Monthly Archives: August 2011

Super & Griff the Invisible

I just happened to watch two films with very similar plots, but completely different executions.  Unfortunately, neither were particularly good, but they both had their moments.

The first was SUPER, starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page.  The second major feature from James Gunn (the first being the utterly forgettable SLITHER), it follows a normal, meek guy who decides to be a super hero after losing his wife to a drug dealing bully named Jock (Kevin Bacon).  Ellen Page plays a girl at the comic book store who figures out his secret identity and begs to be his sidekick.

SUPER takes a pretty bold artistic choice in that nearly all the violence is portrayed as accurately and gruesomely as possible.  To the point that it’s almost always jarring and downright disturbing.  The commentary, of course, being that everything he’s doing is typical of super hero and action movies, but played out in reality the results are grotesque and far from exciting or glamorous.  Problem is, the violence is often so frank and up front that it just completely shuts you off from wanting to continue.  I have a fairly high tolerance for this stuff, but it was really pushing it.  I had pondered a movie like this before, but now I know it just wouldn’t work.  It’s not as poignant a tactic as you’d think it’d be.

But it is hard to really pin the film down as it wafts all over the place in tone.  Satirically funny, gruesomely violent, melodramatic, low key relationship comedy, and so on.  It’s a shame, as there are many great bits here and there, but they’re strewn out so far and wide that it’s impossible to enjoy it as a whole.

It was also hard to get into as I generally dislike Rainn Wilson as an actor.  I find him intensely unfunny and unbelievable.  And he’s really capable of just one kind of character.  And even then I don’t like him.

GRIFF THE INVISIBLE is an Australian film, and was one I had wanted to catch at the Berlin Film Festival, but it was always sold out.  Turns out, I wasn’t missing a whole lot.

The plot is similar in that it follows a meek normal guy creating a super hero character for himself to face up to bullies and the world in general.  This film, however, relies more on character and drama than intense violence and pipe wrenches to the forehead.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this started as a short film that was expanded on later, because the subject matter would work better as a short.  It’s difficult to string this story along to fill out 90 minutes.  Everything is nice and all, but the two main characters, Griff and his love interest, are deeper than they appear.  And the ultimate point is so on the nose and smarmy that you just end up rolling your eyes at the end.

They’re also both films essentially about some guys with serious mental issues.  SUPER, following a guy who has no qualms with brutally beating people for the most minor infractions (e.g. cutting in line) based on quasi-religious visions, and GRIFF THE INVISIBLE follows a guy who creates the super persona more in his head.  His prowling the streets at night fighting crime, and wearing invisible suits, exists solely in his mind and the rest of the world perceives him as a weird stalker.  SUPER casts anything that could be gleaned from that subject matter aside and instead frames it as a personal journey.  GRIFF faces it more head on, but also dismisses what are real mental issues as just a guy being misunderstood.  Of course, had they actually tackled those issues, both films would end up much more depressing.

I will say that SUPER is one of those films that somehow redeems itself a lot in the last five minutes.  There’s a monologue at the end that makes total sense and really pulls you in.  Not enough to make the whole thing palatable (it’s too violent to be enjoyed by most people), but enough that I didn’t finish it feeling totally annoyed.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire film was based around that scene.

SUPER: C-

GRIFF THE INVISIBLE: C

 

 

 

 

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Gamescom

When we knew we would be moving to Germany, going to Gamescom was one of the first things to go on our list of things to try and do while living here.  Gamescom is the world’s largest video game convention (they call it a festival).  That isn’t hard, there aren’t too many really going on.  E3 is the world’s most important, but it’s only open to “professionals” (I put professionals in quotations as I’ve been four or five times, and I’m not exactly a professional).  Gamescom, on the other hand, is open to the public.  There are a few halls for trade visitors only, but they’re tiny compared to the majority of the show.

The Koelnmesse is a pretty large convention center (but only the 3rd largest in Germany), and the show fills most of it’s 10 halls.  Compared to E3 though, this show seemed much, much smaller.  Since we knew it would be a pretty crowded show, we decided to buy a discounted evening ticket on Friday to scope the show out before we came for the full day on Saturday.

