Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Silvio Rodriguez

Do yourself a favor:

1. Turn on your speakers.
2. Go to this page.
3. Listen to "Ojala."

It'll most likely become your jam for up to three weeks.

Then, if you speak some Spanish, do yourself another favor:

1. Get a Spanish to English dictionary (or use an online one, like this one).
2. Click on the Lyrics link on the music player on the myspace page.
3. Have fun with the many ways those words can make sense and nonsense: maybe you think it's a love song. Maybe you think it's about Fidel Castro. There seem to be plenty of theories.

There, now. Wasn't that nice? Don't you feel better? Good.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ray Harryhausen

This Sunday, God willing and the creek don't rise, I'm going to see Jason and the Argonauts and another few short films on the big screen, followed (or is it preceded?) by a talk from Ray Harryhausen himself. For some reason I've seen Clash of the Titans about 50 times in my life, but I've never seen even a scene from Jason and the Argonauts. I only know two things about the movie. First, how cool the famous skeletons look:

Second, the score is by Bernard Herrmann, whose score for North by Northwest has got to be about the best movie music ever made (though he's more famous for Psycho and Citizen Kane). Yep, he's a national treasure.

So throw in some bad-ass skeletons, throw in a spectacular composer, and add to it Harryhausen himself (who seems to be a great talker, based on interviews like this one), and you can see why I'm so excited. Of course, it will most likely sell out and I won't be able to see it anyhow. Damnit. God might not be willing, and the creek may well rise this Sunday. Looks like I've got some ark-buildin' to get to...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Ring

To make up for that rant I just wrote, I want to talk about a re-make I thought was good: the American version of The Ring. Not only was it good, but it incorporates into the plot what I take to be a bit of an editorial comment akin to my rant below. If you've not seen the movie, don't keep reading.

For much of the movie, we don't really know the cause of all this evil shit. There's a weird tape, there's something about water, and something about utter terror. When the hero of the movie investigates the weird tape further, she finds this young girl with weird psychic powers who is dead down in the bottom of a well. Predictably, this young girl had a bad childhood, and was hated and killed and everything. So, and this is the twist I think makes the movie great, the hero is convinced that if she just unearths the body, this evil force will let go, and the curse will be lifted, and the child's spirit will finally be free to go to heaven or whatever. This is just the sort of pat over-explanation that tends to ruin re-makes and other movies. And The Ring tricks you that it will follow that formula with a fake ending at this point. Then it turns out the hero did something terribly wrong, because now she has unearthed this evil creature who isn't grateful, isn't set free to rise to the heavens, but is let loose to do evil in a much more direct form. Ha! The motivation of this evil girl has transcended the clichéd, too-neat explanation most movies are too ready to ascribe to evil characters.

Now, granted, for the same reasons as outlined in the previous post, it is a lot less scary once you actually see the girl, since the visual impact can't match the terrible things you'd imagined without seeing. But that twist, the fake ending, really injects the movie with enough energy to drive to the real ending. And the mystery of evil is never solved, but remains a sort of brick wall which must be dealt with as it is and can't be liquidated by any pop-psychology bullshit. At the end of the movie, I am left with the hope that the next two viewers of that tape will be Dr. Phil and George Lucas.

On the warpath: Redux Schmedux

People, I'm on the warpath. For too long I've been silent about something that really raises my hackles (well, that's a lie, I rant about this about once every two weeks, but not often in written form). Raises 'em right up there, sky-high. What the hell are hackles, anyhow? Oh, the hairs on the neck or upper back. I see.

What I want to rant about are all these remakes of old movies. I have nothing against remaking old movies in theory, but here's the crux of my irritation: all these remakes ruin themselves by trying to give back-stories to everyone or to explain everything that might have been less than crystal-clear in the original movie. A few examples should clarify my position:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: why do we need to know about Leatherface's horrible childhood? Why do we need to know about his motivation? Isn't it way more terrifying to have no idea why this psychotic halfwit is trying to kill, dismember, and eat people?

