Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obscure Movie Review Of The Day: Cloverfield

So when I heard Cloverfield was going to be filmed as if it were all via video camera, I was worried.

See, I don't usually get nauseous for things. I love roller coasters, I can usually read when I'm in a car, and I'm the guy who gets recruited to clean up gross messes around the house.

But two things get me. Facing backwards in a car, and watching jerky home movies.

So I was worried.

Back around the time Blair Witch came out in the theatres, I remember seeing warnings in ticket booths that the movie was giving people really bad motion sickness.

When I went to see Cloverfield, there was no such warning. So I was a little hopeful. After all, this wasn't just a bunch of kids improving with video cameras. This was the guys at Bad Robot. They could give the impression of it being handheld, without having it be so hurkey-jurkey as to actually be unpleasant.

Sort of how movie dialogue is sort of designed to give the impression of how real people talk, without actually being how real people talk.

However, when I entered the actual theatre, there was a puddle of vomit on the floor just inside the door.

I guess that was as good a warning sign for motion sickness as any.

That's the only bad thing I have to say about this movie.

If "Everything about this movie is great, except that it might make you sick," is a good review, than this is a good review.

And I hope that's a good review, because I thought it was a terrific movie.

As far as movies go, this is way more of a short story than a novel, in terms of both length (it's only like 85 minutes long) and character development. And like short stories are the polished gems of the fiction world, this movie got just about everything right.

That's not to say it's a feel-good film, because it's not. If I had to give a film professor a one sentence "Theme" for this one, I'd probably say something like, "Doing what you think you should do is sometimes more important than how it all comes out."

So if you're still talking to friends to decide whether to see it or not, count me as a yes vote, as long as nothing in the above turns you off too much.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obscure Movie Review Of The Day: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

I wanted to come up with something positive to say about this movie. I came up with one.

It wasn't predictable.

More On The Future Of Lost

This post is in response to the comments made on my last post. I know, I could just comment on my own post like I normally do, but this would go on too long.

First, to theFrog:

I watched that old WB show Roswell all the way to the end pretty much only because they filmed it around the corner from my house. All the scenes that took place in downtown "Roswell" really took place in downtown Covina. Sometimes I used to go watch them film after work. So I know what you mean about the kick you get out of seeing local stuff on the TV.

As for watching it on TV . . . I have to admit I've never done it. And I plan to this season, but I'm a little afraid to.

See, my favorite show used to be 24. Like Lost, I would wait until the DVDs came out and then rent the whole season through Netflix or something. But I just got to liking the show so much that I had to start watching it live.

And you can guess which season I started doing that, because that was the season that 24 started heading a little south.

So now I'm scared to start watching Lost as it airs, for fear that the problem is me.

They are fixing the main problem that kept me from watching it live before--they're showing the episodes straight, in order, in consecutive weeks.

But I completely understand where you're coming from. When you wait for the DVDs, it puts you in complete control. You only have to go through the frustration of having to wait on someone else's schedule once.

The only drawback is that the one time lasts all year.

Second, to Anonymous (May I call you Annie?):

Annie, I get where you're coming from.

A lot of the scenes on Lost depend on suspense to create the "flavor" and part of the suspense comes from being afraid of what might happen. Being afraid of what might happen comes from not knowing either:

A) The motives of some of the people in the scene.
B) Why things are happening the way they are.

Since answering the mysteries would mean answering those two questions, there goes suspense.

But that's part of the challenge the writers are facing--they're having to write the show in such a way that past scenes change, but are still meaningful, after mysteries are answered.

So far, they're doing a really, really good job at this. So much so, that they felt justified in actually showing some old scenes again, just so we could see how those scenes felt different now.

After all--a lot of the suspense will be gone on repeat viewings simply because we know what's going to happen next.

If they can make it worth our while to watch repeatedly because of all the hidden crossovers between the characters and more modified meanings that happen after you know more--in other words, giving answers that add to the past scenes rather than deflate them--that's the challenge the producers face, and the one that will drive their DVD sales the most.

Ultimately, it's because the show is a mystery that they can't leave the questions unanswered. Any mystery story, whether it's a short story or novel, TV show or movie, starts when you pose a question and ends when the question has been answered.

This isn't Gilligan's Island. The goal of the show isn't just to get everyone off the island. In fact, that was the real message of the big twist at the end of last season--getting off the island won't resolve a thing.

Nothing is going to feel resolves, and viewers aren't going to feel satisfied, until they get answers. As many as is humanly possible.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thoughts On The New Season Of Lost

Apple iTunesI think Lost is a great show.

Now I'm not going to be so stupid as to say, "Go! Watch it! Right now!"

Because I know it's not a show for everybody.

