Current Obsessions: Week of 9/27

Currently Into

  1. Scribblenauts–Hasn’t gotten old yet, wont get old all year. This week in Scribblenauts I was most blown away by: finding out on my own that I could could evoke “Spaghetti Cat”… then made the “mistake” of making a dog eat spaghetti cat.
  2. Smallville Season 8–More than half way through the season and I’m blown away by the show. Then blown away that I’m blown away by this show. Season 9 starts soon and there is no other show this year that I’m looking forward to more. And, yes, writing that makes me sound like a TV idiot.
  3. Porcupine Tree, The Incident album–The most underrated band in the country. Prog, of course. A great album whose only fault is that it’s not as great as their previous PERFECT albums, Fear of a Blank Planet and Deadwig.
  4. Star Ocean: The Last Hope(Xbox360)–A year without Persona or Final Fantasy?! I’ve been going through serious RPG withdrawals. This RPG is not great but it’ll do the trick.
  5. Foundation by Isaac Asimov–never read anything from Asimov (for shame!) but I was in a mood for a good sci-fi read and this came highly recommended. In this book he creates a living breathing world, which is not what I expected because all I ever hear about this author is his ability for creating (robot) characters and backing them up with a hefty philosophy.
  7. Ninja Gaidan Sigma 2 Demo on PSN–Would be a lot higher if (a) I could play the full game, and (b) there was blood instead of that damn stupid purple mist that comes out of sliced appendages like it’s an ELO show.

Three Comedy

Three comedies that flew under everyone’s radar this year.

Extract: Poor Mike Judge. First, his “King of the Hill” went off the air after all these years then “Extract” –you know, that film with a dumb title and a horrible poster depicting walnuts and a bottle making the shape of a, oh hahaha, penis– was released with a giant thud. Not only does Judge get screwed by the studios when it comes to releasing and packaging his films but he makes films that are destined to be loved… years after they are made. I personally refrence “Idiocracy” more than any other comedy (didja hear, it’s got electrolytes!) and “Office Space” is, is damn near eternal.  Judge’s talent is akin to being famous after you die–great for patient fans, bad for the creator. “Extract” is no different, it’s underwhelming but solid in its execution. Recalling that scene from “Office Space,” Judge’s “flair” may not be visible but it’s there, tucked away in his dialogue. I would be harder on this film if I wasn’t absolutely sure it would grow on me. And, oh, it will, for the bong toking  scene alone, it will. Besides Ben Affleck giving one of his only good performances of the decade (shockingly, he can be really funny!), Jason Bateman stars as the beleaguered factory manager and, what can I say, he’s, well, he’s Jason Bateman: the best comic straight man since KeanuReeves, who is so straight he doesn’t even know he’s funny! I would ask that fans of Judge rush out to see this film but what’s the point, you’re guaranteed to see it somewhere down the line anyway, probably on Comedy Central at 3 a.m. somewhere in 2013, and think “huh, how did I miss that?” Trust me, we’ve all been there. B

Observe and Report:“Bad Santa” in a mall with shades of “Taxi Driver.” I was down for it, I was sooo down. I love black comedies and am of the opinion that director’s Jody Hill’s work on “East Bound and Down” is the bet comedy on TV right along side “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” of course. This is not black, though, it’s blue. As in sad–not sad in a funny way and not sad in a particularly dramatic way either. It’s also pointless and, worst of all, meandering. With a script by Hill, it got the premise right (a mentally unstable security guard off his meds, horny, and on a combat high without the weapons or intelligence to back him up), just not the follow through. Hear me out, with this setting and this cast and this director I almost wish the film just said fuck it and gave “Dawn of the Dead” the “Shaun of the Dead” treatment. Oh well, at least Seth Rogen gives it the old college, or maybe community college, try. My observation is that the film sucks and my report is that it’s gets a C


I Love You, Man:Have to say, didn’t like it off the bat, HATED it in fact. Another trite, Apatow-esq comedy, oh boy. The opening act is abysmal, unfunny and amateurish (it opens abruptly with a stupid establishing shot of the city, the acting is unsure, the dialogue is rickety, etc.) but once this comedy gets rolling it really hits a melody of high points. Paul Rudd, another fantastic comic straight man, is a really original comic character here in that he’s a big goofy nerd but only through what he says rather than how he looks or acts. “See you later, Joben!” or “Totally… Totes McGotes” he’ll whimpers, trying to sound cool and making absolutely no sense in the process. All his friend, his onlyfriend, can do I look at him with a skewed face, and all I could do was laugh at Rudd’s priceless non sequiturs. Jason Segal, the friend who, in another movie, would have been the best friend from hell (the brilliant “What About Bob,” the bad “Chuck and Buck” the worse “Lost and Found”) but here in no way resembles a comic cliche because he’s straight talking and often profound but a slob of a man too! And finally the relationship between the two, in this cheery ode to friendship and bonding, is not only the prominant but compelling–yes, there is a hetero wedding in last scene but the film is really all about the man love. B+

Notes on A Summer: 2009

-Any summer where new Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Chan wook Park and Hayao Miyaaki films come out is automatically awesome. The fact that this is some of the best (or, if not best, than most unique) work from each landmark director is almost too much for a film geek to take. My weak ass blu-ray collection is going to get a lot bigger soon!

