Sunday, June 29, 2008
Banner of the Stars: Initial Thoughts
Still working though the original set of Anime recommendations, next up is Banner of the Stars. Netflix didn't have it in stock, so I had to delay a bit, but I found a cheapo thinpack and bought it. I'm about halfway through the series. Assorted thoughts, comments, questions, and screenshots below.
A few more screenshots and comments below the fold... This is Admiral Abriel, apparently a relation of Lafiel. He shares the distinctive pointy ears of the Abriel family. This screenshot also shows one of the odd features of the animation... namely, that you can see through his hair. Sometimes this is more prominent than others, and it's usually fine, but shots like this are a little odd..
One of the interesting things about SF in general is how little things change. For instance, the Abh apparently salute using only two fingers.
One of the things I like about the series is that strategy and tactics seem to be the focus, rather than just the combat. The series follows Operation Phantom Flame, an offensive by the Abh empire. Here's a screenshot of the general strategy. There's a primary thrust up the middle to attain the main objectives, followed by a pincer movement to pick up other systems along the same path. Apparently, there are allies on the other side of this screen which the main Abh force hopes to hook up with.
The Pincer Movement, diagrammed
As previously mentioned, the music in Galciv II is very similar to the music in this series. As such, I thought it was funny when this screen came up - a screen that is very similar to the graphs in Galciv II. Of course, this is more of a coincidence than anything else (it's not like the Banner folks invented the line graph), but the interfaces are very similar.
That's all for now. Again, more later in the week...
Posted by Mark on June 29, 2008 at 08:58 PM .: link :.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Friday is List Day
Another Friday, another list day.
Random 10: The Guitar Hero Edition
Ok, perhaps not random, but 10 songs from Guitar Hero III that I like
10 Favorite TV/Movie Robots
In honor of WALL·E, here are 10 great movie robots (not necessarily great movies though:P) Ok, I cheated and put some cyborgs on the list. In no particular order:
Posted by Mark on June 27, 2008 at 10:32 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Anathem Music Update
Apparently the advanced reader copies of Neal Stephenson’s new novel Anathem are starting to arrive... along with an unexpected musical accompaniment in the form of a CD. According to Al Billings:
There is a note with it stating that “In order to conform to the practices of the avout, this disc contains music composed for and performed by voices alone.”Interesting. I wonder if this is something that will come with the book once it is released... or if it's just an added bonus for those lucky enough to be selected for an early reviewer book like Al. In any case, Cory Doctorow notes that the music was created by Dave Stutz, a retired Microsoft employee who apparently advocated open source software, but now owns a winery and makes strange music.
And so this Anathem thing gets more and more interesting. September 9 can't get here fast enough! [Thanks to Tombstone for the links]
Posted by Mark on June 25, 2008 at 08:30 PM .: link :.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
70s SF Marathon Awards: The Damn Dirty Apes
Filmspotting finished up their 70s Sci-Fi Movie Marathon by handing out awards, titled The Damn Dirty Apes (in honor of Charlton Heston's contribution to the marathon). I followed along with their marathon, so I figured I might as well give out the awards as well...
Posted by Mark on June 22, 2008 at 01:39 PM .: link :.
Friday, June 20, 2008
The Friday is List Day Caper
It's been a long time since a proper list day, so here's a few lists. First off comes a meme from Aziz that will take the place of the usual random ten songs:
Seven Songs I Am Into Right Now
Top 5 Heist Movies
Top 5 Heist Movies I should Have Seen Before Compiling the Above List
5 More Good Heist Movies I forgot to mention earlier Dog Day Afternoon!), I guess I should stop.
Posted by Mark on June 20, 2008 at 10:27 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
70s SF Marathon: The Man Who Fell To Earth
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed most of the movies from Filmspotting's 70s Sci-Fi Movie Marathon. The one movie from their marathon that I had not yet seen at the time was The Man Who Fell to Earth. I had actually caught parts of this movie before, and to be honest I was not particularly impressed. After watching the whole movie, I can say that my thoughts about it have changed very little.
