january 05, 2013 04:25pm – in Korea
...was waiting for Zero Dark Thirty to hit theaters!
Now that I've seen Zero Dark Thirty and digested it, I can weigh in on two things.
1. After their pre-release screenings, the critics publicly had it out in the media weeks before the public could weigh in on the quality or the social responsibility of the movie. It was frustrating.
2. Glenn Greenwald called it: "CIA hagiography, pernicious propaganda." His reasoning is that "The film absolutely and unambiguously shows torture as extremely valuable in finding bin Laden." Meanwhile, it seems perfectly possible to me that it was. I don't have access to the truth. Only CIA denials seem to contest the movie's assertion.
But why does saying torture resulted in Bin Laden's death make you a fascist, or socially irresponsible? A global manhunt resulted in his death too. I don't condone global manhunts. Nor the death part.
If your calculus for a justification equates "It worked," with "It was justified," then it seems to me like you're already a fascist.
august 23, 2012 11:47pm – in Korea
The new movie Teddy Bear will pass through American theaters without anyone really noticing. It's subtitled, for one, and when you ask people if they want to see it, they'll assume you're talking about this:
Teddy bear is a Danish movie about a sad body builder. I haven't seen it yet, but I saw and loved Dennis, a short by the same director and actor. I found it while Googling around to see if there was already a movie with that plot because I kind of wanted to write one. There was, and it had been on Youtube for a few years:
(I suggest going to Youtube if you want to watch these embedded videos because this blog isn't wide enough to show them)
This is the trailer for Teddy Bear:
july 19, 2012 03:02pm – in Korea
Daniel Tosh's rape joke stirred up questions like "Is joking about something that triggers people's sensitivities wrong?" And "Can a joke even be wrong?" And "Even if it was wrong, was it funny?" which no one seems to think it was.
(Jen still <3s Tosh)
The whole internet weighed in, and got defensive or flippant, or just cringed and felt conflicted. The Onion knocked it out of the park with their article carrying the headline "Daniel Tosh Chuckles Through Own Violent Rape." Meanwhile, Louis CK is the Pope of Comedy right now, and he weighed in, and I think he did it all wrong. But this one guy getting this one thing wrong matters to me if I'm going to hang onto Louis CK as a public intellectual, which I think maybe I shouldn't do.
This was his tweet when the whole thing was gearing up:
"@danieltosh your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes."
At face value I couldn't be pressed to have a strong opinion about this.
Don't judge yet. Watch the Daily Show clip:
january 24, 2012 09:02am – in Korea
I've just spent a few hours catching up with what's going to happen at Super Bowl XLVI (46). I usually know absolutely nothing about the game going in, this time I want to know absolutely something. Here's a not-very-tongue-in-cheek breakdown of what I learned:
It's going to be The New York Giants against The New England Patriots (Boston). It's happening in Indianapolis on February 5th. The Patriots are favored to win, but it's not a lock by any means. 2007 had a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl in which The Patriots had an otherwise undefeated season, and the Giants won in an upset. Both teams have won 3 Super Bowls, although in recent history, The Patriots have a far better record for making it to the Super Bowl.
(Tom Brady of the "Pats." When you see it...)
Notable person to NFL non-fans Tim Tebow is not on either team. He plays for the Denver Broncos.
-The apparent meme in advertising this year is sex. Companies plan to draw attention to their logos and buzzwords by putting the non-offensive parts of naked women near them. Godaddy, who have always used this tactic are expected to be at the forefront. Godaddy as a company remain a bunch of assholes.
("Do we have your attention? It follows then that you will buy our product.")
-There may be mention of the Joe Paterno controversy/death. Paterno nearly coached The Patriots in the 1970s.
-Kelly Clarkson will sing The National Anthem and Madonna will perform at halftime.
-The game itself as entertainment must compete with a post-season full of surprises. The Patriots' edge and their supposed drive for "revenge" lends it narrative. Neither team has a strong defense, so there is expected to be a lot of "yardage" (running and passing) and possibly a very high score.
-Puppy Bowl VIII on Animal planet will feature a 15 week-old Jack Russell-Pug mix named Raskin, who I'll be rooting for. There will also be a 10 week-old daschund puppy named Calvin. I don't know if they're going to compete with each other.
Noteworthy People (Short version):
Quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady. Coach Bill Belicheck of New England. Something called "Gronk."
Notable People (Long version, for people who actually plan to watch the game):
-Quarterback Eli Manning of the Giants. From a family of football stars including his older brother Peyton Manning. Has won the Super Bowl once and been Super Bowl MVP. Eli Manning is reputed to be merely a good quarterback with a high percentage of errors, though some argue he is a great ("elite") quarterback with a history of inferior receivers.
-Cruz-Nicks. This season, New York has a pair of excellent receivers named Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. They catch the ball often apparently.
-Receiver Mario Manningham of the Giants. Nicks and Cruz are expected to make exciting catches this game. If there are to be any unexpected highlights, a great day for Mario Manningham might be one.
-Quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots. Arguably the "best" player in the NFL, frequently compared to Joe Montana. 3 Superbowl Championships, and many other accolades. Has a close working relationship of 12 years with his coach Bill Belichick. At 34, he is looking to break more records, and leave a mark on the sport. For instance, if the patriots win, he will take the record for playoff victories from Montana with whom he is tied. Belicheck isn't known for relying one particular running back to catch Brady's handoffs, but Danny Woodhead is a player with a funny name, so I expect him to do it.
-Tight End Rob "Gronk" Gronkowski of The Patriots. Gronk is apparently a very effective offensive player and pundits frequently ask if he can be "stopped" or how New York can compete with with someone so "unstoppable." Gronk is half of the Gronk-Hernandez tight end "team," or "two-headed monster," if I understand correctly.
-Linebacker Rob Ninkovich of the Patriots. Ninkovich. As one of few strong defensive players on a team known for weak defense, Ninkovich's tackles might make the game for the Patriots. Ninkovich is a noted beardman which is actually why I'm mentioning him.
There. Now you know. As for me, even though I wrote this I plan to reread it again before watching the actual Bowl itself. I just hope the people around me aren't shouting too much. I hate that. If you know about football and I got anything wrong here, please correct me.
december 21, 2011 06:45am – in Korea
Los Angeles, I know you love dogs, but I'd like to gently persuade you to be a little more fastidious about leashing them.
(Sadly, moments after this picture was taken, Ginger completely skeletonized Mr. Scamps before anything could be done.)
I for one have been attacked by a dog that was ON a leash. I was walking past it, minding my own business and it bit me and I bled. It tried to bite my throat, and then its owner pulled it off me. My friend was bitten by a friend's dog, who was old and confused. My friend had to get stitches. Neither of us called the cops.
I bring up these two examples not to show that dogs are a general threat, but simply to point out that in my anecdotal experience, dog attacks come out of the blue, and then go unreported. This, it seems to me, will seem true if you search your intuition. But in the end, it's my opinion.
(Admittedly, this is not a specially-bred murder machine. It's just an exceptionally large and muscular animal with functioning teeth)
What is not my opinion, though, is that the Los Angeles Municipal Code says going out with your dog off leash is an infraction. Not a jail-able offense by any means, but certainly a no-no. Punishable, ostensibly, by a $250 fine. (LAMC 53.06) This, and nothing more, seems fair to this dog attack victim. I only ask that it be enforced.
But where this becomes an issue is the matter of your personal feelings of exceptionalism. Your dog, Carl Sagan Jr. has a name and a personality. A picture of Carl Sagan Jr. eating bacon was popular on the Internet. Carl Sagan Jr. is not a dangerous animal, but (it should be obvious) something entirely different: a universal good. The general public is privileged to be in the presence of Carl Sagan Jr.
And I would say that yes, Carl Sagan Jr. needs to be on a leash 100% of the time he's in public. Sorry.
(I would even be a little scared of the sad Youtube dog if it were coming at me at full speed)
You see a leash law is not what you think it is: a nanny law put in place to prevent other people's less civilized dogs from running away. I don't give half a damn if you lose your property. Leash laws are expressly for the benefit of the people your dog might bite. No, I don't think there's necessarily a danger that Carl Sagan Jr. might bite me, but dogs scare me (big ones anyway), and I don't see Carl Sagan Jr. when he comes near me off leash. My reptile brain just screams "Danger: Big Dog. Danger: Big Dog."
