Friday, August 31, 2007

First, Michael Myers was Born, and Then He Killed Some People, and Then....

Whatever happened to the days when movies - or, more importantly, the people who make them - didn't feel compelled to explain everything to the viewer? While this is rampant in most Hollywood cinema - it's over the top in comedies - one genre that shows this off really well is horror.

This brings me to Rob Zombie's Halloween. First of all, do not confuse this with John Carpenter's Halloween. Ostensibly, that was part of the goal. Zombie and the studio bigwigs were eager for one of those "reinventions" or "reimaginings" that are so popular this century. Aside from some trace elements - butcher's knife, character names, classic theme music, Shatner mask - there's little to relate the two. It's really more like a bad high school play version of the original.

Now, I'm not one of those who wants to complain about how Zombie wasn't loyal to Carpenter's vision, or any of that nonsense. I'm here to pick a bone with the fact that Zombie felt compelled to tell virtually the entire life story of crazy little Michael Myers. We get the entire day that he butchered his family. I'm serious - the entire day. This is nearly the first half of the film! Zombie apparently felt that we needed to see just how messed up Michael's childhood really was. Is this done to generate empathy of some kind? Is it there to show us just how much of a stone-cold-psycho the kid was way-back-when? As if we don't get that drummed into us throughout the second two-thirds of the film by his doctor. Zombie seems to want to convey very clearly - so there can be no doubt - that this guy was a fucked up little kid who grew into a fucked up grown-up. Or, perhaps more to the point, fucked up little kids stay little kids, even after they've past the legal drinking age. Is this a cautionary tale, then? Hardly. It's just a pristine example of wrapping up a story so nice and neat that you can hear the rustle of the bow.

Now, the whole notion of explaining "why" someone - or something - kills a bunch of people (frequently, horny teens) in one of these movies is nothing new. Psycho classically wraps up with the ultimate explain-o-rama denouement. Even the original Halloween and Friday the 13th lay down some backstory for the audience. But, is it really necessary? Isn't it far more terrifying to not know the reasons why? I know it's far more comforting to have explanations, particularly when one hears of real-life atrocities and crimes. It gives us closure. But - and listen closely here - movies are not real life. Hollywood-folk, if you really want to scare the buh-jesus out of theatre-goers and get some solid word-of-mouth, put out a film like this and don't give the audience closure. Thoughout the last third of Zombie's film, many of his victims ask "Why?" and/or "Who are you?" Well, we the audience already know the answer to those questions. What if we didn't? Wouldn't it just freak you out to watch a movie these days where some guy in a lame Halloween mask just started stalking and hacking-up people for no apparent reason? And, I'm not talking about showing him suiting up, picking out a cleaver, and heading door-to-door. I'm talking about just unleashing him on an established, tranquil setting. That way, when the horny teens are looking for answers, we're right there with 'em.

Two more things and then I'm done.

One, the cinematography in this film just plain sucks. Virtually everything is an extreme close-up of someone's face. And you can forget about establishing shots. By the end of the film, those are so long gone that the interior of every house looks the same. The coup de grace is the climactic stalk/fight. I don't know where they were or how they got there. I deduced it was Michael's boyhood home, but c'mon Zombie, throw me a bone!

Two, and this is actually a moment of praise. Yes, I said "praise" for Zombie and his piece-of-shit film. The man has no qualms about showing topless women in a horror picture. Now, I'm not talking about gratuitous, "oh, I forgot to wash my bra today, better do it now" nudity. I'm referring to the fact that when teens get together to screw around, clothes actually come off. This has been royally shunned over the course of the last decade - particularly in horror films, where being so completely vulnerable is part and parcel to the cause. There's no secret as to why this has been going on: PG-13 makes more $$$ than R. Cannot be argued. Somehow, someone, somewhere said that Zombie's picture could be R, and there you have it. Will this reverse the trend? Will we start seeing more skin in at least our scary movies? Based on this turd of a film, no way in hell.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Amazing Trailers:
Elizabeth: The Golden Age

I never saw Elizabeth. No good reason. Just never got around to it. When I heard they were making a sequel, I was rather ho-hum. Then, I saw the trailer for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Wow. Breathtaking. Costumes, sets, cinematography - all look fantastic. The music in the trailer seems great, too; though I am uncertain if this is actually part of the score, or just some temp music put up with the trailer - a not-too-uncommon practice. Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh is inspired casting. Ships and sea battles that look unique and as un-Pirates of the Caribbean as you can get. And Cate Blanchett in a suit of armor!

