Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"The Stanford Prison Experiment" - And how does that make you feel?

Oh those psychologists and psychiatrists and other various sorts of brain-probing scientific-types, they are a kooky lot, the kind that likes to draw large conclusions about the world and the way humans work based solely upon their own personal experiences.  You know, the "If I feel this way, everyone must because I am well adjusted and normal" kind of thing.

One sometimes worries about the studies they put together because, well, trying to define normal and what average behavior is can be difficult.  Not that the difficulty level will stop people.

You can currently read over at IGN my thoughts on "The Stanford Prison Experiment," a movie based on a real life experiment that took place in the early '70s and followed a fake prison on Stanford's campus.  As it turns out, power corrupts, and as for the movie, it isn't perfect, but it is interesting.

photo credit: IFC Films

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rooting for the Optimists

Wiser minds (and not) than mine are out there talking about "Mad Men" and what the finale meant and whether it was worth the hype and a worthy ending to the series, so I'm not going to do that here. I'll say that I liked it, I thought it was right, and quickly move on…

My grandfather used to say that the optimist only has to be right once, that the pessimist has to keep being right. Put another way, or at the very least into my own words (I ruminate on and reinterpret these things), the optimist's outlook is rewarded every time something good happens, whereas the pessimist's outlook requires nothing good to happen.

When I look at the world, I wonder about that.

I see a landscape where far too many people are out there for themselves, where people don't believe in helping one another out, and where people feel that they have to trounce the rights of others in order to exercise theirs. What may be worse is that when I turn on the news all too often I find someone in a position of authority promoting that sort of fear and ignorance.

Why is it wrong to look at a situation, attempt to determine its cause, and put forth a reasoned argument about how to fix it? Why does that need to get shouted down by so many? Whatever happened to reasoned debate? People need not agree about everything, but disagreeing with someone doesn't require the spewing of hatred.

I am not just talking about one thing either. At this moment I could offer a laundry list of examples from the push for universal healthcare to systemic racism to the fight for a living wage to representations of women in video (and so many more). It feels like those trying to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice aren't dealing with people pushing it the other way as much as they're dealing with people throwing rocks at them (with one hand and bending towards injustice with the other).

What we fail to do as a society in these debates is the right thing. One side offers an idea and essentially says, "Hey, we as a people should look at this, what we're doing doesn't feel right." It is an attempt to open a dialogue and get people talking and looking at something in a way that they haven't before. The other side, however, at best just shrugs it off with a "Nah, we're good. We don't think there's a problem… except maybe you." At worst, they start truly harassing the group suggesting that there's a problem, never once realizing that in those actions they're proving the group's point.

I admire those sticking their necks out and arguing for a better, more just, world. As for the other side, I don't know how you look at somebody who tells you that they're feeling oppressed and offers a rational argument about where that feeling comes from and tell them to just suck it up and go away.

So, where do the optimist and the pessimist come into this stuff? I think the optimists are the folks sticking their necks out and bending that moral arc and that maybe I'm the pessimist because as much as I want them to convince the rest of the world I'm just not sure it's possible. I think that people are too fearful of change, too worried about losing their own power, too obsessed with having more than those around them.

But, I'm still thankful for the optimists and I'm rooting for them to win.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Good Kill" - Ethan Hawke Delivers

Just a quick link today to my "Good Kill" review which went live over at IGN yesterday.  This is one that I'm not sure I have terribly much more to say about.  I keep turning it over in my head though, and a movie that sticks with you, as I've said before, is one that's doing something right.

As I say in the piece, it isn't a movie that does everything right however, and one which I think could be better than it is.  If you read my "Mad Max" review, I've apparently feeling that way a lot lately.

photo credit: Lorey Sebastian/IFC Films

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"Mad Max: Fury Road" - So Great and yet Should be More

If you go and look, you're going to see a number of breathless reviews for "Mad Max: Fury Road" explaining just how George Miller's return to the franchise after 30 years is utterly brilliant. They will discuss how the action is ridiculously amazing. There will be talk of Charlize Theron's Furiosa and how brilliantly the actress portrays the character. There will be talk of Hugh Keays-Byrne's bad guy, Immortan Joe. People will be insanely excited for the return of Max (now played by Tom Hardy instead of Mel Gibson). Mostly though there will be talk of all that action.