(Collateral damage: rules is rules)
Now the tough bit: The truth is Carl Sagan Jr. might bite me. The history thus far of Carl Sagan Jr. not biting people is simple confirmation bias. A dog's consciousness is totally unknowable, except to the very best animal psychics. Dogs proceed according to dog logic. You proceed according to human logic, and I'm sure you've noticed you anthropomorphize Carl Sagan Jr., despite the fact that intellectually you know it's all false. What sets off an otherwise friendly dog's attack instinct is a total mystery to humans. I've seen the change firsthand.
I'm sorry if that sounded accusatory. I'm not telling you Carl Sagan Jr. isn't your pal, or that he's not the funnest pooch in town, or that we're not privileged to be around him. I'm just saying you need to leash him. You know you do.
november 13, 2011 08:17am – in Korea
I'm consumed with (admittedly ridiculous, but real) guilt over all the gas, plastic lids, and - anytime I change apartments - cheap furniture I burn through because I can't AFFORD to buy something better for the environment, either because I don't have enough money or enough time to plan my day better. On your way out the door, ever forget your reusable soda cup? Ever beat yourself up about it while you buy a soda in a styrofoam cup later? I SURE HAVE!
(Remind me why styrofoam is considered ok.)
Moral luxury is, at least in my case, a hypothetical future state of being in which I'll be free of that guilt. I don't aspire to drive a Lamborghini or bang supermodels. In my ideal future I want everything I own to be reusable, safe, ethical, free trade, sustainable and totally guaranteed not to murder dolphins.
Moral luxury as I see it is best explained by contrasting it with real poverty. The poor consume styrofoam and gasoline on a huge scale. What's more, almost everything they own is shoddily manufactured, partly or sometimes totally disposable, sub-Ikea, future landfill waste. Poor people (and me!) have houses full of plastic crap they don't even like because even if they know there's a more durable option, they make the totally rational point-of-purchase decision to buy the cheapest thing "for now" so as not to push their monthly budgets.
(Uh, sir, a DISPOSABLE cup? Really?)
On one hand there are people with big enough problems that they don't have time to wonder how the cow in their Big Mac was treated, and on the other hand are rich ding dongs with enough time and money to buy ethical cheese from a hippy dippy dairy farm and eat it with fair trade wine and, yes Matt Stone and Trey Parker, take shits that smell like moral satisfaction.
(All while wearing creepy gloves on their feet)
But I do want what they have. I want to live in moral luxury, because just labeling them as smug doesn't make the slaughterhouses they oppose less horrifying or the cows less abused. You can say "I'm a normal person. I drink normal wine." And being aware doesn't mean the grape pickers were paid a fair wage. It's the Catch-22 of the literate poor.
(Here we see some "green" asshole NOT throwing away his broken furniture like a normal person)
You can Google "greenwashing," and hear all about the practice of slapping the word "green" on something at added cost, just to satisfy the consumer's fear of feeling this kind of guilt. The problem is that right now, moral luxury is a niche that corporations feel like they can satisfy profitably.
I would add to my list of urgent, "We Are The 99%!" demands, a simple advertising language regulation: Relabel ethical brands "normal," and the relabel the current "normal" ones something that would make them less tempting for me to buy. Maybe "Illegal." Wait. That would mainly hurt the poor. Look I don't know how to implement this. That's why we have a Paul Krugman.
(If he says they will, I'm for it.)
october 18, 2011 08:52am – in Korea
Before on this blog I complained about people doing Halloween wrong. I wasn't talking about having "Samhain" and invoking the goddess of autumn or something like that. All respect to your beliefs, I see no reason to bring somber reflection into holidays (I suppose that precludes me from Rosh Hashanah, Good Friday or Memorial Day in the strictest sense).
(Blessed Samhain to you, brothers and sisters)
I was bitching about people piling everything scary onto a heap and calling it a haunted house, and I was advocating a more restrained nuanced approach to Halloween Attractions.™ Go the Coco Chanel route and remove a few accessories.
But I also want to distance myself from the new tendency to confuse bleak, nihilistic horror imagery for Halloween fun. In amusement park attractions that translates to having someone dressed as a zombie with a chainsaw scream at you all night. In movies, it translates to torture porn.
Some very successful (and often brilliant) recent thrillers and horror movies include I Saw The Devil, Saw, Audition, Ringu, Cloverfield, [REC], Let The Right One In, Ju-On, Shutter, The Human Centipede, and Hostel. My take on these runs the gamut from love to hate, but I don't think anyone will argue that the intention of most of these movies was to leave the viewer in shuddering despair. And kudos, auteurs, mission accomplished.
My objection only emerges when Internet people populate their Halloween movie lists with these. I could write a whole blog entry on the recent conflation between the four adjectives that get confused for "scary": "spooky," "startling," "disgusting," and "depressing." I don't so much want to bemoan the recent overemphasis on the last two. I would like to instead diminish (though not entirely do away with) the importance of having a "scary" Halloween at all. You can be festive without being scared. And you can definitely get by without being "scared," if it means nauseated and sad.
(The rich atmosphere in Coraline is just bleak enough)
So I made myself a little program of movies to help me feel Halloweeny on my own terms, meaning mostly kid friendly. In the order I plan to watch them in, they are:
1. Hot Fuzz. Not Halloweeny at all at first, but recall that the last act has references to the Hammer Studios Gothic Horror movies. Plus I'm looking for an excuse to rewatch it.
2. Beetlejuice. I've… uh… never… actually… seen… this… all the way through. Don't tell anyone!
3. The Addams Family.
4. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit. More references to Hammer films.
5. Shadow of the Vampire. I hear this is pretty funny, and pretty violent. things are getting a little bleaker.
6. Halloween (1978). I haven't seen this since I developed my late-in-life respect and admiration for John Carpenter. This is the emotional low point of my movie program.
7. Mad Monster Party. Rankin/Bass is synonymous with Christmas stop motion, but they also made one for Halloween, which I understand is very self-aware. I want to finally watch it.
(Has EVERYONE but me already seen this?)
8. A double header of shorts: Frankenweenie, the Tim Burton thing, which I haven't seen since I was eight, and to bring it home, It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.
I know I'm not actually in the minority, and I'm defending a position that puts me on the same side as a lot of moms and old people. Will I still be cool if I watch them drunk?
september 04, 2011 09:28am – in Korea
Over the past few weeks there's been speculation about whether Netflix will survive/deserves our money/should be taken out and shot/maybe isn't worth it. When they raised their prices, the MSM handed torches to the viewing public, and there was some kind of temporary mass boycott. A few weeks down the line it's emerged that "StarzPlay" has broken off from Netflix, and, horror of horrors, the Netflix stock price has gone down. For the uninformed: A stock price is the objective measurement of a thing's value to humanity.
But Netflix, or something like it, is what the younger generation has decided on. It's a done deal. Streaming movie and TV services may not realize it, but they're just waiting for the Baby Boomers to die so the market can adjust. Then they'll be on top.
StarzPlay, and the MSM take an agnostic view of Netlfix. They hate and fear it on one hand because it undermines the distribution models they understand. But they want a piece of the pie if it turns out Netflix does come out on top. Still, Starz's bizarre insistence that users pay for a tiered pricing plan, and Netflix's refusal to go along with the idea shows what Netflix knows: Putting yet another step between consumers and content means directing much of that patronage to torrent sites.
The media landscape is irrevocably fractured. It's obvious that the trend of the content delivery diagram forking off and forming an esoteric tree of machines and gadgets has gone from the complexity of a VCR, Cable box and CD-player to something unrecognizable and ludicrous. Where once you could take comfort in a settled format war, and just blissfully rent VHS tapes, knowing you were getting the best of all possible solutions, today you have to choose a delivery system among countless competitors for downloading music, streaming music, watching new TV, watching old TV, watching movies, downloading e-books, with all their confusion of filetypes, platforms, resolution and aspect ratio choices, number-of-device limitations and DRM.
That is of course, unless you pirate. Piracy is an antisocial, criminal act. A measure taken by those hell-bent on the destruction of media companies and the very downfall of society, yes, yes. But the real benefit of piracy is single-click access to the stuff you want.
Let's say for some reason you never got into 30 Rock, and season six is gearing up! You could hope NBC airs them all in one block, but that's not bloody likely. Or you could try streaming episodes. Netflix has the first four seasons. But there are five complete seasons so far. For season five you can turn to free Hulu and catch the allowed last five episodes of the fifth season. Or take a stab at getting more by going premium and paying for Hulu plus in addition to Netflix. Ah, but Hulu plus says:
Please Note! Due to content rights restrictions, episodes from past seasons of 30 Rock will no longer be available on Hulu Plus after August 31st. Episodes from Season 6 will be available on Hulu the day after they air."
