Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Spout Off Imminent

I can feel it, it's coming, and so: It's time to look for topics...And you know about the topics, whatever you'd like to see/read discussed on a broader level...

Currently I'm contemplating using another of Miss Uz J's initial ideas: Peppermint Patty - Straight or Gay, as this would be rather entertaining.

And yesterday I decided not to indulge one of my current fixations: Woody Allen: How is his being labeled a pedophile, when the facts don't support it, fair? Especially when considering the fact that Roman Polanski has been culturally cleared of his proven case of same.

However, when I brought it up at the bar, with JJ in attendance, it became clear that a) most people don't remember the Polanski thing*, and that was over 30 years ago, and b) with Allen, you have a face and a persona to attach those feelings to.

So, anyway, topics topics topics. Send 'em, before I decide to go with "The Democratic Party: On the Correct Path or In Need of Steering Change?" or "The Dem Party: Where Did The Shit Go Wrong?"

Also, I'm sure JJ, lyamhound and myself don't mind being the spouters in question, but are there others interested in instigating the action? I hope to eventually have a number of folks to go to when these happen. I'm also planning on hunting for some special guests to eventually bring to the fore...anyway, yadda.

*I like Polanski, and his movies, by and large. He deserved the Oscar for The Pianist, but still...

Update - Spout Off Topic: Age of Consent: Raise It/Lower It/Keep It. JJ will kick it off, Lyamhound responds, and I'll "mediate." More to come.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Beast: A Personal Argument - 2

I don't know why I feel the urge to say this, as it should be obvious (and it's not like I have a legion of people reading these), but here goes, a little something about myself: I'm an avid film fan, with aspirations to do more than dabble with it. As such, I'm pretty diverse in my tastes, as my standards are simple. Namely, is there something for me to dig?

Using this stringent guideline, I've come to 1) defend Tom Greene's Freddy Got Fingered as a piece of pure absurdism (though nowhere near as absurd as Miike's Visitor Q); 2) be one of five people in the US who actually dug Ang Lee's The Hulk; 3) believe that Spielberg's AI is actually a mash note to one of his heroes, and not some masturbatory vagary; 4) appreciate Van Sant's remake of Psycho as a film student's experiment done on Hollywood money, and 5) be one of the few to declare Eyes Wide Shut as Kubrick's final masterpiece upon release (a statement that's gaining some acceptance, finally).*

And so we come to:

King Kong (2005)

In which Peter Jackson treats the source material as if it were a certain trilogy of books written by JRR Tolkien.

And how...I mean, every single aspect of this story has been expanded and developed, with remarkably little bloat. No, really. The only thing I could say could've been trimmed a bit was the first act in Depression-era NYC, but couldn't really name what that would be. Do we get rid of Ann Darrow's character exposition? Or should we cut down on showing just how much flim-flammery our man Carl Denham gets himself into?

Personally, I don't know which to lose, because both bits feed right into the depths they've added to the story. The mention of which serves as a nice segue to a discussion of the story...

Now, when I say that the story now has added depth, I'm not saying that it's now Melville-ian in nature; this is because, at heart, this story is simply intended to thrill. It has been pulpy since its inception.

But by grounding these characters is some kind of reality, the story gains gravitas; which, in turn, makes all of the action mean that much more.

I could sit here and list all of the anchoring bits, but I'm not that guy. Besides, part of the joy is discovering them for yourselves, should you decide to see it. Though, I can't stress this enough: It has to be seen on the big screen. One thing I've noticed about special effects extravaganzas (and this does apply to Jackson's LotR trilogy) is that there's a disconnect that happens due to the transfer to the small screen. They special effects are a lot more noticeable...Maybe that will change once HDTV technology is settled in this country.

I will tell you the bits that resonated with me, and I'll just get to those in a second. What I'll willingly tell you is this: All of the characters make sense, and they matter. They've written it so that the central relationship -- that of Ann Darrow and Kong -- makes sense for both of them, without getting into the creepy aspects that, frankly, tainted (in however minuscule ways) the first two versions.

Some who have seen the movie may be saying something like, "the characters make sense, huh? So, why'd we spend all of that time with the first mate and the swabbie? At least one of them dies, along with a bunch of other people, in the second act. And even if one survives, we don't see him at the end anyway."

To this I say that the Kong movies all have high body counts; it's part of the story. Especially in the second act, on Skull Island, which is supposed to be both mysterious and deadly. Secondly, their deaths count. And the survivor, if there is one (I, oddly, can't remember that fact)? It's enough to know that he survives.

