Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Literartist Hits 50,000 Views!

Will keep this real short.


I honestly didn’t think I’d reach this milestone anytime soon. I also hadn’t set a timeframe for myself when I began because The Literartist bubbled from my own self-interests, particularly the need to express myself. Along the way, however, article after article, I noticed that my writing seemed to trickle its way down to certain audiences who wanted more. I still find it hilarious that my most popular post to date, the spine of this blog really, is my review of a Beyoncé song—"The Best Thing I Never Had" with 10,636 views alone. The month I released my critique on Queen B was the month I realized that a couple of hidden literary engines, buried deep inside the Literartist’s vaults, had suddenly roared to life. Even more enlightening is knowing where my readers are coming from. Sri Lanka, my home country, accounts for less than 6% of total readership; while curiously, this site has attracted readers from a 157 countries to date including Israel, Iceland, Belize, Sudan, and even one visit each from Rwanda and Burma (Myanmar).

I express my sincerest gratitude to you, the avid reader, for helping The Literartist hike through its ongoing journey of expression. Some of you have been with me and “it” from the start, and some of you are reading this announcement as your very first post. Regardless, I thank you for your visit(s) and for your support. I encourage you to sign up for updates on the top left via email, and to also become members and follow the site using your Google/other accounts (scroll down to the Followers widget on the left). I also pledge to you that together we will make this milestone the stepping stone for sprinting to greater heights. There are a lot more treats coming your way in the form of articles, reviews, pages, and interactive user interfaces via social media. Feedback is always welcome and encouraged. Tell me what you like, and what you don’t, that which you want and that which you won’t. Once again, THANK YOU dear reader. Without you this would not be this. You are truly my Literaudience. So read on! Adieu.

Monday, September 8, 2014

To Kill Another Person


How does a human rip the pumping life out of another? And then have the conscience to toss that victim's sacred soul into the air like some rag cloth?

Knife - PublicDomainPictures by Pixabay
Why is this act so inconceivable to me, to you, to us? Is it that we were brought up right, that we are so anchored down by empathy, ethics and morality to feel so alien when pushed up against this barbaric idea? Or have we not yet been confronted with the possibility? Even if we ever were, I still think we would emerge from the trial the greater person, victoriously hoisting our righter choice: to save.

So if the problem, then, is not "us", it has to be "them". The irony is that the "them" is a conjoined part of our larger "us". They breathe the same air as you and me, and occupy the same physical spaces on this one finite Earth. Yet between us and them dwells difference. Why?

Politicians become killers, their hands sticky with blood, when they bless wars. Soldiers turn killers when they jog into the thick of battle. Militants ripen more killers when they renegade against their foes. And we, the baffled harmless bystanders, become paint scabs on walls, watching with wide eyes, while we crack from disbelief as we witness it: The darkest nature of human nature—the ability to kill.

Commons Wikimedia 
Did Colonel Tibbets, the pilot of Enola Gay, really know what he had nesting in his undercarriage as he cruised through the strong icy headwind before dropping Little Boy at 08:15 A.M. on Hiroshima: 80,000 people dead. When a psycho ex-wife revengefully stabs her husband, does she know she is shutting off his breath as her knife twists in and out, slicing gut, muscle, and artery, bleeding the soul. 1 dead.  When a few individuals of a roused up mob in Aluthgama open fire on their own Sri Lankans and their bullets sear through bone, marrow, and skull, do they know they’ve robbed the lives of their victims: 3 dead. When Hamas launches a cluster of rockets that are vaporized by the Iron Dome, and when Israel's jets streak through the breaking dawn, raining fire bombs on a dome-less wedged strip, do they blink twice from their actions? 2000+ dead.

Humans have killed, are killing, and will keep killing humans. But why, damn it?

A large existential question to wrestle with, and one that cannot be pinned down here. It is like trying to open Pandora's box to retrieve a precious truth soaked with reason. Because we cannot open it in this blog, this is more like sinking your arm into the box to scoop out one serving of truth so that we can then ladle it out, onto this article, to create meaning. My hope is that the essence of truth can flavor the whole.

