Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
The Grudge 2
In which V and M have seen an adequate film.

I'm taking time out from my last few days in England to review The Grudge 2 for y'all. Before we get into that, let's sum up what we know about these Grudge films.

Q: How many Grudge films are there?

A: A whole lot. At least three or four Japanese films, some of which were made for TV and some of which seem to be remakes of each other, and two American remakes of those films. One of the Japanese TV films is laughably bad, while the Japanese theatrical version of Ju-On is hands down the scariest film I've ever seen.

Q: What is the basic premise of these films?

A: This Japanese man finds out that his wife has an unrequited crush on their kid's school teacher. So he kills his wife, and then kills their kid, and then kills their kid's cat, and then kills himself. This results in the wife and kid (and sometimes cat) haunting their house and generally being extremely pissed off.

Q: So it's a haunted house film?
A: Well, no. Conventional wisdom teaches us that when confronted with a haunted house, the best course of action is to leave ASAP. Once you're out of the haunted house you're okay. See also: The Amityville Horror, The Legend of Hell House.

The difference with the Grudge films is, once you've set foot in the house, you're screwed. Totally screwed. It's not haunted, it's cursed, and the curse might kill you in the house, but more likely it's going to follow you home. And most likely it's going to mess with your head for a few days and make you crap your pants and then kill you. And that's part of what makes these films so disturbing: there's no getting away from it

Q: So who goes into this house, then?
A: Idiots.

Q: Who's the baddie?
A: Technically I guess it would be the guy who went batshit crazy and killed his whole family. But in terms of supernatural evil, the wife and kid are the baddies of the film. In the Japanese versions, they appear not very frequently and are accompanied by a creepy croaking sort of noise. The dead kid always looks terrified and the dead woman moves in a weird, jerky, dead-person sort of way.

So now that we've covered all that, what can we say about the American remake of The Grudge 2? Not very much. It is frought with problems.

The biggest problem that I could see was blatant over-use of the angry dead woman. In the Japanese films, her presence is meant to be a significant shock. For this reason, you don't see her very often. And when you do see her, she's doing something that your mind registers as badwrong... usually she's moving or standing in a peculiar way, or appearing somewhere you wouldn't expect (like under your bedsheets).

In the American film, I can just imagine the producers saying "hey, that dead woman scares people. Let's trot her out as much as possible, even when it's completely inappropriate or unnecessary to the plot." Angry Dead Woman shows up in practically every scene. Showing so much of her dilutes any shock value she had. Instead of thinking OMG OMG THAT'S BADWRONG you start thinking "oh yeah, she's going to show up any minute." There's this one scene where a girl is running through a hospital trying to get away from Angry Dead Woman, and everywhere she turns Angry Dead Woman is right there, just like Michael frigging Myers. Sad.

They've also given Angry Dead Woman a nonsensical back story that has nothing to do with being killed by her batshit crazy husband. A pretty significant chunk of the plot is dedicated to following up on the nonsensical back story, only for the characters to be told "you foolish Americans, this has nothing to do with the curse. She is angry because her batshit crazy husband murdered her." So it ends up being a waste of time, and that kind of pissed me off.

Another problem I saw, which most people probably won't pick up on, is that they ripped off two scenes from the Eye films by the Pang brothers. In one scene, an old man is playing peek-a-boo with a ghost kid that only he can see, and in another scene a woman falls from a hospital roof and lands at the feet of her relatives. That hospital one was almost a frame-by-frame copy. I'll note that most American filmgoers will not have seen the Eye movies (soon to be remade no doubt) but I still think it's pretty frigging cheap and low to steal ideas from someone else's films. Personally, I would call that plagiarism.

The star of this film was Amber Tamblyn, which is probably only a problem for me as I just don't like Amber Tamblyn.

Most everything else about The Grudge 2 was okay, if a bit confusing. The angry dead curse can apparently follow people to America. A note of caution: if you live in an apartment building, and one of your neighbors has been inside the Grudge house, everyone in your building is therefore screwed. Actually the whole cursed apartment block part of the plot was maybe the most interesting IMO. It primarily follows this one family who live next door to the Grudge House girl. Weird things start happening to them and to their neighbors. There's this one great scene where a neighbor girl is chugging a gallon of milk, and then vomiting the milk back into the milk jug without spilling a drop. Makes you wonder how long she's been standing there recycling the same gallon of milk. Gross.

Would I recommend this? Sure, why not. As per usual, I'd recommend the Japanese originals first. But this is decent enough.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Codename V Museum Review: Part Two
In which it is highly recommended that you visit The British Museum.

