Monday, February 28, 2011

127 HOURS

(While this could be considered a spoiler-proof film for obvious reasons, in this review I still go into some subtle detail that one could consider a spoiler)

Danny Boyle defines inconsistency. With a fantastic eye for visuals but a serious lack of restraint, he can come up with beautiful shots that ultimately call too much attention to themselves and/or don't fit the narrative they're in.

127 HOURS is no exception to this -- but it works incredibly well regardless of Boyle's excesses.

And there are quite a few. The filmmaker weakens the potential of many scenes with his bad choice of songs, not to mention A. R. Rahman's mediocre "If I Rise", which adds sentimentality to a scene that already has too much of it. The notable exception is the opening credits song, which fits the actually quite well-done montage that introduces us to the protagonist. James Franco is stupendous as Aron Ralston, managing even to make the film's absolute worst scene -- a mock talk show -- work to some degree.

Boyle and his directors of photography deserve a lot of credit for the visual beauty of the film, most notably the exceptional composition of their shots, which are tilted and off-centre only when the narrative calls for it, a concept that confuses, say, Tom Hooper, although his lack of understanding of visual narrative just won him a fucking academy award. 127 HOURS is most of the time visually stunning, even if Boyle predictably gives in to his excessive urges and includes a camera angle from the inside of a water bottle as Ralston drinks from it and even worse, an interior shot of Ralston's arm as he scrapes the tip of a knife against his bone -- a moment apparently included to remind the audience that we have bones in our arms.

At times, Boyle displays a worrying skepticism concerning the viewer's intelligence -- something exemplified by the moment Ralston scrapes his thumb against the blade of his visibly misshapen knife and mutters, "Blade is dull." Surely we could figure that out from looking at it after the guy spent hours using it to chip away at the rock pinning his arm. But that pales in comparison to the terribly expositional talk show scene, and even if Ralston did in fact do something similar to this, Boyle did not portray it in a believable way.

But the director has two moments of absolute flawless brilliance: the scene in which Ralston is pinned by the rock and, quite symmetrically, the scene in which he frees himself from it. The former happens suddenly, and as Aron assesses the situation and realizes the trouble he's in, there is absolute haunting silence -- something Boyle sadly does not preserve throughout the narrative, preferring to show Aron's subsequent efforts to free himself to the sound of ill-chosen music.

But the filmmaker deserves standing applause for the absolutely brutal way in which he portrays Aron's self-amputation. Not hesitating to show every gruesome detail, the filmmaker absolutely nails the scene. The sound design cleverly depicts Aron's intense pain with a high-pitched cringe-inducing noise, and James Franco, who up to this point had been doing a phenomenal job, continues to do so flawlessly.

And this is the thing about 127 HOURS: it really works. Despite Aron's hallucinations not always evoking the intended effect and breaking the pace of the narrative, despite Boyle's exaggerated visuals and occasional sentimentality, despite other nagging flaws -- the film emerges as more than the sum of its parts and stays with you. It manages to evoke Aron's desperate situation and the will to live that kept him from giving up.

When Aron finally frees himself from the rock, the way he reacts to it and the silence that lingers in the aftermath of his achievement all come together in a memorable moment that represents, for me, why 127 HOURS ultimately succeeds in its ambitions in spite of the mistakes it made on the way there.

83rd ACADEMY AWARDS - TWITTER COVERAGE AND POST-TRAINWRECK COMMENTARY

THE LIVE COVERAGE ON TWITTER

Have no choice but to endure Brazilian commentators during the pre-show. I can shut them the fuck up only during the actual ceremony.

Depending on what Anne Hathaway wears tonight, half the audience won't even notice James Franco standing right next to her.

I'd love to comment on the red carpet but the camera's currently busy with two apparently lobotomised Brazilian commentators.

I'd like to thank Mila Kunis from the bottom of my heart for that cleavage.

RT @kellyoxford: I just got a text from Christian Bale!! http://tinyurl.com/478t8cg

If Melissa Leo starts spinning, she'll be indistinguishable from a disco ball.

Danny Boyle should be forbidden to nod with that forehead, he might kill someone.

Robert Downey Jr. wearing an amazing invisible tie.

"I've already won the real statue," Mark Wahlberg says about his wife. And the Most Disastrous Compliment Award goes to...

The entire red carpet show could be improved by keeping the camera on Mila Kunis until the ceremony starts.

RT @midwestspitfire: Guys, did someone already give Natalie Portman her epidural? Because I don't think that's how it works. #oscars

Natalie Portman could be drooling as an assistant holds a bucket under her chin and I'd still fall in love with her five times per second.

Still, here's hoping they allow Natalie Portman a teleprompter for her speech or something, if she can still see by then.

There's Nicole Kidman wearing a dress that makes it look like her bellybutton is having a glittery orgasm.

I am surprised Christian Bale still remembers how to do his natural accent at this point.

[Ceremony starts with a clip of hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco inserted in this year's nominated films]

Nice opening so far. James Franco as Arthur in INCEPTION is a good touch -- he was Nolan's original choice, if I'm not mistaken.

