Thursday, June 30, 2011

Excerpts from The Arrival

The arrival came as a surprise.  It shook the foundations.  Reverberated the walls.  Rearranged the order of the land.
Mortal eyes were not prepared for such a scene.

4:00am he woke, as he did every morning, not by choice, but by routine.  Upon relieving the overnight buildup, he would return to his room, get under the covers, for three more hours of uninhibited sleep.

At 5:30am she had yet to get to sleep.  She works the 7:00pm to 3:00am shift at the factory.  Last night she gladly accepted the two hours of overtime.  It was like a gift from God, as she is quickly approaching three months overdue.  She’s already received several notices from the bank. 

A man came over last week, unannounced, in a worn out grey sweatshirt and blue jeans.  She was doing some finishing touches on her garden.  She saw the man, whom she had never in her thirty years at this address seen before, walking his dog, a Bullmastiff or perhaps simply a Mastiff, she loves dogs but always had trouble separating one breed apart from another similar in lineage.  She thought nothing of this innocent enough looking man walking his dog.  She figured he must be the new neighbor from three blocks down, as she had seen the moving vans parked in the driveway of the smallish orange-rust colored ranch for about a few days now.  So, when he said hello, introducing himself, she naturally, as any good neighbor would do, stopped picking the weeds from her flower garden and got up from her now soiled over kneecaps and arose to approach the stranger. She didn’t have to make her way the entire distance to the sidewalk, as this “new neighbor” met her half the way. 

She said hello and pet the very affectionate beast of a dog.  She barely made eye contact with her new friend as her attention shared its focus upon this beautifully crafted animal and the watch her son gave her two Christmas’ ago. 

It was already 3:00pm and she would soon have to hop in the shower, prettying herself up for the long evening ahead.  The small talk was brief before she announced she would have to take leave of him, in order to get ready for work. 

The man quickly changed the tone of the, up until this point, pleasant conversation.  He now identified himself as a representative in the debt recovery department for the bank she did business with.  He explained that over the past two months several phone calls made on the banks behalf were unreturned.  He also mentioned that several letters, offering assistance, had been sent but never corresponded to.  She was upset.  She called the man a few names. It also appeared she instantly became a bit angry at the dog, but this could only be inferred from a not so loving gaze directed in his direction. 

The one time stranger, now loathsome henchman, finished up the conversation by letting her know that if the payments hit ninety days her home would begin foreclosure proceedings.  A process there was no turning back from. 

It was the seventy-seventh day. 

She knew she didn’t have to pay all three months right away, but according to this man, she would have to pay two months before the eighty-ninth day ended.  She had exactly seventy dollars in change, which she kept in an oversized jar, a savings account for the trip she was hoping to take, where she would get to see her son, many states removed from the place she was at currently.  She would have a check for six hundred dollars, which she would receive on Friday and a separate one, in the same amount, the following week.  But even with these checks, she would still be nine hundred short, and that’s only if she starved herself.  She was extremely frazzled by this looming deadline, so she gladly accepted any and all the overtime the factory would extend her way.  It was 5:30am and in a few hours none of this would matter anymore.

These are but two of the lives that changed at 7:00am, on the day of the arrival.

So many people were standing amidst the wreckage at 7:10am.  Nothing stood.  The shaking was so intense, every foundation crumbled.  Everything had returned to the origin point.  A massive cleanup would soon begin.  No explanations.  Just an arrival that went unseen, by everybody, everybody except for one.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Burning Pumpkins

Okay, been doing a bunch of thinking lately.  Mindless thinking, but thought nonetheless.  I've made a decision that not many people will agree with.  Hobgoblin is my favorite superhero villain.  There I said it, I made a couple of paintings and now I feel better.  Had some real trouble  with the pumpkin, but I think the first one really shows the pumpkin under intense heat.  It wouldn't stay solid, there would certainly be some deforming going on.  Anyhow, hope you enjoy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This novel has been out for some time now.  I’m a bit behind the punch here, seeing it has sold several million copies and is the benefactor of glowing reviews worldwide.  This, of course, is one of the reasons for my being drawn to it.  Normally, when I hear the chitter-chatter regarding books I toss it aside, pay it no attention.  However, the hype surrounding this book was too grand for me to ignore.

So, I picked up the book, thinking I would read twenty or so pages a day, something to contrast my non-fiction reading frenzy, that I’ve been immersed, as both a habit and a hobby, for a very long time now. 

This plan was ill conceived.  Even the first two hundred or so pages of backstory didn’t deter me from the soon to be diagnosed, non-stop, ignore everything else in my life, literary addiction.

The first two nights, I can say that I held pretty close to my initial plan, reading only forty or so pages the first night followed by seventy or so the second night.  It was a nice change of pace.  It did add something sweeter to my normal reading fare.  Then day three and the four hundred-page-marathon occurred.  I just couldn’t stop, like a crack fiend whipping out and scraping for the next five spot, as I pandered about in darkened alleys, searching to extend my fix.  I truly believe, if it weren’t for sheer exhaustion, I would have completed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo that night.  But, as fate would have it, day four the novel was completed.

Most people are aware of the plot.  Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist, is sentenced with a libel conviction that threw his world for a loop.  He had a jail sentence to serve in the near future, a magazine that is losing advertisers and is in financial despair.  This is when a lawyer, Frode, presents Blomkvist with an invitation to meet his client at his estate.  Mikael almost declined the invitation, but figured he had enough of his curiosity peaked, providing his motivation, to go meet up with Henrik Vanger.  This meeting sets the course for the remainder of the book. 

Long story short, Mikael is commissioned to detail a family history of the Vanger family.  But his primary purpose is to uncover whatever he can, regarding the disappearance and suspected murder of Henriks brother’s granddaughter Harriet.  And oh yeah, the disappearance/likely murder took place some fifty plus years earlier.

Mikael makes little progress in his mission, until one day, he uncovers a discrepancy with one of the last photographs taken, just some few hours, before Harriet’s disappearance.  This discovery leads Mikael closer to the truth, but to move even closer and unravel the mystery he would need some help. 

