Tag Archives: movies

Big Deal. We Made Star Trek 7 Back In ’94.

As you might have guessed (full disclosure), I’m a Trekkie (and a B5’er or whatever you call people who like Babylon 5). But it’s not because I hate Star Wars, or think Star Trek is somehow better (I just watched an episode of Next Gen that basically involved the Enterprise fighting a flying pirogi). In fact I love the original trilogy, and even some moments of the prequel trilogy (if nothing else from an ironic stance).

But I don’t know if Disney’s the right fit.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we’re getting George Lucas out of the picture. That man has been screwing with a good thing for years. The special edition re-release was one thing, but all the additional tweaking and nonsense in the BluRay releases is just ridiculous. It’s worse than the fifteen releases of Blade Runner! Give me my crummy special effects (I’m looking at you too CBS for your Star Trek: Original Series “remaster”), and Han shot first dammit!

And as bad as the prequel trilogy was it was by no means the worst thing to happen to Star Wars. For that we only need look to the dozens of TERRIBLE video games (interspersed with some excellence), the animated Clone Wars, and well, anything Clone Wars related (sorry kids). Hell, my favorite series took 11 movies to make six good ones, so I can cut the Warsies (?) some slack on this one.

And Disney at first glance doesn’t seem like a bad choice. Star Wars isn’t just for the sci-fi crowd after all, it’s fun for the whole family, and nobody does that better than Disney. I’m actually reasonably certain that Star Wars 7 will be excellent, it’s 8 and 9 I’m worried about. I’m not convinced Disney is good at series. Just take Pirates of the Carribbean. The first movie is an excellent romp with a nice love interest, a lot of action and humor. By the end of the third movie, the main love interest is dashed, as one part of it is doomed to steer the dead home and only see his love once every ten years (after knocking her up of course, cause nothing says love like dooming people to single parenthood). And did we really need a Cars II, or any of the direct to video nonsense Disney produces?

And for that matter, do we really want a company that likes to put things in a vault in charge of when and how we get to see Star Wars?

On the up side, I bet there’s a reasonable chance the original movies will see theatrical re-releases prior to the new movie, and that’s always fun. And Disney has had decent success with Marvel super hero properties (hell if you can get Joss to write the Avengers, why not a little lightsaber action?).

I think Star Wars is always going to be a generational argument (and I mean quite literally given the almost twenty years between the start of each trilogy). The originals will always be the best in my heart, and I don’t feel like I need anything else, but that won’t stop Disney from making Spaceballs II: The Search For More Money (though if they did make that I’d definitely watch it). A new generation will grow to love this new trilogy, and maybe cast a glance at what came before, and that’s fine.

And you know what, I’ll watch too, especially if a promo has Donald Duck saying “may the forks be twith you.”

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Review: Sleepwalk With Me (The movie not the book, radio story or video game)

SPOILER ALERT: I discuss the content of a movie based on a one man show based on a book based on a radio story first told at the Moth some 5-6 years ago. You’ve been warned.

The little red haired girl and I finally got a chance to see Sleepwalk With Me this weekend (I’d been begging her to go for a week or two and somehow managed to convince her to come down to Ohio State on a Friday night with me. She loves me 😉 ) Now, full disclosure, I am if not in the target demographic for this movie, at least demo-adjacent. We both got a kick out of the twenty or so other people going to see this movie, guys with beards and glasses, and girls with glasses (if you have seen Portlandia then you know the type). I have discovered my tribe.

But anyway, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Sleepwalk With Me is based on the very real story of comedian Mike Birbliglia’s struggles with REM Behavior Disorder, a sleep disorder which causes him to act out his dreams, dreams which involve running from wild animals or guided missiles. But the real story is how he and his then girlfriend discover that they’re really not right for each other.

The movie is peppered with Birbiglia’s Mitch Hedburg inspired musings, and embarrassing personal stories. Birbiglia starts the movie off by asking you to turn off your cell phone and listen to his true story. Is it true? Yeah. Is it? Uh…YEAH!

They had changed Mike Birbiglia’s name to Matt Pandapiglio (not sure about spelling), which was largely unnecessary and maybe even a little distracting, since it clearly is biographical material. The dream sequences felt very real, and not the Hollywood dreaminess, but just what would happen if you were winning an Olympic event for dust-bustering. The climatic scene where he jumps out of a second story window at a La Quinta inn is exactly how I would have pictured it (down to the selection of Lutz from 30 Rock as the guy at the front desk). Still, the story is not really comedic, and would probably be characterized by most as an art film story of the end of a relationship.

Again I’m not sure if I’m an unbiased source, having been very familiar with the material (and a fan of This American Life, Ira Glass and Birbiglia for a long time). If I had seen the Hunger Games without reading the book I would have had no idea what was going on in spots. With this movie it’s not that things were left out per-say, but there wasn’t as much NEW as I would have expected. And the movie ends on a slightly more depressing note than I know Mike’s life does in reality. He is now happily married to someone else, and the story of how he made that decision could be a movie all its own (sequel?) JK.

I was delighted by the casting of all the secondary characters including Ira Glass as a photographer, and Wyatt Cenac as another struggling comedian (and not the only Daily Show or 30 Rock veteran in the cast). While many of the jokes weren’t exactly new to me, they were told in a way I had never experienced them (and frankly though this is ubiquitous in some circles, most of you have probably never heard this story).

In short, go see this while you can, or at least Netflix it. You won’t be disappointed.

If you do want to see it in a theater here are listings (only 1 in Columbus, Gateway 8).

Here’s the original radio story.

And the book.

And an interview with Ira and Mike on Fresh Air.

And yes, I am an NPR junkie.

