Outstreched arm

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Boy howdy

Chan-wook Park's Oldboy has a difficult - and thus promising - question to answer: why would someone kidnap a rather irrelevant man, imprison him for fifteen years in a macabre, motel-like room, kill off his wife, and finally free him with no explanation whatsoever? Since this is just the setup, not too much time is spent conveying the horror of our hero Dae-su Oh's jailed existence - and that's fine, because what we do see of it is done effectively.

After his release, he meets Mi-do, a cute sushi chef and another in the series of cinematic female characters who fall for nutjobs. This and other events in Dae-su's new life seem slightly too orchestrated, and it turns out that they are just that - careful machinations by a grinning businessman who explains that Dae-su is welcome to kill him any time, but that way he'll never find out the truth. Which, it seems, is exactly what he'll be helped with through many gorey, and often fantastically directed, revenge sequences. A hallway fight between our hero and a dozen thugs manages to seem both painfully realistic and like an adaptation of the Double Dragon video game. A basically unwatchable blood-free gore scene shows a man eating a small, live octopus - it's so convincing, I'm positive that no CGI was used. The poor thing wiggles its tentacles furiously as it's stuffed into a sad, pathetic human mouth, and I got nothing out of this but shared pain for both.

That's what I call effective cinema - but what is it all about? What, indeed, is the mystery behind the increasingly bizarre, unlikely, and confusing events that drive our hero toward a deadline set by his torturer? Obviously, I won't give it away, but this would not be a review if I didn't share my feelings about it. And they were, in chronological order,

1) Ooh this is going to be good...
2) Oh... that's kind of lame actually.
3) Ah! A plot twist! So maybe...
4) Wait, no... it is that...
5) But then why...
6) Oh yuck!
7) *sigh*
8) Ok, I got it.
9) Yes, yes, fine.
10) *sigh* Yeah... whatever.
11) Oh, pff, nice...

Up and down, up and down the ladder of coolness and lameness, landing finally somewhere between Audition and Opera. Chan-wook forgets that to be stinging, revelations must be brief, sketchy, and suggestive; the viewer should fill in the emotional content and factual details. Oldboy's unraveling starts off like that, but it's soon hammered onto the screen, scene by scene, in a visceral and cerebrum-raping catharsis no fictional creation ever deserved.

Allow me to compare this quickly to Memento, a movie with a similar haunted-by-an-unknown-past protagonist. The final twist there - and you will forgive me some spoilering, but you really should have seen Memento by now - is perfectly ironic: Lenny ends up being wrong precisely where everyone told him he would be, and finds himself with no one to blame for his miserable (medical and emotional) condition. As far as plot devices go, Nolan's three-minute-memory would be considered cheating in any screenwriting classroom, but to his credit, he does something unexpected with it, setting up a perfectly circular action flow; I'm not ashamed to namedrop Sisyphus (Camus's content Sisyphus, no less!)

Oldboy fails to give the audience some substantial justification for its harrowing sequences, and its ultimate resolution has been handled with much more subtlety and effect before (by Polanski, Sayles, and even De Palma, hint, hint!) so it's not as shocking as he may think it. The existence of the minimalistically sadistic downtown prison is an element that would have been far more absorbing to explain in terms of psychology (both the victims' and the guards') but Chan-wook makes it into a simple fact of modern living - examples of this kind of odd balance of importance abound. This may be where Oldboy, at moments a touching, haunting portrayal, finally falls apart: it misleads the viewer so much, it never actually gets anywhere.

Monday, August 29, 2005

My brother Daniel's birthday

Originally uploaded by Neven Mrgan.

Yesterday we had a water slide party. Go have a look at a few thousand words' worth of pictures.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

One for bash.org

Thursday, August 25, 2005


There's a new front page image over at mrgan.com. I'm really pushing this orange thing, huh? Again, I suggest that you go to the Neven Portal instead of directly to this blog (unless it's only my award-winning writing you're interested in.)

In other news, I've also bought nevenmrgan.com (currently blank) which will house my portfolio and other business-related info.

P.S. The title? Try pronouncing it. Still nothing? Here, and here.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Google, it does nothing!

Hrmph. Everybody's favorite cool company, Google, launched a completely reimagined new version of their Google Desktop tool today. I wanted to like it. I wanted to use it. It doesn't look like either one will happen.

First, the concept itself. It reeks of adware-laden "desktop tools" of some years ago, and of Longhorn/Vista's sidebar: a big-ass thing on the right of your screen divided into sections such as email, news, photos, weather, etc. Obvious, and obviously boring. It's not that this is a bad idea per se, but it's yawn-inducing: I type in my ZIP code and I get the weather; I tell it where to look for photos and it runs a slideshow of them. That's the first thing that shocked me - why can't this darn thing just get my location, email, and RSS info from my Google account? I have to re-enter it all. Bah.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, the installation was odd, insisting that I still had the old version (called Google Desktop Search - distinguishing these two products or retiring one alltogether really needs to be done) and having me reboot twice. Once I did set it up on my Windows machine at work, I learned that it was impossible to go through our proxy in order to actually get all this spanky information off the web. Gmail Notifier has no problem with this, so why should the Desktop? By the way, you can run the Notifier at the same time - weird. Offering four solutions to the same problem can be a good idea, but in Google's case it now feels like their dev groups aren't talking to each other. Shades of Redmond...

