Thursday, October 13, 2011

"I don't carry a gun, I drive..."

Hey folks, I am back from the dead! Oddly enough the movie business is what has kept me away from writing about movies. For those of you who don’t know, I finished film school. Now, that sounds cool in theory but it has left me with lots of debt. In conclusion, I work at an art-house movie theater now practically 24-hours a day and I haven’t had time to write until now. Yeehaw! But another reason is that I’ve been extremely underwhelmed by a lot of the films I’ve seen in the theaters, even the ones in my own theater which are labeled by pretentious folk as the “good movies.” Everything has been the same thing, one rushed story after another with underdeveloped plot and characters. I was starting to lose hope…

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some great films this summer, and some that I love but don’t exactly want to write in detail about. However, the one that inspired me to squeeze in time to finally get back on the job was Drive, the movie that took me completely by surprise. I think this will not only be a film analysis entry, but also one of my “Best On-screen Kisses” entries at the same time.

I knew next to nothing about Drive going into it, other than it starred Ryan Gosling and he drives cars. Seeing this film was one of my favorite cinema experiences, mainly because I saw it in a great theater with completely crisp and enveloping audio and visual presentation. That’s a bonus for any film, but particularly great in Drive because the film has some of the best visual work I’ve seen in a long time.

From its opening scene to its closing shot Drive captures you with breathtaking cinematography. An eclectic feast of influences contributes to the personality of the film. There are many shots and angles that are drawn from the well of film noir and Alfred Hitchcock. The main character Driver (he is never named throughout the whole film, and honestly you don’t even notice), is often seen in shots where he is in windows and mirrors showing that he has a dual personality. His character teeters on the ledge that separates darkness from light. He has a heart of softness, tenderness, and huge capacity for love and compassion, but when there is danger or threat to the very things he loves or has compassion for he is drawn to a maddening temper only violence can quench. The whole movie darts back and forth between his two sides the same way the shots throughout display him. The sets are a trove of patterns, textures, sharp angles, and shapes that in themselves tell the story even when nothing is being said. The cinematography is sharp, practically flawless, and full of creativity.

Lighting, it has been said, can make or break a film. This is definitely where the Noir/Hitchcock influence comes to play. Everything I learned in film school, but especially in my Film Noir class, was used by the filmmakers of Drive. They used the depth and shallowness of shadows and light to not only set the mood but to give layers to character in a film that uses less dialogue than most. My favorite use of lighting is during the scene that makes my “Best on Screen Kisses” list. It takes place in an elevator where Driver and the character of Irene (played by the lovely Carey Mulligan) are standing with a man who is a threat to her. In slowed-motion Driver pushes her behind him, gently with great affection in an effort to protect her. The lights dim as he turns around, syncopated with his movement. Then, he kisses her. As they become more intensified with the kiss, the lighting dips from dim to bright until finally they stop kissing and the elevator is brightly illuminated. It’s something that written words won’t do justice, you’d have to see it, but it was so perfect it made my heart pound.

The character, Driver, is intriguing and strangely alluring though you know so little about him. I think that’s half the magic of the film, you can sort of imagine what kind of childhood he must have had, what he must have seen, what he must have been through to get where he is. It’s up to your imagination, and it works in this case. He wears his swanky scorpion jacket and driver’s gloves, and carries no typically swagger but sits, quiet and cool, with a toothpick in his mouth and tempests of thought and emotion going on behind his eyes. His love interest, Irene is equally attractive in the same quiet way. She carries herself with a gentle, feminine spirit. She’s very unlike female characters you see in films today. She is simply kept, sweet, and doesn’t need any sort of attitude or “bitchy strength” to make herself a powerful presence or strength as a female lead. Both actors are rising young stars and if they keep making choices like this, they will definitely get there.

The film’s uniqueness is found in its quiet nature. Most of the scenes are told through visuals with very little dialogue. The film itself has the same personality as its main character, a withdrawn, tender piece of building suspense divided by jolting scenes of extreme violence. You wonder how this character could have such rage beneath him, it’s so out of place, and you never find out why. You know so little about this man, but you feel much for him simply because of great visual storytelling. Though there are some very violent scenes in the film, they are done creatively in very short bursts, just enough to make you squirm in your seat in suspense and surprise. My only qualm was a scene where he walks into a strip club to confront a bad man and there are topless women just sitting in chairs showing off the goods. I found such sexuality completely jarring and out of sync with this film’s overall production and mood.

