1 Thanksgiving Weekend, 3 Bad Movies

Recently the girlfriend was out of town, so I caught up on my bad science-fiction/action films that I knew were bad, but still wanted to see:

“Underworld – Evolution (Widescreen Special Edition)” (Len Wiseman)

“Ultraviolet (Widescreen Edition)” (Sony Pictures)

“V for Vendetta” (James McTeigue)

Starting from the premise that none of these movies are particularly good, I wanted to briefly share some of my impressions.

Underworld 2: Evolution

The odds that the sequel to a bad movie is going to be good are, to my best calculation, 1,213,288:1 against. And this movie does little to challenge those odds. Beyond Kate Beckinsale in leather so tight that it is practically painted on, the first film had bad writing, bad acting, murky fight sequences and a thin plot. What the first film did have going for it was an interested dynamic of class consciousness with the Vampires as decadent bourgeoisie in a campaign to control and hunt down the Werewolves, a kind of lower-class, proletariat group who were fighting back against their masters.

Ok, so I’m maybe reading a bit too much into the first film, but the background of class conflict was certainly a strong element, both visually and thematically in the first film. Which is what saved the movie from being a total write-off. Well, that and Kate Beckinsale being all Vampire chic and sexy.

Underworld 2: Evolution, loses any sense of class critique and focuses on an even thinner plot of brotherly love (the first vampire and the first werewolf were brothers you see, and the werewolf has been imprisoned for over 600 years and his brother, bad-ass original vampire, is going to rescue him from the prison that Kate B.’s father built which was why her family was killed in the first place, to keep the location of the prison a secret). So, we still have Kate in leather so tight it was practically painted on, even worse writing, same level of bad acting, an anorexic story, and fight sequences that are uninteresting, stylistically flat, and, oftentimes, so obviously computer generated that there are computer games with more life-like action. Don’t be fooled by the slick ads and brooding look to this movie, it is stupid and silly. Honestly, you get the feeling that almost everyone is going through the motions on this film, except, maybe, the art direction and the set builders. The castle and some of the other locations are detailed and interesting. Not brilliant, but obviously done with care and attention. Very little else seemed to have that kind of care.

Don’t bother unless you’ve a thing for Kate Beckinsale. Even then, I’m not sure it would be worth the cost of renting.

Ultraviolet

Disclaimer: I am a rather huge Milla Jovovich fan. And by that I mean verging into pissing-the-girlfriend-off-because-i-have-way-too-many-pics-of-her-on-my-computer territory. For those who haven’t heard her music, I suggest checking out her early album “The Divine Comedy” (Milla). While a bit derivative of Kate Bush, it is a solid album that shows a strong command of songwriting and musicianship. For those who doubt her acting, I would recommend taking another look at her role in “The Fifth Element” (Luc Besson), as well as recommending two other films: “The Million Dollar Hotel” (Wim Wenders) and “The Claim” (Michael Winterbottom)–which also stars the amazing Sarah Polly.

So, I am a bit entranced by Milla’s beauty and talent. That said, Ultraviolet is generally uninteresting and visually amateurish. If the computer animation was sub-par in Underworld 2, it is downright painful to watch in Ultraviolet. None of the actors are particularly bad, but the script and the direction give them no room for depth or subtlety. While the colors are bright and certainly bring to mind the film’s comic book progenitor, the fight sequences are choppy and demonstrate no finesse or skill. In fact, my problem with the action in a lot of action films is that fights are often edited so that the focus in on the point of damage (a sword thrust, a blow to the head, etc) and not on the overall arc of the fight. We don’t get to see skillful bodies in combat with one another. Instead we get an endless series of close-ups and cuts that separate the fight from the bodies involved with the fight.

When action films have crappy action sequences, there is very little reason to watch them. Combining bad action with a bad script, two-dimentional characters, and some truly awful computer animation, Ultraviolet is really only worth watching if you are a Milla fan who needs to see all her movies. But rent it from the cheapest video rental place you can find (because I would never suggest something as illegal as downloading it with bittorrent).

V for Vendetta

This film is a little different from the previous films because it takes itself very, very seriously. This is an action movie, but an action movie about deep, important things like freedom and individuality, democracy and the perils of capitulation. It is about revenge and about finding one’s own strength. It stands up for diversity (while portraying an all-white London with no overt mention of why London has, seemingly, no minorities – which of course means it is a film like almost all major Hollywood films that presents the world as white), while at the same time calls for people to rally around the central idea of democracy. Clearly, this is a movie meant to capture some of the themes we find ourselves living out in our real lives. The acting from the main characters is pretty good, and Natalie Portman has some challenging moments that she pulls off quite well. Steven Rea is good in that “I’m Steven Rea playing a hang-dog kinda character that you instantly trust and like” sort of way. He does nothing new, but he does it well. Even Hugo “Mr. Anderson” Weaving is pretty good as V, even though you never see his face. John Hurt, however, is over the top as the fascist, Hitler stand-in and brings nothing of the menace and evil that a man like that ought to possess.

