Thursday, January 24, 2008
Film Review: La Moustache

So I heard about this film La Moustache and immediately knew I had to see it. I absolutely loved this film, but I absolutely love Existentialism. Whether or not you like this film is probably going to depend strongly on your own feelings towards existential angst. See also: Sartre, Camus, Kafka.

So, the film. Protagonist Marc toys with the idea of shaving off his robust moustache. He asks his wife what she thinks of the idea. She replies that she quite likes him with the moustache.

He shaves it off, and then teases his wife by hiding his face so she can't see that the moustache is missing. When he finally reveals his new clean-shaven look, she doesn't say anything. He assumes that now she is teasing him by pretending not to notice. They go to a small party. Nobody there notices, either. In the car on the way home, he says "okay, this isn't funny any more." His wife is confused. He's all "don't tell me you haven't noticed." And she's all what? And he says "I shaved off my moustache."

"But honey, you've never HAD a moustache." ...

Marc still thinks his wife is winding him up. His wife starts worrying that Marc is having some kind of mental breakdown. He finds an album of vacation photos of the two of them together in which he has the moustache, but for some reason (let's call that reason "plot device") he doesn't show them to his wife.

At work the next day, when his colleagues and the guy he gets his morning coffee from also don't notice, he starts thinking that maybe he IS going mad, or that some other nefarious force is at work. Other facts about his life also begin to change. You start to wonder if maybe his wife is the mad one.

He finds his drivers license, and he has the moustache in the photo. He asks a woman at the train station if she can see the moustache in the photo and she says yes, you had a moustache. So, Marc has several photos that he could show people to prove that yes, he used to have a moustache. But mysteriously ("plot device") he never does. That's really the only problem I have with this film. If he has evidence, why not show it? Why does the evidence exist? Would the film make more sense if the moustache had disappeared from the photos? I don't know...

I won't say much more about the plot, because this is a good, mysterious film and I think people should see it for themselves. As mentioned, it's probably more enjoyable if you like existentialism - or at least have a high tolerance for the strange. Also: did I mention, it's French? I especially like French films, but I realize that a lot of people don't. So, yeah. Subtitles, weirdness. If you think you're up for it, I highly recommend.


Thursday, January 17, 2008
Breaking Awesome News
The Bad Seeds have a new album coming out! This is proof that 2008 is going to be a great year. Here's the new video for your viewing pleasure. At first I wasn't totally sold on it, but I've listened to it a few times and it's growing on me. The Grinderman influence is still very much present. Nick Cave is still rocking the bizarre Old Man Hair and 70s moustache. He's maybe reminding me a bit of Mr. Kotter.

Welcome back!

But I digress! I promised y'all a video, and a video y'all shall have.


Monday, January 14, 2008
Why I love French radio
Or, why I absolutely hate American radio.

I have come to the conclusion that listening to the radio in America is a form of mental torture. I'm talking about mainstream pop radio, not the very cool stations you sometimes find in the lower ranges of the FM dial that no-one ever listens to because nobody knows they're there.

Here is what I have observed about the average top-40 American radio station:

1. They play the same seven or eight songs over and over. I often wonder how we as a nation manage to come up with a weekly top 40 (or even a top 20) when there only seem to be eight songs in fashion at any given time.

2. It will take approximately 90 minutes for the radio station to get through a cycle of playing the eight songs. For every five minutes of music, you must have at least ten minutes of advertisements and/or mundane banter from some asshole DJ.

3. Speaking of asshole DJs, need I even mention the abomination that we call The Morning Show?

4. The eight songs that you are forced to listen to several times a day are generally rubbish. At least six of them will be ghetto rap and/or low quality R&B. I suspect that 80% of the songs currently in rotation are recorded or produced by Jay-Z or Beyonce. Expect irritating, repetitive beats and lyrics along the lines of "Yeah. Yeah. Uh." Common themes include: grillz, expensive automobiles, and booty.

5. Out of the two songs left, one of them will be by Nickelback, therefore making it shit by default. This leaves you with one song remaining, which has a 50% chance of actually being good. Don't hold your breath.

So there you have it. American radio sucks, and I only listen to it when there are no other options. The real mystery, though, is WHY DOES IT SUCK SO BAD? I listen to rather a lot of French radio, and it does not suck at all. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why do American radio stations stick to a format that can only appeal to people with the IQ of a cabbage, when there are better ways to present music to the masses?