If your brain is melting, can I suggest that you definitely not click onto your favorite torrent tracker, and absolutely do not search for the terms "30 Rock Complete Series" and that you avoid downloading that at all costs, because if you do, it will give you every episode of the series in a nice, neat package, all playable on whatever device you want, as many times as you want, whenever you want. And that would be illegal.
But if they made it legal, I might PAY MONEY for it.
(An assertion that never gets less funny)
Now of course to baby boomers, mucking around with filetypes and torrent trackers is its own brand of needless complexity. All the formats for premium services (don't get me started on HBO Go) mean enough long distance phone calls to your adult children in order to explain how it works. It's enough without having to "download a file that's not the file you want; it's the command for the torrent client to download the file you want." I understand and I sympathize. However, you of the swollen bellies and bank accounts are bringing this multi headed Hulu-Netflix-Blu-Ray-iTunes-HBO-DirecTV Hydra into the world by employing the one strategy that always works: feeding it money. It loves money.
(Right now this guy is making decisions that effect your lifestyle. Seriously.)
And the fact is, just streaming the stuff I want is easier, and doesn't take up the hard disk space that piracy would, if I did it. If I wanted unfettered access to all the movies and shows in the world, the easiest way would probably be by paying for Netflix, AND Hulu Plus AND Sony's video unlimited AND Amazon Prime AND YouTube Rentals (Yep, it exists), all if not for one glaring reality about Non-Baby-Boomers: We don't have any money.
If I look at my credit card statement and I see so much as a few iTunes purchases, I feel a tinge of guilt. That's money that probably should have paid for an oil change or a new pair of shoes. I work hard for my money, and media companies would be the first to admit that they want as much of it as they can get their hands on. Unfortunately, something like HBO would mean putting an ad on Craigslist searching for a boarder to stay on my couch. And if someone were sleeping there, how could I watch Boardwalk Empire?
Despite the fact that in this age, cultural literacy all but requires members of my generation to be constantly mainlining doses of concentrated media, the content providers would be perfectly happy to keep me in a total media blackout unless I pay substantially for every second I'm hooked up to their feed. But that's another blog altogether.
Almost no one in my circle of media-savvy friends pays for cable. When we want to watch TV together, we go over to the house of my one friend with a TV and basic cable. Reddit has a popular and ever-growing support community promoting Pay-TV abstinence called Cordcutters. It's now quite normal to hear a phrase uttered that seems like it should only escape the lips of your most sheltered elementary school friend "Whoa, you have cable??"
The one extravagance almost 100% of my 20-something peer group pays for: Netflix. The reason isn't that Netflix has everything we want. The reason is that Netflix just has so much. I recently made an IMDB list of 646 movies from every country, genre and era to watch in arbitrary order, and today I put as many on Netflix as I could: 208, or roughly a third of my list is available with Netflix's "Watch Now" feature. A crummy record, right? Hardly. That's 208 movies that I definitely want to see. 208 without anything new coming along, and without browsing their library for other stuff I might like. And it should keep me busy for at least two years.
(George C. Scott as a suicidal doctor investigating a series of murders? Don't mind if I do!)
Furthermore, my understanding is that Netflix has concern for people who keep up with Kardashians and Snookis and such, and I take them at their word, even if I do keep my distance from most of that.
We'll all keep our Netflix subscriptions, because it's the cost of one mixed drink per month, but brings arguably more satisfaction, as well as simplicity. Meanwhile content producers hold out their hand and an aging proportion of our population sticks money into that hand. But aging turns to aged, and then…
(I just pre-solved the mystery of why 98% of DirecTV subscriptions are in Florida as of 2021)
Then my generation has its say. Many of these streaming services will fall by the wayside. Maybe Netflix will be the one that rises to the top, and maybe it won't. But we want Netflix on our phones, and so far I don't know anyone demanding an Android app from Amazon Prime.
july 28, 2011 07:59am – in Korea
By an anonymous guest author
My grandparents raised their children to always respect America, and they raised them to be the biggest patriots you ever did see. Apa (That's what we call my grandfather) has this hilarious story about the first time he went to an American supermarket. "It was so big! I'm thinking how can so much food be only in one place?" I can't do the voice, but just take my word that it's hilarious.
I never really gave it much thought, in fact, my nationality was always kind of embarrassing. I just wanted to be a normal kid at my school so I never let anyone hear me speaking our language, and I only wanted bologna sandwiches in my lunch. I had to insist because if my mother had her way, she would have given me her cooking, and every day the other kids would have looked at me like I was eating cat vomit!
But don't get me wrong. I love my mother's cooking. Just the other day, I was reminiscing about it with my cousin who grew up in our homeland, but lived with us for a long time when I was a kid. He said "You know, cousin, the other Americans don't have the kind of mothers we have. Its our mothers that make us who we are. They're like our national heart and soul." Then he laughed and slapped me on the back, like people do in our homeland. "After all they come from the WOMEN of our nationality," he said, eyes widening. "How could it be any other way?" I laughed too. And we both took shots of the strong liquor my country is known for, whose name translates to "life water."
What you have to understand is that people of my nationality really love to eat. I can't emphasize this enough: we really LOVE to eat. I'm sure you've heard the expression "The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach," but did you know it was originally translated from my language? If you ever tasted our national dish you would know why. It's specially marinated chicken, served on a kind of flatbread with lots and lots of our national sauce. But be careful with that sauce. It's definitely not Heinz ketchup! My mouth is watering just thinking about my mother's special recipe for that dish.
She also gave me an appreciation from a very young age for another traditional food, something we usually only eat at special occasions like weddings, that only people of my ethnicity seem to enjoy. I remember the first time one of my friends of a different ethnicity tried that stuff. I forgot to tell her "That's not going to taste like a Big Mac!" She just about puked her brains out! I guess it's an acquired taste, but like a true member of my nationality, I can't get enough of that unusual tasting food.
The aforementioned unusual food is the best metaphor I can think of for mothers of my nationality. We question how much we love it when we get to be teenagers, but once we get older, we realize how lucky we were to have had it. At my wedding for instance, I thought I wanted my mother to tone down her devotion to our nationality, but when the caterers were late, and the Marriott didn't have any champagne, my mom's nationality kicked into high gear, and she became the person we needed to call the shots to get that party going again. Mothers of my nationality can be overbearing at times, particularly at their sons' weddings!
Celebrations are important for people of my nationality. Historically, they provide a distraction from the bad times. And there have certainly been a lot of bad times, but that's another story.
And don't get me started on what happens once one of our parties gets going. The "life water" starts flowing, and that stuff sure isn't Bud Lite! Soon we all start singing the traditional songs from our country, and doing our traditional dances! We say "Mom, we want to see you dance!" Mom pretends to be modest, and says, "I'm not 18 anymore!" But as soon as she hears the song that is her favorite, look out if you're on the dance floor. Here comes mom!
My cousin and I reminisced until dawn (People of my nationality don't like to stop drinking at 2am!) and by the end we were nearly on the floor, not just from the "life water," but from laughter! My cousin wiped the tears from his eyes finally, and said something that really sums up what its like for our tiny nation: "Life for our people isn't always easy, but it's a shame so few people get to experience it."
june 12, 2011 06:00am – in Korea
This movie review includes complete spoilers.
(Going in I knew less than you do just from looking at this poster.)
Critics aren't showering Super 8 with praise. Audiences are going to file into theaters for the next couple of weeks like it's their duty to watch whatever they interpret it to be (uh, the latest Spielberg?). Critics' relationship with the fact that everyone is inevitably going to see it seems to be shrugging approval. An unspoken "well at least it's not Transformers." Under duress I'll concede that it's better than a Transformers movie, but it nonetheless provoked a different reaction than my usual blockbuster contempt: anger that I had put in the time to watch it. At least the Transformers movies are sometimes unintentionally funny. Super 8 was in its way - while a better piece of cinema - still a greater transgression than Transformers for all it's inability to synthesize actual emotions, and its infuriating artistic philosophy that seems to literally say it doesn't need to synthesize them.
It's going to be praised for its early scenes showing kids making a movie, and indeed these were the parts I liked. Elle Fanning's performance, and meta-performance in the movie-within-the movie are captivating (Which only makes the world of the movie a lonely space to inhabit during the half hour she's MIA). But for all its rushing to get to the action, the scenes of the kids shouting over each other, which again are the best part of the movie, are a missed opportunity to show:
A) What movies represent for them. For a good example of this, look at Son of Rambow from a couple of years ago. When the sheltered protagonist watches an ill-gotten tape of First Blood, we really understand what about it set his imagination soaring, and consequently, we understand why he MUST participate in the making of a movie. "Joe" the unimaginatively named, utterly pulseless protagonist of Suer 8, could have sought refuge from his grief (Dead mom) in the movies.
