Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hypertheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations

by DionysusPsyche

A DIFFERENT KIND OF REVIEW
Let's do something different. Normally on IL, there are book, film, television, and video game reviews. They're enjoyable, and some of them may pique your interest more than others, some not at all. Perhaps this is your first time to the 'Loon, and you have no frame of reference (but I'm sure you've read a review or at least been given a recommendation).

No one has reviewed a game that isn't a video game on here before, and I'm pretty much quoting word for word what the creator of the blog told me when I mentioned I wanted to review this. There is good reason for it. You can explain Apples to Apples or Risk or (please no one do this) Monopoly, but it's difficult (especially when explaining Apples to Apples) with a game to persuade someone why they would or wouldn't enjoy it. With most games you only have some idea of how it's played, what with it being an interactive experience. It's highly subjective, and although one could argue that for one of the other mediums as well, one can more easily assess if they like the other entities reviewed here. You can say, "Well, since I generally dislike movies, chances are I won't watch this" or narrow it down based on genre, actors, script, and finally the blogger's own individual take on it. A game doesn't capture that type of assimilation as easily.

HOWEVER...
It's not your typical card game. It's not a drinking game, it doesn't involve dice, and there are no winners or losers technically speaking (I'll elaborate on this later). You don't bump anyone off a board, in fact, there is no board. You're not bartering for resources, and you don't have to have a dealer if you don't want to (although it's most fun if everyone gets to choose a question). There's no set time, so you can play while waiting for a friend to arrive, a whole afternoon, or over Skype with your pen pal.

The creator of the game is author and pop culture essayist, Chuck Klosterman. The birth of this game was described in Klosterman's second work of non-fiction entitled Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. In it, Klosterman introduces only some of the questions by labelling them, "the 23 questions I ask everybody I meet in order to decide if I can really love them."

Because I have read all of Chuck Klosterman's books except for one, I naturally squealed when I saw that he'd extended the questions into a card game online, because I'd been debating how to get people to play this with me while awkwardly reading out of two books. I knew most of what was coming, but I was excited nonetheless. I had no idea what he would say about them. Below is an excerpt according to Klosterman defining the game:

"I refuse to make small talk...I don't care what the situation is or what the protocol is supposed to be: I see no value in asking someone a friendly, non-adversarial question if neither party cares what the answer is. Instead, I prefer to ask questions where the solution is irrelevant--I pose hypothetical questions where how one answers the query matters far more than the literal conclusion. There is no "right" answer..."


Sometimes the details leading up to the question take the whole card, sometimes they're shorter. Occasionally you get options, sometimes you get a "yes/no, but WHY" question. In order for you to better understand what types of questions are included, I will provide one card.

EXAMPLE:
The Honesty Room
Someone builds a paranormal "Honesty Room." Within the walls of this room, it is impossible for anyone to tell lies (or to avoid answering whatever questions they are asked). This same inventor also creates a memory loss drug that is released into the air inside the Honesty Room as an airborne mist; what this means is that people who enter the Honesty Room will not remember what they said, what questions they were asked, or even that they were ever there.  The only antidote to the memory loss drug is a pill, and you have this pill. So--in essence--you have access to a room where every guest who enters will tell you the absolute truth (about anything) and then immediately forget what they were asked and what they said. But you will retain everything you learn. You are inside the Honesty Room with your parents. What do you ask them?
For a completely different question...or a physical representation for the variables you get

RESULTS
Since we're not in the Honesty Room right now (and I did NOT have a memory loss/retaining pill for these questions), I won't breech confidentiality to what was said between friends, especially as pertains to the above question (plus, you don't know them, so it'd be far more interesting to ask your own friends). What I will say is that people's answers vary greatly from question to question. No one answers the question the same way for necessarily the same reason--although sometimes it's extremely close. Like Klosterman says, "why" is a huge factor. The individual players can be as different as night and day so the responses may come quickly and easily or can take more time (granted, it probably depends on who you're playing with, how comfortable they are with each other, and whether or not anyone has been imbibing). Some people have very straight forward answers, and some are like me and answer a question with a question. Usually the interrogations are so well detailed that they don't require further questions in order to answer them (but sometimes they do, and those can add even more dendrites onto any given feedback. Sort of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" branch).

You may be completely shocked by some of the answers you received--hopefully, in a good way. Additionally, it was fun to leaf through the cards (each has a title like Honesty Room), and imagine what solution those around you would come back with. I had one of my party pegged pretty well, but for the other two, I got contrasting answers that I didn't expect.

I found myself going back to these questions over the next few days and turning them over in my mind. For some questions, I found that the more I thought about it, the more I changed my mind on what I said. It didn't help that some of the questions bring up matters of justice (although not in any particular political sort of way that I saw) where one may feel guilty and justify. There was an in depth discussion that ensued between me and one member of my party where I felt the need to defend my answer by providing my facts and fears based around said response.

CONCLUSION
I didn't read all of the questions, because I plan on playing this game again in the future, hopefully with an even larger group of friends. These questions are not for everyone, but over all I and my group (at different levels) enjoyed the game and would play it in the future. If not, I really need to find that honesty pill...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sea of Ghosts

 Written by Joe the Revelator



I've reviewed novels by Alan Campbell in the past, and my feelings about his work are usually mixed. It's stimulating, imaginative, deeply emotional, and borderline insane. Paradise lost meets the industrial age. The flaws displayed by his characters strike personal nerves, and the violence is visceral and bloody.

On the same token I've said a few disparaging things about his sequels. The Deepgate saga seems to follow a crooked, meandering path that often breaks from the main characters to follow other, stranger viewpoints. That said, and having had more time to reflect on his later work, there's nothing in Campbell's collected material that I regret reading. His strange visions of hell on earth, and of noxious forests and glass trains still pop into my head from time to time.

Sea of Ghosts is a beast of a slightly different stripe. It's closer to a traditional "Fantasy" with magic and treasure, bizarre powers and elves (not called elves, nor do they have pointy ears. But they are a mystical, tall, waspish race with light hair) Dragons play a part in the story too, as do ghost-ships and mermen, which are more like oceanic zombies.



The Sea is a Harsh Mistress, with an STI

The story starts out with promises of trove. And let me be clear that although the word trove (as in treasure-trove) is thrown about, Sea of Ghosts is NOT a pirate-themed book. Trove is a term used for magical items imbued with powers drawn from the cosmos, or from a yawning void in the cosmos, as one of the characters tried to explain late in the book. Trove is money and power, and it is found at the bottom of the poisonous seas.

A dunk in the ocean without washing off the brine will result in a tight, infected patch of gray skin. A full-body dousing will turn you into a gray-scaled monstrosity known as the Drowned; wandering the sea bottom, breathing the brine. Which leaves the dangers of trove-finding and dragon-slaying to men experienced with the sea's fickle nature. Think Dune's deserts, except wet, and slowly rising to consume what remains of the land.




Granger, an ex-military officer turned prison warden, lucks into the best trove finding tool in the empire; his own estranged daughter. With her uncanny ability to see treasure lying on the seabed from the bow of a boat, the two of them are able to haul in more curious brass artifacts and glowing gems than anyone living on the island. Which, of course, begins to attract unwanted attention to the young girl who Granger is just getting to know.