The third museum we visited was The British Museum. This place is vast - I can't stress that enough. We thought we'd be able to see the highlights in a day, but we ended up going back a second time. The exhibits here are spectacular. Genuinely priceless, rare, once-in-a-lifetime kind of stuff.

Highlights: practically everything here. This is going to take a while. I'll begin by listing the exhibits that I personally felt most affected by and impressed with.

OMG y'all, they have The Rosetta Stone. It's in a big glass case, and I stood there for ages just in awe of it. Like, slack-jawed awe. It drew a pretty big crowd, too... at any given time there were at least 30 people grouped around, gaping in slack-jawed awe. I made M take my photo next to it. I'm lame that way.

OMG again y'all, they have The Elgin Marbles. Follow these wikipedia links, kids. They have photos and know more about history than I do. Anyway, yeah... stuff from the Parthenon. It's hard to explain the emotions you get looking at things like this. They're older than I can really wrap my head around. They're elegant. They're part of a civilization that we can only read about or imagine. I mean, I only know the Parthenon as a ruin, but looking at this, it clicked for me. I could better visualize what it would have been like.

An aside: while we were in the big Elgin Marbles room (which took us at least 90 minutes to fully absorb), a group of about 40 Japanese buisnessmen came in. They all kind of flocked rapidly to one corner of the room, took one photograph, and rapidly flocked back out again. M reckons they just knew exactly what they wanted to see.

Double OMG OMG y'all, they had some stuff from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. One of the seven ancient wonders, people. There were a couple of massive statues of a man and a woman, and a fragment from another massive statue of a horse. The horse fragment was my absolute favorite thing in the museum. A couple of times, when I just needed a break from walking around, I went into that room and just sat under the horse sculpture in slack-jawed awe. Here, I found a picture of it. You don't get a proper sense of perspective from that photo, but I'd guess it's around 20 feet tall. That metal stuff around its head is part of a bridle.

Another super awesome thing, this one room had an entire Greek temple inside of it. The same website that had the photo of the horse also has a photo of that temple. Thanks, photo person.

There's no possible way I can list everything we saw. Name something you'd expect to see in a great museum, and we saw it. We saw a chunk from the Sphinx. We saw loads and loads of Egyptian sculptures. We saw mummies. We saw Viking stuff, Roman stuff. We saw a particularly enchanting sculpture of Venus. We saw some crude sculptures that were 4000 years old. 4000 years, get your brain around that.

Seriously, if you ever have a chance in your life to visit this museum, you should do it. I would consider it a moral imperative. How can things like this exist in the world, and yet some people don't really care.

So yeah, highlights: the whole place.

Low point: this place was full of kids on school trips. I know you can't really escape that kind of thing in big museums, but I'm talking about hundreds of kids all over the place all the time, and they were very badly behaved. They were running around touching things and leaning on things, and their teachers did nothing to correct their behavior. It was very difficult at times to fully appreciate things when you have herds of miscreant youth pushing and shoving and running around and shouting. M and I observed that they really ought to have an adults-only day.

The other low point: their snack bar is heinously over priced. £2 for a 16-ounce bottle of Sprite. By far the most expensive of the museums we visited.

I give this four out of four. I would definitely go back many times.
The Codename V Museum Review: Part One
In which V and M have visited several of London's most popular museums, with mixed results.

So last week we went to London, our primary goal being to visit museums and see some awesome stuff. We had four or five museums on our list, and ended up seeing just three.

1. The Natural History Museum
This museum was the first we visited. First impression: the building itself is every bit as fascinating as the stuff inside. We expected this to take up a full day, but ended up finishing around lunchtime.

Highlight: dinosaurs, y'all. This place had loads of 'em. In the lobby they had some gigantor of a thing called a diplodocus (I think?). You can see it here. Then they had a whole gallery dedicated to dinosaurs. We spent at least an hour there, looking at various skeletons and models of teeth and skin and stuff like that. Towards the end of it, they had a life-sized animatronic T-Rex model, which sounds like it would be lame but really wasn't. I mean, yeah, it kind of was lame at first glance, but the more you stood there staring at it and it was staring back at you and waving its wee arms around, you started thinking damn, this thing could really do some serious damage.

Another highlight: a life-sized blue whale model. This makes one feel rather insignificant.

