Man of Steel – Less than Super

man-of-steel-poster-movie-film-superman(Spoilers for Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, and The Avengers do follow) 

How I feel about Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is impossible to separate from how I’ve started to feel about most superhero comic adaptations. If you want a quick review; Man of Steel is entertaining enough to justify the money. If you don’t get your hopes up, you may actually enjoy yourself. Don’t expect to laugh. Depending on who you are, you may cry. When it’s all over you will either kind of like it or really like it, but your opinion will change as you step further from the magic of the theater, IF you continue to think about it. You might also find that you are bored; a side effect of the action escalation of modern films.

Action escalation is a product of having special effect limitations removed with the proliferation of CGI effects. Now we can do anything we can think of as long as it fits in the story like with most superhero adaptations, and sometimes when it doesn’t like in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Just goes to show you, if Spielberg can make the mistake then no one is safe. With more superheros in theaters than ever before, the audience is in serious risk of growing exhausted by the studio’s need to “out do” the film that opened a few weeks before.

“The Avengers destroyed New York, how do we top that in Iron Man 3? Well, we can’t but let’s try throwing more than 40 Iron Men at the audience and see how they take that? By the time the film is over they’ll never want to see another iron man suit get smashed again. They saw it happen 42 times!”

“Hey we are working on Superman, we can actually top the destruction from past films because these guys are indestructible. More is always better right!”

The problem with this thinking is evident in Man of Steel. By the start of the third act, you’ve seen it all before. It’s akin to watching a wrecking ball demolish several building. It sounds really amazing but after the first, it’s all just rubble. It’s made worse by the fact that Superman is never really in danger. This is always an issue when you deal with Superman but at least his friends can be in danger. Only, we don’t spend enough time with the supporting characters to really care about them outside of the fact that they are human lives at risk. Then again, that doesn’t carry much weight after thousands have died in the wake of over the top destruction. Why should I care any more about the girl stuck in rubble just because she has a name. At least, I think she has a name, I never noticed her until she was stuck in rubble.

What we are left with is largely the same series of events over and over. Someone gets punched. The punched super person is knocked through several building. Buildings topple probably killing people. Rinse. Repeat. There is some filler to switch things up but it feels like filler and the damage is done. The punches don’t connect with the audience. The violence doesn’t feel violent. The visceral displays of strength and ferocity don’t feel very visceral. It’s all just… empty. I liken it to slapping the surface of a body of water. There is an impact but it’s nothing like slapping the surface of a concrete table.

By the time the fighting is over, Superman is left with one fateful decision; what to do with Zod? The General is hellbent on the destruction of the human race and after all Superman has done in his crusade to save humanity, (like destroying Smallville and crashing a ship of kryptonian babies who weren’t nearly as big of jerks as Zod) there is really only one option. The weight of the decision is robbed by the certainty of it. Sadly I could have cared less about this moment regardless. I just wanted the fight to end. It was all just stylized white noise with little consequence. This conflict inside Superman should have been a franchise shattering moment but it fell flat for me. I didn’t even realize I was supposed to take note until Superman let out a primal scream. Only then did I realize what he had just done but only because the scream seemed oddly out-of-place and out of character.

Obviously there is more to the Man of Steel than the action and as far as the story goes, it’s entertaining enough even if it’s filled with the usual silly character decisions and logic holes. Costner does a great job as Clarks dad, as does Michael Shannon as Zod. Henry Cavill is good if not a little too muscular. Amy Adams is sadly miscast and it’s apparent anytime she has to speak. The theme is great and, while not particularly new, it fits in nicely with the Superman ethos. Unfortunately is doesn’t pay off in pretty much anyway at all. I could be wrong about that and if I am please inform me. I had a hard time staying engaged as the film crumbled through the third act. All that aside, Man of Steel is not a terrible movie. I view it more as a missed opportunity. Admittedly, Superman is hard. It could have been worse. It should have been better.

With more and more superheros scheduled to hit the screen in the next 5 year, each one is at risk of losing what made it stand out originally to us as an audience. These unique characters, intended to encourage strength and good in humanity, are up against a terrible foe. Action Escalation is very powerful and growing stronger each year. It has the ability to oversimplify decades of character development. It can reducing each hero into a giant grey mass of concrete rubble, lasers, smashed cars, and downed helicopters, indistinguishable of those that came before it. And…it can leap tall buildings in a single bound. If we are not careful, we’ll be left with nothing but big budget tentpole action flicks that no one wants to see. No one is safe. Not even Superman.