I have this little widget thing that plays a variety of French radio stations on my computer. The vast majority of the time (like, 99.9%) I'm listening to a station called Europe 2. Actually I think they might have changed their name to Virgin Radio, but never mind what they're called. The format is the same. Let's examine:

I can listen to Europe 2 all afternoon and never hear the same song twice. While American radio keeps pushing the same crappy artists over and over (see also: Nickelback), Europe 2 features dozens of artists from all over the world. It's not all French pop, y'all. They do play songs from the UK, Europe, and even America - but they choose carefully and weed out the crap. I've only heard two American songs over the past week. Both were good, and I haven't heard either of them on American radio. Granted, I avoid listening to American radio. But you get the idea.

There is a distinct lack of booty music on Europe 2. You don't get lyrics like "Oui. Oui. Uh."

While I'd say all the music on Europe 2 is pop, they don't stick to just one style or genre. The selection is eclectic, ranging from industrial to indie to basic pop ballads. And since there's so much variety (much of it in other languages), you get exposed to lots of great music you otherwise would never have found.

When's the last time you discovered a new and exciting song on American radio? Or on MTV for that matter? If you're frequently discovering great new American music, odds are you're off the mainstream grid. You're listening to garage bands or going to indie shows. Or, like me, the music you love most just isn't the kind of thing that gets radio play.

I should probably throw in a disclaimer here: I don't actually speak French. I'm trying to learn (and believe me, listening to French radio is very helpful in that regard). But my point is this: good music is good music, even if you don't understand most of the lyrics. If it's catchy and pleasing to the ear, it's already about a mile ahead of any of the crap that gets American airplay.

Oh, and here's another point that I can make. I looked up a video to post here as an example. It's a new song to me - I've heard it a couple of times this week (note: that's a couple of times, not a couple of hundred), so I assumed it was a new song in general. But this video was posted to YouTube in November of 2006. So, good music doesn't have a shelf life on Europe 2. Whereas in America, you will hear f*ing "Umbrella" twelve times a day, every day, during the summer of 2007 and then with any luck you'll never hear it again...

But I digress. Here's the song that's going to live in my head this week. It's happy and catchy. At least, I think it's happy. I don't know what they're saying. But it sounds happy, and it has a lovely romantic video. I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2008
Film Review: The Orphanage

I saw this film on Friday, and am in the unusual position of liking it very much, but not having any idea what to say about it.

I had only seen one trailer for this film, and it was rather vague. You can see it on YouTube if you're so inclined. It does not even approach describing what this film is really about. So, I knew next to nothing about The Orphanage going into it. I knew it was produced by Guillermo del Toro, I knew it was Spanish, and I knew it was supposed to be creepy.

There's a lot to be said for watching films this way - seeing a film you know little about, but that you expect to be very good. Not knowing a lot of plot details beforehand means that you aren't waiting for specific things to happen. You're able to let the story unfold in front of you, and unless you're one of those people who likes to stay three steps ahead of the plot and have it all figured out before the final act (I'm looking at you, E), it's easy to let the plot sweep you along, delivering surprises on the way.

When I rolled up to the cinema on Friday and ordered my ticket, the guy at the box office felt obligated to warn me that this was a subtitled film. I was taken slightly aback. Are there really that many backwards, small-minded people who can't be bothered to see a film that's not in English? I suppose there are...

The director of this film is Juan Antonio Bayona. I don't know much about him, and the IMDb is not forthcoming. I gather that he's sort of a protege of del Toro, and the Pan's Labyrinth influence is fairly evident here. Both films feature children who experience terrible things. **Pan's Labyrinth mild spoiler about to come up, so if you haven't seen it yet, please skip ahead to the next paragraph** In Pan's Labyrinth, there's a supernatural element to the plot which is almost certainly the figment of a child's imagination. In The Orphanage, the opposite seems to be true - supernatural things are almost certainly really going on.

As far as plot twists go, The Orphanage doesn't really have any. Not twists, but it does have several of those "oh crap" moments. You know, those moments in a film when you suddenly realize what's going on, and you think "oh crap." The best example of this little trick is probably how at the end of The Sixth Sense you realize that you've been played throughout the entire film. So, yeah, a few really good "oh crap" moments to be found here.

Here's another thing - The Orphanage has a few things in common with a fairly obscure book (Lost Boys) by a reasonably well known author (Orson Scott Card). The plots aren't identical, but are similar enough that I thought the film might be at least loosely based on the book. I can't find any record of that being the case, however. Both film and book reference Peter Pan, but the similarities I'm talking about go a bit further. Oh well.

