Monday, May 28, 2007

The Darling Duds of May

Spider-Man. Shrek. Pirates of the Caribbean. They are three of the top six biggest movie trilogies of all time. The "thirds" of these trilogies cost a combined $718 million to make, not including hundreds of millions spent on marketing campaigns, and they all came out this month. These were record-breaking, record-founding franchises to begin with, and now it is hard to find a record sheet of any kind in the industry whose top ten places contain less than five movies from these franchises. Biggest Friday Gross, Biggest Saturday Gross, Biggest Single Day Gross, Biggest Opening Day, Biggest Opening Weekend, Biggest 4-Day Total, Biggest 5-Day total, Fastest to $100 million, Fastest to $200 million, Fastest to $300 Million — three of the only five movies to ever make more than $400 million dollars in the US come from these three franchises. Not only is 2007 the first year in the history of cinema to have three $100+ million opening weekends, it had them all in the same month, a total of $365 million dollars for these three movies alone. All these numbers add up to only one thing: more Spider-Man, Shrek, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

I'm not impressed.

Sure, Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 were enjoyable movies, even entertaining, but great movies they were not. They had funny parts, exciting parts, sad parts, tense parts — far too many parts that never came together to make a coherent whole. It's disappointing, really. [For the sake of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I haven't seen Shrek 3, and I most likely won't so I will offer no opinion of it here other than my total avoidance of it.]

Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were well-made movies that told compelling stories about relatable, believable (within the context and style of the movies) characters; in the genre of superhero movies they rank as high on my list as any movie can that was not made by Bryan Singer. Spider-Man 3 is a mish-mash of under-developed characters, hazy motivations, overly convenient plot twists, missed opportunities, and incoherent action sequences — it makes me wonder what happened to the people who made the first two. When I see a great movie, I think about it all the way home from the theater; sadly, I wasn't even thinking about this movie by the time I got in my car.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl introduced one of the most unique and inherently entertaining characters in film history: Captain Jack Sparrow. How can two sequels with this character fail to be hugely entertaining? The answer: if they fail to establish a unifying storyline and stick with it. Two hours into the second movie, I was still wondering where the story was supposed to be heading. My major complaint with the second movie ended up also applying to the third movie: they played like a succession of "cool scenes" with too little tying them together. I am starting to agree with most filmmakers' resistance to making more than one sequel at a time. Pirates of the Caribbean, The Matrix, even to a much lesser extent The Lord of the Rings — all these trilogies had excellent beginnings, and were followed up by lesser movies simply because the filmmakers couldn't stop saying, "wouldn't it be cool if we _____" and lost the overall story. For the Pirates trilogy, at the end of five and a half hours of sequels, I am left with only two memorable scenes: the scene in the second movie where the woman (How sad is that? Two movies and they can't even get me to remember her name.) gleefully accepts the undead monkey as payment for information, and the scene after the end credits of the third. Dishonorable mention goes to "The Attack of the 50 Foot Tall Woman" and the end of the third movie, where you-know-who stabs the you-know-what and takes you-know-whose place. Call me picky, but that's a dumb ending.

It's not all bad news from May though. Surprisingly, the two biggest blockbuster movies of the summer were completely and utterly outdone by two hours of television. Lost capped off a spectacular third season with a two hour finale that ranks among the most excellent hours of TV I have seen. The twist ending managed to answer the most basic of all of this show's mysteries while at the same time posing about a hundred new questions to be answered next season (or maybe just forty eight, that being the number of episodes remaining in the series), and left me checking my calendar to find out how many months until the next episode (eight). Compelling characters, moving sacrifices, exciting action, intriguing storylines, mysteries galore — storytelling at its best. Take a lesson, Captain Jack.

(If you object, ironically, that Lost had an advantage over these two huge franchises in its 70+ hours of character and story development, I will point you to the pilot episode of the series and dare you not to be intrigued by the end of it.)

Here's hoping Hollywood can manage to stand on its own the next couple of months; the rest of the summer won't have Lost to redeem it.

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Friday, May 18, 2007


In 1991, the prefix yocto- was established by the General Conference on Weights and Measures as denoting a factor of 10−24. In 2003, the same body declared an international standard that commas should not be used to separate digits of large numbers for ease of reading. I hear in that the rumblings of coming revolution; the non-standard comma users will surely unite. In the meantime, what I find mildly strange is that we have an international body that meets on a regular basis to decide, for example, what exactly a kilogram weighs (they settled that one in 1889).

Everything in this world is subject to judgment according to a standard. If beef can be graded right alongside essay tests and art projects, if "1,000" can be declared non-standard, then it is certainly no surprise that human behavior is held to a standard as well. People watch what you do and, like it or not, accurate or not, from those observations your measure is taken.

There is a kilogram weight in Paris, France against which all other kilograms are measured. If I were to seize a watermelon and declare it a kilogram, not only would I most likely be wrong (depending on the watermelon of course), but the General Conference on Weights and Measures would surely descend on me with the full weight (excuse the pun) of their internationally standardized indignation. I expected much the same thing when someone told me the other day that I am a "good friend." Well-intentioned sentiment aside, I find myself questioning that declaration, given what it was based on. The same for being told that I have a "servant's heart." When someone said that to me, I lacked the moral fortitude to do more than mumble and equivocate, but really, is that a standard I meet? Is this watermelon really being declared a kilogram? (And where's the GCWM when you need them? Off defending the rights of opressed fluid ounce measures, no doubt.)

Perhaps you are wondering why I am balking at what were clearly intended as compliments and encouragements. I should be flattered, or better yet, encouraged, but the truth is, I know the standard and I do not measure up. I know my own heart, and I know my motivations — to compare those to the standard would only be to cheapen it. In a strange way it is also disheartening, because if my actions are favorably compared to the standard, what does that say about how well I am known by my friends?

This standard of whom I speak is Jesus Christ, whom I desire (but fail) to reflect, or do so only by grace. As Christians we are called to follow his example, to do as he did. I long for that, I strive for that, but I very, very often fail; to judge me less harshly would be amiss. The good news for Christians is that by grace the standard is no longer something which condemns us, instead it calls us and by the Spirit we are encouraged and enabled to eventually pass the test...and measure up.

Didn't He love them
Didn't He hold out His hand
Wasn't Jesus a model
An example to man
Of how we must love everyone in this land
And give till it hurts
Isn't that part of the plan

- from "Didn't He" by PFR


Monday, May 14, 2007

Einstein says, "Sit on the left side."

During church this past Sunday, we had seven baby dedications. A pretty amazing thing; even more amazing for a church our size. We also had two video cameras recording the whole thing. As I sat at my computer editing the footage from the two cameras together, I noticed something exceedingly strange. The footage from the camera that was on the left side of the church measured exactly 27 minutes, from the beginning of the prayer to the point it cut off. The footage from the camera on the right, from the beginning of the prayer to the exact same point, measured 28 minutes, 58 seconds.


Maybe somebody out there who understands Special Relativity (or digital cameras) can explain this one to me.