Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Public Service Announcement for Moviegoers

Okay, I'm currently exam-slaying and don't have a lot of extra time to spend blogging so I'll just get on with what I came on to say.

Remember Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland? The one I reviewed earlier this month in my last post? Remember how bad the 3-D was in that?

Well, now that new 3-D movies are practically hitting theatres every week after the crazy, crazy success of Avatar in December, there are some crucial information that every cinephile should be aware of - I'll keep the technical bits simple. There are basically 2 ways a filmmaker will go about making a 3-D flick. The first way is to employ a specialised camera system that actually shoots in 3-D or, as in the case of animated flicks, render them in true 3-D.

The second way is to shoot a movie or make a CG movie using conventional methods, and then up-convert it to 3-D later. Alice in Wonderland belongs to this category of films; hence its inherent shittiness.

Now, a new 3-D flick is coming to theatres. It's Louis Leterrier's Clash of the Titans and I'll tell you now that it was converted to 3-D after being shot. The decision to do so was made after the studio which made it saw how insanely well Avatar did at the box office, and wanted in on some of that sweet, sweet moolah. Alice in Wonderland's 3-D conversion process took 6 months to complete and it's still crap. I believe that that's because it wasn't made with 3-D sensibilities in mind. Clash of the Titan's 3-D conversion was rushed over 6 weeks, and the work was outsourced to some unknown company in India. Just imagine how it would look.

I'm excited about this flick but I'm not going to pay like double just to ruin the film for myself - so I advise everyone to see it on ye olde 2-D screens.

Or better yet, go see How to Train Your Dragon in 3-D - on IMAX 3-D if you have the dough and opportunity.


I'd write a review but again, NO TIME. But I'll say a few things about it. It's probably the most sweetest, most touching film I've seen coming out of DreamWorks Animation (or as I have told a million people; "It's the best Pixar movie DreamWorks has ever made!"), and the use of 3-D in this movie is probably the best example there is in the industry right now. Also, the flying-on-dragon sequences in this film was done waaay better than those in Avatar, I kid you not. James Cameron's mega hard-on of a movie is in no way belonging to the same league as this flick when it comes to those parts. The musical score in How to Train Your Dragon is beautiful and the creature design of the starring dragon, Toothless, is pretty damn cute. And after seeing this movie, you'd feel a bit depressed that dragons don't exist for realsies for you to ride them.

Plus, did you notice how much Toothless resembled Stitch from
Lilo and Stitch? That's 'cause both movies were made by the same people.

So yeah, go see How to Train Your Dragon in 3-D because this movie is so not getting the love it deserves, and is currently being upstaged by other films which are nowhere nearly as good as it is. Take into account that this might be your last chance to ever experience it the way it's meant to be enjoyed before it's being pulled from 3-D screens in a week or two.

Vote with our wallets, people. We're now in a cinematic era where 3-D can be more than a gimmick. Do a minute or two of research on every movie you plan to see in 3-D - and if you can read blogs like this one, chances are you know your way to Wikipedia. It can very well save you from a terrible movie-going experience (and some cash in the process too).


Update! And uh, some spoilers, I guess, not that you can spoil a movie like Clash of the Titans anyway.

Just saw the film in normal-D like a few hours ago and I can't make up my mind if it's a movie that's so bad it's good, or so bad it's bad. I did not see the 1981 movie of the same name this was a remake of. Now, I have a pretty good working knowledge of the Greek classical myths (it was a teenage phase) and I'll be the first to tell you that this is a total butchering of the Perseid mythos. Bellerophon rode pegasus, not Perseus. The gods Athena and Hermes helped him slay the Medusa, and are not part of Team Olympus' rage against mankind. The original Hades is not Satan, not evil and does not want to take over Zeus' pad in the sky (and if I'm not mistaken, he loaned Perseus his Helm of Darkness) so Hollywood needs to stop painting him as the Big Bad. Let's not even go into the bits about djinns and the Kraken's parentage, okay?

