Category Archives: 2000s

Zoolander (2001)

*. While I can appreciate that they do have talent, work hard at their craft, and are “really, really ridiculously good looking,” let’s face it: male models are kind of funny. Give “male model” a bit of a push and you don’t even need any jokes. Just have Derek Zoolander doing one of his trademark pouts (Blue Steel, Ferrari, or Le Tigre) at the camera and otherwise have him being dense. That’s all the joke you need. That’s the movie.
*. There is more to Zoolander. Lots more. But even though this movie is only 87 minutes and has an overload of plot (which might have been influenced by Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, a novel I actually liked at the time) involving Derek being brainwashed by a cabal of evil fashion designers into killing the Malaysian prime minister, it’s all just running hysterically in place. Ben Stiller plays Zoolander, and he also co-wrote and directed, but despite the fact that he’s a very funny guy he’s upstaged here throughout by Owen Wilson as his fashion rival/bosom buddy Hansel and Will Ferrell as the mad designer Mugatu. Throw in more, way more, cameos than you can shake a press card at, and Ben/Derek actually disappears a bit from his own movie.
*. Which I think a good thing, on balance, since there’s no there there. That’s on purpose, of course, but it makes it hard to get that interested in whatever Derek’s up to. I’d also add that I found his voice to be really annoying. That might have been deliberate too, in the way that you wish models wouldn’t talk because whenever they do it’s like what legendary porn critic Al Goldstein called spiritual bad breath.

*. Twenty years later, I don’t think the funny stuff holds up that well. Which, given the talent assembled, is disappointing. It’s sketch comedy where only a few of the sketches work. The brainwashing stuff, which I guess was riffing on The Parallax View, was the best. Otherwise, there’s not much going on. Christine Taylor as the straight girl is reduced to just being a cutaway for far too many reaction shots. David Duchovny’s hand model wasn’t interesting. And to be honest, the clips included with the DVD from the VH1 Fashion Awards were just as funny as anything in the movie itself.
*. That final point leads into another thought I had watching the DVD. I was amazed while listening to the commentary track to find out how much of the material here was worked and reworked for years. They had all sorts of ideas, like a climax on Mount Rushmore and stuff about Derek’s father (Jon Voight) having been a model himself, that didn’t make it in. Given all they left out, you’d think that what was included would only be the best stuff, but with comedy I find that’s not always the case.
*. What’s left today are the memes. “Obey my dog!” “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. Not much, but enough for some good box office and the catchiness of the name alone pretty much guaranteed a sequel.

Collateral (2004)

*. I started off having a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against Collateral. The hitman Vince (Tom Cruise) shoots his first victim, which causes him (the guy he shoots) to fall through a window right on to the hood of the cab being driven by Max (Jamie Foxx) that’s parked in the alley outside? As coincidences go, isn’t that a bit silly?
*. After a while though I started to get into the spirit of things. Coincidences like the falling man were going to keep coming, building up to Vince’s final target being Max’s earlier fare, who just happened to leave her business card with him after he made an absurd bet with her that his route would get her to her destination faster. If he loses, there’s no charge! And this is a long taxi ride. No wonder Max isn’t getting ahead in life. And what was he supposed to get if he won the bet anyway? What sort of a bet is that? And sticking with bets, how come the guy who knows everything about Miles Davis didn’t know some basic trivia about his life that Vince did? Come on.
*. In other words, this is a fantasy or dream, all taking place on the weirdly empty streets of L.A. Instead of other action thrillers, it made me think of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. Vince is the sort of weirdo who belongs in such a setting: a man with no past or future, given to spouting platitudes about how nothing really matters in life anyway, and nobody cares about anyone or anything. This makes him comfortably indifferent about killing, which he likens to just “taking out the garbage.” Critics praised Cruise for being chilling, but while I did like his performance, I didn’t take Vince seriously for a second.
*. I mean, a better plan, after smashing Max’s cab, would have been to kill Max and get another cab to finish the job with. Cab drivers do get killed by their fares and Vince would have had time to finish his night’s work before the police started putting things together. Vince also wouldn’t have had to deal with any of the hassle of dragging Max around as an unwilling accomplice. But then the dream logic of the film goes into effect. Max later asks why Vince hasn’t killed him and Vince responds that their fates are “intertwined” through a process of “cosmic coincidence.” So there.
*. It’s silly, but somehow it still works. I think in part because of the way the fantasy plays off the look of the movie, not to mention director Michael Mann’s usual Mann-erisms. The music-video interludes and what Will Self called the ubiquity of “cards ‘n’ chords” all fit with the dreamlike flow of the film. As do clichéd moments like Vince’s dangerous-man-not-looking-for-a-good-time walk across the nightclub/disco floor. What was the first movie to do that? Nighthawks? It was before The Terminator anyway.
*. More than Mann’s contribution, however, I credit Cruise and Foxx for a pair of great performances. I really don’t think they had a lot to work with in terms of the script, but Cruise projects a wonderfully bemused sort of professionalism and intelligence, while Foxx (outrageously nominated as Best Supporting Actor by the Academy) takes us on Max’s arc in a way that makes him seem somewhat believable. An arc that concludes in his getting rid of his glasses, showing that Clark Kent has now become Superman. Playing alongside, Mark Ruffalo and Jada Pinkett Smith are both disposable (I would even rate Pinkett Smith annoying) as plot place-fillers. The movie doesn’t have any time or interest in them, and neither did I.
*. So: a violent dream-vision of L.A., put forward with talent in most departments. I honestly had trouble understanding if Cruise was dying at the end or just falling asleep, but I think that might have been the point. He may still be on that train, going around in circles and popping up in sequels or a reboot. That’s the ultimate L.A. metaphor of the dream factory in action.