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The Limited Future of Next Gen Gaming

It has been a few days since Microsoft put out a press release designed to address the many poorly worded statements intended to address the poorly thought out policies of the Xbox One. If that sentence reads like a bit of a brain teaser it’s because that is what Microsoft has managed to turn the announcement of their next generation console into. This is old news, so this post is not meant to be news, but rather my perspective on the whole circus. Still, for a bit of background, the bigger issues that were clarified yesterday were as follows: there will indeed be limitations on what WE can do with OUR games, when WE can play our new xbox, and finally there were be limitations to what the Xbox will sharing through it’s connected “sensor.”

 

The Connected Age – Once every 24 hours

Well, you have to start somewhere but once every 24 hours is a lot like saying something costs $24.99. You aren’t fooling anyone that’s $25.  I mean, requiring people to have their console “check in” to play a single player game is absurd and reeks of DRM. No PR firm in the world would be able to spin that yarn unless they dress it up inside some new feature, which Microsoft has managed to do with the stance of cloud computing. (It worked for Sim City!) Course we know that’s not really it otherwise we would need to be connected a hell of a lot more than once every 24 hours.

My problem with this is simple. I live in a place where I should have a decent internet connection but I still suffer from periods where the service is down. I also tend to be pretty busy.  Let’s say I have one hour free to try out some new game that I am very eager to play (I’m eager because it makes my plight more sympathetic.) I turn on the Xbox One for the first time in a few days because, again I was busy, but I can’t play my game because my internet seems to be too screwy. The Xbox can’t authenticate my account. Well, hey I guess it’s not Microsoft’s fault. I will now spend the majority of the next hour trouble shooting the problem. That is just one scenario in which my internet connection is to blame but there will be others. It’s an unnecessary limitation being dressed up as the “way of the future.” I always thought things were supposed to get easier in the future. Still, I live in a place that has internet so I’m less screwed than those that Microsoft truly felt they didn’t need.

You can tell that Microsoft’s PR was really struggling with this assignment, to force feed the bad news in such a way that would color it like candy. How did they do? Pretty pathetic: “Because every Xbox One owner has a broadband connection, developers can create massive, persistent worlds that evolve even when you’re not playing.” There is no connection between the Xbox One’s required check in and the eventual creation of massive persistent worlds. I would love for someone to explain to me how forcing me to have my xbox connected to the internet will benefit a persistent world in a game I have no intention of playing. It’s one thing to force limitations  in your next generation that could eventually hurt you company or gaming as a whole but don’t treat me like I’m stupid. COME ON!

 

You Own Nothing – Changing the meaning of “Used” Games

Microsoft has announced that there will be several limitations surrounding what a paying customer is allowed to do with the games they buy. First, they effectively have two licenses to the game, one for themselves and one for another person should they ever decide they want to give or sell that game. Two, if you do decide you want to give or sell that game, the second owner must be on your friends list for 30 days prior to them being able to register the game under their account. Third, there will be a way for third parts to trade and sell used games should the publishers of the game allow it. For me the problem all boils down to the idea that I am paying $60+ not to own a game, but to have permission to play it and that permission can be revoked should the publisher decide they don’t need or want my business. These kinds of business practices spit in the very face of the people who made this industry so successful.

The concept of game licenses have been around for a long time but it has never limited what we as consumers can do until now in the “connected age.” Technology has finally reached a point where companies, if they wish, can require consumers to buy the same product more than once; a coveted reality in most publishers top floor offices I would imagine. I don’t want to live in a world where I am required to pay per use of the latest Metal Gear game or worry that I only have 30 minutes left of my allotted time in the newest MMO before I have to pay  for another couple of hours. (Micro transactions at their worst.) Of course that is a hypothetical scenario and one I would hope would never come to fruition but a year ago I wouldn’t have thought that my right to sell a game I bought on Ebay would be up for debate.

As a fan of video games as a story telling medium I want them to succeed. However, as development and marketing budgets skyrocket north of $200 million, I understand that publishers and developers are left scrambling to identify a profitable and sustainable business model. They tried last generation with the advent of micro transactions and online passes. I don’t doubt for a minute that the micro transactions helped to some degree. Still, stock holders will always be looking for an increase in profits. Their options? Risk development on new IPs or figure out how to make more money from the old IPs. They are already going to make Call of Duty 7 so why risk millions to explain, develop, and market a new franchise that may or may not succeed when there is a hypothetical honey pot of money just waiting to be tapped should the right limitations be placed on the customer. My fear is that this imaginary honey pot doesn’t actually exist.

