30 March 2008

I'm There!

The World Cinema Showcase is usually the more minor of the two general film festivals in Wellington. It's the warm-up to the International Film Festival, which gives us something to do in the depths of winter. However, this year's line up is stronger than usual, in terms of having films with a lot of cinema-world hype or notoriety. Films include: I'm Not There; The Diving Bell & the Butterfly; 4 Months, Three Weeks & 2 Days; Across the Universe; Margot at the Wedding; El Topo; Redacted; Tell No One; Helvetica, and Southland Tales.

I went to the opening night showing of The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, directed by Julian Schnabel and scripted by The Pianist writer Ronald Harwood. It cost $20 ($6 more than any other evening session), so a mate and I decided that we had to drink more than the difference in the free wine and beer that was on offer for us cinephiles. We succeeded admirably, but unfortunately the last 20 minutes of the film were less than comfortable, for reasons unrelated to the movie. Still, it was worth it - an excellent movie. Diving Bell is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, the Elle editor who suffered a stroke which paralysed virtually his entire body. Adapted from his memoir, it's a hypnotic and visually arresting film - and it certainly doesn't hurt that you spend a lot of time looking, from Bauby's viewpoint, at attractive French women hovering over him, listening to them talk in a sexy accent. (My friend said the French accent isn't particularly sexy when spoken by men, but she agreed it works from women.)

There was no sense of being guilt tripped into feeling bad for the "successful go getter" who had everything taken away from him. Not that it wasn't tragic for him and his family, or that the movie has no sense of this tragedy or sadness, but it wasn't just an artful tearjerker (which is pretty much how I felt about Oscar-nom Atonement). It’s ironic that a film about such a devastating event, and such a limiting ("locked-in syndrome"!), disconnecting condition, should end up being a fairly warm, rich and human experience.

That's pretty much the opposite of Richard Kelly's satirical epic Southland Tales. Well, it looked warm, set as it is in sunny California (it never rains, but man it pours). Actually, it looked fantastic. Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster made “Southland” look sumptuous. The movie is not exactly a success, but it sure isn’t boring. There’s always something pleasing to look at or listen to, or often both; and while its craziness comes across as a bit manufactured, it can be damn funny. The car advert, the redundant blood-squibs, much of the dialogue (“Who am I?” “That’s none of your business”) are great stuff. And there’s something oddly cool about watching Justin Timberlake, with the cheeky look of Bam Margera, burst into a drug-induced sing-along of The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done”. (Plus there’s a Pixies song in the soundtrack; more films should use Pixies songs – there oughta be a law.)

Does it work overall? Not really. It’s derivative, forced, peopled with characters that only superficially hold your interest, and sometimes a little embarrassing (however much the awkwardness is supposed to be deliberate). As a good few commentators have said, it’s a train wreak. And as a good few have probably gone on to say: It’s as fascinating as watching a large scale automotive collision in progress, in slow motion, knowing that no people were harmed during the making of this mess.

Like Natural Born Killers before it, Southland Tales tries to tap into and comment on the ‘MTV Generation’, CNN, E! channel zeitgeist by at once mimicking, referencing and satirising it. In this, NBK was slightly more successful, in a limited kind of way, for its time. However, there's less reason to get past NBK's triteness and stylistic clumseiness. Southland Tales is the more interesting, ambitious venture, and it doesn’t get tired nearly as quickly. In fact, it gets more enjoyable as it goes along - a bit like a musical where, once you get used to its artifice, the ride is more fun.

15 March 2008

Every man and his blog

"As of December 2007, blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs."

That's from Wikipedia's entry on blogs. So I guess Booksmart is somewhere above the 112, 000,001st web log. It seems every man and his dog has a blog. I'm late for this party.

But what do people do with these things anyway? A web log is such a strange beast. It seems to exist simply because it can; we blog because it's there. But what is "it"?

The word "blog" is a portmanteau of "web" and "log". The "web" is... well, this here URL, and the ones I link to, and the ones they link to, and any other downloadable images, documents etc, that are weaved together by hypertext, and accessible through the internet. It's a phenomenon that distinguishes the 90s and 2000s from the backward decades of the early, middle, and all-but-latest 20th century.

A "log" (as the word relates here) is derived from a diary used for nautical purposes, relating information about a journey, much of it fairly quotidian.

The resulting neologism, "blog", is basically a word for a world wide web based diary; an individual's commentary or journal of some sort, recorded as a series of distinct entries on the net, and displayed in (reverse) chronological order.

But wait, the web is accessible to anyone in the world, as long as they have the necessary internet access. Yet a diary is traditionally seen as something that you are meant to keep private. Isn't it kinda bizarre that what was once kept under your bed to hide it from your sister is now meant to be shown to the entire planet?

Not that anyone is likely to read such a web log as this one anymore, at least without a specific reason. This ain't cutting edge any longer; we aren't Brad Fitzpatrick. As I noted, there's over 100 million other blogs out there, why are you here?*
Why am I? Before I get too existential, the point is: why does anyone think to add to the plethora of blogs in cyberspace? Well, "because I can" seems to be my thinking. I like to rant about things sometimes. Other times, I like to wax philosophical. I'm generally happy to discuss my thoughts with anyone, so why not make my diary public?

So that's what you'll see here, for the most part: a rant about this, a waffle about that. A gripe about some current affairs issue, or a delineation of my thoughts on some random philosophical matter. As much as I can, I'll try and wed the two.

* But thanks for reading.