lovehate: Acting and the Science Fiction Film

Let me preface this love hate. There are some great reasons to have and use special effects in science fiction films and television, be they make-up, sound, camera angles or computer-generated objects, backgrounds and characters. I enjoy seeing spaceships, phasors, impossible landscapes and situations as much as the next viewer. What I often regret, however, is the over-reliance on these visual and aural tricks of the trade to the point where they distract what should still be the prime mover of film and television: acting.

The blame can be easily spread around. While The Matrix received almost religious status among its eager audience, and I'll be first to admit it's an enjoyable sci-fi romp if not a thespian tour de force, the performances of Keanu Reeves and his fellow cast members were wooden at best. That said, who is to blame: Reeves, the Wachowski brothers, or the combined vision that placed all of the actors in environments where the effect became more important than the performance. While it's easy to name an actor for a bad performance, most of the time not enough blame is placed on a director for allowing it to get past the questionable take. In this case, I'm sure the prevailing vision of the Brothers on this film was more about creating an awe-inspiring world and letting it drown out the less than inspiring performances.

I don't mean to pick on The Matrix or poor Keanu, but science fiction seems plagued with characters that are intentionally "stoic" (for lack of a better phrase) and the conspiracy theorist in me is convinced that it's far easier for a director to allow an actor to play emotionless monosyllabic heroes. Story gets told through atmosphere and set more than acting performance. While this model has provided for some spectacular films, am I just nit-picking in thinking that the best of both worlds is possible?

The dependence on visual effects cannot help but adversely impact an actor's performance. Actors are used to reacting to other people and physical sets, but when a director asks them to pretend an alien or robot is ten feet away by holding up a ball on a stick, and, oh, by the way, you're standing in a radioactive war zone that is currently being represented by a green screen and... Action!

It is for this reason that many accomplished actors (and by accomplished, I'd rather think revered as opposed to prolific) are loathe to accept roles in science fiction films unless trying to re-establish a career. Maybe part of this comes from the fact that even when an established director makes a science fiction film, they are not necessarily familiar with the genre. I would imagine, through common sense more than any practical experience, that in so much as some A-list actors will clamor to work with a Scorcese, Spielberg, Coppola, Soderbergh, the Coen Brothers or even Woody Allen, the opposite must be true for directors who do not come with such noteriety. Which actor would be breaking down doors to work with a relatively unheralded Irvin Kershner, even though his direction provided for IMDB's #1 science fiction film and #9 film of all-time: The Empire Strikes Back.

I can watch almost any sci-fi, good or bad, because my expected level of suspension of disbelief is always so high that I can tolerate any deficiencies in acting that often slides under it. This, however, seems the prominent reason that the genre seems devalued by critics and award academies alike.

While I could never say that I hate the genre, I do hate that (but for a few shining examples) some of the greatest sci-fi stories ever told include some brutal performances by actors and "cut and print" choices by directors.

Bookmark and Share

thinglets: word association poetry game


1) Either by one or two words, but as little as a syllable, create a common idiomatic usage, expression or cultural link (pop or otherwise) from one set to the next.

2) Do not take more than one turn in a row.

The poem starts like this...

Blue moon river runs through it sucks to be you can't touch this love has taken its toll bridge ____________

lovehate: Renting Music (Bill C-61 Revisited)

While the Canadian parliament is out of session for the summer Conservative Sith Lord Jim Prentice's Bill C-61 (Canada's take on reforming copyright and Digital Rights Management) is getting batted around more than a pinata at Cinco de Mayo.

For as complete a compendium of information as you could hope to get on the issue, I refer you to where almost every aspect of fair copyright for Canadians is represented through links to interviews and articles.

While my thoughts on C-61 are pretty clear, I thought maybe another question would provoke the marketing wizards that sell music in stores or online: am I just renting music?

For years people have been able to rent paintings and sculptures from galleries in order to decorate their lives for a few weeks or months at a time. Why should music be any different? If the only rights "owned" on a piece of music are by the artist, producer, and writer, what am I really paying for with a 99 cent song download or a 15 dollar CD purchase? If I cannot take that CD and replicate into the other formats that allow me to enjoy it at its fullest, I seriously have to consider whether buying (should consumer ownership of art actually exist) is such a worthwhile thing.