Other stuff: they had rather a lot of taxidermy. There were signs everywhere saying that they didn't support this method of displaying animals any more (aside from being kind of creepy, I suppose it's counter-productive in terms of conservation efforts and stuff), so the animal skins on display are mostly very old and faded and kind of shabby really. Which IMO makes them that much creepier. They had a panda skin which had faded so badly it was nearly white all over. That made me feel sad and a little bit ill. I mean, I can sort of see their point: they already have this stuff, so let's display it. And on some level it's interesting to see the sizes of things - for example they had a grizzly bear next to a polar bear, and I realized how flipping HUGE polar bears really are. But then again, it was mainly just creepy and felt kind of wrong.

Low point: they had this exhibit called "creepy crawlies" and the brochure suggested that they'd have loads of insects on display. I was expecting something along the lines of what I saw at the Smithsonian... cases of dead things pinned down. I am not really sure what exactly this creepy crawlies thing was all about. They had loads of photographs of insects. And a couple of bizarre displays like "what do flies eat?" and the answer was "pretty much everything" and they had a case full of cakes and jello and meat and cheese and generally just anything you could eat. And it was "this is what flies eat!". I'm serious. They did have a rather elaborate ant farm, though, and we had a good time watching the little ants crawl across a stick, get chunks of apple, and then crawl back again.

Overall rating: I'd give this a three out of four. We had a good time, but were sort of disappointed. We got the impression that we'd missed a lot of things, but after that bug exhibit we were too fed up to bother with going back.

2. The Science Museum
This was a disaster. It was incredibly poorly organized, almost like two different museums. Also it was boring. How can science be boring? I would not have thought it possible.

Entering the museum, you walk through a big hallway full of steam engines. This is interesting for about five minutes until you realize that each steam engine is pretty much identical to the next one. Following the steam engines, you walk through a corridor which seems to be dedicated to space travel. They have, like, four exhibits (one of which is a model of the Enterprise). So already there's no sense of flow. Steam Engines --> Space. Um, shouldn't there be stuff in between?

Just past the world's smallest tribute to space travel, you have a vast futuristic room which is 90% occupied by a snack bar. And then in one corner you have one of those virtual-reality flight simulator rides. Oookay.

So then we find a sign indicating the names of the exhibits on various floors. In the basement is something called Launch Pad. We go to the basement. Launch Pad is one of those fun hands-on exhibits where you can touch the big static ball and make your hair stand on end, or conduct various science experiments that are more like games. Unfortunately this area is full of loud children and smells strongly of antiseptic cleanser. We spend approximately 20 seconds at Launch Pad before getting back on the lift.

We go up to the first floor, called "Who Am I?". This was the most intersting thing in the entire museum. The room was mostly dark, with these oddly shaped pods scattered throughout. Each pod had some little computerized quiz or game about human genetics and identity and stuff like that. I have already forgotten what these actually were, which is a testament to just how interesting the most interesting thing in the museum was. I do remember they had a machine that would scan your iris, and then show you a bunch of irises and ask you to pick which one was yours. M spent about 15 minutes trying to scan his iris only to find the machine was broken. They also had a machine where you could scan your fingerprints. I scanned my index finger, and it said something inane like "this print is a whorl!" and then it showed me a model of a hand and said "can you tell which finger this print is from?" Well, yeah. I know which finger it's from because I SCANNED IT. So I select the index finger, and it tells me I'm wrong. The moral of this story is, this is the best exhibit in the museum and NOTHING IN IT WORKS.

The next floor is supposed to be called Digitopolis, but it's been closed down. I assume this is because nothing in Digitopolis worked, either.

The top floor was labeled THE FUTURE. M and I were all OMG COOL because I mean, how can the future suck?

THE FUTURE was the smallest room of all. There were three round tables which were basically drag-and-drop video games for the ten-and-under crowd. And then there was this kiosk inviting you to leave your opinion about what you think certain things would be like in the future. So M goes up and selects a topic - I forget what it was, but something like "what do you think entertainment will be like in 40 years?". And the screen on the kiosk is filled up with a crude cartoon drawing of a woman and she starts talking. Loudly. So M is standing there in this tiny room and this robot woman starts yelling WHAT DO YOU THINK TELEVISION WILL BE LIKE IN THE FUTURE?!?!? THINGS WILL SURELY BE DIFFERENT!!1! WOULD YOU LIKE TO TYPE A COMMENT?!?!? And M is all "oh crap, let's just leave."

On the way out, we got a bit lost. We discovered that there was this whole other section of the museum with actual stuff in it, but it all looked and smelled as if it had last been touched in 1950. You know that musty, stale smell that places get? The walls were painted in this institutional mint green color. They had some models of sailing ships, and some clocks, and random sea diving equipment. We stopped for a Fanta next to something along the lines of "this is what a glucose molecule would look like if it were made of popsicle sticks." We also found a gallery of old aircraft, but to be honest we've seen a better exhibit elsewhere.

