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Recent Movie Rental Roundup, Vol.1
Somehow I end up seeing a crapload of movies, and it's only fair that I tell you how they were. This capsule review format, assuming I can restrain myself, should allow me to convey the most pertinent information (is it worth watching, and if so, why?) with room for a little color. Here goes nothing.

dir. Sam Mendes
This movie was a big sandy reminder of how much more I like Peter Sarsgaard than Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake really bulked up for the role, and his neck is wider than most of his head, which it turns out is not very attractive anyway. I know some of you think JG is hot, and I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but he's a straw hottie: you're heating up your Hanes over a smirk and an eye-twinkle -- there's no there there. Watching two hours of gyllenglower should cure you of any residual crush.
     As for the movie itself, it's decent enough, though it it doesn't look as hot when you stand it next to its most obvious cinematic progenitors, Full Metal Jacket (Marine training) and Three Kings (Gulf War). It's a war movie without the actual war, and it's about what happens when people are trained to kill, dropped into a war zone, and not allowed to kill. Jamie Foxx is good, Sarsgaard great. Watch for the scorpion fight.

dir. Wong Kar Wai
Megapraised quasisequel to Wong's In the Mood for Love, which I didn't see. It's slow, beautiful, and heartbreaking, a five-year snapshot of one man's life, with the time marked by the women who mattered even as he tried his damnedest to keep them from doing so. Tony Leung, who I still think of as the other guy in The Killer, plays a hack writer of dirty science fiction in late-sixties Hong Kong, and living in a decaying hotel brings him into contact with a series of dazzlingly portrayed women. He's blandly charming, an improbable ladies man, but by the end of the movie, I wanted to fuck him, too. Although I think it was a bit overrated, it is a pretty serious meditation on the stupid human trick of falling in love with the worst possible candidate for such attention. The sixties scenes are shot with loving attention to every detail, and the intermittent scenes set on a high-speed transglobal train in the year 2046 are drool-worthy confections, the exterior stuff CG but the interiors classic sixties-style future vision, rounded corners and womb chairs. Best if you're in a patient mood.

The Brothers Grimm
dir. Terry Gilliam
I wondered how a TG movie got by me, so I rented it and had my answer. Poor TG got back on his horse after failing to make Don Quixote (see Lost in La Mancha for the tragic tale of the doomed production) and came up with this, which might have been a fine movie made by someone else, but had the bad luck of being the worst Terry Gilliam movie ever. Cast your eyes over his directing filmography, and you'll see that it's a pretty stellar list, and it's no shame being the worst of the bunch (yes, worse even than Munchausen), but still, it's a letdown. Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, and Jonathan Pryce are all great, but in service of something that looks and feels a little too much like Time Burton's Sleepy Hollow.

dir. Chan-wook Park
A brutal Korean revenge movie with an awesome setup: a man is imprisoned -- without knowing why -- for fifteen years, when he's freed just as capriciously, left to find his captors and give something back. The payoff doesn't quite live up to the setup (though that could be a cultural difference -- maybe it killed in Korea), but along the way there are some tasty setpieces. Stu told me to watch for the scene where our hero, armed only with a clawhammer, takes on a narrow hallway filled with 30-odd thugs -- and leaves them all moaning on the floor. The end takes too long, but all in all it's worth a rental, though when I put the DVD in, it defaulted to playing back with the audio track dubbed in English. Fiddle with your "Audio" and "Subtitle" buttons until you get Korean sound and English titles, as god intended.

dir. Robert Schwentke
A capable thriller that takes place on a jet bigger than that monstrous Airbus deal. Jodie Foster is great, as always, at making you care about her, even when the plot is full of nonsensical action movie holes. Sarsgaard is in this one, too, and he's great, again. Sarsgaard! The director does a great job of conveying the sense of being on a plane, and pulls some Hitchcockian camera stunts, if you dig that kinda thing (the extra features are pretty cool on this one). It's also unclear whether Jodie's character is completely nuts or not, which is hard to pull off. I had fun with this, despite the aforementioned plot holes, because they just come with the territory nowadays.

