Sunday, December 27, 2009

It's My Birthday, Again...

Anyone who knows me eventually gets the speech about how I hate the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. It's like my good cheer ends every year on November 1st and doesn't really come back until January 1st of the next year. The really weird part, emotionally, is that my birthday is in that timeframe. In a very real sense, I hate my birthday. What does that say about me?

Think about it for a moment. In the US, what does a birthday represent? For the most part, it's a day like any other to the rest of the world. But for you, it's supposed to be a day you take to celebrate yourself. It's an excuse to throw a party, and a day when it's okay for your loved ones to take some action to show that they appreciate your presence in this world and in their lives. So, what does it mean that the bulk of my birthdays have passed with little or no reference whatsoever? And what's worse is the reason why my birthday gets passed over... it's two days after Christmas. Everyone gets caught up in the preparations for Christmas such as: going to their respective homes to celebrate with family, getting presents, arranging the supplies for incoming families, setting up parties, etc. And it's such a huge deal that after December 25th, everyone just needs some down time. So my birthday goes by with little fanfare.

Then, to add a touch of irony, I actually understand the feeling. I've gone through the holiday stress myself. So, I know what people are going through, and over the course of time, I've come to accept it. I don't like it... In fact, I downright despise it, but I've come to accept it. Yet somehow, every year a little tendril of hope starts up in the back of my mind: this year will be different. This year I'll get some recognition. And it never happens. (I'd like to kick the ass of whoever opened Pandora's Box and let hope out. It really is a nasty little bugger.)

For the last couple of years, a couple of my close friends have tried. I appreciate their efforts more than I can conceivably convey to them. Really, I do. But, at this point it's something of a losing battle. Like the rest of the holidays, there's just too much bad history to overcome. In fact, this is one of the core reasons why the holidays are such a trying time for me. (The others are beyond the scope of this posting.) It's a yearly reminder that I don't have the things in my life that most of this society takes for granted. But I'm close enough to it that the sting never really goes away.

I know this sounds like self-indulgent whining, and I can't really disagree. But, that's not what I intend. This is only meant as an explanation of my views towards my birthday. If for no other reason than to not have to go through it with people every year. At the end of the day, I don't hate my birthday (or by logical extension, myself). It's just that with all the bad things that have come with it over the years (as with the rest of the holiday season), the experience has been soured for me.

Today, December 27th, 2009, I turn 33. For those of you who send me good wishes today, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top Ten List for 2009

Okay folks, The year is almost up and so I have come up with my FIRST ANNUAL TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE YEAR!!! Before we get started, I do have to mention that the movie Avatar is NOT on this list. Given how much time Mr. James Cameron had to make this film, I'm surprised at how underwhelmed I was at watching it. To paraphrase some reviewer out there, Avatar was basically a sci-fi action version of FernGully. After movies like T2, Titanic, Aliens, & the Abyss, Cameron has set a bar for himself.

Anyway, here are my top ten films for 2009:

10) Ninja Assassin -- I wrote a detailed review for this in a previous posting. In a nutshell, this movie did for ninjas what Frank Miller did for Batman with Dark Knight Returns. Ninja Assassin gave ninjas their balls back!

09) Friday The 13th -- I'm usually hesitant about horror movie re-boots, but this one was awesome! They made watching Jason Vorhees fun again and grounding him in reality was a master touch.

08) Taken -- Very few people understand how powerful Liam Neeson can be. The last movie that really captured that was Rob Roy. In Taken, Liam proves that you don't need flashy explosions and expensive gadgets to get the mission accomplished. Piss him off & he will find you and then he'll kill you.

07) The Hangover -- You don't know how refreshing it is to see an intelligent comedy in theaters. I loved this movie so much for being funny without thinking that I, as the viewer, am only into crude humor.

06) Zombieland -- The late, great George Carlin said that anything can be funny depending on how you construct the joke. Zombieland is an excellent proof of this. From the rules of surviving Zombieland to the surprise appearance of one my favorite actors, this film is top notch comedy.

05) Star Trek -- Most of the people I know will have a heart attack reading this. To think that I didn't put this film as number 1 is almost grounds for a very serious investigation into whether or not I've been replaced by an impostor. (I said almost!!) In all fairness, I LOVED this movie. However, I don't like that the science of the film was dumbed down. The beauty of Star Trek is that it can be appealing to everyone and still maintain its intelligence. But what knocked it out of #1 is that the best part of the movie is what happens AFTER the events of the movie, not the movie itself. After watching Star Trek, I launched myself on a 3 hour tirade of all that could be done now that the movie laid the ground work.

