thinglets: DiCaprio's Black Friday House Deal

Casa Leo

Leonardo DiCaprio has listed one of his Malibu Beach properties for $8,999,000. Now I'll admit that had he listed it for $9,000,000 I wouldn't have taken a second look, but, with Black Friday Fever just passed, $1000 dollars off of anything must be a good deal. The house "sits on the bluffs above the Pacific. A stairway leads to the beach cove below. The main house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms in 2,374 square feet. The master bathroom has marble fixtures and a steam shower. A separate guesthouse has two one-bedroom suites. There is a four-car garage and a large grassy area, and -- no surprise to DiCaprio followers -- the property is private."

Do you think there's a mail-in rebate available with a six to eight waiting period? I bet the Flypoints are off the hook.

lovehate: Scope, Scale, Setting and The Watchmen

I'm certainly not the only waiting for the Watchmen movie to come out in March '09. There have been plans to make this film for almost two decades and all reports, even with the liberties Zack Snyder has apparently taken with the ending, are that the film is the best anyone could expect from a feature-length Hollywood production. Why is it that the "Hollywood production" is what scares me the most when ever I hear a story is being adapted? Could it be that the same studios responsible for every Eddie Murphy film of the last 15 years, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and the gelding of Vince Vaughan and Will Ferrell have put me off of most major studio efforts?

The reason I'm so eagerly anticipating the Watchmen film is, of course, due to the comic book series and subsequent graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Gibbons. The thing that impressed me so much upon first reading the series was the scope and scale the story took. Moore and Gibbons didn't only create a world, but they inhabited it with hyperreal characters and landscapes and I daresay, more than any other comic at that time and since, enveloped readers in it.

Such a method of grand scale doesn't always work, and rarely in comics, especially only given the 12 issue run. I remember reading Frank Herbert's Dune series and really struggling as a teen trying to get through at least half of the first book just to feel like I had a grasp on the setting. I'm not saying the effort was not worth it. And, to be sure, I admired the first five or six of the Dune novels... I didn't really keep up after that. Yet there was an example of grand scale gone wrong when it came to David Lynch's film effort. I enjoyed the film enough when it came out, but realized that even I (after reading four books at the time) was having trouble following some of the history and practices from scene to scene. The friend I went with was completely lost. He told me that after about 45 minutes he pretty much just gave up on the story and settled back to watch it as a psychedelic tryptich. Therein lay the problems and pitfalls of trying to contain scope and scale and setting in a Hollywood production.

Don't get me wrong, Hollywood can present scope, scale and setting through a well-crafted screenplay incredibly effectively. Give me a sweeping crane shot here, an flourishing orchestral score there, a supporting cast of thousands in period costume and weve got the makings of grandiose epic. But the transition of book print to a film print always loses something in translation precisely becuase the film tries to remain faithful. I would suggest the very reason that Stephen King's The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's adapted film were both great is precisely because, just as King concentrated on writing the best novel he could without thinking of how it would end up on film, Kubrick concentrated on making the best film he could make without concerning himself with remaining completely true to text.

I appeciate the desire of Hollywood to start with a product that has been at least successful in one venue or another. Such is the reason that every novel that makes a popular list gets optioned by some producer or studio these days. I'll further concede that the stories presented in a novel must look far more rich when placed side by side with a screenplay. Actors clamor to delve into a well-developed character that verges away from stereotypes and while novels can paint broad two-dimesional stroke when the want to, they do have much more canvas to experiment with. The successful novel will always be a popular catalyst for a film, and, more often, comics are providing that incentive as well because let's face it, some of them have years and decades to explore a character and, quite frankly, they need it. The development in any given character within one comic book issue is miniscule at best. Let's face it, superheroes are often two dimensional at best and the only depth we ascribe to them is buried in the decades long history they encompass.

And so we come back to the Watchmen. Depth of multiple characters, plot and setting in 12 issues was near unheard of in a comic book era that birthed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I understand why Alan Moore has become forever hesitant to watch any of his stories brought to film. In the same way we create imaginary worlds when reading novels, try to conceive of the scope and scale in Moore's mind upon creating the Watchmen world. How much did he conceive of that he couldn't even fit into the books? When we feel things are missing as readers, I can only imagine the process of seeing a film adaption is deathly uninspiring to the orginal writer.