But I'm totally okay with all the nonsensical bits in the story. No, really. My main complain is that they didn't go even more over the top - the way Zack Snyder's 300 was. If you're not going to be serious, go for broke - be totally dumb and AWESOME. They should have poisoned it with so much testosterone that all the women watching it would spontaneously grow hair on their chests. That being said, some of the creature concepts were pretty inspired. I especially like Charon's boat. I also liked Io's boobs. Ah, how I long for the days when some chub on a girl is a standard for feminine beauty. Full-bodied Greek women are so yummeh.

Andromeda's bondage sequence so needed to be like this.

And now that we're on the subject, the sex scene between Perseus' mom and Zeus could have been retooled a little too. Zeus is the floating puff of gold dust, by the way, not the mannish servant.

People who have seen the movie would know that there was two mind-blowingly awesome scenes that the director or screenwriter totally dropped the ball on. The first was the totally anticlimactic ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny between Perseus and Godzilla-Kraken (they could have an ally try to retrieve the stolen head of Medusa while Perseus hold Big Ugly off or something). The second was that they could have ol' grizzled and scarred Draco (played by professional bad ass Mads Mikkelsen) follow up on his promise literally - you know, the one he made when Perseus asked him why he never smiles.

"The day I spit in the gods' eyes is the day I smile."

And heavy metal guitar riffs should totally have accompanied those lines.

Your friendly neighborhood cine-geek,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, March 05, 2010

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland: A Review

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"

The Mad Hatter,
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

Lewis Carroll never meant for it to have an answer - but I like the one he proposed after being pressed for it;
"Because it can produce a few notes, though… they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!"

I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland yesterday in 3-D literally minutes right after my Medicine end of posting exam and... well, you guys know that when I write a focused post dedicated to a particular film, it's usually because it's the-best-thing-ever #86 or because it's godawful. I'm going to break that mold today with this review because it is my amateur expert opinion that this movie fell squarely in between the two.

This is Disney's second foray into the secret dreamworld of Alice, the first being their animated classic in 1951 which is quite possibly the only exposure most people ever got to Carroll's literary masterpiece. I personally know a distressingly large number of people who aren't even aware of the storybook's existence. When I heard about this project, I was very excited even though I'm not really a big fan of Burton's idiosyncratic brand of film-making. While I think Mars Attacks! and Big Fish were really good flicks, I'm starting to believe Burton might have made a career out of turning his eccentricities into clichés. If Burton's making a film, it's almost a certainty that it will be macabre, featuring sumptuously rich scenery and costume porn, set to a Danny Elfman score and starring either Johnny Depp or his wife, Helena Bonham Carter (or both, as this case demonstates).

In short, he's the perfect director to adapt
Alice. And when I heard that it was going to be an epic fantasy sequel of sorts featuring a grown up Alice revisiting Wonderland, I almost pissed my pants with fanboy glee. I shall explain why later.

Alice (1)
And the result was... adequate.

The cast was stellar and the only person I have never heard of was the actress playing Alice. Mia Wasikowska was constantly being overshadowed by everyone else and Johnny Depp's pink eyeshadow - and I simply couldn't get over how much she resembles Tobey Maguire,

Alice (10)
Alice in Wonderland, starring Spiderman!

Aside from the two Burton staples (Helena Bonham Carter and Depp), Alice in Wonderland also feature the considerable talents of Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Alan "Gruber Snape" Rickman as the hookah-smoking caterpillar, Stephen Fry as the iconic Chesire Cat and Christopher Lee's booming basso as the Jabberwock - which is criminal because he had all of two short lines (but what awesome lines they are).

Alice (11)
"Off with their heads!"

