Archive for July 2009
I’ve been thinking lately about what an impossible, impressive task it is to successfully adapt a book, any book, to an effective screenplay. Scenes that are taut and gripping on paper can come out flat onscreen. Lengthy expository monologues have to be condensed to two lines and one musical crescendo. You have to obliterate one character and completely rewrite another. And, if you’re doing Harry Potter, you have 500 million fans waiting outside your apartment with bats and bricks.
As a second introductory note, I’d become convinced by midway through The Prisoner of Azkaban (that’s the third movie, you Muggle) that there was no way the Harry Potter films could ever match the Harry Potter books, even on their own merits. Put another way, I figured a Harry Potter movie could reach a certain level of quality, but would never keep you from muttering “This was told so much better in the book.”
Which is why I found myself so surprised that I fricking loved Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Steve Kloves, who’s been the adapter for each of the HP scripts, has grown past his slavish scene-by-scene reconstructions that hampered the first few movies. He feels freer now to take the essential elements of the story, and just work out the best way to string them together in movie form. It’s best to see this movie without the book fresh in one’s mind; then again, it made me all the more impressed to recognize how he tinkered and swapped and fiddled to get a cohesive story together. Small additions, like the opening scene where Harry flirts with a Muggle barista, make the whole thing seem more grounded and realistic.
The three principals have gelled together quite nicely over time. Rupert Grint is now the comedy specialist; Daniel Radcliffe inhabits the Harry Potter character much more fully than when the whole enterprise started. Emma Watson is great as well, though in this movie Hermione’s lovesickness is condensed to the point that she’s sometimes a disappointing blubbering mess. (Side note: I like a girl with some curves on her, but I am putting Emma Watson right next to Keira Knightley on my Hot Waif List™.)
David Yates, meanwhile, is proving the best of the Harry Potter directors – no wonder they’re sticking with him through the final four movies. He strings together interesting shots, edits together a fantastic montage showing Harry’s first encounter with the Half-Blood Prince, and to quote another reviewer, is the first director to “really GET Quidditch.”
The rest of the film’s strength lies in the supporting cast, which has been true of every Potter film, from Kenneth Branagh’s Gilderoy Lockhart to Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge. (This episode’s big-name guest slot goes to Jim Broadbent, who knocks it out of the park as visiting professor Horace Slughorn.) Some of the fellow students do surprisingly well, too; young Evanna Lynch continues to make me giggle as Luna Lovegood, who sports an expanded role from the book. (Don’t we all know a loopy girl just like her?) After being the obnoxiously EEEEVIL student for five films, it’s a relief that Draco Malfoy gets to display some complexity, too.
It’s a shame that other supporting players, including Hagrid, Lupin, and Tonks, get brief screen time. But it’s a testament to this rich fictional world that it feels so natural for them to come and go in the background, just as people do in real life. (Another clever shorthand: Kloves abbreviates the entire Lupin-and-Tonks love story to a single instance of one calling the other “sweetheart.”)
Okay, there’s a few gripes and flaws in the adaptation; this isn’t the best picture of the year or anything (though it’s probably the best big-budget movie of the summer). I’ll repeat that direct comparison with the book is unwise, but there’s at least one major demolition (to be intentionally vague) that serves no obvious purpose. And Harry’s behavior in the climactic scene makes much less sense than it did in the book when he’d been Stupefied.
Still, I grinned almost the whole way through. Having recently finished the 7th book, I was instantly impatient to see the next installment – and though it’s a transparent move by Warner Brothers to grab as much money as possible, it’s still quite a relief to see that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is being split into two movies. Every movie in this series has been superior to the one previous, and they’ve finally won me over.
It’s crossed my mind before that 1999 – spanning my 3rd and 4th years of college – was a damn good year for movies. Just ran across this list, and realized how amazingly right I was. Some of these movies made me cry from their goodness.
I put a star next to movies that I would consider in my personal "top 100." Eight in just one year!
(Lifted from No Kubrick Movie Is Just A Movie: 10 Years After Eyes Wide Shut)
Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut
Terence Malik, The Thin Red Line 
George Lucas, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 
The Wachowski Brothers, The Matrix
David Cronenberg, eXistenZ
It’s like The Matrix with fleshy placentas instead of machines.
David Fincher, Fight Club*
David Lynch,The Straight Story
Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich* 
Michael Mann, The Insider
Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia
Respect the cock.
Sam Mendes, American Beauty* 
Robert Altman, Cookie’s Fortune
Alexander Payne, Election*
M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense
Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, The Blair Witch Project*
Brad Bird, The Iron Giant*
Guy Ritchie, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Steven Soderbergh, The Limey
"Say General Zod again."
Mike Judge, Office Space*
Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run*
Julie Taymor, Titus
John Lasseter, Toy Story 2
David O. Russell, Three Kings 
 I cheated. It was released in Oscar season 2008.
 Not saying it was good, just momentous. Plus camping out for tickets is one of my happiest memories.
 The first studio movie for both Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman.
 Written by Alan Ball, who has gone on to create Six Feet Under and True Blood.
 Ice Cube and Marky Mark can act!
Kings is an awesome show.
