Thursday, September 27, 2012

Drive



Drive is one of those movies that you either love or you hate. Unless you're me. I say that because I have multiple friends who loathe this movie. I also have friends who deeply love and appreciate it. I am the weird loner in the middle who nervously looks from one side to another, waiting for the inevitable bloodshed.

Consequently, writing this review was rather difficult for me. After all, how do you construct a post that both praises and rips something apart? Here is my attempt to do so. We'll see how it goes.
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Drive – Tale of the Lonely Hero

Drive, at its essence, reminds me of a cowboy adventure. Not some lighthearted romp where ladies are charmed and villains' pistols are shot out of their hands. There is no Cherokee guide, no friendly bartender at a saloon. This is more the story of the lone wanderer, that troubled soul who, despite a dark past, seeks to escape it by doing good. He is an anti-hero, a guy who makes you wonder how he manages to live his life within a society that he wants almost nothing to do with.

This movie is about a nameless character, known only as the Driver. He has a life that, despite its action-oriented nature, seems ultimately unfulfilled. By day, he is a garage mechanic and stunt double. By night, he serves as a getaway driver for all manner of heists. Yet he has no real friends or family. His apartment is bare, a mere roof and board serving only for him to sleep in. Despite the excitement that you would expect from being involved in the criminal underworld, the Driver seems almost completely detached from it. In fact, his modus operandi is to obtain as much distance as possible from those involved; if his clients do not fit themselves to his timetable, the Driver leaves. He has no personal connection to the heists and only a reserved, tolerant friendship with Shannon, the boss of the garage he works in. He is a man adrift with seemingly no purpose or, well... drive.

Then he meets his neighbor, a shy and quiet woman his own age, Irene. She has a kid; the father is in jail. At first, the Driver is leery of talking to her. But, soon enough, he helps her and, just like that, he is hooked. He finds a quiet rapport with Irene that he can't seem to find anywhere else. They go out driving together, he helps her with groceries. It seems he has found his purpose. But then her husband comes back, released from prison. The Driver's idyllic time with Irene is endangered, first by the suspicions of the husband, then by his links with the criminal element.

*SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT*
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Observations

Drive proves to be an incredibly effective movie at maintaining a certain tone. The atmosphere is very, very withdrawn. To the point of almost being surreal, everything that happens has a backdrop that is somber, at times with energy seething below the surface. In essence, it is a mirror of the personality of the Driver himself. Everything contributes to this artistic goal; the soundtrack is eerie and ethereal, the Driver's mode is to almost always be in complete and exacting control of himself, and the filming seems, at times, almost exclusively in one slow motion or another. When it succeeds, we are enchanted and drawn irresistibly to what is happening on screen.

Taken altogether, Drive gives us a story of one man's effort to be the white knight, even when the suit just doesn't fit him. On one level, we are frustrated he would even try; he is obviously attracted to a married woman and gets increasingly involved in bonding with her, despite there being no payoff for him. Even when the husband returns and it becomes clear that the Driver's future with this woman can never be, the Driver still puts himself out there for her. It gets to the point where we realize that he is making a mistake; the Driver is either going to cause some inappropriate rift in Irene's family or he will be shut out entirely.

But, similarly, we see the intense connection between the two and we can't help but powerfully empathize with the Driver's desire to help. As events transpire, it seems that the Driver is the only one capable of doing so. Yet, simultaneously, everything that the Driver does seems to put everyone into increasing danger. In the end, the Driver sees how massively he has failed and realizes that he must sever himself from Irene completely in order to end the threat, even if it means losing his life in the process. The Driver thus becomes the embodiment of a tragic hero, doomed to never get what he yearns for but sacrificing himself for it nonetheless.
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This path is given further resonance with how the Driver's stoic personality is tested to its limits. Through one intensely grotesque scene after another, we see how the man barely seems to be holding it together. Underneath that incredibly reserved demeanor is someone who clearly has decades of pent-up rage; we can only speculate whether it is rage directed at the world, at the obstacles faced throughout his life, or at himself. It is a side of him that he does his best to hide carefully from Irene and inevitably fails in doing so. This is embodied in the fact that, when he is putting forth his best image for Irene, things tend to be in slow motion. By contrast, his most vicious side is almost always embodied in real-time. It is an illustration that one part of him is living a fantasy, and the other is the cold, hard reality.

It is hard not to relate to this. Though (hopefully!) none of us would brutalize people if pushed to the limit, we all can understand the desire to shape ourselves into the best we can be for the people we care for or seek to impress. At some point in our lives, despite what society tells us about 'just being yourself,' we try and inevitably fail to make ourselves appear to be more attractive to someone else. The experience of the Driver is an extreme case of this human tendency, but it still is able to resonate nonetheless.
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Alternative Interpretation:
Drive – Creepy Masochistic Stalker Bores the Audience and then Freaks It Out

On the flip side, I can see how some could look at this movie as being hopelessly boring and then turning into a disgusting gore fest. It is worth noting that the events of the movie itself conspire to try and make the viewer restless; by showing us the early mundane life of the Driver with such a tone as described above, the movie's creators try to instill into us unsettled energy seething just below the surface, the same energy and darker side that the Driver tries to keep hidden from Irene. The fact of the matter is that the Driver's life is ridiculously uninteresting. A popular criticism of the movie is that, for a hundred minute-long movie about a getaway stuntman driver, we only get maybe eight minutes of car chases. Fair enough. It's like making a movie about a super-spy and then spending the majority of it on some irrelevant romance in the countryside. Drive misrepresents itself in this; the introduction is a high-tension cat-and-mouse escape from the police while the rest of the movie is essentially a slow character study.

Another criticism is that the romance between the Driver and Irene is both unrealistic and rather creepy. What married woman in her right mind would befriend a suspiciously silent stranger, a guy who spends the majority of his time staring at her instead of talking, whose only career description is that 'he drives'? Not to mention that she does this in a high-crime neighborhood while her husband is away in prison. It's also worth pointing out that their relationship isn't even honest; the Driver never fully reveals his background in crime, and neither of them say anything about what they expect from one another. It is an ephemeral relationship based on almost nothing but what they imagine the other to be.
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This criticism is completely fair. I would say that the relationship's validity is based on your ability or willingness to fill in the blanks. Alternatively, I could say that the unworkable nature of the relationship is part of what makes the Driver a tragic hero and the movie itself into a tragedy. It could go either way.

The last criticism is that this movie whiplashes from a romance to a gory crime drama halfway through. I'm totally with this, but I also understand why this decision was made. It goes back to the Driver's personality. The caring side that we see throughout the first half of the movie is the mask that he wants to wear and adopt for his own. But the brutal side is his reality, and it asserts itself over time, much like how the movie gets more and more violent as the minutes pass. On paper, it's brilliant. Watching it is more of a mixed bag, however. All the violent scenes are crazy violent. The drama surrounding the crimelord is watchable, but not gripping. The character of Nino, the foul-mouthed and dull second-in-command, is completely uninteresting. Thus the criminal underworld that we see merely becomes a device to push the Driver over the edge of what he can withstand.
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Conclusion

All in all, I obviously find Drive to be a very interesting movie. I can't say it is great. It has flaws, and a decent segment of it is rather unbelievable. But I have to admire it for how completely it devotes itself to the story it wants to tell. Soundtrack, cinematography, acting, filming, character development... All of these things are subservient to the overall vision of what the director wants to create. For that, at least, it is worth seeing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Valentine's Day (2010)

by DionysusPsyche


When the trailer first came out for Valentine's Day, I did what most people in America did. "Oh gooooood, another romantic comedy."

