District 9

>> Saturday, February 13, 2010

When I popped in the dvd, I made the mistake of choosing the alien graphic over the human. I initially figured it wouldn't matter. It was just an either or option to get to the main dvd menu. Wrong. Because if you watch the movie after selecting the "alien" option, the alien subtitles don't appear during the movie. I realized this about half an hour into it, but by then I was just watching it with full subtitles. In a way, it made it easier to watch because every now and then an Afrikaans word would pop up in the subtitles. That way, I knew it was not an English word, so it wasn't like I misheard something.

Am I allowed to say that Wikus (Sharlto Copley) is an extremely unlikeable character? At the beginning, he's such an ass. He's a total dork too. I had no idea that the main character was going to be someone so non-heroic. Most big-budget movies would have someone who would always make the "right" choices so that the audience would always admire them. I listened to the dvd commentary by Neil Blomkamp. He stated that Wikus is a passive xenophobe. True. He's a bureaucrat who gets chosen for a top-line mission and then has his life thrown out of whack.

I really like how they did the aliens in the movie. They're extremely ugly, yet you can still see all sorts of emotions through their eyes. I felt so sorry for the main alien, "Chris Johnson," as he got kicked around by the MNU mercenaries. I even found the alien kid to be cute. (A cute insect!)

As Blomkamp stated on the commentary, this is a mix of the mundane and the fantastic. Sci-fi thrown into a South African metaphor and satire with some high-tech action. There's the xenophobic culture plus modern mercenaries and a cut-throat corporation. I initially assumed that the xenophobia was a metaphor for the apartheid era. Blomkamp stated that it, the xenophobic metaphor, was actually about Zimbabwean refugees who lived in slums near Johannesburg. That was had prompted/inspired his short film, Alive in Joburg, back in 2005, which formed the basis of District 9.

The corporation and mercenary subtext is an element that I don't think has been explored enough in current cinema. Blomkamp stated that modern mercenaries originated in South Africa. The South African apartheid regime had so many special forces groups operating within the military that when the new government disbanded them, many chose to become guns for hire. Thus, the current age of mercenaries began about 20 years ago and has now spread to the U.S. and other places infecting Iraq and Afghanistan with these problems. Guns for hire who aren't necessarily bound by law when they do their jobs unlike regular military.

As a sci-fi film, I find it far more interesting than Avatar. I didn't like Wikus for a lot of the movie, but he's a character who is in the process of losing his life, which includes a loving wife. A far cry from Avatar's Jake Sully who has nothing to lose in the film but everything to gain from becoming Na'vi. It's so easy for the audience to want him to become Na'vi that at the end you have to wonder why everyone else doesn't want to do it. Not for Wikus. He looses status, his wife, his friends and respect by unwillingly transforming into an alien. He ultimately redeems himself by helping the alien and his son escape.

Major props to Sharlto Copley for creating one of the most interesting characters I've seen in a long time. He deserves a lot of credit as an actor since he improvised much of Wikus's dialog. I know there are several critics who felt he deserved an Oscar nomination. I totally agree, but I'm not sure who out of that field I would kick out. Freeman? I suppose that's my first thought; although, I haven't seen Invictus yet. On the other hand, I'm also of the opinion that an Oscar nomination at this point in his acting career would just be overwhelming. The guy just finished filming the second movie of his career, The A-Team. I'm sure he just enjoys dealing with Hollywood in the least amount necessary. To get an Oscar nomination this early would just put an expectation on his shoulders and a temporary fame spotlight that he might not enjoy.

Totally deserving of its four Oscar noms. Shame it'll probably get shut out of everything in the end. I much prefer its subtle visual effects over Avatar's look-at-me-look-at-me show.


The U.K.'s "Robin Hood Tax"

We need one of those in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. should re-implement the STET tax. (Britain already has one of those.)

In the United Kingdom, for example, whenever you buy or sell a share of stock (or a credit swap or a derivative, or any other activity of that sort) you pay a small tax on the transaction. We did the same thing here in the US from 1914 to 1966 (and, before that, we did it to finance the Spanish American War and the Civil War).

