Friday, March 26, 2010

Famous Tweets from History: Alexander Fleming Edition

"Oh, crap!  Left today for vacation and forgot to put away my experiment.  Probably all moldy by the time I get back – what a waste."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feliz Navi, Dah? Nah.

Spoiler alert: plot points will be revealed during this blog post.  On the plus side, it isn’t the plot that is going to make you like/love this movie anyway.  Oh, and keep in mind that this isn’t a review of the movie as a whole, just a discussion of one of its themes.

Last week I talked about how INGLOURIOUS had a negative “we’re just like them!” message.  Today I’m going to talk about the other Oscar nominee that also had a negative twist on this popular theme.

However, where it is debatable whether Tarantino meant to say what he did, it’s a fair certainty that James Cameron had no clue as to what he was saying.

AVATAR sets up two diverse people groups: the money-grubbing, corporate greed-mongers who will destroy anything for personal gain (the bad guys); and the “others” – the land-loving, respect your environment, take-only-what-you-need blue people (the good guys). 

And then there are those in between, who must choose which side to be on.

I wasn’t bothered, as many were, by the first two thirds of the movie as these worlds were set up. 

Sure, the Navi live in a hippy-skippy dream world with no dark underbelly, and toy with a religion that can’t decide whether it has a personal deity (that can choose sides – which they say she can’t, but she does) or just a “force” made up of all living things and microchloridians or somesuch. 

Like I said, hippy-skippy, but, for the record, not satanic. 

[And, as long as I’ve digressed there, let me also say for the record, “That any individual who claims to understand story could watch that movie seeing the conclusions that Driscoll comes to about cultural mandate is beyond me.”  Cameron is neutral on the idea of progress and technology – he is neither praising nor razing the notion.  Jake does not give up his gun when he becomes Navi, nor does he dis the technology that allows him to be Navi to begin with.  Cameron is not concerned in this film with whether technology is good or bad, but rather how it is used.]

All that to say – for the thinking mind, within all the hippy-skippy set up (I just love saying hippy-skippy), there are some clearly positive takeaways and some negative takeaways.  And for those who don’t like their intellectual diet to be over-simplification, a whole lot that can just be ignored.

No, it’s not the two hours of set up where I think Cameron missed the boat; it’s in the third act of payoff.

Two thirds of this movie is used to set up how different these two cultural mindsets are; but when push comes to shove, are the Navi any different than the greed mongers?

According to Cameron:  nope.

If anything, the Navi choose to become just like their enemy.  When not under pressure, they are role models or peace and love.  But when under pressure:

They fight just like their enemy – charge straight ahead in a slash and burn manner (they inexplicably choose not to use any of that “we know the terrain” wisdom to their advantage).

They revel in the same level of “rah rah” excitement before, during and after the battle.

And they have the same respect for human life as the human’s have for Navi life.

When Neytiri kills the wild beasts – to protect another – she mourns the need to kill, and prays over the bodies of the dead.  

When Jake and the Navi kill humans – to protect themselves – they do not mourn the need to kill, and there is no scene of them praying over the fallen bodies of their enemy.

(Ezekial’s God says, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked…)

The Navi, in essence, say, “Because we are in tune with god and/or nature, therefore, when tested, we are no different than those who are not in tune with god and/or nature.”

Saint Paul suggests that the pressure of suffering could lead to character, which leads to hope.

With a little creativity from their makers, the Navi’s suffering could have lead to greater character, to a higher exemplar, to an ideal that would match their idealistic setting.

But instead, they’re just like us.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Famous Tweets from History: Edgar Allan Poe Edition

That stupid crow kept me up all night again. Just tap, tap tapping on my window.  Tap, tap, tapping.  Tap, tap, tapping.  Driving me crazy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

More On Inglourious

Linds says:

I'm still just monumentally not okay with this film. I wish I could believe that Tarantino meant all this - and I wish I could stomach watching it (already not my kind of movie + way too much time spent reading primary sources from the Holocaust). I just look at the history of Holocaust film, and still can't get over how much of a misfire this one seems to be - cathartic violence. I know thoughtful people can analyze it and find great truth like you did here, but most I've talked to have just become convinced that it's okay to turn Jews into Nazis on screen because it's revenge, not an unprovoked attack.