But you don't mess with a Gravedigger. And Granger's past as a naval lieutenant and a hunter of Unmer (magical not-elves) has given him a 'very particular set of skills' as another enraged father once said. The inevitable kidnapping of his daughter sets Granger, aka Unstoppable Force, into action- blowing through virulent waters, haunted ships, fortresses, even cosmic roadblocks. It's hard to make men this driven seem believable, but Campbell does it.


Don't drink the water

I haven't read a novel that so completely captured my attention in a long while. Campbell throws illuminating descriptions and intriguing ideas out like live wires for the reader to grab onto, and doesn't stop to dwell on his own neat notions, like so many other genre writers. A few things are reminiscent of other fantasy works (I swear to god he was playing Skyrim while writing this, or channeling 'Dwemer' ruins) but any similarities are easily forgivable. Most fantasy overlaps itself until it becomes a giant tapestry of the collective human subconscious anyway.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lost - Seasons 1 and 2



This is not your conventional review. I say that because I've seen Lost before, all of this is familiar to me. But I haven't seen it knowing what I know now, learning everything that happens in the final season of the show. Lost is much like a mystery; it is full of sudden surprising reveals that cast everything you've seen before into doubt, or into a new light. Some of these are epic. Others are shit. But, for lack of another show to passionately watch many episodes of back-to-back, I thought I'd return to one that I have a very strong affection for, and to see how it was on a return viewing.

This will be rife with spoilers.
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The Rise and Fall of John Locke

Man, do I feel sorry for this guy. Unfortunately, Locke is a character who was built up into a mystic old man capable of leading everyone to salvation, and then replaced with one who is tired, embittered, and ultimately killed off so that the ultimate big bad could adopt his form like some fucked up body suit. I watched seasons 1 and 2 again wishing I didn't know this. After all, Locke at the beginning is just so awesome and inspirational. He gets Charlie off of his heroin addiction, he helps Jack resolve some of his father issues while simultaneously teaching him lessons on what it takes to be a leader, he motivates Boone to separate himself from the unhealthy relationship he has with his sister, teaching him that being his own man is something desirable and ultimately within his grasp. Locke (at first) has all the promise of an island Obi-Wan Kenobi, the kindly old man who teaches you something crucial about life before vanishing mysteriously into the wilderness.

I miss that Locke. Instead, what I watched (knowing what I know) was a borderline delusional old man seeking some purpose out of life that is ultimately ephemeral for him. Season 1 Locke finds purpose in helping others through their problems, but he then fails to learn that this can be an end in itself. Instead, he begins to fixate on how the island has nominated him for some undefined greater purpose, believing in this so utterly that he starts to forget that he cares for the people around him. As season 2 ends, we find him in the hatch, everything crumbling all around him, endangering everyone on the island, with a terrified expression on his face. “I was wrong,” he says. This moment is indicative of everything he does from here on out.

Locke has always been one of the most interesting characters in the show for me, but I found watching him at his best to be far more bittersweet now that I know what happens to him in the end.
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Born to Run

As is infamous among anyone who knows me, I've always had a loathing of the character, Kate Austen. It wasn't that she was necessarily annoying to watch (Claire wins the award of most annoying female character), it was that her love triangle with Jack and Sawyer DOMINATES the show. Tvtropes would call this a Romantic Plot Tumor. By this logic, I should hate Jack and Sawyer too, but I don't. The fact remains that, due to Kate's perpetual inability to commit to anything, she acts like a ditzy, scatterbrained moron, flip-flopping wildly between the two men, driving pretty much every other character and the audience to insanity.

This time around, though, I... *sigh*... I kinda liked her.

The thing is that, in paying closer attention to her character and trying especially hard to empathize with her, it finally clicked. Yes, her back-and-forth was still a little aggravating. But I connected more with her psychology. With Jack, it makes sense (from her backstory and personality) that Kate would be attracted to him as a pinnacle of goodness that she strives for but has never been able to fully reach. It made sense that she would want to simultaneously flee from that because of her history of inevitably hurting those good people who get close to her. With Sawyer, it makes sense that she'd be attracted to him as another renegade with experiences similar to her own. And with him, it also made sense that she would be skittish about committing his way. Kate wants to be something more (like Jack) than what she perceives herself to be (equivalent to Sawyer). And so, as we see later on, she only seems to decide on Sawyer when she feels divorced from everything else, or when she's going through a bout of self-loathing.

I don't know how easy that was to follow, but the short of it is that I suddenly found Kate intensely interesting to watch. Her personality is so rife with paradoxes and opposite desires that, if you can see what is going on with her, it becomes easy to empathize with her struggle. People have passions that conflict with reality. Everyone has an aspiration of who they want to be struggling against what they know as truth. In that sense, Kate becomes a mirror of humanity, a reflection of our dichotomy of wants and needs.

Damn, that's heavy stuff.
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This, while having nothing to do with what I'm talking about, is awesome
Differences in Quality

Other than those characters, the other thing I noticed about seasons 1 and 2 is how many more good episodes are in the former versus the latter. I thought about it for a while and then I figured out what it was. It's all in how the story is shown to us.

In the first season, we are introduced to Lost's now famous method of inserting character-centric flashbacks into every episode. This continues on throughout the entire series, though later on it starts to get silly tricky with flash-forwards, flash-sideways, and all sorts of crazy bullshit. But season 1 & 2 are flashback only. Yet one is better than the other.

What I found was that season 1 did a much better job of tying the flashbacks of the character-of-the-episode into what is happening on the island. Jack gets flashbacks of how his father's dominance and cynicism consumed his childhood; we see him overcome these issues in a cathartic odyssey through the jungle. Sun gets flashbacks of the difficulty of her marriage with Jin; we see her reenact similar problems with him on the island and then ultimately reaffirm their love together at the end.

By contrast, by season 2 we get flashbacks that have, at most, a distant relation to what is happening on the island. For example, with Mr. Eko we get flashbacks of how he became the scary, intense guy he is today, but it doesn't have that strong of a connection with anything that happens on the island. It's like watching another TV show and then being given a biography of one of the characters to read during commercial breaks. It could be interesting, but isn't altogether relevant to what's happening in the show, and so makes it harder to get into the episode as much as you could if it were more concise. It's distracting. As any Lost veteran knows, the best episodes are the ones where the flashbacks and the main plot are seamlessly woven together into something that keeps your attention solidly focused on one point throughout.
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Conclusion

It's also worth noting that (with season 2) the hatch takes us from the novelty of having the show on a tropical island, and forces us into a small, enclosed location where even the characters are frustrated by how not much happens. It is part of the challenge for them, but it is also a test of patience for the audience themselves.

Rewatching Lost like this has been interesting, and I'll undoubtedly have more thoughts to come as I continue to delve through it (as I get time). More to come later!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Dance with Dragons



Yep, I finally got around to finishing A Dance with Dragons. And, to my astonishment, it was actually pretty damn good! It helped that it was preceded by the Game of Thrones equivalent of a pile of poo (I'm sorry A Feast for Crows, but you just weren't that interesting). But, more seriously, I think that its quality was about comparable to A Clash of Kings in terms of cool stuff that happened and characterization that occurred.

