Saturday, May 30, 2009

Toy Story 3

I haven’t seen Up yet, but I did just watch the trailer for Toy Story 3.  Obviously, there’s a lot of potential there. The first two films in the Toy Story franchise were truly amazing.  Plus, trilogies are always great.  Things just seem to go nicely when the go in threes. 


However, trilogies can often be dangerous, and I hope Pixar Disney doesn’t botch it up.  Seriously, a number of famous franchises would have been better if they had just stopped.  For example, Spider Man 3 was so bad it not only ruined two hours of my life but also caused me to retrospectively doubt my love of Spider Man 2.  Return of the Jedi, while rounding out the Star Wars story, is fairly hollow when held up to The Empire Strikes Back.  And lets not forget the godfather of all botched trilogies, The Godfather Part 3.  Why didn’t Coppola just end it with Part 2?  How did anyone think that following up one of the most highly esteemed films of all time with mediocrity and boredom was a good idea?  How did they think following it up at all was a good idea?  As it is, the whole series is forever remembered by its high points and its low points. 


Given Pixar’s record, its unlikely that there will be as wide a disparity between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 as there is in the Spider Man or Godfather franchises.  On the other hand, even if Toy Story is only as good as, say, Cars, it will still be a huge let down.  Lets hope that Pixar isn’t just in this one for the money and that the curse of the third sequel doesn’t follow them as it has with so many others.   

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

(Spoiler Alert)

Everything I heard about this film made me not want to see it.  That includes the general boredom that everyone I knew expressed with it, the reviews from well-know critics, and even its own promotional material.  The plus side of all that negative press, however, was that when I finally rented the film a couple of nights ago my expectations were really low and it almost couldn’t help but meet them.  So, all in all, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a pleasing grand romance that would have benefited from being half as long and some drastic streamlining of the story. 


One of the most common criticisms leveled at Benjamin Button was that it was just like Forrest Gump, but not quite as good.  After having watched the film this criticism surprises me.  Sure there are people working on boats, going to war, etc., in both films.  But for the most part this comparison is mostly superficial.  Even if the films use similar methods, the end result is wholly different.  If Forrest Gump is a kind of extended buildungsroman with an ambiguous but uplifting ending, Benjamin Button is a tragic romance.  If the more recent film’s execution is less successful, that romantic element is at least vastly more appealing (to me) than Forrest Gump’s feel-good catalogue of twentieth century events. 


The reason that Benjamin Button is less entertaining than Forrest Gump (or a lot of films, for that matter) is because it seems to have lost its focus from the first scene.  It starts out with an elderly Daisy (played by Cate Blanchett) telling her daughter the story of Benjamin Button’s life through the journal he left behind.  Eventually we learn that the daughter’s father is actually Benjamin Button himself, but this does little to endear her to the audience.  She, like so many of the characters, seems to be included merely for expository purposes and, while the filmmakers would have had to be more creative in setting up the story, the film would have benefited from removing her.  This pattern gets repeated throughout the film.  Every time Benjamin Button and Daisy get together, or almost get together, the story soars.  Unfortunately they’re off doing other, irrelevant things for a lot of the film.  Benjamin’s romance with Elizabeth (played by Tilda Swinton), is good because it sets the stage for his later encounters with Daisy, but nearly everything that led up to that romance was extraneous.  So he’s from New Orleans, went to war, etc., etc.  The audience didn’t need such extensive background on Benjamin, nor most of what happens later.  In the end all that stuff could have been boiled down to a few minutes and while still producing similar—or rather, better—results. 


Unlike some films, this one doesn’t need all the filler.  It’s over two and half hours long. If it had been cut down by an hour it would have been more poignant and the admirable performances by most of the cast wouldn’t have lost.  Instead, I kept thinking the whole time how I really liked the idea of the story, but was wasting my time watching the whole movie.  Ultimately, that idea was powerful enough to keep me entertained, while wishing at the same time that it had been rendered more affectively.  

Friday, May 29, 2009


When I was a sophomore in high school my dad took me along on a business trip to New York City.  I had always wanted visit the Big Apple, so the trip was a big deal for me.  I can’t remember what day of the week we left on, but I know that we were there for a total of three days (including the days we arrived and left) and that the first day I wasn’t missing school (so it must have been the weekend), but the second and third day I was. 


The trip was really fun and we went and saw a lot of the major tourist attractions in the city.  I think we had to work (I mostly carried camera equipment around for my dad and his employee), but in my memory that only took up a few hours of our time there. 