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: even Tim Burton falls into the trap, with the back story on Willie Wonka and his relationship with his father. Seems to me a big part of the appeal of Willie Wonka the character is the mystery of who he is and where he came from. The lack of explanation is a real driving force in the original, and filling that empty space in in the remake has the effect of suffocating the viewer.

The Amityville Horror: this is one of the worst. Instead of just some evil force that confuses and terrifies us, as in the original, the remake provides a child ghost, a possessed father, and finally a ridiculous buccaneer-looking guy who ran a native-american torture camp underneath the house. Again, how much more terrifying to not know the cause of this evil? How much of a let-down when the movie foists answers on the audience instead of leaving us room to think?

The new Star Wars movies: so technically these aren't remakes, but part of what makes them suck so much is their obsession with filling in every last unknown from the original trilogy. Every loose end is tied up, every appealing mystery is solved, every place where we might have imagined something vague and wonderful about what the original movies didn't tell us has been replaced by some pat story or connection. This is especially true with all the useless-to-the-plot information we get about Bobo-Fet, or however you spell that guy's name. I mean just seeing him without the mask is an immediate let-down, and I guess the mask is a cheesy but apt metaphor for my problem with these remakes in general: whatever face these remakes supply, it can never hold a candle to what the audience imagines if given a little room to do so.

I guess as a movie fan I like to have some room in which to interpret things, and wonder about details, and imagine different pasts for characters. As a lover of horror flicks, I find that confusion and lack of understanding heighten the sense of terror. So I take it as a personal affront when some director decides to fill in a bunch of holes in a remake. I think of those holes as places where a movie, as a living organism, can breathe. And as doorways through which an audience member can get into the world of the movie. Filling them in kills the movie and shuts out the viewer. Fuck that, I say. I'm on the warpath. Maybe the thing to do is to get these remakes on VHS, then randomly delete a few minutes here and there throughout the movie, just to cut yourself some slack and make them watchable. Then again, as with all rants like this one, why don't I just not watch the shit? Fine, I won't.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

144 Ping Pong Balls

Ping pong balls are hard to find. Well, hard isn't the right word. But you'd think they might have some at Walgreen's, or the grocery store. Nope. Well, ok, then they must have one at Target, right? Especially that crazy Super-Target with guitars and olde-style popcorn kettles? Nope. Surely they must have them at one of those big strip-mall sporting goods stores, but do you want to take a 45-minute bus ride both ways just to buy some ping pong balls? The only other place is Wal-Mart, and you probably don't want to go there on account of their being all evil and everything.

These are the considerations which, about one week ago today, led me to do a bit of e-commerce. Lo and behold, the good ol' internets had tons of ping pong balls, and beyond that a star-ranking system for balls, super-balls that are supposedly indestructable, all manner of paddles, and my favorite, a robot that shoots ping pong balls of various spins and velocities (this one runs for $695).Well, I'm a bargain hunter. It just didn't seem worth it to pay for shipping and everything and only get 6 or 12 balls. And amounts a little higher than 12 started to get expensive. But then once you hit a gross, they come down. (Do you know how many a gross is? It's 144. It's one of those numbers that have a name, like 20 is called a score. You can read all about it here). I put down my $30 and forgot all about it.

Then, this morning, at approximately 8:58 a.m. on this sleep-in-Thursday, there was a sharp rapping at my door. All at once I remembered all those considerations enumerated above, and I bolted out of bed and signed for the lightest package I've ever received. It's mostly air. 144 white ping pong balls. (Hey, that has a good ring to it. How about in German: something like Hundert Vier und Vierzig Weiße Tischtennisbälle. Damn, that might make a good, catchy, 80s protest song like Neun und Neunzig Luftballons).

Now there's a lot you could do with 144 ping pong balls, and it's not all pong-related, let me tell you.
-This guy, for instance, played a merry prank on a co-worker.
-I was thinking about those huge tubs of plastic balls you used to jump in at fairs and carnivals.
-If there were a sudden flash flood in my basement and I couldn't escape, I'm pretty sure I'd survive for up to two hours by breathing the tiny bits of air trapped in each ball.

Well, I guess I'll go play some ping pong.