Friday, December 16, 2005


Part The First

Like Odysseus, I too have embarked on a journey to strange lands. Like Odysseus, I too have seen things that defy human logic. Unlike Odysseus, I have not slept with a bunch of himbos while my poor boyfriend sat at home besieged by hairy suitors. Some people have all the fun.



Maybe it'll sink in if I type it enough times...

I will not subject myself to mindless testosterone-fests on the outside chance Karl Urban will take his shirt off.
I will not subject myself to mindless testosterone-fests on the outside chance Karl Urban will take his shirt off.
I will not subject myself to mindless testosterone-fests on the outside chance Karl Urban will take his shirt off.
I will not subject myself to...

Oh, who am I kidding.

On a related note: The sense of accomplishment I got after locating the above picture is just about the only positive experience I had in relation to this piece of dreck.


Corpse Bride

That's more like it.

I used to be a big fan of Tim Burton's Gothic stylings - his Batman movies, "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands" are old favorites of mine. But aside from "Big Fish", I can't think of any recent releases of his that actually interested me. "Planet of the Apes"? "Sleepy Hollow"? "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"? Uh-uh, and a big HELL NO to the last one.

"Corpse Bride", based on what little I knew of it before I saw the movie, seemed to be a return to Burton's roots: dark, surreal fantasy with a touch of twisted humor. Interestingly, while Burton always wore his Gothic/Victorian influences on his sleeve, I think this is the first movie he ever made that was set in the corresponding time period.

Victor, son of a nouveau riche family, has been roped into an arranged marriage with a woman he's never met. Victoria, his intended bride, is a member of an aristocratic family that has fallen on hard times, and is desperately concealing its destitution from the rest of society; Victoria's parents hope that the marriage will bring fresh money into their pockets. Fortunately, it's love at first sight for our young couple. Unfortunately, Victor keeps messing up his wedding vows - which, in Victorian society, was a bit more than "Baby you so fine, I wanna make ya mine". He wanders out into the woods and manages a perfect recitation... only to unknowingly marry the Corpse Bride, a woman who was murdered while waiting for her lover. Since Victor is technically her husband, there's not much he can do, as the Bride drags him "downstairs" where a whole host of skeletons and dead bodies sing and dance and play jazz (overall, they're more lively than the living, a recurring theme in Burton's work). Meanwhile, Victoria's parents waste no time in setting her up with another nobleman - whose intentions are much darker than Victor's.

For people like myself with an extensive familiarity with Burton's repetoire, "Corpse Bride" might seem a little repetitive in terms of its themes and stylistic choices. The only real departure from Burton formula is the setting. That said, it's a lovely fantasy film, full of catchy musical numbers and beautiful imagery, along with excellent voice acting from Johnny Depp (Victor), Helena Bonham Carter (Emily/The Corpse Bride), Christopher Lee (the pastor) and Michael Gough (Elder Gutknecht) among others. And I love that scene where Burton sets up a potential "Night of the Living Dead" scenario, only to deflate it at the last moment in the most heartwarming way possible.

I have only one minor reservation in recommending this movie: American viewers might have trouble understanding the Victorian setting Burton is so loyal to.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off

I had a rather unusual line of thought about what this movie might represent on the extradiagetic level, but before we get there, I want to talk about the film itself.

In my opinion, you'd need a heart of stone not to love "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". It's one of the best '80s teen rebellion movies I've ever seen, very sweet and full of gleeful optimism - helped in no small part by Matthew Broderick's performance as the adorable and irrepressible Ferris. After cleverly faking an illness, he skips school to spend a day of fun in New York City with his best friend and his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Ferris' principal is determined to catch him at all costs. It's a bit dated, in the sense that everyone behaves in ways that made perfect sense twenty years ago but don't quite echo contemporary reality; however, it's still funny, and it's still easy to get swept up by Ferris' youthful enthusiasm. A must-see movie for anyone looking to experience a bit of the '80s zeitgeist.

