freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the things I did while I was on leave was actually to watch some movies, in an attempt to reduce the reproachful, tottering Pile of Unwatched Doom. (Currently embarked upon Star Wars: Clone Wars, which is so far vaguely cool, although its Anakin may be unduly... chiselled.) Two of the actual movies were the most recent Studio Ghibli offerings, both of which were lovely in rather different ways.

Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers, which I ended up re-reading before I watched the film. Lord, I'd forgotten how harsh and claustrophobic and threatening a story it can be - the world of tiny little people living in the corners of normal human existence is precarious and paranoid, and the books are rather despairing about human attitudes to things that are tiny and powerless and vulnerable to being categorised, diminishingly, as either "vermin" or "cute". The Studio Ghibli version is slightly less cruel, but the story still fits naturally with the usual Ghibli preoccupations with environmental destruction, and with the sense of a fragile species watching their specific niche eroded inexorably by unthinking humanity. That being said, the film is beautiful, particularly in its sense of nature, and in its visual fascination with the contrasts and whimsies inherent in very small people interacting with very large things. It manages to retain the spirit of the Norton ending while still providing a sense of uplift, which is quite a feat. I enjoyed it, but it also made me realise that "enjoy" isn't really a word I ever applied to the books, they're too uncomfortable.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is very much more folkloric, and I've added it to my considerable list of fairy-tale things I should probably write papers on. Unlike Arrietty, which has a very standard Ghibli aesthetic and animation style, Princess Kaguya is something of a departure, its visual feel far more impressionistic and watercolour, and astonishingly beautiful. The recognisable folkloric motifs of the peasant man and wife who find a tiny, magical child in the bamboo grove very quickly give way to an exploration of the mannered artificiality of the Japanese medieval nobility - "Princess" as social construct rather than naturalised fairy-tale icon. (Don't worry, the mad fantastic elements snap right back into place). It's a sad story, and one which is as concerned as Arietty was with the importance of unfettered identity, and the idea of agency in, and celebration of, the natural world. It also has sweepingly fantastic sequences which are simply breathtaking, and it packs enough of an emotional punch that it made me cry at a couple of points. I loved this; it's very much its own thing, difficult to find comparisons, but I'll re-watch this over and over.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Glass Spider", which is weird and fairy-tale all in its own right).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Mostly my movie-watching life has been on hold lately, because Inquisition. Turns out there is no contest between gaming and watching DVDs: gaming wins. However, apparently the grip of the game loosens a bit when I'm on my, what, seventh or eighth play-through? So I have both gone to the movies, and watched some of the Pile of Unwatched Reproach, which is probably twenty DVDs high, in between navigating a Qunari mage through a by now incredibly familiar Thedas. Leading to a scorecard which looks something like this:

Big Hero 6. Disney animated thing with cute bulbous robot. It's a cute bulbous superhero film which I thoroughly enjoyed, because it's both cute and science-positive. Also, its deliberate rip-offs of Iron Man, among other films, are hilarious. Bonus cool swarms of evil microbots, cool nerd stereotypes and cool affirmations of non-violence. A-, because fluffy, but relegated to "probable comfort re-watch" pile.

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies. Um. Martin Freeman is still a tiny hobbitoid acting god. Bard wants to be Aragorn when he grows up, and probably could be. Thorin's downward spiral wasn't as heart-rending as I expected it to be, possibly I'm becoming old and cynical. Peter Jackson still suffers from irredeemably self-indulgent narrative bloat and completely inexplicable plot choices, and IMNSHO he stuffed up the actual battle something 'orrible. Wasted Fili and Kili's sacrifice, weird relocation of Thorin's confrontation to unnecessary and rather lame towers rather than the battlefield, and it made absolutely no tactical sense whatsoever. Did he run out of budget for background fighting? Also, no Bilbo shouting "The eagles are coming!", rotten swizz. B-, visually cool but overall strangely uncompelling, Martin Freeman notwithstanding.

Basil the Great Mouse Detective. This was, weirdly, teaching research, on account of how I'm teaching Sherlock again this year and am becoming unduly fascinated by the endurance of the Holmes/Watson mythic archetype across different iterations. This one has a classic Watson and a rather annoying Sherlock who has surprisingly large numbers of points in common with the current BBC one. Amazing how the tall&thin vs short&solid visual image is retained in so many versions. Entirely predicable Disney film in the slightly less accomplished pre-Aladdin mode. C, but will will show clips in class because the parallels are interesting.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Saw this on Sunday morning (about 10 people in the 9am showing, score!) in sheer self-defence because my Tumblr feed is trying to spoil me. I am entirely unable to say whether it's a good movie or not because my ships and personal headcanons have been so thoroughly Jossed that I'm all quivering with outrage, injury and sulk. I've read a lot of Avengers fanfic, and it turns out I'm really invested in the Avengers as they currently stand, and I want to keep on thinking of them like that, living together forever in Avengers Tower and fighting crime, not with the new team make-up going in the new direction. It was certainly a fun film, visually exciting, good character interaction, amazing fight choreography, but bleah. I decline to assign it a score on the grounds that I'm not reasonable about it. I spent most of Sunday unconscionably depressed and killing things in Inquisition with more than the usual levels of vindictive satisfaction. Phooey.