(More pathos in one frame of Son of Rambow than in all of Super 8)
Super 8's characters are making a movie just because they're making a movie, which brings me to the other thing that's missing:
B) Stakes. A rival team of child moviemakers would have given them a tangible goal. Beating those jerks. Knowing what success would look like would have gone a long way toward giving the movie some narrative momentum.
And yeah, those are screenplay notes for the first thirty pages. When I type this next sentence, I want to do so with no stylistic flourish: The movie goes off the rails at the train derailment scene.
This scene is a big loud mess. Up until this moment the scale had been minuscule. Then with a massive gasoline explosion we get a five minute action show-stopper consisting of train cars exploding and flying every which way. At first, I was totally shocked.
Understand, I had not seen a trailer or read a synopsis. Apart from J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg in the credits, I knew zilch about this movie going in. It was very quickly establishing, if nothing else, strong relationships between a movie crew of middle schoolers. That's what I knew. Then there was a train wreck, and I feared for them. Then the scene just would not end. A summer blockbuster had very noisily intruded upon the movie I had just been watching.
(This poster is all I knew.)
Giving the most credit possible to Abrams, the train wreck could be considered a necessary tone shift in order to redefine the scale of the movie I was about to see. Giving the least credit possible: a studio executive handed down a memo instructing Abrams to quadruple the number of explosions in the first half out of concern for concession sales. Whatever the case, it gets at my biggest gripe: The movie's ethic of praising "production values."
The main filmmaker is an overweight kid named Charles, who loves horror movies. We know this because he has horror movie posters on his wall. We are not given any indication as to what in Charles' id drives him to his love of the genre, but never mind. Charles has two ticks in his speech pattern: the insistence that everything good is "mint," and an urgent refrain of "production value! production value!" Get it? Because the movie we're watching is sure expensive!
Charles also gleans from a movie magazine that his zombie killing scenes with no context aren't forming a good story. It occurs to him that he needs a wife for the zombie hunter. If there's a relationship for us to care about then "We won't want him to get eaten by zombies." True. But a single relationship does not a good character make. Good characters come to life when the audience connects with and shares their desires. Joe very much wants Elle Fanning's character, Alice. The movie's only success is establishing this in the early filmmaking scenes, and using it to drive some of the later scenes. But through most of the movie he's driven by a vaguely painted feeling of grief. The movie has essentially said to me, "Joe only has a recently dead mother so you'll care when an alien attacks him." I don't find that refreshingly honest.
To read this without having seen the movie, one might understand that I have complaints, but not get why I hated it. But there's a larger world outside the character of Joe, and it's a noisy world of explosions, military tension, and two dads who hate each other for some reason. There are any number of other kids in the movie with no desire or emotion at all, just quirks. And worst of all there's an alien monster with a totally unclear motivation. It wants its ship back, and the ending of the movie seems to suggest it's had the power to go back at any time, but first it evidently has to run amuck for exactly one movie's worth of time.
During the time after the train wreck, production of the kids' movie slowly falls apart. What could have been an interesting premise, kids filming a movie against the backdrop of a real alien invasion, is totally thrown away by the third act in favor of what strives to be a cookie cutter monster invasion picture.
Abrams and Spielberg have made names for themselves by pleasing and seemingly respecting the crowd, and they trade in much of the same subject matter. It must seem like a marriage made in heaven, and indeed, J.J. Abrams does seem to be a servile cinematic wife. In a bizarre twist, Abrams turns most of the action scenes into a series of very intentional visual references to Spielberg scenes. Color palates and shot choices are copied consciously from Jurassic Park, Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters, and, for some reason, War of the Worlds. This is, well, fine.
But Abrams, knowing what audiences really want even if they don't, gives us a crash course in his "Mystery Box" theory of movie making. If you've seen his Ted Lectures or his interviews during Lost you know he's committed to the idea that that mystery is necessarily more interesting than the answers. He evidently thinks the world of the concealed shark in Jaws and goes to great lengths to conceal his monster. But during one maddening scene, the camera is pointed at the wrong side of a besieged bus. If the angle were reversed, we would see the monster. He's shielding us from too much of a reveal with nothing but contrivance, like a scene of someone in a TV show walking into a room and gasping just before a commercial break. Either find a logical reason the monster is concealed, or just show it to us.
In my humble opinion, a Korean movie from 2006 called The Host completely dispelled the idea that the monster needs to be hidden, unless you have a very good reason. If you haven't seen it, watch it instead of Super 8.
The monster is a massive disappointment. It's just the monster from Cloverfield again. A sinewy spider beast, brutish enough to exact bloodthirsty revenge(?) on humanity, but also sophisticated enough to build an intergalactic spaceship to go home (Who knows what aliens are like I guess).
(The Super 8 monster. I think)
Late in the movie the monster seizes Joe at the end of a chase scene, and Joe tells it something to the effect of "you can move on" (Remember? His dead mother?), and the beast opens its second eyelids to reveal huge humanoid eyes almost identical to E.T.'s. The scene really hammers home what could have been if any effort had been made to establish some kind of connection between Joe and the Alien. As it is, the movie ends with the alien's spaceship flying off. Roll credits. We the audience have no connection with this alien, or its journey home. It's just the departure of a very noisy intruder.
may 06, 2011 03:08pm – in Korea
On my morning commute today I got in about the worst sort of crash you can get in on foot. The walker's equivalent to flipping your car into a ditch. I was hurrying across a crosswalk that was about to change, and I tripped in misaligned seam in the street that's caught me a few times before, at lower speeds, with more benign results. This time, as my fall played out in slow motion there were three major events within a second: My foot catching the crack, the realization that I was going down, and the pull of my heavy backpack, distorting me into a dive that forced my head, crown first, into the ground. Your body instinctively does what it can to prevent you from hitting your head, but this was fated to be an ugly fall. If you were a passerby, it must have been hilarious.
There's a moment when the fall has played out and you have to peel your face off the asphalt and get back on your feet. I've replayed it in my head a few times, not out of embarrassment, but because people have very sternly asked me if I'm positive I was never unconscious. How can anyone ever be positive that they weren't unconscious unless they were watching the hands of a clock? Are you sure you didn't go momentarily unconscious between reading that last sentence and this one? All I know is I stood up in an intersection and no cars were waiting to get through. No crowd had formed.
Then as I walked the remaining block to the subway station, I cursed my scraped palms first, then I swore at what would become bruises on my hip bones, and I reserved the choicest dirty words for the pain spreading from the top of my head, down my jaw and neck, and into my shoulders. I cursed them because I knew all of them hurt, but none of them were going to get me out of work. Nothing ever prevents me from calling in sick except that I get zero (0) paid sick days, and I always need the money.
There was a growing concern in the back of my (apparently injured) brain, that I wasn't toughing anything out by being at work; I was being an idiot. Still I worked a full shift, and it wasn't until my mom emailed me a CNN story about Natasha Richardson, Liam Neeson's wife, who died a few days after what she thought was a mild bump on the noggin, that I finally got some sense knocked into me (as it were).
It was for the best too. All day I'd been ignoring little things like fumbling with my keys a little longer than normal, or an unusually slow response to sarcasm. I tested myself with Portal 2, then Jeopardy! in the hospital waiting room. I wasn't firing on all cylinders (I'm still not).
And apparently that's a concussion. All indications are that my head is just the tiniest bit traumatized. The doctor seemed to be particularly persuaded of this by the "follow my finger" test. I told her I was worrying about my mental faculties, and she said it would be normal in a few days (!!). She said football players and boxers suffer worse on a regular basis, and that their lifestyle of frequent concussions leads to trouble in the long run, but that you can get away with one concussion and not be too worried. She even gave me a little "So You've Suffered a Head Trauma" literature.
Interestingly, even though there's almost certainly no bleeding in my brain, I'm on head trauma watch for the next day or so. I shouldn't be alone too often just in case the lights suddenly go out. So if you have my phone number, feel free to check in with me tomorrow and make sure I'm still alive.
I've often imagined that with all my walking, a mishap like this might be the end of me. I think I can do better than tripping in a crosswalk near Hollywood and Highland though. Something involving scorpions and quicksand maybe.
april 18, 2011 02:30pm – in Korea
My kitchen after I trashed it with beans.
I made a volume miscalculation and cooked too many beans by a few thousand. It wasn't the volume of my huge, new (to me) crock pot that I got wrong. It was the volume of a fully soaked bean. Once the crock pot heated up, those bean cells still had some empty space to fill with water. Then I had to migrate my bean motherlode over to a pot and cook it on a hotplate... Then I had to do the same thing a second time. I have all the empty plastic containers I own standing by.