There is a huge use of color and style heavily inspired from films of the 1980s and even a bit of Tarantino flair. The film was shot by DP Newton Thomas Sigel who did something I thought nobody could do, make Los Angeles look shiny and magical. The wide shots of the city sparkle with color and light like an earthly galaxy. All the smog and grit is sort of blown away like dust from a mantelpiece. In many ways this film reminded me a lot of Michael Mann’s Collateral. Not in plot or protagonist, but in style, substance and setting making Los Angeles a sleek and unnerving city, rather than the busy, loud and obnoxious place we know in daily life. The music in Drive is definitely 80s inspired with softly sung electronica and ambient sounds. I absolutely loved the soundtrack and unashamedly made “A Real Hero” by College my ringtone.

Drive is a visual masterpiece and a unique film that incorporates my favorite styles for cinematography, set design, lighting and mood. It’s the equivalent today of what it must have felt to watch a Hitchcock film when it was first released. It’s shocking, provocative, sleek, stylish, and often eerie and unsettling.  In a time where most films released are basically haphazard plots rushed through by sloppy characters, Drive is a modern cinematic wolf in vintage clothing. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Drugs are so bad!" ~ Super 8

Okay, before I get going I want to apologize for my lack of comments and replies. Blogger has been sketchy lately and every time I try to comment back on my blog it makes me log in again and takes me to the sign-in screen! I have no idea why, but it’s really starting to tick me off. I hope this glitch gets fixed soon. Anyway…
Most of you who know me already know this, but if you don’t, I’ll tell you. I LOVE, LOVE J.J. Abrams. He is a creative mastermind who has spawned my favorite television shows and one of my top favorite films ever Star Trek (2009). So it’s no surprised that Super 8 is a film I’ve been waiting for over a year to see ever since its teaser trailer. The film ended up being completely not what I expected, but that’s totally fine with me in this case.
Super 8 isn’t Abrams’ normal composition. I would rather call it one artist’s homage to another, in this case, Abram’s homage to Steven Spielberg. Spielberg produced the movie, no surprise. I wouldn’t stop there, I’d go so far as to say it’s a homage to the imaginative films of the 70s and 80s. These films often involved children, aliens or fantastical creatures, and a little bit of adorable cheese. Super 8 had all the above. Channeling films like The Goonies, E.T., The Never Ending Story, and definitely the sci-fi aspects of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The thing I noticed right off the bat is the excruciating attention to detail. The sets, props, costumes, everything was accurate to the time period of 1979. The entire film feels like it was not only set in that time period but also filmed during that time period. From the posters and books in the bedrooms, to the candies sold at the gas station, to the tacky fashions and furniture, everything was pitch-perfect. There were so many creative shots that involved rack focus, silhouettes, perspective. You can tell detail went into the shot list and story boards. And of course filled with Abram's signature lens flares!
What sealed the mood of the film was the score. Michael Giacchino is to J.J. Abrams what John Williams is to Steven Spielberg. Giacchino does the score for every production in television or film that Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, produces. What was neat about this score is that Giacchino also made this his homage to John Williams. It very much had his flavor in it and it’s that style that perfectly packaged the mood and setting of the film. I was actually convinced it was John Williams until the credits said otherwise.
It opens beautifully with a sign in a factory that says “--- Days Since Last Accident” It had something like 600+ and a worker takes down the numbers and puts up the number 1. That immediately hooked me. That’s a perfect example of how you show instead of tell in film. We then move to the scene of a funeral. Young Joseph Lamb sits sullenly on a swing set in his front yard in the dead of winter. He is a black spot within the snow drift. I really like this introduction. Everyone is inside discussing and consoling the death of his mother, but he’s out alone in the cold. He looks longingly at his mother’s locket, an item much like a glorified security blanket for him. This is the introduction portrait to his character.
I’d say the other chief character is Jackson Lamb, Joseph’s father, played by Kyle Chandler. Chandler has a kind of a family in-joke value for me, so it’s always hard to see him without wanting to laugh, however that didn’t happen once in this film. He’s come a long way from his time in the Early Edition TV show. He was utterly convincing as the hard-edged father and local law enforcement bad ass (perdon moi francais). I was really taken with his character because Chandler played him with a wonderful subtlety. He is the type of actor who holds all his emotion in his eyes. Even if he seems stone-faced you can see everything going on in the eyes. He is a duty-bound sheriff’s deputy who takes zero nonsense from anyone. When the sheriff goes missing, he fills the shoes immediately without hesitation. I loved that he was a very clever character utilizing the tactful common sense and courage he had to get the job done, instead of bumbling around aimlessly.

