Thursday, 26 January 2012

Do Not Adjust Your Bureau

0. Kochk Introduces

Before The Adjustment Bureau, Sky Movies showed a brief "Matt Damon introduces" piece in which Matt Damon came up with something to say about the film. Apart from saying it was fun to make, he suggests we watch Emily Blunt, as her performance is the most important thing in the film. Eventually I will circle back and review his introduction, but since I am the only person[1] in the world who is interested in it first I'll talk about the film. Will there be spoilers? Not if someone adjusts this piece first.

1. Your Destiny Is In The Script

Matt Damon's character, David Norris, is introduced in a montage of his political career, culminating in him losing a race to be Senator for the state of New York due to him playing a prank on his old college buddies. He meets a mysterious woman in the men's toilets which inspires him to go out and give the kind of concession speech (about paying consultants to advise on his wardrobe, focusing on his tie[2] and on the $7300 to advise on the amount of scuffing on his shoes) we all wish politicians would make. No, forget that, he gives the kind of speech they should make before they have to concede.

We skip to Norris' first day at work, and the sinister hat-wearing men of the titular adjustment bureau plan to make him spill his coffee on his shirt[3]. The agent assigned to do it falls asleep, so Norris catches the bus, meets the mysterious woman, gets her name (Elise) and number, then arrives early at work to discover the sinister hat-wearing men have frozen everyone and are busy changing the mind of his boss[4] with a mysterious device. There's some running and chasing[5], with people appearing where they shouldn't and the top floor office door leading into an underground garage where there's a bit of discussion why they can't just wipe his memory or something, and then they explain the premise of the film to him.

The premise is this: that everyone has a destiny and the job of the adjustment bureau is to make sure that chance doesn't take them away from that destiny. Norris and Elise[6] are not destined to be together. They take away and burn the number and threaten him with making him mad if he tries to tell anyone anything.

Because this film is squarely in the mainstream tradition of American cinema, Norris will Not Submit To Authority, especially because he is in True Love. So one man sets out to oppose a mind-and-space-twisting conspiracy of unknown size that can determine the results of your decisions before you make them.

2. True Love Conquers All

As I said, we're right in the middle of Hollywood filmmaking. So the question is not can Norris defeat this conspiracy and be reunited with his love, but instead how will he do it and, more importantly what will it cost him and who will he have to become?

Since he appears to have no life outside work, running for office and chasing the woman of his dreams who he met twice for about ten minutes in total, it seems that all he has to sacrifice is his dull, uninteresting life. Here's where Damon's assertion that the film is all about Blunt comes in. When she appears the film is transformed. Partly that's the filmmaking techniques, partly it's that she's easy on the eye and a good actress, but in part it's the way Damon's performance changes when he's with her. To say that he's dull without her exaggerates the situation, but his character becomes animated, interested, fascinated, and eventually driven. We believe that he will be the man to ride the same bus for three years on the off-chance that he will spot the same woman, and having found her will fight fate to be with her. Blunt's performance is vital to the film, but she's only on screen for half the running time, while Damon is in nearly every scene. We need Blunt's luminous presence, but without Damon's reflection it would be without context. So much for "Matt Damon Introduces".

3. My Destiny is My Own

The destinies of mankind, as it turns out, are set by the Chairman. Who the Chairman is remains a mystery[7]. The reason for the longlived adjustment bureau members taking control of history is eventually explained; twice before they've let human determine their own destiny; once during the Roman Empire, then again in 1910[8]. We humans promptly made a big mess of things.

The exact plan is never made explicit. We assume it is generally good (dark ages bad; WW1 and 2 bad; they change Norris' boss mind from being vaguely against funding the solar energy proposal to vaguely in favour), but most of what we're told is about things we don't see, future things that haven't happened yet and may not happen and from the adjustment bureau itself, an organisation with mysterious powers. Taking them at face value though, it seems that the plan is to make Norris president, and Elise a great dancer and choreographer. This, though, will only happen if they are apart.

A chance meeting between Norris and Elise spirals out of control, with the bureau trying to fix things. Firstly it seems that they will be confirmed off plan if they have a kiss "a proper kiss". An interruption transforms the kiss from a "proper" one into a "goodbye" kiss. Norris is then kept from her dance practice by accidents, traffic lights, a fake policeman[9]. Nevertheless he gets there and goes off plan after seeing her dance.

Thompson, the troubleshooter played by Terrance Stamp, then turns up and tells Norris exactly what the relationship between him and Elise will cost; her dance career. To make the point, she then slips and sprains her ankle. Norris leaves her.