Now, I'm definitely going to talk about this, but I wanted to point out that I'm going to do two things with this review. First off, I am going to review it by viewpoint character. Every character that gets a chapter will get some commentary from me about if he/she was interesting and how they went. The other thing is that I'm going to avoid major spoilers. I will share what I think of as “minor” spoilers (such as where the characters are and their general goals in the book), but events of crazy awesome will be at most hinted at, no more.

Without further ado, I present A Dance with Dragons!
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Jon Snow

You're goddamn right, Jon's back, and he's more epic than ever. When we last saw Jon, he had near single-handedly taken the shittiest rangers in all the lands to beat back a Wildling army worthy of Mordor, long enough for one Stannis Baratheon to show up with all of his knights to lay the smackdown. Now in ADWD, we find Jon as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, balancing carefully on a path between supporting Stannis' claim to the throne and preparing the Wall for the invasion of the Others.

Jon's chapters are freaking awesome. Through his station at the Wall, we see how difficult leadership can be and, by god, Jon is going to stick to his principles no matter what. He has always been an admirable guy like that, and that aspect of his character bleeds through especially strongly in ADWD. Watching him try to recruit the Wildlings to his side while placating the Night's Watch veterans while trying to retain Stannis' help while doing his best to stay out of the gargantuan war happening to the south of him while preparing to repel this fictional universe's equivalent of a Nazgul army... This is one shitty situation. Ancient Night's Watch fortresses are prepared, factions are approached for help, a lot of people tell Jon he knows nothing, and WHOA HOLD ON. Stuff actually happens in this book?? Thank you, George R.R. Martin!
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Tyrion Lannister

Oh wait, this is the Feast for Crows shit that I remember. Yes, unfortunately the worst part of ADWD is that it somehow manages to make Tyrion Lannister chapters uninteresting. The sad part is that he starts out so well. Tyrion has just killed his father and escaped onto a ship heading to Daenerys is on. After a great deal of drinking and whoring, Tyrion decides that h should go find Dany and serve as an impish Machiavellian advisor, kicking her in the pants to go conquer Westeros with his help. Holy. Shit. Epic, right?

Then we get a truly grueling amount of chapters where Tyrion apparently decides to take the longest route possible to Dany. Seriously. This is a spoiler, but he never even really gets there. We meet some thoroughly uninteresting characters, a few that are really important, and then suffer through him learning how to entertain people with his dwarfishness. It's not all bad; he does start manipulating people like badass old Tyrion near the end. But most of it is one interminable trek after another where nothing of real note seems to happen. That and an enormous number of people giving him dwarf noogies (though this is awesome; it is apparently a tradition on this continent to rub a dwarf's head for good luck, and it happens a LOT).
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Davos Seaworth

I've always been a huge fan of the Onion Knight. There's something about his character that is just really cool. He's like everyone's favorite uncle, if uncles were regularly faced with starvation and death. Davos never lets up, and his personality is so solid that you're able to see a lot of what happens in the series through how relaxing his chapters can feel.

Anyways, Davos is given a mission from Stannis. He is tasked to approach White Harbor, the wealthiest city and vassal of House Stark, as a diplomat and envoy in order to convince them to swear fealty to Stannis and ally together against the factions who betrayed Robb Stark (Lannisters, Freys, Boltons) and killed most of the Stark household. He is presented with a political situation so bizarre as to seem Shakespearean in the theatricality of it. Needless to say, it is awesome, and the results have a huge impact in what happens in ADWD. Yes! Things happen AGAIN! Oh, I love you so, George R.R. Martin!
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Hawt
Daenerys Targaryen

Goddamnit! Yes, dear readers, it was a trap and, despite the sheer marvelousness of Dany in the previous few books, George R.R. Martin manages to make her a pain in the ass in this one. Now, let me clarify, it isn't that things don't happen in Dany's chapters that makes her irritating. It is the fact that the things that happen with her don't seem to really matter in the larger conflict, and the fact that she starts acting against her character.

We find Dany managing the city of Meereen and doing her best to be a benevolent queen. She rejects the slave trade, manages alliances with nearby cities, hires mercenaries, etc etc. But because it involves nations and factions that we don't know and who don't appear to have any relevance to anything happening on Westeros, I just lost interest after a while. It doesn't help that Dany starts to compromise and give in to pressure. That's right, the character most famous for being the uncompromising determinator starts to go back to being a scared little girl. Then she chooses to sleep with a thoroughly unlikable character, marry another, and generally be kind of stupid.

But it ends with her in a much better place than she was before, so there is hope that she'll do something useful when Tyrion shows up in the next book.
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This pretty much sums up the weirdness of the average Bran chapter
Bran Stark

Bran Stark is one of those characters who I hated for a long time. From the moment he was crippled, I replaced the name “Bran” with “That-Interminable-Whiner-Cripple-Kid”. He just wouldn't shut up. And the references to his purported powers were so cryptic that I just couldn't care less.

Needless to say, this changes in a huge way in ADWD. I wanted more Bran chapters. A lot more. We encounter Bran where we left off, with him passing the Wall and going deep into the land of the Others, searching for the Children of the Forest. All I can say without spoiling more is that he finds the Others. And he finds the Children of the Forest. And a lot of awesome and weird shit happens that indicates that Bran might have the most important viewpoint of them all.
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Arya Stark

I have to admit that I don't have much to say about Arya. While she was on Westeros, she was one of the coolest characters of them all. But in Braavos (a city in the middle of nowhere on the-continent-we-don't-care-about), Arya continues her assassin training surrounded by characters who aren't interesting who we don't give a second fiddle about. If you like this growth in her character, then you'll love her chapters in ADWD. But because I've read far too many books about training characters to become assassins, and because I have no connection to what is happening around her, I really don't care. I skimmed all of her chapters.
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Asha Greyjoy

Our first new viewpoint character, Asha is the first and only Greyjoy we've met who is actually likable. She's a badass girl who grew up into a sexy, independent woman, all within the most grotesquely masculine culture since the Vikings. And she owns it. In ADWD, we find her within the occupied castle of Deepwood Motte (a Stark vassal located near the western shore by the Greyjoys). She gets the second hottest sex scene of the series. She weighs her chances, what with a hostile uncle now in charge back at home, takes her men, and decides what she wants to do.

She then joins up with another group and serves as a viewpoint character for the movements of one of the more important characters in the series. But I can't tell you who without spoiling things. Regardless, Asha has a lot go on with her point of view, and I found her a thoroughly enjoyable character to read about.
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Quentyn Martell

Another new viewpoint character, Quentyn Martell is less interesting. An uncharismatic heir of House Martell, he is sent by his father to marry Daenerys. Unlike Tyrion, Quentyn actually makes it to Dany and presents her with an offer; if she will marry Quentyn, Dorne will give Dany the military that she needs in order to take Westeros. In exchange, Quentyn becomes king and Dorne the paramount House of the realm.