On the upside, they also gave us the new Star Wars trailer in big-screen 3-D, and it made me weepy. Apparently I'm imprinted on that universe, but also the new images are correctly gritty and feel like Star Wars in a way the prequels-we-do-not-mention did not. A new hope!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Right, so, in a ridiculous whirl of activity, in between hand-holding angsty students, composing nitpicky faculty rules and placating my boss, I have during the course of today confirmed a possession date, signed a lease, paid a deposit on same, booked a removals company, booked a micro-herd of Eco-boxes to pack everything into, paid for both of above, cancelled a small pack of stop orders in order to replace them with a small pack of other, different stop orders, and given formal notice to my Evil Landlord, who is being signally non-evil about it all. I move on the 19th. I'm ... a bit breathless, actually. Apparently this is a real thing that's actually happening almost immediately. Heavens.

All this activity seems to have put the temporary kibosh on book-distribution processes, mostly because of the whiplash, so instead have this. It's a thing of beauty. Ridiculous animated balloon-animal bouncy giggly beauty.

The subject line is even more surreal than usual. Sorry. I wouldn't actually recognise "99 Luftballons" if it slithered up my leg, but it came immediately to mind when I was doing the usual subject-line trawl of the unconscious by virtue of the fact that it's the kind of song one sees quoted all over the show to the extent where actually experiencing it first hand is redundant.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Movie club! By age-old (i.e. approximately year-long) tradition this entails two movies linked by a theme. I've owned and been wanting to watch the original Godzilla for a while, but kept on coming up blank on something to pair it with. (Re-make? Aargh. Other daikaijū films? eek! Cloverfield would have been ideal, but everyone else had seen it. I wanted Akira for a "Destroy Tokyo!" theme, but Stv had seen it already.) Finally, as despair set in, I remembered that I also had a copy of Rango which I hadn't got around to watching. Perfect! the theme: LIZARDS!

And, of course, conceptual whiplash of the more neck-bracey variety. Godzilla is a black-and-white Japanese monster film hailing from 1954; Rango just won the Best Animated Film Oscar. And I don't think a chameleon is technically a lizard, anyway1. However! they were both thoroughly enjoyable for very different reasons, and mature reflection suggests that the common theme could have been Fire And Water, or The Corruption Of Water, or even Water And Control.

The 2010 Hugo ballot contained a novella by James Morrow called "Shambling Towards Hiroshima", which featured Hollywood history, rubber monster suits and plots against the Japanese, and if I loved the story at the time (which I did), I love it even more having actually seen the film. Godzilla is one of those wonderful cinematic archives which makes you realise from moment to moment exactly how far film-making has come in half a century, at the same time as it ineradically demonstrates the power and precision with which the older tropes, conventions and special effects draw you into the film. (And how frequently black-and-white frames are starkly poetic). It was slow, clunky, alienating as much in terms of Japanese body language as the different pacing and storytelling, but it's a thoroughly worthwhile watch if only because it's one of the few examples I've met of unabashed allegory that isn't actually annoying. You have to realise quite how terrifying atomic bombs and their implications actually are when they're enacted on three levels simultaneously, two of them metaphorical. Also, it's enormously refreshing to watch scientists being respected and instantly credited instead of being silenced in the name of politics. And the special effects are surprisingly effective. The slow, inexorable, stumbling advance of the monster is somehow more terrifying than anything fast-moving, and Tokyo burns.

I could babble enthusiastically about Rango's extended pastiche of Westerns which is also a devoted love-letter, its pitch-perfect musical score (the music is genius), its brilliant voice cast, its frequently extremely beautiful visuals, its rapid-fire humour and continual film reference (the recreation of bits of the X-wing assault on the Death Star is extremely happy-making), its plethora of beautifully eccentric desert-creature characters, its ecological message, and the extent to which its animators were clearly having a blast. But I don't need to. I can sum up the film, and the indecent amount of pleasure it gave me, in two words. Mariachi owls. The chorus and commentary of the mariachi owl group caused me to lie on the sofa and giggle hysterically until jo&stv became quite concerned. No, really. Mariachi owls. Go and see it. Also, it's incredibly self-concious about narrative construction. Basically I was doomed.

1 Edited to add: no, wait, Wikipedia says they totally are lizards. And have "parrot-like zygodactylous feet", which is a curiously wonderful phrase. I love chameleon feet. Like little alien paws.

strange bedfellows

Tuesday, 11 October 2011 09:46 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
The rhapsodic interaction between my first ever Real Job And Paycheck, TM, and the happy invention of online shopping, has led, over the last four years, to the maddened growth of my DVD collection. It's like those mad scientist moments where you add the green liquid to the bubbling wossname in the beaker on the bench, and suddenly great gargantuan billows of pseuopodical stuff are taking over the lab in disturbingly organic leaps and bounds. While not quite up to the three or four metres worth of Books of Unread Reproach, the DVDs of Unwatched Reproach have at least outgrown their Evil-Landlord-constructed cabinet, and are piling up all over the show. Matters have not been helped by my happy immersion, over the last six months, in all of Smallville, all of Eureka, two seasons of Dollhouse and various bits of Castle. Addiction to fluffy TV does tend to fill up a girl's evenings.

