Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mood: Vaguely interested and reservedly optimistic

So The Mouse now owns The Force. I am totally okay with this. Hear me out. First off, three words: Marvel Cinematic Universe. Second, Georgie Boy won't be allowed to push any more buttons, and that can only be a good thing. Third, Disney is ultimately driven by money. They are very good at putting profit over "artistic vision". In the case of "Star Wars", that's a good thing. If the original theatrical versions of IV-VI got a decent DVD release, it would be a mega seller. Disney knows this. Disney does not care about Lucas' "vision". Disney cares about money. And let's be honest here: They didn't just buy a production company. They bought a fanbase, and they will milk it dry with the exquisite precision that only the Disney machine can provide.

As far as an episode VII is concerned, I'm interested to see what happens with it. I quit the franchise after Episode I (still haven't seen II and III), but I'm willing to give them a chance, at least up to the first trailer and see how we feel after that. I'm also interested to see if they work with the expanded universe or if they do something completely new. Either way, heads will asplode in record numbers. It could be fun to watch. I might make some popcorn. Everything tastes better with Disney.

Stream of Half-Consciousness

I didn't get near enough sleep last night (bed at 2 a.m., sleep at 3 a.m., alarm at 7:30 a.m.), so I'm having one of those days where I seem fine until I walk into a wall or try to do math problems. And then I'm all, "Who put that wall here? Has it always been there and I just didn't see it? Two plus five equals coffee." Luckily my ability to get out of bed and get moving is tied more to my mood than my circadian rhythms (or lack thereof), and right now I'm feeling pretty chipper so I still got to work on time.

We're decorating our cubicles for Halloween today, or should I say putting the finishing touches on them. We've been putting things up piecemeal for more than a week now. Every department has their own theme, and we're all going to vote come Wednesday. I'm sure there's some kind of fabulous prize for the winner, but darned if I remember what it is. Our theme is the Great Pumpkin, so we've got a giant pumpkin in one corner (one of those jack o'lantern leaf bags stuffed with blankets) and a big red doghouse in the other (cardboard box + wrapping paper -- it looks good!). I was going to dress as Snoopy, but then someone talked me into Oswin Oswald instead so I used the craft supplies I bought to make a little 2-D Woodstock and a 3-D Snoopy (as the WWI flying ace) out of felt. I was all "I'ma sew up this sucker" and I started pulling out craft skills I didn't even know I had. You'll get pictures in a day or two, because everything's already arranged and Snoopy's now out of reach of my cell phone camera. I'm very proud of him. I'm going to try and continue the theme for Christmas, make him a Santa hat and string up big gaudy lights all over my workspace. (I'd do that last part anyway, but hey.) I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm having a ton of fun.

Mmmm, coffee.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hey guys! There's some really nifty stuff on YouTube!

The way they all look straight at the camera is a little odd, but it's not like I've never played a video in one tab while working in another. Point is, these guys are good. (Be sure to click through and check the concert info in the video description -- they're coming to Indy!)

Overdue Review: Looper

It's time for an overdue review! Where I talk about stuff that was relevant at least three weeks ago. Gives the brain time to simmer.

Looper is an ... interesting film. It’s definitely a good film -- three out of four stars, pushing to 3.5 if you’re in the right mood -- but it’s not necessarily one I want to see again. Which, for a movie with a twisty timey-wimey premise, could be considered a downside. And it isn’t that I found any obvious problems or glaring plot holes (you may disagree; I’ll address the issue later); it’s that the movie is incredibly dark and pretty dang depressing. Again, it’s well-made, and there’s no question that’s the tone they were going for. But when I say it gets dark, I mean it gets dark.

The movie starts by introducing us to the world of the loopers: contract assassins who only deal in one kind of kill. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays a looper named Joe, who explains in voice-over that while time travel hasn’t been invented yet (“yet” meaning the 2040s), it will be a few decades hence (the 2070s). It’s immediately banned, but of course organized crime sees an opportunity and takes it. Future policework has gotten so good that when the mob needs someone disappeared, they can’t just kill them. They’re guaranteed to get caught. So, instead, they tie up the poor soul, bag his head, strap four silver bars to his back and send him back in time. He appears at a designated time and place, the waiting looper blows him away with a blunderbuss (a crude shotgun on cheap steroids), the looper disposes of the body, and the silver gets turned into cash (which the looper will then turn into drugs and hookers and rent, but mostly drugs and hookers). The catch is that eventually, the sucker with his head in the bag will be carrying not silver, but gold -- which means the young man with the gun has just killed his future self and received his final payment. They call this “closing the loop”, it’s written into their contracts, and everybody involved tries not to think too hard about the ramifications.

