Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An open letter to Alanis Morissette


My dear Alanis,

I simply do not know what to say in times like these. For years I have loved you and your music. For many albums I have emasculated myself, swallowed my pride, and simply bought your CDs from the pimple-faced cashier at the music store. I can't remember a time I didn't keep a bag packed in case you swung by and wanted to elope-- It has been that long. But now that you've unleashed Flavors of Entanglement upon the world I don't know if we can be together.

I know you've always been a bit preachy, but it was something I was willing to work on. That being said, "Citizens of the Planet" simply cannot stand. I must put my foot down. Recognizing that we're all in this (read: planet) together, one simply cannot barge into the discussion with so much schmaltz. It must be handled with some finesse or even originality.

"Underneath" may sound fine to the average radio-listener (as it sounds like every other single out in the ether), but as a song from you, it is disappointing. You needn't use such processed music! You are good enough on your own with an understated guitar and a good melody.

The whole album is an out-of-character barrage of poor poetry and misplaced techno beats. You don't do techno! Just because everyone else uses a drum machine doesn't mean that you should too. And the lyrics you've managed to come up with this time seem uninspired.

"With not much making sense just yet/I'm faking it 'till I'm pseudo-making it"

"Pseudo-making it?" What is that? Next time you have the desire to add the prefix "pseudo" to anything except "science," please consult a thesaurus first. I know you're having a hard time with your engagement broken off and all that, but please realize two things: 1) Strong emotions are not an excuse for bad lyrics and 2) this is a sign that we are meant to be. In fact celebration is in order rather than a mournful album.

In short, Alanis, I feel that this album is not a mark against you as an artist, but more a lapse in coherent thought during a time of distress. I know you'll do better and please call me soon-- My girlfriend is coming and have to hide this...

My Deepest Love,


Jimmy


Highpoints: "In Praise of the Vulnerable Man," "Torch," "Incomplete."
Lowpoints: "Strait Jacket," "Not as We," "Moratorium."
Final Grade: C-

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight - Kate's Perspective

See that poster to your left? Notice anything missing? Something tall and dark, with pointy ears and a strapping chin? Don't worry, it'll come to you.

The Dark Knight, which Jimmy and I saw at a midnight showing last night, was one of the more wonderful pieces of cinema I've seen in a long while. I won't say perfect--it certainly has its flaws, and with less stellar acting those flaws would've broken a movie like this--but it's so good, they don't even bother you. (At least, not while you're watching. I'll get to it.)

I'm not sure that I've ever seen a movie which depended so completely on its actors, except perhaps There Will Be Blood. Without the absolute badassery brought to it by Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale (in this order, for me), it would've been average. Fun, adrenaline-packed mediocrity, but mediocrity nonetheless.

However, the film gods (or Christopher Nolan, I forget which) have chosen to bestow upon us a handful of pants-wettingly amazing performances, and so The Dark Knight transcends the superhero genre and becomes a genuine masterpiece of crime cinema. Gary Oldman, as Commissioner Gordon, is truly his own character in this one; you find yourself really caring about him. Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent is the perfect foil to Christian Bale's Batman: on one hand, the charismatic, good-hearted, blond district attorney; on the other, the brooding, gruff, dark vigilante. It's fantastic casting.

And Ledger? If Bale's performance was a little lacking for me, it's probably just because I was only waiting for scenes with the Joker. From his first swagger onto the screen, he absolutely owns the whole damn film. If I were one of the other massively talented actors in this movie, I would be feeling completely mediocre beside him. He's just so...cool. One twitching, sweating, greasy ball of concentrated crazy. He'll win you over ten minutes in, when he demonstrates a "magic trick" with a pencil. It's unforgettable.

One thing that always annoys me about villains is this: they often appear willing to die, but when death is staring them in the face, they snivel and whimper and wring their hands like everyone else, thus proving themselves not really that insane, just malicious. The Joker, on the other hand, really, truly doesn't give a bat's ass if he lives or dies, and that's sort of exhilarating to watch. He treats death like bungee-jumping or eating sushi; it's something new and exciting, and he might like it. He certainly doesn't treat it like a permanent condition.