Nice opening swiftly being ruined by actual hosting.

Now hopefully they'll just go through the awards and Franco and Hathaway will just take their seats quietly.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND gets Art Direction. They're just getting that one out of the way.

INCEPTION's Wally Pfister gets Cinematography! Very deserved.

A cinematography win for INCEPTION takes away the first undeserved victory from THE KING'S SPEECH. Only about twenty to go.

Still, Deakins once again doesn't get his much-owed academy award.

[Kirk Douglas walks onstage with a cane and begins presenting the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award veeeery and amuuuuusingly slooooowly]

They should let Kirk Douglas host the rest of the ceremony.

Sure, if Kirk Douglas hosts the ceremony it will last two days, but still. And he might have to do something about those fake ears.

Fuck it, I'll stay here for two days. Let Kirk Douglas host this shit.

Melissa Leo's obnoxious "gimme a golden statue" campaign worked. Supporting Actress goes to her.

Melissa drops a "fucking". Mel, just walk off stage quietly while your reputation is somehow still salvageable.

Instead she steals Kirk Douglas' cane.

This has to be the most awkward ceremony ever and it's just started.

THE LOST THING gets better Animated Short Film. Then Hathaway and Franco will be back. First time I dread the END of an acceptance speech.

Oh, now it's the PIXAR award.

And the PIXAR award goes to guess motherfucking what.

Does John Lasseter even give a shit at this point?

Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin start dancing onstage and they cut to Penelope Cruz. She'll still be there when they stop, image team.

Aaron Sorkin gets Adapted Screenplay for THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

And David Seidler gets Original Screenplay for THE KING'S BLARGH AAARGH NNNNGHH *puke*

Nice acceptance speech, though. Least he could do, considering the subject matter of the movie he fucking wrote.

Hathaway: "There's a tradition of singing in the oscars..." oh fuck NOOOOOOOOOO

Dame Helen Mirren speaking French. I might need to change my underwear.

IN A BETTER WORLD gets Foreign Film.

And the winner is doing an impersonation of King George VI.

RT @TimeLostBatman: AND THE OSCAR FOR MOST ANNOYING FANS GOES TO JOSS WHEDON

Christian Bale gets Supporting Actor! Fucking awesome. One of my favorite actors.

And Bale rocked his acceptance speech, actually. Missed the opportunity to do it in his Batman voice, though.

I think Nicole Kidman was about to open the envelope before Jackman hurried to say "AND here are the nominees..."

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross get Best Original Score for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Congrats to @rob_sheridan as well.

Good score. I prefer INCEPTION a dozen times more, but then INCEPTION's score is magnicent.

And they just showed a TRUE GRIT spoiler. Brilliant, fucktards.

INCEPTION wins Sound Mixing. Awesome. Sanity still lingers by a thread, then.

Now KING'S SPEECH will win something and fuck everything up.

Oh no wait, it's Sound Editing, the category BLACK SWAN is -- I mean, should be the favorite for.

INCEPTION gets Sound Editing, once again very deserved. This "very deserved" trend shouldn't last much longer.

They should stop letting Franco go backstage. Judging by his delivery, he has weed stashed there.

THE WOLFMAN gets best makeup.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND gets a second fucking academy award, for Costume Design. Tim Burton does not even have the decency to look thrilled.

I haven't seen it yet due to astonishing lack of interest. Those who HAVE seen it are shooting fire out of their ears right now, it seems.

[Costume Design winner] Colleen Atwood reads with the passion of one of those computer voices called "John".

And they found a way to include Obama in the oscars. They'll find a way to put him in anything.

Now it's Kevin Spacey singing. Actually, that is an improvement over Hathaway. I'd still love it if they stopped.

There's Randy Newman playing one of his nominated songs into a microphone someone forgot to set into a proper volume.

RT @neilkleid: As I do every year, I'm hoping "Blame Canada" wins for Best Song #oscars

RT @ebertchicago: Didn't Randy Newman sing that song on two or three earlier Oscarcasts?

Just get Kirk Douglas to read the winners from a list and the ceremony will take the same time to end AND will be more enjoyable.

RT @kellyoxford: OPRAH IS GOING TO COME ON SOON, SHE WILL MAKE THIS RIGHT

Jake Gyllenhall has stolen from James Franco's weed stash.

STRANGERS NO MORE wins Documentary Short Subject and wait is the title of the movie written in the Papyrus font -- ?

RT @demonbaby: Funny, "127 Hours starring James Franco" is becoming a perfectly suitable title for this show. #Oscars

GOD OF LOVE wins Live Action Short Film. Guy begins his acceptance speech with "I shoulda gotten a haircut". No. That hair needs surgery.

AUTOTUNING OH MY GOD I TAKE IT BACK I TAKE IT BACK THE OSCARS DO NOT FUCKING MATTER AT ALL

Oprah Winfrey bravely presenting the Documentary award while suffering from acute conjunctivitis.

INSIDE JOB gets Documentary Feature. Oprah struggles to part with the microphone so the winners can say something.