The ending of the film is ambiguous, in the sense that you can take out of it what you've put in. I realize this doesn't make any sense. I'm trying hard not to give the game away. **Another Pan's Labyrinth spoiler here** Okay, you know how at the end of Pan's Labyrinth, you want to believe that the imaginary world is real, but deep down you know it's just a coping mechanism for this child who needed a way to handle the horrors of war? In The Orphanage, something happens to the main female character, and I think it can be taken the same way. Your own personal view of the ending is going to depend on whether or not you believe supernatural things were really happening all along. It seemed pretty evident to me as I watched the film that these things were in fact really happening, but you could just as easily take a more cynical view. And I really love films like that - films that don't spell everything out, but let you make your own mind up right until the end.

I highly recommend this film. It doesn't rip your heart out and stomp on it in quite the same way Pan's Labyrinth does (really, I defy even the manliest macho man with an icy heart of stone to watch Pan's Labyrinth without crying at the end), but I still had to wipe a wee tear away when it was over. I found the ending to be actually quite happy, in a strange, macabre sort of way.

In conclusion: if you have the chance to see this, see it. Keep an open mind. Don't try to figure things out ahead of the plot - just let the story happen, let yourself become absorbed in it. Never be put off by subtitles!!


Friday, January 11, 2008
Look! Dandies!
In which V wonders why more boys don't attempt this, because it's a great look.

So I was reading Icing today, and found a link to some photographs of dandies. I LIKE DANDIES. I suspect this is a controversial opinion. I can see where a lot of guys would be put off, because it is a rather feminine way of dressing (although IMO if I saw a guy dressed like this, I would be impressed by how secure he was in his masculinity.) Also it's not at all utilitarian. But for special occasions, I think a lot of ladies would absolutely swoon over a gentleman in a top hat and velvet coat. Maybe this is my inner goth speaking.

Anyway. Look! Dandies! How You Boys Could Try To Look Like. Note that I am not alone in my appreciation of this sort of thing.

To further encourage the Men Of Today to experiment a bit more with this style, I have compiled a selection of links.

Plunkett and Macleane, a superb film in which Jonny Lee Miller disguises himself as a dandy in order to get closer to (and steal from) society ladies.

Google Image Gallery of the inimitable Tom Waits, who IMO qualifies as a roguish dandy.

A scandalous news story in which a dandy misbehaves terribly.

And finally, the video for Mr. Brightside, hands down the best song of the new millennium. Dandy vs. Dandy! Notice how well that Killers bloke pulls off the dandy look. All of you lads can do this!

Friday Baddie Blogging
This week's baddie is XML.

It's beaten me, y'all. Further confusion is caused by the possibility that New Blogger templates need not be in XML, but in XHTML with the .XML extension. I spent an entire week on this, and it just ended up making my brain sad. The ever-resourceful E reckons that he might be able to sort it out, hopefully explaining things to me as he goes. So let's keep our fingers crossed!


Thursday, January 10, 2008
Film Review: I Know Who Killed Me

Okay kids, brace yourselves. This one is ugly. Full spoilers ahead, so don't keep reading if you want to experience the magic and wonder of this film for yourself. And by "magic and wonder" of course I mean "utter crap with a hefty dose of unintentional comedy."

Normally when I watch terrible films with the intent to review them, I take copious notes so that I can better provide You The Reader with an accurate play-by-play of all the action. I Know Who Killed Me, however, was so convoluted that after only fifteen minutes I already had a page full of ideas connected to other ideas with arrows and question marks. When I realized that next to every comment I had written "WTF?" I decided to forego the note-taking and do this on the fly. It's probable that I will miss or skip over lots of things, but I believe I can recall enough to provide y'all with some decent snark. Here goes.

Aubrey Fleming (Lindsay Lohan) is a spoiled rich teenager. She lives in a big fancy house and drives a fancy blue car. This film's director seems to have some idea about using the color blue in arty, symbolic ways. Result: the viewer notices that there's a hell of a lot of blue everywhere.