This is a movie that is much more carefully executed, in terms of the script, the themes, the acting and the cinematography than either Underworld or Ultraviolet. Yet, V for Vendetta somehow leaves you wanting, like a Snickers bar when what you really want is one of those specialty chocolate bars with 80% cocoa and that is dark and bitter and that is so rich that two bites suffice to satisfy. The graphic novel by Alan Moore is a harrowing story and one that makes you question if the ends might, sometimes and in some situations, justify the means. Is the liberal response to fascism ever enough or is a more violent response required? V’s treatment of Evey is immoral, cruel, and sadistic, but in the end she is able to live “without fear.” I grant that the movie attempts to deal with these questions in broad strokes, but the problem is that these issues are rather finely wrought philosophical conundrums that have plagued humanity for most if not all of our history and broad strokes are not really capable of dealing responsibly with moral and ethical questions (cf. the Thatcher Administration as well as the Bush Administration).

(Alan Moore had nothing to do with the film, refusing to take even the option money and giving it instead to the artist of the V for Vendetta graphic novel. (Rich Johnston has a great article about Moore’s relationship to Hollywood over the years in his column “Lying in the Gutters.”)

Furthermore, the action sequences are again choppy and murky, disallowing any tension to build in the fight sequences. There is never any doubt that V will succeed . . . there is no narrative arc to the fights, just a bunch of slashes and acrobatic deaths. Boring.

V for Vendetta is not an outright bad movie, but there is also nothing that stands out as particularly worth watching. You would be much, much better off picking up a copy of Moore’s original than spending over two hours on this movie.

“V for Vendetta” (Alan Moore, David Lloyd)

So these were my holiday weekend movies. Do I regret watching them? Not really, but there are about a jillion things I could have done with my time that would have been more useful, more entertaining and more interesting. Hopefully, if you’ve been curious about any of these movies, these thoughts will help you decide if you too want to completely waste several hours of your life on films that don’t really deserve it.

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Thanks to Jo Cose

My thanks to Jo Cose for letting me use one of his photos as my header. I will eventually try to get some of my own pics back up there, but I really liked this one and was in the mood for something a bit more aesthetically pleasing than the polaroid snapshots.

You can check out more photos by Jo Cose at his Photo Blog.

Of Newness and Change

Starting Monday, I am the new Office Manager at Scenarios USA, a cool non-profit that is only about 10 minutes commute from my house. Woo-hoo!

I am writing this on my brand new, 17″ Intel Duo Core iMac . . . don’t worry, I’ll be selling my old desktop in order to help pay for this sucker, (which will only cover about a 1/3 of the cost) but the time seemed right given that I had decided to make the switch and that I’m starting a new job and . . . well, ok, there are no more good reasons except that I was tired of dealing with rebooting Windows and programs crashing etc. It’s weird that I didn’t download and install anti-virus software immediately upon setting this computer up. There is freedom in a smaller market share.

I do have to say that finding both free and “free” software (if you catch the distinction) is much trickier on the Mac and I still have a learning curve on how to really handle this OS, but in the long run I think the switch will be for the best. I would love to find a good skinning program to give me some alternate themes and looks to my desktop. If you have any suggestions for either gui tweaking software or any other software for Mac that you find particularly useful or fun, let me know.

And just a quick NaNoWriMo update: yes, I am behind in my word count. Considerably so. But I have not yet given up and am hopeful that the next several days I can get my write on.

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The Rich Richer . . . What a suprise!

Kevin Hall Reports

In 2004, the richest 1 percent of households – 719,910 of them, with an average annual income of $326,720 – had 19.8 percent of the entire nation’s pretax income. That’s up from 17.8 percent a year earlier, according to a study by University of California-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez.

The study, titled “The Evolution of Top Incomes,” also found that the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans – 129,584 households in 2004 – reported income equal to 9.5 percent of national pretax income.

However, median, or midpoint, family income rose only 1.6 percent between 2001 and 2004, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Federal Reserve. Median family real net worth – a family’s gross assets minus liabilities – rose only 1.5 percent during those four years.

Is anyone really surprised by this? You can read the rest of the article here:

The Rich Are Getting Much Richer, Much Faster Than Everyone Else

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Getting people to vote is only the beginning . . .

As it seems that actually counting the vote is going to largely a matter of guesswork and doubletalk. As companies install unsecure and glitchy voting machines in many parts of the country, we will no longer be able to have accurate voting records. Check out these links for more info on what’s going on and check your voting area to find out what kind of machines you will be using and what the problems with those machines might be.

Jon Stokes has a useful article on Ars Technica:
How to steal an election by hacking the vote : Page 1

CNET covers some of the issues involved in their 11/02 Buzz Out Loud Podcast:
11/02/06 – Vote for Paper

Rebecca Mercuri, Ph.D. covers a number of issues and problems with electronic voting over at Notablesofware.com:
Electronic Voting

A documentary about Electronic Voting is showing on HBO:
Hacking Democracy

Finally, ComputerWorld.com has a great state by state guide to e-voting issues.
E-voting state by state: What you need to know

If you know of any other good links about this issues or discover any in the next couple of days, please post them in the comments section. Let people know about these issues and make sure you note only vote, but that your vote is actually counted!!


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