I don't purchase CDs at stores or online anymore, but one of the places I do buy them is when I'm at shows of smaller or independent performers because often those purchases entail more money going directly to the artist. The first thing I do when I get home, however, is rip all of the tracks onto my computer so I can use them on my Nano. If I buy the same tracks online, Apple takes the cut that band gets at the venue. This formula works the same for a music store that takes a cut every time a CD gets purchased. But, if Bill C-61 passes, I'll have to wonder if it's ever worth it for me to buy a CD again. If every CD mastering house starts to put forth an even insignificant protection scheme on every CD, I can be fined tens of thousands of dollars for ripping one disc. If I ripped a DVD to my Nano to watch on a flight to Vegas, same penalty.

And this raises a further question: if purchasing a song, or collection of songs, in any format does not give me any real rights of self-distribution, am I really "buying" anything at all? How would the average consumer feel about renting music instead of buying it? Would you be willing to pay 99 cents for a song that you could only listen for three months on one computer? Should I buy a DVD that I can only watch on my laptop computer but not a DVD player? I may as well just buy an iTouch and use wi-fi to stream everything without owning a single song or film.

Those who rent paintings do so to make a statement, send a message, impress visitors or sell their condo. I don't listen to music or watch the films I do to impress anybody. Ask my friends and they'll tell you I have some pretty messed up loves and hates when it comes to music and films that wouldn't impress anyone. So if I'm purchasing music, it's for the long haul, and the last thing anyone should want is to prevent a lifelong love of a band or song to be threatened just because formats change.

And that's the real rub isn't it? CDs will be obsolete in five years or less and the music industry is afraid, because while they could sell people on compact discs being "better" than vinyl in the 80s (at least enough to make you re-buy your entire collection), that pitch is going to be far more difficult when the average download quality pales in comparison to the CD you have now. The average mp3 has six to ten times less audio information than a track form a compact disc. Why would I buy everything again in a lesser format unless the law forced me to?

Bill C-61 is a cash grab by the music labels, retailers, and their lobbyists in Ottawa. Sure there are pieces in the bill that deal with music re-distribution (from one party to another) but we already have legislation to deal with such occurrences. Bill C-61 will serve to do one thing upon its signing - make half of the population instant criminals. Thank you Sith Lord Prentice, may I have another?

thinglets: sketch comedy

This thinglet comes from Mike Vardy. Mike is the brains behind the Eventualist productivity ideodology "EffTD" (Effing The Dog) and is chief contributor to and its accompanying podcast. Click the links and check out his work.

I’m waiting for the day when the layperson finally gets that sketch comedy is not improv.  It’s pre-written and while there’s room for latitude with a sketch, you can’t just throw it by the wayside for a passable Christopher Walken impersonation when the going gets tough.  No wonder why most people think that MadTV is filled with genius comedic talent.  Until this changes, I’ll just assume that most sketch comedians pretend they’ve done improv when they get adulation from the audience for coming up with such great material on the fly.  If only Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip hadn’t been cancelled - Aaron Sorkin could’ve converted the ignorant flock.  Then again, maybe they couldn’t handle the truth.

Bookmark and Share

lovehate: Blogging v. Lifestreaming

I suppose there is no mystery to this lovehate. After submitting numerous posts to the on this blogging platform over the past few weeks, it would be hard for me to say that I hated blogs. There are some things, however, that I just don't get. A recent post at readwriteweb indicates that "lifestreaming" is the future of blogging. As much as I would like to think that reading about someone's entire life was interesting - it's not. Sure, something can be learned by examining the ordinary, but that doesn't mean I want to read, or pretend to share, someone's day to day meanderings through their existence. And I say this even though I'm on Twitter and Friendfeed and Facebook and Plurk and Pownce and usually jot a couple of quick notes every day that are more humorous than telling. Suffice to say, someone who has the time and inclination to record their entire life on a blog really shouldn't have much time for an extraordinary life. And when I devote time to reading for entertainment, I better not be reading about someone watching TV in their apartment for three hours.

