Oblivion

OBLIVION GFX Montage from GMUNK on Vimeo.

I’ll keep this short, it’s less a review and more about what the movie is.

I had a chance to see the movie last week and was really impressed. The visuals are led by a director with a background in architecture and design and it shows. Like Tron, the movie is as much about it’s style and it’s world as anything else. I went into it with no real expectations and left pleasantly surprised but it’s depth and the little details that usually derail these sorts of movies. I really appreciated that they built the sets and the vehicles – the fact that they shot the cloudscapes and projected them just seems so caring to me. There was a video about Akira that talked about the sheer level of detail they put into it, that there’s a scene that’s only a few seconds long, but they matte painted an entire cityscape to parallax through the buildings behind them. That’s the sort of obsessive vision that I really appreciate. Even if the movie is terrible – and Oblivion isn’t – I appreciate the people who made it so much more.

The soundtrack is M83 and unlike Tron’s Daft Punk score, was actually pretty generic. Save for the credit song and a few of the ambient bits it was the traditional cinematic style found everywhere. It wasn’t bad, it’s just that I wish M83 had more reign to do something awesome.

So. Go see it. Notice that there’s dirt on the pedals of the flying machine from adventures previous. Notice that it feels lived in instead of being a greenscreen soundstage.

Dredd: Better than Batman?

Go in with no expectations, walk out without the ability to form coherent sentences. That was, at least, what I did. Driving home in the rainy night I tried to think about what I’d write here and it all came forth at once, this tidal wave of opinions. Instead I just turned up the music and watched the coloured lights reflect in the inky road, letting it all come forward.

Possible spoilers ahead.

Batman’s third installment Dark Knight Rises was exactly what it needed to be. It featured a cast of the world’s loveliest people and was directed by one of the best making films today. It was predictable and took very few risks, closing the series nicely. It worked, don’t get me wrong. It fit and was successful. Good. But not… but not brilliant.

…a word one might use to describe Dredd. It was crafted brilliantly. It’s not a clever movie, it too is predictable and if you saw the trailer, you know exactly what it will be. It’s an 80’s movie made in 2012. It has cheesy one liners and ridiculous amounts of violence. The part that I’d describe as brilliant is the balance between it’s tongue-in-cheek cheese and it’s maintained gravity. It’s stylized but not silly. Judge Dredd delivers the same kind of lines as Batman does, but the former’s come out with a self aware over-the-top badass snark whereas the latter’s gravel always made me giggle. Batman just takes itself too seriously and it comes across as laughable.

The violence is abundant. It’s rated R for a reason. It’s based on a gritty, dark comic and the movie adaptation matches; it’s the nature of the beast. With that said, there’s a surprising lack of actual sexual content given it’s testosterone fueled ride. Alluded to a few times, it just doesn’t take center stage in a movie about a soulless justice system. He’s not really a human, he doesn’t really have a face, he’s just the embodiment of justice itself. Justice can’t get the girl. He shoots bad guys.

The slo mo drug, obviously, is a plot device created specifically so they can show neat things in slow motion. What I appreciated is that they didn’t over use it. It’s there and it’s a plot device, it gets shown a few times in the beginning to establish how it works and then the rest is left to simply be understood. Actually, one might say the same about the violence: it’s introduced in the beginning with rather disturbing homicides that the Judges investigate but the final death is almost poetically calm. The 3D too, is usually abused by directors but here it’s just a subtle effect to create depth, never deciding how something is shot that wouldn’t be otherwise. It’s a movie of cinematic balances – the choices of when and where to pull punches show surprising grace for a movie of such genre.

Soundtrack: wow. I’ll be getting that whenever it’s available. So perfect. Subtle 80’s tones in there match the hokey-retro styled motorcycles in a fitting homage to the past. The slow motion parts have this lovely Brian Eno feel and the Judge’s no-nonsense walking around hallways have a fantastic driving pulse to them. Dirty and alive.

Honestly? I think it’ll be an underrated cult classic. It was good. If given the choice, I’d see that again instead of Batman. It’s self aware enough to avoid the trap of cheesiness and knows how to balance thematic elements with surprising deftness.

Love the Beast

It showed up on Canadian Netflix a little while back which means, I can only assume, it’s available everywhere. Definitely this post put much more eloquently than I ever could have. It’s a topic that’s coming up more and more lately in not only my interactions with cars but also my observations of people’s interactions with their objects and even the introspective reasoning of who I am and why I design.

