Monthly Archives: May 2009

Terminator: Salvation

When the previews popped up months Nothing is more awesome than shooting a crushed terminator in the head to make sure its lights go out.ago, I was more excited for this film than just about anything else this summer. Terminator: Salvation’s trailer showed Christian Bale – the man whom I boasted was so good that he could play any genre character – stepping out of a helicopter and capping an endoskeleton in the head to the accompaniment of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Day the World Went Away”. I knew that the movie would not feature the excellent and fittingly bleak tune, but I expected it to keep the badass nature intact.

Watching the movie, the word badass feels fleeting. Especially around John Connor, who is more of an ass. The leader of the resistance has apparently decided that all machines are evil, despite having previously been saved by them – twice! Anyone aiding one of those untrustworthy machines, no matter how loyal to the cause, is as good as dead in his eyes. There is a certain level of hypocrisy in following the words of our trusted JC.

Despite holes in logistics, I will not go as far as to call the film bad. It is by all means a completely acceptable summer action flick. The plot is simple to follow, especially given that everyone knows at least a little bit of history about the Terminator franchise, and things explode. Add in a couple of decent looking chicks and attractive men to have yourself a fun time. There is even a teenaged Kyle Reese and his little black girl who unexpectedly can detect when somehow silent giant machines are present – so the whole audience can find an identifiable character.

But there are two gaping problems with the movie from my standpoint: the inability to grasp what it is about the first movies that burned them into the social consciousness, and the stupidity of the film’s ending. The first part is understandable given the fact that James Cameron is some sort of magician in cinema. He turned an image of a burning skeleton into a masterpiece, after all. The latter problem just goes to show that Hollywood needs to hire more actual writers.

The Terminator was a spectacular piece of cinema that barely stands the test of time. It is a very, very eighties movie – from the hair to the horrible synthesized music. At its core it’s a slasher flick, right down to the killer pulling out a page from the phone book and killing everyone with the target’s name. What helped to boost the film beyond its average trappings were the science fiction elements. An unstoppable man with a metal skeleton under his flesh is absolutely frightening, especially when you seem him pull out his own eye to work on it. Then there’s the time travel element, which explains why such a monster can exist now. The most clever aspect of this is the fact that the true hero is John Connor, whom we never see but we know is amazing because he has saved the world from an army of these monsters and convinced someone to go back in time and be his own father. JC is, in a way, pretty immaculate. But what separates it from most Hollywood fodder is the fact that there is no true happy ending because Judgment Day is destined to happen.

Terminator 2 attempts to avert this with its message that there is no destiny but what we make. It even had a happy ending with Judgment Day averted, which pissed me off because the entire thing becomes a temporal paradox unless one believes in multiple timelines. That just makes things pointless. Regardless, the film redeemed its lack in logic with its action adventure nature. The T-800 was a complete badass, Sarah Connor stepped up her game, and the the T-1000 was downright scary in that it could be anyone and created weapons from itself.

I’ll even go so far as to say that Terminator 3 had redeeming qualities in its fixing of the paradox. Judgment Day could only be delayed, not prevented. The bleakness of that ending was enough to keep the film from being totally hated by me, no matter how stupid I thought it was that they played up the sexiness of the T-X and said that John Connor would be killed in the future by a T-850. Making Judgment Day an unavoidable event and Skynet a computer virus just told me that some people know how to write stories.

Looking back at Terminator: Salvation, And image like this in the movie would have done wonders.I just have to ask what it  really had to offer the franchise. It breaks the mold by not involving time travel and instead shows us the bleak future that John Connor is destined to conquer. They tried to twist things around by making the movie about protecting Kyle Reese so that the past could be saved. The thing is, the past has already happened. By the logic of the films, it is inevitable. Skynet cannot terminate Reese in the present because it already has proven itself a failure in doing so.

Also, I have to ask, how the hell would it already know that John Connor’s father is Kyle Reese if the time travel stuff hasn’t already happened?

The movie just lacks any sort of thought beyond the admittedly impressive aesthetics employed. The ending definitely proves this. Marcus Wright, the Cyberdyne cyborg whom Connor feared and was technically right about, sacrifices his very human heart to give Connor (and himself – awww!) a second chance at life. And then it’s over. Just like that. Very weak. The idea of Connor’s dying and his face replacing Wright’s was dumb when I first heard it, but it definitely has more punch than what we got instead.

If you follow this blog, you are the resistance. I’ve noticed that MetaCritic has given the film mixed and average reviews at the time of this entry. That seems just about right. Salvation is not a horrible film. The problem is that it is simply easily comparable to everything else that has been coming out lately. The film was produced simply to cash in on the names involved – Terminator and Christian Bale. Actually writing the movie and creating a story were not the main priorities. I will go as far as to say that this film will have no lasting impact. I will always have in mind killer machines that emerge fleshless from fires and display the ability to morph into my loved ones, but a cyborg with a beating heart is useless to me.

