Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thought of the Day

Looking back on past experiences, I'm beginning to wonder if Goldilocks and the Three Bears was originally a parable about Sex. "Too long, too short, just right."


I'm talking time pervert.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reviews from the Pad: On that Inception ending...

Oh, I'm writing this in the moment but it's gonna sit in Drafts for a week or so so folks can get out there and see the movie before I go and play with Spoilery type stuff. In case you haven't figured out what about, read the title again....


Ok, that should be enough time. Spoilers from here on out; bugger off if you don't want to read them.

So, anyways, the Inception ending is quite possibly my least favourite kind of film closing scene yet I can understand why writers love it: done right it offers the chance to add additional layers to what you just watched and make the audience question what happened. Let's consider some of those possibilities:

1) The top was obviously going to fall; it happened off screen!: Awwwww... you cute little kitten... lets take you and your happy ending over here to the kid's table while the adults keep talking...

On a more serious note, this means that the writer, director, and actors have succeeded in one of the harder aspects of filmmaking: seeing to it the characters are likeable enough that you actually give a damn what happens to them and hope for a positive outcome.

2)The top didn't fall; Saito and Cobb are gods of their Subconscious: It's established in the movie that once you're locked at the level Saito and Cobb are at you're essentially gods of your own little pocket universe - is Cobb merely directing Saito in letting them live out more healthy lives there since they've missed all the "kicks" on the other levels? You could easily spin their final dialog in that direction. To flip it around a bit, is Saito backhand delivering on his commitment to Cobb by letting him live out his family reunion in a dream?

3)The top didn't fall; part of it was a dream: Is there a point in the film where Cobb himself is infiltrated? Perhaps when he's alone with the Chemist and Forger? At some later point? Saito does warn him to be more cautious about who he trusts. Was the entire point of the Fischer job not to just implant the idea, but learn how to do it from the one person who would know how? Is his (step?)father using Ariadne to find out what really happened to Mal or force him to come to terms with what he did? These are the kinds of things you layer into a film so that when it goes on to make $200 million+ you've topics to attack in the sequel.

4)The top didn't fall; the entire thing was a dream!: And here's where that suggestion that Psych majors are going to have a field day with this film comes in because, if we accept the rules of the universe as presented, suddenly a good percentage of the characters in the film are aspects of Cobb's subconscious. Who's ego? Id? Creativity? Or, to really fuck with your mind, who's an aspect and who's a possible agent of Mal? Is Mal randomly dropping into his dreams to try and bring him out alongside the Mal that represents his Guilt? What, if any, tells are there? Or, in reverse, has Cobb become so attached to being in the dream state that his subconscious is actively keeping him dream jumping to hide from Mal? Perhaps Mal realized what he'd tried to do to her and locked Cobb in his own dream prison to try and convince him to come back down to where they were Gods again; with only him finally locking her out of his subconscious denying her the ability to control the dream and knock the top off it's axis? Again, threads you leave there to attack in a sequel.

There are likely more options to consider but those are good points of discussion to start out with. The thing is though, this style of ending doesn't work out for the best in every occasion and it's more often "right" to avoid using it. While Inception is a story built around the conceptual argument of what's real and what's a dream - which makes the question posed by the final scene relevant and promotes consideration as to what's really happened - just tacking "---Roll Credits---" at a point of the script which calls for a "conclusive" ending purely for effect frequently comes across as being a cocktease; you want the audience to think something has happened but you won't show them what. Lacking that additional layer of plot to build upon all you're really doing is denying a clear ending to the story.

Which can be incredibly frustrating for the viewer and where a lot of backlash to even something with that depth like Inception will come from.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lazy Friday: On a Monday...

'cause there's a massive Inception post lurking in my edit box awaiting some spoiler space, a couple limited release films I've found I want to get to later this week, and everyone can use a Monday laugh...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reviews from the Pad: Salt

Salt is one of those movies that feels like it's essentially a 2 hour TV Show Pilot. This makes sense if you consider it might as well be titled: "Chasing an Action Franchise- The Movie".

Driven relentlessly forward by back to back action sequences interspersed with flashbacks and just enough time to establish who the characters are, Salt largely succeeds at that not through storytelling (which is pretty rote and true to genre tropes), but through casting solid actors to pull off the roles. The thing is that the franchise created is essentially 24 mixed with the Manchurian Candidate staring Angelina Jolie in the Jack Shaw role; someone thrown into the middle of a conspiracy taking place in short order and finding themselves having to dig their way out.

It's hard to attack a lot of the rest of the film without stepping on story points so lets cut to some short points:
- The action is decent enough though most of the fights are shot in that quick cut closeup way that gained a lot of current favour with Bourne
- Jolie does an excellent job shifting through the emotional beats and chameleon nature of her character while the supporting cast does a solid job within the reality that there's very little given to them to do in comparison.
- The script is thin but it holds together well enough. The movie is basically an action sequence roller coaster though and it's deliberately open ended; by the end of you'll have a good idea who the characters are and where they fit in the universe but only the current "Bauer Day" is concluded and it's stated outright more are coming.

