Monday, June 03, 2002

The Movie I Watched Last Night XX
Friday, May 10: Fight Club
Just as the Matrix made me want to meditate, learn a martial art, and go jogging, Fight Club is one of those surprisingly empowering and inspiring movies. I've been accused of having a thing for Chuck Palahniuk -- in a review of an Anchormen record, of all places -- but this was my first exposure to any of his work. In addition to the solid story and the impressive performances by Ed Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter (who was also excellent in Novocaine), I was especially pleased by the twists and turns the story took. I was also quite surprised by the movie's revelations, and I'm certainly not going to spoil things for you if you haven't seen this yet by saying anything further here. Let's just say: Shades of Memento.

Sunday, May 12: Spider-Man
I grew up reading Spiderman, and to this day it remains one of my favorite comic books -- and I'm no longer the panties-and-capes kind of guy that I was when I first started reading comics. The release of Spider-Man bodes well for the future of comic book-inspired movies -- particularly superhero comic book-inspired movies, given that Ghost World and From Hell were so well done. Hollywood has moved beyond the cartoony portrayals we received from DC in the Batman and Superman flicks, and Marvel's licensing folks have done well with this follow-up of sorts to X-Men. The filmmakers don't waltz all over the myth and origin of the character. They don't drastically redo the roles that the important characters in the long-running story have played for the last several decades. And they don't overly romanticize the story. The special effects were a little jarring -- when Spidey's spinning his web around the city, it is extremely clear that it's CGI animation -- but Tobey Maguire makes a convincing Peter Parker and Willem Dafoe is a deliciously evil supervillain. This could have been much, much worse. And it's pretty darn good for what it is. (Watched with my family in Santa Fe, New Mexico.)

Sunday, May 19: Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones
In stark contrast to Spider-Man, I wasn't really looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars at all. It sort of snuck up on me, given the hype surrounding the previous installation. And having seen it? I'm not sure what the future of George Lucas' franchise will bring. As a fan of the original Star Wars movies, I admit that I have a soft spot for the characters and storyline -- and the new movies do a lot to fill in the back story. But so much of it is expected -- or disappointing. I mean, Hayden Christensen's post-adolescent-yet-surprisingly-whiny Anakin Skywalker evolves into Darth Vader? More like Lord Dark Helmet from Spaceballs. Several of my friends didn't buy Yoda's moment in the spotlight, but I thought it was pretty rad. Just as I enjoyed seeing how Boba Fett became inspired to be a bounty hunter. And Natalie Portman? Meow. One more thing. If you're going to make a movie, please don't make it totally obvious which characters were written in because they'd make cool action figures -- and which scenes were "scripted" because they'd make an exciting sequence in the video game. I expected more out of the Clone Wars, and the next movie might share more of its events and outcomes, but watching this wasn't very satisfying. (Watched with my sister in Taos, New Mexico.)

Sunday: East Is East
Focusing on a Pakistani who relocates to England and raises a mixed-race family in Manchester in the early '70s, this movie is largely a series of stories about culture clash. The head of the household clashes with his British wife. He clashes with his sons as they in turn refuse the arranged weddings he organizes within the Pakistani expatriot community. The children of the family clash as they grow up in relatively close contact -- often three to a bed. But mostly, East Is East narrates the clash between expectations, dreams, and aspirations. The movie is also about love and respect within and without a family (one son is disowned after he leaves his Pakistani bride to be at the altar). In addition, persistent undercurrents of racism and repatriotization politics run throughout the film, which has several solid comic moments despite its occasionally heady subjects. The ending itself -- quickly following the movie's peak -- is surprisingly funny and might feature the film's best punchline. That adds a nice indication of hope to the reunion of the Pakistani fish-and-chips shopkeeper and his wife -- who begin to rebuild their family's future over half a cup of tea.

Sunday: Monkey Vs. Robot: The James Kochalka Story
Almost 20 minutes long, this video offers several different videos for the James Kochalka Superstar song "Monkey Vs. Robot." The song is interesting and fun, but it might not have warranted so many different video treatments. I was slightly disappointed in the quality of the animated videos, particularly because none of them incorporated James' artwork, but I quite enjoyed Nate Pommer's Kaiju Big Battel-like costumed staging. The video is worth watching, however, because of the live interview and candid footage punctuating the videos. My favorite parts include the footage taken at the Peking Duck House, where James worked as a waiter for more than six years, and the street scene in which James burst into song amidst a couple of sidewalk cafes. That sequence -- and the pastiche of live footage near the end -- shows James the consummate performer in his natural habitat, no matter how makeshift the stage. The man's a ham, and I'm glad he doesn't taken himself more seriously.

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