Really, I could go on all day about Ledger's performance, which certainly ranks up with Hannibal Lecter as one of the creepiest, most deliciously freaky villains of all time. But I'm sleepy from getting just three hours of sleep, so I'll just urge you to see that for yourself.

Now, to the things that weren't so hot--or, rather, thing, as only one really bothered me. This may be a bit spoilerish, so you've been warned. The lead-up to Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face is long and slow, until the incident which actually turns him; after that, he immediately becomes crazed, bitter and remorseless. The elements were present before, so it's certainly not akin to, say, Anakin Skywalker's inexplicable transformation in Revenge of the Sith. It does work; it's just that it could have worked better, and it's too bad to see them rush that. One other small item I wasn't terribly fond of was a small cameo by Cillian Murphy, reprising his Scarecrow role; at best it was unnecessary, and at worst, a bit confusing. But it was short enough to fade into the background and be forgotten.

Finally, Batman as a character was not as important in this film; I think The Dark Knight was more about Gotham City than about Batman. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. From the intricate settings to the human moments (one involving boats and convicts is particularly touching), Nolan is determined to make you care about Gotham's salvation, and he succeeds, with flying...er...bats. There's plenty more that can be said about it, but instead, I'll just implore you to go see it yourself, and drink in the chilling, sadistic beauty of Gotham's darkest hour.

Final rating: A

Monday, July 14, 2008

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene-- Jimmy's perspective


History has seen the rise and fall of many powerful people. Some were considered civilized, others barbarians. Robert Greene, in his book The 48 Laws of Power, has taken the lessons that history and its powerful inhabitants have taught and condensed them into 48 compact and memorable rules. As Greene says in the foreword, these rules can be used to protect yourself from those in power or, if you choose to, take power in any situation or dynamic for yourself.

The contents page of the book rarely seems important unless your knee deep in a last minute cram session. In the case of this text, each law is listed as a chapter and given a concise summary for memory's sake. Even at this point the bold design of Joost Ellfers is creeping through the text. It's also becoming apparent what Greene thinks the nature of power really is.

The body of the text reads quickly with accessible and intelligent prose. Example after historical example are cited with stunning clarity, demonstrating the massive amounts of research dedicated to this book. Many books based on history tend to focus on one period or region of the world simpluy because information is easier to find, etc. etc. Whatever those reasons may be, Greene skirts them an delivers a well rounded cache of sources from European, Asian, African, and Western history.

Mixed in with all this information are supplemental anecdotes printed in the margins. These additions not only aid the information on the page but are aesthetically pleasing because of their color and typography. Even sections of the text itself stray from the tradition block formation to take on more interesting layouts to further illustrate its points.

The rules Greene synthesized from all of history do seem to make sense... If you want to rule over people and have no friends whatsoever. The notions of trust and loyalty are absent from all 48 edicts, reminding the reader how much of the text is based off Machiavellian principles and how friggin' lonely Machiavelli probably was.

The 48 laws of power is suitable for lobbyists or those that wish to combat power people, but not for other social settings. That being said, possessing the knowledge this book offers seem the ounce of prevention that, unfortunately, many people need.

kateblog

Should you, for some strange reason, be interested in hearing what goes on in my day-to-day life, you can now check that out at http://omgkate.blogspot.com. Prease to enjoying happy writings fun.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Into the Wild - Kate's Perspective

SPOILER-FEST

Owing to the fact that my family has half off all rentals at Family Video this month, we've been watching a lot of movies. And, unusually, we've been watching a lot of movies together. By family, I mean me, my parents, and Jimmy. Jimmy doesn't get to comment here, though, since he only saw the second half.

My mother hated Into the Wild, as I pretty much assumed she would, considering it's a movie (based on a true story) about a boy who goes off into the wilderness because he's pissed at his parents, and doesn't tell them where he is. They find out, eventually, because of course he dies. But it's rare that my mom feels strongly enough about a movie to argue with me on it.

