Friday, May 2, 2014

Who knew that reorganizing photos that made their way from BlogSpot to Picasa to Google+ would break every single picture I have posted on my blog since 2008? Oh well.

Friday, July 16, 2010


I knowingly make the following overstatement with the excuse that I just finished watching it: Inception just might be the perfect movie. It is certainly the only movie worth reviewing that I have seen since the last movie I reviewed almost exactly a year ago, and has almost as certainly earned instant placement on my Awesome list (at least 3 viewings are required for official recognition on that list, however).

What is so great about this movie:
  • The story is told with elegance, economy and utmost skill. I will not describe the story here. Don't try to read anything about it. I will give a couple examples that will not give anything away. First example: the natural and completely satisfying resolution of one of the core plots of the movie is nothing more than the expression on a character's face -- even a single word would have been too much. Second example: the scene with the top. Again, without a single word, the spinning of a top allows the audience to understand exactly what the top is for, but more impressively, what the top is for combines with what was learned in the scene before to illuminate just what fear the character has to contend with on a daily basis and the kind of life he leads, and does so more effectively than any on-screen conversation ever could.
  • It hits all the right notes. Literally. The music does a flawless job of maintaining the subtlety, urgency and unreality of the movie from beginning to end.
  • Everything in the hotel with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's the best executed and most imaginative action since The Bourne Ultimatum. My surprise at how believable Gordon-Levitt was was the only thing that took me out of the movie for even a few seconds.
This will be a movie I see more than twice. It should also be an Oscar nominee for Best Original Screenplay, Best Score, Best Visual Effects, and possibly Best Cinematography and several things in the various editing categories.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lost...In Review

The final season of Lost starts up in about a week. After over 100 episodes of flashbacks, flash-forwards, inter-cut and intersecting story lines, not to mention time travel, what is perhaps most impressive about the show as a whole is that it still makes sense, and all the pieces fit together. Lost still stands alone in the scale, ambition and complexity of its story, and in sheer magnitude of difficulty involved in successfully corralling all of the myriad parts that make up its much greater whole.

How successful? This video is a perfect example. It combines clips from nine different episodes across four seasons of the series edited together to tell the whole story of the 10 minutes preceding the crash of Flight 815. Kind of makes me wonder what a chronological edit of the entire series would be like, given that the whole show spans seven decades and several dozen characters.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Making Car, Buying Easy

I have recently been considering buying a new car, so this past weekend I did some internet research, including requesting some quotes from three dealerships in town. Today I received three emails from a gentleman at one of the dealerships in the space of four hours. They served as an entertaining reminder of the dangers of failing to proofread your form letters.

Here's an example (click to read):

I took two years of algebra in high school (and passed both times), and I still can't figure out the price he quoted me there, and I have to wonder if the sentence in the fifth paragraph is in bold to highlight the fact that it's the only sentence in that paragraph without a typo. I also find the second sentence in that paragraph to be exquisite, for the simple fact that it's so easy to understand what he means as long as you don't pay any attention whatsoever while you are reading it. Once I actually read the sentence, however, I am suddenly unsure. I think he might simply be trying to inform me of the possibility that someone I know is trying to sell a car, but only if I'm trying to sell one too:
"So if you have a trade or just need to sell your vehicle, maybe you know of someone trying to sell there [sic] vehicle."
I also greatly appreciated the other email he sent me with the subject line, "I Have Your Answers", but which consisted almost entirely of questions and ended with the line, "If I have not already contacted you, I will do so soon."

It is in that same spirit that I take my leave by informing you of the following: if I have not already posted this for you to read, I will do so soon.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Psych is Officially Genius, Part II

Just saw this promo for Season 4 of Psych tonight:

I guess it's not as funny if you haven't seen The Mentalist. See, Psych is about a quirky guy who uses his keen powers of observation to pretend to be a psychic and help the police department solve crimes. The Mentalist, the original series that just finished its first season on CBS, is about a quirky guy who used to use his keen powers of observation to pretend to be a psychic, but now uses them to help the police department solve crimes.

