July 23, 2004

kza love

Hey Nerd,

I saw on TV the other day a commercial for something called Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie. Isn’t that based on a card game, or something? Or is this the new Miyazaki I’ve heard about?

Really Interested in Nerdy Games, Except “RIFTS”

Dear RINGER,

To explain the phenomenon of Yu-Gi-Oh!, I’ll have to approach the subject laterally.

Pokémon is a cartoon about a boy named Ash and his sidekick Pikachu, a yellow mouse-like creature. In the world of Pokémon, people train the Pokémon (short for “Pocket Monsters”) to fight each other in friendly, non-deadly duels. In the cartoon, Ash travels around, fighting duels with other trainers, and in general, learning, living, and loving. Most episodes are built around these duels between the various Pokémon.

Developed more-or-less simultaneously with the cartoon, the Pokémon Collectible Card Game is a game where two players take the roles of trainers and use cards representing Pokémon to fight duels. Each player races to play the correct combo of cards that will allow their Pokémon card to attack and deal damage to the other player’s Pokémon. When one player loses three Pokémon, the other player wins.

Now, the Pokémon Card Game needs to be placed in a historical context with the first collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering. In this game, each player is a wizard, and is trying to place “land” cards on the table, which are used to power “spell” cards , which are used to attack the opposing player and his summoned army. When one player loses all his life points, the other wins. Although Magic can get very complicated very quickly, Pokémon, which is in essence a slimmed-down version of Magic, remains simple enough for kids.

Then there’s the Yu-Gi-Oh! Collectible Card Game. Although I’ve never played it, from what I can tell it also is a simplified version of Magic, but without any of the charm that separates Pokémon from the Magic clones. Players use cards to summon monsters to attack the other player. It’s unclear to me whether the players are supposed to be wizards, or just a pair of dorks playing cards.

Which leads us finally to the Yu-Gi-Oh! cartoon. Because of the Pokémon cartoon’s immense populaity, the creators of the Yu-Gi-Oh! cartoon opted to use the same premise: a guy (and his friends) travel around a made-up world, fighting duels, and in general, learning, living and loving. However, there’s a small, yet key, difference between the two. Where in Pokémon, the creatures and the battles are real, in Yu-Gi-Oh! the battles are simply holographic representations of the card game they’re playing. The creatures in Pokémon are friends with their trainers, and are genuinely characters; in Yu-Gi-Oh!, there’s no possible emotional response to the fighting monsters, since they are literally just illustrations. Essentially, Yu-Gi-Oh! is about watching people play a Magic rip-off.

Or, in other words, RINGER, Yu-Gi-Oh! is quite possibly the stupidest cartoon to ever grace our airwaves. And I say that having watched the Tweety & Sylvester Mysteries, or whatever the fuck that is. Avoid the movie.

Posted by kza at 09:03 AM | Comments (4)

July 12, 2004

the week in review (7/4/04 - 7/10/04)

The past five days, Martin and I have spent approximately 28 hours of face-time working on the story for Yellow, draft two, including 10 1/2 yesterday. I’m exhausted, and we haven’t even started writing yet. The story is 80% new, meaning it’s almost like a new first draft than a second. This week is going to be a killer, so probably fewer movies than usual. Biggest breakthrough: we surgically added two more dimensions to our protagonist, bringing him up to the standard three. Hooray!

Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004, Quentin Tarantino) (v) 80
Slow, but not unreasonably so. If this Leone-inspired second half was always part of the filming strategy, I’m not unhappy about the story being broken in two and separated by eight months or whatever. (But I suspect that it was the other way around, that breaking the story in two led to the more sedate editing style.) Ultimately worth it for Uma’s showdowns with Jackson Browne’s ex-girlfriend and Caine. (Oh, but was occasionally distracted by trying to imagine Warren Beatty in same role.)

The Thief of Bagdad (1940, Ludwig Berger & Tim Whelan & Michael Powell) (v) 76
Everything Matt says here is true; however, I’m an all-day sucker for this kind of fantasy movie (see also: Clash of the Titans, Time Bandits, hell, even The Magic Sword). Lead John Justin has a weird, undefinable Afflecktion, though.

