4 June 2007

Life is a great big bang-up— / Wherever there’s a hang-up, / You’ll find…

Posted in I don't wanna believe that all of the above is true, I'm a sweetheart genius reckless jerk, maybe everything that dies some day comes back, people you've been before..., this property is condemned at 12:07 am by indecisive79

Warning, spoilers (for multiple movies/shows, actually, but mostly just S3):

A friend of mine recently reported that people who had read the Spiderman comic books liked the third installation of the franchise better. Possibly. But the problem with Spiderman 3 wasn’t knowledge about comic books. (And I should note that I think comic book movies always have to be evaluated on how they hold together as movies; it’s OK if you understand more if you’ve read the comic books, and I’m certainly willing to allow for certain latitudes based on conventions that apply in the comic book genre but not really anywhere else, but they need to stand by themselves from (and be judged by) a narrative /film aesthetic perspective (and by the way, they actually can do this and still be (mostly) true to the comic book, if the comic book was a good storyline to begin with).) I’ve never read a Spiderman comic book, but I thought the first movie was great and the second was pretty good (perhaps it was these expectations that lead me to judge this movie so harshly, or perhaps that I’ve seen A Simple Plan recently; Sam Raimi just has too much talent to create this kind of film). However, the third was kinda-OK for nearly two hours until it became utterly unwatchable in the third act. The dialogue completely fell downhill, the New Goblin’s butler came in as a deus ex machina to completely change things around unrealistically, and they tried to end the movie on a sappy note in which everything turned out well (even the two deaths, one to an incredibly underdeveloped character, and the other a sacrificial death of someone seeking (and desperately needing) redemption, can’t really be called sad in any sense).* Remember the note of sadness, the tragic loneliness that was Peter Parker’s plight at the end of S1 (~ “I can’t get close to people b/c I’ll only put in danger those I love”) or the tension-filled relationship that ended S2 (Parker and MJ are finally together, but Parker’s commitment to helping people still is leaving a rift in the relationship, revealed in MJ’s only slightly forlorn “Go get ‘em tiger.”). S3 really had nothing like this to give a sense of the complication of life (except maybe the Sandman’s potential legal problems…).

But the real fault of the movie is that by the end of the movie, there was no real villain except a meteorite. A METEORITE! When a meteorite fulfilled a villain role in the Superman movies, there was Lex Luthor (or others) behind the employment of kryptonite, but in this movie, the meteorite, a malevolent force that nonetheless had no apparent personality of its own, temporarily ruined Peter Parker’s social life and ended up destroying the annoying kid (sorry, one of the many annoying kids) from That 70’s Show (for which it should be applauded, by the way), but that’s not enough to really make it the only villain.

The other possible villains really weren’t too villainish. As I said above, Venom/Topher Grace’s character was underdeveloped, and he was more the victim of circumstance than evil; he was really mad (who wouldn’t be) at Parker for stealing his blonde girlfriend (who, by the way, looked (and acted) much better as the blind redhead in The Village)**, but then that black goo fell on him, forcing him to become evil. The Sandman was too noble, trying to provide for his crippled daughter (how manipulative can you get!) and being himself a victim of a science experiment; the one man that he killed (if I remember correctly) was Peter’s uncle, which was an accident by a desperate thief (oh, and by the way, happened two movies ago, though we only found out about it now). Yes, I like complicated villains, but not utterly redeemable ones, which The Sandman becomes at the end (yes, the whole forgiveness motif at the end could have been a nice touch, but it is much more affecting/effective if that forgiveness isn’t so completely deserved; that’s certainly the Christian story, anyway; for a great vision of this kind of forgiveness, watch The Mission). And the best friend/New Goblin becomes Spiderman’s sidekick until he dies about fifteen minutes later (in both screen time and story time). So none of those three could be real villains. Leaving only an inanimate object. And for any kind of action or comic book movie to work, you have to have a villain. A real villain with an actual personality (and yes, inanimate objects can have personality if you try hard enough; take, for example, Frodo’s ring; the black goo, creepy as it was, didn’t have it). You can actually go pretty far without a real hero (say, for example, Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher), but not without a real villain. Some reviews claimed that the problem was too many villains, which @ the 1:30 mark I agreed with, but at the end, there weren’t enough of them.

*I think Joss Whedon is right about this: in order for a happy ending to work, there has to be a tragedy that the survivors go through, like the death of a well-liked, well-developed, good character (hello Anya, Wash, and the entire cast of Angel (OK, bad example, since it wasn’t that “happy” of an ending; it was quite cool, though, to see a show kill off nearly everyone (well, except Harmony and Lorne); in S3, Grandma Parker might have worked, perhaps, but I doubt it)).

