November 27, 2010

My Favourite Music Videos: "Across the Universe" (1998, d. PT Anderson)

Fiona Apple - Across The Universe
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Of the four videos Paul Thomas Anderson directed for then-girlfriend Fiona Apple, this one, their first collaboration, is by far my favourite, though "Paper Bag" is quite good and indicates that Anderson has a glitzy Hollywood musical in him--or at least a Pennies from Heaven-style critique of one. The other two might represent him getting some delayed student-film impulses out of his system, and consequently they're somewhat risible in their contrived artiness. He's still recognizably himself in "Across the Universe," doing relatively long takes (especially for the medium), shooting in 'scope*, and even slipping in a John C. Reilly cameo.

Rejuvenating a music-video standby (fiddling while Rome burns), "Across the Universe" is a tie-in clip for Pleasantville that takes place in that film's soda shop and re-enacts--with a visceral impact and visual sumptuousness that makes you wish Anderson had helmed Pleasantville instead of Gary Ross--the riot visited upon it by the titular town's black-and-white residents, who object to the polychromatic painting decorating its glass façade. (Here, unlike in the movie proper, the park bench that goes flying through the window has the ferocious impact of Mookie's garbage can, shocking colour out of the image.) But dollying into the establishment, Anderson gets comically distracted by the pretty girl: snaking illogically but determinedly around a corner and past the looters as if following the siren song, the camera finds the mesmerizing Apple, looking for all the world like a flower child drawn by Disney. She's wearing headphones, and her presence seems to have a similar effect on Anderson, who blots out the world with blissful ignorance. Oh, he tries to zoom out or pan away from her, snatching a few choice glimpses of dreamily-choreographed mayhem in the process, but he clearly can't resist the magnetic pull of her face. While plenty of videos fetishize the hot singer chick, so few of them feel like this, that is to say genuinely infatuated; and those moments when Apple's not on screen suggest a bashfulness on the part of Anderson more than anything else. (The unwavering use of slo-mo is definitely a contributing factor to the sense of lovestruck awe, reminding of that cornball homily from Big Fish: "They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops.") Before long she engages him (or is it the other way around?) in a kind of flirtatious game of chicken, testing him as she tilts her head to the side and what we'll call his P.O.V. follows suit until both are upside-down defying gravity. It's silly, it's romantic, and it's the kind of abstract idea that lends itself to the music-video form. Behold, the stupidity of the mutually besotted.

I think of Tarantino's pastiches as letting me see all the schlock that influenced him through rose-tinted glasses. Similarly, it's hard to come away from this video not pining a little for Fiona Apple, because the piece is so palpably taken with her. That her cover of this Beatles favourite is gorgeous just adds icing to the cake.

*Unfortunately, I couldn't find a version of it in its original aspect ratio on the Internet.

November 10, 2010

Walking Dead 1:2

Something that's been bugging me since the first episode reveal that Officer Dipshit's slut wife was doing Ponch somewhere in the Georgia wood is the timing of everything. Let's say that the assumption was made for whatever reason that our moron hero died when the hospital was overrun - and let's say that people can survive for about a week or so without water. And then let's say that his IV ran out probably later the same day that his unit nurse got lunched on by the shambling horde... doesn't that mean that he couldn't have remained in a coma for much more than a week, and doesn't that mean that his wife decided to do the ol' protein exchange survival strategy not much more than a week after her husband maybe died?

That's maybe why the opening of episode two, in which the wife gets doggy-styled in the wilderness while we look at her wedding ring in extreme foreground, left such an ugly taste in my mouth. Either this fucking whore was already cheating on her husband or she's doing what she's doing to provide for her kid and really misses Officer Doofus. You can't have it both ways, Frank Darabont.

