working in tandem with the storytelling,” he said. “I think we’ll just have to see how the movie does and how it works off it, but it certainly would be a movie that comes after ‘Justice League.’”

Speaking of JLA, Ain’t It Cool News posted some major plot points from a recent(ish) incarnation of the script. If you speak DCese, it sounds to me like the story is largely based on the OMAC Project miniseries and the Sacrifice storyline that crossed over the Superman titles and Wonder Woman in the summer of 2005.

Meanwhile, TV writer and producer Greg Berlanti has been hired to direct Green Lantern, but unlike The Flash this one looks like it might not spin off from JLA because the Hollywood Reporter claims he pitched a Hal Jordan origin story, while the details on AICN list John Stewart as the Green Lantern in JLA. The JLA Lantern could have changed to Hal Jordan but I doubt it because that would make the team all white (not counting the green-skinned Martian Manhunter for whom a black actor may be cast in any case).

I don’t know what’s going on with these director signings. I haven’t seen his Everwood series but Berlanti’s only directorial credit in either TV or film is 2000’s The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy. After getting Chris Nolan and Bryan Singer I thought Warner Bros. was on a roll attracting established talent to DC franchises. Then again, maybe Berlanti will be the next Francis Lawrence.

Yes, Walter, you’re right, there is an unspoken message here

Thanks to Dennis Cozzalio for reviewing the new book by the founders of Lebowski Fest. As much as I love the movie (it’s undoubtedly in my personal Top Twenty) it sounds to me like the book smacks too much of ruining a joke by explaining it.

Not that I don’t enjoy explaining why I think the movie is so great, but this book seems to be heavy on description and light on analysis or insight, so I think this Little Lebowski Urban Achiever is going to take a pass. Maybe I’m worried The Big Lebowski is in danger of becoming the next Napoleon Dynamite, which I never liked but overexposure and fan insistence on its hilarity probably inspired me to despise it.

But don’t let me stop you from checking it out: order it here and let me know what you think.

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Crimson Tide’s Fatal Error

Future creative partner (I still insist) Nate Bell observes that Jindabyne embellishes Raymond Carver’s short story with a racial factor that obscures the short story’s objective. I haven’t seen Jindabyne but the point reminds me of a similarly self-defeating flourish in a completely unrelated movie (except that it has water in it).

Last week on TV I finally saw Crimson Tide for the first time. I thought it was fine for what it was until the very last moments when it suddenly, distractingly, exasperatingly introduced a hitherto absent racial element. There is no more lazy way of telegraphing who the bad guy is (as if it weren’t already clear enough) than by putting in his mouth a racist insult, and it completely betrayed any tension in the admittedly intriguing dilemma of protocol and the film’s reflection on old vs. new warriors.

It’s no surprise that the dialogue is out of character with the rest of the movie because Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Andy Garcia had all been considered for Denzel Washington’s role, so it must have been added to the script after the role was casted. I’m not saying there was no racial tension in the movie till then as the submarine itself is named the USS Alabama, and the ideological conflict was visually underscored by making the standoff between a black and white officer, but the scene in question stupidly made explicit the subtext which was already palpable enough and worked best on a subconscious level.

I think I misspoke. It is not that the movie telegraphed the bad guy early on, as movies often do by having a character hit a woman so we don’t feel too bad later on when he gets killed. Even worse, it betrayed its own premise by insisting at the last minute that the audience sympathize with only one side of the procedural dilemma. Yet immediately after the moral identification is made it is undermined in the next scene in which the naval inquiry affirms the procedural validity of both officers’ actions.

The racially charged exchanged was a last minute attempt to “raise” the stakes from an abstract to a personal level, as if the prospect of World War III were not intense enough. But like Hackman’s overzealousness, the miscalculation is enough to spoil the whole movie. Tragically for the film’s sake there was no Denzel figure to provide the crucial counterbalancing check.

RATATOUILLE

I dislike computer-generated images which attempt to reproduce the physicality of a real camera, such as rattling when a building collapses nearby, unless the point of view is supposed to be that of a documentarian’s camera. But I also dislike, at the other end of the spectrum, the impersonal, flawlessly smooth movements that plague most 90s attempts at CG but can still be seen in the sweeping overhead shots in Lord of the Rings and very low budget CG films like Hoodwinked. Ideally computer-generated films should exploit the absence of a camera’s physical limitations rather than recreate them.

So it is a delight that Ratatouille does precisely this, not just by letting the virtual camera fit into the very small spaces accessible to the hero, but also by very long “takes” that, because of a rat’s great acceleration relative to size and ability to turn on a dime, would be impossible with a physical camera, even if a magnified set were built. Such shots might be possible with a track such as those used for speed skating coverage but not without limiting the camera’s field of vision. What Brad Bird and co. have created is the virtual equivalent of a rodent-operated Steadicam, and the numerous shots keeping up with Remy’s very fast escapades are the highlights of the film, triumphantly demonstrating why digital animation is the only medium for this story which could not have been made like Stuart Little.

Within the first three minutes the film has already announced its true subject as what it means to be human through the vehicle of an animal who admires humans for the fact that food is more than fuel to them. Thus cooking becomes a metaphor for all gratuitous human activities, from the arts to sports (but primarily the arts), that have no survival value but give value to survival. Though all of the arts — especially collaborative ones and those involving an element of craft — are necessarily implicit in the film’s statements about cooking, it is movie-making in particular that is the most pungent ingredient of the film’s metaphorical ratatouille.