H.B.C. played the macrocephalic Red Queen, Iracebeth (a combination of the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen from Carroll's other work, Through the Looking-Glass) and I felt that she got the petulant, psychopathic woman-child bit down perfect. And Depp's portrayal of the Mad Hatter was, as expected, quite delicious. His character design apparently also included some visual cues alluding to the historical practice of hatters using mercury to cure felt, and mercury is suppose to bleach skin (and used to that end in illicit whitening cosmetics), and poisoning would turn hair and eyes red, aside from turning the hatters bonkers. Still, I couldn't find any medical literature to support the bit about hair and eye colour change. The best I dug up was a condition called acrodynia or "pink disease".

His madness was also represented by some kind of split personality disorder, psychotic attacks relating to which would suddenly cause him to acquire a Glaswegian accent and engage in dark, threatening-sounding soliloquies.

Alice (9)
"...And I like wearing skirts too!" said Depp, taken out of context from an interview.

But quite unexpectedly, I found that my favourite performance in the film was Anne Hathway's as Mirana, the White Queen,

Alice (5)
There's a rumor saying that Burton's make-up department only have crayons and a barrel of white face paint.

While she remained sweet and delightful for almost the entirety of the film, I simply couldn't shake off this creepy vibe I felt emanating from her. Maybe it's the unsettling deep rouge lips on a pale face look she got on. Or maybe it's just that eerie Stepford smile. Whatever it is, I can clearly see that insanity runs deep in Wonderland's royal family. I kept expecting her to do something disturbing or startling, like transform into some sort of nightmarish creature or reach out and gouge someone's eyes out while teehee-ing gaily the whole time.

The plot of the movie is thin and stringy. Alice is all grown up and was told that she should marry some lordly twat who is the son of her father's old business partner. Somehow, she ended back in Wonderland and found out about a prophecy (there's always one in fantastic epics) which foretold her facing off the monstrous Jabberwock - from Carroll's nonsensical poem, Jabberwocky - and snicker-snacking its head off with a vorpal blade on the Frabjous Day.

The best thing that Alice in Wonderland has going for it is its colourful visuals and creature designs - which I think would be ruined considerably if you watch it through the dark lens of a pair of 3-D glasses. There are times in which I have to remove mine just to see what's going on because some scenes were too dim. The sequence in which Alice plummets down the rabbit hole, which was suppose to benefit most from the gimmick of 3-D, were frantic and blurry. I am a fan of 3-D movies done right - like Avatar, which adjusted the brightness to account for the glasses and used the added depth to immerse, rather than to throw stuff at audiences' faces. I seriously advice anyone who is looking to see this film to consider seeing it on a plain old vanilla screen instead.

Ultimately, I find this movie disappointing because it isn't an all-out adaptation of this video game,

Alice (6)
An older cover art had her wrists bandaged due to her attempts at suicide.

American McGee's Alice is also sequel of sorts focusing on a grown up Alice. In this story, Alice's house burnt to the ground, killing her parents and leaving her the only survivor. The ordeal left her mind fractured, and her a mostly catatonic and suicidal human wreckage. She was institutionalised in Rutledge Asylum when years later, the White Rabbit summoned her back to a dark, twisted Wonderland which mirrored her troubled mental state. The creatures of Wonderland also changed drastically along with the world's decay. The Chesire Cat is a mangy, cachexic, half-skeletal carcass. The Mad Hatter is an insane scientist performing cruel body horror experiments on living things. The Red Queen is... well, I don't want to spoil that for you. Let's just say that she's like a really, really BAD nightmare.

Though the game's graphics are quite dated, the narrative and plot remained an original and ingenious re-imagining of Alice's story still. This game is the reason why I was initially so excited about Burton's Alice in Wonderland project. Both are about an adult Alice going back to wonderland. Both are about Alice defeating the Jabberwock and overthrowing the Red Queen. Of course, if Burton have made a faithful adaptation of American McGee's Alice, it would most certainly be an R-rated horror flick, and Disney would most assuredly want nothing to do with it. Just get an eyeful of this Duchess for starters,

Alice (7)
That's what Disney said.

