Browsing the archives for the Visual category

Dadaist Comics

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Culture, Visual

Fark ran a story about a guy who forced himself to read all the comics in the newspaper every day for two weeks — The article itself was trash (“How bad was it,” you ask? It claimed that Doonesbury was funny.) but the Fark comments thread it spawned is genius. I was literally laughing out loud for a good five minutes at some of the comics posted there. They even convinced me Garfield is a good strip.

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Related: Here’s a Garfield Comics Randomizer, which takes 3 panels from three different comics. This thing is absolutely genius.

End of Andromeda

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Culture, Visual

A long, long time ago I mentioned I was going to start up watching Andromeda, the Sci Fi series with Kevin Sorbo. As I write this, I’m one episode away from finally finishing the series.

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It’s kind of strange because I don’t know what’s coming. After five years, the series has to come to a point, and to a resolution. And where can it go? The possibilities seem so endless that this series could end up being pretty good overall, or a big disappointment.

If there’s anything that can be said for this series is that it’s uneven. Most of the time it’s average fare, but occasionally it really shines. In fact, two of its episodes are probably the best televised sci fi I’ve ever seen. On other occasions, it’s virtually unwatchable, and nearly physically painful to watch.

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My biggest feeling is how much potential this story has, if it were told without the constraints of typical network TV fare. There’s just too much filler in each season for me to recommend watching the whole thing to anyone else. Furthermore, a lot of the pacing between shows is done pretty poorly — arcs that are set up that seem like they should last for an entire season are resolved in an episode, arcs that seem like they should be resolved in a few episodes are stretched out over a season. This story really cries out to me for a retelling — But I think I’m too attached to the actors (especially Keith Hamilton Cobb, Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, and Laura Bertram) to accept anyone else in their parts. Maybe in the future, when fully digitized actors are most cost-effective, it’d be feasible to do something like that.

Any way, I need to decide when I want to watch this last episode. In some ways, the potentiality of what could be is far more sublime than what is.

Mind Control with Derren Brown

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Culture, Visual

To round out its summer lineup, the Sci Fi channel has been pushing a new show called Mind Control with Derren Brown. According to the advertisements, he’s “not a psychic” and “has no supernatural powers” but can still perform amazing feats by manipulating his own, or his audience’s minds. All the while we see a montage of strange and unusual events, such as Derren throwing a punch at a man and having his fist stop several inches away, yet the man still doubles up in pain.

I’m a bit skeptical of this sort of thing, so I went ahead and browsed YouTube for a couple of videos of Derren’s show in Britain. Presumably, he is very popular over there and is only now making his American debut. I watched a couple of videos, which had me somewhat impressed. The first involved Derren debunking psychic readings by investigating his audience’s backgrounds and using an earpiece to receive messages as he tossed out words and impressions to solicit his audience to give him something to work with. The second involved a pair of advertisers who, presumably, had been unconsciously primed with words and images before being instructed to draw up some sample ads for a fictitious company. The resulting ads were almost identical, in many aspects, to the images and words which they had been primed with — This example was a stretch, but stranger things have happened.

So, after investigating a little bit I was intrigued. I figured I’d give the show a shot, and I did last Thursday. Big mistake.

After about ten or fifteen minutes I was so incredulous that I could barely stand to sit through the remainder of the program. I did watch it through to the end, in the hopes that we might get some sort of “This is how it was done” segment that explained the principles behind how the tricks worked. There wasn’t any.* The Sci Fi channel has been pushing this program as scientific and the result of Derren Brown’s psychological insights, but all we got was Derren Brown on a microphone, presumably influencing people to raise their hands in a shopping mall, Derren Brown presumably paying for items in stores with blank paper, Derren Brown presumably tricking people out of their wallets on the street, Derren Brown presumably guessing songs and numbers and dollar bills with no clues.

