Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Epic in an epically-fun way, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World features a foot-tapping peerless mix of original tunes and classic alternative tracks, an energy, wisdom and fun that made me long for the days of youth and thankful I'm where I'm at now, and an arresting and never boring visual style and pace.  In other words, it's worth your ten bucks.

Per the credits which I stayed after to watch, the actors themselves played the original songs written by Beck, and they are the most resonant part of a film about resonance.  If there were ever songs that made you want to be a bass player, these would be the ones.  From the opening track of "We Are Sex Bob-Omb" through the final set piece, I was just blown away by the compositions.  I ordered the soundtrack when I got home, which is fortunately very originals-heavy.  An obvious choice in retrospect, Frank Black's "I Heard Ramona Sing" would have not been so much a sad omission as a crime if it hadn't been used for Ramona Flowers' introduction.  I mean, if not in a film centrally about a boy's obsessive love for a girl named Ramona,  when?

Speaking of the multi-color-choiced Ramona (Her line "I change my hair color every week.  Get used to it," is at once dismissive and inviting.  It's not so much an instruction to deal with the changes as a command to ignore the little shit.), Mary Elizabeith Winstead pull soff the apathetic, but engaging allure of Ramona well.  I have the self-respect enough to know that I am not in love with her, but i could watch her change her hair color all day.  It helps that I am a sucker for green, blue, purple hair on a girl.

And while I'm definitely not a sucker for dudes with faux-blonde highlights, Brandon Routh's turn as Todd, the powerful Vegan ex, is perfectly understated and hilarious.  Vegans, you see, gain their powers from an inflated sense of self-importance and moral superiority (kind of like a lot of religious folks), and his fight with Scott proves that power is tough to beat.  Unfortunately for us in the real-world, the Vegan- (or god-) police aren't around when you need them.

The entire film, in case you haven't seen the trailer, is presented in video-game format.  Each ex of Ramona's that Scott must defeat to date her (the league of bitter exes was formed by one of her former flames) are part of the seven levels.  Each has a different power, each stronger as the levels increase, and each worth more.  The visuals are amazing, the comic-balloons more appropriate and informational than annoying, and the cartoonish violence blends well into a mainstream film that actually has a lot to say about youthful relationships.  The poignant part for Scott, represented by a bigger, more powerful sword in his fight, is when the strength of self-respect is shown to be more powerful than love (really, puppy love).  Before that, he has to find out for himself that he too had treated relationships as poorly as Ramona has, that your baggage will indeed attack you later, and you need to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with others.  And breaking up is very very hard to do.  This film scores a lot for treating its youthful characters as the flawed ones we remember from our days in that mix -- everything is more dramatic, harder, simpler, and hormonal.  Or at least it seemed that way.


Rising Sun

Rising Sun, adapted from the excellent Michael Crichton 1989 corporate thriller, is a guilty pleasure.  The book is so strongly characterized in the case of John Connor that I couldn’t wait to see it on film.  I wanted to hear the character say the lines, to perform the actions.  This is in contradiction to my rule (I’d say general rule, but I can’t think of another exception than this film) that I do not like very faithful film adaptations of books I have read.  And the portrayal on screen is satisfying enough to qualify the film as a guilty pleasure because the producers of the film cowardly, arbitrarily, and nonsensically changed the ending.

Sean Connery was cast as Captain John Connor, a semi-retired liaison officer, expert in Japanese culture and affairs, to guide the relatively inexperienced junior officer Lieutenant Peter Smith on a politically hot murder investigation that occurred on the conference table inside the new Los Angeles offices of the Nakamoto Corporation.  Connor is a man who has played and adapted to both sides so well – American and Japanese – that he is not entirely trusted by either side anymore.  His motives are unknown, his methods sometimes seemingly counterproductive or contradictory, but his knowledge and guidance always interesting.  He is the prototypical Crichton mentor lead – representing the wise person who knows more about the situation than any of the characters.  To not follow this archetype’s advice in Crichton’s books usually leads to disastrous consequences.

Connor is engaging, witty, dry, and a man of action, and Connery seemed to inhabit the character effortlessly in the film.  Although I am a fan of Connery, I’ll have to give notice to an important tidbit about the writing process.  Connery probably had an easy time because he had the incredible advantage of having the role virtually written for him – Crichton mentioned in an interview that he had written the character of Connor with Connery as his model.  Indeed, reading the novel after I had heard about the casting, it was hard to not picture Connery’s Scottish accent and mannerisms in every movement.  On screen, the character was exactly as I had envisioned – quelle surprise!

(Aside, this trick works exceedingly well if able to be pulled off with the timing of publishing and film adaptation.  The downside is if the person you envision for the role when writing has grown too old by the time the film gets adapted (Anne Rice famously wrote Lestat patterned on Rutger Hauer), then you’re comparing to what-might-have-been.)

