Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Post-Script: Morality hazard

On that note, I will also ask: these bonuses supposedly had to be paid out of contractual obligation, that to deny them would have been illegal. I don't want to get into an argument (with myself, it looks like) on the difference between legality and morality, but it bears repeating that these people wrecked the economy, severely, and millions of people are suffering because of their recklessness. I doubt there is a law on burning down the economy, but there is a moral obligation that the bastards who pissed peoples' money away should be punished. Who among the executives responsible for this mess have resigned or been fired?

This isn't a matter of populist outrage, but simple accountability. These people fucked up, bad, and they need to be punished. To wring hands over the legal necessity of million dollar bonuses is to lose sight of the much bigger crime that made this such a contentious issue in the first place.

What was that about private market efficiency?

I find little to argue with in this post on the absurdity of AIG executives receiving six- and seven-figure bonuses after the bailout. Instead I'll posit a broader ideological question: the libertarian idea of the free market goes that government programs are wasteful, and since the market is based on offering a better product for a better price, it would be best to leave large sections of utilities in the hands of private companies to make them better at less cost to everybody else. But how the hell do pre-negotiated bonuses that are in no way tied to actual performance an efficient use of money? It sounds an awful like a powerful elite skimming off an enormous profit for themselves, which is the whole reason economic liberals think regulation and accountability are good ideas in the first place.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No dejected havior in this visage

Apparently a contemporary portrait of William Shakespeare, the first of its kind, has come to light, having sat in a private collection for 300 years. The few likenesses of Shakespeare we have were created after his death; this portrait is thought to have been the original from which the Folio picture is derived.

I'm still not sure how to react to it. There certainly is a resemblance between the two portraits. That it may have come from Southampton would in my mind strongly support its authenticity, given his patronage of Shakespeare. The outfit is quite fancy, but let us not forget Shakespeare was a very successful stakeholder in the Globe, and his family was able to afford a coat of arms in 1596. Dismissing its possible inaccuracy due to a tendency to idealize the subject of a painting during the Elizabethan era is silly; by that logic, what good are any portraits from that time period?

But this is hardly a game-changer if it is authentic. We don't know who commissioned it, and it is still, only a painting. Stratford would have us think it offers new insights into Shakespeare's purported bisexuality, but then again they would say that, wouldn't they? Their industry depends on continuous scholarly and popular interest in Shakespeare, regardless of whether or not there is any new information to have actually been unearthed. Bill Bryson has a refreshingly brief survey of how little we actually do know about the man, which made for a much-needed antidote the inflated (self-)importance and deification I saw in Stratford. Given how Shakespeare has been so Disneyfied by his town of birth, I lean towards caution rather than further bombast.

We have a better picture of who the man was, but it is a picture all the same.

EDIT: I will add, though, this is a considerably more dashing rendition than the Chandor portrait, and also turns his beard red.

Friday, March 6, 2009

And now I'm off to bed.

Good thing I don't have class until 3:20 PM.

Watchmen review *some spoilers*

My biggest concern going into Watchmen was that it wouldn't be able to stand on its own as a movie; that--especially due to the density of the source material--it would be too dependent on one being "in the know" to understand what's going on. Thankfully, that wasn't the case, though it'll be awhile before I myself can view it as a movie and not an adaptation. But indeed one of the film's greatest accomplishments is to have transferred Alan Moore's story intact. There were cuts, of course, but the heart of the story is there. One of the best parts for me was the opening credits, a montage of the various Minutemen and their history-changing deeds,deftly establishing in minutes the alternate 1985 the characters inhabit. It's a sequence which allowed Zack Snyder some license to play around with the material and not strictly follow the book.

This is, alas, one of the only parts of the film where such liberty is taken, and it is here that the film's achievement becomes its handicap: its fidelity, long thought impossible, becomes constrictive. For those who have read the book (I did two or three years ago, but I intentionally stayed away leading up to the film's release so I could have a relatively fresh view) there is, storywise, little surprising. Even the dialogue, much of it lifted from Moore's text, feels here stilted, as if the characters (and to only a certain extent the actors) would have been better served by being allowed to break free from their intricately sketched literary counterparts. There is a certain pre-ordained feel that overshadows even the best of the film.

Good thing there is so much done right; Patrick Wilson is the perfect everyman in Dan Dreiberg, and Jackie Hale Earley makes the gravelly voice that feels so weird with Christian Bale's Batman a natural fit for the wounded sociopath Rorschach, especially when the mask comes off. Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan was an inspired choice (one shudders to imagine Joel Silver's suggestion of Arnold Schwarzenneger having become reality). His stoic delivery and demeanor are perfectly suited for a character that views humanity with clinical, but not antisocial, detachment. I was concerned that the score would be one-dimensional, and while perhaps not particularly memorable, it was effective (here's hoping nothing was stolen). The additional use of popular music in the soundtrack, apparently lifted from the lyrics quoted in the chapter endings in the book, spans decades and genres and, together with the afforementioned credits sequence, gives the film a time-spanning feel, with my favorite such sequence, probably my favorite in the entire film PERIOD, probably being Dr. Manhattan's departure to Mars and flashbacks, underscored by a Phillip Glass piece from Koyaanisquatsi. There are certain parts that don't work (Malin Ackerman feels out of her league as Laurie, in the same way Katie Holmes did in Batman Begins), and the script feels somewhat clunky at times. But it's obvious everyone involved with the project gave it their all.

