The New York Post ran a headline on September 12th, "80 Al Queda Vermin Captured Inside Iraq."
Now, I hate al Queda and their platform, goals and means. I do not, however, think that calling al Queda members "vermin" is particularly non-biased.
In a way, I am glad that the Post is no longer making any efforts to be taken seriously as a journalistic entity. It makes it easier to debunk.
Playing With My Toys
My new control stick for my iRiver iMP-350 (one of my favorite toys) arrived a couple of days ago. The old one was busted to hell and back (I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did... it still works, mind you, it was just that it had to be fiddled with). Since I got the newer model, the interface is very different. While it certainly makes sense, it is something that has taken some getting used to as I have gotten so accustomed to the original control stick. There is a bit more memory in the new stick, however, so id3 tag information that would formerly trail off now displays more fully, althouth there is still a limit.
The new stick is also slightly louder than the other, which is good, but again requires some getting used to.
To celebrate the sexy new revamping of the iRiver, I redid my "Random Choices" CD, jettisoning some of the tracks that I always skipped past and adding different ones.
I discovered an interesting thing about the iRiver's "shuffle" function, which is that the "previous track" button will return you to the last track that was played. Apparently, it keeps them in memory for as long as the player is on. If you skip backwards, however, the next track will be randomly selected (though searching for a specific song on the iRiver's menu-based navigation system is extremely easy if you have comprehensive file names).
Now, if only the next firmware update would allow the player to read the "Album Title," "Album Artist" and "Track Artist" fields from the CD-Text TOC (at the moment it just reads the "Track Title"), I'll be ecstatic.
John Hughes Movies
Universal has just released three of John Hughes' best films on DVD. Sixteen Candles Weird Science and The Breakfast Club all came out at the dawn of the format, but were deleted immediately. The new discs are in anamorphic widescreen (the films were hard-matted, it appears, so there is actually more picture information in the letterboxed format) and DTS tracks, although the special-effects heavy Weird Science benefits the most from this latter feature. The discs are available by themselves or as a "High School Reunion" box set... a video bumper for which annoyingly appears before the menu screens on each disc and can't be skipped.
I've not yet re-watched Sixteen Candles, but I reviewed Weird Science and The Breakfast Club and found a big surprise in the latter.
Weird Science, though, is as uproarious as it ever was. It is just risque enough to make it feel naughty, but never enough to make it dirty. The humor is so good natued that it is impossible not to like the film, even if the music and fashions have dated the film... although Oingo Boingo's title song is still great fun. Actually, the totally eighties obsession with aerobics seems a bit like Ghandi's bizarre fixation with dry humping in Clone High.
Even if it is only a tossed-off film in comparison to the two others, Weird Science remains a very enjoyable comedy with an extremely high repeat viewing factor. The scene in the blues bar ("Drink it!") is as classic a moment as any, and the cast from The Road Warrior showing up at the party is amusing as all hell. The special effects are hilarious, as is Bill Paxton as Chet.
Weird Science is a fantasy - the entire plot is spun by Anthony Michael Hall in the Shermer High School gym in the pre-title sequence, and the rest of the film is merely an elaboration on his soliloquoy - but there is still a glaring open-end that should have been resolved.
On the other hand, the finale of the film still rocks.
Also taking place at Shermer High School, although Anthony Michael Hall plays a different character, The Breakfast Club holds up rather well. Much of the reason for this is attributable to the fact that the film makes no pretenses about the fact that it is dealing with archetypes. Like Weird Science, The Breakfast Club has elements (fashions, hairstyles, music) that have dated, but the issues facing teenagers are the same today that they were then.
I had not actually seen The Breakfast Club since I was in high school myself. It rang quite true then, although the perspective from the time was quite different. For many people, The Breakfast Club was a call to be oneself, to assert one's own personality, to be more than just a label.
If the film is not naive, the characters are. They act their age and their place in the caste system. The most brutally honest moment in the film is when Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) asks the others if he will be considered their friends come Monday morning, and Claire (Molly Ringwald) deflates the faux altruism of Andrew (Emilio Estevez), who says that it wouldn't be an issue. Despite the protests of Bender (Judd Nelson), she insists that they will be nice to his face and tear him to shreds behind his back.
There was no sequel to The Breakfast Club, and the truth is that it is a fleeting moment in all of the character's lives, one day in which the differences between them didn't mean anything. It is difficult to imagine Allison (Ally Sheedy) being able to get along with Andrew's friends, and even more difficult to imagine him choosing her over them. Claire and Bender's future is encapsulated in their last moment together in the film when they kiss and Bender paws at her, but she demurs. It is nice to imagine that Brian will help Bender and Andrew with their schoolwork so that Bender has a chance and Andrew can escape the stifling yoke of his father's expectations. But that's not going to happen.
The characters represent each primary clique-form in high school, and what the film shows is not so much what lies beneath the facade, but rather how their rebellions only reinforce the other cliques' opinions. Andrew and Claire are both attractive and popular, and Claire assumes that Brian and Allison envy them. Andrew's chafing at his father's bonds make him act more like him... and although he regrets being such a jock asshole, he lacks the ability to think beyond those parameters. Brian is much more sensitive than he appears, but his fear of failure has cause him to act just as pathetic as he is perceived to be by the others. Allison and Bender are trapped in their realities and unable to break free without destroying themselves in the process (the beginning of which we see in the film).