Dany's answer is for you to figure out when you read the book. As for Quentyn's character, I kind of liked him. I say it like that because he doesn't really have much to him. He isn't handsome, clever, or skilled in combat. What he is is dogged. He sticks to his guns. And his men listen to his orders, even though you can tell that they might not necessarily impress them too much. Quentyn isn't the most interesting character we've ever seen in the Game of Thrones series, but I found him fairly interesting on the whole.
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Theon Greyjoy

Yes, Theon Greyjoy isn't dead. Some may groan at this revelation, but I thought it was pretty cool. The thing is that, even though Theon has always been rather annoying in his own way, he has changed. He is held captive by House Bolton (which is apparently the House for all of the creepy assholes of the realm). He has been thoroughly tortured and abused. He doesn't even identify himself as being a Greyjoy for a long time.

But he starts to become a better person. And this makes Theon perhaps the most deeply characterized person in the series, turning from arrogant douchebag into defeated trash into something more. On top of that, Theon manages to serve as a viewpoint character into the machinations of the Boltons, the Freys, and a bunch of other Houses besides. This made him one of the most interesting characters to read about and, on top of his characterization, made me genuinely hope that he turns out okay in the end.
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Barristan Selmy

Barristan the Bold gets his own viewpoint chapters but, unlike aforementioned others, Barristan's kinda suck. For whatever reason, Barristan shifts from the wise old Gandalf-like father figure for Dany to that-one-old-guy who stands in the corner and never says anything. Even when Dany makes poor decisions, he never says a word unless prompted and, even then, he doesn't say much beyond, “Make queenly decisions so I can keep standing prettily.”

He does end up taking some initiative in the end but... Frankly, he spends most of it whining to himself about how “true knights only do things that are pure and righteous”. Which kind of drains some of the awesomeness out of the asskicking he delivers. For someone who seemed more than willing to provide his thoughts and act independently before he was made head of the 'Queensguard', Barristan the Bold seemed to turn rather timid.
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Everyone Else

Victarion Greyjoy pulls a less interesting Tyrion. Spends most of the book traveling to Dany. Doesn't get there by the end.

Cersei Lannister has a small handful of rather interesting chapters where her back is against the wall and we actually, finally, see her overly prideful facade crack, revealing a character who we can actually care about who isn't a power-crazed harpy bitch.

Melisandre gets a chapter which is really cool. And everything that happens with her is really interesting new information. But she only gets a chapter, so her importance is fleeting.

Jaime Lannister gets a chapter where he dashes off with the only person he'd predictably dash off with.

Areo Hotah (the blandest character in the series whose only purpose is to give us eyes into what's happening in Dorne) shows us that Dorne is secretly planning some really epic and crazy shit.

And then, finally, a new character named Griff turns out to be someone who will shake up the world of Game of Thrones in an enormous way. Then he begins an invasion. Really cool stuff.
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Conclusion

Altogether, I really enjoyed A Dance with Dragons and recommend it to those who enjoyed the series before A Feast for Crows. Yeah, Dany and Tyrion's chapters are a bit disappointing, but so much happens elsewhere that it didn't bug me that much. When/if other people read it, I'm looking forward to hearing some other thoughts out there!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Sherlock

Written by Joe the Revelator
 


Ever since reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arther Conan Doyle, I've had an affinity for British sleuths from Baker street- crusaders with an eye for detail and a magnifying lens in their waistcoat pocket. After watching Robert Downey Jr. nail the role of Sherlock Holmes with a twist of humor and a slice of hyper-vigilance and aspergers, I thought; who could possibly do better?

Enter Benedict Cumberbatch. (War horse,  Atonement) Young-looking for a Sherlock, modern, and plays the classic detective a bit on the fussy side. But with the success of the show riding on the strength of his portrayal, I say he nailed it. His need to be validated, to show he's always 'right' takes precedence over all else, even going so far as to risk poisoning himself to prove it. Downey's character was fastidious. The new Sherlock is downright anal.

Cumberbatch's Sherlock is accompanied by Martin Freeman (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as Dr. Watson. He's a friendly, personable, salt-of-the-earth type. A battlefield medic just come back from the war. He's introduced to Sherlock through a mutual acquaintance when John expresses his need to find a roommate, and it's love (for sleuthing) at first sight.



Digital Detective

As it has always been in any adaptation of Sherlock, the diaries of the detective's conquests are kept by the good doctor. But to add a modern twist to Watson's storytelling, the trail of cases are kept on a blog that steadily attracts more clients and crime investigations. Sherlock's methodology has also gotten a kick in the cummerbund by the modern boot. He uses cellphones and text messaging, crime labs and microscopes, laptops and card readers. Instead of coming off like a cheap CSI knockoff, this digital era Sherlock manages to enhance his repertoire in ways that would make his horse-and-carriage predecessors jealous.

To say the hour-and-a-half episodes are humorous might be an understatement. Dry wit is plentiful in the most British of ways. And a tip of the hat is made to both written works about Sherlock Holmes and movies. One of Watson's blog entries is titled "A Study in Pink", which is a reference to the original Study in Scarlett. Hounds of Baskerville are actually H.O.U.N.D.S, a fictional elite unit of soldiers. And Holmes' sexuality is brought into question more than once, as it has remained questionable in almost all adaptations. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was one long gay joke.



Long Format

My only complaint about Sherlock might be the length of the episodes. As I mentioned, each episode is around 90 minutes, which makes it difficult for someone with a busy schedule to enjoy it all in one sitting. At least compared to most 50-60 minute serials that have cropped up.

Also be prepared for lulls and long moments of deep contemplation. The clues and deductions may be fast paced, but the action is not. Doyle's Sherlock hardly ever got into any scrapes at all. It feels to me that modern adaptations of the character go around picking fights, just to show he can locate someone's liver with his knuckles.

Monday, August 13, 2012

5 Movies I Hate That Everyone Else Loves

Because of my tendency towards lengthiness, I chose FIVE movies to rage on instead of DionysusPsyche's ten. See the other ones I would have chosen at the end!

This movie needs to wash itself with that soap. Badly.
1. Fight Club

There are not words enough for how much I loathe this movie that everyone else seems so enamored of. Oh, you like a macabre symphony of violence? Didn't you just love that part where Edward Norton mashes some guy's face into a grotesque soupy mess of shattered bone shards and meat? Let's all get a hobby that involves breaking each other's bones and beating each other bloody! No, better yet, let's reject society so thoroughly that we regard life as a joke, other people as members of 'the machine', and embrace a brotherhood of sadomasochism! No... We can do better than that! Let's make a goddamn anarchy club whose only purpose is to brainwash members of our cult of brutality so that we may blow shit up and make a mockery of everything, everywhere!

Man, fuck this movie. This movie is a Nietzschean nightmare, reveling in the apparent pointlessness of life.

