Tags: films


Share the Wealth Wednesday #7

Good morning to you, friends and readers, and happy Wednesday to you! I’m sure you know full well what this holiest day of the week impends (and those few of you who do not, I suggest you check out previous entries on this topic for the skinny!), and so without further ado, allow me, as they say, to Share the Wealth!

Remember the villain from Silence of the Lambs? No, I’m not talking about Hannibal Lecter. Why would I even ask a question like that? Of course you remember Hannibal Lecter; he’s one of the ten most memorable movie villains of the 20th century. And besides, he wasn’t so much “the villain” of Silence of the Lambs as he was “an incredibly horrible person who appears in Silence of the Lambs, completely outshining the real villain of the movie in the process.” The real villain, of whom I speak, was Buffalo Bill. Remember him? The guy with the house full of clutter and horrors, the pit in the basement he threw girls into, and all of that business?

Yeah, now you remember.

Well, imagine for a moment if he had a YouTube channel. And imagine if, on that channel, he did amazingly insightful reviews of mediocre movies , while at the same time being this nightmarish lunatic in a house of unspeakable horror. But still! Very insightful and providing a sound and reasonable critique of mediocre films! Critiques which are occasionally interrupted by deranged ramblings about his horrible life and many victims?

If you can imagine this, then you’re pretty close to envisioning my contribution this week. It’s gone kind of viral, so you may have heard of it already, but check out this amazing seven-part review of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Clocking in at seventy minutes, this review is almost half as long as the original film, but differs substantially from it in that this review is actually a far more compelling and entertaining piece of film-making. Not only does the narrator absolutely dissect the entire film in meticulous and brutal detail, he does so hilariously, and with occasional insights into his own warped and diseased mind. There are... asides, shall we say, which are startling and overwhelming, which I won’t spoil beyond saying that if you don’t watch at least up to the end of part two, you’re genuinely cheating yourself.

Apparently, this fellow has done a number of other film reviews as this same character, which I will definitely be checking out as well. For my part, I could seriously stand to see more reviews in this style. It’s almost Hunter S. Thompson-esque: Gonzo film review, if you will. I would like to live in a world in which all film reviews which were not created specifically with brevity in mind were done something like this, but I know that to pin my hopes on a dream as beautiful as this is to invite despair and woe, for we do not live in a world which such visions can long be sustained within. C’est la vie.

Anyways! There’s my contribution this week. What be yours? Let’s see what you’ve got as you Share the Wealth!

Sukiyaki Western Django is not a good movie.

A while ago, my friend Ray brought over a DVD of a movie entitles “Sukiyaki Western Django.” I had never heard of it, and Ray seemed oddly hesitant about sharing it. It was plain that he wanted to do so, not only in that he wished to watch it himself, but I think, wisely, he did not wish to watch it alone.

This was very wise of him.

Sukiyaki Western Django, you see, is not a good movie. Moreover, it’s the sort of movie which is so spectacularly ill-conceived that it is honestly difficult to imagine why anyone would think it could ever be a good idea. The fact that it could go all the way through the production process without anyone ever stopping said production and saying “Hold on, wait. Are we really sure this is a good idea?” is genuinely mystifying to me. Don’t get me wrong: As I’ve quite recently demonstrated, (and indeed less-recently demonstrated), I understand the appeal of coming up with outlandishly bad ideas for cinematic productions. The difference is, I would not then go about putting these ideas into practice. Herein lies one of various differences between myself and the creative minds behind this unimaginable train-wreck of a film.

Let’s start with the basics. The movie is set in some sort of bizarre version of mid-1800s Nevada. It’s plainly an old west town, in some sense, because of the set dressing and general atmosphere. The populace of the town, however, is less equivocal in this respect. For you see, they’re all Japanese. All of them. And not only are they all Japanese, they’re obviously native Japanese speakers. You can tell this because they speak English with extremely, and indeed sometimes incomprehensibly, thick Japanese accents. The reason for this is obscure. Are they meant to be first-generation Japanese immigrants? If so, why – when there does not appear to be a single native English speaker in town – do they not speak their native Japanese in their own company? This question is not addressed at any point during the movie.