Phenomena (1984, Dario Argento) (v) 65
Rating is probably indefensible; story-wise, it makes Opera seem coherent. But Jennifer Connelly, who can’t be older than fifteen here, already has enough talent and confidence to center the script and make it work, enough for me at least. (Compare with the lightweight performances in The Beyond.) Not perfect, of course; her power with insects shoulda been incorporated better, just to name one thing. The monkey with the switchblade straight razor is the litmus test, really.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004, Roland Emmerich) (f) 58
Comfortably dumb. Can’t argue with the math, either. Admittedly, I’ve never been able to make it though an entire Emmerich movie before, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that this seems like the man’s most personal statement, as personal a statement that someone can make in the medium of Disaster, at least. The wolves are the litmus test, really.

The Terminal (2004, Steven Spielberg) (f) 30
Pretty much awful from the get-go, with Tom Hanks going back and forth from unbelievable imbecile (are Krakhozians, or whatever the fuck, living in the 1930s or something? Maybe that’s what their revolution is about) to unbelievably cunning and crafty corporate-space survivalist. Hanks barely moves a muscle in his stiff, waxy face, like he has Botox in his soul. And what’s with people bringing up Tati in regards to this crap? Because there was an airport in Playtime? That’s like saying The Fast and the Furious owes something to Traffic. The only moment I think I liked is the visual juxtoposition of Hanks’ saltine-and-ketchup sandwich and Stanley Tucci’s frappacino, momentarily giving the frothy drink an oppressive weight. Ultimately, there’s a lot of horrible stuff in this movie, but the part that bothers me the most is the lie that Hanks’ Nivorsky can imprint his individuality and identity on this institutional/corporatized space, when, judging by the fate of the real Nivorsky (an Iranian, actually), it’s clear that the opposite happens. Good taste is the litmus test, really.

Posted by kza at 12:18 PM | Comments (7)

July 06, 2004

404 error -- blog not found

Looks like the blogging will be light for a couple weeks, as Martin and I dive into the second draft of Yellow. I'll still be watching movies, and I'll try to keep the weekly updates, but an opportunity has arisen and Martin and I have to make the most of it. Wish us luck!

Posted by kza at 10:46 PM | Comments (10)

Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi) 79

Unfortunately, it's not The Amazing Spider-Man that I hoped (and that seemingly everyone wants to believe it is); more like The Perfectly Acceptable Spider-Man. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I can't help feel disappointed.

The biggest problem (and the one I'm sure that everyone will disagree with) is that Molina's Dr. Octopus just isn't as compelling as Dafoe's Green Goblin. This was underlined by Dafoe's brief cameo, which was electrifying in comparison. Sure, Molina's dinner scene is great, but once he becomes a villain, he loses all of his personality, seemingly drained from him and siphoned into the tentacles. And the tentacles don't have a thing on Dafoe. They could have; although I think the tentacles have some sort of messed-up AI in them, it looks to me that it's really Octavius' suppressed dark side, in the Jungian sense, that's really in control. But there isn't a lot in the movie to support this idea, so Dr. Octopus ends up just being a mindless Big Bad, like the swarms of vampires in Blade II. I mean, Molina never gets any lines as perfectly comic-booky as Dafoe's "We'll meet again, Spider-Man!", and that's a shame.

What made the first movie so spectacular (heh heh) was that it was the first time since perhaps Superman that the notion of super-heroes are taken... not so much seriously as respectfully. This was demonstrated in the first movie in what I imagine is the most derided scene, the rooftop conversation between the Green Goblin and a paralyzed Spider-Man. Visually, it's ridiculous -- two grown men in silly-looking skin-tight outfits, their faces completely obscured, having a serious discussion about the responsibility of power. It was certainly jarring the first time I saw it. But later, I realized it was probably brilliant, for it forces us to acknowledge that, at their core, super-heroes are ridiculous. They are stories about men in costumes, beating each other up. It's a point that movies like X-Men, with their cool black leather and persecution subtext, and Unbreakable, with its solemnity, and Batman, with its wacko, Langian, artificial cityscape, try so very hard to avoid. These movies are afraid of this essential truth, afraid of looking silly, working hard to make sure we take them seriously. Spider-Man embraces the inherent goofiness of the concept, and finds a kind of freedom and joy within it, something denied these other films.

But Spider-Man 2 feels like a step backwards in this respect. It feels a need to demonstrate its "real movie" bona-fides by hitting us over the head with its "we all need heroes" theme, the nadir being the completely unneccessary Uncle Ben dream sequence (nice to see Cliff Robertson again, though). Shockingly, a lot of critics think this makes it "deeper" or more "character-oriented". No, it just makes it longer.