Overall though, it's a decent enough little spy thriller if that's what you're in the mood for.

PS: that's not a typo. I may be inferring something though....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reviews from the Pad Double Bill: Inception, Sorcerer's Apprentice

Ok... not exactly a double bill 'cause I caught SA Wednesday but... whatever...

Sorcerer's Apprentice is your basic tent pole summer film that delivers just what it advertises: some daring do, flashy FX, a few jokes, and Nicholas Cage being Nicholas Cage.

The film expands upon Arthurian legend by giving Merlin three Apprentices of his own: Balthazar (Cage), Veronica (Bellucci), and Horvath (Molina) who, through the twists and turns of the opening sequence, end up seeking Merlin's replacement as an immortal, trapped within an Matryoshka doll, and Merlin's betrayer to Morgana le Fay respectively. From there's it's mix and match with Hero's Journey and the famous scene from Fantasia as our hero Dave (Baruchel), a bumbling anti-social physics nerd with some childhood trauma driven confidence issues and apparent heir to Merlin's power, stumbles his way into Balthazar's world, is thrust into the conflict between Balthazar and Horvath, and proceeds to find his own power/confidence while getting the girl.

In other words, it's an action fantasy version of just about every "loser teen" film ever made - Better Off Dead would be a good through-line parallel. Admittedly, it would be one of the better ones because it's good solid fun and worth your time if you're in the mood for simply being entertained for a couple hours but that's still whats on the table here and what you can expect.

Inception, on the other hand, is an idea film about, well, ideas and how they can be pulled from or manipulated through your dreams....

The basic plot revolves around a team of "Dream Thieves" led by DiCaprio who specialize in a kind of psychic corporate espionage; stealing ideas and plans from the very minds of the people who dreamt them up in the first place. They're chasing one final job designed to allow DiCaprio return to his normal life.

Cleverly crafted, it's a film that, like The Matrix before it, is gonna have people dissecting it for a good long time; 'through I might be spoiling things a bit by suggesting it will be Psych majors and not Philosophy this time. That said, it does attack a core philosophical argument of: "Are you dreaming, or in reality?", while building a consistent world around that idea with fixed rules that are based on things's we've all experienced in our own dream states; like how dreaming of falling, or the act of falling itself, tends to jolt you awake. There will also be further comparisons to the Matrix in terms of some of those rules, specifically how the victim of this process reacts within the dream to those entering it, as well as some of the combat. But, it feels like it's own film and the combat itself arguably surpasses that of The Matrix at points: particularly an impressive sequence in the third act where the fighters are grappling with each other in an environment that is constantly rotating.

All that said, Inception's a rare film that has enough going on in each scene that it requires your attention but is paced well enough that it doesn't feel like it's demanding it. Well worth seeing in it's entirety.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reviews from the Pad: Despicable Me

Grumpy Curmudgeon gets shown the error of his ways/joys of being a parent by some kid(s) foisted on him is one of the older plot devices in Entertainment (see also: Annie), but that doesn't mean it's not still viable when executed well.

Which Despicable Me does.

This, folks, is how you do "Family Entertainment"; successfully juggling the needs of kids (fun, vibrant, fast moving), with those of Adults (subtle humour that flies over the kids heads and storytelling that doesn't make you want to run for the insulin injector) to create an end product with elements and characters relatable and enjoyable by both. DM covers both grounds in spades; with solid action sequences, slapstick that's well executed, a high paced story that's compelling without becoming saccharine, and more than a few bits for everyone in the room (including a killer Lehman's Brothers reference), that bring the fun right into the final credits*.

Well worth seeing and one of the better films of the summer so far.

* While I watched the film in 2D, so am not positioned to comment on the other elements in the film, it's readily apparent that the the credits also happen to be where the creators are really playing with the 3D - with a slowly building bit of perspective slapstick that's well worth sticking around to watch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Link Storage...

Elemental Shammy Theorycrafting Master Binkenstein over here....

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To do list...

Put on ~30 LBS. Yay!

Getting kinda well... not fat exactly - I'd need a good 40-60 pounds more to get into that category with this build - but definitely pudgy as I finally fill out the frame a bit. Boooo....

I like not being able to count ribs anymore but it's definitely time to start exercising and see if we can't tone while not dropping down to the 120-130 range or so again.

Soooo, Get. To. Work. Lazy.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Link Storage...

Clip passed along from John Rogers' writing blog over here...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rant: Transformers- War For Cybertron (PS3)

Fun game when it works; shitty networking code sees to it that it frequently doesn't. I probably need to play more of these things but, otherwise, this is the worst networking and matchmaking system I've had to deal with in terms of lost connections and lag. When you can't even stay connected, let alone connect, to the matchmaking "Lounge" consistently something's seriously fucked.