From a production standpoint, a conceit such as this is fairly eyebrow-raising: What audience did they think they were serving by this approach? An English-speaking audience isn’t going to benefit from an entire cast of actors who not only don’t speak English very well, they seem in some cases not to be able to speak the language at all; it appears that at least a few of them are pronouncing lines which they had memorized phonetically, with no knowledge of what they were actually saying. To say that this limited the amount of pathos they could bring to the roll is an understatement. A Japanese audience, likewise, would seem to be better-served by a cast who actually speaks Japanese; even an audience who craves the authenticity involved with having cowboys speaking English is likely to balk at one which does so in such an obviously inauthentic manner.

Although to call them “cowboys” might be a little bit of a stretch: They dress in a manner which seems more closely in line with modern Japanese street gangs, while simultaneously apparently being members of mediaeval Japanese Samurai clans. This bizarre mish-mash of elements blend together remarkably poorly, even as a sort of alternate-universe type of setting.

It also bears pointing out that there is one single exception to the above casting decisions, in the person of one Mr, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino’s role is probably the single most baffling element of the entire film. Not only is he the only native english speaker in the film, this point is never brought up by any of the characters involved. He stands out like a sore thumb who is speaking perfect english in a sack full of Japanese-speaking sore thumbs. Moreover, his role makes not one lick of sense. He appears at the beginning of the film as a young man, and after a brief introductory segment, he begins to tell a story from long ago, which turns out to be the rest of the movie. Incomprehensibly, however, he also appears later on as an elderly version of the same character. Allow me to stress this point by means of the ancient art of “all caps” thus: DURING THE COURSE OF THE STORY HE IS TELLING AS A YOUNG MAN, HE APPEARS AS A VERY OLD MAN IN A BIZARRE MECHANICAL WHEELCHAIR. He concludes his appearance as an old man by remarking to the man he’s speaking to “I suppose I shall always remain an Anime Otaku.”

It was at this point that I turned to Ray and said to him “This movie is crazy.” And it was understood between he and I that I wasn’t speaking in a kindly or jolly manner. I meant it made no fucking sense. No explanation for any of the many baffling parts of this are ever offered.

And you know, if they had decided to run with this sort of “LOL, Random!” humour, it could have redeemed the movie and made it bearable. It really could have. Ray and I began to speculate: If the cowboys are all Japanese, then maybe the “Indians” could all be blonde-haired Russians, who play their ancient and traditional player pianos out in the desert. Perhaps the Mexicans could be Irishmen. If they went that way, it could have become genuinely fun and enjoyable. But no. Aside from Tarantino’s bizarre and inexplicable appearance, everyone, cowboy and Indian alike, are poorly-spoken and badly-acted Japanese people.

This movie is so spectacularly bad that it probably-unintentionally succeeds in being sort-of-kind-of good in the sense that, while I didn’t enjoy the movie itself, I enjoy COMPLAINING about it. And to that extent, it might be worthwhile to watch with a group of friends who go into the experience with the intention of mocking it during the course of the viewing.

There is certainly nothing else redeeming about this overwhelming clusterfuck of a production, which honestly places alongside Battlefield Earth in terms of ill-conceived abominations of film-making.


Nova - The Bible's Buried Secrets

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a fantastic documentary from Nova called "The Bible's Buried Secrets". As people who know me are well aware, this sort of thing is like crack to me. It essentially looks at the very early history of the Israelite people by means of a combination of approaches and creating a synthesis which is very compelling to me. They seek to disentangle the actual history of these people from the various strands of mythology which you find in the bible. And it does treat this book as mythology, and moreover, a sort of Frankensteineian hodge-podge of four DIFFERENT mythological traditions which were spliced, over the course of centuries, into the early books of the Torah (or "Old Testament" as the Christians somewhat condescendingly call it). It doesn't do so in an unfriendly or hostile way at all; it approaches the early history of this people as an engaging historical saga which has been obscured and confused by a series of myths which nevertheless served various useful purposes to the culture of this struggling people. It goes into a number of different corroborating sources for different elements of the story being told, many drawn from archaeological digs performed in the area over the last sixty years or so, mainly by Israeli archaeologists who have a vested interest in discerning the truth of their own early history.