Religiously, human acts are ordered to be pristine. The Bible remarks that "You shall not murder" (Matthew 5:21). The Torah specifies that "You shall not murder" (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). The Veda that "you must not use your God-given body for killing God's creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever” (Yajur Veda 12.32). In Buddhism, of the Five Precepts the first is “No Killing”. Likewise, the Quran's elucidates that "whoever kills a soul... - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely" (5:32).

Tree Bark Texture - Deviantart
As a young adult I never understood what it meant when it said "it is as if he had slain mankind entirely". I thought it was being rhetorical or melodramatic until I heard an explanation. It warns of how the death of the one leads to the death of entire generations. Generations that could have been but will now never be. For example, that the murder of a young man prevents his child(ren) from being born, which then prevents his offspring's offspring from being born and so on. When the initial branch is cut, the bloodline meant to course through future branches will never flow. In essence, the killing of the one is the killing of the sacred lineage of humanity.

So why do we kill? The motives are many. Here are some broad strokes I've copied from others' writings. I take no credit for their work or their research. The remainder of this article contains direct extractions from two sources that I found to be very interesting and accessible. I have condensed them for the interest of time but their full versions can be read by clicking the original links below.

The first is from the writings of Dr. Sohail, who notes that unlike animals, who kill only in self defense or when they are hungry, humans can display malignant violence (which means humans add meanings to their violence). In his words:

If we review human murders we can classify them into the following seven groups based on emotional, social, religious, economic or political motivation:

1. PERSONAL REVENGE

2. SERIAL KILLERS

Wikipedia
Those who kill strangers, we call them serial killers and mass murderers. Serial killers, who were usually physically, emotionally and sexually abused as children, became revengeful against a particular group, be they blacks or women, gays or Hispanics, whom they killed indiscriminately until they were caught by police. Many such serial killers have psychopathic and sociopathic personalities.

3. SOCIAL VIOLENCE OF GANGS

As more and more people move from villages to cities and adopt an urban lifestyle, they face the pains of migration, social alienation and unemployment and some of them become involved in violent gangs. It is fascinating how these gangs provide a sense of identity and belonging to young men and women who feel lost, confused and isolated in big cities.

4. MENTAL ILLNESS

Some suffer from schizophrenia, manic depressive illness and paranoid psychosis. When these emotionally disturbed people feel threatened and attacked, they may think they need to kill before they are killed. Such people, rather than going to prison, are sent to hospitals for psychiatric treatment.

Harvest of Death by Family Tree Magazine
5. POLITICAL / NATIONAL VIOLENCE

As nationalism became popular in the West, states created national armies. Over the centuries, soldiers in the uniform of one country killed only the soldiers of the enemy army. As guerrilla war became popular, both sides have been killing innocent civillians. Some call it using human shields while others call it collateral damage. Human beings can be executed by their own governments, under capital punishment laws ordered by the courts. These are murders committed by legalized state violence.

6. VIOLENCE OF RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS

Some of those killings are done to create theocratic states. Many such murders are ordered by religious leaders who have charismatic and cultish personalities.

7. INTERNATIONAL VIOLENCE

In the recent past, governments have been sending their armies to other countries and invading sovereign states in order to topple their governments; they have killed innocent civilians and then rationalized their murders in the name of democracy, human rights and freedom. We are all aware that they are economic wars aimed at establishing the aggressor’s military presence all over the world, selling weapons and ensuring access to the conquered countries’ resources.

Similarly, “How Stuff Works.com” (an unconventional choice of a source, I know) also gives us further insight into the condition of violent consciousness. They write that:

A person with antisocial personality disorder feels no empathy toward others. This psychological designation includes people we call psychopaths and sociopaths. They feel very little emotion at all and may seek out dangerous or thrilling situations to get an emotional response. They tend to be deceitful and feel no shame or guilt for misleading others. While they may recognize right from wrong, they may not care about the distinction. Many serial killers and mass murderers fall into this designation -- they kill because they lack the inhibitions and empathy the rest of us possess.

