Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Informant

I think my favorite regular program of any kind is This American Life.  The show is just... they're so good at capturing those moments in life that make you feel warm inside, and those that make a shiver run up your spine.  The modern independent radio story is more or less a carbon copy of the stuff TAL has been doing for years.  If you've never heard their stuff before, go subscribe to their podcast right now.  It's the best thing you'll listen to all week every week, and you can appreciate it while taking a walk.  It's probably the only thing that gets me out and about some weeks.

"But Sam," you say.  "This is a blog about movies!  Why are you talking about a radio show?  Well I think I made it pretty clear in my last post that I'm not above branching out in my subject matter.  There's plenty of stuff out there that acts like a movie but isn't.  To be sure, radio is a step further away from movies than TV is, but it's still in the same spectrum of story-telling.  That's what I'm interested in in the first place - story telling.  It's just that I like forms that get told to me in 2 hours rather than books I have to read over weeks.  I'm from generation X; I'm impatient and easily distracted.

There's more than that, though.  I put on this week's podcast a couple days ago.  It looked like a re-run from nearly a decade ago.  Turns out the show is all devoted to a single story about an FBI informant who helps take down one of the biggest price fixing schemes ever found and rooted out.  More importantly, they reran it this week because a movie version of their 2000 radio story just came out starring Matt Damon.

I remember seeing this poster around and not being excited.  I never even bothered to watch the preview for it on Hulu.  But after hearing the TAL story... well, they get me interested in everything.  The main character is such an interesting guy, and I can easily see Damon playing him really well.  The guy almost reminds me of The Talented Mr Ripley if you replaced the murder with doing illegal business stuff.

Two recommendations then:
1.  Go listen to as much of This American Life as you can get your hands on.  Right now.  Why are you still here?  I know for a fact that this week's show is free, and you can listen to any show for free if you stream if from their website.
2.  Go see The Informant.  I can vouch for the story's quality, as can reviewers (apparently).  It looks like one of those precious few "true stories" that actually remains true to its source material.

Have at it, movie goers!  Before I go, here's an embedded trailer:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fall TV Shows

It's that time of the year again, the time where I'm in school and stop having time for watching / blogging about movies every day.  My time is broken into smaller pieces than it was in the summer, so I fill it with smaller sized movies.  That is to say, TV shows.

There are some big differences between TV and movies.  TV episodes have to be a very specific length, so they tend to fall into a small number of plot formulas.  These plots tend to rise and fall at very specific times, namely commercial breaks.  At the same time, the stories told on TV can be much longer than those in movies since they come back every week.  This again leads to a repetitive rhythm in stories as shows that do choose to have story arcs that last more than one ep(isode) tend to have high points at the beginning and ends of seasons, and during that one week in the winter where ratings are measured more than other times.  Not that is particularly bad for the medium as restrictions breed creativity, and sometimes the deadline of a season's end can make a show get on with it.  Remember the third season of Lost when they didn't know how long they were going to have to keep the show going, so they just dragged everything out as long as possible?  Yeah.  Bad news bears.  An ending for the show was great for them.  Could've helped The X-Files a lot.  Smaller plot threads can do the same thing, and a season's end can be a good way to make the writers wrap things up.  With an appropriate cliffhanger, of course.

Yes, TV is limited by the network system.  Blah blah blah Firefly comment blah blah.  Nothing to be done about that, though.  It's a shame, but we deal.  It's not like Hollywood doesn't have that going on.

Anyway, I'm going to start periodically updating my faithful readers on my current opinion of the shows that I watch.


Now without further ado...


WOOOO FRINGE!  This show just started its second season this past Thursday.  It's a show by J.J. Abrams, also known for his co-creation of Lost and Cloverfield.  I still struggle to find differences between Fringe and The X-Files beyond the fact that the buzzwords we're willing to suspend our disbelief for have changed since the 90s.  Instead of aliens we've moved up to anything with the word quantum in it.  Great show, though.  It's my favorite show on television at the moment, and it had me hooked from episode 1.  Here's how the pilot ends:

Bunch of dudes in white lab coats in a pristine white basement somewhere beneath ominous corporation Massive Dynamic.  A boss woman we've briefly met comes in to the lab, and we see that they have the body of an important dude who just died in a car crash on a gurney.

BOSS LADY:  Is he dead?
BL:  How long?
LT:  About three hours.


BL:  Question him.
smash cut to black

Yeah, bitches.  That's some heavy hitting right there.  Then there's the end of the first season where, well, I know some of you ignored my spoiler warning so I won't spoil it here.  Besides, it leaves me speechless - it's such a visual thing.

Then the characters are... actually, for the most part I like the supporting cast a lot more than the main cast.  The black dude is amazing, Astrid is fun and perky, and Nina is fucking sweet.  Walter is fun, though it seems like every ep they have to give him a new stupid line about food.  We get it, he's nuts.  It's a good way to introduce new viewers to his character, yes, but please.  You're professional writers.  You can come up with another way to quickly depict him and switch off episodes; you don't have to use the same joke every time.

Olivia is fine, though not amazing.  I'm a fan of Peter even though he feels like a 7 or 8 when he should be a 9 out of 10.  Everyone's better than Mulder at least.

Oh shit, then there's that one guy.  Mr. Jones.  What an awesome villain.  He totally gets a spot on my top 5 villains of all time.  So creepy.

Pretty much.  If you were a fan of The X-Files and don't like this show, it better be because you're squeemish.  There's a lot more downright disturbing ideas in Fringe I think because society has sort of upped the ante in what creeps it out.  You have to be pretty hardcore these days.


It's not Firefly, that's for sure.  Probably the worst of Whedon's shows, but that still leaves a fuck-ton of room for goodness.  Oh, and the first 5 eps are complete trash.  If you want to get started on this show but don't want to deal with the horrendous beginning, here's what I recommend:  buy (or "buy" [by which I mean torrent]) the DVDs, watch the original pilot episode, then read plot summaries of the first 5 eps.  If you're really bored, watch episode 2 because I actually liked that one.  If you're really, really bored, watch the one where she's robbing a bank, too.  If you're really, really, really bored, still don't watch the rest of them.  They blow.  After that, watch episode 6 and just go from there.  It should be enough to hook you unless you actually need those first 5 eps to figure out what's going on, in which case the show is as good as dead.  Probably is anyway given the ratings.

If you can make it all the way through the season, the payoff is HUGE.  The end of the season is merely fine, but they filmed a 13th episode for the DVDs called Epitaph One.  It's awesome, though disappointing that the show is so close to dead that they had to essentially put 5 seasons of plot into a single episode.  I feel robbed of 4 years of setup and reveal.  4 years should be 4 years, not 43 minutes.

I think the biggest problem with the show in its first season is that there's no character you can really like.  Topher is sort of likable, but he's also creepy as fuck.  You're "supposed" to like Echo, but she by definition doesn't have a personality.  The doctor is likable I guess.  Everyone else is not up to empathy standards.  Epitaph One greatly implies that this will change, but still.  You want people to like your show in season 1, not season 5.  That first one is where it's most important.

Whatever.  Lots of faults, probably worth it if you follow my advice about what not to watch.  Hey, that gives me an idea...