So long story short, remember in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Veruca Salt said "I want a bean feast"? Well this would have blown her mind.
Does anybody need any beans?
february 22, 2011 11:32pm – in Korea
Yesterday I finally got it into my head to gather up all the footage I could find from the end of my travels in 2009, and put it all together in a video blog. Since over a year has gone by -- almost TWO, actually -- since all this happened, there are enough errors and forgotten details to ensure that anyone who was there and watches this should by all rights be offended.
january 13, 2011 02:33am – in Korea
The Old Woman and the Sea
A short story by Mr. Pearl (2011)
The old woman sat in the far corner of Ben's Diner, just like she had every Sunday afternoon for ten years. Her waiter, Jesse, knew the back of her head, just like he knew she would order a cup of coffee, a bowl of tomato soup, and a turkey and cheese sandwich. Eight years ago her husband had stopped coming to the diner forever, but Jesse never asked why. A year ago a little boy started joining her. Today he could see the boy's nice new hat, sticking out behind his grandma's head from across the diner. Even though he observed so much, Jesse never asked a question about her personal life, and this made her happy.
"Can I get you another coffee?" He asked.
She put her hand over her coffee cup and it clinked against her spoon. "Enough already! You want my hands to start shaking?"
She saw Jesse smile as he walked away from the table. He had known she was joking and this made her happy too.
The question the boy had just asked her was still echoing in her head. "Grandma, where are mommy and daddy now?" She knew the answer was complicated.
"God gives us many questions and only a few answers. The rabbi says they're with the spirit, Jonah. We don't know what this means, but we know they're with God in their way."
"God took them away?"
These questions! "Jonah, we don't know. God takes what he needs. He doesn't tell us why."
Little Jonah was in another one of his moods. Who can know what a child of five thinks when he gets into a mood. And when his parents were taken only a year ago.
"Are they still in the sea? Is that where the spirit is, Grandma?"
The sea! The sea! He always went back to talking about the sea. Could he forget about the silly sea for one minute? The sea was turning into an issue.
"No, Jonah. Their boat is under the sea, but they're somewhere else. The spirit is in a good place."
"Then the sea is a bad place!"
"Jonah, Jonah! You won't get far in life thinking the sea is a bad place."
She tipped Jesse thirty percent, after all he was a good boy, and he never said silly things. On a normal Sunday she would stay another hour, doing the crossword while the boy played his video games.
Even though the tip was good, she looked Jesse in the face angrily. "The sandwich was terrible today. The horseradish was weak. The bread was toasted too dark."
"I'll tell the chef," he said.
"Take some responsibility!" She said pointing a finger at his chest. "You want my business or not?"
"I'm so sorry, ma'am. It won't happen again." He said. But she'd be there again on Sunday, he was sure.
"Come back when you can stay longer!" said Jesse, as they walked out the door. Normally this would have made her happy, but she was in a hurry.
At the seaside, there were no sunbathers, surfers or families. It was a cold day. The waves were small, but the sea was choppy and violent. It wasn't a day for being at the beach unless you were teaching your grandson a lesson. She held his hand and gestured to the water.
"Go ahead," she said. "The sea can't hurt you."
"It hurt them."
"Jonah, Grandma's here."
A wave crashed, and then the tide rushed up the shore toward them. When it got close to Jonah it slowed down like a curious dog. Jonah slowly reached down and stuck in all five fingers. Then the water hurried away.
"Cold!" he said. And he laughed one of those laughs only a child of five can laugh, and bounced on one foot, then the other. Then his grip broke free of hers, and he chased the wave down the beach, and this made her happy.
Playing in the sea isn't for grandmas, she thought, and stayed away form the water. Her shoes were leather.
He reached down and splashed water high up in the air, then looked at his grandma. Then he filled his two hands with all the water they could hold and let it fall. Then he looked as his grandma again.
She loved to see that he wasn't afraid. And it pleased her so much that she didn't notice the wave swelling up behind him like a tumor in the water. He didn't notice either, because he was looking at her.
Then she saw the wave coming up behind him, opening up, a giant hand reaching out for him. Her face changed, and he saw it. He turned and saw the wave just as the longest finger of water touched the top of his head. Then it closed around him in a fist. And once the hand had collected its prize, it pulled away, back into the deep. There was no sign on the grandson.
It all happened so fast, she didn't have time to run toward him. She just had time to look scared, and full of regret and apology. And a grandma should never look like this.
And all those feelings felt so wrong that she looked up at the sky, and instead of feeling fear and regret and apology, she felt anger. And she shook her head and started talking.
"This you do to an old woman who always lights the candles on Saturdays? Always keeps separate pans for the meat, even when the rabbi stops doing this. An old woman who had to watch the cancer take her husband, and in his lungs no less! The man never smoked. And this you do to an old woman who's son, a doctor! A doctor, you already took to the bottom the sea… And his wife also."
She waved her hand, and began walking down to the water. She took her leather shoes off and left them on the dry sand.
"Next you deliver the boy to me. A sad boy. No parents. Such sadness you put in his heart. You bring such sadness into my last days and THEN you reach out with a big and gigantic wave from the sea and take the boy as well. You snatch him up, like coins on a table! Why shouldn't you, after all?"
And she got down on her knees by the water and took off her glasses.
"Well you can just go ahead and take me too if you're gonna have it all your way. Go on. Send another big wave and take me too."
But the sea became calm. Without her glasses on she couldn't see a tiny wave gently approaching her, then opening and leaving something for her. Like a tip on a table.
"Grandma!" said a child's voice. It was Jonah. And this made her happy. Then she put her glasses on.
Jonah ran up to her and gave her a big hug. But she was frowning. Water dripped off Jonah's bare head. She shook her head and looked up at the sky again.
"He had a hat."
december 21, 2010 10:25am – in Korea
Major plot points of the movie Catfish are discussed in this article. Catfish is an excellent film, and deserves to be watched unspoiled.
The last thirty minutes of Catfish feature the systematic dismantling of a complex web of lies created by a woman who, at first, seems like a psychopath, but as the film develops, turns out to be deserving of our sympathy. The character (or real person?) Angela has created a cast of characters to suck in a handsome, twentysomething New York photographer named Yaniv. Yaniv is hooked, and at the start of the movie, and emotionally invested in the lives of Angela's fascinating, ostensibly real family. There's a stunningly attractive 40 year-old she has cast to play herself, a bright and talented elementary school aged daughter with a successful career, and a babealicious dancer/model daughter with a penchant for sexting. It's clear from the first time we meet Angela and find out that she's an overweight nerd, that unpacking this lie is going to be ugly. But the movie gives us an out by showing that even though Angela lied, she's deserving of our forgiveness, and worth the time we spent exposing her.
Though the movie may (and seems likely to) be a hoax, it contains within itself the argument that we're better off not prying into the truth. After all, what would we find out if we dug deeper? The storyline of the movie itself offers that when the curtain is pulled back, we won't like what we see, but there is beauty beneath the surface. We know, however, that if this curtain were pulled back, we would just see some clever and nuanced writing, and some skilled naturalistic performances.
Clement Clark Moore's poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" aka "'Twas The Night Before Christmas," in it's blinking amazement, gives us a tangible, if willfully absurd step by step account of how Santa Claus operates. The details it provides -- the names of Santa's reindeer, and Santa's use of the chimney as an entrance to name just two -- are the blueprint for Americans' hard-wired notion of what Santa is, or was in 1823 (A time so early in American history that the president, James Monroe was one of the founding fathers). At that time, our popular notion of what Santa's elves were capable of making, like rocking horses and ball-and-cup games, would have been the actual presents children received. The illusion seems like it would have been inescabably convincing to a child.
Moore initially had it published unattributed in his local paper. Rumors abounded that it was his poem, but it was not until years later when the successful poet was having an anthology made that he finally admitted to writing it. The reason, it seems to me, is that, if published anonymously, there is the ability for the reader to hold to the illusion that they're reading the report of an actual encounter, not a work of art. Moore rightly assumed that if the adult reader were allowed to suspend disbelief, and read something that, although whimsical, captured the shared fantasy of meeting the mythical Santa Claus in the corporeal world, it would send imaginations soaring.
Without much effort, you can imagine a world in which Santa Claus is real, and every Christmas Eve he magically deposits gifts for all the children of the world. His carves them out of wood at the North Pole (A place so remote it might as well be another planet, right?), and then gives them away as a gesture of goodwill for mankind, and, I guess, a reminder of the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ, or something.