Maybe someone who never played this game would enjoy the movie a lot more than I did, because I simply couldn't stop comparing the two while I was watching it - but I believe that even if I have judged this film on its own terms, I would still call Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland an uninspired galumph through Carroll's beloved fantasy world. The great performances and amazing visual effects are the only things this film has going for it. The story is pretty much an afterthought. The computer game, even if it does go though the same plot highlights, has a much more engaging Alice who fights for much higher stakes: her sanity.

All in all, mediocre effort, Mr Burton... mediocre.

P.S. Avril Lavigne's song at the end is dreadful, just dreadful. It's shrill, commercial and has no place in this movie at all.

k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

My Spanking New Book List for 2010

"There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back."

Jim Fiebig

2009 was not very good book year for me and I think I have only read only half as many new books or discover half as many new authors as I did in 2008. I blame the slack on myself, of course, and on my tardiness in updating my Book List after I have emptied it last year. Eff why eye, my Book List is a .txt file I have kept since 2004 in which I record books I am keeping a look out for. It's the closest thing to a purpose in life I have.

Now, I have little faith in the power of New Year resolutions, and have even littler faith that they would be followed through on (least of which by me). Besides, it's already March. Still, I don't think it's way out of the natural order of things to refill my Book List for this year, and so here it is, ten of them - with my preferred covers in case anyone's feeling particularly charitable. I have intentionally left out those titles which are sequels to series I'm already following.

The Alchemy of Stone 2
The Alchemy of Stone
by Ekaterina Sedia

The Alchemy of Stone is a steampunk (some say clockpunk) fantasy novel by Russian-born novelist Ekaterina Sedia which follows the story of Mattie, an emancipated clockwork automaton, who finds herself in the middle of of a conflict between the Mechanics and the Alchemists when she uncovers powerful and dangerous secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona - which doesn't sit well with Loharri - the abusive Mechanic who built Mattie and still holds the key to her heart (read: the literal key used to wind her up, her being clockwork and everything).

by Neal Stephenson

In a far-future, Earth-like planet Arbre, there exist concents; monastic communities which study science instead of God. The story is narrated by Erasmas, a fraa (monk) at the Concent of Saunt Edhar. I've came across this volume several times before but it never really piqued my interest until I read this line in a summary of the book over at; "...Anathem is really about platonic epistemology, applied and weaponized platonic epistemology." And this quote by Eramas: "Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs. We have a protractor." How is that not awesome?

The Book of the Dun Cow
The Book Of The Dun Cow
by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

It's a epic fantastical religious allegory about Chauntecleer, a rooster from before the creation of man in command of a company of hens. The titular Dun Cow is God's messenger. 'Nuff said.

The City & the City
The City & the City
by China Miéville

An urban fantasy tale of two cities which occupies the same geographical space, and residents from either must dutifully "unsee" (that is, ignore, or fade into the background) the denizens, buildings, and events taking place in the other city - even if they are an inch away. And bloody murder. The story follows Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad of Besźel (one of the two cities) as he investigates the case. Think China Miéville in full hard-boiled detective story mode. I have become a big fan of Miéville's works after reading The Scar a couple years ago so I'm basically just grabbing whatever stuff he's churning out. Check this and his other works out if you are planning on never feeling happy ever again. Powerfully depressing stuff, they are.

The Dragon of Babel
The Dragons of Babel
by Michael Swanwick

While not a sequel of Swanwick's incredible The Iron Dragon's Daughter, it's set in the same world. It's about a young man named Will Le Fey after a crippled dragon takes up residence in his town and inside his mind. If it's anything like The Iron Dragon's Daughter, it'll be another super-dark, ultra-gritty elfpunk hike through an industrialised Faerie that will leave me all emo and existential for couple of days. Other characters include, Esme, an immortal child with no memory, and Nat Whilk, a donkey-eared confidence man of superhuman abilities.

by Catherine Fisher

I found out about this book after reading a bit of film news over at /Film about Fox 2000 Pictures winning a bid for its film adaptation rights - and I like going into every film after having read the source materials they were based upon. It's set in the mysterious prison world known as Incarceron, following the story of Finn, a 17-year-old boy who descended from the original prisoners and Claudia, daughter of Incarceron's Warden. There's even a sequel out already called Sapphique. A lot of reviewers compared it favourably to Garth Nix's works - so I know at least two of my sometime blog readers who would be very excited to get their hands on this.

