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Category: Reviews

Now that I've met you

I watched Magnolia again last night. Well. Part of it; I had forgotten, unsurprisingly, how harrowing it can be and it was rather late, so the whole three hours was not in the cards.

I actually hadn’t seen it since the first time I saw it, in the theater. After that three hours, I said to myself, “It’s going to be a while before I can watch this again.” I still agree with myself. On the other hand, I’m also even more certain that I need to, and that I want to, and that I want to think about Magnolia much much more.

I hadn’t appreciated the pure dry irony of opening with a monologue about coincidental connections; I got the coincidence, of course, but on rewatching I realized that it was the connections between people that were important. Ricky Jay’s not saying that he doesn’t believe in coincidence; he’s saying that he can’t bear to believe that people aren’t connected.

And then Aimee Mann sings “One,” and isolation comes crashing back down like a weighted shroud, settling over our mouths and hiding others from our sight.

“What Do Kids Know”: stylized interaction without real humanity. “Respect the Cock”: yearning for intimacy, but only achieving the semblance of same. “Oh — do you have Playboy? How about Penthouse? Do you have that magazine?”

When Phil Parma gives Earl Partridge the liquid morphine, he’s cutting him off from all contact. It’s the final blow, from which nobody can return. You can see it in Jason Robards’ eyes; he knows he’s leaving the world of humanity behind. He also thinks he deserves it. See his preceding monologue.

So in the following sequence, the “Wise Up” sequence, they’re singing to him. They’re telling him he can have absolution, if only he asks for it. It’s too late, yes, and he’s gone forever (mere moments before his son arrives to see him for the first time in years). But perhaps it’s not too late for them, and perhaps they are singing to themselves as well.

I’ll have to watch the whole thing before I can say anything sensible about the frogs.

Dreaming in pixels

Simone is a pretty good science fiction comedy, and I’d recommend seeing it before it leaves the theaters. I’d been looking forward to it for a while; Andrew Niccol directed Gattaca, which was one of the better SF movies of the 1990s. Since then, he wrote The Truman Show, confirming my belief that he has an understanding of deep SF themes.

One big difference between Simone and Gattaca is that Simone’s a comedy. Niccol had trouble getting into the rhythm of comedy early on, but fortunately he had Al Pacino (as Viktor Taransky) and Catherine Keener (as Elaine Christian) to smooth over those rough bits. The pair of them carry the movie over the early awkwardness, and the core themes of the movie take us the rest of the way.

Evan Rachel Wood, as Taransky’s daughter Lainey Christian, was not so good. I could have sworn she was in her twenties after seeing the movie, although she turns out to be just fifteen — but she plays the role very collected, very calm, and not really very much like a teenager. Come to think of it, several of the performances could be best described as “detached.”

That might perhaps be Niccol’s direction. Gattaca was very stylized and detached, and of course in some ways The Truman Show was a movie about detachment, so I’m willing to suspect that he brought that tendency to Simone. Again, though, Pacino and Keener humanize the movie, giving it the connection to the audience that a good comedy needs.

The ideas at the core of the movie are sound. Don’t expect accuracy of technology — even if we had the ability to do what’s depicted in Simone, the technology wouldn’t propagate in the same way. It’s a metaphor of a movie, not to be taken totally literally. (Which doesn’t make it not SF. See also The Space Merchants, for example.)

What’s the metaphor about? Identity, of course. The question at hand is not “will people be fooled by Simone,” but “what is Simone in relationship to Viktor Taransky?” It’s probably no surprise that I was fascinated.

I hope Andrew Niccol decides to make more comedies, and I hope he learned from watching his actors — his themes are always fascinating, and working in the comic genre gentles the sharp angles which his scripts all seem to have. But either way, I’m going to continue looking forward to everything he does.

Much to my surprise

I’m among the top ten Google results for google://aimee+mann+lost+in+space. I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear! But since it’s done, I suppose I ought to be providing the poor seekers some sort of a review.

It is moody, even for an Aimee Mann album. Where Bachelor No. 2 was infused with a rather Paul Thomas Andersonesque sense of wistful hope, or at least the willingness to take chances, Lost in Space is sung from the perspective of someone who’s taken the chances and fallen hard. In that sense, it’s a return to the bitter pessimism of I’m With Stupid.

Not, mind you, that it’s an uninterrupted sequence of angstful love songs. I find myself listening to “Guys Like Me” a lot, which is a paean to the kind of guy who gets told “We’re such great friends.”

The music itself, however, continues in the stripped down mode of Bachelor No. 2. It’s gentle, without the heavy production of I’m With Stupid. At times I miss that era, but it’s hard to begrudge Aimee Mann her shimmering rhythms, and she finds more than enough variance to keep my interest.

In short, it’s not the same as any of her other albums while still being very much an album by Aimee Mann. You’ll find what’s probably a better review here.

Full Frontal probably goes down

Full Frontal probably goes down as a daring failure, but I can’t fault Soderbergh for experimenting. The problem is mostly that the experiment doesn’t have a center. The cinematographic tricks work well, and the acting is solid. But when all’s said and done, the lines between strata of reality have been blurred to no visible end.

Reign of Fire

Reign of Fire was bad on so many levels. It was good on one level: exceptional effects. But the people were stupid, they had stupid plans, the biology was fairly insulting, and just oh geeze.

I’m not really the type to bitch about military deployment flaws and so on; I’m not a military history buff and I’d be a poor strategist. Same goes for my biological knowledge, actually. So when I realize I’m shifting uncomfortably in my seat due to the flaws, and when I realize that the logical holes have eaten up the fabric of story and I can’t care what happens to the characters because I don’t believe they could possibly wiggle themselves into their on-screen situation, it’s a bad sign.

The dragons were exceedingly pretty, and there were three excellent scenes involving oral tradition.