I hope for the success of the film. I hope it inspires millions to go and read the original. I hope that Zack Snyder gets lauded for the attempt even if not the execution. I know that if I can line up at midnight on 03/06/09, the answer to "who watches the Watchmen?" will be me and a horde of fanboys.


lovehate: a childhood in cereal form


I've always been a sucker for nostalgia. Never has any period in time so inspired me to reveries of childhood bliss as thinking back on 70s Saturday mornings. I spent my formative years engrossed by the idiot box to become a pre-pubescent afficionado of cartoons. From Bugs Bunny to Hong Kong Phooey to the Superfriends to the Flintstones and the Jetsons to Scooby Doo, the Laff-a-lympics and Yogi Bear and Roger Ramjet for good measure, there was never a cartoon that didn't fit into a Saturday morning. And there was never a morning that wasn't supplemented by cereal. From as early an age as I can remember, cereal WAS breakfast. But that's to be expected when I woke up an hour before everyone else in the house to catch the last five minutes of the pre-dawn Agriculture USA before pouring some milk and watching Bugs Bunny and Friends.

And while there were different cereals that represent different times in my life, the constant droning of the cereal company jingles and mascots turned me into a veritable jukebox of commercial hits. The Post family had its big three of course: Alpha Bits, Honey Comb and Sugar Crisp. The wizard, the Honeycomb Kid and Sugar Bear peering out from those primary-colored triumvirate of blue, red and yellow boxes almost daring you not to pour a second bowl. Sure they were sugar-laden, but hell, the Honeycomb Kid had just run Big Zeke out of town "when he kinda missed his horse on the way down and he never did make his get away 'cause the Honeycomb Kid saved the day." That was from memory folks and while I'm not proud about it, I am not unrepentant in my nostalgic haze. I remember years of Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles commercials that teased this young Canadian boy, but alas they were not be found (at that time) north of the border. Post did run into a logic wall in the mind of this 8 year old with Grape Nuts... I still haven't figured that one out.

And while Post relied on its big three, Kellogg's stepped it up a notch. They were the kings of the cereal mascot game. Forget about Marvel and DC comic superheroes, I had Tusk the Elephant, Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop, and Dig'em the Frog. Sure, trying to secure one of these cereals was a bit of a harder task as the sugar level shot up... well, not so much for Rice Krispies, but that could be resolved by a generous spoonful of the white stuff that often left the remnant milk at the bottom of the bowl resemble more of a tooth-cringing sludge than anything else - but damn tasty! I remember the Kellogg's line-up most of all from their Snack Pack selections that would often accompany the family on camping trips. The challenge of perforating the mini box along the line and then peeling back the wax paper so that one could pour milk right into the box and eat out of the cardboard coffin was so satisfying. There was always a race between me and my sister to see who could leave other with the 40% Bran at the end of the weekend. Bran's not kid friendly at the best of times much less on a camping trip with a creepy outhouse 100 yards away.

But the sugar content of Kellogg's and their merry mascots were doomed when placed up against the monsters of General Mills. And I do mean monsters quite literally. The monster cereals were the Holy Grail of sugar delivery breakfast foods. Not only were there crispy colored bits made up of mostly sugar, but they were laced with tiny marshmallows that Mills called "marbits" that were made of 100% food-colored, densely-packed sugary goodness. These so-called "marbits" would only even soften up after being saturated in milk for three and a half weeks under a heat lamp - unfortunately, I didn't have time for that so I crunched away. The monster posse was led by one Count Chocula with his Luca Brasi-like strong arm Frankenberry backing him up while the deadly trio of Boo Berry, Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy mopped up. I had to put together a pretty cogent argument as a 7 year old to convince mom to buy one of the monster cereals. She would try to pitch me on one of the boring Mills cereals like Wheaties or Cheerios. Usually, after a tough negotiation, we ended up at Cocoa Puffs or Trix's silly Rabbit. On a better day I may get Lucky Charms with its own "marbits" of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers. Yes, I was a bit disappointed when they added Blue Diamond to the mix, but I was willing to forgive. And while I was past the point of caring when Purple Horseshoe was introduced, I'd felt they'd already jumped the shark.

The Quaker family was infrequent at the table due to the tasty, yet deadly, temptations of the Cap'n Crunch line which tempted young children with its sweet and, admittedly, crunchy goodness. Many was the time that a youngster would mercilessly lacerate the top of his mouth when reaching in for a handful of Cap'n, Choco, Cinnamon, Peanut Butter, Punch or Vanilly Crunch cereals. You can't accuse Quaker of not riding a good thing to death. Hell, I didn't mention Crunchberries in that list.