One of my favorite bits:

Just briefly:

It’s interesting to me, now that I’m writing for LTKMN and working in fiction more, how much of my writing tends towards objects and spacial relationships. Coinciding with my love for architecture, even when given unlimited range to create things I create spaces, not people. I’d never really thought about it in such a direct way before, but I truly am bored with mere people. It’s a terrible thing to admit aloud but it’s true – I simply don’t find any interest in the people themselves outside of their relationships both with other humans and with other things. I look back to all of my favorite movies and books and stories and music and they’re all about a shift in paradigm that breaks and reforms those relationships. Those are interesting, those are the ones worth watching for me. Because the characters themselves are just tropes, just patterns based on the equally boring and predictable humans in real life. It’s how they collide and spin that’s fascinating.

And so, I write about spaces. I write about alternate histories and futures yet to come. It occurs to me that the few storylines I’ve written about people (or anthropomorphic robots) are all about the splitting and rebinding of relationships towards external things. Internal events, sure, that some might call character change, but that are inherently externally forced.

There’s that Debussy quote “Music is in the space between the notes” and it’s apparent: humans, like notes, simply smushed together is just a cacophony. Architecture, and that of a car’s space, is the physical separation required to generate story. My writing, then, is more a reflection on silence than anything, following the metaphor. Obsessed in the other direction.

Avengers Concept Art

One of my favorite parts of the movie would be when this behemoth takes off from the water, utterly ignoring all physical restrictions that have air turbines trying to push seawater would have. Nathan Schroeder has an impressive gallery of not only Marvel movies (yes, plural) but also pretty much everything. Ever. There’s a crazy amount of work there, which is really, really cool.

If you imagine that this is just an updated version of the Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow helicarrier it actually makes for a pretty cool universe crossover. It’d be sort of the original Captain America era, perhaps worked on by Stark’s older generations.

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Ruin – Oddball Animation

Simply perfect.

I would watch a feature length film of this.

The Chase

From the mind of Philippe Gamer, who has the perfect last name for a VFX and game development company guy.

It’s like a mix between Need for Speed and Trackmania which, now that I think about it, would be a pretty awesome game. They are so radically different, and so entirely solid on their own, but I think there would be a cool dynamic to try and stay on the crazy tracks while being bullied by the police.

Anyway. The video itself is well done and entertaining. There really isn’t much more to say. The developer really likes Japanese cars, I guess. Subtle advertisement, maybe? I’m not sure. The punchline is spot on.

Well done.

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Gunpowder, Plot and Treason

We walk out of the theater into the crisp night and laugh, “That movie was ridiculous” and proceed to point out plot flaws and the bizarre events that occurred. But there’s a distinction, I’ve realized, between realism and reasonableness.

We use the word realistic to mean both and it’s not quite accurate: suspension of disbelief is actually really easy and we don’t mind much at all that there’s aliens or zombies or people with super powers roaming about. That’s fine, it’s a movie made to be fictional and larger than life; we don’t dislike that. The parts that we really mean when we say ‘unrealistic’ is that the characters didn’t do the reasonable thing given their situation.

Transformers was decent (certainly better than it’s sequels) and while we’re entirely happy to suspend disbelief for giant alien robots than choose to take the forms of American earth cars we get really upset (if subconscious) in the part where the awesome giant robot gives the AllSpark cube to the relatively weak and flimsy human to run through the battlezone with. These sorts of plot decisions are made to sensationalize the movie but it actually resonates the opposite with us as viewers because it isn’t a reasonable action for characters in that situation.

So it’s not about how real the situation could be, it’s how reasonable the characters act within it.

We have a lot of classics in the action movie category like Terminator, Predator, Rambo and Robocop that are actually very reasonable movies because of the perhaps flat acting and very static characterizations. Are they ridiculous? Yeah, sure. But the characters (namely those played by Ahnold) behave in a predictable manner. He’s a robot sent back in time to protect understandably afraid and confused humans. This is a dynamic that feels right when played out. It isn’t realistic (time travel, robot singularity etc. etc.) but the interactions between the flat, unfeeling robot and the weak and dazed humans makes sense if we as the audience were put in the place of those actors. Compare this back to Transformers where if the robot gave us the AllSpark we’d look at him like he’s crazy: “Uh… why? You’ve got guns for arms and a 10 meter stride. You take it.”

The recent rash of Marvel movies are played out in the same way: Wolverine is actually a much better character than Magneto was in First Class – one knows what he wants and does it. It’s reasonable. It’s slightly unfair to compare static and dynamic characters like that, but the way Magneto acts when confronted with things doesn’t really make sense and we lose that connection to him since we silently deplore his actions. It’s like those horror movies where the girl is in the house and we know the killer is upstairs and instead of getting the heck away she decides to explore in the dark alone and weaponless and we sit there thinking “NO! What are you doing?! Don’t go up there. Go to the police! Get away!” This is done intentionally, of course, for that tension, but it shouldn’t be happening with the character’s we’re supposed to identify with.

