24 (Season 1, Episodes 21-24)

Creator: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
Aaargh, you got us! We didn’t see that coming, no way.
So the final episode of Season One is over and the clock ticked silently full circle. We’re going to take a break from non-stop suspense for a couple of weeks, or at least until Season Two is out on DVD.
What began to annoy us was woman-in-turmoil Teri, who should have considered herself lucky to be allowed access to what is surely a high-security location (the CTA offices), but instead spends the final episodes continually wandering around, getting up in people’s faces, asking them for continual updates on Jack and Kim. And would anybody really let her storm up into Mason’s office like she does and demand he do something? Couldn’t they have locked her in a room? And see?See? What happened to her when she continued to walk around, nosing about, near the end of the final episode? Exactly.
We were also glad to see Sherry Palmer kicked to the curb at the end, so tired were we of her Lady Macbethisms and Machiavellian trickery. Too bad Patty, the assistant, was let go as her sacrificial lamb. Senator Palmer, on the other hand is so honest a presidential candidate that he takes 24 into the realm of pure sci-fi.
And Dennis Hopper was a bit out of place with a quite unconvincing accent, but oh well.

24 (Season 1, Episodes 17-20)

Creator: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
Although we’re enjoying 24 a lot, by the 20th episode it’s apparent to us that the show’s view of women is pretty bleak–they’re either duplicitous, or dense, and the latter seem to be the majority.
Is Jack such a bad father that Kim has to continually act out and seek out Rich, the bad boy moron who got her into this mess in the first place? Her inability to leave Rich’s hovel when it was apparent some pretty nasty drug dealers were on their way over was infuriating. And why on earth did Palmer’s assistant screw up her set-up with Drazon, electing to hang around after planting a tracking device in order to run him through with a letter opener? Frailty, thy name is woman!
Another group who fail in the mental division (and who overlap with the women) is the teenagers. It’s refreshing to not see teens as bastions of wisdom, I guess, but Kyle Palmer isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and Kim…well, we all know about Kim’s wise decisions. Their stubborn behavior becomes a bit much after a while.

24 (Season 1, Episodes 13-16)

Creator: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
This was the quartet of episodes when things cycled back around.
Jack was reunited with his family; Jack returns to the office after several hours on the run; Palmer finally confronts Jack; the plot and its motivation is finally explained to us. And almost immediately things began to fall apart. Possibly this structure will be mirrored in the end–we’ll have to wait an see.
Another note: it’s really hard to do research into 24 without running into massive spoilers on the web. There’s been a few times I’ve nearly learned some shocking truth about the ending, only to turn (or click) away in time. Yes, I know it’s not going to end well (and it’s going to be a cliffhanger, but of course). Yes, I know there’s more twists to come–and more death.

24 (Season One, Episodes 9-12)

Creator: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
Phew, this is gruelling, yet so very exciting.
Patience slightly tested with the usual uselessness of Women in Peril, who spend their time speaking loudly of how they’re going to get out of their predicament (don’t they think somebody is listening?).
24 is definitely a post-Clinton pre-BushJunta thriller, raising issues of realpolitik in both the Bauer and Palmer storylines. Palmer reminds us of the theory that Clinton was named “the first Black president” by some analysists. Yet his Chief of Staff seems to clearly be modeled on Tricky Dick Cheney (the crooked smile, especially).
Palmer is too upright and honest (as far as we know at the moment) to really be a stand in for Clinton, but he certainly does feel your pain. In fact, he just feels pained. The Bosnian angle now coming into the plot also reflects on Clinton’s major war, now feeling like years and years ago. Did we ever fear vengeance would be enacted upon us by angry Serbs?
And would 9-11 have ever happened if the CIA and FBI were as hi-tech as such agencies are made to look in the show? As the 9-11 investigations are showing, some of these offices barely began using email a couple of years back.
I also note with some irony that the actress who plays Palmer’s wife also plays Condoleeza Rice in some made-for-TV movie about 9-11.

