Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button feels like sipping a warm cup of tea in the cold, early morning, warming your hands while you review the night’s dreams--- one of those dreams so oft had and never remembered, stored in that part of your memory where you can’t reach what had just played out in your mind’s eye.

David Fincher and writer Eric Roth, with source material by F. Scott Fitzgerald, took it upon themselves to convey one of those dreams. Fitzgerald wrote over a hundred twenty short stories and only a handful of them, maybe two or three, had any sort of magical element. Benjamin Button is of course one of those. In short, the protagonist ages in reverse: Benjamin is born old and becomes younger as the years go by.

I think the studio wanted it to be perceived as a straight sentimental romance movie, and viewers expecting that, expecting some kind of nice comfortable love story, will be disappointed. It isn’t one of those. It is instead a biography about death and aging, loss and longing, and living life. There’s something commendable in this: the story just happens, life just happens to Benjamin, without a by-the-book Hollywood plot. Not one of those hard three-act hook, line, and sinker plots.

Some will criticize the film for this. It just is. It just happens. The love story between Benjamin and Daisy threads the movie together but is not always the conflict at hand. It is more a meandering bildungsroman novel, following a character though life as he develops, than it is a short story about a central conflict. The 2 hour 48 minute running time seems necessary; to tell the truth, I don’t recall a single scene that could easily be cut. Some people will disagree. In fact a few people left the theater before the film finished. It boggles the mind.

Well, the framing could have been cut--- the story is told by Daisy on her deathbed, with her daughter reading through Benjamin’s diary. That in itself works fine, but they are sitting in a hospital while Hurricane Katrina approaches. Why? Placing the story in New Orleans added a compelling, tone-appropriate layer of history and fantasy, but the impending shadow of Katrina is nebulous in its purpose. The name distracts from the story at hand--- Benjamin’s story.

Nonetheless, the magical realism of the film uniquely treads upon the universality of human experience: we are all young and learning, we are all old and dying, and in between you better appreciate your minutes, regardless of which direction you might be going.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Gotta wonder what Scott Fitzgerald would think about new Benjamin Button film (which is based on a Fitzgerald story). Fitzgerald famously fizzled out trying to write for Hollywood—he thought the medium of film would surpass novels. He was right, at least in terms of numbers. But he was wrong in thinking he could just transfer his talents in stories and novels to screenplays, as if words are words and that is all. Obviously screenwriting then is different than it is now, but the thought that writing is writing regardless of the end medium, and that a novelist could write for the pictures just fine, was flawed. Writing for film is---it seems to me--- a scene to scene, sentence to sentence, word to word outline, a skeleton on which all other parts hang, but only a skeleton. The skeleton, the storyline, comes from the writers and the guts come from everyone else. Writing novels is different because you have to play god entirely and you have to know what the reader would think about every word and sentence, but the storyline is actually less important because novels don’t have to hold you for 120 sequential minutes. Fitzgerald didn’t seem to perceive that films don’t hang on the words themselves.

Anyway, I’ll write up a quick review in a few days. I should watch it before reviewing it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

scene from 'full frontal'

scene from 'full frontal' from andy orin on Vimeo.

another final project for a class. a brief scene from the script of steven soderbergh's 'full frontal' (written by coleman hough)

thanks veronique, adriane, and tracy ward!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

first 8mm footage

fun with 8mm from andy orin on Vimeo.

just some test footage edited together. music from bram stoker's dracula.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

written for school: Places I’ve Lived.

San Diego
Forgive my verbosity. I spent my first eighteen years in southern California, specifically in Chula Vista, a city in the county of San Diego, only ten minutes or so from the Mexico border. When I was a toddler we moved from an amusingly small house to a larger condominium, where I spent the majority of my childhood. They were white stucco covered buildings with awkward dark swampy brown wooden trim; our condo was two floors, and I shared a bedroom with my older brother. The interior, at first, was dim with shaggy brown carpet and fake wood paneling on the walls, but my father modernized it, painting the interior a near-white sandy color with corresponding new carpets. When I was about fourteen my parents bought a house a couple miles away, which sat on the top of a hill and overlooked a busy avenue and a strip mall, and the waterfall-like sound of the freeway could always be heard. The backyard has an orange tree and an avocado tree, as well as a dead peach tree and some rose bushes. Here our two cats hunt gnats.