What about acts of genocide? How do societies justify wiping out an entire subsection of people? According to a hypothesis posed by Ervin Staub, genocide is a result of a combination of environmental hardships and psychological coping. Staub suggests that when times are hard, people look for an excuse or scapegoat. That can include identifying a subsection of the population as being responsible for the hardship the community experiences. Wiping out that population is a way to cope with the hardship.

What about the rest of us? What could drive us to kill? Since our decisions are based upon both emotions and reason, we can sometimes favor one over the other. In emotionally charged situations, we may allow ourselves to act impulsively, ignoring rationality. These so-called crimes of passion can happen between people with strong emotional bonds. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 30 percent of all female murder victims were killed by their spouses. Another 18.3 percent were killed by ex-spouses. Only 8.7 percent of all female victims were killed by a stranger [source: Bureau of Justice Statistics].

DR. SOHAIL’S CONCLUDING COMMENTS:
 
Peace Please by IAP Community
It is sad to realize that violent consciousness is on the rise and that the borders between just and unjust wars have blurred. Even in the 21st century we have not risen above a tribal mentality. I am afraid that if we do not develop peace consciousness and do not feel compassion for all of humanity, we might commit collective suicide and may not evolve to the next stage of human evolution.

With all that said, I'll leave you with this. I love being left alone in peace. I think others would too. Peace people, peace. Adieu.


Text extracts from:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Am I Right or Right?


At the center of your being,
you have the answer;
you know who you are,
and you know what you want
-Lao Tzu
PublicDomainPictures - Pixabay
I have always pondered the concept of what it means to be accepted by others. Either consciously or otherwise, we constantly judge others. That judgment is succeeded by selective treatment to one another. And thus, our own concept of what is right or wrong and acceptable or unacceptable is born. Our own concept is so ingrained in our lives and cultures that we forget it exists. We forget that sometimes it is simply an opinion and not a moral standard. We forget to consider what makes us think and perceive events, people or places the way we do. We forget equity in our strive for equality. We simply forget. My thought is that we reside in a biased world that is governed by persons' ideologies of what it means to "do the right thing" or what it means to be "accepted." One would assume that in today's world, it is much different compared to the past. That we are moving past prejudices and negative perceptions. While that may seem true to a certain extent, I see it as simply transferring to a different phase. It's not entirely eliminated but exists in a different shape or form, possibly unknown.


Cristiana Beta - Clique
Being an accounting major, I am inclined to draw upon what might be considered a very geeky example of the topic at hand. So, a professional was relating a story to me regarding his accounting professor who was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The professor found two students cheating on an exam and as an experiment asked two simple questions from the class the next day. The first was, if a CPA was found guilty of fraud involving a client's business, would you choose among 4 answers that ascended in severity ranging from giving a warning to sent to prison. The students chose either c or d. The second was, if you found one of your classmates cheating on an exam, would you choose among the 4 answers with the same format ranging from giving a warning to dismissed from the university. The students chose either a or b. While the two scenarios are different in an obvious sense, they are alike in many ways. Therefore, what makes the CPA more wrong or less right than the student? While the outcome is an interesting phenomenon of how we make a judgment based on the facts given, limited as they are, it is not unexpected. We can expect people to make exceptions for others or themselves. People's perceptions and reasoning changes based on the factors affecting it. It's like the flowing waters of a river, changing its course along the way.