I thought that it was an interesting choice for their last name, Lamb. Implies gentleness, or sacrificial lamb, when you see the types of characters Jackson and Joseph are. Jackson, like most men in that time period, is uncomfortable with his emotions. One quick shot of him crying in the bathroom, no doubt in mourning over his wife, is all you need to see. He shies away from giving his son the affection he needs. At one point in time, the sheriff tells Jackson “Go home and give your son a hug.” Jackson’s face after that statement is a look of almost terror and you get the impression that the weight of fully loving his son and being vulnerable enough to do that. There is one scene in particular where he and Joe get in a heated argument. I thought that scene was the best in the film acting-wise. I was utterly convinced that they were father and son. Their mannerisms, tone, body language was perfection. It wasn’t some over-the-top dramatism,but rather elusive relational accuracy.
The children were well-cast and funny and the smorgasbord of side-characters were all entertaining and unique. The family dynamics and relationships held together with realism even in the midst of a child-like science fiction piece. Joe’s friend Charles, who is the director of the super 8 zombie film, was a great caricature of film directors. The train blows up and he’s screaming about the focus ring falling off. There were so many wonderful filmmaking in-jokes. I am sure this had some of Spielberg’s own autobiography laced in.
Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota Fanning) had a quiet elegance about her, even when acting alongside a bunch of dirty boys, as she played the role of Alice. Her father Louis is a drunk who slept in and missed his shift the morning Joe’s mother was killed, it would have been him working had she not picked it up. Her father is a direct opposite of Joe’s father, however both parallel in their grief. Louis’ wife left him and Alice years ago and of course Jackson’s wife was killed. You see throughout the film how both men are shown dealing with their loss, and the awkwardness of their role in their children’s lives, in two very different ways. In the end, they come to terms with their place and with their love for their children. It’s kind of a cheesy ending, but that’s true to the style of this film and the time period and genre it’s emulating.

I’m not going to talk about the alien, because in my opinion the alien was subplot and the plot was the characters. This may have Spielberg written all over it, but having the completely character driven story with a mysterious plot that you never seem to get all the answers to is classic J.J. Abrams. I personally love this syle because in our modern age stories all too much action and not enough of anything else. What drives the action is even more important that the action itself. It really doesn’t matter who this alien was or where he came from, but how did his presence affect the lives of the characters and press them on forward. Of course the alien aspect keeps it true to the science fiction genre and gives fun things to play with on screen. Including naming the gas station company “Kelvin” and making it a point to show that. Nerdy in-joke.
A lot of people just want to come to movies, particularly in summer, to see things blow up and die. While Super 8 has that going on, it’s not about that at all in the end. It’s about a boy’s journey to letting go. Throw in some geeky cheese, a unique script, and flawless production design and you have what I call the most original film of the year.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Between rage and serenity... X-Men: First Class

Blood and honor... Which would you like to shed first?” - Erik Lensherr

I am going to admit it; I am probably a little bias when it comes to X-Men. I’ve loved it since I was a child. The original cartoon aired in the 90s was amazing. I was in love with Gambit and wanted to be like Storm, but I loved all the characters equally.  I still can’t pick a favorite character, Nightcrawler or Gambit? Or Wolverine? Ah! Other than Iron Man, X-Men is the best Marvel Comic concept and full of “marvelous” characters (Sorry I couldn’t resist that one).

The first two films are great, especially X-Men 2 which boasts one of the best opening scenes in film history as Nightcrawler attacks the White House with Mozart’s Requiem scoring the scene (makes me want to stop what I am doing and watch it right now). The third film X-Men: The Last Stand is regrettably horrible minus Archangel and a spot-on casting of Kelsey Grammar as Beast. I pretty much would watch it again just for those two because every other character basically went to pot, along with the script. X-Men Origins: Wolverine definitely fell short, but mainly I was just happy to finally see my beloved Gambit on screen. And now we have X-Men: First Class, the prequel we never knew we wanted and certainly never knew would be this amazing. Saddle up, cowboys; this is going to be a great big blog!