And just like that, the illusion falls apart. You can imagine it for a short time, but that world doesn't jive with the workaday reality of our lives. Not in the least. Questions stack up quickly, like why is Santa extra kind to the rich, while kids from poor families get naked barbies and bargain bin DVDs? Does Santa completely disregard the Eastern Hemisphere? These questions were probably cliches by WWII, when Christmas was the pinnacle of American popular fantasy.
A movie like 1947's Miracle on 34th St. was inevitable. Once again, Santa Claus had to check back in with the realities of American life. By now adults were all buying "Santa's" gifts at major department stores, and children were, according to the film, getting uncomfortably wise to the Santa game. For the first time, the Santa myth was cracked. It was best to leave it alone.
Starting at Miracle on 34th street and up until the present day, a tradition began of writing modern fiction that traps Santa Claus, a creature that only survives in short poems, songs and cartoons, in the ugly workaday world we unfortunately live in. With movies like Elf, Fred Claus, and Earnest Saves Christmas, the wrongheaded instinct to expose Santa to the trappings of reality has resulted in a yearly feature film in which Santa has been burdened with publicists, lawyers, competition with other holiday figures, contracts, regulations, faulty sleigh propulsion, and, In the Santa Clause with Tim Allen, DEATH. Santa dies at the beginning of that movie. Holy Hell.
Angela in Catfish has retired and given up her fantasy of being a famous painter in order look after two seriously mentally challenged adult stepsons in rural Michigan. The Internet gives her the opportunity to escape into a fiction in which her daughter is already living her artists' dream, her other daughter is in love with an exciting New Yorker. The fiction has boundaries and rules that tie it to reality, as long as one just listens, and never peaks around looking for falsehood, which inevitably will happen.
To that effect, look at the Christmas world created by Tim Burton and Henry Selick in The Nightmare Before Christmas. "Christmastown" in the movie, extends to the real world, but in this version of the real world, Santa exists. He brings everyone gifts every Christmas eve. Everyone knows this is where Christmas gifts come from, and that's it. It's perfect for the tiny use it's put through in the very short movie. It's a shiny fantasy that just has to exist long enough to be completely violated and turned upside. In the end, of course, we have it restored to normal. No other resolution would do.
In our modern Christmas fables, the theme is always the same: just believe and have faith. And the characters in the movie should, because in the realities constructed by these screenwriters, Santa exists, despite the world turning against him. It's the souring of the human condition that makes them all become cynics. But unlike the best movies, the theme can't be carried out of the theater. Once we step into the light of day again, the reality returns that Santa is just a Coca Cola mascot, and we all have to spend a few hours in Wal-Mart again.
30 minutes into Catfish, the protagonists notice that something about the family he has become enamored with isn't everything he thought they were. Megan, the sexy daughter of Angela seems to be sending him a series of home recordings of songs, but they turn out to be YouTube recordings re-encoded as Mp3's and passed off as her own recordings. Yaniv feels betrayed, and we the audience know we're about to go deeper, or else there'd be no movie. But this moment is where the protagonists in modern Santa Claus movies find themselves. Faced with the reality that the world is just as it is, they're told they need to "just believe" in Santa, and this is the right thing to do.
Here is the official statement on the veracity of events in Catfish:
""It felt [too perfect] to us also, as we were making it. We're very lucky. We look back at our experience and everything leads to [the moment we discovered things were not what they seemed]. As filmmakers we were ready; we felt like we spent our lives preparing to be ready, and it just happened to be me who shares the office with my brother and my producing partner."
That the events would have unfolded the way the appear in the film is conceivable, but unlikely. Mostly because the process of filming began so early, and was conducted so completely, and because the resolution is so cathartic, and easily could have been otherwise. But these pieces of evidence would be statements that speak to the quality of the movie if it were actually real. But just like the Santa Claus story, Catfish works as fiction. It doesn't have to be real to be good.
september 16, 2010 07:11am – in Korea
I write to you as a member of the public, as someone pop-culture literate, and as a casual hip hop fan, but by no means an aficionado. With that grain of salt in mind, please understand that my aim is to do right by your reputation, and the good of our cultural discourse of which you are a major part across every medium. The crux of this letter is simple and can be worded in diplomatic terms with the phrase "please examine your intentions," regarding your recent career choices. Please develop a sense of integrity when choosing when to "pop up," because you don't seem to take a discerning attitude about your appearances, and your the future of your persona -- which belongs to you, but also lives in the mind of your public -- hangs in the balance.
In no uncertain terms, you are a force of nature, and the world of pop culture is richer for your contributions. In my childhood, as a musician your absurdist imagery, and subtle comedy provided a porthole through which I could glimpse hip hop, a world I found too intimidating to approach. Your music was among the most entertaining and accessible in large part due to your inimitable character. By extension of this character, the names "Snoop Dogg," "Snoop Doggy Dogg," and even just "Snoop," are iconic, as are lexical items like "Gin and Juice" and the suffix "-izzle."
Please remember, however, that to the uninitiated, your iconic name still evokes a dangerous gangster archetype. Subtle, perhaps uninformed recollections, of your history of murder trials, drug convictions, and other legal entanglements prevented San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom from issuing a proclamation in your name, and prevent you from ever entering the United Kingdom, among other issues of public disapproval. In spite of personal inconvenience, your reputation as a delinquent is a part of you, and you should embrace it.
But in recent times, your integrity is in question. And needless to say, nailing down the precise nature of your integrity is difficult, since exactly what defines a driving principle for you is unclear, perhaps even to yourself. I'd like to go out on a limb here and try to get at precisely what integrity means for you, first, by getting at what it does not mean:
It's not an issue of obeying the law. That much is painfully obvious.
It's also not an issue of following a particular aesthetic thread. Some of your best music has been some of your strangest:
Even the best country star couldn't pull off a rap song as well as you did the reverse in "My Medicine":
And then there's "Sensual Seduction":
It's also not an issue of "selling out" in any literal sense. Wikipedia lists the following as products you have endorsed without seeming to lose any integrity:
▪St. Ides, a kind of malt liquor.
▪Snoop Dogg 40 Oz, another kind of malt liquor
▪Boost Mobile a cell phone company.
▪Chrysler 300 a car.
▪Cal Worthington's Ford dealership, which seems to contradict your deal with Chrysler.
▪"Snoop Doggs foot-long hot dogs." As fun to say as they are to eat.
▪"Snoop Dogg Board Company," a skateboard and luggage company.
▪"Snooperbowl" and "Snoop Youth Football league" seemingly a philanthropic endoresement.
▪"Chronic Candy," Swiss candy that tastes like marijuana.
▪Love Don't Live Here No More, Doggy Tales Vol.1, a novel
▪Tha Doggfather : The Times, Trials, And Hardcore Truths Of Snoop Dogg, an autobiography that I imagine was ghost written, no offense.
▪"Doggy Biscuitz," a line of shoes
▪"Snoop Dogg Clothing," a line available at Macy's
▪"WRFF," a line of scooters.
▪"Hip Hop Gaming League" – a celebrity online gaming competition
▪"Snoop Dogg figures"
▪"Snoop Dogg Boxing" – mobile phone game
▪"Snoop Dogg Pet Accessory Line"
▪A navigational voice for the Tom Tom GPS system, probably my favorite of these.
And despite some of the items on this list featuring hilarious incongruity, and frequently being transparent cash-ins, your image is not in any way tarnished because the unabashedly selfish pursuit of personal gain is a theme of your music.
But the last two items on the list show minor cracks in an otherwise solid veneer: "Hack is Wack," a promotion by Norton AntiVirus, and "Coffee Cup With A Cause" a 7 Eleven promotion that supports the aforementioned junior football league. The Norton deal reeks because hacking is petty crime, something you should endorse, not condemn. And furthermore there is no irony or incongruous comedy in it. You're being used as a kind of McGruff the crime dog for the benefit of Norton, which almost makes sense given your qualities of intimidation, yet, no. It doesn't feel like you.
The 7 Eleven deal is also troubling. Here's a video of you introducing it:
Actually watching you reciting that patter from memory gives you a trained monkey quality that's excruciating to watch. Furthermore the fact that you're so checked-out that you're actually texting while that woman is making her speech seems to not only show that you're going this for a tax deduction, but it drives home the fact that on the whole, the event seems utterly DULL. The cups don't have pot leaves on them, and there's no playfully named "Snoop's Special Blend" line of coffee. There's just the sad, resignation of Krusty the Klown opening a new burger joint, which you're in no position to be doing. Your records are still hits! You're at the top of your game!