Besides, as characters, they supply one of the resonating elements I talked about earlier. The swabbie is reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In talking about this book with the first mate, they deliver an important piece in understanding what drives not only Denham, but also the rest of mankind, as depicted in the story, and Kong himself.

Another resonating tidbit is Ann's little speech in the diner before climbing aboard the ship that will carry her to her destiny. The one where she (and Denham) ostensibly talk about the character, and her expectations, Darrow would be playing in his film.

A third is the amount of fun Peter Jackson had that is clearly visible on the screen. The movie is stuffed with visual homages to some of Jackson's inspirations (Spielberg among them); his own movies; the characters in the story; on top of numerous sequences and bits of script that reference back to the original movie.

I mean, look at the treatment of the savages. In this film, it's quite easy to see that these are cynically desperate people, living under the influence of what must be a mad god, in their estimation. They almost don't look human; in truest essence, these are savage people. Not because of their race. What's brilliant about this movie's treatment of them, is how Denham chooses to portray them once back in the States. This moment is a phenomenal commentary on the original movie.

It also delivers one of the most heart stopping renditions of Skull Island in any of the movies (though it's directly inspired by the '33 Kong). This island is gorgeous and lethal, and it goes a long way towards explaining Kong's brutality towards nature. It's what he needs to do to survive.

But really, aside from the top notch acting, what resonated with me the most is the character of Kong.

He's a fucking 25' fucking ape. The real deal. And I'm not just talking about the CGI special effects, which are on par with LotR, I'm talking about the behavior, the personality, the ephemereal whositwhatsit of a fucking ape. Andy Serkis delivers a performance of Kong as nuanced and rich as his performance of Smiegel.

And the one anthropomorphized aspect of Kong is his affection for Ann Darrow.

For me, if I may play armchair academic for a second, Kong represents man's emotional id, especially about and around women we'd like to be affectionate with. The kind of behavior that led us to spit on, pull the hair of, and generally behave like clueless galoots to the girls we fancied when we were six. Of particular note is the look on his face when he's fooled on stage in New York. If you don't believe this ape is lost at that point, then you don't know what unrequited love's about, bub.

I find myself at a loss for words. I mean, truly, this movie packs a fucking whallop.

The final fight between animal and man/machine is heartbreaking, but inevitable.

As the sun rises on the Empire State Building, in 1933, a delightful woman and a 25' ape say goodbye, him to a misguided love-honored death, and her to a life with promise, yet haunted by what she's seen, felt and learned over the course of the story.

Simply masterful.

*Not quite sure, but I think purplestine has dubbed some of these movies "baby fish mouth" movies. Movies too eccentric to appeal.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Beast: A Personal Argument - 1

Main Entry: ar·gu·ment
Pronunciation: 'är-gy&-m&nt
Function: noun

4 : an abstract or summary especially of a literary work [a later editor added an argument to the poem]
- www.m-w.com

It may be apocryphal, but I remember hearing about a study that explored children and their fascination with all things much larger than they were; I'm talking about dinosaurs, Godzilla and, quite predictably, King Kong.

The study ostensibly reached the following conclusion: The reason we, as kids, are fascinated by and identify with these filmic beings is due to the fact that they embody both our desire to be big, tall (tall = having power), and our own clumsy relationship with the world around us (think of the destruction wreaked by Godzilla in any given film).

Makes sense.

All I know is that I was six years old the first time I saw King Kong (the 1976 remake), and that it moved me beyond tears. I remember feeling violated when the press and military corps climbed his body at the end of the movie, and wishing that Kong had landed on them when he fell.

Needless to say, the story has huge personal meaning for me, it's just one of those stories that hit me at the right age and time. (Much like Roxanne, or The Princess Bride; which if you love the movie, do yourself a favor and read William Goldman's book...it's simply the movie x 100.)

It also explains why I have spent about 10 hours in the last month and a half watching the various versions of this movie. (For the stat-inclined, it went in this order: 1 hr. 45 on the original; 2 hrs. 30 min. on the '76; and, 6 hrs. 14 min. on the '05 Kong , meaning I saw it twice*.)

I love the new version, and after having my analytical mind active through the first viewing, I quickly shut it off for the second viewing and was as richly moved as I was when I was a kid. (Yes, people, I wept copiously throughout the third act. Dino Delaurentiis, the producer of the '76 version, when asked why he was remaking the classic, answered, "when monkey die, people cry." I am an example of the person he's describing.)

I have to say, though, by this point I feel like I know this fucking story. And let's get this straight, I think of it simply as a story. I do not read any cultural bias (beyond archetypal filtering) into it at all, unlike this person. Or, for a more comic viewpoint, McGruder.