Unfortunately, it became pretty apparent that we probably wouldn’t be playing much while we were there.  Or seeing a whole lot either.  Despite being an international show, there was a lot more German than we expected (though every staff member we did speak to did speak perfect English, or course), so we could watch presentations but not fully follow them.

There were really only 3 different types of booths throughout the whole show.

1) Wait in line to watch/play one thing

Most of the booths were of this nature, and were the least accessible due to crowds.  The booth would have one large, usually enclosed space where, after waiting in long, frighteningly slow lines, you would go inside and watch a presentation of the game, or get to play it with a group for some amount of time.  The most popular booths were all of this variety.  The Blizzard booth had a large, completely enclosed space for people to play Diablo 3, and another viewable space for people to play Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft (why people would, I don’t know, the games are already out and weren’t previewing anything special).  The line for Diablo 3, which was probably Chris’ most anticipated title (because who knows when it’ll ever come out) had a 4 hour line.  I’m sure it could have been longer, but once it was full they would close it.  Meaning there were people hanging around in a kind of line…line.

Battlefield 3 was what I wanted to see most, but the line for that stretched well over 6 hours (and probably longer) and they would close it early in the day as, well, the line can’t really last longer than the operating hours.  There were two options for that game.  You could play the new Co-op mode on PS3, or play on the 64-player multiplayer map on PC for 18 minutes.  I would’ve killed to do the multiplayer demo, but I wasn’t about to devote a day to doing it.

There were plenty of other things we would have gladly waited a understandable amount of time for (Prototype 2, Modern Warfare 3, Batman Arkham City, Uncharted 3, PSP Vita, Borderlands 2, Zelda Skyward Sword, Assassin’s Creed, Deus Ex, etc.), but they all had a minimum of 2 hour lines.  And boy did they move slowly.  Lots of people brought their own chairs and entertainment, if that should be any indication.  Part of this could be because, for most of the titles, there were no time limits.  People could just play as long as they wanted, which means people are going to play as long as they damn well please.  If these had been limited to, say, 5 to 10 minutes bursts, lines would have moved much faster and more people would have had a chance.

The one thing we did wait for was Dark Souls on the PS3, the sequel to Demon Souls.  The line was short and only took 30 minutes.  But, like its predecessor, it is maniacally hard.  Nobody playing could get more than 1 or 2 minutes in before dying.  It’s designed to be brutal, but it wound up more frustrating as we had waited in line so long  just to be frustrated.  We did also wait in a Kinect demonstration line, as it was only 5 minutes long or so and we had never tried Kinect.  I was hoping to try the new Disneyland game (the titles were assigned randomly), but we got Fruit Ninja 3D.  It was certainly fun, but had slow response times.

2) Big stage with endless presentations

Many of the booths consisted solely of big stages where people would periodically come out, whip the crowd into a nice lather, and throw out free schwag.

Germans, apparently, go nuts for this sort of thing.  We happened to watch one such presentation at the 2K booth as we were under the assumption they would be showing some Borderlands 2 footage (if we knew more German, we would’ve know that was happening elsewhere, despite what the signs said).  Some guys would yell some things, the Germans would yell, pretty girls would walk around the stage, and so on.  But, man, when the free t-shirts went out, people would go absolutely ape-shit for them.  It was strange.  The Razer booth (they make gaming peripherals) was also quite popular because of this.  But maybe because they practically had strippers out on stage most of the day.

Still, it’s still vaguely unsettling to hear so many Germans yelling and waving their arms around in unison like that.

We did go to the stage at the Blizzard booth as they had advertised a “Diablo 3 demo” for noon.  Unfortunately, something must have been lost in translation as, instead, it was just four or five people in big costumes walking slowly around the stage for 20 minutes.  Chris was pissed, as he should be.  I sat it out, so I didn’t even know what was happening really.

3) Open areas with game demos strewn about

The big three all had booths like this, with some aspects of the above thrown in.  The Sony booth was a large open area split up into subjects (dance games, fitness games, sports games, etc.) with people to try.  They had two enclosed areas for people to try Uncharted 3 and the PSP Vita.  We had considered waiting for the Vita, but the line had no indication of how long it was and seemed to move very, very, very slowly.  We did try a Phineas & Ferb game on the Move, but it was nothing special.  Microsoft had no enclosed areas, just lots of places to look at stuff.

