Archive | Older RSS feed for this section

The Three Movies I’ve Seen Most Recently

4 Jun

– Exit Through The Gift Shop
– My Cousin Vinny
– Prince of Persia

Exit Through The Gift Shop This is the movie by the street artist Banksy about the street artist Banksy. Sort of. It’s actually the movie by the street artist Banksy about the artist (who might not exist) Mr. Brainwash (who might not, if he does exist, be an artist). It’s a documentary about street artists and graffiti and how quickly art can go from vandalism to being worth a fortune (if it’s ever art at all). Sort of. It actually only seems like it was a documentary. I suspect it was actually mostly a movie, in that I think it was at least partly (and maybe completely??) made-up. In any case, it was very different from any other movie I’ve seen, and on that level it was wholly enjoyable and engaging. It was also funny, dramatic, well-edited, and confusingly titled. Movie theaters have gift shops?

My Cousin Vinny is what it is. It’s a classic for a reason. Well acted. Well written (mostly). Fabulously dated with the utter lack of cell phones, decades old fashions, and cars, etc. It’d been many years since I’d seen it, and I was very aware this time of how such a movie gets made. I could hear the screenwriters making the pitch to the producers (“it’s a fish out of water story. They turn themselves in because they think they’re getting caught for shoplifting, but it’s really murder! He’s a New Yorker in the deep south and he has to try his first case as a lawyer in their court! Hilarity ensues.) I can hear the writers figuring out how exactly to make absolutely everything important to the character be tied to the result of the case in plausible ways. I can imagine the producers shopping out the script to actors, selling them on the roles that could (and did) win them Academy Awards. Fortunately I can also see the humor in it, and can enjoy the performances and story and not get too caught up in what might have occurred behind the scenes.

Prince of Persia is based on a video game. It’s a hero’s adventure story. As such I am very familiar with all but the surface details. There is a Han Solo sidekick (played by an ostrich-kissing Alfred Molina), a Princess, a Hero learning how to be a hero and fulfill his destiny, and lots of special effects. I expected all of that. As such, I wasn’t disappointed. It is what it is. It’s even a pretty good version of what it is. It suffers a bit from the plague infecting Hollywood movies with poor third acts, but only a bit. I really liked the scene when the King talks to the Prince about the behavior of a good man as opposed to that of a great man. It was nice to see a non reluctant hero for a change. My biggest complaint with it is that I wasn’t a huge fan of the way the action scenes were directed. Most of them were just lots of quick cuts of close up action edited together. The flow of what’s going on is fairly cohesive, but I still felt like I wasn’t really seeing it happen. This really becomes a problem in the third act where the climactic battle is happening and I couldn’t really tell how it went the way it did. I’m still not sure exactly what happened.

The storytelling of Prince of Persia isn’t all that sophisticated. It’s informed. It’s well practiced. It’s known and safe. It makes a very interesting contrast to Exit Through The Gift Shop which might be so sophisticated in its storytelling that I’m unsure what story it’s telling. I like movies that don’t expect the audience to know the story before they buy the ticket, but I do like to be able to figure out what I saw.


The Three Movies I’ve Seen Most Recently

12 May

– Crazy Heart
– Children of Men
– Ironman 2

Crazy Heart was about what I expected. Jeff Bridges won an oscar for it, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is just as good as he is. It’s about an old and aging country star, who is drunk all the time, finding his muse (a young pretty girl, naturally) and as a result changing his life for the better. In other words it’s very predictable and you’ve seen it before and I really didn’t care all that much. But it’s very well done in terms of performances, writing, cinematography, editing, etc. Perfectly enjoyable movie, but nothing spectacular.

Children of Men is still genius. Still one of the most brilliant end-of-the-world movies. It is, however, largely devoid of hope, save for the metaphorical aspects of bringing the key of humanity into Tomorrow. This time I was also keenly aware that it’s (nearly) completely absent of any kind of spirituality or religion, a lack which is made more noticeable by the fact that the end-of-the-world movie I’m currently writing is largely driven by spirituality.

