I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

 

listen to my words

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of movies. All amateur, of course. But as soon as I get them converted, I will post them here for your pleasure.

Back to the LEGO!

So I spend the Christmas money from Grandma on LEGOs.

But not just any LEGOs. BACK TO THE FUTURE LEGOS.

20140114_191730

Note that the doors lift and lower and the wheels swivel downward. The only disappointment, which is minor, is the skateboard color. It would have been cool to have a pink one with some sort of clear LEGO brick underneath, to be the hover board. Who knows, maybe we’ll get one in 2015.

20140114_191747

There’s a Mr. Fusion bit up there (removable if you want the version from most of the first movie). The “shiny bar code” license plate can be swapped out for the “OUTATIME” plate. The rims can also be changed out for the red rims used in part III.

20140114_192623

“ONE POINT TWENTY-ONE JIGAWATTS!”

20140114_192652

“This is heavy!”

(The whole point being that you can have happy faces or shocked/worried faces).

20140114_191804

And yes, there’s a flux capacitor. There’s the time circuits too. Set to January 28, 1958 — the date the first LEGO brick was patented, apparently — and October 26, 1985, the date on which the first movie begins.

So, yeah, I’m pleased.

Bad Cinema

So I have been asked what I mean when I say “Bad Cinema.” The thing is, it’s not an easy thing for me to encapsulate any other way. Which is, after all, why I settled on the phrase.

One proposed definition is “movies that are so bad they’re good.” And to be honest, Bad Cinema encompasses a lot of these sorts of movies. Robot Jox is a good example of this. Robot Jox is a B-movie, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the remaining nations (the Soviet Union among them) have agreed that instead of full on wars or weapons of mass destruction, they will settle disputes with what amounts to Ultimate Fighting Championships – between giant robots. There’s no rationale for how on earth societies settle on this, or why they even abide by it. The budget was so low that the props and costumes were made primarily out of bits you’d find in any local Radio Shack.

What did the film have going for it? Well, they managed to avoid wholesale copying of “mecha” style robots. Otherwise… not really anything.

But I like it. So by default, I throw it in the Bad Cinema category.

But that doesn’t work for the main body of what I consider Bad Cinema.

The second simplest way I can put it (since “Bad Cinema” is the first simplest way) is that these are movies that have at least one flash of absolute brilliance in them. Something genuine and real, and almost objectively well done – but that are otherwise so poorly made that they have no chance of commercial or critical success.

Many movies with cult followings fit into this category: Buckaroo Bonzai, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (the camp approach on the last one walks the brilliant line of farcical silliness without ever crossing into just plain stupid, which is the problem with so many spoof movies, including all of Tomatoes’s sequels.

They all have that one piece of inspirational awesomeness that draws certain people who are able to overlook the flaws. Highlander is another example. By all objective measures, the TV series was a better made production. Critics collectively gave the movie a “meh.” If it weren’t for international audiences, the theatrical release would have been a loss for the studio.

All the same, the ideas and the story that lay under the movie were enough to inspire Queen to sit down and write a bunch of songs for it. It launched a multi-film and multi-media franchise. The catch-phrase “There can be only one” is widely known these days. Taken as a whole, it’s not a brilliant achievement. But the component parts of it reveal some wonderful creativity and some powerful ideas that can be truly moving.

Another example: Godzilla (1954). This isn’t what most people think of when they think of great cinema. It’s also an example that initially seems to be arguing against myself. Godzilla was initially panned by critics. But the people disagreed sharply. It broke records for ticket sales. The only reason it didn’t win best picture in the Japanese Academy Awards was because it was up against Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (a fantastic movie by almost any measure).

You know what’s awesome about Godzilla? This is a movie about the horrific accidental result of a nuclear weapons testing – made concrete in the form of a literal giant monster. And the only way to stop it is to create a new kind of weapon of mass destruction and using it on their own territory. And where does it take place? The only country to have had a nuclear weapon used against them – less than ten years after the flight of the Enola Gay. It is powerful that the creators would have the courage to examine the issue that way in the mass media.

