Archive for November, 2002

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November 28, 2002

Gobble, Gobble
Happy Thanksgiving, all. My computer monitor is feeling ill, and I’m wondering if it will survive the winter. We’ll see, I guess. Interestingly, this holiday weekend seemed so crowded from when I stood on Wednesday. Now it seems pretty much like Thanksgiving: lazy, patient, unscheduled. Nice. I may or may not even get to a point where I can write some real updates again this weekend. Keep your eyes peeled at Acousticboy.com, too, where some stellar and beautiful new MP3s will be on the way … I’m going to say, Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Sports Night DVD set is now available, my brother has watched the whole thing, and I have still not seen half of the first season. At the same time, Joshua Malina seems to be joining or semi-joining the cast of The West Wing. Happy Thanksgiving, Josh.

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November 25, 2002

Skinwalkers

Believe it or not, this is the first American-made movie for the PBS series Mystery!. Produced by Robert Redford (among others), directed by Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals), scripted by James (son of Robert) Redford and based on the novel by Tony Hillerman, this film is a curious mix of American elements that make sense as a public television endeavor. On the one hand, there may not be a more mainstream actor of quality Americana than Robert Redford. On the other hand, there may not be anything more innately American than a Native American. May more Sundance relationships be granted PBS funding.

Wes Studi (Last of the Mohicans, Geronimo) and Adam Beach (Smoke Signals, Windtalkers) star with a rather large collection of other native actors as the investigators, suspects, victims and peripheral characters in a serial-murder mystery on an Arizona Indian reservation. It’s the actors that make this movie work. Their characters and the subtle, plausible relationships between them are the meat of the movie. The story is not. Medicine men are being killed, symbols are being painted in their blood, and old industrial crimes are being examined as a result. None of this is especially captivating, and yet I never got up or changed the channel. If nothing else, it’s always a treat to see Wes Studi on screen.

For the first hour, I was formulating some thought about how the location shoot and the photography seemed nice, but not nice enough. Later on I came to appreciate what I was being given rather than what I wanted to see. This is a grounded, contemplative film (a mystery, after all) and the photography supports that. When we’re shown the sweat lodge, it’s clear that there is a wide and lovely landscape behind it. This is big sky country. Rather than show us a wide, wide shot with tiny bodies and a miniaturized lodge in the middle ground, we’re given a shot composed mostly of the lodge and its visitors. The mountains and big sky can be seen, but genuinely in the background. We appreciate the big sky by the sunlight on an actor’s face.

As a mystery, though, this movie isn’t very compelling. Given the subject matter, it needed to be creepier and less charming. Once you’ve been charmed, though, who wants less charm? I’d be happy to see a sequel produced to this picture. I’d be happy if that one was spookier, so long as it was still charming.

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November 25, 2002

Attack of the Clones

So, like a great deal of the country, I recently purchased the newest Star Wars DVD. Having had the chance to sort through it as a fan, I think I can safely say that I still quite enjoy it even though I don’t think it’s a successful part of the mythic journey depicted in the overall saga. Instead, Attack of the Clones is the pulpiest adventure tale of the series. This film, more than any of the others, is the closest to the Saturday matinees that the saga is partly based on. That, of course, is why this movie appeals to me so much. I love jetpacks and flying wings, rocket ships and sword-fights. The samurai-detective-fighter-pilot that Obi-Wan has become in Attack of the Clones is a marvelous archetype for the biggest-budget B-movie series in history. That’s a compliment. I’m not the sort to backhand the series for being what it is and not what I I’d hoped for.

Yet it’s not what I’d hoped for. A good deal of the events which I imagined would be so pivotal to the grander story are just touched on or glanced at in this film. Threepio and Artoo have a relationship that’s not quite the same. Anakin seems to be embarking on a tragedy of impulses, rather than bad choices. The mythological elements seem a little sloppier, a little less precise.

Consider, though, how easy it is to understand Luke’s uncle Owen after seeing him in Attack of the Clones. We know everything we need to know about this guy now. His mom gets carried off by monsters. His dad gets crippled trying to rescue her. Then, one day, his mom’s other son flies in on his rocket ship with a beautiful queen and, on an impulse, zooms off into the sunset to do what no one else could. Successful, to a point, the stepson rides back with his mother’s body and then blasts off again on another adventure. An adventure, mind you, that ultimately brings suffering and strife to the whole damn universe. This pretty well explains Owen Lars, and we haven’t even gotten to the part where his stepson’s kid comes to live with him.

Attack of the Clones changes the scope of Star Wars action sequences. Before the speeder-jumping chase sequence and the cliffhanging bounty-hunter battle of Episode II, the saga consisted mainly of running gun fights at the personal level. The lightsaber duel in The Phantom Menace is more thrilling, in my opinion, than Yoda’s or Anakin’s or Obi-Wan’s in this picture, and the asteroid chase in The Empire Strikes Back is more operatic than Jango’s, but the adventure elements in Attack of the Clones most resemble Indiana Jones sequences. This is a Good Thing(tm).

I had a conversation with a friend recently about how much of the saga’s backstory we really need to see in the prequel trilogy. Realizing that the latter episodes (IV, V an VI) make sense as a trilogy, the answer is “not much.” Obi-Wan tells us what we need to know in Star Wars, with just tantalizing details. Yoda gives us a little bit more, but he’s sort of a mysterious remnant himself, as much a puzzle as an answer. These scenes are startling in the context of the new films. We, as an audience, will understand immediately that Ben Kenobi is lying to Luke on Tattooine. We, as an audience, will not be surprised or marveled when Yoda magically hoists the starfighter out of the swamp on Dagobah now that we’ve seen him do better against Dooku on Geonosis.

Does this make the new trilogy a mistake? No, I don’t think so. At worst, the new films are gravy. For my purposes, they are a fantastic treat: double the reference material for Star Wars game adventures and comic books. These new films mean space-fantasy blockbusters at the cinema, conceptual design books on store shelves and three more albums of John Williams playing with his themes. This makes me a sucker, I suppose, but that doesn’t bother me. I honestly enjoy these movies. My love of samurai-detectives in space outweighs my disappointment with the intergalactic love affair. It’s not like these new movies take Han and Leia away from us, after all.

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November 25, 2002

Overdue or Do Over?

A few little changes today, including the buttons on the left. With any luck, new movie reviews on the way for some new titles and some older titles. With the most pressing deadlines behind me and the upcoming holidays, I will hopefully get some time to write here again soon.

Until that time comes, I suppose I should offer you something to do. I recommend you check out BMW Films, where the supercool Clive Owen is back as “the Driver” in a trio of new short films sporting badass Bavarian motorworks doing some of the things they can but usually don’t do. Don Cheadle, F. Murray Abraham, Maury Chakin, Gary Oldman and James Brown co-star in these films by John Woo, John Carnahan and (eh) Tony Scott. If Clive Owen doesn’t get to play James Bond before he dies, there is no justice on Earth.

Until next time.

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November 11, 2002

11-11

This is a special day.