Kids remember the darndest things

We had a little trip on the weekend from my parents place out to the Busselton Jetty and accompanying Underwater Observatory. The jetty is 145 years old and, at almost 2km, is the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. The Underwater Observatory is like an aquarium in reverse letting you take a walk 8m below the waves to check out the sealife making it’s home in and around the jetty pylons.

While waiting for our scheduled tour, we had a walk around the local Pioneer Cemetery. For some reason the kids are obsessed with checking out names and dates on headstones in cemeteries, and always ask if we can stop and have a look if we have the opportunity. In that cemetery we found lots of names like “Bunbury” and “Bussell”, obviously after whom these South West towns were named after.

One caught my eye. The name on it was Samuel Isaacs and without reading the inscription, Suzanne and I both turned to each other and said “Wasn’t that the guy…?”. Turns out it was the guy, and we both remembered the story from our school days. Isaacs and another local girl by the name of Grace Bussell (after whom Gracetown is named) rode their horses through the surf into the ocean to rescue people from a sinking ship. They ferried people back to the safety of shore by dragging them behind their swimming horses. You can read more about it here.

Samuel Isaacs monument, Busselton

Samuel Isaacs monument, Busselton

On the way back the kids were disappointed to find that they brought the DVD covers but not the DVDs themselves so they couldn’t watch their favourite movie on the way home. You gotta hand it to them, though. It was a whole 6 minutes before the inevitable question came: “Are we there yet?”.

We stopped at a gas station for some road cokes (and chocolate milk for the kids) and while Suzanne way paying for them I dug out the trusty iPod as a backup with the intention of playing a little ZZ Top or Aerosmith. The Rolling Stones Forty Licks would surely get us home. When I plugged it in and pressed play, it was already playing Derezzed by Daft Punk from the Tron: Legacy sound track. Ashton said she wanted to listen to the entire album. Jett wasn’t so keen but it was he who left the DVDs behind so we let Ashton choose.

Ashton and Jett have seen Tron once only, and they really enjoyed it. Hey, it’s an enjoyable Disney movie so it’s understandable. But by listening to the soundtrack she was able to recall and describe pretty detailed parts of the movie. “This is the part where Sam meets Kevin Flynn for the first time. Only he’s CLU,” and “I remember this is where they are falling in the elevator,” and “This is where CLU gave his speech about “out there is our DESTINY“, but Kevin Flynn said the same thing about “in there” being our destiny at the start”. Derezzed is pretty much the signature track on the album, and instantly recognisable from the movie. But soundtrack albums also tend to have a lot of slower background atmospheric music, especially in scenes heavy on dialog. But Ashton knew pretty much where she was in the movie based only on seeing the movie and hearing the soundtrack once. Pretty impressive.

My thoughts on the movie Tron Legacy

I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

Kevin Flynn

1982s Tron was the first movie to ever use CGI effects, and was the first appearance of a fully digital character in the form of the “bit”. For this reason, Tron is a significant piece of motion picture history and not just a retro nerdcore dream.

So, it stands to reason that the release, 28 years later, of Tron Legacy should also carry some significance. We had almost three decades of hardware and software improvements in digital movie production, and the introduction of watchable 3-D.

The idea behind 80s Tron is that Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a programmer who is transported from the real world into his own system where everyone dresses in skin tight glowing neon spandex. These guys are personifications of actual running programs and resemble their “User” creators. Despite the religious themes examined, there’s really not much to argue that Tron was anything more than cheesy and camp, but still pretty awesome.

Fast forward to 2010 where where we find Sam, Kevin’s son, flashing back to the 80s and to the last time he saw his father. Sam grows up and despite being a cowboy is the major shareholder in Encom. Sam’s surrogate father figure, played by Bruce Boxleitner who also appeared in the original as the title character “Tron” and his User “Alan”, tells Sam that he was paged by Sam’s dad Kevin from the old pinnie parlour he used to work. Sam investigates and finds himself transported into the computer world where his dad has been lost for 20 years.

It’s called “The Grid”. It came before “The Matrix”. So there.