Take my wife, for example. She wouldn't even watch season 3 with me. After some of the repetition in season 2, where we saw some of the same things we'd already seen, but from a slightly different point of view, well, that was it for her. She's got better things to do with her time than watch the same show twice--if she wanted to see that other episode again, she'd have just put that DVD in again.

But for me--

This show has a "flavor." I know most people call the feel of a show the "vibe" or the "Feel." Writer types call it the "style" or the "voice."

But for me, for this show, it's more like a flavor. And just like I can order my favorite dish at a local restaurant over and over even though I've tasted it before, I like the flavor of this show enough that I could watch the same episodes over and over. So the repetition doesn't bug me.

And the repetition all but stopped in season 3. Around the time they announced a date for their last season, this show took off like a rocket.

And, this season, they're having the good sense to air the remaining episodes back-to-back-to-back, the way 24 does, to eliminate the confusion and gaps that turned so many viewers off the show. Granted, the season will be cut short because of the writer's strike, but it should be a lot easier to stay tuned in to than past seasons have been.

Now I recognize that some people just won't dig Lost. They won't like flavor.

But I guess what I'm trying to do with this post is reassure those of you who ever liked Lost, who did dig the flavor, but gave up on it because the pace was slow or thought they'd never answer the mysteries or you got confused by ABC's random scheduling or whatever--I just want to reassure you the show has got it, ABC has got it, and at this point it looks like it's full steam ahead.

I encourage you to go buy or rent the DVDs and catch up. I think you'll have a good time. Chances are, if you take option 2, you're going to wish you had gone this way when you see all the cool stuff that went on last season.

But if you don't have time for that, they've got a recap episode on iTunes, and some previews for this new season, which looks like it's going to be intense.

Okay, now that's the spoiler-free stuff.

From here on out, spoilers abound!

I warned you!

The producers have already said that the twist at the end of last season is the direction they're going to be going with the whole future of the show. They're going to be playing fast and lose with the story, sometimes doing flash backs, and sometimes doing flash-forwards. It's going to make the whole show read feel like a Vonnegut novel.

I think that's perfect, and exactly fitting with the tone of the show.

And I think it's also going to contribute to a shift towards explaining more mystery.

But it's also going to add to the show's sophistication.

The flashbacks have sometimes served to explain character's actions as much as they've served to explain stuff. Take Hurley, for example. Remember when he tried to blow up the supplies, because he was afraid people would fight over them? That would have been insane, insane, to try without the flashbacks. We would have thought Hurley was out of his curly-haired gourd. It was only by juxtaposing what happened with the money he won in the same episode that his desire to blow up the hatch made even a tiny bit of sense. Otherwise, not only would the decision have seemed stupid, but it would have seemed completely out of character for Hurley to handle the dynamite. As it was, it just made the fact that he had handled the dynamite all the more believable and added depth to Hurley.

I could probably go on like that about things in all kinds of episodes.

It shows a sophistication of writing that you just don't see on TV.

And now, they've raised the bar for themselves. Because things are going to have to get even more sophisticated. The flash-forwards have to tie in with the regular show, in ways that matter to each individual episode. And they have to do it in ways that don't detract from the suspense of the show (they're not going to get any mileage from making us think that Jack or Kate might die on the island now, for example). And they have to do it in ways that don't seem hokey or contrived--eg by hiding information from the audience that people in the scene should know or be talking about.

I've got high hopes for this show. I think there is definitely the potential here to create a near-perfect show that is infinitely rewatchable. I think there's also the chance to crash and burn here in a spectacularly awful splatter of misshapen goo. This is not a show that can end with any mystery unsolved. I can think of few mysteries to this show that are so incidental that they'd be able to end the show in a way that there was room for speculation. There need to be answers.

But I think there will be.

I think there will be a flashback episode with Locke's Dad, explaining how he got on the island.

I think there will be a flashback episode with Rousseau, telling the story of her group of islanders.

The biggest problem the show has right now is Walt. We know from the vision Locke had of him that the actor playing him is growing up, fast. Walt is supposed to be 10, but Malcolm David Kelley was born in 1992, which means he'll be turning 16 this year. 16 playing 10?

The only way to pull it off will be to only reintroduce the character of Walt in the flash-forwards.

We can still get some answers on him--Juliet knows why Michael is special, even though she hasn't said yet--but to have him disappear altogether wouldn't work.

The biggest one of all? The numbers.

The numbers made the show the first season, and the media hype surrounding the number of people who played them in the lottery put the spotlight directly on them. With as big a deal as has been made of the numbers, they need to answer that one, and the answer has got to be good. As in, one of the best answers they've ever come up with on the show.

Anyways, you get the idea.

