Sunday, January 17, 2010

Man on Film: Avatarded

So this is the film we get when James Cameron takes 12 years to make a movie? A movie in which the plot is directly cut-and-pasted from Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, and Fern Gully? I thought that there would maybe be some aspect of the film that would grab me. Something that would surprise me.

There was so little thought involved in the actual crafting of a screenplay that the massive success of this film makes me worry for the future of mankind. The reports of depression from people wishing they lived on Pandora* make me wonder about the general state of mind of the general populace. Pandora is, after all, just an adolescent's dream of a fantasy world in which gravity apparently doesn't apply to some rocks, evolutionary logic is ignored, and the entire world is essentially a brain. Seriously?

*And this name is absurd. He couldn't have chosen a name for a planet that somehow made symbolic sense? Don't even get me started on "unobtainium" and the fact that they are stripping this planet for a metal that isn't clearly for energy needs.

Whatthefuckever. This retread piece of shit left me wanting for so much more that I'm sitting here shocked that any group of morons, let alone the morons who make up the Golden Globe electorate, could come together and find this film anything other than a simple, yawn-inducer, that leaves you with a headache that could have been caused by any of the following factors:
  • Inane dialogue colored with tedious faux-science and simplistic nationalism
  • The unshakeable sense of deja vu that sets in after every scene only to realize that you have in fact seen it before... in fucking Dances With Wolves
  • 3-D forcing you to shift your focus all about the screen while the backgrounds all look like blurry nonsense
  • The constant battle between dimwittedness and borderline racism that any scenes involving the Na'Vi wages
  • The overload of naive hippie propaganda shook you to your core
The bottom line: This is such a jumbled shit-heap that I cannot help but worry about my fellow man because they keep trotting out to this in droves.

Of one thing I am sure... James Cameron is the king of the fucking douchebags.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann

Much like the book I read just before (The Rum Diary for those not up to speed), this was my first journey into the oeuvre of William T. Vollmann.

Going in, I knew that he wrote Europe Central, the National Book Award for Fiction winner from 2005, because I have it sitting unread on one of my bookshelves. As it is a bit more on the voluminous side of things, I opted to ease into the waters as it were with Riding Toward Everywhere.

This book is an account of his experiences hopping freight trains. While occasionally veering into sections lacking in cohesiveness and coherence--an inevitability, I suppose, given his propensity toward stream of consciousness writing--it is for the most part an engaging read. Its vision of the American West from trains throttling across the land is compelling and brimming with romanticism. Its language and its voice are filled with verve and passion.

Unfortunately, that voice is one that isn't always accessible. Through nearly 200 pages, I never reached a point where I felt like I had met stride with Vollmann's stream of consciousness. So, despite the book's relative brevity (he has after all written a 3,000+ page, seven volume work about poverty), it wasn't the easiest 200 pages. While he writes with passion for his subject, that passion does get into the way at times. There seems to be a lack of focus at times, almost as if he were a child with ADHD. His voice is fully realized to be sure, but it seems like there were times in the book where that voice could have been reigned in just a bit.
Regardless, the book does give us great images of the West from the trains (routes I've traveled on "citizen" trains), and his quest for Cold Mountain is one that I think we are all sort of predisposed to associate ourselves with. It's also coming from the right place. His passion for the hobo lifestyle is true (although it is one I cannot say I share). His love for the world it opens up to him comes through on every page. It's just sometimes that love is a little muddled.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Man on Film: Sherlock Holmes

It is nearly impossible to go into Sherlock Holmes without a healthy amount of trepidation given that Guy Ritchie is at the helm. Eleven years ago, he seemed to establish himself well with his great debut feature-length film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. His second film, Snatch, was still a good time but was lacking in originality, as it was essentially mining the same territory with a higher budget and star-studded cast.

After that, he married Madonna, made the universally panned departure from form Swept Away, tucked his tail between his legs, went back to ripping off his own first film--only this time it was like the later Michael Keatons in Multiplicity and the virtually unreleasable Revolver and RockNRolla came out.

With the knowledge of his career path inescapably holding firm to my subconscious, I still held out hope for Sherlock Holmes to be good.

I am happy to say that my hope has been validated.

Perhaps it was that Ritchie, whose issues have never really been on the technical side of the directorial duties but rather on the storytelling side of things, has finally helmed a film that someone else wrote. The presence of other minds at work on the narrative end of things is welcome here and protects against a singularity of vision that had seemingly stagnated his growth as a filmmaker and resulted in a decade of disappointing output.

Perhaps it was that Ritchie surrounded himself with a fresh set of actors. In addition to the four collective Academy Award nominations of Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr., the adorable firecracker Rachel McAdams graces the film with her presence. If she made ten movies a year, it still wouldn't be enough for my liking. Jude Law finally gets off the five year box office poison wave he had been riding and shows us what we had been missing out on while he went through his own career hiccup. And Downey? Well, by my count he's done at least seven solid-to-great movies in since 2005 (mostly great) and seems to be touched with quite the bit of good luck.
Guy Ritchie could certainly have done worse than this cast, and I'll surely talk about this a little more as we go. Before we move further, here is the trailer to serve as a refresher:

Now, I'm just going to come out and say this: Of all of the big movies that came out last year, I'd have to say that Sherlock Holmes left me the most satisfied. It should be noted that I'm no Sherlock Holmes purist. I'm not some bizarre Holmes fanboy. I can only tell you what I liked.

