Category Archives: Film

What I Believed in “Night At the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”

I wasn't a huge fan of the original Night at the Museum – I thought it was a cute, fun movie, that's about it.  We went to see the sequel in IMAX, and while the action and special effects were great, there were times where the movie's sheer ignorance of reality interfered with the enjoyment of the movie. 

Here is what I CAN wrap my head around:

  • A magical ancient Egyptian tablet bringing museum pieces to life
  • An ancient Egyptian doorway to the underworld that releases evil spirits

Yes, those two far-out things I can understand. What I CAN'T understand is:

  • What the heck is going to happen come the morning when the Smithsonian workers show up and find the entire front of the building smashed?
  • At the end of the movie, Larry looks at his watch while standing in Washington D.C. and says "only an hour to sunrise" but then has Amelia Earhart fly them to New York City… in a prop plane… and the sun still hasn't risen yet when they land 
  • After Amelia drops off Larry and the other exhibits, she takes off to fly back to D.C., which would all have to happen before sunrise since otherwise, she'd be crashing (not to mention the fact that the sun is visible earlier in NYC than in Washington and in the air in a plane than on the ground)
  • That the Washington Mall would be so empty of people and government security that a 40-foot tall walking Abraham Lincoln wouldn't attract a little attention
  • That a major street in NYC would be empty enough to land a plane at any time of night
  • That the tablet apparently has a MASSIVE working radius.  They take it from the art museum to the main Smithonian building to the Air & Space museum and to the Lincoln Memorial, while one of the characters is at the White House.   This is a distance of a little over a mile, just from the Smithsonian to the Lincoln memorial.   If this is how it worked, shouldn't all the museums within about a 1.5 mile radius in Manhattan start coming to life in the first film?

Here's the problem – obviously  you need to suspend some belief when it comes to a movie like this, and I'm more than willing to go along with the idea that an Egyptian tablet has some power to bring museum piece to life (as odd of a power as that is…).  I'm not that cynical.  However, when they start getting sloppy with things like "an hour to sunrise" and then they fly to NYC in a prop plane and it is still dark out… then I start questioning everything, and I end up asking questions that are way too logical, like "what's the working radius of the tablet?" 

What ends up happening is that these stupid little mistakes in the story become downright distracting and ends up taking away a lot of the magic from an otherwise enjoyable fun little movie with a lot of action.

Star Trek Movie and Explosions

Saw the new Star Trek movie last night – I won't do a full review, since it has been reviewed by just about ever other magazine, newspaper, and blogger out there.  Plus, I'm largely uneducated in the Star Trek oeuvre – I have never seen a full episode of the original series and just about nothing of any of the newer series.  I also haven't seen much of the movies either.  It just hasn't been one of those things that I've felt compelled to see. 

However, I'm very aware of the impact it has had on our popular culture – there are many quotes that have become part of our everyday parlance: "Set your phasers on stun," "I'm giving it all she got sir," "To boldly go where no one has gone before," "beam me up Scotty,"etc.  I'm glad to say that nearly all of them – along with the general sense of humor and self-aware kitsch – is present in the movie.  Again, not being a "Trekkie" I found the movie entertaining and thought they did a nice job explaining the origins of the crew, based on what I know.

Of course, there was a climatic space battle scene, complete with front shields fully powered and all phasers firing away at the enemy ship, resulting in massive, loud… operatic music. 

This is a trend in recent sci-fi action movies that I find disturbing – the final, climatic battle scenes aren't filled with the most mind-blowing explosive sound effects, but are instead shown along side quiet, nearly soundless clips or buried under soaring vocal choral music.  I don't get it – 100 years of sound technology development, and two hours of great sound effects, but when it counts, we get a crappy version of a Wagner throw-away or sound effects that make you wonder if the sound track is skipping. 

I say give me more – push the limit of the sound system!  I want borderline ear-bleeding effects that keep me from even thinking about what's going on.