In a lot of ways, I wasn't wrong. It stars an ensemble cast that probably did a promo for movie theatres across the country to entice audiences to come out in mass to go see the movie despite hesitations. In fact, I'm 90% sure I sat through that promo and groaned to whomever I witnessed it with.

For a brief moment, I considered seeing it in theatres. I'm glad I didn't. There are some depressing parts, and watching it on V-day would've been kind of sad.

When one purchases/rents/etc. this film for the first time, they are signing a contract. Said contract dictates that stereotypical moments or even so-common-to-comedy-it's-drained-the-funny-out instances in this movie will be expected. They are expected, and they do happen. I don't want you to get any false ideas up front.

Were I not a willing participant, I would not have rented a film that looks like the multiplicity of romantic comedies. I planned on half watching it and doing other stuff at the same time.

I should've expected that the ensemble cast would dictate that the characters that all live in Los Angeles (angels, cupid, anyone?) would cross paths. How could they not? I'm naive sometimes, so it wasn't something I expected, since there was as little information about the film available even in the promos--although I know they said it and I missed it. It was mainly just actors talking about Valentine's Day and the roles it plays in people's lives whether they want it there or not. Below is a list of the usual suspects.

The Romantic- Person who loves the day. Absorbs the day, lives the day, etc. Is the definition of cutesy and romantic.

The Skeptic- Individual who hates Valentine's Day. Doesn't consider it a "real" holiday. Resents its existence.

The One Who Forgot- "Oh noooooo, I'm in a relationship, and I completely spaced the same day every year and basically only holiday (minus President's Day, and Groundhog Day) that comes that month!" Certainly the only holiday that month you buy a card for (unless you're a groundhog, and I'm pretty sure they don't buy cards for each other since they're either blinded by or hiding from the spotlight).

Those are the main three I anticipated, and of course I knew First Time Love would be on there as well. Yet, despite trying to guess all the right ways I'd come to anticipate a movie like this, it still threw me curve balls. Not a lot. Not enough to convince a hater of romantic comedies to see it. However, for those who are on the fence about Valentine's Day, this movie was entertaining. Will I ever watch it again? Probably not. But it was more Love Actually than Licensed to Wed.

Conclusion
For what it's worth, I liked this film. I would recommend it to others. Redbox this one or borrow it from your local library. I think there was one most surprising anticipated get together that I saw in the trailers that just didn't happen. I won't say what it was, but what I will say is that this movie, not unlike the real holiday is what it is. The few parts of the movie I didn't see coming, were by far the best gifts the film had to offer. I wish it had been more unpredictable like that, but I still enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

50 Shades of Grey

by DionysusPsyche

Oh look, a noose from which to hang myself...nope, just a picture

According to Business Insider, this best-seller for 10 weeks in a row is beating all kinds of records. Number of copies sold by week, money dropped to secure film rights, etc. This series, based on Twilight fan fiction by E.L James, has had book stores and grocery stores selling out of the copies. What actually made me want to read it, however, was a review spouting how terrible it was (I'm posting it, but not quite yet). Unsure who to believe, I found the novel cheaper than I could pass up, so I snatched it up and took it home. It didn't take long to figure out who's side more accurately reflected my own. Below, I will try to be as objective as possible, even though it may seem otherwise.

Anastasia Steele is a clutzy, no self-esteem, bozo who has never liked a guy, kissed a guy, or held hands with a guy (I'm speaking off the cuff, and that last part was definitely part Back to the Future line, but no, I'm not exaggerating). That would make her eleven years old in human years (tops unless she's asexual, which she's not), but according to the novel, she's graduating college (still not entirely sure how or why). When her roommate, Kate, takes ill, Ana willingly interviews the mysterious Christian Grey, an intimidating entrepreneur and philanthropist, who is an alumni of their university. After making a horrible first impression, Ana falls into a topsy turvy "relationship" with Chrisian.

I've had my share of fantasy novels, where I've had to suspend my belief (to clarify, a genre combined with sci-fi, not to be confused with erotica which the novel is, sort of, "not until chapter ____!" claimed one fan). I've read bad writing, created bad writing, and attempted to edit bad writing. I've read it, and I've come to the assumption that this novel was never actually edited (I can only assume the editor died of disgust). This one takes the shit disguised as cake cake. The characters are completely unbelievable--ridiculous, cliche to the point of nausea, and dumber than a bag of...anything, really, just take your pick.

Like this, but less sparkly

On the bright side, the novel is a fast read. Easy, because you already know where it's going. Easy, because this book diluted and dressed up on the freaking best seller list as "literature," goes fast when there's nothing but air between you and the pages and the author's brain. Hard, because it hurts to read it. The foreshadowing screams. The main character is a whiny piece of cardboard that you want to get into a BDSM relationship just so someone will smack her around a little (or a car crash, since they're rarely construed as sexual). The only personality that she displays is one of lacking. She's jealous of her beautiful, smart best friend. She can't understand what Christian would ever see in her, and is continually confused by his interest in her (honey, it's called a stalker). She works at a hardware store, but never describes anything related to this--nor could she be construed as helpful. She has two other men who are interested in her (again, I'm not sure why) whose existence she barely acknowledges. One even sounded fantastic, but Ana can't see him as a "literary hero." Based on her powers of observation and inability to even take a hint, she can't know what that means.

Unlike some of the best books I've read that begin with unforgettable sentences, incredible scenes, and strong, vivacious characters, our heroine begins her story by telling us about how much her hair sucks. If you don't believe me, read it. She follows this by telling us how her roommate got sick (basically on purpose) and is more or less forcing her through charm (whaaat?) to do an interview 3 hours away when the main character is not even a writer at the school's newspaper and has finals *foot stomp.* The book is full of these kinds of oversights, despicable displays of "typical girl stuff" which the author should be ashamed of, unnecessary repetition of descriptions, stupidity on every character's part, and chalk full of stereotypes (weak willed submissive woman meets strong and dominant man for vomit-inducing scenes!).

I would struggle to think of why this book is so popular, but the answer is easy. Sex. One of the creepiest things about this is the audience--housewives. In possibly one of the saddest articles I have ever read (not counting deaths and injury by abuse), women called into SiriusXM radio and told them that they loved how sexually confident Grey is and how he "takes care of" Ana. That's one point of view. Another is that he's a controlling, cold man who's attracted to a woman so stupid that she steps out into the street and almost gets hit by a bicyclist in one of the greenest cities ever. However, things she could learn from a small child could fill up the rest of this review, so I'll say this: ladies, if you want to be turned on by a novel, read one that's not degrading.


Conclusion
A screeching reminder that just because something is popular, does not make it good. Sadly (unless you're a fan of Stephanie Meyers), it even made me appreciate Twilight. Why? Well, this author did fan fiction about it first. She has two kids, and she's in her forties so...why is she doing fan fiction? Secondly, the whiny Bella is a teenager. Teenagers make a lot of stupid decisions.