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First Impressions

“The book was better than the movie.”

“You have to watch it in the original language. The english dub is painful.”

“The original version is by far the best.”

My wife and I saw The Hunger Games yesterday after she plowed through the book the day before. While we disagreed on some of the finer points, we generally agreed that the movie fell short of the book, that key moments, details and events were left out. While movies are oftened accused of not being as good as their source material, watching this particular movie brought up two points that I thought were worth sharing.

1) You’ll always think the first thing you saw/read/heard is the best version

For me this comes up all the time in Anime. While generally speaking I try to watch all anime shows in their original language, there are a number that for one reason or another I saw in English first. For me Hellsing sounds terrible in Japanese, as do Akira, Steamboy (I mean who’s better than Patrick Stewrat) and Metropolis. Conversely, the english adaptions of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bleach and Trigun are painful to listen to (particularly Trigun). I think one of the main reasons for this is that moment when we form our impression of the character, what they look like and how they sound.

In The Hunger Games I listened to the audio book rather than reading which gave me some very set preceptions of how names were pronounced and how certain characters sounded. In particularly Effie (played by Elizabeth Banks in the movie) has a much more exaggerated affectation in the audiobook, and I found Banks to be too subdued (though kudos to her for sitting through makeup that would make Mrs. Slocomb faint).

A kind of exception to this rule for me was Watchmen. Though I find the graphic novel to have a much richer amount of background material, due to the way it was published, I liked the movie ending better, despite having read the graphic novel months before. The movie ending pins the destruction of the world on one the main characters and not on some manufactured evil brought in from seemingly nowhere. The graphic novel is like a mystery where the murderer is introduced only in the last few pages, rather than in the first 20% of the book. In the movie we meet our murderer up front, have time to suspect them and others.

But I digress.

I formed a lot of my impressions of The Hunger Games from the audiobook, a form of reading that is often more practical for me since I can listen to audiobooks at work. Reading in this fashion does have some downsides however which may have colored my perception of some characters.

2) Audiobooks choose what points to emphasize rather than letting you decide where to place emphasis

More than just the affectations of Effie, the audiobook shaped my impressions of some of the main characters particularly Peeta and Katniss. I didn’t really like either of these characters at first. I found Katniss to be cold, to suspicious of people around her, and at times very flightly and indecisive. I found Peeta’s love from afar to be far from believeable, and found Katniss’ references to him as “the boy with bread” to be distracting. (I don’t want to give people the impression I didn’t like the book because I actually did overall).

Audiobooks are a performance like any other and I didn’t realize until I saw that the movie how much of my feelings about these characters was colored by that performance. Seeing the movie, even with its faults, made me much more sympathetic of Katniss and much more believing in Peeta’s love and overall charming and noble nature. Even before the movie however, I was softening on both of these characters as I read (this time on the Kindle) the second book. While we may have a preference for the first way we encounter something, this does not mean we can’t learn or change our views by seeing other versions.

I still stand by my standard axiom, read/see/hear whatever came first then see what came next, but I think it’s important to recognize how we bias our opinions of what’s to come.

What do you guys think? Is there always a “best” way to see something, or is it subjective?

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Lost Moon

I don’t watch a lot of movies. Some of this is a taste thing, and some of it is a quality thing, but mostly I just don’t find myself excited about more than a couple of movies a year. Watching the Oscars last night, though, did get me to thinking about the movies that have meant a lot to me, and at the top of that list is Apollo 13.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that part of the reason I am a writer and a programmer is from watching that movie. I was 10 when the movie first premiered, and I was lucky enough to see it in the theater (though I had to wait a day since they were sold out the first time we tried to go see it). What’s great about that movie is that it is a true story of “working the problem.” Both the mission control team and the astronauts in the capsule work the problems one at a time toward the ultimate goal of landing them safely back on Earth.

One of my favorite little moments (and there are many) is when one of the NASA engineers grabs a bunch of guys and dumps a whole pile of materials out onto a table in front of them. He then holds up a filter from the command module and a filter from the lunar module uses and says basically “we need to fit a round peg into a square hole using nothing but this junk.” In a feat of MacGuyver like brilliance the ground team designs a solution, then feeds it to the guys in space and they actually get it to work.

This last describes a lot of the practical challenges I deal with every day as a software designer. When you’re programming under the gun, you often have to figure out how to make existing structures work for you, rather than designing a perfect solution from scratch. It’s not always an ideal fix, but it is often the solution that actually works. My most frustrating moments are ones where people put the theoretical perfect solution ahead of the solution that’s working correctly now.

Maybe this doesn’t sound fun to you, but seeing a bunch of people work through a problem appealed to me. Apollo 13 is also a tight piece of drama. One crisis is averted only to have another crop up in its place. One of the early critics of the film criticized that it had a “Hollywood” ending when everyone made it back safely (even though this is what actually happened), but to get home there were a lot of obstacles to overcome. And the movie is legitimately funny in a lot of moments, when the astronauts tear off their medical monitors, or when Lovell’s mother doesn’t recognize Buzz Aldrin.

Not long after seeing this movie I wrote my own little short story about a disaster in space, and the team on the ground trying to solve it. Though the story line has evolved and changed over the years, this became an early basis for some of the ideas that later led to my first novel. While “Trapped – A Space Adventure” will never see print, the fruits of that early labor one day may.

It can be hard to summarize something that means so much to you (there’s so much more I want to say about the direction of our current space program, but that will have to wait for another day). Bottom line is that while movies generally do not move me, this one did and still does. If you’ve never seen it (where have you been the last 17 years?), you should check it out.

What pieces of creativity (movies, books, music) have influenced the career path you’ve chosen (or have they)?

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