Monday, May 26, 2008


Napoleon was not exceptionally short.

Goldfish have memory and can be trained to navigate through mazes.

Killer whales are dolphins that can kill whales.

I know wikipedia strives for objectivity but this list of misconceptions seems like it's written to bully my ego. See how many misconceptions you have. I have a lot of learning about gyroscopics and fluid dynamics before I have the courage to talk about how bicycles stay up and why blocking part of the garden hose with your thumb sends the water further.

Ah, mighty lists of information. Thanks, wik.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 24%

Do not go see Indiana Jones 4.
I know. It hurts me too. I'm a fan of the all of the players, Lucas, Blanchett, Ford, Spielberg but they dropped the ball, big time. I thought it was a bad movie. My friends responded with:

"I didn't walk out."

"I didn't check my watch."

This led to a funny conversation about bad movies. Is it worse if a movie causes you to walk out and save an hour and a half of your life or strings you along for two hours only to end in disappointment because it never actually got better?

In case you think we're elitist, the masses had a similar reaction. I saw this movie with a full theater and we didn't all laugh, gasp in fright, or cheer in unison once. Sometimes people hurrayed in desperate support when they saw a reference to an earlier film. My friend said:

"I made a sound once."

That is my official review of this film.

If you have been left with intense feelings of dissatisfaction then I hope you find this informative -I've identified exactly why this movie failed miserably for me. I feel that if my criticism is articulate then some good can come of this mess.

Additionally, I understand that the film is "just a summer blockbuster" (I have little understanding why it played at the Cannes Film Festival) but there is a definite art to making an action film and the film had the following failings:

No running jokes.
In fact, all of the dialogue is uninspired. Even the required exposition (we need to go to Peru to get a Crystal Skull before they kill this old guy and my mom) is delivered terribly. We all know a Hollywood action movie needs to spell out the plot in a couple lines. But it can still be fun, memorable, and quotable. The exposition in this film was flat and lazy.

Glaring plot holes.

This really made it feel like Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford were just laughing at what sucker-audiences will soak up. In the second scene of the film, Indiana Jones has to describe the villain to the FBI. They present a secret file that introduces her name. There's only one problem, in the first scene she already introduced her name in a monologue and Indy says it aloud to remind the audience. Sloppy film making. Surely a screenplay needs to be tighter than that? I don't consider myself having an exceptional eye for continuity but I did notice that in the great action sequence of the movie Indy and his crew are in a car chasing after the villain -who is escaping with the prize. But in the next shot, the villain is chasing them. What? Albeit most people will miss this because of the terrible choices made in that action sequence.

Terrible action sequence choices.
The memorable action sequence of the film is the jungle car chase that involves a swordfight. Sound great? It was. Only they also tacked on two dreadful choices within the same sequence. The first involves one character getting hit in the genitals and the other involves him swinging on vines alongside his new found monkey friends to catch up with the car cahse (I sh*t you not this happens). These were cartoonish additions that seemed like rejected ideas from a Kangeroo Jack sequel. In the beginning of the film they keep returning to a computer generated gopher in the desert. It was as endearing and comical as the grotesque beavers that Bell Canada uses in their advertising to try and reduce their market share.

Heartless action.

The action is well-shot but meaningless. There are no layers. No one is struggling with anything. No one is forced to choose between the prize and the people they love. Surprisingly, the action sequences lack any sign of suspenseful parallel action. You know how good movie cut back and forth? The hero struggles, then we see the sidekick struggling. Then to the hero and things are bad, then to the sidekick and the situation is worse. Then they both begin to turn the tide, say something witty, and help each other out. In this film action happens very plainly -one thing at a time.

What's worse. There is no character in the action sequences. There's no emotional layers. I remember enjoying the subtext to the Indiana Jones 3. Most action sequences are clearly underscored as a competition of bravado between the father and the son. But this film is emotionally dead. Also, Shia Labouef's character is a tough guy but he cries a lot and has no trouble having everyone see him cry. I'm fine with that but it doesn't cause any tension. It would have been nice if Indy wanted him to "man up" or, at the very least, if he tried to hide his tears. Give me anything between the characters. Please.

I was willing to suspend my disbelief for the use of aliens in the movie. But the plot was terrible. Good stories give the viewers a chance to guess what is going to happen. This movie used "magic" too much. The problem with magic is that it explains itself. There's no game being played, I'm not given a chance to guess anything. At one point the only thing moving the plot forward is Indy who basically says: I have to keep going, the alien technology has hypnotized me. Bullsh*t motivation. They could have played an undercurrent of Indy's potentially unhealthy obsession with archeology and if he was becoming like his father. But in this movie the writer shows no understanding that a movie can be interesting and good.