I really can't tell you exactly how I felt about Into the Wild. At first, I disliked the main character, Chris (played beautifully by Emile Hirsch). I thought he was preachy, and that his big "adventure" was just a roundabout way of pissing off his parents. But after the movie was over, I realized that I'm pretty sure that's how Chris felt at first, too. Eventually, as the film goes on and he meets all the people who affect him along the way, he learns to be self-sufficient; he learns to forgive and love those around him; he learns that the pleasure in being alone isn't just the satisfaction you can get from denying others your company. He stops being such an arrogant little bitch and starts to really live the way he thought he was at the beginning.

However, of course he also learns some things he didn't count on. He learns that it's cruel to make the ones who love you worry. He learns that to really experience true happiness, you need someone to share it with. And he learns, ultimately, that he does not want to spend the rest of his life alone. But his lessons come too late, and he dies in the Alaskan wilderness, unable to cross back over the river that was frozen when he came and has now melted.

My first instinct is to tell people this movie is depressing, but that's really not true. Actually, I think that's the best possible ending. Chris learned his life lessons, but where could he have been happy had he lived? He couldn't have gone back to the suburbs and become a lawyer. But he also couldn't stay in the wilderness alone. The most poignant ending, certainly tragic but also more beautiful than any other option, was for him to die; alone, yes, but with love in his heart and truth in his mind.

My condolences go out to Chris's family for their loss, but they are lucky to have known such an adventurous, beautiful soul. I hope it's at peace now.

Final rating: B+

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Russian Ark- Jimmy's Perspective.


In my jaded old age of 22 years, my mind is rarely left blown by the spectacle that many films offer. I'm more drawn to plot and technique than I am to action packed, blood filled frames. That being said, Russian Ark, in all its wondrous glory is the most fantastic cinematic spectacle I've seen. Maybe my amazement comes from the fact I've worked on sets and seen how radically different normal films are made, but I think that anyone who has an ounce of taste will realize the incredible nature of Russian Ark. The spectacle arises from this: Russian Ark is a single 93-minute single take, spanning the entire Winter Palace and Hermitage art museum in Moscow. Within these marvelous 93 minutes there are over 4,000 extras, two orchestras, and an opera. Ho. Ly. Shit.

In terms of plot, things can get a little confusing. From what I can tell (being as my Russian is a little rusty) the viewer is seeing the world through the eyes of a specter or spirit of a man who has died and can essentially “come unstuck in time.” He doesn't seem to know where he is or when he is, nor does he have any control over what time period he happens to walk into. So this confused dead guy, who no one can seen, starts wandering around the Hermitage and Winter Palace where he runs into a traveler in a similar situation. We never learn the traveler's name, but the viewer can glean that he's European, used to be an ambassador, and hates all things Russian. After much exploration and time travel, though, the European decides to stay in the Winter Palace amidst the decadence of a royal ball. It's not mentioned in the film, but it must be noted that the ball the two dead guys attend is the last ball the Czar hosted before the Bolshevik revolution of 1918. Anyway, the whole thing, boiled down to its essence, is basically a biopic of the palace and museum. Every event that these two pass through is historically accurate and representative of many different eras in Russian history.

Given the odd temporal nature and strangeness of the plot, Russian Ark has an extremely dreamlike feel. The characters are unbound by logic, traipsing from time period to time period by simply strolling into another room. These shifts are accompanied by changes in focal length which are odd in themselves since audiences rarely get the chance to see them thanks to our dear friend, editing. What adds to the surreality of it all is the characters' ability to interact with their surroundings one instant and be invisible to everyone but themselves the other. They can pass through crowds without drawing any attention or dance with d├ębutantes in the limelight, but you can never tell which is going to happen.

I've yet to find a more stunning movie. I absolutely love this film. Yet, I realize that nothing is perfect and what I find incredible, many people may see as a boring gimmick. The main complaint I here about the film is the lack of a strong plot. We understand these people are lost and are trying to find their way to where ever it is they're going, but beyond that, there's not much. Personally, I think that this comes with the dream logic, but what's works for one may not for another. Another point is the very dramatic turn around of the "European" character. He begins completely opposed to anything Russian in origin, whether it be art, people, or music. But by the end, he's come full-turn, refusing to leave the palace when he has the chance to be anywhere in place and time. I think 93 minutes is a bit fast to make that shift but then again, I'm not a dead European.