Od Magic
Od Magic
by Patricia A. McKillip

This one's about Od, an apparently immortal wizard who saved the city of Kelior from destruction and founded a school of magic there. Od is a woman, apparently - just thought I'd spare you the effort of raising an eyebrow. Some centuries later, she appeared to Brenden Vetch - who has a gift with, um, gardening magic - and invited him to hone his herbaceous hoodoo at her school. There is a king and his wizard, a willful princess betrothed to said wizard, and a roguish street magician in the mix. I'm feeling a very fable-ish vibe here. Anyhoo, when Brenden arrives at Kelior, he wasn't expecting that the king had put the practice of magic under heavy policing, seeing new and strange types of magic as threats to the city's security. Hilarity ensues? I like the concept of a school for magic. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea popularised the idea with Roke, a magical school on an island, in 1968 and is arguably the first fantasy novel to do so. Then came Harry Potter's Hogwarts, a hybrid of a magic magical institute and a British boarding school. Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind's University was the latest one I read about, and it's basically a campus story in a fantasy setting (y'know, part-time jobs, tuition fees, making ends meet, et cetera). They all hold a certain special charm to me.

The Shadow Year
The Shadow Year
by Jeffrey Ford

I liked Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy a lot. Physiognomy, the 1st book from that set, won the World Fantasy Award in 1998, and it was an awesome read. The Shadow Year won last year's World Fantasy Award. I did the math. Now, I didn't really need any more info to sell myself this novel but in case anyone of you is interested, it's also a sinister mystery set in the 60's involving a prowler, a local boy's disappearance, an old guy's death and a replica of a town populated by effigies of real townspeople which when moved about by a creepy little girl named Mary, appears to predict (or compel) the movements of the people they represent. I could be wrong but it sounds like it might be another one of Ford's patented loci mindbenders.

Tender Morsels
Tender Morsels
by Margo Lanagan

I admit, the cover art totally owns me. Its fairy tale charm certainly caught the eye of my inner manchild, but there's also mention of something about bestiality, sodomy, father-daughter incest and a gang rape in a few reviews I've read - probably nothing important, eh? Tender Morsels is about two worlds; one is realistic, brutal and is out to hurt you real bad while the other one is a personal heaven of Liga Longfield where she raises her two daughters, Branza and Urdda. Then things start to cross from one world to the other - an intriguing premise, to be sure. Also, that two girls in the cover reminds me very strongly of a Brothers Grimm fairytale I once read called Snow-White and Rose-Red. Ah, I really miss the old-timey sort of fairy tales that have hair on their chests. There was a time when torture, cannibalism and brutal dismemberment were common themes in stories they told kids while the parents of today complain about the terrible influence of violence and explosives in Looney Tunes shorts on their widdle bunnycakes. Pussies.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon

The first thing I think of when I found out about this book is Philip Roth's The Plot Against America; set in an alternate history in which the Charles Lindbergh defeated F.D.R. in the presidential election of 1940 and antisemitism became something of a norm in the United States. The Yiddish Policemen's Union is also a speculation of a possible alternate history, one in which a temporary refugee settlement for Nazi-persecuted European Jews was set up in Sitka, Alaska during World War II. While there are significant departures from our history in this world's setting (like the establishment of a stillborn state of Israel, Germany somehow skooshing Russia and oh, the nuking of Berlin), the story focuses instead on a murder mystery in Sitka and Meyer Landsman, the homicide detective investigating it. The case will bring him into the midst of a colourful underworld of Orthodox black-hat gangs and crime lord rabbis. Okay, I'm sold.

Out for ink,
k0k s3n w4i