Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Dull And The Witless

Those of you who know me, even a little, know that I am a big, big fan of the great American Western. You have probably already seen my review of 3:10 to Yuma. I expect a lot in a Western. If you're going to take the time to make one I think you should do your research into everything. It is unfortunate that over the last two or three decades the art of the Western was all but lost. One time watching The Quick and the Dead showed me that. There was only one instance in the entire movie where it even paid homage to the traditional Western. That was right before Gene Hackman's and Russell Crowe's characters had their shoot out. All of a sudden the entire style of the movie changed: the actors carried the story instead of the stupid, gritty lines; the camera pulled back showing that beautiful long shot that includes both gunmen, the back of one and the front of the other facing him down the street. All at once they took seriously the cinematography and other attributes that have made Westerns so wonderful to watch. Then we went back to a total '90s spin off with random close ups, stupid angles, short shots and pathetic dialog.

Maybe you think I am more finicky than an obsessive compulsive at a crime scene. I do not really know or care. I have come to expect a certain amount of excellence and adherence to tradition from a Western movie. It needs real drama, good lines, good acting, flow, beautiful scenery and, of course, the Western themes. It needs to make one think about building civilization from scratch and bringing law and order to a beautiful yet seemingly Godforsaken territory. The Dull and the Witless, excuse me, The Quick and the Dead does none of this.

Instead, it takes an idea and creates a catastrophe. Here was the idea on the drawing board:

"Let's make another movie like Maverick, that sold well! But let's make it more, um, uh, extreme, yeah! We need a contest, hmm, how about they have to kill each other instead of play cards? So, they have to be really fast on the draw, don't they do that in Westerns a lot? (My comment: no doofus, it is preferable to have one very suspenseful shoot out in a Western.) Yeah, that'd be awesome. And we can have an evil guy in charge of an entire town, like Stalin, or, or something, who was Stalin anyway? But instead of doing the usual roughing people up and taking their money and land like in all the old Westerns let's have him come up with a contest every year so he can pick off the people who might want to shoot him later. (My comment: Those were usually the weakest Westerns anyway -- except for Shane -- but I should note that no one could ever pin the badguy down as the badguy, they just knew he was behind all that crap.) Wow, this is great. We're really coming up with some good sh**. Keep it rolling. What else doe we need? Well, we need Sharon Stone's breasts, or at least one of them. That would make it work as a movie. No one would remember any of the lines or anything if we can get Sharon Stone to flash 'em. What else? I know, let's make it super serious and do cool things with the camera. You know I always liked it how in soap operas they get the camera really, freakin' close to the actor's face. But I think we should turn it at an angle to be more extreme and more cool . . . And slow motion, we have to have slow motion, tons of it! Like, awesome!"

So then they made the movie and it's not very good. Need I say more?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Contrast And Comparison

Recently I decided to watch my all time favorite movie, Pride and Prejudice (1995) the BBC miniseries version. I have only watched this 5 hour movie in one sitting twice in my life. The first time was post final exams my first semester freshman year. The second time was right before my colonoscopy the day that I had to consume nothing but liquids and got to drink some really nasty prescribed beverages in the evening hours. Each time I watch this movie I notice something different. And believe me, I've watched it a lot. I almost have it memorized, there's no real reason for me to keep watching it I suppose. I still find it fresh and interesting, despite these facts. I still notice something new also. I believe the BBC version is truly the best because it portrays the subtleties of the book without making them too plain. The conversation behind the conversation is almost always there. The main difference between the miniseries and the 2005 -- short -- version of Pride and Prejudice is the aspect of subtlety. The 2005 version was not able to maintain it's subtlety and thus is somewhat lacking (although the cinematography and musical score are outstanding in comparison to the 1995 BBC version). I digress.

This time watching the miniseries I noticed something that I think a lot of people miss. Most of the time I hear people talk about how wonderful Mr. Darcy is. How much he gave to win Lizzie, what a gentleman he is. Women want to marry him and men are intimidated by him. He's basically supposed to be the sexiest, most ideal man in English literature. People leave out a few important bits of the story in forming these opinions of Mr. Darcy. Specifically, I find it interesting that at the end of the movie Mr. Darcy thanks Lizzie for saving him from a life of "pride and conceit." I cannot remember if that's in the book as clearly as it is in the movie. But I think it is still important.