Palo Alto

It might be more accurate to say Stanford, as the school is literally its own city. The school is a place of lush greenery, sandstone-built mission style architecture interspersed with modern buildings, and a lot of bicycles straddled by clumsy students. The experience was more memorable than the place so I don’t have much to say about it. Also, down the street in Palo Alto, just a block from the Facebook offices, there is a small plaza in front of the eatery 'Pizza My Heart' where nihilistic, hedonistic, and angsty high-schoolers congregate, and in this plaza there is a five foot tall Egg made of circuit boards. I like to think the kids are there to worship the egg, or are maybe waiting for something to hatch.

Oxford, England

I spent about six months total studying at Oxford. The place was more memorable than the experience and I could write extensively about it. To go from the brand-new cement constructed cities of California to the millennia-old shire of Oxford is something else. The alleys and the cobble stones and the people and the meadows are all as quaint as you would expect, and more, as are the libraries and their rules and the cafes and bookshops and pubs. The winter was cold and hard for a Californian and the spring revealed the city to be a different character in the sun, when we would go punting (maneuvering a small boat through the rivers and streams) and sit on the grass and feed the ducks and geese. The dormitory deserves its own passage--- it was a number of old buildings cobbled together and modernized, with tight stairways and halls that led up and down and every which way, like an Escher picture. But the wonder does fade as you become accustomed.

San Francisco

The Mission District has many characters. Some are good and some are not. It’s hard to write about it without distance.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Flash Movie Reviews!

Hellboy II:
Guillermo del Toro has injected his deep and tenacious imagination into the Hellboy world-- but this world-making has a dearth of storytelling. It's strange; the plot points are there, but they simply occur rather than unfold, and you know all along which characters are expendable and which are going to ride away into the sunset.

The Dark Knight:
It is usually hard to justify spending over $150 million on the production of fleeting entertainment memes, but I definitely have no such problem such a budget here. It is art, rather than pulp, executed in a grand way. All the success is deserved.

The Wackness:
A good coming-of-age story. The references to early 90s pop culture are a little much at times, played for unnecessary laughs, but that's okay. Successful universality.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe:
If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like. This film plays like an extended episode of the series, but doesn't hinge on the murky mythology. A little sluggish at times, and a turn in the third act should have been foreshadowed just a little more, but its an altogether enjoyable return to the characters--- if you enjoyed the characters in the first place.

Bonus Older Movies!!
Eyes Wide Shut:
Stanley Kubrick makes his version of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, but with the addition of a mysterious orgy cult. How complicated human sexuality is, especially within the confines of monogamous marriage! says Stanley. Sure. Very interesting but ultimately not fully satisfying, because you become more interested in the cult than Kubrick wanted you to. I really like the lighting though (the blue light bathing the backdrops, contrasting with warmer interiors, and the omnipresent Christmas lights).

Empire of the Sun:
Helluva an epic movie, there's no question about it, but unfortunately it never adds to a satisfying sum. It suffers from the typical problems of big novel adaptions: episodic, in that years occasionally pass in blinks when you don't expect them to, with an ending that is a little surprising, a little unexpected, and not completely satisfying, but likely faithful to the source material. Nonetheless, absolutely worth watching. And 12-year-old Christian Bale is a hell of an actor.

Monday, July 14, 2008

WALL-E as a didactic fable, or not

Sometimes green is just a color.

There has been a surprising amount of the press regarding Wall-e as a 'green' film with a didactic message of environmentalism. But the film's writer and director, Andrew Stanton, has expressed his reluctance towards making a film with an agenda. Then, does it have a message?

There are, at first, very critical messages towards consumerism, mega-corporations, and globular humans. Wall-e’s world was been literally taken over by a Wal-Mart-like chain of stores, Buy N Large; as a result, the Earth was completely covered in trash and humans fled the planet. Little Wall-e is the first wave of a recovery mission to compact the trash, to prepare the planet for eventual human re-habitation. The film’s protagonist is the last running robot on the planet and pursues his job with complete devotion, unaware of the futility.

Clearly there are strong environmental lessons being taught here, yes? We must limit our consumerist tendencies and save the planet! Wall-e is the new Al Gore! Well, sort of.

Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter’s original idea started with just the last robot on Earth doing a futile job– the little, adorable, lone robot trash-compactor gazing at the stars, longing for more—and the pollution aspect of the story was reverse-engineered to create the scenario. The trash arose as a functional story element, rather than to preach to children about littering. Of course, the origins of a storyline don’t negate the presence of preachiness, but understanding the original intentions is valuable.

Then, what of the fat, round humans who float around on their Jetson-age recliners and exist solely in digital screens? Well that’s a little more poignant, but the original intentions, again, are very compelling. During the film’s first couple years of development, the humans were green jelly blobs (very similar to the alien characters in the short ‘Lifted’ that preceded Ratatouille). Eventually it was to be revealed in a sort of Planet of the Apes fashion that they were human all along (!), and that the microgravity aboard the spaceship caused total bone loss. The kingdom of the space jellies was, as Stanton said, “too silly.”

The human characters were then changed into large, infantile creatures. This clarified and streamlined the story, and perhaps made them more likeable. But what’s important to realize is that it was the microgravity that degenerated the bodies of the humans aboard the spaceship Axiom, rather than increasing sloth. But, ah, it is still more complicated.

The human characters are essentially all good-natured and good-intentioned, but they have completely sacrificed individuality for the sake of convenience. They converse with neighbors via computers, they were what they are told is fashionable, they eat what they are told is good to eat (cupcakes in a cup!). Yes, this is quite satirical towards the way many of us live. I know I personally had more email exchanges than actual conversations today. But who is at fault in such a society? Is Pixar trying to tell us that we’re all hopelessly lazy slobs? Is there, altogether, a ‘message’ in Wall-e?

Why, yes, and has nothing to do with littering or global warming: do not let complacency dampen ambition. The humans have become so comfortable, so complacent, that they don’t even turn their heads to talk to one another. It’s just easier to go online instead. It’s also easy to drink liquid food rather than eat, to sit rather than stand, to die slow rather than live fast. I should heed this advice, and you probably should too.

What of the captain? Why return to the razed planet? He doesn’t want to return to Earth so that he can clean it, or to undo the wrongs of a mega-consumerist society, he wants to return because of the possibilities of what might be and for of the excitement spawned by new challenges. His complacency was rooted in his ignorance, as it was for all the humans. Wall-e’s plant is the catalyst that illuminates the significance of ambition, or the humans’ lack thereof.

Wall-e the robot’s experiences mirror this: he is relatively complacent in his daily work and hobbies but somehow knows there’s more to life. Eve’s arrival enlightens him in just the same way the plant enlightens the captain. For Wall-e, the unknown element he has been longing for is love. It is his purpose in life beyond function. For the humans, it’s purpose in life at all, of which they were previously ignorant of. Complacency has been so easy that they never had to consider why they bother living.

Condensed version of what I had actually wanted to say but didn’t quite articulate: it’s just a robot love story and all of the elements exist in support of the story.

I just really liked it.

Friday, July 04, 2008


After some positive critical reception, my interest crested and broke and I went and saw Wanted. Positive critical reception is probably an overstatement; some reviewers felt, at least, that it is an inventive and intense action movie with a knowingly dumb back-story. A thousand years ago a group of weavers (seriously) founded a secret league of assassins, and now Morgan Freeman as Sloan is directing the deadly order. They work under the belief that their killings are for the greater good.

Indeed, such a plot couldn't take itself less seriously, though it's all delivered stern and straight. And indeed, there are abundant 'holy shit' moments, especially in the first act of the movie. The chase sequence with Angelina Jolie as Fox, driving a Dodge Viper with her legs while she lies on the hood of the car and has a shoot-out with a rogue assassin, I thought, outshone the action in the following two thirds of the movie, despite an increase in scale, until train cars are being thrown about on screen by over-eager digital filmmakers.

Really over-the-top stuff, and I couldn't get caught up in it, as much as I 'Wanted' to... (yay fun with words!). I expected to be impressed the same way I was taken aback when watching 'The Matrix' for the first time. I wanted to ask "how did they do that?" but the intricately carved and curving bullets that Jolie effortlessly sent flying about like little bumblebees out of hell were always so perfect and digital that the visceral wonder was lacking. Ultra-slow-motion blood-spatter in Gaeta-esque bullet-time shots too, were lacking that visceral imperfectness that comes with practical effects. Such is a flaw with many popcorn movies these days: there is no limit to translating imagination into images with the use of modern technology, and we, as viewers, don't really care.