Meanwhile we discover that the reason they are so drawn to each other is that in earlier versions of the plan they were meant to be together. So the reason Norris wants, and is able, to be with her is that they're destined to be with each other. The adjustment bureau is fighting it's own plans. Norris is rejecting one destiny determined by the adjustment bureau in favour of another destiny determined by the bureau.

4. Fight Fate with Fate

For no very good reason bureau member Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) decides to help Norris, explaining the hats (allowing the bureau to use doors as shortcuts) and giving him a chance to interrupt Elise's wedding[10]. On the run, Elise and Norris get into the adjustment bureau headquarters and try to see the Chairman. Then Mitchell reappears and tells them that the Chairman has seen what they've done, they've passed their test, they can make their own destiny now etc. etc.

I found the ending a little weak. Norris and Elise are willing to give up everything for their love, so the Chairman sends someone to say "Fair enough, good luck with that kids." Deus Ex Machina. Roll credits!

5. I Knew You Were Going To Write That

Like the film, I don't really have a conclusion. It's about free will and fate. There are doors that go where they shouldn't. There's a secret behind everyday life. The film has a lot of The Matrix in it's DNA, and that's not a bad thing. The bureau can't tell what's going on when water is about, which may be a metaphor for the way our lives flow and change, but can also be channelled, or it may just have been an excuse to film some gorgeous New York waterfronts and gloomy rainfilled streets. There's some great shots, especially when Norris, on the run, keeps heading through shortcut doors into more and more iconic and outrageous New York situations. Blunt and Damon do a great job of the love-at-first-sight scene, and then carry this through. It's a good film. It raises interesting questions and leaves some of them unanswered. The ending is a bit abrupt. That is all.

[1] Person in this case including the set of fictional internet enabled movie reviewing firearms.
[2] It looks like the kind of tie you'd end up with if you paid a consultant to pick out your wardrobe. It's almost as if there was a professional wardrobe person picking out the clothes in the film.
[3] Forget Galactus or Blofeld, this is the kind of villain I take personally.
[4] Who was his campaign manager and is also the closest thing to a friend Norris seems to have. It looks like it's some kind of investment bank.
[5] There's a lot of that in the film, almost as though they're trying to show that he's trying to outrun his fate.
[6] We don't find out Elise's surname for quite a while.
[7] This being based on a PKD story, then it's aliens, or God, or possibly aliens that are God.
[8] Here's an amusing game; pick two historical dates that spring to mind at random, then assume the adjustment bureau stopped controlling either just before or just after those events. Generally this is nearly as convincing as the dates given. Also, for a depressing game, play it several times.
[9] In a hat.
[10] I'm a sucker for a good interrupted wedding scene. This is not an interrupted wedding scene. Disappointing.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mannequin: A Film From The 80s.

On Saturday we watched Mannequin. Kim Catrall is an ancient egyptian woman who doesn't want to marry a camel dung dealer so the gods hear her prayers and reincarnate her as a shop dummy 4500 years later. Andrew McCarthy, who made her, saves the life of a store owner who gives him a job. He finds the mannequin, which he considers his finest work of art, and she comes to life. She helps him make brilliant window displays that turn the fortunes of the store around. However she turns back into a mannequin whenever anyone else sees her. The film is quite consistent on this.

The store's rival, the security guard, the corrupt vice president and McCarthy's ex-girlfriend are the antagonists. The climax comes when, furious with jealousy, the ex- steals and tries to destroy the mannequin.

The film features jokes about impotence, veterans with PTSD, animal cruelty and sex with mannequins. It also co-stars a flamboyant homosexual with no visible boyfriend who explicitly states that he sleeps alone in order to prevent him being too transgressive. There is comic violence, women in their underwear and one excellent car stunt. I quite enjoyed it. Suitable for V_.

This music video is associated with the film, and also avoids the necessity of actually seeing it.

Heckler had this to say: "I noticed that the mannequin could speak modern day American as opposed to ancient Egyptian which is questionable. Also I doubt there were redheaded princesses in ancient Egypt but I'll let that go," and also "Also I was so tired I didn't see the end and went to bed."

I note of course that red hair was associated with the ancient Egyptian god Set; although not common red hair was not unknown to the ancient Egyptians.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Superheroes Or Van Full Of Guys?

Previously on Heckler and Kochk we have rated things for our friend V_ who doesn't like gruesomeness, or people being embarrassed or a handful of other things, but those are the main ones. This has spun off into the V_ film classification board which cannot be made public as it would blow your tiny mind, and some of the people on it want more control over their personal information than two fictional sci-fi reviewing firearms can provide.