And now for that extradiagetic consideration I mentioned: I think "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" foreshadows "Dangerous Minds". I would've loved to see the two back-to-back; another time, maybe.

Obviously, these are movies from very different times - even a casual comparative glance makes this abundantly clear. You've got "Twist and Shout", upper-middle-class suburbia and marriage being more important than sex in one corner; you've got Coolio, poverty-level ghettos and more sexual innuendo than the Kama Sutra in the other. But I can see a line stretching from one to the other, if you consider both to be snapshots of their respective generations.

Ferris Bueller is the quintessential "good rebel" in 1986; he's clever, a bit of a wild card, but he's not a malcontent. His actions are self-centered in a "Boys Just Wanna Have Fun" sort of way. Quite frankly, the film expects you to take Ferris' side of the conflict by default: his high school principal is a raving lunatic who breaks into people's houses, his secretary is a bitch who's categorized every student as "asshole", "jock", "slut", "junkie", etc., and the teachers are so boring students are being lobotomized where they sit. One of the film's best moments is in the opening scene, where Ferris describes his methods for faking diseases: it's stupid and childish, he says, but then, so is high school.

Fast-forward a decade and that message has been internalized, to a very radical extent. The conflict isn't between the system and the students anymore; unlike what we see in the '80s, the worst thing people in authority do to kids in "Dangerous Minds" is ignore them. The principal never leaves his office. In lieu of a higher power to fight, the teenagers are turning against each other. Suddenly you have racial tension, murder, drugs. To call upon a historical analogy, we've gone beyond the Revolution and into the Reign of Terror.

The John Hughes paradigm, if you will (think "Breakfast Club" as another example), is predicated on rebellion as a way of self-definition, against an actively-oppressive authority. Being a kid means having fun, and the older generation prohibits fun, so the kids have to defy the restrictions placed upon them to fulfill their identities. By the time you get to "Dangerous Minds" or "Sister Act 2", fun isn't on the agenda anymore. Staying alive is a greater concern. The system is apathetic, while the need to rebel is still there - even though it's been reduced to an empty cliche due to the lack of an external antagonist. The kids are angry and frustrated, but it's just sound and fury signifying zilch. We never really get a sense as to what Lou Anne's students want beyond the obvious (sex, drugs and the occasional shootout). And there's no place here for John Bender or Ferris Bueller, because rebellion - of the most extreme, virulent kind - has become the way of life.

Consequently, I think it's hard to feel that any of the teens in the '90s movies are worth spitting on, because they have no explicit cause. Their actions are meaningless. Instead, we're called upon to care about the authority figure, Michelle Pfeiffer's character: the teacher with the golden heart, who feels for the brats readying the guillotine for her.

On a larger scale, I think that's why high school-based dramas of this sort don't work anymore. Rebellion is still seen as the only thing worth living for, but there's nothing to rebel against.

My, that was heavy. Let's move on to something lighter, shall we? ;)


The Crow: Salvation

First up, thanks to Theo, Tink and The Braz for helping me get this one.

I absolutely adored James O'Barr's "The Crow". It was stirring, gripping, utterly visceral. Pure emotion pouring off the page. Naturally, it got turned into a movie; also naturally, it all went south rather quickly. As in Antarctica-south, icicles-forming-on-your-buttocks south.

There was the Brandon Lee movie, in which somebody took their job a bit too seriously and shot Lee dead. Then there was "City of Angels" (which, IIRC, also spawned a TV show); don't worry if you missed it, just have a tooth pulled without novocaine and you've got it in one. The fourth film starred Edward Furlong and David Boreanaz - which about says it all, really.

Ah, you've probably noticed I've skipped one. Yes, folks, we're going to look at the third film, "Salvation". Once again, I find myself coming for the beef and hoping to stay for the entertainment. Meet Eric Mabius:

I know, I know... not exactly "be still my ovaries" level, but hell, it's not like the prospect of a third Crow movie automatically instills anyone with hopeful anticipation. Might as well find some reason to spend an hour or two on it.