Each and every one of those reviews will be correct. Theron is great. Keays-Byrne is menacing. Max is back (even if he looks different). And oh man, those action sequences. "Fury Road" is a chase movie of the highest order. The cars are amazing. The stunt work you will see is ridiculous. The technical ingenuity to achieve everything that Miller has achieved is astounding.

Between that and the costumes and all the other little things that Miller has put into his world it is all enough to get away with the fact that there's really no story here. Much as Max Rockatansky lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where traditional notions of what it is to live a full and fulfilling life have fallen by the wayside, so too has the notion of story in the film.

Do not get me wrong, there is a tale told here, one about Furiosa trying to save, at their behest, some of Immortan Joe's wives, and Max just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it really isn't a full movie's worth (and Max is a supporting player in his own film). It is enough to set the action into motion, and it does that brilliantly, but nearly the next two full hours are filled with chase and little development. Certainly you can forget character development.

I think, for me, it's this last thing that is so upsetting. This is Max because we are told this is Max, and sure he's as badass as Max ever was, but much of the character here relies on the audience having seen in Max in those first three films. "Fury Road" doesn't offer any insight into the character whatsoever. We see that Max is haunted, he keeps seeing the face of a girl, but there is no explanation whatsoever of whom the girl may be or why Max is haunted by her or… anything. You need to know Max's history beyond what exists within the confines of this movie.

Without that history, without knowing Max from before this film, he is reduced to the most basic of heroes. He isn't an antihero, he is only arguably a reluctant hero, he's really just a hero. You know Max is going to help Furiosa on her quest to save the wives because he's the title character of the movie and this is quite clearly an action film with good guys and bad guys. Immortan Joe and his "war boys" are the bad guys (they keep water from the people and Joe's multiple wives are tired of being "things"). Furiosa is freeing the wives and so is good. Max? He was captured by the bad guys and so is a good guy.

It is black and white and way too easy.

You don't go to "Fury Road" however for the story. You go because you, as with so many others (myself included) have wanted a new Mad Max film for decades. You go because you've seen one of the trailers or TV spots and you just have to see the sheer insanity of it for yourself. You go for the spectacle. There, as I said it succeeds. It succeeds in spades. It succeeds in a way that few other movies have ever succeeded.

It is an unbelievable, outstanding, amazing spectacle. "Mad Max: Fury Road" needs to be seen on the big screen, and not just a big screen, but the biggest screen you can find with the best sound.

Thirty years have passed since the last "Mad Max" movie and it really does feel as though George Miller has been storing up ideas that entire time for this new movie. It really is a sight to behold. I just wish it was more than that. I am giving the movie four-and-a-half stars, but if the story/plot/character arcs/etc. were an eighth of what the action is, I would be giving it five.

It is great and beautiful and brilliant and should still be more.

photo credit: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Lass is More" puts "Still Alice" Head-to-Head with "Fifty Shades"

On the surface you might not think that "Still Alice" and "Fifty Shades" could be compared.  But they can, they most certainly can.

What each of the two movies offer, at their core, is a look at a couple's relationship.  One of these relationships is dealt with in an honest, open, and forthright manner while the other is hidden in secrecy, lies, foolishness, and refuses to tackle anything remotely real.  One doesn't expect cinematic brilliance from "Fifty Shades" but two people laughing off statutory rape--and movie that is okay with that happening--is something else entirely.

"Lass is More" can't say enough good things about "Still Alice" though, a movie which has instantly shot to the top of our "must-see if you haven't yet" list.

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Universal

Monday, May 11, 2015

Another Shot with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Last summer, I tried to describe to my daughter what it was like for me to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I completely failed at that attempted explanation.

I did my best to tell her how this guy was, for years, the biggest movie star in the world.  I told her how Schwarzenegger's being in a movie made it something that I and all of my friends absolutely had to see when I was growing up (and don't think I'm not seeing "Terminator: Genisys" as soon as possible this summer) but it wasn't something I think she really got.  She understood the words, but I couldn't quite get at the feeling.

I have spent a long time trying to understand how it is I failed at explaining this to her, and I think I have an answer.  I think that there simply isn't anyone currently in movies or on television who is quite the same as Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I am not sure anyone ever will be again, and my not being able to offer her a reference made the explanation difficult.

It strikes me now that I should have tried something like, "It's not like meeting one of the actors who plays someone in 'The Avengers,' it's like meeting one of the Avengers."  That may actually have worked.