Now I won't deny that this movie had a clever premise: revealing that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton's character were the same was an impressive twist that calls everything prior in the movie into doubt. But the vehicle bringing us this story is such a repulsive mess that it killed any interest I had in the movie, genuinely angering me that people even like it at all. It's one thing to encourage a rejection of materialism. It's something else to encourage such a disgusting bloodsport, to lure people into it and then turn them into worker drones for some anarchic new world order. Yes, I know that Edward Norton's 'character' rejects it in the end, but it still comes out pretty obvious that Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden won in the end, and that everything that I've described as so awful is perpetuated and has come to pass.
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Otherwise known as: "I Need To Pee But The Movie Won't F***ing End".
2. Lord of the Rings – Return of the King

Surprised to see this one, I bet! Now let me clarify: I think hate might be too strong a word for this. But I found it completely astonishing how many people claimed to love this final movie. The first two achieved this mastery of making Middle Earth this place where hope exists, but it is drifting away much like the migration of the Elves to the west. We experience the loss of the main characters as Gandalf is overcome, Boromir dies, and the fellowship crumbles. Then we meet those of Rohan, who are noble but in a land about to be swallowed in darkness, under the “TENS OF THOUSANDS” of Uruk-hai bootheels. The main characters are capable, but not all-powerful, and it is only through the barest of victories do they get out in one piece.

Return of the King has Legolas soloing an elephant. It has Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas basically surfing on a waterfall of human skulls. It has the Army of the Dead utterly curb-stomp what is supposed to be the biggest evil army we ever see (a deus ex machina if there ever was one). Clearly, a big problem of mine is that Return of the King embraces the cheesy factor to an extent not before seen in the previous movies. Also, there's just the fact that the other movies are simply superior. For example, we really felt for the people of Rohan. We identify with their king, we feel for Eowyn, Eomer, and their warriors. We don't feel the same about the people of Gondor, who spend most of their screentime being fatalists, running for cover, and with their morale breaking in just about every scene. We don't have anyone Gondorian to really identify with. Denethor is basically the villain for the first half of the movie, and Faramir is out of commission faster than we can blink (and that doesn't even get into how he was basically a villain for the second half of the second movie). There just isn't as much for us to get into in this movie, the threat of Sauron being put on such a melodramatic scale that you lose much of the human connection, both to the characters and the people they fight for.

Last but not least, don't forget the ending. You probably can't, even if you wanted to. That's time you'll never get back.
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Further proof that movies with bowling still suck.
3. The Big Lebowski

I've tried to watch this movie going on four times and I still have yet to finish it. So I'll be brief. I'm not the biggest fan of the Coen Brothers. Their humor is quirky and, for me, it only occasionally hits the mark. A movie about slackers who spend all their time bowling? Who somehow become embroiled in some... what was it? A theft or a heist plot? I don't remember if they actually get stoned, but pretty much everyone seems stoned out of their minds for the entirety of what I saw. It just was boring, amusing only barely by lieu of the stupid and random things that happen. I think I've turned it off every time in that part (was it a dream sequence?) where Jeff Bridges is somehow flying over the city lights. Something about it just saps at my will to live. Every time I try.
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Does this even look like a movie worth watching?
4. Napoleon Dynamite

Speaking of semi-retarded slackers, this here is their crown jewel. This movie does its damnedest to be as agonizingly bland as possible, and yet people dig it. It's about two thoroughly uninteresting people who live in the middle of nowhere and do nothing important. They make lame jokes. One of them runs for school president or something. There's that famous dance routine which, to a novice like me, seems like a celebration of awful, awful dancing. Seriously? What happened in this movie? Why do people like it again? It's only redeeming quality seems to be that it succeeded brilliantly in making me feel as brainless as the two main characters.
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Look at all that praise! Look at all those sycophants!
5. The Social Network

The funniest thing about this movie for me is that it somehow won an Oscar for its soundtrack. I've seen it twice, and I genuinely can't remember ANY soundtrack at all. This is a minor point, but it is something that repeatedly shocks me. How does a movie win an award for a soundtrack so understated and forgettable that, even when I was listening for it, I couldn't remember it?

More seriously, this movie is energetic fluff. It tries so damn hard to be this stylistic new genre that it completely fails to say anything interesting. Hell, apparently most of it isn't even true. The moral of this story apparently is that being a colossal opportunistic prick makes you a wildly successful millionaire. Oh, let's encourage that one, why don't we? And then there were all those damn news stories trying to 'harness the genius potential' of Mark Zuckerberg. Why do we support this crap? This is why this movie pisses me off. Apparently, to be successful you must network well and then shit all over the people who brought you up. Fan-fucking-tastic.


This is why I try and write reviews about things I love. Sorry everyone! :)

Runner ups: Kill Bill, Spirited Away, Ratatouille, The Hurt Locker, Zoolander, The Expendables.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

10 Films I Hate That Everyone Else Loves


by DionysusPsyche

You're going to disagree with this list, but believe me, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm sure some of your favorite movies no one else appreciates or there's that one person who refuses to watch your movie with you. Besides, I don't always watch the most popular movies, so this is a chance to tell the internet (and Hollywood) how I feel about films I don't want to see remade.

Part of the reason for the qualifier, is because there are worse movie lists. You know what they are, hell, you probably watched some of them just because they're so bad. I couldn't sit through Birdemic or Manos Hands of Fate, and I still haven't seen Plan 9 From Outerspace.

The other reason for this list is that it recently occurred to me that I usually only review movies, books, and tv shows that I like for the purpose that I like people to enjoy with I've enjoyed. Talking about what makes you happy makes you happy—or at least, happier.

However, if this list saves someone from watching a movie they already feel iffy about, reconsider watching a movie just because it is well-loved, or makes someone feel that they are not alone in disliking a movie, I will feel that this post has fufilled its purpose. Here's the list in no particular order.
  1. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
    Yes, the misspelling of this film is the first thing I disliked about it. I'm by no means a nationwide spelling bee champion (although I did do well in elementary school, thanks). It's misspelled for a specific reason which I won't reveal in case you feel like watching the film after I'm done reviewing it.

    I know what you're thinking—it's Will Smith overcoming diversity, struggling to make a better life for his son (yes, Will Smith's real life son plays his character's son in the film) despite the odds that are against him. Sounds awesome, right? I want to say right out of the gate that I'm not opposed to movies where an underdog achieves success or tries to make a better life for his/her kid. There are movies out there like this one with which I'm perfectly content.

    The entire 117 minutes are intense. Will he get the job? Will he and his son starve? Can't someone give this guy a break? Where are they going to shower? Yet, what sent me over the edge (and yes, people have repeatedly told me I'm wrong about this) was the scene where Chris and his son are standing in line waiting for a chance to eat.

    Many (most) Americans like to believe that homeless people are homeless, because they're lazy, have unforgivable addiction issues, are unethical, stupid, or love living off the government. It makes them easier to pass on the street. What this film portrays is that there are many, many people just like Chris and his son who want the chance to prove themselves. Who want a better life and are struggling each and every day. Maybe they're not homeless yet. Maybe they're just extremely poor or down on their luck. Yet, they're out there. They're everywhere, and there's more of them than you'd like to think.