Of course, when I talk about Bad Cinema, I don’t mean just the 1954 movie. I’m talking about most of Toho’s output, as well as even the Mathew Broderick version. One of my favorite installments in the franchise is Final Wars, which features … well, pretty much every rubber suit monster Toho ever conceived. And they just keep coming. Also included? A Power Rangers-esque set of super soldiers who do battle with humanoid aliens (who control the monsters) and each other. Good times. It is, essentially, pro wrestling in rubber suits. I think, honestly, it’s that homage to the original that makes it so appealing. It’s not an attempt to recreate the phenomenon. It’s an acknowledgement that giant monsters stomping tiny things is pretty awesome on its own.

So that’s Bad Cinema. I’m not sure if I can reduce it any more than that, other than to cite more movies and explain what I love about them.

Team Meeting, week of 20100802

Some weeks my distraction from the banality that is my life in general and a work meeting in specific becomes thematic. Instead of doodling, this week I did movie quotes. I’m certain that a number of them are off, but since I don’t have any reference… well, you get what you pay for. And it’s free. So without further ado:

more ... not doodly goodness

White-Washing

In The Android’s Dream There is a minor but important character, named Sam, who’s gender is never identified. There are several readers, myself included, who were under the impression that there is a single passage where the masculine pronoun is used to refer to Sam. Since Sam is in a relationship with a less minor character named Harry McClellan (who is clearly identified as male), Sam’s gender could mean something about Harry. Is Harry gay?

In the end it doesn’t matter. Dream‘s author, John Scalzi, realized this and after writing an entire scene without once identifying Sam’s gender, he stopped and thought, “‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, I wonder what sex Sam is,’ and then I thought ‘Hey, I wonder if I can pull off not saying what sex Sam is all the way through the book’.” (This is all according to Scalzi’s blog, I’m not making his reactions up).

I bring this up because of the last thing Scalzi writes in that blog entry: “And then, when you’ve settled the question of ‘What Sex is Sam Berlant?’ to your personal satisfaction, you can ask yourself another question about The Android’s Dream: What color is its hero, Harry Creek?”

Good question. He never describes it. Yet no one even talks about it until Scalzi points it out to you.

Because his skin color is irrelevant.

There’s not issues of racism within the human species. There’s no cultural information important to character or plot or setting. It’s a non-issue.

So we come to what’s brought this up. There’s a lot of complaints going around the Internet (and by “around the Internet” i mean “my friends on Twitter” — I’m too insular to look further than that) about the “white-washing” (ie, the portrayal of characters of varying ethnicities with white actors) of The Last Airbender.

I’ve never watched Avatar, cartoon or movie. So I don’t know how egregious a crime this is.

I will say this. I assume, most of the time, that a character in an anime is Japanese until I’m given reason otherwise. They aren’t big on accurate portrayal of racial characteristics. Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach has orange hair. It’s not just a visual convention, they refer to the color in dialog in the anime. But he’s clearly Japanese. So when someone wants to make a character with big eyes and blue hair, and someone adapts it for the screen and chooses a white actor. Are they really doing much to change the work?

I argue no, with certain obvious exceptions. If the ethnicity of the character comes into play, as a character driving factor, or an element of the plot, or a flavor for the setting. You are making changes to the main work just by changing the skin color of the actor you use, whether you are doing it on purpose or not.

But such is not the case every time it happens. Shakespeare is performed constantly with different colored actors in various roles. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. If you get a white guy to play Othello, on the other hand, you’ve got a play that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My favorite case in point is Ursula LeGuin. She complained noisily when Sci-Fi made a movie of Wizard of Earthsea using a white actor in the lead role. In the Earthsea books, it’s a stated fact that most of the characters have dark skin. LeGuin takes umbrage and claims they make thematic changes to the story by this decision.