A note on the cultural reading into the film: It's a way to look at that story. I, personally, don't buy it. To me, the story is about a hell of a lot more than a big black monkey, who is shipped to the US, is in lust with a pure white blonde woman, and will use his savage strength to take and have his way with her.

But, I don't want to talk about this aspect too much (having had that instinct sated elsewhere, ahem). I guess I'm looking to justify the films/stories themselves, in a deconstructive manner. An argument, if you will; an exploration of the progression of the story; from the jittery and stilted 1933 original through to the intricately explored and epic 2005 remake.

Enough yadda, now for more yadda:

King Kong (1933)

Much like its clone 72 years later, the original is simply groundbreaking entertainment, in just about every way imaginable. About the only thing that hasn't dated well is the acting/dialogue, and, well, the treatment of the savages, which reflect the mores and tastes of 1933 Hollywood.

Director Merian C. Cooper, at the time largely known for his nature movies, spends more time focusing on aspects dealing with the ape, such as the innovative special effects, than he does with the story.

But the story, what a doozy. Your classic nature v. machine set up, with some primal emotion thrown in. The ape is pure aggression, though, and you can't help but feel terror at Ann Darrow's predicament. The relationship between ape and woman is so brutal and forceful, that it's easy to understand why people assume there's racial-sexual tension in the story.

Beyond this, I think part of the reason kids relate so well to the 25 ft. ape is that his behavior is so purely instinctual, and it does nothing but yell and rage, as if it's the only way it knows how to communicate...Also, the human exaggerated response to these aggressions is not unlike that of how grown ups react to a kid's actions: Heightened alarm and over-reactionary in nature.

And yes, special effects are an integral part to this movie, and why it plays one in the subsequent remakes. For an example of how big a leap this was in movie-making, remember that the French silent film A Trip to the Moon (which featured the iconic spaceship in the moon's eye image) was still the height of special effects until about five years before King Kong was released.

Without the special effects in this movie, Ray Harryhausen (he of Clash of the Titans, the Sinbad movies, etc.) wouldn't have found inspiration.

King Kong (1976)

You know how it is when you have an unrequited crush on someone you once talked to, and everything about that person was the shit? Their jokes were the funniest, their clothes the most fashionable, and every single thing about them were the bee's knees...and then, a couple of years later, you see that person again and you wonder just what the hell it was you were thinking?

Yeah, that was this movie to me, when I recently saw it.

Oh, man, what an awful flick.

I mean, with the '33 version you could ascribe the script/acting to being of the time...In this instance? Not even Jessica Lange's jiggle factor plays well. (I'd completely forgotten just how skimpy her tribal outfit is, which, okay, that does appeal.) Jeff Bridges sleepwalks through the thing; only Charles Grodin has the chutzpah to ham the thing up, and uh...let's move on.

Okay, the savages? I'm wondering if Debbie Allen got some credit for their choreography, and if so, if she was on a luridly menstrual hormonal overload, because the only thing missing from the costumes is a giant black phallus for them to slap each others' asses with.

Then, you have an Ann Darrow that may be overdoing the valium, and an ape that, if you get beyond the special effects, is a little too human for the story's sake.

Well, you can't talk about the ape without dealing with the special effects so...here's a line from the script:

Prescott - I mean, did you see that thing? That wasn't a guy in a gorilla suit you know.

Funny line, but that was exactly what it was. Another problem with the ape is the huge amount of anhropomorphization going on. This Kong behaves and looks like a 3 yr. old, down to oooh-ing at the pretty lady. It's also pretty slow.

It should be noted that this production was overrun with problems (Grodin's autobiography It Would Be So Nice If You Weren't Here has a chapter dedicated to lightly discussing this); over budget, behind schedule, filled with special effects nightmares.

For example, Grodin talks about an ape they built to scale. The director (John Guillermin, odd career) was promised, by Dino De Laurentiis - a notorious big talker, a giant ape that would be able to walk, pick things up, etc.

Well, needless to say, it didn't happen. They spent a ton of money building this thing, and it was only used for one shot: Towards the middle of the third act, Kong is being displayed to the thrill seeking American crowd, and he loses it. The shot is taken from far away; Kong is supposed to be screaming in rage and, his arms...raise...ever so slowly. He's standing still while his arms are coming up. The scream overwhelms the soundtrack, the crowd is panicking below and he...continues to raise his arms.

That mechanical ape cost them over a million to build.

I give this version a hard time (I'm sure the pacing felt fine in the 70s, it just feels slow now), but there is one thing it got right, and it's an important one: The Story.