The number of criticisms I could make about 50 Shades is nearly endless, so instead, I'll let this blogger say them instead. Read 50 Shades of Grey at your own curiosity and horror, if you want to lose faith in humanity, are looking to lower brain cells without doing drugs, or if your normal porn is getting too real or is stuck between the mattress and the wall. If you haven't practiced rolling your eyes lately or want some more expensive toilet paper than necessary, this book is definitely for you (or if you end up hating it after you finish it).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Voice: Season 3


By DionysusPsyche

Kick off this year for Season 3 was intense. I don't mean that the stakes felt higher. I mean, I felt like there were more episodes this time than there were last year. Maybe that's because last year was my virgin/honeymoon period with the show. Second season aired right after the Superbowl, which was good because my place, like tons of homes across the U.S., we left our tv on in a post-food/football exhausted stupor. This year, there were 3 episodes, Monday through Wednesday where Round 1 consists of the judges choosing and fighting over singers to have them on their teams.

Reality TV
There's nothing particularly real about any show, except the illusion that its actually happening. There are a set of people that will never watch The Voice because they avoid reality tv. That's all right. Audiences watch the same shows for different reasons or for varying levels of the same reasons. I primarily watch this for the judges and their amusing relationships with each other and their team. Someone else I know mostly views it for the singing, and another loves the drama the best. It's impossible to watch reality television without some shaudenfreude, and appreciation in one form or another for pettiness on the show is what drives this type of programming. It's less about the activity and more about how the action and emotions in it are mixed like a blender.

The Coaches
You probably know, but I'll tell you anyway.

Christina
Stats: Used to be on The Mickey Mouse Club with Brittney Spears and Justin Timberlake and was part of the late 90's pop scene. She still makes albums and cameos in movies.
Preferences for up-and-comers: People who can belt it out, and tends to look for ultimate star power potential.
Dislikes: When talent rivals her own in a different venue. People who can't hit high notes. Tries to be the Paula but doesn't quite pull it off as she's considerably patronizing.
Last year's defining moment: Fighting with Adam. Trying to break Chris Mann out of his classic training to become mainstream.
Known for: Of all the judges, Christina tries the hardest to get team members and because of her notoriety has the easiest time getting picked by them. Extremely competitive. Almost wardrobe malfunctions of the mammory variety. Has weird hats that rival Cee Lo's.

Cee Lo
Stats: Half of the Gnarles Barkley/Danger Mouse group, has his own solo album, and produces other music he views as worthy.
Preferences for up-and-comers: Unique voices that he can help mold and grow (Cee lo picks those who are interesting and require the most guidance).
Dislikes: The status quo and drama
Last year's defining moment: Transforming Juliet Simms, and almost winning the Voice last year.
Known for:
More than any of his peers, Cee lo really tries to find a musical blending of what he can offer and his talent's particular voice. Is probably the most eclectic of the group. Outfits, toupees, and onstage pets that tweet and get the audience amused

Blake
Stats: A Texas born country singer, his first big hit was in 2001 with the song “Austin.” Married to Miranda Lambert.
Preferences for up-and-comers: Spunk. If they sing country or really interesting rock, he tries to nab them. Also hot chicks.
Dislikes: When possible singers pick Adam over him.
Last year's defining moment: When his team member, Jermaine Paul won the title of The Voice for season 2.
Known for: Drinking on stage, awesome one-liners (sometimes a back and forth dual with Adam), and his husky accent. Definitely one of the funnier coaches. Plays off Christina and especially Adam.

Adam
Stats: Part of Maroon 5, and after regrouping and renaming, released their debut album in 2002. Probably the second most famous of the group.
Preferences for up-and-comers: Talented—someone who he could tour with (one of the members from his team last year was on tour with him this past summer)
Dislikes: Singers' inability to optimize their voice and pick songs that work for them.
Last year's defining moment: Picking former Mickey Mouse Club star, Tony Luca, for his team (which angered Christina). Upon her criticism of Luca, Adam talked Luca into singing “Baby One More Time” by Christina's rival Brittney Spears' to show off his talent and to make her even more annoyed.
Known for: Sense of humor and using it to push buttons of the other judges. His ability to articulate what did and didn't work for someone in the song of their choice. His friendship with Blake.

Going once, Going twice...
There are multiple rounds. In the first, the above mentioned pick their teams then coach them. The next involves the chosen ones battling against each other within their teams where their coach decides the winner, and the last one resides on individual performances. The last round involves home viewership voting—even though the futility of the maxed out website gets the best of us.

The first round is by far my favorite, because to me, the judges fighting over contestants like the last piece of meat at the market is almost more competitive than the people who are actually singing. Less so now that they added an element, one that I'll address in a minute.

Everyone has his/her own sob story where they try to gain audience appeal by sympathy. You get “my parent has/has died from cancer,” “I lost (insert family member here) when I was ___,” and “I was ostracized when I was little.” The stories always end with “music got me through,” which is a backwards, lamer version of VH1's “Behind the Music.” While the potential's background story is fun to guess, the stories themselves are boring/repetitive. Then Carson Daly comes in, pretends to act interested, and then they sing with their family backstage.

What's Happening on The Voice: Week 1 In Review
This year, the coaches can steal talent from other teams. I'm not sure if this is going to be done outright or if coaches are going to have to switch them out NFL style. To be honest, I don't really care, I'll enjoy the surprise.

Cee Lo seems a bit low key this year and doesn't appear to be trying as hard to pick up new artists. Perhaps he's under contract and just wants out? Or is bummed out for not having won the first two years? It's also possible he's staying under the radar for now in order to come out on top later (as in steal the talent he lost out on). He's also changed out his Persian cat, Purrfect, for a pink cockatiel. Or else the cat is taking a rest from fame, possibly holing up in Kitty Rehab.

Christina and Adam seem less competitive this season in the first three episodes than they were this time last year when it got down right uncomfortable. While Christina is staying quiet, her breasts are doing all the talking. Who's job is it to shove them back in her super tight tank top?

There are more country music singers in the first few episodes, and Blake has picked up basically all of them. Which seems weirdly suspicious. While Blake does enjoy a good Southern sound, it's almost like there was a commercial slogan with the words “collect them all” (he did pass on one country singer). He can do the most for them though, and they all know this (Miranda Lambert and Jewel were two of his guest coaches last year).

Carson is upbeat, which was my biggest surprise. Last year you could hear the “this is hell, I couldn't care less” in his voice and lack of facial expressions. Occasionally, he jumped in early with “okay, judges, it's time to make a decision.” They have him backstage with the participants family, and on one occasion, he seemed more jazzed about the performances than the family. He either cut a deal or someone gave him some depression medication, because he's just peppier this time around.

Highlights so far
Adam impersonating Blake.
Adam running around the stage to punch Blake in the arm and then go back to his chair.
Blake moonwalking.
Carson with personality.
Blake tries to convince a contestant to be on his team, because they "both wear vests." No good.

Drinking Game
For you at home who watch, this is the part when I reveal an addition to your normal viewing (or maybe just different rules if you already do this). For those who don't watch but would like to, you can do this too. For those who weren't going to watch (and if so, thanks for continuing to read!) but now are intrigued, here are the rules.

Drink Every Time...

Cee Lo's pet of choice appears with him
Christina almost falls out of her clothes
A coach impersonates another coach
One of the contestants cries
This is The Voice!” is announced
A judge chooses Carson (spoiler alert: Carson doesn't sing. If for some reason he does, drink twice)
Blake points to himself
The judges perform together (note: NOT with their team)
Our reporter uses the word “trending”
A coach says they weren't “feeling it”
Adam makes a joke or he and Blake reference their love for each other
Someone says that Blake has been drinking (drink twice if this person is Blake)
Anyone sings an Adele song

Warning! If you're going to play this drinking game, do so at your own risk. No blame should be exacted on the writers of this blog for any alcohol poisoning or repurcussions for an absence at work due to a hangover.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Guild Wars 2

Written by Joe the Revelator



In the beginning, there was World of Warcraft, and like the Borg it swept the world assimilating all. Students grew fat and acne-scarred playing 14 hours a day. Men lost their jobs and girlfriends. Old gamers lost whatever shreds of dignity remained to them. And somewhere in China, a new occupation grew to support families, and eventually small fishing villages; an activity known as "Gold Farming".

