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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Batarang— Uncontrollably Cool

The Batarang Wireless Controller for PS3 is so authentic, you'll be tempted to throw it at the bad guys, but so amazing you won't want to ever let it go. This officially licensed Batman: Arkham City collectible comes packed with more features than a utility belt, including wireless receiver, built-in motion sensing technology and dual rumble motors for enhanced game play. Power A has a great track record for making 3rd party controllers. In fact, I’ve been using the “Pro Elite Wireless Controller” for over a year now with absolutely no complaints. I’m a much bigger fan of the Xbox 360 controller layout than I am of the PS3 Duel Shock’s, so the fact that the D-Pad and Left Analog stick have been reversed on this controller is a HUGE plus for all true gamers. That being said, I didn’t include this as a “Pro” or “Con” because it actually comes down to overall preference. 

On a personal level, this controller has it all and I highly recommend it. But moving right along here... another great aspect of the controller is how long it holds a charge. I’ve played for a few hours last night and a few more hours again today and the battery gauge hasn't moved at all. The less time charging, the more time playing. Win, win. The controller is called the Batarang after the infamous weapon that Batman uses. It's not your typical PS3 controller, it's styled more after an Xbox 360 controller in terms of the layout of the control sticks. The Batarang features seven different lighting effects so you can actually change the colors depending on the mood you're in or even the game you're playing. This is a nice feature if only for the psychologically calming effects certain colors tend to possess.

I would say the only glitch I can dig up is the placement of the buttons in the middle of the PS3 controller. They just seem too close together. There has been more than one time I’ve tried to hit start and ended up turning on the LED colors. The same can be said for trying to hit the select button and pressing the battery indicator light. This is just a minor detail which really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of game play but, we tend to be as detailed as possible.

If you’re looking for a new controller to replace your old PS3 Dual Shock, look no further than the Batarang Controller. It's stylish, cool and it adds a niced "varied" choice to your gaming experiences. And... as long as you don’t mind the reversed Analog and D-Pad you will not be disappointed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

"War Horse" impressed Academy voters. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" left some in tears and others  simply overwhelmed. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" drew rare applause in the first five minutes, after its opening credits. According to reports from members in attendance, crowds were small at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Saturday and Sunday, where several of the year's big awards contenders screened for AMPAS members. The crucial screenings were Sunday's afternoon/evening double bill of Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close", followed by Steven Spielberg's "War Horse." The former film, after being tightly embargoed for a couple of weeks, is now beginning to be reviewed— and its early reviews have been mixed, with Todd McCarthy saying "emotional fluency and literary pretense go hand in hand" and Gabe Toro at the Playlist called it "effective in short spurts." But others have found themselves deeply touched and completely moved by the film, which deals with the aftermath of 9/11— and the reaction was through-the-roof positive at the early screening I had attended, at which the audience was actually rather liberally sprinkled with both guild and Academy members. 

Adapted from the acclaimed bestseller by Jonathan Safran Foer, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a story that unfolds from inside the young mind of Oskar Schell, an inventive eleven year-old New Yorker whose discovery of a key in his deceased father’s belongings sets him off on an urgent search across the city for the lock it will open. A year after his father died in the World Trade Center on what Oskar calls “The Worst Day,” he is determined to keep his vital connection to the man who playfully cajoled him into confronting his wildest fears. Now, as Oskar crosses the five New York boroughs in quest of the missing lock— encountering an eclectic assortment of people who are each survivors in their own way— he begins to uncover unseen links to the father he misses, to the mother who seems so far away from him and to the whole noisy, dangerous, discombobulating world around him.Three-time Academy Award® nominee Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot,” “The Reader,” “The Hours”) directed “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” from a screenplay by Academy Award® winner Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump,” “The Insider”), based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel.

The film stars Academy Award® winners Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump,” “Philadelphia”) and Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”) along with newcomer Thomas Horn in the role of Oskar, and was produced by Scott Rudin (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Social Network,” “True Grit”). Celia Costas, Mark Roybal and Nora Skinner served as executive producers, with Eli Bush and Tarik Karam as co-producers.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reflections on Casablanca

When we first meet Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), he is a self-centred businessman apparently out for himself and uninterested in others' lives or problems. He is not selfish, but he is very protective of his interests and is unwilling to get involved in others' business. He refuses to take sides in arguments or do anything that would mean him losing out in any way. Given that the action takes place during the Second World War and his cafe is frequented by Nazi officers, French officials, refugees, and a variety of members of the criminal fraternity "on the make", looking for a free party and loose women, and there were plenty to be found... so this reflects a solid determination.

Rick's desire to remain neutral and his strict policy of non-involvement bear all the hallmarks of existentialism. However, a true existentialist refuses to involve himself in others' lives because this amounts to interference and an existentialist feels he has no right to exert influence on others' lives. So, is Rick acting on the principle of non-interference? I would say that Rick is what I will call a "romantic existentialist", though the effect is largely the same. He is a man who has lost faith in life and especially love. He has lost the desire to consider what is right and wrong because he was hurt, indeed devastated, when the love of his life disappeared from his life, and he is making every effort to ensure he is not hurt or even involved again.