From what I can tell the problem is that there's not so much dedicated servers as a system of players individually acting as hosts once the matchmaker declares them as such. This means your ability to stay connected to the game often relies on the bandwidth available to someone else's PS3 or, if you're really lucky, being declared the "Host"; in which case you'll likely be able to play to your hearts content while others get the joy of being kicked from your piddly ass connection throughout the match or crawl along as Laggzilla. Oh, and when your Host rage quits after getting spanked for the 10th consecutive time? Out to the lounge ye all go...

Yeah, that's there's the height of graceful failure code design.

Otherwise, you get kicked a lot and it won't really matter if you DMZ, Port Forward, or just slap your PS3 at the business end of your modem and pray because the game simply can't handle 10 players for significant stretches of time unless you luck into someone with a T1 into their house. You are gonna spend a shit ton of time trying to connect to a match, and even more being kicked out to try and get back in again.

Which is really unfortunate because the multiplayer is solid otherwise.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reviews from the Pad: The Last Airbender

Ooooohhhhh.... where, oh where to start on this one.....


Yeah, I think that's an nice summary.

This will probably go down as a textbook example of how to poorly adapt material from one medium to another because what came out here is a disjointed mess of a film that makes the last Harry Potter movie (Half Blood Prince), look like it was executed by Spielburg in his prime. What's wrong you ask?

1) In attempting to cram the entire ~8 hours worth of events presented in the first season into the "child friendly" runtime of 1 hour 40 minutes Studio's demand the film ends up being a bullet point version of the first season. There's no story flow, no time for character development, and absolutely no sense to be made of what's going on here. This, folks, is where you either decide to make more films, make longer films, or tell your own damned version of the story that gives you time to hit the high points and establish who these people are while skipping that side trip they took over here to do that thing... you know... that only some purist is going to demand you stick to. Sometimes your Tom Bombadil's need to get tossed at the shredder.

2) The film is far too serious. The thing about Avatar (the show), is that the characters were kids but they were dealing with things in the same way kids do. Aang spent most of the first season hiding his internal turmoil behind a veil of humour. Sokka is the kid who wants to be treated as an adult, having been thrust into it by all the adult males leaving for war, but is in deep over his head and still hasn't grown emotionally past the phase where a "yo mamma" joke is the height of humour. Katara is in the same position but has gone through the kinda mirror imaging of Sokka that TV + Society tends to throw teen girls out of where she's gonna be the "mature one", who takes everything seriously but still is a kid underneath.

The film throws all this out. Aang starts in serious mode and never really gets out beyond the 30 seconds he gets to pretend he's still part of a massive tribe at the Southern Temple. Sokka is locked into "leader" mode far too early in his development. Katara is whiny female protagonist. Whether this is a failure of script, director, or actors, is something you can't really do from this end but it just doesn't work either way; the charm and relatability of the characters got gutted is the result.

3)Too many characters introduced results in wasted screen time. One of the other things the TV show was wise to do was to treat the Fire Lord as someone who had palpable effect on the world, yet wasn't an active participant until it was time for him to be the threat. It allowed you, and them, to build to the end game while focusing on the immediate threats to Aang et all within the current season. M. Night's mistake is to throw this out, forcibly insert him into the first film and create a bunch of moustache twirling scenes for him while depreciating screen time for the characters that needed to be introduced and elements that should have been explained now; like what exactly the "Avatar mode" is. Zuko and Zhao were meant to be the threats in this film; the Fire Lord could've been introduced (and cast), much later.

4) Flip side: wrong Characters introduced when others were necessary. Instead of meeting Aangs predecessor Roku to learn who, and what, the Avatar is we end up stuck with a spirit dragon, presumably adapted from the one Roku rides, who does neither; instead just spitting out gobble for Aang to sort.

5) Show, don't tell. Oh, god, does this movie trip over that axiom. On multiple occasions we get these tedious monologues telling us whats going on for the scene that should be being acted out in front of us. Mind you, Katara droning on about how Sokka and the Northern Princess "became friends immediately", got the largest laugh of the film. Which would be great, if it were intentional...

The sad thing is you begin to get the feeling we get these monologues not to hit runtime or because the scenes weren't shot, they're often being acted out in front of you while she drones, but instead because they just turned out like crap.

6) The action of the series was dynamic and energetic.... The movie.... not so much.... In fact, multiple scenes are just the actors doing the same thing to different targets and there seems to have been very little thought given to how to shoot large action scenes within the bounds of what these characters are capable of doing.

7) The movie itself has more kid gloves than the series it was based on. It frequently pulls it's punches: perhaps best exemplified in the final act which I'll only say deviates entirely from Aang, in his anger at the murder of the moon spirit and neophyte skill with his abilities, going full Avatar and rampaging through the Fire Nation forces as a giant water elemental to sweep them from the city in favour of... something less Hulkish and far more Ghandi-esque....

All this said, I'm gonna make the following suggestion: these days $15 gets you a 1 hour 40 minute movie. $26 will likely buy you 8 hours of the first season. Spend the extra $11. You'll have much more fun.