Ironman 2 is, well, it’s Ironman 2. It makes sense that Marvel Studios is the one place in Hollywood that can make, over and over again, movies which feel precisely like comic books. Robert Downey Jr. once again manages to play a guy that should be entirely loathed, but is incredibly enjoyable instead. While Tony Stark and his incredible (and admitted) narcissism is the most entertaining part of the movie, the villain is the least interesting (and over-the-top) part (just like the first movie) but the hints and glimpses into the larger Marvel Movie Universe are both more frequent and exciting, particularly the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson. They’re trying to pull off something with The Avengers that I don’t think has been done before in movies. I hope they manage to do it. Oh, and just like the last one, be sure to stay until the end of the credits for the final scene.

Four Ways to Fix the Prequels

7 Apr

Yes, I spent some time thinking about this while bored at work. Why do you ask, doesn’t everyone think about this when bored at work?

As a follow up to a previous entry on how I wish the fundamental approach to writing the prequels had been different, here are a few ideas I’d throw out there for consideration:

1. The presentation of the Jedi. This is a big one. Jedi are cool. We “know” this because we saw Luke (and Obi-Wan to a lesser extent) in the original three movies. The Jedi are badass warriors who have Force powers and use lightsabers. Turns out though that the Jedi are not, in fact, cool. They’re political pawns. Diplomatic soldiers. They’re a rigid Order. They follow a life devoid (as much as possible) of attachment. A life devoid of emotion. They sit around and meditate, or teach others to sit around and meditate. They study archives. They teach others to study archives. They use lightsabers (ok, that part is kinda cool) or teach others to use lightsabers. It’s a risk to portray what was once cool as abruptly uncool, but I think it’s necessary for the prequels. Anakin’s decision to leave the Jedi has more resonance if we’re not so sure about them ourselves.
     I like the way the Jedi Order is portrayed in the movies, but I wish the reasons for the Jedi Order being the way they are were made clear. When you have a world where a minority of the beings (Jedis in this case) have superpowers and the majority of beings do not it creates an interesting tension. How do the superpowered beings react? Do they believe themselves superior? Attempt to enslave the “regular” majority? Do they see themselves as having responsibilities (with great power comes great blah blah blah…)? Do they see their powers as license to do whatever they want? Do they see their powers as a mandate to help others less fortunate? etc.
     I’m fairly certain that if all the people on our police force had superpowers we would want them to be restricted by a code of some sort, perhaps we’d even prefer to have them under our government’s control. Then we’d feel comfortable with them protecting and serving us. As guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, the Jedi must surely know that the biggest threat to the galaxy is a rogue force-user: a person with superpowers that doesn’t follow any code or agree to government restrictions the way the Jedi do. A Sith, for example.

It’s not attachment or fear or anger or emotion that leads to the Dark Side. It’s power. This is why the Jedi Order takes all the force users from everywhere in the galaxy (except the Outer Rim apparently) at an extremely young age and brainwashes them with the ways of the Jedi. It’s for the greater good if all the force users are Jedi. It’s the best way to train soldiers, er, guardians of peace and justice. It’s why the Jedi have such “narrow, dogmatic views.”

One way to show at least some of this is to have Qui-Gon be a true maverick, an actual rogue Jedi, and not just a mostly regular Jedi who doesn’t “follow the code” (whatever that means). Perhaps start Episode I with the chancellor sending Obi-Wan, on his own, to negotiate the trade dispute, but he finds Qui-Gon there. Qui-Gon, as Obi-Wan knows, is one of only 20 Jedi to ever leave the order (another one being Count Dooku) and as such he is a fugitive from justice. Obi-Wan is under authority of the council to return Qui-Gon to justice, a notion which Qui-Gon deems absurd. Qui-Gon is there on Naboo though, because he’s sensed a large disturbance in “the living Force.” (See, Qui-Gon believes that the Force is more than just an energy field, he believes it’s actually a sentient being which has feelings and desires, something which the Jedi Order does not.) So now Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are reluctantly paired on Naboo and there’s inherent conflict between them which originates from their character. Make Qui-Gon a cynical rogue akin to, oh, I don’t know, Han Solo or something like that. He’s amused that Obi-Wan thinks he could actually “return him to justice” but he tags along because he wants to find out what is causing the disturbance he senses (plus the droids try to kill them). Obi-Wan is constantly on edge because he knows Qui-Gon is (or at least could be) dangerous. Qui-Gon is constantly trying to convince Obi-Wan that the Jedi are missing something significant about not only the very nature of the Force, but also something disturbing which is originating on Naboo (a phantom menace of sorts).
     Anakin’s got the idea of Jedi that we had gotten from the original movies. He thinks they’re cool. He looks up to them in the way a boy looks up to heroes. He wants to be one because it’s the greatest thing one could possibly be. When he’s confronted with a regular Jedi, Obi-Wan, and a rogue Jedi, Qui-Gon, his confusion about what it is to be a Jedi starts in right away, a tension heightened significantly when they inform him that he himself has force powers and could, in fact, be a Jedi. (Well, Qui-Gon says he could, Obi-Wan isn’t sure since he’s already too old to enter the Order…)
     Obviously this one significant change in the character of Qui-Gon has massive implications for the rest of Episode I as well as the next two.

