Sunday, May 31, 2009

Review: Hang In There, John Connor


By Alec Horowitz

Two and a half stars

When I go to a used bookstore, I like to go through boxes of different series of books. It can often be hard to find the right kind of book, because the series of books are often out of order or missing books, and you can’t start a book series in the middle, or you will have no idea what’s going on in the book. The same could be said for the new Terminator film, “Terminator: Salvation”, which sounds like a franchise reboot. Don’t be fooled. “Terminator: Salvation” is not a franchise reboot, in a movie season chock full of them like “Star Trek” and “Friday the 13th”.

If your going to see “Terminator: Salvation”, you better know something about Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the smart but short lived show on the Fox Network to know what’s going on in Terminator: Salvation. Even as I check the Wikipedia page for Terminator Salvation, it says under plot: see Terminator 3.

Terminator: Salvation is directed by McG, who starts the film off with a man on death row named Marcus (Sam Worthington), who is convinced to donate his organs to charity. Year’s later; he wakes up as a Terminator himself. He meets John Connor (Christian Bale, cashing in his new status as a nerd icon). Connor is still leading the revolution against the machines. He doesn’t know he is a machine yet. He travels with a little girl who doesn’t speak and a man through the desert of deserted Los Angeles. There’s a scene where they go to an abandoned 7-11 (worst product placement of the year). As cool as the scene was, watching the giant robot attack, when one of the human fighters is talking, it’s hard to take him seriously when in the background; it says, “Try our New Slurpee." 7-11 shares honors with Sony for worst product placement. The world is in total ruins and Sony is still in business?

Anyway, the film can be fun. The giant robots chasing humans, as they try to escape slaughterhouses run by the robots. The romance between the death row inmates who’s now a robot and the human women who feels he is more than a machine and he has a soul. John Connor running, trying to get everyone out. McG is a good choice for this assignment. I’m glad this wasn’t a Michael Bay product. Fun, fun, fun but only if you understand the plot. There is a scene where Skynet is explained to Marcus by a computer. Still, they can explain as much as they want. If you don’t know the first few films or the short lived television series or both, your not going to get this film. It even has a fun but campy cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which serves as fan service. Most of this film is fan service.

Yes, it’s a good try at introducing a new generation to The Terminator, but while ‘Star Trek’ successfully re-booted the francise, this film is for followers and fans only. Maybe you should buy the video game before seeing this film. The truth is that either way, the experience will be about the same, and to have that experience, you don't even need to know a thing about the backstory. Just know how to aim your gun at a giant robot. You know, like the video game Call of Duty, except with a human/robot war instead of World War II.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Great Movies: Swept Away By The Wonders of Growing Up


By Alec Horowitz

‘Spirited Away’ is Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, which is saying a lot for a man who makes a masterpiece every time he makes a film. This is the second Great Movie column I have written about a Miyazaki film, the first being ‘Flying Into Adolescence’, about the wonderful ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’. As I will point out, yet again, our hero is a heroine. Miyazaki likes female characters. When asked about what inspired him to make this film, he said he went out to dinner with a friend, whose daughter came along with them. She seemed lost in her own world. The film starts indeed with a daughter, sitting in the backseat of her parent’s car, holding onto flowers, upset about having to go to a new school. She comes off as a spoiled kid.

Their car arrives in what her parents think is an abandoned amusement park. She is scared. She feels something wrong that her parents don’t see. Her parents walk into a line of booths. They quickly see free food, start to chow down and say ‘Don’t worry, daddy’s got a debit card’, and soon they are magically turned into pigs. Spirits start to come out and ten year old Chihiro is lost, and now a temporary orphan. The spirits are colorful and a testament to animation. She meets a boy who works there named Haku, who tells Chihiro he has known her since she was very young. She is baffled but too scared at the moment to ask questions. She starts to fade. Haku gives her a piece of food to keep her strength up.

She soon meets new friends and foes. A bathhouse girl named Lin, who becomes like an older sister to her and an old man with many legs who works in the boiler room named Kamajii. One of the most charming scenes early on in the film is when Lin tells Chihiro to say thank you to Kamajii for giving her a job. It’s a small scene, but it’s the first scene that shows growth. Maybe Chihiro’s parents didn’t teach her to say thank you but Lin will.

The film’s music is lovely because the Japanese Philharmonic performs it. The song ‘One Summers Day’ is haunting, as it begins with just a few notes of a lovely piano. Chihiro soon meets her first villain, Zeniba who takes away her name, after she is forced to ask for her first job and refuses to leave till she gets it. If she can do the job, Zeniba will let her family go. If she doesn’t, she will work at the spirit resort forever.

Chihiro meets another villain. The villain is a spirit of greed. Though, he doesn’t stay a villain and even he can change when he finds somewhere that he is accepted, but I’m going to give away too much. I will just say there is a scene where he offers her gold. She refuses to take it; instead just saying his thank you is enough. She is growing up. Growing up is what the film is all about. This is Miyazaki’s masterpiece. I’m not going to give away too much than I already have. Expect to say I hope you find this film as wonderful, haunting and memorable as I did.