See, they're totally different.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Half-Blood Prince

Had you asked me a couple of hours ago, I would have said that no, I would never post a review of a Harry Potter movie on my blog. Why not? — because I know the widely diverging points of view about the acceptability of these movies held by the three or four of you who still read my blog; in the face of those opinions, these movies simply aren't important enough to write about. However, this post does exist and I defend its existence by saying that this is not exactly a review; it, in fact, cannot be for the simple reason that there is so much about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that defies reviewing. This post is instead a reaction, not to the content of the stories, but to the choices made by the filmmakers in the creation of this entry in the series.

I have seen all of the first five Harry Potter movies (Half-Blood Prince being the sixth). Independent of any opinions about the content, I find them all to be entertaining and sufficiently well-made — they are all good, but none has anything spectacular that marks it as great. One thing that did always stand out to me about the five movies is that despite having four different directors, they all did a fairly solid job of maintaining a consistent tone and style. Even the darker entries in the series have the same earnest energy, and the same wide-eyed sense of adventure. The only way I can think to say it is that they are all crafted very much like a story being told in present-tense; I can only hope that later in this post I can make that statement sound less stupidly obvious.

In contrasting the sixth movie in the series with the first five, the only reaction I can have is that, for many reasons, it's just odd. I'm not even sure if that's good or bad, and I'll attempt to explain why. The first five movies form a 4.5 billion dollar franchise. It has always been in the studio's interest to make movies that have the best chance of cashing in on the interest of millions of readers of the books worldwide. That they have been successful is undeniable, and my instinct would have been to assume that for the three remaining movies in the series, they would try to stick to a pattern that works, i.e., maintain the same energy, maintain the same visual style, maintain the same musical style, etc. It seems like it would just be good business sense, just as much as it would be good artistic sense — a consistent style and feel makes for a unified series that flows well together (see the Bourne trilogy, for example).

Thus my perplexity with this sixth entry: it seems that in no way did they do any of these things. Where the first five movies emphasized humor and cheerfulness contrasted with the darkness of conflict, this movie, in spite of being the setup for the climax of the series, possesses a markedly subdued tone throughout. The tragic events which were in this movie addressed with powerful but quiet sadness would have been presented in the previous movies with far more violent emotion. As the book series progressed, the books only got longer, necessitating more and more plot cuts when presented in movie form; the first five movies always cut minor or less exciting portions of the plot in favor of the more action-oriented plot points. This sixth movie seems to do exactly the opposite, preserving the character-oriented and emotional story lines while sacrificing some of the most dramatic portions of the book's action (this is probably the reason why most negative reviews of the movie call it "boring"). In both visual and musical style this movie is also very much different from the rest of the series, straying away from the vivid colors, sharp focus, bright lighting and dramatic themes in favor of, again, a more subdued style. In comparison with my memory of the previous movies, the shift is abrupt; within five seconds of the Warner Brothers logo fading from the screen I was thinking, "This is very different." With a grittier look, more neutral colors and so much soft focus, I almost had to wonder if there was something wrong with the print or projector. The storytelling is also significantly different, in a way that is hard to describe: where the first five movies played out like a story being told in present tense, this story plays out like one of the characters' painfully sad recollections — it's possible that this impression is due in part to the visual style which at times had me wondering if the scene I was watching would turn out to be a dream sequence.