24 (Season One, Episodes 5-8)

Creator: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
The night turns into day and Jack Bauer becomes entrapped himself.
I don’t know if I could really watch more than four episodes in a row of this, but it does remind me that some British cinema nearly did show a run of the first season in one straight 24-hour block. What would the effect be of watching the show in real time? Would it be interesting to have the screen go black during the space allotted for commercials? What about keeping the black screen but overlaying a stopwatch during the space?
Or how about splitting the show into its requisite parts, screening Jack’s storyline on one monitor, the kidnapped family on another, the CTA on another, and Palmer on yet one more monitor, switching them on and off when need be? Just a thought.
The themes of 24 are starting to come out: family vs. job, sacrifice (of yourself, of others), upholding the law vs. bending it.
And L.A. looks really, really smoggy.

24 (Season One, Episodes 1-4)

Creator: Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow
All memories of the pink fuzzball of Legally Blonde were mercilessly crushed
once the first episode of this TV series-now-on-DVD was finished. Fans of the show will not be surprised to learn that after a short break, Jessica and I watched Episode 2…then Episode 3…then checking the clock to see if it was that late…Episode 4. Yep, we finished the whole disc.
Being a rental (along with LB) we’ll have to go back for 5-8.
More thrilling than any multiplex, megagazillion dollar blockbuster, 24 piles on calamity on top of peril and mixes it all up with heavily carbonated paranoia. And on DVD, where there are no commercials (save the product placement by Ford and Apple), the effect is even more like a series of jolts to the heart.
The gimmick of having each episode play out in real time is a good one, and in a way justifies the contant peril that is going on (though in real life this would probably lead to a nervous breakdown). It also allows us to engage in the characters as we would a novel, and to have minor moments play out as major twists. The chessgame that is the Terrorism Unit’s interaction is marvelously detailed, the shifting allegiances dramatically complex.
I don’t know how this will all play out (and if you’ve seen the first season all the way through, keep your mouth shut, please) but Episode 4 showed a bit of slowing down, keeping Jack in a warehouse for most of the episode, and slightly letting things down with a dip into cliche’d dialog: Jack is a “loose cannon” and, the line I love to hate, “You just don’t get it, do you?” fortunately said by a minor character. Will the series remain this tense all the way through? Will it show its narrative strategy too early? Will we have heart attacks by the end of it all? Stay tuned, because I think we’ll be finished with the whole series by the end of next week. Tic-tic-tic-tic-tic-tic-tic…

Legally Blonde

Dir. Robert Luketic
On an anthropological mission,
Jessica and I watched this last night, my wife wanting to figure out why this was the most popular film around her office (which is not a law office). Reese Witherspoon stars as Elle, a sorority queen who winds up in Harvard Law School and a) learns to believe in herself b) teaches others to believe in herself and c) solves a major case through her knowledge of haircare products.
It’s standard Hollywood comedy, with a couple of good lines (“I even had a Coppola direct my admissions video!” she pouts), but making the audience “feel good” is higher on the agenda than making them laugh. What’s wrong here is typical of comedies for the last ten years: the film can’t decide whether to be a farce, with cartoonish characters and crazy situations, or a realistic comedy drama, with the laughs coming out of the drama of well-rounded characters. Unlike Hong Kong or Bollywood cinema, where all genres are thrown into the blender, here the effect is to diminish the comedy.
The first half continually tells us how outlandish Elle is (everybody gets a dropped-jaw moment), but then the second half works equally hard to show us Elle’s innate talent. I would like to think that an older comedy would have just began with the idea of a Barbie lawyer who wins cases through her keen eye for trivial fashion detail, then pitted her against an equally “specialized” lawyer. But as I said, the whole film serves to make us feel good that Elle feels good about herself, that if you “follow your dream” you will succeed, blah blah blah.
I’m curious whether Legally Blonde 2 has a bit more to say about the character…but then again I’m not that curious.
Link: There’s an interesting interpretation of the film as a love letter to itself over at Metaphilm, where a writer simply called Kirby sees Elle representing the film itself, trying to ingratiate itself into the minds of the anti-Hollywood intelligentsia. I think the essay falls apart at the end, but I do like the line: “I have stopped making conscious decisions and have become the dreaming mind of the world.” Is he quoting somebody?