If you get a chance to purchase Russian Ark, or view it at a festival of some sort, do it. Don't hesitate, just buy your ticket, sit back and be taken on a record-breaking, visually beautiful cinematic ride.

Final rating: A-

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Twilight: A Rant

So today, while bored and uncreative at work, I decided to listen to some classical music, hopefully to spur my unresponsive brain into producing something at least marginally useful. Remembering one of my old favorites, I hopped on YouTube and looked up Debussy's Clair de Lune, a gorgeous piece that I prefer on piano over the full orchestra. I glanced at the comments--always a mistake on YouTube, but I thought I might be safe with classical music--and was horrified to find that Every. Fucking. One. is about Twilight. This one, in particular, made my mind bleed:

"OMG....it [Debussy, she means] wasnt a made up artist!! what an amazing song, just like anything from the impressionist age. I love you Edward!!!!!!!!"


Despite my desire to crawl through the screen and slap this commenter (which I'm pretty sure you can do, now, through the magic of the Internets) I just sat, speechless, and then kicked the copy of Eclipse I've got stashed under my desk. As I thought about my infuriated response, I realized something.

I like Twilight, and I hate Twilight, and I particularly hate Twilight for making me like it, but more than anything I hate Twilight fans.

I picked up Twilight for a friend's birthday (Jimmy's sister, actually) and thought idly that it might be good to read. Once she finished it, she passed it along to me, saying I wouldn't be able to put it down. I generally assume this is true whenever I start a book, because I'm a huge bookworm and I just love to read. So the fact that she was right--that I read it within a day or so--doesn't necessarily reflect on the book, just on my book-consuming speed. For those of you who have been hiding in a cave or deserted island for the last year or so, Twilight is the tale of an ordinary (read: completely loathsome) girl called Bella who moves to a small town to live with her father. When she moves in, she meets Edward, a mysterious outcast at her high school. He's got yellow (no! Golden! TOPAZ!) eyes and "bronze" hair, and he's kind of pasty. Well, it turns out that Edward is a vampire. They fall in love, and then lots of people start trying to kill her, and then Edward proves what an awesome guy he is by saving her ass over and over again.

This, with a few twists and other characters thrown in there, is the basic idea of the series. People have somehow been comparing it to Harry Potter, and I just want to deck them in the face. There is no comparison there, other than that they both involve mystical creatures. But that's where the similarities end.

This rant is so big it has to be broken into parts.

I. Why I Hate Twilight

Twilight has a lot of problems. First off, its main character, narrator and "heroine," Bella. I fucking hate Bella, and not in a "love to hate them" way like I hate Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I just hate her. She's described as being very average-looking, she gets only decent grades, she's not particularly funny, she's ungodly clumsy (about half the plot points center around this), and she's neither outgoing enough to meet people or shy enough to be mysterious. She has no real talents that I can recall, she just likes to read, sometimes. And yet every fucking male in this series is in love with her. For real: three boys at her school (Mike, Tyler, and Eric), plus her best friend/werewolf Jacob, and of course Edward. Why? Why why why? The only thing she's good at is getting in trouble. And having herself saved. Jesus H, does this girl need a lot of saving. The fact that she was written by a woman makes me want to vomit, because she's just entirely useless. The only useful thing she ever does is manage to save Edward from suicide, but she wouldn't have had to do it in the first place if she hadn't jumped off a cliff in a storm and made him think she was dead via a series of misunderstandings. Yes. My only hope is that she gets better in Breaking Dawn, after she becomes a vampire, but it's not likely.