Or maybe I just really shouldn't have spent two years writing on the topic of how Germany uses film to reconcile with its own history. Am I too hopeless an egghead to be able to value this movie, dear professor?

Sean says:

I’ll be honest: I went back and forth as to whether I think that Tarantino knew what he was saying.

But, come on, he can’t be that clueless, right? 

There are so many one-to-one matches, so many moments of mirroring, the movie clearly puts the Nazis and the Allies into the same camp. 

And yet, he does so with such glee, and without introspection – while I have no problem arguing that the movie says we are the same, I would not have much evidence to suggest that the movie thinks there is anything wrong with that.

Tell me that Tarantino thinks that revenge for revenge’s sake is a noble end, and I’d just nod and say, “I guess that makes sense.”

But I want him/it to mean more (see David’s comments on the blog). I don’t want all that potential talent to be just so… sad.

Were I to critique the film itself, rather than limit myself to this one sub-theme, I would say it is a movie of some amazing scenes and performances, but a patchwork that never quite gels for me into first-rate whole.

And mayhap this is the problem with the themes – the intellect says one thing, the visceral says another.

Dazzling pieces that don’t gel into a first-rate whole?

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Movie Lines in Data Form

How would you graph a famous movie line?  Flowing Data shows us the way.

Thanks, Janet, for a heads up on this brilliant piece of data.  Part of where I'm looking overlaps with you, kid.

Just my thoughts,


Look – We’re Not So Different After All

(Spoiler alert – I will be discussing plot points to Tarantino’s latest war flick in this blog entry.  Just so as you know.)

One of Hollywood’s favorite themes is the notion that we’re all really more alike than you might think.  Usually this comes in the “Hey, the guy that looks different that you fear?  Well he’s just like us!” variety.

But every once in a while, that gets turned on its head with a “Hey, that guy that’s totally immoral? Well, we’re just like him!” 

Two of this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees carry such a sub-theme; one very much intentionally, the second one not so much.

Let’s start with the intentional one.

As you have heard or seen by now, Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS takes a revisionist look at World War II – one where the war is brought to an early end with a plot to kill off Hitler. 

But Tarantino not only revises historical events, he also subverts an historical sense: the idea that the Allies were morally superior in that conflict. 

Subversive indeed, as this is the one bi-partisan touch-point that nobody argues without being called a loon.  Hitler was a monster of incomprehensible evil; the good guys weren’t just morally justified to fight this war, they were morally obligated.

As it so happens, I side with the majority on this one – Hitler bad, Allies good.

Tarantino, though, says “not so fast.”  Not by arguing that Hitler was good (the Gnatzeeze of this film are Oscar Award Winning evil), but rather that “we” are just as evil.

Tarantino uses several scenes and images to show us just how bad the bad guys are; and each one is mirrored with the “good” guys.  To wit:

1)  They are dispassionate.  Colonel Landa casually drinks his milk as he small talks his way toward a horrific betrayal and shooting (in a brilliant scene that by itself guaranteed a statuette for Waltz); Lieutenant Raine chit chats with the soldier who is about to have his brains batted in; Shosanna unemotionally discusses the details of the revenge killing of a theater full of Germans.

2)  They see killing as entertainment.  The Nazis cheer and laugh through a movie of sniper Zoller picking off American soldiers; Raine joyfully accepts a Nazi’s refusal to co-operate, announcing that watching German heads being bashed in is the closest thing his team has to a cinema; Taratino’s audience (us) gets our revenge fantasy kicks as we sit in a theater watching a theater full of Nazi’s go from cheering the deaths of American soldiers to dying themselves – as we cheer along.

