The Lives of Others

My father hosted a poker night at the house Tuesday night, and rather than sitting around listening to a bunch of old guys talk about being old guys, I decided to go to the movies. I was a little surprised to see that this film was still playing over at the AMC, given that it's a foreign-language film that no one has heard of, even after it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Lives of Others is a German film set in the mid-1980s, four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's about a member of the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, charged with spying on a Western-educated writer, Dreyman, and his friends, including his actress girlfriend, Christa, with whom a high-ranking member of the East German government has become infatuated.

Wiesler, the Stasi agent, is a by-the-book, straight-laced member of the socialist party, but he quickly becomes fascinated by this writer's life, so much so that he begins to fudge his reports in order to extend the assignment. He even goes so far as to covertly interfere with the lives of Dreyman and Christa, but why?

It really is a fantastic movie and I can see why it won the Academy Award, even though in my heart of hearts I still wish it had gone to del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. But I totally recommend The Lives of Others. Very intriguing, complex film. Great acting, great directing. Two thumbs, etc.


Battlestar Galactica season finale

Holy frackin' shit.



Based on the Stephen Hunter novel Point of Impact, Shooter is about a retired marine sniper, Bob Lee Swagger, who quit after his spotter was gunned down when the two of them were left for dead, deemed expendable, by their superiors.

Swagger is pulled back into the world when contacted by some shadowy government suits who want his help in planning a presidential assassination. Apparently, there's someone out there who has put a hit out on the president, and these fellas need Swagger's help to figure out how the assassin plans to pull it off.

Things, of course, go wrong.

Before he knows what's what, Swagger finds himself on the run, accused of attempting to murder the president, with no one to turn to except the widow of his spotter and a rookie FBI agent. Together, they race to clear Swagger's name and unravel the conspiracy surrounding those aforementioned shadowy government suits.

Shooter was directed by Antoine Fuqua, the man behind one of my favorite films, Training Day. Fuqua executes this film was impressive precision. It's tension-filled, with the requisite twists and turns, and a generous helping of explodo.

The cynic in me enjoyed the conspiracy theory aspect of the plot, which I think was handled in a relatively realistic manner. And who doesn't love it when bad guys go boom? Shooter is definitely a fun ride, akin to the shoot-'em-ups of, say, the 1980s and early '90s, but with a denser plot and more layered and intriguing characters. Some of them, anyway.

Point of Impact was the first in a series of Swagger books, and there's a fourth on its way later this year. I wonder, depending on Shooter's box office, if they're planning on turning this into a franchise for Mark Wahlberg, who handled himself quite nicely. The former Marky Mark has really turned himself into a fine actor, capable of holding his own whether it's action or drama. Looking at his IMDb page, he's been in a lot of my favorite films, from The Basketball Diaries to Three Kings to The Departed. It's getting to the point where I'm really looking forward to whatever he does next.



I went to see the new CGI Ninja Turtles movie this afternoon with my sister and her children, and we ran into her brother- and sister-in-law and their children at the theatre, so all eight of us sat together. Four adults, four kids, four guys, four girls.

The children, as near as I could tell, enjoyed the movie. I'm sure my sister and her sister-in-law were mildly entertained, while my sister's brother-in-law and I were in agreement, I believe, as to the silliness of the plot. Which is not to say the movie wasn't enjoyable. It was a fun, though relatively nonsensical joyride of nostalgia.

The animation was, for the most part, fantastic. Very stylized and detailed. The turtles, Splinter, the big stone statues they had to fight, they all looked very, very cool. The human characters, on the other hand, looked a little ... off. They resembled the characters from The Incredibles, only not quite as polished. I realize animating people is one of the toughest things to do in CGI, but I think they could've spent a little more time on them.

There's a great fight scene about halfway through between Leonardo and Raphael, and an almost great fight scene toward the end between the turtles and a shitload of Foot Clan ninjas, but there aren't enough close-up shots of the fighting, and it's over way too quickly.