I've shown this film to a number of friends, who have all enjoyed it tremendously, and I suspect many of you will as well. I know I fully plan on buying the DVD when it becomes available for sale in February.

For the time being, the entire thing can be viewed for free by Americans at Nova's page for the film here: http://www.pbs.org/nova/bible

For those outside of the US, there are a number of opportunities. For example, some helpful soul has broken it up into 12 parts and posted them on YouTube, the first of which I post here: 

If that's not to your tastes (as Youtube video quality can be a little on the weak side), there's always the torrent option : http://www.mininova.org/tor/2030190


I Need you to Hold on to Something - A comedy in two acts

So, about four years ago, my friend Billy and I sat down and wrote a script for a short film. He came up with the core concept, and wrote about the first seven lines of dialogue (one of which I would later re-write), before I came on and it became a great little exersise in back-and-forth. There are a couple of jokes I didn't and don't really care for (see the cephalopod flag as an example), but that's the nature of collaborations; you need to include a certain amount of stuff from the other guy even when you don't like it. 

Anyways. Billy and I have drifted apart, in spite of my best efforts. He's a pathological narcissist and requires that he be surrounded by people who see him as a superior being, and I respected and admired him as an equal. His ego could never endure it. It's a shame, but there's no hard feelings. If he were to call me up tomorrow, I'd happily spend four hours shooting the shit with him. This having been said, it seems to me that nothing is ever going to come of this script; no film of this will ever be shot. 

Still, it bugs me that nobody can ever enjoy this work. I've been meaning to post this forever, just so people can read it, laugh at it, and imagine the film which - in some parallel universe - could have been. 

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So you say you like Iron Man?

As anyone who pays attention to such things knows, the recent (and still-in-theatres) movie Iron Man is magnificent. It honestly stands comfortably shoulder-to-shoulder with such Super-Hero movies as X-Men 1 & 2, Spider-Man 2 & 2, and Batman Begins. It is a nearly flawless execution, not only standing on its own merits as a film, but (and herein lies a difficult feat for a film which aspires to the former accomplishment) is perfectly true to everything which is awesome about the comics upon which it is based. 

Needless to say, there are a certain number of fans fresh out of the theatre, checking out the comic book stores for the first time, eager to experience more Iron Man adventures in their original form. Marvel has been doing an excellent job this past year or so of making that easy for people; printing and collecting into convenient trade paperbacks (henceforth referred to as "TPBs) a number of diverse Iron Man stories. Anyone who enjoyed the film can walk into a comic book shop, plunk down $15 or so and pick up any one of a number of fine collected and complete stories to take home with them.  

Sadly, as hard as Marvel has been working there are other who are working against this endeavour. Just earlier today, I read this amazing post on a comic-book-related mesage board I frequent: 

I hate all the new Iron Man retards who come in to my store and are like, "huurrr, give me some AWEsome Iron Man coimcs, like the movie, you know?"

They don't even realize Tony is a Nazi, and I have to spend hours explaining to them all the differences between the comic and the movie just so they can get it.

Unless I want to sell them Ultimates. Chyeah right.

I was immediately appalled, and decided to post a rejoinded to him which I now repeat here (with links and such!) 

Okay, here's how a non-retarded clerk handles this first-time customer fresh out of the theatre loving Iron Man.

I ask them, "What did you like about the movie?"

If they tell me "I liked Tony. He was a charming bastard", then I'm going to point out Ultimates Volume 1 (in hardcover or softcover), extolling the virtues of the delightful scumbag Tony was throughout this story and how delightfully fun he was. 

