Monday, August 7, 2006

Movies Review 2006

X-3, Superman and Pirates 2 vie for the award of biggest waste of time

“What have I done?”

Even Sir Ian McClellan couldn’t remove the cheese from this line at the end of X-men 3 when his dastardly plans begin to backfire. Half the attraction of a film like X-3 of course is the visuals, and they were great. The story too I found to be a good idea. But the dialogue!! McClellan does a good job with bad dialogue, but the awful script couldn’t help but shine through. It was just not believable that his (less than) rousing speech to the “bad” mutants rallied them to his cause. More believable would have been shouts of “Hey, what’s with the weird cape?” There was enough bad discourse to go round; Jackman/Wolverine got stuck with a pep talk to the younger X-men that would have only looked good in a Star Wars script. It wasn’t an epidemic of badness though, and while not as good as the first two, a very worthy trip to the big screen.

Next up for this boy was Superman. The man of steel started at a disadvantage in that he was never my superhero of choice when I was a kid. But, Brian Singer was at the helm and again, visuals have come a long way so it would be good to see superman do stuff more realistically. The highlight of the film for me, unlike most critics I’ve read, was the space shuttle/jet plan sequence—a rescue to make everyone stand up and cheer. Except for the grounds keepers at the stadium, who then had to run a baseball season after a Boeing had ruined the field.

Spacey was a great Luthor, and Routh was a surprisingly good Superman. But, and here's my real hang-up, Superman has always been the all-American hero, the wholesome icon for boys everywhere to emulate. So having the hero of the rising generation fathering a kid outside of marriage and disappearing to leave their mother to raise them I found unfaithful to the character.

From about halfway through, the film just took a dive the red-caped wonder himself couldn’t pull out of. How does he (relatively) easily lift a continent when he just had so much trouble with a spinning plane?

While X-3 won my personal award for most anticipated, Pirates 2 seemed to command the greatest expectations from the movie-going world in general. With much Ah-Harrring and buckles being swashed, the much-loved characters returned to the big screen and the biggest opening revenues of any film so far this year. What I could not work out was whether each character bought a storyline with them, or if none of them did. Either way, the ensuing tangle of running round the Caribbean in great looking, but surely very warm, costumes confused me no end. “Why” I asked my viewing companions at one point of fabulously choreographed sword-fightery “are they fighting?” And they didn’t know either. It’s all very well having great sequences but I couldn’t figure out what each character was after. Allegiances became cross purposes, enemies formed allegiances, friends sell each other out…and them it all changed back again. And Davey Jones who did not seem happy with his immortality, seemed intent on saving it.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe summed it up perfectly for me as "...a noisy and lazy stopgap movie that goes absolutely nowhere and takes 2 1/2 hours to get there." For me it would have been far better to do stand alone stories for episodes two and three rather than use two as an overly long and storyless introduction to the third.

Part of the fun of movie going is the going itself. X-3 I saw opening night at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood and Pirates I saw at the El Capitan where props and costumes from the movie were on display. Superman I saw at the IMAX with 3-D effects added to about 20-minutes of its length (why that’s not a good idea I’ll leave out of this entry). I saw them all with friends and reveled in the atmosphere of overly priced concessions. Had they just been in a regular theater, like my viewing of Pixar’s lacluster summer offering Cars I’d have been really unhappy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Working to Relax

It’s surprising how much work has to go in to not doing any work.

Twenty or so Los Angeles types trekked up to a rented house on Lake Arrowhead for the weekend with the express mission of being lazy. And it took some effort.

The work began before we left with SL hunting for where to stay, collecting cash and so forth. E-mails between the gang multiplied exponentially as we got nearer to going, with topics ranging from important things like carpooling and sleeping assignments to more important things like who snores and who was bringing a dictionary. Shopping trips were made for assorted foods, sunscreen and X-box accesories. And all this while we scrambled to get ahead in our various professions so as to justify the time off.

The day of departure I got up earlier than if I were going to work, hardly acceptable behavior for a vacation day. The vehicles were packed with luggage, cheesecake, board games (interested games), TVs, instruments, sleeping bags, and an inflatable raft. We then repacked it all to make room for the people. And off we went into the mountains!

You can’t waste time on video games if the atmosphere isn’t “just right.” And so it was that before relaxing with the joysticks DB and I spent an hour taking apart the movie projector and re-aligning the lenses for maximum clarity.

Relaxing could not have been done peoperly without unpacking, trips for groceries, and vacuuming up the ants by the Jacuzzi, along with myriad other little tasks.

Food doesn’t prepare itself either, and while a bunch of us helped, JB and SL took charge of ribs and curry respectively. I’ve been reliably informed there was also cooked breakfast, but I was engrossed in a game of Catan at the time so missed it. Kudos to whoever did that.