The plot was, well, some reviewers have said "muddled" or "confusing," and while I can understand those points of view, I will go another route and simply say that the main plot is just stupid. Not that it doesn't make sense in the world of the movie; it does, but it's just ... well, stupid. I can't think of another word to more accurately describe it. Stars perfectly aligning, monsters from another dimension, an immortal warlord from 3,000 years ago ... and no Shredder (think sequel). I guess I just wanted more ninja-y action and less bad sci-fi cliches.

A funny moment: there's a scene in which April O'Neil, Splinter and Donatello are standing around a table covered with dusty, old books, researching the film's Big Bad, and I half-expected April, voiced with perfect Buffy-ness by Sarah Michelle Gellar, to quip accordingly. It was a scene right out of Buffy, which, of course, I have on my mind because I've been watching the seasons on DVD, but even if I weren't, it was a pretty obvious comparison.

Incidentally, when did April O'Neil stop being a reporter and become a Lara Croft wannabe?

The turtles themselves were the same ol' characters from the previous films and the cartoons, which is fine. The familiarity was kinda nice, actually, but, to be honest, Michelangelo seemed a bit dated. I never much cared for his personality anyway, but he just seemed out of place in a 2007 movie, what with the "cowabungas" and surfer dude attitude. He was very early '90s.

All in all, TMNT was a nice trip down memory lane, and I'm certain I wouldn't be nitpicking the plot if I were my nephew's age. But I have to admit, I think I like the original live-action flick better.

But at least this sequel didn't have Vanilla Ice.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight

The first issue of the "eighth season" of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out yesterday. It rocks the Casbah.

Taking place after the ... incident (don't want to spoil it for those who haven't seen that final season) at the end of Season Seven, this 30-issue (give or take) "season" picks up the story of our intrepid heroes as they continue to fight the good fight against the forces of darkness, demons and young-adult-angst.

Only now, they're fighting globally.

The first four-issue arc (along with the last four-issue arc and various stand-alone issues in-between) is written by Whedon himself, after which he will oversee a rotating group of writers (just like the TV show) as we see what Buffy and the Scoobies have been up to in our absence, and what new Big Bad awaits them down the line.

Future writers include former Buffy TV writers like Steven DeKnight, Jane Espenson and Doug Petrie, and comic fan-favorites Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer and Jeph Loeb.

Click here for a preview.



300 tells the tale of the Battle of Thermopylae, during which 300 Spartan warriors (with some help from their Greek allies) held off the imposing might of the Persian army (accounts vary from between 100,000 men to well over a million), led by the world-conquering Xerxes, as seen through the eyes of acclaimed graphic novelist Frank Miller.

Zack Snyder's film version of 300 takes Miller's frank and brutal depiction of that ancient battle and, much like Robert Rodriguez's vision of Miller's Sin City, recreates the comic book nearly scene-for-scene as a living, breathing, digital painting, flesh and blood actors performing against brilliantly-illustrated, though ultimately unreal, sets.

And, much like Sin City, the effect is both beautiful and staggering. From the opening blood-spattered title frame to the animated ending credits, 300 is Frank Miller's world. A world of lavish and unnatural colors. A world of half-naked He-men hacking and slashing away at their nameless, faceless enemies until the skies and seas (literally) run red with blood. It is a world of honor and justice, a world in which Sin City's Marv would feel right at home, with his hulking gladiatorial frame and penchant for unencumbered violence.

300 is an impressive achievement, not only because of its record-setting $70 million opening weekend, but because it once again proves that, when handled with the proper care and respect, great comic books can become great films.

Art is art and literature is literature, regardless of whether the story is told with prose or with pictures and word balloons.



(I'm at work, so this might be kind of rambly.)

Why does the media feel that it's ok to report on major events and plot points in comic books? Do you ever see the media, newspapers, CNN, MSNBC, etc., report the big twist in a new movie or novel? Did the media spoil the end of The Sixth Sense? So why is it ok to spoil comic book storylines that have been brewing for months?

