Friday, March 28, 2008

Zen and the Art

I'm not saying that motorcycles aren't cool. I'm not even saying that they aren't safe to operate.

What I'm saying is that if you went to an amusement park, and it had a ride that went eighty miles per hour but had no seat belts, and instead of cars it had chairs in the open air, you would NOT get on that ride.

And really, even that comparison is too gracious. A roller coaster travels, all by itself, on a set track that's regularly inspected for safety. It doesn't zip along free-form while bigger, safer roller coasters are moving all around it.

Yet everyday, people ride motorcycles, content to believe that as long as they wear a helmet and hang on real tight, everything will be fine.

Even more hilarious, there are also people content to ride while hanging onto the driver, assuming not only that they can hang onto him, but that he can hang onto the motorcycle while a whole other person is hanging onto him.

The more you think about it, the more ridiculous it becomes.

Now, my critics will respond that riding a motorcycle is a spiritual experience, pure freedom from metal and gasoline. Deus ex machina . . .

And to that I'd respond, "If trusting your life to the average 16-year-old in an SUV is the only way you can feed your soul, you might have some other issues that need to be taken care of first."

But jokes aside, I'm not entirely sure that the critics are wrong. If there's some element of chance, of danger, in everything we do, then "playing it safe" is just a matter of playing the odds.

It's like the "pot odds" in poker. Sometimes there are situations where, even if probability is against you, the reward is so great that you're better off taking the chance. Sometimes it's worth it. Sometimes it's really worth it.*

*Not that I'm going to start riding motorcycles. I'm not stupid.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A brief list of things I wish people knew

1. Cavalry is a military term for mounted units. Calvary is the place where Jesus died.

I know it's tricky, they have the same letters and everything. And it's not helped by the existence of Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, which only confuses the issue further. But every time someone says that "the calvary is coming," I picture hundreds of crosses hopping to my rescue.

2. The ellipsis is a grammatical tool, not a toy

Acceptable uses:

Indicating that a word has been left out of a sentence.

Example: "Why don't you understand how to use a . . . ellipsis?" (where the . . . takes the place of an expletive)

Conveying a pause in speech:

Example: "I don't know why you put ellipses all over this email . . . . yeah, that's pretty obnoxious."

And marking an unfinished thought, or one that trails off to silence.

Example: "You should really be punished for your crimes against English, but how . . . "

Unacceptable uses:

To separate thoughts, as an alternative to the "sentence."

Example: "Hi . . . just wanted to shoot you an email . . . how are you . . . I like stuff . . . there are big buildings here . . . "

At both the beginning and end of your subject line, for no reason

Example: Subject: . . . hi . . .

Friday, March 14, 2008

Based on a True Story

-Seven text messages? Why would my phone have seven text messages? I only put it down here 5 minutes ago. And all of them are from a number I don't recognize.

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

why do you
have to be such
a jerk i dont

06/24 3:31P

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

know why you
acted like that i
always hug my

06/24 3:31P

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

when i see them
after you date
someone for
two years you

06/24 3:32P

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

would think that
you could still be
friends i know you
were out with

06/24 3:32P

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

jamie even though
you told me that
you hated her
i don't see why*

06/24 3:32P

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

its a big deal
that i ran up and
hugged you
i mean what

06/24 3:33P

Message from:
(Unrecognized number)

is your problem?

06/24 3:33P

Choose your own adventure!

*The digital era has taken a simple wrong number and used it to thrust you directly into someone else's life! Some guy with a number similar to yours is in the middle of a fight with his ex-girlfriend, and now it's part of your day!

How will you text in response?*

A. Ignore the messages, let her figure it out for herself
B. Politely inform her that she has the wrong number
C. Tell her she has the wrong number, but give her some worldly advice for her trouble
D. Step up, and go to bat for this guy, even though you've never met him

. . .

You have chosen: D. Step up, and go to bat for this guy, even though you've never met him.
Enter your response!

Message to:
(Unrecognized number)

oh come on you
know exactly what
you were doing and
at least jamie isnt a

06/24 3:35P

*It's almost like a modern haiku, isn't it?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ok, so "Beowulf"

Don't get me wrong, the animation talent at Sony Pictures Imageworks is impressive. Beowulf does dip into the "uncanny valley," but not nearly as often as "The Polar Express" or "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" (bonus points if you've even heard of that second one). In fact, there are a few scenes in this film that look very, very lifelike. But just like those other super-realistic animations, I finished "Beowulf" without a good answer as to why anyone would go this route with the visual style.

Or maybe I should say "lack of style," since there's not much room for it when you're recreating things the way they actually look. There's no space for the kind of edge "The Incredibles" had with it's slick comic motif, plus you even lose the cinematographers eye that's present in a live-action movie. It's the worst of both worlds.

I wonder if some animator was up late one night, patiently waiting for his workstation to finish processing 1/100th of a second of a Angelina Jolie's individually-rendered hairs waving, and thought to himself, "You know, we have reality. We already have it. Right here. Why am I creating this actress in minute detail when we actually HIRED her?"

Oddly this is the same reaction I had to much of "The Lord of the Rings" novels. And again, don't get me wrong, I love LotR as much as the next geek. But it's the best story ever written on the subjects of walking and eating. A good fifty percent of it is: "And then they walked for a while, and then they caught a rabbit and ate it. Then they walked down a hill or something, then they had some more lembas."

There was a point where I physically shook my copy in mid-sentence and shouted "Look, J.R.R., I'm not sure you get what the selling point is here. I EAT everyday. I don't HUNT ORCS on a regular basis. Not a lot of WIZARDS or TALKING TREES in my life, ok? Let's step it up a little."

. . . But my beefs with the animation aside, "Beowulf" is ok. Nothing special, but it's alright . . . alright, and unintentionally hilarious.

First, Beowulf (the character) is completely naked for his fight with Grendel. I guess this decision was supposed to show us how brutal and fearless our hero is, but you'll be too busy laughing to pick that up. See the entire scene uses the old "obscure the naughty bits" gag you may remember from Austin Powers, and it's nothing but hilarious. I honestly can't imagine how Robert Zemeckis thought any audience could take this epic battle seriously, and not just giggle while wondering what convenient obstacle would be used next.

Note for the next film Rob: Using random objects to cover a person's naked body is funny. It's always funny. It steals every scene.

And yet, to me, that's not the best comedic moment that "Beowulf" has to offer. There's something about the way this dragon just pops up over the wall that makes me laugh again and again. Watch it three or four times in a row, it only gets better.

I keep imagining him saying "HELLO!" in a goofy, nasal voice.

Now, I do have to give "Beowulf" some credit, though, it nails the combat. Watching Wulfy climb around a dragon in mid-flight, yanking its head back by a chain, is entirely awesome. Of course, it's also entirely borrowed.* Someone in Hollywood clearly has a Playstation 2.

Normally when film critics say that a movie "looks like a video game," I take it as the jab that it is. But seeing how effective these "game" shots are at giving real scope and energy to the action scenes in "Beowulf," I think it's an accidental compliment.

I thought, when I was watching "I am Legend," that its "over the shoulder, down the gun barrel" views sure seemed familiar. And as time goes on, I'm starting to think this is a trend.

*Unlike this footnote gag, which is completely original:)