Monday, January 12, 2009

Love in the Time of Cholera

Should be called Chlamydia in the Time of Cholera: World's least romantic book.

Plot summary:

Elderly doctor comes home and tries to catch a parrot in his garden and falls from a ladder and dies.

At the funeral his grieving wife is approached by a former not-lover who immediately proposes and she throws him out.

LONG flashback:

Doctor's wife is a young teen and is spotted through her window by the illegitimate son of a wealthy man (future funereal proposer). Her aunt facilitates their romance of poetic love letters being passed.

Her wealthy former criminal father discovers her clandestine teen romance and takes her away from the city casting out her aunt who dies later in a leper colony.

Girl takes the long trip and intends to marry the boy when she returns from the trip, but when she sees him she realizes that their love was juvenille and asks him to go away.

He falls into an obsessive sulk culminating in countless (hundreds of) sexual encounters bereft of any emotional intimacy, including affairs which ruined the lives of the women, and led to the violent murder of at least one. -Women including those married, widowed, and prostitutes (including women that he effectively turns into prostitutes)-. Rejects any real relationship with any woman to (and I am not making this up) wait for his former sweetheart's husband (maybe 30 when they marry) to die.

Meanwhile the girl is wooed and marries the dapper young doctor that is the toast of the town bringing her father the legitimacy he desires. Though the marriage has its ups and downs, she is generally happy. The boy, now a creepy man stalks her endlessly entering poetry contests in the hopes of winning so that he can hear her (wife of benefactor) say his name again etc. etc.

I assume that these "star crossed lovers" eventually get together at the end of the book, but I am not entirely sure as I couldn't finish this monstrosity of misogynistic claptrap.

Loving someone does not involve keeping diaries explicitly documenting your sexual encounters with numerous other women while you wait for their widowhood.

I don't know much about being in love, but love does not stalk. Love does not pollute themselves with hookers, then hop into bed. Love does not trample countless marriages while waiting for the marital commitment of an uninterested other.

The fact that women have found this book romantic just proves two things:

1. They don't respect themselves.

2. Have no idea what love is.

A part of me hopes that any woman who finds this book romantic is allowed to enjoy a relationship with a narcissistic womanizing obsessive pathetic stalker along the lines of the book. Maybe if they're lucky they can be the heroin of the story who is merely the 300th woman to sleep with him rather than assuming the role of the hookers, women who loved him that he just wanted fuck, or the woman murdered by her husband after stalker-man wrote "this is my pussy" on her. (Ah, romance!)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why I loved Wall –E

I have been continually surprised by people who did not like WALL-E, so for the purposes of thinking critically and analyzing what we watch, here is my quickly thrown together defense of WALL-E.

Setting the means of evaluation
Why we shouldn’t be using normative evaluation: aka thou shalt not compare WALL-E to other films, but judge it by its own merits.

Movies made by the same group or covering similar themes need not be scaled against each other. For example, Schindler’s List and Indiana Jones (I) are two outstanding films made by Steven Spielberg. Both movies feature strong male leads that go outside of the norms of their positions, at risk to themselves, to achieve altruistic ends. Both movies are about Nazi’s. Both movies are undisputedly popular and I think that most people would agree that they are “good”. Can you compare them in terms of overall excellence? Sure, but should you?

Not really.

So instead of arguing if Toy Story is “better” than Monsters Inc., is better than Finding Nemo; or comparing WALL-E to 2001 A Space Odyssey, to Terminator, or An Inconvenient Truth, we need to look at WALL-E as its own work. (Albeit a work in a specific style (specific to a group), with theme’s common to specific types of film, and with homage to certain works.)

Hopefully we can agree that comparing the overall excellence of one film versus another is not the ideal way to analyze a film.

Major Themes
I felt that the themes and their execution in WALL-E were pretty sophisticated. I think that working around a basic set of themes and crafting them throughout is the foundation for a great film. Bellow are some interesting themes that were touched on in WALL-E.

Loneliness/Human contact: There is a lot of imagery of “human” contact. WALL-E’s interest in hand holding bred by his utter loneliness, his pursuit of artifacts not a collection of strange items, but rather an attempt to pursue a relationship with a civilization that no longer exists for him, his ‘friendship’ with the roach.

Likewise on the ship, human contact has all but disappeared as shown most clearly by the children being taught by robots and not their parents and the gliding along on the phone. People on the ship are moving through crowds without curiosity or interest in their fellows. They are not able to properly communicate with other people because their world has been shrunk to the smallest and most easily pursued chunks.