That help arrived in Lisbeth Salander, a troubled girl, with a haunted past.  Lisbeth is a pretty, yet child-like in appearance; possessing numerous tattoos and piercings, to go along with her typical black leather jacket, black jeans and uniquely slogan-filled t-shirts.

Lisbeth is a hacker with photographic memory.  She excels at patterns and mathematical design.  It’s with her help that they are able to decode a message found in Harriet’s effects.  The message leads them to unravel a few puzzles, which unveil a series of murders, that had taken place throughout Sweden, spanning several decades.  

The key to unlocking the puzzles was found by reviewing biblical passages, through tracking old newspaper clippings and through modern technological advances, used to understand and analyze fifty year old photographs.  They determined that all the murders had to be linked to Harriet disappearance.  All the evidence had similarities with each of the unsolved murders, much too many to be simply chalked up as being coincidental.  What they uncover is a serial killer, that’s been in business, alone or with help, for over fifty years.

The action picks up as the killer realizes Mikael is getting too close for comfort.  Mikael is in frequent life threatening situations, including evading sniper fire and becoming a victim himself, via torture, that takes place in the killer’s basement. 

The duo solves the mystery of Harriet Vanger.  The killer is met with and defeated.  Yet this is not the end of the story. 

Part of the reason Mikael accepted the assignment from Henrik Vanger, was to obtain sensitive data surrounding Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, the billionaire businessman, whom Mikael was found libel for erroneous reporting against earlier in the novel.  This storyline still needed resolution, and with Salander, they uncover enough dirt on Wennerstrom to bury him once and for all.

This is the gist of the novel.   I’ve purposely left out any real discussion here, surrounding Lisbeth Salander.  As I’ll be delving into her character fully in just a moment.  Briefly though, Lisbeth Salander is the reason for reading this book. Her character is extremely intriguing, whether looked upon as a source of entertainment and/or as a psychological case study.

What I’d like to do for the remainder of this discussion is to look at a particular theme, and how it, and its branches, bear an imprint, on the novel and on the characters within, specifically Lisbeth Salander.  

It is of my opinion that the theme of Identity and the connections it has with estrangement, abandonment, father figures and dysfunction are tied together and are ever present throughout the book.  I feel this discussion will provide the reader a deeper understanding of the world within The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.   

Identity, for our purpose, is the search for one’s self.  Lisbeth Salander is a lost girl looking for identity, trying to find out who she is, and what constitutes her essence.  

Throughout her life, she’s consistently been looked on as an outsider.  Therefore she dresses and behaves in a fashion that corroborates other’s views of her. 

She was separated from her mother at the age of 12. There are some extenuating circumstances regarding this separation, which are not resolved, or explained, in this book. Yet it is important to understand, because she was, for all intents and purposes, abandoned by her parents, and then by society.  

When she was separated from her mother, the courts didn’t care to look beneath the surface.  They just didn’t care.  They saw a girl who acted out in abnormal ways, but more so, they saw a reserved, shy girl without a desire to be a part of what society considers normal.  

After several failed attempts at foster service, the courts deem she is suffers from a mental illness, and were on the verge of placing her in an institution.  However, she’s given another chance and for now evades that fate.  Instead, she is placed into the care of the government, as a ward. 

This lack of familial stability bears damage to the psyche, and hinders one’s search for identity.  Yet, Lisbeth understands this, but also knows she cannot be the person she feels comfortable being.  She knows that if her actions are deemed inappropriate, she’s got a room ready for her at the asylum.

Although she had a positive experience with her first guardian, Holger Palmgren, where things started to actually began looking a bit brighter for her, things changed suddenly.  Palmgren suffers a stroke, to which Lisbeth waited at the hospital, night and day for three months, waiting for him to recover.  The manner in which she waited showed her desperation, her last grasp, to cling tightly to the only "normal" familial experience she'd ever known.  But the hospital told her they didn't expect Holger Palmgren to survive this ordeal, and so Lisbeth does what she feels comfortable doing, run as far from the situation as possible, blocking it from her mind the best she can.   

The courts moved on as well, as her case is passed on, to a second and extremely cruel guardian, Nils Bjurman.  This experience destroys any of the development that she had made with Palmgren and digresses backwards.  

She is now more lost than she’s ever been.  Her interaction with Advokat Bjurman reinforces the low self-opinion she’s been struggling with.  She feels like she must be this incredibly terrible and worthless person, for another person to treat her in the manner Bjurman had.  This experience reinforces the idea that it’s not safe for her to trust anyone, resulting in her becoming even more withdrawn.  Her search for self had been put on permanent hold.  The only thing she could do is to counter his cruelty, with a cruelty of her own, something her years in “exile” had taught her to do, at an extremely high and proficient level.

Included in this theme is the search for a father/parental figure.  Outside of the occasional fling with a woman or the casual encounter with a man, Lisbeth’s relationships are all with much older men.  Her choices, the positions she puts herself in, are defeatist in nature.  These relationships are doomed from the start.  So when they do fall apart, she then reinforces the idea that all men are pigs, that all men are cruel.  She reinforces the idea that she is nothing.  If a relationship looks as if it’s progressing, Lisbeth rejects the possibility and walks away, without giving her partner any notice, or any chance to talk her out of her decision.  Finally, when she finds a man that she’s willing to reciprocate emotions with, it’s the one man, whom by virtue of his composition, is incapable of providing the kind of love she’s now seeking, thus reinforcing all the negativity once again.  Lisbeth learns it's much easier to hate than it is for her to love.

There are other characters in the novel that experience abandonment and/or father figure complexes.  Harriet Vanger has serious issues with her father. I won’t delve any deeper into the rationale for including her, as this aspect is intrinsic to the storyline of her disappearance.  When you read the novel, you will understand the inclusion, and most likely will be able to expand upon it.

Cecilia Vanger has issues with her father.  Her father abandoned her many years ago, both literally and emotionally, after finding out her lover was 1/4 percent Jewish. Her father, being the Nazi he is, chastises and berates her, declaring his own daughter to be a whore.

Even the men in the story are not protected from abandonment issues.  Martin Vanger has a father figure complex that develops upon the death of his father.  Everything Martin does from that point forward is his way of living up to his memories of who and what his father was. 