The fact is, I have always wondered if no one else noticed the offensive manner of Mr. Darcy's first proposal to Lizzie. Lizzie was completely in the right to chastise him the way she did. Moreover, her response to his proposal proves what a strong character she is in the story. Any other woman would have gone for Mr. Darcy for his money and prestige alone. In fact, he expected Lizzie to do just that. This expectation shows the audience that Mr. Darcy was not the ideal man after all. He was far too arrogant to realize that love might be more important to a woman in his society than money and position, or security. Yes, perhaps Lizzie was blinded by her prejudices, but she had every right to turn down that proposal even without the prejudice bit.

Speaking of Lizzie's prejudices, I find it funny that so many people are so willing to judge her on that. We all know women who have succumbed to the male sob story. Some of us have even done that. Yet we automatically think ill of Lizzie for believing Mr. Wickham. Wickham did seem sincere in his attempt to win her sympathy. Furthermore, he was not stupid enough to think that Lizzie would have run away with him like Lydia did. It is clear to me that Wickham did admire, respect and even possibly love Lizzie. The only way he could think to get her attention and goodwill was the sob story. Yes, he used her to gain a general good opinion in her town. But he obviously knew he could not actually take advantage of her. I think that he had some idea that she was the unattainable woman; the one too strong for him to get. And I think in that sense he did want her. Besides all that, how could she have known he was a liar? Mr. Darcy was too proud to make his own matters public and show the world what kind of a man Wickham was. Lizzie had only the word of the one who seemed nicer to go on. Mr. Darcy did kind of insult her in public at a ball once and made no efforts to be nice anywhere she saw him.

No, I am not saying that Lizzie is not at all to blame. It does behoove us to consider with care the stories told us about what's wrong with other people. We should assess people's actions against their words. It is best not to believe ill rumors about someone before we get to know the person. But I do find it funny that people let Mr. Darcy off so easily just because he loved Lizzie. If he had loved her so much than he should have cared enough about her not to insult all her loved ones to her face when he proposed to her. He should have bothered to get to know her and realized that she would not marry a man who she did not love and who treated her like he did.

In the end, it is clear that Lizzie's obstinacy had a good effect on Mr. Darcy. He learned to have patience and he learned to set aside his pride. Lizzie is a very strong female character, one that women can appreciate and respect, yet one who is fallible. Why is this part of the story so often overlooked?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Enjoy The Blather

Memogate is back and it's funnier than ever. Here's an article by Jonah Goldberg that -- surprisingly -- describes my feelings on the subject. (I am not always or often in agreement with Mr. Goldberg, but this time, yeah.) My gosh, there's been too much good stuff in the news recently. I'm becoming a parrot.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Run Screaming!

Hillary's universal health care plan is scary beyond all reason. That is, what small details have been leaked. Aside from costing an arm a leg and an extra million from each taxpayer, the plan mandates that you must have health insurance before having a job. It also regulates private health insurance. Am I the only one who wants to run screaming from this woman and her plan?

What The Hell?

. . . as Churchill so eloquently said one time. Our money is changing. Just goes to show that the whole idea of centralizing control of money is stupid (or should I say loony?). I'm not entirely sure what to make of this yet. Maybe the dollar will grow again someday.

I am betting that Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate who will discuss this issue in a sensible manner.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Book With No Title

For those who are the least bit interested -- and those who are not -- in the book I have finished I will furnish you with a description. The short, boring version of the description is that it's a fantasy book, set in a fantasy world and it's the first in a series. And no, it's not published, I finished the second draft. I am going to have some people read it for me and work on corrections before sending it off to an agent or two (or three or four . . . ). In the meantime, I am going to take a break. Now for the more exciting description. . .