Verbalization/Communication: A big complaint I’ve heard was that there was no talking in the first part of the film. Of course there wasn’t because WALL-E was alone. Just as in I am Legend, Will Smith speaks only to the dog, WALL-E beeps only at the roach. The silence on the planet emphasized that WALL-E was utterly alone, performing his impossible task with no evidence that he would ever be rewarded. The scenes showing the WALL-E grave yard was one of the loneliest and most desolate scenes I’ve ever watched. I found it incredibly moving.

WALL-E’s fear of EVE upon her arrival is over-ridden by his joy at having the possibility of finding another being with whom to interact. WALL-E takes a risk in order to be with another being, and upon meeting EVE, learns how to talk, to communicate with another of his own kind.

Meanwhile on the ship, humans only talk on the phone. It is as though the humans have forgotten how to interact with each other at all. (How often do we see people at social occasions on the phone?) It is only when WALL-E arrives that they learn how to communicate face to face again (ex. John and Mary).

Paying Attention/Self Awareness: In WALL-E the characters have a very limited scope. Robots can only work within their ‘directives’ and doggedly pursue them until they become self aware through WALL-E’s intervention. Humans can only see their phones until WALL-E comes and makes them self-aware.

How self-awareness is brought about:

  1. Knowledge- WALL-E collects treasures. The captain gets just enough knowledge to care.
  2. Love- EVE becomes self-aware when WALL-E violates his directive to pursue her.

People on the ship do not critically examine what they do, they no longer have jobs or any external focus. In short, they are not paying attention. WALL-E brings them out of the reverie and into communication with other people and robots.

Accountability: Something I see in my workplace and also through tutoring is a general lack of accountability. People don’t understand consequences, on a macro or micro level. Kid doesn’t do his homework yet cannot understand why he is failing. Showing all the pieces of garbage both on earth and on the ship shows the viewer that people do not consider their day to day actions and have not learned from their errors.

Similarly, because the humans do nothing for themselves they lose the ability to make decisions in their best interests. Part of being accountable for your actions is also being accountable for your inaction. Not learning the things they need to know to survive without machines left them at the mercy of machines. Like the computer in Logan’s Run or HAL in 2001, the robots are left to make complicated decisions about human welfare that are better made by a human.

Fear of Change/Risk Taking: The captain over-rides Auto after his initial fear of going back to Earth because he recognizes the advantage of independence. WALL-E approaches EVE with the knowledge that she almost certainly blow him up in order to gain the greater enjoyment of having a relationship. EVE over-rides the word of her directive in order to support WALL-E and to follow the ultimate goal of her creators. WALL-E pursues the plant to his own death in order to support EVE’s ultimate goal. All of these characters decide to take scary risks in order to pursue independent thought or relationships.

Things that people found confusing/didn’t like in WALL-E
Here is a short list of things that I have heard people discuss about WALL-E that I find interesting.

Why Hello Dolly: Hello Dolly is an amazing piece of Americana, set in an idealized time and place in America. Hello Dolly says a lot about what we would like to think about America. It also is thematically similar to WALL-E.

Hello Dolly is really three stories in one. The story of an old curmudgeon letting some control go and finding joy in areas beyond money and control. The second story is of a fight for a young woman’s independence from her controlling family. And finally the story of 4 people who take risks in order to find love I a world beyond their normal bounds.

Hello Dolly shows the fear of change, the dangers of control, the importance of risks, and the all consuming desire to find love and family in a group of other people.

Also the music is kicky. What can I say?

Big fat stupid people: We are fat, lazy, and complacent and I think that unless we are intentional in how we live we will become more so. Hey, look down and if you can see your toes, get on a plane and fly to Kansas and start eyeballing the folks there. I’m just saying….

As you can tell in the film, the creators of WALL-E exaggerated these issues for comedic effect. You may have heard of comedy, it is funny.

What is WALL-E? Sci-fi, a kids’ movie, or leftist propaganda: Why do we have to say WALL-E is for kids? Because it is a cartoon without tentacle sex? Because it is made be Pixar and there is nothing offensive in it? I don’t think that we should think of WALL-E in terms of cartoons versus live action , but instead consider the complexity of its themes.

I also don’t see WALL-E as global warming propaganda. WALL-E doesn’t really emphasize the environmental angle; it doesn’t teach us to drive electric cars, recycle, or worry about polar bears. Instead WALL-E shows us what could happen when laziness, isolation, and lack of accountability all come together in the perfect storm.

I feel like WALL-E is very clearly a sci-fi movie; a cautionary tale about what can happen to our society. Its brethren Fahrenheit 451, 2001: a Space Odyssey, Terminator, Blade Runner, Logan’s Run, and Children of Men are all movies that tell stories about unfortunate possible futures. Futures that are not quite what we would choose for ourselves. Each movie has some themes in common, but I find it hard to believe that someone would say that that these movies are unnecessary because they cover the some of the same human fears.