Bechdel Rule: Failure. I think the women talk once, and it’s about Marcus Wright. I found it surprising that the women even had a scene together, since it’s obvious their roles were more about being seen than heard. Korinna Moon Bloodgood, whose name sounds like a Star Wars EU character, was hired completely on the basis of her body because Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Kate is pregnant with the son of the savior. Fortunately, Howard is an absolutely adorable ginger, and I’m not doubting that she appeals to some prego fetishists.

Research says mothers are responsible for the social outcomes of their children, but I just want better reporting on research

Bad research leaves me uneasy.  Bad reporting of research leaves me feeling even more uneasy, especially if the reporting happens to be released by a major news outlet.  When the actual research isn’t freely available, thanks to the monetization of the research sector, it becomes difficult to find who is more to blame when a report is released.

I find a CNN article in my newsfeed regarding mothers and their role in developing children’s social skills.  I enjoy the subject and greatly appreciate the role it plays in showing the importance of parenting above and beyond all factors in a child’s development – decreasing the amount of blame we can put on the media.  But the report, as you might suspect, leaves me feeling uneasy.

From the beginning, I have to point out that there’s a cultural difference, since the research was done in the UK.  It is difficult for me to say anything about the difference in family dynamic there and here.  What immediately irks me about the research is the lack of focus on the father’s role in the development of the child.  The research assumes that the father plays a lesser role, and dually assumes that the mother’s role is to focus on children for some unknown reason.  Zelinger’s quote at the end of the piece is  appropriate in that she frames it as the responsibility of the Ironically, it was Inferno who turned into the fire engine - but people worshipping the Inferno would definitely find heavy derision in publicparents, but everything else seems to make mothers shoulder the burden more so then men.

Is the mother focus due to the nature of the research or due to a spin that the journalist, Elizabeth Landau, put on the article?  It is difficult to say without all of the facts.  If the latter, the result is my disappointment in CNN for allowing a writer to do that.  If the former, then I have even more disappointment to dole out to the involved parties.  The researchers should be aware of the additional factors and already looking into the role of the father in the developing social sensibilities of the children as well as a deeper review of the family dynamic in modern times – since fathers are not the primary breadwinners and mothers do not all stay at home.  Additionally, Landau should be charged with the responsibility of not only informing readers of the research but also of the cultural differences inherent and the shortcomings a 14 year study may yield.  Those reporting on psychological research should be informed enough to provide readers with appropriate caveats.  After all, there’s a difference between saying, “I read an article that said that this research says…” and saying, “I read an article that said the following research was suggestive of…”

Prison Break finale – disappointment

The tattooed backside of the main character is one of the most powerful devices in all of television Prison Break was a show that I watched with some hesitation.  There was something about the premise that did not sit well with me.  I mean, there’s only so much one can do within a prison unless the plan is to let the characters escape at some point.  Turns out that was part of the plan, with the second season’s focus on their escaping to another country.  The real focus of the show was on Michael Scofield’s, the main character, being a mastermind who was able to plan out each step of the break and even the run – and how he overcomes the obstacles and changes in plan.  It was brilliant!  Then came the third season…which was less so.  I honestly stopped trying to keep up until the start of Season 4.

Season 4 began with another form of imprisonment, except that they were free to come and go from their warehouse but they were still trapped.  They had to fight the Company, who initially framed Lincoln Burroughs for killing the Vice President’s brother – which led to Michael Scofield’s getting himself put in prison to break his brother out.  I thought it was pretty brilliant, using the mind of Scofield against the Company and forcing the prisoners to work together to topple an evil regime.

The show started to weaken some when Michael started developing nosebleeds.  You see, Mike and Linc’s mother got similar nosebleeds before her brain aneurysm and subsequent death.  Never mind that it was established in previous seasons that she died of liver cancer – her brilliant mind exploded!  Michael faced the same fate.  Then the Company captures Michael and puts Lincoln in the position of his savior.  Lincoln could work for the Company to get Scylla (the McGuffin) back in exchange for a special surgery that would save Michael’s life.  Easy choice for Lincoln.

At this point the series devolved into a series of plot twists rather than actually reasonable stories.  Michael and Lincoln’s mother is actually alive and works for the Company, but she was trusted enough for a key to Scylla.  That does not bother her because she’s crazy and would willingly use Scylla to plunge the war into a virtual holocaust so long as she is able to make a profit off of it.  By the way, she was also successfully saved by the special surgery offered by the Company, but she had to leave them to work full time.  Oh yeah, and she’s not Lincoln’s mother, so she’s willing to let him die.  And Scofield’s girlfriend, Sarah Tancredi, is pregnant with his  child.  His mother is easily able to figure this out before anyone and use it as psychological leverage against the girl.  And then Michael gets Scylla back into his possession, but at this point everyone is held at gunpoint.  He decides he can save everyone.