04) Surrogates -- This movie achieved what Gamer tried (and failed) to accomplish. Both films dealt with the idea of a logical extension of the world of virtual gaming (like Warcraft, EverQuest, The Sims, etc). However, Gamer trapped itself in references to instant gratification & reality-tv styling which killed the film's effectiveness. Surrogates dealt with the same concept from a much more efficient angle. No matter how far you remove yourself from the real world, reality will still catch up to you.

03) Angels & Demons -- This film was awesome. Tom Hanks did an excellent job conveying intelligence and power as Robert Langdon and the movie did an excellent job expanding the world they started with in Da Vinci code. I would have liked if they had kept the time format of the book, but that's just a minor detail.

02) Terminator Salvation -- I have to admit, when I first heard of this movie, I was completely against it. I've never been so glad to be proven wrong. First off, Christian Bale as John Connor was inspired!!! And we finally get to see the war against the machines! A lot of people watching this seem to think that this was the end of the war, when John Connor defeated SkyNet. But it's not. This was the true story of the Rise of John Connor. How he became the leader of the Resistance, and how he showed humanity that they could fight back & win against the machines.

Before we get to my number 1, I do have a few honorable mentions. First, there's Sherlock Holmes. I mean seriously is there a movie Robert Downey Jr doesn't make better? Then there's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Terry Gilliam... 'nuff said. Last for the honorable mentions is The Watchmen. Awesome production values, fantastic story, but the themes were slightly dated which knocked it out of my top ten.

And now for my number one movie of 2009.... *drum roll please....*

01) Fast & Furious -- Yes, believe it or not, this is my #1 for 2009. This movie is the only true sequel to The Fast & The Furious. The beauty of the first film was that the point of the movie was the crimes being committed underneath the shiny exterior of street racing and the moral issues that dealing with those crimes bring up. Parts 2 & 3 got caught up in the flash & sex appeal of racing, which makes for good eye candy but not good movies. Fast & Furious got back to those core themes that made the first one so irresistible, and a pleasure to watch over & over again.

What do you think? What's YOUR Top Ten?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Beholder & The Beheld

As I’ve cruised through the Blogosphere, I’ve seen many posts about all of the facets of relationships. Recently, I’ve come across a bunch that talk about the attractiveness of a potential mate. It’s a rich subject, so there’s much about which to talk. And while I do understand why it’s so important, I find it staggering that for the gargantuan amount of information that’s out there on attraction, it’s all coming from the same point of view.

There’s a saying out there, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Essentially, this means that a person can not truly judge what is appealing about them, since they are not the one actually gauging one’s level of appeal. Consequently, everyone tackles the issue of attraction from the point of view of what they find attractive in others. It makes sense, but here’s my issue with that idea. It’s widely accepted that in order to have a healthy relationship, one must be themselves. But, if you’re trying to find someone, you must be attractive to potential candidates. Without examining the qualities YOU possess, the way you can be attractive is to resort to dishonesty to gain the attentions of potential mates. Pretending you have qualities you don't, or that you are someone you're not. And then when the truth comes out, disaster follows.

When I was working in New York City, a friend from work & I started talking about what we wanted in a girlfriend. We spent about fifteen minutes going back & forth listing physical qualities as well as personality traits that our perfect woman must have. A doorman, listening to our conversation, stopped us dead in our tracks with the following interjection, "That’s all well & good boys, but what do you have to offer HER?" I was astounded because I had never thought about it. Why in God’s name would my perfect woman whom I so meticulously described be interested in me?

So, to tackle this from a different angle, here’s what I think my perfect woman would love about me, based on actual evidence from previous girlfriends & other women I’ve dealt with in my life:

Physical qualities: None. Just kidding… ;-)
---Eyes: All the women I’ve ever dealt with have told me that my dark brown eyes are captivating. Although I’ve never tried, they seem to think I can stop a woman dead in her tracks with just my eyes. (Maybe I should consider contacts… )
---Lips: I’ve heard my lips described as soft, warm, and infinitely kissable.
---Hands: All of my exes loved having my hands on them. They told me my hands felt strong and sure, giving them a sense of safety.
And overall, I’m comfortable. It started with my sisters using me as a pillow when they were both tiny, and has since progessed to every single girlfriend I’ve ever had expressing a desire to curl up and just lay on top of me.