He's not the Chosen One, he's not destined for greatness, he's not even well paid. This is the story of Delano, an ordinary guy working at a local pub who happened to steal some of the beverages one day and was served a swift termination of employment to his tail bone. Having no life skills, Delano would not have made it far -- until he got tangled up in a supernatural struggle between (you guessed it) good and evil. Now he just has to figure out whose side he's on. And find the silver cabinet.

Edit: A more accurate and informal description can be found on my livejournal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Signs Of The Apocalypse

I finished writing a book. Need I say more? Wow, I almost feel like I should share an excerpt or something just to make this moment even more special and properly celebrated.

I feel somehow calm and listless. But it's only the calm before the storm of NaNoWriMo 2007! Registration begins soon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Plain Speak

My friend Emily brought my attention to this article about the way we use words. I thought it was too good to pass up posting a link to. It's fun to think about how we beat around the bush when we talk.

I am a very direct and blunt person. I am careful about how much I say when I talk, but that's about it. I often say the wrong thing, often in perfect honesty. People tend to find me strange because of this. Keeping my mouth shut is the best way to avoid saying something weird. But, no matter. I hate beating around the bush and I hate flattery and manipulation. I always see through it. At the same time, I have an extreme sense of appropriateness. Certain things should not be said at certain times or places; certain things should only be said in the nicest way possible. I will hold to my hardheadedness on that until the day I die. I think most people are a conglomeration of contradictions. This may be one of mine. I speak plain, but I think it's right to speak careful (I'm not always successful at either of these). Point is, it's fun to think about how we use words and how we view the way we talk to each other.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

11:20 To Russell Crowe

I arrived home about twenty minutes ago from seeing the movie 3:10 to Yuma. Now that is a thing worth seeing, especially if you like Westerns. I have to say that Russell Crowe is, well, he's a guy worth looking at. But more than that, he and Christian Bale are definitely the two most badass white guy actors out there. I should add that this movie is a Western, which means there's lots of gun fighting, some heroics, a hell of a lot of ambiguity and interesting themes and not too much that can actually be described as "badass."

I think one of my favorite things about Westerns are the endings. They are never conspicuously happy. In fact, if you see a Western with an overwhelmingly happy ending, it's probably a hokey one that I would hate. The traditional Western ending is ambiguous. Even the movie The Searchers is like that. Yes, they finally do rescue the girl who got kidnapped and bring her home. But her sister got killed. And a lot of other people get killed. And in the end the audience sees everyone running into the house happy and excited that the girl is still alive and finally home except John Wayne's character. He stands outside the house watching the merrymaking, but unable to take part in it. He was the one who actually went the extra mile -- and extra 5 years in this case -- to rescue the girl and bring her home. The thing I'm trying to say is that the Western never tries to trick you into believing that life is or should be a cakewalk. Even the very end is not a "happily ever after." Yes, the bad guy often gets his due, yes a few of the good people usually do survive. No, that does not mean that everything will be peachy forever.

Yuma incorporates this reality, just as much as it incorporates every other great Western theme that I have come to know and love. It's very character centric, asking the questions of what makes a man a hero or a coward through dialog and action. It portrays the man outside of society as -- in Aristotle's words -- either a "beast or a god." Some of the good guys are just as horrible and mean spirited as the bad guys. Nothing is cut and dried. But you know that Dan Evans (Christian Bale) will keep going no matter what. You are not surprised by the respect that Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) the outlaw has for Dan Evans. You are happy to see Dan Evans' son learning to love and respect his father at last.

I'm not going to tell you the story because I think you should go watch the movie for that. I just love the way they pulled off this movie. The dialog was amazing, but there was not too much of it. It happens so rarely that script writers and directors allow the actors the chance to make the movie work with acting rather than lines. I don't think there was word out of place in this movie. It was all so perfect, so geared to make the audience see what the characters were thinking and feeling. The acting was superb. I cannot even begin to describe it. Somebody should get an award, but I'm not sure who. The pacing was another rare treat. It did not move too fast. So often people want more action and less character development. This movie has both. But by not giving us too much action all at once the filmmakers were able to draw out the audience's sense of suspense. That made the ending so much sweeter; so much more worth the wait.