Geralt
Like many kids growing up, I let myself be governed by others' perceptions of who I was. I felt it was necessary to be accepted by those whose acquaintances I paid an unduly high emphasis on. Thinking back, I cannot fathom why I would succumb to another's opinion of me, but I could understand the rationale behind my actions. I wanted to be a part of what I thought was the "in" group. It's an age old system of using popularity as a determinant of what's accepted and not. Therefore, it wasn't until I was forced out of my comfort zone and realized that what seemed unacceptable was perfectly alright, that my thought process changed. I thrived and continued to do so by being who I wanted to be instead of being who I thought I should be. In some people's eyes' I may still be a nobody, but in those that mattered, I was and will always be somebody. However, not many kids may come to the realization that they are in fact somebody, if they simply took away the factors that held them from being so. As the famous words by Eleanor Roosevelt goes, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

Wikipedia 
The song 'Cool Kids' by Echosmith released in May 2013, brings up a similar point. It portrays a guy and a girl who simply want to be noticed. The lyrics go, "I wish that I could be like the cool kids, 'Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in." While the lyrics did a poor job in the creativity department, people still connected with the theme and the song became relatable. It's popularity surged and landed a spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 2014.  Self worth is a sensitive topic for some. Their whole life revolves around questioning if they've done the right thing or what others will think of them. So, for the next person that doubts their self worth because of the judgments of the universal "other", remember, time is better spent being who you are than chastising yourself for it.

This piece was penned by a guest writer, exclusively for the Literartist. Let us know your thoughts below

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Movie Review


Commons - WikiMedia
For being the designated underdog of superhero movies, “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) comes out swinging like a top dog—putting to shame some of the larger more well-known Marvel superhero flicks like “Iron Man 2” and “Thor 2”—sequels that lumbered to the ground from the weight of their own overblown egos. We all love a good underdog story, and this was excellent.

Once again the reactionary disclaimer lives in the level of entertainment one anticipates. If one strolls into the theater looking for medium to light entertainment, thou shalt be rewarded profusely. If one struts in, however, nose in air, expecting another Nolan-ian epic—then strut back out, please—because you must be really thickheaded to not know what you’ve come for in the first place.

The movie is an amalgam of many idiosyncratic parts that work. The diverse cast is solid, and their chemistry blossoms. What the flick does right is juggle its varieties like a seasoned clown, tossing emotion, humor, action, music and story up in the air in fluid spirals to create the appealing effects of feel-good summery entertainment. Ultimately, we find that we respect this clown when we clap for applause and stand for our ovations.

Chris Pratt - Wikipedia
Directed by James Gunn, “Guardians” begins with the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a child in the 80s who faces an early tragedy with the loss of his mother to cancer. This is then followed by his alien abduction by space rogues. Zoom 26 years ahead and we have a hunk of a Quill whose main appeal is that he is, just, downright “cool”. He’s witty, rebellious, handsome, coolheaded and capable. Soon he is joined by stars Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Dave Bautista (Drax) and Vin Diesel (Groot) who then team up to prevent Lee Pace (Ronan), the manically genocidal dark lord, from mowing down planets via an Orb—a conveniently super powerful object that can help a loon to do this (kind of reminds you about nuclear warheads getting into the wrong hands doesn’t it). These characters are weird; yet they work. The weakest of them is Ronan, who is a bit cardboard-ish for a villain, looking like some misbegotten cross between Dan Brown’s albino monk Silas, and George Lukas’ Darth Vader. Unfortunately he inherited neither their brains nor impressionable auras.

Buried in this story, like a nugget, is an allegory. It is for our present day, and it touches on: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, genocide, diplomacy, war and more. Strewn across are also some fantastic lines that resonate deeply with the human condition. So this movie does have a sub-level of serious content, but this is then quickly caked with light handed entertainment and baked for blockbuster digestion.