-Fewer poorly conceived summer blockbusters. Why: the writers strike from a few years back finally caught up with us. Who wudda thought though that writers in Hollywoodnotworking turned into a good thing for moviegoers? It allowed a rush of lower scale but arguably more interesting (and innovative) group of movies to slide into the place of the usual crap. Okay, a few duds like “X-Men: Origins” and “G.I. Joe” slipped through, they had to, but it could have been worse, there could have been a Michael Bay film–oh.

I am now ready to come out say it: Star Trek kinda sucked. Look, as a fan of sci-fi I’m allowed to bitch. My favorite genre disappointed big time. “Star Trek” and “District 9” are overrated spectacles while “Terminator: Salvation” was barley interesting enough to rate and, of course, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is second-rate if it deserves a rating at all. Fresh ideas were either not there at all or vigorous to a point of masturbation.

WAR,what is it good for? A LOT. “Inglourious Basterds,” I went to see “another” war movie and left wide eyed and invorgrated by a film that does what’s least expected. It’s a drama when it “should” have been a war movie, yes, but its a better drama than it ever could have been a war movie! It’s also talky when it should be shooty but, again, the words are so much better than the bullets. Then there’s “The Hurt Locker,” another “war film” I didn’t see coming but, man, when it came… it came hard (that sounds gross). While “Basterds” is one of the best non-war films ever made (much better than “Deer Hunter”) “Hurt Locker” is one of the best actual war movies.

Destruction then Detectives–The summer opend with the video game “Red Faction: Guerilla” and ended with “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Summer gaming usually sucks, these two saved this year’s season in a big way. Destroying any building in sight all summer long in this underrated video game follow-up to the FPS “Red Factions” is my idea of fun. Doing it on Mars makes it unbeatable! Seriously, after playing this game I walking into buildings looking for structural weaknesses and plotting all those sweet spots where my trusty hammer hammer could tear this motha down–don’t let the terrorists get ahold of this thing. And at the end of summer, playing the immersive Batman game (the caped crusader by way of “Metal Gear” or “Splinter Cell”!) felt like a dream come true. Literally, too, because it’s not only the best superhero game ever to come out (Move down “Avengers” arcade and “Ultimate Spider Man”) but the best Batman game of all time. As someone who has taken my share of batarang lumps, starting with 1991’s NES Batman and spanning decades of semi-playable crap, I realize calling this one the “best” of the bunch is not saying much but neither was calling “Chronicles of Riddick” the best Riddick and look how good that one turned out. All I know is that after “Dark Knight” last summer and “AA” this year if we don’t get another fantastic Batman story in the summer of 2010 I’ll be suicidal.

-Until this summer my potential top tens for the year was looking dismal. As I write this it’s overflowing.

P-o-n-y-o!!! I love living in a world where this film exists.

-While “Away We Go” and “Paper Heart” were hipster death traps that many (but not nearly enough) were able to avoid, the hipster offering that worked, “(500) Days of Summer,”worked well. This anti-romance is far from perfect but still managed to reminded me of a modern “Annie Hall” and worth it for the performance by Jason Gordon Levit, who is now forgiven for being in “G.I. Joe,” and getting his lame male stripper turned “actor” Channing Tatum friend (this guy is now in our lives?!) to be in “G.I. Ho.”

-I hate the sun. I hate the heat. It was nice and cool where I live. As a Vampire American I appreciate that. That’s all.

-Despite it being Dan Brown and, ugh, made by Ron Howard, “Angels & Demons” turned out to be… not good necessarily but a lot better than it had any right to be. An exciting, steadily told, no frills mystery with some atmosphere and a really cool payoff. I actually saw it twice and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Okay, maybe I am.

-This is the first summer since I can remember that such a small amount of good music came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure Black Eyed Peas are making anti-music. And how is it that people are still buying that shitty Kings of Leon album?

Christopher Waltz drinking milk or doing just about anything in “Inglourious Basterds.” May I just say, good sir, how wonderful your cow is.