dir. Tony Scott
Quite unexpectedly, this one ended up being the pick of the litter. It's completely over the top, and the opening credits let you know that the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, feeling like a mix of Charlie's Angles, 70s exploitation flix, Saturday morning cartoons, and an Aerosmith video. I've always thought that Tony Scott was a crowd-pleasing hack compared to his serious older brother Ridley, but I'm starting to wonder. Ridley's cred is all based on two early works of unquestionable genius and vision: Alien and Bladerunner. But lately it's all been Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and, god help us, Hannibal. Tony made Top Gun at the start of his career, so he was at least more honest about his intentions. But then he made True Romance, which this movie kinda reminds me of, though it owes more to Tarantino's other big pre-Pulp Fiction script, Natural Born Killers. The thing is, I think that Domino might be better than both of those movies (TR and NBK). It's unabashedly entertaining, and admits early on that it's fucking with the truth for the sake of fun. The supporting cast is uniformly fantastic, with your Rourke and Liu and Walken all up in that shit. The pace is, like, perfect, and I mean it. Oh yeah, and the story is that Laurence Harvey, of The Manchurian Candidate, had a daughter who gave up a career in modeling and a life in Beverly Hills to become a bounty hunter. The script is by the same guy who wrote Donnie Darko, and it's sharp and smart as it should be. I don't want to say anything else, except that you should see this flick.
Jarhead    : . . . . : .7.3. . :  
2046    : . . . . : . .8.5. :  
The Brothers Grimm    : . . . .5:9. . . . :  
Oldboy    : . . . . : .7.0. . :  
Flightplan    : . . . . :6.8. . . :  
Domino    : . . . . : . .8.6. :  
5/13/2006 • link2 comments

Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (2003)
The Unicorns
This was one of those albums that made me sit up and take notice the very first time I heard it; I got that tingly sensation that should sound familiar to any serious music lovers reading this. I entered a hyper-alert state that blocks out extraneous stimuli so that my brain can figure out if I'm actually hearing genius or just another goddamn let-down.
     (See, most of the time, when you buy a new CD and you listen to it, and you're more or less pleased with the result -- you usually don't end up buying absolute pieces of shit these days, because mp3s, lo-res audio samples on sites like Amazon, in-store listening stations, a billion online reviews, and the good old hipster grapevine should steer you towards the rare gems and away from the clunkers. But some artists out there must be geniuses, and the records they are making now are masterpieces, and they will be revered as such for many years. I take George Michael's advice, and I listen without prejudice to the recommendations of my friends, hoping for that special tingle that freezes me in my tracks and sends all the blood to my eardrums.
     I listen listen listen to the whole album, waiting with ever-increasing tension for the awful song that ruins everything, or the slow but steady decline in song quality characteristic of a "front-loaded" record, but sometimes the album is... just it, man, right? Jupiter aligns with Mars, the CD finishes, leaving my cheeks wet with tears of gratitude, and it's all I can do to stop shaking long enough to start the damn thing over again immediately. In years past, it's happened with Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Rufus Wainwright's eponymous debut album, and even Beck's Midnight Vultures. Each of those albums left me in stunned disbelief, but you'll notice that the albums I listed are all from like 1999, so it's been a while.)
     Friends, The Unicorns brought me the closest I've come to that shivery transcendence since y refused 2 k. If I describe the album in too much detail, it will only sound stupid and make you want to avoid it, and I want you to buy it, live it, and love it with me. But it's only fair to say something like: a bunch of Canadians, boys, who may as well be teenagers even if they're not, perform a song cycle, or maybe an opera -- I don't know -- about unicorns and ghosts and Noah's Ark and bizarre medical conditions and death. (Huh, when I say it like that it sounds like I could be talking about In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but the albums couldn't sound more different.) The Unicorns are goofy, clowning around, ecstatic, energetic, and so A.D.D. that they can't write songs with choruses -- the idea of singing the same couplet or quatrain more than once would just bore them to sleep. I must have listened to this 100 times. I can't sing its praises more highly without sounding like a jackass. I love it.