As I was sidling out the era of way-to-early Saturday mornings the Chex brand of cereals took the whole game too far. Sure, we'd been lulled to sleep by the Chex brands for years. What sugar-loving kid ever wanted Corn, Wheat, or Rice Chex. In 1977, things took a turn with the end of innocence for cereal lovers everywhere. Oh, we didn't realize it at the time, but Chex dropped a nuke on children with Cookie Crisp. Every kid wanted Cookie Crisp. Shit, they were mini chocolate chip cookies for christ's sake! But there was the rub. While you could, with best efforts and earnestness, try to convince your mother that any cereal, no matter how sugar-laden, was just cereal and still a viable breakfast option, Cookie Crisp blew that template off the map. There was no way she was going to buy me cookies for breakfast. Hell, decades later I would never buy myself Cookie Crisp for breakfast, but at the time, it was kiddie crack. They even pitched it with freaky Santa Claus-looking wizard named Cookie Jarvis... Cookie Jarvis... what kind of mascot name is Jarvis? It sounds like the creepy guy down the street that everyone thinks molests kids. But he was the pusher. 

I don't know if it was because my mother read the ingredients of Cookie Crisp and figured out that same crap that was in there was also in every other cereal I'd ever wanted and, by logical inference, if I wanted Cookie Crisp (which was bad), all other like cereals must be bad. From that year forward came the age of Shreddies, Muffets and Harvest Crunch. Don't get me wrong. I grew to have a great respect for the cereal of my burgeoning youth. I started to actually look forward to the 237 seconds it took for every Shreddie in a bowl to turn to mush. I found solace in the artificial sweetener that I carefully dispensed from the paper packet in circular precision over my bird's nest Muffet. I even learned, after several weeks, that a correct portion of Harvest Crunch is not the normal bowlful of other cereals - and that my jaw would hurt for the rest of the day if I over-indulged. I did not know, at the time, that my childhood was running away from me like so much mottled milky sugar remnants, upturned in the kitchen sink of life, waiting for the hot water to baptize the bowl anew.

And from that point on, cereal was dead to me.

Fuck you Jarvis.

lovehate: how it begins

Fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

I can appreciate how television writers and filmmakers hate being stuck to linear plot lines but I think I had just about enough of screenplays that have me sit through a big dramatic scene in the first five minutes only to be subjected to a FTB followed by some new-fangled font chromakey of "24 hours earlier". The technique has been done over and over again. I'm tired of sitting through it, especially when its a show I generally enjoy and want to keep up on the story arc. If a television pilot started with this technique, I would probably give it up ASAP.

Why does the conspiracy theorist in me think that there is one director who makes a living off of this stuff. The producers think... "You know what? We really need one of them time shifty episodes to really mix things up! Call in that guy we worked with for the time shifty episodes on the other 12 series we've done." And the cycle continues.

When one thinks of a movie like Memento, it's easy to see that playing with timelines can be done in a unique way that is not only central to the plot, but also to the theme, characters, and atmosphere of the piece. When it's simply used as a cool plot devicem it's boring, it's meandering, and, more often than not, just plain sucks. I'm craving well told linear stories. When I see reruns of All in the Family and watch 10 minutes of an unbroken scene that takes place in a living room, I don't condemn the pace and crave the music video phrenetic cuts of most of today's action films. I enjoy the teleplay, the acting, the ability to tell a story that takes place in one place at one time.

For years of teaching drama students it would be the biggest challenge to get them to construct a 3 minute scene that took place in a single location. The idea would arise that the scene would be about a bank robbery (because a 14 year old can't do a scene that doesn't have guns or violence) and the planning would start that would (in three minutes mind you) take you from 15 seconds about not having money, to a 10 second decision to rob a bank, to a 30 second exercise about planning the hold up, 20 seconds of the actual bank job, 1 minute of mindless shootout, and the final half minute of one or more crooks getting away. Have we lost our ability to follow a story in (while maybe not real time) something at least close to it?

We have one hour action television shows that tell a story that rambles over days, weeks, or months. Even the show 24, which tries to build the illusion of being in real time suffers implausible plot holes of characters getting from place to place in totally unrealistic timeframes. The film Timecode, by Mike Figgis, tried to solve the impatient audience dilemma by showing four real time stories at once... probably because he knew that audiences were quite unwilling to sit through a single linear story.

Sure, I applaud creators playing around with plot. Not every story can, or should, be linear, but the redundant use of television and film time shift gimmicks has been over done. It's jumped the shark or nuked the fridge, when it really should join Luca Brasi's slumber. To play with time in a television show or film should be done only when the story demands it to be told effectively and not in order to make a boring story more interesting. Can't you imagine a writing team sitting around a table saying "Dude... this script is really not that good, and we shoot tomorrow. What'll we do?" "I know... let's throw the scenes up in the air and let the sheets fall where they may. That will be the new order." And, after all this reassembly, when they put the scenes together in their new found chaos and find the story STILL sucks... "Well, let's at least put the big climax scene at the beginning. That's the best scene anyway and we'll be able to show it twice and save ourselves 3 minutes."

