Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Hair raven or red
Eyes vivid, alight
With flame blue or brown
I fear something else
Dreams never alive
Fallen where I fall
Faded where I fade
My muse never more
Than flashes of mind
Drive me you spirits
Whether dark or light
To finish my dream
To wake with my muse.
And never again
Inspire in me
The flames to compose
Such awful poetry.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
|Farewell, old friend.|
During the day, I do low-level accounting work for the State of Texas. It's pretty mind-numbing. But by night, I
The only time it's not an awesome job is when I get a panic result. Not that I panic. Yes, I suddenly realize that now, a person's life is actually in my hands, and I have to rerun the test to make sure it really is panic-worthy and not a machine going crazy, and then I have to call the doctor, and all the time I feel just slightly guilty because there's a very, very small chance the patient is already dead, and they might have still been alive if I had come into work at 7:30 instead of 9:30, although that's never happened, but it could, and then I worry about what happens if the doctor doesn't answer and I have to leave a message, what if I should have looked up another number and gotten in touch that way to save someone's life, and then I call the doctor and he angrily asks me why I'm reporting a life-threatening result at this time of night.
But I don't panic. I naturally have the calm facade of an action hero.
|Me in a crisis.|
The other night, I got a panic result from an unforgettable specimen. It was a sight that would haunt me for the remainder of my days.
Serum is blood with the fibronigens - the white and red cells and the clotting factors - separated. The serum, on top, is generally a translucent yellowish liquid without the red cells.
On occasion, it's reddish, meaning it's hemolized - the red blood cells ruptured. And if the patient didn't fast before having the blood drawn, it's lipemic - foggy, opaque, occasionally milky. But the vast majority looks like that: clean and healthy.
The other night, one of my specimens looked like this:
Blood isn't supposed to look like that. That isn't supposed to course through human veins.
That blood haunted me all night. All I could think, the entire evening, was Somewhere, somebody out there has a strawberry milkshake for blood.
|Their regular blood? Yeah, it looked like that, too.|
I love strawberry milkshakes. Make it from actual strawberries, and I'll take it over cake and most pies. It is simply the best. But now, I can never have it again.
Because I know somewhere out in the darkness, a man walks with strawberry milkshake flowing through his arteries, coursing his veins, refreshed by his heart. These images, these feelings have the visceral impact on my normally composed psyche (see photo above) of that spider-head from The Thing. Except this actually exists. This man actually walks amongst us. This monstrous, grotesque parody of humanity walks among us. I could pass him on the street every day. I could work with him at the state. He might live in my very apartment complex, in my very building. He might be at my door, right now...
I didn't look at the name on the serum. I daren't. After all, I already know who it is.
If he can't drink your milkshake, he'll make damn sure you don't enjoy it yourself.
And that is the story of how my night job unrepentantly murdered the Strawberry Milkshake.
But I swear, my old friend, you shall be avenged...
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Thursday, December 30, 2010
by Danny Elfman
The opening track starts with the lonely trumpet beginning the Batman theme before turning to Elfman's gloomy Penguin theme. Like before, the instrumentation is very creative, with a brief but spectacular pipe organ solo and haunting vocals reminiscent of the (much brighter) chorals in Edward Scissorhands. In fact, the entire opening feels in many ways like the dark side of that score. It's a terrific piece, alternately brooding and fantastic before finally starting up the still-rousing Batman theme a few minutes in.
There's something missing in the performance, though. For the original, Shirley Walker directed the London Symphony Orchestra; here, Elfman conducted an LA-based orchestra. The original performances of the theme were deep and powerful, full of fire and passion. The London Symph poured their hearts and souls into their performances, and Walker directed them magnificently, and the passion comes through. In Returns, though, it sounds professional but somehow empty; there's none of the sonic depth or fiery performance of the old recording. Still, it's good to hear the old themes.
After the opening, the score descends into mostly murky gloom, punctuated by occasional comic beats. It's weird and unsettling, and while it's appropriate for the penguin, the lack of drive and energy is tiring. It's also not terribly emotional outside of the first and last passages of the score; just sort of interesting. The dismal atmosphere and comic outbursts don't mesh -- which, to be fair, is often true of the film, too, which uneasily brews black comedy, tragic romance, and clumsy fight scenes; the setting is almost always steeped in shadow and German expressionisms, but then throws in a giant motorized rubber ducky for the Penguin to ride around in. It's really strange, and the score reflects this accurately to its own detriment. When the score finally gets around to Catwoman's theme, it's refreshing just to hear something different.
Catwoman's theme uses high-pitched violin screeches to suggest the sounds that cats make, underlaied with gloomy undertones. It nails the concept, and really does sound like a musical recreation of a woman expressing pure feline instincts. It also sounds extraordinarily like a cat's meow.
