21 January 2008

Edward Scissorhands

Let me start off by saying that this is one of my favorite movies ever. Probably in my top ten. So if I gush a bit you know why.

Written and directed by Tim Burton in 1990, Edward Scissorhands brings together what is in hindsight an amazing cast and crew who would go on to create many more films together. In fact it feels as though Tim  Burton, Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman are inseparable. Why not? They made a fantastic team in this film and have made many more wonderful movies together. But back to our film. 

Edward Scissorhands is basically a retelling of Frankenstein. Edward was created by a lonely inventor (played by Vincent Price) who died before he was able to finish his work. And so Edward is left with scissors as hands. Furthermore he is left to himself for a long time and is given no moral guidance or any kind of exposure to normal life (which will lead to the difficulties he will have with the local "peasants"). So one day the local Avon Lady, Peg Boggs (played by Diane Wiest) calls. She finds Edward and is initially horrified but then overcome with pity as she sees the cuts covering Edward's face. She decides it would be best to bring Edward home with her. Edward is first seen by the community as a wonderful and mysterious creature. But through a series of events the neighborhood turns on him. In the meantime Edward falls in love with Kim Boggs (Winona Ryder). She is dating Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) but realizes that she no longer loves him and instead is falling in love with Edward. So in the end we find Edward being chased by an angry mob of neighbors back up to his house. There is a confrontation between Edward and Jim which ends in Jim's death. Kim leaves Edward, never to see him again, and convinces the mob that Edward too is dead. 

So let me say why I love this film so much. Tim Burton is perhaps our greatest living Auteur Director. What that means is that any film by that Director is immediately recognized as his. Alfred Hitchcock was a great example. Now with the exception of Planet of the Apes, every Tim Burton film just feels like a Tim Burton film. And none more so that Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton is huge on visuals and style. So here we have this neighborhood where every house (and car) is painted in pastels. All the cars leave for work at the same time and they all arrive home at exactly the same time. The look really gives this film a timeless quality. You would swear this might be the 50s except that Jim mentions his parents just bought a cd player. So in the backdrop of this town is this huge dark hill with Edward's castle of a house on top of it. Just like something right out of Nightmare Before Christmas. When we see inside the castle in real time and in flashbacks we see all these machines made by the inventor. They all resemble 1940s era conceptions of human looking robots with huge rivets and glowing red eyes. And of course Edward's costume is no different. He looks just strapped and riveted together. Then there is one of my favorite touches of the film. Kim's Christmas dress is basically a white version of Edward's black outfit. A huge strap across the top and buttons that look just like rivets going down the front. It is beautiful. There are also a lot of little things like the bank being this huge white building with only one desk inside but it is right in front of a huge vault. In fact, everything in this film that deals with authority and "reality" is oppressively oversized. Anyway, everything you see in this film is an absolute piece of Tim Burton art at its best. 

Now what would a good Tim Burton film be without a score by Danny Elfman? As many of you know, Danny Elfman was the singer/songwriter for Oingo Boingo and has gone on to have a very successful film career. A few years ago he released a 3 disc collection of highlights from his film scores called Music For a Darkened Theater. In the notes he mentions that Edward Scissorhands is still his favorite. I agree. It is beautiful in it's simplicity, often using very few instruments backed up by a haunting chorus but also full of the kind of dramatic embellishments we expect from Danny Elfman. 

The acting in this film is pretty darn good but my favorite performance is from Alan Arkin as Mr. Boggs. It's his ability to take the most absurd situations as though it were expected and just go with it. A great example is when Edward tells the family that Joyce (the lustfull neighbor who starts Edward's tragic fall from grace) has shown him a salon where he can work cutting hair. He then mentions that she showed him the back room where she took off all her clothes (don't worry mom, no nudity). The whole family just stares at Edward, but Mr. Boggs replies "Well that's great Edward. I suppose you'll be going to the bank next?" Alan Arkin delivers that kind of performance the entire film and really is the sole comedic presence. 