Contrarily, the character of Lieutenant Peter Smith was decidedly not written for Wesley Snipes.  In the book, Smith is a white junior liaison officer who deals with many challenges in trying to figure out the whodunit while navigating the dangerous political and racial waters of the story.  One of the subplots in the book (and film) is how the Japanese Nakamoto corporation strongly intimates that Smith’s (and other white officers) accusations about them are strongly racially driven.  In other words, they “play the race card” for tactical purposes.  Although the central theme of this subplot is consistent in the film version, the accusation of Snipes’ Webster “Webb” (apparently, a black man with the name “Peter” would be just unbelievable) Smith adds the additional element of irony to the situation, having experienced racism towards him first-hand his entire life.  That irony makes the accusation just a bit more implausible, as the Snipes’ Smith expresses.  It doesn’t ruin the subplot, per se, but it does mute and move the effect further from a very concerned Smith this-could-happen-to-you to are-you-kidding-me concept.  There’s still concern there, but a white man suspected of racism feels a lot more plausible – especially from the standpoint of requiring less evidence to be believable – that from a black man.  Can both a white man and black man (and any other man) be racist?  Sure.  But plot constructs are not designed to be interchangeable with characters.  As such, although the script is adapted to the new race of the main character, it’s wisely given lip service in the film but by and large played down.

Another case of this adaptation is played for laughs in the film.  During a scene where Connor and Smith are being stalked by a crew of Japanese enforcers, Smith (Webb, not Peter) decides to drive into the ‘hood’ to let his old buddies from the street (i.e., black hoodlums) deal with the Japanese.  When the gangsters get a hold of the Japanese car-load of bad assess, the foreigners are soon chagrined when intimidated by ‘real’ gangsters.  Obviously, the entire scene was written to take advantage of Snipes’ casting, and it memorably funny, but sticks out as something that was precisely written in as a throw-away gag in an otherwise thriller.

Some of the adaptations from the 1992 book (written much earlier) are welcome.  For instance, in the book, DAT video tapes were used as the platform for cutting-edge technology used to hide, obfuscated, and replace the killer’s identity.  By the time the 1993 film was produced, it was clear that DVD video would be the more accurately cutting-edge.  Neither method is critical to the plot-driving point, but the adaptation cleans up a technologically dated smudge.

What also may be a guilty pleasure, or perhaps just undeniable screen charisma was Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s magnetic portrayal of Eddie Sakamura.  Tagawa played Sakamura as playful, mischievous, sexual, and dangerous, really bringing to life an otherwise regular supporting character.

Unfortunately, the guilt part of the guilty pleasure comes from knowing how the filmmakers decided to change the end.  The scene itself played out like a modern version of some Scooby-Doo resolution.  Connor and Smith are closing in on the culprit (or so we think, those of us who read the book) in the climactic conference room scene, and they list the evidence they have that corporate henchman Ishigura (Digression: His name was changed in the film from Ishiguro for reasons that are either oblivious to the viewer or arbitrary.  Aha! Ishigura sounds innocent, but Ishiguro is way too much of a giveaway to American audiences.  We might as well name him Sinister McEvil!) is behind the coverup.  Ishigura (o?) cops to everything as in the book, except for the actual murder.  For that, he goes, “no… it was him!!”, pointing to [white-bread American] Senator’s aide Bob Richman.  (Second digression; if you’ve read Crichton’s books, and you are named Richman, you are not a nice guy.)

And the chase begins with Richman meeting an untimely end.  Of course, none of the detectives even thought for a second to question the guilt of Richman, nor did Richman even think for a second to say “prove it”.  The pointy finger was the entire DNA evidence needed in this case.  The curious thing is that when I have watched the film with persons who haven’t read the book, they never notice the switcheroo until I point out that in the book, he wasn’t the murderer.  (He was guilty of conspiring to be a douche bag, certainly.)  The disconcerting thing is not that the white guy suddenly did it, but that there was absolutely no change in the evidence and process leading to the pointy finger.  Like, ‘how do you know he did it?’ no longer mattered.  The no-longer meta-cinematical version of “And now, for something completely different…”

Why all these little changes?  I cannot read into the mind of your average Hollywood producer. I won’t pander to the stereotype of them being a brainless lot, and instead say they are likely very cowardly lot.  The book’s main theme was Japanese integration and investment in technology and real estate on our shorelines, and what the consequences may be to selling our technological souls down the line.  It’s very likely that the filmmakers wanted to avoid any controversy with the criticism (Ironically, Crichton’s book was called racist by some Japanese critics, the exact reaction the Japanese corporation used in the book to criticism of its methods) and water-down the book’s subject matter.  It felt like an executive pandering and a desire to avoid any and all controversy, and ultimately, the film suffered for it.  But I still liked it a lot more than I should.  I just accept that I will roll my eyes in the last five minutes.


Mad Men

I get Mad Men.  But, I don't like it.  Sue me.