Now let me be clear about something: a cat's meow is not a pleasant sound. It's a high-pitched squeal with only a single meaning. When dogs bark, it can be scary, but it can just as often be a joyful exclamation. Barks can show a full range of emotion, and it's elating hearing a happy bark. A meow, on the other hand, always means precisely one thing: "You're not paying enough attention to My Lordship." It's as grating as nails on a chalkboard and even more malevolent. The cat wants nothing more than to make everything, including you, smell like him, and you can hear it in his voice. So when I say that Elfman captures this concept perfectly, I mean to say that it's a brilliant achievement that works its purpose nicely in both the film and on the CD, but more than about two minutes of it is almost unbearable.
by Danny Elfman
The quieter side of the score is surprisingly thoughtful. The Joker gets a lyrical bit of weirdness for his more contemplative moments, while a fleeting love theme works to emphasize the short nature of the romance between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale.
Rating: * * * *
Friday, July 23, 2010
One of the great forgotton pioneers of early film was New Zealander Colin McKenzie. He was also one of the most unfortunate.
- In 1908, he created not only the first feature-length film, but the first movie with sound. Unfortunately, this startling innovation was quickly forgotten because he made the film in Chinese and didn't think to invent subtitles. Audiences were only impressed with the gimmick momentarily, then became bored when they couldn't understand anything the actors said.
- In 1911, he travelled to a remote Tahitian island to experiment with certain chemicals found in berries unique to that area. He used this to create the first color film footage. Unfortunately, a topless native wandered into his nature shot, and when he showed his astonishing invention, he was arrested on smut charges.
- In the 1920s, he mounted a massive Biblical epic called Salome about the woman who demanded the head of John the Baptist. He built a collasal set of Jerusalem deep in the jungles of New Zealand and hired thousands of extras. His ambition was too great, and he spent a decade in a desperate cycle of raising funds, filming until funds ran out, and searching for someone else to invest in the endless project. When it was finally finished, it held not only a tragic personal cost for him, but due to various problems with his investers, it was never released, and all the footage was buried and presumed lost.
For all that, he was still an extraordinary artist and technician who, thanks to the work of this documentary, can finally take his place in the pantheon of the great film pioneers like Milies, Sumner, and Griffith.
Oh, yeah, there one final twist the story I haven't mentioned:
None of it is true. McKenzie never existed.
If you didn't know that before watching, you might well be fooled by the film. Many of its initial viewers certainly were. It's actually a satiric bit of whimsy from Peter Jackson in his pre-Lord of the Rings days, but Jackson and co-director Costa Botes weave genuine history and convincing interviews into the yarn so well and so perfectly capture the feel of TV documentaries that you might miss the sheer goofiness of the whole thing. There are a couple of outrageously silly moments, but most of the silliness is done with subtlety and a straight face, and actually works. If you buy into it, it's probably pretty interesting. If you know what's going on -- or figure it out -- it's a blast.
The fictitious McKenzie is a fascinating character. He's a genius who creates astonishing things, but due to external circumstances and internal flaws, is somehow never as successful as the hacks who understand the system -- sort of a cinematic Nikola Tesla. Jackson and Botes are full of clever ideas about this guy. The twists of fate that accompany the filming of Salome are terrific.
There are interviews with real figures in the film inudstry to lend credibility. Leonard Maltin is every bit as good at his faux-interview as he is in real documentaries -- articulate, energetic, and beaming with his passion for film. Harvey Weinstein and Sam Neill also pop up for engaging comments; Weinstein probably has the funniest joke in the film.
One thing that impressed me was how immersive the yarn is. More than once, I reacted with astonishment at what McKenzie accomplished before I reminded myself that it was fiction. While it's a very funny film, it also has moments that are genuinely moving. McKenzie's ultimate fate is deeply tragic and yet oddly inspiring, like his entire (non-existent) life. A lot of the film follows Jackson adventuring into the New Zealand wilderness to find the lost sets from Salome, yet another of the film's engagingly goofy yet convincing ideas; it's a fascinating uncovering of a great mystery.
Jackson and Botes recreate lots of silent-movie footage for the film, and they absolutely nail the look and feel of silents. The framing, the stagy acting, the dirt and scratches all make McKenzie's films look like the real thing. Salome looks especially cool with its massive central set-piece, where tensions between the Jews and Romans erupt into a nicely done battle sequence.
Forgotten Silver is the sort of odd, clever little yarn that probably appeals more to film lovers than anyone else, but I think almost anyone would enjoy it. It's has the sort of good-natured fun and inventiveness you don't see much anymore. Definitely worth checking out.
* * *
RATING: Not rated -- it was originally produced for New Zealand TV. It does contain brief, incidental National Geographic-style nudity of Tahitian natives.
