A couple of weeks ago, I was in a T.J. Maxx buying a new bedding set and I checked out the throw pillow aisle. I got a very soft and comfortable suede pillow and a bean-filled velvet pillow.
The beanbag pillow was a great find. In addition to the soft surface, its form-fitting ability has been wonderful, and so I purchased some full-size beanbag chairs. Since the apartment has been improved, and the sound system updated, my apartment is suddenly hot property, so I need seating for when people come over to watch movies or play games.
Yesterday, the beanbag chairs were field-tested and found to be good. The comfortability factor was much improved (the Jenga was a little rough, though... I have to say that my Jenga mp3 CD is much more effective when the Neo 6 is matrixing it out to 6.1; an interesting prospect considering that one doesn't necessarily where the sound may be coming from).
However, in what may be the cheesiest acceptance of certain flaky aspects of my personality, I found a lava lamp that matches my subwoofer. It is the same color and the exact size to sit right above the bass speaker.
Okay, so there it is then. I bought a lava lamp.
I can't get around what the fact that I have a lava lamp must say about me. I certainly must accept that it is a sillier thing than I would have given myself credit for. Nevertheless, the low-level illumination it gives off is quite pleasant without being distracting.
Since I had these beanbag chairs and my kick-ass sound system, I decided to groove with the lava lamp, and so I listened to the era-appropriate L.A. Woman by the Doors and Abraxus by Santana... but both are in 5.1 and sound outstanding (L.A. Woman is a DVD-Audio, while Abraxus is a dts CD). The 5.1 mixes are rather trippy... L.A. Woman isn't that aggressive, but it has quite a lot of dimensionality (“L'America” is really cool, but “Riders on the Storm” is divine), while Abraxus continues the psychedelic panning that characterized the stereo mix, only now opened out to be totally around the listener (the keyboards on “Black Magic Woman” start in the right channel and then travels around you over the course of the song).
Suffice it to say that the high fidelity of the sound reproduction, the cool night air drifting through the windows, the extreme comfort afforded by the beanbag chairs and the flower-child style lighting provided by the lava lamp was so enjoyable that I am unrepentant in my flakiness!!!
Last night was a gorgeous night, too. I took a nice, really pleasant walk while on the phone with Suit.
...and some reflections on the genre...
One of the interesting comments on the Tobey Maguire/J.K. Simmons commentary track is Maguire's amusement at the fact that he is in a film with Willem Dafoe, saying that it was cool to work on the film because it boiled down to a bunch of art-house actors making a big-budget film (“I watched the DVD of The Last Temptation of Christ before my first day with him and was like 'I'm making a movie with Jesus Christ'”). The actors had worked together before on The Cider House Rules (Simmons played Charlize Theron's father), so they have a rapport that is fun and lively.
The actors are so personable that the talk remains engaging throughout, which is something that I thought was a flaw with the group commentary track on the original DVD. A central irony of the film production is that Simmons lives in New York, which is where the film is set, but had to fly out to Los Angeles in order to shoot the interiors... which is all that his character appears in.
Apparently, Willem Dafoe's specific physicality precluded using a stunt double for the Green Goblin sequences. His performance... and even his very presence in the film itself, is something that I have a particular pet peeve about. Not about Dafoe himself, but rather because Spider-Man was rented for one Thanksgiving at Steven's family; my pretentious cousin mentioned to her pretentious boyfriend that it was obvious that Dafoe was slumming for some money. What is really retarded about this comment is that it is so obvious that Dafoe is having a great time. Actors love to play larger-than-life villains such as this.
The problem with so many film buffs is that there is this annoying habit among those who like art-house films to deny the worth of any other type of movie. No, Spider-Man is not The Man Who Wasn't There, but that doesn't mean that it is intrinsically worthless. If anything, the extremes available in the more fantastic genres can be illuminate aspects of the human condition impossible in more realistic stories. That's one of the reasons I have always enjoyed well-written science fiction, which has a tendency to be as much sociology as anything else (Frank Herbert's Dune series, Isaac Asimov's Foundation books, etc.).
Happily, Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings films have caused a certain amount of leveling off of the playing field among the cognoscenti. The fantastic genres can no longer be dismissed the way that they used to be. One way that this can be seen is that there is a greater respect being paid to the genre.
The idea that a comic book movie is naturally inferior to other types of films is something that denies the power of the graphic novel as an art form itself; to read The Watchmen or The Sandman would be an eye-opening experience for many. Certainly, critics were taken by surprise by the quality of X2, which was based on some of the story lines from the comic book (Tim was gracious enough to lend me his copy of God Loves, Man Kills, which was the primary source for the movie).
The real problem is that the monicker “comic book” has a pejorative implication. I never read comic books growing up (which actually puts me in the minority), but some of the ideas floating around in the medium are fascinating.
