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Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Time Event
Mini Movie Reviews!
Rather then commenting on the continued decline and fall of the American Republic, let me mention the last few movies I saw.

On DVD I saw:
City of Ember -- a well done sci fi mystery of two children discovering the secret of how to escape from their buried world of eternal darkness. There were one or two movie elements added, not in the original book, meant to heighten drama, but which I thought  unnecessary, or even foolish. Despite this, the mystery was gripping and the characters delightful.

I am a little surprised this did not do better in the theaters. The science fiction premise was simple enough that even a muggle could grasp it, and who cannot root for the main characters who have never seen the open sky, seeking to escape a dying underground city?  As a metaphor for everything from the fearless scientific investigation of the world, to youthful awakening, to maturity to rebellion against soft oppression,  to a spiritual awakening, it strikes a deep cord.

Cinderella Man -- Every father or would-be father should see this film, especially the scenes where the father tells his son stealing is wrong, even if you go hungry, and where it is shown how a man pays his debts. Based on a true story, a prizefight so famous that even I had heard of it, the drama is gripping, and the message more pertient now than ever. If you liked the film Seabiscut, you'll like this. Stars Russel Crowe, so rent this and rent Master and Commander at the same time, and make an all Crowe weekend of it.

High School Musical 3 -- Sorry highbrow guys, but I just love me this Disney hoofers. It shocks me that Hollywood cannot make a film with half the energy and charm of his low-budget made-for-TV song and dance flick.

5000 Fingers of Dr. T -- Maybe the weirdest little thing I'd ever seen on the silver screen. In a dream a child is kidnapped into a concentration camp (surrounded by electrified barbed wire) run by an evil piano teacher bent on world conquest. After the piano teacher has a duel of hypnotic whammies with the plumber, the piano teacher (who has his own physics lab) orders the plumber disintegrated atom by atom. Meanwhile the plumber falls in love with the kid's mom whom the piano teacher has used his hypnotic powers to place in a trance. The kid and the plumber are thrown into a dungeon inhabited by all the abducted musicians of the world, and must escape with the aid of an atomic -- a very atomic -- music-fixing bottle. The happy fingers beanies must be seen to be believed. The only live action movie ever made by Dr. Suess, who also did the set direction.

Singin' in the Rain -- The best comic musical piece ever is Donald O'Connor singing Make 'em Laugh. My three sons (ten, eight, and five) made me rewind that scene and play it over and over. Cameo by the leggy Cyd Charisse.

[Trivia time! In the "Would You" number, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) is dubbing the voice of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) because Lina's voice is shrill and screechy. However, it's not Reynolds who is really speaking, it's Jean Hagen herself, who actually had a beautiful deep, rich voice. So you have Jean Hagen dubbing Debbie Reynolds dubbing Jean Hagen.]

While it does not count as a movie, I also recent re-watched the last few episodes of Avatar, the Last Airbender, which is almost Miyazaki-like in its depth, well-done kinetic motion, character development, lush animation style, charm and humor. It is almost impossible in SFF to portray an alien world that seems both exotic and comfortably familiar, but the writers and illustrators of Avatar found a way to do it.

Also saw the first two episodes of BBC's Upstairs Downstairs starring Jean Marsh. Very impressive for a television production. Next time someone tells you we have a class society in America, show then this little gem of a series, so they can see what class societies are like, and what must be done to maintain order and discipline within them. The scene where the new maid's name is arbitrarily changed by the mistress of the house should make the point clearly enough.

But in the theater I saw:

Gran Torino -- hysterically funny in places, moving, deep and human in others. Not the ending you'd expect. For once, the Priest character in the film is not an ax-murderer. If you are squeamish about heading a LOT of racial slurs, this one is not for you.

Slumdog Millionaire -- the only film that won an Academy Award in the last five years which actually earned it. Well worth seeing. The brilliant concept here is that a boy from the slums, who knows nothing, just happens -- by providence, or fate, or Karma, or coincidence -- to know the answers to the increasingly difficult questions of a 'You Want to Be a Millionaire' gameshow. Questioned by the police (who think he is cheating) the youth reveals the details of his sometimes bittersweat, funny yet often horrid past, and the girl who appears as a bright thread in the dark tapestry of his life, a thread he has lost and seeks, somehow, to pick up again. Soon we realize that more than merely a million dollars is at stake.
Learn something new every day!
Jack Kirby once did a comic book version of the famous (famous among geeks) science-fiction surrealist spy thriller THE PRISONER.

More info here: http://www.twomorrows.com/kirby/articles/11prisoner.html

and here: http://datajunkie.blogspot.com/2006/03/you-are-number-6.html

I had heard about Kirby's short-lived 2001 SPACE ODYSSEY from a review by Fabio Paolo Barbieri (his review is here) and I regret that I have not yet got my hands on a copy -- if it can be found anywhere -- of this work. But the Prisoner exist only as a fragment in a few out of print Kirby Collections.

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What is the Matrix?
The only reason why I am not a huge fan of THE MATRIX, is that, the week before I saw it, I saw another film that had much the same themes, (what if life was not what it seemed, merely a huge deception?)  only without the glaring plot-holes called DARK CITY. The contrast was too sharp for me, so the minor flaws in THE MATRIX seemed major. But despite that, I recognize it was a Way Cool movie with a look to it, a camera technique, that everyone remembers and every action film copied, including WATCHMEN.

Now I read a rather, uh, interesting take on THE MATRIX by someone called The Last Psychiatrist. His analysis: the popularity of the film was due to the daydream appeal of discovering that you, too, may secretly one day be the superman! He seems to think this is a new idea, rather than the oldest daydream in comics and science fiction. When John Carter, clean-limbed fighting man of Virginia is teleported at death to the planet Mars, and finds himself not only telepathic, but stronger than any native Martian, I am sure it is a daydream shared by every disappointed Southern planter after the Civil War, who went out West to hunt gold and fight Indians.

Here is a quote from the Last Psychiatrist:

With every passing day, you realize you will not fight bad guys, not join the CIA, not be in a band, not throw the winning touchdown. 

You will not know kung fu.

Your body sickeningly, boringly confirms it.  You breathe harder when you run.  You don't run anyway.  Hair missing, appearing.   

Women your age are better looking than men your age.  Wait, wait, what?

Hopes and dreams are now only dreams.  You start to care about office politics because nothing else is happening.  Clothes matter more because very little else does.

Drinking helps.  You don't know why, you aren't an alcoholic, but you need it.

"I will never be in love."  You love the sister you've married, but there's no hunger, no need.  There never really was.  This was supposed to be temporary until... she came along.  The woman with the dark hair tied loosely in a bun, wearing a scarf, glasses, stunningly beautiful (no one had noticed her but you, of course)-- lost-- needing to be saved---

But wait, you're still young.  Ish. You still have some time-- something could still happen.

What modern middle aged narcissist wants is to find a way to put one foot in reality and keep one foot in fantasy.  A solution that lets him keep fighting the traffic twice a day.  Providing just enough lack of self-awareness that he doesn't reach for a bazooka and blow his brains out. (If only he had even energy for that.)  To have just enough hope that one day the fantasies could come true that he keeps on going.  That a 30 something year old man could suddenly know kung fu.

Fortunately, we find ourselves at the tenth anniversary of just such a solution.

The Matrix: the natural, necessary end to the action movie generation, temporarily postponing  a tripling of the suicide rate.
 Read the Whole Thing. I am interesting in any comments on the Last Psychiatrists' theory. 

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