Then came the unavoidable WoW clones that offered similar MMORPG experiences without the monthly pay-to-play charges. But lacking the budget to employ a small army of developers, administrators, and writers, these WoW-alikes were doomed for failure. Eve Online may have dominated the cosmos. But WoW laid claim to inactive imaginations, offering hours of furious level-grinding, social chatting, and troll sexing.

And lo, there emerged a new MMORPG, which offered an eighth of the race/class choice variety at a fraction of the price of WoW. Warcraft had elves, orcs, bull-men and undead men, and everything in between. Guild Wars had hulking men in armor with so little variety from warrior-to-warrior they may as well have been Storm Troopers. And Guild Wars had mages (every other class was a varient of the mage concept) in bikini's, and bikini-like chainmail.

But Guild Wars was cheap. It provided hours of faction-based fighting and fantasy realms with only one payment of 60 bucks, plus an additional 30-or-so for each expansion. Their innovative server-cluster design allowed players to engage in a level or zone with three to seven of their friends. Or three to seven halfwit NPC mercenaries, if you'd already lost your friends to the WoW hivemind. It was good, mostly-clean fun, and it didn't require you to be logged in for the entire day.



Like sands in the hourglass...

Nowadays, WoW is looking a bit weathered graphically compared to newer games, and the online population consists of Chinese gold farmers and diehard players, who have grown so immense since WoW's release that they couldn't physically walk away from the game if they tried. Guild Wars, on the other hand, is just passing its RPG midlife-crisis. To keep it "fresh" they added everything under the sun to entice players into staying until the release of the sequel. Last time I logged in, the mob in town looked like a comic-con if the nerds were edgy enough to start taking serious mind-altering drugs. Ghosts disco-danced with short-skirted anime girls. There were robots, zombies, and the occasional player who was actually trying to fight the evil forces of...whatever.

Guild Wars 2 has done away with that old pesky innovation. Instead they've looked at every other MMORPG on the market and tried to blend the positive aspects of each. From the menu systems to crafting, combat, and skill bars that change with the weapons you are wielding. Even the quest system is borrowed. You can literally point to which older RPG model they've ripped off, and where they've implemented it.



Big people. Dog people. And rats.

Having said that, on the surface Guild Wars 2 is a free-roaming MMORPG, wherein explorable areas and towns are open to everyone simultaneously, and PvP is extremely limited. Nobody can run up behind you at level 1 and carve a charm bracelet out of your spine with a level 80 axe. Nor can you hog a low-level zone once you've achieved the powers of a Greek god. Zones are scaled, effectively knocking you back down to the level of the town/battlefield you've entered.

The races you can choose from are the Charr; big non-specific animal men who've recently escaped from the Island of Dr. Moreau. The Azura; blue chiwawa-rat hybrids. Plant people, aka Sylvari. Boring old humans. Or bigger humans, aka Norn. But in the end your pick of race is pointless, since the class will determine all your stats and skills anyway. A 12-inch tall Azura warrior has just as much oomph behind his swing as a 6-foot 300 pound were-tiger.

Class: I won't go into the classes. They're the same as Guild Wars. You're a warrior or a mage-ish caster. There are, however, black powder guns in the game now. And a new class has been imported from Team Fortress; The Engineer. And yes, they come with turrets.



Ban - The God of GW2

Before giving GW2 a thumbs up, I will throw out one caveat. The Guild Wars 2 staff is very liberal with the "Ban" button. The need to keep gold farmers, hackers, and exploiters to a minimum has left them with itchy trigger fingers. And perhaps rightfully so. Many websites are claiming recent games with gold-driven economies are being ruined by hackers. Just do a Google search for "D3" and "Hackers" and you'll be buried under an avalanche of sweaty nerd complaints. Even a site like Forbes has an article on hackers taking advantage of real-money auctions in rpg's.

My advice if you choose to play GW2 or any upcoming MMORPG's, is to be prepared. If the game offers an authenticator; a device or service that checks for a code or sends you an email when people try to log in under your name, get one. Keep all boxes and receipts that the game came with. Use complex passwords (numbers and letters). And be prepared to appeal any ban on your account that isn't justified. Most games have appeal-ticket system, so you can automatically ask why you're being punished when your barbarian gets a pinkslip. But if the ticket doesn't work for you, or you're not offered one, or you're fresh out of gold cougarans to bribe the administrators, you can always shoot them an email through the "contact us" section. Simply write the department you're trying to reach in the "subject" box and most of the time they'll be forwarded to the right person.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Book Thief (2005)

by DionysusPsyche

Books, books, books
As an elementary school and junior high student, I read a handful of unforgettable books. They not only gave adolescents across the board literary heroes their age to admire, but transformed and hopefully imprinted the history on the minds who read them. The books were based on actual events and sturdied by strong roots they were tied to (minus the non-fictional account which was also important which I will mention by name shortly).

Every few years though, it felt like we went back to one particular point in history—a horrific and saddening series of years that everyone, most of all teachers of young children, thought were important lessons to learn. After all, ages ten through fourteen can be the sweetest or the cruelest years of all.

A Book About Someone Who Loves Books
The Book Thief revolves around a little girl who is present during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and what it meant for her and others, like The Diary of Anne Frank or Number the Stars. The book doesn't hit you over the head with facts (although it didn't obscure them either), and you don't need to know much about the war in order to read and enjoy the story. Although it's a good idea to prepare yourself.

The narrator is the most apt and unusual one I've come across so far—it is told by Death. By the time he tells the story, it is many years past the war. Yet, he remembers it accurately—how could he forget? Death is weary, reluctant, and knows no rest. He's collected many, many souls, and he is not a narrator who enjoys his life's work, although he tries to do right by it. Claiming he is always in “the right place at the right time,” Death has, like those he takes with him, been dealt a hand to play. When he first comes across the book thief, otherwise known as Liesel, he is intrigued.

Upon first learning the truth about the narrator, I was hesitant to continue. It's disturbing when the voice of your novel is the ultimate fear, and when the time is 1930's Germany, it is obvious he is going to be an integral part of it. He's not the side character as is the voice in The Great Gatsby or someone you can initially write off like Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.Yet, I wanted to see where he was going with this, and thankfully I did. There may be solemn and depressing moments, but the happy ones and the optimistism that comes out was one worth reading and waiting for.

A piece of what draws you in is the fact that Death drops hints and not-so-veiled spoilers about what will happen, but the reader doesn't know when and how these things will take place. Hence, each chapter brings a quicker heartbeat and even segments that begin benignly and beautifully carry an air of apprehension, which must have been what it was like living back then.

Characters
Liesel, like the story teller, has seen a rough life. She's adopted just after watching her brother die in her arms. She's scared, sad, and confused. Throughout the novel, as things become worse for Germany and Liesel's family, she, like any young girl, comes into her own. As a child, when things are off, one has the sense that something is wrong, but not how or why. This is how Liesel feels at the beginning, but by the end of the novel, she has a clearer sense of what is right, what is wrong, and what lines can be blurred due to the state of the country.