Oops, I'm out of time.  I'll be back later this week with Chuck, Castle, and any other shows I watch but am forgetting about.  In the mean time, check out Fringe season 1 on DVD.  It's awesome.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How To Get To Movies On Time

I remember when I first realized that everyone I knew was bad at organizing trips to the movies.  We were getting on to interstate 35 on our way to see TMNT, and we only had 8 minutes to get to Lakeville theater, a drive that would normally take 12.  Somewhere between 80 and 90 mph, I wondered why we hadn't just left 15 minutes earlier.  We'd be able to safely get to the theater, people who wanted to spend atrocious amounts of money on snacks would have time to do so, and everyone could empty their bladders before the movie began.  Why were we so late?

Then the realization:  everyone thinks that if you're going to a 9:00 movie and it takes 25 minutes to get there, you should leave your house at 8:30.  It'll take 25 mintues to get there, and you get 5 minutes to get all your friends, get your tickets, go to the bathroom, and get to your movie.

Think about that.  I know when you, dear reader, head out to a movie, that must be approximately your thought process.  You probably just think "25 minutes to get there plus a few more for other stuff".  But that other stuff takes, like, half an hour itself!  It takes me more than 5 minutes just to get to one friend's house; what happens if I'm taking 4?  Not to mention the time it takes for people to get out of their house when you show up.  No one's perfect, and everyone takes a bit of time.  You have to account for each person you're bringing, traffic and construction, and getting to your theater once you've gotten out of the car.

That trip to see TMNT was a great example of this.  Someone had told everyone to meet at Blue Monday 30 minutes before the movie started.  Naturally, no one showed up until 28 minutes until showtime, and then we spent 5 trying to figure out who should drive and who should go in what car.  Just as that had been decided, we realized someone who was coming hadn't showed up yet, so one car had to wait for him.  He showed up at about 20 minutes until showtime, and then it took another 2 minutes before the car engines were starting.  Now we had less than 20 minutes to make a 25 minute drive, buy our tickets, and sprint to the theater.

After that night, I decided to start taking matters into my own hands.  If I'm going to a movie these days, I make sure  I know what showing I'm going to, who I'm taking, and how long it takes to get to the theater.  (I'm always the driver, although that's mostly because I have a car and don't mind rather than anything else.)  Then I take the expected driving time, add 10 minutes of travel time per person I have to pick up, add another 5 for good measure, and leave with that total amount of time to get to the theater.

"Wow," I bet you're thinking.  "Don't you get to the theater stupidly early?  I don't want to have to sit through those horrible movie adds."  This, my friends, is the best part of the whole system.  Yes, I do get to the theater early, but since I started doing this, that early time has become my favorite part of the whole trip.  You aren't feeling rushed during it because you have plenty of time, so you get to have a nice, relaxed conversation with your friends.  See, the reason I watch movies is the same reason some people like to drink:  I like having something to do with my friends.  When you get down to it, there's nothing more interesting in life than other people.  Not everyone is interesting to everyone else, of course.  You have to be able to connect with another person on some level to make them worth your time.  It may be a competitve connection, like you're playing a game, or it could be a social connectiong, like you happen to both feel passionately about your favorite brand of rootbeer.  Whatever.  Everything worth your time in life somehow contributes to cool interactions with other people.  Personally, one of my favorite ways to interact with others is through stories.  I like telling them, but I also like hearing them.  Talking about stories with friends is fun, and going deeper and really analyzing them can lead to all sorts of good, meaty conversation.  It just so happens that I enjoy film as a medium for storytelling, so I like watching movies with friends.  And that pre-movie time you get when you're early is wonderful for talking!  You can continue whatever conversation you were having in the car, you can compare expectations for the film you're about to see, or you can scrounge up something to say from those terrible adds for small local businesses and churches that for some reason feel the need to advertise.  The time before a movie is ripe for conversation.

Anyway, I was originally planning to give out some helpful pointers for making your movie-going experience more enjoyable.  I didn't mean to get a philisophical on you.  Not sure what I was going to say, though.  It's mostly stuff people already know but don't actually follow through with.  How about a list?

1.  Stop at a gas station for snacks.  Assuming you want them, that is.  It's easy to smuggle in food, and you can save, like, $3 a person if you make the time to stop at a gas station instead of buying movie theater food.

2.  Obviously, make sure you have enough time to get to the theater.  I just spent a huge amount of space ranting about this, but leave a good 20 minutes earlier than you think you have to.  It'll leave everyone less stressed and with a better outing.  If you don't like spending that extra time talking to your friends, you should reconsider more than just when you're going to leave for the movie.

3.  Don't bring people to the movie that are going to ruin it for the rest of you.  For example, I no longer watch Pixar movies with Danl unless I want to spend the whole time trash talking with him.  If you must bring that one person along who really would rather be doing something else, make them sit on the end next to someone they won't bother, and honestly, you should consider finding something else to do entirely.

4.  That last bit transitions nicely into thinking about who you're going to sit next to.  You don't have to go this far

(although someone probably will), but you should consider stuff like "who is legitimately in a relationship with someone else here?" and "am I going to be wanting to lean over and make jokes about this film to the person next to me?  If so, are the people next to me up for that sort of thing?" and "is it really a good idea to let the two girls who are going to be screeching loudly together and thereby bothering the whole theater sit together?" and "is it really a good idea to let the two guys who are going to make jokes about the terrible rom-com script and laugh loudly thereby bothering the whole theater sit together?" and "will I have to pee a lot during this movie because I got a mega-large Coke, meaning I should take the aisle seat?"  All good questions.  As Munroe says, don't just file into the row haphazardly.

That sounds like it for now.  If you've got any movie-going advice of your own, let me hear it.  I always enjoy new ways to improve my movie experience.

Until next time, remember:  leave early!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

9: Why College Is So Important

So there's this guy, we'll call him Ane Shacker.  He grows up as the quiet kid in class who doesn't speak much even when you're trying to have a conversation with him.  In high school he doodles through history instead of taking notes, and comes up with some pretty cool sketches.  When he goes off to art school, he's already got this idea floating around in his head:  it's for this group of little guys made out fabrics and nick-nacks, and he sketches them a lot.  Pretty much every project he does features these little guys in some way, and in the ones where he can't he tries to find ways to fit references in anyway.  In portraits they show up as logos on shirts; in pictures of flowers they're silhouetted in the background.  He doesn't mind that they look corny, he's more into computer arts anyway.  Eventually he starts developing a story for them, too.

Somewhere along the line, Ane gets lucky.  He's showing off some of his digital sketches to someone important, and they think it's great stuff.  He gets some money and some buddies willing to work for tiny amounts of money, and they put together pieces.  This is looking even better now, and a big studio is even thinking about picking them up.  Things start going fast; they get more money, more people, and pretty soon they've got a whole movie made about these guys!  Damn they look cool, too.  Tim Burton's even signed on to hook his name up with the publicity.  Ane's dream has come true!  He's gotten his little doll-guys onto the big screen!  Now everyone can see his sketches in full 3D!  But wait, shit, were they supposed to write a story to go along with it somewhere in there?  Ane's always pictured them as fighting soul stealing robots, so some of those get thrown in.  The robots look cool, too, because Ane did a series of roboty looking things back in school.  Yeah!  Movie done!