Return to the Sea (2006)
I don't know how to break this to you after reading the elegy above, but less than a year after releasing Who Will Cut Our Hair... The Unicorns broke up. I almost cried, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I'd always have that album. Well! Imagine my excitement when someone showed me Noel Murray's review in The Onion of this album (by the singer and drummer of the Unicorns!) a week before it came out. I was jazzed out my skull, bwah. Shee-it. And the review was fairly positive, even though he led the piece with the following bit of heresy:
The Unicorns' 2003 album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? wasn't exactly overrated, since it was fairly obscure even by indie-rock standards, but a circle of hardcore indie aficionados did praise the slight, excessively whimsical piece of DIY pop way out of proportion.
Who cares, y'feckin' arse'ole. I ran out to get it, and it deserves the highest praise I could give it: it sounds like a Unicorns album. I almost wept the first time I heard it. Again I'll refrain from description, except to say that it's more stylistically varied than the Unicorns, and that, so far, I love this one too, only just a little bit less.
The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?:: . . . . : . . .9.6:
Islands - Return to the Sea:: . . . . : . .8.9. :
5/10/2006 • link3 comments

Nicotine patches

I smoked Camel Filters for thirteen years, and for most of them I smoked a pack a day. I'd never really tried to quit before, mostly because I didn't want to. For many years I'd cultivated a persona that was vociferously pro-smoking, and it seemed disingenuous to flip-flop on the issue. I smoked a lot. I smoked in places I wasn't supposed to smoke, and at inappropriate times. Which in retrospect seems rather churlish, but I get it now: smoking is a rebellious act not only because it's self-destructive, but because it amplifies your solipsism to really horrifying levels. Smokers are always about satisfying their immediate needs, and in polite society, the person who demands to be treated as an exception, as an individual, is despised and admired in varying proportions. Smokers are selfish and worse, they make other people's lives more unpleasant with their smoke, their odor, their breath, etc. But as a former smoker, I can say that we like it that way.
     Anyway, sometime in 2004 I realized that I wasn't enjoying smoking anymore, not at all. I believe that despite the huge role that the Nicoderm and Zyban played in getting me over the physical addiction, I would not have been able to quit for real if I still enjoyed smoking.
     My doctor prescribed Zyban at my request, because I had taken Wellbutrin (same drug, different brand name) in 1998 and I had noticed that even though I wasn't trying to quit smoking, I was smoking a lot less. I actually had to remind myself: "fuck! It's time for a smoke! What am I thinking?" but if something distracted me before I got a cigarette lit and into my mouth, I might forget again for another hour. So I knew it was effective at stopping my cravings. I got the Nicoderm patches, and started with the strongest, which was something like 20mg of nicotine a day. The nicotine or some other aspect of the transdermal delivery system was caustic, and I had to remove one of the patches from my chest because it just stung too much -- the welt it left was real ooky. So I devised a schedule of placement on various parts of my upper arms, and that was cool.
     I wrote this review on request, which is why it's not so punchy -- I'm not so jazzed and full of things to say about the patch. But I will offer this drastically important advice for free: If you want to quit smoking, do your best to stop enjoying it first. Chain-smoke unfiltereds for a month until you're coughing up bloody lungpies. Smoke in your bedroom with the windows closed. Go to a cigar club and just sit there, breathing rich men's exhalations. Buy your smokes full price in midtown Manhattan. Putt out butts on your tongue. Whatever it takes. Because if you quit while you like it, then all the events in your life that would normally trigger the desire for a smoke will still do it once you're off the patch. But if you hate smoking by the time you quit, it won't even occur to you as a possibility.
     As for rating these things, I guess they did what they were supposed to, which was deliver nicotine. But they ate my flesh a little, and they don't work for everybody.
.: . . . . : . .8.0. :
5/08/2006 • link14 comments

This blog has moved
John from Cincinnati
Recent Movie Rental Roundup, Vol 1.
The Unicorns and Islands
Nicotine patches
V for Vendetta
Wonder Showzen
Hard Taco Project
rating approximate meaning
10.0Godlike perfection
9.5Mortal perfection
9.0Great! Classic!
8.0Pretty awesome
7.0Good stuff
6.0Don't knock it 'til you try it
5.0Exactly half good and half bad
4.0If it's on sale...
3.0Last resort
2.0You might prefer root canal
1.0Contact could lower your I.Q.
0.0May cause cancer

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