True, they updated it needlessly (an oil expedition instead of a film crew, for example), but the basic elements are there: 25' ape in love with a blonde woman. Ape dies.

This version is still a lot of people's favorite, something I just won't get, but there it is.

Okay, I figure that's enough for right now. Next installment will focus on the '05 version, and I'll probably get all meta and shit.

Until then...

*Unfortunately, this isn't unusual behavior for me. For example, I watched Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut three times in seven days.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

bladda to the yadda to the yappayapyap

yeah...busy around here, so I think I'll continue the current drive-by-followed-by-post thing I've developed. I'm so far behind at work, it's not even funny.

Things have been going well. 14/48 went smashingly, including some rather effusive compliments from friends and colleagues alike. (Another huge thanks to the Stine for providing her body painting expertise on Saturday!)

I did learn one thing: No matter how well you're performing, delivering your lines with the right about of zest and timing; nothing spells "showstopper" like having a naked guy towelling himself off on stage.

Meanwhile, my pal Deni's got a great series going on about online community addiction, and uh...yeah.

I'm out of theatrical projects for the time being! Holy shit. I mean to focus on writing, but I wouldn't mind having something to look forward to before July comes around.

Aaaaanyhoos, glad to see that y'all are doing well...

Monday, January 09, 2006

For Hardcore Fans of the Buffyverse

I tend to defend things I like with a passion, and then I tend to slowly let go.

Case in point: Angel's fourth season. And before I begin, read Sars' brill dissertation on why A:TS S4 was problematic.

Angel: The Series always got a bum rap, in my opinion. At first it got flak from the "Buffy/Angel4ever" crew, because this 400 year old guy decided to *gasp* move on from his teenage girlfriend. (That he perpetually behaved like a confused 19 yr. old made that relationship work.)

Then, during Angel's 2nd and 3rd seasons, it was that it wasn't as engaging as BtVS (nevermind that it took Buffy well into its 2nd season to really start cooking. Also, Buffy during this time frame had the addition of a sister, the death of two major characters in S5; and the deadly serious, if marginally engaging, crapola in S6--musical episode notwithstanding).

I still argue that Angel found its groove in this time frame, just like Buffy did.

But then we get to the fourth season, which was Angel's anchovie season (you liked it or you didn't, and a lot of people I know didn't). I distinctly remember going to the purplehound residence on a weekly basis and having to have a conversation that usually began with "it's not that fucking bad, goddamnit." They would probably like to forget those days.

Compared to Buffy's S4, in which Buffy went to college and ended up fighting...a militaristic cyborg*, Angel's S4 was all over the map, with several apocalyptic events thrown in throughout the season. As Sars discusses, there were also a bunch of character developments that seemed jarring overall, and it is these that make it such a controversial season for fans.

I'll let Sars continue down that road, she does it much better than I could.

Here's my thing, though: It is because of this unpredictability that I thoroughly enjoyed A:TS S4. Yes, the Cordelia/Connor thing is more than a bit discomfiting, but did anyone really enjoy the Buffy/Riley stuff in Where the Wild Things Are? Did anyone really enjoy Buffy/Riley?**

Was it cohesive? No. Was it entertaining? Yes.

And yet, as I read Sars commentary, I found myself having to nod my head in agreement with her. It was sloppily put together, just like the last two seasons of Buffy. Thankfully, Angel's fifth season was a cohesive hoot. Too bad it got cancelled.

*BtVS's worst seasons, in order, from "worst" to "that was really annoying": S6, S7, S4

**Granted, Buffy/Riley didn't have any of Cordy/Connor's oedipal baggage. Also, in terms of character development, Riley, in retrospect, made sense as Buffy's rebound guy.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

B. Jones: On Wally Walker

Wally Walker = The Guy Who Runs The Sonics' Front Office

I had a whole thing here, but really, Steve Kelley, columnist for the Times says it better, in a more concise and angrier fashion:

Go there.

[TBO's note: Tip of the pen to JJ for sending the link to me.]

Driving By...

Aaaaach, first week of work has been hectic, on top of moving, on top of 14/48 anticipation, the brain pan don't got much room for much else.

however, I've some drafts of stuff to post, so, hopefully soon.

Anyhoos, thanks all, particularly JJ and Lyamhound for making the first Spout Off a success, there'll be more of that in the future, to be sure.

Let's see, I've been meaning to post about this for the last few days: I've been added to the Bruno and The Professor blog roll, which is an honor, as I'm a fan of their style of political writing: Smart, off the cuff, and not too self-serious. (Thanks, B!)

Sooo, check them out, if you're so inclined, and see you soon.