A stage magician can impress because his or her feats seem physically impossible. You saw an empty top hat, and yet, a bunny was pulled from the ether. An assistant was sawed in half. A car disappeared at the wave of a wand. As cynical as we all are, these sorts of practical tricks can impress us because we can't understand how they occur.

But in a movie, when a talking polar bear walks on to screen and starts to breakdance, there is no wonder. We know the bear does not exist, and only skilled storytellers can make us care.

When Keanu Reeves as Neo, in 1999, dodged bullets on a rooftop, with the camera gradually panning around him, I knew it was a physically impossible shot and yet it was not digital. Yes, the set was (though it wasn't evident), but Reeves was not. And so I was amazed. John Gaeta's visual effects team had done something I didn't understand at the time, like a magician convincing you that levitation is possible. The embracing of digital actors, in part, detracted from the sequels. There were no longer any 'how did they do that?' moments.

Jump back to 'Wanted'. In this film, say, perhaps, a train car is sent careening down a preternaturally deep ravine while the world's deadliest assassins battle inside. We know there is no train, there is no ravine, there is no silver bullet whizzing about. How impressed can we be when we know it is all in the mind's eye? Perhaps if we really cared about the characters it would matter.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


In 1995, people were asking if an audience could tolerate a feature-length film of computer-generated images. Members of the press literally asked if it was possible to watch a CG movie without getting motion sickness. I was ten years old and knew it was a dumb question. I saw Toy Story, thoroughly enjoyed it, but didn’t think much of its implications towards the direction of movie animation. 2D was dead; long live 2D.

Rather, after a string of poor and under-performing traditionally animated films, the Powers That Be deemed computer animation to be the way of the future. Of course, CG imagery is just a tool and doesn’t make bad movies good. "Computer generated" is itself a misleading term – as if a few clicks and taps of the space bar conjures up the digital computer god to make a movie from nothing; it takes an army of engineers and artists with computers as their sometimes-tool to make a CGI movie.

I recently watched Toy Story again for the first time in many years, and was surprised by how good it is. The technological limitations of 1995 computers did nothing to limit the story and vision of the film, and most of all, its characters. It holds up to repeated viewings and I can now see the subtle homages that were far over my head in '95. Most of all, Buzz and Woody and their friends have been inducted into the Disney pantheon of heartwarming characters.

The years have gone by, my cynicism has ebbed and flowed, the world has changed, and yet Pixar has virtually owned American feature-length animation for thirteen years. I say that from a critical perspective, rather than with box-office performance in mind. Money has been made by many.

With the studio's newest film, WALL-E, directed by the company's ninth employee and Nemo-helmer Andrew Stanton, not only do they continue to dominate, but they are reinventing what an animated film can be, and, possibly, are changing the perception of animation as a mere child's genre into the film medium that it is.

WALL-E needs to get a nomination for best picture of the year. Not just best animated film. I was just astonished the entire time. In that there is such sparse dialogue is it unique, in that there is such heartfelt emotion is it a success, in that it makes no compromises to mainstream pop-culture animation is it a Pixar film. And, in between a dozen layers of universal appeal, it perfectly captures the difficulty of being a romantic geek in a very big world. Not that I would know anything about geekiness.

Just go watch when you get a chance. It's about robots and love and the faults of consumerist-driven humanity and I don't care to say more or less than that. The opening short Presto alone is worth the ticket.

If you want to hear about the film's faults, its weakness is really any time WALL-E is not central to the narrative – the other characters are never quite as interesting or endearing as he, and so you can't help but wait until he returns to view. But he's never off-screen for too long.

Nonetheless, Pixar has a new badge, Disney has a new character, and the film vaults will long hold this one dear and safe. I, myself, will return to WALL-E repeatedly, in the theater, and over the years.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan isn’t preoccupied with ‘twist endings’, though he has been type-cast as such; he’s preoccupied with stories without explanation. This sense of magical realism can sometimes ruin the believability of the narrative or can sometimes be, ah, magical. The Happening manages to be a little bit ruined and little bit dark magic, like a magician who pulls a dead rabbit out of a hat.