When people found out that limitations would be placed on the resale of used games they were admittedly upset. Microsoft’s response was to explain that they are looking for a SOLUTION to allow for the buying and selling of used games. (There is nothing quite like looking for a solution to an unnecessary problem you create.) Microsoft’s answer, which has not been completely explained at this point, is to allow authorized third parties to buy and sell used games should the publisher allow for that “feature.” It will be real interesting to see how many publishers sign on for that it in the first place or how much third parties will have to pay to be “authorized,” but there is a deeper issue. This industry is nothing without its customer base yet Microsoft’s solution is designed to hurt that customer base more than anyone, and I worry the industry will suffer as a whole.

I want this industry to succeed but I only have so much money that I can spend on video games. They are less than essential to my life and if money is tight, they are one of the first things to go. One of the ways I have been able to limit the expense is by selling my used games on eBay and then putting that money into new games. I do not go to GameStop or any other potentially authorized third-party as I can get more money by selling my game directly to another eager player. If the game is good that eager player may become a fan and spend money in-game or on future installments and I take the money I make from the sale and put it into new games. Under Microsoft’s current policies for the Xbox One, this scenario can not happen. Ultimately, I have less money to spend on games which means nothing more than I buy fewer games. The publisher has less incentive to take risks on developing new franchises and the video game industry as a whole becomes as stagnant as the current film industry.

Another victim of these limitations is the rental market; on the new Xbox, you will NOT be able to rent and try games before you fully invest in them. When the costs of a single game can be more than a months worth of internet, electricity, or cell service, it becomes increasingly important that I don’t get stuck with a game that I regret buying. If I pop something in and decide it’s not for me, I have fewer options to recoup the cost. These limitations effectively allow for a publisher to spend more money in marketing than development because the customer has no way to try out the game before hand and is stuck with their purchase regardless of quality or value.

 

This Isn’t the End

The terrifying, although admittedly hypothetical reality of these limitations is that Microsoft and possibly Sony (we haven’t heard their stance yet but I can’t imagine it being different from Microsoft’s) have decided to ask the publishers what they would want in the next generation to secure development for their consoles. Rather than opting for technology that will spark innovation and growth, they went for an ecosystem that could hurt the very people who keep them in business. These kinds of decisions are awfully presumptuous. The customer is NOT guaranteed. It reminds me of 2006 and the introduction of the PS3. Sony was riding high after the PS2 and assumed that their successes would simply follow them in the next generation. However, that didn’t happen and I like to think Sony learned a lesson.

E3 starts today and we will know a lot more when the sun goes down on Los Angeles. There may actually be real innovation hiding somewhere behind the announced changes. We may not know about those until we sit down with the next generation consoles BUT as customers we have to be very careful not to send the wrong message to console manufactures, publishers, and developers. Some may say I am overacting. We won’t really know until we see what effects the next generation of video game business has on the next generation of video games over the course of the following few years. It’s better to be cautious now than sorry later.  Do not view these limitations as the end. They are only one step in the evolution of gaming and if we don’t ACT when we don’t like the direction things are heading, we may find ourselves up a creek without a controller.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness Trailer

It opens: “You think your world is safe.”

That should be epic! But I’ve heard it so much lately, it holds the same weight as, “Aw, we’re out of milk.”

I enjoyed the first (new) Star Trek. It felt like a risk. I felt like anything could happen in that movie/universe and there would be some way to explain it while also thoroughly entertaining/ thrilling. Of course it followed a formula, but it was a universe I didn’t know. Yet with the sequel, we get Star Fleet vs terrorists. Throw in some John Mcclain and I’m onboard. I don’t think my world is safe. How could I with every movie telling me it’s not!

This teaser just reminds me of every single movie in which a larger than life nemesis threatens “our world.” Now I don’t know what is going to happen in this movie, but I can guess that we will have to watch faceless people suffer for an hour and a half before Kirk & Co. amazingly manage to turn the tide. Those poor weak faceless people who can’t do anything without their heroes. Wait a second…THAT’S ME! I remember the last time I felt like humanity was nothing more than sheep that need saving; The Avengers. I give it a day before someone cuts the VO from this trailer into the Avengers trailer – or vice versa.