Okay, so that's probably a bit off from the facts.  Maybe.  Check out this imdb page, though.  Yes, that's a link to 9, a short film made by the same guy who made the movie this review is about.  A short film made in 2005.  Wikipedia says it took 4 and a half years to make, so this thing's been in the works since 2000!  This guy's been working on this project his whole life!  It's his baby.  It's just too bad he didn't hang out more around the English department so that he'd make some friends that can write.

9 looks awesome, you can't argue with that.  I'm always looking for animated movies that target themselves at people above the age of 4.  It's just that I want them to make sense, too, and this movie doesn't.

The plot is... well, take all the post-apocalyptic stories and all the AI gets too advanced and kills all the humans stories, put them together, shake them up, and draw out like 6 at random.  Chop those up, use a couple pieces from each, and voila:  you've got 9.  Evil machine creatures?  Check.  A band of people seemingly alone in the world?  Check.  Each of them is a boring stereotype?  Check.  Beautiful sky above the clouds but dry crappy world beneath it?  Clues hidden by someone who came before this group about what they should do to survive?  Sacrifice of the selfish guy who turns noble at the last minute?  Cool explosions?  All checks.  Seriously, it's a boring plot, and it's full of holes.  There's something about souls being sucked out of our numbered heroes, and something about saving them from the machines.  There's a deux ex machina ending.  There's even a fucking HAL9000 style red circle for the evil bad machine's "face".  Everything is a cliche.  My dad speculated that some of the scenes were actually homages to other movies, but we both thought hard and couldn't come up with anything.  Conclusion:  the scenes are all so cliched that it just feels like they're homages because they're so fucking overused.

But enough about the bad.  I'm only so pissed because I was hoping the plot would be good so that animation as a genre could take a step forward.  And because it would have been SO EASY to give it a mediocre plot instead of a bad, nonsensical one.  Why would you want to see 9?  Here's some reasons:

Yeah baby.  That last one especially; it may not look like much, but that snake slash machine thing is awesomely creepy.  You've gotta see it to appreciate just how disturbing it is, but basically it uses one of the puppets that has died as bait for the rest of them, hypnotizes them with the dead puppet's eyes, then picks up the limp bodies, sews them with blood red thread into a subdued form, then puts them inside itself to carry back to the machine lair.  It's terrifying.

The character design is also great.  It's an intriguing puzzle:  how does one differentiate nine of these little rag doll guys?  Each opens up along the chest, and each closes in a different way (buttons, zipper, shoe laces, etc).  Each has different looking eyes.  Each is made from a different fabric.  More impressive is how each of these design choices helps bring across the doll's personality.  The hunter has a bone mask.  The girl looks softer and lighter than the rest.  The angry guy has different eyes, more capable of looking angry and suspicious.  The librarians are small, thin, and don't speak.  Every one of them looks unique and cool.

Man, I could sit here all day and talk about how cool looking this movie is.  I could also sit here for the same amount of time and bitch about the stupid plot.  If you just want a sweet looking 80 minutes, what are you waiting for.  Otherwise, you can pass this one up.

Hey, it beats an art museum.

SAM'S VERDICT:  Easy on the eyes, just bring some earplugs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

5 Movies You Haven't Seen But Should

Okay, so you may have seen some of these, especially if you're my dad and watch all the same stuff I do.  But the rest of you probably haven't even heard of most of these, and they're all great.  If you're looking for something new to see, check this list over and see if anything catches your fancy.

The Hudsucker Proxy

I'm a sucker for everything Coen Brothers.  They've got a pretty standard forumula that about half their movies follow.  It involves various groups getting involved with some sort of illegal activity, then due to either people being stupid or just bad luck everything goes to hell.  People die, the heist / murder / what-have-you goes fowl, etc.  I like that formula.  They've done it adapted from a book with No Country For Old Men, they've done it as a comedy in The Big Lebowski, they've done it straight in Blood Simple, and they've gotten it nominated for best picture with Fargo.  This movie, The Hudsucker Proxy, is one of their movies that does not follow this formula.

So you've got a hyper-stylized version of the "newsies" era.  What is that, the 20s maybe?  Whatever.  It's New York City, people are all walking around in gray suits with briefcases not turning their heads.  The sky is white rather than blue.  All the buildings all super tall.  Tim Robins is a young guy fresh out of school looking for a job, and he finds one in the hectic mail room of Hudsucker Industries.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hudsucker jumps out the top floor of a skyscraper.  That sucks.  The board of directors, being evil and such, tries to decide how to deal with the fact that they will no longer have control of the company.  They devise a plan to put an idiot in charge, drive the company into the ground, buy up all the cheap stock, then get back in charge and make millions.

And just after this, who should walk into the office of the Head Evil Guy with a BLUE LETTER

but Tim Robins.  He gets the job, and it goes from there.  And yes, before you ask, there is a fast-talking, hard-working, woman-in-a-man's-world reporter with too much sass and not enough patience.

The brilliant red pops so well against the otherwise gray pallet of this movie.  If I ever get disheartened as an artist, I'm just going to watch this movie again.  Ideas can come from anyone, guys.  Everyone has a beautiful idea inside of them waiting to blossom, and everyone has a different take on everyone else's ideas.  Remember that.


Not the modern animated one.  I haven't seen that one, but I hear it's good.  No, I'm talking about the old school black and white masterpiece that's never been fully recovered and has substantial sequences missing because they've been lost to time.  Metropolis is one of those old movies you see the poster of in classrooms inhabited by old people or cinema profs with movie posters on the walls.  I know what I think when I consider watching old movies:  no way.  Times have changed, stuff that was funny even just 15 years ago is stupid now.  Action has gotten better, drama has gotten more dramatic, and everything has gotten more colorful.  Seriously, though.  This movie is a masterpiece.  It's arguably the first sci-fi movie ever made, and certainly a very early story in that genre in any medium.  On top of that, the plot is good.  It's just a good movie.  I only watched it because I was forced to for a high school film class, but it was great.  I stopped looking for techniques like I was supposed to super early on and just watched it because I wanted to know what happened next.

I'd give you a quick plot synopsis, but I honestly don't remember what happens.  Something about a girl and some serious class divisions.  Heaven and Hell imagery frickin' everywhere, man.  I think there's robots involved.

The Weatherman

I know what you're thinking:  first he wants me to watch a "classic" piece of cinema for entertainment rather than to be able to say that I've seen a "classic" piece of cinema, and now he wants me to endure Nicholas Cage.  Yes, that is what I'm telling you, but keep reading.  I swear.  He's actually tolerable in this one.

Tolerable... that's an apt word to describe The Weatherman with.  This is the bleakest of comedies I have ever seen.  It's black as a black bear wrestling Malcolm X at midnight on a moonless night, all covered in black paint.  If you take me up on this suggestion, be prepared to be depressed.

Nicholas Cage is this guy.  He's got a dad who's a famous writer who he's always stood in the shadow of.  His ex-wife has custody of the kids, and she's got a new boyfriend.  Cage only gets to see the kids from time to time, and both of them have some pretty serious problems.  His job is as the weatherman for a medium level network.  Basically, his life is going down the toilet and he doesn't know what to do about it.  The movie is about it circling the drain, and the slight glimmer of hope that comes to him in the form of the chance to interview to be the weatherman for a really big network, maybe make 6 figures...