RT @pattonoswalt: ZOMG! We get to watch footage of the FIRST TELEVISED OSCARS! CONRAD MOTHERFUCKING NAGEL! W00T! #Oscars #killme

And in an act of pure desperation they bring Billy Crystal onstage. If this doesn't save them nothing will.

RT @kitsunecaligari: @andrenavarro Next up, the skeleton of Bob Hope! #oscars

As it turns out, @kitsunecaligari was right. They HAVE resorted to Bob fucking Hope to save this ceremony.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are also better choices than Hathaway and Franco for hosts. Other
canditates include a pot plant.

INCEPTION gets Best Visual Effects. Excellent.

Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter get best editing for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Very well deserved.

RT @ChuckWendig: It's bad when they cut off winners from thanking the Academy. "I'd like to thank these assholes jamming music over my gratitude."#oscars

RT @beggarsoshats: James Franco screaming HEEEEELLPP! was actually a webcam from his dressing room #Oscars

James Franco's joke delivery consists of speaking while staying as still as possible and pausing until Hathaway stops laughing idiotically.

Oh more best fucking song nominees I can find better music than this in my porn collection

The song Gwyneth Paltrow is singing begins with "It's a four letter word". Who ACTUALLY thinks of the word they intended?

RT @demonbaby: Why am I daydreaming about the end of Seven right now? #Oscars

Randy Newman gets it okay let's get on with it

The people in the audience who hated Ricky Gervais must be having second thoughts now.

[Context: right after the "In Memoriam" segment showing actors who died last year]

RT @JamesUrbaniak: Weird they didn't include James Franco in that montage.

RT @johnwarrender: I guess Death won this year. #fuckdeath

To see John Barry in the In Memoriam was sad enough. Then came Dennis Hopper, Leslie Nielsen, Pete Postlethwaite and - well, shit.

Kathryn Bigelow continues NOT TO FUCKING AGE SOMEHOW.

What in the shitting fuck best director goes to Tom Hooper

Tom Hooper's eyes are actually parallel and spaced normally from each other. You wouldn't know from the way he composes his frames.

I would make fun of that bowtie until the end of fucking eternity if it wasn't Francis Ford Coppola wearing it.

Seriously, Coppola just looked at his ties and chose one by asking himself "Okay, what can the director of THE GODFATHER get away with?"

I think everyone who voted for James Franco is regretting it and planning to take it out on Anne Hathaway if she's ever nominated.

They chose the PERFECT scene to showcase Portman's phenomenal performance in BLACK SWAN. Finally they get something right.

(but they chose the wrong one for Jennifer Lawrence so ah fuck it)

Natalie Portman wins Best Actress. She is SO cute trying to speed through her speech before she breaks down crying.

She will not stop talking. That's fine by me. #ImightBeInLove

Seriously, very happy for her. Her performance in BLACK SWAN is one of the VERY few I've ever seen I'd call "perfect".

Colin Firth wins Best Actor, of course. One of the few -- if not the only -- award THE KING'S SPEECH truly deserves.

... are they seriously playing clips of all best picture nominees to the sound of the king's speech in THE KING'S SPEECH? Fucking seriously?

And the oscar goes to fuck this shit.

Go ahead, Harvey Weinstein. Pull down your pants and shake your cock at the camera, you might as well.

RT @raymondconlon: Well, RIP @andrenavarro @johnwarrender

Don't be so serious, Harvey. Laugh maniacally. It won't surprise anyone.

And they finish with a fucking chorus singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". One last twist of the knife.

Someone please make their way to @johnwarrender's house with a fire extinguisher and antidepressants.

RT @lianamaeby: "An Oscar isn't cool. You know what's cool? A BILLION OSCARS." - OH, Harvey Weinstein into the mirror of the Kodak men's room

I will now go saw off the top of my skull and wash my brain with bleach. Thanks for putting up with me tonight.


THE POST-TRAINWRECK COMMENTARY:

Where to fucking begin.

Every person to ever host the Academy Awards must be sighing in relief right now, safe in the knowledge they can't possibly have been worse than Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Hathaway, displaying a comic timing inversely proportional to her beauty, chuckled like an idiot at her own jokes and laughed like an imbecile at Franco's, who seemed to be severely stoned. When he talked he'd do so completely frozen, and when he was silent he'd stare dreamily into space. But even a sober Franco and a less giggly Hathaway couldn't have saved the horrendous script they were reading from. 

On top of that, the ceremony was just badly-conceived. Every attempt to pay a homage to something felt like an afterthought, and except for the entertaining opening skit, every other skit was shit (here I most emphatically mention the autotuning bit -- actually, were there any others? I don't even remember). 

With every potentially entertaining aspect of the ceremony going wrong, only the awards themselves could save it.

As you could probably tell from above, they didn't. THE KING'S SPEECH thankfully did not win many of the categories I feared he'd win -- namely, cinematography, original score and editing -- but it won Best Original Screenplay (in a category that included INCEPTION) and Best Picture (in a category that included INCEPTION, BLACK SWAN, WINTER'S BONE, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE FIGHTER, etcetera etcetera etfuckingcetera).

