Archive for December, 2009

MOVIE: Avatar (2009)

December 31, 2009

Okay, look.  This movie is terrible.  It’s absolutely terrible.  The script, the dialogue, the characters, terrible, terrible, terrible.  It’s actually insulting to me — as it should be to you — that James Cameron spent so many millions and millions of dollars on this thing and yet failed to put any money whatsoever into the story and script.  A twelfth-grade creative writing student could’ve written a better movie script.  And you probably could’ve paid him about $500 to do it.

THAT SAID, this movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes of absolutely stunning visual spectacle the likes of which I have never seen before in any movie in my LIFE.  I didn’t even think the world Cameron created was very creative — it looks just like Earth but with neon blue flowers and dinosaurs, big whoop.  There wasn’t anything sophisticated or even very scientifically intriguing about the planet or the sentient beings or the avatars themselves — from where I sat anyway. But the 3-D effects, holy cow.  They are absolutely stunning.  I didn’t look away from the screen a single time during this film (except to roll my eyes at Sigourney Weaver, I should say).  I was completely mesmerized by the drops of water that appeared right before my eyes, the way the characters looked like they were really and truly standing there having a conversation six feet in front of me, and those little floating jellyfish-like things from the tree, flitting around so close to my seat that it felt at times like if I slowly moved my arm out, one might land softly on my hand.  That was pretty wow.  That was wow enough to be worth the torture of all the rest of it.

And so my advice is:  if you have any interest in seeing this film whatsoever, go see it right now, while it’s still in theaters.  See it in 3-D (preferably IMAX, if you can swing it), and see it right away.  Don’t wait for DVD.  If you wait for DVD, all you’re going to end up with is Dances with Wolves with blue Marfan-syndromed Native Americans and an actor only marginally more interesting to watch than Kevin Costner (Sam Worthington — he’s cute, but meh).  Does that sound like fun?  No.  No, it does not.  Trust me on this one.  Theater or bust.

And while I’m at it, Happy New Year!

[Prequeue me at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Fantasy
Cast:  Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi

New Boyfriend is Up!

December 22, 2009

Check out the new Boyfriend of the Week write-up:

I almost went with someone old and bald, but I thought maybe this year for the holidays, I’d give you a guy with a fantastically lickable jaw.  AND BOY, DID I.

Don’t forget to come back here for comments.  You know the drill!  Have a safe and happy holiday season and I’ll be back in a day or two to tell you all about the movie Avatar.


MOVIE: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

December 15, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie that was so amazingly put together — so thought-out, so intentional, so beautiful — that when it was over, you started to think everything you are doing with your entire life is a complete waste of time?  I had that experience about four times this past weekend, and this is the movie that started it all off (the other three were Orson Welles movies, but I’ll get to that in my next post).

This Spanish film is absolutely — argh.  I was completely stunned by it.  It’s so quiet and simple, so planned, so thoughtful, and sometimes so intensely moving I could barely stand watching.  Ana Torrent, who plays the main character (a six year-old girl also named Ana), is breathtakingly adept at using her face to express emotions and there were times in this movie when a simple look from her completely broke my heart.  The minute I finished watching it, I immediately restarted it so I could watch it again.  And I would’ve gone for a third round too if I hadn’t decided that was just too ridiculous even for me.

The story is, on the surface, fairly simple.  It’s set in a small Spanish village in 1940, right after the end of the Spanish Civil War.  The main character is the aforementioned Ana, who lives in an enormous, echoingly-empty house with her older sister Isabel, her father (a beekeeper and inventor/philosopher), and her mother (painfully distracted a good portion of the time by the agony of being separated from her lover by the war).

As the film opens, the 1931 film Frankenstein has just come to town and Ana and her sister both go see it.  Instead of being terrified by the story, in particular the famous scene in which the monster kills the little girl, Ana seems enthralled by it.  She asks her sister over and over why the monster killed the little girl and why he was then killed by the villagers.  Why, why?  Her sister eventually tells her the monster ISN’T dead.  That he’s a spirit who lives in an empty — what was that, a farmhouse? — in the middle of a big field outside their village.  Isabel tells Ana he’ll take human form if she calls to him, and Ana, enraptured by this idea, begins to go to the farmhouse each day, calling out to him, “Yo soy Ana, Yo soy Ana,” to try to bring him out.