Pixabay
Not as overly reliant on slow-motion and freeze frames, the action sequences were good. Fast and snappy, it kept with the lightening pace of the movie. Quick edits at times did rob the movie of chances to explore character development (like in the initial scene of the two sisters where we are robbed of the deeper context) but it also kept us zipping through the story without any time for yawns. With all the time for laughter, the humor was witty, self-deprecating and genuinely funny—this could be the funniest Marvel flick yet, head-to-head only with “The Avengers” (2012). Originally, I was under the impression this would be a satire on superhero movies, but it turned out to be more meta critical of itself. Sympathy kills comedy, but “Guardians” was still able to make the movie rather touching at times while allowing us a grin or two, helping build on our fondness for Quill (or Star-Lord), Groot, Rocket and the others. The fact that this movie successfully pulled off two four minute emotional scenes was commendable, unlike the zero count seen in some other Marvel movies.

Public Gallery - Space
I’m not much of a space sci-fi fan, so the backdrops and interstellar landscapes might have passed over my head. The trailers too didn’t pay proper homage to the essence of this movie and I think it does remind us to not judge movies based on their trailers, if at all. But when, of course, you hear sounds like “Hooked on a Feeling,” “The Piña Colada Song,” and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” all seems forgiven. The soundtrack is fantastic as it tastefully loops in some pleasantries from our bygone decades. I mean seriously, when you have the good ole music from the 70s and 80s playing in the background, you use them used for unconventionally awkward scenes by Star-Lord (you’ll see/remember what I mean) there’s not much you can do wrong, regardless of how out of place it all feels.

And with that, “Guardians” merits a solid 8.7 for doing things right, with its own crazy antics. Not your typical Marvel movie, but with the stack of stale units Marvel has given us recently, that really isn’t a bad thing. Adieu.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shopping Thrifty in our Shared Economy




“Hey, Macklemore! Can we go thrift shopping?” squeaks the excited little darling at the thought of being taken by the grownup to the thrift store down the road to shop for secondhand treasures.

For a song about being cheap “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis went on to be the most successful track on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs Chart (source: BET). With over 6 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, this anthem for thriftiness made everything but spare change. Apart from all the thumping bass, the rhymes, the lyrics and euphonic melodies, what fascinates us and beckons our appreciation is how savvy the song really is. Every time I hear: “Only got twenty dollars in my pocket” I chuckle at the honesty. You and I both know what that is like: to scratch inside empty pockets. In a pop culture landscape plagued with the flashy shine of materialism, product placement and ostentatious pageantry, finally, arrives a musical message that is street-smart and sings difference.

By Moxlyn
The song is a social critique, and it jabs at how mindlessly we acquire the “things” we want. Commercialistic market forces in conjunction with mainstream media and consumerism constantly reinforce our ideas on how to buy “things”. They keep telling us that we only want something that is the “latest”, the “greatest” and the “newest” product and brand; and that to do so we also only need the Amazons, the Walmarts and Saks Fifth Avenues. Macklemore’s song grabs this notion by the collar and turns it inside out. He gives us a jarring way to think about how fun and cool it might be, instead, to shop elsewhere with bags studded with wisdom and thrift.        

In an interview with MTV, Macklemore says: “Rappers talk about, ‘Oh, I buy this and I buy that,’ and ‘I spend this much money and I make it rain,’ … [but] this is the kind of record that's the exact opposite. [The song “Thrift Shop” is] the polar opposite of it. It's kind of standing for, like, ‘let's save some money, let's keep some money away, let's spend as little as possible and look as fresh as possible at the same time.” Elsewhere, he remarks “[It’s about] how much can you save? How fresh can you look by not looking like anybody else?”

This revisionist thinking is so refreshing! It speaks to the idea of the peer-to-peer economy, or the “sharing economy.” This is an economic and social system that is built around the sharing of goods and services. It removes the “new” purchasing aspect and brings in the love of reusing to the equation. Some estimates put the value of this economy at almost $30 billion. In college we had book swaps to rebel against the hefty price tags of shiny retail shrink wrapped textbooks. At home we’ve had yard sales. And in the papers we still have classified ads. “Thrift Shop” reminded me of the same concept. The skyrocketing fame seen of Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are the result of harnessing the power of the shared economy. 