Henrik Vanger, while the father figure complex is not developed, he has serious abandonment issues.  He didn’t have any children of his own, so when Harriet moved in with him, she became a surrogate, the daughter he never had.  When she disappeared, he devoted the majority of the rest of his life, to finding out what happened to Harriet.  The obsession made him scrutinize everyone as a possible suspect.  This obsession drove him away from his family, and drove his family away from him.  His issues of abandonment resonate in his need for a semblance of closure to this era of his life.

Mikael Blomkvist, is the abandoner.  He recognizes the fact that he’s not been, nor is, a good father.  This can be seen in his relationship with his estranged wife and daughter. It’s also shown as he distances himself from Erika Berger, his longtime friend, co-worker, and lover. 

We see Mikael as the victim of abandonment three times throughout the book.  The first is where he’s convicted for Libel.  He feels that not only did the justice system let him down, but that he let himself down as well.  He feels abandoned when Cecilia Vanger breaks off their relationship.  He also feels this in regards to Lisbeth, on more than one occasion during the time they shared together.  Cecilia and Lisbeth are very similar in the respect that both of these women leave men, Mikael in this case, without providing any real explanation for their decision.

The search for identity is also seen when analyzing the major puzzle in the novel.  The major puzzle is steeped in scripture.  Its relation to identity can be seen through looking at religion.  The people who frequently seek out religion, it can be argued, are searching for something greater than themselves.  Many people look to religion, as a way to help deal with problems, to bring cohesion to their lives.  Many others find themselves when they become more spiritual.  In The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, religions tie-in with the serial murders, bastardizes the value of religion by attaching spirituality to gruesome acts of betrayal and sin.  

This linkage also establishes dysfunction as something that aids in the deterioration of identity.  Dysfunction is a symptom of lost identity and it also inhibits one's ability in finding their self.  Here we see something that traditionally brings peace, in religion, cast in an unbecoming and antithetical light.  Dysfunction is not only an ingredient in the loss of one's self, but also its product as well, thus a cyclical beast, forever churning against the self. 

A few other cases of dysfunction shown here are:    
The Vanger family’s Dysfunctional behavior spans entire generations.

     Mikael Blomkvist’s family details his abandoning, but his relationship with Erika resonates in dysfunction.  The fact she is married and that her husband is aware yet open to her extramarital relationship with Mikael is very dysfunctional in its own right. But when combined with the fact Mikael is also okay with the whole scenario, just adds another layer to the dysfunction here.

    Everything about Lisbeth’s upbringing and life, when it comes to family or relationships seems dysfunctional at numerous levels.

The final few points I’d like to present on this issue of identity returns us to Lisbeth Salander.  She is so desperate for an identity she makes numerous identities up, hoping to find her true self.  She creates her online identity of Wasp, whom she feels comfortable with, precisely because it’s fictitious and can go away anytime she feels like it.  Another example is seen near the end of the novel, where we see Lisbeth go into numerous disguises, each bearing a fake identity and having different personas.  She even gives these characters different hair colors and accents.  

There’s a reason for the disguises, as far as story is concerned,  but you can also see that the role playing has a deeper purpose for Lisbeth.  It appears she is hoping that she’ll find something, anything, that resonates within her, with who she is, of what she wants in life.  We see her go through progressions, as she looks in the mirror, checking herself out, how she examines the way others look at her, comparing the different looks that accompany each disguise.  Lisbeth weighs the worth of each item as she is about to dispose her alternate personas effects, even commenting on the cost and value of the objects.  At the end of this progression we find out, alongside her, that she likes the way the fake latex breasts look and feel on her.  The fact she keeps these, after discarding all the other items, shows she finally found a piece of who she is, shows that she has assessed a problem within her, and feels she has found something to help move her in a positive direction.

Finally Lisbeth Salander is one of the best hackers and researchers in Sweden, if not the world.  This occupation allows her to spy and pry into other people’s lives.  She delves deep within her marks, leaving no detail from her investigations unturned.  The process she uses not only detail her as an extremely thorough investigator, but infers the notion that she is also constantly analyzing personality traits and behaviors, to see if anything inspires or resonates within her.  Constantly we see her making little remarks or off-hand comments when she’s performing her investigative research, which shows her mind is processing everything she comes across, and albeit briefly at times, she’s also analyzing the information to see how it could or would apply to her own life.

The novel is an excellent read as a source of entertainment alone.  However, when we understand the elements within a book or a story, we gain a deeper appreciation for not only the plot, but also for the characters within. 

When we become readers of subtext, readers of what’s not written, we not only experience story, but become privy to a deeper knowledge and insight.  When we seek out the implications, read between the lines, we can infer an understanding as to why things are the way they are, or seem to be.  Through scholastic analysis, the depth of our experiences becomes fortified.  In this way, you aren’t just being told a story, you’re also perceiving reason.  You’re finding out how things work and why things don’t, from which you can take this understanding, out from the page and incorporate it into your own life, your own world.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher is a film I had no intention to see.  I typically have a pretty good handle on my likes and dislikes, especially when it comes to film.  This all said, combine boredom with the unlikely conversion of a one dollar scratch off ticket into twenty dollars and you have, well, an explanation as to why, I went against my instinct, and saw Bad Teacher.

Bad Teacher stars Cameron Diaz, as a deplorable schoolteacher, no make that human being.  Her one goal in life is to snag a man with money.  No, perhaps her one goal is to gather $10,000+ so she can get fake breasts.  Oh wait; she wants the fake breasts so she can snag a man with money.

While the film does have some pretty funny moments, it didn’t nearly have enough of them to snare this one from the clutches of the “Oh my, I could’ve scripted this so, so much better” monster.

The acting was very good though, a true positive to take away.

Jason Segal was his typical, everyday, workmanlike self.  He’s a really funny guy and does a great job blending his comedic styling into the roles he plays.  Justin Timberlake does a great job portraying a nerdy, superficial and very agreeable schoolteacher.  Diaz did an excellent job. She nailed her performance, playing her role to a tee. 