I have thus sternly resolved to winnow out the unwatched pile, by the simple expedient of watching at least two movies per evening until further notice. Since I'm grabbing them more or less randomly, as dictated by the inexpressible whims of the moment or the conjunctions of the moons of Saturn, some slightly odd juxtapositions are likely. Last night: Strictly Ballroom! And The Secret of Kells!

Strictly Ballroom wasn't at all what I expected. It certainly fits the parameters of my low, reprehensible passion for dance movies, but it's not a fluffy romcom in the same way that, for example, Dirty Dancing is. Its tone is amazingly ironic, with moments of horribly exaggerated faux-documentary and an overall sense of conscious, tongue-in-cheek excess which makes it not so much a dance movie as a commentary on dance movies. I am forced to conclude that Baz Luhrmann is an odd, odd man. However, conscious play with sterotype and generic convention makes Extemp a happy girl, as do the lovely dance sequences. I'm sorry Paul Mercurio didn't make any more dance films, he moves quite beautifully. And if Luhrmann does anything well, it's spectacle. I enjoyed this movie a lot, but for what I felt were possibly all the wrong reasons. It also caused me unholy flashbacks, weirdly enough, to The Fighter, which depicts the same horrendous family pressure on a performing star. Although I'd rather watch a rumba than a rumble any day.

The Secret of Kells was an animated Oscar nominee in 2009, but lost to Up, which was really fighting in a different weight class. Kells is not your standard animation: it's a beautiful, stylised, poignant, amazing creation which does incredible things with repetition and two-dimensionality as well as with the medieval illumination on which it's based. The story is quirky and cute, with the usual orphaned-child focus and added points for the cat (called Pangur Ban, naturally) and a beautifully-animated forest-sprite, but it's not a kid's movie: the descent of the Viking hordes is quite horrifying, all black and red and spiky silhouettes. Nonetheless the love and respect for illumination and books in general shines though - this film really needs to be seen by all illuminators, medieval fetishists (I'm looking at you, local SCA) and anyone whose ploons are grooved by amazing stylised art. Bonus beautiful Irish accents at random intervals, too.

On the Film Pairing Game principle, I decree that the common theme in the above randomly-selected movies was... (thumbsuck...) artistic integrity. And stylisation. Remarkably coherently, in fact. Who knew?
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
You probably all know about the Kickstarter project to make an animated film of Neil Gaiman's short story "The Price". At time of writing, they are $4000 away from their total, with just under 24 hours left to go. If they don't make the total, no-one pays anything.

This is a wonderful confluence of three of my favourite things, namely Neil Gaiman, cats and animation; it's also a lovely crowd-source opportunity, and the animation is beautiful and creepy in all the right ways. I've pledged $50, which nets me a copy of the DVD. This is nothing in the greater scheme of things. Nor, given the itsy-bitsy-teensy-weensy nature of this blog, is this post going to achieve much in the way of vast crowds rushing to add their mite to the whole. But it might inspire a few of you to toss a few dollars their way, and every little bit added to what you've got, makes just a little bit more. Think about it. (You need to join Kickstarter, but you pay via Amazon).

I really hope this one comes off. It could be amazing. And it's one strike in the defense of the democratic creation of beautiful films, and one in the eye for the corporate-driven dreck habitually perpetrated by Hollywood.
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Marking ate my weekend. OK, not quite. Marking and trying to write moving, eloquent, sophisticated papers on vampire Snow Whites ate my weekend. Om, nom, nom. In fact, not even. Actually, socialising ate my weekend, so I had to cram all the marking and paper-writing into the edges, where it worried the legs of my trousers, snarling. This three-career lifestyle isn't all that, when you get down to it.

[ profile] friendly_shrink and her Nice Man braaied for us on Friday lunch, it being, of course, Braai Day; for some reason large and delectable meals for lunch - or possibly the gin - knocks out the day totally. Then we did movie club on Friday evening, of which more anon. Saturday was mostly eaten by traffic, as [ profile] first_fallen had her birthday lunch in Hermanus on top of the whale festival, which, while a pleasant occasion full of lovely people I don't see often enough, means two hours to get from one side of Hermanus (Pop. 25 125) to the other, falling over the one horse on the way. Sunday was eaten by resentment, in between marking and paper-writing, because what I really need weekends for is down time, and I didn't get any. Phooey.

Movie club was stv's choice, and the theme was apocalypse. Post-apocalypses. Post-apocalypi? (Very heavy: my next one is going to be dance movies, just to retaliate). Anyway, we watched The Book of Eli and 9, which were definitely both on theme.
  • Book of Eli: interesting film, beautifully shot, lots of desert and bad guys with guns. It was flawed by its attempt at a twist, which it absolutely and completely failed in any way whatsoever to justify with the actual, you know, events of the movie. Phooey. On the upside, rather well acted.
  • 9: interesting film, beautifully animated, lots of ruined buildings and giant evil steampunk machine things with glowing eyes. It was flawed by its attempt at a script, which it absolutely and completely failed to deliver in any way resulting in plot coherence, logical decision making, or anything resembling, you know, enough actual characterisation to create motivation or a reason to identify with these little rag-doll people. On the upside, very cute twin archivists.
I'm glad I saw both movies. I won't be adding them to my collection. But there was popcorn. And a three-day weekend, which was mostly characterised by being over. Sigh.
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I do like slightly off-the-wall and incongruous subject lines, and it's a rare thing indeed when a movie provides me with such in its title, entirely without my intervention. I missed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on circuit when it was open, which is annoying as I think it might have been even more fun in 3-D, but I have to say, vegging out in front of it last night with (a) my currently favourite rice-tomato soup, (b) a horrible dose of glandular exhaustion and gosh-someone-punched-me-repeatedly-under-the-jaw-again, and (c) my mother, was pretty darned fun.