There are two things I really like about this movie. Unfortunately, they're overshadowed by the rest of the movie. I love the premise: An alien travels to earth to get water for his dying planet. To fund the return trip to his planet, he patents several pieces of his own technology on Earth. He starts a company that quickly grows into one of the largest technology providers on the planet. However, he doesn't account for things like love, television, alcohol or excessively ruthless business competition. Alas, director Nicholas Roeg doesn't seem too interested in the SF portions of the film, instead attempting to delve deeper into the critique of human excesses by portraying the downward spiral of an alien who eventually succumbs to the various pressures of human life. As such, the plot ends up being razor thin and filled with holes. SF stories almost always boil down to basic human dramas, so I don't blame Roeg for being more interested in telling that part of the story, but the movie is quite sloppy with its science (the film is based on a novel, so I'm actually not sure all the blame lies with Roeg). I think Roger Ebert summed it up best in his review with this line: "...there's nothing more frustrating than asking logical questions about a movie that insists on being visionary."
The other thing that really works well in the film is the casting of David Bowie as the alien visitor. His gaunt, androgynous appearance is an eerily perfect fit. His subdued performance is good as well, though as Ebert notes, he "flirts with the catatonic." Supporting roles are somewhat interesting. Candy Clark plays a naive hotel worker who falls for Bowie. This odd relationship starts out very interesting, but progresses awkwardly and doesn't end well. Rip Torn plays a scientist who works for Bowie and eventually figures out what Bowie really is. Buck Henry has an interesting part as the lawyer who runs Bowie's company. His character also appears to be in a gay relationship, but this is only hinted at.
Come to think of it, the entire film is really a series of interesting ideas that are only hinted at - a perfect example of playing obscurity for depth. Some films can get away with this because they require you to piece the story together for yourself, but that didn't work so well for this movie. Roeg tries his best to stylize the movie, and there are indeed a lot of interesting visual shots in the film. He uses cross cutting a lot, though I'd say the editing of the film in general isn't very well done. There is a lot going on in the movie, but none of it seems to fit together very well.
In the end, it's an interesting movie with some good ideas, but I found the execution lacking. Most critics seem to love it even though many acknowledge the complaints I mention above. On the other hand, Kaedrin commenters noted that the film was "BORING" and "extremely tedious," so it's nice to know that I'm not alone. Filmspotting will be handing out their marathon awards on Friday, at which point I'll probably post my own... ** (out of 4)
Posted by Mark on June 18, 2008 at 10:48 PM .: link :.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
One of the cable channels was playing Ocean's Eleven all weekend, and that's one of those movies I always find myself watching when it comes on (this time, I even went to the shelf and fired up the DVD, so as to avoid commercials). Of course, there are tons of new, never-seen-before things I want to watch. My Netflix queue currently has around 140 movies in it (and this seems to be growing with time, despite the rate at which I go through my rentals). I've got a DVD set of Banner of the Stars that I'm only about 1/3 of the way through. My DVR has a couple episodes of the few TV shows I follow queued up for me. Yet I find myself watching Ocean's Eleven for the umpteenth time. And loving every second of it.
In actuality, I've noticed myself doing this sort of thing less and less over the years. When I was younger, I would watch and rewatch certain movies almost daily. There are several movies that have probably moved up into triple digit rewatches (for the curious, the films in this list include The Terminator, Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Phantasm). Others I've only rewatched dozens of times. As time goes on, I find myself less and less likely to rewatch things. I think Netflix has become a big part of that, because I want to get my money's worth from the service, and the only way to do that is to continually watch new movies. In recent years, I've also come to realize that even though I've seen way more movies than the average person, there are still a lot of holes in my film knowledge. I do find myself limited by time these days, so when it comes down to rewatching an old favorite or potentially discovering a new one, I tend to favor the new films these days. But I still relapse (focusing on novelty has its own challenges), and I do find myself rewatching movies on a regular basis.
Why is that? There are some people who never rewatch movies, but even with my declining repeat viewings, I don't count myself among them. Some films almost demand you to watch them again. For instance, I recently watched Andrei Tarkovsky's thoughtful, if difficult, SF film Solaris. This is a film that seems designed to reveal itself only upon multiple viewings. Tarkovsky is somewhat infamous for this sort of thing, and there are a lot of movies out there that are like that. Upon repeated viewings, these films take on added dimensions. You start to notice things. Correlations, strange relationships, and references become more apparent.