But nothing has set your image back as much as this:
You can't have had the foresight to see this, that's why I'm spelling it out: Even among people who like this song and video, this song was bad for your image. And it's not because the song is effeminate or cliche, or because your rapping isn't up to snuff in it. The damage being done here is Perry appropriating YOUR vocabulary, and YOUR image, and just using them as just more fodder for her list of California cliches. Integrity, for you, would mean maintaining control over the way in which your image is exploited for hilarity. In this music video, you're being mocked, Snoop, and for once, you're not in on the joke.
Furthermore I STRONGLY advise you to end your prolonged relationship with the George Lopez's show "Lopez Tonight," or at least appear less often.
In spite of your good intentions, that same trained monkey quality is present here. George Lopez is such a harmless, family-friendly comedian that the older generation who felt threatened by you for most of your career, is soon going to associate you closely with these appearances, and your name will have lost its edge. You're not even 40 yet. Don't let this happen.
But most of all, pop culture is just oversaturated with you at the moment. You show no signs that you're planning a retirement, so theres no reason for a last money-making hurrah before you bow out. You're just not exercising any discretion. I feel like your relentless appearances on all the radio-friendly hip hop jams are being phoned-in and you're teetering on irrelevance. You'll soon find yourself in the Rod Stewart Bin, where celebrities go when they've been making bad decisions so long, audiences forget they ever made good decisions. That's why I suggest you take your own advice for a while:
august 11, 2010 08:02am – in Korea
Thumbing through an old issue of Adbusters not long ago, I came upon I an article about The Road, the movie adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy book about a horrific, post-apocalyptic nightmarescape. In Adbusters' appraisal, the movie was whatever, but they cynically bemoaned the ubiquity of product placement in movies by referring to the scene in which the two characters find what is possibly the world's last can of coke, clean off the dust and grime, and drink it warm, in a dilapidated and disused building, surrounded by unthinkable horrors. (I couldn't find a link to the Adbusters article, but an article on Flavorwire.com talks about the subject)
The Ad Busters could be right. Coke might have actually paid to have their product turned into the last creature comfort in the world for the tortured characters in The Road. But they probably couldn't have paid to have Cormac McCarthy himself include it initially in the novel. He doesn't seem the type. But then, maybe I'm not cynical enough. McCarthy did definitely include that section in the book. Probably because he wanted that fat check.
I recall watching sitcoms like "Roseanne" in the nineties, and always seeing non-existent consumer products on their kitchen table. The show was praised for its realism, but their breakfast table didn't look as real to me as the one in the Cheerios commercial. At the same time, rap videos had the Nike and White Sox logos blurred out for some reason (as if they were boobs). In both cases I arrived at what seemed to me like the most reasonable conclusion: They're not ALLOWED to show those products. "Not allowed by whom?" I didn't take the time to wonder; the government; the bosses; the people who decide what in our culture is not allowed. Corporations, I wrongly supposed, are allowed to practice a very special kind of blanket censorship. The idea that you need "legal clearance" to show a logo, or mention a brand seems to be common sense, but it's hogwash.
In both cases the network made that call of their own volition. In the case of Roseanne, the box on the table could have said Cheerios, sure. But next week ABC might have a deal with Fruit Loops, and they won't be happy if that's not their product on that table. Best to just shy away from the matter altogether and make them "Oaties." No one can be offended. Plus, down the line, if someone actually wants to pay to have their product in our sitcom, they should feel more than welcome. The phony soda can is like a message to the other corporations: "This could be you." So when movie producers talk about getting permission to use a product, they're talking about permission for one company to use another company's product and remain in good standing with each other.
Having logos and corporate products everywhere is a fundamental reality of life. Depicting our world as laden with ads falls under freedom of speech. Logos and products are like the faces of Marilyn Monroe and Barack Obama; they're public. Notice Morgan Spurlock didn't have to put black bars on everything, or bleep out the word McDonald's when he made Super Size Me. Although you can bet the McLawyers picked through the movie carefully to see if they could sue. But just like every "person" in the public sphere, corporations have to prove what you're doing is slander or libel, if they want to make it a matter for the courts.
In a $200 million movie, yeah you're seeing a lot of product placement. Transformers, for instance is full of so many unabashed commercials it's embarrassing. The director, Michael Bay, a supply side capitalist if there ever was one, is proud of the product placement in his movies and brags about it in his DVD audio commentaries. It saves the investors money and allows them to scale production up, and hedge against the loss of money if the movie doesn't do well. Informed viewers smell the lack of authenticity, and either avoid the movie, or laugh through it.
It's when the movie isn't rife with lame, obvious, logos and product usage that things get stickier: BrandChannel is a useful, horrible site that tells you which products and logos are in every major movie, the assumption being that every single thing on that list is the result of product placement. Nonsense. It's just a list of the products mentioned in the movie. The Internet doesn't have a resource for knowing which parts of every movie are actual product placement. I doubt anyone does.
I found a video on YouTube that is essentially a polemic against product placement, and it comes out most strongly against the big budget kind. Then it goes after Good Will Hunting, a movie I don't particularly like, but in this case, I'll defend. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play working class Bostonians who walk to their car with Dunkin Donuts accoutrement, and the narrator of the video concedes that this is reasonable, saying "Dunkin Donuts is a Boston institution." But, he says, they hold out the labels to the camera and "that makes it a plug, and therefore not realistic." Touche, but in the video we can watch the scene, and they don't do that. Watch it yourself. I don't feel like that was unrealistic.
This video is the kind of thing I'm taking issue with. Product placement is a troublesome issue when it comes to cultural criticism. But I'm going to sound like the person the guy in the video decries when I seem to defend the practice. The Good Will Hunting thing doesn't seem like a cut-and-dried case of product placement to me. If companies ARE paying money to movie producers to include products the producers would have included anyway, the companies are getting duped.
The kind of product placement where filmmakers sacrifice even a shred of authenticity to include an advertisement? I loathe it like a disease. It's possible that corporations have such hegemony that I should be as glib and cynical as that Adbusters columnist, but I don't have enough anger in me to see the coke can in The Road as a case where product placement interferes with my appreciation of a movie. I'm becoming more worried that the belief that films should actually shield us from logos is starting to interfere with intelligent discourse.
may 28, 2010 01:58pm – in Korea
If you're one of my friends, you've seen my erratic tweets, and maybe received a panicked instant message from me. Yes, I'm going crazy. It's not your imagination.
What brought it on is my slowly but surely draining bank account, a useless degree, and noticing that my late twenties were well on their way but having nothing to show for it all but two music videos and a bunch of unfinished projects.
It's not as easy as it once was to calm me down with endless refrains of "there's still time" and "you can't be a failure at 25." These used to help, but I'm waking up to a bigger and darker realization: If I follow my noble ambitions and fail, as I always promised to do, it's not the fault of others for not recognizing me as a writer. It's nobody's fault. It just happened.
Maybe it was my dad's pep talk yesterday. "When I look back, I was just a blip in the history of the city of Ontario," he said during one of his tangents. He also kept reminding me that "plenty of people have jobs they don't like." The implication being that I'm not any different from anyone else. I used to be different; I was too stubborn to do that.
I've been applying for jobs I don't really want. As video work and writing work have begun not paying the bills, I've started trying to gitta jawb. It almost worked. Maybe if I wear a tie or smile more, the next one's in the bag, but no luck so far. My scattered, baffling job history tells the story of someone who had dreams and ambitions, but not a career path. Some people, you could probably guess their personality pretty accurately from their resume. You could probably look at mine for instance and say "this seems like a guy who can never find his cell phone."
I could (and I'd forgive you for feeling like I SHOULD) just get in line and march in lock-step to the drum beat of the corporate masters like, well, pretty much everyone in the world. This is a move many before me have made, and refer to in retrospect as "growing up." I can't say for certain where I earned a get-out-of-dead-end-job-free pass. If I, for some reason, woke up and decided that it was time for me to get a job in marketing at Tyrannicorp, I'm sure you'd agree it'd be a stretch given my qualifications.
So to recap: 1) I want to make movies and get paid for it. 2) Realizing this is tough to do, I've been looking for humbler jobs 3) The humbler jobs aren't forthcoming and 4) I'm pretty much out of money, which brings me to that realization I was talking about: I'm tumbling down the mountain of my ambitions, toward my career as a barista.
I say "career as a barista" sincerely. I would (and perhaps will soon be) be padding my resume and pounding pavement for weeks to get that barista job. Even those don't come easy right now. That's a big plate of the proverbial pie and I am, at long last humble enough to eat it.