Squirrel, played by Lucy Punch, is the perky, goody-goody teacher.  She’s really the hero of the film, if this film were based in reality.  She’s that person.  You know, the one that seems too perfect to be true, friendly to everyone, takes pride in, and loves, her job.  Well to make her the villain, the nemesis to Halsey. Her traits are overemphasized to caricature status, thus making her comically annoying.  She unhinges, as all “too perfect” characters have to do, as the film wears on.  She becomes the rat, another unlikable character trait, as she plays the whistleblower to Halsey’s lack of ethics & illegal activity.  She does a marvelous job in this role.

Phyllis Smith is just brilliant in her role as Lynn Davies.  She idolizes Diaz, wants to be like her, but because she’s an overly good person, she just can’t behave in the same way Halsey does.  A perfect example of this occurs early in the film.  Davies & Halsey are having lunch together when Halsey says she’s not going to a mandatory meeting.  Davies tells her “but it’s mandatory.”  Halsey blows it off like she doesn’t care, which she doesn’t.  Smith retorts by declaring she’ll skip it too, but only seconds later she partially retracts, stating she’ll leave halfway through, only to retract again just moments later, when she says she’ll sit in the back of the auditorium and ignore the speech.  This continues until she says she’ll stay for the entire meeting. Smith does a masterful job, nailing the role down perfectly.

The acting is not what I have a problem with, in fact I think, as touched upon, all the actors did a remarkable job.  It’s the script itself I have a problem with, mainly because of poorly designed character arcs & a resolution I didn’t like at all.

They crafted a downright deplorable person in Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz), but to be a hero you have to learn a lesson, in one way or another you need to evolve.  While this does happen, the transformation just isn’t large enough.  In fact I’d even argue that her character is rewarded for acting the way she does.  Her change can be seen like this:

1.            Early in the film Smith treats Diaz to lunch.  At the end of the film, Smith offers to treat her again, but this time Diaz replies by saying, “no, you treated last time, this time we’ll split the bill.” If that’s not saccharine I don’t know what is.
2.            Early in the film she refuses to go on a date with Segal.  Her reasoning is that he’s a poor gym teacher.  He persists throughout the film for no reason, other than that she’s hot.  She gives him every reason not to pursue her, but he doesn’t pay any attention to the snubbing.  At the end she gives up on her dream of finding a rich man, and settles for Segal. Which was extremely predictable by the way.
3.            Early, and throughout the film, she really wants breast implants.  At the end she decides against having them, saying she doesn’t need them. Yet again easily predictable.
4.            She cons an education worker into a meeting, where she poses as a reporter.  She spikes his drink. Steals the test answers.  Which she uses to ensure her students score highest on the standardized test.  But she didn’t do this for the sake of the students; she did it for the $5700 bonus.  Punch catches her, but instead of paying for her sins, she concocts an inventive storyline.  So at the end she receives no admonishment for her actions. In fact, in this mixed up world of Bad Teacher, she gets a promotion of sorts. Ok, not predictable, but there’s no way she should be coming out on top.  Even with this being a comedy, you still have to have your character evolve, much more than what the audience is given.
5.            Early on she tells a young male student that he doesn’t have a chance with the girl he’s crushing on.  At the end she sticks with her berating, but does this act of “kindness,” that is played off as if she did such a good and amazing thing for the boy.  Yeah, in a way she did help build the boy’s public perception, maybe even help with the kids self image, but, again, realizing this is a comedy, I have to say the way she went about her assistance, is not only ill conceived, but inappropriate as well.  Not predictable and yes funny, but it was supposed to be this “oh she’s turning the corner moment” which it wasn’t, at least not in my book.
6.            About midway through Diaz is invited to Christmas dinner at one of her students’ homes.  After dinner she steals a dolphin statue.  This was never resolved.  Again, promoting ne’er-do-wells behavior, with seemingly no consequence.

One final script issue would be the portrayal of the teachers.  They, each and every one of them, are caricatures.  Sure we get a few nuances thrown in here and there, like the principal and his over the top devotion to dolphins, but for the most part they were simply lifeless shells.  There wasn’t anything particularly special about them. 

I don’t care if a character isn’t perfect.  I don’t even care if a bad guy wins out, that’s fun to see sometimes.  But in comedies you, for the most part, want a happy ending.  You could make the argument that we had one.  I would disagree.  I would say you actually leave the film unhappy she didn’t pay for her sins.  I would say you leave feeling bad for Amy Squirrel. 

In fact, I may have been okay with this, as unappealing as the resolution is, if they would’ve just gone straight from her con on Punch to her accepting Segal and having the credits roll with them kissing.

The additional scenes just pushed my dislike over the edge a bit.  There wasn’t any need to give her, and all her standing demerits, a promotion to conclude the film.  Even with the ending lunch invite, it would have been better if she just would’ve said she’d treat Smith this time.

Is it too much to want your main character to overcome some kind of obstacle to achieve resolution?  The fact that she didn’t get the punishment that she deserved, is not overcoming adversity, it’s simply sneaking by.

The film was not as bad as I’ve made it out to be.  It could have been a pretty good film, if but a few changes had been made.

If you go and see Bad Teacher, go to laugh, as you would if you were going to see the latest installment of Jackass or something like Borat. 

I guess my main point is that I laughed here and there, but the denouement was all but non-existent, almost to the point of being anti-climactic.  Then again, perhaps this was the writers’ intention all along.  In which case, I say touché, well played, and my sincerest apologies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cars 2

Cars (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging)Fisher-Price Shake 'n Go! Disney/Pixar Cars 2 - Lightning McQueenFisher-Price Shake 'n Go! Disney/Pixar Cars 2 - Mater
Cars 2, is a wonderful ride into a truly animated world of creativity. Disney and Pixar unite once more for the sequel to the blockbuster from a few years back.

As is typical fare for animated features these days, Cars 2 is revved up with an all-star cast of voice actors.  Larry The Cable Guy (Mater), Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Bonnie Hunt (Sally), John Ratzenburger (Mack), Cheech Marin (Ramone), Tony Shaloub (Luigi), Edie McClurg (Minny), Katherine Helmond (Lizzie) and Paul Dooley (Sarge) return to Radiator Springs.