BUDGET: $650,000. They accomplished a lot on that. Of course, it looks like a low-budget TV documentary, but that silent film footage looks like it ate up ten times that amount, easily. Very impressive.
IMDB.COM RATING: 7.6/10.
CRITICAL CONSENSUS: 100% positive on rottentomatoes.
AWARDS: It won the New Zealand TV & Film award for Best Director in the Televesion Drama/Comedy category.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Six months after donning the black cape of Batman, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) finds the city of Gotham still on the brink of disaster. Criminals are afraid to do their work at night, but it hasn't stopped them from trying. Various Batman copycats are trying to emulate him, but without his training or particular moral code, and quite often they end up dead or injured themselves. And worst of all, a deadly psychopath with a sick sense of human calling himself the Joker (Heath Ledger) has appeared and gleefully and violently driving the city into chaos. Yet out of this darkness shines hope for the future in a trio of men dedicated to saving Gotham: the incorruptable officer Jim Gordon; impassioned attorney Harvey Dent; and the Dark Knight himself.
After Joel Schumacher's infamous flop Batman and Robin single-handedly torpedoed a promising film series, the future of a cinematic Batman was in doubt. Of course he would return -- a character this popular was bound to come back -- but it was a project full of dropped projects and dead ends. However, when the series finally did return, it returned in the hands of the incredibly talented up-and-coming Christopher Nolan, hot off a pair of excellent Memento and Insomnia. His approach to Batman Begins was a (mostly) terrific surprise -- an intelligent, compelling tale that emphasized complex characterizations over action and special effects while still delivering plenty of imagination and excitement. (Which was good, because the action scenes were hit-and-miss; some, like the dock sequence and the car chase, were vivid, clever scenes, but too many of the fight scenes were rendered incomprehensible by the shaky-cam/fast-cut style so unfortunately popular) Strong word of mouth not only propelled it to a strong box office performance, but created a surprisingly widespread fanbase after it DVD release.
Despite some misgivings from the fans, the hype for The Dark Knight was incredible. Sure, Heath Ledger seemed like a strange choice for the Joker, but insiders claimed to be astonished at the result and the trailers were dazzling, more thrilling and powerful in three minutes than most Hollywood films are in three hours. And Ledger's shocking, untimely death raised a whole new level of interest as one of the last performances of a talented actor.
Remarkably, it lived up to the hype. The Dark Knight is a tremendous film in every way. As a crime drama, it's as powerful a tale as has ever been brought to the screen. As a personal tragedy, it's devastating. As an action film, it's exhilarating. Most importantly, though, it manages to do all that and still be fun. More than anything, I worried that with all its darkness, all its violence, all its sadness, it would drain away the enjoyment. It didn't. It has lots of sadness, but it's also thrilling, funny, and genuinely inspiring.
There's really not enough good to be said about the cast. Christian Bale's gravelly voice for Batman was criticized by some, but it's an effective and believable choice for the character at this point in his career. More importantly, his Bruce Wayne is superbly handled. Wayne is not only playing Batman, but even as himself, he's playing a part for others. He can't be the kind of upstanding citizen Batman should be; instead, he acts as a spoiled rich kid. Bale adds an interesting element here: there's a sense that the act is starting to spill into his own personality because he never gets to be himself except around Alfred (as whom Michael Caine is exactly the tower of strength you expect). Meanwhile, under the mask of the Bat is a tortured, fascinating individual trying desperately not to kill or become too violent -- not becoming the very people he is hunting.
Opposing him is Heath Ledger's Joker. Ledger's variation on the character makes the humor a lot more subtle and emphasizes the violent, chaotic intensity. It makes for a terrifying individual, but the pitch-black humor that defines the Joker is still there. His "pencil trick" is the most obvious of these, but multiple viewings reveal a great many jokes hidden because he often tells the punchline to the joke long before the set-up (which, of course, is already planned out in his devious head). Ledger's strange delivery, sometimes-graceful, sometimes-abrupt movements, and terrifying laugh makes the villain as edgy as any cinematic psychopath. He isn't my favorite Joker -- that would be Mark Hamill's whacked-out interpretation from the 90's Batman: The Animated Series -- but he's perfect for this film.
Supporting them, Aaron Eckhart makes Harvey Dent the most sympathetic and tragic character in the film. He's not only an incredibly likable guy, but every bit the upstanding man Batman is, and without the violence or darkness. But hidden underneath is a man who really is on the edge. He flips a two-headed coin to make impossible decisions; it seems like a good plan -- heads, you do the right thing, and it's always heads. But he keeps throwing himself into those decisions. He's playing with fire, and the Joker knows he only needs the right push to cross the line.