In The Happening, there is no machete-wielding halfhuman around the corner waiting to chop up an unimportant character. Shyamalan finds the narrative in what is not known. I suppose that’s where the tension in most thrillers comes from – when the lurching slasher MIGHT be around the corner, when the music quiets and the hero slows, and you THINK something horrific is going to happen, but you don’t know. You never know in this movie, because no one knows what IT is. It, the event, the happening, the occurrening, is a sort of dementia spreading in a viral fashion, causing people to casually kill themselves. It may or may not be caused by rebellious house plants and their airborne neurotoxins.

The characters flee from nothing, from wind and rustling brush, and from oak trees burdened with the shackles of rope swings, bubbling with years of resentment. Really. There are implications of angry trees in the movie. It all sounds very silly and ridiculous, yes? It is. And yet, the constant suicides are immensely unnerving, and by association, so is the invisible menace from which the characters are fleeing. What is more disturbing than watching someone calmly kill themselves? Watching a few dozen, and then a few more, and not knowing if the protagonists are about to off themselves.

On that level the film works, for me. I didn’t buy Mark Wahlberg’s role as a high school science teacher – you get the sense that he’s only half a chapter ahead of his students in the textbook. I never knew much about Zooey Deschanel’s character – but I like Zooey Deschanel – and never bought the forced tension between their characters.

The Happening is what it needs to be and not quite what it could have been. Shyamalan likes the idea of being an auteur, I think, but he needs a writing partner, someone with older, wiser eyes, to look over his shoulder. So just give me a call, M. I only charge twice minimum wage.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Quest for the Self in Mystery Doritos

They say to do what you love. Find what you love to do, and find a way to make it your livelihood. I like smores and sleeping in on the weekends. Though what I do with the most gusto, I think, is trying not to get hit by buses when crossing the street. Can you make a profession of that?

My year in the real world has been as kind of as unkind as can be expected of someone in the pudgy middle class without any distinct talents and yet still unable to acquiesce to mundane work. There is no differentiation between the real and the college world, I learned; it's just an old joke for people who think the height of life is in the oblivion of college-magnitude drinking, or for people who don't know how to save money.

My earliest longterm plan had been to become a paleontologist -- a real dinosaur hunter, with a small pick-axe hanging from my warn leather belt and a pistol in my back pocket, just in case. Not that I ever had in interest in studying dinosaurs. They seem magic and majestic and ethereal and I was going to travel the world to find them; the discovery was the thing. Of course, I was probably five years old and also wanted to be a Ninja Turtle with equal devotion. They were both good plans.

I think there are people to whom work and living are two separate entities, and then there are people who hold work to be identity, one and the same. Unfortunately my parents raised me, unknowingly, with a 1950's puritan worker-bee mindset, and I invariably feel I am of the latter group -- work and life are together; there is no refuge at the end of the day if the work was not worth doing.

Which is why I recently quit a job, like the unappreciative almost-Ivy-League snot I occasionally am. But it has given me free time to soul-search in mysterious black-bagged Doritos.

The front of the bag says Doritos: THE QUEST: Guessing the Flavor is Just the Beginning. It is an attempt to appeal to the tantrum-prone ten year old boys with mothers who are willing to quiet them with dumb chips... demographic, in addition to young bachelors, who, with unbridled freedom, are also drawn towards mysterious Doritos.

Every chip is a journey, in my mouth! Amazing discoveries! Crunchy nirvana!

It's a marketing scheme that pops up every few years, infrequently enough so that you might have forgotten that the experience of not knowing what kind of flavordust is ensconcing your corn chips is moderately disappointing, because it doesn't taste that great. It's usually supposed to taste like pizza or hamburger or something that has no earthly business being an isolated flavor.

'The Quest' continues the tradition. They taste like yellow. Spoiler alert! It's been reported in the snackosphere that the super secret flavor is Mountain Dew. Chips of Dew! Sure, whatever. Are you impressed that I follow such obscure news so to be knowledgeable of contemporary Doritos flavorology? Are you saddened?

Having spent a substantial amount of time perusing job listings, I feel or felt that most jobs I could possibly be hired at are marketing-oriented. That's an over-simplification of many suppositions but it is the gist of my perspective. Do I really want to be perfectly tooling a Google Ad to ferry referrals to an internet startup? Etcetera, Etcetera? Do I really want to be pitching my idea for the next Doritos campaign of mystery chips?

Hey everyone, what about filet mignon flavor? Classy! What about corn flavoring? No one will ever guess!