This morning, the New York Daily News (I think; it could've been the Post) had an article about a major event in the new issue of Captain America, #25, out today. Now, both MSNBC's and CNN's websites have stories about it, too. I don't understand the notion that because the story is taking place in a comic book, it's ok to reveal the ending. You don't see that anywhere else. You're not told the ending of a movie, even in reviews. You're not told the ending of a novel or a TV show before you read or watch it. But comics, fuck comics, they're just little nothings for kids, right? So we can treat them and their readers like crap.

And why do the comic book companies leak plot points to the media or give them advance copies of certain issues? Don't you owe it to your audience that they'll get to find out what happens in the comic by reading the comic? I mean, Christ, how many people who don't read Captain America give a shit what happens to the character anyway? Why is it necessary to tell the world what happens before the people who actually care, the comic book readers, get a chance to read the comic?

I mean, if you read Captain America and you picked up a copy of the New York Daily News this morning, they just fucking ruined the comic for you. Just, what the hell, y'know?


Last night's BSG

So, um ... who else thinks Kara Thrace is a Cylon?


Movie Night '07

::UPDATE - 11:45 AM, 3/04/07::

Thanks to all who came last night. I hope everyone had a good time.

To those who couldn't make it, we'll see you next time, perhaps.


If you didn't get an email concerning Movie Night it's because you either don't live in Omaha or I don't have your email address. Anyone who wants details, drop me a line.


Done with the dentist

I've been going to the dentist for the past month, the first time for my first checkup in, well, years, and the subsequent three visits were for cavities (Okay, so it had been many, many years). And now I'm finally finished ... until after the semester, when I get to have my wisdom teeth yanked out because they, too, are cavity-riddled.

Let this be a lesson to everyone. Dentists are our friends.

I'm not sure what the total amount of snow we got yesterday is. I could look it up, I guess, but I don't rightly care. We got a lot. I took a few pictures yesterday morning and tossed them up on my flickr page. The poor dog couldn't go outside for a while, because the snow was up to her head in places.

I don't remember the last time I had a full snow day. I think last year, maybe, there was a half day due to weather, but I don't remember. Anyway, all I did yesterday was read comics and watch the first ... 10 episodes, I think, of season 3 of Buffy. Hey, it's not like I had anything better to do. Except maybe read for class and get ready for my two tests next week, but hey, that's what Sunday is for.

Unless I end up watching more Buffy.

I had totally forgotten that the Big Bad from season 7, The First, made its first (ha, kind of a pun there, or something) appearance in season 3, tormenting Angel with visions of his past victims. I was sitting there watching the episode, "Amends," and I thought to myself, "Boy, those guys with no eyes sure do look familiar."

I wonder if, during that third season, if Whedon knew he was going to use The First during the final season of Buffy, whenever that happened to be, if he was planning that far down the road. Wouldn't surprise me if he was. He's a smart one, that Joss fella.

Television writing fascinates me, the serialized nature of it. I mean, I love it. I absolutely love it. I grew up reading comics, which are serialized stories, monthly instead of weekly, but you get the picture (ha, comics, picture, I'm a riot). I still like short stories, stand alone episodes or issues, of course, as long as they reveal something about the characters. The story itself may not have anything to do with the longer, overall arc of the show or comic, but there has to be at least some character development going on.

That's why I don't care for shows like CSI and Law & Order. There might very well be some minor character development, but there's no bigger story to follow. It's all wrapped up, nicely and neatly, in an hour or two. For the most part, the characters don't change from the beginning of the season to the end. There's no arc for them to follow.

Speaking of arcs, there are some writers, I'm sure, who, when they start a season, have no idea where it's going to go and how it's going to end, which I honestly can't understand.

From a strictly storytelling standpoint, how can you tell any stories without knowing how you want the story to end? There has to be at least some vague, general notion, I would think. I find it extremely difficult to even start writing without knowing where I want my characters to be at the end. I may not know exactly how I'm going to get them there, that's the fun part (life is about the journey, not the destination), but I know where they're going.

Anyway, I have some phone calls to make concerning tomorrow night's Movie Night. It should still be a go unless the weather turns horribly worse in the next 24 hours, which it could very well do. This is Omaha, after all.