I certainly don't begrudge someone who wishes to document their existence on the web (there may be something quite therapeutic about it), but surely there has to be some serious editing involved. While I applaud Andy Warhol's vision in making the film Sleep, I sure didn't want to sit through five hours of it. Whenever I hear someone review a film, play or television show and say they loved that the characters or dialogue were "so real", I cry foul. Even the most authentic documentary, unless shot in real time, is only a simulation of reality that someone manipulates. A "lifestreaming" blogger becomes the gatekeeper of their own life with regards to what gets relayed to readers. While the blogger may have had a "real satisfying trip to the bathroom involving a number two", I certainly don't want to hear about it, and most bloggers have the decency not to tell me. This same act of choosing to avoid events that may clash with social mores or taboos turns lifestreaming into more simulation and less documentation. And to be honest, I'm fine with that.

I believe that we are all just stories and when you leave a room, the people left behind speak of you ill or well with others in relaying your history. If lifestreaming turns out to be simply a bunch of people sharing every minute of their lives online, why should I be interested? I'd much rather they lie. I'd enjoy reading of grand adventures. Instead, my fear is that the lifestreaming movement will eventually deconstruct itself into endless posts of "I'm texting from my cellphone to my lifestream about texting from my cellphone to my lifestream." While honest, not too exciting.

Blogging as a means of artistic creativity or to share ideas - great! Blogging as a means of "sharing" one's life with friends - sure, I can buy that, maybe not too exciting to others, but okay. Blogging as a means of documenting the daily meanderings of one's life - I guess, if you want to, but why should I, or anyone, have an interest? The less I know about someone, the more fascinating they become. Just give me the interesting snippets and my mind will fill in the rest.

Lifestreaming echoes the same problems faced by people with webcams on them 24/7. I don't care how cute the young woman is while moping around her bedroom about how her parents or boyfriends don't "get" her, she will become boring: quickly. And the less boring she becomes, the more boring you become.

Love blogging - hate lifestreaming.

Bookmark and Share


thinglets: I lost my keys - a penny for the old guy

I lost my keys.  It was not easy.
Somewhere between the car and the door or the door and the closet.
Some time after grilled cheese but before meat loaf mashed potatoes.

I lost my keys.  They must be lonely.
They’re not in my jacket pocket, but I’ll check there again just in case.
They’re not in my red windbreaker that I haven’t worn since high school.
They’re not in the sugar bowl, or in the xmas decorations box.
They’re not in the giant vase, but I checked there gently anyway.

I seem to have a problem getting where I’m going,
And I’m wearing out my carpet as the tension’s growing.
This interminable quest has got me on a collision course.
I just can’t satisfy Ms. Suzie Ignition.

My keys no got.  Got no keys must find.
Not in the container rotting at the back of my fridge
Not in my R2D2 ceramic piggy bank
Not in corner cupboard with the big pot
Not under the WELCOME mat that I don’t have, oh well, guess I should get me one.

Maybe my keys are in gay Paris at a bistro o’erlooking the Seine.
Wining and dining my sweet Adeline in a bottle of bubbly champagne.
Maybe they’re jetbound for Shanghai on a mission for the CIA
Unlocking mystery forcing the enemy’s hand ‘til they ambush a somehow surprise him and
knock him out with a simple tap on the neck with some foreign object that looks rather ineffectual…

"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No Mr. Keys I expect you to die."

I lost my keys.  How metaphoric?
Between the idea and the reality, between the notion and the act... are my dishes.
Between the conception and the creation, between the emotion and the response... is my laundry.
Between the desire and the spasm, the potency, the existence, the essence, and the descent… you’re gonna need a bigger boat.

For thine is the kingdom (Life is very long)
For thine is the kingdom (Life is)
For thine is…
Life is…
For thine is the…

So this is the way the world ends.
So this is the way the world ends.
So this is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang, but with a thinglet.


Lost Keys

Bookmark and Share