Unresolved appoggiaturas (shaken, not stirred)

Friday, 1 December 2006 — 7:30pm | Capsule reviews, Film, Video games

A few disconnected notes from recent weeks:

Prior to last weekend’s Vanier Cup, the top prize in CIS “football”, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix ran an article on the players permanently affixed to the bench (“‘Redshirts’ key to Green and White”, 22 November 2006). I mention this primarily because they interviewed my elementary-school partner-in-crime Russell Webb, who is now at the end of a five-year career sitting on the bench for the Huskies, but also because I can’t help but notice that Star Trek terminology has entered the general lexicon.

Wikipedia tells me that the use of the term redshirt has a distinct etymology in the context of college sports, since red is a common scrimmage jersey colour, but I don’t buy that. I think that has at least been absorbed, if not superceded, by the more familiar meaning that refers to the junior ensigns on the Enterprise who serve as dutiful away-mission cannon-fodder.

Next: Cartoon Brew recently linked to a post on the five lamest Charlie Brown cartoons. #3 is a Cheerios commercial (and a link to a special about leukemia), and #5 is a Family Guy clip as uninspired as the rest of that show has been in recent seasons. They are new to me. Not only do I remember the other three, I own them. Yes, that includes the disco-fever Snoopy of It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Hey, it was catchy at the time. In my defence, I would say that I do consider Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Come Home to be rather good; believe it or not, the melodrama works. (The latter is legendary in its own right for the “No Dogs Allowed” sign and accompanying jingle.)

Next: I am six dungeons into Twilight Princess, and at the gates of the seventh; naturally, this comes directly at the expense of my academic work (and so, for that matter, does the act of confessing that in writing). I am astounded by this game’s continued ability to surprise at every turn. You see a pit you cannot traverse, and you think you’re going to pick up some Hover Boots. Nope! You see a block of ice in your way, and you think you’re going to pick up a Fire Rod. Nope! The surprise, though, is that what you actually do obtain is a lot more fun. Aesthetically, I still prefer most of the enemy designs from The Wind Waker, but that’s neither here nor there. More on this some other time; I don’t expect I’ll be shutting up about Zelda anytime soon.

Next: While I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to current cinema, and while I have a lot of elaboration to do on all of the below (if only I had the time), I want to offer a few brief, undefended impressions. I’ve only seen each of these once, and opinions may change.

Death of a President: Technically and logistically interesting, but surprisingly tame. There is nothing controversial about this movie. Speculative history doesn’t work if you don’t take any risks. No, the assassination of George W. Bush is not, in itself, enough of a risk.

Babel: In recent years we’ve seen the popular emergence of ensemble films consisting of parallel stories connected only by thematic material and trifles of cause and effect. Traffic was nominated for Best Picture in 2000, and while I admired it, I found the actual parallel storylines to be weak in isolation. Crash won Best Picture in 2005, and while it was both engaging and fun, the thematic material was often much too overt and heavy-handed to make an effective statement on racism. I would argue that Babel is a better film than both of these, and perhaps the best film I’ve seen in this ensemble format, precisely because it is strong on both accounts. I will be returning to this movie, and unless I was fooled by first impressions, I think it should be a legitimate contender this year.

Flushed Away: To paraphrase a scene from the film – “amusing”, and by that, I mean “diverting”. There’s a lot of classic Aardman irony that begs to come out in this film, and a lot of their stop-motion character designs survive the translation to CG (watch the exaggerated mouth movements and how they sync with the dialogue). However, I think the pace of the action is often much too frantic, and it’s really quite inexcusable to have so much forgettable licensed music obscure the score by Harry Gregson-Williams, one of the most interesting film composers of the past decade and such an integral part of Chicken Run. I may come to think better of this film in time, but I do think that despite its strengths, it doesn’t distinguish itself from the Great CG Cesspool of 2006 as effectively as I’d hoped.

Borat: Occasionally hilarious in the tradition of “informed silliness” pioneered by the Monty Python troupe. That said, this movie runs into the same problem as Rowan Atkinson’s Bean did back in 1998: it fails to situate its disconnected sketches within a narrative good enough to justify its feature-length running time. The Pamela Anderson business simply doesn’t cut it, and I do wish it was there as more than just a middling excuse for a frame story. Also, in the odd moments when the jokes are misfires, there’s an awkward dead space in Cohen’s timing where laughter is supposed to be, and it’s very obvious. I speculate that the larger the audience you’re in, the less often you will see this happen.

Casino Royale: I can’t praise this film enough. I haven’t seen all twenty-one Bond films, but I am ready to declare this one the best. It is certainly the closest to the Ian Fleming ideal, and without a doubt, exactly the kind of Bond film I’ve wanted to see for years. As trepidatious as I was of the substitution of poker for baccarat, when the baccarat scenes in the book were probably the most electric card-playing passages I’ve read in any novel, the execution is superb. I may write a more thorough post on Casino Royale at some point, because there’s just so much to applaud.

Next: nationhood. Maybe. It’s an infuriating issue exacerbated by the wild stupidity in this country in the past few weeks. I know this blog is predominantly apolitical, unlike those of my compatriots in the immediate vicinity (Dan Arnold, for instance), but poke a sleeping dragon in the eye with sharp enough a stick and he’s bound to wake. Or, as J.K. Rowling would put it, draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.

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