Nintendo probably had the most accessible booth of them all.  There was a line to play Zelda: Skyward Sword, which was understandable.  But otherwise there were just a bunch of available games to try without one big line.  As a result we go to try Kid Icarus on the 3DS.  It was alright, but the controls are not left-hander friendly.

These are the kind of booths I’m used to, as they’re most similar to E3.  Sure, some of the biggest titles need dedicated lines, but otherwise everything is just around to try out at your leisure.  And people respect unspoken time limits as a result of other people watching over their shoulder.  It’s just more pleasant.

On the second day the show was crushingly crowded.  To the point that, when we left in he early afternoon, they had shut the doors because the place had hit capacity.  Something like 62,000 people were inside at that point.  The hallways and show floors were absolutely packed.  There were several times where we got stuck in a sea of people and it took a long time to just move forward.  This, coupled with the fact that most Germans are assholes when it comes to this kind of thing, made it infuriating.

The food was also, of course, very expensive.  We didn’t buy any of it because of how we timed our visits, but it really was ridiculous.  The “vending” hall was also a disappointment as there was a grand total of two booths selling things.  Lame.  And, because Germany doesn’t believe in free water, there were no drinking fountains or anything of the sort to be found, meaning you could become dehydrated pretty easily.  Bottles of water were 3.50 for 250ml.  Insanity.

So, while we did enjoy it in a way, it also felt like a bust.  So much of the show happens behind closed doors it seems.  You have to dedicate your time to one or two things a day, otherwise you only get to walk around and just look at stuff from afar.  Or scream and home for a coveted free t-shirt.  Even if they had just made some large screens available to watch the people who were playing, that would be better.  The NCSoft booth was a good example of this as you could watch people play Guild Wars 2 and such without having to wait forever to do so.  The Batman Arkham City booth was the most annoying in this respect as they purposefully put the people in the open, but the screens were aimed so nobody else could possibly see what they were playing.

We wouldn’t go back next year, that’s for sure (and hopefully we won’t be here to do so either).  But it made me really want to take Chris to E3 to see what it’s supposed to be like.  Hell, it makes me want to go to PAX even more now, as that looks far more civilized and fun than this could ever hope to be.  Whatever, lesson learned.

Captain America

CAPTAIN AMERICA isn’t the most compelling of superheroes.  For me at least.  Maybe it’s because his super powers aren’t really clearly defined (he’s super strong…and?).  Or that his powers just aren’t that interesting.  Maybe it’s because his back story isn’t that worthwhile.  He was a stand-up guy with a big heart, but tiny body, who got an injection to be buff.  There’s not much adversity there.  Really, if he didn’t use guns he would be most like Batman, but at least Batman has psychological problems galore.  Maybe it’s because I come from a generation separated enough from that era that I’m just not into all this patriotism.

Those thoughts aside, the movie itself ain’t too shabby.  It’s a kind of pulpy action goodness that we haven’t seen in a while.  The story may not be the strongest, but the action is solid enough to make that not an issue.  But, like with most every origin story, it moves a bit too briskly to really settle in with the characters.  And, really, much of Captain America running around doing what he does is montaged, or told from the point of view of others, or just generally downplayed.  I had the same problem with IRON MAN, we just don’t get much time with the character in focus really kicking ass.

Chris Evans is always solid and charming and charismatic, and he brings that to the table here.  But it’s not a performance to write home about.  Hell, if he was replaced in future films it wouldn’t exactly be a loss.  The other performances, however, are much better.  Hugo Weaving makes a fantastic villain, in case you needed a reminder since the MATRIX trilogy.  He plays the crazy as a focused crazy, and nothing bombastic.  Not an iconic performance, but a great one nonetheless.  Stanley Tucci is always fabulous, but is in the film too briefly.  And, of course, Tommy Lee Jones is a standout as always.  I sometimes think they don’t even give him lines, he just feels the scene out and ad-libs from there.  I wish he would do more comedy (comedy that’s not MIB 3).

So, while fun enough, it’s certainly not going down in history as anything amazing.  Seems the best super hero movie of the summer this year was THOR.  And, while THOR was good, it wasn’t anything spectacular either.

B-

Cologne & Düsseldorf

After a delay in getting our rental car (even though I reserved a car with automatic over a month ago, and checked with them in person a day early to confirm, they still couldn’t get one on hand in time) we hit the Autobahn and started driving west.