Highlights: That Fanta was quite refreshing.

Low Point: THE FUTURE. Also, watching M trying to scan his iris was an exercise in futility.

I give this one half out of four. I wouldn't be interested in going back.

Taking a break here, as this is getting quite long! One museum left to review, and it was so awesome that it took two days to absorb. Look for that coming up later on.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!
Codename V is on hiatus this week, as V and M are going to London to see various museum type things. Posting will resume ASAP.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Good news: The Killers don't suck
So I've had a few days to listen to this new Killers album Sam's Town. Some albums you love instantly, as was the case with me and their debut album Hot Fuss. But then some albums you have to listen to a few times before you can really get a feel for them. And this new one is like that.

The first time I heard it, I didn't think "man, this sucks," but I didn't think it was all that great, either. I remember remarking to M that I hadn't heard anything near as brilliant as Mr. Brightside, but now that I've had time to absorb it all, I have to retract that statement.

Read My Mind is the one track from this new album that I keep playing over and over. It's one of the only tracks that preserves the synth-pop feel of Hot Fuss. It's catchy and pretty at the same time. I sort of think this should have been their first single. But I don't know anything about the music business.

Also, I'm not a music critic, so I'm no good at writing witty album reviews full of insights and comparisons and all of that stuff. I just know what I like, and I like The Killers. I maybe liked them a little better when they were foppish dandies in eyeliner and were angrier. Sams Town doesn't sound quite as angry to me. Also they've adopted some kind of weird spaghetti western look with weedy moustaches and cowboy clothes. And I'm just not feeling it. Bring back the eyeliner, guys. And yell more.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
X-Men: The Last Stand
In which V is the last person to see this year's hot summer blockbuster.

Before we get started, there are a couple of things I should point out. One, I generally don't like Marvel comics. And I really don't like Stan Lee. Why? Because Marvel are a bunch of Comics Code pussies. And Stan Lee is a hack. A hack with an inflated ego.

Two, I don't usually like superhero comics. I prefer antiheroes. Superhero comics are usually too black-and-white for me. Too moralistic. The goodies always beat the baddies (and if you're a Comics Code pussy like those freaks at Marvel, they beat the baddies without using graphic violence or swear words). The goodies are always 100% good, the baddies 100% pure evil, and there's no grey area, and this is something I just can't relate to.

The big exception to the No Superheroes Rule is Batman. But Batman isn't really a superhero is he. I mean, hello? No superpowers. He's more of an antihero anyway, fighting crime out of a compulsion to keep avenging his parents' death, more than out of a civic-minded desire to help society. Also he's probably a sociopath. But we aren't talking about Batman here. No. We're talking about the X-Men.

I remember when I was around 10 years old, sitting on my grandparents' sofa surrounded by a big pile of Archie comics. I was a real dork. I had Archie, and Wendy the Witch, and Richie Rich (that poor little rich boy!). And then my uncle Mark came in, and said "No! Don't read that crap! Read THIS," and he gave me a copy of X-Men and my life was changed. Now here I am, 20 years later, a hopeless nerd in the inking business. So I think it's fair to say that The X-Men have a bit of sentimental value to me.

I really enjoyed the first two X-Men films. And I appreciate that a lot of the characters DO have that grey area in their morality. The third installment in the series, X-Men: The Last Stand really explores the gray area. It's definitely the darkest film in the series so far.

I'm going to try to review this without giving away any spoilers. That's going to be difficult because there were so many jaw-dropping moments. Major, major things happen. It's probably pointless to try and keep this all unspoiled, seeing as how I'm the last person to see this anyway. But you never know, there could be someone else out there who hasn't seen it yet and I really don't want to ruin it for them.

I'll say this though: don't assume your favorite characters are safe in this film. Jaws dropped here at Casa M & V, yo. Jaws frigging DROPPED. V very nearly shouted "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" out loud, but caught herself in the nick of time and was spared the embarassment of being a dork. But perhaps I have already said too much!

Basic plot, people: Someone has discovered a "cure" for the mutant-x gene. Naturally there are some mutants who are just tickled pink about this. Because really, it's not easy being a mutant. Wouldn't it be nice to just live a normal life? But then again, there are mutants who see this as a threat. Sure, the vaccine is being introduced as a voluntary measure, but isn't it only a matter of time before "normal" people start trying to eradicate the mutant scourge?