For this course, John Turturro (Francesco Bernoulli), Eddie Izzard (Sir Miles Axelrod), Joe Mantegna (Grem), Bruce Campbell (Rod “Torque” Redline), Michael Caine (Finn McMissile), Vanessa Redgrave (The Queen/Mama Topolino), Emily Mortimer (Holly Shiftwell) and Jeff Gordon (Jeff Gorvette) join the pack.  In the booth, calling the World Gran Prix action, Brent Musburger (Brent Mustangburger), and David Hobbs (David Hobbscap) join returning commentator Darrell Waltrip (Darrell Cartrip).

With all the names attached to Cars 2, you might assume to find a lagging storyline or perhaps a salve, to make up for any flaws within the script.  This is not the case, not in the least bit.  As mentioned, stars love attaching themselves to animated features of late, especially when the feature is associated with Disney and/or Pixar.  For me, Cars 2, is much more than your run of the mill, over hyped, summer animated blockbuster.  This film showcases some of the finest creative artists, doing what they do best, utilizing their knack for creating a remarkably unique portrait of artistic brilliance, which I’ll expand upon in just a few moments.  But first an overview:

In Cars, Lightning McQueen was center stage.  It was his film, and everything contained within, revolved around his story; around his character arc.  In Cars 2, Lightning McQueen takes a supporting and rather secondary role.  He’s used as a catalyst, helping set the position, for Mater’s story.  Without Lightning McQueen, Mater would never arrive in Towkyo, he’d never get caught up in the spy game, and he’d never rise above his persona, proving that even the lemon, the outcast or fool can have their day; can save the day.  

There are two overall themes in Cars 2, the outcast as hero/don’t judge a book by its cover, and the meaning of friendship.  Each of course, revolve around Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater.  And make no mistake about it, this is his film, and all the action in it, go toward its development. 

Mater joins Lightning as a member of his pit crew.  They go to Japan for the first leg of the newly formed World Grand Prix.  The contrast to Radiator Springs is front and center.  We see numerous fish out of water moments.  We see Mater rushing all over the place, experiencing everything new, taking it all in, like a kid on his first visit to a toy or candy store.  Mater’s innocence and lack of worldly experience, sets up many misunderstandings and miscommunications throughout the film, which lead to some extremely funny moments.  A few of these are:

Mater Vs. Wasabi 
Mater Vs. The Bidet
Mater Vs. The Rendezvous
Mater Vs. The Oil Spill
Mater Vs. The Zen Garden
Mater Vs. James Bond

So the story then progresses, as Lightning has a set back and blames Mater for his shortcoming.  Mater, destitute, has just had his world shattered and has a revelation, that he is nothing but a jinx & a disaster waiting to happen, seeks to leave Japan, intent for a return to Radiator Springs.  Miscommunication and Mistaken Identity rear its head once again, as Mater is thrust into the world of international espionage.  Obvious funny moments continue as the fish out of water motif is ratcheted up a few notches.  Although Mater has no idea why these “fancy” British spies believe he’s an American spy, he goes along because they asked for his help, and helping others is what Mater does, it’s in his nature, it’s who he is. 

Mater gets slightly caught up in this Mater rebrand, until another low point occurs, Finn tells him that he’s so good at his job because everyone sees him as a fool, he plays the role perfectly.  Well, we, along with Mater, fully know he’s not playing a role at all.  He has now returned back to the destitution.  The all is lost moment happens when he, the fool, must overcome certain peril, in order to help his best friend, to save his life, because that’s what best friends do.

Pretty much I’ve elaborated on what people can piece together for themselves through the trailers.  I won’t go any deeper, plot-wise, as to not risk leaking or spoiling the film.

For the remainder of this review, I’d like to return to the creative brilliance on display in Cars 2.  The naming of places and characters is outstanding, as they take well-known monikers for people, places, activities and things, and throw a car-like twist upon them.  A few examples:

Big Ben is Big Bentley
Tokyo is Towkyo
Lieder Hosen is Mater Hosen
Urination is Leaking Oil
Cow tipping is Tractor tipping
Pigeons are little toy airplanes
Sumo Wrestling is Yugo wrestling
El Camino is Miguel Camino

These are just a few of the extraordinarily well-crafted and detailed examples within the film.  For some additional examples, refer back to the cast list in the beginning of this review, where you’ll find numerous names converted into their car-world counterpart.

Cars 2, is creative beyond the name/idea twisting I’ve just described though.  It has some very advanced ideas and metaphors scattered throughout the film.  Some are obvious like the reference to urination above, but others are not as obvious, or pass by rather quickly on screen.  Some examples are:
Alternative fuel Vs. Gasoline
This idea is taken straight out of current news.  The debates rage on, in every aspect from independence from foreign oil, to environmental impact.  The subtlety the writers infused this broad scoped topic into the film was superbly done.
Stereotypes are seen from beginning to end.  From redneck, hillbilly, references to Japanese game shows.  From arguing Italian men to the food pushing Italian Mamas.  From the seedy, criminal element to the prim and proper Royal types to the rigid nature of the Royal guards in London.    
The notion of outcasts is a major element of this film.  Therefore I won’t thoroughly dissect the messages and portrayals in the film.  But I will say that it was rather creative utilizing old clunkers and “lemons” from history to characterize this element.
Culture and Setting
As in the real world, ideas of culture can be seen, through the setting, in every section, every scene of Cars 2.  From the dusty roads and clay-like dirt terrain of Radiator Springs to the big lights and electric neon of downtown Tokyo.  From the circles and roundabouts, represented in the streets of Italy to the overcrowded traffic patterns of London.  From the rickshaws and vending machines of Japan, to the rowdy nature seen in the English Pub.

The creativity and depth of Cars 2 makes it a well-spent afternoon for adults.   Any child that enjoys cartoons will like this film, for all its animated glory.

However, there is one note, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, in regards to suitability for children.  If you allow your children to watch mild violence and/or life threatening scenarios, well there really isn’t anything in Cars 2 that should make you think twice.  However, if you monitor what your children watch closely, than I should inform you there is a bit more violence in this film than I anticipated.  The film opens up with a sequence, seemingly taken, directly from a James Bond film, with gunfire, explosions and burning oilrigs.  Later in the film we see Rod “torque” Redline, not as a car, but in the aftermath, a compacted cube, of a meeting of the enemy.