    To say that I walked away from this film angry is an understatement. It made me hate the entire human race. Which could very well be a good reason for everyone (especially bratty, whiny kids or rich, undeserving adults) to watch this movie. Viewers should watch films that make them uncomfortable and make them want to change the world. However, this film did not give me hope. It made me entirely too aware of how unfortunate so many people are and made me feel like most of them will die alone and desolate.


  2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
    Everyone told me to watch this film. They all said that it was unlike any film I would ever see. They also compared it to Forrest Gump. That was probably not a good thing to compare it to, since I really like the latter film (although, I saw it when I was twelve, so what do I know?).

    For those who have been living under a rock, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about a guy who ages backwards. Yes, he's born an old man and grows up to become a baby. This is not to say that the film was all bad. There are important matters brought to light. Don't abandon your child because he/she is different/sick/ugly. Old people and children are a lot alike. Aging is a part of life. Don't ever major in dance (I'm mostly joking here).

    However, for me, it was just a weird film, and it's way too long. I have nothing against the actors—I've seen Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in other movies and liked them. The story, the characters, the aging backwards...I just never got into it. When a significant twist happens in the film between our main characters, I am livid. I continued to watch the movie just so I could get to the end just in case the film miraculously changed my mind. It didn't.
    I'm also not sure why Golom is in it...

  3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
    Okay, I see I've angered you. I probably shouldn't have put this on the list. I can exchange it for Gladiator if you prefer (nope, I like Russell Crowe in other films, just not those). Cool, I'll go on.

    I love the psychology of the mind. I enjoy learning about smart people and how they became famous for being smart. The idea of someone becoming a genius instead of ending up on the front page of the paper for killing masses makes a much better story/movie based on real life. If you like schizophrenic success stories I recommend the book The Center Cannot Hold. I found it a much better story over all. This one was slow, confusing, and depressing.

  4. Fargo (1996)
    Two henchmen are hired by William H. Macy (that's the actor's name, by the way) to kill his wife. Things go awry.

    I'm not from the Midwest, so the humor was totally lost on me. I just sat in almost complete silence for an hour and a half. Unlike some films I've gone to, I went into this neither being overly expectant or ready to leave unimpressed, and it still let me down (but then, I'm probably not the film's target audience). There are very few Cohen Brothers films I actually like. They might surprise you.

  5. Dr. Strangelove (1964)I've tried to sit down and watch this several times, and I can never get through it. At first I thought that it was who I watched it with, so I tried it again. That wasn't it. Then I tried different times of day, mixing up the time of year, but I just never get to the end. It could be that everyone I watch it with wants me to love it just a little too much. I try to force myself to sit through it and just end up resenting it more as time passes.

  6. Inglorious Basterds (2009)
    This I had expectations for, and I won't lie about that. I love Tarantino. Pulp Fiction had me mesmorized. I enjoyed Kill Bill. It was going to knock me out. I was going to laugh at how stupid Nazis were and watch evil people get killed. I was going to cheer and holler and rave.


    I fell asleep. It was not action packed. In fact, there was so much build up and so much talking that it quite literally lulled me to dreamland. I did see the most interesting parts, because my friend woke me up.


  7. Donnie Darko (2001)
    I love time travel. I love alternate universes and weird, creepy, old ladies (actually, I don't love the last one). I even love Jake and Maggie Gylenhaal, so I was pretty pissed that they let me down, and Jake spent the majority of the movie walking around with a frightening bunny. I was told it was deep and meaningful and important. I still don't fully recognize why Donnie Darko had to go to extremes or anything that happened in the movie or why it happened, except the moment when Donnie Darko jumps out of the bus. That was the most identifiable and great part of the movie complete with accurately lined up Tears for Fears song.

    Someday, I'm going to watch the Director's Cut, because I hear that it's better and actually explains the film. But I was disappointed down to the other Tears for Fears song at the end.

  8. Say Anything... (1989)
    Ladies, you don't like Lloyd Dobler. You love John Cusack. For over a decade, audiences (mostly women) have been wrong about this movie. Also, liking someone who's going to be a boxer when he “grows up” and is obsessed with the hollow shell of a female lead/valedictorian is just stupid. Plus, why is Frasier Crane's dad in that movie? And why is he going to jail? Don't let Marty Crane go to jail! Oh wait, he's a jack ass too.

    If it's the scenes where Cusack is just riding around in the car with his tape recorder or hanging out with his friends, that would've been fine. As it was, I couldn't stand this movie, especially the female lead. Like so many other films I hoped to like, I stayed 'til the bitter end.
    Looks endearing enough. But so do the flying rabbits in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  9. The Karate Kid (1984)
    Again, I'm all for the underdog, but you don't just win a karate tournament against a kid who's been training his entire life because Mr. Miagi is working with you. I did love the scene at the dance though.

  10. Avatar (2009)
    I try not to get political about films, and I tried to set aside those feelings for the film. Regardess, they seeped in. I will acknowledge that the CGI in this movie is commendable, however the story and characters were not. James Cameron should not be the king of anyone's world. I don't go to a film to see graphics, and although it's a frequently used reason, guys, this was Pocahontas. I did find it amusing how we were supposed to root for nature when people went to see it for its computer animation.
Conclusion
Please note: none of the films I've reviewed are terrible movies. Their camera people, actors, and directors were of (I'm assuming) sound mind when they were made. Most of these movies have more than just one thing going for it that made me dislike it enough to add it to this list, but none of them impressed me as much as they apparently impressed everyone else.


Honorable mentions: Gladiator, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Wall-E

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Dionysuspsyche
Synopsis and History
This classic young adult novel by Elizabeth George Speare was one of my favorites growing up. Upon finding it at a great price, I got it, and reread it. Since I'm no longer technically in the YA category, this book took on a whole new light that I didn't fully appreciate as a child.

Kit Tyler, the grand daughter of a wealthy Englishman, leaves her home in Barbados after his passing to live with her last living relatives in Connecticut. The year to date is April 1687, and life in Puritan New England is quite unlike the life Kit has been used to living. With her life turned upside down, Kit does the best to make herself a part of the Wood family. Despite her best efforts, Kit just doesn't manage to fit in. Her cousin, Mercy is a kind and patient teacher. Her cousin Judith is vivacious, beautiful, and easily jealous. Both are excellent with the house and yard work. Kit is not devout enough for her Uncle Matthew with his short temper and dislike of change. She's not as obedient as her Aunt Rachel would prefer. She even is a disappointment to William and John, two men in town who both seem interested romantically in her.

Her frustrations wane when she meets Hannah Tupper, an old woman the town calls a witch. Kit gets to know Hannah and finds in her a mentor with whom she loves to spend time. The "witch" even helps Kit resolve anger with others, even if Hannah does not personally agree with them on all fronts. Her purpose is served as a guide and counselor, whereby she is the proverbial Yoda to a Jedi of sorts. In return, Kit helps the old woman when she needs it the most.

An important aspect of the book to note is basic background history. As of the 1600's, Columbus had discovered America, but the Declaration of Independence had yet to be signed for almost another hundred years. The country was in constant anxiety over whether the King would revoke his freedom to America. Many places in the United States had slaves, although it wasn't in abundance until the 1800's. The Salem Witch Trials were about to happen in 1692, but were yet to transpire.