I wrote a bit about the escalation in film; how the need to constantly “out do” the last movies major set pieces will ultimately exhaust the audience. You can only destroy the world so many times before it stops having meaning. Obviously, that critique is a little premature for Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s a huge movie and it needs to feel that way! I am just hoping the personal stories aren’t forgotten and give the threats a little more weight.

Now, who is going to thank Nolan for the direction film is going while we anticipate Star Trek: Skyfall Into Dark Knight Rises.

 

(It should have ended with someone saying, “Set phasers to…kill.” DunDunDun!!!!!)

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Favorite Things: Spy (It’s a show – on Hulu)

Several months ago (or maybe years – I’ve lost track of time) I was sitting at on a rainy day…or, maybe it wasn’t a rainy day. While I can’t recall the day on which I first watched Spy, I do remember that I loved it enough to watch every single episode in one sitting. (At the time, there were really only six episodes, 20 minutes each – but that is still a lot for a spontaneous time commitment.)

The story behind Spy is not really extraordinary. A deadbeat dad goes out for a new job in hopes of impressing his son only to accidentally end up with an impressive job in MI5. Of course because it’s secret service, he can’t tell anyone about this new job. Like I said, it’s not particularly new. The real magic comes from the cast, writing and direction. The people behind this show have taken the tired premise of “the accidental spy” and made it their own. In the process, they have made something hilarious. It’s a little bit Archer, a little bit Chuck, and even a little bit Arrested Development.

I must admit, it may take more than one episode to get into it (as most pilots kinda suck) but once you get a feel for the characters, it really is just fun to watch as see what happens. The second season has appeared on Hulu recently and, after watching them all in one sitting I can easily say that each episode gets better than the last.  (There are only five episodes, 20 minutes each – again, not that big of a deal)

If this doesn’t get Americanized I will be impressed. Watch it now and say you knew Spy before it was cool to know Spy. (Update: While looking for a picture to stick into this post – because people love pictures – I learned that the American version is already on its way.)

You can watch the whole series over on Hulu.com but I’ve included an excerpt below to help you get a taste. Watch out for “The Examiner,” easily one of my favorite characters of any series; he is the guy with the throwing star.

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10 Years later – Musings on a Class Reunion

I fully intend for whatever is written below to be overly sentimental; ideally gushing with deliberate and sappy refection on MY life as well as YOUR life (if you graduated in the same high school class with me which is admittedly a pretty small group of people, though it could apply to anyone in the mood for self-reflection and introspection.) Also, none of this is new or original.

My high school reunion is today. It takes place in my home town, where I had spent the majority of my life; a small mining town in Arizona on the constant brink of ruin, kept alive by the copper lacing the earth…and a Wal-Mart (which is technically in the town over but who is really judging.) I haven’t been home in over a year which isn’t unusual for people my age trying to make their way in the world. Ten years ago, I was certain I’d laugh at the thought of going to high school reunion. Ten years ago, absence would have been a choice. But ten years later, I won’t be attending the class reunion not by choice, but because geography gets in the way.

Ten years ago (swear I won’t say that anymore,) I would have never expected I’d be living in Los Angeles working to make television for… someone (honestly, I have never met anyone that has watched one of my shows.) It can be extremely stressful but it can be fun when you know you’ve got an episode right. It takes A LOT of time. I track my life by the deadlines on my calendar. On Tuesday, I have a cut going to the network with notes coming back on Friday, which will need to be addressed by the following Tuesday. Within one sentence I’ve already burned through a week of my life (7 days [168 hours {lots of minutes.}]) A lot should happen in a week.

Ten years later you look back on your life and realize it resembles a photo album, only sparsely filled with blurry photos you have to study intensely to identify how they fit into your life. Then you get a Facebook invite to your class reunion. You click on it because it obviously has to be some sort of a joke. Not only are you impressed that anyone from your class took the initiative to put it together (thanks Jennifer,) but you’re taken back by the images of people who you swear you recognize. There is that guy that always came across as a little bit douchie. He looks like someone you would want to hang out with now. Is that the friend that you used to play Sega Genesis with? He’s a fucking MMA fighter! (bad ass, Daniel.) There’s that kid you made fun of (wow I was a dick.) Wait…is that…the girl you had a crush on in 7th grade? She’s fat now, has a husband and two kids and is more beautiful than ever.

