Storytelling, Story-stealing

‘Avatar’ and the Death of Storytelling – Cinematical:

how the frak can James Cameron have cooked this story up for a decade, waiting for technology to catch up with his vision, and not want the story to be killer? How can he not at least work that script into a form that can at least begin to rival the visuals it’s matched with? It seems like an insult.

This is a question Eric asks of many TV shows and movies. The budgets of such projects is huge, yet it seems that little is spent on writing or fact-checking (see Pet Peeves).

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As promised: Obscure Media Monday has a second round of recently-watched movie reviews.

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And now a word about Google:

If you are of a writing/publishing bent, you’ve probably heard about the Google Book Settlement. If you’re not and you haven’t, Michael Stackpole has a run-down of the basics. If you combine this with some recent comments from Google senior vice president about "open" policy and other commentary about Google profiting from the content of others, you might have the impression that Google masquerades "what’s good for Google profit" as "what is good for the citizens of the world." And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I propose moving away from Google, if you can. It’s not easy. Google has some nice applications. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against "payment" for these apps in advertising and such, but the problem is that Google has become harmful to certain sectors. Sectors that strongly overlap with my interests.

I’ve changed my default search engines. I’ve abandoned Google Reader for Bloglines and a WordPress blog to keep track of my reading. I’ve never been a fan of Google Docs, so no loss there. Unfortunately, Gmail and the combination of GCal and Tasks are hard for me to give up. I’ll keep them for the moment, but I’m keeping my eyes open for a alternatives.

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Recent Cinema (that you’ve heard of)

With Eric on break and no other constraints on our time, we’ve been catching up on movies. Comparing my Flixster ratings with my journal entries, I’m way behind on journaling about movies too. I’ll hit the highs and notable lows of recent-ish mainstream-ish releases. The stuff you probably haven’t heard of I’ll write about over on Obscure Media Monday.

Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Since I was excited to see this movie, we decided to go to an opening-day Christmas showing. Despite my rants about Beowulf, I really have no problem with literary figures being adapted to movies. Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters, and a favored property for pastiche. I’ve seen him done every-which-way, and the only real requirement is that Holmes retains his particular Holmes qualities. One could argue what those are exactly, but I’d venture to say that it’s his fairly Aspergean nature. He’s driven and focused and, therefore, a bit of a bastard to people. The Holmes of this movie has enough of that to be a good Holmes. The plot has to be given credit for being ambitious *and* pulling it off without running into major problems. Not too many movies can say that. Finally, Guy Ritchie was perfect for this movie. The quick “explanation” flashbacks were well done and are something Ritchie is good at. As for the action… I’d say the more “Ritchie” action sequences—short, brutal fights—are pitch-perfect. The set-piece action never struck me as overboard on an individual scene level, but in total seemed a bit much.

The Wrestler (2008) – One of the darlings of last year, a deserved reputation. The performances are great. The film is well-shot because, if anything, Darren Aronofsky is an interesting film maker. Character-driven and a strange sort of love letter to the wrestling of the 80s.

The Hangover (2009) – I wasn’t really interested in seeing this movie, but Mark and Trish had it and were up for watching it again. It was funnier than I expected it to be, containing (as Eric puts it) a lot of “smart” dumb. And a good dash of absurdity which I always appreciate.

The Invasion (2007) – Daniel Craig is the best thing in this movie and I can’t figure out why he’s in it. It is about as bad as the worst 1950s alien invasion films. Except without the cheesy flying saucers.

District 9 (2009) – I have a soft spot for low-budget movies that don’t look like low-budget movies (low budget being defined as around the $50 million mark). Much has already been said of the merits of $30 million District 9 versus $200 million Transformers 2. While the former is by no means a great movie, I’m going to go out on a pretty strong limb and say it’s probably better than the latter. I also appreciate it using a very unsympathetic protagonist, though by the end of the movie I did feel manipulated. Wikus and the rest of the humans are such heels that I have to side with the Prawns.

State of Play (2009) – In retrospect, I have no feelings for or against this movie. It was alright. The majority of the plot seemed jammed into a 24 hour period, but the pacing of the movie itself was good. Good cast. Just not an outstanding movie.

Flightplan (2005) – The last Jodie Foster movie I was dubious of and pleasantly surprised by was Panic Room (a movie that is probably unwatched enough to make OMM). This movie was no where as good. To “meta” the plot, you ask yourself, “If she’s nuts, what’s the point of this movie?” There is a nice aspect to how the people on the plane react; the different degrees of indifference, empathy and hostility that they show. Similar in that respect to the series four Doctor Who episode “Midnight.”