Is any of this bad? No. It's simply odd. It's especially so considering this movie came from the same writer who wrote four of the previous five movies, and from the same director who directed the fifth movie. I think if this were a stand-alone movie, I would like the creative choices that were made. Taken as a member of the series, I can only say that I haven't seen enough to decide, while I continue to puzzle over the possible reasons for the decisions that were made. What do I mean when I say that I haven't seen enough? I think that in any long-running franchise — especially one with multiple directors — there is at least one point in the franchise where a significant shift in style (and, as a result, subjectively perceived quality) occurs, and I think that often results in the viewer thinking of their favorite part of the series and wishing the rest of the series had been done to match (The Matrix trilogy and the Star Wars trilogies come to mind). I actually find it intriguing to wonder if this new style will remain consistent through the rest of the series, and if it does, which part of the series will we wish had been done differently? Another question I find interesting deals with the fact that David Yates, who directed the fifth Potter movie, also directed the sixth, and will also direct the final two movies in the series: I have to wonder if this significant shift in style came about (or was made possible?) when the decision was made to give this one director effective control over the rest of the series. I'll phrase it a little differently: the sixth book in the series is very much a setup for the climax in the seventh (on which both of the last two movies are based), and I have to wonder if this sixth movie is intended in much the same way for the last two movies. I have to wonder if, after completing the fifth movie in a style consistent with the previous, the director who would direct the entire remainder of the series was given the freedom to produce the last three movies in a way that presents them as a coherent stylistic whole. If it is, I am already fascinated to know how well this chosen style will work as the climax of the series. If it is not, I am curious to know exactly how much of a sore thumb this film will be in the franchise as a whole.

On a side note, I continue to be impressed by how many of Chris Columbus' (director of the first two movies) choices regarding design and casting continue to hold up through the subsequent movies. He cast a fleet of adult actors and a dozen or more unknown child actors (the oldest of whom was perhaps 13 at the time of filming the first movie) including an 11-year-old on whom the entire multi-billion dollar franchise would hang and eight years later I can't think of a single role that has had to be recast (with the exception of Dumbledore, due to Richard Harris' death), or a single actor who has failed to present a consistent character year after year. Even the plot developments of the later books in the series (unknown at the time of casting the first movie) continue to be believable with the original actors. So much of the work Columbus and his crew did continues to define the look of the series, from character and costume design all the way up to the look of Hogwarts itself. It's really a remarkably rare achievement, and those commonalities will serve to bind the series together as a whole, regardless of what stylistic changes may occur.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Set Phasers to Awesome

I know I have written here before about movies that I liked, and some about Story in general and my particular way of thinking about Story. One thing I have never felt able to define is any specific type of story that I prefer; I can't even decide on a "favorite" movie. The reason for this was pointed out to me recently when another friend commented to me — after I summarily dismissed a pair of recent movies as "just plain ordinary" — that because I have seen so many movies, I only like the ones that are in some significant way unique or "out of the ordinary." He's right.

I have seen a lot of movies; as soon as I had the means to do so, I devoured them. I could estimate a number, but I think it would be embarrassing. What I have discovered is this: good isn't good enough. In a large sampling of movies, there are a lot of good movies. Speaking of a simple binary state, good vs. bad, where I regret the time I wasted watching the movies that are "bad" and don't regret the time I spent watching the movies that are "good," there are a lot of "good" movies. So many in fact that a movie's potential to be "good" is no longer a compelling reason to ever watch it, and thus over the past couple of years I have found myself seeing fewer movies and liking fewer of them.

So my friend is right and as he realized, perhaps before I did, I do have a preferred genre after all: I believe the common term for it is "Awesome". I prefer "Awesome" movies. Its sibling genres, "Really Great", "Great" and to a lesser extent "Very Good" definitely have their place, but "Awesome" is really what does it for me. The good news is, I find that those four genres combined total perhaps 50 to 100 movies. The bad news is, I find that there are perhaps two or three people in the world who would agree with me on what those 100 movies are. The other good news is, these genres are completely made up and entirely subjective, so I am guaranteed to be right.

What is it then that identifies a movie as falling into one of these genres? As my friend said, the distinguishing characteristic is uniqueness. Whether it is a familiar story told in an unexpected way, or a type of story I usually disdain told in such a skillful and compelling way that I am powerless to resist, or a story that purposefully breaks a cinematic "rule" with spectacular results, or just a simple story that achieves such genuineness that all other similar movies fail by comparison, each of the movies in these genres has some particular aspect of its storytelling that is unlike anything I have seen before.

That being said, I can now make a stab at answering my other friend's question: what is my favorite movie? Since I now know that to date only seven "Awesome" movies have been made, I can tell you without a doubt that my favorite movie is one of these:
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Empire of the Sun
  • The Iron Giant
  • Meet Joe Black
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • Primer
  • Strings
The candidates for "Really Great", "Great" and "Very Good" are harder to define, but I feel sure they include this list.