Hamlet (2009)

*. I didn’t care for this production of Hamlet. It’s very much a filmed play, of the Royal Shakespeare Company for the BBC, and I didn’t like it as a movie or as a play. So there’s a lot of blame to go around.
*. At first sight of him I thought I might like David Tennant as Hamlet. He has a shaky, neurotic look to him in his inky cloak. Then, when he gives his “too, too solid flesh” soliloquy it seems as though they’ve set it up so that he actually will melt, resolve, and whatever into the mirrored black floor (apparently borrowed from a Vegas casino). The way he bends over and then kneels down was at least suggestive of such an idea. But nothing in the direction or camerawork, which is pedestrian throughout, tries to sell such an image and in the end I’m not sure if anyone was aware of it. It’s not mentioned on the commentary or the “making of” featurette.
*. Alas, Tennant wore on me very quickly. I found him antic and annoying when he (or Hamlet) wasn’t trying to be. Look at the way he works his face in the grave scene, for example. It’s all bug eyes and a stretched mouth, the sort of big emoting that works on stage but looks almost grotesque on screen.

*. Wardrobe also lets him down. It’s a problem presented in any modern-dress production of Shakespeare: how do you render important cues in the play for antique styles of clothes? What does it mean when Ophelia talks of Hamlet appearing to her with his garters undone and his stockings down around his ankles? Well, here it means he changes out of his mourning suit and into jeans and a t-shirt.
*. And it gets worse. The t-shirt has a really awful muscle-man print on the front, which I can’t imagine a modern-day Hamlet (or David Tennant) ever wearing. It makes him look silly and goes against the producers’ desire to not want the costumes to be “distractingly modern.” That shirt is as distracting as you can get (though it may be better than the Superman t-shirt they were originally thinking of). Then there are the jeans. I hate Hamlet in jeans. And he even has them on at the end for the fencing match with Laertes! Who fences in jeans? And he’s barefoot too! It’s like I’m watching a rehearsal for a Little Theatre production.

*. The fact that it remains a filmed play means the few somewhat creative decisions fall flat. There’s a use of CCTV cameras throughout, but to no good purpose aside from underlining the obvious point that everyone is spying on everyone at Elsinore. The idea of Hamlet using a handheld camera to film himself and others (notably Claudius during the Mousetrap performance) is good, but I didn’t think it worked well in practice. As with the security cameras they should have either tried to do more with it or not bothered.

*. One-way mirrors are used in several scenes, in the same way as they were employed in Branagh’s film. I doubt Branagh was the first to introduce them but I wonder who can make that claim. In any event, I thought the CCTV cameras might have been used here as a substitute in those scenes, but I guess they didn’t feel comfortable with that.
*. I don’t want to give the impression that this Hamlet is all bad, though even at a trim three hours I can’t say I enjoyed myself much. There were some nice touches. Ophelia finding a condom in Laertes’ luggage. Gertrude indicating that she knows Claudius has poisoned the drink she was offering to Hamlet before drinking it herself. Claudius’s wonderful shrug as he quaffs the same poisonous drink at the end. Because at that point Why not? I was reminded of Patrick Stewart’s turn at the end of Green Room, and he may have been thinking of how he played this scene there.

*. I thought the cast were quite good. Stewart is great playing both Hamlet Sr. and Claudius, which makes perfect sense (they’re brothers after all) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done before. Oliver Ford Davies is excellent as Polonius, though he seems to be old enough to be Ophelia’s grandfather, an impression added to by his seeming to suffer from mild dementia. Penny Downie and Mariah Gale as Gertrude and Ophelia are both very good in what are difficult roles.

*. Still, I can’t rate this as anything but a disappointment. Tennant doesn’t seem out of his depth so much as out of his proper element, and the rest of the cast get no help from the director. I think I might have liked this on stage, but for some reason they seemed to really want to make a filmed play and so that’s what they got. Given the talent assembled that’s an opportunity missed.