So Let’s See Here…

I haven’t exactly been putting the blogging world on fire here recently.  Things have been busy at work and all, but there are a few things that I would like to point out that I’ve been up to lately:

First of all, I just finished the book Who Are You People? by Shari Caudron.  If you’re a fascinated by the deep recesses of pop culture and how people can be completely obsessed with one thing, then you must read this book.  If you have any interest in human psychology or behavior, you should read this book.  If you just like a good, enjoyable, interesting read, then yes, you should read this book. 

The new Shins album is as good as everyone says it is.

I watched Borat for the third time recently, this time on DVD.   It continues to be as funny and shocking as the first time, though on the third go around, it struck me that the same people who came across as the most bigoted in the movie were some of the most understanding at first.  Watch the dinner party scene carefully and those people put up with a lot of shit (literally) before loosing their temper.  The guy at the rodeo should still be slapped around for being a moron though.  And the extra 30 minutes are golden – rent or buy the DVD to watch it – its worth it.

If you haven’t tried Pink Truck Wine, you’re missing out on one of the best pink wines you’ll ever have.  This isn’t some candy-ish white zin – this is real wine with acid, and flavor, and character.

Inland Empire Of Crap… or Art?

So this originally was going to be a scathing diatribe against the movie Inland Empire by David Lynch.   After going to see it in its Providence, RI premiere and expecting a weird but interesting film, we ended up walking out on it half way through, right around the time the dozen prostitutes started dancing in unison to "Do the Locomotion" in the lead character’s alternate reality or whatever it was.  I’ve never walked out of a movie before, but this one was just leaving me completely lost and befuddled.

In the time since then, I’ve read more critical reviews and some more fan reviews and spent time thinking about.   It has also intrigued my girlfriend and I to see the end of the film.  Given what I’ve read and our desire to finish watching the film, it has started to make me think about whether this is truly a rambling, non-linear piece of art school high-falutin’ pretentious crap or umm… just art.

Here’s the thing – if you’re looking to be entertained or enjoy anything even close resembling a normal movie, this isn’t the movie for you.  I am pretty broad-minded when it comes to art and culture, and I enjoy some pretty different movies.  One of my favorite directors is Stanley Kubrick and I’ve enjoyed movies such as Kayaanisqatsi, Madness of King George, Punch Drunk Love, and even Muholland Drive.  I enjoy movies that are challenging, creative, thought-provoking and original.  My favorite movie all time is still Pulp Fiction.  However, I have my limits and if it is simply too far out there, then I typically have a hard time enjoying it.

However, it has got me thinking about the role that such movies – and music and art for that matter – plays in the creative evolution of their genres.  Many of the classic movies that can seem dated and old fashioned now were cutting edge and controversial at the time.  Each has played a roll in the development of film and while some can still seem edgy, some have become much more mainstream as they have introduced a mainstream audience to innovative storytelling and camera techniques.  The aforementioned Pulp Fiction was certainly not the first film to utilize non-linear storytelling, but did it in such a masterful way that now many other films can do the same thing and audiences are OK with it in a way that they weren’t before.  However, there were other, arguably more innovative, films that came before it and laid the groundwork.  Watch the deluxe DVD with the subtitled commentary and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

So where does that leave a film like Inland Empire?  Like still-presiding President or a war not over yet, it is up to the history books.  It could end up being a art house film that only a very small group of people can even appreciate, even enjoy.  Or perhaps, 10, 20, or 50 years from now it could be considered a breakthrough in cinema.  For me, it is an absolute far-out piece of pretentious of artsy film making that made me walk out of the theater but yet strangely left me wanting more.

Things That Go Bump In the Night

A few years ago I began to really get into classic horror films – the classic material going back to the 1930’s, including the original Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, etc.   I’ve become quite the fan, amassing a respectable collection of the best Universal and Hammer films released.  I still have a long way to go both in terms of my horror classics education and collection, but for a fan of just a few short years, I’ve gotten a good start.