It's as bleak as it sounds, but it's also heartwarming in some sense.  It has a few of my favorite bits of all time in it; the discussion of people throwing stuff at Cage, the tarter sauce bit, and the brilliant ending thing with Cage narrating and walking through the streets as people dissipate around him... It's all so depressingly beautiful.

Plus it has Michael Cain in it.  Everything with him in it is at least watchable.  Oh!  And the kid from About A Boy.  Yeah.

Man On Wire

You see that movie poster?  That is a guy slacklining between the towers of world trade center.  Need I say more?


I don't think I should have to, but I know you won't be motivated to actually go watch the movie unless I do.  Also I want to.  So there.

Man On Wire is a documentary about this French dude in the 70s who slacklined between the twin towers.  No joke, this actually happened.  It's an awesome idea to begin with, but the telling of the tale just gets better.  Watching it felt like watching Ocean's 11.  There's a good script, there's a love interest, there's all this great history, and then there's the way they tell the story.

It comes in two parts that jump back and forth throughout the movie.  The first is the story of actually getting into the twin towers with all the necessary equipment, which feels like a crime movie.  This was by no means legal, remember, so they had to sneak past guards and such.  Some guys dress up as business men, some as construction workers, there's an inside man, security guards... it's exhilarating.  The other story thread is all the history behind Philippe (the guy you see in the poster there).  This wasn't the first giant structure he'd slacklined on / around / between...

It's a beautiful movie.  Gymnopedies is probably my favorite piece of music ever, and I've never seen it better used.


It's one of those movies where they tell the same story from lots of different perspectives, except that going into it we already know the story:  it's Little Red Riding Hood.  It's like we were already given one perspective, and now we get 3-5 more (I don't remember how many).  I love this movie because I love all point of view movies, but also because it's a great animated movie done at a tiny fraction of the cost that Pixar works at.  I'm always happy to see someone come close to matching a giant in any field, even if the giant is lovable like in this case.  But yeah, it's funny, it's clever, it's unique, and it has Joe / Brock / Patrick Warburton in it.  I love his voice acting.

Trust me on this one, though.  You don't need an excuse like babysitting your cousin to go watch this one.  You may have to pretend you're 14 again to not feel awkward while watching it, but if you can get around that feeling that you're too old, this is a kick.  High squirrels, British frogs, snowboarding grandmas, everything you could want from an early teen movie.

There you have it, people.  5 movie suggestions that you probably haven't heard from me before.  I recommend them all, even though I doubt any of you will take that too far to heart.  Even if you don't like one of these, go watch a movie sometime soon!  I know any readers here do a lot anyway, but seriously.  Pick up something new next time you've got the opportunity.  Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.  Branch out!  Try new things!  ENJOY THE CINEMA!

Edit:  I discovered after writing this that Hoodwinked actually has a sequel coming out called Hoodwinked Too!  Hood Vs Evil.  Title aside, it looks as good as the first.  Apparently it's got a Hansel and Gretel thing going on.  Go check out the first one before that gets here so that if you're interested you can grab some friends and all go to the second together so it's less awkward.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ponyo and Miyazaki's Relationship to Disney

SAM'S VERDICT:  This is the most adorable thing I have ever seen.

Okay, first thing's first.  I went to see this movie at this new theater in Burnsville called The Cinemagic Atlantis Theater.  Yeah bitches.  Cinemagic.  And it's Atlantis.  What place could better house your movie viewing experience?  No other.  You walk in the front door and there's a ticket both in front of you with an elaborate cage between you and the cashiers, and the whole place is decorated to look like marble.  Then once you get your ticket, you step into the main lobby where there's all kinds of giant pillars, crazy elaborate fantasy murals of muscular men and scantily clad maidens, and giant statues of a guy with a trident and his babe.  After taking that in, you realize that the awesomely epic music you're hearing is not coming from the usual tvs showing a loop of previews, but rather hidden speakers.  This is some seriously epic music we're talking about, too.  Big building and booming pieces that sound like the soundtrack to a place that has earned the right to the name Atlantis.  Walking down the hall to the theater, the music kept playing.  It was great.  I bet the employees want to kill themselves, though.  Listening to one 4 minute loop over and over for 8 hour shifts can't be good for morale.

Then there were the seats!  These were the most comfortable movie theater seats I'd ever sat in.  Big, comfy things with leather headrests.  They leaned back so far it felt like mine was trying to eat me up.  Plus they were brand new, so they didn't squeak at all.  Movie theater heaven, let me tell you.

Anyway, what movie was I going to talk about?  Oh yes:  Ponyo.

I heard a lot of talk a couple weeks before Ponyo came out about how Miyazaki was selling out with this movie by associating it with Disney.  To that I say "BS".  Just because someone accepts corporate sponsorship for their artwork doesn't mean they're somehow getting worse.  People who make good art should be rewarded for their efforts, and if they're being offered lots of money, well, who doesn't want that as a reward?  If Disney had taken creative control away from Miyazaki that would be something else, but my sources tell me this was not the case.

A related topic is the huge number of famous American actors doing voices for Ponyo.  This is a more debatable point; some of the same people that thought Miyazaki was selling out with Disney thought he was also selling out by agreeing to let all sorts of famous American dudes into the cast.  Seriously, look at that cast:  Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Betty White... that's some serious name dropping going on.  This is something one could get mad about for more legitimate reasons.  After all, it's possible that an actor would get cast in this movie for their fame rather than their talent.  I liked the voice acting myself, so this wasn't a problem.  I always feel weird listening to famous actors do animated characters, though.  It's like... I know that voice, and I know the person that voice belongs to, and it's not the person who's body that voice is coming out of.  Liam Neeson and Betty White bothered me a lot in this movie for this reason, though they both did fine acting jobs.

On to more review-y things!  As I said in my verdict, this is probably the most adorable thing I've ever seen.  Cuter than lol-cats, cuter than baby pictures, cuter than pretty much everything.  I haven't seen any of Miyazaki's "for kids" work before, just Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.  I actually laughed out loud many times just at how hilariously cute the scene in front of me was.  That bit where Ponyo is running across the ocean following Sosuke is just so full of innocent glee, it makes me feel all young and pure again.  The movie has the marks of a kid movie all over it, you know, because it is one.  Stuff like there not actually being any villains just challenges, no unlikable characters, messages about acceptance and love, the works.  It's so happy and optimistic, like if we were all like this everyone would be happy all the time.


So yeah.  Adorable kids movie.  Too bad I'm an adult now, and thus the ending was ruined for me.  I kept thinking about what would happen if after Ponyo and Sosuke grow up he stops loving her?  What happens if he finds someone else?  Does she turn into sea foam?  Does she summon her mother and wreck havoc on the land?  Does she just cry her eyes out live a crappy life as a human?  Then I realized that I was a monster - all I can think about is the repercussions of the ending, I can't just accept it as a beautiful children's story.  I'm tainted by age.  Me, someone generally considered optimistic, I can't help but try and find faults in the perfection of this tale of love.  What's wrong with adults?

Life is hard.  I do my best to have fun, and hopefully that will do me well.