Naw, I don't really want to be doing that. But I will buy the mystery chips.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda is refreshingly entertaining. Pixar has more or less owned feature-length animation for the past decade or so, critically speaking, with the animated films from Dreamworks catering more to children who will enjoy 80 minutes of silly gags and songs, as opposed to actual plot, and then move on. Such films can do well financially but have short shelf-lives; the characters are rarely developed enough to be memorable. And the pop-culture parodying and upturned fairytale of Shrek was novel at the time, but still, the story was never that touching and the characters of such films are ultimately forgetten.

I love animation as a medium but I haven't bothered seeing many non-Pixar CG movies lately. I thought Happy Feet was an abomination of plot-points presumably derived in corporate meetings (and a misguided use of motion-capture), and I've been in recovery. There's some great art, great character design, great animation, and amazing technical progressions in many films -- I like the square-edged illustrative whimsy of the Madagascar animals, for example -- but none of it can make up for limp storylines and the easy, cliched, pop culture jokes.

And now there is Kung Fu Panda. I was reticent before the positive reviews surfaced, because it's usually not a good sign when big-name voice actors are used to promote a movie -- as if anyone goes to a film to hear their favorite people -- but heck, I ditched work and went. Jack Black makes a pretty good panda after all, and I especially appreciate the moments when he is off script, inserting ongoing Blackisms ("bring the THUNDAH!").

Anyway, the story is nothing new. An unlikely hero is foretold in the scrolls and the forces of evil are inevitably encroaching, etc, etc. Luckily it's humorous enough, written well-enough, and actiony... enough, not to matter. It's also full of stunningly good animation. For me, that old wobbly turtle steals every scene. The way he shakes with age, and licks his lips and smiles just enough, is wonderful; it's a focused and subtle piece of animation, and I'd like to shake the hands of the guys and gals who handled that character. And the blobby, weighty panda, all flesh rather than skin, is far-removed from the old days when everything in computer animation looked like rigid plastic; both the animators and the R&D team behind them deserve large praise.

I really hope this marks an upward trend for Dreamworks-produced animation. There will inevitably be sequels, and I think they will inevitably be less impressive. But I do hope to be wrong.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

‘The Fall’

In a time when movie-making is more an art of digital collage rather than in-shot cinematography, it is entirely refreshing to see a film primarily devoid of computer graphics, favoring on-location, true-to-lens sights. It is even more refreshing to see a fantasy film executed so exquisitely, so impossibly, in such a way.

'The Fall' tells of a young girl's friendship with a bed-ridden Hollywood stuntman while they both recover in a hospital. But the film itself, really, is in the girl's imagination, and the potent, magical images are actualizations of her mind's eye, working together with the stuntman as he tells her a story.

The story of the film itself is not as strong as its visuals; the emotional investment the audience has in the characters is halfhearted, as endearing as young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is. It seems clear that she is not always acting, when she lies alongside Roy (Lee Pace), mumbling and stumbling over her perhaps ad-libbed lines.

Midway through the film I foresaw narrative collapse, as the plot in the 'real' world was stagnating, but the penultimate scenes did provide an emotional peak that nearly elevated the story to something more moving. Critics have said the film could have book of still photographs and worked on the same level; the story of the characters in the hospital could have indeed been better handled by a more balanced director, a storyman like Spielberg, but it would have been at the expense of director Tarsem's images. Nonetheless the story should not be so easily dismissed, and Tarsem, who understands the significance of showing rather than telling and the inherent power of the moving image, deserves all the praise that can be afforded to him by crabby critics.

What it does demonstrate is the gravitas of the real, the exemplary profoundness of reality devoid of green-screen. The sites are astounding, so much more so than something like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, where the sprawling, fantastical architecture of an alien planet is 'photorealistic' but still unable to fool the eye. The realities created in such films are illustrations crafted by very devoted and very talented artists, and can be appreciated as such, and often not as more. The filmmakers behind the recent Speedracer movie understood and embraced this to a sometimes-successful effect. And so does Tarsem who, in this film, rejects it as much as he can, as if to remind Hollywood that there is a world outside of the computer, waiting to be filmed.

'The Fall' has been called incredibly indulgent, as it was shot on location in 18 countries and largely self-funded by the director. Such is the 'indulgent' aspect. The truth of the matter is that a young child's imagination, which is the star of the film, could not have been done justice in any other way.