There’s a cluster of cities all closely grouped together in the western portion of the country.  The largest is Köln (aka Cologne) but there’s also Düsseldorf, Neuss, Wuppertal, Oberhausen, Bonn, Dortmund, Essen (which is German for food/eating.  I can’t imagine a US town simply named “Food.”  Then again, they also have a town named Schwein, which is German for “pig.”), and so on.  When you look at a map they look so tightly packed around each other compared to the rest of the county.  If I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because of the Rhine river.  But what do I know?  Really we were going to Cologne to visit Gamescom (more on that in a separate post), but I was equally excited to see another of Germany’s many notable cities.

Cologne is sort of like Germany’s San Francisco in that there are lots of young people, lots of hip, fun things to do, and a lot of gays.  It doesn’t share San Francisco’s good looks, however.  Not that it’s ugly, because it’s certainly not ugly.  It’s no Stuttgart.  But there just isn’t much to see.  Like most of the country, the town was bombed extensively during the war, so most of it is rebuilt.  But the downtown area is very cramped.  The main drag has very narrow streets, with very narrow buildings.  And it’s almost as if they don’t care about their appearance as most everything looks like it was built in the 60’s/70’s, and they haven’t bothered to update it.  The pavement, the public fixtures, everything is just unflattering.  Which is a shame.

But the downtown area definitely has a lot to do.  There are a lot of nice shops (like Stuttgart, there’s an explosion of H&M stores there) including the usual chains and some other interesting ones.  Closer to the river there are a lot of restaurants with outdoor patios, all offering Kölnisch beer, Cologne’s own kind of beer.

The big attraction though is the Köln Dom (Cologne Cathedral), that impressive looking structure pictured at the top.  It’s actually the most visited site in all of Germany.  It has the largest facade of any cathedral in the world, as well as the largest free swinging bell.  Something about it though makes it also look short and stubby, to me at least.  Standing at the front and looking up, it was certainly massive, but at the same time wasn’t all the impressive.

It took over 600 years to build (which is probably considered efficient in terms of German construction time) and has only been completed for about 130 years or so.  It was bombed something like 74 times during the war but managed to stay standing.  The theory was that, because the spires were such a good landmark for pilots, they avoided destroying it.

I’ve certainly never been a church this massive, and it’s more impressive inside than outside.  The ceiling just keeps going and going, and the stained glass windows up top are simply gorgeous.  There’s not much going on for much of the interior.  Once you make it to the rear of the church it’s lined with tombs and antiquities of different sorts.  Our visit was brief, but we perused what was there, as well as the crypt downstairs.  The most famous item is the Shrine of the Three Kings, the world’s largest relic, said to contain the remains of the three wise men.  It’s a beautiful gold thing, shaped like a cathedral, and lined with jewels.  Unfortunately, it was surrounded by scaffolding and such as we couldn’t really see much of it.

After that we drove out into the suburbs to check into the apartment we had rented.  Airbnb is great, and this is the fourth time we’ve used the service.  Almost always considerably cheaper than getting a hotel, and it’s nicer to have the personal touch of a host.  Not to mention a private residence is usually much larger than a hotel room anyhow.  Wanting to see as much of Gamescom as possible, we caught a streetcar and headed to the Koelnmesse (convention center) for the rest of the day.

The following evening, after getting a bit of rest, we decided to head back out and went to Rudolfplatz, which seemed to be the gay part of town.  And it was certainly the gay part of town, but that usually doesn’t mean much before 10pm, so we instead walked around looking for other things.  Because of Gamescom they had closed one of the streets and set up some stages with some live music.  We had eaten at an odd time that afternoon, which was unfortunate as there were so many restaurants in the area.  And they all looked so good.  There was a New Orleans diner that looked awesome, but we were in no condition for a full meal.  Instead we went to an Eiscafe and had ridiculous ice cream sundaes for dinner.  Because it’s vacation.

I had wanted to visit the chocolate museum, which is on a sort of mini-island on the banks of the Rhine, but the timing didn’t work out.  Which is fine, I was probably more interested in the gift shop than anything else.  There’s also a mustard museum somewhere in town.

So Cologne was certainly nice, but there’s just not a whole lot to see there.  I’m sure living there would be great, as there’s lots to do over a long term.  But as far as visiting goes.  Meh.  It was just OK.