Ponyo is a wonderful kids movie, but it is a kids movie.  I know a bunch of people out there not into that sort of thing, and that's fine.  This isn't the movie for you.  But you Miyazaki fans and older folks that enjoy a good kids piece would do well to go see this.  It's blissfully innocent.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Top 5 Animated Films

1.  Beauty and the Beast
2.  Spirited Away
3.  Fantasia
4.  The Incredibles
5.  Triplets of Belleville

Honorable Mentions:  Princess Mononoke, Hoodwinked, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Toy Story, Shrek, Aladdin, WALL.E, Rejected (assuming short form is acceptable)

I tried really hard to not have the whole thing be Disney and Pixar movies.  It's sort of sad how much of a stranglehold they have on the American animated movie scene.  For that matter, it's sad how much of a stranglehold kids movies have on the animated movie scene.  Here's hoping that one middle east documentary animated weird thing I don't know the name of turns out good.

Beauty and the Beast gets on the list because it's awesome.  I've probably seen this movie or Aladdin more times than any other film because of my childhood.  Not only is it representative of the kickass Disney animation of the 90s, but it's got damn good music.  Damn good.  The lyrics are clever, witty, and fit with the music all the way through.  The Gaston song alone is one of the greatest musical accomplishments of the 20th century.  Plus it's funny.  I've seen it a couple times since becoming a teen / "adult", and it's still good.  That's hard to do, guys.  Movies that entertain all ages and both genders, movies with a fantastic score, and good animated movies are all hard to come by.  This is all three.

I like to brag that I saw Spirited Away before it was cool.  My parents dragged me to an uptown showing of it when it first came out, and I was drawn in by it from the first scene.  I'd seen Princess Mononoke (also great) before, but I went into Spirited Away not knowing who Miyazaki was or that he'd been in charge of both films.  Watching this movie is like dreaming:  it ebbs and flows perfectly while you're in the middle of it, each scene transitioning to the next smoothly.  But when you look back on it later, very little about it makes logical sense.  Fun ride.  The atmosphere is great; it's tense but kiddie, romantic but casual, epic but personal.  Oddly creepy at points, too.  That black spirit with the mask is scary as shit when he's running around eating all the frog dudes and spirits.  Now that I think about it, I wonder how I got through all the creepy images I saw in these animated films as a kid.  That creepy doll head on the spider body toy in Toy Story, Jafar at the end of Aladdin, guys like that mask spirit eating everyone, that fucking talking broccoli from Sesame Street... Everyone had that one image that scared their pants off, you know?  I probably repressed mine.

Fantasia... Oh Fantasia.  I lied before.  I definitely remember watching this movie more than any other.  It's great, wandering animation to great, classic music.  The parodies still make their way into pop culture.  Every piece is a whole world imagined for us, and there seems to be a boundless world beyond the screen.  Sometimes you move from image to image like you're on a roller-coaster tour of the coolest place you'll ever go.  Other times the movie broods along with the music.  Still others feature crazy dancing mushrooms, hippopotami, brooms, or whatever else is handy.  Crazy cool scenes, and a great way to make sure your kids get classical music cemented into their head at an early age.  And so unique!  Who else has done anything like this?  I'm sure there's stuff out there, but this is old and unparalleled in its concept.  Ridiculous.

Pixar needs representation on the list, and sorry kids, but Finding Nemo just didn't do it for me in the same way as it seemed to for most of popular culture.  Not a bad movie by any means, but not the best of the Pixar pieces.  I could hand the slot to Toy Story, the first Pixar kids movie as we know them and a groundbreaking landmark.  I could give it to WALL.E, which is current and would definitely be up there if the whole movie was as absurdly good as the first 20 minutes.  I could just screw it and give out all 5 slots to Pixar movies, because frankly they might deserve it.  But no, I chose one.  And no, it's not any of those.  I chose The Incredibles.  It's such a hilarious parody of both the superhero genre and suburban family life.  That final sequence starting with our heroes escape from the evil lair is just one scene that looks like its an action sequence but is actually commentary on suburbia after another.  First they're driving down the highway fighting over which exit to take, then they're fighting over the remote control to stop the evil robot.  Then there's the superhero parody stuff.  The cape monologue, the myriad of homages in everyone's powers, the villain's discussion of "monologing", the way our heroes actually use their powers together to awesome effect (think that scene where Violet covers herself and her brother in a ball while he runs really fast so as to bring her with him)... It's both smarter than classic superhero stories while showing respect at the same time.  Plus, superheroes are awesome, and so is Samuel L Jackson.  And The Underminer!  Best.  Villain.  Ever.

And finally, we have The Triplets of Belleville, a film that only stands up against the crazy Disney / Pixar competition because it's so unique.  Each character is a parody of themselves, each scene almost like a song in the rhythms of its pacing and sound effects.  The whole thing has a beat to it.  All that and more, all without a single line of dialogue.  It's not a silent movie by any means; quite the contrary.  Sounds are a key part of the atmosphere.  It's just that no one every says anything, and this somehow helps everything move along.  Nothing needs to be said.  Man.  I think of that maitre d' and just crack up every time.  Every character is super-stylized!  Everyone is a self parody.  I know I said that already, but I like that line.  Everyone is a self parody.  Even the boats are self parodies.  They're giant things with billowing smoke stacks, each ship raised hundreds of feet from the ocean by a crazy tall body.  So unique.

Honorable mentions to Shrek for having an awesome script and Hoodwinked for making a movie just a few notches below Pixar for a tiny fraction of the cost.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for stories told from multiple points of view.  Also A Nightmare Before Christmas for just being awesome.  A unique animation style coupled with a stupid number of good ideas and a story that seems so obvious you wonder why it hasn't been done before.  Of course, it'd be on the list if it hadn't been done before; it's just Grinch crossed with "depressed guy with his heart in the right place accidentally screws everything up".

Wait a minute, why didn't I think of How the Grinch Stole Christmas before?  Maybe I need to reevaluate...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Taking Woodstock

My cinema prof once told me that all movies are really about the time in which they're made.  If nothing else that time period is reflected in the film, and we can help make more sense of a movie if we view it through the lens of its time.  This is a good thing to remember with Taking Woodstock.  It will help a lot when I talk about why they chose not to show much (if any) of the concert itself.

But first, let's see what I said about the trailer:
This one is a Madelyn request. I wasn't impressed when I first heard about this one, and the trailer I saw before District 9 was hardly inspiring. This Hulu trailer, though... It gets me more excited. Demitri Martin is mostly great, and this trailer takes it from "probably bad comedy" to "mediocre comedy with a heart" in my mind. That's much more viewable. Still, while trying to come up with things to say about it, I can't think of much. It's a pretty bland story; I could write you the plot and all major twists from the name alone. There will be a scene with someone from town trying to shut them down, parents not liking the idea then deciding it's great, a revelation on the part of or humiliation of the bad guy just in time for him to join in on that mud slide, and undoubtedly a romantic scene on a hill with a beautiful girl and Demitri that gets rudely interrupted by the crazy / in your face / over the top best friend. Still, stereotypes can be fun, and I'm curious about any progress in Martin's career. Friends could convince me to go. Okay, I'll be honest, a girl would have to convince me to go.
I was right about at least one thing:  a girl got me to go.