I don't know much about Sony Animation; I never got around to seeing Surf's Up, although the trailers looked amusing, and I didn't really have high expectations of this - in my mind I think their films are linked with abysmal non-Pixar/Dreamworks efforts like Hoodwinked and Happily N'Ever After (ritual ptooey!). The animation seems a bit plastic at first glance, and it has very much the frenetic, clever-clever self-consciousness of much worse films. But it also offers surprising levels of warmth and wit, particularly in the tiny details, as well as a rather good and slightly unexpected voice cast (Mr. T? what's with that? Bruce Campbell? and NPH playing the monkey?), and an ultimately subversive and rather pleasingly evil-minded anti-consumerist message, in the most literal of terms.

I'm entertained by how high-profile the Mad Scientist trope has become in contemporary popular films - Dr. Horrible, Igor, and now this. I'm lecturing on Frankenstein at the moment, and the parallels are lovely to watch. In the modern iteration, of course, Mad Scientist Geek Accidentally Creates Monster, Saves World, Gets Girl, which lacks the tragic sweep of Scientist Creates Monster, Goes Mad, but beats the hell out of Muscular Jock Gets Girl, Saves World, which is now so last century. Geeks are clearly in, as are nerdy girls capable of polysyllabic techno-babble. I knew it! - polysyllables make the world go round, and are incidentally also hot.

Most of all, however, this film is clearly the Seekrit Attack Plan of an evil ascetic vegan cabal. It will make you take up dieting. It will cause you to wish never to allow food to pass your lips ever again. The animated images of giant storms of hamburgers, showers of syrup, spaghetti tornadoes and the like are initially amusing, and become slowly and inescapably horrible even while occasional moments (the jello palace, the ice-cream snow fields) are magical and beautiful. There's a fleshy, orally-fixated visual scare tactic at the heart of this film, and as a nasty poke at over-indulgence, entitlement, junk food, excess and waste, it's exceptionally pleasing. It's a flawed but actually extremely amusing film, and I had fun watching it. Also, the bit with the animated roast chickens is both hilarious and self-consciously disgusting, and caused me and my mother to crack up simultaneously. We apparently share a low, reprehensible passion for slapstick. Genetics will always get you in the end.

sparbled and chased

Tuesday, 15 June 2010 12:47 pm
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Today's subject line courtesy of Worthless Word for the Day. "Sparble" is a verb meaning "to scatter or disperse", but mostly I just like the way it sounds. The sixteenth century has a good line in words.

We did Movie Club again on Friday night, finally, after several months of arbing around being disorganised. It was my choice, with a theme I delineated as "Weird-Arse French Animation", but in fact it might just as well have been "French drawings of boobies!" We watched Les Triplettes de Belleville, which I'd seen before and which is awesome, and Gandahar, which is obscure and trippy but also fairly awesome.

Les Triplettes de Belleville is your perfectly standard retro-animated quest narrative involving Tour de France cyclists kidnapped by the Mafia for an underground betting ring which is subsequently broken up by mad, musical, apparently indestructible old ladies. It's surreal, beautifully understated apart from the grotesque exaggeration of the animation (giant French noses ftw!), almost entirely without dialogue, and completely demented. Stv and I were braced for it, having seen it before, but I think it may have broken Jo's brain a bit. (The dog being used as a tyre seemed to get to her). Also, I find the frog-eating a bit difficult. The boobies come in in the initial "Belleville Rendezvous" 1920s music-hall song, performed by the titular triplets with a Josephine-Baker-style dancer. It's insanely catchy and has been revolving around my head, and in my dreams, since Friday. It's a lovely movie, for a given value of "lovely".

Gandahar was more of a gamble: late-80s French/Korean animated sf directed by René Laloux, who is also responsible for Fantastic Planet, which I haven't got around to watching yet. Gandahar has a dreamy, pen-and-wash style to its backgrounds and a sort of stripped-down simplicity to the characters; it features noble, beautiful Gandaharians, strangely twisted and deformed mutants, armies of metallic men with red glows in their chests, giant insane brains, time travel, incredible quantities of topless women, and an underlying peaceful-existence eco-theme that I darkly suspect James Cameron may have ripped off for Avatar. It's the kind of film that vaguely makes me wish I actually did psychedelics, I suspect they'd help; the plot is fairly tightly-knit and coherent, but a lot of the images are extremely weird.

