Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Case for Rastlin'

At first, I thought the recent price hike at cheapskate Tuesdays (a whole 50 cents!) would render me incapable of enjoying anything. And so, as the end credits rolled,
I was surprised to find that The Wrestler put me in such a contemplative mood. Perhaps I was in a contemplative mood beforehand, and just stunned momentarily until the film knocked me back into that frame of mind. But whatever the order of things, the movie struck a chord with me, albeit a sad, melancholy one.

Mickey Rourke is incredible as Robin "Randy the Ram", his tortured looks and easy style making the ex-professional wrestler not only a hard, respected man but also imbuing him with a sensitive soul. He's a tough softie - a man respected for his phsyique and physicality, but overall a nice, friendly yet simple guy. The film catches up with the Ram once the height of his vitality and fame are behind him, picking out a meagre living on a weekend wrestling circuit and ancient Nintendo video games with the kids who live near his residence in his trailer park. He's in love with three things: his daughter, his favourite stripper, and of course, his wrestling.

Stories like this I have seen a thousand times before. But the way in which it is told is gripping. Besides the mesmerising performance by Rourke, Marisa Tomei, as the aging stripper Cassidy, also puts in an astounding turn. Everyone else is just background - from Randy's daughter to the various wrestlers and fans who surround him.

The film is about growing older, faded youth and lost dreams. About reality getting in the way of fantasy, of how acting on impulse can screw up your life. Its a sobering look at the also rans, with a healthy dose of 80s music in there for good measure.

I am not sure how good I would have found it were I not in my current frame of mind. But sometimes a movie and a moment coincide. And this was a good coincidence.

Verdict: The Wrestler is really, really good. A tragic tale told well, with Rourke and Tomei deserving all their accolades. 7.5 clotheslines out of 10.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Case for Kiddie Nostalgia - Part 3

Well, I realise I have not posted for a while (not that I am deluding myself that there are people out there hanging on my every word - are there?), so as I have not seen many movies recently, I thought I would go back to the vault of memory and retrieve some more shows from the past...

7. Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

Perhaps an obvious choice really, for someone as keen on the genre as I. It had the lot - big space battles, corny humour (they had alien races called the Gerkhins and the Kiwi!), cool spaceships, great the
me song full of cliches (click the link to a weird DJ mix), some early CGI and featuring the voice talents of the fabulous Jerry Orbach. Who could ask for anything more - besides more than two series perhaps?

Influences: I think my love of Sci-Fi was well and truly established by this point, but it was very good to have it reinforced by such a totally cool show.

DVD: Two series, both at Amazon. So, so tempting...

8. Dungeon & Dragons

It took me a long time before I actually started to play the game itself, and I don't think I ever really abandoned myself to it as much as some others have (perhaps the lapsed Catholic in me keeping Satan at bay), but the TV series of Dungeons & Dragons (that came up on the Amazon search for Galaxy Rangers, oddly enough) was something I really loved. I remember Steve Parr and the rest of the "dawn years" of What Now getting in the way of this show, as TVNZ broke up the cartoon in installments throughout What Now's two hour running time, and sometimes across Saturdays (yes, What Now used to be on a Saturday, once upon a time). The resulting confusion on my young brain meant that I either missed crucial episodes, or else just forgot the story line, meaning I was left with hints of greatness but never really "got" the overarching story (if there was one of course). It is only by the miracle of YouTube that I even know what the opening credits look like.

Influences: It started my obsession with recording TV methinks - not wanting to miss an unmissable moment!

DVD: Note sure why, but Dungeons & Dragons is more expensive than Galaxy Rangers - though it does have an awesome cover. Very keen to buy it and finally see an entire episode in all its glory, but perhaps not for over NZ$100.

9. Fangface

And finally for this one, more from a memory of an old Olly Olsen song than anything else. Fangface - back before vampires became "the thing", it was Werewolves (or is it more correct to call them Lycans, these days?). The image that comes up on Amazon makes the show look like it was drawn on an incredibly small, probably Hanna Barbera cartoon budget, and quite possibly its humour bears a striking resemblance to Scooby Doo of the same era (in that it appealed at the time, but probably not any more). For some reason, I seem to recall they were even lumbered with a Scrappy Doo-ish character too. Perhaps.

Influences: Well, Olly Olsen was the coolest, and he made it cool. The show itself though? Phfah

DVD: No. And no.