Pardon the "a lot of critics" line; I was temporarily possessed by Armond White. (It happens.) But in the overflowing praise this movie has received, it seems like the first movie wasn't entirely accepted or trusted.

Two things, though. First, the ending overturns a lot of conventions in super-hero stories, and it forces the Spider-Man 3 writers to be very creative. They're kind of painted into a corner, and I can't wait to see how they get out of it. Second, the train scene is truly awesome, worth sitting through Aunt May's monologue for. It ends with a moment similar to the first's "You mess with New York, you mess with us!" bit, which always gives me goosebumps, only ten times more powerful. It ultimately says more in pictures than a thousand thematically-relevant speeches ever could.

Posted by kza at 01:55 AM | Comments (5)

July 03, 2004

the week in review (6/27/04 - 7/3/04)

Caffeine withdrawal is a bitch.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) (v) 81
Still haunted by the film and Macdonald Carey's hair.

Spider-Man 2 (2004, Sam Raimi) (f) 79
Comments forthcoming. Or not. You never know with me. For reference, though, the first Spider-Man is in the low-to-mid 90s, much to the horror (I imagine) of Scott and Matt.

Cries and Whispers (1972, Ingmar Bergman) (v) 63
Rosso, certainly; profondo, unsure.

Posted by kza at 09:49 PM | Comments (5)

July 01, 2004

Shadow of a Doubt (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) 81

The charming story of a sweet young girl, her charming uncle, and the dirty little secret they share. Of course, that secret is murder, but the relationship between Charlie and her Uncle Charlie is so loaded with incestuous subtext that the murders of the widowed women seem a lesser offense somehow. The movie itself makes no secret of the bond between the two; Charlie babbles on about telepathy early on, and in their introductions, each sits on a bed on opposite coasts, facing the other. Clearly these two are twins, in a literary sense; they even seem to share the same sub-Nietzschean philosophy (even though they draw radically conclusions from it). But there's more to it than that. What about such scenes as Charlie and Uncle Charlie stopping to chat with her girlfriends, the young women ogling the Uncle like he's Charlie's new catch? Or the scene in the sleazy bar, which makes them look like a pair of illicit lovers? (No doubt that's what the waitress thinks they are.) And then, near the end, once she is sure that he is the Merry Widow Killer, she refuses to blow the whistle on him, for fear of the impact it would have on her family and the community. For me, it's this moment that the subtext overpowers the text and warps it away from believability; although Hitchcock takes pains to establish the genteel Santa Rosa community and Charlie's strong family ties, ultimately I don't buy that Charlie wouldn't turn him because of these social elements. It's her guilt, her percieved complicity, that keeps her silent.

That Hitchcock could get away with this kind of stuff in '43 is mind-blowing; no wonder he considered it his favorite. But it's not his best. I first saw this movie as a teenager, and I didn't like it, considering it the most boring Hitchcock I'd seen (and that's counting The Birds). I realized that the problem then is the same reason I find it fascinating now: the story is pretty basic and there's little of that classic Hitchcock tension (the garage scene doesn't cut it), but it gets its energy from the twisted relationship of its leads and the interesting way Hitchcock shows this relationship with the camera, stuff that totally flew over my head back in the day. Unfortunately, that (and the great performances) are all it really has going for it. The romantic subplot featuring Macdonald Carey and his weird hair is both improbable and boring. The debates on the best way to murder between Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn (who, judging from this, was the Bob Balaban of his day) are amusing, but as counterpoint to main story, it's unnecessary.

But again, it gets all the mileage it needs from its central conflict. Joseph Cotten is fantastic as Uncle Charlie; I don't know enough about his history with Welles, but if I didn't know better, I'd say he was doing a bit of a Welles impersonation here. And Teresa Wright does a great job portraying a smart young woman who becomes cognizant of the darkness that lurks outside the comfort of her family's house.

In fact, there's a definite David Lynch quality to the proceedings (the above sentence could describe Blue Velvet), so much so that I wonder if it was a big influence on him. Not to mention one of Shadow of a Doubt's key images, one that often acts as bridge between scenes: twirling dancing couples in what appears to be a ballroom setting, a strange and dream-like image that is never literally explained in the movie proper. Every time I saw it, I thought of the opening swing dance in Mulholland Drive and all the lost hopes and dreams it represented.

Posted by kza at 12:23 PM