2. Include Count Dooku (pronounced the way Lucas does in the EpII behind the scenes stuff, so that his name “Dough-Koo” sounds more like the japanese word for “poison” and less like literal shit) in all three episodes. The way the movies are currently, some time shortly after Episode I Count Dooku becomes Darth Tyrannus. This means that during Episode I Count Dooku is a fallen Jedi (one that has left the order). He is also Qui-Gon’s old Master (perhaps where Qui-Gon got his I-don’t-follow-The-Code behavior?). Why not have Count Dooku contact Qui-Gon in Episode I? Or perhaps the other way around with rogue Qui-Gon seeking out Dooku? Perhaps Anakin overhears this. Count Dooku confides in his old Padawan that things aren’t as they seem, he’s onto something big and he’s not sure exactly what yet. Perhaps he tells Qui-Gon he suspects the sith have returned. Perhaps he tempts Qui-Gon to join him in his quest to defeat the Sith.

3. Include Qui-Gon in all three episodes. This is actually the case with the movies the way they are now, sort of, but it’s really badly done. If he’s made into a cooler rogue character this is even more important. In a saga where the quest to stop death becomes one of Anakin’s primary motivations Qui-Gon is the one character who figures out immortality. He teaches it to Yoda and then (after Episode III) to Obi-Wan. He’s important. He’s talking to Yoda in Episode II but this is so subtle I’m guessing very few people notice (and some that do can’t tell it’s supposed to be Qui-Gon because it’s badly done). Qui-Gon is the one who finds Anakin and the first to believe that he’s someone special. The more significant Qui-Gon’s belief in Anakin the more tragic his sudden departure in Anakin’s life becomes. Anakin is out to try and stop death… perhaps not just because his mother dies, not just because he’s sure Padmé will, but perhaps also because Qui-Gon died. Have Yoda bring up the fact that Qui-Gon has retained his identity after death. To Qui-Gon Anakin listens… Why not have Qui-Gon show up as a ghost in Episode III? Instead of having Yoda tell Obi-Wan that he “has training” for him, have Qui-Gon appear and tell Obi-Wan himself… the first Jedi to figure out post-death-identity-retention ought to be the first ghost shown, right?

4. Fix Padmé’s death. I don’t like thinking that Padmé, the mother of Luke and Leia, dies of a broken heart. Sadly, Episode III indicates that she does. Personally I read between the editing of that scene, examine the subtext that I might be making up, and see it differently. But I shouldn’t have to do this. Padmé’s death ought to be one of the great mysteries and powerful moments of the prequels. It’s one of the few things that we don’t know about. We know she doesn’t live, but that’s all we know. How does Leia remember her? How does Luke not? How did she die? These are fundamental questions that are poorly answered in the movies, if they are answered at all. Her death could be used as a great way to show the true power of the Dark Side, the power of The Force, and the way it truly does connect all of us. Her death can be used to illustrate the profound affect that Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side has on those around him. She is bonded to Anakin, and he to her. When he “dies” this force connection between he and her is broken. When he devotes himself to the Dark Side, after devoting himself to her, some of that new devotion goes into her, perhaps despite her desires. Her connection with Anakin is torn from her. That violent ripping could be cause, in combination with traumatic birth and near-death experience on Hell Planet, for her death. But show that! Don’t just have a droid say she’s dying but we don’t know why.