Other films, however, are just a lot of fun to rewatch. This raises a lot of interesting questions. Why is a movie fun even when we know the ending? Indeed, why do some reviewers even include a rating for rewatchability? In some cases we just like spending time with certain characters or settings and don't mind that we already know the outcome. I've made a distinction between these films and the ones that demand multiple viewings, but many of the same benefits of repeat viewings are mutual between the two types of movies. Rewatching a film can be a richer, deeper experience and you start to notice things you didn't upon first viewing. Indeed, one interesting thing about rewatching movies is that while the movie is the same, you are not. Context matters. Every time we rewatch something, we bring our knowledge and experience (which is always changing) to the table. Sometimes this can be trivial (like noticing a reference or homage you didn't know about), but I've always heard about movies that become more poignant to people after they have children or as they grow older. Similarly, rewatching a movie can transport us back to the context in which we first saw the movie. I still remember the excitement and the spectacle of going to see Batman or Terminator 2 on opening day. Those were fun experiences from my childhood, even if I don't particularly love either movie. Heck, just the thought of how often I used to rewatch some movies is a fun memory that gets brought up whenever I think about those movies today...
There are also a lot of fascinating psychological implications to rewatching movies. As I mentioned before, we sometimes rewatch movies to revisit characters we consider friends or situations we find satisfying. In the case of comedies, we want to laugh. In the case of horror films, we want to scare ourselves or feel suspense. And strangely, even though we know the outcomes of these movies, they still seem to be able to elicit these various emotions as we rewatch them. For movies that depict true stories, they can feature suspense or fear even when we know how the story will turn out. Two recent, high-profile examples of this are United 93 and Zodiac. Both of those films were immersive enough upon first viewing that I felt suspense at various parts of the story, even though I knew on an intellectual level where both films were heading. David Bordwell has explored this concept thoroughly and references several interesting theories as to why rewatching movies remains powerful:
Normally we say that suspense demands an uncertainty about how things will turn out. Watching Hitchcock’s Notorious for the first time, you feel suspense at certain points-when the champagne is running out during the cocktail party, or when Devlin escorts the drugged Alicia out of Sebastian’s house. That’s because, we usually say, you don’t know if the spying couple will succeed in their mission.Here's one theory he covers:
...in general, when we reread a novel or rewatch a film, our cognitive system doesn’t apply its prior knowledge of what will happen. Why? Because our minds evolved to deal with the real world, and there you never know exactly what will happen next. Every situation is unique, and no course of events is literally identical to an earlier one. “Our moment-by-moment processes evolved in response to the brute fact of nonrepetition” (Experiencing Narrative Worlds, 171). Somehow, this assumption that every act is unique became our default for understanding events, even fictional ones we’ve encountered before.He goes into a lot more detail about this theory and others in his post. Several of the theories he covers touch on what I find most interesting about the subject, which is that our brain seems to have compartamentalized the processing of various data. I'm going to simplify drastically for effect here, but I think the general idea is right (I'm not a nuerologist though, so take it with a grain of salt). When processing visual and audio data, there is a part of the brain that is, for lack of a better term, stateless. It picks up a stimulus, immediately renders it (into a visual or audio representation) then shuttles it off to another part of the brain which interprets the output. This interpretation seems to be where our brain slows down. The initial processing is involuntary and unconscious and it doesn't take other data (like memories) into account. We don't have to consciously think about it, it just happens. Something similar happens when we first begin to interpret data. Our brain seems to be unconsciously and continually forming different interpretations and then rejecting most of them. The rejected thoughts are displaced by new alternatives which incorporate more of our knowledge and experience (and perhaps this part happens in a more conscious fashion). We've all had the experience of thinking something that almost immediately disturbed us because we wonder where that thought came from. Bordwell gives a common example (I've read about this exact example at least three times from different people):
