Archive for May, 2005

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Pedestrian Musical Stylings

May 26, 2005

Forgot to post this last night: I’ve been tinkering with GarageBand lately, snagging loops where I can and experimenting with basic audio layering. This is perhaps the least mediocre of my efforts to date, in MP3 format for your listening pleasure.

Listen to three-and-a-half minutes of thematic experimentation right here.

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Near. Far.

May 25, 2005

The works of humankind get farther away: Voyager I is about to leave our star system and deliver its golden-record phonographic message into the gaping mouth of the giant space walrus that almost certainly waits beyond the heliopause to devour all satellites and spacecraft tossed out on the solar winds like fish from a marine biologist.

Animals in South Africa get closer: Clover the Rhino and Bok-Bok (it means “goat-goat”) have built a friendship on the hard-headed rapport of cranial pugilism that only surly horned mammals, Scotsmen and gladiatorial robots can truly understand. Alas, like all such friendships, it is sure to end sadly with a confused and lonely goat.

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Best. Lighter. Ever.

May 25, 2005

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Pic #8.jpg
Pic #8.jpg,
originally uploaded by wordboy.

Got this at the S&S Smoke Shop in Birmingham, Alabama (aka, The Magic City; aka, The Pittsburgh of the South). It’s a winky image — tip it this way and you get ET, the Extraterrestrial, tip it that way and you get a big flaming skull. Open it up to make use of its dual butane jets and multicolored lights flash behind the images.

They had another one there with dolphins and a naked lady, but I had to get this one. There’s never been a better lighter — not even the light-up Chairman Mao lighter that plays the Chinese national anthem.

Gah. Call it a tie, then.

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How To Write Your Revenge of the Sith Review

May 19, 2005

[I haven’t actually seen the new, final Star Wars picture yet, but I think I’ve read enough reviews to see how it’s done. Here, then, is your guide to writing your very own review of the motion picture Revenge of the Sith.]

Writing movie reviews is easy. What matters most is your opinion, a willingness to write within a few simple guidelines and an ability to present yourself as a brilliant, insightful and savvy interpreter of the truth of cinema. Surely you could be a better filmmaker than George Lucas, if only you had millions of your own dollars and an adoring public! Why not prove it with your movie review?

Let’s begin. To ensure that your review is suitable for publication on the internet, it’s important to build it using the following guidelines. Don’t be discouraged! Sometimes it’s boring to follow directions, but because you’re writing a movie review, you don’t even need to worry about punctuation! Remember: What you write isn’t important. It’s what you can claim to have meant that counts.

Though everyone knows that it’s bad to write “inside the box,” you’ll have plenty of opportunity to make your Revenge of the Sith review your own by adding outside movie references, citing “little-known factoids” about the impact George Lucas and Star Wars have had on the popular consciousness, and selecting your very own character from the franchise to truly understand and explain to others.

If you have trouble personalizing your review, why not take a look at the films of John Hughes, Kevin Smith, Mike Meyers or the Monty Python troupe for jokes you can use yourself? Some of those people were witty, once, and you can show that you’re witty by helping others to remember movies they’ve seen!

To be bold, try replacing one or two of the following review components with something you read in Entertainment Weekly. (They’re the Strunk & White of movie reviews.)

Ready? Here’s those guidelines:

1. Before you do anything else, it’s important to tell your reader when you first saw Star Wars and, if possible, where. Peoples’ opinions of all Star Wars movies are weighted based on the order in which they saw the film; the perspective of earlier viewers is inherently more valuable than that of later viewers. Note that some viewers believe the number of viewings is more important, or the viewer’s ability to immediately embrace a universe of gold robots and gibberish-speaking trash-mongers. If you knew Star Wars was something special when you first saw those blue letters appear on-screen in 1977, then your opinion of every subsequent Star Wars movie is more worthy. Indeed, your opinion of any film with a spaceship may be above average.

2. Make sure that everyone knows that they already know what happens in this last Star Wars movie. Then, tell them exactly what happens anyway. Your review can’t be considered truly comprehensive unless you list at least four “action set pieces” and describe the story in detail. If you can, reveal “minor spoilers” to show that you have an appreciation for the common reader mixed in with your superior insider knowledge. You can also enhance your opinion of the action by reminding the reader that you’ve been looking forward to “The Duel” for a Long Time.

3. George Lucas writes bad dialogue. It is important to mention this fact at least three times during your review to prove to the reader that you have a good ear for dialogue and, therefore, can see through the shimmering surface of beauty on all Star Wars movies to the black and rotten heart underneath. Remember that you love Star Wars, however, and that your angry superiority over it and the people who create it is just tough love.