Sci-fi by nature is almost always a parable- just like children’s stories. Isn’t there enough room in both genres for one little movie about how a robot revives the civilization of Earth?

Little things I really enjoyed about WALL-E:

It was freaking hugely cute.
1. WALL-E was adorable. His sounds and the amount of expression available in his body language (chassis language?), eyes (lenses?), and beeps was amazing. A-mazing.
2. The host of other robots. Also adorable. Especially the cleaner bot.
3. Cockroach= cute. If roaches looked like that in real life I would not squish them.

Robot love story? Yes, please. (Bot is lonely, bot meets girl, bot loses girl. Bot sacrifices self for greater good of humanity and the bot he loves.) *sigh*

The humans’ chubby feat? Awesome.

Mary and John discovering each other due to their ability to notice things outside of themselves. The huge empty pools with nobody swimming until Mary John have their revelation.

The animation was fantastic.

Taking big stuff to the final conclusion. Yes, a big gulp is too big. Our cars are too big. Soon our asses will be too big and we will have to fly around like Harkonnen. (hooray)

WALL-E was sci-fi for people who do not know that they like sci-fi and do not think that they like sci-fi, but do.

I really identified with WALL-E. I found myself very sympathetic to the characters and extremely emotionally drawn in.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Over-Thinking Harold and Kumar 2

Last Friday I caught H&K2 with Steve and Addy, and it was very funny. I definitely laughed a lot.

H&K2 escaped the typical problems that sequels commonly face: repetitious jokes, desperate attempts to recapture the magic, ridiculous catch-phrases.

But what H&K2 was missing that H&K1 had down was elegance and growth. H&K1 was a journey of personal discovery. A step towards adulthood and the reminder that adulthood need not be torturous. That we can have our cake and eat it to- we just have to make our own damn cake. H&K2 did not have that growth, probably because the characters had literally just finished their growth.

H&K1 had a more humorous and complex view of race then H&K2 and really explored that theme. H&K2 was a more political film that spent less time touching on racial stereotypes and more time touching on Republican bashing and Kumar’s penis.

H&K2 fell into the greatest trap of movies of its kind; confusing gross with funny. The spunk in the face. The pot bag with a vagina. I could go on at length. I guess they felt that they needed to “push the envelope”, which is fine, but behind the envelope there needs to be a purpose.

H&K1 was incredibly well crafted. Roldy and Kumar, thwarted at every turn, forced to face the stereo types of race, the challenges of being in-between adulthood and childhood, and familial pressures figure some shit out. Every line had punch. Every scene was memorable. It was just elegant.

I liked H&K2, but it could never be my favorite movie. It lacked in the meticulous design and elegant planning that characterized H&K1. It was less anecdotal and more political. Less funny and grosser. The characters failed to learn or grow. In a word it was stagnant.

But it was still funny.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Being kinda disappointed in The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass was visually interesting and did not feel rushed, as I have heard people complain. The little girl was cute and the basic premise really very interesting.

But there was something sour and bitter in the movie. It isn’t simply that it was anti-religious, but that it was vague about the problems between the shady religious group and the regular people, causing it to look like the knee-jerk reaction of a person who believes that religious people are foolish and grasping.

That being said, there were neat effects and was over all satisfactory for a bland little family film for angry atheists. (Wait, that didn’t sound as positive as I meant it to. Oh well.)

(Lengthy parenthetical sidenote: I’m tired of atheists and liberals behaving as though anyone who is conservative or religious is an idiot. I’m sure that they’re tired of conservatives and religious people acting holier than thou, but that is neither here nor there. This film was blatantly anti-religious, rather than anti-corrupt power. And that made me kind of sad. I know that it is based on books that are also anti-religious, but I totally don’t care.)

I enjoyed the strong female figures. I enjoyed polar bear warrior fighting. I enjoyed looking at animals. I didn't enjoy the cliff-hanger ending (no doubt never to be resolved). I didn't enjoy the lack of character development. I didn't like the lack of development about the history of the culture or dust. I think that this movie could have been more, could have been better, but I don't know that I could ever have loved it.

And that is all she wrote.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

[What] The [hell is] Happening

This morning I caught the $6 matinee of The Happening, and I have not yet figured out how to get those $6 back.

Specific complaints about The Happening:
1. Nobody gave a good performance. If Mark Wahlberg had performed this poorly in his first film he'd be in New Mexico doing whip-its in the employee lounge at Target. A good director should be able to coax a good performance out of a potato.

2. The dialogue was so incredibly poorly written. Not only where the actors forced to say stupid shit (ex. At one point Marky decides that they must run faster than wind. Good luck, Tiger, that should be cake.) they also spoke in an incredibly unnatural fashion (cute on West Wing, as West Wing is clever, not cute here.)

