01 March 2010

Back

Okay, so I took down the Twitter module upon my return, but I didn't offer an update right away. Granted, I did write a rather long journal entry on my DeviantART page wherein--I think I overuse that word--I detailed my return trip (recently-caught cold and all), which I didn't feel like simply copying-and-pasting into Blogger (albeit I transferred part of it to my Gamespot weblog, which sees even fewer updates than Blogger). Anyway, I'm back and I thought I'd do a little "return to form" and give a few quick movie reviews. Granted, I'd already seen Watchmen, but my Dad hadn't, which I knew would make for an interesting experience. Movies by their very nature are meant to be self-contained and not requiring prior knowledge of certain subject matters, so it's nice to see how well adaptations fare on this front.

As it happens, he really liked it despite no prior knowledge of Watchmen whatsoever. Then again, I think that's the appeal; the characters of Watchmen, as many know, are essentially parodies of Golden Age-era Charlton comics characters, among them The Blue Beetle, a noted inspiration for Batman. I think Zack Snyder is a really under-appreciated director (previous film 300 is, without question, my personal favorite of the post-2004 Digital Backlot films). If it sounds like I'm pigeonholing or demeaning him by describing him as a "poor man's Paul Verhoeven" (extreme gore, social commentary, sensational sex scenes) believe me, I'm not; I'm genuinely looking forward to his next film, even if it's an animated feature about owls. I mean, even if that one turns out bad, at least I can look forward to Xerxes, the supposed prequel that Frank Miller is currently writing.

We also watched District 9, which had a few editing issues that make me question its nomination in that Oscar category, but otherwise was thoroughly enjoyable. Some people might be turned away by its seemingly light-hearted tone, but those people are missing the point. The film is very ambiguous, in that we're not sure who we're supposed to want to see win, and we're never sure if we're supposed to laugh at something or not. It's kind of like American Psycho; you'll laugh, but you'll feel guilty for it because every shred of decency and humanity in you will be crying out in horrified protest. The violence and gore in the film is on the level with something like a cartoon or a comic book, but the subtexts and social commentaries they frame are on the level with the likes of Good Night And Good Luck, Munich, Hotel Rwanda, or Three Kings. In short, it's a schizophrenic mess of excitement and intelligence... and it's beautiful. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of a flawed diamond. It may not have much in the way of luster or clarity, but it'll still cut glass.
To expand on what I said about having problems with the editing, I mean the way in which the movie presents its own "reality" via various camera techniques. For starters, let me get it out of the way that I absolutely hate and despise the word "Mockumentary." It's just such a hideous word, and was so before it became dreadfully overused. What strikes me as strange about it is that I'd never heard the term before The Blair Witch Project and I honestly don't think anyone ever used it to describe Rob Reiner's This is Spinal Tap, so I feel safe in chalking its origin up to the same modern yet ignorant newspeak that gave us "blog" "lawl" and even "pwn." District 9 ultimately presents itself as a documentary, filmed in typical "cinema verite" style with unsteady camera work and talking head interviews. In film, there are essentially three styles of narration, much like in books:
1st person. Films like Russian Ark, Cloverfield, or even Blair Witch Project fit this category, wherein what the audience is seeing is essentially what its main characters see. As such, the cinematography is distinctly "amateurish" and the narrative is ultimately of a limited perspective as we're only, at best, over the shoulders of our protagonists. This exemplifies what's known in literary circles as "metafiction," that is, fiction that is self-aware. The characters are aware that they're being recorded, and are in full control over what does and does not get seen, whether they turn the camera off voluntarily, lose power, or get eaten by some hideous monster attacking them.
3rd person limited. This one's a little tough to peg down because it's extremely broad and describes a great many films. In District 9, we don't so much get Third Person Limited in the sense of a disembodied film crew that follows the protagonist yet never interferes with the goings-on as much as we get a real live film crew that interviews various characters and even follows our "hero" (at the risk of spoilers, I'll just say that the "hero" is "anything but" one most of the time, and characters you wouldn't think to have any merit or values end up showing more humanity than 99% of the humans in the film) around on his little "errand" to evict a group of aliens from a slum that's risen up around their derelict ship. Think of it like the show Cops; there's a film crew but, while the officers occasionally break the fourth wall and talk to the camera, they go largely unnoticed but can only see as far as the officers they follow around.
3rd person omniscient. This throws out the distinctly "meta" qualities of the first two. No film crews following the characters around, no personal video records, no "found footage" or anything to indicate that what you're seeing is any kind of firsthand account of an event. The best way to think of this is "God's-Eye-View" in that the "camera" is invisible to the characters and unaffected by events unfolding around them, as well as being able to move anywhere and even to any point in time in the film's progression. Dramatic irony is basically gone as any event or occurrence is front-and-center, setting the audience a comfortable distance from our lead characters.
The problem I have with District 9 is that it is not very good at distinguishing between these different perspectives. It breaks the immersion when we have to stop and think, "Okay, is the FILM CREW shooting this, or is this just what WE'RE seeing as it happens now?" Given that the film starts off showing interview and archival footage, we'd expect more of a break when the "prerecorded" footage stops and the "presently happening" footage begins. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows may not have been a great film, but it had a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek sensibility when it came to its own internal logic of truth and reality when it comes to film and video. It was not distracting or heavy-handed in its delivery, but not subtle enough to be missed or overlooked on even the most casual viewing.
I really hope District 9 doesn't get the Oscar for Editing, but I hope it wins the other categories. I doubt it'll win Best Picture; it's just not the kind of film that Hollywood goes for, it's all over the map in terms of its tone and message, and while that ambiguity is what I love about it, it's not what the Academy generally looks for.


Okay, that turned out longer than I thought it would, and now I've got to try and get some sleep despite not only still being a bit sick, but also getting a rather disturbing bill from the electric company which basically says that they did not receive my most recent payment. I'm going to call my bank later and see if that withdrawal was ever made. If it wasn't, then shame on the Post Office for losing track of an envelope mailed the last week of January. If it was withdrawn, then the electric company will be shown no mercy. Anyway, my roommate has forbade me from even thinking about it anymore, and to just give the bills to her mom for her to handle. This isn't the first time the company has royally messed things up for us. First, a ridiculous deposit they never tell you the amount of up front, followed by a surprise bill from my roommate's previous account that they basically sat on for four years and six months before making the connection between that old account and our new one. Ugh. Anyway, I've had enough of it; I'm seriously going to start looking into solar panels.
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