I'm still having trouble coming up with things to say about it.  I think this is because it wasn't that compelling for me.  This is a movie with jokes in it, but I'd hesitate to call it a comedy.  It feels... empty a lot of the time, a space that Madelyn and Marie filled with talking about how attractive Demetri Martin is.

The story is that of a guy who offers up some fields in his town to Woodstock, and it's the 20-something version of a coming of age story.  Demetri is this wannabe artist who's never broken out of his shell, largely because he spends most of his time and money keeping his parent's small town hotel afloat.  His parents are both great characters.  Mom is a stingy, tough, little old Russian Jew.  When all the hippies show up, she starts charging people for pillows at the hotel, and there's a good bit where she hits some kids bangin' in the woods with a stick.  Dad is also an old Russian Jew, but he's more depressed.  He's the kind of guy that feels like he's got nothing left to do but wait around to die.  Both parents are good performances on the part of the actors, and the characters are much more 3 dimensional than you would expect from a bad summer comedy.  This is probably because Taking Woodstock isn't a bad summer comedy.

What else did I predict?  This movie does have a heart; I was right about that.  You won't find any of the scenes I listed, though.  There are some townspeople who get mad and try to shut Woodstock down, but they're not a major plot point.  The point of their scene was more to demonstrate just how enormous this thing had become and just how futile their efforts to shut it down were.

Oh, and I was wrong about how you spell "Demetri".

Back to the story.  So Demetri is unsure about what to do with himself since he wants to take care of his parents but recognizes that this is eventually going to ruin him.  With nothing else to do he does nothing.  Until Woodstock shows up.

[Begin spoilers]

Ultimately, the film's conclusion did not conclude everything.  Demetri finally breaks away from his parents, largely because his dad gets some life back into him after participating in the organization of the concert.  Mom has some serious unresolved issues, though.  She's just a messed up woman, and it's probably too late to do anything about it.  She'll probably end up okay with dad taking care of her for as long as he can, but it's just sad to see her so screwed up.  At least dad gets healed.  Demetri wanders off into the world, presumably to California to start a career in art.  Woodstock happens.

I'm not sure what the conflict was in this story.  Okay, that's a lie.  The conflict is in Demetri's head; it's the decision to either head out into the world or stick around with his parents.  This conflict is even resolved.  Maybe my problem was just that the movie didn't make me care enough.  The theme of family obligation vs your own life is not one I've ever connected with well, and this movie wasn't above average at making that connection.

But there were good things!  Number one on this cinema nerd's list was the allusions to the famous Woodstock documentary by liberal use of split screen action.  One scene with lots of cameras all showing the action simultaneously was a recurring feature.  There were even some shots that were framed and set up to look like footage from the documentary; a lot of the construction comes to mind, but there were other moments, too.

The acting was good.  There were plenty of funny moments - the theater troop's performance was particularly spot on parody.  Demetri is, I'll admit, a pretty awesome dude.  Having a gay main character is something I admire.  It's getting more and more acceptable to actually show GAYS IN THE MOVIES.  Scary, I know.  I was saying on the way home that I was fully expecting an academy awards style movie about being gay soon only to be one-upped by Madelyn.  Milk already exists, apparently.  Whatever.  The point is that it's good more movies are having this as a (sub)plot, even if Taking Woodstock didn't do much with it.  In fact, if the real life person Demetri was based on hadn't been gay, I bet Demetri's character would've been straight.  At least it's good that they aren't leaving that out entirely; a decade(ish) ago, the main character just wouldn't have had a love interest.

Which brings us back to my first comment, that every movie reflects the time period it was created in.  It's an obvious time to make a movie about Woodstock since it's an anniversary that's a multiple of 10, but it's never an obvious time to make a movie about Woodstock with no scenes that take place at the actual concert (drug trips excluded).  There's got to be symbolism in the fact that Demetri's character never makes it to the concert despite trying for three days.  The directer had better have a damn good reason not to include any scenes at the actual concert, because that's what would otherwise sell this movie.  It's ballsy to make this movie with no concert footage.  There's gotta be a reason.

Let me get into CAMS analysis mode real quick here.



Alright.  If this movie is about the present, then it's not much of a stretch to say that Demetri represents an average guy from 2009.  For one thing, Demetri the actor is this more or less average guy in 2009.  He acts just like he does in 2009, he looks just like he does in 2009, etc.  From there, let's look at his progression through the movie.  He starts off without much direction; he hasn't been doing well recently.  He's in trouble financially, and he's at a loss as to what to do next.  He's busy dealing with obligations he's given himself in the form of his parents, and he's got a barn full of crazy 60s hippies that he occasionally checks in on.

Next he calls up the guys organizing this concert that needs a place to happen and tells them to come to him.  A whole bunch of stuff happens real fast, and pretty soon he's finding out all sorts of things.  He's gay.  On top of that, there's other gay people out there, there's people who are even weirder sexually than he is, and his dad doesn't really care about any of that.  The world is an interesting place full of all sorts of great, wacky people, and there's way more of them than there are naysayers.  This whole thing is sounding like a statement about the 2009 silent majority, if you will.

On the other hand, maybe we see Woodstock as a representation of the 60s ideals:  peace, acceptance, happiness, etc.  After the concert actually begins, Demetri is encouraged by his dad to go.  He tries every day, but each time something gets in his way.  Drugs, the weather, his parents...  Everything keeps him from actually getting there.  We haven't gotten to that heightened level of acceptance.

In the end, he at least gets somewhere.  We may not be loving everyone and the world around us, but at least Demetri ends up with some sort of direction.  We don't know exactly what he's going to do out there, but we're confident it's a move in the right direction.


SAM'S VERDICT:  Appearances can be deceiving.  It's more character and less comedy than the box would have you believe!  Still just okay.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hot Tub Time Machine: Keeping Tabs on a Masterpiece

It's like Donnie Darko if they replaced the confusing parts with hot tubs.  It's like some shitty porno that takes place in a hot tub if you replaced all the parts other than the hot tub with time travel.  It's like Snakes On A Plane if you replaced the snakes with time travel and the plane with a hot tub.

That's right.  It's Hot Tub Time Machine.

We don't know much about this brilliant piece of cinema other than that it's in the works, but I'm here today to tell you what we do know.  This may become a regular feature, building up to my inevitable attendance of the midnight premier.  Now, what are some facts about this elusive masterpiece?

FACT:  Hot Tub Time Machine is due out on February 26th, 2010.

FACT:  This is the R rated trailer, which is predictably awesome:

FACT:  Hot Tub Time Machine is coming out in the same month as Valentine's Day.  For maximum Great Success, I recommend planning ahead with your significant other to delay your celebration of Valentine's Day until the 26th so that you can experience it in maximum style.  Optimally you will attend a theater where they let you view movies from hot tubs.  Just as a side note, if you find one of those, let me know.  I want to go move in.

FACT:  Hot Tub Time Machine stars John Cusack, which means that both men and women alike will have someone to gaze upon should the movie stall. This doesn't seem likely given the film's content, but should a stall occur, you'll know what to do.  It's like, if Hot Tub Time Machine was an airplane, the stewardesses would come out at the beginning and say "In case of stall, your John Cusack can be used as a hottie".