If possible, spend a little while writing about how the romance scenes are especially bad. Then, before your review slips down the slippery slope into “negativity,” mention how one or two lines in the new movie reference the Classic Trilogy, which is good writing. If you’re up to it, try writing a sentence of your review in “Yoda-Speak.” That says your review is lighthearted and fun!

4. It’s important to mention the performances when writing a review. (Unfortunately, it is considered bad form to write about the performance of imaginary vehicles and weaponry in a modern movie review, so resist the temptation.) Don’t worry, it’s easy to write about performances — you need just one sentence (or less!) per actor. Here are some you can use:

“Ewan MacGregor expertly channels Alec Guiness.”
“Hayden Christunshen misreads bad dialogue.”
“Natalie Portman is pretty.”
“The movie truly belongs to Ian McDiarmid.”
“Chewbacca is back!”
“C-3P0 is gold now.”
“General Grievous coughs. I’ve decided that it makes no sense for an intergalactic cybornetic general with four arms and a hunchback to cough. There’s a line, after all, and coughing is just too much.”
“Yoda used to be a puppet, but sometimes he fights now.”

Here’s a tip: Some audiences haven’t noticed the costumes given to Natalie Portman’s character, much less her hair. Padme Amidala has funny hair. Mention that.

5. Most of the effects in this movie are “computer-generated” (CG), which means software randomly assembled art influences scanned into the machine into vehicles and environments, which were then incorporated into the script. Because no humans designed or painted these objects, they are lifeless and unreal. Prove you’re savvy by acknowledging the beauty of CG effects, but maintain your respectability by gently boasting that you know they’re everywhere and not real. You won’t fall for movie magic!

Remember, only filmmakers like special effects. Modern audiences are too smart for them and so-called effects pictures always make less money at the box office than real movies. Audiences who saw The Dark Crystal in the theater know that puppets are inherently more real, because somebody somewhere could touch theme, even if you will never get the chance. So, it’s important to tell your reader that they should not let themselves be swept up by “dazzling” or “amazing” imagery, just in case it might have been generated by a computer. Protect yourself, and the value of your opinion, by selecting a few special effects sequences (or even shots, if you want to appear especially precise) and declaring them “fake-looking” or “unnecessary.” This will imply that you have seen and enjoyed real movies like The Third Man or The Godfather and make you look more mature.

By following these simple guidelines, you too can write a Revenge of the Sith review that will make your opinion matter in conversations and on-line message boards! If you write cautiously, and be sure to insult George Lucas, Hayden Christianson or Yoda (but not Natalie Portman!) every other paragraph or so, you can even write a positive review without deemed a “Lucas apologist.”

Maybe, one day, a studio executive will read your review online and let you make your own movie!

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Sick Tales

May 16, 2005

My legs hurt. They’re all stiff and achey, I think because I slept on the bathroom floor for a large portion of last night and this morning. I foolishly ate lunch at a Flying J in west Georgia and now I can’t eat at all. Even chicken soup (for the body) gets sent right back by my angry guts. If you recall me describing how sick I was on the ferry to Orkney, this might be worse than that. It’s hard to tell, though, ’cause on the one hand the floor is relatively stable but on the other hand I’m not traveling the UK.

I’ll be back in a little while, I hope, to blog about Birmingham, Alabama, the Decemberists show, winning a poker tournament and some other things.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a little pinging. What is it you come by here for? What do you expect out of a blog like this one and are you getting it? I estimate that, discounting LiveJournal syndication (which adds up to about seven readers), I have maybe a half-dozen readers here. You’re one of them. Sound off.

Also, even if a blog seems personal, please do comment, even a little bit. Otherwise I feel like I’m quacking into the void. Besides, I don’t put anything up here that I don’t want to hear back about. That’s the rule. The desperate write so that people will talk about them, after all.

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Kingdom of Heaven

May 11, 2005

Before I got a chance to write a full-on review of Kingdom of Heaven, I responded in depth to a review by Ken, and wrote pretty much everything I would’ve in my own review. If only to feel like I’ve gotten the review done, I’m reposting all of that here. There’s some hyperbole below, but welcome to the Internet.