I'm not saying the job of a television writer is easy; after all how many times can find a unique way to explore the stoic Grissom in CSI, or the cranky Dr. House, or the dysfunctional Desperate Housewives, or the high horse riding Jack McCoy? Maybe we need to borrow a page from the Brits. We need to allow show creators to say "I think I've got about enough for a dozen good episodes here, maybe a season at best." We need studios to buy into the fact that a show, once noble when it first started, will more often than not slip down the ratings not when the audience gets tired, but when the writers do. And fatigue leads to stretching for anything new. It's why the Fonz jumped the shark. It's why we cringe every time a new kid gets thrown into our tried and trusted sitcoms. It's why writers, instead of coming up with fresh beginnings, start to resort to beginning with the end.

jump the shark

lovehate: mashups and the artistic process


I have always been an advocate of the idea that art did not matter as much as the artistic process. I believed that while it was almost impossible to determine the difference between art and craft, the realization of the difference could become clear by understanding the process that went into creation. After all, how is that some people could claim that the ready-made movement of the early twentieth century was art when the process was perceived to be simply dumping a toilet bowl in an art gallery... pardon the vulgar double entendre. That the interpretation of a toilet bowl in a gallery could be scoffed at by some as meaningless and some as brilliant, by some as a waste of time and others as a masterpiece, shows the true subjectivity of the qualification of "art".

I maintain that the "art" in any piece is the direct result of the process which results in a work's existence in a specific time and place. I cannot agree that a Crane 31138 Economiser Bigfoot is a piece of art when it comes off the line although the design contains artistic elements. I have to deny the "art" qualifier on this piece not because of the way it looks, but because, in the same way I'm ready to accept a building or bridge as "artistic" but not "art", the form is encumbered by function. If the bridge or toilet designer was allowed to create without concern for function, I would be fully willing to accept a fire hydrant or a blender as a masterpiece. This said, the artistic process that places a coffee cup inside a blender that's mounted on top of a recliner, has the potential to be, in some people's minds, a masterpiece, but, in my mind (at the very least) art.

And I raise this aesthetic qualifier to do one thing: ponder how technology and the net is facilitating and encumbering the artistic process, art, and the artist.

The artistic process has been consumed by the mashup. Similar to a DJ taking samples and remixing them into a new piece, web wanderers have  become quite adept at meshing multimedia into bold statements or time wasters. The artistic process is still intact however. Whether it's a toilet in the 30s or a slideshow of pics from various Flickr accounts, the process to create something new from the sum of its component parts remains a valid exercise. Again though, the question of functionality creeps in.

The result of a creative process may not be art at all, because, indeed, that creativity may lie more in craft than in art. If someone creates a pimped out new banner for a website, I can't buy it as art because the primary function precedes the form for its own sake. And let's not pretend I'm holding up art as a paragon of achievement and dismissing craft somehow. A four year-old's fingerpainting may be truer to this definition of art than a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, but I'll take the crafty car over the arty attempt. The final product of the mashup may have indeed gone through the process, but unlike the toilet, blender and coffee cup that I can buy, own, and reuse at will, almost everything that a creator has access to on the net is non-transferable. My concept of art, as a product, is that there must be an intrinsic sense of ownership on the part of the creator - not of just the process, but the result itself. While the net, with its worlds of content, inspires imagination and possibilities, the resulting mashup product can rarely, if ever, be called art.

And while generations of young and old minds are inspired to craft new works and enter into processes that verge on the artistic, there will have to be a concerted effort to move the truly gifted from a satisfaction with mashups that are never completely original to new and vital artistic works. Let's allow the net to inspire and motivate, but push beyond thematic assembly to free creation for the work's own sake.

thinglets: I am not a number. I am a free man!

The Prisoner was hands-down one of the best television shows of all time... and it only lasted 17 episodes. Don't ever think that quantity equals quality. Sure, the look is a bit stylized and kitsch by today's standards, but the thematic interplay and character development set this show apart. If you have a chance to purchase the box set of the series (which can be found for relatively cheap prices these days) or borrow them off a friend... or go torrent diving... check it out. And, above all, give it a chance past the first 10 minutes when it sometimes freaks people out due to sheer weirdness. "Who is Number One?"