Thoughts on the iPad

2 Feb

First of all, what an awful name. Of all the rumored and possible names for this thing… iPad? Seriously? (My favorite name was “Canvas” but that doesn’t fit what the device turned out to be.)

Second of all, initially it’s underwhelming, because it seems to just be a big iPodTouch. I have an iPodTouch. It’s an amazing thing. A bigger one would also be an amazing thing, and I can easily imagine that browsing the internet by physically interacting with it is much more enjoyable than using a keyboard and mouse. But the tablet seems like just a bigger iPodTouch.

When Steve Jobs introduced the tablet he positioned it as a third category of product in between the Laptop and the iPhone. I think that’s disingenuous. The iPad is clearly meant to be a replacement for a laptop and not just a larger iPodTouch. In the future, it will be. Get a MacBook now while Apple still makes them. The iPad is the “laptop” of the future. Soon almost nobody will use laptops anymore because they will have iPads, or iPad-like devices. It can run programs as powerful and sophisticated as the iWork applications (basically Apple’s version of Microsoft Office), something that my iPodTouch certainly cannot. That means it’s as powerful already as most people need a laptop to be.

I can hear the screams of protest. “It doesn’t print!” “It doesn’t have a keyboard!” “It doesn’t have a camera!” “It doesn’t have a disc drive!” and so it can’t possibly replace a laptop. But I think that it can and it will. Maybe not this initial version, but it will improve, and tablet sales will soon outnumber laptop sales. Why?

Because it does the things that most people use their laptops for, and it does them better (and cheaper). Most people use laptops for email, for browsing the internet, and for… well, that’s basically it. Maybe there’s word processing. Maybe there’s video watching. Maybe there’s digital photo sorting and editing. The iPad does all of these things and aside from the word processing it seems likely that it does all of these things better than a laptop. Combine it with the keyboard dock (or a bluetooth keyboard) though, and it’s just as good as a laptop on your desk for word processing, but when you want to travel you only have to take the screen with you and not the entire bulky and heavy laptop. It’s better for sharing photos and giving presentations. It’s better for carrying around with you when traveling. It’s better for reading.

For people who get confused when Finder is the front app but a Word window is taking up the whole screen (I think that’s most computer users), the iPad is easier to use. Touch what you want, and you get it. The “computer” is mostly hidden. The “middle-man” mouse and keyboard is gone. You just physically interact with what you want. For most people, especially people that don’t really know or understand how to use computers, that’s far easier than using a computer via a mouse/trackpad and keyboard can ever be.

The fact that the computer is mostly hidden, though, is why it can’t completely replace the laptop. Yet. There are a few people out there, like me, who do things with their laptop that the iPad can’t do (like edit video) so for us it doesn’t replace the laptop. But we’re the minority of computer users. The iPad is the laptop of the future for the rest of you. I guess that means we’ll have to get used to the name.

With Eyes Unclouded – Deep Impact

30 Jan

[Previous With Eyes Unclouded: Into The Wild, Dangerous Minds]

Deep Impact

In 1998 there were two movies about an asteroid hitting the earth and causing massive special-effects. Armageddon is the one most people remember, but it was a silly movie about oil drillers being sent into space to save us all by drilling for oil on an asteroid and then blowing it up. It was more or less a comedy.

Deep Impact took a more serious approach to the idea of a gigantic asteroid ending all life on earth as we know it. It’s aged in a fascinating way. I wouldn’t call it a great movie, but it was highly engaging to watch it again more than a decade later.

Here we have a scenario where the first dark-skinned president of the United States (Morgan Freeman, obviously. Who else could it be?) informs the public that there’s a chance we’re all going to die when the asteroid hits in 2000. They’ve taken precautions of course, and collaborated with the Russians to send a spaceship out to blow up the asteroid, but until that mission succeeds or fails the President just tells us to go about life as usual. Pay our bills. We’re told that leaders of other countries are saying the same to their populace.

And everyone listens.

There is no looting. No riots. No panic. No conspiracy theories. No wars break out. Everyone listens to the president, trusts him, and goes about their daily living. It’s like some crazy alternate universe. Sometimes I hear it referred to as “the 90’s.” It’s as if the concept of a “terrorist” hadn’t been invented yet. People weren’t afraid of anything, and didn’t even become so when told that life as we know it might be wiped out. It’s fascinating.