Recently for IGN, I got the chance to sit down with Mr. Schwarzenegger once more.  Embedded below are the results of that conversation with the man himself and Joely Richardson about their latest movie, "Maggie."  If you watch, you'll see that I admit one of my fears to the two of them and I think Richardson's response (this occurs just after the four minute point) really explains the above perfectly.

photo credit: Roadside Attractions

Friday, May 08, 2015

"The Muppets" are Coming, "The Muppets" are Coming

Last night, ABC announced many renewals, cancellations, and new series for the fall. Chief among these announcements in my world is "The Muppets." Yes, Jim Henson's creations are going to be back on a regularly schedule prime time network series for the first time since the ill-fated "Muppets Tonight" back in early 1996.

ABC offers the following synopsis of this new show: "'The Muppets' return to prime time with a contemporary, documentary-style show that, for the first time ever, will explore the Muppets’ personal lives and relationships, both at home and at work, as well as romances, break-ups, achievements, disappointments, wants and desires; a more adult Muppet show, for kids of all ages." Bill Prady and Bob Kushell are co-writers and executive producers of the series, and the former has worked on Muppets projects for decades. Prady worked on "Fraggle Rock, "The Jim Henson Hour," and even the "Muppet*vision 3-D" film at Disney World.

So, breaking down that synopsis, it sounds—despite the "first time ever" bit—pretty much like the old "Muppet Show" except that maybe we'll get a little something of a look at the home lives of the Muppets. That, with luck, will work somewhat better than it did in "Muppets from Space." Plus there's that "more adult" phrase, but that's rather vague and we'll have to see what they actually mean by it down the line (nope, no video available yet, just the swell picture up top).

As a massive Muppets fan, I can't quite tell you how excited I am by this pickup. I have spent a lot of time through the years trying to figure out just why the Muppets are as important to me as they are—I have done the same with James Bond—but I have never come up with an acceptable answer. I keep going back to Elaine trying to find out what a "New Yorker" cartoon means in one episode of "Seinfeld" and her being told "one doesn't dissect gossamer." But, I go back there because it's just another reference in my brain, not because it's actually relevant.

One of the things I truly love about the idea of this new series is forcing my children to sit down and watch it with me. Depending on where it actually appears on ABC's schedule this very well might mean that I watch it live and then watch it again the next day with the kids. I am not sure that they are going to be quite as enthused by this whole thing as I am, but they'll be watching it. They did, it should be noted, like "The Muppets" and "Muppets Most Wanted," so there is certainly a distinct possibility that they'll enjoy this one, too.

I can't wait to find out.

photo credit: ABC/Eric McCandless

Thursday, May 07, 2015

"Lass is More" Looks at "The Last Five Years"


I write that one word and I instantly want to launch into a Ewan McGregor-esque mash-up of eight million different love cliches.  But, I'm not going to do that.  Instead, I'm going to introduce you to the latest "Lass is More" minisode in which we talk about "The Last Five Years" and the huge questions I have about the movie's depiction of love.

Now, love is different for everyone, and I really don't want to suggest that my view on it is in any way the same as anyone else's, but all I can do is offer my movie and explain why I'm left with lingering questions about a movie in which I really like the performances and the songs.  Because, as I say, I'm left with so many questions about why the relationship in the film doesn't work (and no, that's not a spoiler, you know at the beginning of the film that it didn't work).

Listen to what I have to say below.

photo credit: Radius-TWC

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

On Being Away and Connected

It has been something of a wild, weird, wacky, and wonderful week. It has also been one that has caused me to think a little bit more about our world and the ways in which I interact with it.

I write this while looking out of my 18th floor hotel window in Vancouver having visited a set for a movie yesterday that I can’t say anything about yet except that I was there. Sometime, probably next year, you can read all about it over at IGN.

I don’t come today though to write about that, because it’s only half the reason my week has been notable. You know that piece about running that I love referring back to? Yes, well, the whole thing culminated over the weekend when the wife and I ran a 5K at Walt Disney World. If you subtract the amount of time I spent waiting to get a photo with King Louie in the middle of the race, it was my best 5K time. Plus, after the scavenger hunt portion of the event, we found ourselves in the top 75 out of more than 1100 co-ed teams. We don’t race to beat other people, but I can’t complain at having done so.

During both these trips, I have spent time on the plane reading a book called “Present Shock” by Douglas Rushkoff. It deals with, in no small part, the ways in which our digital world has altered our sense of time and place. This is in no small part something of which I am acutely aware.