Digital Eye Candy

Digital Eye Candy

The rest of the story is hard to describe as anything other than “cool”. It’s 3-D eye candy, it’s ear shredding aural ecstacy, it’s a rich vibrant digital world you might have imagined 28 years ago that wasn’t possible because of the technical limitations of the day with magnificent scale and depth where you get lost in a world of glowing suits, speeding light bikes and digital storms. Getting lost is a good thing, because the plot is paper thin and pretty weak and doesn’t make much sense. Face it, this movie is effects- and nostalgia-driven and that’s all. In fact the movie moves pretty slow in parts because everyone has to keep explaining to Sam what’s is happening, and what has been happening up to that point. So you’ve got a movie with an ankle-deep plot and a lot of time spent explaining it. Quite an accomplishment.

My only real disappointment is that Kevin Flynn turned into The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He was all “Man” this and “Dude” that and started “knocking on the sky” or some other digital-hippie wank to fill in some time. 80s Kevin Flynn was better.

The best performance was Michael Sheen playing Zuse, an albino digital version of Ziggy Stardust who was as camp as a row of tents. He was funny and brilliant. Also, the soundtrack by Daft Punk is utter perfection. I understand they did the whole score and they manage to get it right the whole way through.

My verdict: if you’re into deep and meaningful investigation of intellectual themes and tight plots then this might not be the right movie for you. Tron is a sensory experience, and a fun way to spend $25. Pop the extra couple of bucks and catch it in 3D.

Korean Tron Posters

I found a couple new Tron posters from Korea, all 1024 x 1448. Korean characters make everything look better.

Not long now. Only two weeks! Gotta start convincing my wife that we need to go see it together. It has been a long time in the making.

Looking for the 1980s Tron movie? Or the Tron Legacy Soundtrack? Try Amazon!

The lament of a guy whose wife has no taste in movies

I like movies. Everyone likes movies. But I really like movies. I’ve liked movies since I can remember. When I was young, like 6 or 8, my mum would take me to the movies and drop me in at the cinema and pick me up afterwards while she did her thing. Since it was the 70s and there were no suburban cinema complexes, we’d have to go into the city to see movies. That usually meant me having to get dressed to the nines because “you can’t go uptown if you’re dressed like that“.

When I was older I’d make my own way into the city to see movies. It was quite an adventure planning a journey myself. I’d have to get the newspaper and find what time the movie was on. Then I’d have to plan it backwards so that I’d get off the train with enough time to buy tickets before the movie started. Which meant that I’d have to get the train that left Midland at this particular time, which in turn meant I’d have to get this particular bus which stopped at Midland interchange and connected with that train.

Later on came the super mega-plexes which dropped 8-16 cinemas within biking distance from home, providing a dizzying choice of movies. Most of the time a pinball parlour was attached to the complex which provided extra skills enhancement opportunities.

Up until the time I was married I usually saw 2 movies a week. Certainly never less than one a week. It didn’t matter if it was a blockbuster, or some obscure art-haus movie. It didn’t matter if I was with friends, or alone. I just had to fulfill the need to go to the movies because I liked it and I dig movies.

The first thing most romantic couples do is go to the movies together, and Suzanne and I were no exception. But one thing that she admitted to me early on in our relationship was that she had never seen Star Wars. This should have set alarm bells off in my mind. I mean, it’s 1999! Who on earth had never seen Star Wars? But I was in love and willing to make exceptions and see past these seemingly unforgivable issues. I decided that we’d have a movie night in at her place and I’d bring my trusty, well worn VHS copies of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. When I got to her place I learned that she had only a small black and white TV. The warning bells became militarygrade claxons, but again I was being led by emotions and not thinking straight. We got through them, but it was like she shrugged and said “Meh”. I bit my lip and hid my shame well.

After we got married our movie-watching habits changed, of course. We’d go out less and less and stay at home with a video more and more. Suzanne usually let me pick the movie to watch at the cinema or the video to watch at home. It’s not like I wanted to maintain control of what we watched or anything like that; Suzanne was often reluctant to pick the movie so it just fell to me to make the decision. But there was one relationship-defining moment in history where Suzanne had her movie-picking privileges revoked forever.

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Top 5 movie school bullies

Nobody likes bullies. In all seriousness, bullying is a form of abuse, and usually comprises physical or emotional attacks over time and can lead to trauma or even suicide and nobody should have to deal with bullying. Movies can deal with bullies and bullying more light-heartedly, portraying them ultimately as weak, insecure individuals who always get their comeuppance. Here’s a list of my favourite movie schoolyard bullies.

Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future series (1985-1990). Biff comes from a long line of Tannen bullies. We saw Great Grandfather Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen in Back to the Future 3, and Biff’s grandson Griff in Back to the Future 2. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as all three Tannens use brute force and intimidation. The timeline changes (hey, it’s a time paradox movie) and in part of the movie, at least, he gets humbled but inthe beginning because Biff isn’t all that intelligent he only gets through highschool by forcing George McFly to do his homework. This bulling continues through adulthood as Biff becomes George’s Supervisor at the same company using the same strategy of bullying George into completing his work and taking the credit to get promoted. Like most bullies he’s braver when he’s backed up by thug friends, but crumbles when someone stands up to him.

Johnny Lawrence from The Karate Kid (1984) Johnny is probably the most mindless bully of these five. He’s a Karate expert, leader of his gang who are all members of the Cobra Kai martial arts dojo, and protégé of John Kreese, a Vietnam veteran with no time for feeble concepts like restraint or compassion. “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” is his motto. Johnny is the most one dimensional big screen bully and just lets his fists and feet do the talking. If you have something he wants, then he’ll beat you. If he doesn’t like you, then he’ll beat you. If you get up, he’ll beat you again. There’s no way you can beat Johnny and he knows it. Unless, that is, you have a humble, mystic Okinawan immigrant father figure named Miyagi on your side to teach you that belts should only be used to keep your pants up. Johnny redeems himself, somewhat, when he loses the final battle in the conflict with Daniel-san by handing him the tournament trophy himself.

Chris Hargensen from Carrie (1976) Chris Hargensen is beautiful, rebellious and manipulative. She’s the opposite of the timid, plain, inexperienced Carrie and takes great delight at initiating a humiliating and frightening ordeal for Carrie in the showers. Chris is forced to serve detention and is also barred from attending the upcoming prom as punishment and the rest of the movie revolves around plotting revenge on Carrie by manipulating her friends and the school hunk to set her up for a shocking prank at the prom. This is a different style of bullying to most of the other characters. None of  it is physical, it’s all behind the scenes and unknown to Carrie.

Regina George from Mean Girls (2004) With girls like Regina stalking the halls of our modern schools, all I can say is that I’m glad I attended high school in the 80s as a male rather than in the 2000′s as a girl. It would be easy and simplistic to describe Regina as a bitch. She’s so much more than that. She is pure evil in the form of a hot blonde. She wields multiple bullying weapons in her reign of terror. In fact she has stocked up on the whole arsenal: verbal sniping, emotional sieging, tactical threats and intimidation, nuclear tipped slander and other devious or more direct bullying methods to put others down and keep herself on a pedestal where she can hog the spotlight. I’m scared of her.

Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series (2001-2009). If you had a name like Draco you’d be have a chip on your shoulder too. Even his surname makes it sound like he a maladjusted little prick. He’s the main antagonist in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince employs bigotry and snobbery in addition to devious, cunning use of magic to make life hell for Harry, who he feels isn’t of the right lineage to attend Wizard school. The son of Lucious and Narcissa he was raised to believe in the importance of “Blood Purity”, and Muggle-born wizards and witches simply do not belong at Hogwarts and should be denied education in magical practices.  He uses psychological means and verbal taunts to demean and denigrate his victims rather than physical thuggery, which he leaves up to his accomplices.

Bad kids movies: The case against “The Clone Wars”

This is an article I wrote at a Star Wars collecting forum in September 2008, discussing the release of The Clone Wars animated movie. I’ve been reflecting lately on the quality of what my kids watch and comparing it to what I used to watch. With my kids now coming to better appreciate Star Wars, should I introduce them to The Clone Wars movie and the animated series? Read on!

If you can't make it good, make it 3DKids shows are often written poorly, and the excuse is that kids don’t need good plots, just smarmy messages. And if they aren’t exposed to quality stuff, then they pretty much expect everything is supposed to be that bad, and think of it as normal.

When you consider how many kids (including me) were raised to think so many bad shows from the 70s and 80s are “classics” despite them being essentially just advertising disguised with some minimal plot elements, it shows part of the problem that film goers and TV audiences accept the poor state of film and TV writing as normal. They simply do not know any better.

Which, I suppose, is part of the point. Why would you invest in decent shows and writers if you didn’t have to? Why break away from the formulaic style if people don’t expect anything different?