The film opens immediately taking us back to the first film with the moment Erik discovers his power as he and his family are rounded up in the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. We get to delve a little deeper into the scenario though when we meet a man named Schmidt, known the rest of the film as Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon. I must say he was a fantastic villain. I was impressed that he could speak German and Russian so beautifully. Kevin Bacon has always creeped me out, so this was a perfect role for him. We get to see the events that made Magneto hard as metal, including the killing of his own mother right before his eyes by Shaw. Shaw then delivers to Erik one of many great pieces of dialogue that reveals the character, “So, we unlock your gift with anger… anger and pain…”

The story of Magneto, Erik Lensherr, is the most compelling part of the film. It’s utterly sorrowful, as we all know how the story ends up later on, and deeply sad to see how all the wonderful parts of him get snuffed out by this “anger and pain.” At one point Erik refers to himself as Frankenstein’s monster and Shaw as his creator. There’s such a deep philosophical connotation throughout the film that speaks of controlling what’s inside you before it controls you. Oddly enough, Magneto proves incapable of that while his friend and counterpart, Charles Xavier, chooses to meet that challenge every day. Another notable observation is that Magneto’s helmet is the helmet Shaw wears throughout the film, so essentially, Magneto ends up becoming just like the man who destroyed his life, as so many villains do.

What makes Magneto’s tale utterly superb is the mesmerizing performance given by Michael Fassbender. He is an actor quickly climbing my charts since seeing him in Inglorious Basterds and Jane Eyre, but it’s this role that shows he is capable of drawing out a deep emotional response not only from himself, but from his audience. Each scene he was in was thoroughly intense. I couldn’t take my eyes off him the entire time and often it was his moments without dialogue that spoke the loudest. The mark of a fine actor.

I have to mention my favorite scene in the film, which is a moment when Charles Xavier, Professor X, is trying to help Erik control his power. At this point, they are training with other mutants to find and apprehend Shaw to essentially stop WWIII from starting during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Charles challenges Erik to move a satellite dish. To say the thing is huge would be an understatement. Erik thinks he needs anger, emotional stimulation, to conquer the task, but Charles knows it’s so much more than that. Then he says the film’s great tagline, “I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity…” This ties into the theme I mentioned earlier of control and finding balance. These mutants must learn to balance their desires, emotions, and abilities. He uses his telepathy to dig into Erik’s mind for a serene moment and he finds a memory of Chanukah Erik had with his mother. Charles explains it as he “accessed the brightest part of Erik’s mind.” Fassbender beautifully allows hope and disbelief to simultaneously wash over his face, he replies, “I didn’t know I still had that…” Gah! That line tore me apart. That entire scene was filmmaking magic.

James McAvoy had a great challenge in his role as Charles Xavier, who is THE X-man,  but he nailed it. He’s been a favorite actor of mine for years and never disappoints. He showed us with believability what a younger Charles would be like: boyish yet responsible, respectful yet with a bit of a swagger. He perfectly captured the spirit of an incredibly intelligent young man just out of college with a bright future ahead... who uses science in his pick-up lines at the bars. He kept up the quintessential characteristics of Charles, such as putting others before himself and always thinking about the bigger picture. Unlike Magneto, Charles was always aware he was a part of something greater than himself.

The film also hit a major point about our society, particularly in the obsession with image. At first glance, it may seem silly, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great moral point to make in our age. The way the mutants felt about their appearance, the insecurity and the rejection, can easily be compared to the ridiculous standards of our society today. The mutants, particularly Raven (Mystique) and Hank McCoy (Beast) felt they had to hide their natural forms and that their cosmetic appearance needed to fit with the rest of the world. However, they were hiding who they naturally were, who they had evolved to be. This is comparable to our society that values dieting to point of anorexia, taking drugs and supplements to speed up muscle production, and plastic surgery to shape our faces and bodies and smooth away "imperfections." This expectation alienates what is natural, and that was very much the issue in the film. In the previous X-Men films they dealt more with the fear from humans toward their kind, and in this film it touched more on acceptance versus rejection from the world.

Even Charles thought they should hide their forms and seemed to have the same expectation of the world’s view on beauty and acceptance. So did Hank McCoy, he was extremely insecure. However, these two characters meet and ironic fate. Charles, one of the most powerful mutants of all time, ends up in a wheelchair, and after many times of making a big deal about his hair, he ends up going bald. He is like any young man with a misplaced sense of vanity. Hank makes a serum to undo his mutation, and it ends up accelerating it instead, causing him to fully become Beast. The thing is that once Hank really becomes Beast, it’s like he finally comes into his own and sheds his boyish insecurity to become warrior-like. Proverbs is truly right; beauty, while enjoyable, is absolutely fleeting.