Jeffrey Overstreet has already observed (beware of spoilers) the film’s thinly veiled allegory in which the popular chef Auguste Gusteau represents Walt Disney. Tellingly, Gusteau is the only character in the film animated on a two-dimensional surface. Meanwhile Remy the Rat, the closest relative of the Mouse, can be seen as a proxy for Pixar or for Bird himself (a movie about a gourmand pigeon would have been just too bald).

linguini200.JPGTherefore it seems the human janitor Linguini represents digital technology in general, which like all tools is completely artless by nature but when manipulated by talented hands is capable of extraordinary creation. It cannot be accidental that he begins as a mop-handler (Pixar developed the digital painting technology Disney used in The Little Mermaid and all subsequent cell animated features) whose primary purpose is to clean up (Photoshop debuted simultaneously) and ends the movie as a waiter — literally the medium by which the dish is delivered — heralding the era of digital distribution. Meanwhile the kitchen becomes staffed by technicians who are excellent at microtasks but still take direction from a single creative genius.

On all levels, especially Ratatouille’s success as a great story in its own right independent of subtext, Bird’s defense of Pixar as the true successor of Walt Disney is superior to Shyamalan’s allegorical self-justification, Lady in the Water. But nowhere is the discrepancy more apparent than in each’s treatment of their respective naysayers. (Though just whom Pixar’s might be is something of a mystery since Cars is their only movie to have a sub-90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and A Bug’s Life the only other to dip below 95%, while all three of Bird’s movies — The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and now Ratatouille — enjoy a uniform 97%.)

In any case, Shyamalan’s treatment of criticism is cathartic, the visual equivalent of primal scream therapy, foam-sword fighting, effigy-burning: in other words, mean-spirited vicarious wish-fulfillment. Bird, however, knows that vindictive justice, poetic or otherwise, is less profound than transformative “revelation” (the movie’s term). With a visual device that instantly brought a tear to my eye, Bird perfectly evoked what many consider the highest compliment for a film of this type.

If Ratatouille has one fault it is the voice-over reading at movie’s end, but it is excusable because it is both the character’s chosen medium (a theme of the film) and the voice of Peter O’Toole. But most importantly, it is a positive note rather than a tongue-lashing or, worse yet, grisly self-indulgence, the sort of gratuity natural to beasts but unbecoming of humans and artists. Bird, 1; Shyamalan, 0.

The rat’s aspirations imply not only that animals can be raised to the upper boundaries of their nature (merely compare the human characteristics of pets vs. their wild counterparts), but also by analogy that humans themselves can behave better than their instincts or else indulge the appetites they share with beasts. The choice is a daily one which is expressed as often by critics as by creators.

Patton

Jeri’s been discussing Patton. Because of a congenital defect I don’t really rate performances as the most important aspect of a film, but Patton is one of those cases where the performance undeniably “is” the movie because the character is just so compelling. I’m trying to think of another film so dominated by a single presence. Brando in Streetcar? (Curiously both performances were supported by the ever reliable Karl Malden — the John C. Reilly of the previous generation.)

Regardless, I would assume, of whether one is personally dovish or hawkish, George C. Scott’s General Patton is eminently likeable, not because he is sympathetic in the everyman sort of way (far from it), but because he is larger than life. He’s not so much an eccentric as simply a personality for the ages.

But the central performance isn’t the movie’s sole virtue. When I saw it for the second time a few years ago I was surprised by how well it held up as a film in its own right, and Jeri’s observations confirm that impression of mine (I reflexively doubt any opinion I formed more than three years ago).

I’ve always thought it a little strange that Patton came several years after Dr. Strangelove since GCS’s General Turgidson almost seems an ironic send up of his Patton role. Therefore it’s doubly impressive that, having done the satrical version of the type, Scott was able to invest Patton with so much empathy without falling into parody.

It’s About Time!

Can you imagine what JFK would have thought if someone had told him in 1961, when he promised a moonwalk by the end of the decade, that it would take an additional 50 years before we got around to building a moonbase? He probably would have laughed at your lack of vision and scolded you for being so pessimistic.

Sure, we honored his memory by achieving his goal with months to spare, but the mind-boggling accomplishment of putting Man on the Moon inspired nothing so much as a 38-year vacation from interplanetary progress.

But Rip van Winkle-like, NASA have finally been roused from their stupor and are talking Moonbase by 2020. This is the first step towards removing the 500-year stigma of violence from colonialism and creating a world, or rather a solar system, in which imperialism not only doesn’t imply genocide, it’s categorically impossible.

With the suburbanization of space finally underway, we can look forward to a future in which Republicans will be from Mars, Democrats from Neptune; the best show on TV will be “Triton Break”; feminists and pro-lifers will be united in common cause; and Earth’s environment will finally be saved from human litter. (To find out why, consult this post.)

The Bob Law Blog

Guess what, A.D. addicts!

Bob Loblaw, Attorney at Law, really exists!

He even has his own law blog!

Thanks to Dr. K for the notice (and his favorite clips of Bob Loblaw in action).