Thursday, February 28, 2008

Moving pictures, with occasional music

Arn: The Knight Templar

Arn is an adaptation of Jan Guillou's bestselling trilogy, covering the first book and half of the second, and the most expensive swedish production ever, clocking in at some 210 million swedish crowns. Clearly wanting to be a big historical epic in the vein of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, it sadly falls short of the mark by a pretty wide marigin.

I haven't read the books, but I suspect the root of the problem is the need to be faithful to the novels. One and a half books is a lot of ground to cover in the space of two hours and twenty minutes, and the inability to cut out stuff and rework it into something more concise leads to a move that feels overlong and rushed at the same time. It's too busy rushing from plot point to plot point without letting the characters breathe in the slightest. Oh, now he's a little kid sent to a cloister, now there's a bunch of political maneouvering, and now he's in (utterly unvconvincing) love, now there's more political maneuvering, oh god more horrible unconvincing love scenes, now he's sent to the middle east to fight in the holy war and whoops the movie's over. In the words of Dr Kermode, it's all just a bunch! of! stuff! happening. In every scene we get images and music that tell us exactly how we're supposed to feel, but the filmmakers haven't got the time to actually make us feel it, nor do the actors' have the ability to pick up the slack.

It's not all bad, mind you. The production design, costumes and cinematograpy are of consistently high quality, there's a pretty neat duel, and I really like the mix of languages. People will start praying in latin, the arabs actually speak arabic and so on. Loads of neat incidental detail like that.

Still, all the production values in the world can't help save the core from being flat and uninvolving. And really, for a movie subtitled "The Knight Templar", we don't get nearly enough knight templaring.


Well, this is certainly the most savage movie to come along in a long while. John Rambo is back, and this time he's racking up a biger body count than ever before. There's a semblance of plot about some do-gooder Christian missionaries that get caught up in Burma's civil war, but really, it's an old-fashioned exploitation movie. It's all just an excuse to deliver gallons of gore and shredded bodies to the audience.

Which is fine, I've nothing against gore and violence. But I wish Stallone would've left the all the mubling about this is how the world works and how we're supposed to howl with glee because a peacenik learns to bash people's skulls in with a stone. It leaves a sour taste.

Of course, a loathsome underlying message didn't stop all those Reaganite eighties action movies from being enteraining, but the carnage is too impersonal. There's some feeble attempts to develop a main antagonist in the shape of a pedophile general, but it carries all the force and conviction of boiled asparagus. In the end, you're left feeling momentarily stunned and slightly soiled by the dour, unrelenting savagery, but that's all.


I'm not a big fan of Disney to put it mildly, but this was simply a delight. It starts off as your typical old-school disney movie, albeit slightly with it's tongue slightly more in cheek than usual. However, soon enough the princess-to-be is thrown down a wishing well by the wicked stepmother, and lands in modern-day new york and we switch from animation to live action. There she's taken pity on by a kind single-parent lawyer who exasperatedly tries to reconcile her fairy-tale mentality with the realities of the world while sparks slowly start flying between them. Meanwhile, her dunder-headed bethrothed barges after her, and Susan Sarandon chews an impressive amount of scenery and looks better while showing more cleavage than any sixty year old woman should legally have a right to.

Well, outside of the hag makeup anyway.

It's funny and knowing about all the Disney tropes and winks at the audience without giving in and turning into a smug full-on post-modern Shrek-alike. It's a pretty impressive tightrope to walk, and a lot of credit for its success belongs to Amy Adams for turning a cartoon character that by all rights should be annoying as hell into someone insanely charming. The end goes perhaps a bit more over the top than it should, but all in all it's quite lovely.