O (2001)

*. That’s O as in OJ. Or Orenthal James Simpson. That Odin James, the star athlete here, has the same initials is surely just a coincidence.
*. I jest. The parallels between the Simpson case and the story of Othello were obvious and much remarked upon at the time this film came out (the Simpson trial concluding in 1995). It’s clear that the makers were plugging straight into it. And yet . . .
*. And yet listening to the commentary by director Tim Blake Nelson and the interviews with Nelson and the cast included with the DVD there is no mention whatsoever to O.J. Simpson. I find this to be a conspicuous omission and I’m not sure what explains it.
*. The other big headline tie-in for O was the school shooting at Columbine, which happened in 1999. That’s after this movie was filmed, but since it happened just at the time it was going to come out, the release date had to be pushed back over a year.
*. This (school violence) is a subject Nelson does talk about, and at one point during the commentary he even specifically compares Odin and Hugo to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the Columbine killers). The thing is, where the O.J. Simpson connection is obvious, and I think significant, I don’t see anything meaningful in viewing O as a story relating to school violence. Is that really what this story is about? I don’t think so.
*. Whatever the subtext, I think this is an intelligent adaptation of Othello that works on most levels. Othello is Odin James, a star high school basketball player. Iago is Hugo, son of the coach (“Duke” Goulding, “or The Duke, as he is called”). Desdemona is Desi. There’s a handkerchief. Some of the lines are closely followed but translated into the vernacular. Like: “Reputation? Who gives a fuck about reputation?”
*. There are of course some changes, but I thought most of them made sense. Hugo, for example, is motivated by jealousy over his father’s love of Odin. This is believable and helps simplify the play in a way that was probably necessary. And while Hugo’s plan at the end is overly complicated, at least he has one. I’m not sure Iago had any vision of where all this was getting him.

*. One change I didn’t care for, or understand, was the business with the doves and the hawk. This struck me as laboured and unclear. Odin is a hawk (because he’s not like the other birds, being the only black student at this school), but Hugo is also a bird of prey among the innocents. Whatever. I never cared for John Woo’s birds either.
*. Another thing I didn’t “get” was the introduction of the date-rape scene. There is no corresponding event in the play, and it’s presented so awkwardly here that it makes me wonder why they bothered.
*. Here’s the set-up. Desi and Odin escape on a planned getaway to a motel. In order to have sex. In case there is any doubt about consent, Desi makes herself clear before things get started: “I want you to do what you want with me. I want you to have me however you want. I want to give myself to you the way you want me. Don’t hold back.”
*. They do have sex. Desi gets on top for a while, then they settle into some basic missionary. At some point she asks him to stop, though it isn’t clear what he’s doing that she objects to. This later leads to a discussion over whether what happened was date rape.
*. The interpretation of all this is difficult. For what it’s worth, Desi is emphatic that it wasn’t rape. But I couldn’t figure out why they introduced such muddy waters in the first place.
*. The cast is decent, with the exception of Josh Hartnett’s performance. That’s not to say Hartnett does a bad job, it’s just that the way he plays the part of Hugo seems wrong to me. And I’m assuming that was by design.
*. Is this just a matter of taste? After all, many reviewers found Hartnett’s understated approach impressive, and Nelson praises the performance as expressive of “charm and intelligence.” But I still think it’s a mistake. The thing is, Hugo really has to come off as someone who is well liked and capable of inspiring trust in others. Think of how often Iago is described as “honest” in Othello. Does Hugo seem honest to you? I can’t believe anyone would trust him for a minute. Even the hapless Roger should have seen right through him.
*. This restraint is also expressed in the direction. At one point on the commentary Nelson refers to how “the feel of the filmmaking here is very determined, careful, deliberate, and rational as well,” in order to mirror Hugo’s plotting. That’s defensible, but again I think it works against what the film needs, which is a faster rhythm, pulling us along in the fateful undertow. Despite not being a long movie, it moves through a lot of plot at a sedate pace.
*. Julia Stiles seems to have been the go-to girl for Shakespeare adaptations at this time. She was in the Taming of the Shrew rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and a modern-dress Hamlet (2000) around the same time. I wonder if that was all by chance.
*. There’s a scene in English class where the kids are being taught Shakespeare. Obviously if they’d been reading Othello that would have been a little too obvious, so instead they’re doing Macbeth. But when the teacher gets upset at Hugo and Odin talking in class, she rounds on them and asks “Would either one of you care to name one of Shakespeare’s poems?” Why? Why would they be talking about Shakespeare’s poetry in a class on Macbeth? And while Shakespeare wrote two long narrative poems that had titles, his best-known poems are his sonnets, which didn’t have names, only numbers. This seems an odd slip for such an otherwise literate script.
*. It’s a hard movie to fault when you look at it piece by piece. As I’ve said, it’s a smart, literate adaptation. The performances are capable. The racial angle is effectively presented. Odin’s final lines, making a passionate appeal for some respect and not to be seen as a stereotype, are very strong and underline what I think should have been the main theme of the film. Hugo, however, sucks a lot of the life out of the proceedings and Nelson just doesn’t bring any spark to the direction. It’s definitely worth a look, but at the end of the day I can’t call it a success.