The critically-acclaimed show has the awards, the smart writing (have you heard, it's the 'smartest show on TV'! ask AMC -- they'll tell you!), the beautiful actors, the drama, and the uncomfortably-loyal following of fans who worship the show.  I watched the show when in season 1, making it through about 10 episodes.  It was well-written, which is something I admire.  But after every episode, I realized I felt, well, down.

The show is about an advertising firm in the early 60's, and how people lived back then, seen through an uncompromising lens.  It's shocking to see the things that people used to do and take for granted, given the many changes in our culture.  Weaved into the background behavior is the foreground behavior of the characters -- uninformly naughty, head-shaking, reprehensible, awful.  Interesting, no doubt, part of the genius of the writing, but just nauseating.  Literally.

So, every show that was a testament to writing and acting (or so the media and fan zealots will have you believe by repeating it as often as possible) left me with an icky feeling.  (I don't even consider the writing to be all that great, frankly.)  Ultimately, I just stopped watching because I was over it.  Akin to watching a film that was "great" but super-depressing, I'm just not that interested in entertainment when I react to it with melancholy.

Now it's just putting up with a summer of the annoying advertisements about an annoying advertisement show.  Sigh.

PS.  It is not enough to feature the hottest girl on planet Earth every week, Christina Hendricks.  Close, but not enough.  If she wasn't hot enough, I love her just for this comment: "No man should be on Facebook. It's an invasion of everyone's privacy. I really cannot stand it."  We have so much in common, Christina, but this is just a bold attempt to gain my attention.  Remember, we are both married.  Let's try to keep that in mind.


Getting Married

Let me just say some things about getting married.

Wait, what?

I was married in Hanelei Bay, in Princeville, Kaua’i, on July 6, 2010 at approximately 4:30 PM local time. On the East Coast, that translates to about 10:30 PM in the evening. I waited until the next day to call my parents so as not to ruin their good-night’s sleep.

Wait, what? I called my parents because Danielle (I call her Danny) and I decided to get married in Hawaii while we were in Kaua’i. As dedicated and often-suffering-from-lack-of-content readers will know, we had a great time there in 2008, and we were planning to head back there for vacation this year again. Without downgrading the importance of the event, getting married there was incidental to the trip; we were going anyway.

Aside from enjoying the effect of saying something like that, the reason I point this out is that as you may have guessed, we eloped. We both love Kaua’I and, once we decided that we wanted to get married there, it was easier to rationalize the decision to not tell anybody about it until afterward.

Let me say something about weddings. (As I type this I realize only Blogger and technical difficulties could prevent me from entering this blog, so when I ask “Let me...,” I’ll just imagine you sipping coffee and nodding your silent acquiescence. Wearing a fez. Stroking your pet parrot. And raising one eyebrow whenever a particularly interesting passage is read.) I. Never. Liked. Weddings. I don’t even like the idea of weddings. Even if you remove the religious implications (which you can quite easily!), I’ve just found all the traditions associated with it to be uncomfortable and unnecessary.

For me, marriage is an intimate thing. My relationship with Danny has been very intimate, as she has become my best friend over the last three years. All our favorite moments have been just us together, and I felt that having a public spectacle would downgrade the moment. I wanted to it just be us.

Lucky for me, my wife felt the same way.

Let me say some things about keeping your wedding a secret. It’s not as hard as you think, if of course you are me. First, imagine you are the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy talking about weddings or your relationship with other people. Then imagine you are also the kind of kid (well, adult, too) who likes to know things that other people don’t know. Not to taunt people with, but just to know. Combine the two, and it was pretty easy to not discuss it. In fact it was rather enjoyable.

I made a few exceptions to the don’t-tell-anyone-plan, each in a different manner. The first people to know were actually friends we visited in Atlanta during March Madness. Let’s just say the two Long Island Iced Teas that capped off a day-long masterpiece of basketball watching loosened my tongue a little too much.

The second was my long-time friend Gary, whom I was visiting in Philly about a month before the wedding. With full intent of mischievousness, I entered in “Jones wedding” on the July 6 date on their family wedding calendar. Gary texted me three weeks later to ask what the heck that was about. That was just plain fun.

The third was I asked Danny’s father for permission to marry her. One of the few traditions and gestures I wanted to make.

Everyone else was in the dark, as planned.

So, as I mentioned at the outset, we got married. It was just us two, the officially-licensed marriage performer and his son, the photographer. The beach was beautiful, my wife is beautiful, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

And about getting married: I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t anxious. I was ready to get married and especially to this woman. It just felt right. I guess when you get older those nerves and such just go away. Or when you have the right girl.
Finally, let me say something about Mrs. Jones. Yes, she decided to take my last name. I didn’t have any real particular feeling about this tradition either, except for one bothersome notion. I’m only a mere engineer, but my wife will someday soon get her doctorate in education. Which means that she will be Doctor Jones. Having been called that nickname for many, many years (in reference to Indiana Jones), I’m just a wee bit jealous that’s she’ll be the one with the actual title.

[Mental note: Explore doctorate degrees. Quickly.]