Second, the plot relies on a tenuous web of increasingly impossible and convoluted twists that could never happen in real life. At the beginning of New Moon, Bella is thrown a birthday party (and is ridiculously ungrateful for it, by the way) by Edward's family. While opening a present, she gets a papercut, which spills a drop of blood and sends Edward's brother Jasper into a frenzy. Edward decides, after this, that it's too dangerous for them to be together, and so he leaves her, convincing her that he doesn't love her (it's a pretty reasonable idea, to me, so I was convinced). The biggest plot point in the book, and it's because she got a papercut from a piece of wrapping paper. And it was deep enough to bleed. After Edward leaves her, she goes into a six-month spiral of depression, where she leans entirely on her friend/slave Jacob, who of course also falls in love with her. Jacob promises to take her cliff-diving, but has to cancel due to family issues. Now, when Bella does something dangerous, she can hear Edward's voice in her head, so she decides to go do it anyway, despite the fact that a storm is coming in. AT THE SAME TIME, her father's friend dies, and he goes to the funeral. Naturally, Jacob saves her from drowning at the last second. While they're at her house recovering, Edward, pretending to be someone else, calls and asks to talk to Bella's father. Jacob answers the phone and says that her dad is "at the funeral." Wasting no time on things such as fact verification or even good-old-fashioned mourning, Edward flies to Italy, where he hopes to convince the oldest family of vampires to kill him, by making a scene in public. Yes, it really is as dumb as it sounds.

Third, the characters just aren't real. Again, Bella's only dimension is that she sucks. Bad. Edward, while he has quite a bit of potential and is infinitely more likable than Bella, can occasionally get near-abusive in his determination to protect her--he takes apart her truck engine to keep her from going to see Jacob, "for her safety." Plus, he's just too damn forgiving. Bella does all kinds of shit to him, and he puts up with it, all the while telling her that she can leave him whenever she gets tired of him. The only character with any depth is Jacob, who both loves Bella and screams at her that she's being stupid. Actually, Jacob's relationship with Bella is similar to mine with these books, except that I occasionally want to punch Stephenie Meyer and Jacob does not.

There are many, many more faults I could describe, but this is long enough already.

II. Why I Like Twilight, Against My Will

I thought after I went away to college I was over teen angst. I thought I had firmly placed all that drama behind me, and now I was interested in good literature, good art, good film, that sort of thing. I thought it was inconceivable that I would ever be drawn to a gothy, whiny, fan-servicing piece of badly-written Mary Sue-ism again.

I was wrong.

It seems that, at heart, I still appreciate things that are just fun to read, regardless of whether they're good or not. Bella sucks, and I'm not interested in her (which is why I sped through New Moon and never touched it again). However, a love story is still a love story, and Edward is lovable. You wish you had someone like him, and I like it when he's happy. For some reason, he's happy with the ridiculous Bella, which is problematic, but whatever. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that no, things like this don't happen in real life. But maybe once in a while, that's OK. This story fulfills my small but real need for fluffy, angsty, pointless love/drama, and I guess if it keeps me from wanting any of that in real life, it's good enough.

But seriously, it's an annoying thing to like. The other day I was wanting to draw FAN ART. I haven't drawn fanart since my anime phase in high school. How embarrassing. I resisted the urge, but who knows if I'll be able to hold out. I'll have to post it under a fake name. Fortunately I have no desire to write fanfiction, which is good. With a few tiny exceptions, fanfiction makes me cry.

III. Why I Hate Twilight Fans

I'm sorry, and I know I'm going to get tons of shit for this, but Twilight fans tend to be the most annoying fans on earth. Like the ones who posted all over Debussy that they were thinking of Edward while they listened. Look, I'm glad you discovered some beautiful classical music, but shit. Just listen to it. You're not going to marry Edward Cullen; he is fictional. So just enjoy the music.

Plus, Twilight fans like to labor under the misapprehension that Twilight is really, really good. They compare it endlessly to Harry Potter, and I've no idea where they're getting this idea. HP is not a love story at all; it's a classic story about a boy who is not perfect, who has no real advantages except the people who love him, who confronts the worst fears anyone could ever have and saves the world. It's fairly simple, actually, despite the rich world and characters drawn around it. The story itself is timeless--it doesn't rely on ridiculous plot twists or excessive angst, except where it's necessary to be realistic, because Harry is a teenage boy. Remember when I kept comparing Megatokyo to Scary Go Round? Well, Megatokyo is to Scary Go Round as Twilight is to Harry Potter. (Almost. Except that her books are done when she says they will be, and she does improve over time--Eclipse was far, far better than Twilight or New Moon.)