I reviewed the series premiere of Alphas for it, which I will now reproduce, slightly redacted:

[Recently] I saw the Feature Length Series Premiere of Alphas, a superhero TV show based on the X-Men template, a bit like Heroes. It opens with the team existing, thus avoiding a long boring origin story sequence and allowing us to get straight in with an impossible assassination. The team consists of Bill, an FBI agent who gets very sweaty, and also strong, when under stress; Gary who is Aspergers and can see electromagnetic signals, except Nokia; shy Rachel who can concentrate on one sense at a time allowing the camera to zoom in, or show a special effect to highlight a CLUE; and confident good-looking Maddy who has an actually useful superpower of getting people to do what she says solely through the use of her Hollywood Actress Good Looks. They're led by a hippy psychologist, who likes herbs and vinyl records, but his "hey, can't we all get along" exterior hides a spine of steel; after all we're set in New York, the Super Hero Mecca, rather than California.

The episode involves chasing an assassin, de-brainwashing him, recruiting him to the team (he has super gymnastics, but has a mental block which ruined his baseball career), chasing the brainwasher and discovering that when you chase a brainwasher people who come in contact with him get brainwashed. The team is kind of amateur, which Bill the FBI agent complains about, and their powers are low key enough that they can't just solve problems and be back to the donut shop by the first ad break. There's plenty of inter-team conflict, conflict between the professor and the FBI agent who sponsors the team and can't bring himself to say anything clearly ("Talking with you is like a Beckett play" "I don't know what that is"), and some kind of opposition called "Red Flag". If I can be bothered to care about the characters, and they don't degenerate into soap opera, then it could be quite good.

It contains a couple of shootings, a stabbing and a man falling to his death, none of which are gory, but also some creepy scenes where people have been mind controlled and one of them kills themselves in a nasty way. Other than that one scene I would declare this Suitable for V_ (SfV).

This lead me to thinking which of these characters and their superpowers could be replaced by a van full of specialists and equipment? In the commentary I went on to say:

We could replace Bill's super-strength-when-under-​stress with five ex-army guys and a a van with winch, bolt cutters, battering ram, riot gear etc. We could replace Gary's EM stuff with a 8 guys and a van filled with $1M of ex-soviet electronic warfare equipment[Ed: In Joke]. We can replace Rachel with a CSI van and lab, so a 5 person team. So far 3 of our superpowered guys could each be replaced with a small team and a van of equipment, which would also give the team more depth and numbers.


Hicks superkinethesisiesies [sic] is more problematic. In theory everything he does could be done by, say, the team that replaces Bill, but since he is the equivalent of an Olympic athlete in several disciplines, they would have to be really, really good ex-army guys.


Finally Maddy would need to be replaced by Derren Brown backed by a multi-million dollar ad-agency and even that wouldn't be as reliable and swift. I salute you, one superpower whose effects can't be reproduced by a team of guys in a van! It's also the superpower most likely to break the plot.

This is now my benchmark for low-powered superheroes. If their effects can be reproduced by a bunch of guys (by which I mean highly trained specialists; let's assume we have the hiring power and resources of a multi-million pound company) in a van, then you are officially low-powered on the Kochk Superpower scale. I should note that I consider this a good thing for storytelling purposes.

The most obvious one would be Batman; if we had a van with a world-class detective, a martial artist of the Martin Riggs or Chan Ka-Kui schools, an engineer to build, maintain and operate the equipment and a billionaire mastermind to fund and direct the team, we could recreate Batman on a gross level. On the other end of the scale, Superman would be impossible to recreate, no matter how many vans we had (although this wouldn't stop Lex Luthor pushing ahead with his Vanpocolypse).

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Life Imitates Art

Action-adventure heist series Leverage has been introduced to movie nights (which seem to be running at about 5 a year at the moment). On Maundy Thursday we watched the episode The Snow Job, in which at one point the bad guys move money from one account to another. This goes all wrong for them and their accounts end up frozen. So sad.

However, earlier that day Heckler had tried to move some money from one account to another. This didn't go to plan, and it ended up with him being unable to withdraw any money the next day (which, like the following Monday was a bank holiday, leaving him having to borrow money from Beretta for the weekend).

Clearly, if this continues it would become a problem. As such I will be checking if any of the following activity/episode pairings are likely to arise:

Air travel - The Mile High Job

Court appearances (Heckler's speciality) - The Juror #6 Job

Church attendance - The Miracle Job

Heckler visits the bank to try and get his money back - The Bank Shot Job

Monday, 4 October 2010

Conversation of the Movie Night

Heckler: He fired 7 shots.

Kochk: He might have non-standard revolver, such as a LeMat.

Heckler: Ah, the LeMat.

Kochk: If I recall correctly it has a 9 round cylinder and an extra barrel which you can load with a round of your choice.

Heckler: Mine would be cheese.

Kochk: Usually it's a shotgun round... Would that be an actual cheese bullet...

Heckler: Of course it would.

