Saturday, April 29, 2006

Perplexing, challenging and fun flicks

I wrote this a while back for epinions.

I’ve discovered the movies I enjoy best these days are those that keep me a little perplexed about what’s going on. The standard-issue thrillers and the routine romantic comedies may tend to focus my attention more on my DVD player’s counter than on the action on screen.

Here are some flicks I’ve found intriguing.

Mulholland Drive directed by David Lynch This film demands that you examine it carefully. Any attempt to offer a synopsis is fruitless, you’ll just have to see it. Clues are nestled in every corner of the screen, or are they red herrings? It’s an over-the-top tale as offbeat as Lynch’s Lost Highway and if you’re up for it, it’s rewarding entertainment. (If you really want an explanation, search Salon.com’s archive for an interpretation.)

Swimming Pool directed by Fran├žois Ozon Charlotte Rampling is Sarah Morton, a writer who kicks back for a summer at her editor’s villa, only to find she’s sharing space with his stunning young daughter, a girl both troubled and annoying. Are the scenes from Sarah’s book, her imagination or an alternate reality? You have to decide as you go along.

Spider directed by David Cronenberg This is atypical Cronenberg, no odd body growths or manifestations. It’s all psychological. Ralph Fiennes is Spider, a man recently released from a mental institution. He’s withdrawn and caught up in a world inside his schizophrenic mind, devoted most of all to solving his mother’s murder. The narrative twists through his reality building ultimately to a shattering climax, but along the way, you have to interpret and extrapolate.

Memento directed by Christopher Nolan This is the backwards one, the only movie I know of with a surprise beginning. Guy Pearce is Leonard Shelby, a man tracking his wife’s killer while coping with the fact that he has no short-term memory. The tale is masterfully told, and the gimmick is more than a gimmick. Well worth the time to watch, and if you’re a CSI fan, Jorja Fox has a prominent role, in flashbacks at least, as the deceased Mrs. Shelby.

Donnie Darko directed by Richard Kelly A dark tale, no kidding, of a young man’s journey through a twisted reality. It’s high school hell compounded by a Billy Pilgrim experience. Everything winds up neatly in the end, but you’ll do some head-scratching along the way.

Following directed by Memento’s Christopher Nolan It’s black and white, short, strange and features a surprise ending that fits perfectly. Only a few characters are involved in this drama, much of it takes place on the street or in a few rooms and it’s all fascinating. Bill is a young man who’s hobby is trailing strangers, following. His path leads in bizarre directions with he starts to trail a man named Cobb.

One Hour Photo directed by Mark Romanek It’s all about Sy Parrish, the man who develops your film at Sav-Mart. He’s obsessed with the family of Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan. It’s a thriller, but an eerie, subtle one without more suspense than violence. What are all those still-life photos about?

Vanilla Sky directed by Cameron Crowe A lot of people don’t like this movie. They’re wrong. Don’t listen to them. Based on and almost, though not quite, a shot-for-shot-with-higher-production-values remake of Abre los ojos or Open Your Eyes, this film wends in and out of reality. David Aames is a “has it all” magazine publisher who falls in love with a beautiful young woman played by Penelope Cruz. They share “a moment” only to have their world shattered by David’s jealous um hum buddy Julie (Cameron Diaz). Hideously scarred, David spirals into and out of madness and a science fiction universe that’s intriguing. The mystery doesn’t end with the last frame, and you can spend hours reading Internet message boards for conflicting opinions once it’s over. It’s a film that keeps on giving.


Incubus directed by Leslie Stevens It’s black-and-white and shot in Esperanto. They were going for an Ingmar Bergman, art-house feel when this was shot in 1965. William Shatner faces the forces of evil in a strange land where demons manipulate humans. It’s spooky though not an absolute horror movie. (Incidentally, this is the William Shatner movie they're watching in Blade: Trinity)

Waking Life directed by Richard Linklater The plot is minimal but the conversations are fascinating, and it’s visually unique and surreal. Actors were filmed and then animators went to work re-interpreting. The main character says he feels he’s in an alternate universe. You will too, probably for multiple viewings.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Searching for the right word? The Visual Thesarus Can Help

One of the most valuable online writing tools I've found is The Visual Thesarus. I think I read about it in a writer's magazine, otherwise I'm not sure how I discovered it, but it's fabulous for those frozen moments when the right word won't rise from the subconscious.

Allow popups and make sure your Java runtime environment is enabled then visit the website for a trial. When a word is typed in, almost immediately if you have a fast connection, a tree of alternate words is provided and definitions are available with a click.

Point to a new word and another word tree is produced introducing you to an even broader vocabulary. As with any thesarus, some words are archaic, but sometimes those are fabulous tidbits of knowledged.

I never knew a susurration described the "indistinct sound of whispering."

If it won't cure writer's block, it will entertain wordsmiths while waiting for blockages to clear.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Self doubt and Kurosawa

In an interview on This is Audible, Campbell Scott mentioned recently that the masterful filmmaker Akira Kurosawa at 80 said something like, and I'm paraphrasing, "I almost have this filmmaking thing figured out."

I find comfort in remarks like that from the acknowledged great.

I struggle with self-doubt like I guess everyone who writes and who has moved past the arrogance of youth. A writer friend of mine, who I've always felt is far more talented than I am, mentioned recently that he'd been plagued by negative feelings.

I guess it's part of the creative process and perhaps valuable if it makes us endeavor to do better.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Doctor Who Storm Warning

Budget limitations on the early Doctor Who shows meant rubber suits and occasionally wobbly sets. For anyone who ever failed to get past those and appreciate the brilliance of the stories, there are Who audio adventures from Big Finish that filled a gap for fans of The Doctor between the end of the last television series and the beginning of the new one.

I discovered the Big Finish audios while listening to Podshock, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the first I've purchased - Storm Warning.

Utilizing the mind's eye,

Sunday, April 02, 2006

OK, I'm not really into Death Cab for Cutie, but I am wearing my tie-dyed t-shirt as I write this

I think I'm a grup.

I've always known I'm a bit un-grown up for my age, but I didn't know I was part of a cultural phenomenon.

The New Yorker has identified a modern-day Peter Pan syndrome, and they're using the word grup from Star Trek TOS as the term-of-choice.

With a few variations, I think they're describing me. I guess it stands to reason that a lot of people who grew up with the same cultural reference points and influences are exhibiting the same behavior, but I was a bit elated to discover I'm not alone.

And it's a little exciting that a whole segment of the population is choosing a different approach to graying.

It's not your father's middle age.
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