3)  The more death, the better.   Zoller is lauded not because he defended a town, but because of the number of bodies he took with him, just as Landa is proud not just of finding specific Jews, but the number of Jews he has hunted and killed; Raine demands 100 scalps from each of his men; the venue for the final revenge is a theater with just over 300 seats – a tad more than the number of those killed by sniper Zoller.

Lest we think that we aren’t really meant to see our own face in the nasty light of the enemy, Raine states it point blank:

“Members of the National Socialist Party conquered Europe through murder, torture, intimidation and terror.  That’s exactly what we’re going to do to them.”

And the final image of the movie (which will soon get its own blog treatment):  Raine stares straight at the audience, at our foreheads more specifically, as he remarks that the identifying mark he sees there may be the best work he’s ever done.

INGLOURIOUS is the anti- ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, where we were shown that the Germans were good people, just like us.  Here, we are shown that the Allies are evil people, just like “them.”

This is an interesting theme to toy with.  If the movie came out two years ago, it would have been heavily accused (and possibly outright dismissed) as being an overt political statement.

But it didn’t come out two years ago; it sits there today, daring us to take joy in revenge at the small cost of admitting that we are the enemy.  It’s a twisty thing to wrap one’s head around – Tarantino presents the theme with unmitigated glee; no somber music or mood lighting to reinforce a “you see what I’m doing, right?” moment of introspection. 

He just gives it to us, assuming most will joyously follow along –“yep, the Nazi is punished, I’m evil, all is right in the world!”

Can’t say as if I like this, Quentin coming in and messing with my preconceived notions of my own superiority.  Let me reiterate, this revisionist movie hasn’t revised my notions of history – I still say if ever just war existed, this was it. 

But it does give me uncomfortable pause. 

I suppose (awkwardly comparing Quentin to Jesus) that this is akin to the feelings the audience had to the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

It wasn’t enough that the Nazarene had to tell us that the Samaritans were good, like us; he had to go and put in the three dudes that ignored the beaten man, the three dudes that represent us, that point out we’re just as bad as we perceive our enemy to be.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, March 15, 2010

Oscars -- Grouch and Preview, That Is

So far, all but a few of my March Madness picks are winning their bracket.  What do you mean, “what colleges did I pick?”  I did all my learning on the Street.
Sesame Street, that is.  And  I’m talking about Muppet Madness!
I’m rooting for a final showdown between Kermit and Cookie Monster – the Show takes on the Street!  (Thanks to Cory for putting me onto this fun little exercise.)
So many people put me onto this video, it’s time I posted it.  Want to see what the trailer looks like for the next Oscar contender?
Better yet, want to see what the trailer looks like for every next Oscar contender?
Ask, and ye shall receive.

Just my thoughts,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Preacher, A Priest and a Rabbi...

Over at Stuff Christians Like, Jon offers amnesty to anyone commenting with a bad religious themed joke.

Go on over and waste some groaning/chuckling time.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, March 08, 2010

And the Oscar Went To...

For anyone who ever asks me about Hollywood, keep in mind that I only got half my announced Oscar predictions right.

In other words, I batted a .500, which if you go by baseball standards, makes me a genius.

Too bad not everyone goes by the baseball standard...

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Oscar Update

A few things-

First, Mark set me straight on my sound issues, so apologies for the flippancy.  Still say Trek gets a two-fer, just 'cuz I want it to get a few awards.

Second, I just saw Avatar.  Yep, took me awhile to get around to it. 

I still think it will win Best Pic, but I can't imagine anyone making a convincing argument as to why.  It has great design elements, and is a marvelous technical achievement.  But is that how we define what a great movie is?  Nothing but tech?

The story and the acting were serviceable, and I don't begrudge the movie its box office. 

In fact, some may say it was wise of Cameron to settle for a predictable script that just hit the beats without risking depth (or risk making his actors/animators dig too deep in performance).  The guy did give us T2, so its not like he can't do great story if he wanted to.  Serviceable is what he thought was right for this film, so that's cool.