Standing at a viewing station on a mountaintop, safe behind the railing, I can look down and feel fear. I don’t really believe I’ll fall. If I did, I would back away fast. I imagine I’m going to fall; perhaps I even picture myself plunging into the void and, a la Björk, slamming against the rocks at the bottom. Just the thought of it makes my palms clammy on the rail.So perhaps one reason it doesn't matter that we know how a movie will turn out is that there is a part of us that is blindly processing data without incorporating what we already know. Another reason we still feel emotions like suspense during a movie we've seen before is because we can imagine what would happen if it didn't turn out the way we know it will. In both cases, there is a conscious intellectual response which can negate our instinctual thoughts, but such responses seem to happen after the fact (at which point, you've already experienced the emotion in question and can't just take it back). One of the most beautiful things about laughter is that it happens involuntarily. We don't (always) have to think about it, we just do it. Dennis Miller once wrote about this:
The truth is the human sense of humor tends to be barbaric and it has been that way all along. I'm sure on the eve of the nativity when the tall Magi smacked his forehead on the crossbeam while entering the stable, Joseph took a second away from pondering who impregnated his wife and laughed his little carpenter ass off. A sense of humor is exactly that: a sense. Not a fact, not etched in stone, not an empirical math equation but just what the word intones: a sense of what you find funny. And obviously, everybody has a different sense of what's funny. If you need confirmation on that I would remind you that Saved by the Bell recently celebrated the taping of their 100th episode. Oh well, one man's Molier is another man's Screech and you know something thats the way it should be.Indeed, humor generally disappates when you try to explain it. You either get it or you don't.
I could probably go on and on about this, but Bordwell has done an excellent job in his post (there's an interesting bit about mirror neurons, for instance), and unlike me, he's got lots of references. I do find the subject fascinating though, and I began wondering about the impact of people rewatching movies so often. After all, this is a somewhat recent trend we're talking about (not that people didn't rewatch movies before the advent of the VCR and DVD, but that technology has obviously increased the amount of rewatching).
We're living in an on-demand era right now, meaning that we can choose what we want to watch whenever we want (well, we're not quite there yet, but we're moving quickly in that direction). If I want to rewatch Solaris a hundred times and analyze it like the Zapruder film, I'm free to do so (and it might even be a rewarding effort). In the past, things weren't necessarily like that though. James Berardinelli recently wrote about rewatching movies, and he provides some interesting historical context:
30 years ago, if you loved a movie, re-watching it involved patience and hard work. A big Hollywood picture might show up in prime time (ABC regularly aired the James Bond movies on Sunday nights) but smaller/older films were relegated to late night or weekend afternoon showings. Lovers of High Noon (for example) might have to wait a couple of years and religiously check TV listings before being rewarded by its appearance on "The Million Dollar Movie" at 12:30 am some night.Again, this trend has continued, and the degree to which you can program your viewing schedule is ever increasing. Even during the 1980s when I was growing up, I found myself beholden to the broadcast schedules more often than not. Sure I could tape things with a VCR, but I usually found myself browsing the channels looking for something to watch. There was a certain serendipity to discovering movies in those days. I distinctly remember the first time I saw a Spaghetti Western (For a Few Dollars More), getting hooked, and watching a bunch of others (Cinemax was running a series of them that month). The last time I remember something like that happening was about 5-6 years ago when I caught an Italian horror marathon on some cable movie channel. And the only reason I watched that was because I had seen Suspiria before and wanted to watch it again. It was followed by several Mario Bava films that were very interesting. Today, I look back on some of the films I watched in my childhood, even ones I cherished, and I wonder why I ever bothered to watch it in the first place. It was probably becaues nothing else was on. The advent of digital cable has changed things as well because digital cable doesn't encourage blind television surfing. There's a program guide built right in, so you can browse that to find what you want. Unfortunately, that means you could skip right over something you would otherwise like (and that may have caught your eye if you saw a glimpse of it). There's also a lot more to choose from (perhaps leading to a paradox of choice situation).
Of course, there are other ways for film lovers to discover new films they wouldn't otherwise have watched. On a personal level, listening to various film podcasts, especially Filmspotting and All Movie Talk (which is sadly now defunct, though still worth listening to if you love movies), has been incredibly helpful in finding and exploring various genres or eras of film that I had not been acquainted with. One effective technique that Filmspotting has employed is the use of marathons, in which they watch 5-6 movies from a genre or filmmaker they are not particularly familiar with. Of course, this, too, is subject to the whims of listeners - many (including myself) will avoid films that don't have an immediate appeal. Still, I've found myself playing along with several of their marathons and watching movies I don't think I would ever watch on my own.