I enjoyed the film, in a dreamy, detached sort of fashion, and I loved the art. I'm also fascinated that I've managed to hang around on sf blogs and sites and in sf criticism for about ten years and have never actually heard of this film apart from the random mention in passing which prompted me to order it. Clearly French sf flies below the radar. Possibly because of all the boobies.
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Oh, dear. My Imaginet geeks have failed me. Even arm-wrestling their tame Telkom guy, the one who apparently knows what he's doing, was insufficient. All he could do was to instruct me to return to start, do not collect re-wiring, please phone the original order helpline (and he gave me the wrong number) with the original description of the problem, the one that didn't work first time round, and start the weary round again.

So I did this yesterday. With my Seekrit Weapon. I have now tried logic, calm rationality, searching questions, patiently pointing out the imbecility of the system, irritation, rage, abuse, accusations and slamming the phone down. This time, dealing a crippling blow to a hundred years of feminism while suffragettes sobbed, I waited until the first stupid objection ("this is a fault, not an order, this is the order line, phone the fault line"1), and burst into tears. The slightly hysterical sobbing, interspersed with hiccuping attempts to explain exactly how many hours I've spent on these bloody helplines trying to log a call, eventually backed the poor operative into a corner, where he eventually overrode stuff, circumvented the bit where I'm supposed to be the account holder, and finally gave me a reference number and a date when the technician will come round to do a complete rewire, all while rather helplessly enumerating how many rules he was breaking to do so. I feel dirty. But triumphant. To such depths does the monstrosity of Telkom bring us. It remains to be seen whether the technician actually arrives next Thursday, but I'll prep a supply of tissues and a fainting couch just in case.

Nonetheless, despite the need to once more mud-wrestle the Telkom pig, I've actually had a lovely couple of days. I was abducted for drinks and supper on the Camps Bay beachfront by Michelle and Stef last night, which was pleasingly drunken and attended by a magnificent pink and gold sunset and rather wayward conversation. (They may or may not have got me onto the subject of fan fiction, which is always dangerous, because I start using words like "demographic" and "paradigm" and "narrative wish-fulfilment", and have to be sternly suppressed with more booze). The whole seems to have been sufficient to give me, once I staggered home and fell into bed, an extremely vivid and detailed series of dreams which were, I suspect, actually an episode of Supernatural or something. Small town in the American woods is invaded by the weird shape-shifting hicks from a hidden farm somewhere, who wake up and tramp into town, where they proceed to grow giant arms and knock down whole buildings, or slime up buildings as amorphous sheets so they can stalk small girl children and eat them. The Big Daddy of the family was a sort of giant muscular lizardy thing. I think by the time I woke up the entire town was either dead or assimilated. No Sam or Dean to intervene. Clearly where the scriptwriter went wrong, but I have to say, my subconscious has a superb cinematographer.

Fortunately today was a public holiday, so once I'd cleared the dream-fogs I trundled off to see How to Train Your Dragon in 3D this morning. What a sweet little film - really an object lesson in how to take a hopeless cliché (boy makes friends with Wild Creature, is redeemed, saves day) and infuse it with life and charm. The kid's personality and dialogue are lovely; the 3D is magical without being intrusive, the dragon-flight bits, particularly the end battle, are dizzying and beautiful and bloody marvellous, but overall the strength is in the dragons themselves. Toothless, the main dragon, is a completely endearing mix of puppy, kitten and wild creature, and the incredible variety of other dragons is wildly inventive. (And frequently hilarious: I cracked up completely when I realised how neatly they'd pegged the dragon types to the howling stereotypes of the kid gang - small fat kid to small fat dragon, skinny twins to the two-headed serpentine one, spiky-haired punk dragon with attitude for the girl sidekick. Also, the fat kid's D&D geekery with reference to dragon abilities caused me unholy in-joke glee, to the complete bewilderment of the nice family sitting next to me). It was a lovely way to spend a morning - absolutely no surprises, but considerable pleasures. One for the DVD collection.

This week I have to fight Home Affairs to renew my passport. I console myself with the thought that they can't possibly be as incompetent as Telkom.

1 If you phone the fault line they say it's an order and please phone the order line. I tell you, Kafka has nothing on these guys.


Sunday, 27 September 2009 03:12 pm
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Good lord, insane weekend, made slightly more insane by the fact that I'm trying to type this while a large, fluffy, ginger hobbit attempts to sit alternately on my lap, my wrists and my keyboard. Friday night was movies, of which more anon, and Jewel Tavern, which is now in St. George's Mall and still makes damned fine Chinese food in large quantities. Saturday was the very relaxed, very pleasant, rather drunken wedding celebration of [ profile] librsa and [ profile] first_fallen (the drunkenness is all Carlo's fault, him and his shooters, pshaw), with the chance to see all sorts of people I haven't seen in weeks, months or years. Saturday night we broke out another bottle of wine and my new DVD copy of The Middleman, to which we are satisfactorily addicting the Evil Landlord at suitable speed. This morning Michelle abducted me for lunch in Kalk Bay, with champagne. Tonight sven&tanya fed us enormous quantities of lamb. Tomorrow I roll gently into work, almost certainly still drunk, at an advanced hour, and will probably proceed to achieve not much until the fog has cleared, which I confidently predict it'll do around Tuesday. This will be just in time for supper with jo&stv and then book club on Thursday. Memo to self, must really go back to the gym.