Hamlet (2000)

*. I’ve always thought the title of this movie should be Hamlet 2000. The year is that important.
*. The reason it’s important is because of the film’s major motif, which is media and communications technology. Cutting edge in 2000, so dated as to be obscure today.
*. There’s a scene that gives a good illustration of how far director Michael Almereyda wants to pursue this angle. After Hamlet has killed Polonius and lugged the old man’s guts from his mother’s bedroom we see him using a payphone in one of the Elsinore Hotel’s hallways, the corpse at his feet. When we cut to this I was wondering what part of the play was coming next and assumed he was calling his uncle to have their big fight. But instead he’s calling his mother and finishing up the previous scene in her bedroom.

*. In other words, there was no point in cutting to the shot of Hamlet with the body in the hallway except to play the rest of the scene on the phone. Why? Because this is a mediated Hamlet. The Ghost first appears on a surveillance camera feed. Ophelia wears a wire to her meeting with Hamlet. The Mousetrap play is a video collage Hamlet, who is an amateur videographer, cuts and puts together on his computer. Several speeches are played as answering machine messages or on speaker phones. Hamlet notifies Claudius of his return to New York by fax, and this is also the means used to send the challenge to the duel. It’s that kind of thing.
*. But like I say, the year 2000 also dates the film because of its heavy use of the technology of that time. Hamlet carries around a camcorder and is apparently shooting everything on tape. The “To be or not to be” speech is delivered while Hamlet is wandering through the aisles of Blockbuster. I know people today who don’t have any idea what Blockbuster, or, for that matter, a fax machine, were. And while phones are used a lot throughout the film, they aren’t cell phones, which had still not been widely adopted. People certainly weren’t filming with them, as they would by the time Almereyda made Cymbeline, when their new functionality would be given an essential plot function.
*. As with most modern updates of Shakespeare a big part of the fun is seeing how they’re going to play famous scenes in a contemporary setting. My favourite here is Hamlet listening in to Claudius’s “confession” while he’s driving Claudius’s limo. I thought that was neat.
*. What was odd about that scene is that we don’t get Hamlet’s “Now might I do it pat” speech, which is the main reason for introducing Claudius’s confession in the first place. It’s a cut that the 1964 Russian version also made and I didn’t understand why they left it out there either. It’s one of the play’s highlights.

*. There are a lot of stars but I have to say they don’t acquit themselves that well. They all sound like they’re fighting their delivery. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Shakespeare performed with so little music in the lines. I suppose they were going for something more natural, but whenever you do that with Shakespeare it just ends up sounding awful.
*. In addition, most of the performances are far too laid back. Liev Schreiber as Laertes seems like he’s been tranquilized. I didn’t understand him at all. Sam Shepard is the most unimposing Ghost ever. Kyle MacLachlan tries to just be smooth. Julia Stiles, who was the Shakespeare “It girl” at the time — she also starred in film adaptation of Othello (O) and The Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You) around the same time — is one of the few bright spots, but I didn’t buy her insanity here. It’s a really tough part though.
*. Bill Murray may be the most surprising name in the credits. He plays Polonius, and he doesn’t do very well either. He sounds like he’s working hard just to remember his lines.
*. A bunch of other names have nearly invisible parts. Paul Bartel, in his final role, is Osric. I think they only left him with one line. Jeffrey Wright is the gravedigger, but if you blink you’ll miss him. Really, we only hear him singing for a few seconds. And Casey Affleck is Fortinbras, who is only a face on the news.
*. I read somewhere that Ethan Hawke, who was 29, was the youngest actor to play Hamlet on film. I don’t know if that’s true. He’s basically a hipster Hamlet, very low key and scruffy and self-regarding. And I have to say that his hat really bothered me. I wonder if Ophelia knit it for him.
*. The action is set around Hallowe’en. Which I guess makes sense here, with the idea of ghosts rising up. For some reason Almereyda also played Cymbeline over Hallowe’en. I don’t know what the fascination is, as it doesn’t end up having much significance in either movie.