One interesting film experiment is currently being conducted by a blogger named Matthew Dessem. He wanted to learn more about foreign films and found that the Criterion Collection was an interesting place to start. It contains a good mix of the old, new, foreign, and independent, and it goes in a somewhat random order. He started writing a review for each movie at his blog, The Criterion Contraption. He's about 80 or so movies into the collection, and his reviews are exceptionally good (apparently the product of about 15 hours of work each). In an interview, Dessem explains his reasoning for watching the collection in order and why he writes reviews for each one:
I began writing about the films simply as a way of keeping myself intellectually honest: thinking about how each movie was supposed to work, paying attention to what was effective and what was not. Given the chance to not engage with a difficult film, I'll usually take it, unless I have to come up with something coherent to say about it.Later in the interview, he expands on why he watches the films in the order Criterion put them out:
Mostly, it keeps me honest. If I had the choice to watch the films in any order, I would quickly jump to all the films I most want to see, and never get around to the ones that seem less interesting. That means I'd miss out on a lot of discoveries, which was one of my main goals to begin with. But jumping around from country to country and decade to decade has its own rewards: like any good 21st century citizen, I have a pretty good case of apophenia, so I'll often see connections that don't exist between films.I can definitely see where he's coming from. Looking through the catalog of Criterion, I see a lot of movies that I'd probably skip if I didn't require myself to watch them in order (as it is now, I've seen somewhere around 10% of the movies, and there's no particular order I've gone in - I sorta fell into the trap where I "quickly jump to all the films I most want to see, and never get around to the ones that seem less interesting". Except, of course, I haven't decided to watch all the Criterion Collection movies.) Indeed some of the movies I have seen, I probably wouldn't recommend except in certain circumstances (for example, I wouldn't recommend Equinox to anyone but die-hard horror fans).
However, while there are ways for us film lovers to seek out and expand our knowledge of film, I do wonder about the casual moviegoers. Is the recent trend of remakes (or reimaginings or whatever they call them these days) partially the result of this phenomenon? I wonder how many of the younger generation saw Rob Zombie's limp remake of Halloween and then sought out the brilliant original? That is perhaps too high-profile of an example. How about the original Ocean's Eleven? As it turns out, I have not seen that movie, despite loving the remake. I've added it to my Netflix queue. It rests at position 116 right now, which means I'll probably get to it sometime within the next five years. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to rewatch The Empire Strikes Back. It is my destiny.
Update: Added some screenshots from movies I've watched a bazillion times. Also just want to note that while I spent most of my time talking about movies here, the same goes for books and music. I don't tend to reread books much (perhaps due to the time commitment reading a book takes), but on the other hand, music gets better with multiple listenings (so much so that no one even questions the practice of listening to music multiple times).
Posted by Mark on June 15, 2008 at 08:21 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Screenshots of the Recently Viewed
I'm back from my trip to Vegas, but I'm still a bit out of it, so here are a few screenshots and quick comments from recently viewed movies. I'll leave the titles off if you want to guess, though this isn't really a screenshot game like I've done in the past. The answers are below the fold in the extended entry...
Again, answers and quick comments in the extended entry... Here are the answers:
Posted by Mark on June 11, 2008 at 08:18 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Time is short this week and I will be travelling this weekend so no entry on Sunday (perhaps one on Tuesday when I get back). Anwyay, here are some links to chew on while I'm away:
Posted by Mark on June 04, 2008 at 10:44 PM .: link :.
Sunday, June 01, 2008
'70s SF Movie Marathon
I've been following along with Filmspotting's '70s Science Fiction Marathon. I've followed along with several of their marathons before, and other marathons I've been pretty familiar with before they did their thing, and as marathons go, this one has actually been somewhat disappointing. There's still one movie left in the marathon, but from what I've seen of it, I don't think my opinion will change much. Still, there were some surprises and bright spots here too, and I took the opportunity to check out some other 70s SF movies I'd been wanting to see. Here's the marathon so far:
Posted by Mark on June 01, 2008 at 09:25 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in June 2008.
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2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
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Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
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The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
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