Dish cleaning is a universal constant that doesn’t stop for vacations. Apart from the evening meals there was an endless supply of snacks and drinks for an endless supply of people needing to nibble and hydrate, so there was a steady stream of people in the kitchen washing, drying and putting away.

All these things taken care of the first day; day two was assigned to be the begining of relaxation, so in the morning we promptly walked miles round the lake.

The Jacuzzi was put to good use, even though we never fully worked out the controls. I found it strange that the windows round the Jacuzzi, which would have allowed a view of the lake and forest, had been largely replaced by a floor-to-ceiling painting of a lake and forest. It was even more disconcerting that it depicted a roaring bear, which is exactly the situation you hope not to encounter when all you have for protection is the shorts you are wearing and a button that turns the jets on or off. I also had my first experience with a sauna. One hundred and ten degrees of body prickling heat and the occasional ladle of water splashed over the hot coals. They say it’s good for your skin which I can neither confirm nor deny as the skin I was wearing when I went in was not the skin I left with.

The one useable pool cue was loving life surrounded as it was by a dozen chalk cubes; like a sheik in his harem. I was soundly thrashed at three games before I gave up.

Then there was the Karaoke in motion that is Dance Dance Revolution. Swap your video game controller for an electronic dance mat and try to keep up with the steps indicated on the screen. No chance, but you certainly burn off some calories.

After a day of time playing games (all hail game of the year, speed scrabble), sitting on the dock of the bay, contorting DB into a shape that would fit him snuggly under the sink for sardines, reading, and talking about how much money was tied up in the Lake’s huge and pamperous houses, it was time to pack it all up, clean the house and go home! Where I for one collapsed in a heap of vacation exhaustion and looked forward to relaxing at the office.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Behind (and possibly swept under) the Red Carpet...

After four years living in Los Angeles I finaly get to a movie award ceremony. There are multiple awards for the city’s biggest industry at the start of each year and knowing my chances of getting into the Academy’s one was slim, I jumped at the chance to educate myself in the ways of the award show at the fifth annual CAMIE Awards.

Yes, the CAMIEs. The Awards for Character And Morality In Entertainment recognize “uplifting motion pictures that provide a positive influence for good” (unlike all those films that provide a positive influence for bad). There are no nominees, just films that are recognized.

Applause is an important part of any award show. We applaud the presenters each time they introduced the personality, who we also applauded, that would announce the next winner which, of course, warranted applause; the film clips are applauded, so is each recipient as they walk to the stage. After two awards my palms had a constant tingle, after four there were blisters and blood. Only six more to go. It surprises me there are not professional clappers. A man could make a good wage in this town hiring out good clapping stamina.

No award is valid without a recognizable, iconic statuette. The CAMIE statuette is a whimsical girl-in-a-long-flowing-lace-collared-dress. The policy is to give one to the actors, directors, studio and just about everybody else associated with the recognized films. Though you want recognition for your award show through recipients turning up, the “everyone gets one” policy means you don’t actually want them all too make it. The Reading Room had two dozen assorted cast and crew there, each of whom got a turn at the mic to say thanks (my over-clapped palms slid of my hands). With only a few statuettes on hand they were passed round so no one was on camera empty handed. The chances of someone being forgotten were large. In this case it was unfortunate that it was the director that hadn’t spoken when they started to usher people off stage.

The two presenters (who helped prove that that people viewed through a cathode ray tube can be made to look impossibly more beautiful than they actually are) were also given statuettes. I can’t help thinking this was a bad idea. Exclusivity makes the awards desirable, throwing them at people that didn’t really do anything for them (according to the award criteria) is a nice gesture that diminishes the awards value.

There was certainly an air of “so, does anyone know what happens next?” More than once the presenters did a come on, pause, come off. At one point our presenter even had to ask “er, is Michael actually here?” only for a reply to be shouted from the audience that Michael was not actually there but some other, now inferior-feeling minion, was there instead.

If award show legitimacy is determined by what quota of gushy thank yous are given at the shows end, then the CAMIEs are very legitimate, thanking as they did everyone from the printer to the teleprompter person.

The reason for the award itself is valid, and it was good to see wholesome entertainment lauded. And I did indeed, at a boda fide Hollywood event, walk the red carpet (even if, for some inexplicable reason, the red carpet did not lead from the limousine drop off point to the front door of the theater, but from the bottom of the parking lot stairs to a spot 20 feet from the bottom of the parking lot stairs).

The CAMIEs are plenty big enough to be considered a full award show in most respects-—big theater, lots of tuxedos, and enormous gold statues on the stage (even if they were leftovers from a more prestigious award show that used to be held there). The five-year old ceremony is gradually gaining recognition but the fact it started ten minutes late, the presenters hadn’t really been told what to do, and that fact Alan Osmond was a sponsor, leads one to believe it has a ways to go.