Friday night's movie was Up, in 3D, and I cannot recommend it sufficiently highly. Pixar are damned good at what they do, and what they do here is refreshingly lateral, unexpected and at times moving as well as hilarious. Apart from the 3D, which is still magical and actually used with commendable restraint, it's a very good script. The whole thing is slightly off-kilter, galloping off in mad and unexpected directions; the main character is an old man, the main plot doesn't really resemble any Hollywood cliché I can think of, and the whole is leavened with offbeat humour and very human pathos. The initial sequence covering the main character's life with his wife is particularly lovely and extremely lump-in-throatish; the dogs are hilarious, even, or perhaps particularly, to a non-dog-lover.

Where I think the film most succeeds, though, is in its purveyance quite simply of fantasy, in the sense of humdrum existence transported suddenly into colour and excitement: the house and all its rainbow balloons is an extremely potent symbol of uplift, escape and possibility. The slight off-the-wallness of subsequent events is thus perfectly in keeping with what is effectively wish-fulfillment, the happy embrace of the impossible as a fantastic antidote to the mundane. Bonus points for magical floating-balloon-house scenes, Cordon Bleu dog chefs, the Cone of Shame, a randomly demented villain, and Kevin, the giant chocoholic bird who takes on a beautifully-animated and highly endearing life of its own. Above all, though, this is about dreams: how vital they are, how compelling, and how they aren't about what you thought they were about in the first place.

In the Department of Middlemania, Episode 6 is a bit thin on pithy exclamations, although I'm partial to "Holy onions!", "That's dirty pool, I'll clean his clock!", "That really steams my clams!" and "Chocoholics Anonymous!" The episode made me very happy by being intensely rude about boy-bands and plagiarists, and supplying, straight-faced, the phrase "A duck's life hangs in the balance". This show, how I do love it.

the last nit

Sunday, 7 June 2009 09:52 pm
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Memo to self: must get back to knitting, I stumbled over all that lovely crunchy green-and-gold banana fibre in my stash drawer this morning. Only not on the edge of any cliffs.

In other news, my father is be-computered, ADSL-empowered and email- and web-functional, with only one trip home to collect a fresh keyboard, and two phone calls to the helpline (ADSL needed to be enabled by Telkom, and the smtp address on the documentation was WRONG!). The Imaginet helpline guys are pleasant, concerned and know their stuff. Unlike the bastards at Café Viva, whose latest iniquity was discovered this morning: somehow in the course of their futile investigations they managed to break off a connection in the DIN socket for the keyboard. Now it won't take a DIN plug at all, hence the trip home for my old USB-fitted keyboard. All the DIN/USB adaptors in our house went, alas, in the wrong direction. There's the techno-jinx for you.

enchanted ground

Sunday, 10 May 2009 01:54 pm
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There's still a significant portion of my psyche which seems to operate at about age 8, particularly when confronted with anything in the "oooh" category - the magical, the unreal, the not quite possible. Magicians elicit this response, as do fireworks and parkour, and now, apparently, so does 3D animation. I've never seen a 3D film before (bad film critic! no biscuit), and Coraline on Friday night was a truly amazing experience productive of a great deal of "oooh"ing, wriggling ecstatically in my seat and a sort of suspended wonder.

Review cut at egadfly's request. )
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Phooey. I've just accidentally ordered two copies of the DVD of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a movie for which I have an extreme, guilty, swashbuckling-Victoriana passion despite its almost total lack of actual merit. Free copy going to the first person who asks. (In Cape Town, preferably, so I don't have to send it all over the show).

One of the starlings in our road has learned to make car alarm beeps. When I left the house this morning he was sitting in the tree doing that obnoxious "gosh it's dawn wow yay happy!" thing that birds do (and what's with that? Somewhere in human civilisation we went badly wrong if we can no longer muster the enthusiasm birds do for a new day). His usual "twootle fweeple tweet twee" pattern mutated when I hit the alarm button to unlock the car, to go "twootle fweeple tweet BEEP!" - he had the artificial tone perfectly, I thought for a moment my remote was madly unlocking mother's car parked in the road outside. He repeated the BEEP pattern a couple of times, in a companionable sort of way, and then went back to the "tweet twee" one. I'm not sure why this sort of thing makes me happy - possibly simply because starlings are cute and cheeky, but also because I like to think that not all aspects of human civilisation are necessarily bad for our non-human co-habitants.

So, as the subject line somewhat laterally suggests, mother and I went off to see WALL-E last night. Vague Commentary Follows. )

Incidentally, if anyone else caught the rest of the re-enactment poodles bit on the credits for Presto!, please let me know, it's driving me crazy. Teh Internets know not of it. In addition to the initial "Civil War Re-enactment poodles" box there was another one with "Re-enactment poodles" plus two adjectives, and I cannot remember the adjectives. Magnificent? Spectacular? Phooey!

rat in the kitchen

Wednesday, 5 December 2007 05:20 pm
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I celebrated the completion of the thrice-damnéd progression coding yesterday by not only tripping, falling and buying some David Bowie, but by finally taking myself off to see Ratatouille. I'd got out of the habit of weekday-morning movies, an error I shall attempt to rectify: seeing a film with three and a half other people in the movie theatre (one small child, well-behaved) is bloody near ideal, as far as I'm concerned. Having an inner Scrooge, and all...