At the same time, a Republican soldier on the lam from the victorious Francoists leaps off a train and injures his leg.  He manages to make his way to that farmhouse, where he holes up for a few days.  Of course, Ana finds him there and immediately assumes he’s the monster in human form.  Unafraid, she begins to take care of him, bringing him food and clothes.  A few days later, however, the Francoists find and kill him, leaving behind only a trace of bullets and blood for Ana to find.

What happens next is hard to explain — intentionally so, I think — and is open to vast amounts of interpretation.  And I loved that about it.  Because what happens next is essentially rooted in Ana’s own confusion about life, human nature, war, death, and monsters, and her confusion translates directly into OUR confusion in a way that somehow manages to be more profound than frustrating.  But it wasn’t even really the story of this film that so pulled me in.  It was the visuals and the quietness.  It’s been a long time since I saw a movie that was this QUIET — I don’t even know exactly what I mean by that, because I don’t think I’m specifically talking about sound.  That said, the sounds in this film are also completely mesmerizing.  There’s almost no music — instead what we get is the gentle hum of bees and the constant low-level whoosh of wind rushing over an open field.  The sounds of the world.

In a lot of ways, this movie reminded me of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, another movie about thoughtful children that moves deliberately and takes even the smallest of details seriously.   There’s a scene in Beehive when Ana comes into her bedroom to find someone (I won’t say who) lying dead on the floor.  What she does when she discovers the body — the way she talks to it, moves its arms, the way she hesitates, the look on her face — it was just so CORRECT.  So exactly what a six year-old would do.  So heartbreakingly spot-on.  How does a six year-old actress have the self-awareness it would take to be able to make those expressions and halt in those hesitations so correctly?   I had the same reaction to Kåre Hedebrant in Let the Right One In — you can’t pull those kinds of physical expressions off without a masterful grasp on the ramifications of human emotion.  How do they do it, these little, little kids?   I don’t have that kind of grasp now and I’ve lived six or seven times as long as they have.   I just — I was floored.

The look of this film is also stunning:   the lighting in the house that highlights its miserable emptiness, the broad shots of the vastness of the field surrounding the farmhouse, the look into the well as Ana drops a rock down it, the shots of outsides of buildings with handwritten signs and war-torn crumbles, the flush of heat on the face of Ana’s mother as she sits in front of a fire and systematically burns all the letters to (from?) her lost lover (which reminds me, oh argh, argh, Ana’s mother’s agony, it just so dug its way right into me).  Then there are all the metaphors —  the beehive-like aspect of  both Ana’s house and the entire village, everyone’s emotions so subdued by the smoke of war.  Ana’s ultimate buzzing  flight.  And the whole concept of what makes a monster, a challenging question at any time (a little To Kill a Mockingbird here, I’d say), but certainly twice as complicated in the aftermath of a war.

I think of myself as a creative person at times.  I like to write.  I play music.  Sometimes I even do stuff like paint or take photographs.   But when I see art like this, it never fails to put me in my place.  I think, yes, I am leaving things behind that are meaningful and have a place.  And then I see something like this and no.  No, I am not.  If I make something in my lifetime that is even a tenth as beautiful as this film, maybe then I will be able to say I made a mark.

Don’t hold your breath.

[Netflix me (available on Watch Now) | Buy me]

Genre:  Foreign, Drama
Cast:  Ana Torrent, Isabel Telleria, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera

MacGyver Cat is MacGyver!

December 11, 2009

I’m working on the next Boyfriend write-up, so I know the blog’s been a bit lazy this week.  To keep you entertained, check out this hilarious MacGyver Cat video.  Oh my god, I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard!  Awesome!!

MOVIE: The House of the Devil (2009)

December 7, 2009

I saw the trailer for this film in the theater recently and was pretty intrigued by it.  For one thing, I love a good scary movie set in a spooky house, and for another, if it stars Tom Noonan, I can be sure it’s going to give me the creeps.  Because, and I mean no disrespect to you, Mr. Noonan — you are an excellent actor and everything, sir — but dude, you are friggin’ creeparoo.  Good god, y’all.