On the subject of Charles and his wheelchair, there is some debate as to the way it happened in the film, but personally I thought it was the way it ought to be. There is a C.I.A. agent named Moira McTaggert, played by the lovely Rose Byrne, who fights for both humans and mutants. (I was sort of secretly hoping she and Charles would get together, but anyway…) Magneto is trying to kill hundreds of humans during the climax, and she begins to shoot at him to stop him. She fires off bullets and Magneto deflects them, and one of them hits Charles square on the lower spine. To me, this makes perfect sense in the scheme of the story. Charles was the one person who wanted absolute reconciliation between both sides. He was the symbol of peace and righteousness, and he becomes paralyzed because of a human and a mutant fighting each other. Such a grand symbol of the war, and how the war between these two sides can only prevent or paralyze, peace and righteousness. Awesome!

This film also brought an onslaught of mutants, some of which we have seen in different forms before. For the baddies there was a guy named Azazel who was like a red version of Nightcrawler and had Guillermo Del Toro’s fingerprints all over him, clearly. There was Riptide who wore swanky purple suits and could start tornadoes from his palms. Then there was Emma Frost who was a telepath that turns to diamond form. Personally, I thought she was a pretty worthless character. You could have taken her out of the film and made no difference. Basically, I think she was just some eye candy for the boys out there as she uses her cleavage more than her telepathic ability to get what she wants. That’s also how I felt about the Angel character too. Yeah she was pretty, whoohoo she’s a stripper with beautiful wings who spits fireballs like Super Mario, but she was worthless to the story other than to be eye-candy. And Lenny Kravitz, I’m sorry, but your daughter can’t act.

However, I really loved the adorable redhead known as Banshee. He was charming and had a sweet ability. When he learns to use his sonar, that screaming voice of his, to create enough sound waves to make himself fly, that was pretty legit. He should totally be in a metal band too as his day job. It was also awesome to see Cyclops’s relative, Havok or Alex Summers, in this film. You can see how Scott Summers has similar powers and both of them have a sense of honor and fear of hurting others with their gift. There was also Darwin, a guy who can adapt to any environment, and last but certainly not least young Raven, or Mystique, played by rising star Jennifer Lawrence. Even William Stryker’s father made an quick appearance.

My criticisms of the movie are slim, but there. For starters, I mentioned my dislike of Emma Frost and Angel as merely being eye candy and little of any other kind of substance. That goes along with the scene where Moira strips down to her lingerie in Vegas to follow a Colonel into Shaw’s lair filled with other girls in their lingerie. That’s what I like to call “fan service.” Necessary? Absolutely not. But they throw it into the movie because sex sells and we buy it like sheep. The other thing I didn’t like was the whole “Mutant and Proud” slogan Mystique kept harping on throughout the film. It’s akin to a cheesy banner you’d find at a Pride parade and, I’m sorry, but that isn’t X-Men. At least they could have come up with something unique and less annoying. But other than that…

Heavens, this post is long but there’s so much to say. I didn’t even mention to groovy way they used the 1960s as a backdrop and weaved our historical events into the plot. Or the fact that there were some majorly creative shots in the cinematography. Or the wonderful cameos, particularly Hugh Jackman’s quick insert as Wolverine that made the whole audience chuckle. At any rate, this was the best time I’ve had at the movies this year so far and I am happy that the prequel I never thought I wanted became something I got to have anyway. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Very First Comicon