But when the spaceship fails, instead breaking the asteroid into two pieces both still headed for earth, the President must again address the nation. This time he says that most of us will die. He says that we’re still prepared, because even though the government planned and hoped for the best it was smart and organized enough to prepare effectively for the worst (remember, it’s a crazy alternate universe). So while most of us are going to die, a few people will be selected by lottery to survive in a cave system they’ve secretly and securely built underground. We’re told that leaders of other countries are saying the same to their populace.

Now, the President with his Morgan Freeman Authority declares martial law, but there is still relative peace.

People listen to the lottery rules about how certain people are pre-selected for their necessary-for-human-race-advancement skills, and how nobody over 55 will otherwise be selected, and how the rest will be informed by phone, and there is still relative peace. People go home to their phones. There are no riots. No protests. No looting. In short there is nothing dramatic at all aside from people struggling with whether or not they are chosen for survival. It’s fascinating.

And then the special effects happen, and the martyrdom, and the human race goes on no more afraid than they were before. Crazy.

I do want to say a bit about the special effects though. First of all, they are very scarce, (if all you want to see is shots of massive destruction this movie will disappoint) and second of all they age pretty poorly. The computer animated tidal wave which destroys New York is quite clearly computer generated in the days before they knew how to computer generate water (before The Perfect Storm and before Titanic). There’s also a gorgeous shot where this massive wave destroys the World Trade Center towers. Crazy alternate universe.

All in all it’s a fascinating look at a potential apocalypse where we learn that the best chance for survival is to marry Elijah Wood before he plays Frodo, and that Vanessa Redgrave is too old to survive but she’s ok with it.

Hope and Change

24 Jan

Obama saw Brown’s victory as a mirror-image of his own: “The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated, not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.”
It seems the secret to getting elected, especially if you want to capture my generation’s vote (which numerically is often necessary if we’re voting at all) is convincing us that you will change what’s come before and what is there now.

How many people do we elect who convince us that they’re going to change things, only to have them not change things, before we become skeptical again and stop caring and voting?

The Least of Three Evils (for MA voters)

13 Jan

In Massachusetts, a state where gay marriage is legal, the representatives of the state ought to believe that gay marriage being legal is a good thing, right? Joe Kennedy is sort of for gay marriage, but only in that the government shouldn’t really have a say and that churches ought to be allowed to decide for themselves. Scott Brown believes marriage is between a man and a woman.

Viewed through this lens Martha Coakley is the only viable candidate. But Martha reeks of standard party-line politician, and I hate the party system. Nearly everything she says seems like it was pulled from the “how to be a democrat 2010” handbook. Maybe she believes it all, but it all reads and seems like it’s just politics. It seems like she says things because they are the-things-you-say-to-get-people-who-believe-what-I-believe-to-vote-for-you, and not because they are her true beliefs.

Aside from gay marriage, what I want from my government is the, well, the governance, that will lead us to a humane world. Everyone wants a humane world. We’re human beings. We ought to have a humane world. That said, the three areas which I think are most important for a humane world – Health Care, Education, and the Environment – are all poorly represented by these three would-be-representatives.

Joe Kennedy is by far the most realistic candidate of the three. His website shows that he’s familiar with bills currently under review by the legislature, and that he understands what the job he’s applying for actually is: he’ll be reading a lot of complicated bills written in legalese. He’ll be writing other bills, filing bills, and voting on bills. That’s it. Promises like

“Martha will fight to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to housing, education, health care, and employment opportunities”


“I believe we ought to strengthen our border enforcement and institute an employment verification system with penalties for companies that hire illegal immigrants (Scott)”

are un-detailed statements of large scope essentially beyond anything that a senator can actually do and they do little to convince me that Scott or Martha are actually aware of what the job is (odd for Scott, who is already a state senator). Joe Kennedy is, at least from the impressions he’s given, trustworthy. He makes his share of un-detailed statements of large scope too, like “I believe we must promote free trade and peace” (who doesn’t?) but he also includes detailed ideas about what bills he’s going to write and file, and how he’s going to vote on current ones. Unfortunately he seems to be wrong about Health Care, and claims to be against both income and sales taxes, which sounds nice but does beg the question of where he expects the government to get any money at all. China?