A good example of the prevailing attitude can ruin a film is how the Batman series went south once Joel Schumacher took over. Tim Burton took the material seriously, and it perfectly fit his twisted gothic sensibilities, Schumacher's exposure to Batman consisted entirely of the campy television series, which, it seems, is how many film buffs view how the comic book gets translated to the screen.
What I really don't understand about this attitude is that Superman: The Movie, which was a huge budget, star-studded affair with an epic approach, was so successful and continues to hold up even after many of the effects have dated. The commitment of the stars and the production crew to the Superman myth was total (and it is a bona-fide American myth, a fact which was proven to director Richard Donner when he approached Marlon Brando for the role of Jor-El, and Brando knew who he was. “Do I have any lines, or do I just put the baby in the spaceship?” He knew he was getting top billing either way). The results were splendid, and while that approach obviously would only work with Superman, the idea of it... taking the material seriously and doing it justice instead of belittling it (which is what Schumacher did with his Batman fiascos) can create a much more rewarding film than a stupid lark, which is all that many see these movies as being.
Incidentally, I understand that the online feedback about the Superbit Spider-Man has been, on the whole, rather negative, which is interesting considering the night-and-day aspect of the improvements the dts track offers... perhaps it is people “sour grapes” reaction to the whole multiple-edition thing, which is not an unreasonable reaction, given that the Maguire/Simmons commentary track is exclusive to this edition, so Columbia-Tristar's further attempts at fleecing its customers is grating upon their audience.
and the Detroit Pimp with Dreadlocks
Very well done!
It appears that J.K. Rowling is loosening her vice-like grip over the franchise and allowing the filmmakers to actually adapt her work instead of just film it. While this sounds rather bitchy towards Rowling, I actually think that her insistence on fidelity to her novels was laudable, but I think it slightly hobbled the first film for those that hadn't read the book. The second film was much more successful because the content lent itself better to the screen.
The third book is given a much more brisk adaptation, moving forward at a fast pace, each scene bringing you further into the next. I would hazard the opinion that this entry is more “cinematic” than the previous two, with director Alfonso Cuarón clearly having a great time with the Rowling's world, bringing his own spin to the look of the series. Nevertheless, the film focuses on the proper elements of the story, managing to convey much of the book in a snappy manner. None of the emotional content of the story was sacrificed in the adaptation.
The children have grown, and their talents with them. While Daniel Radcliffe was clearly uncomfortable in the first film, he was much more confidant in the second, and he is fine here, conveying much of Harry's inner turmoil with such ease that it doesn't look much like acting at all. Emma Watson is a lot more relaxed this time around as well, which is good as the film focuses a bit more on her than the previous two did. Rupert Grint is... well, he's perfect, but he always was. No surprise there, thankfully. The tension between Ron and Hermione is more at play here, though it is subtle and there are only a few moments in which it really comes to the forefront (the moment in which Hermione instinctively grabs Ron's hand works better in cut that was in the trailer that the final film edit), but it is a wonderful bit of continuity.
Although the most amount of attention has been paid to the casting of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, it is actually David Thewlis, as Remus Lupin, who shoulders much of the adult burden this time around. Thewlis is more than up to the task, providing a nice edge to his interchanges with the ever-odious Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, enjoying himself as usual). Michael Gambon acquits himself quite nicely as a very different Dumbledore than Richard Harris', but one that is quite in keeping with certain aspects of the character seen in the books. Emma Thompson has a nice ditzy turn as Trelawny. The visual effects are also first-rate, centering around the rendering of Buckbeak, which is outstanding... the sequence in which Harry rides him are breathtaking. I want a hippogryff, damn it. Julie Christie shows up for no reason other than to have Julie Christie in the movie, but I refer people to my comments about Troy regarding that.
The score is outstanding. If I thought it sounded good on the record, that was only a taste of how it all fits together with the visuals. It is somewhat jarring to hear John Williams having done a third film's score without really having done the second one, but it works because the music is so damn good. Every nuance is under his control, and his instincts are spot on. This is a much more mature score than Sorcerer's Stone had to be and Chamber of Secrets could be.
Of particular interest is the cue for Buckbeak's flight, a track that is one of the most arresting on the album, but is so colorful and illustrative of Harry's soaring euphoria in the scene that it raises both the music and the film; if Sorcerer's Stone was operatic, but Prisoner of Azkaban is more so, only more thickly textured and detailed.
The soundtrack album appears to be a fairly accurate presentation of the score, although it is a bit shuffled about. The “Mischief Managed” cue is, in fact, the end title, and it is quite wittily integrated with the credits, presented as names on the Marauder's Map, with footprints pattering all about in time to the music.
Incidentally, the anamorphic prints, derived from the Super 35 photographic process, are grainy, blotchy and have muted colors. Interestingly, the trailers looked much sharper and brighter.
On the other hand, there are several moments that will just not work as well on the small screen.