Emotional qualities:
This is where I really shine because the qualities that most men find difficult I have in spades. I offer compassion, trustworthiness, reliablity, sincerity, humor, dedication, respect, and above all else, passion. It would seem that every single one of my girlfriends became interested in me after seeing me in some sort of passionate moment.

And that’s it. Those are the qualities I possess that would enable me to attract a potential girlfriend. Those are the tools I have to work with. The best part of me is who I am and the things I believe and that usually takes time to really sink in.

As for what I would like to see when I behold someone, I tend to be fairly simple on the subject. My perfect woman is intelligent so I can talk to her for hours, goofy so when we talk it could be about anything from a comic strip or politics, funny so we could enjoy laughing at each other’s jokes, cool so she wouldn’t feel the need to create drama, and independent so I’d know that she wants me in her life and not that she needs me to have a life. Oh, one other thing, and this is key, she has to actually LIKE me.

In the looks department, I’m even simpler. I tend to go for long hair (preferably black or red), lots of curves (like Mia Tyler), and glasses. See? It’s that easy. Thoughts? Comments? Ideas?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why I Love Movies

Anyone who knows me knows that I love movies. They also know that it’s not just escapist fare or a good way to pass a couple of hours. I really love movies. Today, I re-watched a movie that is a treasure for me. It’s a unique romantic comedy called, “Boys & Girls” starring Claire Forlani and Freddie Prinze Jr. Aside from the quirky sense of humor and the non-saccharine approach to relationships, this movie represents a unique milestone for me. It was during this film that I realized the first step in my process of watching movies.

I’ve always said I watch movies differently than other people. “Boys & Girls” actually allowed me to see exactly how that starts. In a dance scene in the middle of the film, the director tries every trick in the book to make sure you’re focused on Claire Forlani. The point of interest is on her, she’s the only one in an all white costume, the camera zooms around always pointing at her, but despite all this, I am caught up in the different elements on the screen: the other dancers, the lighting, the music, etc. From there, I start to go beyond what is on the screen to the heart of what the movie is trying to convey. The process I go through is not really important, but what is important is that remembering how I felt that day reminded me of why I love movies so much.

Movies are unlike any other media experience for me. When done properly, movies can convey much more information in mere seconds than any other medium. There’s the technical side: angles, timing, film stock, lighting, costume materials, actors; all of which contain a powerful means of telling stories, adding emotional weight to seemingly bland material or giving massive scope to what is, in reality, small & seemingly insignificant. Think about it, the bulk of the human brain is given over to processing VISUAL information! And movies can take full advantage of that!

Then there’s the stories told! From intense character studies to epic mythology, all is fair game in cinema, with subtle visual cues adding volumes of meaning to words that mere ink on a page or pixels on a screen could never accomplish on their own.

Hell, even done improperly, there is much to gain. An understanding of how the story could have been told more effectively, or how the visuals could have been utilized to greater effect, etc.

And then there’s actually watching the movies and experiencing the rise and fall of emotions with the characters you’re watching. Feeling the torment of a mother distraught over losing her child, or the anguish of a young lover being denied by the object of his affection. Relishing in the delicious revenge of victim righting a wrong, or reveling in the rush of a hero in the midst of battle. Sharing these moments with the characters on the screen and with the others in the audience is an amazing journey. Not to mention spending time with friends afterwards going over the favorite moments of the movie or hotly debating subtle points of logic brought about by the story being told!

As a bonus, you can always go back to your favorite worlds and stories and watch them come to life as many times as you wish seeing something new or gaining some new insight every time!

Movies are amazing. A form of art that I am glad humanity created and no matter where I am in life, I will always feel that tiny spark of excitement every time I watch a movie.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The End Is Coming... Finally!

Okay, I have a confession to make. In my good friend David's blog, I commented that I would completely and totally ignore the movie 2012. And I was doing a fairly good job until I was ambushed by some friends and forced to watch the film. Yes, I confess... I watched 2012. HOWEVER, I didn't pay a single, solitary dime to watch it. That movie made NO MONEY off me!

*whew* I feel better. It's like a giant weight has been lifted off my chest!

Here's the surprising thing though, there were a couple of parts of the movie that weren't total crap! I know, I know, it was a shock to me too! I think that at some point during the production, Emmerich went to get a cup of coffee and some one took the opportunity to insert some quality to make the movie bearable to people like me who were forced to watch it.