This is pretty much my little secret, since my wife and myself seem to be the only two people on the planet who actually watch the thing. It had crap ratings starting with its premiere episode, and NBC quickly axed it; after a multi-month delay, it’s finally burning off the rest of the 12 episodes at 7:00 on Saturday nights, where none but those with the most prepared of DVRs will see it. (Fingers crossed that it doesn’t end with some epic cliffhanger that will never ever be resolved.)
Kings takes place in an alternate universe where supreme-commander, divine-right royalty is still the way of the world. The story is set in Gilboa, an analogue to the good old USA, with the incomparable Ian McShane as King Silas. McShane’s Al Swearengen on "Deadwood" was maybe the best single character in television history, and he stays in fine form migrating the same bad-ass king-of-the-castle vibe to a much more literal setting.
Kings takes place in kind of a modern Old Testament time, where God is an active participant in the goings-on (the king literally makes a deal with the devil in one especially creepy episode). Loosely following the story of King David – the pilot episode even features a Goliath – the show introduces a young soldier (David Shepherd! Get it?) who’s stuck in the trenches of a long-running warwith the evil neighbor-country, Gath. (Nice name, Gaaaath.)
David manages a morale-boosting bit of heroics on the front lines, and earns himself 15 minutes of fame and a trip to visit the capitol and meet the king. He finds himself thrust into the spotlight (where, big surprise, he falls for the beautiful princess). Various coincidences – some seemingly orchestrated by God himself – cause David to assume a role as Silas’s spokesman, despite the wishes of Silas himself, who sees David as a future usurper. A halo of butterflies is involved. Bear with me.
An ensemble cast populates the palace. Eamonn Walker takes on the Mr. Eko role as the spiritual advisor who, not three episodes in, tells Silas that he has fallen out of God’s grace. (That’ll spoil your lunch.) Character actor Dylan Baker, whose wormy screen presence always annoyed the crap outta me, finally clicks as Silas’s scheming brother-in-law, whose Buy-N-Large corporation has undue influence over the crown. Macaulay Culkin, of all people, guest-stars as Barker’s oddball son. Wes Studi makes for an awesome right-hand military man.
As though the producers knew their time was short, events move at a lightning pace through each of the twelve episodes, some plots proving too trite for one’s liking. The princess rivals Kim Bauer for her ability to get into trouble. Not unlike any given episode of Star Trek, it always seems to be the leads (David, and sometimes Silas’s jealous heir, Jack) who go out on the dangerous missions.
Look, Kings goes over the top into sillytown at LEAST once per episode, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for hating it. The old-timey dialogue doesn’t work as well as it did on Deadwood (though Ian McShane could read Laffy Taffy jokes and deserve an Emmy). The show is frequently pretentious times ten, and tosses out 24-style coincidences to tie everything together. In a word, it’s imperfect.
But you have to admire its ballsiness. It’s a high-concept show with a higher concept than any other I can remember. The simple premise of an all-powerful ruler in what by all other signs should be a liberal capitalist democracy is tantalizing. And I have a Mike Rowe-level mancrush on Ian McShane.
Somewhere during the 15 minutes of fame I also had my 31st birthday (one of the pretexts for the Lego trip in the first place). , by way of wishing happy birthday, featured me in his damn hilarious weekly blog post, "Spanish for Everyday Situations."
hujhax is LJ-friend locked at the moment, so I reproduced the post below. Check out http://hujhax.livejournal.com/tag/spanish for more weekly Spanish hilarity.
This week’s situation: "You have tracked down the person who stole your iPhone!"
Do you realize how much Lego-building time you’ve cost me?
¿Te das cuenta cuánto tiempo para construcción con Legos que me costabas?
You really want to keep a phone whose ringtone is permanently set to "The Final Countdown"?
¿Está seguro de que desea mantener un teléfono con un tono de llamada que está permanentemente ajustado a «La Cuenta Atrás Final»?
Of course I knew it was stolen. A lost iPhone would just naturally migrate to the nearest Starbucks.
Por supuesto, sabía que era robado. Una iPhone pérdido migraría naturalmente a la Starbucks más cercana.
‘Blackmail’ is such a dirty word. All I’m saying is, the built-in GPS told us the locations of your vicarage residence and your favorite strip club.
‘Chantaje’ es una palabra sucia. Todo lo que digo es, el GPS incorporado nos ha dicho la lugares de su residencia de párroco y su club favorito de striptease.
Every thief gets cocky. In your case, you used my Twitter app to post "omg I stole an iPhone" to my Twitter account, with a map link included.
Cada ladrón se engreído. En su caso, utilizó mi aplicación de gorjeo para enviar «odm me robaron un iPhone» a mi cuenta de gorjeo, con un vínculo de lugar incluido.
Don’t you feel any sympathy? I was disconnected from Facebook for literally hours!
¿No siento ninguna simpatía? Yo estaba desconectado de caralibro para literalmente horas!
Easy, now. It’s not like this is some amazing Korean smartphone that’s actually worth shooting somebody over.
¡Tranquilo! No es como se trata de uno teléfono inteligente coreano y increíble que vale la pena disparar a alguien.
Yes, I’ll let you finish this round of Flight Control first. I’m not a monster.
Sí, puedes terminar esta ronda de Control de Vuelo. No soy un monstruo.
Note: As always, these ‘translations’ are basically just Google Translator output, so corrections are welcome.