I am in Disney World, but I am in constant contact with folks back home which means that I’m not fully at Disney World. Then there’s Vancouver, where I didn’t pay for international data and consequently didn’t check my email for hours on end while on set yesterday. I was acutely aware of not checking in, and that made me not fully present either.

My wife has long advocated that I check my work email less and that we contemplate going a day or two on the weekend without checking at all. I just can’t imagine that this is a good plan.

I may work freelance now and have greater ability to set my own schedule, but it also means that I’m in charge of making sure that schedule gets filled. Email is how that happens. It is a requirement, and not being a billionaire who can shrug off the rest of the world and not worry about a mortgage, college for his kids, and retirement, not checking it is a luxury I don’t have.

Something of an aside but not really, as you are undoubtedly aware, the Apple Watch was recently released and the company has been promoting it as a way to be less out of the world while still being connected, that it is less intrusive. I can’t imagine how having another device is less intrusive, especially when it’s a device that truly limits your ability to interact with it, requiring you to pull out your phone when you want to do too much. And, if you don’t have your phone nearby, the watch isn’t going to do everything it should anyway. Don’t think that won’t be troubling.

There might come a day when I am less connected, when I write an article or book that makes me millions or have someone working for me who is connected so that I don’t have to be. There will definitely come a day when I am retired and don’t have to worry about those emails anymore, and that is more likely than any of the other scenarios.

Here is one truly important thing to note however – I am in no way angry at being connected. I want to be successful career-wise and if I’m not available I don’t think that I can be. It is the world in which we live. It might be better if the world were different, but I’m not the person to start that particular revolution.

Instead, I like to think of myself like The A-Team: if you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… me. If I’m not connected, you can’t find me and you can’t hire me.

And now, I have a plane to catch.

photo credit: Apple

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Little Bit More on Streaming and "Star Trek"

One recent "Lass is More" minisode dealt with the different ways in which my children view television as compared to how I did at that age (and do now). I feel like it needs something of an revisit though, so here goes…

My daughter, she's eight, much to my happiness, worked her way through "Star Trek: The Next Generation" for much of last year (roughly an episode a day). Now she is avidly viewing "Star Trek: Voyager" at the same clip.

Completely as an aside, I may have told Patrick Stewart this first bit when I interviewed him last year, but I'm not sure quite what he made of it. You see, I couldn't tell him, at least not so he would necessarily believe it, the truth of the matter – I in no way influenced her decision to watch the show and she was loving "TNG." I said it, but how could he possibly accept it?

Truth be told, she loves both series. She is fascinated by them, the stories they tell, and the characters they show. She has even recognized some of the funny things, like just how many "anomalies" the show features, either in time, in space, or in both.

These two series are not the first two she watched from beginning to end, that might be "Gilligan's Island," but there was no doubt upon finishing "TNG" that she would instantly move on to another "Star Trek" series. It was never a question, the only thing that concerned her is which "Trek" series she should start.

These trips she's taking with the Enterprise and Voyager would not have been possible a few years ago, at least not as easily. She is watching the series on Netflix (or if that fails, Amazon, which is what she used for "Gilligan").

From my end, it is an amazing, wonderful thing to watch. Perhaps I'm being silly, but I think her exposure to them somehow broadens her horizons. That is, after all, kind of the point of the "Star Trek" series, isn't it?

Growing up, I used to watch syndicated reruns, usually sitcoms, all the time at her age, and had to take whatever episode they were showing me at that time. Eventually, when I was in graduate school, I was able to heavily use my VCR to record all the "Buffy" episodes when FX started running them in order to, nearly, catch up in time for the last two seasons of the show. But, that was as close as I was able to come to what she's doing and I was only able to make it happen when I was 12 or 13 years older than she is now.

The availability of these series and the bandwidth required to stream them is something truly amazing and it will, eventually radically alter the way we see, and consume, television. For my daughter it has already started to do that, but that's just for older series. Eventually it will influence the way in which new series are produced to a far greater extent than it does today. That's something that Daniel Fienberg touched upon in the most recent "Lass is More," but as he indicated no one quite knows what direction any of that will take.

There is another entire discussion to be had here about girls (or women) and science fiction. I won't get into that here and now as it undoubtedly requires its own piece, but I will say that one of the things I love about her watching "Voyager" is seeing Janeway as the ship's captain. I don't know if my daughter finds anything remarkable about the show offering a female captain, but for a franchise which is, at its best, entirely about what we should strive for as a world, I like her seeing a woman in charge of the vessel.

One day, I will write that article, but not today.

photo credit: Paramount