Monthly Archives: February 2009

strange things seen on the 10

Because I own a pickup truck, I had to drive across town to have my vehicle weighed for the labyrinthine State of California registration process. I mean across town. On the way back, I saw an official-looking highway sign for … Continue reading

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i’ve taken part in over twelve negotiations

Need an assassin? They can tailor-make you one. Need a date? They can do that, too. Need a female hostage negotiator to deal off-the-record with the guys who’ve kidnapped your daughter? No problem. The Dollhouse just pours new information and a new personality into Echo’s brain, and she’s ready to rock.

The flaw in this setup, of course, is that’s it’s pointless. As an FBI supervisor points out while grilling his agent who can’t stop chasing leads on the human trafficking scheme he believes the Dollhouse to be, if you’re a billionaire and want an assassin, you hire an assassin. If you want a sushi chef, you hire a sushi chef. Tailor-made people are both prohibitively expensive and redundant, because people with the necessary skill can be had fairly readily and with much less risk.

The pilot script also awkwardly shoehorns in the idea that when the scientists create these personas for their “dolls,” they have to do so from the personalities of already-existing people. This gives Whedon an opportunity to mandate certain built-in flaws in each of Echo’s adopted personas. But obviously, this only makes the show’s premise even less sound — the only reason billionaires would invest in these made-to-order humans at all would be if every human flaw could be eradicated. When Whedon writes into the pilot that that’s not possible, he is of course making a philosophical stand about human nature, but it seems like he’s also painting himself into a corner.

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the other mother

Henry Selick is a — or maybe the — director of stop-motion animated features. Stop-motion being the labor-intensive process that it is, Selick’s been directing since 1981 and only just completed his fourth feature, Coraline. And if you didn’t catch box-office disaster Monkeybone, chances are the last thing you remember from this guy is 1996’s James And The Giant Peach.

So what does a 13-year wait get you? Quite a lot, as it happens. Horror film producers have been trying to revive 3-D technology for a few years, but the application there is obvious — flying axes and the like. Here, Selick uses the same technology for more playful purposes. Although Coraline — the story of a girl who finds a tiny doorway leading to an alternate universe with seemingly nicer parents — is quite scary, Selick wisely avoids using 3-D for shock effects. 3-D objects don’t leap out like bogeymen — instead the whole texture of the film is crisply three-dimensional, and when objects and characters do occasionally seem to come off the screen — a needle, some papier-mache flying bugs — the effect is more magical than menacing.

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we owe an apology to Farrah Fawcett

By way of the San Jose Mercury-News, Joaquin Phoenix makes David Letterman do both sides of a Late Night interview: In isolation, this just seems odd and sad. But the Mercury-News points out that Casey Affleck is supposed to be … Continue reading

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atlanta? are you crazy? it’s siberia with mint juleps!

And then on the bottom of the bill there was One, Two, Three, a film I’d never heard of, but which I now think might be my favorite Wilder. Certainly it’s his funniest and fastest, a Cold War farce that starts at a pretty high level of energy and then halfway through throws on the afterburners and doesn’t look back.

James Cagney plays a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin assigned to looked after his boss’s wild daughter, who has apparently been living a little too fast in London and Paris. At first it seems to be going well, but when Cagney discovers that the girl’s been sneaking out to go visit a boy on the other side of the Wall, he moves decisively to put a stop to it — only to discover, repeatedly, that he’s half a step behind her. American ingenuity, organization, decisiveness, and sheer brass win out over both Communism and the bureaucratic hierarchy of capitalism, but not without the help of an army of merchants, two very efficient and loyal West German Coca-Cola employees, some propagandizing balloons, and what appears to be a rather generous expense account.

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maggie grace is not 17

The Lady Friend and I went to see Taken on Friday. The awards-season diet of watery Christmas gruel always makes me a little blue about Hollywood, and I was pleased to see some high concept red meat in late January. The premise is a killer — simple, familiar, but no-fail. Government badass Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson, possibly on horse tranquilizers) has spent his life using “a very particular set of skills” to defend freedom and justice, but he’s sacrificed his relationship with his daughter (Lost‘s Maggie Grace) in the process. So when that daughter is kidnapped, Mills has to use his training and contacts to save her. (Fortunately, there’s a wealthy stepdad to foot the bill.)

You can’t really go wrong with this kind of thing, and, in fact, they don’t. It’s a perfectly good thriller, at its best when people don’t talk much and Neeson (or his stunt double) gets to do a lot of fast-twitch martial arts. And, no shocker, in the end he wins.

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it begins anew

The RPM Challenge starts today. The challenge is simple: record an album of at least 10 tracks or 35 minutes, by any means necessary, in 28 days. I took part last year on the recommendation of my friend Chris Dahlen, … Continue reading

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