The other day while carving pumpkins for Halloween, a friend’s 13 year old son said that he had seen the original "Halloween" and didn’t think it was scary.  I found this strange, since I saw the movie for the first time two years ago and it had me on the edge of my seat.  He continued to explain that it wasn’t scary because they didn’t "show anything" – and by "anything" he meant "blood and guts."

The whole debate about "slasher" vs. "suspense" has been argued since the first horror movie was released, so I have no delusions that I might put it to rest here.  While the blood and gore has its place in horror movies, the best thing is still the suspense, mystery and unknown that is inherent in nearly all great horror movies. 

To me, it is the difference between nightmares and being able to fall asleep in the first place.  Any good horror movie can give you nightmares.  A REALLY good one will keep you from falling asleep in the first place.  There is something far scarier not knowing what might be lurking in the dark than seeing someone’s guts spewed all over the place.

Size Matters

As part of a day trip to the New England Aquarium, Meghan and I went to see Deep Sea 3D at the Simons IMAX Theatre.  It got me thinking about an article a few months ago in Entertainment Weekly about the future of the movies in light of the downward box office trend of the last few years. 

In that article, a theory was given that the movie experience might become closer to the experience of movie going in the past: a more elite experience that might cost more, but will be shown on gargantuan screens while patrons sit in comfortable seating in a luxurious movie theatre, rather than the cookie-cutter ones we have now.  We’ve already seen this trend with movie theaters returning to stadium-style seating, adding more amenities, and some movies being released in regular and IMAX format at the same time.  And now nearly all first and second-tier – as well as several third-tier cities – have IMAX theatres. 

Could IMAX be the future of the movies?

A major argument for this would be the ability for IMAX to keep the experience of seeing a movie something of a spectacular event.  Consider that for a few hundred dollars you can buy an out-of-the-box home theater system that will shake your windows and wake the neighbors.  So there’s no longer the need to go to the movies for great sound.  In fact, I think that a Dolby DTS/THX-certified DVD (geek alert!) on a good sound system can sound BETTER on my home theater than in the movies.

One might say that the big difference is the screen; but that may be just for now.  As all television sets transfer to HDTV in the coming years, picture quality will get better, and more and more people are spending money on a big screen TV set.  The quality will be as good, if not better than you get at the theater (though still not quite as big) and the sound might be better.

Watching your DVD at home will also allow you to avoid the nuisance of people coming in late and talking and cell phones ringing, as happened during a recent viewing of The DaVinci Code.

So as I was sitting there watching amazing underwater cinematography on a gargantuan movie screen with a thunderous sound system, it did occur to me that this could be the future of movies.   However, the seating would be more comfortable and the tickets would be more expensive.  The more expensive tickets would mean that you’d think twice about walking in 5 or 10 minutes late – maybe the theaters would even stop people from entering, as they do with plays and musicals.

The best part would be what could be done from a movie production standpoint with the higher resolution, bigger screen and bigger sound that comes with an IMAX theatre.  We’d probably have to put up with some mindless action stuff, but eventually a director will figure out a way to effectively utilize IMAX film in a way that the medium can help to convey emotion and a sense of connection.  Maybe it’ll even be in 3D.

Just Go See It

I saw The DaVinci Code this weekend.  I read the book a few years ago and loved it – proceeded to read Angels & Demons right afterward.  I was raised Catholic (13 years of Catholic school – I used to be able to say all the books of the bible in order in under a minute…) but have fallen to the wayside over the years but keep an open mind about religions, so I found it very interesting.  The book appealed to the side of me that got engrossed in the X-Files and finds stories about paranormal activity, UFO’s and other freaky stuff infinitely interesting.

I’m no tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy whackjob, but I do believe that there’s a lot more that happens between the people in power than we’d be comfortable with if we knew everything that goes on.  However, since we can’t even get food down to New Orleans after a hurricane, I’m not sure if governments are quite as good at keeping secrets as they used to.  Secret societies have a lot fewer people to answer to, so why couldn’t they keep a secret for a few hundred or thousand years?  Plus, considering the ineptitude of many government officials, I almost find it comforting that our fate just may be in the hands of a secret society which actually controls the governments of the world. 