Well, suffice to say they've got me. So, here's the first preview to make Amazing Trailers whose film absolutely none of us has seen yet.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Wally Wood's
22 Panels That Always Work

Wally Wood was a comic artist and writer (Mad, EC Comics, Marvel) of immense talent, but perhaps his greatest legacy will be his "22 Panels That Always Work". The conceit here is that - if a comic artist is ever stuck and unsure what to draw in a particular panel - he/she could refer to this cheat sheet without fail. While a potentially useful resource for such artists, its also fun and intriguing for the layman.

Click here to check it out in its entirety.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mmmm.... Social Bookmarking

Where the last post was really directed to one person, this one is more, well, social.

Social bookmarking sites have been around for a while, but I only started using one a little over six months ago. My weapon of choice is For the uninitiated, the site allows you to save bookmarks on its website, thus making them accessible from any computer. This is certainly ideal if you find yourself regularly switching between more than one computer (i.e., work, home, friends, etc.) Oh, and you can tag each of your bookmarks as you see fit, enabling quality sorting and searching under your own terms. As with many great aspects of Web 2.0, use of is free.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Anybody for More White Castle?

This is actually a special post for my friend Dave. That said, the rest of you can look, too. I'm sure he won't mind.

Amazing Trailers:
Lost in Translation

Many months before this film was released, became a sensation, and then suffered some serious backlash, I saw this trailer at the Clay theatre in San Francisco. While it looked plenty promising from the get-go, the sight of Bill Murray performing karaoke Elvis Costello knocked it out of the park. I couldn't wait!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

After years of missed opportunities, I finally caught this film at the Castro Theatre the other day. What a marvel. The spare story concerns the historical figure Lope de Aguirre, as he leads a group of conquistadors down the Orinoco River in South America in search of the fabled El Dorado. Now that I set myself here to write about the picture, I find myself at a loss for words.

What little I can say.... The film was shot in 1972, but its truly remote location and period costumes make it timeless. Honestly, if I didn't know better, I wouldn't have been surprised if it was made only a year ago.... Also, the picture has a raw immediacy - I was frequently aware of the genuine dangers faced by cast and crew as they careened down rapids on log rafts or hiked along mountainous trails less than two feet wide. How no one died during the production amazes me.

One cannot write about Aguirre... without mentioning the volatile relationship between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski. From our good friends at Wikipedia:
From the beginning of the production, Herzog and Kinski argued about the proper manner to portray Aguirre. Kinski wanted to play a "wild, ranting madman", but Herzog wanted something "quieter, more menacing". In order to get the performance he desired, before each shot Herzog would deliberately infuriate Kinski. After waiting for the volatile actor's inevitable tantrum to "burn itself out", Herzog would then roll the camera.

On one occasion, irritated by the noise from a hut where cast and crew were playing cards, the explosive Kinski fired three shots at it, blowing the top joint off one extra's finger. Subsequently, Kinski started leaving the jungle location (over Herzog's refusal to fire a sound assistant), only changing his mind after Herzog threatened to shoot first Kinski and then himself. The latter incident has given rise to the legend that Herzog made Kinski act for him at gunpoint. However, Herzog has repeatedly debunked the claim during interviews, explaining he only verbally threatened Kinski in the heat of the moment, in a desperate attempt to keep him from leaving the set.
In truth, the film is closer to a poem than a story. It has clearly influenced such films as Apocalypse Now, The Thin Red Line, and The New World. If you find yourself a fan of any of these pictures, I highly recommend Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Go On... Open the Box!

While I know plenty of you are likely acquainted with Pandora Radio, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't pass it on to the one reader who's still in the dark. So, for you, lone ignorant reader, here's the long and short of it (courtesy of wikipedia)....
Pandora is an automated music recommendation and internet radio service created by The Music Genome Project. Users enter a song or artist that they enjoy, and the service responds by playing selections that are musically similar. Users provide feedback on the individual song choices — approval or disapproval — which Pandora takes into account for future selections.
Starting an account is free and very simple. While you create only one account, you can make up to something like fifty(!) different channels. I have never received any spam from them - or even a single email for that matter. There's nothing to download. Your station exists online, so you can listen anywhere that you have access to broadband.

You want an example? I'm listening to my "The Police" channel right now. The last few songs have included R.E.M., the Beatles, Queen, the Who, and - duh - the Police.