Fortunately, she has some wonderful people in her life that play significant roles in making her the woman she becomes. Her father, Hans Hubermann, is an upstanding, gentle, and joking painter who plays the accordian. He also teaches Liesel how to read. I loved Hans, and from the moment he's introduced, I knew that he's going to be for Liesel what Atticus Finch is for Scout.

Despite their poor existence, her father rarely has work and her mother does laundry for a select few of the richer folks in town, Hans tries to give Liesel a better life. He soothes her nightmares, he hugs her, he sells his cigarettes (one of his few wordly pleasures) to buy her Christmas presents. Hans is everything a father should be, and he's also one hell of a friend and employee, cheering up those around him, making wise cracks, helping out those less fortunate to create a better world.

Hans' one shortcoming in the book makes him a hero in ours—he is not a follower of the Gestapo nor a member of the Nazi party. Hans is the first person we meet in the book who is a non-conformist, and during that time period, it was not only popular in Germany to be pro-Hitler, but it was dangerous if you weren't. Hans attempts to hide his beliefs and keep his opinions to himself recognizing the problems it could cause for his family. Yet, because he's such an upstanding person, his true colors shine through to those who know him, and it causes rifts.

But my favorite person is Liesel's best friend and neighbor, Rudy Steiner. In many ways, Rudy is a younger, brighter, more boisterous and exuberant version of Liesel's father. Except Rudy is a little crazy. He's obsessed with the athlete Jesse Owens, loves soccer, and adores Liesel. Constant confidantes, Rudy and Liesel are inseparable and always up to something together—Liesel's always looking for a new book, and Rudy's always hungry. He would do anything for her and does do a great deal.

The Best and the Worst of Us
Because it is a novel aimed at youth, many disconcerting, uncomfortable, and awful daily and historical moments are left out. War does involve perishing, and the narrator reminds us that victims are random. The ones left behind often feel responsible and bad for having escaped it. Guilt and abandonment show up frequently in the novel. However, Liesel's opinion of abandonment shifts slightly as the book, and the war, progresses. She learns that people move through our lives, and a reason for leaving, in certain circumstances, is to protect us. Kindness is also something Liesel gains through bravery of doing the right thing. Of course, she already has some kindness in her, but she borrows some from the friends and family she makes along the way.

Conclusion

Zusak superbly paints his words, and he uses them so well, that The Book Thief may become one of my permanent favorites. I found memorable quotations everywhere without trying, and his characters only improved further along. His writing is comparable to a meal you've been looking forward to, one that will be better, tastier, and something appreciated. First, you'll start to salivate at the idea, then you smell the meal. You take the first bite, and eat voraciously, until you remember that this dinner (or lunch or breakfast) is a priveledge, and then you slow down. Soon, you're full. You sit back and digest, but after a bit, you keep trying to eat again even though it hurts. Even when I put it down, The Book Thief was never far from my mind.

It is a classic to add to the collection of interesting and amazing literature that is essential for not only its timepiece in history, but for the heart. I wouldn't recommend it for very young children, and at times, I found the emotional waters heavy to navigate, even as an adult, or maybe moreso because of adulthood.

However, I think that the audience from that suggestion is wide enough to include anyone who enjoys a whole hearted story of herocism and a reminder that despite all the evil and fear in the world, there are wonderful humans with good intentions.

Lost - Season 5



Okay, maybe it was just the mood I was in, but Lost Season 5 is fucking depressing. Seriously, the only legitimately awesome part was when Miles and Hurley troop around together and comedically muse about time travel and Star Wars. But even that was tarnished by giving Miles daddy issues. Why did you need a fucking dad, Miles? The best damn characters are the characters who don't appear to have fathers who have just sprung up into the world like immaculately conceived island babies. Did we really need to spread MORE father problems around like the goddamn bubonic plague?

Sawyer and Juliet's Downhill Spiral

Yeah, I just wrote about Sawyer in the last season review. I don't care. @#$% you too, buddy.

Have you ever heard Robin Williams' Live on Broadway? He has this one skit where he describes just how masochistic a sport golf is. In the dulcet tones of an inebriated Scotsman, Robin Williams explains how many obstacles there are, and then points out how the flat green at the end is there just to give you hope. And then you go right back where you fucking started, eighteen damn times, until the entire course is finished. He's describing Lost.

After seasons upon seasons of problems and small triumphs, we finally seem to see Sawyer in the clear. He's gone through hell, but he seems to have found happiness with Juliet in a neighborhood full of people who respect and admire him. Sure, they'll all die after a while, but we'll ignore that. Shush. It isn't important.

What is important is that Sawyer and Juliet, unlike any other damn duo outside of Rose and Bernard, have managed to give a collective 'fuck you' to the show itself. Smoke monster? They don't care. Time travel? Whatever, they are happy in their cabin. We have to go back? They're already there, and in the seventies to boot. They are enjoying life, and all the complications that have beset these two characters since their introduction have faded away into quiet happiness.
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Then, because the show's writers HATE US, their idyllic life is shattered. Sawyer manfully tries to respond in a way that both preserves his way of life and saves his friends, but inevitably is unable to keep up. It all is reminiscent of Season 3, where Ben tries constantly to adapt and change in order to keep his little kingdom together, but we care more about Sawyer succeeding. Sawyer's cool. Ben's a prick. Anyways, it gets to the point where shit hits the fan, Sawyer and Juliet are captured, then they are put on a submarine heading back to the real world. But they're cool with this. They can live together out in the seventies, get wacky hairstyles, go help found Microsoft, and be happy. But nooooo. More interference from the other Losties and they're back in the game, like it or no. Juliet essentially breaks up with Sawyer, but they're still going, there's still hope. Then Sawyer is unable to stop Juliet from falling in a hole, breaking countless bones, and hitting a nuclear device with a rock until it explodes in her face.

So much for that happy ending.

Anyways, to try and step back and look at this with greater appraisal and less craziness, Season 5 was effective in convincing me that Sawyer and Juliet were capable of change, and change for the better. Sawyer as a leader is great, and it was stunning to see how, without prompting, he seemed to take the moral route of Jack even when Jack himself refused to. It was like they switched places, and this turnabout was remarkable. Juliet didn't change much, but we were able to gain a better understanding of her character and what makes her awesome. Then, naturally, they killed her to piss me off.
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To offset the tragedy I'm about to dwell on, here's Faraday wearing a tiara.
Sayid, Faraday, and Locke – The Triad of Misery

In a competition as to who goes through the most shit this season, it is genuinely hard to pick. Sayid is such a wreck as to be nearly unrecognizable. Seriously. Gone is the kindly Iraqi guy who is always willing to help out while simultaneously reluctant to become too violent. Instead we have an Arabic James Bond without scruples. I lost count of how many people he randomly killed without warning. At one point he even shoots a kid. Yeah, I know he's supposed to grow up into evil island Machiavelli, but seriously! In flashback-land (or is it flashforward this time around? Who the @#%^ knows?), Ben lets Sayid leave to live his own life after going around assassinating Widmore's peeps. Will he try and atone for what he's done and become a better person like the old Sayid? Hell no. The show won't let him. He's quickly cornered and captured by Ilana and never given the chance. 

But he does manage to kill someone with a dishwasher this season. Gotta admit that was pretty cool.