Aubrey wants to be a creative writer. She sucks at it. You see her reading a story to her class about a girl who feels as if she only has half a soul. Half of her is missing! Oh noes. The film has only just started and already I've had enough of her emo bullshit. Aubrey is a very good pianist. Her piano teacher thinks she has a real shot at winning a competition for young pianists. She tells him that she's just not feeling the piano, y'know? It's just not what she wants to do with her life. She wants to be a creative writer, that's where her heart is. I think the viewer is supposed to understand that she needs to follow her heart, blah blah blah, but personally I think she should stick with the piano. It's less emo.

So she's at school in science class and everyone has on blue rubber gloves. Her cheesy jock boyfriend is trying to feel her up, and she's all "Is that all I am to you, Jarrod? Just a sex object?" Um, yes. He's 16. He doesn't care about your emo short stories, he cares about your boobs. Then out of nowhere they get told that one of their classmates has been found dead. Presumably she's been missing for a while. Her body has been mutilated.

Interspersed in here are a few scenes of LiLo doing some terrible stripping. She's maybe a worse stripper than she is a creative writer. She kind of rolls around lazily on the floor and spreads her legs. Note: she is possibly the only stripper in the world who never actually gets her kit off. Can this even be considered stripping?

Flash Forward. LiLo's cheesy boyfriend gives her a blue rose. She goes to watch him play football. Their team's uniforms are blue. After the game, the streets are all crowded with people celebrating. She tells her friends she's going to look for Cheesy Boyfriend and will meet them in front of the cinema at 11:45. She never shows. Oh noes!

So it looks like there's a serial killer at work here. We see LiLo's point of view. She is strapped to a table with a blue gag in her mouth. The killer has on blue gloves and some blue stockings over his face. There are prosthetic limbs hanging from the ceiling. He has a tray of custom-made glass knives. This seems kind of elaborate for the average serial killer. He uses a vise-grip thingy to wedge her hand between two blocks of dry ice until her fingers peel off. This is actually kind of gruesome, and I have a high threshold for gruesome.

Time passes. Eventually a woman is driving home at night and finds LiLo in a ditch. She's alive! She wakes up in a hospital with her right arm and leg amputated. Everyone is all "Oh Aubrey! We're so glad you're okay!" LiLo is all "Who the hell is Aubrey?"

She starts telling some story about how she's a stripper named Dakota Moss. Everyone thinks that she's had a psychological break or something, and has invented an alter-ego to help deal with what's happened to her. She is unable to answer any police questions helpfully. Eventually she goes home with Aubrey's parents. She has dirty sex with Aubrey's cheesy boyfriend. She persists with the whole "I'm Dakota the skanky stripper" thing, and decides to find out what happened to Aubrey herself.

Oh, before I forget. She's fitted with a prosthetic hand and foot. Her physical therapist is Crab Man from My Name Is Earl. He tells her to be sure to plug her prosthetic foot in at night, because if the battery goes dead it will be heavy, like dragging around a wooden leg. OKAY. Isn't she dragging around a wooden leg anyway? How do batteries make it less heavy? You can just see this becoming a Plot Device. Oh noes! I am in peril and my Leg Batteries have died!

She says that she started losing her fingers a couple of weeks ago. They just started turning black. She cut one of them off herself. Cue more gruesome, I actually had to look away - and I don't often look away. She woke up one night to find severe cuts on her leg. She remembered her mom having mail from the town where Aubrey lives, so she just decides to go there on a whim. With a nearly severed leg. None of this makes any sense to me.

So yeah, she just collapses in this ditch, and then she's found and everyone thinks she's Aubrey. But she says she is not Aubrey. Her story sounds made up, so everyone keeps thinking that Aubrey has made herself a new persona. The police find Aubrey's emo short story about missing halves and realize that it's about a girl named Dakota. So it looks pretty evident that Dakota and Aubrey are the same person.

Let me preface this next bit by saying I have NO IDEA how we arrive at the following conclusion. It's entirely possible that there's an explanation in the film somewhere, but the plot is a complete mess. I was watching pretty intently (not, like, doing my nails or anything) and I don't understand how we get from point A to point B here.

So Dakota and Aubrey have the same birthday. We figured this out back at the hospital. Dakota deduces that her crackwhore mom had twins. The Flemings' daughter was born with some health problems and died at the hospital. SOMEHOW Mr. Fleming hides this fact from his wife and buys one of the crackwhore's twins and passes it off as Aubrey Fleming. OMG! That's why Aubrey is all the time writing crappy emo stories about feeling like half a person! Because she totally IS half a person! Even though twins are TWO WHOLE PEOPLE. But never mind that.