It hits like an invite to a class reunion, a lot HAS happened in a week, every week for ten years. I find myself wanting to sit down with each of you and hear your stories. What led you to where you are? Where were your turning points. How did you meet him? You’re kid ate what?!

More than anything I want to be able to express my pride in everything you have accomplished. We are raised to believe that we need to go out and change the world. That is a lot of pressure for a bunch of kids from a small mining town in Arizona. But as I cheerfully Facebook stalk you all, I realize that you did it, one world at a time. Color me impressed. It turns out that you’ve been pretty successfully making your way in this world.

I think to the cynical, class reunions are viewed as a way to measure yourself against the people with whom you grew up. Course, that would require everyone agree on the same definition of success. Personally, I think the most apt way to judge a life is by the people that surround that life. On this front I can most certainly say I am jealous of the 2002 high school class of that small mining town in Arizona.

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The Perilous Handshake

Meeting new people often requires a handshake.  I just started a new job a week ago. One week prior, I busted my right hand up pretty good. I went to the doctor. It didn’t look broken; but it felt broken. To this day it still hurts. So! Here are the elements in play. The first week at a new office with a lot of new people and a hand that isn’t worth a damn. Awkward times – here we come!

The handshake is given undue weight in a greeting. Words will be said. Judgments will be made. But the handshake is the moment in which two new people, who know absolutely nothing about each other – touch? What the hell! Who made this up? Actually, to some degree, the touching is kind of poetic and filled with symbolism fitting for a greeting. What we really do is grasp a body part, squeeze, and take that body part for a ride up and down and up and down (any more or less –  you are doing it wrong.)  My theory is that the handshake is designed to weed out the weak. Last week I was very weak.

Have you ever rejected a person’s handshake? There really isn’t a simple way to do it. Their hand will be hanging there in space and time while the world around you slows to a crawl.  A handshake is preordained. It is something born from circumstance. If you are new, the hand shake cannot be avoided. But you can try.

Here are a few options I’ve come up with:

  1. Throw both hands in the air and say, “Whoa, moving a little fast don’t you think.”
  2. “Sorry, I forgot to wash my hands after going to the bathroom… earlier.”
  3. Wave and say “Hi,” ignoring the fact that they are holding their hand out.
  4. Throw out the left hand, then the right, then the left and say, “which will it be, you got to guess.” When they pick, say, “Aw you guessed wrong, no handshake for you.”
  5. You can say, “No no, none of that nonsense, I’m a huggin’ man!” Then either hug them, or just stand there and stare.

All of the above options are great. My problem was that I didn’t think of them until after my first week at work. My solution, it was really quite ingenious, was to ignore the pain and shake the hands. It turns out that such an extreme amount of pain shuts the brain down.  This is not necessarily the desired outcome in a first time greeting. The dialogue just kinda dies.

That week I met a lot of people. I could shake about one hand a day. The moment the shaker squeeeeeeeezed my hand my entire arm would jerk away. It is a reflex to pain. I couldn’t stop it. To counter act this embarrassing twitch, I would thrust my right shoulder inward while trying to disguise it with a downward swoop; mimicking some sort of Street Fighter fireball move that involves a half circle swoosh towards the enemy. The outcome was probably worse than it sounds.

To make matters worse, my speech would drop out and any words I might be saying would be replaced with a high shriek. Alarmingly, none of this was acknowledged by the shaker because commenting on a weak or strange handshake is almost taboo. I have never heard anyone say, “Wow, what a pathetic handshake.” That is, of course, ruling out the uncles, fathers, and grandfathers that teach us all that, “a good firm handshake” …means something. Curse them and their foolish lessons.

I found myself going out-of-the-way to avoid shaking hands with people. I would pretend I already met people I hadn’t. I avoided meetings. I bought a wrap for my hand but the compression only made it feel worse. My ultimate conclusion was to deal with the awkwardness by throwing out my left hand before the supposed shaker could establish the rules of the shake. This was always met with extreme confusion as the shaker would try to adapt without knowing why they should. To my dismay, the rules of the shake are ingrained in our very being – right hand no matter what.

This all climaxed as I went into a meeting with the owners of the company, whose hands I had not yet shaken. I was prepared. It had been a few days since my last handshake and my hand was getting better. I was on the top of my game. As we waiting outside their office for a previous meeting to wrap up, two other gentlemen joined us. “Have you met (this guy) yet?” I was asked. “Oh, I don’t know maybe, I have met a lot of people this last week.” He assured me we had not met and thrust his right hand out towards me. The gauntlet had been thrown. He had a mighty grasp. My hand jerked away and I tried to disguise it. His face said it all. I had failed.

