Friday, April 07, 2006

Ol' factory

I walked past a Pizza Hut the other night.

The smell emanating from that place seemed familiar, and at first I just thought it was because I've walked past that Pizza Hut a billion times before.

Partly it is that, but last night I realised that it's the same smell you get in some people's houses - particularly those who smoke inside.

As far as I can tell, there are only two possible reasons for this:

(1) People who smoke in their houses eat/cook lots of pizza;

(2) Pizza Hut put tobacco in their pizzas to get people addicted.

Other suggestions on the back of a postcard please.

Where's my fucking money, college boy?

Someone recommended The Rules of Attraction to me - that, combined with the appearance of The Largest Forehead in Hollywood, if not The World made it an eventual must-see.

Well, it's great. I did have a whole lot written out, witty and erudite as hell, but naturally Firefux crashed and I lost it all. Now, what was I saying?

This is based on a book by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of American Psycho, which turned out to be another great film. Wo, I've just realised that the central characters in both movies have the same surname. Hmmmm.

OK right yeah, back to the movie. Most people will have heard about the infamous chundering-on-the-semi-conscious-drunk-girl-while-having-sex-with-her scene, and yes, there are a number of similarly shocking images and ideas in this film. However, it's not defined by the shock value alone - the story and the way it's told are just damn good.

First off, the acting. Most of the characters are rich American college students, and virtually everyone strikes the right contradictory balance of arrogance and naivete so characteristic of them. A particular standout is the aforementioned James van der Beek. He has a pretty interesting character to work with, but could've done it so much worse than it turned out.

The reverse-time structure is something else that really could have turned out badly, but as it is done by something of a master of the technique, it works very well indeed.

The music is also brilliantly done - it's on a par with Donnie Darko in that respect. Some might say that merely choosing tracks (rather than writing music specifically for a film) is easy, but it's definitely a dark art. A good example is the suicide scene (I don't think I'm giving too much away there) - it could be said that Without You is an obvious and cliched choice. However, it fits brilliantly, and is made all the more haunting by an echo effect towards the end of the scene.

Incidentally, does anyone remember the NZ cheese ads that used that song? The tagline was, "You can't call it a day without cheese," they were around in the late 80s, and strangest of all, weren't for any particular brand of cheese, just cheese in general. Did we really need to be reminded to buy cheese?

That scene, along with a couple of others, uses the brilliantly simple technique of slowly tilting the camera, so the whole thing ends up on an angle. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to lend everything an other-worldly quality.

Anyway, rated this film really highly. It's not really much in the feel-good department (although there are a few laughs, particularly the scene-stealing "Dick" Jared), but it is beautifully made.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


I never really liked the look of this film - loadsa talking, a lot of it apparently about wine. However, everyone in the universe has been going on about it since it came out, so I had to give it a look.

Sadly, it was pretty much as I expected. I've been trying really hard, but I just can't see how it really adds anything new to any of the genres it could be said to represent.

The buddy movie/odd couple thing has been done a billion times, and it's hard to see what's new here - introspective guy is brought out of his shell by outgoing mate, who in turn learns some lessons about maybe being a little less reckless - anybody ever see Dharma and Greg?

The romantic story also seems to be one I've seen infinite variations of. Not that this is a bad thing - there are some universal stories out there - but again, what was so particularly stand-out about the shy guy meets girl, can't get it together with her, then finally does, then fucks it up by being dishonest, then goes through a period of mourning, then sorts it out in time for the closing credits storyline?

As far as I can tell, the only new things this brought to either of those genres were (a) the use of split-screen (a la Woodstock), and (b) going on a lot about wine.

Too long and nowhere near as innovative or fresh as it's been made out.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Movie catch-up

Dirty Pretty Things

This stars the incomparable Audrey Tautou, in her first English-speaking role (albeit with a Turkish accent). Her co-star Chiwetel Eijiofor is equally brilliant, as is everyone in the movie.

The film has a great plot, slightly let down by the last few minutes. Overall though, a very very good piece of film-making.

American Splendor

This is the story of a really interesting, yet really ordinary guy (just like the rest of us). What makes it particuarly good is the way it's told. For a start, it's a true story about real people, who are all still alive. These real people are incorporated into the film, along with the actors who play them, and cartoon and animated sections. This could have ended up as a mess, but works very well indeed, giving the film a real documentary feel, and it's very appropriate to the subject.

It's not the same, but it reminds me a bit of Adaptation, in that it has approached story-telling in a new, innovative and interesting way, that is now going to be very difficult to emulate.

Pingu: A Very Special Wedding

I am a long-time Pingu fan, having discovered it when I was a student. Our whole flat would make sure they were home at 3 or 5 p.m. or whenever it was on.

I am now slightly older, but I thought my daughter (2.5) might like Pingu too. Turns out she loves it, as I still do.

If you've never seen any Pingu, make the effort, especially if you have kids of any age. Kicks the arse of any other kids' TV.