Two recent movies have exhibited this quality of uniqueness. In fact, if it were possible for a movie less than one month old to earn such a distinction, I might almost say they were "Awesome"; certainly they are "Great" and perhaps even "Really Great." These two movies are Star Trek and Up.

Star Trek — finally someone managed to make Star Trek into a movie and not just a two hour television episode. (I'm not exaggerating: I saw the two hour premiere of Enterprise in an actual movie theater, and the experience wasn't that much different from the movies.) Ironically, many of the people responsible came from television; particularly gratifying is the fact that the director, composer and several of the producers and editors also brought us Lost. Watching the end credits of Star Trek I couldn't help thinking that it's no wonder Lost is so great: the people making it are capable of producing work like Star Trek. I watched Star Trek on TV for years; I have seen all of the movies. Though some were entertaining, they all shared these qualities: they never surprised me, they never went anywhere new, and they never surpassed my expectations. This Star Trek is something new, something surprising, and just flat out fun to watch. I can't remember the last time I had that much fun in a movie theater. The action is exciting, it's visually stunning, the special effects are top notch, the actors have chemistry and talent, and — wonder of wonders — the humor is genuinely funny (and not just to people who show up to the theater in Starfleet uniform). My one aching regret is that it was not produced in RealD 3D, but then again I don't suppose the biggest movie of the year really has to be.

Pixar as well has risen to new heights with Up — and no, I do not apologize for the pun. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but Pixar succeeded in producing a story that moves from genuinely touching to laugh-out-loud funny with seamless ease, all centered around characters so natural that by the time you think the words "suspension of disbelief," it already happened five minutes ago. It was a joy to watch. I should also mention that Partly Cloudy, the short film that preceded the movie, continues to display Pixar's genius with dialoge-free storytelling and lives up to its long line of great predecessors (Geri's Game, For the Birds, One Man Band, Lifted, Presto). I did see the movie in 3D, which was nice. I don't think the 3D played quite as large a part in the whole experience as it did when I saw Monsters vs. Aliens, but it didn't really have to.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Of Semi-thoughts on Community, and Other Thoughts on Others' Semi-thoughts

I know I haven't posted in a while. It's not because I have nothing to post, it's because I have nothing worthwhile to post — there's a subtle difference there. I have been mulling over some thoughts about community and its role in the church, but that's a very ambitious topic (possibly over-ambitious), especially for me, and when it comes to putting anything down on paper — so to speak — my mulling turns to circling. You can help me out though by commenting on this post. Let me know your thoughts on the following:
  • What is your definition of the word "community"?
  • How do you think that applies to the church?
  • How do you think that applies to you as a member of the (universal or local) church?
I don't have fully formulated answers for the second two questions, but here is the best answer I have been able to come up with for the first one:
community: a group of people who both interact individually and act corporately because of and/or in service to a unifying identity, purpose or goal

I'll leave you with these fun items I encountered this week. First up, is a real-life example of a new business principle I had never heard of before: "Don't drive away customers, guilt them away." Earlier this week I got dinner at a local Chinese food chain. At the end of my meal, I cracked open my fortune cookie and found this bit of ancient wisdom in all caps:
True story.

Also true is this item found in the help section of the web site (it still exists as of this posting):

So I place a phone order by...sending an email? I must be missing something. (I will point out, however, that in every way that matters the company and their service is completely satisfactory — I have been shopping there for years. Though I have never tried to place a phone order.)

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Friday, May 1, 2009

The Torments of a Somewhat-Blind Man, Episode IV: The Escape

I am now officially moved, though I won't say completely settled. Last Friday, I returned the keys for my old apartment, and tonight I unpacked the last of my boxes. Alright, so I didn't actually unpack them. I'm actually not quite sure what happened. I had three full boxes, then I opened two and took a bunch of stuff out of them, and somehow I ended up with three full boxes still. It's like Elijah and the jar of oil, except with boxes of random junk. I gave up trying to empty them and just piled them in the closet.