Kingdom of Heaven is so frustratingly hollow that the more I think of it the more I dislike it. Like Bloom’s Balian, the picture is a beautiful list of theoretically admirable traits with little or no explanation for their inclusion, presented with a holier-than-thou scoul and a desire to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

The more I watched Balian the more I realized he isn’t just vague or flat, but genuinely obnoxious and unlikeable. He’s too good to do what his King (whom he’s sworn to protect before the people) and his lover want of him — to marry her — but he’s not too good to sleep with her and then demean her infidelity. He seems to think that his ability to reason and judge is superior to that of all other men, yet he does virtually nothing to actually change the minds of others for the better. Instead, he broods, suggests “I told you so” and is considered a hero for getting thousands killed before surrendering anyway. All this because he can claim association with the far superior Liam Neeson. Had the movie actually been about Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons (who was in this movie only so his name could be on the poster, I guess) characters, I might have had more interest.

I am also sick to death of characters with modern American values preaching to hordes of historical soldiers. When I buy that the anachronistic hero believes what he’s saying, it’s the bearable fee I put up with to see dudes sword-fight. When a miserable character (whose arc begins and ends at “Miserable” after passing briefly through “Snobbish and Boring”) does it in a fim that drapes itself in the flag of history so it can stand on the stage with respectable types, it’s an aimless contrary waste. By that point, I was already done with this movie anyway.

I really thought I was going to like Kingdom of Heaven, and not just because of Alexander Siddig and the marvelous David Thewliss or the two hours’ worth of splendid medieval costumes (damn, the Saracans know how to dress). I thought I might enjoy the story and the subjects the characters choose to talk about. In place of actual dialogue, though, I get the stock four-line scenes of dialogue that “accomplish” “needs” and “hit” “necessary” “beats” so that Mr. Monahan can line up those 3×5 cards like a professional screenwriter.

Ultimately, I wish I’d just put Harry Gregson-Williams blessedly not-Zimmer score on my iPod and listened to that while the pretty pictures went by. The trailer was better.

Fortunately, I saw Primer that same weekend, which managed to be exciting, lively, handsome and fascinating despite its modestness and novice flirtations with obscurity. Kingdom of Heaven was every other bland and formulaic historical epic done with rigid malaise, but Primer was several other Star Trek episodes done with a clever voice and infectious green vigor.

And this from a guy who normally enjoys Hollywood vending-machine fare. I’ll hope that this summer’s other “Liam Neeson teaches sword-fighting” picture with a British/American hero, Batman Begins, is more entertaining and less frustrating. If nothing else, it looks to feature some wonderful photography of Chicago in the starring role as Gotham.

Though this movie is unarguably lovely, much of it is also weakly Ridley. In Braveheart, every battle shot is a little anecdote (“This guy lost a hand!”). In Kingdom, there are shots of squibs going off around palm trees and seige engines in which nothing really happens.

Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis and Eva (Ah, Eva) Green perform wonderfully. The glam-rock dude playing Guy is laughably ridiculous(ask my wife, she actually laughed at loud at him), though I don’t honestly know what else he could be with a role so flat and moronic. And then Brendan Gleeson (the sometimes-plays-a-good-guy version of the even more excellent Brian Cox) has nothing else to do but dance and fart so as to trump Guy so he can become “the silly one” and justify his absurdly wonderful and villainous beard. Yet, all of these performance are a sad loss, ultimately, because… I couldn’t muster a damn. I cared about them already when I walked into the theatre, I liked them based solely on casting and trust through most of the sea-port city stuff, but the movie ground the rest of it out of me.

At the end, I just didn’t care anymore.

Alas.

About the Music in Kingdom of Heaven:
The scene when Balian makes every-damn-body a knight? That music is from 13th Warrior, by Jerry Goldsmith.

When Balian fights off assassins (which was one of the great fights in Gladiator but amounts to the vague suggestion of an interesting fight move in this picture, done to a guy with a wicked awesome blue cross on his shield), that music is from Graeme Revell’s score to either The Crow or The Crow: City of Angels (I haven’t checked my memory against my CDs yet.)

When Balian has surrendered Jerusalem and comes walking through the broken wall back into the city, that music is from the straight-to-video The Crow: Salvation by Marco Beltrami, though with some of the electronic elements removed and the crescendo cut off.

Maybe this odd saturation of stolen music (not rerecorded or similar, mind you, but lifted directly) is due to the oddities of Media Ventures’ business, but it’s remarkable that these key moments were somehow missing from Gregson-Williams’ otherwise well textured and evocative score.

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5-11 Haiku: "Spring Office Dogs"

May 11, 2005

Little Clementine
sprints between cubes, bone in mouth,
Vegas on her heels.