If this is all scientific then we should be able to have a segment for each trick going step-by-step through the motions needed to get reproducible results. But we don’t, and we won’t. Not only are these tricks not scientific, but whether they’re really taking place or staged with actors is in serious doubt. The only feasible way I can see some of the tricks he pulls off as being performed with real, random, off-the-street strangers is if he tried each trick thousands of times and only selected the miniscule few with whom it worked — And even then, if your trick only works once in a hundred, once in a thousand times, could it be said to even work at all?

I’m pretty disappointed in the Sci Fi Channel for carrying this dreck, but more importantly I’m disappointed that they present it in a factual manner. I may not like some of the ridiculous crap they show, like Ghost Hunters, but at least the advertisements for it don’t try to trick me into believing the premise that Ghost Hunters is some sort of respectable, factual documentary show. I won’t be tuning in again.

The Fountain

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Culture, Visual

I finally got around to watching The Fountain recently — I’ve been waiting for this movie to come out on DVD ever since it was released in theaters last fall. Apparently, it was only running in the local movieplexes for about a week before they decided to push it out for your standard mindless Hollywood comedies and seasonal films.

Spoilers below, you have been warned.

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After waiting a couple of months for the film, it’s kind of inevitable that I was a bit disappointed in it. Still, I’m glad I got around to watching it, and I’m still bitter about the ridiculousness that pushes an ambitious (if flawed) film out of the theaters for your run of the mill tripe.

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One of the problems with this movie is that it’s premise is at once immediately obvious, and yet frustratingly obtuse. Philosophically, the theme of the movie is that death is not something to be feared, it is a natural part of life and continues the cycle of creation in the universe. But, to me, there’s no obvious connection between this philosophical idea and the way the story in the movie is told, via three different timelines, all three of which are tied together by the presence of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz’s characters.

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Why is this done? Why do we skip from Inquisition era Spain, modern day New York, and some unspecified future? One of the big failings of the movie is that the narrative device here seems largely superfluous. The past timeline, for example, is tied into the story loosely by having it be a story that Rachel Weisz’s character writes — But I believe we’re intended to think that the events in that timeline are real. Are they or aren’t they? It’s never explained.

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Then we have the future timeline, which is actually a continuation of the present timeline, but forwarded at least several hundred, and more likely a thousand or more, years into the future. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a hard time believing that a character who has lived several hundred, or possibly thousand years would not get over the death of his wife.

I feel that, philosophically, the idea that death should be embraced, if actually internalized by Hugh Jackman’s character, would have led him to bury the memory of his dead wife in his mind. His grief would fade, his emotions would fade, and, in time, the very recollection of her existence would fade. He would not be haunted by her death, but would instead be free to continue to live his life. Despite that, I’m willing to handwave that away, as we could say that the character’s insistence on holding on to his life beyond all natural limits has given him a similarly unnatural persistence of memory and emotional attachment.

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Even ignoring the plausibility issues of having a future timeline so far removed from the present one, but so dependent on fickle emotion, one could argue that it’s the character’s very stubbornness in resisting death that makes the whole narrative of the movie possible — I find it really hard to take away the intended meaning of the film when so much of it hinges on resisting the movie’s message.

In fact, I’d argue that a lot of the movie is self-undermining. Aronofsky is an atheist, so we can assume that in the movie here he is not suggesting that death leads to an afterlife, but rather that the death and dissolution of one creature, one object, will allow something new to be created with its physical remains. Although trivially true, this really doesn’t address the issue of why any particular extant being should sacrifice itself for the creation of something new. The issue is sidestepped in the movie by presenting Jackman’s character in the future as gaunt and hollow, like a man who has spread his vitality thin across too long a life. But I don’t see that as any kind of necessary condition.

Furthermore, the issue of presenting two distinct stories, that of the Conquistador and Isabel, and of the modern characters (and their story as it progresses a thousand years in the future), confuses the issue. Is Aronofsky positing some kind of reincarnation? The past storyline is one that I find particularly problematic because of the presence of a genuine villain character, in this case, the Inquisitor who we discover is threatening to kill Isabel for her heresy. The issue I have with this subplot is that it is the Inquisitor character which both the Conquistador and Isabel are attempting to fight, and yet in terms of philosophy, a pseudo-Gnostic Christianity focused on spiritual matters in opposition to the body, strikes me as not particularly different from the message promoted by the movie. Sure, you can split hairs about doctrinal matters, but it seems to me that in a day-to-day situation you’d have a similar end behavior.