As confused as I am though, this month has been much more confusing for the cats. After two weeks of watching everything in sight disappear into a pile of boxes, the actual move was the final straw. At the end of moving day, the cats were among the last few things left in the old apartment, and I think Pete had had enough. I walked into the bedroom to find him hiding behind the only thing he could find: a stack of about ten CD's — he refused to budge. Mason was no better: when I opened their cat carriers in the new apartment, the first thing he did was get out of his carrier and go straight into Pete's.

I am very pleased with my new apartment. In two weeks I have only found one thing about this apartment that is not better than the old apartment, but one of the benefits far outshines all of the others: for the first time in over a decade I can do my laundry without having to go outside. This is the life.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

3-D Follow-up

A couple posts ago I said I was going to take the first opportunity I had to see a movie presented using RealD Cinema 3D. Tonight I went with a couple of friends to see Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D.

RealD's take on 3D technology uses, instead of differently colored lenses, circular polarized lenses, one polarized clockwise and the other polarized counter-clockwise. Alternating differently-polarized frames are then projected onto a reflective screen specially designed to preserve the polarization. The point of using circular polarization instead of linear polarization is so that the 3D illusion is preserved when the viewer's head is tilted.

Based on this first impression, I have to say the 3D presentation worked surprisingly well; it's certainly a great improvement over other 3D technologies I have seen. First and foremost is the lack of eye strain. I watched the 3D episode of Chuck this past January, which used Intel's ColorCode technology (brown and blue glasses), and at the end of the hour-long episode I was glad to take the glasses off. One of the two people I went with tonight experienced a little bit of eye fatigue, but I myself experienced none. The second major improvement is in the representation of finer detail. ColorCode's use of layered colors in a single image to make the 3D effect has the limitation of being unable to effectively display differences in depth of small objects and texture — the result being that the larger objects in the scene (buildings, people, furniture) are rendered much like cardboard cutouts in a diorama, even on an HDTV. RealD Cinema's use of two completely separate images was much more effective in presenting finer details like facial features, surface contours, and even clouds of individual dust particles or grass clippings as naturally 3-dimensional, with the surprising result that surfaces one would expect to have texture but didn't (for instance, the Missing Link's scaly skin) stood out like a sore thumb. As a display technology, RealD Cinema lives up to its promise very well.

As with any new technology in the film industry, good implementation is key. There are still some quirks to the 3D effect that cinematographers are going to have to learn to work with. Objects that intersect the left and right sides of the screen still exhibit a flickering effect, and fast horizontal movement produces an unintelligible image much like looking in a vibrating mirror. Extreme variations in depth or objects placed very "close" to the viewer also lose the 3D effect, and objects flatly perpendicular to the camera's line of sight still exhibit the cardboard-cutout effect. I have a feeling that further refinements to how scenes are laid out (and perhaps further refinements in the technology itself) will overcome these issues.

Overall, the movie itself was a surprisingly natural-seeming 3D experience, with few exceptions. The experience was so natural, in fact, that I find myself struggling to imagine what the movie would be like had I seen it in 2D. I found it easy to forget that I was wearing 3D glasses, and I thought the movie made fairly good use of the technology as an experience rather than a gimmick (although there was a somewhat amusing incident with a paddle ball that, I admit, made me blink). On the other hand, I think the movie probably would not have been as entertaining without the additional fascination of 3D, and probably wouldn't hold up under multiple viewings — certainly not multiple 2D viewings.

So, overall it was a very positive experience. The RealD Cinema technology gets a 9 out of 10, the implementation of it in this movie gets a 7.5 out of 10, and the movie itself gets a 7 out of 10. I'm looking forward to seeing how the technology progresses, and especially interested in seeing it used on live action. There are currently 34 more movies scheduled to be released in RealD Cinema between now and 2013, but as best I can tell, all but two are either computer animation or stop-motion animation; the other two are horror movies I won't be seeing under any circumstances.

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