A Culture of Antagonism

It was a day like any other, and it was an innocently looking article like any other. But on this one day, this one particular article and this one paragraph in particular that just missed my good side entirely:

Jim Carrey brought us our first live-action taste of Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events, but Netflix's upcoming TV series adaptation is (thankfully) going in a different direction.

It's an article from The Verge. It's nothing out of the ordinary, and I like this publication perfectly fine. I hold no grudges against the author either — this could've been published in any fine recent publication. All's good on that front. I'm also not a particular Jim Carrey fan these days, that doesn't change a thing. It's just, this one day, that last sentence got to me.

but Netflix's upcoming TV series adaptation is (thankfully) going in a different direction

On this day — it'd been snowing, by the way, it was rather pretty outside — this one sentence reminded me of everything I loathe about modern online discourse. I read this sentence — and I invite you to correct me, gosh I hope so much that I'm wrong about this — as an off-hand dismissive critique of the older film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring Jim Carrey, Emily Browning and Liam Aiken. The sentence seems to suggest that this older film is so atrociously bad that the new Netflix series (which I welcome) thankfully goes in a different direction. THANKFULLY! THANKFULLY!!

It's fun how bright the day can look when snow covers the ground. Yet inside of me, my heart held only darkness.

The 2004 movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. I dare you to watch the following deleted scene, and not at least have a tiny appreciation for the music and the visuals. Gorge on those trees.

This scene ends on a simple note: There's always something. And this film has just that: something. I heartily recommend it to you. Watch it tonight, I'm sure you can stream it.

While I mourn the lack of a sequel, I'm not objecting to a Netflix remake, I welcome it. It's a wonderful story, I'd love more. What I mourn is that we can't respect creative work for what it is. Today we apparently have to hate something that wasn't a runaway box office success and the beginning of an endless franchise.

In fact Lemony Snicket did reasonably at the box office and got a solid 72% at RottenTomatoes. It featured amazing performances by two of my favorite actresses, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Coolidge, not to mention the protagonist kids themselves. The soundtrack is amazing, and the end titles… oh the end titles. Take it in:

There are no levels on which I don't adore this film. It's okay if you don't. 

Lately it just feels like everyone hates everything. Because it's easier to dismiss something, than to like it. Because if you like something, you put yourself out there. You reveal to the world what makes you happy, what makes you cry, what makes you reflect, cope with, or just enjoy life. Someone might make fun of you for loving something, so it's easier to hate it. It's breeds a culture of antagonism, and while it might protect you from occasional ridicule by people not worth your time, it also insulates you from possibly discovering something amazing.

If only we could see past arbitrary notions of what's cool to like, and judge movies and music and books on their own merits. Because there's always something.

Apparently I Like Bad Movies

I watched Jupiter Ascending yesterday, and from the moment I saw flying roller blades, I was in love. The film is saturated with color, culture, style and fashion and detail. It has layers and layers and layers, it's creativity all the way down! Did you notice the design of the wooden bill the robot servitor bribed the bureaucrat with? It had the slickest little design and it was on screen for barely two seconds. The amount of work that went into this film was astounding, and apparently Rotten Tomatoes doesn't care, and that makes me sad.

It's not that I'd prefer everyone like the things I like. I'm routinely made fun of for thinking Time Cop is a good movie, and for ranking Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow close to Raiders of the Lost Ark on the list of my all time favorites. It's fine, we don't all have to agree, I'm comfortable with my taste in movies.

What gets me is that that we'll probably never see another movie like Jupiter Ascending. We'll certainly never get a sequel. Neither did Serenity, or John Carter, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Or Ninja Assassin. Yet they made Transformers 2, Transformers 3, Transformers 4, and they're making Transformers 5. That seems so wrong to me.

I understand how it works. The movies I mentioned either did bad at the box office, or critically, or both. Transformers 2 on the other hand pulled in $836m on a $200m budget. Little did it matter that it is almost universally deemed bad. I did see the full thing and to this day regret not staring at drywall for 2h30 instead. I don't often criticize things — okay actually I do that a lot — but Transformers 2 deserves it. You could cut it down to a 30 minute short, and not only would the film be better, but there might actually be enough story to warrant its runtime.

Jupiter Ascending really didn't deserve the critique it got. Even if the film wasn't for you, it had so many other things going for it: the elaborate space backdrops, the castle-like spaceships, the dresses, the sets, hell even the spacesuits that looked like they were ornately carved from wood. Did I mention the flying roller-blades? Jupiter Ascending oozed creativity and worked on so many levels. I still can't think of a single level Transformers 2 worked on, and I played 100+ levels worth of Desert Golfing.