Given all the hype the movie got, I'm not going to go over the plot. Suffice it to say, the year 2012 pops up & the world as we know it gets destroyed. But here's where it gets interesting, throughout the budget swelling special effects extravaganza of global destruction, there were about 3-4 scenes with two characters, the idealistic scientist Adrian Helmsley (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the pragmatic politician Carl Anheuser (played by Oliver Platt). In these scenes, the movie delivers tiny nuggets of powerful philosophizing as these two characters debate several points of policy made relevant by the impending destruction of the world.

For example: keeping the impending doom of the world secret. Does keeping the world from biblical levels of anarchy & chaos due to global panic warrant the cold blooded murder of anyone threatening to release information to the public?

Another example: should we give up our beliefs and principles in order to insure our survival?

The scenes are short and to the point, since Emmerich wants to spend the bulk of the movie's 158 min runtime on death, explosions, and CG shots of tectonic plates shifting continents around, but that just makes them all the more precious, like diamonds in the rough. The quick verbal battles between idealism only a huge cataclysmic event inspires & the pragmatism that necessarily grounds those principles in reality are expertly delivered by Ejiofor & Platt. And they allow for the discerning moviegoer to survive the movie with one's sanity only slightly damaged.

I still say just ignore this movie, but if you must watch it, keep an eye out for those scenes and you'll come through fine on the other side. Just remind yourself, the end (of the movie) is coming

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What do you call an old ninja?


Yesterday, I went to see the movie Ninja Assassin. The latest film from Joel Silver & The Wachowski brothers, who brought us the wonder of The Matrix films. I wasn't really expecting much more than some decent American style martial arts action and a loose storyline at best. Apparently, I'm a flaming moron, but we'll get to that in a minute.

Ninja Assassin is about a man named Raizo (portrayed by the actor, Rain) and a woman named Mica (portrayed by Naomie Harris). Raizo is the titular ninja on a crusade against the Clan that created him and Mica is a Europol researcher who has stumbled upon the existence of Ninja Clans in the modern day world. When Raizo discovers that Mica has information he needs to bring down the Clan and the man who runs it (Ozunu, as portrayed by martial arts movie legend Sho Kosugi), he becomes her guardian angel and together they work to stop the Clan. And I have to admit, seeing Sho Kosugi again was a major geek out moment for me!

First off, let's talk about the action. There's LOTS of it. There's lots of blood. Lots of gore. But, in what's becoming a trademark for The Wachowskis, the action is precise. Granted, The Wachowskis didn't direct the movie, that honor goes to James McTeigue. But, the Wachowski influence can be plainly seen in little details like the "ninja time" shots and the controlled camera work that manages to keep the viceral nature of the action while not losing the audience in a series of blurred images. The action here is the way Bruce Lee wants it to be: disciplined, full of emotional content, and fierce. But the action is not what impressed me about this movie.

What impressed me about Ninja Assassin was the respect paid to the archetype of the ninja. It's been my experience that most martial arts movies take what they want from the ninja mythology and then set it up as only marginally viable in the real world. Ninja Assassin does things differently. The movie sets up how the ancient traditions that are at the root of any ninja character are always effective, even in these modern times. Seeing these creatures of legend use shadows and optical illusions to mislead their prey into firing their high priced bullets into the wrong areas was fantastic. Showing how difficult it is to track someone wearing all black in the dark only lends more power to the ninjas in the film, both the good AND the bad. By presenting the ancient ways as a viable lifestyle, the movie allows the viewer to suspend their disbelief long enough to accept the idea of ninja magic and rapid healing wounds. Yet, none of this was done at the expense of the modern world the audience lives in.

While paying respect to the ancient ways of the ninja, the movie (in the climatic final battle) also shows that the modern ways of the military and newer technologies are also effective. Ironically enough, this doesn't lower the compelling nature of the ninja in the movie, instead it gives them more realism by showing that as powerful as they are, even a ninja can be taken down by machine gun fire. Another example of this is when the movie makes it known that even ancient ninja clans need POLITICAL backing to operate with that level of autonomy.

In the end, the most impressive part of Ninja Assassin is how the story manages to pay homage to both the ancient ways of the ninja and the modern ways of the world while blending them both into a compelling story. Yes, you could just watch this movie for the action. But, if you look deeper, you'll see so much more. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.