I would love to have seen an advertisement campaign featuring these posters all over phone poles and beside buildings.  Maybe when they reboot the show in 20 years they'll make use of my idea.And he does, with the use of Agent Kellerman, presumed dead by most (not me) at the end of Season 2.  Kellerman, the former villain, emerges as a deus ex machina of sorts to save the day and offer Michael a third option for Scylla – the United Nations.  Leading to that, though, the General needs to be subdued by the two surviving minority characters who had fallen off of the screen for several episodes (literally, seasons for one character) and Michael’s mother needs to die.  In a move that I’m sure Freud would find interesting in analysis, Michael could not kill his mother (misfire) but his girlfriend willingly took the shot.  The prisoners are all exonerated after having brought about a relative peace in the world, and everyone returns home to their loved ones.  Michael and Sarah walk on the beach – and then Michael’s nose bleeds.

Five years later, we find out that Michael didn’t make it very long after the end of their ordeal.  The special brain surgery did not take.  That’s OK, because all of the surviving members visit his grave on his birthday, even characters who weren’t that close to him (Alex Mahone, probably the coolest character on the whole show).  With the show’s premise of a mastermind working through his plan against all odds having devolved into a twist of the week sensationalist disaster, the only way to end the series with any sort of lasting impact was to have the main character die.  This was cheap writing.

I would like for this show to serve as an example for succinct writing and seriously working within the original plans.  When a show is extended beyond its original premise, everything spirals out of control.  With pretty much everything planned from the beginning, the first two seasons were absolutely brilliant.  Seasons 3 and 4 had great ideas that got squandered because the writers were forced to make it up as they went along.  There were three elements present in the last two seasons that I was most disappointed in their failing to explore:

  1. The evolution of Theodore Bagwell from the sexually deviant and reprehensibly violent offender T-Bag to an actual human being with values and a drive to live a normal life.  Bagwell got so many humanizing moments in Season 4 that one can’t help but wonder how rushed the writers were in the end when he devolved into wretched lackey who was too dumb to know that he was being used and would ultimately be disposed.
  2. The redemption of Gretchen Morgan.  She started off as an Taylor Vaughn from She's All That - oh yeah evil killer who would offer no mercy and showed herself to be part of something outside of her control.  All she wanted was to someday return to her daughter – who sadly believes Gretchen is her aunt and not her mother, because the girl’s actual aunt is raising her to keep her safe from…everyone, really.  Gretchen’s last scene, after fully showing that she’s working for the good guys, has her bleeding to death on the ground – with no indication that she was taken into police custody and hospitalized or simple left for dead.  I may be the only one who cares anyway, because I have a fascination with and attraction to Jodi Lyn O’Keefe.
  3. Michael Scofield is a cold blooded killer no better than his mother.  It began with the removal of a screw that led to a man’s being crushed to death.  Later, Michael showed no remorse for having basically bashed a man’s brains in.  Ultimately, he has no problem with attacking his own mother with bombs and bullets.  The character was interesting and Batman-like when he employed a no kill policy, so his becoming that which he looked down upon should have become a more major plot point.  The exploration of what desperation can make a person do would have been compelling television with lasting value.  This would have been amazing when juxtaposed with the evolution of former killer T-Bag!  And yet they let it go, and even the character of Michael Scofield does not have to live with the man he has become.  That makes for so much squandered potential.

Prison Break is a show that I believe is worth watching, but only the first two seasons.  There is no way to ignore the presence of the later seasons, but those are definitely not recommended viewing.  The next time I watch the show, I’m going to pretend that in the end of the second season Michael and Sarah managed to get away and be free.  No surprise twists, no rewritten histories, and no sudden deaths that should have been avoided thanks to assured competency.  The end.

Sales in the Red(box)

In a world where you can go to the grocery store and pick up dirt cheap movie rentals on a whim, Hollywood feels their profits are threatened by an ever growing trend of people who do not want to buy movies but instead view them for a low cost.  Personally, I figured it was a matter of time before the studios started complaining about this form of convenient movies.  The internet is bad enough because it makes movies free, but it’s also difficult to profit off of a $1 a day rental.  Shame on you, Redbox!