Successful movies get sequels, and the Transformers franchise is like a pinata filled with money and shame. It's only natural that studio execs want to keep wailing on it with 2-by-4s. It's just so unfair.

Prometheus (2012) Mini-Review

Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi after a decades long hiatus with Prometheus, the story of a space expedition to a planet that was mysteriously mapped in 35,000 years old cave-paintings on Earth. In the vein of the classic Alien movie, what the expedition finds on this planet is not quite what they pictured.

If you follow this blogs Twitter stream, you'll know I've been quite excited for Prometheus. Not only due to Ridley's name being attached — after all, he made Blade Runner — but also because Damon Lindelof co-wrote the movie (who co-wrote Lost). Add to this the fact that Prometheus, while not an Alien prequel, is in fact set in the Alien universe. Making such a movie is a monumental task, and the expectations are huge. So as a mindgame, when I sat down in the cinema I put myself in the screenwriters place and asked myself what kind of movie would I have made, were I given this task. Prometheus hits nearly all the beats I found were necessary for being an Alien-universe movie (and a good one at that). The visuals are completely gorgeous, and there are oodles of Alien references for fans like myself. The movie is long but it doesn't feel too long. The plot twists are not totally expected. The music is good, and I most definitely felt I had received my moneys worth. Go watch it, you have my blessing. It's a worthy Alien successor.

That said, Prometheus is not perfect. Many characters feel under-utilized, and some subplots are either weirdly unsubstantial or just not brought to fruition. I would very much like to see an extended cut once Prometheus hits physical media, to see if something was left on the cutting room floor. I'm pretty sure, though, that most of the unanswered questions were ones that Ridley hopes to address in one or two sequels. Which I'd be fine with.

Optional Continuity

So, I'm pretty psyched about Ridley Scott's Prometheus. It's a space opera following the crew of the starship Prometheus. And unless Scott has lost it, it'll be a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi adventure.

I have a thing with sequels: I like continuity. Re-casting an actor takes me out of it. Sometimes a "movie reboot" is the solution to whatever ailed the old series; other times it's a death-knell to a flawed diamond. Turns out there's a third option: the pseudo-reboot.

JJ. Abrams Star Trek (2009) was created in such a way that if you were new to Star Trek, you could disregard 40 years of baggage. On the other hand, if you were a trekkie1, the movie gave you a straw to grasp at which would acknowledge those 40 years of continuity. Star Trek did the impossible — provide an entry for new movie-goers yet satisfy (the majority) of the trekkies, all the while actually being a good movie! I don't even need to explain to you what exactly Star Trek did to respect the old continuity, that's the point. If you didn't pick up on it, it's because you don't need to worry about it.

Now watch this:

That's continuity. If you want it to be. Did you get it? You might prefer not to read on.

Still here?

Turns out Prometheus is a pseudo-reboot of Alien. Peter Weyland is the co-founder of the Weyland-Yutani corporation, the evil conglomerate and eternal nemesis of Ripley. Which means, if you're an Alien fan, you can consider Prometheus a successor to Alien. If you like, also Aliens. Perhaps even Alien 3, but I would expect most of you to disregard Alien Resurrection (whose only good part was the whiskey cubes). On the flipside, if you don't care about Alien, you're unlikely to watch the above viral video. You're probably unlikely to even care. But there's a chance you might go watch Prometheus anyway because every effort has been made to convince you it's its own thing. The continuity is optional, and I like that.


  1. Or trekker, I don't care about the difference.  

Nitpicky Star Wars Nerds

The Star Wars Blurays are out. I’m not getting them. And not because Darth yells “Nooooooo” or because Greedo shoots first (or whatever). Simply, I’ve seen them enough times now. I’m done. No, not done in that smug, grown-up “Star Wars is for kids” kind of way, trust me I’m as juvenile as ever. I still love lightsabers, I giggle like a schoolgirl whenever someone says “titmouse”, and I listen to the Mega Man 2 soundtrack on repeat. I’m right down with you nerds. I’m just at a point where I’m thinking it’s perhaps time to throw my love on something else.

The amount of energy spent by the Star Wars fan community discussing the Bluray edits is astounding. One fan (or several, I wasn’t paying attention) is taking it upon himself to restore the “non special edition” of Star Wars in HD:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDMDfUB4Mco

Note how R2s hologram is actually white in the original version, vs. slightly bluish in the “enhanced” version. I totally cancelled my Bluray preorder when I saw this. George Lucas, you ruined my childhood!

