Meatball Machine

[Screenshot]Not entirely what I expected. I expected weird, but I also expected a lot more actual content. This devoloves quickly into a muddled, low-budget gorefest. If you’re into that sort of thing, good, I guess, but I spent all my capability to be amused by gonzo Japanese violence on Battle Royale. So I watched it to the end, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I expected it to eventually go somewhere interesting. Instead I got alien-controlled drill-intensive cyborgs battling each other. Really. Apropos of which, between this and Gurren Lagaan, I’m starting to think we may need to add “drills” to the rather long list of things with which the Japanese have an unhealthy fascination (in fairness, America has an equally long and mostly disjoint list — I think the main topics of overlap are “America” and “breasts”).

See also: IMDB.

A Journal of the Plague Year, being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurrances.

Daniel Defoe has a thing for long overexpalnatory titles. Between A Journal of the plague year: being observations or memorials of the most remarkable occurrences, as well publick as private, which happened in London during the last Great Visitation in 1665 and the book commonly known as Moll Flanders, he’s got to be in the running for the most long-winded titles ever. The book itself is a fairly dry but informative fictional presentation of life in London during the Plague of 1665. It fills a niche that maybe didn’t need filling, since Samuel Pepys published a non-fictionalized account of the same event. But I haven’t read Pepys, so I have to give credit where it’s due: Defoe manages to work some pretty good narrative among his opinions on how things could be better managed and tables of mortality statistics. The sense of urgency is never quite there — one gets the sensation that the narrator is insufferably overconfident. In a modern work he’d surely die horribly for his pride, but nothing really bad happens to him, and other people are not really regarded particularly except as numbers, so it all feels a bit hollow and lacks that vital spark needed to make the Plague actually seem horrific.

See also: Wikipedia.

The Pied Piper of Hützovina

This film is actually kind of painful to watch, from a certain perspective. On a surface viewpoint, there’s a fair bit to like here: Eugene Hütz (frontman of the eccentric American Gypsy band Gogol Bordello; also, the actor playing Alex in Everything is Illuminated and the inspiration for Eugene in Wristcutters. Connections!) is an energetic, wild character, playing guitar whenever anyone will let him and getting back to Ukrainian roots. It’s got scenes which are individually pretty refreshing but as a whole somewhat repetitive (in spite of the pleasingly diverse folk and rock music he plays for roughly half the running time of the film).

But where the film becomes interesting is actually on a metatextual level. The filmmaker either fell into or pretended to fall into a trap more-or-less of her own devising. She took an infamously wild-and-crazy Gypsy musician on a road trip, and I think she decided it was going to be like every road-trip movie she’d ever seen. And of course that means lots of wacky antics and the guy and girl inevitably falling for each other. Hütz had a completely different narrative in mind, and the tension between what she wants and what he’s actually willing to deliver is profoundly embarassing to watch, although it must’ve been worse to actually be part of. Hütz basically refuses to live up to her expectations — he affectionately joins the circle of life everywhere he goes, but in a restrained and respectful manner. Even when he’s coldly rebuffed by a Gypsy cultural leader, he’s less angry than disappointed. So neither we nor Pavla Fleischer get the crazy guy. And as to the romance angle, let’s not even go there.

See also: IMDB.

Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

This is one of those books which seems to wander its way onto “important sci-fi” lists, on the strentgth of its Nebula Award, I guess. I’ve actually read other KSR books first, so I’m seeing a lot of common themes here. He’s obsessed, it seems, with the interplay of human collectives. Red Mars takes that hobby-horse of his and overlays it with a thick layer of terraforming-porn. This gives it too wide a view for my tastes: I’m more into personal dynamics than social dynamics, and the attempt to comprehend planetwide social dynamics doesn’t lend itself to a narrative I find terribly compelling. The earlier chapters have a nice, tight focus on individual characters and their interplay, and this works. But by the time it gets deep into planetary science and transplanetary politics I feel like I’ve lost the thread. But at the same time it seems like Robinson wants to have his cake and eat it soo, since he still seems to invoke an exceptionalism for his central characters. He gives them a name (“the First Hundred”) and extraordinary perks (immortlity serum, their own private radio channel). But he doesn’t connect this fantastic elite status to their downfall, really: it is heavily implied at the end of the book that the reformed, somewhat smaller group is nonetheless the true-destined keepers of the fate of Mars. I just find the whole concept of an elite being played straight rather alarming.

Also, I didn’t find a comparison of women to dolphins,but I’m not as good at this as Adam Cadre is.

See also: Wikipedia.

Atonement

[Screenshot]It’s hard to actually see what all the fuss about Atonmenet was. The plot had some teeth but no real hook and didn’t feel like it had much novelty (yes, we get a twist, but too little and too late). The things I found most interesting were less matters of plot, script, and acting, and more the sheer style. First, there was the fantastic, unreal Dunkirk beach scene. It ran a bit long but managed to stay harrowingly off-kilter throughout. Second, there was Saoirse Ronan. We spend a hell of a lot of the first half hour or so of the movie on her eyes, and they’re really shockingly cold, which makes the plot contrivance that follows seem more logical and less out-of-the-blue.

It was a competent film, and one that didn’t commit any obvious mistakes, but I never really got drawn in.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Infected, by Scott Sigler

I have (for reasons beyond my ken) a prerelease copy of this book. So maybe the actual released version is better. Certainly typos and some of the stylistic errors get a pass, but not the wooden characters or their intolerable stupidity, or the rathe runtidy plot. A few threads develop, and then half of them are abandoned outright and another only becomes relevant at the end. And, ultimately, there’s not much here. Just some dude engaging in self-multilation andf a hint at a larger story which is never even remotely resolved.

I really don’t have much to say, because this story was not bad in any actually interesting ways. It takes a handful of stock thriller stereotypes (the persistent dumb jock, the lady scientist, and the vengeful fed who lost his partner) and lets each have their own fairly predictable story. One snark though: why are all the investigators shocked and surprised by the concept of a parasite which causes irrationality and psychopathy? I don’t work for the CDC, and even I’ve heard of neurosyphilis and meningitis.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

[Screenshot]Sweeney Tood was one of those projects which has to cause a bit of trepidation. It’s a fairly ambitious musical, one demanding some pretty solid chops in both acting and singing, and Tim Burton handed the leads over to… his usual suspects, who are not actually professional singers. That it was possible is surprising, and that it is actually pretty good is nothing short of a miracle. It’s been ages since I saw the stage production of Sweeney Todd, but this recreation did it justice in tone, acting, and singing. Johnny Depp is well-suited to the role of Sweeney Todd himself, and fortunately he actually hits the notes and does a satisfactory performance (movie actors do have one distinctive advantage over stage actors: multiple takes!). Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett feels a bit wrong to me, but I feel her character needs to be less goth and more matronly, which may just be my perspective. The bit roles are excellent too, if played a bit too much within type: Alan Rickman basically can’t play anyone but greasy authority figures any more, and Sascha Baron Cohen, whose type I don’t generally like, manages to work it into a surprisingly appropriate mold as Pirelli.

It’s not exactly the equal of an excellent stage performance: the principals do quite well but trained musicians might bring a bit more polish, and some of the songs were dropped for brevity (or perhaps the actors’ comfort). Nonetheless, this is surprisingly competent as a stageplay adaptation, and accomplished from a cinematographic perspective as well.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.