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All in all, I enjoyed the movie, but it wasn’t nearly what I was expecting, nor as good as I was hoping. As I was watching I could definitely enjoy the visuals, which were frequently spectacular (though I wasn’t too thrilled with the aesthetics of the modern storyline, particularly how the actors were made to look). Although I think it’s confused in its message, I found it at least engaging enough to think about it myself and look at where I think its message falls apart. At times I really felt like there were scenes missing, things that I imagine would make this a stronger movie but were cut for time constraints. I’m betting we will see a director’s cut of this movie, and I’m tentatively looking forward to it. No matter how beautiful a movie Aronofsky makes, I don’t think that he’s going to convince me that we should all just accept death and not resist it, but I can still enjoy the movie.

Women In Art

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Culture, Visual

I came across this YouTube video today and I just had to post it up here. Wish I had the knowledge and the time to do something like this … Maybe in the future.

Pale Rider

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Visual

I’ve never been a big fan of Westerns. I remember when I was younger thinking they were quite boring, or at least all the ones I attempted to watch at the time were boring. Oddly enough, in reading some of the film criticism that links Kurosawa with Sergio Leone and the Western genre, I became willing to take a second look, so to speak, at the Western. A few years ago I watched Unforgiven, which I thought was quite brutal but unsatisfying — Probably because I have no background in watching westerns and so don’t have the background to understand the ways it plays with the genre.

In any case, a few weeks back I was browsing channels on my TiVo and saw that Pale Rider was going to be showing. I queued it up, let it record, then sat down to watch it the next day.

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I’ve never seen this movie before. In fact, I don’t recall any Westerns I’ve seen with Clint Eastwood in them. I feel like this is a pretty big gap in my cultural knowledge, considering it’s basically where his entire career started. I had thought Pale Rider was the last of the series of movies in which Eastwood plays his Man with No Name character, but apparently that’s not entirely true. IMDB informs me that there’s strong implications that the character Eastwood plays in Pale Rider is his Man with No Name character, but no definite ties are made.

Eastwood plays a character who is known only as “Preacher,” arriving in a town which is, as usual in Westerns, beset by bandits or thugs. The central conflict of the story is a fairly typical one, with a group of miners-slash-settlers having a claim to land which is wanted by a greedy politician/capitalist. The Preacher intervenes in the conflict on the side of the miners and goes through various scuffles before finally defeating the thugs and mercenaries that threaten the peace.

Surprisingly, I actually really liked this movie. The religious overtones throughout the movie add a bit of mystery to Eastwood’s character — He first appears, fading onscreen, as a young girl prays for vengeance. As he rides into the town, the girl is reading the passage from Revelations from which the movie draws its title. Later, Eastwood’s character has taken his shirt off and many gunshot wounds are visible on his back in locations that would normally kill or paralyze a person. We never know whether Eastwood’s character is merely a tough-as-nails human or an agent of divine intervention. I enjoy that uncertainty.

He also has an interesting relationship with the young girl, who sees him as an angel sent to answer her prayers, and her mother. Eastwood’s character seems to have a bit of history with the mother of the girl, though a lot of that is unexplored (and possibly related to earlier Eastwood westerns). However, as I watched the movie I did get the sense that, perhaps, Unforgiven is intended to fit within the context of the story told in Unforgiven. The saintly woman Eastwood’s character marries in Unforgiven changes him, and the relationship the Preacher has with the mother in Pale Rider shows that he is at least softened by her. It’s plausible for me to think of the characters as the same, or at least continuous along a spectrum of the development of the Western gunfighter hero.