*. Were the television sets playing images from what look like burning Iraqi oil fields meant to have some deeper meaning? A breakdown of political order, the time out of joint? Just a visual correlative to the “blasts from hell” Hamlet mentions when he first sees the Ghost? I don’t know. I think I got the joke about his wandering through the “Action” aisle at Blockbuster while The Crow: City of Angels plays in the background. But was it that great a joke that they had to build this scene around it?
*. Despite all the liberties taken there isn’t much in the actual interpretation of the play that surprises. I suppose the biggest thing was having Gertrude drink the poison knowingly. But I’m sure even that had been done before by someone.
*. I wanted to like this one more, but it really is a slow-moving mess with no feel for the language and no dramatic highlights. The way the text is cut up and rearranged it’s both hard to follow and difficult to engage with. Was some of this intentional? I certainly never felt any sense of urgency about Hamlet getting his revenge, but maybe the point was that he didn’t either.

Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001)

*. The words “courtroom drama” go together because the trial process (civil or criminal), while quite dull in most cases, has an inherently dramatic structure in its quest for truth, with lawyers performing before an audience of judge, jury, and assembled media.
*. I don’t think Murder on a Sunday Morning, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, does anything special or new with any of this formula, but it’s a great story and hits all its marks.
*. A husband and wife visiting Florida are accosted outside their hotel and the wife is shot and killed. The police go looking for a Black man, and yes, as things turn out any Black man will do. They pull fifteen-year-old Brenton Butler off the street and the husband of the victim identifies him as the shooter. Butler is arrested and signs a confession. Luckily for him a pair of dogged public defenders (Patrick McGuinness and Ann Finnell) take up his case.
*. As I say, there’s nothing exceptional about Murder on a Sunday Morning as documentary filmmaking. Director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade just follows the course of the trial. He gets a lot of access from McGuiness, who candidly explains how he’s going about preparing and presenting the case. But there are none of the surprise twists or turning points that have become essential to true crime documentaries like this. Nor are there any stylistic flourishes. This lets us focus on the case itself.
*. One item that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the psychology of the false confession (no spoiler alerts necessary in letting you know that Butler didn’t kill anyone). Perhaps this was just because we’re meant to think that it was beaten out of him. But while Butler was beaten by the police, there’s usually more to a false confession than that, and it would have been interesting to dig into this a bit deeper. But then this isn’t a doc that goes beyond the story itself to interview experts on other matters.
*. The other point that stands out is just how bad the police were. My own sense is that when the police screw up like this it is less the result of incompetence or malice/racism than sheer laziness. Investigators like to take short cuts and get tunnel vision looking for the quickest and easiest way to wrap things up. As became clear in the cross-examination of the detectives working this case, nobody wanted to do any work. Just punching a suspect up and getting a confession was a lot simpler.
*. Every great documentary has to have at least one moment where you are struck in amazement. This doesn’t have to be a big, splashy moment, and in fact is often a bit of quiet but intense drama. That moment in this movie is the long shot of Butler’s face as his mother testifies, which is a scene of overwhelming emotion. It’s enough alone to recommend Murder on a Sunday Morning, and does more than anything else, even Butler’s quick acquittal, to restore a little faith in humanity in the midst of a dark picture of state justice. Because let’s face it: Butler was one of the lucky ones.

Manufactured Landscapes (2006)

*. When I first saw Manufactured Landscapes ten or so years ago I was impressed by the photography but thought it an awkward film. I wondered if it was about Edward Burtynsky or about his subject matter: the impact of industrialism on the environment. There’s no reason it can’t be about both, and it is, but it has trouble being about both in any depth.
*. Thus we see flashes of Burtynsky at work and hear his voice, but we don’t find out much about him or his attitude toward either his art or the industrial reshaping of the planet. He is deliberately (and I think, like most artists, wisely) quiet on the matter of his intentions and reluctant to offer up interpretations of his own work. And while what we see is eye-opening (Chinese factories, a ship-wrecking flat in Bangladesh, the building of the Three Gorges Dam), we don’t really learn much about the environmental issues involved since the emphasis is all on the images and not on any information in the form of voiceover or interviews.
*. Another awkwardness of the “neither this nor that”: it’s a movie made about a still photographer. So it’s film shoots of photo shoots, but we never really feel as though we’re seeing much “behind the scenes.” How did Burtynsky select these locations? What went into decisions like the perspective and framing of particular shots? Jennifer Baichwal’s director’s commentary fills you in a lot more on the political issues of shooting in China at the time, but that’s not part of the movie.
*. I’m happy to say though that re-watching it today I was more impressed, and none of this bothered me as much. The basic point is pretty clearly illustrated: that twenty-first century industrialization is a nightmare, creating a hell on earth. It’s hard to imagine people living like this. I’ve worked on a factory floor and to call it soul-destroying isn’t even the half of it. Watching piece-work being done here I couldn’t help thinking how this just isn’t something our species was meant for. We evolved to do this?