The next morning we drove to Düsseldorf as I wanted to visit one of the other nearby cities before we headed home.  If Cologne doesn’t care much about it’s appearance, Düsseldorf is the exact opposite.  It’s a beautiful city, expertly manicured, with lots of style.  There’s a long running rivalry between the two towns, and ask any German what they think of people from Düsseldorf and the first thing they say is they “look down their noses at you.”  It’s a snooty place, very rich, and with a lot of arts and media companies.

We parked on Königsallee (pictured above) and just wandered since we knew nothing about the town.  And, it being Sunday, everything was closed anyhow.  But like most German towns, the central part is very compact and very walkable.  There’s lot of pretty buildings and upscale shops.  Tons of nice looking restaurants (a lot of them Irish pubs, for some reason) and is probably your best bet for sushi in the whole country as there’s a large Japanese population there.

The area by the banks of the Rhine was especially beautiful.  Lots of people hanging out, lots of little restaurants and boats with people drinking.  The weather was gorgeous this weekend (for the first time in a long time), so the Germans were out in droves drinking.  Even though it wasn’t even noon yet.

You may notice the top of the tower in the above picture is twisted.  No idea why.  We guessed poor construction.

There’s an iconic Frank Gehry building further down the river that I wanted to see as I love his buildings, so we drove in that general direction until we found it.  It seems like they put all their modern architecture in one corner as there were a lot of interesting buildings here.  One with colorful people shaped…things crawling all over it.  It was nifty.  We parked next to a Bentley, so this part of town must have been swankier still.

The Neuer Zollhof, like all the Gehry buildings I’ve seen in person, are fun to walk around.  There are three buildings next to each other.  One brick, one white plaster, and one stainless steel (pictured above), all in the same wavy style with the windows sticking out.  Cool.

And that was it.  Tired and without knowing where to even really look next we hit the road and drove back to Göttingen.

So we’ve now been east (Berlin), South (Stuttgart, Munich), and west.  All that’s left is north, and I’d like to try and get to Hamburg and/or Hannover for a night or two before my train card expires in November.  Though, like all vacations, this cost more than I expected.  So who knows.  I’d also love to get to one of the islands in the north sea, as they count as part of our state so Chris can get to them for free.  And I miss the ocean.

You can view all of our trip photos through this link.

Travel is Afoot

Tomorrow we get up bright and early (i.e. 8am), pick up a rental car, and drive out to Cologne for the weekend.

Surprisingly, it’s much cheaper to rent a car and drive there than it is to take the train.  The fast train, for the both of us, cost between 120 and 150 Euro depending on the time of day.  And that’s with my 50% discount card.  Yikes.  A car for the weekend, on the other hand, was under 100.

Also, the train takes 4 and a half hours.  Driving should take two to three, depending on traffic and weather.

We’ll be going to see Cologne, of course.  But we’ll barely see it (supposedly there’s not much to see anyhow).

Really, we’ll be going for Gamescom.  Europe’s largest video games show.  And, unlike E3 (the American expo of choice), this one is completely open to the public.  I imagine it’ll be quite crowded.  But who cares.  Chris is quite excited to hit the floor and maybe get a chance to play some new games.

I haven’t decided what we’ll do Sunday yet.  Maybe we’ll see more of Cologne, if we feel like we’ve missed a bunch.  Maybe we’ll go back to Gamescom, if we didn’t get to see everything.  Part of me wants to go to Wuppertal to see the suspended monorail.  But we may go to Dusseldorf, a 20-30 minute drive north, and check our their downtown.  Because why not, I don’t foresee us making it back to this region of the country anytime soon.

Photos and a trip report will follow soon.

Doughnuts. Is There Anything They Can’t Do?

I remember when the first Krispy Kreme opened in the valley, the one in Van Nuys, we went out on a whim that week to wait in line and see what all the fuss was about.  Sounded fun, we’d never had a Krispy Kreme before, and we had nothing better to do.