At least Natalie Portman got an oscar for a perfect performance that's already a classic, and Wally Pfister won for his brilliant cinematography in INCEPTION. I was also glad to see the brilliant and versatile Christian Bale win Supporting Actor for THE FIGHTER. The night wasn't a total disaster.

But with the main award going to a forgettable, formulaic and unchallenging film, it was still a disaster. Easily the worst ceremony in years.

---

Sunday, February 27, 2011

FURTHER COMMENTS ON THE ACADEMY AWARDS

I should make my positions clearer, so let's start with the Best Picture nominees:



BEST PICTURE NOMINEES I'D LOVE TO SEE WIN:

... and that aren't likely to win, of course. These would be the ferociously intense and beautiful BLACK SWAN, the punch to the gut that is WINTER'S BONE, the brilliantly complex and exciting INCEPTION and the funny and touching TOY STORY 3.



BEST PICTURE NOMINEES I'LL BE OKAY WITH IF THEY WIN:

While I liked THE SOCIAL NETWORK, THE FIGHTER and TRUE GRIT, I thought they were simply good movies.

Quite good when it comes to THE SOCIAL NETWORK, with its sharply-written dialogue, effective narrative structure and good direction by David Fincher. But the film's many innacuracies -- most glaring of which Zuckerberg's personality (the increasingly cliched "genius asshole") -- prevented the film from being truly memorable and insightful.

As for TRUE GRIT, it too has great dialogue and some good moments, but suffers from an overlong first act, a script that relies on plot coincidences and deus ex machinas, and problematic chemistry between its main characters, resulting in a third act that fails to pay off emotionally as it clearly intends to. The tacked-on epilogue is particularly bland.

THE FIGHTER deserves applause for its cast of ambiguous characters and its brutal portrayal of a problematic family. It has its historical innacuracies but it gets a lot right as well. Still, it suffers from predictability, weak boxing sequences and some plain bad scenes, such as the embarassingly sentimental moment Dicky sings "I Started A Joke" or the cliched montages (one to the sound of Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle", a painfully obvious choice). It's full of great performances and it's a story with a heart, but it's not great.

Basically, all three films have cracks in them that to me place them below the ones in the above section. But they're still miles better than:



THE FAVORITE BEST PICTURE NOMINEE THAT IS ACTUALLY A PIECE OF SHIT:

Ah, THE KING'S SPEECH. An innacurate, bland, overwritten, overdirected and unchallenging period drama that however appeals to everything that is bad about the Academy Awards. Aside from not belonging in the Best Picture category, it also doesn't excel at editing (there are some timing mistakes in the cuts), cinematography (the composition of the shots is horrendous) and score (Desplat offers some pleasant music but mostly it just mirrors the film's excessive sentimentality). At least Colin Firth's acting is very deserving of the praise it's gotten.



BEST PICTURE NOMINEES I HAVEN'T YET WATCHED:

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and 127 HOURS.


Anyway. Pre-show's on. Time to start the obsessive tweeting. Have a good show.

---

THE ACADEMY AWARDS

I'll be tweeting the ceremony.

Why? you ask exasperated. Why would you even watch it? What does it matter?

Well, to me, nothing really. If THE KING'S SPEECH gets the main academy awards, I'll continue to think of it as a formulaic and utterly unchallenging film for as long as I remember its existence (which I estimate to be ten minutes after the end of the ceremony).

But the people who are in the film business will remember it.

And this is why the Academy Awards matter. Look at Martin Scorsese. By the time he finally won an academy award, he was already a legend of filmmaking. He had nothing to prove to anyone. His dick could frame a shot better than most directors. And yet, on the moments prior to his name being announced by the award presenters -- Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola, which kinda gave it away instantly -- the look on his face was far from indifferent. And as a fan of Martin Scorsese, perfectly aware of what a titan he is, I was still happy to see him officially get recognition from his peers.

Of course the voting is influenced by friendships and the nominees' personalities and political tendencies and Harvey Weinstein and what have you. The Academy Awards are not a seal of quality, something that will be proved if THE KING'S SPEECH wins best picture. My all-time favorite film, CARLITO'S WAY, wasn't nominated for more than a Golden Globe. Another one of my favorites, ANGEL HEART, didn't get even that, and Mickey Rourke's magnificent performance was utterly ignored.

But I care about the ceremony because I love Cinema and I enjoy seeing it celebrated. It's fun. It's also full of mistakes to complain about, which gives me tweeting material. I still have a hard time believing the science-fiction MOON was completely ignored in last year's ceremony, and that THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON was seriously nominated for best picture on the previous one.

But while it's fun to me, it's actually important to the people who work in the industry and it will influence their work. So a genuinely well-written, brave and challenging film such as BLACK SWAN, or INCEPTION, or WINTER'S BONE winning best picture sends a good message, while a victory for THE KING'S SPEECH most definitely does not.