*. I also had to think of Adam Smith: “The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”
*. Except I wouldn’t want to say stupid. What I’d say is bored. The manufactured landscapes here recall another voice, that of Günter Grass in The Tin Drum. In that novel the cement pillboxes that are part of the German Atlantic wall defence system are seen by their creator as works of art (called Structural Oblique Formations), and perhaps the only works of genius of the twentieth century. They come with the subtitle Barbaric, Mystical, Bored. Another character, on hearing this, says “you have given our century its name.”
*. Burtynsky has an eye for this same aesthetic, and the structural oblique formations of mass industry. It’s not so much a movie about man interacting with nature (as Burtynsky says in the intro), because nature feels non-existent here, or is just there to be dug up and shit on. Instead, nature is that massive factory floor we dolly through in the nine-minute opening shot. The “Factory of the World” is what it’s called, and the workers later assemble outside for a group photo that not even Fritz Lang could have imagined. And while the apocalyptic vision of Metropolis has been expanded exponentially, for the workers it’s only Tuesday.
*. The photos show what the industrial sublime of an artist like Charles Sheeler, who made industry seem inhuman but pure, pristine, and coldly rational, has now turned into. Here industry, however gigantic and baroque, is messy, squalid, and dirty. I suppose some sense of mysticism attaches to it, but lots more barbarity and boredom. Meanwhile, the humans have become mere cogs in the machines. They seem almost like microbes feeding on an industrial corpse. Nearly twenty years later, I also had to wonder how many of these jobs have now been replaced by robots.

*. The anti-humanism is of a piece with the anti-naturalism of the film’s vision. This isn’t industry as man’s nature but operating as a force destructive of that nature. This also made the introduction of the Shanghai real estate agent seem out of place. What part does she play in any of this? She’s fabulously rich, but just another microbe. They were wise to cut the scenes of the stonecutter, included with the DVD. He’s an artist from a vanished world in more ways than one.
*. So it’s a movie that has really held up, packing just as much of a punch as it did when it came out. So much so that in 2018 Anthropocene: The Human Epoch wouldn’t have much to add aside from more spectacular imagery and a bit of voiceover.
*. What I miss here though is the other half of the equation. This is the story of mass production, but mass consumption is largely left alone. Obviously that’s not Burtynsky’s bailiwick, but I still found it a present absence. What we do see is Burtynsky’s photos being consumed, in their way, in art galleries. This forces us to see them as being as much a product as the steam irons and widgets turned out by the Factory of the World. Burtynsky even talks about this in the bonus material included with the DVD. Without oil and the industrial economy there wouldn’t be a movie like Manufactured Landscapes, not because there’d be nothing to film but because the film itself couldn’t be produced. I think it’s even called an irony at one point. But it’s also something darker than that.

Prince of the Himalayas (2006)

*. Shakespeare travels well. Othello has been relocated to the Wild West (Jubal) and The Tempest set in outer space (Forbidden Planet), so why not play Hamlet in Tibet?
*. If nothing else, you know you’re going to get some nice scenery. And indeed the scenery and the native costumes are the main attraction here. The elaborate headwear alone is worth the price of admission. At least, if you’re into that kind of thing.
*. As for the Shakespeare, it’s middling. The basic plot and characters are all in place. Prince Lhamoklodan returns home to find his father dead and his uncle, who is now king, married to his mother. He reignites a romantic relationship with Odsaluyang (Ophelia), hangs out with his friend Horshu (Horatio), is visited by the ghost of his murdered father, vows revenge, and ends up killing Odsaluyang’s father Po-lha-nyisse (Polonius). Odsaluyang’s brother Lessar (Laertes) comes back and there’s a duel and everyone’s dead at the end.

*. A lot of the dialogue is recognizable too, at least as it is rendered in subtitles (apparently it was done in Tibetan, which means that almost everyone who sees it will be reading subtitles). There’s a terrific moment in the scene where Lhamoklodan (Hamlet) asks his mother to compare the pictures of his father and his uncle. In Shakespeare, Hamlet describes his father as having “Hyperion’s curls, the front of Jove himself, an eye like Mars, to threaten and command, a station like the herald Mercury New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill.” In the movie he’s said to look “like a heroic yak.”

*. Other differences are intriguing. In the first place, the Gertrude and Claudius characters here were lovers before Gertrude married Hamlet Sr., and the old king was a right bastard. When he found out that she’d been fooling around with his brother he became abusive and inflicted upon her “the cruelest punishment.” I’m not sure what this amounted to but it seems to have involved some kind of sexual violence. Complicating matters more, Hamlet is actually Gertrude and Claudius’s love child, conceived before she married Hamlet Sr. When he found out about that he planned on killing them both, but Claudius got him first by way of a poisoned lap-dog.
*. All of this has the effect of making Claudius (his name here is Kulo-gnam) a far more sympathetic figure, while the ghost of Hamlet Sr. is an evil spirit just looking for revenge.