Vive l’amour

Dir. Tsai Ming-Liang
I had to think if this really was the first Tsai Ming-Liang film I’ve seen.
I don’t count the first 10 minutes of The River I caught on The International Channel after I started taping it (I then misplaced the tape, forgetting to label it). And I don’t count the numerous articles I’ve read on him. I think because I’ve seen many a Hou Hsiao Hsien film and a few Edward Yang films, that I knew in advance how to prepare for Tsai’s films. And I was right.
Like Hou and Yang, Tsai believes in long takes, objective views, elliptical storytelling. He gives you just enough info to keep you going, then near the end of the film you realize you’ve been given so much that you know more than you thought about the characters. (Compare this to many a H’wood film where people blather on and on and by the end of the film we still don’t know who these people are).
Vive l’Amour is a film about three alienated characters in a alienating city (Taipei) trying to connect and finding it hard to do so. The film sets up a early dichotomy between sex and death: the lonely Hsiao Kang (Kang-Sheng Lee) sells columbria (spaces in a crematorium) and when we first meet him he tries to commit suicide; May (Kuei-Mei Yang) sells real estate (big boxes for the living) and when we first meet her she meets and shags a night-market salesman, Ah-Jung (Chao-jung Chen). That these three people are all using this empty space (one of her sale properties) as a temporary location (Hsiao-Kang stole a misplaced key to get in) leads to a strange love triangle (Hsiao is gay and unlike May’s relationship, engages in conversation with Ah-Jung). The movie is full of empty spaces, one-sided conversations, hidden emotions, and lonely distances. The film ends on a daring long take, which demonstrates Yang’s talent as an actress, and how much she trusts the director.
Tsai also has a very subtle sense of humor, and in such a sad and lonely film manages to eak out some laughs (Ah-Jung falling on his ass when he hears somebody coming in the apartment, Ah-Jung later crawling out from under the bed, when the camera placement has us focused on the open doorway).
(Jessica was slightly bored by the film, but perked up in a scene where May eats at a “stinky tofu” stall. We had to stop the film and make some late-night snacks due to it.)
The DVD is by those foul anti-movie brigands Fox Lorber who have been producing careless transfers from many years now. How can one company be so consistently crap, I don’t know. No extras, burned in subtitles, less than crisp image, with some murky black and some artifacts. I wonder if an Asian version would be better?
By the way, there’s a nice essay on Tsai over at Senses of Cinema from which I nicked the photo.

Jin-Roh – The Wolf Brigade

Dir. Hiroyuki Okiura
“From the makers of Ghost in the Shell!” says the DVD box,
but, they don’t mention, not from the mind of Masamune Shirow (the manga creator). What looked to be a tech, sci-fi thing, turns out to be a psychological drama between a sort of Special Ops soldier in a fascist future Japan, the memory of the teenage girl terrorist who blows herself up in front of him, and the living sister who looks like her (a la Vertigo) who may or may not be linked to the underground movement. Apart from the alterna-history design to the film (it’s set in a Tokyo that stopped evolving its architecture and automobiles around the 1950s, and spent all its money on the police force, what with the Nazis pulling out and the country battling terrorists) there wasn’t too much reason for it to be an anime. (My friend Jon says that it’s purely the economics of the Japanese film industry).
It’s a nicely reserved film, and builds to a satisfactory twist ending that only amplifies the despair throughout. Maybe anime is the medium from which to deal with political issues (my fuzzy memory of Patlabor 2 reminds me of how intelligent that film’s politics were, able to deal with sociological issues behind the mask of sci-fi action) and my above statement on shooting in anime is wrong. One thing that lets the film down is its reliance on rotoscoping, which let off the malodorous air of Ralph Bakshi. Tracing the real doesn’t make things look real.

Vegans, Reloaded

A vegan’s response to The Matrix. (The bad guy eats Matrix steak; the good guys eat…what do they eat?)

Animal rights, Ecological Determinism and The Matrix.
As a vegan, I’m often confronted with various versions of this theory nonetheless, and even before the first Matrix movie was made, I used to ask my carnivorous interlocutors if manifestly more intelligent creatures would be justified in eating us. A similar argument is posited on one level by the two opening Matrix films. Presented with a world where humans are controlled by machines that are manifestly more intelligent than us, we are repelled, at least most of us are. It’s a film that strives on one level to put us in the position that we put animals in at the moment.

By way of 24fps