When I saw that this movie, which is in theaters now, could also be rented from Amazon via my much-beloved Roku box, I resisted at first.  They’ve started to offer newly released (to theaters) movies periodically at Amazon and through other On Demand services, and while it’s a nice idea, they cost about the same as seeing the movie on the big screen.  Given the equal option, I’d rather make the trek out.

But the other night I found myself home alone, in the mood, and without transportation, so I decided to give it a whirl.  Big mistake.

As it turns out, I think this movie can probably only be appreciated on the big screen.  In my opinion, the main character of this film is the house itself — it’s certainly not any of the actual people, who are just ridiculously dull horror flick clichés — and on the small screen, the house isn’t as great as I think maybe it could’ve been.  Maaaaaybe it could’ve been.  It’s big and spooky and full of interesting things, but they were hard to see on my small, dark screen.  Blown up huge in a theater, I think the house would’ve created a better feeling of creepy enclosure.  And had it pulled that off, it might’ve made the first 80 minutes of this 96-minute movie (during which almost nothing of any real import happens) effectively boring instead of excruciatingly boring.

The story is about a young woman named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue, an 8.5 on the Blah Scale for me, I’m afraid), who has taken a babysitting job for the evening in a big house in the middle of nowhere in the woods.

First mistake (on Samantha’s part):  Location, location, location!

When she knocks on the door, who should answer but Tom Noonan!  (And let me tell you this, if I ever go to a big spooky house in the middle of nowhere in the woods and Tom Friggin’ Noonan answers the door, I am running in the other direction without so much as a “Loved you in The Man with One Red Shoe!”).  He explains that, sorry, he lied in the ad for the job — he doesn’t have any children.  What he really needs is someone to watch his elderly mother for four hours.  And he’s desperate.  He’ll pay anything.  How’s $400?

Second mistake:  Sound insanely too good to be true?  Then it is both of those things.  Too good to be true.  AND INSANE.

Third mistake:  Creepy guy starts talking Mommy?  Time. To. Go.

Samantha takes the job and we then join her for the next 70 minutes as she pokes around the house, completely  bored.  And while I could see the filmmakers were trying to use this quiet time with dramatic purpose — to lull us a bit, to let the dark walls of the house sort of slowly creep in around us — it was just way too much lulling for me, over all.  I was practically lulled straight into a nap, frankly.

The only things keeping me awake were the many, many elements that made no sense.  Let’s start with the fact the house seemed primarily lit by the coming-through-the-windows blast of one hell of a bright moon.  Why is that an issue?  Because the whole reason Samantha was needed as a babysitter in the first place was so the Noonans could go watch the impending total lunar eclipse.  (Apparently, they needed to drive into the city for that, because everybody knows you can’t see astronomical phenomena from way out in the middle of nowhere in the woods.  (Wait, what?))

Another thing that made me tip my head “Oh, really?”-style was when  Samantha knocks over a vase and then dashes immediately to the very spot in the house where the broom and dustpan are kept.  Nice trick!  I can’t even find those two items in my own house, and I live there!  And then, while sweeping up the broken glass, she’s suddenly drawn to a closet down the hall.  Why?  Because opening closets in spooky houses is SPOOOOOKY!  Opening the door, creeeeeeeak, she finds, gasp!  The fur coats Noonan’s wife had said were in the basement!  OH MY GOD, SHE LIED ABOUT THE FUR COATS!

Wait, I’m sorry.  Why is that. . . oh, nevermind.

When the action finally does start — it turns out Noonan and his family are religious wackos who want to sacrifice Samantha or knock her up with a devil baby or something  — it simply doesn’t do a good enough job to make it feel like all that waiting was worth it.  Samantha does get to run around in a white shift soaked completely in the blood they were trying to make her drink — that’s always good, creepy fun.  But for the most part, the last 15 minutes are just a silly chase scene through the house featuring three idiot bad guys and their extremely dumb prey.  It’s like an amalgam of every dumb horror-movie-character mistake ever made, and despite the fact it was clear this film was supposed to be an homage, of sorts, to 80’s horror flicks, I don’t think this was being done on purpose.