Motifs: "If they only understood"
It is frequently stressed that people misjudge others without knowing them or trying to understand things from their point of view. This not only happens to Kit when she feels that others disapprove of her (she can swim, wears glamorous clothing, and is rebellious), but it even happens to her in terms of the way she views the townspeople--especially her Uncle Matthew. As Kit is brought to light on why her family has the traditions they do, why the Puritans seek independence from England, and why her uncle is seemingly cold and unforgiving, Kit's understanding and respect for those around her grows. This is not to say that Kit changes her mind about everything, but she is brought to a better understanding of the way things are.
I can't help it. Uncle Matthew always looks like this to me. Maybe because he built the wood house they live in with his own bare hands.
Spiritual Showdowns
Religion is also a frequent topic of the book. There is much bickering and prejudice between various religions and loyalty (at one point so heavily so that one of the characters becomes very ill and is not brought a doctor due to the doctor's allegiance). There is also the question of whether religion requires the use of politics and whether one should completely follow the works and ideology of his/her predecessors (in the most common instance, the pastor and doctor in training) or if they should combine both what is known with what one believes to be right future path for oneself.

The author stresses that holding beliefs too tightly can become problematic in relating to other individuals or groups so much so that it causes bigotry, isolation, and wild accusations/stereotypes. The other extreme where one is so loose in one's beliefs and so willing to accept what one is fed can lead to frustration, confusion, and unhappiness. Neither extremes are good.

From my observation, the book does not take a stance on what particular religion, if any, is preferable. What the author does do is show that religion has two sides: dark and light. Kit learns from all the people in her life what religion can mean in terms of love, values, and regimen. At the end of the book, Kit sets aside one of her dresses that she would like to give to her cousin. She tried to do it at the beginning of the novel as well, but this time, she thinks, "he would know now that she offered the gifts with love instead of pride" (p. 217).

Home
Throughout the book, Kit is constantly grappling to fit into the puzzle of home and comfort. Even when her place in the household becomes more secure and serene, she longs for what she once had and what she views as her future. For one, Kit never gets over the weather, the lack of color from birds and flowers, and a feeling of content. There are a few people and places that Kit feels truly at ease, and by the end of the book, she finally realizes where she truly belongs.

Conclusion
I don't tend to enjoy fictional novels based on historical facts. Fortunately, this is a loosely enough based story that the background does not interfere or impede upon the story or history itself. I adore this book. It has a lot of philosophy, romance, and fun to it. You can definitely tell that the main character, Kit, is a teenager, but there's rarely a character in the book that is not in his or her own way interesting. The way the characters stick together and save each other is beyond amazing. I recommend this to anyone ready for a light read with a lot of sentimentality (it's a quick read, and the characters form in one's heart easily).

Warrior



Warrior is easily the most intense sports movie I've ever seen. And I've seen my fair share. In a way, though, Warrior cheats. Cinderella Man, Rocky, The Fighter... Previous to this, I would've held these boxing movies up as the paragons of their kind (sorry, but team sport movies don't tend to have quite the same impact with me). But Warrior isn't boxing; it's MMA. Mixed martial arts. You know that sport you see every so often when you're flipping through the channels? Guys fighting with punches and kicks, without padding, in a cage? This is that sport.

This sport creates a scenario where the characters you love are genuinely threatened with death. You are not only rooting for them to take home the prize, you're praying that they don't get killed. People die in this sport, probably more than almost any other. Matches are regularly ended with people getting bludgeoned so hard in the face that they immediately drop to the ground, unconscious, with a possible concussion. I don't know much about the sport. I don't even know how this movie was filmed. But it legitimately looked like these actors were beating the fuck out of each other, which creates a very gripping story.
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Can People Reform?

By itself, though, the MMA aspect would not be enough to carry it. If we didn't care about the characters going into it, it would merely be a curiosity of which big guy would beat the other. But, boy, do they make us care. This is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking family stories I've ever seen. The movie has two protagonists, two estranged brothers, separated over the years by the past drunken monstrousness of their father and the resulting death of their mother. One, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), separated himself from the dysfunctional family in order to marry the love of his life, raise children, and become a high school physics teacher. The other, Tommy (Tom Hardy), ran away from dad with their mother and, after she fell ill, was forced to watch her die. You very quickly come to care for each of these men.

Both of the brothers, beyond a doubt, are united in their condemnation of their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte). This creates some of the most tragic scenes I've ever seen. Paddy is genuinely reformed, over a thousand days without a drink, and spends the entire movie trying to reconcile with his sons. One of the most heartbreaking scenes is when Paddy visits Brendan's house at night and asks him outside on the lawn, nicely as he can, if they can reconnect, if he can meet his grandchildren who he has never seen, and if he can unite the family like he should have before. Brendan tells him to go away, saying that Paddy lost that right a long time ago. Paddy is forced to watch, helpless, as Brendan goes inside. Brendan's children and wife are at the door and his young daughter asks, “Daddy, who is that?” Brendan replies, “That's just a nice old man. Let's go.” And then he shuts the door, ignoring his father standing there helplessly, wishing he were a part of that something he can never have.
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On Tommy's side, we see something closer to hatred. And it's unclear if Tommy loathes his father even more than Brendan does; everything Tommy does is so infused with rage that it's hard to tell. Tommy goes out of his way to express disdain of his father, making a mockery of Paddy's apparent reformation. At one point, Paddy attempts to console Tommy about Tommy's army experience and Tommy just looks at him. “Can you spare me the compassionate father routine, pop? You're trying this now? Where were you when it mattered? I needed this guy when I was a kid. I don't need you now. It's too late now. Everything already happened.” Tommy then tells his father to go away, to get lost, and that he isn't worth shit. It's harsh, but you can't help but empathize with him.

But this genuinely made me wonder: does the average viewer believe that the sons should forgive their father? I worried as I watched, concerned that personal experience blinded me. I thought that Tommy's reactions were too excessive, but that not letting Paddy anywhere near Brendan's family was perfectly justifiable, as well as disowning him completely. Yet I wondered if other viewers would think differently. After all, we never really see this awful side of Paddy that the brothers describe; he appears to be a new man, seeking atonement. And so I wondered if my own experiences made it easier to condemn Paddy than perhaps was right.
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Tommy and Brendan
Brothers at War

Another aspect of this movie that affected me personally was the relationship of the brothers. This is so complicated that it may be hard to explain, but I will try. Brendan is the eldest child, the one who put distance between himself and his family in order to both make himself anew and to create a new life with his future wife and children. Tommy is the youngest child, the one who stayed with mom, helping to take her away from their father, and unable to save her from the sickness which claimed her life. From Tommy's perspective, Brendan chose to cut and run, leaving his family to suffer without his help. But Tommy never told Brendan that their mom was dying, deciding on his own that Brendan wouldn't care anyways. Consequently, Brendan resents Tommy for not allowing him a chance to help save their mother or, if nothing else, to see her before the end. On Tommy's side, he hates Brendan for leaving him and his mom on their own.