And I find that more interesting to root for than any sport you could think of. Plus it's once a year. Indulge me, will you?

---

Thursday, February 24, 2011

CURRENT PROJECTS

I'm taking a break off my webcomic this week and the next so I can focus on planning a science-fiction novel called, for now, THE POSTHUMANS (previously HUMANITY 2.0., still thinking on that one).

I've already written a preliminary and unfinished first draft on and off over the last year. Twenty-five thousand words that made the overall story and the themes I want to touch on clear in my mind, so now I'm working on a design document where I summarize the main plot, the parallel plot, the setting and the character backstories.

Somehow I had not expected this to be so much work.

Also working on another novel without a title (but easier to write) and adapting my art style to eventually draw a graphic novel called INNER DARK (previously MORRIS).

Here's some of the concept art:

















Click here to enlarge.




















Click here to enlarge.

---

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DRAGON AGE II DEMO FAILS TO SET MY PANTS ALIGHT

I am a fan of Bioware and specifically of the superb MASS EFFECT series, which is why I was surprised by the mediocrity of the first DRAGON AGE.

The story was a derivative combination of Star Wars (the Grey Wardens are basically Jedis) and Lord of the Rings (an ancient evil returning to threaten the world) with similarly derivative execution and a stock of characters whose collective charisma didn't add up to a fraction of a single member of MASS EFFECT's cast.

Not only did Bioware fail in their specialty -- story -- the gameplay was equally weak. Combat was an awkward and repetitive mess. Characters attacked one another with little to no regard to defense, resulting in battles that were comical to watch. When enemies of a same kind died, they always died with the same death animation, except when your character executed an enemy with viscerally pleasing flourish -- something that happened about once for every hundred enemies you killed.

All in all, it was just a poorly-designed and generic effort, not at all what I expect from Bioware -- who followed that game with MASS EFFECT 2, one of the most intense and brilliant games I've ever played, and an improvement to the already excellent first game in every regard.

So I was hoping DRAGON AGE 2 would undergo a similar evolution. If the demo is any indication, it didn't.

The story is told by a character being interrogated by a woman whose voice actress has to be the worst casting choice ever made by Bioware or, in fact, by anyone. Her awful delivery is turned into an utter disaster by an outrageously absurd accent. Actually, not a single voice actor in the ten minutes of playtime I endured did a convincing job.

IN A BIOWARE GAME. What the fuck is going on? It's almost like Martin Scorsese suddenly forgetting how to frame a shot.

The story structure is cliched: told via flashbacks during interrogation. But very little story is revealed in the ten minutes I played and I can't really criticize anything about it other than a major character being apparently played by a woman who only recently learned to speak.

But I can most definitely criticize the combat.

There's lots of it in the very first playable part of the demo. While it's definitely more dynamic than its predecessor, it suffers from the same core problems. The most glaring of which is that all enemies of the same kind die with the same death animation unless you do one or two special attacks.

For fuck's sake, Bioware. There's Havok and Euphoria to choose from. Even PhysX-powered ragdoll physics -- which in older versions turned dead bodies into a pile of jelly -- now look like the ragdolls actually have weight and skeletons. The combat could be so much more fun with ragdoll physics or at least with four or five death animations for every enemy. In an age of motion capture, you have no excuse.

Also, it would help if the characters seemed to have any interest in self-preservation. If all I need to do to make my character attack an enemy is to click on said enemy once, they could at least put on a good show. Yet, characters simply hit each other repeatedly, never trying to block attacks, until one of them dies. More effort was put into the combat of the seven-year-old KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC.

It's a demo, of course. Not exactly solid ground for criticism. But it did make my interest in DRAGON AGE 2 almost vanish in ten minutes.

---

THE KING'S OVERSIGHT

I was having lunch with a good friend today. We were talking about THE KING'S SPEECH, which we watched together. He was more benevolent towards the film than I was, but he was the one to make the following observation.

In the first act of the film, Bertie reads flawlessly whilst listening to music --

Actually, one has to wonder how he failed to realize the immense improvement to his speech simply because he couldn't hear his own voice --

But anyway, the point is that, in the film, not hearing his own voice allows him to read flawlessly.

So, my friend asked, why didn't he listen to music during the climactic speech scene?

Either this means the music thing never actually happened -- like many other things in the film, so hardly a surprise -- or there was some kind of spectacular oversight in real life that made the two men forget their immense breakthrough right before a hugely important speech.

Seriously, it boggles my mind how this film is being considered one of the year's best.

---

Thursday, February 17, 2011

THE KING'S SPEECH

Subtlety is of utmost importance in storytelling, except, apparently, when these subtleties are historical facts in Cinema. THE KING'S SPEECH is superficially accurate, just enough to pat itself proudly on the back and then proceed to make shit up. But that's not what bothered me in this film, even though I did cringe every time a ridiculous Churchill showed up, being played in a fittingly laughable manner by Timothy Spall.