-The good news: two funny but serious as hell horror movies came out that made me love the genre again, “Thirst” and “Drag Me To Hell.” The bad: they made no money while “The Final Destination” and “Halloween II” cleaned up.

-The “Watchman” is not only a great movie but a movie that was practically made for home viewing  this summer but seriously, fuck you guys for releasing the director’s cut on blu only to tell us that the “other” “real” director’s cut with the animated Black Pirate sequences and everything is coming out this winter. I call shenanigans on this one! Directors should be allowed one cut, anything after that should be free.

Top Five Movies That Made this Summer Great (in no order)

  • Hurt Locker
  • Basterds
  • Ponyo
  • Thirst
  • Drag Me To Hell

Films I Should Have Seen

  • Moon and Summer Hours

Two Quick Reviews: Ponyo and (500) Days of Summer

P-o-n-y-o!!! Ponyo, Ponyo, Ponyo in the sea, Ponyo for you, Ponyo for me! Okay, so the theme song may suck, but that’s the only thing abou the film that does. I love living in a world where this film exists. The innocence to be found in this movie about a boy and a, um, fish girl thingy who wants to be human is almost alarming. Certainly something unique in a genre Pixar dominates with its constantly “on” sense of humor and constantly showy technical know how. While there’s no arguing or uprooting Pixar’s place as the dominate force shaping kids (and adults!) imaginations in this country, I find the work there to be at times hollow and usually too sly and clever for its own good. Produced and distributed and nurtured by Pixar’s own John Lasseter (and lets give the guy credit for knowing who to bow to), Hayao Miyazaki, a god amongst men, provides an antidote to all things Disney while at the same time upholding the magic of that company.  

With a cool and breezy hand drawn style that is gentle at all times but forceful when it needs to be (the underwater and storm sequences are exceptional), this is Miyazaki most kid friendly and fun loving feature. The film is about two sets of worlds struggling to coexist, that of nature and civilization (the sea and the city) and that of youth and adulthood. As forces of nature attempt to join or in one case fuse (the eponymous protagonist is a hybrid creature that is anything but creepy and unnatural) and meet each other half way, I loved how Miyazaki has made a film about the environment and about childhood without bludgeoning the viewer with a blunt message in the way, say, “Happy Feet” or “Wall-E” did. Once again, the attention to detail in a Miyazaki film is amazing as every cubic inch of this film is teeming with a life of its own. If you’ve ever looked at sea water under a microscope you will find a world of strange and wonderful life that exist without us ever being aware of it. This film brings that alien world to life with great color and inventiveness. Nothing ironic here, nothing excessive and nothing even remotely dangerous for young viewers. Just… a really nice feeling that grabbed me from the first sea-set shot and reminded over and over me of what kids movies use to be and what they can be. A-

While “Away We Go” and “Paper Heart” were hipster death traps that many (but not nearly enough) were able to avoid, the hipster offering that worked, “(500) Days of Summer,”worked well. Worked for the reason other films of its ilk don’t: it’s emo nature is sincere rather than used as some sort of agenda or used for its own sake (look how in touch we are, look how COOL we can be without even trying). Its use of music is part of the film’s character’s worldview rather than the director showing off. A story that spans the rise and eventual fall of a doomed-from-the-start relationship, “Days of Summer” is gimmicky and sometimes too ambitious for its own good (the alternate reality moments are silly and unnecessary) but reminded me of a modern “Annie Hall” and worth it for the performance by Jason Gordon Levit, who is now forgiven for (a) being in “G.I. Joe,” (b) getting his lame male stripper turned “actor” Channing Tatum (this guy is now in our lives?!) to be in “G.I. Ho.” B

Review: Thirst

  • What’s Good: A genuine vampire film that ranks among the best. It innovates as it celebrates.  :-F
  • What’s Not: Pacing issues make it hard to watch but they are essential in building the slow tedious tension that makes up these creatures never ending (but wish they did) lives.
  • Faux Peter Traverse Quote: This film delivers the scares! It will suck you dry! Watch out, it bites!

Zombies out, vamps in. The fanged ones have not just reemerged from the darkness but redefined what they are and how they live. In that vein (ha!) this is one of the best vampire films ever made. The reason is in the approach. Imagine “Oldboy” with vampires–something totally original yet eerily familiar. Chan-wook Park, one of maybe two or three notable directors/auteurs from this decade (good god, that few?), approaches vampires from a new perspective; one that is eye opening in its symbolic/mythological richness. The reason Park is one of the few notable new directors around is for the simple reason that, when faced with a new genre, he is able to define for himself what Vampires are rather than borrowing from past films and stories. There are so many different angles to approach the film and, then, so many different ways to read it that I am reminded of the equally brilliant “Let the Right One In.”