Okay this isn’t an analysis or critique, but it’s VERY much related to film and related to the field I want to go into. I am going to share with you my Comicon experience in which I get to speak to Adam Baldwin!
Oh Comicon, where do I begin? First let me start off by saying this was the Phoenix Comicon and the “main one” is in San Diego, however I have heard from multiple people that ours is one of the best. Yay Phoenix! This was my first Comicon and it was an exhausting and overwhelming experience in which I definitely learned what NOT to do in the future. For starters, get their as early as possible on your first day to get your badge or you may not see anything! The lines are horrendous.
Oh Comicon, who can describe? It is like a roaring sea of people in which the tribes of nerd, geek, dork,  (and the few from the actually cool) come to gather. Storm Troopers and Boba Fetts march through the crowds, everyone is suddenly decked head-to-toe in Steampunk apparel. There are tons of costumes that are pretty much unrecognizable except to teenagers and I like to call them the “insert-random-anime-character-here” costumes. Star Trek captains, comic book heroes, and people wearing t-shirts with in-jokes only others in the tribes would get. It’s absolutely wonderful! I think my favorite costume may have been this beautiful girl dressed as Padme from Star Wars (besides my cousin! lol) because she was pregnant and she did a spot on costume of pregnant Padme and used her pregancy to her advantage. Very clever! But before I go into all the AWESOME parts about Comicon, I am going to announce to all what the worst part was…  
These tribes are amongst the rudest of humanity. I was very surprised by this. I thought surely young men who dream of saving princesses, being spies, and wielding swords and lightsabers would be fans of chivalry and kindness. I was wrong. Boys/guys/men of Comicon here’s a bit of knowledge for you: No hygiene. No Manners. No woman. And ladies could have used a lesson or two in acting with propriety too. Just like Halloween, girls use Comicon as an excuse to dress slutty and get away with it. That was disappointing, bad girls.  Everywhere you went people were pushing, shoving, and being obnoxious. Ugh! So take a lesson from your games, films, books, comics, and learn to actually ACT like heroes and heroines. Sheesh.
What’s funny about this collection of people is that they claim to be anti-society and “different” however they are as much pretentious jerks as the rest of the world, and perhaps worse because they actually think they are special simply for liking the things they like. I definitely wouldn’t say ALL the people at Comicon were like that, there were actually a lot of older people there too who are way past the “everyone is a conformist” stage of life. Anyway…
Saturday was the first day, and after spending over an hour in the lines me and my crew finally got all of our badges. I have to share that I got a professional badge (details will not be disclosed haha!) and I could skip lines at any time if I wanted to. Sweet!
Saturday’s highlight was definitely getting to see Leonard Nimoy and hear him speak. For those of you who don’t speak fluent nerd, Leonard Nimoy is the man most famously known for playing Spock in Star Trek the Original Series. He’s done many other things, including being a guest star on several episodes of Fringe (yay!) but Spock is his role of a lifetime. It was wonderful to hear him speak as he shared so much about his life. He used his computer to give us a picture slideshow as he talked and his stories were so interesting. I could have listened to him all day. A couple things I thought were especially cool was that when he was working in L.A. as a starving actor he also drove taxi cabs and he drove J.F.K before he was president and got to have a good talk with him. So neat! Then he shared with us how he came up with many of the things that made Spock’s character unique and how they were drawn from things in his own culture and life. For instance, the Vulcan hand greeting and also the Vulcan death grip. I loved the pictures he showed from his days on the Star Trek set. All in all, it was “fascinating.”
After Leonard departed from us we wandered around the countless exhibitions downstairs. I absolutely loved that most of the tables were art related and the artists were there showing it off. Jason Palmer Studios was perhaps the most impressive. His artwork is practically perfect. He had shirts in addition to posters and canvas. He was mostly known for making Firefly/Serenity paintings but he pretty much hit every aspect of nerddom. My cousin bought a book of his collection of Padme Amidala drawings from Star Wars. They were absolutely stunning. He has a website if you are interested in seeing his work. I also really loved this girl who did all her artwork on small cards whose name was Ashleigh M. Popplewell and she also has a website. My last favorite thing was this group of Firefly fans from Austin, TX who made teas for characters and places in Firefly, really unique lovely blends called Sereni-teas. Yum! I am currently a broke little lady so I could only get one souvenir and I got the adorable Star Trek picture to the left. Love it!
After all the roaming, costumes, artwork, and weirdos, I was ready to go home and get prepared for the next day, which was the day I was looking forward to most of all…
Sunday came and I arrived just in the middle of George Takei’s spiel (he played Sulu in this original Star Trek). I found out that he was in the Japanese internment camps during WWII which was very interesting. After that, it was Billy Dee Williams (Lando from Star Wars) and he was hilarious. He didn’t give very detailed answers, which would have annoyed me but I think he was doing it just to mess with people and it was funny. His assistant (pictured with him here) was very funny and had to help poor Billy Dee every step of the way. He got a lot of laughs. I liked how this one Black young man came forward to ask him how he felt being one of the few Black actors in sci-fi (which is a bunch of crap, there are many) and Billy Dee was just like, “You know, I really don’t think about it. It doesn’t matter.” And I loved that because he is so right! However, the best question came from one of many adorable little boys in the line. The question was “What was it like to dance with Ewoks?” I seriously lost my breath laughing, but it’s only funny if you’re a geek.
And then… the moment I had been waiting for all weekend… Adam Baldwin!!! He was on the stage with Chuck producer Robert Duncan McNeil who was also very cool and now I am a fan of him too! These guys were just amazing. Adam was everything I thought he was. Not only am I a huge fan of Firefly and Chuck (two fantastic series in which he stars) but I am a fan of Adam as a person too. He keeps a blog and twitter with updates and thoughts about our political sphere. I’ve also heard him on radio shows. He’s incredibly well-informed, well-spoken and intelligent. He is a personal inspiration to me because he’s one of the very few people with a conservative viewpoint in Hollywood, and a legit one at that. He’s also a Christian and it’s nice to see someone like him in the limelight. He loves his family and his children, and when was asked during the Q&A at comicon who inspires him the most, he said his wife and kids. Awww…
Anyway, he was just as lovely as I imagined. Filling the room with his huge, thousand-kilowatt smile across his handsome face. He was hysterical. One of my favorite moments of their talk was someone mentioning Osama Bin Laden and Adam says, “Yeah, I was out of town that weekend…”  as he took a swig of water and we all just cheered! He was funny but incredibly humble, and “real” for lack of a better term. He was completely laid back and kind with the audience. It was so weird, but I felt like I had met him before, but perhaps that’s from all the recent watching of Chuck. Both he and Robert Duncan McNeil were completely down to earth about their work, especially on Chuck, and they showed a great love and appreciation for the cast and crew. The gaffer from Chuck was in the audience and they encouraged us to give him a standing ovation. It was so great.
These are the guys I want so badly to be working with. They love their work, but more importantly they have a genuine love for the people they work with. Adam talked about Zachary Levi (who plays the title character in Chuck and who I also happen to LOVE) and how much he appreciates him and loves watching him work. I always knew that the Firefly cast and crew had a great sense of family and love, and it’s nice to see that continue on. It’s so hard to find decent, loving people in Hollywood and it’s such an inspiration to me as an aspiring artist in the industry. I do not want to be stuck with all the pretentious big-wigs, I want these people. The middle-levelers so to speak. They have big vision, but not big egos.
Thankfully, the entire Q&A with them is available on youtube! It’s about an hour and worth every minute. My question comes about 28 minutes in and the Bin Laden moment is right after. The fun thing is that my question is the highlight of the video’s description. YAY! The link is here:   *The photo to the right above is the back of my head as I ask my question to the guys!
This was a great experience I’ll never forget. A high point of the year. I hope to go to many more and use the opportunities wisely. To all my fellow nerds out there may the force be with you, and live long and prosper!
*This photo is me in the Wonder Woman get-up with my cousin Danielle as Padme in the Star Wars exhibit.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Philosophies of Tron

