the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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DVD Extravaganza

We've had a hard time getting out to see movies lately, but we've been making up for it by making heavy use of the library's online reservation system. All it takes is knowing what you eventually want to see, and a little patience, and suddenly you're inundated in cinematic goodness. Recently:

Elizabeth I, starring Helen Mirren, who won a Golden Globe for this part, and an Oscar for her other royal portrayal in The Queen. This story of the two of Queen Elizabeth's greatest loves features Impeccable costuming and sets, flawless performances, great casting (I'll admit that, in spite of my ardent heterosexuality, Jeremy Irons is pretty delicious), moving speeches, and--since it's HBO--some surprisingly vivid gore. In case you were ever curious about what being hung, drawn, and quartered might be like, wonder no more! Especially shocking (and rightly so) is the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, as the camera stays close on her for both blows of the axe. Highly recommended.

Rome is another fabulous HBO series. The bulk of this first season relates the events leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar, starting with his alienation from lifelong friend Pompey Magnus and weaving a dark and inevitable descent into civil war, Caesar's rise to power, and culminates in his termination. But in a stroke of remarkable insight and cleverness, the heart of the show is in two lowly legionnaires who find themselves caught up in swirl of greater events. In addition to being chock full of amazing performances from pretty much the entire cast, and brimming with excellently recreated period settings and costumes, Rome is also unabashedly and unflinchingly adult, practically overflowing with vulgarity, carnality, and violence--all probably quite appropriate to the setting. Oddly, there's a strange inverse relationship at work: the more interesting the sex is, the less we get to see of it, which seems to emphasize the relative importance of the acts in question. And the dramatic arena battle is unlike any you've seen before--it had Liz gasping in shock and me hooting in surprise. Likewise, highly recommended.

It's gotten some mixed reviews, but we really enjoyed the first season of Weeds, Showtime's black comedy series about a suburban mother who turns to dealing pot in order to maintain her family's upper-middle-class lifestyle after her husband dies suddenly. It takes a few episodes to find its feet, but it's full of giggles and guffaws, punctuated by the occasional solid wollop of pathos and drama, and is overall quite enjoyable and deserving of your time. As long as you have a sense of humor, you'll probably find something to like here, even if it's just the charmingly perfect use of Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes" in the opening titles.

Not even close to recommended, however, is The Illusionist, which I found to be a flaccid, lifeless excuse of a movie, with a decent cast wandering aimlessly about in search of something worthwhile to say or do. In begins with ten minutes of flickery flashback exposition to the title character's youth, so we already know everything important about the him before Edward Norton even gets to do anything. The wanna-be Shyalaman-esque twist ending will probably only surprise small children, and it's telegraphed from before the halfway point of the movie, and ultimately offering little payoff other than the strangely frightening toothy laugh of Paul Giamatti. The film's opening ought to have been my warning sign, but I kept watching in a desperate hope that it would start redeeming itself. The only reason that we stayed with it was because we each had a cat asleep on our laps, and couldn't bring ourselves to disturb them. In short, The Illusionist is 104 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

We followed up with Hollywoodland, which is a much, much better film. In case you've been living on another planet, you're probably already aware that it explores the life and death of George Reeves, the actor who portrayed Superman in the original TV series, and calls into question whether his death was suicide or murder. It's a modern-day film noir with a dash of nostalgia, intercut with what you might expect from a pretty good biopic. I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but Ben Affleck really delivers something special in his performance as Reeves, with numerous, uncanny moments in which it's difficult to remember that we're not actually watching Reeves himself. Reeves' rise and fall is intercut with the story of private detective Adrian Brody's investigation, highlighting the disintegration of his personal life as he becomes increasingly obsessed with Reeves' fate. The film is utterly absorbing, up to the point near the end where the wheels start to come off a bit, and we're left with an ambiguity about the exact nature of Reeves' ending that, after all that has come before it, doesn't feel very satisfying. In spite of the somewhat hollow conclusion, there's definitely enough here that's worth watching in this exploration of the downfall of superheroes, be they last sons of Krypton or just Los Angeles fathers.

Liz and I were both completely surprised and bowled over by how much we enjoyed Flushed Away, Aardman's entry into the world of feature-length CGI animation. The story is cute, the voice acting is tip-top (Ian McKellan and David Suchet were especially fun), and it's loaded with great references and little details that had us continually jumping back to get a kick out of the little extra sprinkles of humor that'd been tucked in. Especially pleasing is that the facial animation is not digitally polished into perfect smoothness--it is deliberately a bit chunky, which brings the feeling of Aardman's hand-crafted claymation to the digital world. Funny, fun, and full of the soul that's missing from so much of modern animation. I think we'll have to pick up our own copy soon.

Finally, a documentary that asks Who Killed the Electric Car? Narrated by Martin Sheen, this traces the history of electric cars from the early 20th century to the dawn of the 21st, and focuses largely on the Saturn EV1 and similar too-good-to-be-true vehicles that bloomed briefly under California's short-lived zero-emissions mandate. Just as these lease-only vehicles were poised to make a major impact on the world, they were recalled and eventually destroyed. WKtEC explores many different suspects for the demise of this promising technology, and casts damning blame on most. If you feel like being pissed off about how The Man is keeping us down and screwing over the planet, this is the movie for you.

One thing I love about getting movies from the library is the surprise factor--we never know what we're going to get, just that it's something we wanted to see and never got around to, which saves us a lot of bother trying to figure out what we want to watch. And with the library just down the street, it's a whole lot cheaper than Netflix too.

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