Wikimedia
“I’m gonna pop some tags” he sings. Well, why not? Why not save money by getting what you need for cheaper? Why not save the planet by reducing the waste from newly produced goods by reusing the stock of existing goods? Why not feel good from finding a steal of a deal? Why not feel refreshingly satisfied about helping someone else with a clean swap? Why not contribute to earthly sustainability in your own micro way? Exactly. There is no reason not to.        

When I read about WasteGate the first thought that came to my head was this song “Thrift Shop”. It helped me imagine the possibilities that could await us. Technology reduces transaction costs and makes sharing easier. This beta version makes me hopeful that we truly are in the midst of something larger than ourselves; if anything, about what this unique platform can unleash by tapping into our own, ever expanding shared economy—the same thrifty economy that Macklemore raps about.

Snap. Show. Swap. Earn. Do it again.

S. Jones - Flicker
With platforms like WasteGate, no longer will little darlings have to ask “Hey! Can we go thrift shopping?” No. With innovations like this the “can we?” disappears and the “we can” appears. Now it’s simply “Hey! Let’s DO thrift shopping” without all the extra effort of the physical going. This is the revolution of technology—the revolution that allows us to go forth and better ourselves and our communities in ways that are simple, doable, and user-friendly.

This is why we hope; and this is also why we WasteGate.

To learn more about WasteGate visit: http://www.wastegateapp.com/

Visit WasteGate's official blog here: http://wastegating.com/ 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014): Movie Review


While a transformer might be at its best when assembling, this movie is most deft at collapsing. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014), directed by the one and only Michael Bay, begins somewhat promisingly but then quickly corrodes in front of our eyes from rusty writing, tin hollow plot, awkward jokes, and mechanical acting.

Megavalve
I have never not liked a Transformers movie until, possibly, this one? In the past, when critics would criticize previous versions and hurl barbed jibes at Bay I would gawk at their audacity. What could one not like about these movies? You come to watch a movie series like this to see things blow up and robots fight; to stare at the ultra cool machines we knew as kids and see how they morph, clink and blast their ways through to entertain us like big blockbusters damn well should. If you wanted intricate drama and plot complexity go watch “The Hours” (2002). To me the Transformers series were well filmed, sexy, witty, and had much to appreciate. But maybe now I can possibly see why it could also disappoint. This one lacked the spark.

It goes beyond dealing with change management, I promise, although, all the changes in casting do have an effect. Is it just me or after SNL made fun of Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager) is he hard to take seriously anymore? Did we ever take him seriously? For the life of me I keep blanking out on his past performances because they all seem to be replicas of one another: angry, suspicious, macho and eyebrow-frowning. There were as many flat jokes and failed one-liners in this movie as there were artillery misfires. Nowhere near as witty and loveable as Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), Wahlberg was onerous and painful to watch: ever ranting and ever unable to go beyond a 2D cutout. We blame bad writing as well Mark, not just you.

Aaron Escobar
Pelt away Nicola Peltz (Tessa Yeager) and bring us back Foxx—at least she had some spunk to her character and not a helpless “Daddy! Help!” talking mannequin. And the wimpy character of Shane (Jack Reynor) who reminds you of a lesser version of Christopher Hemsworth was more of a liability than a hero. How could you write a character so badly; and in what earthly logic would a father accept “that”, a surrendering buffoon who can only race, for a daughter. Meanwhile Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is too preoccupied dragging around the Seed from place to place like a sack of potatoes which was an outrageous waste of a good actor. The best performance goes to Optimus Prime, because that’s probably the aggregate level of quality we got from this cast. His deep archaic voice, mythic sounding words and his flashes of assaulting action pleased, reassured and comforted me. I like him; he’s badass.  