Park jumps into the shoes of a newly turned vamp with great results. The vampire noob is a priest (Kang-ho Song) who, hoping for martyrdom, signs himself up as an experimental test patient for a rare disease that only usually affects westerners (a nice wink to the racial preference past vampire lore). Instead of dying a bloody death his body reacts… differently. After Song’s performances in “The Host,” “Memories of a Murder,” “The Good the Bad and the Weird,” he’s one of the best actors around. Though the film is funny, his performance is something of a miracle in that’s is dead serious and at time tragic but not a drag. Anyway, he becomes a national celebrity, a Lazareth-like figure, who, since he survived, is believed to be a saint. Well, as he comes to find out… he’s not. I love this biological angle because here is a man who has not only become a vampire but has to do so alone and with no guidance, spiritual or otherwise; I mean, being a vamp’s not so bad when you got Tom Cruse showing you the ropes. Even during his transformation he works at a hospital, helping the dead and dying as he is both. One day a woman begs him to help her son. He enters her house and family and this chance encounter changes the flow of the entire film. He goes on to meet the unhappy wife (co-star Ok-vin Kim) to an inept husband to the wretched mother. Thinking he’s going to hell anyways, Father Sang (played by Song–trying my best to keep the names straight) then enters the world of sexual expression, except for him sex is very close to blood sucking and he even does both at the same time. That’s a central motif. There are these fabulously set up shots of lovers sucking each others extremities (mouth to thumb, toe to mouth), a kink that is totally new to the genre, and this eventually turns to the mutual parasitic sucking of each other’s blood. Blood in most vampire films are more a function of set design and decoration than story development, splashes of color as it were, but here it has weight and context and value. When it’s shared and when it’s spilled it means something!

This cursed, diseased creature is not dead and loving it. He’s not even romantic. Just confused. Existentialism takes on a whole new meaning for this priest and for vampire films as a whole. Though the film could be called a “vampire romance” (not to be confused with the generic “Twilight” stuff which is fine but, lets face it, pap) Park’s thesis is much darker and more subversive. The notion of vampires/vampyrism in this film is a metaphor for not only one’s search for faith but human relationships. Two people find each other and while the blood is really flowing at first, it takes on a torturous, soul sucking configuration where the notion of spending an eternity with your mate becomes hell on earth. As the couple in this film suck each other dry, “Thirst” can be called the “Sid and Nancy” of vampire films without any irony. And I love the notion that the man of faith figures, KNOWS, he’s going to be in hell forever because he’s a man of faithwhile his lover, who has no faith, will simply turn to dust before facing the void of nothingness. The Priest’s religion, in that sense, is even more tragic because he believes in a concept that damns him. That’s such a sad but profound concept. The film critiques the role of religion in Korea as well. What Park does here is a similar thing he did in the underrated “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.” Religion is both superstitious and silly but also a moral compass that seems to exist only as a gauge for how far from grace his protagonists fall. A priest turned vampire is not just a cute gimmick but a heartbreaking reality under Park’s direction.

The film takes the most unexpected turns. It’s rhythms are strange and offputting but kind of wonderful too. Expect the film to run long (especially in the middle) but the unuasually stretched plot helped me feel for how awkward and unnatural this guy’s life became. One thing doesn’t so much lead to another as much as they happen for unknown or soon to be known reasons. When the priest “becomes” a vampire we don’t get the usual montage. When he is about to have sex for the first time we don’t get the sex scene we expect. When he DOES have sex, we doget a steamy scene but it goes on for so long and extends so far past its welcome that sexyness gradually transitions into disturbing. When he feeds for the first time, it’s not a thrilling moment of moral I-can-do-anything-ness liberation but an awkward and humorous moment where he latches onto the floor like an inverted bat and sucks from the IV of a brain dead fat man (this, for some reason, reminded me of the mosquito that drank from Uma in “Kill Bill”). The plot also doesn’t do what’s expected. It’s funny when it should be said (a vamp lifts up a comotosed woman, and the chair she sits on, in front of company), thrilling when it should be romantic (the priest grabs the girl and goes roof jumping) and a thriller when it should be, er, whatever. The last twenty minutes, set in the tortured girl’s childhood home (now painted all white with TVs projected recorded shots of the street as if it was a window), owe more to Hitchcock than any Asian vampire thriller. So many surprises!

Don’t come to “Thirst” for something enjoyable. Come to it for something different. Something great.

Grade: A-