In briefly thinking about it, there are at least two reasonable ways to combat Coinstar’s rental solution:

  1. Don’t allow your movies to be rented out via Redbox.  I don’t know if this can be handled via supply or if a legal clause needs to be written, but your profits will not be undercut when Redbox is no longer a viable supplier.  That means a person would have to through the less cost efficient process of renting from Blockbuster or buying the overpriced item from the store.  I am honestly not familiar with what it is that makes renting legal to begin with, so maybe this option is not all that reasonable.  I just think there should be a way to cut them out.  (Update: Thanks to an anonymous tipster (see comments below), it’s been pointed out to me that the entertainment industry has tried in the past to stuff rentals but failed.  Apparently repeatedly.  This does not undercut my more salient message in Number 2.)
  2. Make movies worth owning.  This hits multiple stages of the production process.  People will not buy movies that they do not think are worth keeping.  If movies were less simple and had more layers in which people can wrap themselves in or just felt resonated with them, they would keep the films around for multiple viewings.  Or the home video releases could employ a number of features that add and build upon multiple viewings.  Interactivity keeps things fresh, which is why the Watchmen blu-ray will feature connectivity with Facebook to discuss the film with people as you go.  (Honestly, I think something akin to Nine Inch Nails’ iPhone app would be great – connect viewers to people within a 20 mile radius who are also watching the film.)  It just helps to have reasons to even want to own a film, especially since the industry seems to be pumping out more and more disposable stories.

Even though I am in great favor of freely available media, I am more than willing to drop cash on a worthwhile product.  If the studios hope to eliminate the problem they see in Redbox, they need to up their game.  Most people see the experiencing of watching a movie simply as sitting back and watching things unfold.  It’s a passive medium, so I can collect everything in my mind and then do away with the physical container.  Studios need to ask themselves the question of why anyone would want to pay to hold onto something.  What is it that ownership can provide for the average film that cannot be found otherwise?  When one finds that answer, one has found the key to actually selling a product.

(Story found via TheConsumerist.)

Gamer – a science fiction film by the guys who made Crank

Since Crank was basically the essence of video games made into a movie, it makes sense that the guys who made it would be interested in making a movie more blatantly about video games.  Not only is the premise interesting, but the casting looks to make this that wee bit more promising.

Playing to win and the necessity of social etiquette

I really enjoy Sirlin.net.  The author of the site is both a heavy tournament player, mostly in the realm of fighting games, and a game designer.  He tends to provide great insight about not simply the content of games but also the rules involved in the games.  Since the results of your actions in most video games are not spelled out for you in the instructions like they are in their board game counterparts, it’s nice to know that someone out there has mostly taken on that function.

Sirlin’s claim to fame is a series of articles called “Playing to Win”.  I literally found this ten years ago when it was originally published online, and it still exists to this day.  Many scoff at the article, but for others it has spurred debate.  Usually it comes down to is it fun to play to win?  I tend to say No, but it’s something that’s really in the eye of the winner.

Sirlin’s latest entry is a short, for him, response to Malcolm Gladwell’s article in the New Yorker.  Basically, Gladwell talks about real life situations and even a war battle-management simulator back in the 80’s and concludes that there’s a certain lunacy behind not playing to win.  As long as one works within the rules, winning should not be a problem.  However, insiders in some games have created a tacit social etiquette that generally disapproves of play to win tactics for one reason or another.  Playing to win in basketball seems to be more physically demanding and quite grueling, while in the battle simulation the winning play (essentially an early version of the zerg rush) lacked any sort of historical merit or accuracy to how things function in real life.  People don’t like it because it presents an uncomfortable paradigm shift away from their familiar rules and agreed upon strategies.  Even George Washington was uncomfortable with the guerrilla warfare adopted by the militia and changed it for those under his command.  Truth be told, he was a loser as it concerned fighting redcoats.

There shouldn’t be anything wrong with playing to win in game tournaments and real life.  If the job candidate showed up in person to deliver his resume and got hired while all of the others were half-assed it with online applications, he did nothing wrong.  If a basketball team always performed a full court press and won, what’s the harm in accepting that their tactics were better?  The only problem with playing to win is when someone takes advantage of an unintended exploit that shifts the advantage to nearly 100%.  Those are rare, so we don’t care.

Sirlin uses this article to prop up his own “Playing to Win” series.  After all, that’s all these people are doing – playing to win within the rules.  The only problem I have with Sirlin is that he says playing to win should take place at all times during video games, even when not playing competitively.  If the game is not being played for high honors and is merely a friendly contest among close friends dicking around for an evening, I don’t see the point in wanting to come out on top all the time.  I have been known to purposely play less effectively and even throw the occasional game to decrease the unnecessary tension and increase the level of fun for all those involved.  It seems to me that there is a certain social etiquette outside of the competitions that needs to be recognized.  Those who fail to recognize it and generalize the application of play to win strategies to even informal gatherings without recognition of the tacit let’s just have fun agreement probably have ego issues that they are currently trying to work through or some similar disorder that makes them a pain.  Playing to win should probably only be considered valid in certain situations.

But the computer AI in some video games?  Totally deserves whatever tactic you choose to defeat it.  After all, it’s been known to work beyond the rules.  Hit it with everything you got.