Bender shows the most of himself because the character is so outspoken, and is the catalyst for much of the film's events, but it is Brian who, naturally, makes the first true admission of vulnerability. Bender's "selfless" behavior when the students are about to get caught in the hallway is shown to be exactly what it is: a desperate act by someone with nothing to lose (in many ways, Bender is the most self-aware of all the kids). When Claire gives Allison a make-over, she is doing it because it is what she does; her stock in trade is being the public "Claire" persona, and she reforms Allison in her own image. Brian writes the paper for all of them, working while the other two couples make out. The Breakfast Club is a dark movie when seen as an adult, and all the more true because of it.
Quoting David Bowie as though it were Shakespeare (I didn't mind much), The Breakfast Club's meaning is totally inverted by the adult perspective. This is most telling in that Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) is drawn to be the most immature character in the film. While this played to the angry teen in people when they saw the film as youths, Vernon now looks like a possible future for many of the students. Angry, spiteful and judgmental, Vernon does not have the excuse that the students have, that they are youn and have growing up to do and experiences to have. Vernon is an adult, and his petty needling of Bender has more to do with his own dissatisfaction with his "31,000 a year" life than with anything Bender would do. His is a miserable existence sustained only by proving his superiority to the children.
The essay that Brian writes actually reinforces the public distinctions between the kids, while sounding, on the surface, to be condemning them.
Saturday...March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois. 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon...We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did WAS wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are, what do you care? You see us as you want to see us...in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain ...and an athlete... ...and a basket case... ...a princess... ...and a criminal... Does that answer your question?
The Breakfast Club.
When the Sci-Fi Channel originally broadcast their Dune mini-series, I only caught a few minutes of it... I saw a bunch of scenes with Irulan that had nothing whatsoever to do with anything that was in the book, the Spice Navigator fold space in a scene that was trying so desperately not to be like its analog in David Lynch's version that it was forgotten that Herbert didn't have this scene, and a few sequences with dialogue that was identical to the Lynch version, but without the same gravity.
Therein lay the essential problem with John Harrison's Dune mini-series. David Lynch's film abbreviates much from Herbert's novel (although more was filmed than ever made the theatrical cut, which Lynch never liked), but it was one of the most visually arresting films of the eighties, and the stellar cast (including Francesca Annis, Freddie Jones, Sian Phillips, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Jurgon Pronchow, Patrick Stewart, Kenneth MacMillan and Sting) could not be matched.
On the other hand, Harrison's Dune had several alternative elements going for it. By enlisting the aid of legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the mini-series establishes its own, distinctive look. The extra running time offered by the mini-series format allows for more detailed portrayals of Fremen culture and the minor plot elements (such as Feyd's attempted assassination of the Baron) to be explored.
I caught up with the original mini-series and the sequel, Children of Dune, which adapts the novels Dune Messiah (the first episode) and Children of Dune (the latter two episodes) on DVD this week.
The visual effects are not of the same scale as Lynch's film, but they are, in their own way, more ambitious. Because the Lynch picture was constrained by analog effect methods, the mini-series has several sequences that appear much freer with altering perspectives and a greater visual flexibility.
Once I got past the comparisons between the two versions, I found much to enjoy about Harrison's version. The costumes and sets (some of which were enhanced digitally) are ambitious, and the performances of the leads, particularly Alec Newman as Paul and Saskia Reeves as Jessica, are fantastic.
Graeme Revell's score is effective, but is better at reflecting the spiritual aspects of the story than the epic aspect, something which Brian Tyler's score for the sequel mini-series, Children of Dune rectified.
Children of Dune actually fairs somewhat better than its predecessor because there is no alternative version available, so the filmmaker's choices could be a bit more artistic, rather than as a comparison to another version.
There are some issues, not least of which is the replacement of Saskia Reeves with Alice Krige, who is fine, but does not bring to the role the same gravity that her predecessor did. On the other hand, Steven Berkoff takes up Stilgar right where Uwe Ochsenknecht left off (the physical similarities between the two actors helps).
However, Children of Dune is a brilliant distillation of the two books, even if the titular children are made much older in the film. This is okay with me because the casting was well done; James McAvoy delivers a fantastic performance as Leto II, and I must say that while her acting is great, Jessica Brooks as Ghanima is also absolutely georgeous (so much for trying to be impartial). The philosophical issues that weighed heavily upon Dune Messiah are dealt with extremely well, and the quagmires that precognition causes that is the backbone of Leto's Golden Path and the basis for Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune, which could have been ponderous and annoying, instead are presented in such a way as so to make them engaging.
There is a sequence in the third episode of Children of Dune that displays all of the values of the mini-series. Leto is in the desert, and, having decided on following the Golden Path (which he does not understand fully), he captures and rides a worm. Tyler's music evokes a spiritual awakening which matches the emotion of the character; Leto has all the memories of his ancestors, so he understands how to do this, but the shrinking desert of his lifetime has meant that this is the first time that he has ever done this.
There is nothing more Fremen than riding Shai-Hulud; it is a perfect example of how the desert people have found a balance with their environment. I have rarely seen an experience so beautifully illustrated. The images of Leto riding the worm are exhilirating.
I was also surprised by the leaps and bounds that television has made; Children of Dune has several sequences involving sex... and I don't mean that "really close hugging" shit that passes for sex on most network television shows. I mean fucking. It is interesting that more prurient and envelope-pushing comedic television has paved the way for greater expression in more serious dramas.
The DVD of Children of Dune, despite its thunderous Dolby 5.1 track, is a botched job, I must say, with a lot of compression artifacts on disc one (episodes one and two) and improper framing on disc two (heads cropped off, etc.). Hopefully a more definitive edition will come out in the future, as is what happened with the original mini-series, which was re-released in an extended cut with a DTS track and a whole mess of features.
I found Tyler's music to be very diverting. It will be the subject of a future posting.
I must get to class.