Like most high school aged kids probably would be, I was excited both to travel as well as to skip school.  The first day we were there I kept feeling excited.  However, the second day, when I otherwise would have been in class, I started to feel guilty and maybe a little depressed.  I remember being on the subway and seeing kids on their way home from school.  Watching them all I could think about was how I was supposed to be in school and wasn’t.  Maybe I had been so fully indoctrinated by the school system that I could tear myself away.  Maybe I was just having teenage hormone surges.  Maybe I missed my friends.  Whatever the reason though, I realized that I actually felt bad about essentially playing hooky on my dad’s business trip. 

So fast-forward ten years: I’m a graduate student writing a thesis, and sometimes writing other things.  Some days I don’t get up until 11 AM, and don’t go to bed until 4 AM.  Even if I have a lot of responsibilities (especially compared to when I was in high school), I can pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want.  In other words, everyday is much closer to that time on the subway than it is to my days in class.  The funny thing is, I don’t usually feel guilty at all.  I can sit here at two in the afternoon writing my blog and still feel completely productive. 


I don’t know what this means or if it means anything at all.  I am pretty sure though that I conceive of responsibility differently. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Faster, Furiouser

Last night Laura and I went with our friend Tony to see the newest installment of The Fast and the Furious.  If I was reviewing this movie for a newspaper or similar publication I would give it one star (take your pick out of how many) simply out of pity for the cadre of earnest B actors whose careers must not have panned out as planned and thusly reunited for this exercise in boredom.  However, that’s not what I’m doing.  Instead, I’d like to comment on the film as an exercise in postmodernism, as such, it is moderately successful but still disappointing.  (I’d give it maybe two stars out of four or five when looking at it this way.)


I’m not going to bother defining postmodernism here, but basically postmodern films may tend to be self-conscious/self-reflexive, have non-conventional story telling (non-linear for example), be filled with allusions, have affectionate critiques of pop culture, and/or countless other elements.  That’s not comprehensive and people will certainly disagree, but films like Go, pretty much everything by Quentin Tarantino, or even the Shrek movies might arguably fall into this category.


The Fast and the Furious series generally deserves to be classified in this category, I think, because it is just so over the top.  Everyone in the films is stronger, more agile, more beautiful, and more sexualized than could ever happen in real life.  A perfect example of this is the beginning of The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.  Though all the characters are ostensibly in high school, they all must actually be twenty-somethings who spend all day at the gym.  In the case of the women, they also must avoid anything resembling food.  Compound that with ridiculous violence, impossible car chases, and the blatant emphasis on the objectification of the human body, and the film becomes a delicious entry into and commentary on the genre of car chase/heist/underdog movie.  The rest of the film gets bogged down with futile attempts at plot and character development, but the beginning scenes (ten to fifteen minutes or so) are worth watching.


This isn’t to say I endorse the values presented on screen in Tokyo Drift, but rather to say that the film is so over the top that it can’t help but be ironic.  It ups the ante so far that it seems to be asking if upping the ante is really such a good thing in the first place.  This ironic commentary certainly goes over the heads of the teenage boys who are the film’s target audience, but it at least allows the film to entertaining to people outside that demographic and to stimulate a conversation about appropriate representation contemporary society.


This irony is what the newest Fast and the Furious is missing.  The movie starts out with the old gang trying to rob a fuel truck in Latin America.  The scene is appropriate for the genre, but very much by-the-numbers.  People do incredible, impossible things, but never with relish or zest or in a way that seems remotely new.  Subsequently, the scene seems to set the tone for the rest of the film.  Everyone goes about the business of stealing and killing and having sex and whatever, but there’s no joy in any of it.


Part of the problem seems to be that the film is downright confusing.  Not that plot matters in this sort of movie, but everyone kept referring to everyone else as “my brother” or “the ex-girlfriend.”  I couldn’t remember a single thing about the earlier films, because lets face it, they’re not very memorable (with the exception of Tokyo Drift’s beginning), so I couldn’t tell who was doing what.  Thus, it took me about half the movie to work out a mental framework of what the relationships were and until then the action was relatively meaningless.  Perhaps the filmmakers could have had the characters just introduce themselves to the camera at the beginning, or have shown some sort of family tree-like image that explained it all.  Then I could have happily forgotten the details but still have known who to root for in the car chases.  As it was, I kept asking myself if I should want Vin Disel or the other guy to win. 


The other problem with the movie was that the action itself seemed so ordinary.  For example, the car chases through underground tunnels on the US-Mexican border were insufferably long.  I’m sure they seemed awesome in the script, but on film they just seemed like someone’s home video of the Indian Jones ride at Disneyland.  All I wanted was for it to end and get back to something at least marginally interesting.