So I'm not above shitty work to weather the storm, that's neither here nor there. My dad's pep talk went in a much more surprising direction than that: He said I shouldn't get a shitty job. He wanted to pursuade me that If I pour every ounce of my blood sweat and tears into it, I could get a business going making web videos for people, or at the very least "videotaping bar mitzvahs."
Four years ago I finished my first feature screenplay; an epic historical sci-fi action comedy. At 21 I was sure to the point of smugness that wealth and fame were close at hand. It wasn't a question of whether my script would sell, it was a question of how much I'd get. No one pounded down my door trying to get that script, so I co-directed a music video that was on MTV2, but famed movie producer Joe Longcigar never called us. Some hiccups followed that, but suffice it to say I've had some mountaintop moments of high ambition, and some deep, existential valleys to go with them. I say all that in order to make a point: scrounging and struggling for the opportunity to videotape bar mitzvahs was never where I saw my life going.
But, let me re-emphasize, I'm prepared to go to these lengths to scrape by. Plenty of people have it much worse.
Still, "plenty of people have it much worse" is no mantra to live one's life by. It is a consideration, however when I look back on my decision to go into moviemaking to begin with. When I was 17, and I decided that, in fact, filmmaking was for me, I was heavily under the influence of Traffic and Fight Club. Hollywood was taking chances on some real tough, anti-establishment material. I also discovered foreign films like City of God around that time. Making movies seemed noble and important. I was going to make gritty movies about social problems (The kind of movies I was planning to make were later encapsulated perfectly by Children of Men.)
I live in Hollywood now, where there's not much mention of movies as important social statements. The idea of moviemaking as primarily a business venture was once, to me, and I'm being sincere here, something only hardcore cynics would talk about. I'm not saying I got blindsided by hollywood superficiality after I moved here; I became jaded a long time ago. What I am saying is that what I really wanted to do at one point was "make a difference" through movies. STOP LAUGHING, DAMN IT.
Of course you can make a difference through movies. You can steer the course of people's lives, especially impressionable teenagers. You can accidentally persuade them to try and make movies too, like what happened to me. But I don't blame the movies. I also blame the "be whatever you want to be" rhetoric my generation was raised on (To be fair, Fight Club warned me about that, but I didn't listen).
The path toward being a filmmaker had a vague and glowing endpoint. Respect and fame were there at that finish line, but not any sort of job title. Upon graduating, conscious of my mistake, I used to say I felt like I'd just majored in winning the lottery. I was studying the techniques of great writers and directors. I certainly wasn't studying the techniques of people who have jobs in Hollywood. My greatness would carry me past all that nonsense.
I've done a lot of writing, but the prospects were always impossibly grave when it came to entering them in competitions or mailing them to agents. I didn't work my way into the Hollywood system in order to curry favor. I never had any internships (in fact I resent the very idea of them, but that's another tirade entirely), and I never got myself a job as the assistant to the personal assistant of the secretary of the guy who cleans up Michael Bay's pubic hair clippings. I could make excuses where working in this town are concerned, and say I tried and was defeated. The fact is I don't have the stomach for it.
It's not weakness I'm admitting here, but call it that if you want to. I simply don't have the stomach for the climb-the-latter approach to "making it" among any city's snarling corporate monsters. It doesn't matter if they're the giant, cannibalistic insects at a Dallas oil company, or the the fanged mutant octopi on Wall Street. Me and those guys, we just don't mesh. And I didn't realize it when I got into this with my precious good intentions, but that was going to prevent me from paying my dues in the 9-5 world here.
Honestly, I thought for 25 years that I was uniquely talented among my peers. It's taken up until today for every last burning ember of that delusion to burn out, and for me to see myself as "just some guy." It didn't hurt realizing that now well into adulthood, I'll never be considered a "whiz kid" (which is to say it hurt quite a bit). The fact that I was anything but "just some guy" was what assured me that I never needed to consider the course of my career. "That'll all sort itself out when I get famous." I've paid lip service to this concept over the years, but I've never internalized it before right. this. second.
Forgive me if this is taking on the tenor of a suicide note. I'm not in a state of despair right now. Far from it. And I still want to make movies. I'm just starting to suspect that I need a real career. Not a job, mind you, although I need one of those too. Filmmaking is an interest, or even a passion. But come on. A career? Is it really a career? Really?
My mind is awash with heavy thoughts right now. The light of morning might not shine well on the words I'm writing. But right now I'm back to where I was when I was 18: I feel like I can make a difference in the world. I just have to figure out how.
may 03, 2010 02:09am – in Korea
By Mike Pearl
As an avid Twitter user, I have watched users join, peak their head around, and ultimately bail. I've watched users join, grok it, and stay. And lastly I've watched users join, fail to see the point, and stay anyway; This is the problem crowd.
The ones who "get" Twitter seem to intuit a set of guidelines that make following them a pleasure. The rest are wandering in the desert, living lives of Twitter Sin, needing to be shown the error of their ways. For those who need it spelled out for them, I say unto thee: Follow my commandments, or I shall not follow thy tweets.
1. Thou shalt not double or triple tweet on one subject. If the thought is too complex for 140 characters, simply link to your blog where you can be more detailed, or skip the thought altogether. Otherwise your followers likely won't read it. They've come to Twitter to read the compact wisdom that a character limit creates. Think of this limitation as a gift, and don't be afraid to take the time to rigorously self edit. Push toward that character limit; Seeing an overcomplicated thought chopped up and simplified into a tweet is part of the fun.
2. Thou shalt have a point of view. Those who don't tweet are in the right to criticize Twitter as a place where narcissists simply announce every banal event of their lives. But it would behoove those who wish to use Twitter to its fullest to not follow said narcissists. There is nothing inherently wrong with tweeting that you made toast, but what does this toast say about your life? What larger concepts or problems does this batch of toast speak to?
3. Thou shalt not exceed three tweets in one hour. Unless there's an election being stolen, and Twitter is being used to fuel a popular uprising, there's not usually anything so urgent going on that you must tweet moment-by-moment. Most likely what you're documenting if you do this is your stream of consciousness, mixed with some remarks about what's making you LOL at the moment. And most likely what I'm reading if you do this is something else.
4. Thou shalt self-deprecate, not self-aggrandize. That plate of fines de claires oysters you're enjoying? That yacht ride you're on? Yeah, we hate you for it. Yes, all of us. If your commentary about the oysters is that they're not up to your standard of freshness and you feel like that's all the commentary Twitter deserves, I won't be following you for long. A bit of cutting self-awareness or irony in moments like this can save you from ending up on Tweetingtoohard.com
5. Thou shalt distill the list of who thou followest down to those thou actually readest. Another option is to use the new "lists" feature, and put all your real life friends on it. This will ensure that rather than shitting your thoughts into the abyss, you're keeping alive the concept that Twitter is a conversation. It's frustrating when you @reply to one of your friends' tweets and they don't even notice.
6. Thou shalt keep the meaning of thy tweets transparent. Think of twitter as a room you enter throughout your day to have a conversation with some friends. If you walk in just to quote a song lyric without attribution, or say the word "Pineapple!" without anything around it, yes, we're confused. Mission Accomplished. But we're not thinking "What an interesting point of view this friend of mine has." We're thinking about unfollowing you.
7. Thou shalt not just complain. This may be a rule for how you conduct yourself more than a rule of Twitter. Are you a complainer? No one likes a complainer. Twitter is here for you if you have a problem, but if all you do is whine, you're not doing it right. Here's how you can self-test: When you post about your problems, have people stopped @replying? That's because they're not even reading your whiny tweets anymore.
8. Thou shalt not be a link regurgitation machine. The occasional link with commentary is a welcome part of the global conversation that is Twitter, but are you just copy>pasting everything you're reading on Digg? Your friends probably would have seen that lolcat eventually on their own. Either that or they already did. You're not The Internet's central meme filter or tastemaker. Leave it alone.
9. Thou Shalt strike a balance between in-group and out-group tweets. You should definitely post special tweets just for your close-knit group of friends. But what about the friendly acquaintances and well-wishers who follow you? Don't make them regret reading your tweets. Post for the general population 50% of the time or more. And whenever possible, start an insiders-only tweet with an @username so outsiders won't even have to see it.
10. Thou shalt not use Twitter as just another place to feed updates from other web services (like Facebook, Flickr and Youtube). As I keep saying, Twitter is a conversation. If your only contribution to the aforementioned "room" is that occasionally a robot walks in and announces that you marked a YouTube video as a favorite, then we get what you're hinting at: "Don't bother following my Twitter. If you're really interested, make friends with me on a site where I am active."
february 21, 2010 09:51am – in Korea
Apparently this idea was just too shocking for Ian to handle.