"You can’t steal something that was designed to be free!"
                              ~ Sam Flynn

One of my favorite films of last year was Tron: Legacy. Before I saw it, I had no idea I would love it so much, and on additional viewings I was able to dig out little pieces of gold embedded in the story. Not only was this film one of the greatest pieces of visual art I have ever seen, but in its simple story it is filled with thought-provoking subtext. There is a lot of philosophy and direct Biblical imagery throughout the entire film. This is a different sort of entry for me, but I plan on doing more like it in the future. If you haven’t seen the movie, you probably won’t get this post as it’s a commentary and not a review.

In the beginning of the film, the CEO and leaders of Encom are having a meeting in which the secure and powerful software developed by Sam’s father is going to be available to all. Unfortunately, the CEOs and leaders have put a price on the software, and what was meant to be a free gift from Sam’s father is now a packaged and priced consumer good. These men remind me of the Pharisees and Sadducees of old, overly religious men who put limitations on the power and grace of God by placing their own religious ritual above it. It’s also reminiscent of Catholics before Luther’s day who would charge people to see “holy relics” or charge them to spring a loved one’s soul from purgatory. These are things you cannot put a price on, to do so is corruption. By making the software come at a price, these men have hijacked something secure and protective meant to be available to all who sought it.
When Sam comes into the meeting, he spoils their plan momentarily by making the software available online. Thousands download it in just a matter of minutes, but the men stop it before further “damage” can be done. This reminds me of the turning of the tables of the tax collectors; Sam has taken their unjust plan and flipped it on its head. The one man among them who is righteous and keeps the ways of Kevin Flynn within the company is Allan. He challenges the rest of the group and they despise him for it. Allan reminds me a lot of Samuel or any of the prophets from the Old Testament really, who keep the righteous ways amidst all the corruption. In Samuel’s day Saul was king and Saul’s men wanted to get rid of the old prophets in a move to be more progressive, but Samuel stood firm and ultimately David becomes king and Saul is rejected. In some ways that even happens in this film with Sam ultimately coming back and taking the company again in the end.