There is also several moments, intended for humor, that deal with a cars undercarriage, the effect Francesco has on women, with the space between his wheels and his being exposed, with nothing to hide, and so forth.  Life and death scenarios are also seen in numerous situations, cars exploding on the track, a bomb attached to a car, cars about to be crushed and so on.  
There’s nothing really out of the typical fare that’s seen on television, but I felt it necessary to provide you, as a parent, with enough information to make your own decision.

Anyhow, as you can tell, I found this film very entertaining and something that most people would enjoy, from start to finish.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bottle of wine

For this piece I started with the idea of a bottle of wine.  I then added the table and chairs, probably should go back and rework the fully visible chairs back a bit more.  Then I got the idea of a little cafe and added the small hanging lamp in the distance and the window.  In the window I thought I'd add a bit of scenery, so I put the hill and sky in there.  It was at this point a Dio song was playing, to which Rainbow popped in my head, so I added that and then the gold coins.  Hope you all like it.  let me know what you think.

Monday, June 20, 2011

At The Warning Track

As I continue on my track down Artwork Alley I've been trying to include more images of people and objects into my paintings.  This, I've found to be much more difficult then I thought it would be.  Anyhow, the people I've been able to draw look like they come out of some Nickelodeon or Adult Swim cartoon, but I'm still having fun, and I've bought a few books to help out with this aspect of painting/sketching etc...

My latest painting is an homage to the great game of Baseball.  Hope you all enjoy:)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Green Lantern

Green Lantern

I have to admit I was really, really looking forward to this film.  Although I've forgotten much of the history and origin of The Green Lantern Corps., growing up I was a huge Green Lantern fan.  Not completely obvious, but nonetheless, Hal Jordan was always my favorite lantern.

I think my favorite lantern memories have to do with his epic battles against Sinestro.  Going in to see this film I was a bit baffled, seeing Sinestro was shown as an ally of Hal Jordan.  From some talks I've had, it appears it was pretty close to the comic origin.  Sinestro it seemed has a similar arc to Anakin Skywalker, from Star Wars fame, in how the dark side can seduce even the strongest Heroes.  That all said, despite a recent trend towards comic book accuracy, it wouldn't surprise me if some scripting liberties had taken place.  I'll update the review if I hear something contrary.

So without giving anymore plot away, which I already hinted around a bit, I'll break down my experience with The Green Lantern.

So how did this film live up to my expectations?

It was about what I expected but less than what I had hoped for.  I was hoping there wouldn't have been so much backstory, in regards to Hal Jordan's personal life.  I would have liked to see a little more training, which was pretty neat. Killowog sure does know how to train them.

I would have liked to see more of the corps in general, but this is Hal Jordan's story. So while slightly disappointed, I probably would have scripted it in a very similar fashion myself.  The back story was necessary & the writers did a really good nice job of handling something that could have been, for all intents & purpose, played out much more.

I liked the comedic aspects added to the story. The humor fit well with Ryan Reynolds acting as well as with the Hal Jordan we were presented with.

Like most Green Lantern fans, it was the ring that kept bringing me back.  Quickly, the Green Lantern's powers stems from his ring.  The ring is linked to the chosen recruit.  It provides the wearer the ability to create waves of green energy, taking the shape of whatever he sees in his his head.  The writers played around with this, using the objects as a developmental tool for Hal Jordan.

A brief example being early in the film, an immature Hal Jordan saves a banquet from disaster.  He does this by producing a race car to house a falling helicopter and the track it proceeded to run on.  This scene, while showing Hal's ability to be a Hero, it also shows he's yet to gain command of his power; he's not ready for the big time yet.  More scenes like this can be seen where it's interesting to see what objects Hal creates, and how these objects fit in to the particular points of the film they happen.

As mentioned, the film centers around Hal Jordan. A nice portrayal is painted, of a hero and his personal battles, overcoming his fear of loss & failure, in addition to coming to terms with his father's death, a death he witnessed at a young age.  Oh yeah, he does this all the while trying to save the world from the film's two antagonists.

The film's main antagonist is a force from space called Parallax that feeds off the fear of others.  Parallax spends his days & nights traveling around the universe, eating planets & stealing the life-force from each planets' inhabitants.  The secondary antagonist is Hector Hammond, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who, without further spoilage, has a connection with parallax as well as a connection to Hal Jordan.  Hector is the films link between the world we know, and the world that may become.

The relationship between Hector and Hal, is not only protagonist vs antagonist, but also alter-ego vs alter-ego.  It's an interesting dynamic that not only showcases the opposite ends of the power spectrum but also produces a triangle effect. As with most triangles in film, this one centers around a love interest.   Carol Ferris, played by Blake Lively is the girl Hector Hammond has always loved, and Hal Jordan, in Hector's mind, has always been the one in his way. This dynamic played out in a very entertaining fashion, as Hector's once figurative obstacle/foe transforms into a literal obstacle/foe.  In their stories climax, Hal sums up Hector's delusion perfectly by saying something to the effect of "Let her go & let her decide who she wants."  

While I enjoyed most of the elements in this film, I have to admit Sarsgaard was a consistent scene stealer.  His portrayal of Hector was spot on, pre and post transformation.   This isn't any indictment against the rest of the cast, as they were all good or better.  It's just Sarsgaard's portrayal of Hector was on a completely different level, and it was really fun to watch.

If you're a fan of the comic book you have to see it.  If you like super-hero films in general you should see this movie. If you like action films you'll like The Green Lantern as well.

It's filled with wonderful visuals & offered a celestially picturesque viewing environment. This, however, leads me into recommending you go see the 2D version over the 3D format.  You'd think, with what I just described, 3D would be stunning, vivid & gorgeous. Well that's what I expected to experience as well.

I saw the 3D version & while offering some beautiful scenery, it just didn't do enough to justify, let alone recommend, the extra cost incurred.  While there were a few wow moments you won't find with 2D, I just didn't see enough of them to say the 2D viewer is really missing out.  But then, after leaving a 3D show, I feel this way quite often.