Then I was introduced to the next guy. I could either explain the pain the first man put me through or eek out another handshake… so I did. “It’s good to meet you,” he said. I responded,”Good!… Good to meet me.” My brain shut down. Two in a row! Crushing. We filtered into the office where I tried to shrink into the couch. Several others had joined the meeting – all people I had not met! The office was a war zone with the opposing force  waiting for the declaration to attack. But, it never came.  It seemed I had gotten past the introductions unscathed until -

“Have you met Kyle?”

“Why no, I haven’t. Nice to meet you Kyle”

The owner of the company thrust his hand towards me. Any other day I would have reveled in the attention. I had a decision to make. In this room of strangers, sitting next to the previous shakers whom has left me debilitated, and pressured by custom – what would I do?

I grabbed his right hand awkwardly with an upside down left hand and I shook my heart out. I was going to give his right hand a ride it would never forget. He stared at me. While he tried to figure out what had just happened,  I explained that I hurt my hand a week back and only really get one or two handshakes in before I can’t handle anymore. I had spent those handshakes on the fine gentlemen sitting next to me and will therefore be shaking with the left hand for the rest of the day.

The owner did his best to brush off the absurdity and explained that he was actually left-handed and never really thought about, no matter who you are, you always shake with your right hand. We all had a quick laugh and carried on with the meeting.

Moral of the story: The world is an unfair place if you are left-handed.

 

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The Future: Are we there yet?

I am sorry for the extended absence. Honestly, I just got burned out with the number of projects I had been tackling and… spelling. In depth critiques are exhausting. Or, I should say, the need to present an opinion with the evidence to hopefully be taken as more than mere opinion is exhausting. Therefore, there have been few reviews. Instead I have spent my time starting a new job and thinking about where humanity is going.

I was watching Modern Family tonight on Hulu when I was stopped by the requisite two commercials (it used to be one.) The first was for Audi. It spoke hyperbolically about progress and technology and humanity. It spoke of how far we’ve come and how far we will go. In fact, I didn’t know it was a car commercial until the logo popped up. Of course, now I need to buy a new car but that’s not the focus.

The technology featured as proof of how amazing humans are: tablets, LEDs, diagrams of gears and talk of ultra-lightweight ultra-strong materials; it all would have blown people’s minds 20 years ago. The tech even appeared to be ahead of what we have widely available today, but I simply glazed over; desensitized. With the constant march of progress, every new thing is starting to feel…old.

With all we have created as a race of supposed geniuses, and all we will eventually do, I cannot say we are better for it. The fear that the next guy will discover the next big thing before us, and subsequently make billions of dollars, keeps us searching for the next big thing without ever asking if we really need it. For every new thing we uncover, it seems there are five more problems uncovered as well. To be clear, I am not talking about expansion or exploration, I am speaking purely of the stuff with which we surround ourselves in our little circles of influence. The things with which we kill our time.

This is an old idea; a fact that makes it all the more clear the world will change regardless of what anybody thinks. Things will always BE different, that is certain, even if it all feels the same. Still, I can’t help but miss a time when life was less complicated, when stories were told because they were different instead of because they are the same, when truth was judged by the tone of the voice rather than the length of the text, when I was a child with an imagination to rival God. I just question if we can accurately call it progress or is this just the slow unavoidable crawl to the end.

I guess what I am saying is… what if we just took a break. It goes against human nature but what if everyone just let it all go for a little while, sat down, and had tea while listening to the birds and the children and the ocean and the rain. What if we stopped trying to one-up the next guy and just said, “Hello.” Is that more true than the lives of artificiality we actively seek? Or, would I be writing about the stagnation of humanity and the need for an unrelenting march towards… friend requests, 4g, and FarmVille.

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Away

Gone Fishin’

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Our Idiot Brother (Review)

 

Our Idiot Brother is a small movie though you won’t be able to tell from the cast: Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, and Steve Coogan. Yet the movie came and went without so much as a whisper. In fact, I only found out about it from…well I don’t remember where. I do know I saw the trailer and thought it looked like a happy uplifting movie with a positive message. I wanted a positive message. I needed it. Well good news! The movie does indeed have a positive message. It just doesn’t deliver it well. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out what I watched but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t all that happy or uplifting.