Aside from the film being overly sentimental and going out of its way to create drama (the arguments between Logue and George VI have moments that are implausible to put it generously), it also suffers from incompetent cinematography. I can't really judge the lighting because the movie theatre I went to projected a darkened image, but I can most certainly have my eyes insulted by the frame compositions. The filmmakers were trying, it seems, to create a feeling of discomfort in the spectator that mirrors that of George VI, but it's so overdone it simply looks amateur. So does Tariq Anwar's editing at times, pointlessly switching angles between two lines of dialogue instead of midsentence and resulting in obvious and clumsy cuts. Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack doesn't sound amateurish, though, just terribly bland and playing at sentimental tear-jerking cues.

All three of these aspects have been oscar-nominated, of course. The slots they have taken up could have gone to Clint Mansell's superb score for BLACK SWAN or Lee Smith's complex editing in INCEPTION or to Robert Richardson's beautiful cinematography in SHUTTER ISLAND (a film with a protagonist who experiences terrible discomfort yet the camera doesn't feel the need to frame characters to the corner and leave empty spaces in the composition to portray this). The latter film, in fact, has been criminally overlooked. I expected it to be, but what I didn't expect was for Jesse Eisenberg to be nominated for best actor instead of Leonardo DiCaprio's magnificent performance.

But back to THE KING'S SPEECH. All in all, its problem is being formulaic and unchallenging. A bland, shallow experience that roused me somewhat during one scene (the climax, of course, which is well-filmed) and bored me during all the others. The cast does an amazing job, of course (with the exception of the hopelessly miscast Timothy Spall, who cannot make a good Churchill impression no matter how hard he furrows his brow), but it's subject to a predictable script and a problematic crew poorly helmed by director Tom Hooper.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

TRUE GRIT

It says something about the Coens that a movie that's well below their standard is still competent. That's the case with TRUE GRIT. Full of great dialogue delivered by excellent performances lit and framed by wonderful cinematography but let down by an uneven script that links scenes poorly to one another and overall misses a point.

It's one of those movies in which characters separate from one another only to appear again at the moment the plot needs them. It's also one of those movies in which characters are constantly and conveniently wounded in the shoulder or in the leg or in the rib, and react to it jokingly (or, in one particular case, don't react at all). 

Coen characters are typically (and brilliantly) not good or bad. They're people. But in TRUE GRIT their traits are overdone. Mattie Ross is an incredibly precocious teenager familiar with Latin terms and preposterously good at bargaining. But upon setting out to hunt a man, she does not bother to learn how to cock and shoot her revolver. Which leads to a rare instance of the Coens giving in to cliché, when the person who is being threatened with a gun advises the person wielding the gun to prepare it properly. LaBouef is established as a pretentious asshole in the first act, and for the two other acts he becomes a more likeable plot device, always showing up or leaving at the moments he's needed. As for Rooster, he's too drunk. This leads to some funny moments which however hurt the film's plausibility. It's worth noting that until a certain scene in the film, Rooster seems lightly drunk. But immediately after that scene (in which he shoots food), he becomes about three times as drunk, apparently for no other reason than to cause a dramatic conflict that once again separates the characters and is immediately followed by a convenient plot coincidence. 

Worst of all, the relationship between the three characters lacks depth. They seem to do nothing but insult one another, which again leads to some funny moments but makes the third act emotionally bland. Their moments of affection for each other feel more like a plot necessity.

Maybe the Coens would have had more time to devote to the characters' relationships if they didn't spend so much of the film's first act focusing on Mattie's preparation for her trip. The scene in which she bargains with another character is funny but very long and ultimately useless to the narrative. And while the court scene that introduces Rooster is useful in establishing his character, it's also overlong. And why do the Coens even bother with the sleeping-next-to-a-noisy-old-lady joke? It's a tired joke that robs the film of even more precious screen time and contributes nothing to the narrative.

The film's final five minutes (which I won't spoil), coming after a scene that is meant to be emotional but doesn't really succeed, feel like an afterthought. A rushed ending to a film that doesn't really have a point. It's a series of funny and/or clever moments wrapped in a flimsy "every person is complex" theme. But ultimately it feels disjointed, uneven and poorly resolved.

It's beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and has some great dialogue. But with its bad plotting, all that amounts to is decent entertainment.

Friday, February 11, 2011

FILMS THAT SHOULD BE RECAGED

I am of the opinion that many films should be remade starring Nicolas Cage.

Imagine it. Nicolas Cage in THERE WILL BE BLOOD. No-one could assure you of the fulfillment of the title's promise better than Nicolas Cage running around with a pickaxe. Just picture Paul Dano trying to convert him to his religion by sticking Nicolas Cage's head in a container full of bees. Or the fountain of oil shooting into the sky and catching on fire, causing Nicolas Cage to hop around in despair yelling "HOW'D IT GET BURNED? HOW'D IT GET BURNED HOWDEEGHBURND?!!"

Or Nicolas Cage in TAXI DRIVER. Taking Cybill Shepherd to see a porn film. Asking her to jerk him off. Or Nicolas Cage in CITIZEN KANE. Not much would be left of that room or in fact the entire house. Or Nicolas Cage in AMERICAN BEAUTY. That famous dinner scene would be even more insane. Or Nicolas Cage replacing Vincent Cassel in BLACK SWAN.