FACT:  If you're a guy worried about needing backup oggling material, you're in luck.  Hot Tub Time Machine costars Lizzy Caplan, some girl I've never heard of but who looks good.  "If John Cusack is not functioning correctly, Lizzy Caplan will drop from above your seat.  Please secure your own Lizzy Caplan before assisting others."

FACT:  Dudes, other leads are also awesome.  You've got that one guy from the daily show, that one black guy who's the bouncer in Knocked Up, and some nerdy guy I've never heard of.  Man, I love those guys.

FACT:  Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover also make appearances in Hot Tub Time Machine.  Hahahahahahahahahaha.

FACT:  This is what Hot Tub Time Machine writer Josh Heald said when asked what his screenplay was about and why we should trust him:
Hot Tub Time Machine is probably the greatest gift anyone's ever given the world. Time will show that it ranks up there with the Statue of Liberty and free Internet porn.

OK, removing my tongue from my cheek for a moment and without giving away anything without first consulting the directors or studio, let's just look at it logically -- I was able to sell a script called Hot Tub Time Machine. To an actual movie studio. That in and of itself seems ridiculously implausible, and yet, here we are. I think I should get an award of at least some sort of free sandwich. I will say, without giving anything away, that my goal with the screenplay was awesomeness, through and through. And audiences will not be disappointed.

Why should you trust me? I dunno. Depends on what you're trusting me with. I can make you laugh. But God help you if you go on vacation and trust me to water your plants. Because we all know what will happen. I'll probably end up fucking your plants. Not in a weird way or anything. Just, you know, sexually.
(FACT:  That quote came from this article.)

FACT:  This movie is called Hot Tub Time Machine.  No, I'm serious.  It is the new Snakes on a Plane, except instead action it's going to have comedy.  Probably watchable comedy.  That's, like, miles ahead of Snakes on a Plane, which was already fun as hell (once).  You have to trade Samuel L. Jackson for John Cusack, but that's a fair trade in my book.  Especially when you're shifting genres.

We can only hope that this movie includes the line "I'm tired of all this muthafuckin time travel in my muthafuckin hot tub!"

The 26th better be a block break, or I'd best make some dumbass friends quick.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Incomplete Index of Time Travel Philosophies

I have few true loves in this life.  Good movies is one; maple candy is another.  High on the list, on some sort of cloud-like throne, sits theoretical discussion of time travel.  More specifically, I like the different ways different movies handle the mechanics of treating space and time like some filthy whore, poking through various wholes willy-nilly.  Here then is an index of some of the classic approaches.
But first, some definitions.

Timeline:  one particular set of events / reality.  That is, say we all live in timeline A.  The Big Bang happens, a bajillion years later you're born, you die, the world moves on and eventually ends.  That batch of events in timeline A.  If, however, some dude figures out how to travel through time, goes back and introduces bananas to North America long before they were supposed to be, and thereby changes history, everyone is now living in a new set of events.  This new set of events is a new timeline, timeline B.

The Grandmother Paradox:  this is a pretty standard time travel paradox.  If you go back in time and kill your grandma before she gives birth, what happens to you?  Do you cease to exist because your grandmother died before she had kids or what?  And if you do suddenly disappear, does your grammy come back to life because you no longer exist?  And if so, then you'll snap back into existence and make everyone's head hurt in the process of trying to figure out what the crap is going on.

The Butterfly Effect:  no, not the movie.  This is the idea that if you send a butterfly back in time to the land of the dinosaurs, a single flap of its wings will change the winds a little bit, and over time that slight change in wind will lead to different storm patterns down the line, different people getting rained on, and different lives for everyone in the world.  Simply put, a little change goes a long way when you've got years to wait.

With that out of the way, here are some types of time travel:

One Timeline Time Travel

I'll let my favorite trailer ever explain this one:

This is the kind of time travel where there is only one timeline, and everyone just jumps around in that.  Like, imagine a movie of all of time.  You can fast forward, you can rewind, and you can jump around to whenever you like, but at the end of the day you can't change it (we'll pretend you're too cheap for video editing software).  You can move all around in this single time line, you can select the scene, but you can't change anything.  It's all preset.  If you go back in time, you have always been a part of history.  You've always been back there doing whatever it is that you do.  If you go back and try and kill your own grandma, it'll turn out that you fail at the last second or she isn't actually your grandma.  Usually, it'll turn out that you're your own grandma because that's a fun plot twist.  This kind of time travel often ends up with a protagonist going back in time to solve some problem only to discover that by going back in time they've caused the problem they were trying to solve because everyone loves irony.

Examples:  12 Monkeys, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home

Branching Timeline Time Travel

This is the other obvious approach to time travel.  Under this philosophy, if you go back and change something, it changes the future.  If you go back to the 80s and make someone's parents never meet, when you go to the future that person won't exist.  Kill Hitler in the 20s or 30s and he'll never rise to power.  And so forth.  Depending on the mood of the story, changes due to your actions can either be subtle or enormous.  For example, in Back to the Future, our hero goes back and somehow gets his dad to beat up a bully.  This brings him to the future where he still exists (the exact right sperm and egg still got together to make him), but his family is happier and lives in a nicer house where they live happily ever after until Doc shows up just in time to have a cliffhanger ending.  Contrast this with The Butterfly Effect, where changing one childhood event can make our hero end up in places he's never been when he gets back to the present.

Examples:  Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect, Primer

Time Is Like A River

This school of thought says that you can go try and change stuff in the past, but history is inevitable and has a way of correcting itself.  So if, say, your sweetheart dies in a horrible accident and you invent time travel so that you can go back in time and save her, you might be able to save her from getting run over by a stagecoach, but then she'll just drown or something.  If she didn't die horribly, then you'd never have the motivation to invent time travel, and that'd just end up weird.  Also, some things are just inevitable.  In these stories fate is fate, and you can't work around it.  You can go back in time and set a big-ass rock in the middle of the river of time, but time will just flow on around your rock.  You'll have changed little bits of flow right near your rock, but the water is still all going to the same place, and most other parts of the river won't be affected.

Sometimes, though, a little rock and change the course of a whole river...  Some stories have moments where time is particularly mutable, moments where a little change could divert the course of history.  This variation is called The Trousers of Time by Terry Pratchett, and I see no need to come up with a new name.  The metaphor there is that for the most part time just rumbles along, but occasionally will reach a point not unlike the divide between legs in a pair of trousers.  At those points, it's up to the individuals at hand and their actions to determine which pant leg time will tumble on down.

Examples:  The Time Machine

One Present Time Travel

This kind of time travel is similar to branching timeline time travel in that if you go back in time and do something, it changes the future.  The difference here is that if you go back in time and change something, it doesn't tend to have lasting effects; there is no butterfly effect.  The clearest example of this I can think of is in Day of the Tentacle, a 3rd person puzzle video game featuring a time travel mechanic.  Early in the game one of your characters is stuck in a tree, and to get them out you have to go back in time and cut down the tree.  Having done so, the tree just disappears in the future and the girl previously stuck in the tree falls suddenly to the ground.  No lives are changed; everyone who was previously born is still born.  Simply removing the tree doesn't do anything beyond removing the tree.

This kind of time travel can be tricky; sometimes characters remember things that end up changed and sometimes they don't.  That is, the girl who just fell out of the tree definitely knows there used to be a tree there, but the guy who comes and talks to her right after she falls out of it doesn't seem to care that a tree just disappeared.  Some people know that something just changed, and some people don't.  This can lead to plot holes.