Poor Daniel Faraday gets it just as bad, but it's even worse with him because Faraday, unlike Sayid, never really does anything bad to provoke us into saying that he might deserve any of it. Sayid kills people. Faraday does everything within his power to help the characters through time travel, and does his utmost to explain it as it happens. But then they give him a love interest. And we can pretty much assume at this goddamn point in time that any newly rising love interest is going to fucking die. Charlotte, while initially a kind-of-annoying Brit, actually turns out almost adorable in the season, making her death even more horrific. When Faraday runs into her in the past when she's a child, the scene is additionally heartbreaking. And, finally, when trying to help the others, he's literally killed by his own mom who basically set him up to die. Now that's cold.

On the bright side, we get another amusing theory behind why Daniel is a bit kooky. Aside from all the electromagnetic radiation of his experiments, we can now point to his mom dicking around a nuclear missile as another possibility.
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This man needs a teddy.
Finally, we have Locke, who is the poster child for writer abuse. Is there any moment where this guy actually achieves something meaningful? Locke is a sad tale of trying again and again, no matter the odds, to realize dreams, and then getting ground down into paste. Yes, he had to die as the catalyst for the other characters to go back to the island. Did it need to feel so hopeless? In retrospect, we understand that it wasn't Jacob speaking to Locke and telling him he needed to die, it was the Smoke Monster/Man in Black. Thus, not only was his death unnecessary, it was downright savage to have everyone dismiss him as thoroughly and utterly as they did. Yes, Locke has done some crazy and bad things. But is that enough to rip up his emotional core and psyche as thoroughly as they did before throwing him to the wolves? Ugh. It's just a pet peeve of mine because I loved Locke so much at the beginning. His death and the events leading up to it are just awful.

But I will say that I consistently find his scene with Walt as one of the most touching and bittersweet of the series. It's like going through your own flashback of Walt and Locke's friendship at the very beginning, and remembering what Locke was like as a total badass druid-like Obi-Wan of the island.
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Conclusion

This season was a good one, don't get me wrong. It wouldn't have elicited such a reaction otherwise. Watching the Dharma Initiative and the characters interact in the 70s is damn fun, and all the background on events that took place on the island was pretty sweet. But holy hell! When you stand back and look at it as a whole, this is one depressing season! Now on to the Jacob/Smoke Monster clusterf***.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts



I have read a great deal about World War II. The only areas of history that I personally know as much about are few in number: ancient Rome, Founding Father-era United States, Napoleonic-era Europe, and the Cold War. Why read about World War II again? Well, I've long believed that World War II, and the events leading up to it, are the reason why the United States has the goals that it has had for the following seventy years to today. From putting ourselves forth as the hero on an international scale to believing in our own exceptionalism as the moral standard for the world to follow, so many things derive from our experience in World War II that it's sometimes hard to find things that don't.

And, really, we can blame all of this on Winston Churchill.

But that's completely tangential to why I'm writing this review. I was attracted to this particular book because it featured a part of WWII history that I had next to no knowledge of. This history follows the lives of the United States Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his family at the time that they lived in Nazi Germany from 1933-1938. I didn't judge the book by its cover, but I did judge it by its title, In the Garden of Beasts. This got me excited to read about the life of an ambassador under siege, in one of the nastiest governments that has ever existed. I wanted to read about how things gradually changed for the worse under Hitler's reign, and I also wanted to see how the ambassador got by, much less survived.
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William Dodd – The Ambassador

For our story, there are two main points of view: William Dodd and his daughter, Martha Dodd.

William Dodd is not the most interesting person I've ever read of. Before becoming ambassador, he was a history professor, mild and well-mannered. We catch up with him in his golden years, his mid-sixties, with his life's goal to finish writing his history of the old American South. For a reason that only rings tragic and ironic at the beginning of our story, Dodd accepted becoming Ambassador to Germany because he thought it would give him enough spare time to finish writing his four-volume magnum opus. Little did he know that he would be far too busy trying to represent democratic values in a nation twisted by Hitler's influence.

Dodd perfectly embodied exactly what you would expect from an introverted history professor-made-American Ambassador. He watched Germany slowly make turn after turn for the worse, he hoped that the people would rise up to overthrow the Nazi regime, and, in his speeches and confrontations with Nazi leaders, he made subtle historical references that called attention to past dictatorships and abuses of power. Because Dodd had to represent the United States' position on Germany (they turned a blind eye to the Nazis for a long time because they were too busy with the Depression), his ability to tell off the Nazis was limited. But I was impressed with how he still was able to, through historical analogies, try again and again to point out that awful and evil regimes are always overthrown, and that the people have the ultimate will and capability to resist the Nazis, if only they would try.

Ultimately, because of the atmosphere of appeasement and the hope that the Nazis would just disappear, Dodd regarded himself as having failed in his position. As he leaves office, the Nazis are preparing to invade Poland. Yet we are still able to see that Dodd gave hope and a limited degree of protection to the people he befriended. And, surprising as it may sound in retrospect, Dodd was one of the only ambassadors and representatives of the U.S. government who saw the Nazis for what they were and, years before it actually happened, predicted that Hitler would cast the world into a second war. For this he was honored later, if not in life.
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Martha Dodd – The Socialite

The oddest thing about Martha Dodd's major inclusion in the book was the fact that she was the only family member aside from William Dodd himself to get much attention. But it's obvious to see why: Martha was a firecracker, one of those women who would enter a high-brow party and turn every head in the room. Her first reaction upon moving to Nazi Germany with her family was to go gaga over all the smart-dressed men in their fine Nazi uniforms, and play her many suitors off against each other. She was incredibly prone to flattery and being the center of attention, a facet of her personality that had her eventually leaping all over the political spectrum as she became interested in one guy after another.

One thing that kept going through my head as I read about Martha was, “How in the hell does her dad let her get away with all this?” It isn't that William Dodd was a bad father in any way, it was more that, as the paramount representative of the United States, the people that Martha chose to involve herself with were just... I don't even know the word. At alternate points in the story, we have her closely involved with the chief of the Gestapo, nearly marrying a Soviet spy, and put forth before Hitler himself as a potential love interest. For a time, she even becomes involved in selling a limited amount of state secrets to the Soviet Union as a spy herself, after she loses faith in the Nazi regime. One of the spy chiefs said, “Martha considers herself a Communist and claims to accept the party program. In reality, she is a typical representative of American bohemia, a sexually decayed woman ready to sleep with any handsome man.” Alternatively, as another spy chief put it, “Martha is a gifted, clever and educated woman, she requires constant control over her behavior.”

Which was the more correct appraisal? Each had grains of truth in them. Martha did indeed get around. But we also connect with her the most, as an intelligent woman who moves to Nazi Germany, excited with the time of change, but gradually becomes disillusioned with the Nazi and then, much later, the Soviet atrocities. Though Martha is more extreme than most examples, she represents that part of us that is constantly seeking some new spark in life, a new mission, and the perfection that seems just around the corner, be it in a new love interest or a new thing to become passionate about. Martha just was not quite as fast as her father in realizing the truth about the Nazis and summarily condemning them. How else does one end up dating the head of the Nazi secret police?
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The Darkening Shadow

Through the eyes of William and Martha Dodd, we watch Germany over the years. Viewing this slow change is the most powerful thing about this book. In order to try and explain, I'm going to start this out with a very nerdy analogy. Bear with me.