So on to my favorite scene. Can it be anything other than when Edward is doing the ice sculpture in the front yard and Kim comes out to what she thought was falling snow and dances under the falling ice shavings? It is one last moment of perfect happiness and beauty right before it all comes crashing down. Edward accidentally cuts Kim's hand, fast forward to deadly confrontation at the end of the film. But for that one brief scene everything is perfect. This scene also goes on to explain how we know that Edward, to this very day, is still up in the castle. "Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards it did."

So tell me what you thought. I hope you all actually watched it. This is an amazing film. But moving forward. At my wife's request the February movie of the month category is simply Romance. That's pretty broad (anything from Casablanca to Joe Versus the Volcano), so I'm eager to see what kind of movie suggestions you all give me. One request - please don't suggest an 80s High School film as I want to make that a category all its own at a future date. My pick for February is Somewhere in Time. We'll open the poll Feb 1st.

13 January 2008

Rock Legend or Rock Band?

OK so for Christmas I got Guitar Hero III for the Playstation 3. My wife is the greatest! I love it like mad and wasted many a good hour playing it. I started getting the itch to play with a second person and GH3 guitars for PS3 are scarce. It started to occur to me that maybe the Rock Band guitar would work (more on that later). So the seed was planted. Then as I regularly checked the Playstation 3 Store via my PS3 I noticed that Rock Band was adding a ton of killer songs while GH3 was getting very little and mostly crap. So with a hefty tax return imminent, I made a deal with the devil (Val gets a COSTCO membership and a ton of food storage and I get Rock Star). So what follows is my review of both.

Guitar Hero 3: OK it rocks. Hard. The set list is great. Most of the songs by the original artists. When I played Paint it Black for the first time I was in heaven. That being said, most of the songs fit into a few narrow genres and are limited in numbers. You can buy songs in game when you earn money but mostly from a bunch of no-name bands. You can download new songs as made available but so far the selection has been disappointing. That being said, I expect them to release an expansion set like they did with GH2 and the 80s pack. We'll see. Moving on.  The guitar is very responsive and playing the songs is way fun. The star power triggered by tilting the guitar happens with ease (not so in Rock Band). The format is pretty simplified and is geared toward just getting to the music. You can play all the songs through for a final battle with Lou but once you've done it at any level then that's it. You can change the difficulty but the story is the same. So the guitar is better (not as pretty as the fender, but feels better and more responsive), and the guitar play is more fun. I almost forgot this as I've been playing Rock Band almost exclusively lately. Then today I whipped out Slow Ride on "Hard." What a freaking blast!

Rock Band: What sold me on this game is what still makes it so much fun for me and that's the set list. When I saw that you could download "Limelight" by RUSH I think that's when I decided to buy it. So there are nearly 100 songs on the game that you play in your normal set list, can add as bonus songs and then an additional 40+ songs that you can download. I bought 16 of them at $1-2/per song. The songs span every genre and I have had so much fun playing songs like "Creep" by Radiohead and "Maps" by the Yeah Yeahs. There's a ton of great songs. GH3 just can't match it. The guitar is fine but not as good as the GH3 guitar. The whammy bar is too high off the body and it's hard at time to trigger overdrive by tilting the neck. But it works fine. It does have a second set of frets for small hands and big finishes. Game play is much more sophisticated. Your player can be customized down to great details. I have Duncan and Watts as drummers based on characters from "Some Kind of Wonderful." I know. I'm a nerd. On solo the play is just like GH3. You progress through all the songs on your skill level then you are done. But in band mode it's more complex. You have to gain fans, groupies and roadies. Also you can't beat any part of the tour by staying on easy. You eventually have to up the skill level or your fan level will plateau and you can't progress. So that's pretty cool. Also you play half of your music as set list. For each gig you build a set list and there is a random request list and some gigs have local band set lists. So that's cool. Great gameplay that you won't get bored of quickly. OK on to why people buy this game: the full band. So far I have had Joe play guitar while I do drums (which is to much for his current coordination). It's a lot of fun. One thing that bugs me is the way you send the drums into overdrive. You have to do a freestyle banging on the drums and it often interupts the song and doesn't sound right. But that's being pretty picky. The drums are hard. When you start getting into the drum pedal...well let's say Medium feels like Hard to me. Also, I've had friends over and we take turns picking up the mic. This is like the best Karaoke ever. Now if only we had a second guitar for Bass. OK, time to complain. The guitars should be compatible for both games and Harmonix made a patch for just that but Activision is blocking it. Which sucks because you can't buy a guitar by itself for Rock Band and the GH3 guitar is in very short supply. The 2 companies say they are still negotiating. Well they had better hurry or they will both get screwed. Nyko is releasing a guitar in March that will work for both. I know at least one customer who will buy one if the Rock Band and GH3 folks can't get it together. Complaint over.

