Saturday, August 30, 2008

Movie Review
    — Iron Man

I finally saw Iron Man last weekend, when the Columbia City Cinema got it in as a second run film.  It was pretty good, I thought.

Mind you, I’ve never been a fan of Iron Man.  Not that I dislike Iron Man, but I just haven’t ever followed the character other than in the pages of The Avengers.  (This is probably because he’s a tech-based character.  I’m a big fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, where every member has to have a unique non-tech power; Iron Man is a no-go in that scenario.)

As a result, I know the basics of the the character arc for Iron Man without being able to get hung up on the details.  That makes me an ideal audience for a superhero movie: I know of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and I can identify the character prepped to be the Mandarin in a future film, but I’m in no place to complain if Happy Hogan is relegated to just a chauffeur in the movie but was so much more than that in the comics.

What I particularly liked about the film, though, is that it was a superhero film without being full of the arch-villain.  Obadiah Stane was more organically grown from Tony Stark’s back story, as opposed to Lex Luthor’s maniacal jealous businessman or Norman Osborne going off the deep end to become the Green Goblin.

Also nice was the fact that despite this being a movie based around a tech character, there wasn’t either the “bounce the character off he walls so frenetically that the audience loses all sense of direction” from Spider-Man 3, nor the “blow up every vehicle in the city” from The Dark Knight.  I want to be able to tell who is hitting whom and why; keep the property damage only to that which needs to be done, not gratuitous explosions because you’ve got the budget.

The only down side to this film was entirely on the theater’s part.  They were alternating showings of it with Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 (two films that go back-to-back so logically!) in the same theater, and people for the next film were filing in during the Iron Man credits.  And thus to hasten things along… no, they didn’t stop things before the legendary post-credits scene, but they turned off the camera, so we got to hear it but not see it.  Grrr.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Were They Thinking?
    — A comma, a comma, my kingdom for a comma!

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

There is a new “ride the bus” ad on Seattle city (and King County) buses, with alleged bus riders saying “I do make a difference by riding the bus.”  But it raises a question to me:
Who the heck was the copy writer on this?
There are four ways you could use this basic sentence:
I make a difference by riding the bus.
This is the answer you would give to the question “How can you have an effect and promote a green lifestyle?”  The response is simple and factual.  Riding the bus is the important thing here.
I make a difference, by riding the bus.
This is the answer you would give to the question “Can you have an effect and promote a green lifestyle?”  Yes, you can (hello Obama), and here’s how I do it.  It’s a little more forward.  It stresses that you can make a difference, with riding the bus being one person’s answer.
I do make a difference, by riding the bus.
Here, the response would be to a question like “Can someone really have an effect and promote a green lifestyle?”  There’s a bit of disbelief in that, requiring the refutation word “do”, and then the clarification of how the person makes a difference.
I do make a difference by riding the bus.
But this is the version actually being used.  This is the response to “I don’t think one person riding the bus can really have an effect and promote a green life.  Prove it.”  The response is refutational, and petulant, and ultimately inadequate.  There needs to be a little foot stomp and the follow-up line “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!”  (And I don’t mean to reference an ABBA song here.)

In other words, they opted for the worst of the four options, the one that carries the least weight and the most whining.

But you know, maybe there are other potential values to the wording.  Maybe if we look at the meter of the line?
i DO make a DIFerence by RIding the BUS.
Hmm, okay.  But as I said, that seems a bit whining with the emphasis on “do”.  If we remove the “do”, we get this:
I make a DIFerence by RIDing the BUS.
The meter here ends up falling on the first syllable instead of the second, but then swoops into the same meter for the rest of the phrase.  That’s not a bad thing, since it then stresses personal responsibility, but it results in no reason to include “do”.

(Note as well that the ad chose to emphasize “make a difference” and “bus”.  While that's arguably a design choice, it runs counter to using the meter to influence the meaning by forcing emphasis that goes in a different direction.)

So meter is out as a reason to use this wording.  Anything else?

Oh lord, no.
“I do.”
Could this be a subliminal gay marriage thing, maybe?  By putting those words — which hold a lot of symbolic power in our culture — in front of thousands of people every day, are we keeping the concept of marriage in the front of everyone’s subconscious?  And since marriage really only gets coverage in light of same-sex civil marriage these days, is reminding people that it exists a subtle way of pushing for tolerance?

Or am I a conspiracy theorist today?  <grin>

[Thanks to the Seattle Transit Blog for the image.]

[Thanks to William Shakespeare for the entry title reference.]

Updated on January 25, 2010

Movie Review
    — Mamma Mia!

Please don’t make Pierce Brosnan sing in a movie ever again.  Ever.

Note: I have not seen the stage version of this, so I can’t comment on how well or poorly the screenplay meshes with the original.  But I have my suspicions that a few things got dropped in the movie.

Beyond that, make no mistake, Mamma Mia! is not a “serious” movie.  It is camp.  And when it remembers that it’s okay to be campy, that’s where the film excels and sells itself to the audience, making us smile, giggle and twitter, and even sing along.  (It’s ABBA music.  You’re supposed to sing along!)

When the movie pushes in a bit of melodrama — Sophie and Sky’s tiny spat, for example — it stutters and stumbles.  (Or anytime Brosnan sings.)  But as soon as the next whoop-it-up chorus-boys-and-girls dance number comes along, all is good again.

The casting, or more the use of the cast, is spotty.  The two adult women sidekicks rip into the film with abandon, chewing the scenery and carrying the film forward.  Meryl Streep always feels reined in by uncertainty — should she just say “fuck it” and embrace the cheese, or should she hold back?  This is informed by the character she is playing, perhaps, but she never feels like she is inhabiting a movie built around ABBA songs.  The girl playing Sophie is a wide-eyed cipher; her motives and dreams are vaguely mentioned throughout the movie, but she never really projects them.  Sky is cute but otherwise empty.  All three adult male cast members seem more stunned by the film than anything else; again, while that’s part of the characters, it comes across to the viewer as mediocre acting (or poor directing).

Thank goodness for one of the men’s implied gay romance.  The confession exchange on the boat gave more depth to the two characters talking than the entire rest of the film had, and included a genuinely clever crossed-signals dialogue bit.

Also annoying was the insistence on groups of three — three adult women, three adult men, Sophie and her two girlfriends.  Sophie’s gal pals are so prominent in the first 10 minutes that their near absence from the rest of the film stands out strongly.  And should there have been a threesome (ahem) with Sky as the pivot point, to keep that balance?  Oh yes, we did see Sky, the black bartender, and one other guy together for about 3 seconds in one scene, so maybe there was such a triad intended.  (Typical story logic says that the unnamed third guy there should also be the gay fling attached to one of the adult men, but I don’t think it was the same actor.)

In the end, you have two choices with this film: sit outside it and analyze it and find it wanting, or inhabit the film’s world and burst out into song, dance, and sequins as needed.  The choice is easy; the hard part is dealing with Pierce Brosnan’s singing voice.

Updated on January 22, 2010