“Californication”

I like Californication (2007- ), except that it certainly does propagate the unreasonable characterization that everyone in LA is so good-looking. I suppose the Venice Beach area is well above average in this respect, though! I remember David Duchovny (this show’s Hank Moody) notoriously giving interviews around the later years of The X-Files (that show’s Fox Mulder) that he loved watching porn, so I guess it’s somehow fitting that he ended up in such a naughty, sex-oriented, yet oddly-literary show.

Duchovny is well-suited to presenting something along the lines of self-loathing and a frequently-“mumbling” spoken presentation, both of which are also present in the character of Mulder. However, combined with the actor’s family and educational backgrounds (a teacher/administrator mother, a writer/publicist father, attending an independent NYC boys’ school, a B.A. in English/poetry at Princeton, and an M.A. and an incomplete Ph.D. in English literature at Yale), these characteristics actually conspire to work much better as applied to the character of a prematurely has-been writer than to the character of a “flaky” FBI agent.

Hank is vaguely aware of pop culture and self-consciously espouses retro-hipness, saying things such as “B to the I to the double-L” and preferring LPs and mid-’70s Bob Dylan, and he also disparages not only LA (favouring New York) but also the “non-literary” context of his current occupation: blogging. Moreover, the character’s unforced level of discourse can be as erudite as: “Is there another mode of egress?” when trying to sneak out of a girls’ high school. Even more than with Mulder, you can’t help but wonder: How much actual Duchovny is there written into fictional Hank?

“Inglourious Basterds”

Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Inglourious Basterds, is the closest thing he’s done to his 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction, not in terms of its content, but in terms of its form.

The film includes a number of “chapters” (with separate stories that come together towards the end), several extremely violent scenes, brutally wicked humour, and the music is again mostly from the 1960s, ’70s, and early ’80s–even though this story in set in Nazi-occupied France from 1941-44! This approach completely works, though, in a “suspending disbelief” parallel to the hilariously-mispelled words of the film’s title, which were borrowed from the correctly-spelled title of a relatively obscure, 1978 Italian WW2 film.

Language and dialogue again play major roles in this film, often with beautifully-spoken German and French (usually subtitled) by highly-compelling European actors–men and women. There are even a couple of voice-only cameos by Pulp Fiction alumni Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel. Musically, numerous “spaghetti western” cues are used (some actually by Ennio Morricone), but even the film’s use of distorted rock guitar cues and of David Bowie’s 1982 song “Cat People (Putting out Fire with Gasoline)” do not seem at all out of place.

I wouldn’t possibly want to spoil the film’s story, characterizations, “extreme moments,” jokes, and so on here, but if you appreciate Tarantino’s earlier work (especially Pulp Fiction), can handle the violence, and don’t mind a highly fictional story interwoven with versions of several extremely real people (especially Hitler and Goebbels), then I would highly recommended this film.

“The Time Travel(l)er’s Wife”

The Time Traveler’s Wife (the third word must be pronounced “truh-vee’-ler’s,” as far as I’m concerned) was merely OK, I guess, to pass the time–and I only paid $4.20 to see it. I suppose the story is meant to be a metaphor for absent spouses (or something “profound” along those lines), but with all the time-jumping there is almost no coherent character development at all, so it doesn’t really work as romance or as science-fiction or, really, as anything. It must work much better in the book upon which it’s based, but I’m not inclined to find out.

One of the more annoying things about the film is that it was meant to be released last November, and it thus begins and ends around Christmas and New Year’s and also prominently features the German Christmas carol “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”–all of which just completely does not work for a film release in sweltering August. (My guess is that they will attempt to rush out the video for pre-Christmas, later this year.) Apparently, they had to do some major-scene reshoots (never a good sign!), but they had to wait until Eric Bana had grown his hair back after being the bald-bad-ass Romulan, Nero, in Star Trek and for the correct season to come around again. (Bana’s hair, or lack of it in Star Trek, oddly “stars” in both films.) As the time-traveller, he is semi-naked a lot, although you never actually really ever see more than his chest and, occasionally, his fleeting ass. He’s also in Funny People (an even worse film), so he’s kind of the “overexposed” (in some cases, literally) actor of summer 2009, something like Jude Law was five to eight years ago.

Bana’s co-star, pretty Canadian actress Rachel McAdams, was earlier in the romance film The Notebook (which no doubt inspired her being cast as the time-traveller’s wife), and she was the victim in the thriller Red Eye, as well as being in the comedies Mean Girls and Wedding Crashers. Speaking of people and things Canadian, I noticed Toronto’s Roncesvalles/High Park and Queens Quay areas (etc.) pretending to be Chicago, and apparently parts of the film were also done in Hamilton, Ontario. The score is by frequent Atom Egoyan collaborator Mychael Danna (who, as his brother Jeff told me in June, has recently moved back to Toronto from LA). The score was actually recorded in LA, though. Also, the occasional classical singing heard in the film is provided by Canadian operatic soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, and the Toronto band Broken Social Scene appears as a wedding cover band, performing (in what must be the worst wedding song selection ever) Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again.”

For multiple versions of the same character, instead see the much better current science-fiction film Moon. For incorporations of 1980s’ British gloom-rock, instead see the much better current “relationship” film 500 Days of Summer.