In summary, Rock Band is better for gameplay/storyline etc, the ability to play with others instead of taking turns watching each other and a killer set list. Did I mention their incredible set list? GH3 is better if you just want to rock out. I can't say why but the guitar play is just more fun and the guitar works better. So is one better than the other? The only solution is to buy both. I'm sorry for your wallet but it's just true. I gotta go. Joe says there's a gig in Seattle that requires our attention.

01 January 2008

Stuck in the Stephanie Meyers Twilight Zone

OK so I had heard a lot of good things about the Twilight books from a lot of people including my sister and my mother-in-law Carolyn. This didn't surprise me since it's basically a teenage romance novel and my sister is still sort of a teenager and Carolyn had previously sent me a whole shelf of romance novels. But then my good friend Jon Madsen also strongly recommended them. So I asked for the set for Christmas. Good thing I didn't have to work much because I started reading the set (3 book each book between 500 and 650 pages) on Dec 26th and finished on the 29th. That involved going to bed at around 5 am most mornings. 
So I really enjoyed these teenage vampire romance novels. The action wasn't the best being a little predictable and the romance wasn't the best being a little over the top. If Bella wasn't in a breathless stupor EVERY TIME she's with Edward it would have been better. But all in all it was a great set of books. It had to be. Otherwise I would have got more sleep. I think she does a great job of leaving chapters in such a way that you have to read the next chapter now. I call it the 24 effect. If you've ever watched a season of 24 on DVD you know what I mean. So the first book is slated to be realeased as a movie Dec 2008 b y Summit Entertainment with Katherine Hardwicke directing. I'm a little worried that Stephanie didn't hold out for a better studio. While halfway through the 1st book I started picturing all the chapters as scenes in a movie and I got excited. But I think it could get messed up pretty easily. 
So I wondered how Stephanie would handle the whole erotic vampire angle, she being LDS and all that (another concern I have for the film if she released too much control). There are a fair amount of make out scenes. So what she came up with is Edward can't "do it" with Bella cause he's afraid he will kill her - whether losing control of his passions will make it impossible to not go for the jugular (literally), or whether he will lose control of his strength and kill her. So they suck face a lot but he always pulls out his for Strength of youth pamphlet before anything happens. Then I was even more surprise when he agrees that they can try... after they are married. Ed's reasons being he doesn't want to put her standing with the big man upstairs in any jeopardy (even though he's consented to make her a vampire) and also he was actually born early in the 20th century so he's a little old fashioned. So that was interesting.
My favorite character is Alice. She is the cutest vampire ever. She's like Galinda from Wicked but with deadly vampire skills. 
OK now my big problem with these books is also my big problem with women in general. Apparently someone just has to be a good kisser and women have no choice but to give in and also decide that they don't feel at all the way they thought so darn sure they did. Read Eclipse and you'll know what I mean. Also Bella tries to juggle her love with her best-friend-with-benefits. Personally I think women do this to have a safety net. I was said safety net in High school for some crummy girl who shall never be mentioned by name. Ever.
Alright, enough bitterness. I really dug these books and recommend them to most people. These aren't pulitzer prize material. But think of it as Ann Rice where you won't feel guilty when  your parents find you reading it.  I think this was my most disorganized post ever.