We ended up waiting something like 2 hours just to get in and buy some.  We had originally planned on buying just a few to eat then and there.  But they passed out samples to those in line and, after tasting the absolute delicousness, and after putting all that effort in, I remember my mom and wound up buying maybe four or five dozen instead.  Could the three of us possibly consume that many donuts?  Debatable*.  I spent the next day or two shuttling the remaining stock around town to friends so I could share our bounty.  It’s a good memory, and I’d love a Krispy Kreme right about now anyways.  People starting giving them crap in the ensuing years for some reason, but there’s still nothing better than eating a glazed fresh off the line.

Then I read about the first Krispy Kreme that opened in Bangkok this past September.  Like Los Angeles, there was quite the frenzy.  But, of course, they took it to a whole new level. The line averaged five hours or so, stretched a quarter mile, and some poor sod waited for a whopping 27 hours just to get some donuts.  Yikes.

Then again, Texans just demonstrated we’re still just as gullible for a beloved brand in a new territory.  We take it to our own whole new level and instead do it while sitting in running cars.  This video of the drive-thru line for the new In-N-Out in Texas will explain.

There aren’t really donuts here in Germany.  Not in the same way.  There are pastries a plenty, to be sure.  Germans love bread.  Bread bread bread, they adore it.  There’s a bakery chain here in town called Ruch that make Starbucks look restrained in their location placement.  And sometimes they attempt to make what looks like a donut.  But then they’ll fill it with pudding.  Not custard, but pudding.  It’s just not right.

They have another dessert pastry thing called an Amerikaner.  I’m always tempted to say that, as an American, I’ve never seen one of those before.  And, after trying it, I can tell you we’re not going to start eating them in bulk anytime soon.

But the big cities do have Dunkin’ Donuts.  Berlin had quite a few of them.  And Chris and I went several times if just to be reminded of home.  So I’m sure when we go to Cologne this weekend we’ll be hitting up the Dunkin’ Donuts and Pizza Huts big time.  Why else do you travel in Europe, right?

 

*the correct answer is yes.  Yes we could.

Win Win

 

I wish I had gotten the chance to see WIN WIN sooner, because it’s easily one of the best movies of the year so far (though it is still early).  Tom McCarthy, director of other great films like THE VISITOR and THE STATION AGENT, has such a gift for capturing real characters, real emotions, and real relationships.

Because all the ingredients are there for something really cloying and formulaic and schmaltzy.  Middle-aged guy seemingly disillusioned, troubled teenager, and sports.  So much here can go veering off the road into Hallmark card territory, or in the other direction into handling things too darkly.  Instead McCarthy steers it all so deftly that it’s hard not to be genuinely taken in by these believably flawed characters.

I’d even venture to say that the character of Kyle, the aforementioned troubled teen, is one of the most authentic portrayals of actual teenage behavior ever put on screen.  Same goes for the other kids in the periphery.  Nobody is one-note, nobody is a caricature, nobody is an uncontrolled ball of irrational emotions (which we seem to think all teens are all the time).  And the relationship between Kyle and the men in the film is equally authentic in showing the ‘ol homosocial bonding.  There’s nothing here that has even the slightest whiff of being inauthentic.  It’s the way many dramas should be.

A

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

I like Morgan Spurlock.  SUPERSIZE ME has become an important documentary, his series 30 DAYS was engaging and interesting, and I also think he’s not a bad lookin’ guy.  Met him once, he’s a nice guy too.

But something about THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD just falls flat.  It’s not that it suffers from preaching to the choir syndrome, like a lot of Michael Moore’s work.  But, instead, it’s just not that novel.  Getting a movie about sponsorship sponsored is a concept worth a chuckle, but the appeal kind of ends there.

Because, like one of the teenagers he talks to mentions, you either already have an awareness of how advertising works and how much it has permeated everything, or you’re assuming the audience is stupid.  And while it never treats us as stupid, I think it also realizes it just doesn’t have that much to enlighten us with.  Nothing is shocking or appalling or really gets you fired up or tired of advertising.  Maybe that’s because his sponsors wouldn’t like it, but they had no final say over the content anyhow.

There are some interesting bits.  His trip to Sao Paolo, Brasil, where outdoor advertising has been banned altogether, is the smallest bit eye-opening.  A sprawling metropolis, completely devoid of ads, is odd to see.  Probably because that much blank space has become aesthetically unappealing.  Fill in that space with something!  Artwork, graphics, benign text, something!

