Monday, December 31, 2007

SPORTS- Titans in the Playoffs

The Tennessee Titans are going to the playoffs! Everybody expected that Payton Manning wouldn't play the whole game but it was a surprise to everyone that Tennessee wound up playing their second string QB for the last quarter and a half. Early word is that Vince Young will be back for the game next week. Just in time to lose to the Chargers, I fear.

So my picks for the first week of the playoffs are:

Redskins vs. Seahawks- Redskins, on a roll
Titans vs. Chargers- Chargers, slow start but a better team
Giants vs. Buccaneers- Bucs, despite the Giants’ strong showing against NE
Jaguars vs. Steelers- Jags, because every Florida team except Miami winning puts us firmly in the Bizzaro world.

MOVIES- BladeRunner

Of course I’m not watching movies today. I’m watching the Redskins repeat the humiliation of Dallas that I had to endure so many times while I was in high school (but not for the last 10 years). The kind of humiliation that made me want someone to walk over after the play was over and bludgeon John Riggins insensate with the very oxygen tank he apparently depended on for his survival between downs. Just like my friends and I prayed for someone to walk over in 1979 and knock Terry Bradshaw unconscious while in the huddle during the super bowl. We knew, even if Tom Landry didn’t, that it was the only chance Dallas had to win.

But that’s okay. What I’m really doing is writing this while I wait for the Titans to play the Colts. Hard to believe that the Titans are favored over the Colts in today’s game. Seems that the game is worth watching for that alone. Can’t remember when it ever happened before. What I can remember is when I watched a team go undefeated through the regular season the last time. I watched that happen again last night. All I can say is that if you don’t follow football you may have missed a once in a lifetime performance this year. And that’s a shame. Anything that happens once in a lifetime should be given proper respect. (Yah, I know that 35 years is a short lifetime but that’s about what you could expect if you lived during the Roman Empire. Did YOU watch the Dolphins win the super bowl in 1973?)

But just in case you don’t like American football (and I realize that most of the world doesn’t give a good deification for it). Lets talk movies. And not even a new movie. The BladeRunner omnibus collection has finally arrived on Blu-Ray. I don’t know if it was worth the 25 year wait but it is fabulous. The 5 disk collection includes the infamous Workprint version, the original theatrical release, the European release, the VHS enhanced release, the Director’s Cut, and a new Final Version with new material filmed by Director Ridley Scott. Also included is (now this is going to take awhile):

a three and a half hour documentary about the movie,
further documentary material- called the Enhancement Archive,
extensive commentaries (three on the Final Cut alone, one on the Workprint, and introductions to each version by Ridley Scott,),
and a compendium of alternate and deleted scenes that virtually retells the story in 45 minutes.

It’s everything the BladeRunner fan could have hoped for and far more than most people would ever consider buying or even watching. OTOH, if you can stand numerous rewatchings of a 25 year old film with minor differences, this has got to be the most material for the dollar every released on Blu-ray or ANY video format. And what self-disrespecting geek doesn’t love numerous iterations of a beloved movie? This package is a BladeRunner geek’s ultimate wet-dream and if you can dispense with the Deckard Briefcase Edition (with the matchbox Spinner toy!) you can have the whole thing on Amazon for under $30!

Well now you know what to do the next time you get snowed in,

The video quality is variable due to the source materials as you might expect but it is only really a problem on the Workprint cut. The Final Directors Cut is as good a Blu-ray transfer as I’ve seen. This package would be worth buying if it were just this disk.

And it’s hard to imagine anything the supplemental materials leave out. Ridley Scott comments on the Final Director’s Cut and he’s only one of three commentary tracts. The Workprint version has commentary by Paul M. Sammon, author of Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner, perhaps the definitive book about the movie. The documentary of the same name covers virtually everything in the book plus new material. In addition to the standard trip from original script to theatrical and DVD release, subjects such as Decard’s status as a replicant and a nice section on Phil Dick (including why the movie is so different from the book) are covered in the Enhancement Archive. While the material stops before going into Dick’s life too deeply, it’s easy to understand why. Phil Dick’s life was pretty weird and anything else might have derailed a chronicle that was really about this movie. Somehow Dick has become the science fiction writer most adapted by Hollywood. A good documentary about his life could easily fill two hours on it’s own. There have been attempts (The Gospel According to Phillip K. Dick was a valiant try but was hindered by its minuscule budget.) but a definitive biography on film has yet to be made. No mention is made of his religious epiphany or his final work-the Exigesis and there is little mention of his legendary drug use. There are, however, extensive interviews with his children. (His daughter is a real hottie.)

Whether this particular movie is worthy of THIS treatment, perhaps the most complete disk release in history, is certainly debatable but Bladerunner was a pivotal movie for both SF and film in general and this is the treatment that fans have been dreaming of. And while you may debate the merits of the movie, don’t do so with a real fan. The movie is the Godfather of Science Fiction cinema. BladeRunner’s visual style has been copied so much that it’s hard to remember that it was original at the time. It may also be the only movie ever responsible for inspiring a new genre of written science fiction- cyberpunk. Usually SF movies have been distant step-cousins to the written form, which is far more sophisticated and decades ahead in style and concept. BladeRunner showed that Cinema SF could have the complexity of the written form and still make for a good movie. It garnered only lukewarm reception at the box office and from critics but every year since its release had seen the reverence for the movie increase. There is a natural parallel to this situation but to evoke it breaks a sort of Godwin’s law in film so I won’t go there.

But you should own this.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

PERSONAL- Just what the world needs- a new blog!

Why would anybody else think the world needs to hear his or her internal monologue? One reason only, unadulterated hubris. Ego pure and simple.