It's all so well done, but again, its conservative take on the material keeps it from greatness. The best adaptations--my friends mentioned Fight Club--take their source material and make something new with it. Because Watchmen is so beloved and so intricate, there is simply no way that it could have made any significant departures, however great, without getting ripped to shreds by the fans. Unfortunately, part of the magic of the original was its deconstruction of the comic book medium (done, for example, in the Curse of the Black Freighter scenes which are wisely jettisoned here; I'm curious as to how they'll be handled on the forthcoming DVD), which could only be done as a comic book. A more interesting direction for the movie to take would have been to examine the now-ubiquitous superhero films in the same manner. But it would have been too much, and maybe an impossible task.

Bringing Watchmen to the screen without sacrificing its story or (much of) its thematic integrity is a Herculean achievement; Alan Moore's works have been poorly served in previous adaptations, and we should all be glad that one has finally gotten the respectful treatment it deserves (V for Vendetta came close, but not close enough). At the same time, though, that very faithfulness blunts the enjoyment for one already familiar with the material. I thought it strange that so many of my friends wanted to read the graphic novel for the first time just before the film came out, and I think my concern was justified: the movie is probably much more enjoyable to the uninitiated, who then have the depths of the book to explore. As a movie, as its own work of art, I must reserve judgment: I've so focused on the adaptation aspect at this point that I can't without subsequent viewings see the movie objectively, and I have a feeling the film will appreciate for me, given enough time. For now, as an adaptation, it feels strangely safe. Yet considering the perils even making the film at all carried with it, this is about the best we could have hoped for.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pakistan Get Worse

A terror attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Pakistan left 8 people dead. Worse yet, the team had gone to play there as a gesture to encourage other international teams it was safe to travel and play there. This is the end of international cricket and Pakistan, at least for now.

This is bad for the country's economy and social scene, and potentially disastrous security-wise. I don't want to read too much into it, but there are going to be a lot of idle, pissed off Pakistanis with one less pursuit to keep them busy. Hopefully they'll channel their anger properly and begin ridding their country of the barbarians responsible for this.

Party like it's 1997

The DOW has dropped to levels not seen since 1997.

The economy was great back then! So that must mean the economy is great now!


Monday, March 2, 2009

Uh Oh

Official head of the GOP Michael Steele criticizes the unofficial head, Rush Limbaugh, and mere days later is forced to apologize.

Let's consider this for a moment. Rush Limbaugh is now the de facto leader of the opposition. This seems all fine and good for now; with the Republicans increasingly marginalized, Obama and his policies will gain that much more support. If those policies do not manage to get the economy on the right track by 2012 (2010??), people are going to turn to the batshit crazy Republicans (there's always the chance of a third party rising from the ashes of moderate conservatism, but it's not bloody likely to happen), and that's when scary things could start happening, on the order of Sarah Palin or some equally rabid culture warrior (Rush???) taking power.

My imagination has a way of getting carried away, but the point is this: in a worst-case scenario of the economy continuing to tank and the Democrats getting thrown out, what kind of Republican do you want in their place: one who disagrees with you, or one who HATES you?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Editing

Yesterday I finished cutting together the first part of my first ever scene (the second part of it has yet to be filmed). The editing process was a revelation; I had never considered how important fluid continuity and the passage of time are when putting together a film. That sounds dweeby and naive and obvious, but it's true.

The scene is a chase through my school's performing arts building, with one fellow, Schwarz, pursued to varying extents by three others, Brian, Sketch, and Walter. The three pursuers all split up, requiring cuts between four characters. Since three of them are running as fast as they can, this also means the cuts have to be quick; if I were to linger on any character too long, I would have to either backtrack in time when switching to another character in order for it all to make geographical sense, or, conversely, when I switched to the next character they would be much farther along than they were when we last saw them, and prompting a "where the hell are they reaction?" It's a difficult balancing act.

There's a part where Walter comes out of an elevator, sees Schwarz running to some distant stairs, and then turns around and gets back in the elevator. If possible I may see about doing pickup shot of that because the next time we see Walter, he's dashing down the hall downstairs and sees Schwarz burst through the door outside. As it is, the mental connections I (and anyone else who watches, I am sure) am making say that based on how long it would take Walter to get back down the elevator, he could not be where he is.

The lesson I can easily apply to the other scenes I'll be shooting for my senior project is, you can never have too much coverage. I'm using an HD video camera that's easily moveable, so there's no reason for me to not get the action from as many angles as I can.