Anyway - the fact that none of these characters are worth a shit is the least of the "Walking Dead's" problems. Not when there's a speech in eps. 2 in which we're told that there's no such thing as "black" and "white" anymore, man, it's just the living and the dead. Not when ace B-man Michael Rooker is wasted completely as some slavering gomer who's the punchline to the worst CGI "oops" since that hot conehead girl ate a Subway sandwich in a few bites to the delight of Chris Farley. Not when there's a Short Round character dropping one-liners and no-time-for-love-Dr.-Jones bon mots before descending into the sewers for no good reason but that whatever dunce directed this episode wanted their very own matchbook-in-a-stairwell sequence.

My fave, though, is when our heroes stand around slack-jawed as they smash into a zombie corpse (but not before Sheriff Andy delivers a soulful speech over it) and expect not to get any zombie gristle in their chops. They do that, see, because they want to roll around in it so the other zombies can't smell their freshness. And then it rains.


Stupid bullshit, besides.

And what's the deal with the racial representation? It's like the friggin United Colors of Bennetton up there on the rooftop of the Only Department Store in Atlanta.

I'm done. This show has gone from pretty godawful to unwatchable in two weeks, and, folks, life is short.

November 01, 2010

Walking Dead 1:1

Soooo... I was pretty geeked about this series despite Frank Darabont's involvement in it. I liked The Mist rather a lot but he seems regularly to squander opportunities for horror in favor of syrup and, y'know, hard to say which Darabont was gonna' show for an adaptation of Robert Kirkman's Image comic series. Jury's still out. The problem I have is that main character Deputy Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is a fucking idiot. He makes bad choices, seems inconsistent in his acceptance/comprehension of the zombie apocalypse, and, lamentably, exists in a scenario that doesn't sensibly punish him for his idiocy.

Consider that when he returns home after bumbling about in hospital (in straight ripper of 28 Days Later) and making his way through a few impressive environments, he makes quite a spectacle of himself in his house and neglects to dress and arm himself upon his departure. Immediately after, a sympathetic father/son survivor unit warn him that any excessive noise draws the "walkers" (in a world without George Romero, I guess, you call them something else) which leads to The First Night in which Deputy Grimes' suburbia is seen crawling with nocturnal baddies (in a straight ripper of I Am Legend which is, by the by, also not about zombies). The idea that zombies would be more active at night is curious to me - and to the makers of the series as well, apparently, as soon enough our moronic hero rides a horse (!) into the middle of downtown Atlanta into a horde of the hungry undead in broad daylight.

It's not smart. It's kind of stupid, actually. Stupid being exactly what Romero's zombie movies are generally not. Honestly, whenever anyone in a deserted hospital that's obviously the scene of violence decides to go into an unlit stairwell with a pack of matches; well, son, you've already lost me - and most likely for the duration.

Like the scene where Deputy Grimes and his buddies take a hot shower at the local police station, a-whoopin' and a hollerin' in appreciation of one of modernity's luxuries: lost to the horde! But what about the noise? And what about Grimes' complete non-acceptance of the infestation despite witnessing scary hands and a half-eaten body at the hospital? And what about his failure to ask one of his former colleagues if there's any Bub in there after the "sickness" took hold? And what about the stupid cross-cutting between Grimes dispatching a cool-looking zombie chick out of... mercy (in a scene so poorly established that I did wonder for a few moments if the monster was his wife), and his buddy trying to shoot his zombied-out wife and failing in fits of unsympathetic weeping? What's it all about?

Hoping for the nihilism of The Mist, I'm sort of thinking that Walking Dead is more akin to the Eisenhower-era relational melodrama of The Majestic. As it's written so far - with the dumbass dialogue, the wooden performance, the stupid actions of its stupid characters (the wife's hooked up with moron Ponch? who gives a shit about any of these douchebags?) - there's not much hope for me that this derivative though often handsome-looking series is going to be much more than heartfelt pap with occasional gore: zombies your mom could love (to go along with the "Dragon Tattoo" series' ugly rape-revenge-sploitation you could take your grandma's sewing circle to).

Sure, I'll hang with it a couple more installments... but I'm just saying...