The Proposal (2009) – I like Sandra Bullock, and occasionally I delve into the land of chick flicks. This one isn’t good. It isn’t bad either, but it’s incredibly formulaic. Even for this genre, there were no surprises.

RocknRolla (2008) – Good flick, if you like Guy Ritchie films. It shows some progression away from the gimmicks of Lock, Stock or Snatch (and not all gimmicks are bad). Strong storytelling.

Primer (2004) – Didn’t care for it. I followed along for the most part, but it felt as though the movie was being intentionally obfuscatory. I also wonder what group of engineers wear ties ALL THE TIME.

Outage ’09

We suffered an internet service provider outage yesterday. An entire 24 hours without home service and too lazy to go anywhere for wireless. We watched a movie, shopped, and I sort of caught up on my reading.

We watched The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Saturday night concluding an inadvertent Alan Moore double feature. The Tor blog had mentioned it earlier last week and I realized that I had never seen it. As with Wild Wild West, it had gotten a fairly bad rap, review-wise. In the case of Wild Wild West, undeservedly in my opinion. In the case of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I had decided not to give it a chance. *shrug* It wasn’t that bad. The lit-geek in me liked seeing this group of characters in, well, fan fiction. The set-piece action sequences went on way too long.

The other Alan Moore pic? Watchmen. I liked it better than the graphic novel. Without Tales of the Black Freighter and some of the other minor character sub-plots, it was less unrelentingly bleak. The writing was a little smoother too. Except for Rorschach’s journal. If you’re going to complain about Harrison Ford’s voice-over in Blade Runner, you really can’t like Rorschach’s “this city sucks” monologues. The action wasn’t annoying, but not particularly moving either. And there’s no love for rental DVDs that have absolutely no extras.

On the absolute other end of the movie budget spectrum, I also watched Let the Right One In. It lived up to it’s good reputation. It’s a beautifully shot film, though sometimes slow. It was suspenseful and does a nice job of being an honestly good vampire film within a story of a boy growing up. I especially liked Eli’s fascination with puzzles. That’s a piece of vampire lore that doesn’t get used enough.

Fame, Movie Reviews, Exercise

Woman admits embezzling from Danielle Steel – Yahoo! News
See, this is what happens when you become uber-successful. I don’t intend on becoming a rich enough author to have employees. That should avoid the problem.

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Recent movie watching:

So, there’s this movie called Deadgirl. It made the film festival rounds, has been released on DVD, and I was surprised to find it available on Netflix as an instant view. I had read a review of Deadgirl before I saw it, so I sorta knew what to expect. Many people find it to be distasteful to downright reprehensible. The word misogynistic has been used to describe it too. The basic plot? Two high school misfits find a fairly attractive zombie girl tied up in an abandoned mental institution. While this movie isn’t high art (and actually I’m glad it’s not), it’s better than its offensive potential. The movie is really about how far each character will go in a situation that, in the beginning, might be morally ambiguous but lacks repercussions. Decent horror movie fodder.

Also watched Quarantine. Using the “found footage”motif, the hand-held cameras follow a lifestyle reporter as she follows firemen on a call to a building that quickly becomes quarantined. The rub? The people have been closed into the building with a something carrying a rabies-like virus. On a plot-depth level, this isn’t a great movie. On an experience-level? Pretty intense, at least superficially. There are scares in all the right places, but nothing that lasted more then the run-time of the movie.

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I’m trying to get back into running and/or rowing a couple times a week in addition to disc twice a week. Okay, so I’ve done it for one week. As with most things lately, I probably won’t keep it up. But I do feel better. Well, when playing disc I have a screwy right ankle/foot and a slightly pulled left upper quad/groin muscle, but when just running and afterward, I’ve been feeling better.  (It’s all relative…)

Reading Rainbow, Eternity, and Benjamin Button

‘Reading Rainbow’ Reaches Its Final Chapter : NPR:

Grant says that PBS, CPB and the Department of Education put significant funding toward programming that would teach kids how to read — but that’s not what Reading Rainbow was trying to do.

“Reading Rainbow taught kids why to read,” Grant says. “You know, the love of reading — [the show] encouraged kids to pick up a book and to read.”

Linda Simensky, vice president for children’s programming at PBS, says that when Reading Rainbow was developed in the early 1980s, it was an era when the question was: “How do we get kids to read books?”

My first reaction was that it’s sad that we’re moving away from appreciation of books. Wouldn’t it follow that if we engender a curiosity for books, kids would want to learn to read? But, from a results point of view and putting aside nostalgia, did Reading Rainbow keep kids wanting to read? Quoted statistics on the matter are often out-of-date and grimly self-interested.