If they tell me "I loved the scenes where he was flying around and stuff. That was so cool", I'm going to tell them to check out Iron Man: Hypervelocity; an entirely self-contained story recently collected in one compact volume, which was all about aerial dogfighting, fast planes and super-speed technology. 

They tell me "I loved all the high-tech sci-fi stuff", I'm going to reccommend to them Either Iron Man: Extremis, or Ultimate Human, both by Warren Ellis, both collected in handsome volumes, both very readable on their own as isolated stories or as a part of a larger tapestry, and both dealing with Iron Man as a scientist, trying to build and develop new technologies to deal with problems which are beyond his ability to punch out (though both have excellent action sequences as well). 

Ultimate HumanIron Man : Extremis

They tell me "Hurr, I liked it when he was blowing up them terrorists", then I'll point them in the direction of Iron Man : Director of S.H.I.E.l.D., which takes place after he becomes the head of a huge international anti-terrorist task force. 

In short, I find out what they like, and point them towards comics which contain that, and if they like it, then maybe I've got a new regular customer. Then, THEN I might have conversations with them about what's good and bad. I certainly don't crush their enthusiasm and drive them out of the store disappointed.

Incidentally, dear reader, I would reccommend any of these to you, both from personal experience and on the basis of any enjoyment of the film that you may have experienced. 


Script Doctoring, again

So the other day, I was watching the original Batman Movie, from the 1960's. The one with Adam West, you know?

And there's this scene, where the Penguin, in this terribly stupid disguise as a sea captain, approaches Batman and Robin, asking them if he might be able to get a look at their bat cave. Now, Batman and Robin know full well who this guy is, they can see through his disguise. But they want to squeeze him for information. So, they figure they'll play along for the time being.

They tell him they'll show him the cave, but they'll need to use some knockout gas on him first, so he won't see the enrance. He agrees gleefully.

So, they knock him out and put him in the back seat of the Batmobile, and drive off.

Here's what I think should have happened here:


Batman sprays his kockout gas in the Penguin's face, who begins to sway. We see Batman, from the Penguin's point of veiw, as his vision goes blurry and dark, and his eyelids close.

There follows a few seconds of blackness.

Then, we see, still from his point of view, is eyelids groggily open again, and the scene before him resolves itself. What he sees is an old, rusty radiator, with his bare arms stretched out before him, handcuffed to the radiator in question. He jerks his arms once or twice, but the cuffs hold firm.

He makes that horrible honking, bleating "wagh! wagh wagh!" noise of his, and then we cut to a shot of him, as seen from half-way across the room. He is down on his knees, naked, glistening wet, shaven from head to toe, and handcuffed to a radiator, which is the only object in an otherwise empty room. A sizable puddle of milky white fluid is on the floor below his nether-regions. He thrashes about, screaming his retarded penguin honk, becoming increasiningly agitated. The camera zooms out further, so that we see him through an open window from a point of view hovering outside a third story window of a run-down apartment building. The camera swings away, and we see that, indeed, the entire town in abandoned; a ghost town. Nobody will hear his screams of dismay, no matter how loud he is.

We cut then to Batman and Robin, in the Batmobile, as it drives down the road away from said ghost town, on their way back to Gotham. They're laughing uproriously, gradually fading to chuckles and giggles. Then the two men look at each other, and they erupt into another gale of laughter. Batman put up his hand. "Hold on, hold on", he says, catching his breath, "I've got to pull over, or I'll hit something".


I totally ought to be a script doctor.

One last thing

So I heard last night that that film crew which has been charged with producing the movie Billy and I wrote a script for has now rented a bunch of cameras and lighting equipment in order to do so.

I swear, if these folks actually create a good movie out of the script Billy and I wrote and then essentially forgot nearly a year ago, I won't be able to stop giggling for a week.

The film, by the way, is called "I Want You To Hold Something". The working title was "Abbot and Costello Meet Cthulu".

Good stuff.