Yup, I'll be buying this one on dvd. I recommend you watch it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy

The last few weeks have been busier than normal for me. That is because I have a job. If I am not commenting on others blogs as often then I am sure you can understand why. So far my job is going well.

The generic description of my job is this: I help people with disabilities learn living skills. The exciting description is unknown to me. I have many heretofore unspoken reasons for choosing to work in this type of environment. The biggie would be that I am thinking about returning to school to get either a degree in psychology or a masters in social work. I believe I can go right into grad school, it does not really matter what my undergrad was in for that. There is of course, one other possibility. If I end up absolutely hating my job then I might get a masters in public administration and then head back to state and local government. Yes, choices, choices. But one should always have backup plans I think.

I have never been that great with people. My main response is simply to listen. Giving advice is not always easy and I do not think that I am often right. Which is why I try to withhold my thoughts of advice on a lot of things. More practical things where it does not matter so much if you go wrong are a lot easier to give advice about. But real things like relationships are a bit too complex. So, this possible new vocation is definitely going to be a challenge if I go through with it. On the other hand, I am great when it comes to administrative stuff. Maybe that's why the psychology route interests me more. For once I am trying to cultivate a skill I am not naturally good at instead of going with the easy choice. Maybe I did learn my lesson about that when I could not get into the political spectrum before. I like to volunteer my time for a cause, but I do not want to put 40+++ hours a week into politics except in reading and writing. I am an analyst and an armchair politician. I like being that. I am not a great leader of people. Besides, when it comes right down to it, Jesus said that those who wish to be great should humble themselves and serve others. If I am not led astray by the strange notions I will hear about social work and psychology then perhaps I can learn to be a better servant.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mass Media

I have read at least four different articles concerning Ron Paul's candidacy in the last two days alone. Naturally, each article asserts that Paul will not make it anywhere -- naturally. They all say it like that too: "Of course, he's not going to win, of course, but we're going to talk about how he's not going to win, of course." Still, it's interesting that he's becoming news, finally. Most of the articles also group his political views together in such a way that they do not make sense. They call him anti-war. It's funny how two years ago it was bad to be a "warmongering Republican neo-con." Now it's bad to be anti-war. Not to mention the fact that this generalization fails to explain anything about Paul's views on the War in Iraq. That's beside the point to most journalists, I guess.

Here is an article that actually explains some of Ron Paul's views fairly well. Naturally, the writer thinks Ron Paul's candidacy will go nowhere, naturally. But she did actually do some research into his views, actually. She might need to put in some more efforts researching the Cold War and how the U.S. dealt with that. I think it's rather difficult to describe anything so complex in a short article and people should stop trying. All the same, I applaud her for saying that not all Paul supporters are fringe weirdos, even though she then implied that all Paul supporters are fringe weirdos. Ah, people. They need to put some thought into their analysis sometimes.

Plot Notes

The advent of fall has got me thinking about NaNoWriMo. Funny how two years ago I did not even know about this phenomenon, now it defines my October and November. I am not sure yet what I will write this coming November. I could do about half a dozen sequels to various other works I have written and half written. Or I could make up something totally new. I even have a few non-fantasy plots kicking around in my brain. That's a first. I keep trying to come up with ways to make said plots have fantastical elements or make them sci-fi. Maybe I will go with that.

I don't know. I have to get excited about a plot to write it. The problem with that is that in order to be excited about a story I need to know where it's going. With so many plots in mind it's difficult to know any one of them in detail enough to be terribly excited about writing it. In my head I keep switching from plot to plot wondering where exactly each one is going. What is the contention that makes it interesting? I just don't know yet. In the meantime I have tons of editing to get done on my 2005 NaNo novel in order to have it shipshape by October 31st. That is my goal after all. Get that second draft completed before I write another plot. I have one other first draft of a novel to edit and another 9/10ths of a first draft to finish and edit. I have no end of work to do when it comes to writing. And I'm busy worrying about what my next plot will be. I'm just crazy . . .