I'm still waiting for the perfect 3D film; I'm hoping that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II, Transformers:Dark of the Moon or Conan The Barbarian can come close.  I'm not a fan of remakes, but from what I'm reading & from the trailers I've seen, Conan looks to have the makings of a real 3D winner, but again we'll have to wait to see.

Hope you enjoy the film. As always let me know what you think and if my experience helped you out.

Friday, June 17, 2011

New Painting and Some Poetic Verse

A boy was walking his dog
Along a road made of brick and gold
Only to find a well exposed
To which I thought he should find it's valve
Stop the spill and make it safe
But what happened 
He could not know
He turned the lever
and the Oily mess ceased to flow
But when he turned to look at his dog
He realized his pup had turned into a raspberry glow
If he had a mirror there
He would have seen an unfamiliar stare
His flesh and his self
Conformed, transformed
into a bird dark and bright red 
In the park
That afternoon
the leash was dropped
but the loyal pup did not go
For soon
Someone would have to verify
All the zaniness that transpired
For mother is very fond
of the cats back home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Silence amongst the Cacophony

My first attempt with watercolors.  I found I enjoy the ease of application yet found the bleeding factor a bit unexpected at first, before I realized brush type makes a big difference.  The Flowers on, and including, the rocky white mossed basin and the trail of blood was done using oil, the grassy shoreside/hillside was done using watercolor as was the base of the pool, which I then proceeded to fill.  The droplets in the pool were airbrushed in and for the Ocean I used a paint tube.  There is a brief poem in the ocean as well.  I may go back and add some other elements, perhaps a boulder or some rocks later on, but for now I like the barren feeling that would accompany such a scene.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Beaver

The Beaver

The Beaver is a film I told myself that I would not be taking in.  The previews never drew me in, in fact the whole concept seemed novel but off.  However, boredom on a Sunday afternoon, in possession of a free ticket, I headed the brief trek over to the theater to see if my initial judgment would be incorrect.  I said to myself that perhaps The Beaver would be one of those films that wound up taking you by surprise.

Before I go any deeper into this review, I'd like to say I am so glad I didn't pay to see this film.  This was tough for me to write, as I typically find something positive to say about a film. This is not because I want to be that positive reviewer, but generally each film has enough redeeming qualities to makeup for its lackluster ones.

That all said I have a couple more disclaimers to offer.  Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson are not two of my favorites.  I fully understand both are well regarded in Hollywood, and I can see why.  Foster was tremendous in Silence of the Lambs and Contact, as was Gibson in Braveheart, and even the Lethal Weapon films. Yet for the latter I still say Danny Glover made those films.

For me, they are the type of stars that do shine, but never merit watching on the basis of their abilities alone.  Most of their films I see because of a plot interest or another actor's involvement.

The Beaver is about Walter Black(Gibson) who is severely depressed, and that depression has taken over his life.  He is told to leave the home he shares with his wife, Meredith(Foster) and their two children, the oldest, Porter, played by Anton Yelchin.

On his way to his motel, Walter stops off for a bevy of alcohol.  To make room for the liquor, he removes some personal effects and throws them in a dumpster.  During this moment he finds a Beaver puppet atop the trash.  Why he took this puppet isn't really explained, and quite frankly doesn't make much sense.  He's going to the hotel intent on committing suicide, so there's really no use for a beaver puppet, and the puppet doesn't even "talk" to him until his second attempt at suicide.  The whole notion seemed contrived.

I'd like to make a brief side note here.  I was re-watching Elizabethtown last night and couldn't help see a glaring similarity with this film.  Early in Elizabethtown, Orlando Bloom's character is ready to kill himself.  He throws his possessions near a dumpster.  In The Beaver, we see Gibson throw some of his items in a dumpster.  Bloom's character is saved by  his sister's call, informing him of his father's death.  In the Beaver, Gibson's character is saved, first by a broken shower rod, but for good when this puppet "speaks' to him.  Not making any indictments, just pointing our a coincidence I noticed between the two films.

Walter then becomes one with the Beaver.  Everything seems like it's going great.  Seemingly, with the help of his Beaver pal, he gets his professional and personal lives back on track.  But something just isn't right, yep, he's unable to do anything without the Beaver. His previous inabilities haven't gone anywhere, the've just been transferred.  He now can do nothing without the Beaver, in fact in his mind, he's not doing anything at all, it's all the Beaver, all the time.

For those of you still wanting to see this film, I'll let you see for yourselves how it turns out.  Just don't be surprised, because I doubt you will, and don't say you weren't warned.

There are a few positive things though.  One being Anton Yelchin, who I thought did the best job of acting.  His character is torn between the fear he'll become his father. He's also trying to win the heart of a girl, who also has baggage issues of her own.  I felt he took ownership of the role, and it showed on screen.

The main thing I'd like to give credit to The Beaver for, is dramatizing what a serious problem depression is.  I am fully aware that depression is much more recognized today than it was just ten or fifteen years ago, but I've often felt many people still downplay the effect it can have, not only to the person, but to his family as well.

Depression can overwhelm you, to the point, which the film did a nice job portraying, of giving up on everyone who cares for you, giving up on yourself, on life in general.  It shows how there comes a point when the depressed grows tired of doctors and pills.  It clearly shows how sleep can become the only comfort in their world.

While I applaud The Beaver for it's pushing depression back into the mainstream, I don't applaud anything else about this film. To learn more about depression there are plenty of other films, but I would recommend checking out the numerous websites available and the information they provide.

To recap my disappointments with The Beaver:

The acting of two well-respected stars.  Gibson tried, but at times his performance seemed exaggerated and almost comedic in nature.

I can hardly blame Foster as she did her best with the role she had to play.  But I can blame her for the directorial effort.  She should have noticed the film's many flaws while filming, even before.

You might be saying I'm being too hard on them.  I can see that as a valid point. Yet I would then mention that they are both highly regarded in the industry, and when you are of their stature, they need to make their roles better than perhaps they were written.  But perhaps you would be correct, as I may be underestimating how poorly the characters were drawn.