Yet, then we decry the state of TV, and the horrible films, and the tissue thin plots and barely cognizant themes. People are willing to accept bad film and television, because they just don’t know that there can be anything better. Part of the problem is also Political Conservatism. Kids movies can’t have swear words now, or nudity let alone an intricate story line. Some of the best movies of my childhood have naughty words and boobies.

Childrens’ literature is fine wire to walk. You have to have plots and characters that resonate, and that are understandable, and expose kids to good writing. Reading well, they will be able to have a bar set to shoot for themselves. Same with TV and film. If you hold that bar low, that’s what they’ll shoot for. They may extend beyond it eventually, but the bulk is going to be mediocre at best, and if the bar is set low to begin with, then that is where it will stay.

As far as the animation goes, Pixar and old-school Disney (the original movies up to the early 90′s. None of the direct-to-video sequel garbage, certainly almost none of the new stuff) prove that childrens’ movies can be excellently made on almost all levels. When the possibility for quality is proven, it leaves studios no excuse for sub-standard crap, even if it’s sub-standard crap for kids.

Compare the Pixar movies to the Dreamworks /everyone else releases that inevitably copy them. Both studios ostensibly make kids’ movies, but Pixar produces wholly excellent stuff like clockwork, while Dreamworks’ films are all over the place and are sometimes quite amazingly shitty.

Clone Wars comes from Lucas’ inability to put together a compelling narrative or create characters we can sympathize with. It’s just another example of Lucas losing all track of what made Star Wars great to begin with. That Lucas used the same excuses for Clone Wars as he did for the prequel trilogy, and that the Clone Wars suffers from the same weaknesses as the prequel trilogy, indicates that it’s a failing of a movie as a movie, not just as a childrens‘ movie.

Maybe we all look at the original trilogy through rosy glasses, but I can still watch the first three films and enjoy them, and also the prequel trilogy though I accept some can’t stomach them. The special effects hold up, the lines are more memorable, the pacing is generally better, and it generally just felt… more cohesive. Not some hastily cobbled together mess which turns Star Wars into a horrendous whirling abyss of sulphurous feces. I maintain that the six movies by themselves are great. It’s every other SW movie which is bringing things down – Ewoks, Caravan of Courage, The Holiday Special, and the special editions. Those animated Cartoon Network SW CW cartoons do have some merit, at least for me.

You could argue “Well, you’re an adult. Your opinion doesn’t matter because it was made for kids.”

In conversations about movies, there is nothing that pisses me off more than a statement like this. (Well, if you were to say Keira Knightly is unattractive you’d see me go all Hulk on yo ass). What you’re saying is that if a movie is made for kids, then nobody need bother trying to make it good as long as kids enjoy it.

It’s this attitude that leads to cheap, crappy, mind-numbing, toy-selling Saturday morning cartoons and pure shit movies like “Shark Tale” and “The Country Bears” that have no standards beyond keeping kids still for 90 minutes.

Anyone setting out to make a kids movie should be aiming for Pixar/”The Iron Giant” quality. If you don’t get there, at least you tried. But the people who make kids movies without any ambition toward doing quality work that stands up to scrutiny are just out to make money off the fact that most parents have very low standards for their children’s entertainment.

Of course, in a world where “reality” shows and talent competitions dominate pop culture, these same parents clearly have low standards for their own entertainment too.

The point is, kids are not dumb, and adults shouldn’t underestimate their intellect. Being a “kid’s movie” is no excuse for lazy movie-making, something Pixar has proven over and over again. Dreamworks frankly just doesn’t “get it” – they think the key to success is running formulaic franchises into the ground (Shrek 3 anyone?). But Pixar enjoys massive commercial and artistic success by purposely avoiding formula, being inventive and original and talking to kids like real people (something Walt Disney used to do). I find it difficult to truly classify their movies as “kid’s films”, because actually, they’re not – they’re just great films that also happen to be very kid-friendly. Maybe that’s the example Dreamworks and Lucas should follow.

As for George Lucas, I give him all the credit in the world for being a great visionary and bringing the original Star Wars to life. At the same time, it’s very clear he’s lost his way these last 20 years, and he’s only a shadow of the artist he once was. In a funny way, the independence he so boldly sought was his undoing once it was granted.