Friday, June 28, 2013

Walking out on World War Z

I had been warned. My brother saw Paramount's World War Z a few days before, and reported it was a "shitty movie." I loved the book by Max Brooks (Mel's son) and could hardly wait. So fearful was I that the movie would actually rattle me that I postponed going for a week. (Also, I am in the midst of a binge rewatch of the Sopranos, now on the 5th season). Today I did something I have done less than a handful of times - I walked out on a movie. It was that shitty. It wasn't scary, it wasn't coherent, and it wasn't good.
I should have known. The author of the book had already disavowed the shooting script. Their was plenty of web chatter I hadn't paid attention to. This $200 million dollar CGI extravaganza was global disaster by Hollywood committee - no vision, none of the insightful observations of the book - and most importantly - no Battle of Yonkers. The movie insulted my intelligence. A series of silly set pieces strung together by interludes of nothing.
The only two recognizable settings for the movie drawn from the book were North Korea (only by dialogue) and Israel. Apparently, the Israel section of the movie has generated a bit of controversy amongst Middle Eastern tweeters. The movie script brings hero Brad Pitt to Jerusalem, one of a very few countries to survive the zombie onslaught (so too the book). None of the interesting aspects of Brooks' tale appear in the movie. In the credited writers' rape of the book, Israel has indeed built a massive wall to keep zombies out, and has opened its borders to non-zombified Arabs at special checkpoints. But nothing of the book's civil war between ultra-religious Jews and the Israeli army over this open policy is mentioned. In the movie, Israel is overrun as the noise of an Israeli peace song (started by Jews, and then joined in by appreciative Arabs) awakens the zombies to clamor over the wall. I cannot imagine the group-think argle-bargle of Hollywood story and marketing meetings and the directorial oversight which could have produced something this idiotic.
Now I am hoping the upcoming Israeli-produced "indie" movie Cannon Fodder (IDF and Hezbollah forces join together to combat zombies) might work.
As for World War Z - save your money. Read the book.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Binge Rewatch: My Brush With The Sopranos

It's been less than a week since James Gandolfini died. The night his death was announced, I decided, as per my last post, to undertake a binge rewatching of the legendary HBO series The Sopranos. I'm now in the middle of season 3, which I remember as one of my favorite seasons, and specifically to episode 32 ("University"), about the experiences of three college-aged women - two at Columbia University and one at the Bada Bing. At the time of its first broadcast, it was regarded as one of the most shocking and violent episodes to date. Juxtaposed against the recent violent rape of Dr. Melfi - this episode graphically showed Ralph Cifaretto beating to death his pregnant stripper girlfriend Tracee in the back lot of the Bing. The episode at the time caused quite a stir.
This episode also represents the one time my own life directly crossed paths with The Sopranos. That is not to say I didn't feel a deep personal connection to the show for other reasons. No, I am not from New Jersey, and I am not connected. But I had married a woman whose father owned a strip club in Minneapolis. The dysfunction of Tony and Carmela Sopranos' home was poignantly familiar to my outsider eyes. Strippers and fences, all friendly associates of my soon-to-be father-in-law, were invited to my wedding. Years later, I once asked my then father-in-law in a moment of sheer stupidity, "Are you part of organized crime?" and without missing a beat he answered me: "We're not all that organized."
But one time my life directly crossed The Sopranos. Not long after "University" aired a student came to my office. She wanted to take an adjunct course I wasn't teaching, but which I supervised, so my signature was required. It was all very mundane. Only after she got up from her chair and was headed to the door, I had to blurt out what I and some others of us already knew through the grapevine: "You were great in the episode 'University' - it was a fantastic performance."
"Thanks," said undergraduate Ari Graynor, who played Meadow Soprano's anxiety-ridden dormroom mate Caitlin Rucker.
Never spoke to her again.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Honoring James Gandolfini: The Binge Rewatch

When I first saw the news that actor James Gandolfini had died this past Wednesday, I was saddened - and I knew how I would spend the next week: a full-scale binge re-watching of all 86 episodes of The Sopranos. I've done it before, but never on the scale I will now undertake. Honestly, I've owned the DVDs for the first 5 seasons for years, and somehow I remember not being all that enthralled with season 6, but parts I and II of that final season are on their way to my house (this time in Blu-ray) and I will do the entire thing.
So here it is Saturday morning, and I've just completed season 1, the season that hooked us onto Tony Soprano and HBO forever, and I am overwhelmed by the stunning performance of this amazing actor, who was given the brilliant character by David Chase. But whatever the words and plotting, there is something overwhelmingly amazing in Gandolfini's performance. More words have been inked over this series than any in television (except maybe The Wire). Nothing I can say hasn't been said already. All I can say is that I am glad I decided to honor this actor in this way - and I recommend that you do the same.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Big Data meets Big Brother

Prescient? 2 days after I made the decision to sever my ties between my Twitter feed & my Facebook timeline, PRISM is outed, with FB identified as a major supplier of data (and Twitter not). I know there is no such thing as privacy in a surveillance society lusting after the wonders of "big data," but I'd expect the "cool" internet companies I interact with to put up at least a little fight against the government. They certainly try to leave us with the impression that they are all on our side. Sure, we know they are monetizing every click we make...but naively I assumed that passing it all on to the USG was not part of their greedy consumer agenda.
One other thing - if you use GoogleDrive to store your documents - you probably made a mistake. Dropbox so far has reportedly resisted lifting its skirt to the NSA.
To put it simply, when it comes to unconstitutional overreach, the former constitutional law scholar Barack Obama makes George W. Bush seem a rank amateur.