Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Half tickets and lousy movies

Patrons of movie theatres who have seen what I have seen in recent times must also wish what I have wished in recent times: screw the whole ticketing system, and lets pay for the movie half that we want to watch.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hitchens and a soldier

On the 15th of January last, he was on patrol and noticed that the Humvee
in front of him was not properly "up-armored" against I.E.D.'s. He insisted on
changing places and taking a lead position in his own Humvee, and was shortly
afterward hit by an enormous buried mine that packed a charge of some 1,500
pounds of high explosive. Yes, that's right. He, and the three other American
soldiers and Iraqi interpreter who perished with him, went to war with the army
we had. It's some consolation to John and Linda Daily, and to Mark's brother and
two sisters, and to his widow (who had been married to him for just 18 months)
to know that he couldn't have felt anything.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


A few months ago I unwrapped one of those four-in-one dvds loaded with feature-length anime movies. I had heard of none of the movies before, but among them were Castle in the Sky and Kiki's Delivery Service, which turned out to be fine movies by a director named Hayao Miyazaki. People familiar with anime know that Miyazaki has been around for over two decades, but I didn't, and Spirited Away, the first movie I watched on that DVD, was an experience I'm not sure I've shaken off. His movies are about worlds only a step away from our own, with soundtracks that you can't help but feel you know a version of. In Spirited Away, Chihiro, a ten-year-old girl, and her parents stumble upon ruins after taking a wrong turn. They walk through the abandoned building into bright sunshine and green meadows, and a deserted carnival where steam rises from food that has only just been prepared. Have the carnival's visitors scampered, or are they yet to arrive? And who prepared all the food?

There are beautiful empty landscapes where nothing happens for ages, and scenes that invoke dreams; a train glides silently across the surface of an endless calm blue sea without a ripple. It's a haunting shot, and it's one of many here. I've replayed the scene many times in my head, and the happy feeling it gives me is inexplicable. I feel I've seen it and felt it somewhere before, but there's something incomplete about the thought. It's like knowing the answer to a question you can't remember.

"But what about the rest of it?"

In Paprika, which I picked up in Dubai recently, a scientific experiment has unexpected effects on people undergoing it, making some of them delusional and believers in their immortality, while others find their dreams and reality merging. A cop troubled by incomplete dreams takes up the case to find out why ordinary citizens with normal mental histories either run out of high-rise windows or go on unprovoked hitting sprees, or else suddenly begin to talk in the gibberish language of dreams. The man's dream remains the same - he's chasing someone he can't see, and the man eventually gets away, but not before he kills someone. The ground beneath his feet warps and a voice echoes through the dream, "But what about the rest of it?" He wakes up in a sweat.

In reviews Paprika has been likened to the Matrix trilogy, and many say that it isn't even the director's best work. Does it matter? The noisy soundtrack where instruments clash with each other, the nonsensical visuals that are too busy to be identifiable, the disjointed dialogue - they all combine to create the experience of a dream that has come to life. It takes on the meaning of cinema, literally, when a dream crashes through the screen in a cinema hall. Paprika isn't just about dreams, but their various interpretations.

But what about the rest of it? The line loops through the movie, and everytime the cop hears it he is in despair. Later we find out why, and it makes perfect sense. But the funny thing is, it stays with me. Yes indeed, what about the rest of it? What about the rest of what you're working on? What about the rest of a career? What comes next?

It's a question we've all asked of ourselves at one time or another, in one form or another.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ninja Gaiden Sigma

See image.

I have to tell myself that this is only a video game, that death has no meaning. But the phantom fish who swarm around nibbling at me make it difficult, as well as the fiends intent on slicing me open. I could stand here and fight, or unleash explosive arrows as I jump over their heads. There are too many ways to do this, to kill. Am I a one-man army? At times, yes. But sometimes I feel absolutely inadequate. My enemies have their laser cannons and copters that drop large bombs from the sky. Ther legions include ninjas, armoured guards, super-constructed soldiers with machine guns for arms, large tanks, ghosts, bats, beasts with blazing hair, beetles that pin me to the ground and eat, and various forms of the devil. As for me, well, I have a selection of swords, and something that looks like a large oar. Regardless, a tutorial explains that square, square, triangle, triangle, triangle unleashes the Kick of Thunder or something like it, but the battle is thick with things of murderous intent and there's really no distinction between any button. Press them all, press anything, and see what happens. If it becomes tougher, and the enemies are more numerous, press the buttons harder. Something has to happen. But it's hard to see because bodies are flying every which way and nothing makes sense. There are explosions, monsters flying at me and then sent the other way, fireballs that knock me down but I'm up instantly. One electric sweep could do them in, and a final series of furious cut-thrust-and-kick moves kills the rest. They evaporate, leaving little traces of energy to be absorbed.