For us, this Securities Turnover Excise Tax (STET) was a revenue source. For example, if we were to instate a .25 percent STET (tax) on every stock, swap, derivitive, or other trade today, it would produce - in its first year - around $150 billion in revenue. Wall Street would be generating the money to fund its own bailout. (For comparison, as best I can determine, the UK's STET is .25 percent, and Taiwan just dropped theirs from .60 to .30 percent.)

But there are other benefits.

As John Maynard Keynes pointed out in his seminal economics tome, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936, such a securities transaction tax would have the effect of "mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise."

In other words, it would tamp down toxic speculation, while encouraging healthy investment. The reason is pretty straightforward: When there's no cost to trading, there's no cost to gambling. The current system is like going to a casino where the house never takes anything; a gambler's paradise. Without costs to the transaction, people of large means are encourage to speculate - to, for example, buy a million shares of a particular stock over a day or two purely with the goal of driving up the stock's price (because everybody else sees all the buying activity and thinks they should jump onto the bandwagon) so three days down the road they can sell all their stock at a profit and get out before it collapses as the result of their sale. (We ironically call the outcome of this "market volatility.")
Such a common-sense move. It's no wonder the U.S. will never implement it. $150 BILLION in revenue. Per year. Just think what could be paid off or offset with that every year.


Now everyone gets to see it

Great news this week:
A film distribution company has bought the rights to a documentary about the Mormon church's role in a California ballot initiative to ban gay marriage.

Filmmaker Reed Cowan says "8: The Mormon Proposition" will hit theaters this spring and a DVD will follow. Cowan says he sold the film's North American distribution rights to Red Flag Releasing.
All right! I made the right decision not to plunk down $15 to see this during Sundance. I'll probably be able to see it for less than half of that when it plays in Salt Lake upon release. Or Netflix it.
Church officials have denounced the film as inaccurate and biased. But at the time of the Jan. 24 premiere, they said they hadn't seen the movie.

Today, church spokeswoman Kim Farah declined to comment on the film's distribution deal.

Cowan said he'd like to know which parts of the film are wrong. He also wants an opportunity to interview church officials and add their comments to the movie. Church officials declined requests for interviews during the making of the film.

"I would hold a screening at church headquarters for them," Cowan said in telephone interview from his home in the Miami-area. "I would love to know line by line what's inaccurate."

In 2008, church leaders urged Mormons to give their time and money to support Proposition 8, which passed with 52 percent of the vote. Church members were among the campaign's most vigorous volunteers and by some estimates contributed tens of millions to the effort.
I'd like to know what is allegedly "wrong" too. Actually, I know those statements are just public relations bluster. They don't have a good excuse for what they did in California, but they'd like to maintain their not-for-profit tax status just the same.

I always thought this quote from the current Prop 8 trial in California demonstrated the LDS church's level of involvement in this political activity:
"He has also been hired by the coalition to do polling work for Prop 8. The main California grass roots leaders are in the process of being called as, quote, area directors, end quote, with the responsibility for areas that generally correspond to each of the 17 LDS coordinating councils for the LDS mission boundaries. Thereafter, priesthood leaders will call local prop coordinators over each stake and leaders by zip code within each ward - potentially working not only with LDS, but also LDS volunteers."
Non-partisan my ass.

The film's official website is here.


The 2010 Winter Olympics

It must be a law that Olympic mascots MUST be super cute. Not just cute, but super cute.

After the tragedy of the Georgian luge slider's death and the technical glitch when lighting the Olympic flame last night, I'm almost convinced that these games are cursed. Perhaps the Chinese New Year tomorrow (Year of the Tiger) will wash all that bad mojo away.

I really did like the polar bear though.
And I admire the attempts to be more environmentally friendly.
When Olympic champions are crowned at this year's winter games in Vancouver, these elite athletes will be taking home more than just gold, silver or bronze medals—they will be playing a role in Canada's efforts to reduce electronic waste. That's because each medal was made with a tiny bit of the more than 140,000 tons of e-waste that otherwise would have been sent to Canadian landfills.