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Book #15 – The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

I read an article the other day about people photoshopping their family pictures. And I know how this goes: you start out removing the red eye, then maybe lighten it up a little, then sharpen the image and make the colors less faded… And what you end up with is something that might look better on its own, but lacks a certain spark that the original had. The premise of this book is like that: if we had the ability to tinker with past events–removing war, famine, social-ills–would the human race become a smoother, yet sparkless version of itself? If you remove all those terrible yet challenging things, is there impetus to improve? Eric and I have discussed this often in regard to writing. If I would have been published ten years ago, would I have worked as hard to become a better writer?

In light of many of Philip K. Dick’s novels becoming movies, I spent most of this book wondering why it hasn’t been made into a movie. The overarching plot (a love story!) is fairly compelling. My question was answered in the last 20 pages: the last 20 pages are a massive info dump. It’s not a dry, uninteresting info dump, but it is two people talking for an extended period of time.

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We’re starting to work our way through last year’s Oscar contenders. First up was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Earlier in the month I encountered the first Clint Eastwood movie I didn’t like. Now David Fincher unpleasantly surprises me as well. Alas. My problem is that any emotional involvement was overwhelmed by the scope of the movie. The heart of this movie is Benjamin and Daisy. During the section of the film when they’re together I had the feeling of “THAT is the movie I want to see.” I could say that the problem was with the effects, but a movie like What Dreams May Come will emotionally bowl me over every time I see it. Wondering about the chronology was distracting, mainly because it didn’t seem like they did a rigorous job of keeping track. Really, I think it would have been a better, simpler story from Daisy’s point of view. We don’t need to see everything Benjamin does in his life, and it might have been better to be surprised by the changes in him. (I have not read the source material, but I am now…curious.)

The Glamour

Been finishing Divine Fire. Which means that all else sort of takes a back seat. The apartment becomes a mess and emails go unanswered. Even if the word counts aren’t high, I experience a level of distraction. There are a few things niggling at me that I should take care of, but they would take too much energy away from writing. Also I’m not reading, not exercising, and eating poorly.

Today was Eric’s birthday and we celebrated with dinner at Four Peaks with Ann, Jim, Mark, Trish and the girls. Ann made German chocolate cake that rivals her mom’s though it needs to sit in the fridge for a day or two and become more dense. Watched Gran Torino afterward. I found the movie to be disappointing. The dialogue was ham-handed and often un-needed. It’s perhaps the first Clint Eastwood directed movie that I didn’t like because it was poorly done.

Recent Cinema

Films watched lately that aren’t The Hurt Locker:

Ghost Town – Eric sat down to dinner and stated that I should pick a movie, he didn’t care which, even if it was a chick flick. I replied that he shouldn’t worry; I didn’t think I had any chick flicks. And proceeded to put Ghost Town on. The premise is not new: after an accident, a dentist is suddenly able to see and communicate with the dead. British comic Ricky Gervais might not be an American audiences first choice for a leading man, but few leading men start out as such a bastard. In the end, it’s a sweet movie with some funny moments, but doesn’t entirely gel.

The Pink Panther 2 – It’s funny.  It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve seen since Tropic Thunder.  Many of the setups are sketch oriented; set-pieces created for the comic potential, but when it’s funny, does it really matter?  And what is sure to become a favored quote in this household: “Let me bring you up to speed. We know nothing. You are now up to speed.”

Fast & Furious – There’s Vin Diesel.  There’s fast cars.  There’s not much else, but there also doesn’t need to be if you’re in it for the first two things.  Neither great cinema, nor the worst thing I’ve been subjected to.

Sunshine – I had forgotten that this is a Danny Boyle film.  Or rather I had forgotten about the things that I really liked about 28 Days Later: the manipulative use of beautiful imagery and immersive soundtrack.  And Cillian Murphy.  This movie might have been more interesting in a theater with its alternating brightness and dark.  (Also interesting is the contrast between burning and freezing.)  The science, and lack there of, didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might, though there are quite a few…stretches.  Also, space horror is not a new thing.  Sunshine made me want to go watch Event Horizon, which does the horror better.

A couple of documentaries from Netflix Instant:
Modify – Since I did some research on body modifications a while back, this documentary didn’t show me anything new.  It just did so in video form.  It is not for the faint of heart.  Some of the modifications are pretty extreme and there is footage of some of them being done.  What this documentary doesn’t go into any detail about is the risks of such procedures.  I understand that they want to be pro-modification, but not telling the whole story is a disservice to the topic.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 – College football is around the corner and stories like this are why I enjoy the game.  In 1968, both Harvard and Yale were undefeated when they met for the final game of the season.  Yale was heavily favored, and with 42 seconds left in the game, Harvard was down 16 points.  As told through first person account by members of both teams (including Tommy Lee Jones).  Good stuff.