Like Joe, Scott is also wrong about Health Care. Both of them vehemently oppose the current Health Care bill (although only Joe claims to have actually read it) but neither of them provide any workable alternatives. The bottom line is that we absolutely have to change our Health Care system. It’s awful. It’s inhumane and utterly embarrassing that a country claiming to be civilized doesn’t provide healthcare to all of its residents. While Martha is at least vowing to support the reform the Obama Administration is hoping to pass, she doesn’t seem to be aware that it doesn’t go nearly far enough and that while changing what we have is extremely important (so important that we must change it even if it’s only for the sake of change), changing it into something which treats health care as the humane right that it is is even more important.

None of them seem to understand this.

Martha is also weak on education, seemingly pleased with the foundation of “No Child Left Behind” stating that it just needs “several reforms” in order to “deliver the changes students deserve.” This is, of course, ridiculous. Joe thinks we should abolish “No Child Left Behind” as well as the Federal Department of Education and instead let each state innovate their own educational systems. It might work… it might not, but at least it’s an acknowledgement that our education system is in need of truly radical reform, something neither of the other two candidates seem to know. Scott is politically vague about education, saying he is “passionate about improving the quality of our public schools” (who isn’t?) and that he “support(s) choice through charter schools, as well as the MCAS exam as a graduation requirement.” Goodie. Let’s first give them a “choice” about which type of school to go to but then continue using standardized tests as a way to determine the education level of our citizens regardless of which school they chose. Great plan.

Nothing short of a complete redesign of our educational system is good enough. We need a system which acknowledges that each individual student has different interests, different ways of learning, and different levels of understanding which develop at different rates. Anything less is inhumane.

None of them seem to understand this.

As for the environment, here’s Martha:

“I support common-sense environment policy that will help to reduce pollution and preserve our precious open spaces. I realize that without action now, future generations will be left to clean up the mess we leave.”

Here’s Scott:

“Our planet is in trouble. I believe protecting our environment must be a priority, not only for today but for future generations.”

No, I’m sorry, that’s backwards. The first quote is Scott, not Martha, she’s the second quote. Point is they sound basically interchangeable.

Give Joe points for being different at least:

“I would consider myself an Environmentalist and I am a strong advocate of green initiatives… The Greatest Polluter in America is the US Government.”

I kid (a bit) about the similarity of Scott and Martha here but give Martha credit for at least being thorough and detailed and stating that “climate change is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.” I’m not sure it’s a moral issue, but it’s certainly pressing. The only thing Scott’s website provides are vague promises and beliefs about the environment and his site doesn’t mention even once global warming or the climate crisis (neither does Joe’s) although I know from the debate that he’s not convinced it’s entirely caused by our actions. Scott says

“I support reasonable and appropriate development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal and improved hydroelectric facilities”

as if there’s someone who doesn’t. Way to say nothing. I support the sky being blue. I support wheels being round.

Look, we can’t have a humane world if the planet our world is on is sick. It’s really more important than anything else. It doesn’t matter how well educated we are, how healthy, how safe, how peaceful, how anything, if our planet is sick.

None of them seem to understand this, though Martha comes out as the strongest of the three here if only because she’ll support the progress that the Obama Adminstration is trying to make in this regard.

So I’m genuinely stumped here. I have no idea which of these three represent the least of the three evils. I’ve read and heard that a lot of people are voting for Scott simply because he opposes the current party that’s in power. This is true, he does, but he represents the other party. Checks and balances aren’t supposed to work the way the party system works. If you really want to elect someone who is going to ensure that one party isn’t in control, vote for Joe. But is that even a good reason to vote? If I truly don’t want any of these people to represent me, shouldn’t I not vote for them? Isn’t that how a democracy is supposed to work? Votes are our way of saying “yes, I agree with you. You represent me.” Isn’t there more to you than just “I oppose large government” or “I oppose the currently-in-power party”?

How about “I support a humane world with an effective government”? I’d vote for the one who could back that up with details about how they’re going to do it.