I remember seeing this film in the theater. In the United States, the film was released by Disney. People assumed because it was animation, it was just for kids, but the theater ended up with many screaming and crying kids. Japanese animation, or as they call it, 'anime' isn't often made just to please children. The Japanese understand that animation is a artform. They understand that it is a art. Hayao Miyazaki understands that animation is a artform where you can find magic in the quiet, the dark and yes, even the cute.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Killing Piper: A Sick Sad Tale of Virtual Insanity


By Alec Horowitz

So, recently a story came on CNN about a middle school aged girl who had become a victim to virtual insanity. Some girls in her school made a video called “5 Ways to Kill Piper”, and posted it on the Internet. This happened in a middle school in Washington State. The video picked up steam and hits. The girls’ set the video to a song by Hannah Montana called “True Friend”. The mother of the girl called up the parents on the girls, upset for her daughter’s safety. Either they where shocked about their daughters behavior or just went “Oh, girls will be girls!” So the problem becomes quite clear. Bullying isn’t new. Though, virtual insanity is relatively new. Bullying isn’t new. Though, there’s something different about this new generation of bullies. This story is so disturbing in so many ways.

First of all, the idea that kids feel that it’s not enough to keep their bullying activities to themselves. They now have to do it on a global scale. This is mixed blessing in a way. In one way, it causes permeate humiliation on the poor girl who is the target of the bullying. She now has to be publicly spit in the face. On the other hand, some reporter at the Associated Press thought this make a good story, picked it up and now has turned the tables on the girls who made the video. Lesson for the girls: never put content on the Internet that backfires on you like this. The lesson is that when you put out content on the internet like this, some journalist who got bullied as a kid will find it, pick it up, syndicate it and turn the tables on you by turning your cruel little prank into an AP story.

Our kids turn into little monsters. The middle school has released a report saying the middle school girls have shown remorse for what they have done. Their parents should show remorse too. People are stupid. Stupid people breed stupid kids. So, they decided to post it on the web. Though, Piper will have the last laugh. This story isn’t going away. I wish the school released the name of the girls who did this. They deserve a college administer to do a Google search and see the horrible thing they have done. Yes, people deserve another chance. Though, Piper didn’t ask to have her name released. These girls released her name on the web through a cruel and sad prank that has damaged this poor girls esteem. They should now have the honor of joining piper on the Internet.

Before this went down, a girl killed herself because of a prank pulled over her over MySpace. Though, maybe it’s not just kids. Maybe it’s the Internet in general. After all, that prank was pulled by grown women. Lori Drew got the girl to kill herself over MySpace in 2006. As of 2009, her sentencing has been delayed. The trolls over on the forum, 4 Chan, have declared her the person your most likely to see in hell. For those of you who don't understand internet lanuage, trolls are the people who pull pranks on the web. If the lowest form of life on the web, trolls, over on, of all sites, 4Chan, hate your guts, you know you did something very bad.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Movies: She's My Rushmore


By Alec Horowitz

The ending to the Wes Anderson’s d├ębut film “Rushmore” says so much without much dialogue. The scene where the teacher Max has pursuing, trying desperately to make his adult crush work and avoid acting his own age, where she takes off his glasses, in the after party of the play Max wrote. She looks at Max. Max thinks this is the fulfillment of his crush. Though, she knows better. She just sees a screwed up and confused kid, and she understands, though he can be intense and seem slightly scary at times, he’s just an innocent kid. Maybe it won’t hurt to dance with him. Wes Anderson makes this scene with nothing but expressions. “Rushmore” is a movie whose script has the light subtlety of a J.D. Salinger novel. It’s the simple story of a kid who’s too intense for his own good, and how he’s slowly coming to terms with this.

Max’s (Jason Swartzman) is a mini wannabe genius. He sits by the cemetery where his mother is buried, and writes plays on a typewriter. His dad is a simple barber. At first in the film, he lies about his father’s profession, saying he’s a doctor, as he sits on the benches and reads “The Powers That Be” by David Halberstam. When Rosemary (Olivia Williams), the teacher he has a crush on, asks him where he is applying to college, he says he’s applying to Yale, Harvard, with Columbia as his safety school. His dreams are big, but he’s also the worst student at Rushmore Academy, the private prep school he is on in scholarship. There is a montage of the clubs Max has created at the private schools. There are many, and it seems creating clubs might be all he does. His academic adviser suggests to him he focuses more on his studies instead of the extra circulator activities. Max asks if he can give him some C’s and “let it slide like old times.” His academic adviser looks baffled at him, watching a teenage boy use the word “old times.”

Max is obsessive and focused. He is so focused and obsessive. He is like a nerd version of Holden Caulfield. He first sees Rosemary teaching her class of kindergarteners, and he is smitten. He is in love. He starts to go after school to visit her, and quickly secures her as his tutor. Though, the tutoring sessions are mostly he not really needing help, but having long discussions on his limited and intense range of topics. He is obviously trying to flirt with her, but doesn’t really know how. Max has trouble making friends, or actually is so focused he doesn’t even try. His own friend is a kid much you than him, whose friendship is based on the fact that he joins the clubs he created. His friend is named Drik and he is the first to figure out Max has a crush on Rosemary. He warns Max against pursuing this, but once Max has an obsession, he doesn’t stop.

Max develops a father son type relationship with Herman Blume {Bill Murray), a intelligent who is disappointed in his sons, two boys who love to wrestle. Max is disappointed in his actual family as well. He considers his father a “simple barber. Though, their relationship quickly takes a turn for the worst as they start to scam against each other trying to win the heart of Rosemary. Bill Murray breaks away from his high budget roles in this films, and starts his side career as a independent actor, which would lead to movies like ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘Broken Flowers’.

What is so wonderful about his performance in this film is that we feel we are looking at a adult version of Max and Herman is looking at a child version of himself. Herman and Max clash. Than they make up. Rosemary, in the end, sees Max had bought Herman, her and them together. Max learns it’s OK to just be friends, and the three oddball friends look at each other. Max goes to dance with his friend, Rosemary, and Herman goes to dance with Max’s age appropriate girlfriend.