The more than 1,000 medals to be awarded at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which kick off today, amount to 2.05 kilograms of gold, 1,950 kilograms of silver (Olympic gold medals are about 92.5 per cent silver, plated with six grams of gold) and 903 kilograms of copper. A little more than 1.5 percent of each gold medal was made with metals harvested from cathode ray tube glass, computer parts, circuit boards and other trashed tech. Each copper medal contains just over one percent e-waste, while the silver medals contain only small traces of recycled electronics.

This is the first time that recycled materials have been added to Olympic medals, which historically have been made from mined mineral deposits refined for commercial use. Each Olympic medal is 100 millimeters in diameter, about six millimeters thick and weighs between 500 and 576 grams, depending upon the medal.
And the medals look kind of...bent?
I did notice the First Nation artwork on them. I like that part of the design. It is one of my favorite styles of art. A more thorough explanation:
-- The medals of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games are circular in shape and based on a large master artwork of an orca whale by Corrine Hunt, a Canadian designer/artist of Komoyue and Tlingit heritage. Each of the medals has a unique hand-cropped section of the abstract art, making every medal one-of-a-kind.

-- They are among the heaviest medals in Olympic, weighing between 500 grams to 576 g depending on the medal.

-- Each feature a different crop of larger contemporary Aboriginal artworks and are undulating rather than flat — both firsts in Games history. The dramatic form of the Vancouver 2010 medals is inspired by the ocean waves, drifting snow and mountainous landscape found in the Games region and throughout Canada.
Much better than the Torino doughnuts.


Crazy Heart

>> Friday, February 12, 2010

It’s one of the year’s best, most deeply felt films.
-- Kyle Smith, New York Post
If ever a movie demonstrated how country music emerges from private sorrows, this is it. But something can always be done to make a movie better.
-- David Denby, The New Yorker
I second the "deeply felt" and "country music" statements. This is a movie so subtle that I couldn't think of anything to say about it, so I started looking at its review page on Rotten Tomatoes. I saw this on Sunday, before the Super Bowl. It is now Friday. It has no obvious climax, unlike, say, Avatar.

What it does have is complete immersion into Bad Blake's life as a "washed-up music legend." Traveling from small joint to small joint just to break even, he even stops at a pay phone to make a phone call. Yes, a pay phone! It stuck out at me because this is a movie with cell phones and Maggie Gyllenhaal's character's iMac. When I saw the old, rectangle, pay phone box, my first thought was, "Really? Do those still exist out in the middle of nowhere or was it just a prop?" (The middle of nowhere would be either in Arizona or New Mexico. I'm not sure which of those two states the scene was filmed in.)
Crazy Heart gets to you like a good country song -- not because it tells you something new, but because it tells it well. It's the singer, not the song.
-- David Ansen, Newsweek
I can't say that it "got" to me. I certainly felt bad for Bad Blake, at times, but on the other hand, I had to admire his attempts to do the right thing in the end. This does have a fantastic cast: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell. Yup, Colin Farrell pops up as a country music star. What most amazes me is that I totally believed it. He speaks with an American accent and just fits right in. I didn't realize Duvall was in it until I saw it. I knew Farrell was cast, but Duvall just seemed to pop out of nowhere.

So Maggie Gyllenhaal received an Oscar nomination for this. I can live with that because I know she's a good actress. But she seemed to have an off-and-on relationship with her character's Oklahoma accent. It was so there when she first meets Bad Blake. Then at other times, it doesn't seem to be there at all. Perhaps I quibble about nothing.

I think we all know that Jeff Bridges will finally win an Oscar for this. It's a subtle, subtle performance. No scenery-chewing exists in this performance, unlike Daniel Day Lewis's performance in There Will Be Blood. I think he definitely deserves it, not just for his career but for this performance. Subtle performances tend to get overlooked because they don't jump out at you. If I knew nothing about Jeff Bridges prior to this, I would think that he is exactly like Bad Blake. It's such a naturalistic performance. Except that I have seen Bridges in other films and know he can pull off corporate assholes like he did in Iron Man.

I just hope he gives a good speech since his winning won't be a surprise.