As with the Notifier, the interface of Google Desktop isn't the smoothest-animated I've ever seen. If you "pull out" a section to expand it, it stays there until your click it back into place, instead of going away after a while as you move on to whatever application you were playing with. Right-clicking doesn't bring up a context menu - to customize a section, you have to click a button that looks to me like it would minimize the bar. Usability, people!

And need I mention - no Mac version. Sure, we have the Dashboard, but that's a bit of a pain to use as well.

I smell a quick update to this thing... Or at least I hope that's what I smell.

// And another thing. The mixed OS/web interface has to go. Why are some obviously UI-related things managed through the browser, while some functionality options are in the Sidebar UI?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Coolest coffee shop ever

It's the Kenny Roger's Roaster guy!!!
Originally uploaded by clunkygirl.

Here's me in emo pose #4 in front of a frighteningly hip joint in Orlando.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

CNET breaks a shocking story

The most idiotic piece of journalism I've seen today:

The sleek Mac Mini from Apple Computer costs $499 at retail, but the total sum of the parts is less, says research firm iSuppli.
The total does not include costs for intellectual property, software, licensing fees, shipping, marketing or other expenses, so Apple's total bill for putting a Mac Mini together is actually higher.

Thank you for buying Business For Dummies.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Chain Gang vs Grand Illusion

I'd like to quickly compare & contrast two "prison-break" movies I recently watched, Mervyn LeRoy's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), and Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937).

The reason I used caution quotes in the above paragraph is that both movies tend to get mentioned as prison-break firsts and sources of inspiration for subsequent jailbreak flicks. While this may be true, it would be unfair to label these two as such since neither movie focuses on the nuts and bolts of escaping all that much, and both have bigger fish to fry: in the case of Chain Gang, the cruelness of fate, the cruelness of people, and the logic of the penal system; in llusion, the human interactions behind those of larger entitites (armies, nations, states).

Fugitive follows WW2 veteran James Allen who decides to add more life to his years after being subjected to the routine and regime of the army. Nothing works out in his favor, though, and he ends up in jail after he's unknowingly drawn into a robbery. He serves his time in a chain gang that must make the army seem like a hippy commune. Eventually he escapes and after some trepidation, finally starts his life the way he'd planned to. But this only lasts so long - a venomous girlfriend (though quite seductive in her first scene) reveals his secret just as he's becoming one of Chicago's most prominent citizens. He now faces the chain gang again, unless the public sympathy for him and the outrage he sparks about the inhumane prison conditions keep him a free man.

Grand Illusion is the story of Capt. de Boeldieu, Lt. Maréchal, and other prisoners of a German P.O.W. camp. From the very first scene it's quite apparent that both sides consider the war a gentlemanly sport, and any conflict between them stems from non- war-related issues such as class, money, and pride. Erich Von Stroheim's charming creation, Von Rauffenstein, is the head of the prison our multinational heroes are transferred to - an honorable and, above all, polite nobleman. When they attempt to escape, he reacts with some disappointment, but stays civil. It's a film about many things - male bonding, group dynamics, folk politics, and Europe, and it's packed with strange revelations: one character is vegetarian, another stuns a room full of jailed men when he jokingly dresses like a woman. Renoir fits in every little detail of humanism he can come up with, but none of it feels forced or manipulative. If you laugh or feel otherwise with these characters, it will be genuine.

Fugitive is a very, very good movie, brave and uncompromising, with a surprising and constantly twisting story line. I also guarantee that you will remember the haunting last scene. However, compared to Grand Illusion, it's a hostess cup cake. Not because Illusion is braver or more ahead of its time, but because it's timeless. Renoir's "poetic realism" results in truly cross-cultural, cross-temporal images, such as the German war widow's huge dining table, used only by herself and her child now that the battlefront has claimed the rest of the family. You will find the following statement either terribly sophomoric or pretentious: it's one of the best movies I've ever seen.

A word on the titles: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang sounds deliciously campy, and I'm very grateful that at no time does James Allen actually say those words. Still, it's beaten by The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? Grand Illusion may seem a confusing choice at first (maybe not - I had to think about it), but I believe it's clarified in the film's last sequence. As Maréchal and Rosenthal cross a vast, featureless sea of snow, the German patrol stops shooting at them because they've crossed into Switzerland. A silly sense of "playing by the rules" on the Germans' part, or basic humanity in diguise? In either case, the illusion of there being clear-cut borders between peoples is unmasked.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Near the dumpster a man wept to a callous god and received no comfort

Near the dumpster a man wept to a callous god and received no comfort. Originally uploaded by clunkygirl.

Michele posted this photo of me damning you all to hell for letting this beautified waste receptacle get so filthy and smelly. Why do I care? Because my brother and I did the beautification of this and a few more dumpsters in downtown Dunedin, FL.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I'm Batman

Today I had a metrosexual experience. Well, truth be told, it was more metro- than -sexual, but it still qualifies.

I was at the grocery store, in line behind an older couple who didn't speak English. They had picked up a bunch of vegetables, and the poor teenage cashier started sweating when numerous unmarked, unlabeled leaves and roots rolled with the conveyor belt. He stopped at a long green and white vegetable and said, "Uh, I'm afraid I don't know what this is."

The couple surely knew what it was, but that didn't help the Arby's-fed boy ring it up, since they most likely didn't even understand his question. After a few seconds, I decided to prevent the certain disaster.

"That," I offered, "is a leek. L-e-e-k. It makes for good soup, especially vichysoisse."

With that, I flung my cape open and flew out into the cold, bitter night. This small victory warmed my heart, but the thought of other men and women in similar peril chilled it again. Will I ever find peace?