There were as mentioned earlier contrived and/or cliched moments.
     A.  Walter taking the Beaver from the dumpster
     B.  Porter's love interest conveniently having emotional baggage
     C.  The leeway the Jerry Co. employees and VP gave "The Beaver"
     D.  The way Jerry Co's sales skyrocketed after the Beaver was on TV
     E.  The way Jerry Co's sales went to clearance later in the film
     F.   The resolution

Anyhow I can't really complain too much, seeing I saw the film for nothing.  And I can't say I was surprised, seeing I didn't really want to see the film. To end this review, I'll ask that if you do decide to go see The Beaver, let me know if you agree or disagree with my assessment.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Super 8

Super 8

The much anticipated release, from Writer/Director JJ Abrams (Fringe, etc) and producer Stephen Spielberg, exceeded my personal expectations.

As normal fare for me, I'll try my best not to hint at anything that could potentially spoil this film.  That said, there is so much I want to talk about here, it may be a bit difficult to live up to the standards I try adhering to whenever I conduct a review.

This movie is richly layered.  It's really two stories in one.  Each dealing with the theme of displacement.

There is also a short film the characters in the film are putting together.  This film is about zombies.  The finished piece can be seen as the credits role, so be sure to stick around for that.  There's a few jokes in this short film, that take friendly shots at zombie films and their history; those affluent in Zombie lore should get a kick out of them.  The only thing I really want to say about the short film is how the film is a zombie or walking dead short.  This is symbolically important, as many of the characters in Super 8 have this almost zombie like feel to them.  They are just moving along, unsure what will come next, just waiting to either be saved or be taken out of "the equation."

The theme of displacement also extends to the kid's short film. A zombie is a soul-less being without a place of its own.  It lives in the shell of a former self.  It doesn't know where to go or what to do.  All it knows is to feed off the living, thus converting them into zombies, displacing them as well. Perhaps so the living can experience what they are going through.

The second plot in this film has to do with the creature.  Although some may argue that this is really the initial plot, I disagree and will explain my position further in just a few moments.  First though comes the creature's plot.  The creature is displaced from it's planet.  It has been here for sometime.  A prisoner aching to leave this world and return home.

In this storyline the creature is the Protagonist.  Nelec is the Antagonist. Dr. Woodward and then Alice and Joe, are the Helpers.  The Sheriff and the army soldiers are the Detractors as they, along with Nelec, try to recapture the creature and inhibit/prevent his escape plan.

The main storyline is the story of Joe Lamb, who is displaced by the loss of his mother and living with a father who doesn't understand him and is pretty much unwilling to learn to be a father. Joe needs to overcome his loss and move forward with his life.  This storyline begins before the film starts. This is where the inciting incident takes place, where an accident at Mrs. Lamb's place of work claims her life.  This act gives life to Joe's storyline.  Joe is obviously the Antagonist.  The ever looming memory of the accident, and all the nuances that lead into and out from it, becomes the Antagonist that Joe needs to overcome to advance, to free himself from the place he's at.  Deputy Jackson Lamb, Joe's father, and Louis Dainard, are the Detractors, assisting the Antagonist in its "plight' to keep Joe in a position of weakness.  Alice Dainard and Joe's friends(to an extent) are the main Helpers for Joe, yet Donny, a stoner kid, becomes an unwitting Helper and the Creature also becomes one as these two main plots entwine with one another.

I'd like to briefly detail some of the reasons I included the children as helpers to Joe's quest.  The act of the filmmaking is a welcome distraction for Joe, still dealing with the aftermath of his mother's accident.  They do, in there own way, provide a sense of a support system as well.  I just wanted to clarify that point a bit before moving on.

The amount of plotting in this film is remarkable.  I've already listed the three major plots, but there are numerous subplots in this film as well, probably including others I either didn't pick up on, or forgot.

1.  Will Charles Kaznyk complete his film
2.  Will Charles Kaznyk evolve as the film goes forward.  Charles is seen as a demanding, selfish boy throughout most of the film
3.  Will Martin get over his fears
4. Will Louis get a chance, become the father that Alice needs and wants
5. Love Triangle, Joe, Alice, Charles

Most of these subplots do get resolved in one way or another, not all positive, but I found it interesting how Abrams was able to tie in so many plots into the overall scope of the story at large.

Another interesting thing I found was the stories use of symbolism.  From the Super 8 camera to Dungeon( Dr. Woodward's self storage trailer) to the Locket that Joe's mother always wore, which gets passed on to Joe after her death.  Each of these symbols, and I'm sure I'm missing or forgetting others, play their role in moving the story forward and providing added depth to each of the plots.

So just to briefly recap:

1. Joe Lamb Vs Moving forward (Accident & its associations as Antag.)
2. Creature Vs Need to return home (Nelec as Antag.)

Theme of Displacement
1. Joe Lamb is displaced because of the loss of his mother
2. The creature is displaced by being lost on a strange planet
3. The Zombie film is symbolic in itself of displacement
4. Dr. Woodward becomes displaced after being touched by the creature
5. Louis Dainard becomes displaced twice. The first is attached to Mrs. Lamb's accident.  The second is when Alice goes missing later in the film.
6. Charles is displaced in relation to the love triangle idea I mentioned earlier
7. The entire accident at the train tracks displaces all the children from the world they just knew. (For Joe though this train accident works towards pushing him along in a new direction, so for him it was a needed event)
8. Alice feels displaced living with a father who is just there, drunk most of the time.

Super 8 is a thinkers action film. There are, as you can tell from this review, many layers to Super 8.  Not all of them are integral to the overall structure of the film, but if you're not paying attention or missing them you're, in my opinion, missing out on the extra pieces Abram's and Spielberg included.

I thought the acting was very good and in stride with what the film was trying to accomplish.  Pretty tough to obtain when dealing with something with so many layers, shown and not seen.

At points I found myself thinking of  Stand By Me, probably because of the notion of childhood friends attempting to "do" something and their being near train tracks.  I'm not going to go further into detail about the two films similarities here, yet felt it prudent to mention that I do feel they exist.

Anyone a fan of supernatural, or to some degree Sci-Fi, stories will enjoy this film.  Anyone who likes Abram's previous work will enjoy this tale.  Anyone who likes films with well defined and unique characters should enjoy this film.

Like I've mentioned before in previous posts I was looking forward to this film for some time, and I was not disappointed.  This will be a film I pick up on Blu-Ray when it becomes available.