The way I like to visualize this is with a set of moving bars.  Bear with me.  Imagine your timeline, which looks like this:

Imagine that the timeline is always growing; each moment gets tacked on to the end as it happens.  Now some asshole invents time travel and heads back a few decades to try and fix their broken life.  They find themselves at some point in the past, which I'll represent with a red bar:

Both the blue bar and the red bar are always moving forward at the same rate.  Each moment that passes by the blue bar gives exactly enough time for a moment's worth of time to pass by the red bar, so they're always the same distance apart.  I like to think of the red bar as being a part of the present.  You might imagine a universal clock that's completely independent from the timeline always ticking away.  Each moment that it ticks moves both the blue bar and the red bar one moment further through time.  You might also think of the present as a movie playing, and when someone time travels away from it someone starts up another copy of the movie running on a screen right next to the original present.  The only moments that the universe is keeping track of at any given point are the ones where someone from the original present happens to be.  I'm not sure which of these ideas are most applicable.

So there's someone from the blue present at the red present, and the moment that someone does something at the red present, it echoes out through the future and changes everything beyond it.  Except that the universe is only keeping track of the two times where people from the original present happen to be, so if you do something at the red bar, the reality at the blue bar just sort of suddenly adjusts.  If you cut down the tree at the red bar, it disappears at the blue bar.  People will probably remember the tree has always having been there, or they might just feel like "there should be a tree here".  Or another example, if you appear and tell some dude in a Hazmat suit to go find your mum in 10 years time at the red bar, he'll suddenly remember this happening at the blue bar.

Examples:  Day of the Tentacle (a video game), Lost (probably), Star Trek:  First Contact

I'm sure this "index" is incomplete.  I haven't seen every time travel movie ever, and I'm missing some important ones like Terminator 2.  The first Terminator looks like it should be one timeline time travel, but I always hear that the sequel is branching timeline time travel.  I should do some research.

Before I sign off, there's one more thing I want to mention.  The movie Primer has a really cool time travel related idea that more stories should pick up.  In that movie, time is like space in that you have to pass through each point between you and your destination in order to get there.  So in space, if you want to get from your computer to the fridge, you have to walk through each point in space that exists between you and your fridge.  Then after that if you want to get to yesterday, you have to pass through each moment between now and yesterday to get there.  This means that you have to sit in a special box for 24 hours if you want to get to 24 hours before now.  This leads to lots of... stuff.  Weird stuff.

Alright readers, I know you're out there because you keep either commenting on my posts or talking to me about them at dinner.  Dad.  Tell me what philosophies of time travel I've missed, tell me what movies fall into what categories, and tell me good time travel movies I should check out.  Just don't get into Donnie Darko stuff; we can leave that for another time.  I plan on writing a Donnie Darko walkthrough at some point.  Or maybe I'll just link to one.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Movie Trailers #6: Double Feature

Just two trailers today, but I'm VERY excited about both.  If you haven't been watching the trailers I usually embed here, I recommend you actually watch these two.


Weird looking, I know.  But dark, noir-esque sci-fi is so good.  All I know about this movie beyond the style is that it starts DiCaprio and is directed by Christopher Nolan, but really.  Why would I need more than that?  This looks fantastic.  It looks very much in the style of The Matrix, while possibly being less action packed and more with its roots in Chinatown and Bladerunner.  That's some big expectations, I know.  I have big expectations for this movie.

Let's pick this trailer apart, starting simple.  Awesome lead?  Check.  Awesome director?  Check.  Cool looking cinematography?  Check.  Foreboding music?  Check.  What else we got?

The tagline:  "your mind is the scene of the crime".  That inspires so many cool ideas.  It means this is probably a movie that starts with a crime, then follows DiCaprio around while he tries to solve it.  It's a detective movie in other words.  It also suggests some sort of telepathic thing going on.  Mental shenanigans are involved.  I don't know about you, but I'm a man who loves telepathic shenanigans, dark settings, good actors, and detective movies.  Rolling them all together sounds like Christmas morning.

The other thing going on in the trailer is this gravity manipulation business.

The shot of this glass of water is super cool.  Something is making gravity shift around, and it's creepy.  Apparently it's killing people, too, given that scene on that hotel floor.  It doesn't seem like this gravity manipulation would be a world wide thing, or society would crumble.  No, my guess is that someone has figured out how to make someone's personal gravity change or just make them think their personal gravity has changed.  This would fit with the "your mind" part of the tagline.  Someone is screwing with the way people's minds work or perceive the world, and it's throwing gravity all over the place.

Or maybe the whole movie takes place in DiCaprio's head, and it's just about him going nuts.  You heard it here first, kids.  If I'm right, I totally called that 9 months before the movie came out.

The name Inception is one last bit of info.  Something is beginning, this title says.  Something new has been created, and it's going to change the way the world works.  Looks like it's going to change the way gravity works.  Maybe it's a gravity gun.  Or maybe it's the emergence of telepaths.  Whatever it is, I can't wait for it to get here.

What a crazy idea.  This is so sci-fi it hurts.  It's so cool.  Man, everything about this trailer just leaves me wanting more.  That's how a trailer should be.


I hope it doesn't suck.


It'll probably suck.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Speaking of movie persons who I like, check out that cast!  Holy shit!  Ewan McGregor is one of my favorite actors, now that I think about it.  I can't remember seeing him not do well in a role.  Then George Clooney on top of that... More like that on top of George Clooney!  He's a good actor, he's smooth, he's funny, and he's got all the ladies in love with him.  I don't think I've seen him play a bat-shit insane character before (Burn After Reading comes close), so this should be good.  Uniquely crazy characters are great; I hope he can be memorable rather than just nuts.  Plus the two leads have The Dude and Kevin Spacey backing them up.  Sweet.

I guess we've got a telepath theme today.  I like the plot sketched out in the preview a lot.  Comedy about the U.S. government training psychic super soldiers that also happen to be nuts... Sounds fun.  It could easily turn into Clooney stealing the show and making us forget about any importance the plot may have had to begin with, but I don't see that with Ewan backing him up.  I believe he's capable of grounding us.

What I don't like is all the "based on a true story" BS.  Movies love to say they're based on an incredible true story, but the truth is that they're not.  Every writer gets inspiration from somewhere; every story is based on something that actually happened.  They're based on ideas their writer had, which come from that person's experiences.  They're all based on real life.  Even Donnie Darko.  Just because this one lines up more with real events doesn't make it less fictitious.  Trust me; The Men Who Stare At Goats will leave up for debate whether Clooney is really psychic.  Judging by the cloud thing in the preview, they may even come out and say he is psychic.  That, my friends, means that this is not a true story.  Psychic people don't exist.

Aside from that sad necessity of marketing, I love everything about this movie.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm obsessed with goats,


so it makes sense that I'd want to see this movie no matter what it's about.  That shot of Clooney staring down the line of goats and then one falls over... that's just so funny.  It's hilarious.  I love it.  Everyone looks so crazy, which is awesome.  There's goats.  There's psychic super soldiers.  There's guys running into walls.  There's George Clooney and Ewan McGregor.  What could possibly be better than this?  When's it coming out?