The Jacket

Jack Starks died the first time when he was 27, shot in the head by a little boy during the first gulf war. Afterwards, he has problems forming memories and suffers from hallucinations. One day winter day while hitchhiking he's involved in an incident where a cop gets shot. Unable to remember anything but a little girl and her mother who helped out earlier in the day, the crime gets pinned on him and he's sent to amental hospital. There, he becomes the subject of a sadistic doctor's experimental treatment that consists of being put in the titular jacket and stuffed into a morgue drawer. This takes him several years into the future, where he runs into the girl who've grown up into Keira Knightley and informs him that he's supposed to have died within a couple of days of the first time he got stuffed into the drawer.

Right about there is where you either roll with the movie, or start laughing. The whole time travel business is never justified with the even slightest of hand waving, which is just as well. More troublesome is all the paradoxes and plotholes that are even wider than in most time travel movies. But in the end I quite like it, despite all its problems. It's a moody, atmospheric and oddly uplifting mix of horror, drama and sci-fi, with quite solid acting throughout. You just have to be able to go along with it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's hard out there for a pimp

Which is why they need intructional videos:

This is the definitive rulebook for pimping in Atlanta, by the notorious kings of the street who lay it all out for those who don't know. Charles Floyd Pipkins, aka Sir Charles, and Scooby give the real lowdown on what a pimp is all about.

Presumably containing advice on where to get a hold of a the most outrageous hats, as well as handy tips for slapping a ho around, picking up teenage runaways and the top five ways to hook someone one crack cocaine!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mumblings about funny-books and other stuff.

During New Year's, when it was time to tell yourself the usual lies about how this year was going to be different, amongst the usual stuff about becoming a sexual tyrannosaurus fearsome enough to lure the cast of Predator out of the closet, and saintly enough to make thousands of virgins commit suicide in my honour, there was a surprisingly strong idea about trying to write more. Sharp writing skills are always useful, but it's hard to be any good at it if you never use them.

This year was going to change that.

Obviously, it has worked out brilliantly so far.

But the year's not over yet, and while I warm up the engines and try to prepare myself for the prospect of updating once (maybe even twice!) a week, here's a few links to some lovely sequential art.

Anders Loves Maria is a cute and often quite funny webcomic romance starring two people in need of a couple of good slaps, and going through the archives will be a very enjoyable way a couple of hours. The creator, Rene Engström is Swedish-Canadian and has the casual Northern European attitude towards shagging and showing rude bits to the audience, so if that sorts of thing offends you, make sure to fire up the outrage machinery before you get started with the first one that's located here.

The Great Love Swami has a new comic coming out via Avatar, which will be yours for free and deliverd in five page instalments, if memory serves. the time to launch is this:

And speaking of Ellis, one of my Christmas gifts was the first volume of Fell, collecting the first eight issues of this seminal series, and I'm still having trouble getting over just how bloody good it is.

The premise is simple: Richard Fell pissed off the wrong people, and as punishment he's been sent from Over The Bridge to Snowtown, where he's one of three and a half detective working on the homocide detail in the worst sinkhole imaginable. Each issue is a self-contained story, with a handful of regular characters and a new grisly crime, inspired by real world circumstances.

There's a hint of Ellis usual speculative fiction in there, since Snowtown is a feral city, a place where the government has simply lost its grip completely, but mostly the stories are straight detective yarns, albeit ones given a surreal spin thanks to Ben Templesmith's scratchy art and the mythical quality of the place - we never get any real names, just Snowtown, and anywhere else is Over The Bridge, making the place seem utterly lost and isolated. The inhabitants have even taken to marking every building with the Snowtown tag, as a protective magic. And there's a wordless, increasingly menacing nun in a Nixon mask constantly lurking in the background.

Fell's is also quite unusual for one of Ellis' protagonists in that he's not a terrible bastard redeemed by a few laudable, strongly held ideals, but a genuinely kind, caring man. The stories stories where that aspect really shines through tends to be my favourites, like when he has to deal with a suicide bomber in a pawn shop, an interrogation with a suspect that goes horribly wrong, and the format breaking closer that concludes with him looking out over his new home proclaiming "None of you are nothing to me", which is about as good a coda as could be imagined to the first volume.

First issue for free here. Go read. There's really no excuse not to.