Now, get to it!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Amazing Trailers: Garden State

In the technical vernacular, this isn't the Garden State trailer, it's the teaser, but I won't hold that against it. In fact, this really caught my eye the first time I saw it back in 2004. With the longer trailer, you get more of the idea of the story, whereas this is mostly raw images - a knight in a doorway, a flaming arrow, a girl in a pool, a guy blending in with wallpaper. This is a fantastic example of letting the surreal imagery of a film sell it to an audience. When I saw this, I knew I'd plunk down the money to see the whole thing. (Ironically, my girlfriend and I ultimately got to see a preview screening for free and meet Zach Braff.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mama, Don't Take My Kodachrome Away

Far be it for me to stand in the way of progress. I waited for the day when most everyone in this country had at least one home computer. I remember telling my mom some twenty-five years ago that one day people would pay for everything with a card that would access their bank account. That said, will future generations have hard evidence to sift through that tells them of their family history?

After my father died last December, I took some time to look through shoe boxes full of old family photos, stretching back to the '20's. Many contained people I didn't know. Some pictures identified the folks on the back, some did not. My dad wasn't one to save personal correspondence; there may have been a letter or two, or a postcard. But, at least there was something physical.

All right. So, what does this soul-baring have to do with Mediacopia? Well, the media we use for photography and writing to one another has changed over the last decade or so. As you know, everything's gone digital. Where one might have once stored unsorted photos in a shoe box in a closet, now pictures are saved to flash drives. Where correspondence was once something to be saved and cherished - because someone else took the time to write and mail it - now it's something we dash out several times a day, with the recipient typically reading and sending it to a virtual trash.

What will people sort through in the decades to come? When I think of the combined nature of our use-and-delete culture and the relatively short life-spans of computer hardware, I can't seriously believe that the pictures taken and the emails sent today will be around in ten years. Sure, some will. Some folks will be steadfast and dedicated to preserving such things. But, I suspect they will be in the minority.

I'm not trying to bring you down. I suppose I just want folks to think about this. Hard copies. Not of everything. Just of some of the things that matter to us, so that someone somewhere down the line will be able to hold it, to look at it, to read it, and touch that piece of the past.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Music Videos: The Next Generation?

This is actually something that has puzzled me for a while now. You know, back in the dusty, warehouse regions of my noggin. With the insane proliferation of Hollywood remakes on the big screen year round, why not music video remakes?

I'm not talking about up-and-coming bands covering songs and videos from yesteryear. I mean, just the videos themselves. It just seems like such an obvious thing to do that I can't believe it hasn't happened yet. And I'm not talking about parodies, either. "Weird Al" locked that up over two decades ago.

For example, imagine a shot-for-shot remake of Duran Duran's epic "Hungry Like the Wolf", but featuring Linkin Park and one of their songs. Or perhaps Fergie or Kelly Clarkson in Madonna's "Borderline". Or even a redux of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey", featuring Justin Timberlake.

Now, I'm certainly not endorsing this course of action. Honestly, I think that if I even caught wind of any of the above examples coming to light I might have to take drastic measures. I'm simply pointing out that - in a society chock full o' movie remakes and cover songs - how anybody missed this is beyond me. (And, yes, I am aware that 95% of hip-hop music videos are remakes of each other. They don't count.)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Amazing Trailers: The Fountain

This teaser trailer came out long before the film was released. I was so enraptured by it and still am today. For me, it actually works as a short film in and of itself. I'd go so far as to say this trailer is actually better than the majority of movies released in the last few years. That said, I felt the actual film of The Fountain was a major disappointment. Perhaps my expectations were incredibly high after living with this glorious trailer for so long. Or, perhaps, I quickly grew weary of close-ups of people crying and a convoluted plot that didn't match up with what this teaser seemed to suggest. Again, one of the biggest threats of a trailer - good or bad - is that one might be deceived - intentionally or otherwise. Nevertheless, I remain a huge fan of this:

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Amazing Trailers:
The Usual Suspects

I am a major fan of quality movie trailers. And by quality I mean that they set a mood, hint at a good story, and tease me with just enough. I do not consider the bulk of the trailers issued today to be of this quality. Far too many tell you the whole story and/or show you all the big set pieces, leaving you with no surprises when the time comes to see the whole picture. I'm even a fan of those excellent trailers whose actual movie turns out to be a dud. (Again, I'm looking at you Fountain.)

So, today I am inaugurating an ongoing series here at Mediacopia 2.0 that will focus on these trailers of note. I decided to launch us with the trailer for The Usual Suspects because back when it was released - the trailer, not the film - no one had any idea what it was about, no one knew it would be such a hit, and no one had heard of Kaiser Soze. I remember seeing this in the theatre and thinking it might actually be a heist film with a religious/supernatural element. I was hooked. I suppose that would be the subtitle for this series: Films that really hooked me with their trailers.