That was easy. Next question.

I invented blogging in the early 1990’s. Not in the ‘wrote it down on paper and applied for a patent’ sense. More in the “My grandfather invented the clipboard.” “Really?” “Well, he often said that he wished he had a portable writing surface.” sense.* Back then I was making my first Webpage and learning HTML and wondering what I was going to do to keep the page fresh. This was a time when, almost unbelievably in the current days of ubiquitous commercial pages, most WebPages were just what I was planning- a hobby for nerds viewed by geeks. I decided that in addition to displaying my artwork I would augment the page with my personal musings about the state of the universe. I read once that the average human has two history changing ideas a year but most never bother to follow through on one of them in a lifetime. Blogging was one of mine that year.

So, what will this blog be ABOUT? I’ve noticed that successful blogs seem to keep to one topic almost exclusively and have a clear understandable point of view. With that in mind I plan to ricochet all over the place and write this in a William Burroughs stream-of-consciousness style covering every topic that comes into my head with no rhyme or reason. That should help.

*These quotes were pilfered from Aaron Sorkin’s Sportsnight TV series.

MOVIES- Charlie Wilson's War

Political movies out of Hollywood are always suspect. There is little doubt that the film community is more liberal than the heartland of the country but I’m always amazed that people act like that is something odd or unexpected. Artistic communities are always unconventional. The very idea of making art is unconventional. Normal, conservative people get regular jobs and raise families, they don’t go off on lifelong pursuits of artistic endeavor. Saying that artists are all unconventional folks with ideas that are outside the box is like saying that basketball players are unusually tall or that geeks love science. It’s the thing that makes them different that gives them the ability to do something unusual. You might as well incredulously observe that dogs bark.

Currently we are awash in political movies. Rendition, Redacted, Lions for Lambs, and several other movies are taking on the war in Iraq and the current political situation. Predictably, the majority are from a liberal point of view. Charlie Wilson’s War is different in a number of ways. It is a period piece, not dealing with the current situation in the middle east but instead telling the story of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, almost 30 years ago. Second, it is unflinchingly patriotic, even for the most red meat conservative. The US is portrayed as a hero, coming to the aid of a meager country beset by a superpower, a religious country attacked by godless communists. Like Charlie Wilson, the audience is on the side of the Afghanis. It’s hard to imagine any American that wouldn’t be stirred by the idea of a rag-tag band of people fighting the greatest army in the world for their independence. After all, it’s the story of our own independence.

CW’s War is not only surprising for it’s lack of liberal bias but for how good a movie it is considering that it’s mostly people talking, with only a few cut scenes to remind us that it’s a war that they are talking about. Luckily the screenplay was written by the master of this kind of thing- Aaron Sorkin. The script is nuanced, the dialog is witty, and serious attention has been paid to historical accuracy. The complaint I usually hear about Sorkin’s writing is that his characters are all a little too smart to be believable but here he seems able to tone that down a little.

There is little here that can be criticized for being Hollywood hyperbole. And the story doesn’t need it. Mike Nichols directs with a style that is almost invisible. Sure, there are shots that follow a beautiful woman walking down the halls of congress from behind, slowly panning up from her heels to her derrière, only to hesitate there for a moment before the reveal which shows the woman’s identity. But for the most part there is nothing to draw your attention to the fact that you are watching a movie. Instead you are drawn into the events, absorbed with the characters, touched by the plight of the Afghan children. Seldom does the camera remind you that you are watching a movie. Good direction, like anything else, is often defined by not drawing attention to itself. That is certainly the case here.

The performances of the actors are likewise, nuanced yet invisible. That’s difficult for such a cast. Tom Hanks plays Charlie Wilson with is usual alacrity. His generic corn-pone southern accent is a little tired but apparently the real Charlie Wilson’s main attribute was his likeability and that has always been Hanks bread and butter. Julia Roberts also does a fine turn as Joanna Herring- perhaps a bit less coquettish and a little harder than the actual person but here is another real character (like Erin Brockovitch) that she doesn’t so much portray as represent. But the standout is certainly Phillip Seymour Hoffman, here as far from his Oscar turn as Capote as he could get. He plays Gustave Avrakotos, the blue collar CIA operative, in a sort of low key mumble and bumble style yet somehow gives him an undercurrent of dangerousness. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get an Oscar nod for supporting actor. Having said that, I must admit that every time he opened his mouth I was reminded of a cross between Seth Green’s Chris Griffin on Family Guy, and Ted Levine as Jame (Buffalo Bill) Gumb in Silence of the Lambs. I kept waiting for him to say, “It puts the lotion on its skin.” but somehow he never did. Anyway, despite this little disappointment, the performance was riveting.

The movie also does a good job of recounting how Afghanistan wound up in the hands of a militant Taliban without actually rubbing the audience’s nose in the history lesson. The loss of the Afghan war was the last imperialist stroke of the Soviet regime. The resulting backlash brought Gorbachev into power and spelled the doom of the Communist regime in the 20th century (its resurgence in the 21st is still in question). The winning of the Afghan war left the US as the only superpower and, just as the end of the first world war sowed the seeds of the second, had unintended consequences that resulted in the “war on terror”. Perhaps Charlie Wilson’s War will allow Hollywood to remind the American people to how we got into the current situation without setting off the right wing propagandists whose only gripe would have to be that the movie doesn’t reinforce their fantasy that Regan single-handedly ended the cold war. World history is full of grey areas. Charlie Wilson’s war is similarly neither black nor white, but it is something every American should see if he wants to know a little more about how we got into the mess we are currently have in the middle east. Plus, it’s a pretty darn good movie.