Ratatouille is an interesting film. It's written and directed by Brad Bird, who did Incredibles, which I have grown to like over time in my usual wayward fashion, and the film certainly represents his characteristic purveyance of a far more adult take than is the norm in animated storytelling. But it's a strange choice of movie setting and plot in a lot of ways. I honestly don't think the kiddie audience will be able to access a lot of the film, which is firmly situated in the incredibly pressured and snobbish world of French restaurant cuisine; while the main character, the rat Remy, is an endearing and expressive little creature, his desire to be a chef doesn't really speak with any directness to a child's experience. I'm also not sure how far the film's setting will appeal to a mainstream American audience: the French milieu, while slightly caricatured, is quite lushly and approvingly depicted, which is worlds away from the classic Disney tendency to animated othering of exotic cultures.

I suppose what all this seems to be saying is that this film, paradoxically given its success, isn't made for the average audience. The gradual drift of mainstream Western culture away from actual cooking and into prepackaged meals means that a lot of the film's detail will not really resonate with an audience, other than the small fraction of serious foodies. (And it's bloody rude about fast food and convenience food). I, of course, loved it: the kitchen and cooking are depicted the loving detail, and the animation process gives both reality and an idealised gloss to beautiful copper cookware, proper chef's knives, high-quality ingredients, artistic plating and the dexterous speed of a professional cook at work. A lot of attention has been paid to the food in artistic terms, and it's beautiful. It's also authentic; apparently the animated team spent months in various French kitchens, working with professional cooks, and agonising over the precise shade of lettuce and how to depict authentically rotted veggies.

To me, then, the film was worth seeing just for its depiction of cooking. The rest of it - well, shrug. It's a cute story, the classic underdog following his dream in the face of all odds, and has some reasonably standard feel-good elements: peripheral love story, the resolution of a father/son relationship, and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek and agreeably hokey provision of nasty villains, sad and ultimately redeemed villains and evil lawyers. Oh, also lost heirs, deathless car chases (by scooter and rat paws) and a mad old granny with a shotgun. The story was fun and not quite predictable, which I do appreciate in a movie these days, but I found it slightly slow-paced. Ultimately, though, that just gave me more time to perve the kitchen scenery.

It's funny thinking over this in retrospect, because I can't quite work out why I'm not ravingly enthusiastic about the film. I enjoyed it, but not wholly; I loved the cooking bits, and appreciated the animation, but it didn't colonise my imagination in the way I think it really ought to have done. Sad. But see it. It's fun.
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Nicked off the Whatever, this amazing and slightly brutal piece of dreamy, whimsical animation. Music by Kwoon, about whom I know zip.

Apparently I can now also post YouTube video. Soon the entire Internet will be within my grasp!

Disney may dismay

Thursday, 22 June 2006 09:37 am
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One of the occasional side-effects of what for want of a better word I'll call my academic "career" is the need, now and then, to spend an evening watching strange and unlikely movies. Last night the exigencies of encyclopedia entry formation required me to view two recent Disney films I haven't seen. Yes, this means I sat through Brother Bear*, gritting my teeth, curling my lip, drinking rum, and at intervals muttering or shouting imprecations, among them "patronising colonialist sods", "get a zoologist, dammit!" and "aaargh." It's a crappy little film, full of cute bears, brotherly love, noble shamanistic savages, inspiring pristine vistas filled with Exciting Wildlife, TM, emotional uplift and irritating music. I hated it. (Apart from anything else, it was incredibly short on actual female characters).

Chicken Little, on the other hand, was a surprisingly agreeable little film which suggests that, against the odds, Disney may be slowly waking up to the twenty-first century from their Sleeping-Beauty-like residence in the 1950s. I didn't have much expectations from the new Disney foray into 3-D computer animation, but in fact bedazzling technological skill has always been their raison d'être, and there are some wonderful effects in this one: the sensibility is very much the squash-and-stretch playfullness of the early 2-D cartoon. The animal-town is pleasantly goofy and at times slyly satirical, and while the usual rampant stereotyping is prevalent, the core characters who, predictably, win through, are rather endearingly geeky. Also - and this, given my known proclivities, is possibly the bit I enjoyed the most - the alien spaceships are simply cool. However, the heart of a potentially postmodern and rather entertaining alien invasion degenerates rather limply into the usual Disney family-values clichés, which horribly undercuts the inventiveness and off-the-wall subversive possibilities in the early parts of the film. So, an improvement in terms of postmodern sensibility and wit, but in the final analysis, alas, it's business as usual, and Disney is Disney still.

* Thank the gods, Home on the Range is a Disneyfied western, rather than a Disneyfied folkloric perversion, so I felt able to ignore it. There is a limit to my dedication.


Sunday, 8 January 2006 09:55 pm
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A thousand words on Tim Burton, in just under two hours. I've been stunned, and looking at the world slightly skew, all day. It's also been a bit of an abrupt transition into the next topic, which is George Macdonald, the Victorian Scottish minister whose Christian fantasies inspired both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. However, having just seen Narnia and re-read the series, I feel somewhat braced for maddened theological allegory.

