Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers 2: Take Two; or, The Revenge of Michael Bay

I want to start this second post on Transformers 2 off with a few choice quotes. The first comes from Maryann Johnson, whose review of the film I linked to at the end of my last post. In it she astutely points out that,

“… Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is like the most totally awesome artifact ever of the end of the American empire. It’s so us, a preposterously perfect reflection of who we are: loud, obnoxious, sexist, racist, juvenile, unthinking, visceral, and violent... and in love with ourselves for it. And Michael Bay is the high priest of our self-engrossment. … What we have right here is the Easter Island statue of our legacy.”

Once again, her full review is available at
6/062309transformers_revenge_of_the_fa.html, and it's one of the better pieces on the movie out there. Now, somewhat more succinctly, I want to quote David Chen of /Film, discussing Transformers 2 at the beginning of last week’s /Filmcast. In discussing his initial, unformed thought on Michael Bay’s latest opus, he says,

“Basically I think Transformers 2 perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong, not only with America, but with American cinema.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers 2

Ok, so Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen isn't really worth one of my long-winded rants, but it certainly merits a post, especially considering how long it's been since I made a public one. Julian and I had a long chat abut the movie over a few post-viewing drinks last night, so I'm going to try and get out some of the things we discussed on paper, erm, the internet...

Oh, and spoiler warnings, as per usual

Friday, June 5, 2009

Some poems by Philip Larkin

Been reading a lot of Philip Larkin lately. Reading that article on Carol Ann Duffy made me think of him and desperately want to read "Morning at last: there in the snow" last week. It was the first poem by him that I remember really striking me back in high school, and it's stayed with me ever since. It's not available online, so I had to go to the library and take out his Collected Poems since my copy is in Toronto. I'm posting it here, just in case I ever need to find it again and don't have easy access to a library/my book collection.

Morning at last: there in the snow
Your small blunt footprints come and go.
Night has left no more to show,

Not the candle, half-drunk wine,
Or touching joy; only this sign
Of your life walking into mine.

But when they vanish with the rain
What morning woke to will remain,
Whether as happiness or pain.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Maybe later I'll write one myself, though the topic seems a little beaten to death at this point...

Because it's just easier to post this instead of attempt to link to it, Ron Silliman's review of Up:

Monday, June 01, 2009

Up is the finest American full-length cartoon feature I have ever seen, and the first one that approaches the best work of Hayao Miyazaki, whose influence is palpable in this extraordinary project even more than those of Disney or Pixar, the two companies that combined to bring it to fruition. Both have a long and serious commitment to the cartoon form. Disney virtually invented it, as the conglomerate ghost of Uncle Walt loves to remind consumers everywhere. Disney even became Miyazaki’s American distributor principally so that it wouldn’t be threatened by his inventiveness. And Pixar has been, along with Miyazaki, a primary source of innovation in animated film over the past 15 years. Indeed, Bob Peterson, who wrote Up, got his start as a layout artist on Toy Story, Pixar’s break-through feature. His one previous feature-length screenwriter credit was for Finding Nemo in 2003, although he contributed material to Ratatouille & Monsters, Inc. and has served as a voice actor in many animated projects. In addition to writing Up, Peterson voices Dug, the mongrel who decides that elderly Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is his master. Peterson also serves as co-director with Pete Docter, another director with more than a few writing credits – Wall-E, and the original stories for Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Monster’s Inc. Like Peterson, Docter has done pretty much everything one could do in an animated film, and was a dialog director for the English version of Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, another tale about a building on the move.

I’m focusing here on the directors as writers because I think the writing is crucial to Up’s success. Watching the film – the first cartoon I’ve found myself tearing up over (more than once) since I first saw Bambi as a boy – I thought of the first paragraph of my review of Watchmen this past March:

This is the golden age of movie effects, or at least it should be. Computer graphics have been enhanced to the level that anything is possible, anything you can dream of can be presented as a plausible physical reality on film, a phenomenon that leaves directors, screenwriters & stuntmen drunk with the potential. Yet the problem remains that for the golden age to actually exist, these same individuals have to envision it, have to make it happen. Just as early motion pictures owe a great deal of their narrative structures to the imaginations of D.W. Griffith & Sergei Eisenstein, men who figured out how to transform a story into the new medium, the potential of today’s film technology is just waiting for someone to come along and imagine what it truly might be.