Even insanity can be reasonable. We look at movies like Memento and characters like Dark Knight’s Joker or Inception’s Cobb (notice: all Nolan films) and we can actually develop a fairly deep bond with characters who although don’t represent us do the actions we would do if put in that situation. Now, are we insane? No. And it’s not really fair to put ourselves in Joker’s shoes since he is actually crazy, but his actions are reasonable given that characterization. In Memento he’s just trying to figure things out like any of us would. Inception is interesting because every character except for Cobb is static and serving him, so in a way each of them is a splinter of his personality (after all, it is his dream) and combines to create one unit who we can identify with. The actions of the insane might be unstable and unpredictable but still remain reasonable to us.

So, in the blue corner we have things like Mad Men or Memento – entirely earthly, normal, real environment with people acting reasonably within them. The yellow might be the Terminators and Predators or Shaun of the Dead type where there is some element of fiction to the world but the overall reactions to things makes sense to us. Green: any number of dramas and soaps or the serial killer movie (where the killer is just a normal – if deranged – human) where the characters do things that don’t make any sense given their environment and situation. I might even put Drive on the line between blue and green; it was realistic and worked but some of his actions made no sense to me. Red could be most things that are in theaters these days: The G.I Joes and Transformer 3s. The Fast and the Furious series started in the yellow and has moved down over time. These are the movies where even if we can suspend disbelief for the unrealistic aspects the people who inhabit the world don’t seem to follow any logic for their actions and so alienate us as an audience.

I’m entirely happy watching the yellow category – often those are the best – taking some fantastic fictional realm and providing a good adventure within them. It’s not that I’m a stickler for “Oh, well that would never work in real life” because those things are the cool part. Neo can fight an entire mob of Smith agents? Sure, he’s the one. His reasons for fighting them make enough sense that we don’t even mind the sheer ridiculousness of the fight scene itself. That’s the entertainment.

TL;DR  It’s not about realism, it’s about having a character that does what makes sense instead what would raise the stakes purely for the sake of arbitrary sensationalism.

Fiji Vignette

Absolutely stunning. Such gorgeous landscapes dripping with warmth.

I’ve always wanted to learn to surf. Growing up on the Canadian prairies I haven’t had the chance, but I do snowboard and longboard with great enthusiasm. Someday…

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Bunraku Opening Sequence

As I reviewed before, I quite liked Bunraku‘s style and was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had finally uploaded the awesome intro sequence.

But seriously, if you haven’t already, watch the movie.

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The Knife Maker

Made by Hand / No 2 The Knife Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

This video is brilliant and resonates deeply with me for several reasons.

As an industrial designer it’s sort of a hard reality that hand making things is probably one of the worst ways to manufacture something. We are industrialists, makers of things en masse, which has it’s own stigma to it that really isn’t accurate. I see myself very much like this guy: deeply passionate for the creation of something useful. It’s just a base root level love for the creation of something. I just look at things with a slightly larger output which means automation. It’s a hard stigma too – mention “factory” to anyone and immediately they think of poor working conditions and virtual slave labour, which is an unfortunate truth in some places but really doesn’t need to be in order to make things.

So I see the romanticism of one guy in his basement studio working on something he loves, I understand it and have experienced it and I want to take that experience and elevate it into something bigger. It gets trickier as you expand, and I think that’s the sort of problem I like solving.

Craftsmen are held in high regard for me. I appreciate his words when he mentioned leaving the abstract and coming home to making something so very simple and immediately useful. It’s something I’ve been learning a lot over these past two years of schooling as we’re introduced to the art of crafting in various mediums. I could never be a machinist all day, but I deeply love that zen found in machining. I think this guy found that and I wish him all the best for it. I think everyone should find something that gives them that feeling, be it in maths or science or art or writing. It’s a deeply spiritual thing, in a way, that sort of fulfillment that’s entirely separate from corporate success. I watch my instructors do what they do and they might openly smile or they might not but you can tell in their actions that there is a deep passion for their craft, and a deep joy that they find in it. The way they pour the molten aluminum into a sand casting or the way they slightly nod their head with approval after solving some equation. I think, at the root of it all? That’s probably the most neglected part of life, of society, of culture, as I see it.

I sat outside a financial plaza last sunday morning just watching the cars lazily wind through downtown, watching the handful of people coming into work that morning. These are people who genuinely love whatever it is they do in there. These are people who get up on a sunday and smile as they walk into work. Are they soulless corporate pigs? Maybe; I don’t know. But I respect the attitude with which they approach the door and as much as the 99% complains, they are the sharks who happen to make financial success out of their personal passion. Some of them, at least.

The video was well shot and edited and everything, and the medium is a craft unto itself, but I think in the end his words ring true. Passion might equal success by sheer blind luck in some cases, but for the rest of us hard work equals success and passion negates the ill effects of hard work.

So, be inspired. I am. Make something yourself. Do something new. Hone something that you like to do and reap the satisfaction from that. You can’t buy that feeling, no matter how much money you have.

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