Monday, August 28, 2006

Inside Man

After a string of Netflix dregs (re: The Babysitter), it was nice to finally watch a well-made movie! Because of quality of the people involved in the movie - Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster - I thought Inside Man had the potential to be a great movie. It is certainly a worthy effort, but it just didn't click for me.

The movie is about a bank holdup orchestrated by Clive Owen, with Denzel Washington as the lead detective on the case. The movie is well-shot, and full of tension. But the area which I think Inside Man is really lacking is in the depth of its characterizations. Strange, considering the great actors involved. But the characters are all fairly one-dimensional. Jodie Foster, in particular, seems to wander around the movie with this sly smirk glued to her face. The intellectual standoff between Denzel Washington and Clive Owen -- a la Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive -- never really materializes. And we never identify enough with any of the characters to really get emotionally involved in the film.

I believe that great characters are crucial to the success of any film, regardless of genre. Take The Matrix for example. Of course we all know about the special effects and innovative filmmaking. But it's really the characters - Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, Agent Smith -- that bind us to the movie. I think we particularly identify with Neo, or hope to -- this semi-clueless guy wandering through life who finds that he has a higher calling. Similarly, Titanic would have been just another disaster movie, except that James Cameron chose to show it through the eyes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. We fall in love with their characters, and so the disaster hits home much stronger. Finally, Gladiator is raised above traditional epic films by a very nuanced performance by Russell Crowe. I mean, what would Gladiator have been like if Arnold Schwarzenegger had been cast in that role? *shudder* I wish that Hollywood would concentrate on getting the story and the characters right, and not worry so much about big budgets, fancy special effects, or big-name stars.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Planking Layer

A status update on the San Francisco. I've finished putting the first layer of planking. This is one of the most fun stages, since you can really see the hull taking shape. My skills have eroded a bit, so the first planks I did were not that great, but by the end I was getting better. It's also easy to rush this part, because you can always correct mistakes with a sanding block. But it's better to do a good job, to save work later on. As it is, I think I have a lot of sanding in my future. :) Next up is the second layer of planking in walnut - one of the most laborious steps.

On a side note, I've suffered my first injury. For some reason this generic X-Acto blade company has made the #11 blade a slightly larger shape than the ones from X-Acto. :( So I put my thumb where I was not expecting any metal, and sliced it open a bit. Most importantly though - the boat model was unharmed.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Love's Labour Lost

First of all, let me say that I think Kenneth Branagh is brilliant. He is a great actor, and as a director/actor, his movies like Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet have made Shakespeare accessible to an entirely new generation of viewers.

That being said, Love's Labour's Lost is a lousy movie. First of all it's a musical, which surprised me. Now Love's Labour's Lost, because of its lightness, is probably the best candidate for turning into a musical. I mean, can you imagine a musical adaptation of Hamlet? (Although who can forget the priceless Gilligan's Island musical version of that play!) The movie is similar to Moulin Rouge in integrating popular music into the plot, though while Moulin Rouge used contemporary music, Love's Labour's Lost uses songs from old American musicals, songs such as "Cheek to Cheek" and "The Way You Look Tonight".

For some reason it falls flat. While I enjoy seeing old-time stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers, for some reason it is much less appealing watching Kenneth Branagh and Alicia Silverstone dancing and singing. There must be some change in expectations of our current generation of film stars. Also the singing is obviously dubbed, and for some reason the songs are cut extremely short (which actually is a benefit in hindsight!). And the lighting of the movie feels very plastic. Perhaps they were trying to resemble the high-key lighting of musicals like Singin' in the Rain, but could not reproduce that Technicolor look. There is also the tendency for these stage adaptations to be shot too closely, and this film suffers from that, whereas Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet did not.

So I got very frustrated with this movie, and turned it off in the middle, which I rarely do. Still, no one can deny the creativity and daring of Kenneth Branagh as a filmmaker, and I always say that innovative films are always worth making, even if they don't always work out.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Building a Boat

After a long hiatus, I have started to build another boat model. This will be my sixth one, a Spanish galleon called the San Francisco by the Barcelona-based model company Artesania Latina. At this stage, all the hull frames have been aligned, and the deck attached to the top. This model has a split deck, so it was a little hard to get everything aligned properly. There was actually a bit of twist in the keel, but that seems to have gone away (which is fortunate since I had no idea how to fix it). I am now sanding the sides of the frames. It's easy to be impatient with this part and do just a cursory job. But it's important to get this right because it goes a long way toward determining how well the planks attach to the hull, and the final shape of the hull.