In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes Hobbiton and every place west of the Misty Mountains as being fairly happy. There are whispers of some nastiness coming but, to these folk, these are merely rumors created to pass the time and scare youngsters. When the fellowship takes us over the mountains, the feel of those towns were different. Where it was sunny in Rivendell, Lórien seems in a perpetual state of dusk. Fading. Talk of the enemy is more pronounced and believed. But there's still hope. In Rohan, we see that the people are harried. But they are still proud believers, and they trust that victory is a possibility.

Then we go closer to Mordor.

The people of Gondor are drained. Their leader is in despair. The soldiers are far quicker to distrust. Suspicion is everywhere. The rangers are more willing to kill, needing less evidence and provocation to do so. Everyone assumes that this is normal. As we get closer and closer to Mordor, we get this feeling of exhausted finality, that the darkness is something that must be suffered through and accepted.
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In the Garden of Beasts shows us this same sort of slow progression to darkness and fear. The difference here is that it isn't geography and distance, it is the passing of time that gets us closer to the uncomfortable murk. When the Dodds arrive, they go for a walk and enjoy the sights of Germany. They see rolling hills, sunlight dappling on flowers. They get to their new home laughing and in genuine happiness that maybe moving to Germany wasn't so bad. Then things start to slowly change. Some laws come out against Jews but they're relatively minor, so people shift uncomfortably but try to ignore it. Soldiers start marching in the street every so often. You stop to watch, see some few people cheering fanatically. You find it odd and a little bit disturbing, but there's a first time for everything, right? You go home and tell yourself it'll pass.

Then you read news about some people getting assaulted. You start seeing the marches every day. Everyone starts saluting and cheering as they pass by and, if you don't, you get angry stares and veiled whispers. A month later, people who aren't saluting are getting attacked. Cops no longer help, even if they are standing five feet away. The number anti-Jewish laws is rising with astonishing frequency and with ever-increasing harshness. Suddenly, taking a walk around the countryside isn't a pleasant diversion. Instead, you're looking nervously at every shadow, viewing any passerby with fear, and saluting any uniformed soldier as fast as you can, anything to unnoticed. You hate what's happened to the country, but you have to think of yourself and your family. Surely other people can oppose the regime without your help. Right?

This was how change happened. One small step at a time. In the Garden of Beasts captures this perfectly and illustrates why people did not and could not easily oppose Hitler within Germany itself. Things occurred so gradually that Germany became a nightmare bubble within which things were awful, but still seemed normal. To the outside world, it seemed preposterous that the people within Nazi Germany accepted the regime so completely and meekly. But it was a veil that was slowly put on. It got the point where you didn't even truly realize how abnormal things were given the slow progression. Hitler's dominance over the media, preventing the German people from seeing what the outside world was like, only added to this effect.
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Conclusion

This book was really good. I had never seen the inner workings of Nazi Germany and its people before, and learning of it was incredibly illuminating. Similarly, seeing the ambassador try to subtly oppose it was quite interesting. Martha's path from pro-Nazi to pro-Soviet to becoming disillusioned with both was a compelling journey. Lastly, watching Hitler's regime slowly hoodwink the world and its own people was both disturbing and eye-opening.

If you've ever been curious about this part of history, I highly recommend this book to you. Though the subject matter is, y'know, Nazis, it wasn't as depressing as I thought it would be. Instead, it was a combination of having really great pacing, keeping you interested, and being incredibly informative. I was disappointed that it ended when it did. I had hoped that it would go into the life of the ambassador when Nazi Germany actually went to war, but that didn't happen. That was a different ambassador. I suppose I'll have to read another book for that, but I'm not sad I read this one. An unexpectedly great find.

Friday, September 7, 2012

TiMER (2009)

by DionysusPsyche

There are two types of romantics in this world. Those who want to know everything about the one they're going to marry, and those who want to be surprised. While everyone is some conglomeration of the two, there is more distinct separation between them in this sci-fi love story which presents an interesting twist on the modern world.

The Plot is Ticking...
Oona O'Leary (Emma Caulfield, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is part of a family tradition. She, like her sister, brother, and parents have a countdown timer. It is a voluntary technology that can be implanted in your wrist when you turn 14 and counts down to the moment you meet The One. At that moment, the timer will go off, and you will meet your soul mate. It is how the main character's mother and stepfather met, and they zealously carry on the plan.

Oona is about to turn thirty. The timer is set for countdown when both parties have the chip implanted in them and the timer goes off when they meet (it reaches zero the day of, then beeps when they are in close proximity). However, the person meant for Oona hasn't installed the timer yet. So while Oona's step-sister, Steph (Michelle Borth, Hawaii Five-O), knows that she has years until her potential mate, Oona tries to make anyone who becomes her boyfriend get a tracker. She doesn't want to waste any time with the wrong person.

There are instances throughout the film that cause both Oona and Steph to question the Timer and wonder whether they're better off without it. Both women realize that perhaps life was simpler before there was a Timer. Falling in love happens when it's meant to, and the technology to use it creates pressure, frustration, and concern. Neither woman has even fallen in love or felt they have fallen in love on account of the obsession with the Timer and its implications. Why should they dilly dally dating and wrapping themselves up in pointless emotion if they know that person isn't going to ultimately end up with them? The women take opposites approach on the matter, but end up with the same conclusion. Yet, what provokes the change is the insertion of the chip in their fourteen year old brother who finds out on his birthday when precisely he'll meet his future wife.

Themes and Thoughts Raised by the Film
Clocks and timers are used frequently throughout the film, as people are waiting for something, anticipating the future. One of the messages conveyed is that no matter how eager humans are to meet and fall in love, it happens on its own time. Oona even has a dream where she watches a pot and waits for an egg to boil. The film tries to balance between the idea that love is a natural occurrence but is also based on personality, background, education, and mutual interests. The idea that life is a set destination instead of a journey is reassuring and frustrating (depending on the "when") for those waiting on their clocks, but is nerve wracking to those who have already met someone and feel pressure to connect. Furthermore, the mere invention sets obsessed Timers against those without Timers, creating alienation from those without to cave and hand dollar over fist to learn whether they are--or aren't--the One.

One of the questions I had that wasn't addressed was whether or not any of the couples who received the Timer who met their significant others were truly happy. We have two examples for the countdown--Oona and Steph's parents who are happily married--Oona's mom is religious in her belief of the Timer and has an almost matchmaking will about her that I've seldom seen from any movie other than Fiddler on the Roof. The second is a testimonial from a couple in a video who act emotionally awkward around each other despite their words, which makes one wonder if the science behind it is as accurate as it claims to be.

At first, the movie comes off as a stereotype that mainly women are the ones with the timers, the ones who are waiting, and men are more resistant to get them. The men in the movie with timers seem less concerned than the women, but as the movie progresses, the women become more positive that they themselves make the best and worst of their relationships, and they should not hold anything or anyone responsible for knowing better than they do. There is a certain paint-by-numbers, monotony to the Timer's ability, something that sucks all the fun out of the unknown of when. The parents in the film are beyond ecstatic to set up Oona in a predicted, boring fashion. Getting a Timer on a man for Oona's mother is equal to urging her daughter to get married and have children. It is a social commentary on present day and although the world has come quite a way, we're still obsessed with the psychic and the crystal ball.

Another thought raised by the film was whether or not humans are too reliant on technology, marketing, and social pressure to tell them what they do and don't want. In an age where phones are everywhere and tablets  used in class room and work settings are commonplace begs the question, is the wired universe too attached to machinery? Can we not make the decisions necessary to keep our minds on friends, family, and love instead of on devices that evoke worry, disappointment, and anxiety (I'm thinking of Facebook surveys about users being depressed by the lives on their online friends).