"Salvation" isn't actually that bad. Oh, it's far from perfect, but as bastardizations of the O'Barr template go, this one actually brings something to the table. Traditionally, Crow stories are all about vengeance. Justice, such as it is, rarely (if ever) comes into the picture; more often than not the two are conflated. For example, in the original graphic novel, the five men Eric Draven returns to destroy are also criminals, gang members, drug dealers. Eric's vendetta is personal, but it still achieves the same effect a vigilante would.

"Salvation" tries to pry apart the two issues. Alex Corvis has been slated for execution, after being convicted of murdering his girlfriend. He insists he's innocent, but the wheels of justice grind him down and on his 21st birthday, he gets the electric chair. While his brain is being fried, he sees (or thinks he sees) the man who framed him; a few moments later, he is promptly resurrected as the new avatar of the Crow.

This is very different from standard depictions of the Crow, because it sets up an interesting dichotomy. Alex wants revenge, not against a specific individual but "the man with the scar" (he doesn't know who that person is). At the same time, what's strongly emphasized is the injustice, the fact that an innocent man was condemned. Which reason motivates the Crow to raise Alex? Does it even care about justice in the first place?

The film goes a step further by placing gaps in Alex's memory (brain damage resulting from his electrocution, no doubt). The possibility arises that he isn't innocent at all, that he did indeed murder his girlfriend and now he's just out to get the people who ended his life. It's an inversion of O'Barr that makes a lot of sense, because revenge has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. So for the first few scenes of this movie, you have an immortal, murderous entity running around seeking proof of its vindication that might not even exist.

It gets undermined pretty quickly, though. At a very early point in the movie, Alex manifests psychometry (touch-based precognition that allows him to see visions of the past). It's a rather cheap and contrived way to avoid any real detective work in uncovering the truth; it also means that the moment he touches one of the witnesses at his trial, he knows exactly what happened. From that moment on, we're back in standard Crow territory, as he seeks out his enemies and slays them. It's still fun, though major points are detracted for that scene where the police commissioner mumbles something about being familiar with the legend of the Crow - knowledge he shouldn't possess, and is never explained satisfactorily.

Sadly, the last act more or less implodes. The endgame hinges on the archvillain tricking Alex into thinking his vengeance is complete; as a result, he loses his immortality and starts bleeding away. So far so good: all Crow avatars are subjective in terms of their perceptions, so technically they could be convinced their job was done even if it wasn't. It all gets screwy a few moments later, as Alex discovers the identity of his nemesis... his motives are restored, his powers are not. Wha huh?

It gets worse: in his weakened state, Alex is subdued by said nemesis, who plants a seed of doubt in the avatar's mind that maybe he did kill his love, that this whole crusade was the last gasp of a petty, vengeful mind. Alex promptly goes inert, seemingly defeated. This whole scene doesn't work for two reasons: first, Alex has already had a vision of his girlfriend's murder. He knows what happened. Second, he's brought back (again) by the plight of said girlfriend's little sister - which has nothing to do with either vengeance or justice, and whether one is more dominant than the other in the world of the Crow, it's clear that compassion is something altogether foreign. It all goes splat rather spectacularly.

Side note: Kirsten Dunst proves that being an annoyance must be genetic - how else can people like herself, Michelle Trachtenberg and Drew Barrymore never fail to piss me off no matter what age they're at?

In the final analysis, "Salvation" is a movie that has some good ideas, marred by glaring oversights and a faltering conclusion. I rate it as slightly above average - but considering the standard level of Crow movies, that's actually rather good.


And so ends the first part of "Dianapalooza!" Next time: James Marsden and Jesse Bradford wrestle - with their tongues! Can the Candyman can-can? A woman's brain lives on after her body dies (while the opposite happens to the audience)! All this and more, when "Dianapalooza!" returns! :)