Overall I was surprised at the general modernity of the film. I’ve seen the tricks and tactics used in the gunfights countless times, but I can’t fault the movie for being copied. I don’t know whether this film was the original in any sense (particulaly having been made in 1985), most likely not, but it’s certainly well-executed in deceiving the viewer and building up a sense of mystery about how the Preacher is so cunning and deadly. On several occasions we don’t even see how he dispatches his opponents, again contributing to the mystery of whether he is supernatural or merely uncannily skillful for a human.

And I must say, that Eastwood is quite good in this film. I don’t ever recall seeing a scene as intense and heart-pumping as when the Preacher meets with the villain for a drink. Though no shots are fired, no punches thrown, the scene manages to completely outshine any of the action in the film. Eastwood’s look, you’ll know it if you’ve seen it, is probably the most apt I’ve ever seen for the description “bloody-minded.” Amazing, and worth watching for that alone.

I’m putting this down as a must-see. Even though I’ve been lukewarm on Westerns as a genre before, and unencouraged by some earlier forays, this film has made up my mind to at least check out Eastwood’s earlier efforts.

Switching and Keeping Allegiances

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Culture, Personal, Visual

My discontent with Battlestar Galactica has been growing for some time now, and ever since the season finale I’ve been mulling whether I want to continue watching the show. You see, Battlestar Galactica right now is rather odd — It’s got great acting, cinematography, and is overall a damned intense, dramatic show.

The thing is, I don’t care.

It started in the second half of season 2. We started having episodes where things that happened off-screen, presumably in prior episodes, became important features of current episodes. Episodes began to be pulled by these invisible strings, and though they certainly twisted each character into tangled positions, their struggles something that I could empathize with, the arbitrariness of it all began to put me off. This continued with Season 3. We got no answers to any of the questions. Why did the Cylons wipe out all of the humans at the start of season 1 and then decide at the end of season 2 they wanted to live in peace? If the Cylons really wanted to live in peace with the humans, as they claim, why put people in death camps? These are big questions, huge questions, but we never know. We just got more twists, more questions, less coherency.

Starbuck dies in some meaningless way only to return two episodes later. Arabic renditions of Dylan music plays through space. Important and unimportant characters are presumably revealed to be Cylons. Who knows what it all means? More importantly, who cares? I thought this show was going to avoid the pitfall of American TV, the aimless wandering with all the pointless plot-stretching, but I was wrong.

Anyway, as I indicated in a previous comment, I’m pretty much deciding not to care anymore. This does kind of leave me with a gap in my passive recreational activities, though. I’ve probably seen every Star Trek: The Next Generation episode and don’t care to watch many again. Heroes is on hiatus until April 23rd, and even then it’s probably only going to come back for maybe four episodes before the season ends and there’s a six-month drought. So I’m kind of looking for something that I can watch when I just want to sit down and relax.

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Enter Andromeda.

I remember a long time ago when this show was on the air getting the impression that it was pretty much Hercules: The Legendary Journeys … in Space! I have to say, though, my TiVo has occasionally been picking up episodes of the show and I’ve ended up watching a few and being pleasantly surprised.

What I’ve watched isn’t anything spectacular. It’s pretty standard-fare space-opera with a few interesting twists here and there: One being Lexa Doig, who is definitely worth watching even if she is a sort of generic beauty, and the other being the Tyr Anasazi character ,whose whole ‘Nietzschean’ angle intrigues me. Even if it doesn’t end up having critical acclaim or supposed parallels to contemporary events or great acting and drama, what it does have so far from what I can tell is good old-fashioned storytelling.

I find it kind of funny, actually, how earlier today I come across this post by Shamus on Steven Den Beste’s impromptu manifesto against our cultural elites … And all throughout writing this I’m thinking of Michael Blowhardian themes of “our elites have turned against us” and “Why does the lit-world care all about the writin’ and none about the good-old craftsmanship of storytelling?”

Ah, well, good company I guess.

Battlestar Galactica Season Finale

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Visual

Why am I still watching this show?

Spoilers…

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Battlestar: WTF?

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Personal, Visual

Well, I just got around to watching last Sunday’s episode of Battlestar Galactica. I think my post title here accurately sums up my feelings on the subject.

Here be spoilers…

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