Bubba Ho-Tep

I'd wanted to see this for a while, as the premise is so bizarre - an elderly Elvis and JFK (a black man), residents of a nursing home, battle an evil centuries-old Egyptian mummy.

It didn't quite live up to my expectations, though. The whole thing seemed a bit low-budget (which it was), although the acting was pretty damn good. Bruce Campbell deserves his cult following - I must make an effort to see some of the Evil Dead films.

The Dinner Game (Le Diner de Cons)

This is just great. Not sure if it should be included amongst the great French films, but it is undeniably hilarious.

It is quite static, being set largely within one room, but the quality of acting and script makes this irrelevant. Beautiful French women, too.

Buena Vista Social Club

This was raved about all over the place when it first came out, and I (like many people) am in love with Cuba at the moment, so I was anticipating it quite highly.

Unfortunately, it didn't go over that well with me. The music was great, but Ry Cooder came across as a bit of a tosser - like he thought he was a bit of a hero for rediscovering these old guys. Well, it was a great discovery, but he just really seems like a bit of a wanker.

The way the film was shot was also odd - either stark handheld video, or beautiful, sweeping, smooth Steadicam shots. I found it hard to see what exactly Wim Wenders had to do with things, aside from bunging his name against it.

A bit of a disappointment, with a few bright spots.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Can't remember why I picked this one out, but I sure am glad I did. No, it's not the Ashton Kutcher version, but the 1967 original with Sidney Poitier. I'm sure the modern one's great(!), but this one is fantastic.

The subject matter (rich white girl brings older black fiancee home to surprise the parents) is far less controversial now than I imagine it was back then, but it still seems pretty relevant today. I think I expected some kind of farce where the white folks' stereotypes were challenged, but it really wasn't like that at all.

The white folks in question (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) have brought their daughter up to be open-minded, yet her choice of fiancee is still a great shock to them.

The way they deal with it seems very real, and like I said before, probably not that much different these days, in spite of supposedly better attitudes.

The Big Chill

Another one that's supposed to be so representative of a particular bunch of people at a particular time - I've heard it described as "an '80s American Graffiti" - not sure how true that is.

I loved this movie, though. It's a true ensemble cast - no one character is more important than any of the others. Watching the documentary on the DVD was fascinating, too - the actors spent so much time rehearsing, far more than actual filming - and who knew Kevin Costner was in the film? IMDb doesn't say anything about it, but Wikipedia knows.

Man on the Moon

I'm no fan of Taxi (before my time, guv), and godamnit I hate REM, but the raving about this movie was so high at the time, I just had to see it.

Glad I did. I wish Mr. Carrey did more stuff like this - he really is a good actor. Maybe he needs to do the crap to make his good stuff even better by comparison?

Anyway, the story is brilliant, and some of the little tricks used to tell it are brilliant. Need to recreate a sitcom as it was 20 or so years ago? Easy - just use the original actors, aged and everything. What's that you say? One of those actors already has a major role in the movie? Never mind, just pretend that he didn't exist in the sitcom.

Brilliant and warped stuff. It's probably been said before, but I think Andy Kaufman didn't die, he just became Charlie Kaufman.

Shaun of the Dead

I went to see this at the movies on the recommendation of a few people. I thought it was OK, but not brilliant.

After a second viewing, I like it a hell of a lot more. I've never been a fan of gore/splatter/zombie movies, so there are probably a whole raft of references I just don't get, but even so, this is both incredibly funny and very well crafted.

The DVD extras are pretty hilarious too, especially the Michael Caine/Sean Connery pisstake.

Trains and sheds

I recently bought one of these (in fact, this exact one):
The side of a shed
The front of a shed
via a well-known auction site. I had to travel to another city to collect it, and elected to do so by train, as it worked out cheaper than gas would've cost to get another car up there and back again.

Passenger trains in NZ are in a bit of a sad state, but my 2-hour, $24 journey was wonderful. It started in the late afternoon, so the combination of a low sun and weird tinting on the windows allowed me to pretend that I was in a foreign country.

I alternated that with pretending to be the camera in the Chemical Bros. Star Guitar video by Gondry.

I've been on trains in other cities before - cities unfamiliar to me - and I always judge the city by the view out the window. Consequently, I think of these places as kind of industrial wastelands. I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's only now that I've travelled through (part of) a city I know very well that I realise just how wrong I've been.

Of course there are no pretty parks or expensive neighbourhoods backing onto the railway line, and of course the noisy, dirty industrial areas are right next to it!

You know how if you watch all the credits for a movie, when you get to the last, static image, it looks like it's slowly moving? Go to the next paragraph if you don't know what I'm on about. If you do, well, when the train stops after you've been staring out the window at the moving scenery for ten minutes or more, you get the same effect. Everything outside seems to be slowly moving, in fact, I thought we really were moving until I checked properly.

Anyway, no matter what you think, I love my Volvo. It has heated front seats, wiper/washers on the headlights, and two rear-facing child seats that fold up out of the boot floor. It's already done sterling service carting loads of family about, and bringing home an inherited chest of drawers.

All for just the price of about a thousand flat whites. Cars are cheap here.