They've set a high bar for themselves, and I'll be watching anxiously to see if they can clear it.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: The Anatomy Of Peace

This book is changing my life.

Actually, it's a group of three books.

One is Bonds That Make Us Free, which I reviewed earlier in a review I still think needs updated.

The second is Leadership and Self Deception. Leadership and Self Deception is a business book. The Arbinger Institute originally did business consulting, teaching certain principles to businesses about interpersonal relationships and leadership. But as time went on, the implications of their philosophies for families and other groups became obvious, and that led to the writing of the third book.

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict is in some ways the perfect blend of the other two books.

Bonds That Make Us Free is written by a philosopher. It's sophisticated and heavy. It's my favorite of the three, especially because it includes a lot of case studies and real stories, but I realize it's not for everyone.

Leadership and Self Deception, on the other hand, is extremely simply written. Some people see it as being repetitive to the point of frustration, but I've found it to be the perfect book to give to people who've never read a leadership book before.

Sitting right in the middle is The Anatomy of Peace. It's written in the simpler style of Leadership, but it is a little more sophisticated in its approach to the material.

So what is it that all these books are teaching?

It's hard to sum up (hence why I've never been happy with my Bonds review), but I'll do my best.

A lot of the pain that we experience in our life, the frustrations that we have, even when those frustrations seem to come from other people, is really about us.

It's about the division that exists between who we feel like we're supposed to be, and who we really are. The feelings that we create in ourselves when we don't do things we feel like we should.

Let me use the classic example from the books: A father, lying in bed. He hears the baby crying in the next room. He feels like he should get up and help with the baby.

But he doesn't want to.

So he starts thinking about all the reasons why his wife should do it. About the meeting he has the next day. About how he's the one who got up with the baby the night before. About how she got to get a nap in after he got home.

So he starts creating intellectual justifications for not getting up.

But it doesn't stop there. As he thinks about all the reasons why his wife should get up instead of him, he doesn't just think it, he starts to feel it. He might get frustrated that she doesn't understand all these things, or even angry with her for not thinking of his situation.

In other words, he starts creating emotional justifications for not getting up.

And from there, he'll start painting pictures of himself and his wife in his mind. It could be that he sees himself as the good dad who works hard (didn't he watch the baby earlier so his wife could nap?) and his wife as the lazy, bad mom (doesn't she hear the baby?), or he might portray himself as the victim and her as his oppressor (is she going to to make me do this again?).

Now, he's even making moral justifications for what he wants to do.

The important part is that all of his feelings--his frustration, his anger, his desire to make someone else evil and himself good or a victim--none of that started until he started trying to create reasons to justify what he was going to do. He never would have felt any of that if he hadn't felt the need to justify himself.

But it goes on from there. Because at this point, no matter what he does, his behavior is going to affect his wife.

Chances are, he's not going to get up. He's going to wake his wife up, and make her get up and get the baby.

And he's going to do it in such a way that his attitude shows. He might make overtures of trying to be sweet about it, but the general vibe is going to be a defensive one, trying to make her see why it makes more sense for her to do it.

But the fact is, at this point, he could even get up and help with the baby, and it would do the same thing. He's still going to do it in such a way that his attitude shows. He's going to make some comment or sigh in a certain way or just do something so she understands the injustice of what he's doing.

And even though the reason he'd let his attitude show would be so she'd either forgive him or appreciate him, the actual result would be the opposite.

His defensiveness as he made her get up would come across, to her, like an accusation. At best a mild accusation, but she'd be far more likely to think about what his line of thinking said about her than about what it said about him.

Same thing if he got up--his attempts to make her see how hard it was would be far more likely to make her feel he resents her than make her feel he loves her. Rather than feeling gratitude, she's going to begin to feel defensive feelings about herself similar to the ones the husband felt as he tried to justify not getting up. She's going to start thinking of all the ways that she's good, and he's bad, or that he's an oppressor and she's a victim.

Her defensiveness, as she begins to show it, would then be interpreted aggressively by her husband, who would react again--and so the cycle goes, and so the relationship degenerates. Both people think they're only acting in their own defense, but in reality both attacking the other with accusations they feel are somehow necessary for their own defense.

Who's right? Both of them, sort of. And neither of them, sort of.

In reality, neither of them is either the hero or the monster that they feel the need to paint each other as. They're both fallible people with strengths and weaknesses.

But it is no more necessary that the wife be a monster in order for the husband to be a "good guy" than the husband has to be negligent in order for the mother to be loving.

In other words, sometimes the two biggest enemies to our happiness are justification and blame.

But that's a tough way to convince you to read this book. Because if you think about it, the people who need this book the most would be the people who absolutely didn't think they needed it from reading that description.