Unlike a lot of viewers, I actually rather liked Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne's love interest in Batman Begins. She brought a likable innocence and some hidden strength to the role. But Maggie Gyllanhall is a superb replacement; she makes Rachel Dawes her own. Morgan Freeman returns to play Lucius Fox, Batman's quivalent to Q, and again brings his always wonderful presense to a dark tale in need of his warmth. Cillian Murphy has a nice return cameo as the Scarecrow. The supporting cast is peppered with great character actors who never seem to get into good movies any more -- Eric Roberts, Michael Jai White, Anthony Michael Hall.
Best of all, though, is Gary Oldman as Gordon. Oldman is best known for his wildly over-the-top scenery-chewing in stuff like True Romance, Leon the Professional, and Immortal Beloved. Jim Gordon is an entirely different character -- a quiet, introverted man who is nearly as full of fear as he is of courage. Even more so than Batman, he's the moral center of the film. Oldman underplays the role brilliantly and grounds the story. Like with Batman Begins, it's hard to believe that he's even more effective at this sort of subtle role than his usual delightful wackiness.
It helps all the actors, of course, that the script by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan is so strong. The film reminded me strongly of Heat in the way each character was really given a complete story, and these stories all blended into one superb tale. It's probably even better than Heat because none of the stories are tangents (like Natalie Portman's subplot in that film): they're all absolutely integral to the tale. Particularly moving is Harvey Dent's plot because the film makes you care so very deeply about this guy and cheer so much for him, but anyone who knows Batman knows where his future lies, and his fate hangs over him in every scene. You dread every moment he's in danger... or even when he's just being a good person, because he's going to fall from such great heights.
Of course, a Batman movie can't just be characterization; it's an escapist fantasy, full of atmosphere and action. And The Dark Knight contains some of the finest action sequences I've ever seen. The car chase may be the best ever filmed, and is certainly up there with The Road Warrior, The French Connection, and Bullitt. In fact, it may be better than Bullitt because you care so very deeply about the characters and fear so much for their safety. The fight scenes are always completely clear, never rendered confusing by editing or style -- and were superbly choreographed. They weren't choreographed with in the beautiful, dance-like way of the East and of the Wichowskis; they were rough and real. (not that I dislike balletic fight scenes; on the contrary I love them. The toughness of the fights was the right choice for this film, however.)
The climactic scene and the finale are truly what drive this film into the stratosphere; they are thrilling, but it's their meaning and depth that give the film such power. The film, in the end, is not about villains and their plots, but about heroes and asking what heroes must do to fight such villains. Unlike Burton's Batman, this is not a film about the Joker. The Joker is done as brilliantly as he could be done, but this film is about Batman, about Dent, about Gordon, about Good. And that is what makes it one of the finest films to come to theaters in many, many years. That is what raises this film from descriptions like "comic-book movie" or even "crime drama" and into the realm of great literature, of great art.
And it's really, really cool, too. All the gadgets, the gimicks, the fights, the cape, the explosions, the Batmobile (and Batcycle!), a few good one-liners, everything you want from a Batman flick. But it's a lot more than that; it's a cinematic masterpiece that proves Nolan to be one of the great film makers of our time.
I suppose you could call this the Godfather of comic-book films. It would be tempting to compare it to Godfather II because it's such a terrific sequel, but it resembles the first more because Godfather II is a gripping, immensely powerful tragedy; Godfather is a gripping, immensely powerful tragedy and a lot of fun. And that's what this is: a sweeping, powerful crime drama that's also great entertainment.
* * * *
RATING: PG-13 for violence and language. To be honest, it probably should have gotten a light R. The violence isn't bloody, per se, but it's extremely intense and packs a heck of a punch. That's not a criticism of the film itself, but just yet another case of the MPAA giving out improper ratings (and likely due to more than a dose of studio influence).
BUDGET: $185 million.
BOX OFFICE: A genuine blockbuster that not only had a record-breaking opening weekend of $158 million, but had enough legs to carry it to $530 million in the US, and nearly as much internationally.
IMDB.COM RATING: 8.9, currently the #12 film of all time on their site.
CRITICAL CONSENSUS: They loved it every bit as much as audiences. 93% positive on rottentomatoes.com, and a rating of 82 on metacritic.com. Many critics named it the best or one of the best of 2008.
AWARDS: Nominated for eight Academy Awards, winner of two -- Supporting Actor (Ledger) and Sound Editing. However, despite the universal praise and massive popularity of the film, it failed to get nominations for Best Picture or Director, which more than anything prompted the revamping of the awards the next year, where the Best Picture category was expanded to 10 nominees so these sorts of snubs were less likely. Outside of the Oscars, Heath Ledger posthumously won virtually every supporting actor award on the planet and probably several that didn't even exist beforehand and were specifically created for his unforgettable performance. The film itself was nominated for approximately 117 million awards and won about 83 million of those.