I am forced to the realisation that the amount of socialising, and attendant house-cleaning, in the last few weeks has been perfectly ridiculous. The madness of Boxing Day and New Year were followed at a neatly week-long interval by the Evil Landlord's combination birthday party and garage-warming on Friday night. This filled the house to the brim with a slightly different assortment of friends, mainly his, obviously. I realise that they are, on average, considerably larger and more male in weighting than the crowd we have in common, and consequently, given all the height and deep-chestedness, create a noise level several turns up from previous parties. The demented neighbour did her usual stint of thunderous, pointed window-banging, swearing and the odd witch-like cackle, although this time she didn't actually sprinkle our back courtyard with her hosepipe. It was a pleasant evening, but, as aforementioned, loud, and full of large people. Other than Friday it's been a blissfully quiet weekend, generally, which was becoming highly necessary. I bunked an SCA event yesterday on the grounds not only of pressing Tim Burton, but the realisation that in my current post-festive state, putting me in a room with anything more than about two other people at once is a sure recipe for someone's kneecaps being gnawed. I enjoy socialising. Up to a point.

Today's perfectly delirious discovery: an actual justification for the existence of Harry Potter. The New York Times has an article on a medical research paper which discovers that the rate of admission to an Oxford emergency room for musculo-skeletal injuries in the 7-15 year age-group drops to half of the norm on the weekends when a new Harry Potter novel is released. The paper is pleasingly tongue-in-cheek in tone, although the science appears fairly real; the authors were interested in the effects of Harry Potter on injury incidence given "the lack of horizontal velocity, height, wheels or sharp edges associated with this particular craze." They conclude that there may be "a place for a committee of safety-conscious, talented writers who could produce high-quality books for the purpose of injury prevention." (I'm quoting chunks because NYT is a login-only site, and you may not wish to create a login.) Given that Rowling is, generally speaking, neither safety-conscious, talented or a producer of high-quality books, I can only regard their hypothesis as speculative in the extreme.

completely insane

Thursday, 9 June 2005 11:46 am
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That Jo&Stv, they're completely insane. In a good way, I hasten to add. Their page of so-called "Friends" is worth a look, if only for the value of so much lateral in a small space.

The other movie I watched last night was The Day After Tomorrow, as a sort of finger-on-pulse test of the progress of ecological consciousness in the Hollywood machine. While clearly a fairly bad and predicable movie (not for nothing was it made by the same people who did Independence Day), I found some encouraging signs for my underlying and more-or-less continual ecological angst. Obviously, they did the Global Warming Takes Three Days compression, which is inevitable, given the expectations of pace in Hollywood action films; equally obviously, the whole global warming thing was merely an excuse for mucho special effects and cheesy moments of heartwarming human endeavour. Also, Jake Gyllenhaal may just be my candidate for replacing Tom Cruise in the irritating stakes. However! encouragingly, the doom-saying climatologists were the Good Guys, and the Evil American Economy and Adminstration wore the black hats. It strikes me that the only way awareness of the clear and present danger of our rampage through our natural resources will ever impact on the soft and squidgy consciousness of the Average Western Dingbat, is through overstated images of giant waves pulverising Manhattan and multiple tornadoes in LA. Enough movies like that, and the knee-jerk reaction of the led-by-nose consumer might be usefully conditioned into something other than "Kyoto Accord Is For Bunny Huggers." At any rate, some of the annoyed right-wing responses to the film are entertaining... :>

Whee! RottenTomatoes has an ad announcing that Miyazaki's version of Howl's Moving Castle opens on Friday in the US! *does joy dance on tips of toes, setting off coughing fit*. This means I may be able to lay hands on the DVD in the forseeable future! Diana Wynne Jones in anime!


Wednesday, 8 June 2005 10:40 am
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The three-day headache turns out to have been some sort of bug, I have a lovely, racking chest cough that has dropped my voice about an octave, and aching joints. Bugger. On the other hand, it's good to have an Actual Enemy on whom to blame the headache. Not that it bodes well for the week of exam marking I have lined up, but hey. *bode, bode*

I managed to soothe the whole wounded beast this evening by finally watching Belleville Rendezvous, an enormously off-beat and off-the-wall French animated movie of maximum charm, intelligence and laterality. Amazing story-telling with practically no dialogue. So pleasant to experience something non-Hollywood, whimsical without being saccharine, deliberately paced without being slow, beautifully animated, and very retro. Jazz, and old ladies, and frogs, and French mafia, and incredibly cool fun poked at obsessive cyclists. Can't recommend highly enough, in fact. Go and find the DVD if you haven't already. *makes shooing motions*

I struck a blow for Career Paths and Networking and other useful stuff by having lunch yesterday with a lovely professor lady from a New York university, who it transpires, lives in CT for half the year, and dabbles in fairy tale as an aside. It was forcibly borne in upon me that, in fact, in true rarified PhD fashion, there is not actually anyone else in this country with whom I can talk academic shop. She knew most of the critics I only know by their work and e-mail. I may have to add this to my reasons to flee the continent. (1. Weather. 2. Can't talk academic shop. 3....?)

Must take hacking cough off to bed. Evil Landlord keeps wandering into my study after a paroxysm and wanting to know if I'm dying, and whether it's contagious. I shall practice coughing on his feet.


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