Leading the anti-vaccine fight is Magneto. Who says mutants need to be cured, anyway? Who says it's a disease? Magneto reckons that normalcy is the disease, and mutants ought to take over the world. I'll point out here that Magneto is one of those grey-area characters. I personally don't think he's all bad. But you can sort out your own opinions.

Meanwhile, Jean Grey is back from the dead. But if you were paying attention at the end of X-Men 2 you already knew that. And if you know ANYTHING AT ALL about The X-Men, you probably already knew that she isn't really Jean Grey any more. No sir. She's Phoenix. And that's bad news, because Phoenix is crazy evil.

So the X-Men are having to deal with the vaccine controversy, Magneto's war, and Crazy Evil Jean Grey all at the same time. Chaos ensues. Loads of stuff happens, people. Jaw-dropping stuff, which I can't really tell you about. But it's all action-packed and compelling and ultra-awesome and you have to see this movie.

Some new characters in this one. Kelsey Grammer does a pretty good job as Beast, although I would have liked to see his character expanded a bit more. Vinnie Jones is Juggernaut, that rocked pretty hard. Some really bland pretty boy played Angel, who was in the film for all of maybe two minutes. Oh, and that horrible little girl from Hard Candy played Kitty Pryde, but mercifully she didn't say much.

Notably missing: Nightcrawler. WTF? He was one of the best ones. And as a comics nerd, I really just have to ask: where is Gambit already?

End result: the best comics film I've seen since Batman Begins. Well written, well acted, entertaining, I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Watch it. You won't be sorry. Oh, and by the way, watch past the end of the closing credits.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
V continues to totally milk YouTube
On the one hand, I feel kind of guilty about posting another video as opposed to actual written content. But on the other hand, I was just made aware of this and was well impressed. Gnarls Barkley have covered my favorite Violent Femmes song, and the video is fun. Enjoy it, and if you behave yourselves maybe later I'll say some words about X-Men: The Last Stand.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Charlie The Unicorn
I was shown this earlier today and asked simply to "pay it forward." Certainly it merits being shared. Friends, for your enjoyment, the most bizarre Charlie The Unicorn.

Monday, October 02, 2006
I realize that out of context, this might seem a bit silly. But within the scope of the entire film, this scene is where I just totally lose it. And everyone else I've spoken to has said the same thing. Even my mom totally loses it at this scene. MY MOM, PEOPLE.

Click to play if you must.

Ooookay. Now I feel TOTALLY UNCOMFORTABLE about being in the flat all alone. Lovely.
The Joys of YouTube
You really can find just about anything on YouTube. While I was digging around for Mitchell & Webb stuff for the previous post, I stumbled across this.

Hands down, the second scariest scene from the scariest film of all time. I've seen it more times than I can count, and it still screws my head up. And now it's here so you can screw your own heads up.

You might be wondering what the first scariest scene is. I have two words for you: dog suit. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you haven't really seen The Shining.
Five Things I Totally Heart This Week
1. Jane Eyre
The BBC has done a four-part miniseries of this, and part two was on last night. I've never read the novel, never seen any of the other film versions, and am totally 100% unaware of what happens next. I guess I've always avoided it because I thought Wuthering Heights was really f*ing tedious. But this is a different Bronte sister.

I'm liking it. It has everything - romance, mystery, conflict - and it's a bit gothic really. Also, Rochester looks like he could give Mr. Darcy a run for his money. We shall see.

2. The Pulch
From the genius behind Salad Fingers, we now have Pulch: The Good Times. Watch and enjoy, and keep your eyes to the ground.

3. That Mitchell and Webb Look
You've probably only heard of Peep Show if you're from the UK, so take my word for it when I say it's a brilliantly funny and quirky comedy. The two guys behind it (Mitchell and Webb, duh) have started up a weekly sketch comedy show. I really feel sorry for you kids over in America who can't see this. But hey, you have YouTube. So I can direct you to such gems as Numberwang (part 3), Medical Drama, and Dead British Actors. Watch and enjoy. That's Numberwang!

4. Mario Kart Double Dash
For the GameCube. This game has become an obsession - M and I have it down to a science. 110% fun, for real.

5. The Killers
New album out tomorrow. Let's hope it isn't a disappointment. They reckon it's a different sound, which is kind of a shame because I really liked the first album. They also reckon they've improved a lot as musicians, so hopefully they haven't fucked things up too much. I've heard the first single (When You Were Young) and was totally NOT impressed (insert frowny-face here). But supposedly the video for the next single has been directed by Tim Burton, who is making a slow comeback from that whole "I Sold Out With Planet Of The Apes" thing. Keep your fingers crossed (and your eyes to the ground).