But serviceable shouldn't be "best" -- unless we are giving up on the idea that movies are more than just machines.

And maybe we are.  The WGA, the alleged protector of the writer, as much as admitted that box office is the ultimate determiner of craft when they gave the film a writing nom.  I guess if the writers don't feel story should elevate a script, why should the rest of Hollywood?

I've seen seven of the best pic noms; against them I rate Avatar a no contest seventh.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 05, 2010

And the Oscar Goes To...

Here are my predictions for the Oscars.  I do this every year so I can brag on Monday about how right I was.
Or so I can ignore that I ever made public my really lame predictions on Monday.
Truth is, like everyone in Hollywood, I don’t know nothing, but I talk like I do.
So here it is:
BEST ACTOR:  Clooney is getting better every year, Firth deserves to be in the running, but it is Jeff Bridges’ turn to take home the trophy.   And I don’t know many who are complaining about that.
BEST ACTRESS:  I’d like to see Bullock get it (she won’t); Mulligan is delightful and shoulda been a serious contender; and Sidibe’s performance was very strong (her supporting players had much to do with that).  When all is said and done, Streep is the one giving the acceptance speech.
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Plummer gave a marvelous performance, but couldn’t lift the role above the lame script (same with Mirren, above).  Hey, can anyone tell me why Plummer is up for supporting, and Mirren for Leading?  Just wondering.  Oh, the Oscar goes to Waltz, the only win for Inglourious tonight.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  It’s all Mo’Nique’s.  Can’t think of a better performance in any category in recent years.
CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Are animated movies eligible for cinematography?  If not, Harry Potter gets it.  (Just kidding, Avatar gets it).
COSTUME DESIGN:  This is a cool category, because I haven’t seen any of the nominations.  Coco Before Chanel – isn’t that about clothes design?  Embarrassing for them if they don’t get the statuette.  Just saying.
SOUND EDITING & SOUND MIXING:   Star Trek gets a twofer.
ANIMATED FEATURE:  Up.  Shoulda won Best Picture, but oh well.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  Both Up In the Air and An Education kept me talking about the movie for days – should count for something, right?  Up In the Air wins the prize.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  Should be Up.  Not gonna be, but that won’t stop me from saying it:  Up takes the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Director:  The Ex-Mrs. James Cameron; Hurt Locker makes history.
Best Picture:  The Ex-Mr. Kathryn Bigelow’s Avatar.  Why be king of just one world?  Not so unobtainiumable after all.
Just my thoughts,

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Goodness Soured

My friend Jim had a theory that all sins, at their root, are Godly desires perverted. 
Lust, in essence, comes from a knowing that we were made to be loved, and trying to coerce a physical substitute of that feeling. 
Greed comes from a knowing that we are heirs to a kingdom, and attempting to seize those riches out of time.
Envy would spring from the knowing that we are special, and trying to force that in comparison to others.
And on.
Still playing with what I think about Jim’s grand idea, but I do agree with how it reinforces a basic theorum:  any good taken to an extreme can be perverted to a bad.
I suppose that’s why this video resonates with me, as the Mars Hill guy addresses how some religious goods can go sour.
Just my thoughts,

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Longing for Long for This World

I’m a pretty savvy fella.  But I admit I have friends of such intellect, that when I stand next to them within their field, I’m downright Lilliputian. 
(I use the term “Lilliputian” here to try and make me seem taller.  Did it work?)
In the field of film, that’s Jeff.
In robot lore, that’s Cory.
In the world of all things literary, that’s Sonya.
Sonya is a beautiful writer, and her new book Long for This World has been released (Amazon assures me that my copy is on the way).

Just my thoughts,

OK - Rube Would Be Proud

It took the Old Spice guys three days to get it just right.  How long do you think this took?  And how many takes?  (Guess I should count the number of piled up broken television sets...)

Just my thoughts,


Then What Should We Do With It?