*. The other big change is that Lhamoklodan and Odsaluyang fully consummate their love and she is pregnant when she kills herself. Indeed, she gives birth in the river she drowns in, with her baby being rescued by a witchy wolf-woman who looks like one of the Weird Sisters dropped in from Macbeth.

*. I suppose purists might take exception to all this, but I found these new twists on the old tale to be fascinating. They turn it into a new story, but at the same time they also make you think of the old story in a new light. What if the ghost really was just a bitter shit? What if Claudius wasn’t such a bad guy?
*. Of course, the changes mean that the ending becomes something very different. Hamlet now has a death wish and a Laertes to kill him, while Claudius is actually trying to kill Laertes to save Hamlet. Nobody is thinking straight, but the upshot is that there’s a final message that is all about forgiveness and reconciliation and not revenge. A new hope arises as the wolf woman brings out the baby, which also means there’s no need of the Fortinbras character (an Amazon queen here) to be reintroduced.
*. In sum, this is a movie that I think anyone interested in adaptations of Shakespeare will want to hunt down. It is not a great movie. Director Sherwood Hu strikes me as being a little too fond of the historical costume-drama stuff. He doesn’t do action sequences well, and tries too hard to cover up for the fact. Nor does the score help much at such moments (the music accompanying the fight over Ophelia’s body as it lies on its spirit boat at the shore of the lake seemed particularly inappropriate, at least to my ear). Some of the editing struck me as bizarre, as though much more had been shot and big chunks had then been taken out.
*. Still, it’s Hamlet. In Tibet! And it works and it’s new.

The Incredibles (2004)

*. The Incredibles was a big hit for Pixar at a time when they were a studio that couldn’t go wrong. It spawned a sequel and is still fondly remembered by many. Looking at it with fresh eyes (I didn’t see it when it came out, so mine are virgin) was its success justified?
*. Basically Mr. Incredible is a Superman-type hero who marries Elastigirl, who is stretchy like Reed Richards. They have three kids who also have superpowers: Violet can turn invisible and generate a protective forcefield, Dash is the Flash, and there’s a baby with so-far untapped potential.
*. After a legal meltdown (something similar would be used for the Marvel Civil War plotline) The Incredibles, now known as the Parrs, take up new identities as suburban nobodies. But Mr. Incredible still wants to play the hero and soon finds himself enlisted by a mystery man to do various jobs. Until it turns out that the mystery man is actually a supervillain with a grudge against Mr. Incredible, leading to a climactic battle that draws in the whole family.
*. Acknowledging that this isn’t the kind of thing I’m interested in, I have to say that even so the story let me down. I didn’t find anything about it interesting. The villain is a Bond rip-off (his base is even in a volcano), and aside from one scene where Elastigirl got caught in a series of doorways I didn’t think any of the action was imaginative or new.
*. I also didn’t care much for the animation. Lots of big eyes and plastic-looking faces that double-down on making the characters look like dolls (or toys). I actually found myself enjoying the end credits the most, which were done in the more traditional cel-animation style.
*. But then all superhero movies today are basically CGI animation anyway. The battle with the deathbot at the end here looks nearly exactly the same as the fight with the giant starfish creature at the end of The Suicide Squad. A blockbuster movie today is CGI. It’s not just a tool but what the medium of film has become.
*. Of course there is the usual family-friendly message to it all. They even hit you over the head with it at the end as Dash exclaims “I love my family!” And that’s fine as far as it goes. But I thought there was a more annoying subtext.
*. The point I think they want to make is that being different is good. This is much the same idea you get in Marvel movies. The X-Men, for example, have to overcome society’s prejudice against mutants. But then there’s the extra turn of the screw that wrecks everything. The mutants are actually homo superior (as Magneto has it). Difference isn’t just to be celebrated; being normal has to be despised.
*. This is very much the point being made here. The Incredibles try to fit in but normal life is so boring and normal people so awful. I mean, they aren’t just losers, but they’re bitter about it. They’re like Mr. Huff at the insurance company, or Dash’s teacher. But most of all they’re like the villainous Syndrome: the wannabe superhero who turns heel. He has no actual superpowers so he invents his own. But nerds aren’t allowed to crash the superhero club. That’s a genetic lottery, and normies have to stay in their lane.
*. Is this the sort of message a kids’ movie should be presenting? As I say, it’s one thing to say it’s OK to be different, but quite another to slag someone who is only average as being behind a sinister conspiracy of mediocrity.
*. There were also some stereotypes thrown in that made me shake my head. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) seems not far removed from old-school ethnic humour. And why is Elastigirl upset about what her middle-aged ass looks like in spandex? If she can stretch herself into any shape she wants, why doesn’t she give herself a butt lift?
*. I did like the voice work of Craig T. Nelson as Mr. Incredible and especially Holly Hunter as Elastigirl. And though I don’t care for the style of animation it’s certainly polished and easy to look at. So if it’s your thing then have it. But it’s not mine, and I’m not sure the messaging stands close examination.