3. The music was awful. Both intrusive, and also not good.

4. The wind blowing the trees thing. So cheesy B movie.

5. The incredibly not awesome scene with Marky's high school class. Did any of these people ever attend a high school? Just curious.

6. The lack of funny. The hallmark of a great suspense/monster movie is occasional breaks of wry humor. (Additionally, where were the sub-villians, the yucky (or irritating) people that cuase mini-struggles that Marky should have faced. The ones you kind of hope would kill themselves with their own tie, etc. Creepy old dame does not count.)

7. The treatment of the whole plant scenario. I do not need to know why the scary thing occurs. Frankenstein made a monster and it is OK if I'm fuzzy on how he connected the nerves. Furthermore, how much better would the movie have been if while Marky was blundering through building evidence and creating and discarding hypotheses, we were learning of their validity with cut scenes from news or scientists? Half the fun of suspense movies is knowing something just before the lead finds out.

8. The whole bee thing. You can have bees or you can have trees, but you don't need both. Well shit, why don't you throw in some seas, knees, and keys.

9. Marky as the flawed hero. In order to be a flawed hero, you need to be a hero.

10. Copying one of the worst concepts in the remake of The War of the Worlds by using the plot device of the super religious hermit lady. Why include needless details like this? Something that the most recent remake of I am Legend did really well was bringing the danger to a psychological level. They didn't really even need monsters, they had Will Smith, alone in the world that he destroyed with no hope of ever seeing his family again. In this same way they could have had Marky and his wife and the kid struggling through a world where they would need to protect themselves from themselves.

11. When people don't like to talk about their feelings, they don't spend lots of time talking about how they don't like to talk about feelings. You get me?

12. Lost potential. This movie could have been good, it could have been fantastic. But it wasn't. I've found a lot of criticisms of Shyamalan's work to usually be weak and prejudiced. But this time have at him; this movie was just junk. There was not one remdeamable thing in this film, other than the most basic premise of a land-based red tide causing people to kill themselves. I love Mark Wahlberg, I love Zooey Deschanel, I love these sorts of apocolyptic horror/thrillers. This movie should have been Quiana-nip. I am disgusted.

I should have seen Kung Fu Panda, or The Hulk. Or stayed home and had a nap or mopped.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Over-Thinking Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull.

Let me just start by saying that I loved this movie. I did. It was adorable. If you consider adorable to be a good quality of cinema then there you go. Since I don’t need every movie to be Eastern Promises, that is ok by me.

I loved the outlandish fight scenes; which were really no sillier than other scenes in the previous films. This film, however was extremely cute. They’ve all been cute, but the obvious reveal of The Mother Fuck'n LaBeouf as his son, the late wedding ceremony, the greaser fight; the whole thing was just cute-tastic. That being said, I enjoyed the cute. I do not expect realism from movies about a sexy archaeologist who carries a whip and fights Nazis.

There was something different in the feeling of the movie however, and I think it was the stakes did not seem as high. In previous movies I had felt (not great, but some) anxiety about what was going to happen next. The consequences and steps required to fulfill evil deeds were pretty much laid out for me. Get the book = get the Holy Grail= Immortal Nazis = oh noes! Not so in the current film. Not only did I not know what the Russians would achieve by attaining the skull, for some of the movie, I was a little unclear as to what they were doing in the attempt to return the skull. For example, why were they racing in those cars, sword fighting for the skull, while racing to an unknown destination? I totally did not know, but OMG, you guys, Big Beef was totally kicking ass in his customary manner.

I think another reason I was indifferent was because like a burro under a fat man, I was distracted by carrying the weight of the enormous suspension of disbelief expected in this movie. I know it is crazy to say that ripping out a still beating heart is totally feasible, or that biblical artifacts actually have “magical” powers is more believable than aliens. But for me, the Indiana Jones universe is a universe where religious beliefs are true. It was just too far of a stretch for me to connect aliens to ancient religion to interdimensional flying saucer.

I think the kicker was Harrison Ford’s line about the treasure. The treasure was knowledge. Oh puke.

1. That is so lame. I’m thinking about that song where one group goes to war against another group to steal their treasure, only to find that the treasure is a rock that has the words “Peace on Earth” carved on it. Is there anything more hokey or cliché?

2. Furthermore, that is not what I got out of the whole alien thing. The treasure was not a treasure at all. The reward for returning the alien’s remains is being filled with such knowledge that you die/get transported to another dimension? I’m confused. Did the aliens have something against communism? I mean they’re a hive mind, right? So they should like that, right? Maybe I just didn’t get it. I think that they stretched the whole damn movie just to include the hokey line about knowledge.

However, like I have already stated, I loved this movie...

and it was well worth seeing, if only to see Big Beef riding a hog and playing with a switch blade.