Examples:  Samantha runs up the stairs instead of out the front door.  She knocks out the guy with the gun, but doesn’t TAKE the gun.  The bad lady turns her back on a subdued Sam without first disarming her.  The bad guy talks first, plans to shoot later.  Eighth mistake.  Ninth mistake.  Tenth.   I would’ve been hoarse from yelling at every one of these characters for fifteen straight minutes, as they compounded incredibly stupid error upon incredibly stupid error, but to be honest, I just didn’t CARE.

This was the best you could do, Ti West?  I don’t believe you.  I just do not believe this is the best you could do.


Is all.

Save yourselves.

(Except, of course, now I totally want to see it on the big screen to see if it really makes any difference in the mood.  It might, you know.  It might even be worth another $7.50 to find out.  If I do, I’ll be sure to report back.)

Zee endingzee.

[Prequeue at Netflix | Watch trailer]

Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Greta Gerwig, Mary Woronov, Dee Wallace

BOOK: A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle (1960)

December 5, 2009

It took me almost a week to figure out what to say about this novel.  And even now, I’m kind of at a loss as to how to begin.  This is a strange one — strange and wonderful.  And I don’t think any way I come up with to describe it is going to do it much justice.  But let’s see how it goes here.

On the surface, this novel is about an old man, Jonathan Rebeck, who lives in a cemetery and spends his days playing chess and talking to ghosts.  He’s lived at the cemetery for over twenty years, after going bankrupt as a pharmacist, and in all that time he’s never left the grounds, not even once.  He sleeps in a mausoleum and is assisted by a talking raven (metaphor with Elijah here not lost upon me) who drops by daily to deliver pilfered sandwiches and other items, and to fill Rebeck in on the latest news of the world.  It’s a simple life, in a fine and private place, and it has suited Rebeck very well.

When two new ghosts enter the scene, however, Rebeck’s life begins a gradual shift.  He first becomes friends with newly buried teacher Michael Morgan, a man who believes his wife poisoned him and is extremely bitter about being dead.  As it turns out, death is not an endless stream of ghostly walks, spying on the living, and regrets — it is instead simply a gradual forgetting.  You begin by forgetting details:  names, places, events.  But gradually you forget everything else as well — how to make sounds, how to feel sensations, how to love someone.  Michael strenuously resists this forgetting.  Angrily resists it, in fact.  But then Laura enters the scene.  She’s the ghost of a young woman recently hit by a bus, and her take on death is a sigh of relief.  Life was hard, why remember it?  Why not just let go of all of this?  Just let it go.  Let go.

The more time they spend together, the more Michael and Laura begin to pull in from their two extremes (must not forget!  can’t wait to forget!) to meet somewhere in the middle.  And then they fall in love (“for as long as I remember love,” Laura says).  Meanwhile, Rebeck has also begun to experience love, in his case for a woman about his age named Mrs. Klapper who has started visiting her dead husband’s grave a few times a week.  Mrs. Klapper and Rebeck get to talking one afternoon, hit it off, and soon find themselves making more and more plans to meet, opening up to each other at last all the various pains and fears of their hearts.

And so it seems our characters are all headed towards happiness, until something happens that threatens to separate Michael and Laura for good (as if death weren’t bad enough!).  It’s their love for each other that finally spurs Rebeck into action.  But to save them, he’ll have to leave the cemetery for the first time in two decades.  Can he do it?  Yes.  Yes, he can.

This is a strange, offbeat novel with a surprisingly sharp wit and an equally surprising tenderness for its characters.  At times, it does feel just slightly first-novel-y (and it was, in fact, Beagle’s first novel — he later wrote The Last Unicorn, which, incidentally, was one of my favorite movies as a child); it can be a bit repetitive in places, for example.  But you’ll hardly notice it in between all the truly delightful conversations between characters (I was especially fond of the exceedingly sardonic raven) and the thought-provoking ideas about the natures of both life and death.  The title comes from a poem by Andrew Marvell:  “The grave’s a fine and private place,/ But none, I think, do there embrace.”  As it turns out, this is both true and untrue, and the various ways in which it is both, either, which, neither are an absolute delight to discover.

Definitely a book that will require another reading for me, and soon.  Clever, gentle, funny, kind, patient, compassionate, and fascinating — I absolutely loved it.  (p.s.  Thank you, Rook darling.)


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