Operation Upshot-Knothole - Fed.
Someone should also call a plumber because the plot holes were dripping story matter with spillage seeping all over the theater. One moment the car goes through a store glass window only to blast out of a building’s garage? Another moment they race through a corn field and miraculously take some green exit to the local highway? I'm surprised at Bay’s sloppiness with logic and transitions—these are the basics folks! The flow was so choppy we could see the chops hack into the film. Equally audacious was the orgy of product placement. Product placement is best used when viewers internalize the marketing subliminally, not when someone thrusts a Beats Pill speaker by Dr. Dre in your mouth or when blue Bud Light bottles start rolling on the road and the protagonist has to do a “bottoms up” on it. And of course having a burnt Victoria’s Secret bus come crashing through will make women load up on lingerie.  

But still loyal to its core, the redeeming qualities of this disappointment resided in the A-grade line of specials effects. Michael Bay is a master and here he did deliver. It consisted of much of what we’ve already seen and that’s fine with me. The attention to detail paid by the CGI complimented by the aspect ratio: 1.90:1 (IMAX version) and 2.35: 1 made for a fine viewing. I could watch the Autobots thrash and wrestle all night. From the days of “Transformers” (2007) we were most fascinated by the transformations themselves—the sounding of metal clinks, vehicle parts making up the mass of the robot and how they click, lock and interlock, doubling in themselves to make the machine—all very realistic.

Akatsukirocket854
And yet, even with this, Bay pushes himself too much. By the second hour and the seventh explosion one can tell the clumsy difference between a staged runway blast sequence consisting of stray fireworks and what a real explosion caused by multiple demolition triggers must look like. Also distasteful was the look of “extinction” themed robotic dinosaurs. I liked the concept but when one looks at how badly designed they are, with an abnormally swollen head for the T-Rex and a ball of steely spikes that one could barely make out for a Stegosaurus. Poor Megatron meanwhile looked like the equivalent of a bumbling middle aged pot bellied man armored in Transformium with uncanny resemblance to Iron Man’s hole. There was something degradingly insipid, stocky and short about him that robs him of his previous towering grandiosity.  

For someone who loves these movies, this was a scrappy disappointment. We know of another to come, our only hope is that Bay will listen and improve come the time. At the time of this positing this will be the lowest rating given for a movie: 5/10. Adieu. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Godzilla (2014): Movie Review


Godzilla is the only thing good about “Godzilla” (2014). The Guardian's Paul Mainnes etches it brilliantly when he writes "at least they got the monster right" for his opening line. The trailer teased; the film teased even more. Too many times we were taken to the edge of the cliff, always at the cusp of glimpsing the legendary kaiju, and then forced to look away into darkness. Seductive is the spectacle’s enormity, and the anticipation of the gaze. The larger-than-life scale of the movie, with a budget of over $160M, commands a mouth-opening awe from gawkers like us: the tiny individual tots that look up greedily with necks craned like wide-eyed New York City tourists bewildered only by greatness.

It begins with historic flashes of atomic milestones followed by spots of folklore and legendary sightings of the prehistoric King of the food chain. Directed by Gareth Edwards, and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle) and Bryan Cranston (Dr. Joe Brody), the story stretches open with Dr. Brody’s conspiracy drenched hunches. The truth-knowing scientist is on a mission to unveil government secrets and go behind the long list of past nuclear test cover-ups. His son, Ford, grows up to lift the weight of the movie, becoming the designated Hollywood heartthrob whose sole aim is to keep alive the unrelenting agency of Man’s perseverance against adversity.

Excavated from Ishiro Honda's 1954 film “Gojira”, this present day rendition has the creature from the legends shaken and woken from his deep cozy sea bed, but not alone. No sir, instead, he is joined by Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) that have their own separate agendas for survival. Godzilla awakes, knows his mission, and heads to location after location—Tokyo, Hawaii, San Fran and Vegas, all perfectly crowded metropolitan areas, to devastate and save. But this Godzilla, to our delightful surprise, has a more complex role (as complex as you can thrust upon on a gigantic swimming mutant dinosaur-dragon). What I liked most is that it all rips into a different storyline, reminding one of that 1998 cartoon series which aired on Fox—“Godzilla: The Series” where Godzilla has an affinity of sorts with the humans. 