The possibilities are endless. Someone should see to this. If you think it isn't worth it, watch the video below and imagine Nicolas Cage as the robot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TREACHEROUS BROKEN BODY

As of two weeks ago, I started coughing. I imagined it was just a brief cold my usually competent immune system could kill in one or two days.

I was wrong. A few days of incessant coughing later, my left kneecap snapped painfully.

I have a kneecap condition -- both of them dislodge. Bending my legs is no problem, but unbending them causes the kneecaps to snap. This used to be very painful before two years ago, but after that it became simply uncomfortable and manageable. All I have to do is kick the back of my thighs with my heels when I wake up. That causes the muscles to stiffen suddenly and push the kneecap back into place. I'd feel (and hear) a painless snap, and for the rest of the day my knees would be in working order. Kind of weird, but it worked.

So my left kneecap snapped painfully. Instinctively I kicked the back of my thigh with my heel, heard no snap, and when the leg went down again -- painful snap.

Ooooooh shit.

So I was coughing green muck and dealing with a bad knee. While the bad knee could get better at any moment, the cough was persistent, so to the hospital I went. There they told me I had a viral infection and otitis in both ears. So with three new medicines and in a very bad mood I went back home. I didn't bother to check my knee because I expected it to be a temporary setback. I mean, there was only so much shit the universe could throw at me in less than two weeks, right?

Today, coughing far less and getting used to the knee, I woke up and squatted to force my left kneecap back into place as much as possible. When I got up, it creaked painfully.

Not the left one. The right one.

I kicked the back of my thigh with my right heel. No snap. Leg goes down. Painful snap.

At that moment I wanted to throw myself out the window.

Instead I went to my grandmother's birthday lunch. All went well until I forgot my condition and squatted to plant a kiss on my sister's cheek. When I got up again, there was no snap, but I felt something out of place on my right kneecap.

So I did the heel thing again.

"AAAAAAOW FUCK MOTHERFUCKER SHIT AAAAOW!!"

And I collapsed on a nearby chair.

At the hospital they told me there was no immediate solution. So I scheduled tomographies and x-rays and everything for Monday. Then I'll wait for the results, take them to a doctor, who will likely tell me I have to strengthen the muscles on my thighs (which are already pretty strong) or have surgery.

Until then, if I want to avoid pain, I have to keep both my legs stretched. I can bend them up to a ninety degree angle at best.

Also, my hair is falling. Has been for a year. I come from a very hairy family, so the cause is very likely not genetic unless I've been extremely unlucky (something that's looking increasingly plausible at the moment). It could be temporary due to the stress, depression and bad eating habits that haunted me last year. Anyway, I have a doctor scheduled for that too. If it's narrowed down to bad genes, I'll just likely shave my head. And hate it, of course, but it's far less depressing than watching my hair gradually disappear and coming up with increasingly elaborate combovers to hide it.

I'm in a foul fucking mood. Maybe that'll get better, if nothing else.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

LATEST BOOK READING

I've just finished Charlie Huston's SLEEPLESS, which is so well-written other novelists could probably sue Huston for unfair competition. The man writes with an elegance and beauty that is simply humiliating. Allow me to transcribe you a paragraph, in which a character describes the placement of pins on a map of Los Angeles:

If red pins are acts of violence committed by people traditionally profiled as potentially criminal perpetrated against those who have not been so profiled, and yellow pins are acts of violence perpetrated between peoples traditionally so profiled, and blue pins indicate acts of violence carried out by uniformed and/or badged members of the soldiering and law enforcement professions upon peoples so profiled, one can clearly see patterns of tightly clustered yellow pins, encircled by blue pins, concentrated to the far south, east and north of the most prime Los Angeles real estate, which is, in turn, becoming pockmarked by random bursts of red pins.


It's a bleak book with well-placed moments of humor, unlike Huston's more comedy-oriented THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH. But like that book, SLEEPLESS is populated by captivating characters, is entirely comprised of brilliant dialogue, and does trip over its feet a little near the end (the epilogue is somewhat preposterous and unnecessary). Regardless, it's a superb novel with a powerful emotional climax (chapter 29).

Michael Drosnin's CITIZEN HUGHES is magnificent non-fiction. You might know Drosnin from the BIBLE CODE books. I haven't read them but I know their somewhat problematic reputation. CITIZEN HUGHES was published before those came along and is a simultaneously entertaining and frightening read. It lays Hughes' madness naked before the reader. It exposes his ruthlessness along with that of several other figures such as the despicable Richard Nixon. It describes their dirty dealings in great detail, and with an ever-present sense of humor. Here's an excerpt concerning Hughes' reclusiveness:

At first, it was safe enough to hide in his blacked-out bedroom, behind a closed door, behind his phalanx of Mormons, behind a locked partition in the hallway, behind an armed security guard on an otherwise vacant and sealed-off penthouse floor. Then he had to own the entire hotel. To protect himself. Having bought the Desert Inn, he had to buy all the surrounding hotels on the Strip. Again, for self-protection. Now he had to buy the rest of Las Vegas. For the same reason.


