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: http://youtu.be/mN7R6TJqahs   *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!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"You didn't prepare me for this..." ~ Hanna

Very few films have the power to surprise and bring the unexpected. There truly is nothing new under the sun, and ultimately Hanna isn’t new, but it’s definitely fresh.

This is the fourth film by Joe Wright who has the masterpiece Pride and Prejudice and the strange but powerful film Atonement under his belt already. He has definite genius potential as he knows how to get great moments from his actors and even greater cinematography from his DP. I remember being left breathless by his majestic shot of Keira Knightley upon the rocks in Derbyshire or the continuous long shot of James McAvoy wandering through war-ravaged France. This guy knows what he’s doing and he knows how to get the most out of his people.

Cinematography is one of the first things I pay attention to in a film being that I am a very visual person, and Hanna does not disappoint. From the moment it opens up, with the snow covered forest of Finland in complete silence, you are immersed. The use of snow and light in the beginning is perfect, because though Hanna is a trained killer and hunter, she is still extremely innocent. The snow symbolizes her purity in that she is smothered by the whiteness and the light amplifies it. Her innocence is crucial in the story because it inevitably fades away. Like his famous long shots like the one mentioned above in Atonement, or the one at the opening of Pride and Prejudice as we travel through the Bennett home, this film did not lack. You get to follow Eric Bana through a subway station fight scene in one continuous shot that will blow your mind with action and artistry. I’m still thinking about that one!

So let’s talk about Hanna… Hanna is the 16 year-old daughter of a rogue C.I.A. agent Erik Heller played by Eric Bana. Since her infancy she has been with him living in a cabin immersed in a life of training and "extreme homeschooling" in which she has never had contact with other people or technology. Hanna knows several languages and has a completely false backstory prepared for when the time comes. Hanna is played by the striking and celestial-looking Saoirse Ronan (pronounced sursh-uh) who not only proves herself a brilliant actress yet again (she was nominated for her role as young Briony Tallis in Atonement) but also as a completely believable martial artist. Seriously, she kicks some major rear in this movie.The incredible aspect about her is that she’s a stone-cold killer who is completely innocent and untouched by the world. I’ve never seen a story tackle such a unique character trait.

The film is absolutely seamless from scene to scene. It was not only superbly edited, but firmly stitched to its sweet, pumping techno score composed by the Chemical Brothers. Between this film and Tron: Legacy, I’m digging the electronic approach to score. It won’t work for every film, but when it works, its gold. I never felt like I was ever taken out of the film by anything, but each moment pushed me forward to the next.

The villain of the piece was excellent. I am referring, of course, to the amazing Cate Blanchett who plays Marissa Wiegler in the film. She is a CIA operative who knew Erik in a past life, so to speak. She has been chasing down Hanna for years for reasons you find out later in the film. The things that gave her a creepy presence, besides her cold and bizarre personality, were her habits. They really knew how to give her distinct characteristics you wouldn’t forget. One of the things she does is brush her teeth in an OCD sort of way. She has a specific rhythm with doing it and one point she brushes so hard her mouth bleeds. Her whole teeth obsession shows the kind of person she is throughout the film and how the frustration with Hanna affects her. She dresses sterile and lives in a sterile environment. Throw in a weird Southern drawl accent and you have yourself a freaky villain!

The film also included a great performance from the gorgeous Eric Bana, even though his part was rather short. There’s also hilarious performances from Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams who play the quirky, new age parents of the girl who ends up becoming Hanna’s first friend, Sophie. And to add to the creep factor, you had Tom Hollander as the German hit man Isaacs who spends a questionable amount of time in European drag bars. He was skin-crawlingly good in the minor role. I don’t know what weirded me out more, his Village People inspired henchmen or his fruity, golf-course fashion sense.

My favorite part of the film, and the part I’d like to focus on the most, is the genius weaving of modern thriller with timeless fairy tales. The climax of the film takes place in Germany which is the birth-land of the famous Grimm Brothers. At the beginning of the film, Hanna reads a book of fairy tales before she sets out on her own. Hanna goes from her life in the forest to a prison in Morocco and finally Europe. Hanna has never heard a bit of music her entire life nor seen electricity, so her reactions to the "magic" of our world is so much like the demure ladies of fairy tales. As you journey with her, you see things through her eyes; everything is strange, new and completely magical even though frightening. She is wholly unspoiled by the things of the world, which is both her endearment and her downfall.

When she finally reaches Germany, the Grimm’s fairy tale takes more of a literal scope. She is set to meet her father in Berlin at “The House of Grimm” which ends up being a run-down amusement park based on their fairy tales. There she meets a man actually called Grimm, a strange, circus-act of a man who is kind and seemingly as innocent as she is. He helps her as she waits for her father and Marissa and Isaacs pursue her. The production design of the amusement park is wonderful; everything feels dead except for Grimm who is full of spirit.

As Marissa gains on her, Hanna must escape the park, but not before she unhappily learns the truth about herself and her father. In that moment, Hanna loses her innocence and Marissa kills Grimm rather violently. The killing of Grimm is such a powerful symbol of the loss of her own childlike wonder, purity, and innocence. Marissa herself is definitely a symbol for the Big Bad Wolf. She even makes a stop at Hanna’s grandmother’s house (the grandmother Hanna’s never met) and kills her in her pursuit for Hanna. One of my absolute favorite moments in the film was when Marissa and Hanna finally have a showdown at the amusement park and Marissa emerges from the mouth of the wolf’s head on one of the rollercoasters. My heart was on a rollercoaster!

The film ends openly. There could be more, which would be awesome as much is left unexplained and unanswered in this film and it has the ability to be a really great series or trilogy. In any case, Hanna is a haunting piece of action thriller that tops most of the genre I’ve seen in a very long time.