While the 1998 version that starred Matthew Broderick gave us a Godzilla that was almost stealthily graceful, looking more like a limber Tyrannosaurus rex magnified by 10, Edward’s beast is different. More loyal to the origins, he is reminiscent of those Japanese versions we can instantly recall from back in the day: bulkier in the stomach, stockier in the body, while smaller and boxier in the head. The meticulous CGI, expended in reviving him, is fantastic. His menacing look is what terrifies and also entices us. It really is a misinterpretation, stemming from our own biases, to judge what good and bad looks like with first impressions. While we know that Godzilla is a metaphor for the humanistic and environmental repercussions of nuclear acts of the past, the paradox of fascination and terror intertwine tightly. The etched scars of ancientness are evident on his aged face, allowing him to exhibit a prehistoric terrifying magnificence, spurred by human contamination. If one thing is for sure, he certainly doesn’t seem thrilled about being woken up by them MUTOs—we know.

Thick in the point-of-view filming, there is so much of veiled storytelling it’s almost as if the movie is concealing him till the very end—which both works and frustrates. Most of what we get to see are from the eyewitness accounts of the characters. For audiences who only want to see the beast all the time—prepare to be left hungry and shivering in the cold. For viewers wishing to be titillated a bit more by multiple moving pieces of the movie, they will find this rendition to be entirely fulfilling, an all you can eat buffet of kaiju destruction.

Acting, however, is a stale claim. Quite frankly—atrocious! The screenplay was partly to blame alongside the upset of seeing amateur acting from a well-seasoned cast. Elizabeth Olsen. Her vacated performance made me want to punch myself—the only way any sinew of emotion could arise from that deadpan recital. Overacting subtleties and underplaying tantrums, Olsen was painstaking to watch. For an army wife robbed of physical love and a mother threatened with the loss of her son, she delivers seething with misdirection. Real emotion arises from innate expression, timed to reaction, not falsified cringes, chokes and whims that kill any semblance of verisimilitude. Closely followed for “just stop, please!” acting that was equally as bad was the doddering Wantanabe. I had the utmost respect for him until I saw this stroke-inducing display, pumped even more by his frazzled ever gawking assistant Vivienne (Sally Hawkins). Can someone please jab Wantanbe with some adrenaline for Godzilla’s sake? All he appears to do in this movie is unhelpfully mumble gibberish, say “GOJIRA!” once, and stutter some more.

Kick Ass’s Taylor-Johnson on the other hand gives a somewhat mediocre performance. Not extraordinary but nothing to be too reproachful of. He does what he is told to. Some heroes drag us through their movies to ensure we meet the rolling credits at the end, and other heroes step beyond our expectations by immersing us in novel experiences, broadening our understandings while accompanying us to the end. This was the former.

With all this barbed commentary you must wonder why I will give what I give this movie. The only reason I rate this above average is because the movie saves itself and pays off. It starts slow and ends with a blow; a blow that leaves your hair on ends. The final battle is aesthetically rich and indulgently active on many levels. One example is when Edwards, as per his own commentary, touches deftly on Danté’s Divine Comedy for the High Altitude- Low Opening (HALO) shot of angels (the army) descending to hell (an apocalyptic San Francisco). With chokingly thick cloud cover, and ominous doom in the air, it makes way for splendid cinematic storytelling. The suspense is heightened by the shadows of the unknown and limited range of vision in the dark. We feel lost, and individually lonely, in a world of giants: be they skyscrapers or beings.

Conclusively, there is nothing much to say but that it is Godzilla who comes chomping through, pulling badass electrifying surprises and on the fly moves left right and center. He makes you cheer and get cozy in your own excited goose bumpy skin as you watch. Godzilla is so good he could live up to our dreams of the epic ideal, but isn't allowed to in this movie by the limitations of an overly drawn out screenplay. But for Godzilla’s sake alone, “Godzilla” receives a complimentary 7.0/10. He alone is too cool not to see. Adieu.