And why no discussion of political advertising?  That’s another hot topic in this area that deserved at least the smallest bit of covering, especially when talking about artists who don’t allow their work in ads at all.  David Byrne should’ve been all over this thing, what with his lawsuit against Charlie Crist for using Talking Heads songs in campaign ads.

I digress.  It seems like the only questions the film raises, for me at least, is why isn’t it raising more questions?  And for a documentary like this, that’s not a question that should be asked.

C

Exporting Raymond

EXPORTING RAYMOND is a documentary that follows Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom creator Phil Rosenthal as he travels to Russia to oversee their adaptation of the show.  It came out on DVD this week.

And, much to my surprise, it’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year.  Seriously.

Besides the fact that it’s just generally hilarious, it’s also disarmingly charming, sweet, and fascinating.  How do you translate a sitcom like that?  What does Russia find funny that we don’t and vice versa?  Is there much to translate at all, or are we exactly alike?

I think adaptations are wonderful.  More often than not people like to dump on them as if they’re a lazy cop-out to creating something original.  Beyond the fact that there’s really nothing truly original anymore (and there hasn’t been for centuries), what’s so bad about bringing something to a new audience?  Every time a foreign film or property is remade by Hollywood people’s knee-jerk reaction is always “what’s wrong with the original?”  “Typical Hollywood.”  And so on.

What’s wrong with the original?  Nothing.  The original is probably great, that’s why we want to adapt it and share it with more people. Doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down or cheapened (though a lot of the time it is, but still).

Subtitles seem to freak people out in America.  Or at least that’s what people think.  Americans are far more tolerant of subtitles than the rest of the world.  I think dubbing would freak people out even more as we’re not used to it outside of bad Kung-Fu and Godzilla movies.  Here in Europe, and elsewhere, they dub everything.  It’s easier, and they’re used to the lack of lip-syncing.  They admittedly don’t want to read.  And even I sometimes just don’t want to deal with subtitles.  It’s understandable.  It makes sense.

I’m getting sidetracked.  A remake or adaptation does make something more commercially viable, obviously, because of the language and actors.  But culturally it’s also fascinating.  And it wasn’t until only recently that we starting exporting this kind of stuff.  The sitcom The Nanny has been made all over the world over and over.  The film Sideways was recently remade in Japan.  This is interesting to me.  I live to share, and an adaptation is bigger form of sharing for me.  Maybe it’s why nearly every time I write, or am tempted to write, it’s an adaptation of some kind.  I may have a dearth of original ideas, but I find I have more to say, and am better at saying it, using the structure made by others anyhow.

So, yes, for all of this and more I found EXPORTING RAYMOND to be engrossing.  It doesn’t hurt that Rosenthal comes off as a genuinely interesting, charming, and all around nice guy.  Almost anti-show business.  Even though that’s his business and it’s what he battles in the film.  A pleasant surprise all around.  Please do check it out.

A-

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Pictured: Tea Party Rally

While not best film of the year by any means, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is easily the best summer movie of the year so far.  Not that I’ve seen too many, but it’s been a rather disappointing year (but not as bad as everyone is making it out to be in my opinion).

Smart, thrilling, well directed, and just generally pleasing all around, it’s definitely worth seeing.

Now, the only other Apes movie I had seen was Tim Burton’s remake, which has rightfully been all but forgotten by the world already.  I have never seen the originals, and I don’t feel very compelled to either.  But it feels like part of a canon, without ever making you feel like you’re truly missing out if you’re in the dark on the rest of it.

That being said though, there are many notes throughout the film that don’t quite hit right.  The repeating of the iconic line from the original (“Get your hands off of me…”), for instance, is terrible.  But the moment that immediately follows is surprisingly, well, surprising.  This is not the kind of movie I was expecting to give me multiple moments of genuine pause and surprise throughout.  But it did, and I’m glad they were able to lift up something that could be so schlocky and cheap into something genuinely interesting.

Other questionable notes include major changes in character attitudes for no real compelling reason, small bits of ape posturing that seemed all too on the nose, and Freida Pinto’s character being altogether pointless.  She could be removed from the film altogether and you’d never notice.  Which is a shame, as I do like her.

Also of note, the German title is “Planet der Affen: Prevolution,” which I really like.  I’m surprised the made-up word Prevolution would translate here as they don’t use the prefix pre- like we do.  But it’s an interesting title.

B+