There are no stakes.
Nothing is ever really on the line. No relationships are threatened and none of the characters' lives are put in any danger. No one even gets hurt. There's no adrenaline in the movie. Some nice special effects if you've never seen CGI.
They were fine. Ford wasn't too old. Blanchett's villain wasn't irritatingly sexualized. This was more of a case of nothing for the actors to work with.

Awkward Racism.
I would have had this criticism even if the film was good. There's something really creepy about the common sci-fi staple that the Mayans were helped by aliens. I never hear about aliens coming down to explain irrigation to white people. The "native warriors" is like an awkward cameo from a more racist age. They have no dialogue, only war cries and they all look the same. an exotic costume designer's dream.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hating on Scientology

I don't get it.
The hating on Scientology.

I'll laugh about a belief system as heartily as the next comedian but the attack has moved into thoughtless cliche. Take a gut check of your own beliefs.

They believe in aliens.

Fine. Who gives a shit? We've got people who believe in walking on water, virgins giving birth, a secret book written in gold being handed to a guy with the encryption key, aliens fine. What the f*ck are angels anyway? Winged people from the imaginary paradise that you go to when you die? Wake the f*ck up.

They "go after" wealthy celebrities.

So a bunch of rich people that I haven't met are going to spend their money on something that doesn't interest me. What has changed in the universe? I think a lot of this connects with the underlying dissatisfaction felt by a society addicted to fame.

I'm not championing Scientology. At its best it's the pendulum swinging against the dominance of medical "experts" and science that proves people need to buy drugs. It's interestig that the Germans consider it a commercial enterprise instead of a religion. Mostly, it's as absurd and sad as most human attempts to feel greater than a little beast living on a rock.

But I will say that I'm witnessing my culture build up a shameful comfort in ridiculing it. While no one that I've met has ever read their Holy Book (specifically, for Christians, the book of Leviticus) and kept the cocky spring in their walk.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dear Internet

Dear Internet,

I am going to start a wishlist for you.

Today, I would like a version of Trivial Pursuit where all of the answers are last year's "article of the day" from Wikipedia.

Friday, May 9, 2008

My Top Movies - By Percent

Can you really assign a number to art? Yes.

93 Godfather
93 Unforgiven
91 Dogville
89 The Usual Suspects
89 All Quiet on the Western Front (1979)
88 The Iron Giant
88 Fight Club
88 American History X
87 Run, Lola, Run
86 Edward Scissorhands
86 Resevoir Dogs
86 Leon (The Professional)
86 Total Recall
86 The Shawshank Redemption
85 Cool Hand Luke
85 Night of the Living Dead (1990)
84 American Psycho
84 Dumb and Dumber
83 Master Harold... and the Boys
82 The Descent
81 Groundhog Day
81 The Program
81 Return to Oz
80 Twelve Monkeys
80 Se7en
80 The Ring

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I hate that I'm only reminded to live when people die.

He was my age, my height, he lived a similar suburban life, and he died of an improbable heart condition. It might as well have been me. The funeral was heartbreaking. Tragedy of a teenage life lost. I saw my dad cry.

I realized I had to live my life to its fullest.

I hated that cliche conclusion. I hated transforming someone's death into a moral message for my personal education. I'm not the central character. There is no purpose to the end of their life -it did not happen to remind me of the importance of my own. That's a preposterous perspective that diminishes their existence. And yet, death continues to do this.

When other's lose their loved ones -a plane crashes on the other side of the world -I am only able to relate by imagining the hurt if I lost my loved ones. The death of a stranger becomes a storytelling device, a grim reminder of mortality. A human life is transformed into a post-it note that says "Carpe Diem".

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Human Sexes Part 1 (of 6)

I proposed that Liz and I blog about each episode of Desmond Morris' The Human Sexes, a six-part series shot in 1997.
Part 1 - Different But Equal
Part 2 - The Language of Love
Part 3 - Patterns of Love
Part 4 - Passages of Life
Part 5 - The Maternal Dilemma
Part 6 - The Gender Wars

I've watched Part 1 and through writing I found what I find unsettling about this series.

Part I lays the foundation for the series with the premise that the sexes are "equal but different". This is due to an evolutionary history that involved the division of labour. Females were designed for stamina and maternity and males were designed for speed, strength and hunting.

The series is accompanied by the seemingly omnipresent camera which travels around the world and is narrated by the authoritative British accent of Morris telling us what "science has proven". In the classic debate over human behaviour, Morris ascribes to nature (biological determinism) over nurture (socialization). However, he often points out that cultures exaggerate masculinity and femininity in different ways and that upbringing can change biology (as is the case with female bodybuilders who have extremely low body fat).