But she’s wrong.

Yes, she describes her characters with dark skin. But that’s where it ends. It’s a standard fantasy setting, plus islands. It has no overtones of Polynesian culture or plot. It has no themes of any other race either. In fact, they build castles, which is not something islanders I’ve heard of have ever done. Sure, there were fortresses built in the Caribbean, but they were built by white Europeans.

So what, exactly, is the damage done if a producer chooses a white actor to play Ged?

None, really.

So let me break it down. Am I claiming that “white washing” is a non issue? No. Far from it. The term itself bothers me on many levels for the implications it has. White Washing is especially bad when it is used to eliminate cultural information to make it more marketable. If you’re saying that about a producer, you should be careful. Accusing someone of intentional racism is a serious charge.

But is every time they change a skin color a case of rewriting a work and participating in the suppression of minorities? I don’t think so.

Why it’s possible that some of what I like may be utter crap

So today I got pointed over to Philip Athans’s blog and his brand new willingness to try a romance novel because he recently had the (mis)fortune to accidentally listen to an Andy Gibb song.

On the surface, one would assume that Mr. Athans either suffered a head injury or else the hearing of the succulent voice of Andy Gibb either traumatized his mind or turned him gay. Or possibly both.

But I appreciate Philip’s position (did you see that unprofessional way I switched to his first name? It’s as if I decided, most suddenly, that I wanted to use it instead of something more formal… because that is The Way. I. Roll.)

Now, I should clarify. I don’t know any Andy Gibb songs and I have no desire to learn them. I also still hate Abba and the Bee Gees (“it’s those blasted Bee Gees!”). My wife doesn’t share my opinion. Neither does her family. I have to hide in solitary when we go to family gatherings for fear of being forced into a “Dancing Queen” sing along.

But let me back up. Since Philip used music to introduce it, I’ll use music too.

In seventh grade.. ish… I listened to Top 40 music. I really hadn’t been introduced to anything. Kiss 98 was what played at the swimming pool in the summers when I lived in Nebraska, so I knew Sting singing “Free, Free, set them free” and Tears for Fears singing “Everybody wants to rule the world.” So when we moved I naturally found the top 40 stations. By 9th grade my favorite albums (on tape) were Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla, Heart (the one with “These Dreams”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Up Your Alley, and Cutting Crew’s Broadcast. Though close follow ups were Huey Lewis and the News Sports and the soundtrack for Ghostbusters. Thing is I knew I liked guitar, but, I had no idea what real guitar sounded like. I had an inkling of good bands, but with the possible exception of Joan Jett, none of those are close to the artists’ finest moments (well, maybe Huey is an exception too, but that’s a completely different story). And really, there were better bands out there. Especially with Starship. I mean, technically it was almost the same band that had played at Woodstock. WOODSTOCK. Grace Slick had once told us to “go ask Alice,” a song that resonates through all kinds of different layers socially and musically, and in the one I liked, the lyrics went

Knee deep in the hoopla
Sinking in your face

I mean… what?

(Not that I hate that song, but let’s move on before we talk about why I wasn’t wrong here).

I happened to be a loser. Not quite a nerd, then I would have had science club or AV club friends or something. but more of a Dork. I had… one (ONE. 1. Uno. Einz. 01.) friend in seventh grade. Aaron had been heavily influenced by his almost pothead brothers. He liked metal. Led Zeppelin was the best any music could ever aspire too. Randy Rhodes was brilliant.

I never got fully into his music, though now I’d dig on it a lot more. But he opened my world. By the time I was in tenth grade, I was listening to classic rock and everything else SUCKED.

I have a debt to Aaron for opening the door to music. I never would have found the best of hte best of the best, 99% of the music I adore now, if it hadn’t been for him. Of course, he also stunted me. The classic rock or die thing was his fault too. So I really missed out on some awesome music while it was on the air waves. But still.