Up demonstrates what can be done when that imagination is in play. It doesn’t look all that much different technically than any of the other recent Pixar projects, because its core isn’t technological. This is really a tale about dignity, something all but a couple of the villains have to spare. And about love, loss & dreaming. Like Miyazaki, this film pairs a young person, rotund Wilderness Explorer Russell, with an elder, and like Miyazaki, this film takes a fundamentally surrealist trope – the old man tethered to his house & all it represents – and makes it seem only the slightest bit strange.

The key lies in the director’s taking the time to tell Fredricksen’s back story, from his days as a child when he first met Ellie, the neighborhood Tomboy, with whom he had a long & loving marriage, although not without its problems & even heartbreak, even though they never got to take the great adventure they’d always imagined. This part of the film takes at least a half hour and it motivates the entire picture, which doesn’t really begin until after Ellie’s funeral. The ways in which the old house – it’s in the Oakland/Piedmont area, tho we don’t find this out until very late in the going – becomes Ellie once she’s gone are manifest and handled with utter confidence and balance.

I could tell you what happens next, but I won’t. I’ve raved enough to set expectations unnaturally high as it is. I’m not alone. As I write, Up has a 98 rating (out of 100) at Rotten Tomatoes. The only films with higher ratings there ever have ten or fewer reviews. IMDB currently rates it as a 9.1 (out of 10), a score that ties it with Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. I actually expect these ratings to generally stay high, even tho it doesn’t really qualify as the best movie ever made. (At IMDB, the highest rated animated film is Wall-E at 8.5). Since IMDB breaks its ratings down by demographics, it is also possible to see just who doesn’t like this film: older women. Women over the age of 45 rate Up at just 4.6. When I mentioned that to Krishna, who loved the film, she complained, “But Ellie motivates everything, this movie is about how somebody gone stays alive in your thoughts & your heart.” Fredricksen & the “short postman” (as the evil jungle dogs call him) Russell bond because they have parallel wounds, the boy with an absent father who “travels a lot.”

One thing that did surprise me in the film is a Pixar in-joke: Russell’s love of the ice cream parlor Fenton’s. As everyone in Oakland & Piedmont already knows, the creamery next to the Piedmont Theater is a local institution. Now I’m afraid that it’s about to be inundated. I can’t imagine how anybody who sees the film at the Piedmont (or at the Grand Lake, or anywhere in Berkeley or Emeryville) will be able to resist going to Fenton’s after the show. And I can imagine it suddenly becoming a stop on the Oakland tour for people in Paris, Brussels, Tokyo, and of course Venezuela. While it was a great joke to see it pop up incongruously in the film, I wish the folks at Pixar had remembered Yogi Berra’s comment about a restaurant that became impossible to get into: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too popular.”

As an append to Ron's review, I saw the film in 3D, and maybe a little later I'll talk about how it adds to what I said about Coraline, but in a different way... More to come, this movie was incredible

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Breaking Free: The Continuing Fight for Control of the Future

As I sat on a plane last month on the way to Scotland for a road trip with my father, I used the time to finally get around to watching RiP!: A Remix Manifesto. The fact that the film was offered as in-flight entertainment seemed simultaneously ironic given the subject matter and appropriate considering the airline. I still think it’s funny that Air Canada actually managed to make me feel national pride during a sequence in which Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks with Stephen Harper about tightening copyright laws. Director Brett Gaylor labels Canada as one of the largest breeding grounds on Earth for intellectual freedom, and it’s just this kind of freedom that terrifies the Governator with regards to media piracy and makes me thankful I grew up in Ontario instead of California.

But wait, I’ve gotten ahead of myself.