"Oh, I don't have a problem with justification," they would say. But they could only believe that if they were so heavy into self-justifying that their problem had become invisible to them.

Or they might say, "I have a bit of a problem with self-justification, but my real problem is in ______, and self-justification doesn't have anything to do with that."

The blank might be a relationship with a co-worker, or self-esteem issues, or marriage, or money issues, or some other thing.

But all of those things are deeply rooted in self-deception.

Sometimes, in the interest of justifying ourselves, we allow ourselves to hold on to anger or depression or frustration or heartache that we don't need, because we think we need it to justify ourselves.

A woman might not be able to let go of anger towards her ex husband, because she thinks she needs her anger to justify leaving someone alone who was in as much trouble with drugs as he was.

A man might hold on to depression, because he needs to believe that his life is hard to justify why he's never been able to do better for himself.

As crazy as it sounds, sometimes we do things that go against things we want, because what we want more is to feel like we're okay, right now. We want to believe (or want other people to believe) we're good or smart or deserve something or even just believe that we're really, really struggling.

This book is about the way this can affect our relationships. It's about conflict--whether the conflict is with a co-worker, or with a family member. It compares these with the conflicts between religions, between nations, between races.

It's told in the story of two men, one Jewish and one Muslim, who come together to form a camp for troubled teens. The viewpoint character is a dad whose son has had to come to the camp following a drug arrest, and the ideas are introduced to us as the Father is introduced to them. As they talk about conflicts in the world and in the homes of the parents, the ideas are taught, with the parents voicing the questions the reader might have.

It's a great book--I said Bonds was my favorite; Anatomy of Peace is my wife's.

If you're just going to read one of these books, make it this one.

And I can't say enough--read one of these books.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Dave Barry's 2007 Year In Review

It's here.

Some highlights:

Speaking of time: Americans attempt to adjust to a new Daylight Saving Time law, which Congress passed because it apparently felt that the old law was not annoying and confusing enough. The new law produces immediate economic benefits in the form of an estimated $175 billion paid by corporations and individuals to fix the computers, PDAs, phone systems, etc., that were screwed up by the time change. Of course none of this affects Congress, which has exempted itself from the new law and continues to operate by sundial.

Abroad, French transit workers attempt to end a strike, only to discover that they have forgotten how to operate the trains. Everybody enjoys a hearty laugh and returns to the café.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney seeks to defuse the religion issue by making a major speech in which -- echoing the words of John F. Kennedy -- he declares that he is a Catholic. But the big story on the GOP side is former senator or governor of some state Mike (or possibly Bob) Huckabee, who surges ahead in the polls because (a) nobody knows anything about him, and (b) it's fun to say ''Huckabee.'' Huckabee Huckabee Huckabee.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

If You Can't Beat Them, Outlive Them - Ferd Tihista

So the highlight of my holidays was probably my visit up north for the birthday party of Ferd Tihista.

I won't say how old he is, but by the looks of it, this page about Ferd is about four years old.

Ferd has been like a grandfather to me since I was young--those of you who were at my wedding may remember him.

He's always been a powerful man, physically, as this photo from 1945 can attest. When I first met him, I thought I was meeting the Kingpin from the Spider-man comics.

And he continues to be the world senior judo champion, generally winning uncontested every year (The title of this post is his take on his record for consecutive world championships in the senior division.

He's also an accomplished artist. This page has the only copies of his drawings that I can find online, and while his work is valued in the Judo community, it's his drawings of animals, insects, and other critters that I think is the most impressive. To see the amount of detail and delicate work put in by someone it would be easy to think of as a muscle bound behemoth is not only stereotype shattering, but just plain fun to think about.

He's also a fantastic guy. The cliche of the helpful martial arts instructor seems a little corny, but it's not corny at all when you're keeping real kids on track and helping real kids stay straight. It's moving, and it's something a lot of our public school teachers long ago gave up dreaming they could do.

As people kept getting up to talk about the influence he'd had on their lives, I couldn't help but be jealous of my cousins who got to live in the same town as him, take judo lessons from him, and be that close to him. For me, living on the other end of the tallest state in the union made him a fun guy to visit with, but not someone I ever got to know as well as I wished I could have.

But I know him well enough to say I'm grateful to have him in my life and grateful for his influence on my family up there. And here's to him continuing to live long enough to be an influence on my kids.

New They Might Be Giants Family Podcast.

In anticipation of their new kids' album/DVD, Here Come The 123s, They Might Be Giants are cranking out kids videos.

Check out They Might Be Giants Friday Night Family Podcast now on They Might Be Giants - They Might Be Giants Friday Night Family Podcast - They Might Be Giants Friday Night Family Podcast