Furthermore, if you don't like Twilight, be prepared to submit yourself to an endless deluge of poorly-spelled comments with lots of exclamation points about why you're stupid and a bad person. I've never met such a passionate group of commenters, and I don't understand it. I love Harry Potter and will defend those books until the end, but I won't suggest you're stupid or somehow amoral because you don't like them. I'll just assume we have different taste in books.

So, anyway, that's the end of this rant. There's more to say, but the spout of rage has died down to a trickle now, so it's time for me to get back to work. Let the hate mail begin.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WALL-E - Kate's Perspective

I know, I know. I hate reviewing (or watching) over-hyped, extra-commercialized movies just as much as the next pretentious asshole. (And make no mistake, I am one, or I'd be telling you all how much I love Roadhouse--not for the reasons Swayze wants me to, but I love it nevertheless.) Plus, it's just way, way easier and more fun to write negative reviews, isn't it? There's much more colorful vocabulary available for crapping all over things than for praising them.
But in this case I just can't do it. We went to see WALL-E on Saturday night, the day after it opened. I expected to enjoy it, as generally (Cars notwithstanding) I love Pixar. What I did not expect was that I would be completely astonished by it. I suppose it makes sense; Finding Nemo was a masterpiece in its own right, and Andrew Stanton hasn't directed anything else since then. Like all the best directors and actors, he picks and chooses, taking on only the projects he thinks are worthwhile. Brad Bird, fellow CGI director, noted that the script wasn't easy, but the good folks at Pixar decided to give it a whirl and trust their audiences' intelligence.

And what a payoff! From the moment the movie began, I was hooked. There's no real dialogue for the first half-hour or so of the movie; it's just beeps and clicks between WALL-E and his pet cockroach, with the occasional burst of Hello Dolly thrown in (he's only got one movie, and he's a big fan). I won't go too heavily into the plot, since it's still brand-new and most people know what happens anyway. I'll just talk about what makes it wonderful.

First, while the movie is clearly a Shrek-style double-layer movie, with many jokes being just for adults and the characters serving to entertain kids, it didn't have the usual downfalls of that kind of film--in particular, crude bodily-function jokes mixed in with more sophisticated humor, or unnecessary slapstick. There was a lot of slapstick involved, yes, but it was more in the Charlie Chaplin school than the Three Stooges. It managed to do something rare: get kids and adults laughing at the same thing.

Second, this movie may be the first children's movie set in a truly dystopian future. It's bleak; the world is a trash heap and people have devolved into floating, boneless blobs. But the human spirit eventually prevails--an especially big accomplishment in a movie that's mainly about robots.

Third, the relationship between WALL-E and EVE was simply believable. It was more touching than it would have been if it took place between humans, because they could not speak to express their feelings, and communicated simply by gestures. You guys are going to make fun of me, but I was moved to tears several times during the movie, and not just near the end. When EVE fulfills her mission by finding a plant, she goes catatonic, incubating the plant and not responding to WALL-E's beeps and gestures. So WALL-E does his best to care for her until she wakes up; he tethers her to himself with a string of Christmas lights, stands with her in the rain and shields her with an umbrella, and takes her out to watch the sunset. When EVE awakes back aboard the Axiom, the space station that all of humanity lives on, the captain plays a hologram of the recordings her security camera made while she slept. EVE sees what WALL-E did for her, and looks down at her hand, realizing that all along he was trying to hold it. It's incredibly touching and not at all cheesy, particularly because WALL-E has no other motivations; he's just a lonely little robot who's found the only friend he's ever had.

Please go to see WALL-E. Don't buy the toys or anything, because I'm still bothered by the blatant commercialism of it, but show Pixar that their gamble was right--that their audiences can be trusted to think for themselves and understand without being told everything explicitly. If George Lucas had made this movie, some annoying talking robot would have been narrating everything. If Michael Bay had made it, there would have been less mechanical hand-holding and more mechanical arms getting blown off. But fortunately, Andrew Stanton made it, and so we just have WALL-E and his cockroach, beeping showtunes and rolling dutifully into the dust.

Final rating: A+