Verdict: The memories keep coming - and soon, I will be into double digits...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Case for Believing MSNBC

As befits my lefto-pinko-lezzo-commo leanings, I am a fan of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Not all of it mind, but definitely the sentiment and most of the humour.

Last night (NZ time) the show featured an interview with an MSNBC finance "guru", and the resulting discussion (perhaps polemic is a better term?) was very interesting, if at times painful.

Here are the links in 3 parts:

1. Jon Stewart & Jim Cramer 1
2. Jon Stewart & Jim Cramer 2
3. Jon Stewart & Jim Cramer 3

It was a very serious, weighty discussion on media responsibility or lack thereof, and I thought it was incredibly brave and creditable that Jim Cramer showed to discuss this in what he must have known would have been a hostile environment. If only one of the corporate big wigs who apparently lied to Jim Cramer on several occasions would have the same temerity to front up for their actions in something other than a court of law.

Verdict: It smacks a bit of "I told you so", but really, it seems about time the tables were turned. Rivetting viewing. 9 interviews out of 10.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Case for Spectators

I have been waiting for Watchmen to come out for a while. I read the comic a while ago, loved it, bought it myself fairly recently, and waited for the movie with a combination of hopeful anticipation and mild dread. Some, like the Moosetastic, have already viewed and digested this film. But will I let that stop me from adding my two cents? NE-VAH!

Visually, the film is an absolute feast. It looks sumptuous, in a dark, wet and depressing way, full of fire and water and not many bright sunny days. People explode in bloody ways, non-super powered individuals show remarkable strength, and there is a lot of voiceovers.

Okay, I am now going to say things I thought I wouldn't. The film is (for the most part) very close to the book, the individual characters uttering many lines that I am sure come directly from the source material, and some scenes play out in a motion picture fashion in exactly the same way the static pictures of the graphic novel are laid out.

And... for me, that was a bit of a problem. For me, the pacing of the film was hindered by its slavish sticking to its comic book origins, mixed with a desire to ground the film squarely in the 80s with the use of lots of period songs to drive and carry scenes. The opening credit sequence, putting the heroes of this made up world in their context, takes an awfully long time when it could have been covered much more quickly and perhaps a bit more illuminatingly. And throughout the film, the past of the Watchmen themselves is revealed through voice-overed flashbacks, much like how they appear in the novel, but this again keeps things moving fairly glacially, and also does not really allow the characters to develop much of a rapport amongst themselves as they are not having conversations but rather monologues for most of the film.

The character of Rorschach is the best of the bunch as the flawed yet driven sociopath (the scenes in jail are rivetting); the two Silk Spectres are not given a huge amount to do and their final scenes together are fairly painful. The characters are not really the thing though - the story is, and there is not much to fault considering how complex and entangled it is with all the different characters and both their back stories and the stories of the world in which they reside. I don't recall Richard Nixon appearing quite as often as in the comic, but they obviously thought they were on to a winner with the actor, so they ran with it. And as for Dr Manhatten's nudity - I am sure the scenes they showed on the telly were different from the ones we saw on the big screen

Overall, I did enjoy the 3-hour long film, though I was perhaps a bit jaded by my familiarity with the material and so none of the complicated twists and turns were much of a surprise to me. The crew I was with were mostly impressed by the film, unfamiliar as they were with the source, so perhaps it was the expectations I brought with me that let me down.

Verdict: Definitely a good film, deep and complex, dark and violent, but told (to me) in a fairly cold and distant way, when the opportunity was to bring some life to the two dimensional images from the ground breaking graphic novel. Watchmen deserves to be watched, preferably on the big screen. 9 hours out of 12.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Case for the Wrong Stuff

I won't take credit for being inspired in writing this post, as that should really go to the Fisherman, but I will just write a note about the new-look Stuff site. You may have already seen it, And you probably already hate it.

I am sure Fairfax went through an "update" a few years ago along much the same lines, and that never took. But now they have tried it again, citing improved features and more white space. I think that the designers have kind of missed the point really - "more white space" = more space and thus more scrolling; "more functions" = more customisation = more time spent fiddling with things you don't want to fiddle with when you were quite happy with things how they were before.

Judging from the comments on the site and around the place, this is a noble yet ultimately futile experiment. While it does "look prettier", I find it almost completely user unfriendly, and of course it takes ages to load properly.

So let me ask the great blogging public - does anyone actually like the new site?

Verdict: Well, what can I say, I really don't like it, and it appears many other people don't either. But the real question is, will Fairfax relent and go back to the way Stuff was? And how much time will tell? Two online papers out of ten.