Kochk: ...because if you were just storing it there, you'd need a long spoon...

Heckler: I'd shoot him and he'd go "Ah! What's this on my chest? It's cheese!"

Kochk: That would definitely need to be hand loaded. Oh wait, you don't like cheese.

Heckler: No.

[Kochk wonders whether to mention the three big handfuls of cheese in the fish pie they'd been scoffing down, but decides to leave it and instead stick it on the internet]

LeMat: [Says nothing]

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Barbarella Blogging

I would have thought that I'd have noticed the video to the 1994 Kylie song Put Yourself In My Place as it recreates the famous opening scene of Barbarella. Apparently I missed it at the time as it was considered "too raunchy"[1]. Well blimey. We can't show that kind of thing here, can we?

(Link as embedding lowers quality)

You know, I would have thought that one of the advantages of travelling in deep space would be that you could strip off without having men in spacesuits perving at you through the window.

[1] Source, musicman278 who put the video up on youtube.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Family-Surgery-Revenge-Tragedy-Drug-Rock Opera

If I were thinking of exploring themes such as elective and non-elective surgery, rampant capitalism, the relationship of media to both, drugs, grave-robbing, and scantily clad females I might well come up with the idea of a near-ish future SF story. It would likely involve organ failure diseases which can only be cured with genetically engineered organs. These could be bought from the company which created them, but if you fail to keep up on the payments, they can be legally, bloodily and fatally repossessed. It's quite likely I'd come up with some sort family story, with many secrets from the previous generation winding around the main story. Having got this far, I'd quite likely go down the Revenge Tragedy route[1], as there's already lots of cutting and a family with conflicts. And I might even decide to make it a musical. Of course after all that I'd sober up and realise that the idea is silly for many reasons, the most important one being that to get anywhere near pulling it off I'd have to be unspeakably talented.

The people behind Repo! The Genetic Opera are unspeakably talented.

I'm not going to talk about the story (if you want more than I've hinted at above you could try here) but about the spectacle and the songs and a little about the cast. It looks fantastic. Apparently it was done on a small budget of both money and time, so maybe the slightly shabby dark-grunge-goth look isn't just about creating a Bladerunneresque atmosphere for the film, but is because shadows hide flaws in the set. Still, if it works both ways, that's a bonus.

The back story is framed with cartoon interludes, drawn by co-writer, co-composer and actor Terence Zdunich[2], which painlessly fill us in on needed information while adding to the atmosphere. On the other hand, I think they draw us out of the fiction. This isn't as much of a problem as it might be in another film as we also have some of the slightly unfamiliar conventions of opera doing the same - so for example, every character about to die gets a song about their regrets.

My usual problem with musicals is that if a song contains an important story or plot point, I don't always get it as I miss the lyrics the first time around. One way around this is to repeat the important bits in the song half a dozen times, in which case I tend to hear it the first time and then sit around waiting for the song to finish so that something will happen rather than them keep singing about whatever it is they're doing. Repo! is mostly successful in avoiding these problems by 1. stating clearly the important points in songs; 2. repeating then extending each point; and 3. making sure the action on screen is as interesting as the plot points in the song. As an example, here is the aforementioned Zdunich as the dual narrator/character Graverobber explaining the use of the drug Zydrate to Shilo (Alexa Vega) followed by the arrival of Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton previously appearing in a Heckler and Kochk review here) to re-iterate the use of the drug and tell us something about Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) in the song Zydrate Anatomy.

And I tell you this now; if you liked that clip, you'll like the film. If it's too much; too loud, too blatant, too bloody, too sexualised, too grungy, too much going on; then you probably won't like it as there's more than that in some scenes. In addition, as with most musicals it stands or falls on it's songs so if you're on the fence check the soundtrack on youtube or favourite music provider.

There's one final pleasure in the film, and it's Anthony Stewart Head. His dual role is revealed fairly early on, but look away now and come back for the next paragraph if you don't want it spoiled. Okay? Anyway, he's brilliant as the Repo-man, the surgeon/butcher/serial-killer who repossesses organs from those who fail to keep up payments and he can sing well enough to keep up with Sarah Brightman (who, so far as I can tell, isn't holding back).

Anyway my final verdict: it's a little rough around the edges, and the default choice is excess (more blood, more volume, more goth, more sex, more grotesquery) when a little moderation might have done better. But it adds up to a satisfying whole (even if we can see the stitches). I intend to try and introduce this to movie night as soon as possible.

The V_ classification board rates the film as gruesome.

[1] I'd probably write it in blank verse at the rate of about 4 lines a day, so would take me about 5 years to write the first draft. Fortunately this is all a hypothetical.
[2] Have I used the phrase "unspeakably talented" yet in this review?