Conclusion
I really enjoyed this film. It was different, quirky, and raised questions that typical romances and sci-fi flicks wouldn't normally raise. I love Emma Caulfield, and it's nice to see her in something besides Buffy reruns. Her sister is probably my favorite character in the film, and there is an older gentleman side character that deserves his own film. Definitely worth the time.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lost - Season 4



*SPOILERS EVERYWHERE* Don't read this post if you haven't seen Lost before. This is intended as a retrospective review from someone who has seen the show before, and so will not resonate as well or be particularly revealing for someone who hasn't.
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Sawyer

Sawyer is a character who, while always amusing, is generally predictable. You can always look to him to make up ridiculous nicknames, to show macho bravado, and to flirt incessantly with any woman who looks remotely attractive to him. He's the jerk with the heart of gold, the rogue with a past, the one who refuses to take any dangerous situation seriously. These traits define his character for much of the series, though one can definitely observe a change from think-for-your-selfer to defender of the group, like any good Han Solo.

But what I want to talk about here is how his relationship with Kate seems to change him. From day one, we know that Sawyer has the hots for her, but we're never given much of an impression that he would genuinely change himself in order to get her. Yes, he says that he loves her but, hell, so does everyone else on the island. More seriously, despite what he says in how much he cares for her, you're never really convinced that the two of them hooking up will make him become anything but what he appears to be: a charismatic, happy-go-lucky, independent philanderer.

However, this seems to change subtly in season 4. Presented with the opportunity to finally leave the island, Sawyer tells Kate that he's going to stay. What's more, Sawyer asks Kate to join him, to move in with him, and to make a life on the island together. Given the context, this is tantamount to a marriage proposal. Kate is unable to take the offer seriously, but Sawyer looks as serious as we've ever seen him. When she later spends the night with him halfway through the season, Sawyer is happy as can be, viewing it as her being close to taking up his offer to live together on the island, no matter what others say. But then he discovers that the truth is anything but. In a bittersweet scene, Sawyer tries to reason with Kate about what's bothering her, but fails to reach her (mainly because she's there to spy on Locke's group and has to manufacture an excuse to leave). I found this poignant because, of all people, Sawyer tries to solve a problem just like someone in a marriage or relationship would, by talking about what Kate really wants and how he can factor that into his own point of view.
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Why the change?

This isn't something I really noticed the first time I watched Lost, but Sawyer here genuinely tries to shape himself into something solid and lasting. Faced with the choice of the island or the real world, Sawyer chooses the island and, in that choice, it's as if he's decided to grow up. Instead of going with the flow of things, rejecting to look out for others, and following his own interests, Sawyer embraces as his own those who chose to stay on the island. And he tries to get the one person he truly loves, Kate, to be a part of this with him.

As for why, I think that Sawyer wised up. From conversations with Ben and others, Sawyer can see that what Kate wants is someone who is good at heart, caring, and selfless (like Jack). This shift in his goals and interests, this maturing, is what he believes Kate will stay for, and so he makes that change his number one objective. It's hard not to appreciate how much this says about the depth of his caring for her. It's frankly adorable, like watching a gruff hairy dog that never listens to you suddenly trot up to a cute dog, lick her, and quietly walk along beside her.

Dog analogies aside, I thought the change in Sawyer's character worthy of note. For a character defined by his independence, it was surprising to see him try to stretch as far as he could to sway Kate to spend the rest of her life with him. It doesn't work out for Kate and Sawyer in the end, but it is the first change we see of what results in him becoming a responsible leader of all the others remaining on the island after the main survivors split off.
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Desmond Hume

I actually don't plan on writing much about Desmond himself here so much as I want to point out why it is that he's everyone's favorite character. The funniest part is that the reason for this is because the writers failed. They tried to write him a certain way, but screwed up. The result is to ironically make him better than he would have been if he had 'worked as intended'.

Lost is defined by showing us characters who are inherently flawed. Nobody is perfect. The average character of the show is a person who tries to do good but is prevented from easily doing so by a crippling imperfection, usually deriving from a past experience. Here are some examples:
  • Jack – Great, determined, good leader. Doesn't know when to quit, hates leading, and cries a lot.
  • Locke – Capable, caring. Rejects the status quo if it doesn't have something he is driving towards. Needs lessons in anger management.
  • Jin – Entertaining. Resolved to do the right thing. Occasionally forgets that he can be a good husband.
  • Sayid – Great guy. Has trouble not torturing people.
  • Charlie – Cool dude. Drug addict.
  • Claire – Cute with baby. Unspeakably annoying.
  • Hurley – Adorable heart of the group. Technically useless.
  • Vincent – Dog. Never around.
  • Michael – WAAAAAALT!
I could come up with more, but the point is that every character has at least one clearly negative trait that prevents them from being fully admirable.
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Pictured: Vincent, who tragically never gets his own episode

But what about Desmond? What makes Desmond an exception (and a writing failure) is that the audience is informed that Desmond's weakness is that he is a coward, but he is clearly anything but. There is nothing this guy does that doesn't reek of courage. When Locke flips out because he messed up the hatch, Desmond takes charge and risks his life to save everyone on the island. When Desmond receives visions of Charlie dying, he goes out of his way to stop fate itself from succeeding. When presented with the fact that the love of his life is out in the real world and far away from the island, he does everything within his power to reunite them both while simultaneously saving everyone he can.

Even in moments where we are supposed to view him as a cowardly failure, we see him as anything but. Any scene he has with Charles Widmore is indicative of this; Widmore tells Desmond why he's useless and Desmond stands up to him and refuses to say the same. When Widmore tells Desmond that he isn't worthy of marrying Penny, Desmond completely ignores him. If this is cowardice then how are we supposed to tell when Desmond is being courageous??

This is why I say that the writers failed. Unlike the other characters, whose flaws we can visibly see, we are simply told that Desmond is a coward but not given any actual evidence. It's like George Lucas telling you that Darth Vader is intended to be a super cuddly nice guy and then him putting you in a chair to watch Star Wars for the first time; it just doesn't make sense! Consequently, because Desmond is arguably the only character in the show without a genuine flaw, he becomes everyone's favorite guy, the character you can always root for, with an epic romantic odyssey besides.
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Conclusion

I have less to say about how the overall story of season 4 progressed because it was relatively short and wasn't objectionable. Well, let me correct that: everything that happened on the island was pretty cool. We see Jack's camp versus Locke's camp, the warring factions of Ben's Others versus Widmore's freighter mercenaries, and we start to see interesting manipulations of the island's supernatural side-effects, such as time travel.

By contrast, everything that happens in flash-forwards was a pain in my ass. Seriously, if it had been less of a chore, I might have skipped these scenes. It isn't necessarily because the events within them are uninteresting, it's because the characters themselves moan endlessly about how we should go back to the island, just like I am. This show is based on weird stuff happening on the island, so why the hell are we off it? Flashbacks are one thing, but to have actual plot occur off-island when the real important stuff is what happens on it made it feel like a depressing waste of time. It also features Jack at his most annoying (beardy alcoholic).

On the bright side, I'm really looking forward to season 5 because, flash-forwards aside, I want to see the progression in Sawyer and Juliet (who was ridiculously hard to write about and pin down, if you couldn't tell). More to come soon!