That would be me if not for the fact that I discovered other sci-fi television. Turns out, if you have 400 hours to spare, instead of restoring the original version of Star Wars to HD, you could watch every episode of Star Trek ever made! Think about that for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars was good. Especially Empire. That whole Cloud City thing was way better than what they did in Star Trek. Here’s Cloud City:

Cloud_City

And this is Stratos from “The Cloud Minders”:

Kirk_and_Spock_view_Stratos_from_surface

Still, once you’ve seen Cloud City, you’ve seen Cloud City (that is to say, once you’ve seen Cloud City in all three four versions, you’ve seen Cloud City — but don’t worry if you haven’t, they’re pretty much the same save for a tibanna gas refinery). And say what you will about Star Trek, but that Kirk got down with the ladies, even green ones. And not one of them were his sister!

You could also get into Buck Rogers (just pretend season 2 never happened). Listen to them crunchy grooves:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmxXIS2ot8w

But wait, there’s more. Here’s Erin Grey as Col. Wilma Deering:

erin_gray

… and let’s not forget Pamela Hensley as the evil Princess Ardala. Always trying to score with Buck. Silly girl, didn’t she know Buck preferred good girls? And damsels in distress? And Amazon Women? Occasionally bad girls. But not Ardala! Except of course when he was brainwashed, but that’s another story:

ardala

That may not be a metal bikini, but it sure deserves being restored in HD more than the original Star Wars does.

Next time you get an irresistable urge to spend 400 hours on restoring Star Wars to the way it was meant to be, consider if maybe that time was better spent watching Star Trek or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (season 1). You could also watch Space 1999. Or UFO. Or even the original Battlestar Galactica — heck, any Glen A. Larson show. You could even watch Patrick Duffy as The Man From Atlantis! Patrick Duffy! (It’s all in this pamphlet).

You must do what you feel is right, of course. But sometimes we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us. It all starts with a choice. A choice to spend your credits not on more Star Wars. Instead, roll up your blinds and let in the light! Then roll them down again and put on Buck Rogers. Season 1.

Tron Legacy (2010) Mini-Review

tron_legacy_poster

In 1982, Kevin Flynn succeeded in creating a virtual computer world which he could physically enter. In 1989, Flynn disappeared, leaving his 8 year old son, Sam Flynn, heir of his Encom computer empire. As adult Sam inadvertantently gets digitized into Flynn's "digital frontier", he finds things are no longer quite as rosy as the childhood stories he was told of The Grid.

Tron Legacy is a visual and musical get-together in your prefrontal lobe. Within the first five minutes, the remarkable Daft Punk soundtrack will be blasting at you as Sam rides his Ducati through the city. This is the soundtrack Daft Punk were born to make, and this is the perfect movie to go with it. Just a few days ago, I finished re-re-watching Interstella 5555, the Daft Punk anime musical that accompanied their fantastic Discovery record; I kept thinking I wanted another Daft Punk musical. As it turns out, you can consider Tron Legacy to be such a musical — a visual interpretation of the dark house tones of the tunes.

A nice point of note on the 3D — this is the best use of 3D I've seen; because most scenes aren't in 3D — it even says so before the movie.

While the music propels this movie to greatness, the film itself is a delight. Jeff Bridges is great as usual, and the director understands his mannerisms. There's even the occasional trademark Bridges "man" uttering thrown in for good measure, and it's all such a perfect fit. Jeff Bridges, gorgeous techno-world designs, booming sound-design. Light-cycles. Olivia Wilde. A reference to "Sweet dreams" by Eurythmics.  Daft Punk in soundtrack and canonized in situ. This film has got it going. I was absolutely and exhileratingly entertained for two hours, more than I've been in years. I completely love this film.

Okay, so the story isn't over the top great. There are moments — most of them — when Clu, a.k.a. digital Flynn, looks mostly rubber. At a couple of points, the pace of the film grinds just a little bit, and let's face it the concept itself isn't terribly deep. In fact, if you didn't enjoy video games in the eighties or early nineties, you're probably — most likely — going to find Tron Legacy to be confusing.

If you did enjoy videogames in the eighties or early nineties — even if you just like Daft Punk — Tron Legacy is absolutely something you should watch.

Avatar (2009) Review

The mystical planet of Pandora holds a very special type of iron ore so valuable that a permanent human settlement has been made just to extract the precious substance. As the mining operations delve deeper into the native lands of the local population, Jake Sully — a paralyzed space marine — is given a second chance in a cloned Na’vi body, so he can infiltrate the locals and help them relocate from an especially rich ore deposit.

The Look

Avatar is absolutely, gorgeously visually arresting. Watching Pandoras underbrush and floating mountains is like watching a Myst age come to life. The graphics by Weta are so well done that you completely forget (or consciously block out because you want to believe) that you’re looking at something that doesn’t actually exist.