500 Days of Summer

In 500 Days of Summer, I was amazed at how certain aspects of it are so “oldey-timey.” Even its scattered use of meditative voice-over and its use of a certain pop-rock songs are quite retro, the latter featuring not only the Smiths’ “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” (1986), but also a hilariously cheesy fantasy sequence making use of Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams (Come True)” (1980) and even reasonable integrations (?!) of karaoke performances and arguments for Ringo Starr as the “best Beatle.”

As with so many of Woody Allen’s movies, this film has surface features of being a “romantic comedy,” but it’s actually far more philosophical than anything even remotely along those lines these days. Basically, a young woman (Zooey Deschanel) doesn’t want a serious relationship with a smitten young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) but “plays” with him for a while anyhow. However, the tone of the film, despite a few somewhat extreme moments (including its opening “dedication”), is surprisingly not really depressing or vindictive at all.

Despite the semi-retro vibe of parts of the movie, it is also set in a reasonable version of the present and in a gently post-modern, time-shifting way, as directed by former music-video director Marc Webb. It also features usually-underplayed aspects of Los Angeles, such as green spaces, architecture, park benches, “everyday” business, public transit, and relatively normal people. I’ve lived there for six years, so I know perfectly well that it’s not all movie stars and freeways, in the same way that I know perfectly well that 1980s’ music isn’t all about Madonna videos.

True Blood 2.2

When Maryann showed up towards the end of season 1, she was clearly positioned as some kind of “alternative lifestyle type” (perhaps Wiccan, or at least “former hippie”) who had somehow managed to accumulate wealth and become a mysterious benefactor. This is all still fairly unexplained, though, in the same way that “doggie Sam” was relatively unexplained until rather well into season 1. She seems to be able to “control” people (and shape-shifters) and is arguably positioned as a “good witch” (by 2009, as opposed to 1939, standards), but the question really is this: what does she have to do with vampires? (Didn’t her pseudo-Latin or “alien” or “DEAD!” brain-language remind you of the vampire language we sometimes hear spoken by Eric and his cute sidekick?) And what was with all the food and all the sexy dancing? Maybe the “Tinkerbell” thing, the excess food, the controlling, the weird language, etc. has something to do with the vampire/shape-shifter equivalent of “multiple souls.” Her “flitteriness” also reminds me of that original series “Star Trek” episode with those people infected by something that makes their physiologies “run fast” (so that they are invisible, but also highly susceptible to injury.) Clearly, whatever category Maryann is in, she’s at least as “powerful” as Eric. Maybe she actually is “alien” (or something else) and has to consume all that food in order to keep up her human appearance. That would be an interesting twist, and the actress did once play a recurring role as an alien on “Star Trek: TNG”!

I found ep. 2 otherwise oddly “flat,” in terms of the main characters, because Jason and the freaky “Christians” had to be made to seem “off,” as much as possible, so that many of the others (Jessica, Tara, “cute black boy,” and even Sookie and Bill) were made to seem somehow less “interesting,” at least until Eric, etc. changed Lafayette towards the end and Bill showed up at Jessica’s house at the very end. Setting up Lafayette’s new turn (presumably in ep. 3) perhaps also explains why he was made to seem so much less, uh, “queer” in ep. 1. He should be quite interesting as a vampire!

I found the episode’s music quite interesting, especially the hymn-like instrumental music when Sookie looked at an old picture (it vaguely looked like herself, Tara, and Gran from a few decades ago, but I’m not sure), which abruptly (and very pointedly) cut out for the next scene of Jason and the “Christians” at the “Bible camp.” The anti-fang “praise songs” and “Christian rock” were also pretty funny.

“Star Trek”

Star Trek (2009) is a fun, fast-paced movie that is reasonably consistent with the tone, humour, and “edge” of the better elements of the franchise’s various TV series and movies (1966-2005). It will likely do quite a bit to restore Star Trek as a widely-shared cultural institution. In line with that, the movie makes some use of Alexander Courage’s theme music for the original series, and Michael Giacchino bases some of his original score on the “open-interval” trope used for the American west by Aaron Copland and Elmer Bernstein and reasserted for science-fiction by John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and others. In addition, the ethnically “eastern” Federation captain of the prologue (the actor’s parents are of Pakistani/Muslim origin) and the movie’s variety of non-human aliens moderately update the multi-ethnicity of Star Trek‘s “liberal universe.”

The characterizations of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhuru, and Pike are fine, but the mannerisms of McCoy, Chekov, and Scotty are especially commendable for being “true” to their respective stereotyped origins as a cantankerous Southerner, a Russian whipper-snapper, and an energetic Scotsman. However, certain things about the movie ring a bit “untrue,” especially if you know more than an average amount of earlier Star Trek. For example, was it ever previously suggested that Spock had programmed the Kobayashi Muru test on which Kirk ended up “cheating” by re-programming it? Was Chekov really on Pike’s Enterprise, given that he wasn’t on the original series until its second season? Could the movie’s central characters really have gotten past certain emotionally fusing and/or alienating incidents? Or, as is quite possible, are things the way they are in this movie mainly because most of its storyline is contained within an alternate timeline?

The incorporation of original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) as “future Spock” is fairly convoluted, as are the gratuitous “CGI monsters” in an action scene on an “ice planet.” Speaking of ice planets, the aspect of young, rural “hick” Kirk being goaded on to greater things in order to come to terms with the “destiny” of his father reminds one very much of a certain young fellow in the other main sci-fi franchise of the past 43 years. However, Jim Kirk in Star Trek (unlike Luke Skywalker in the original three Star Wars movies) rises to become an important figure within about two hours – and I do NOT just mean the running time of the film!