All this is revealed in the trailer, so they get it out of the way pretty quickly. We see Joe go about his daily business of killing people, taking drugs and falling in love with a hooker. Among other things, he deals with his boss, Abe, a mob higher-up from the future sent back to run the city in the past. He’s doing a bang-up job of it, too. Incidentally, he’s the only character in the “present” scenes who has any real fat on him, which I thought was a nice touch. Everyone else, with the exception of a few muscular bruiser types, is lean to the point of being thin -- and not diet-thin, but barely-getting-enough-to-eat thin. Coupled with the crapsack city environment and other background details (cars, vagrants and the like), it really drives home what a horrible time most people have of it. Yay, future!

Anyway, Joe notices that in his circle of friends/colleagues/drinking buddies, loops are being closed at an alarming rate. There’s a rumor as to why, but no one has any concrete proof -- and nobody cares. They’re all too busy whooping it up with their big paydays. And then one of Joe’s friends fails to close his loop -- he literally lets himself get away. This Doesn’t End Well -- in fact, it’s one of the most viscerally disturbing things I’ve ever seen on film. It literally tainted the rest of the movie for me, which is why I qualified my star rating at the beginning. Worth noting, however, is that despite the horrific violence of the scene, there is literally no gore. I won’t spoil how they pull this off, because objectively speaking, it’s a very impressive and very powerful scene. But it gave me the willies something fierce and stuck with me for several days, so if I rent the DVD I will fast-forward through it with no regrets.

The story eventually gets back to Joe standing out in a field with his blunderbuss, waiting for his next assignment to show up. The assignment, of course, is him from 30 years in the future (played by Bruce Willis). Old!Joe, however, is not bound and bagged, and gets the jump on Young!Joe when he hesitates. Young!Joe wakes up, realizes he’s in deep trouble, and proceeds with most of the action we saw in the trailers: Running around, shooting at things, screaming that he’ll fix things. However, this only takes us up to about the halfway point of the story.

The entire second half of Looper takes an unexpected turn that I won’t even begin to spoil because the afore-mentioned timey-wimey pretty well plot depends on the viewer going in blind the first time around. I can tell you that the shift in tone and pacing plays well with the increasingly unsettling nature of the central conflict and the choices Joe finds himself making, both as his young and old self. In addition, several details mentioned in passing in Act I are thrust to the foreground in Act II, displacing much of what had previously taken center stage. This is nicely highlighted by a change in location and the introduction of several new characters as the story splits to follow both Old and Young Joe.

Genre savvy viewers, or even just those who paid attention to the story structure module in English class, will likely think they know where the story is going by about the two-thirds mark, but this isn’t a bad thing. Much of the suspense comes from having a pretty good idea what’s coming next, but having absolutely no clue how, why or when it’s going to play out. The big questions don’t get answered until the very end, and when they do -- despite the foreshadowing and the almost inevitable demands of genre -- it’s a gut punch. (If you’ve seen the movie, no pun intended.) The ending also appears to raise some questions about the effects of present actions on future events, but I think it holds up under examination. (It also helps to explain/is explained by a few of the earlier scenes, which is a plus.)

I liked Looper. Despite the incredibly squicky scene I mentioned earlier (seriously, I’ve got the rolling heebies right now just thinking about it), it’s a solid noir-ish near-future thriller that mixes hard action with low-key sensibilities. Also, there’s almost no way they could exploit it with a flashy big-budget sequel, and how often do those come along these days? It doesn’t hit you over the head every two minutes with noise and special effects, it takes the time to let the audience appreciate the story, and yet it keeps moving fast enough -- even in the slow scenes -- that the viewer stays invested. Watching Young!Joe try to figure out how to put his life back together is a little like watching someone learn algebra: They just want to learn what they need for the test, but the concepts behind the problems eventually start to sneak in and make a difference in how he looks at the world. Likewise, Old!Joe’s struggle with his self-appointed mission and the experience of living alongside his younger self is very interesting. Although he gets less screen time, he makes the most of it.

So, final verdict? Three out of four stars, same as I said at the beginning. As always, your mileage may vary, but I liked it. It just took me a month to figure out why.

P.S. The makeup really is incredible.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I'm back, my lovelies.

If you shape your life only according to the people around you, eventually you end up shaped like nothing at all. Which is a pretentious way of saying that it took a while, but I'm ready to take back what's always been mine. Also I got tired of only having 140 characters in which to vent about TV shows.

P.S. The new Blogger interface sucks hot donkey balls. But if I agree to use it I guess there's not much room to complain.