I like the style of the documentary, Morris looks at human beings as if he were removed from them. But I find his attempt to remain objective to be unsettling. I didn't agree with the theory that men have superior navigational skills and sense of spacial recognition from a "test" of a classroom of students drawing bicycles. I find these more controversial statements to be slyly tucked in after obvious segments like "women have breasts".

I understand the desire for Morris to present "objective science" but I feel it's a filter that removes the point. Initially, I thought this would be a neat documentary for an alien to watch but then I started seeing it as a distortion. It's leaving out a very important aspect of human history. When Morris talks about the sexes being "different but equal" I think he ignores a historical and international trend of patriarchy. In his attempts to show equal strengths and weaknesses of both sexes he avoids critically confronting the elephant in the room: why did so many cultures evolve that restrict women? I understand that biologically men and women are "different but equal" if we use the criteria that they have a biological duty to continue the species. But socially we are different and unequal and though it's an uglier tagline it unsettles me how it is hidden by a smokescreen of "objective science".

-He opens the series explaining that the world is divided into two sexes, completely ignoring hermaphrodites.
-He talked about the depiction of hunting in cave paintings without any inclination to prove how we know they were drawn by men.
-"Science has shown" is a terribly unscientific claim. I have no idea how the study was conducted that concluded men navigate by thinking of maps and women navigate by thinking of landmarks. I know that I do both and I feel it's more of a matter of experience with the area than gender.

Witness Sexual Assault

What would you do if you witnessed sexual assault? Would you speak up? Call for help?

You're probably familiar with the bystander effect (popularized by media coverage of the murder of Kitty Genovese). People take action when they're alone but in groups they assume someone else will. Does your answer change if you were in a group and you witnessed sexual assault? What if everyone around you was laughing?

That's right, what if it happened at a comedy show? Say a notoriously crude comedian, on the spur of the drunken moment, brought a young woman to lie down on the stage and threatened her to stay still. The he proceeded to grope her breasts and genitals to mild laughter. You can read about it here. The comedian who committed sexual assault is Johnny Vegas.

Perhaps we wouldn't have done anything if we were in the crowd. Perhaps the mild laughter and ticket prices would have convinced us that it was simply entertainment. But after reading about this we've exchanged our innocence for experience (That's growing up my Great Great Grand). You and I are no longer ignorant and are now obliged to intervene if we witness sexual harassment. We are no longer bound by the uncertainty of the herd.

So how do we intervene? Suggestions?
1. By speaking out and hoping to shock other members of the herd into awareness.
2. By verbally confronting the perpetrator.
3. Physical intervention. Standing on tables or on stage.
4. Violent intervention. Trashing the place or the perpetrator.

(note: leaving the show in silent protest is not intervention and not an appropriate response)

You know what would be nice? If we had armbands that said "I'm here to intervene". That way you could spot your teammates in the crowd and know that someone has your back.

If you read some of the comments after the article you'll notice that some people are defending Vegas. Don't worry, people aren't actually that stupid. I wrote all of them. They're to test our skills of logic and critical thinking. Can you spot what's wrong with defending Vegas?

I've included the answer key:

Defense 1
The woman on stage didn't protest.

Surprise, surprise. Sexual assault goes unreported even if it fits the legal definition. Did the woman on stage consent? I would like to hear what she thinks. But even if we accept her nervous laughter as consent -it's still, legally, sexual assault. I am a comedian and in my improv and sketch comedy I occasionally call upon audience participation. I've found that audience members try desperately to help the act. Sometimes they attempt to say something funny but most of the time they nervously allow themselves to be shepherded -trusting the professional. She put her trust in a figure of authority who was abusing his power.

(c) the accused counsels or incites the complainant to engage in the activity by abusing a position of trust, power or authority;

For instance, if a teacher tells a student to lie down and then gropes them to 'teach the class about biology', it's clear to see the abuse of power even if the student is silent on the matter. In Vegas' case he completely abused his power to molest a woman.

Defense 2
That's Vegas for you. Classic shocking, envelope-pushing comedy.

I see. Boys will be boys? I too feel that art should push expected social norms. But considering the frequency of sexual assault against women, it would have been more shocking and envelope-pushing if an audience member (that wasn't sexually desirable to Vegas) had walked on stage, pinned him down, and groped him. Honestly, is 'making the audience uncomfortable' really anyone's criteria for comedy? I know it shakes up everyone's "bourgeois consciousness" but that's easy to say when it's not your genitals being violated.

Defense 3

I was at the show. It wasn't as bad as everyone says.
What do you think sexual assault looks like? Neatly labeled with heroes and villains? This is as clear a case of sexual assault that reality can produce. Don't be blinded by your personal attachment to the comic or your shame for inaction.