Kevin Flynn is the creator of the Tron video game and essentially the creator of the world or digital frontier. So the obvious metaphor of the creator’s son going about his father’s work is definitely clear to most people, but I would say that in the sense of salvation the topic is hit mostly with Quorra.

Quorra is an angelic being who just came into existence without the creator expecting it. That’s where deism comes in. In deist belief, God is simply a creator who made the universe then leaves it. Isaac Newton described it as a watchmaker and his watch, God puts the mechanics into place and then lets it do its thing. Deists agree that there is a God as the source of all motion and matter, however his intercession with his creation only happens occasionally, if it does at all. Quorra’s kind, the Isos, are just that. They “surprised” the creator by happening.

This also comes to play in the first Tron (1982) when Kevin Flynn first gets sucked into his digital grid and runs into Tron:
Kevin Flynn: You guys know what it’s like, you just keep doing what it looks like you’re supposed to be doing, no matter how crazy it seems.

Tron: That’s the way it is for Programs, yes.

Kevin Flynn: I hate to disappoint you, pal, but most of the time, that’s the way it is for users too.

Again, this implies that the users don’t have complete control over their creation. Now being that the users are actually humans and not gods it makes perfect sense. But the problem lies in comparing a human like Kevin Flynn to godhood. Many implications there that lead more to a deistic and not Biblical view.

BUT… back to Biblical symbolisms now and back to Quorra too…

Quorra tells Sam all that Flynn has been teaching her and one particular thing she points out is:

Quorra: Flynn has been teaching me the art of the selfless, about removing oneself from the equation…

Kevin Flynn taught this to Quorra, I believe, because he never truly did it himself. Quorra grew under his teaching and therefore a selfless act for her was both an absolute honor and something one should never hesitate to do.
I didn’t notice until the third viewing, but when Flynn asks Sam if he’s got a girlfriend or a wife, he replies “a dog, Marvin” but then he says his dog was a rescue and that’s where Quorra was able to draw the idea from. Later in the film Quorra tells Sam the story of how she was saved by the creator, his father, and she says, “I guess you could say I was a rescue…” The idea of salvation comes through from both the creator Kevin Flynn, and the son of the creator Sam Flynn, which is the most obvious metaphor based on Biblical idea that both creator and his son have the innate ability to save the lost.

In that same conversation, Quorra discusses how the portal, which is the opening between the digital world and our own, was so bright that it became a symbol of hope for the programs and isos. She goes on to describe it as "a sign for something greater" and how she imagines it to be similar to a sunrise. She is aware of her smallness and aware that there is something beyond her, something greater and that great thing is symbolized by light as it is in the Bible.

Kevin Flynn also taught Quorra the meaning and tact of patience, even when time is of the essence. She points out to Sam as they pass by a board game in Flynn's off-grid cave that Flynn’s patience usually beats out her aggressive strategy. When Sam becomes frustrated that his father is taking too much time to get moving when the portal has only hours until it closes for good, Quorra pleads for Sam to “consider his father’s wisdom.” That in itself is a Biblical concept. This idea that obedience and patience aren’t wholly our own and that we often have to seek them from a higher power or someone older with more to give.

One last small point is that Clu had many, though not all, properties of an anti-Christ character. He is a betrayer and a deceiver. In the beginning he comes to Sam as “an angel of light” because he is identical to his father and knowing this, Clu momentarily takes advantage of that. Though Clu is not wholly to blame for being the way he is, much of that rests on the shoulders of Kevin Flynn who made him and did not responsibly look after his beloved program. This suggests, as mentioned previously, the idea of a god who does not have control of his creation, a deist or open-theist god who is not all-knowing.
There is so much to go into on these subjects and I only touched on the ones I know the most about. The film also throws in literary symbolisms as well as delving into Buddhism and Asian religions with methods of enlightenment. The point, however, is to get wheels turning and to make known that ALL films are saying something, ssome just say it more deeply than others. So the next time you think you’re watching an “action” or “comedy” and expect to turn your brain off… I suggest you turn your brain on and I think you’ll be shocked at what you’ll find when you are actually looking for it. What messages have you been ignoring simply to be entertained? What statements have you shut your ears to? All art, all films are making them, there's no such thing as a piece of art that doesn't. Even when you paint a bland picture of a red square, there is a reason you chose the square shape and the red color, and that says something. Whether intentional or not, art speaks. So next time you settle in with your popcorn, open your eyes and listen up!