Guy Ritchie has clearly surrounded himself with the right cast and crew to fully realize his vision for this film. As for that vision, he gives the audience a look at a very dirty London apparently right around the turn of the 20th Century. The London brought to the screen here is thoughtfully and meticulously conceived and spectacularly, fully realized.

From a camera work standpoint, Ritchie's signature, stop-and-start, rotationally-inclined edits are used sparingly and are not shoe-horned into sequences in which they are not appropriate. In fact, it is actually only incorporated when Holmes, who clearly processes things faster than the average fella, has slowed things down and worked out a plan of action that he is about to set off upon, so it actually fits fairly well within the context of the film. When those sequences replay in quick time, they work as well. For once, it seems as though these visual flairs are not just for show, but rather that they serve a function that is complimentary to the narrative.

As for the Holmes/Watson dynamic, there are certainly the undertones of sexual ambiguity, but the most important element of their relationship is strong. Watson is to Holmes as Wilson is to House. Here, they both happen to be badasses with an ability to fight, but unlike some of the hokier Sherlock Holmes films Watson is a man not to be trifled with.

I have heard some complain about the boxing sequence in the early goings as seeming like it was Ritchie trying to force a scene playing to his filmic wheelhouse into the film, but I beg to differ with that assertion. Throughout the film, it seems as though Holmes is seeking out adventure almost as much for the sport of it as anything else. As boxing was the sport of the time, it makes sense that the thrill-seeking Holmes would step into the ring to fight. Now, Holmes's* use of Brazilian jiu-jitsu may seem like it is potentially out of place, but barjitsu (jiu-jitsu for all intents and purposes) is apparently present in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

*Fuck AP style. I'm using apostrophe-s when a singular noun ending in the letter 's' needs to be possessive.

Back to the acting, Downey has been rock-solid pretty much since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and has been otherworldly good in at least* three of his past four films. His turn as Sherlock Holmes fits in well amongst Tony Stark and Kirk Lazarus (which truly is amazing--I never think about how that is Downey in blackface). He perfectly embodies Holmes at his most incorrigible, brilliant, drug-addled, and inquisitive.

*I have not yet seen The Soloist. I suppose it, too, could contain a great Robert Downey, Jr., performance, but I can't say I'm insanely psyched about seeing that film.

Really, with Downey cast as the lead, it was going to take a minor disaster to have the film run off the tracks. Given Ritchie's ten-year track record, the likelihood of that minor disaster actually taking place was much, much higher. Luckily for all involved, disaster was averted. In fact, it was never even close to being disastrous. Instead, Guy Ritchie has an international hit on his hands, and Robert Downey, Jr., would seem to be the star of another lucrative film franchise.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Reading Rainbow: The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

It occurs to me that I have my work cut out for me if I am to catch up on this blog. I've done a fair amount of reading, some TV to write about, and some movies that I've seen, and there hasn't been an installment of Rediscovering the Past in quite some time, so be expecting one of those. So despite the less than timeliness of this post, as the book is ancient and I finished it about a month ago now, I'm going to jump right in and give a quick reflection on the reading experience that was The Rum Diary.

This was the first time that I've actually ventured into the works of Hunter S. Thompson. I was immediately taken by how immensely readable it was. I had the misguided preconception that it would have been more difficult as a result of his historic substance [ab]use. Concerns were quickly alleviated, and following Thompson's presumed alter-ego to San Juan, Puerto Rico, proved to be an interesting ride.

Despite The Rum Diary having been the first novel Thompson wrote (it was mostly written in 1959 but not published until 1998), it dealt heavily in lamentations on aging and yearning for another man's woman. What really made this novel, though, was the colorful cast of supporting characters in a Puerto Rico that was as much a new frontier for Americans as anything else.

Knowing that a film adaptation was being made, it was hard not to insert Johnny Depp and Amber Heard into the roles of Paul Kemp and Chenault, respectively, because they were the two casting decisions I remembered having read about. I suppose this could have been worse*, but it is a little odd for me as a reader, as it is not often that I read stuff that has been adapted**. It is also somewhat baffling that the newspaper angle has been dropped altogether, and the volatile but vital character of Fritz Yeamon is said to have had his character doled out to other characters.

*I think my appreciation for Amber Heard has to be on the record somewhere...

** The early books in the Dennis Lehane Kenzie/Gennaro series are the only loose exception I can think of immediately.

Back to the book, though, Thompson pens a novel in which the protagonist sits back watching those around him act erratically. Paul Kemp, while self-serving to be sure, more often than not finds himself beholden to morality. While he pines for Chenault, he does not act upon these desires until she has left the drunken abuser, Yeamon. And while he drinks a lot, everyone at the paper drinks incessantly, so he doesn't come across as being particularly debaucherous.

In Kemp, he imbued the novel with a relatable protagonist. As far as initial forays into the Hunter S. Thompson catalog are concerned, this one went off without a hitch. It would seem that it was penned before Thompson embraced what I imagine his gonzo style to incorporate. It is rum soaked to be sure, but the other substances for which he was to be known to use seem all but absent here. The prose suffers no lack of clarity for it, and combined with the book's length (a scant 200-ish pages) makes for a readable, episodic novel that does not show the inexperience of the author. Perhaps most importantly, I can certainly say it likely will not be the last time I read him, so it is a recommendation in that regard.

I can say that despite the reports of rampant Heard nudity, I am very worried about the upcoming adaptation, which seems to have made a lot of changes to the novel--something that seems wholly unnecessary. The novel is very good and had more than enough story to adapt into a nice little island film.
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