With transcriptions and photographs of handwritten memos Hughes would send to his minions, this book is the fetid history of sixties and seventies US politics, with the richest bastard of the 20th century as the protagonist. An utterly fascinating read.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

BLACK SWAN

I've been sitting here for ten minutes trying to think of what to say about this film. It's of a thematic and emotional richness that left me in awe, but not as much as Natalie Portman's performance, which is nothing short of perfect. If I keep talking about this film I won't stop, and I want to watch it again to examine it more carefully.

But really, it's a thing of beauty.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

ERROR PAGES WITHIN ERROR PAGES

... I think the only thing stopping Tumblr from being the most entertaining, well-designed and addictive blogging/social network platform in the web is its somewhat crippling flaw of vomiting server errors if you so much as put too much pressure into the mouse button when you click a link.

Hell, I just tried updating my preferences and got an error page. I clicked the "go to previous page" button on my browser only to find another error page. I went back to the dashboard, clicked on preferences, tried saving them again and fucking error page.

Tumblr is so fun and easy and rewarding I even considered making this website on it, but aside from wanting my own domain, I wanted to avoid "Oh, I have something to say, let's go update my --" ERROR WE'RE INCREDIBLY SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT SUPPORT ONLY YOU CAN'T THE SUPPORT IS DOWN TOO

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FIRST DRAFT WOES

Having just posted a new webcomic strip, not being in a mood to draw any others and with two hours and a half to kill before I go watch BLACK SWAN, I should get some writing done.

I'm writing the first draft of a novel. It's not the first time I try to get a first draft finished. My repeated attempts are quickly teaching me: don't stop.

(that's what she said bwa ha ha ha ha ha yeah yeah shut the fuck up)

First drafts are written, at least in my case, with only a vague idea of where the story is going, of who the characters are and what the point of it all is. The point of the first draft is to find all that out, develop it and to write the second draft knowing exactly what I'm doing.

But it is torture to write a first draft. Characters all sound the same, the story feels aimless, the narrative clunky, you feel like a talentless piece of shit, etc. etc.

Then you think of a way to fix it!

But that would require changing the setting, cutting out a character, adding new scenes -- in other words, re-writing your first draft into a better first draft. And if you do that and keep doing that? You might finish it, provided you have three lifetimes at your disposal.

Don't stop. Push on with what you have so far, and leave notes for the changes your second draft should apply. And before you write the second draft, salvage the good things of the first and plan it all in advance, write backstories for all the characters you came up with, sculpt a tight, driven tale.

Then write the third draft to fix all the mistakes in the second and publish it before you can write a fourth and then cry about the things you should have fixed in the fourth and start writing another novel and stop shaving and cutting your hair or nails and rub your crotch on passersby and be thrown into a hospice --

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

AWAKE

YaaaaaaawwwwnnnnCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHCOUGHmnnmmnn uuuurgggh cough.

*gets up carefully to ascertain legs are in working order*

Cough. Cough. Hmph. Cough.

*ducks and folds left leg as far as it'll go to pop kneecap back into place*

Nnnnngh. Pop. Ow. Cough.

*is ready for the new day*

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

THE BBC AND QUOTATION MARKS

Unless you're one of those tragically misinformed people who believe quotation marks are for emphasis, you know they serve two main purposes: to quote someone, incredibly, or to single out a word in a sarcastic fashion.

This is kind of lost on the people who run the BBC News website.

I started writing this before I even entered their front page, because it was as certain as the sunrise that I'd find something like:



Imagine if they didn't quote those two words. They would have the exact same headline, except I wouldn't picture the US envoy doing finger quotes as he says it. But hey, this is actually impressive. The BBC usually quotes one word, as another current headline proves:



The only thing that would change if you removed those quotation marks is that the headline wouldn't sound sarcastic.

And then there's the BBC's insistence that their headlines be as short as possible. Conjunctions such as "and" are considered too long:

Oh, so Egypt is located in Yemen, now? Holy shit, those protests really shook things up.

And by the way, fuck that US envoy.

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HAPPY TIMES

Fuck this year in every pore and we're only in February.

Fatal floods in Brazil and Australia. Peaceful protesters being opressed and killed in Egypt. People being shot in Arizona. Republicans introducing three blatantly and disgustingly anti-women bills within a week. John Barry being dead. Bill O'Reilly vomiting enough burning stupid to fill a swimming pool of sheer retarded and still being paid millions of dollars for it.

Hi. I'm André Navarro. I write, draw and worry a lot. My contemptuous brain leaks anxiety to keep me on edge and scramble my thought process. It thinks I don't know about the tumor it's trying to grow on the back of its right hemisphere. It thinks I cannot survive opening the top of my skull, removing the bastard and stomping on it a few times until it behaves. It underestimates me.

Welcome to TREACHEROUS GREY MATTER.

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