Stephen Fry v. the Catholic Church

>> Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stephen Fry concedes that his opposition to the motion is a deeply personal and emotional one. He criticises the Catholic Church not only for the horrors it has perpetrated in the past, but also for its ideology, and for its sinister temerity to preach that there is no salvation outside of the Church. With two words he refutes Anne Widdecombe’s suggestion that the Catholic Church does not have the powers of a nation state: “The Vatican”. As a homosexual, Fry reflects how bizarre it is to be accused of being “immoral” and “a pervert” by an institution that has persistently hushed up the rape and abuse of children under its care, and whose leading members, abstentious nuns and priests, all share an attitude towards sex that is utterly unnatural and dysfunctional. He concludes by questioning whether Jesus, as a humble Jewish carpenter, would have approved of all the pomp and excess of the Catholic Church, and whether he would even have been accepted by such an arrogant organisation.
Stephen Fry, isn't he a comedian? He seems more like a philosophy professor in this video. Golly, after watching this, it makes me wish the presidential debates were structured in 20 minute segments.

Some of Fry's comments remind me of things a Catholic priest I know said. That the hierarchy--and those aiming to get into the hierarchy--are sycophants, that the hierarchy gets worked up about little things but pays no attention to big things like child abuse/rape, and that marriage annulments are ridiculous.

(video is about 20 minutes long.)

The Intelligence² Debate - Stephen Fry (Unedited)
Uploaded by Xrunner17. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.

The full debate can be seen here on the Intelligence² website.


Why Avatar won't win Best Picture

>> Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Two words: James Cameron

The following is what happened during Avatar's peak during awards season at the Golden Globes.

“I would ask you not to be humble,” the first questioner begins. No problem. Cameron quickly advances what amounts to a three-pronged case for why Avatar should win the Oscar. Ebulliently, he muses that the film’s technological leaps could “give permission to other filmmakers” to take 3-D out of the ghettos of “high-end animation and lowbrow live-action”; he points out that the movie, which he envisioned as a “shameless engine of commerce,” is only the second sci-fi film to take this prize; and he notes that it’s “very interesting that a major Hollywood commercial film is in some way controversial, whether it’s the environmental theme or some of the political themes.” It’s an aggressive sell: Tonight, he wants all of the Oscar narratives—The Chance to Make History, The Popular Favorite, The Movie That Speaks to This Moment.

And then, he goes too far. He keeps talking. And he does the one thing that no winner should ever do in a roomful of journalists: He disses Meryl Streep.

A reporter asks him why Avatar’s motion-capture performances haven’t gotten more respect from actors. “I’m going to give you an example,” Cameron says, clearly recalling the encounter I witnessed with the actress after the Critics’ Choice Awards. “I had always wanted to meet her—and I was talking about the performance-capture stuff and I was mentioning how all the actors love doing it. And she said, ‘Oh, yes, I know. I had such a great time doing Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ I thought ‘Oh, my God, this is a perfect example of what’s wrong!’ She didn’t perform the character physically over a period of months. She did a voice performance maybe for a day, maybe for two days, on a lectern!” From far away, I can feel Fox executives emitting psychic beams: “Stop talking now.”

“It’s almost like Asperger’s with him,” a producer tells me later. “How many years has it taken him to live down ‘I’m the King of the World!’? When he shifts into that mode of talking about how great his movies are and how other people just don’t get it, he is literally incapable of understanding how he sounds. And I say that as a fan! He makes it incredibly hard to vote for him.”
And this is how easy it is to mock Cameron, via New York Magazine:

He had his moment 12 years ago with Titanic.


Montage: the films of the 2000s

(via Bennett Media)

the films of the 2000s from Paul Proulx on Vimeo.

I know you can't fit a clip of every movie into a montage, but I noticed not a single Harry Potter clip in the montage. With six movies released in the decade, it seems a glaring omission.


Looks like a great way to get an education

>> Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sign at a Rick Perry and Sarah Palin rally in Cypress, Texas, on Sunday, February 7, 2010

(via Houston Press)


The Media and Apple

A comedy critique of how the media can't ask questions on the obvious.


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