30 Days of Night (2007)

*. Some opening text tells us we’re in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun goes down in the winter and then stays down for a month. A perfect vacation spot for vampires then. As their leader says on arrival “We should have come here ages ago.” This made me wonder how long these vampires had been alive, or undead, for. At one point centuries are mentioned. So why hadn’t they thought of this “ages ago”?
*. Maybe they just didn’t like the cold. And, in their defence, I don’t think any other vampires had thought of an active hibernation in the Arctic tunnel before. It took author Steve Niles to come up with the idea, which he pitched to various studios. After not getting any bites the story was picked up for a run of comic books which made it an easier sell. Sam Raimi, for one, was impressed and was originally slated to direct before taking a role as producer.
*. Fun facts: (1) Barrow is now known as Utqiagvik; (2) it actually experiences 66 days of polar night; (3) it has a population today of roughly 5,000 (not the 563 on the town sign).

*. Basically this is a zombie movie, as the vampires are undead flesh eaters (or vampire/zombie virus carriers) who can only be stopped by decapitation or extreme head trauma, and the survivors of the vampire/zombie onset do all the usual zombie-apocalypse stuff like barricading themselves indoors (“stay in your homes, lock your doors, and load your firearms!”) while the shit goes down outside. The action scenes also look a lot like what we got in 28 Days Later, which had come out five years earlier. Lots of that herky-jerky movement that helps sell the violence. Which is too bad, because there’s some decent gore here that I wish they had played straight.
*. Josh Hartnett (Eben) and Melissa George (Stella) are the cutest couple in Barrow, possibly ever. How could they be on the outs? So again with the cliché of the couple who are going their separate ways, though no one can understand why, brought back together by adversity. I seem to be seeing a lot of this lately. Totally by coincidence, because the movies I’ve been watching have all been made at different times. Sometimes that just happens.
*. This particular reconciliation is heavily weighted in Eben’s favour. Usually both parties admit to having made mistakes. Here it’s only Stella who says “I’m so sorry, baby. I should have never left you.” To which he has no reply. Apology accepted, I guess. Not that we have any idea what she’s talking about.
*. There are a lot of gaps like that in the plot. And I don’t think that’s a problem for the most part. I didn’t want to know any of the vampire back story, or who the guy was who arrived with them. In other places though it felt like big chunks of the film had been cut, leaving some confusing gaps. One case in particular is the scene where everyone is together in the diner and then the vampires attack and tear the town apart and then you see Eben and Stella coming back to the diner. It really feels like something’s missing there. Also I didn’t know why Eben’s asthma inhaler is introduced a couple of times and nothing at all is done with it. Maybe this is all explained in the comic book, which I haven’t read. So.
*. Another part that had me scratching my head was Stella pulling a gun and sticking it in the back of the Stranger’s head when Eben confronts him at the diner. Eben is impressed that someone working for the fire marshal’s office is packing. I wasn’t, but I was shocked at how quickly that escalated. Wasn’t Eben still in control of the situation? Was the Stranger armed? Pulling a gun on him like that seems like a huge overreaction, especially as Stella’s sure Eben could kick the Stranger’s ass.

*. I wish they hadn’t had the old man in there who was losing his marbles. He is the weakest link, and only introduced to give us an idiot to operate a bit of idiot-plot business. Why do they let him go to the bathroom by himself, telling him only not to flush toilet so he won’t make any noise? They know he’s not all there mentally. Being an idiot isn’t, or shouldn’t be, contagious.
*. Hartnett and George are young, attractive, and capable of looking very serious. That’s all they have to manage. Danny Huston, affecting a widow’s peak in homage to Lugosi, does quite well as his usual all-purpose, low-rent bad guy.
*. Huston’s character is called Marlow. I got that from the credits. Does anyone call him Marlow in the movie? It seems a literary sort of name for a critter that speaks some made-up language with little resemblance to English. I guess he was Marlow in the comic and we were just supposed to know that. That happens. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange never says where the movie’s title comes from. You’ll only know if you’ve read Burgess’s book.
*. Ah, movie magic. They weren’t shooting out in the cold, which may explain why you can’t see anyone’s breath, and why characters can get away hiding underneath houses for days without freezing to death. The film was shot in New Zealand, and that’s not real snow. It’s not even real night either, as it was mostly shot day-for-night.
*. Nevertheless, it does score some style points. I love the appearance of the death ship (at least that’s what I assume it is) that the vampires arrive on at the beginning. And the overhead shot of the town massacre is a nice touch. Hey, they were trying.
*. It’s easy to poke fun at a movie like this, but to be honest I really enjoyed it. It’s rough around the edges, but for a splatter flick it’s tense, tight, and comes with a fairly original premise. Not a classic then, but I can call it a guilty pleasure.