James Cameron has clearly taken his inspiration from the backlit waterfall-and-scenery masterpieces found at your local pizzeria, not to mention classic rock cover-artwork. Which is great, because I totally love those things:

Yes_01 Yes_02 Yes_03 Yes_04 Yes_05 Yes_06 Yes_07 Yes_08 Yes_09 Yes_10 Yes_11 Yes_12 Yes_13 Yes_14 Yes_15 Yes_16 Yes_17 Yes_18 Yes_19 Yes_20 Yes_21 Yes_22 Yes_23 Yes_24 Yes_25 Yes_26 Yes_27 Yes_28

Images courtesy of io9 and the band Yes’ cover artist.

The 3D

Avatar has been hailed and promoted as a cinematic game-changer; a paradigm shift in how we watch movies. Based on my single experience with 3D, it’s not. At this point, it’s important to note that the cinema where we saw Avatar seemed to have some old-fashioned tech-trouble; the curtains didn’t retract to cinemascope size until 5 minutes into the movie and the pre-movie-adverts were unfocused. That said, the 3D in the Pixar movie trailers prior to the movie were absolutely superb. Which leads me to believe the 3D in Avatar had its share of issues which I’ll try to deal with here.

First of all, it’s all very dark. You’re essentially wearing sun-glasses; which means for you to get a fully lit experience, the theatre needs to increase the brightness.

Secondly, there’s an issue of focus — not the camera-specific focus, but directorial focus. Take the jungle-scenes, for instance. Cameron clearly wants us to be looking at the main protagonists, so he keeps them in focus while any foreground leaves are focus-blurred. We’ve seen this in countless movies, but when suddenly those leaves are also projected into z-space, your brain tells you those leaves are right there, so if you — voluntarily or involuntarily — want to focus on said leaf, you’ll either be annoyed that you can’t unblur them by concentrating really hard; or you’ll get a headache. Because you see, that focus is not real, it’s burnt-in. Which presents something of a problem, because the film is the film and it can’t satisfy any angle or focus you — the viewer — wants satisfied.

Another oddity is the subtitles. By definition, these should be in front. So they’re given 3D depth. Which completely messes with your mind at the odd times when something in the movie, a character for instance, is placed closer to you in z-space than the subtitles, yet the subtitles are still “in front” at their lower z-depth. Some may not notice it, but my sensitive can’t-play-3d-games motion sick brain vomits at this logical conflict.

I’m sure these are tech issues. I’m sure that in a properly set-up, well-lit cinema the 3D is great. I’m sure that once projectors can churn up the framerate, camera panning won’t turn your brain into goo. I do, however, think that directors who decide to 3D their movies need to make difficult choices as to when and when not to use the z-space, meaning only when it adds to the film and not simply all the time. For now, I prefer gloriously flat.

The Overall Serving

Avatar is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Like all other epics out there, it’s a bit too long. It’s predictable and filled to the brink with stereotypical villains and clichés (I wonder why the planet is named “Pandora”, could it be because it unleashes hell when opened, like the box?). Cameron even copies himself on more than one occasion, mixing the story from Titanic with elements from Aliens. Add to that a lot of silly things, such as subtitles set the Papyrus font when natives speak to each-other, a design decision so excruciatingly dumb that the mind boggles.

But these are all trivial issues compared to all the other levels on which Avatar works. The story gets under your skin. Within long, the smurf-like natives stop looking goofy, their odd names, behavior and peculiar language starts to seem real and before you know it, you’re enveloped in a classic love-story despite it being set in a supremely alien world. Avatar brings sci-fi to the masses, and for that reason more than anything, I completely love it.

Watchability:

Craftmanship:

Overall:

Star Trek (2009) Mini-Review

Star Trek chronicles the early adventures of James T. Kirk as he strives to find his place in the universe following the untimely death of his father at the hands of the renegade Romulan Nero.

Like the best Bond movies, Star Trek drops you square in the middle of the action, and within the first 10 minutes establishes itself as an entirely new, and exhilerating trek to the stars. As we follow George Kirks heroic last endeavours to save his wife and unborn son, we are shown that Star Trek doesn't have to be about weird foreheads, odd beeps and campy uniforms, because what matters is the human interaction. You may actually weep before the movie has even begun.

Star Trek is a triumphant reboot and sequel, all in one. It puts hamfisted Hollywood franchise restarts to shame with a plot, a cast and a story that thrills and engages, even if you're not — like I must confess myself to be — a Trekkie. Unbelievably, J.J. Abrams and his writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman has managed to reinvigorate a 40 year old franchise, keeping the style and spirit intact, dropping countless squeamingly delicious references to past movies and shows. You'll see wierd foreheads and odd beeps, and cheer at it. Incredibly, even the new music by Michael Giacchino is sufficiently remeniscent of past scores, while delivering new hummable tunes.

Star Trek is a movie that should have been impossible to make. Yet here it is, and it's a masterpiece.