In the end, the film had many of the hallmarks of a postmodern action flick and for those reasons might be worth taking a look if you’re really into that.  On the other hand, those hallmarks were presented without much affection or joy.  I’m not saying every movie has to be as relentlessly self-conscious as Tarantino’s stuff, nor that it needs to be comedic like, say, Hot Fuzz.  It would just help if the filmmakers understood the irony of what they’re doing.  When Vin Disel is asked by a thuggish adversary if he’s “taking to the boss,” let him be a smart aleck once in a while instead of just looking like he’s confused.  If there’s going to be tons of hot women (“hot women” is how they are credited in the end titles) making out with each other, consider what that might mean and how it might be ironic.  Ultimately, doing any of these things would make the movie far more engaging, and a lot more fun.  Maybe next time they can make The Faster and the Furiouser and start getting some of these things right.  

Favorite Cities: Seattle

Maybe I’m starting this off wrong, because Seattle is my all-time favorite city so I can only go downhill from here.  But seriously, Seattle is great.  Sometimes it gets a bad rap for being cloudy and rainy all the time and sure, every time I’ve been there it’s rained.  But before and after the rain it is also one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  Because of all those clouds the city has spectacular sunrises and sunsets, is green all the time, and never gets really hot.  In my case I also happen to like the rain, so that’s a plus as well.


So here’s some stuff about my most recent visit to hopefully help you on yours.


Getting Around: If you’re flying into SeaTac airport the first thing you’ll need to do is leave the airport.  You could always rent a car, but that option has always seemed like such a cop-out to me.  One of the best things about Seattle is its public transportation.  Feel like a local (at least a local who doesn’t have a car waiting at the airport) and take the bus into town.  It’s cheap, fast, and gives you the chance to look around.  As an added bonus you’ll get to be on the bus when it switches into “quiet mode” and goes underground.  When Seattle’s hybrid buses get into downtown, they change running modes and go into a tunnel that feels like a subway.  A lot of this tunnel is in the downtown free-ride zone, so if you only ride the buses once you’re in town you may never get to experience the switch.  Once you’re in the city Seattle’s downtown free-ride zone is useful.  Plus, there’s always the monorail, which runs from downtown to the Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle and The Experience Music Project).


Lodging: When I went to Seattle as a kid my family always stayed with my grandparents.  Luckily, if that’s not an option for you (as it no longer is for me now that they’ve moved away), Seattle has some great, inexpensive places to stay.  I’d recommend the Moore Hotel. The Moore is located right downtown and when I told my grandparents that that is where I stayed they both started telling me how wonderful and grand the Moore used to be and how it was a staple of the city.  Unfortunately the Moore isn’t so grand any more, but that translates into killer prices (we paid around $70 a night for two people and a king sized bed).  Plus, even if it is more of a budget hotel these days, it still has the marble-floored lobby, wooden doors, and (in some rooms) claw-footed bath tubs from its former glory days.  These are things that would be hard to find in generic higher end chain hotels that cost much, much more.  What’s more, the hotel staff is extraordinarily nice.  I was a little wary at first because I had read some reviews of the staff online that weren’t very positive.  However, whoever prompted those reviews must be gone now because we interacted with at least four or five employees and all of them went out of their way to accommodate us.  The Moore isn’t the lap of luxury these days, but it is nice, clean, and charming in a way that more modern facilities can’t be. 


To Do: Seattle has a lot of things to do.  On my most recent trip I stayed in the downtown area and did fairly touristy things, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.  Of course there is the Space Needle, Pike’s Place Market, and the waterfront.  If you’re only going to be in Seattle for a short time these places are all relatively close to each other and are well-known enough to warrant a visit.  Plus, there are some hidden treasures along the way.  At the far end of the waterfront, for example, is the Olympic Sculpture Park.  This free park is filled with breath-taking art from world-renowned artists.  At the other end, you can hop on a cheap ferry ride around Puget Sound (these ferry rides were recently named among the best in the nation for sightseeing by MSNBC travel).  Pikes Place Market is right in the middle.  Seattle also has a number of museums.  The Seattle Art Museum isn’t the biggest or best museum in the world, but it does have some very impressive exhibits from both local and national artists.  If music is your thing The Experience Music Project might be worth a visit, though this museum is pricy and small and even though I’m a music lover, one short visit was more than enough for me.  You can also hit up the aquarium or go to Pioneer Square and take a tour of the underground city.  I loved that tour as a kid and as an adult it was educational to see the ruined city beneath the city.