Both of them are right, and you empathize equally with both sides. And you are forced to watch them on a collision course with each other, unable to forgive, ready to fight each other in a sport that could end with one of them killing the other. It is a horrific twisting of something their father brought upon them in their youth, something their father tries to prevent. It's a grudge that they should lay down in order to embrace the other. But they can't. It results in one of the most intense fight scenes I've ever seen in a movie.
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Conclusion

As for the actual sports and fighting aspect of the movie, all I can say is that Tom Hardy is the absolute last person I ever want to run into in a dark alleyway. I can see why they chose him to play the character of Bane in the newest Batman; in this movie, he's ferocity incarnate and scary as all hell. When he steps into the ring, the quiet and subdued character disappears and is seemingly replaced with all the unbottled rage and hatred that he has brought through his life. I can't say enough how terrifying it is when he cuts loose. It's like seeing a flaming steamroller of demon-possessed death.

By contrast, Brendan's fighting style is more like Rocky's: take a beating, bide your time, and then go apeshit on your opponent when he's overconfident. You get to see both of these fighting styles numerous times as they face quite a few opponents before they face each other. And, despite the nastiness of MMA fights, they thankfully chose not to show much, if any, blood in this movie. I think the movie Cinderella Man was bloodier, and that's like a Disney movie compared to the fights in Warrior.

All in all, this movie is one of the best I've seen this year. Just be aware that this movie has exceedingly high stakes violent fights and very intense emotional drama throughout.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the fantastical story of one man who is born old and grows young. He comes into the world a wrinkly aged child. His youth is one of wheelchairs and squinting through glasses. His adolescence has him looking like a man in his fifties. As the movie goes on, he progressively reaches the physical equivalent of a normal teenage youth. Then he shrinks and shrinks, loses his mental faculties along with his memories, and then finally goes out as we come in; instead of opening our baby eyes to the bright world ahead of us, he shuts his and fades away.
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An Abandoned Premise?

The peculiar thing about this idea is that it really isn't as important to the story as you might think. You would expect that something as stunning as a man who ages backwards would dominate every stage of his life. It does and it doesn't. People treat it as a mere curiosity and it doesn't ever really seem to result in anything consequential. For example, scientists never express interest in Benjamin or his unique biological process. It doesn't seem to affect his taxes, insurance, or social security. He isn't swept up by some hack and presented as a man whose blood is the fountain of youth.

Instead, the only real consequences of this involve how he grows up and the dilemma of raising a baby (more on that point later). Benjamin, instead of growing up with parents or at a child's daycare, grows up among old men and women near the end of their lives within a nursing home. I found that this, more than just about anything else in the movie, affects Benjamin's personality and subsequent actions throughout the story, making it more an effective argument for nurture over nature than of the unique experience of a guy who ages backwards. Through this 'upbringing', he lives among these people who value every moment and experience because, for them, it may be the last one they have. Thus Benjamin acquires his drive to constantly explore the world and reach for anything that makes him curious, no matter what. His is the ultimate “live life to the fullest” personality, tempered by the perpetual calm of a distinguished elderly gentleman.
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Themes

This movie is pretty much a distillation of all of our existential fears into a message that, by and large, is glowingly optimistic, if a tad bittersweet. This is the main purpose of Benjamin's backward aging process; it is used by the writers as a tool for dwelling on many questions that affect us throughout life. This could have turned out rather depressing but, due to Benjamin's preternatural calm and understanding, the result is more meditative and relaxing. We see Benjamin's life and watch as he meets fanciful larger-than-life people of all kinds: a perpetually drunk tugboat captain, a discontent wife of a spy, the mysterious owner of a button factory, and more. Through these people, we see their regrets, their abandoned dreams, and we watch as Benjamin encourages them to seize them once more or move on to a brighter future.

This is realized most powerfully in Daisy, the love of Benjamin's life. Daisy experiences a normal life that we get to see alongside Benjamin's own. In a sense, Daisy serves as the audience surrogate; she experiences life and its ups and downs just like we have (or will). Perhaps her most poignant moment is seeing her jealously watch someone who can swim for longer and faster than she can. The mood that results is easy to relate to; we all fear that we won't be able to keep up at some point. We fear age and how that will affect our beauty. We worry that we won't be able to realize our dreams, or that we'll get so absorbed in something else that the time for realizing them will pass us by before we can act upon it. Daisy's life is all about holding on to the fire of life with all of her might, and thrashing about helplessly when she can't find it. She is the realization of all of our fears but, through Benjamin, we are able to realize that there's more to life than that, and that sometimes it's okay to let things go.
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Flaws

Overall, I loved this movie and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. But it isn't all perfection and, with my usual tendency to nitpick, I can't help pointing out how it might have been better.

First of all, the movie is too long. At almost three hours, there reaches a stage where, like in Return of the King, it becomes hard to maintain focus and care about what is going on. Perhaps the fault was in the framing story, in how we receive this tale through a near-death Daisy and her daughter reading Benjamin's diary. This part of the movie wasn't necessarily bad; the daughter discovering Benjamin's letters for her is one of the most heartwarming moments in the story (yes, even I cried a little bit over that one). However, the whole bit about the oncoming hurricane didn't seem necessary or relevant to anything, and that could've been cut. Another idea is taking out one of the people that Benjamin meets; for example, his time with Ngunda Oti (the pygmy) was fairly interesting, but had no lasting impact on the story as a whole. If you've seen the movie before, my guess is you probably don't even remember who that is. But your mileage may vary on this.
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Second, I found the dilemma of whether Benjamin should stay and help Daisy raise their child to be important and dramatic, but not a terribly difficult decision. Again, perhaps this is my own perspective bleeding over my logic, but Benjamin's fear of getting to a point of being unable to parent did not seem enough. They were having a child when Daisy was in her mid-forties; even if Benjamin aged normally there'd still be a concern of either of them getting a disease that comes with age that would make parenting difficult. If a normally aging Benjamin had had a history of Alzheimer's in his family history, would it still be acceptable to abandon his parenting responsibilities like he did?

Part of the problem here for me was that Benjamin returns when their child looks about thirteen, and he still has almost entire control of mental capacity. He could have fathered the child and been a legitimately loving parent until then without problem. Even though he deteriorates relatively fast after that, I think it is reasonable to expect that a supportive, loving daughter and wife would have helped him through it. But, instead of this scenario, we are given one where Benjamin leaves Daisy and basically forces her to find another man ASAP to help her raise the girl. This isn't fair to Daisy. This isn't fair to her new husband (as Daisy will always love Benjamin, and because he's basically only there to raise some other guy's kid). And it isn't fair to the daughter, who is understandably pissed off when Daisy, on her deathbed, reveals that she's actually the child of another man. This is a nitpick, I know, but it didn't seem to follow Benjamin's character to make this decision.
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Conclusion

Altogether, this movie is very much worth seeing if you haven't already, though I advise either a break in the middle or multiple viewing sessions, given the length. It is a movie that will inspire you to spend time working on your dreams. It will give you the warm feeling that even the worst life can throw at you is merely a step on the path to something greater. And it will give you that bug to go exploring, to walk down the narrow creek, to feel the wind on your face, or feel the sand under your feet on a distant shore.