**Which I only saw recently; it worked poorly as a “go ahead, try to outsmart me kind” genre of movie (but then again, I’ve always thought that way of watching a movie was rather childish, especially when otherwise very smart people do it), but interesting as a utopian attempt to solve/protect oneself from the potential dangers of living in society.

19 April 2007

When is a Bird not the Bird?

Posted in complications you could do without, I'm a sweetheart genius reckless jerk, man I hate playing vampire towns at 2:40 am by indecisive79

Whenever I go to a concert of any kind, I find myself imaging what it might be like to be able to stand up there and perform. I’ve had a certain amount of experience playing piano (badly) as well as rhythm guitar and djembe (competently, though still not with much actual talent) in my day, but I know that I could never be a performer in a real band. Why not? I could often come up with musical ideas and I was good with theory, but I could never force myself to practice. Thus, I never got good enough. And besides, I don’t think I could’ve handled the stage fright.

But these musings bring me to my inaugural concert review. I recently saw Andrew Bird. I won’t spend much time on the forgettable opening act except to say this: I suspect that Bird had her opening because her meandering, unpolished (in a bad way) set mirrored his own. There was only one good song (the only one that didn’t sound like all the others, just as in Bird’s set), and it was buried amidst a sea of slow, plodding, unimaginative melodies. We joked (though with some justification) that her opening song, with only voice and guitar, sounded as if it might actually be a soundcheck instead of an actual song. One bright spot, however: through earplugs, her voice sounded like Karen Paris of The Innocence Mission. Now if she could only get Karen’s husband Don to play guitar for her…

Andrew Bird, it turns out, is pretty good at playing the role of improv comedian. After one song, they had to pause for technical reasons, so he pulled out the ventriloquist-puppet-looking doll that he had been recently given and proceeded to describe it and its accessories (including a Bears sweatshirt, which garnered a lot of cheers). I think it was something he came up with on the spot, and it came off quite well. Unfortunately, it was the only real successful improv of the night. Heir to the real Bird he is not.

In one sense, my later comments might sound quite unfair and harsh, considering that I respect what Bird was trying to do and would love to see someone do it well. All but one or two songs featured attempts to present multi-layered sound loops through the use of a JamMan (or similar device). You can record several layers at the beginning of the song and bring them in and out on cue to fit in with the live instrumentals. It sounds great if you can pull it off, and I’ve seen it done well, most notably by Phil Keaggy and Christine Lavin. However, it’s also an incredibly difficult device to use, especially when playing with a band (although with just three members, they should be able to coordinate without too much trouble). Bird had to stop songs five times because he hadn’t quite mastered how to use the technology. Simple adequacy in playing your instrument is the bare minimum of what fans should expect when they’re shelling out anything more than five bucks, and they certainly didn’t get it at this show.

About two-thirds of Bird’s songs followed a very simple formula: cool violin-layered loops at the beginning, a couple verses with him playing riffs or chords on the guitar with the violin loops turned off, followed by a long drawn-out section where he improvs solo guitar over the looped violin. It was kinda cool the first two or three times he did it, but it got old quickly. The main reason: Bird simply can’t (or didn’t) improv very well. Some jam bands re-hash (pun intended) the same formula song after song for years, and it works because they are good enough musicians to make each song new. Take out the intricate new sounds of a skilled improviser, however, and you hear the same song for two straight hours. Occasionally something noteworthy would come out of these improv moments, but not often. The show just wasn’t musically-interesting enough to keep one’s attention for the entirety of a set. It seemed Bird was playing around in places he’d never been to before, and so was hesitant to do anything very assertive. This was perhaps most apparent in the most annoying part of the show: Bird’s vibrato whistling, which, while cool only on the first song but tedious thereafter, he seemed to throw in whenever he didn’t know what else to do. In fact, most of this show seemed like a warm up for the real thing, that the real tour starts tomorrow night, and the shows he’s been playing are mere practice.

This tour is apparently considered “green,” which means that, among other things, they use biodiesel fuel for their tour bus and they sell magnets, the proceeds of which go to development of alternative fuels. Supposedly the tour is carbon-neutral (though I doubt their calculations includes the energy that the venues use, the gas that attendees consume, etc.). These all sound like great ideas. However, since this concert was basically a rehearsal with fans watching, it seems like the more environmentally-friendly choice would have been to stay home to practice. At least it would’ve cut down on noise pollution in my neighborhood. Bird might eventually become a good performer in the future. Needless to say, after he wasted my three hours and $18 on a practice session, I won’t be there to see it.