To Eat: Because I had never done it, I ate at the Space Needle.  For two people, with appetizers, drinks, and a tip it was just under $150.  On my budget that was quite a bit, but it was also delicious and beautiful.  Our reservation was around 7 PM and as the restaurant rotated we got a 360 degree view of the city at sunset.  It was ineffably romantic.  If you’re planning on going make your reservations well (as in weeks) in advance, because it fills up, especially on weekends.  The rest of the time (to make up for the money spent at the Space Needle), I ate as little and as cheaply as possible. There are small cafes all over the place.  I also got some good snacks in Pikes Place Market, and (though it isn’t all that cheap), fish and chips at Ivar’s is both delicious and worth doing if you’re visiting for the first time. 


To Sum Up: Seattle is a great place that has a lot to do and a beautiful environment to do it in.  Perhaps in a future post I’ll talk more about things to do outside of downtown that are a bit less touristy, but for now that should keep a first time visitor busy.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Save Rock Canyon

Provo, Utah, has the lucky privilege of being situated next to some of the most beautiful mountains in the world.  From where I'm living as I write this they're only about a ten minute walk away.  There's hiking trails, climbing, camping, waterfalls, etc.  Its really pretty amazing.  Yet, for some reason the city is considering granting a permit to mine Rock Canyon, the primary portal for the mountains within the city.  Obviously they have their reasons, which I'm sure are compelling for them.  However, because this particular area is an invaluable community resource (not to  mention that from everything that I've read it's not especially valuable as a mine), I am opposed to this change.  Of course, this is a relatively small area that most people will never go to.  However, my assumption is that all communities have a vested interest in protecting the distinctive natural resources that make them special.  So, this is my letter to the Provo City Planning commission expressing my thoughts:

I have recently learned of a debate over the future of Rock Canyon. I am not a geologist, a miner, or a businessman, and so I’m hardly qualified to comment on the economic pros and cons surrounding this issue. Instead, I'm a person who sometimes walks in Rock Canyon simply to look at its natural beauty. My perspective then, is of a person who believes that Rock Canyon is a precious resource, not for its economic potential—which admittedly may be great—but rather for its potential as a place of refuge and wilderness in this small corner of the world.

Author and professor Wallace Stegner once said that wilderness is “something that has helped form our character and that has certainly shaped our history as a people.” Though he was speaking generally of the United States, he might as well have been talking about us, the modern-day citizens of Utah. Our history is marked by a deep relationship with and respect for the land. The prospect that we might exchange some small but beautiful piece of that land for short-term prosperity saddens me; how, I’m left to wonder, will future generations understand their heritage without one of the wild spaces that was present everyday in the lives of their ancestors? Where will our children go when they need refuge from the world? What will it mean to our community if we irreversibly alter one of the places that make us unique? 

I sincerely hope that the values of our community include the preservation of beautiful and wild places like Rock Canyon. It is a place that brings me joy and peace and that unites us as a public. More importantly, and again to quote Wallace Stegner, “something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed.” I pray that we as a people in Provo conserve a patch of wilderness so that others can be blessed as we are.

Jim Dalrymple

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Electron Deception

So, among other things, I am the drummer in the band Electron Deception.  We're not too big but we enjoy playing and we're going on a tour pretty soon.  The people in the band are Laura L., Ryan D., Chris R. (I didn't ask them if I could put their last names up, so for now just last initials, though their full names are on our myspace page.)  We play a lot of shows in Utah, and sometimes outside of Utah, so come to one.  Also, you can come hang out with us any time.  Just message us or something.  

Our music is electro dance music and our EP should be done in June 2009.  Some influences are Depeche Mode, Ladytron, The Sex Pistols, Ratatat, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc.  There's more but for some reason those are the ones that come to mind at the moment.  To help you visualize (or aural-ize, as the case may be) our sound, we have two keyboards (but one keyboard player), an electronic drum set (not preprogramed drums, but an actual electric set like those lame ones from the 80s that turned out to be super cool), bass, and vocals.  On one song I also do back-up vocals.  

We're pretty DIY about stuff.  For example, right now Laura and I are learning how to silk screen shirts.  At our next shows you can buy one if you like; we'll basically be selling them for what it cost us to make them.  We also make lots of posters and that sort of thing, which we'll sell to you for a dollar, or just give to you if you're cool.  We are kind of trying to do a series of posters that are similar to each other, but still distinct as well.  Each one features Laura and some words.  The amount of information on each poster is very minimal, which I thought was cool, but might just be annoying.  Also, we're trying to figure out what to do for our EP cover.  We want to do that ourselves to, but we also want it to look really good.  We have looked at getting a rubber stamp made, painting each one individually, getting them printed somewhere else, or some other approach.  If you have suggestions let us know.  

Well, in the future I'm sure I'll have something better to say about the band, but for now I just wanted get it out there.  So yeah, that's Electron Deception.