I think Our Idiot Brother is billed as a comedy. Comedy is a hard genre to nail. What is funny to one person may not translate to another. Even at this point, I am not entirely sure if Our Idiot Brother is even intended to be funny or if the jokes just didn’t land. Stuff happens. I think said stuff is supposed to be humorous but I found my eyes darting back and forth waiting for the punchline. Only it never came.

So, Our Idiot Brother is not really a comedy per se; it’s just not very funny. Now that isn’t a criticism on its own. There Will Be Blood isn’t funny either but I believe that is a fine movie. However, you do not expect to laugh when you watch the trailer of There Will Be Blood (although you might.) Our Idiot Brother could have easily suffered for the marketing, the fact that Paul Rudd is generally in comedies, or the lack of a clear identity. Even with all that against it, Our Idiot Brother could still be a good movie. So is it?

 

The story follows one brother playing the role of a hot potato as three self-centered sisters pass him off after he negatively impacts their lives. The real juice of the story comes about in the sisters dealings with others in their lives. The problem is it’s hard to cheer for any of these women. They make their bed of nails and then complain about it and blame others when they have to go to sleep. In fact, most of the side characters are jerks as well. This movie, in the sense, is about jerks being jerks to each other with a bunch of crappy moderately outcomes.

You need someone in which to invest yourself. That is clearly supposed to be Ned; the idiot brother. The problem is that he doesn’t have a dramatic arc. He is simply there as the stimulus by which everyone else’s sins are outted. Ned stays the same from beginning to end. What you’re left with is akin to listening to a story about a bunch of people you don’t know or care about. You may feign an emotional reaction but…you really don’t care.

By the start of the third act I was ready for Ned to open his eyes and prove to everyone that he wasn’t an idiot. I was waiting for the moment when he slapped them all and said, “Stop being a crappy person, stop blaming me for the problems you created, stop evading your issues and grow the F up!” That didn’t happen. But he did scream at them for messing up a lovely game of charades. His emotional outbreak comes for the wrong reason; a reason unbeknownst to the sisters. Therefore, it has little weight on any actual character growth. Yet, in the last moments of the film, everyone has grown from, I guess, Ned’s example or something.

It’s all buttoned up nice and neat because that’s what is supposed to happen at the end of movies. Only in Our Idiot Brother, it happens without seeing any actual character growth anywhere. As far as I am concerned, these three women still kinda suck but their lives are going to get better only because that is what’s written. The only meaningful change is that, by the end, Ned has his dog back. Great. A happy ending.

 

Everything else in the movie is perfectly serviceable. The cinematography, lighting, sound…it all functions the way it should but doesn’t do much else. It’s as if the whole movie production was on rail. Everyone shows up, does their job, and by the end they have a movie. That is what this is; a movie. It’s not really good or completely bad. It’s just…bla. In fact, I don’t really feel anything for it. This is the hardest review I have ever written because I just don’t care. In fact, after watching the trailer again, I do believe some of those scenes were cut from the original film. The trailer seems to contain more complete movie than the actual movie.

Did I regret my time watching Our Idiot Brother? Not really, I think; but time has a way of weighing on opinion. Would I recommend it to anyone? No. I would not. I know it has an audience. I know there are people out there who could enjoy this movie. I just don’t know who that is. I don’t even think the creative minds behind the movie know the answer to that question. If nothing else, Our Idiot Brother is a movie, but only in the most literal sense.

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Favorite Things: People Unabashedly Singing in Public

This is an easy one. I was walking home from my favorite dinner when this girl walks up past me listening to music and singing her heart out. It’s not obnoxious. She isn’t trying to get people’s attention. She is just walking and singing and in a matter of minutes she was gone. I can only assume, she is so into that music and has so much happiness and life in her that social stigmas cannot keep it in. Those people are good for this world. Thank you happy singing lady.

Of course there are limitations. If we were standing in the grocery line the entire store would need to break out into song or it would probably just be annoying. She was also considerate with her volume. I didn’t hear it once she passed, she was really just singing to herself. Also, the vulgarity of the songs must be taken into account these days. I’m sure we’ve all been in that situation where you are saying something inappropriate for children and then you turn around to see…a preschool class out for recess. For this young lady, these limitations were a non issue. She’ll never know how it made me smile.

 

In other news, a bird also pooped on me. That did not make me smile.

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