Gradually, I learned a bit of other stuff. I made fun of people who like Morrissey, and even though I went through a metal phase (I bought the soundtrack to Shocker… which was a disservice, featuring as it did a lame cover of an Alice Cooper song), I was peer pressured into destroying my tape of Run DMC’s Raisin’ Hell (though I have managed to recover that on LP, a treasured possession now), I disavowed several other things I loved, and I alienated people that could have helped.

In 1990, however, the world fell in love again. We were marching hand in hand (though we didn’t know why), and a brand new record came out. They Might Be Giants brand new album Flood. This album is a work of pure genius. I heard that The Band’s (The Band, not the band They Might Be Giants) Music from Big Pink changed lives. Well, Flood changed mine.

Suddenly, music didn’t have to be 20 years old to be any good. (In truth, I had adapted that rule. I couldn’t like Clapton’s Journeyman otherwise. But it was something like, 20 years old, or by someone who was recording 20 years ago — still lame. It took me years before I finally bought my own copy of Kill Uncle, an album I still adore.

Over the years, my taste has only expanded. I still don’t like country or most gangsta rap (but it most assuredly is all about the Benjamins). But Johnny Cash and the Fat Boys are in my regular rotation. There probably isn’t a genre of western music that isn’t on my iPod. There are some eastern music too, but I have less exposure to that, so I don’t have as much. I can consider a song on its own terms now, instead of assuming that I know what it’s about just because of what radio station it’s on.

A lot of people think they’re open minded because they listen to both country and Top 40. That’s not what I’m talking about. Let me emphasize to you. I will listen to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” followed by P.O.D. doing “Lights Out,” which will then transition to Dynamite Hack’s hilarious early-20th century-esque cover of “Boyz in the Hood.” Followed by MC 900 Foot Jesus doing “The City Sleeps,” Bela Fleck doing “How Can you Face Me Now,” a performance of Holst’s planets, and finish the short burst out with The Ramones. (Oh yes, Joey, I do remember rock’n'roll radio). And yes, I put kids songs in the playlist too.

Thing is… I’m still a snob about it. There is music I hear and then simply Will. Not. Touch. of my own accord ever. And people who like those songs are often as not morons in my head. But I have, at least stopped telling people that. To their faces. Very often.

A similar thing happened to me with movies.

I was into movies, but I was very careful about my reasons for watching a movie. Story was highest on my list. Solid story, then well-acted performances. If I couldn’t justify it, it was kind of a shameful viewing.

Then I realized… it’s OK to watch a movie because it was eye candy. Great special effects, beautiful cinematography, or even just great explosions. Then there came other reasons – Jackie Chan flipping around was suddenly appealing.

These days I enjoy what I call “bad cinema.” A Godzilla movie holds a lot of appeal for me. Not any movie will work, though. A movie has to be trying, at least. Or at least have one great idea. A lot of dumb comedies try to hard to be in your face and absurd. Juvenile. But I like 80s teen movies — John Hughes never talked down to me; he always seemed to know what he was talking about. His characters, even if they could only be properly described as losers, never seemed like a waste of space.

So that brings us back to music. I will listen to Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper. I can put them on a playlist with Bob Dylan and Joe Satriani. Because I listen to each of those for a different reason. Not every song hits me, but if it does, I’ll listen to it more than once.

It’s the same with books, really. Comics, for example. Sturgeon’s law applies. Most of it is horrible, but even a lot of that is still fun to read. And what’s wrong with reading for fun? I have a guilty pleasure I like to indulge — reading Shoujo Manga (Japanese made comics targeted toward a female audience). I love Azamanga Daioh and Gina Biggs is a wonderful writer.

So, yeah, I’m not ready to seriously investigate the romance genre at this time (which, going back to the begining, was Philip’s reason for mentioning Andy Gibb). I reckon, however, it has something it could teach me about writing. There’s a reason romance is so successful. And it’s not because it’s horrible. Horrible it may be, but there’s something there that appeals to people.