Anyway – back to the movie.  It was good.  I liked it.  Will you like it?  Well, if you’re a strict catholic who finds the idea of a piece of fiction proposing some alternative theories on the development of the Catholic church to be repulsive, then you naturally won’t like it.  If you are a strict historian who finds the distortion of facts to serve a fictional story to be equally repulsive, then you won’t like it either.  And if you like your summer movies to be action-packed and quick-paced, then you won’t like it as well.

However, if you enjoyed the book and enjoy being presented with a challenging concept which requires to think, evaluate and make decisions, then it’ll appeal to you.  As long as you don’t require your movies to be edited like a music video, you’ll be fine.  A few long pieces of dialog slows the movie down, but if you could listen to people talk about this sort of stuff, then you’ll like the movie.  I also think that the movie leaves you with a much more faith-affirming and positive feeling than the book does.  Everyday Catholics should not be afraid of seeing this movie.

If you see the movie and read the book and still want more, may I offer a personal recommendation of Secrets of the Code by Dan Burstein?  Its fairly lengthy, but you can read it by looking up specific subjects or reading a chapter on a topic that you’re most interested in.

I Wish I Could… Come Up With A Better Title

Just because I like to write about pop culture, doesn’t mean that I’m on top of everything that is going on right as it is happening.  I recently finally saw Brokeback Mountain.  After all the hype and hub-bub over this flick, I had pretty high expectations, and I have to say I was slightly disappointed. 

It was neither shocking enough to be noteworthy or emotionally gripping enough to move me.  I’m can’t understand why people were crying and sobbing over the movie.  Its not so much that you can’t sense the emotional bond between Jack and Ennis, its that it comes too late in the film.  They start off their romantic entanglement after one relatively short conversation where Ennis admits that’s the most he’s ever spoken.  Then one cold night they kiss and have sex.  Am I to understand that gay relationships and/or love spawns out of being cold, lonely and the only other option is the sheep?

While on the topic of that initial "love scene" can I just say that I was slightly disturbed by the aggressiveness of it?  Apparently foreplay for Jack and Ennis was beating the crap out of each other.  That’s far kinkier than the anal probing that follows (I know Jack may love Ennis, but you know he much have been wishing for some KY).

Before this goes into an even darker place, let me get back to the emotional part of the movie: there’s very little dialog and very little in the first half of the film that made me feel that Jack actually loved Ennis and/or vice-versa.  Because of that, when they can’t be together at the end, I wasn’t deeply moved.  The moment where I really questioned whether Jack loved Ennis or just liked the sex was after they can’t be together since Ennis’ children are around, so Jack drives to Mexico to pick up a little Mexican boy-ass.  Yeah, since I know that the first thing I do when I can’t be with someone I love is to go pick up a prostitute in another country.  That’s love right there, you betcha.

Further frustrating the situation was the lack of social context: since it is set in the timeless outdoors and cowboys have always dressed the way that Jack and Ennis do in the film, right up to today, there’s no sense of the chronological setting of the film. The time and place overlays through the film help to tell you the year the movie is set in, but after a while you forget that they can’t just pack their bags and go somewhere to get married as they could now.

Perhaps the film’s lack of wider context makes it tough for us to not only understand that they can’t run off to Massachusetts and get married, but I think your own personal perspective will affect the viewing of this film.  One of my best friends is gay and I live in the liberal northeast.  I see these two and wonder why they  don’t deal with the fact that they are gay and get together.  Others may view it differently – they look at it and feel saddened or angry for a variety of reasons.  How you view the film – cynically with that thought or with it  being a love story – probably affects your overall opinion of the film.

However, in the end, the most lasting impression on pop culture will probably be the line "I wish I knew how to quit you."  It has definitely entered the popular lexicon, since a quick Google search for the term turns up plenty of search results and some other blog entries and this great article on how it has already reached the tipping point.