So Dakota reckons she's having some kind of Identical Twin Stigmata thing, where everything that happens to Aubrey also happens to her. So when Psycho Blue Killer started slicing Aubrey up, Dakota's body parts fell off too. I sure am glad I don't have a twin. Dakota confronts Aubrey's Dad and is all "I know what you did! Now you have to help me find the killer while Aubrey is still alive!"

They go to that other dead girl's grave. You know, that other girl from Aubrey's school. They find a blue ribbon on the grave. Well, what do you know. Other Dead Girl won a competition for young pianists. THE KILLER IS THE PIANO TEACHER OMG!

So we have a pianist who makes his own elaborate glass knives (and stained glass, I don't think I mentioned he also makes stained glass) and is obsessed with prosthetic limbs. Dakota and the dad drive out to his house without calling the police or anything.

Meanwhile Crazy Piano Teacher has dressed Aubrey in a wedding gown and is burying her alive in a stained glass coffin. Dakota has trouble breathing, because Aubrey is running out of air.

At the piano teacher's house: peril, chaos. The dad gets killed and bleeds to death. Dakota cuts off piano teacher's hand. Cut to tragic scene of piano teacher trying to play piano with bloody stump. Tears, frustration. Chase scene! Fight! Dakota stabs him multiple times with his own glass knives. I'm still waiting for the batteries in her wooden leg to die, but this never happens. I feel cheated.

Dakota starts hearing Aubrey's voice in her mind. Help me! Oh help! She limps outside with a shovel, finds the grave, and digs her up. Punches through stained glass coffin with bionic hand. Dakota and Aubrey are missing limbs and all, but they're SO HAPPY to finally be a whole person again. The End.

You know, sometimes I see really bad films and I think "this had potential, it was just poorly executed." I Know Who Killed Me might be one of those films. The plot twists were ridiculous, but I don't know if that's because the whole Twins idea is ridiculous, of if the director was too preoccupied with the color blue to flesh out any of the other ideas. I found the film to be entertaining, though certainly not in the way it was intended to be. Recommended, as long as you have low expectations.


Monday, January 07, 2008
Film Review: Angel-A

I normally only review films I've seen at the cinema, mainly because I watch so many films at home that reviewing them all would be time-consuming. The exceptions are when a film is spectacularly awful, or extraordinarily good. Today I'll be discussing a very very good film called Angel-A.

This is a French film (I like foreign films) about a loser named Andre who has completely effed up his life. He's about to jump off a bridge and end it all when he notices a beautiful woman also about to jump off the bridge. She jumps, and he dives in to save her. What follows is a funny, enchanting, and romantic story in which Andre learns to love himself, and falls in love with the girl along the way.

The twist here is that the girl isn't really a girl. She's Angela, and she's an angel. A very strange angel. Her mission is to get him to stop screwing up his life and see his true potential. This is much easier said than done.

At first glance I was worried that this would be a bad rip-off of one of my favorite films, Wings Of Desire, another story about a human and an angel falling in love. Having viewed the film, I would definitely consider it an homage, particularly the beautiful black and white cinematography. It is decidedly NOT a rip-off; the two films have very different moods and themes. Wings of Desire is kind of melancholy and dramatic and epic, whereas Angel-A is fast-paced, lighthearted, and has rather a lot of asskicking (perpetrated by the angel, no less).

I should mention that it's directed by Luc Besson, who certainly knows what he's doing. I highly recommend this. The plot has something for everyone, and it would even be a good date movie. See it, that's an order.


Friday, January 04, 2008
A quick note on the changes
I thought it was about time I put a little more effort into customizing the blog, so now it looks different. The problem: I know my way around HTML and CSS just enough to do basic things. This was fine for Old Blogger. But now we have New Blogger, and New Blogger is being an elitist pig and only wanting to accept XML templates. So, unless I can somehow get my head around XML, there won't be any of the swanky new features like widgets or categories.

I reckon I have two options here.

1. Learn just enough XML to convert this HTML template into XML.

2. Choose one of the premade New Blogger XML templates that approximates the layout I'm shooting for here (probably Minima) and tweak it manually until it looks like this.

Right now I'm not sure which one will be less of a headache. Considering I've already spent the better part of this evening working on this HTML, I don't exactly relish the idea of having to basically start from scratch making that bland Minima template look nice. So my thoughts as of right now are leaning towards learning XML. Fun.

So, please bear with me (all four of you) while I try to make this blog more of a Quality Experience.