Throughout the picture I kept thinking, how could they afford to film this? Afterwards it was more appropriate to question how anyone could afford not to. I wish imagination was more common these days.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indy IV: Criticizing the Critics

It goes without saying that you should not read this if you have not seen it, or if you have no interest in a ranting Andy.

It is easy to be a critic and hard to be a creator. It is even easier to be a critic on the internet, where your audience can be infinite or nonexistent, a factor decided by luck more than talent.

Most professional film critics have described Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull quite aptly as a fluffy, fun, fast-paced feast of a summer movie--- nothing more and nothing less; a traditional blockbuster by the father of summer blockbusters, Steven Spielberg. Alongside that, many amateur critics (i.e. the whole of the internet) have dismissed the movie as a ruinous visitation to their childhood favorites, a blemish on a franchise and an unnecessary reunion.

Where has imagination gone? Where have you left your dreams? With Michael Bay? My god.

Some have proclaimed the movie to be poorly written and poorly directed--- yeah, you'd know. Your tastes are impeccable, dear internet critic. Sure, Lucas and Spielberg have about 75 years of filmmaking and storytelling between them, but YOU know better; your carefully crafted blogpost, your clever twitters, and your monthly forty two cent profit from Google Adwords really justifies your opinion. You're a regular Harold Bloom of the digital age.

Personally, when I saw the grainy old Paramount logo fade onto screen, and then fade into a mole hill, the continuation of the visual echo from the first Jones film told me to relax. Like many I went in with equal parts dread and anticipation. And then the old white understated type-face, along with the wide, beautiful shot of the open countryside, camera panning as the music oriented us, let me know it was indeed a Spielberg film. They had me at hello.

Of course, many fans have been annoyed by the addition of alien-like creatures to the Indiana Jones franchise. It was an inevitably divisive decision. There was even an old rejected screenplay floating around called 'Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars', which, yes, the new film does borrow from. It's understandable; I was heavily skeptical they could successfully create a Jones storyline with saucer men. But they did and I had no issues with it.

You should understand that to some people the Arc of the Covenant, the magical stones of Indy II, and the Holy Grail are as fantastical as any saucer man. It all could be called supernatural religious mysticism. The Nazca lines were presumably created to communicate with the gods--I don't know much about them-- and Spielberg and Lucas simply provided the gods. Perhaps the Christian roots of the Arc in Raiders makes it easier for some people to believe--- in their heart of hearts they believe there WAS an arc, and it held stone tablets crafted by an omnipotent god, carried by Moses. I take it that a couple billion people feel there is veracity in this bit, even if metaphorical rather than literal. Rooting the story of the Raiders film in what, for many, is fact rather than fiction, then makes it easier to believe the said golden box could also melts Nazis with holy lightening.

The idol of the Temple of Doom is less significant and more magical: glowing, enchanted stones that have something to do with Shiva. Seems, ah, somehow believable enough? I feel this is the weakest McGuffin of the Jones films because the stones mean so little though they do so much--- and they look like glowing potatoes.

And then there is the Holy Grail, a mythological thing popularized by Arthurian legend. I've no clue if there actually is talk of a grail in the Bible, but once more rooting the object in Christianity helped ease people's suspension of disbelief. The "interdimensional beings" of Crystal Skull do not have that advantage, and have little earthly basis besides the hard-to-explain Nazca lines. I appreciate that they never actually refer to them as aliens--only as saucer men, in reference to Roswell. They were 'interdimensional beings'... which is easier for me to swallow, and hopefully easier for physicists and astronomers to swallow too.

Besides, the film is set in 1957--- Cold War Sci-Fi space kitsch was battling Western Howdy Doody cowboys ‘n’ Indians in an epic pop-culture battle of absurdity, optimism, and paranoia. For me, saucer men work fine, in the context of 1957.

Indiana Jones was never high art, and it still is not. But the little touches that separate a Spielberg action movie from one by any other director are present--- the first silhouette of the fedora before Jones is on screen, the fact that he now prefers to be called Henry rather than Indiana in honor of his late father, the final scene with the rolling hat and Mutt’s wide-eyes--- and through it all the real magic of story through cinema, and the escape of the matinee on a work day. I think I’ll skip work and catch it again this week. Anyone coming?


the end of something.