He seeks to avoid being implicated in others' lives not so much because he feels he has no right to influence events, but because he wants no attachments or sentimental responsibility. Actually, he doesn't want anyone to interfere in his life as he has lost faith in others, and as a result appears to have lost the capacity to believe in a cause. Rick is no cold or logical existentialist. We feel that something is eating away at him beneath his brittle shell, and we get our first suggestion that he is in fact something of a romantic at heart when he helps a young lady avoid the corrupt clutches of the chief of police. We see that he is capable of feeling, and that he can see and care about what is right and wrong. This is essential to his appeal, for without this suggestion of humanity he would simply be what he pretends to be— a cold and self-centred opportunist.

Rick wears "existential armor" as a means of coping with what life has thrown at him, but he is reborn when he discovers the truth, that Ilsa's feelings for him were (and are) genuine. This restores his faith and trust, and more importantly his sense of worth. In a sense Ilsa is the braver and more tragic of the two. Believing her husband to be dead, she embarks on a relationship with Rick, a relationship they both find joyous and fulfilling. However, on discovering her husband Victor is in fact alive, she severs her relationship with Rick out of loyalty and respect for her husband. Ilsa's situation is more complex and perhaps even more painful than Rick's as she turns her back on passion and romance in favour of a more admiring and respectful form of love. This would appear to be a victory for principle and spirituality over spontaneous and heartfelt passion— a difficult choice to make and then live with. Yet Ilsa knows the truth about her feelings for Rick, and doubting these feelings is the real source of pain for him. He has come to believe that what meant so much to him was, in fact, false and without basis, and this has caused him to doubt sincerity and motive in general. Of course, when he discovers that he was indeed loved his sense of self worth and self-respect is restored and he is ready to play a part in others' lives once again.

Moreover, Rick displays a selflessness born of love and respect. He puts Ilsa and Victor's fates above his own, thereby also putting the war effort above his own security and turning his back on his "existential crisis" in which he had come to believe in nothing but his own survival. Major Strasser and the nazis may represent the amoral imposition of one will over others' while Victor Laszlo represents the voice of reason and principle. Defiant, courageous and inspiring in the face of overwhelming opposition. Ilsa puts principle above her feelings to follow Victor, and eventually Rick makes a similar choice, putting thoughts of others and belief in principle above personal considerations— a choice made for humanistic reasons and out of self-respect and respect for others. Might this also reflect America's decision to finally get involved in WW2? It is indeed a very real possibility as Hollywood always exercised its voice.

As I have suggested above, I'm not sure that the reasons for Rick's outlook on life can be described as truly existential, though the resultant non-involvement is the same. Other elements— the lack of religion, the way in which the various characters' fates are interdependent, Louis' determination to gain the maximum benefit for himself, the juxtaposition of amorality and principle, the humanistic approach to problems faced by society— these are all classic existential elements. What makes the film all the more special is the fact that all this is combined with romance, compassion and of course humor. An existential drama which is both thought-provoking and entertaining is rare and is to be savored.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Wide Awake Past ‘Dawn’

Having read every single one of the novels, it’s no surprise to me that droves of teen-aged girls as well as much older women are huge fans of the Twilight movies. A series of events led to my previewing the fourth installment, Breaking Dawn: Part 1, a week before it premiered on the Friday before Thanksgiving. I had been a die-hard Barnabus Collins fan as Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera, took over the daytime airwaves with a veangance. But this film is obviously filled with CGI and a TON of special effects, including make-up that the crew at Dark Shadows would have loved to have had. 

What makes this series of films enticing is the love triangle between the 3 lead characters, Edward the vampire, Jacob, the werewolf and of course Bella, the misfit girl who is torn between the two... even though she does tend to lean much further over to the vampire side of things. Team Jacob, in spite of it all, still holds out for Bella to finally have a catharsis in which she leans back to the werewolf side. The competition among the Twi-hard fans is pretty amusing actually. Seeing grown women and their teenage daughters profess their undying allegiance to either Team Edward or Team Jacob is also rather hilarious. On the news one night, I briefly saw an interview with some fans who actually flew in from Europe to camp out for the premiere at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. However, is the hype for the Twilight Saga losing steam? Given the year-and-a-half gap between Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, I don’t think so. 

Opening weekend at the box office grossed $221.3 million domestically, trailing slightly behind New Moon’s $230 million opening weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Worldwide, it raked in $283.5 million. What is it about this family of vampires who break traditional notions of vampire characteristics that has captivated millions? Since when can vampires be out in broad daylight and since when have there been good vampires who care more about romantic chivalry than sucking blood? The concept would make F.W. Murnau, 1922 silent film Nosferatu director, and many others shake their heads in disgust. Although good looks and sex have been thrown into the vampire-movie mix over the years, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series redefined the mainstream’s portrayal of a vampire and fantastical rivalry with werewolves. Unfortunately, Meyer can’t be credited as the pioneer of the vampire and wolf rivalry. Len Wiseman’s 2003 film Underworld about a werewolf hunter pits werewolves and vampires against each other first. Underworld also tried to pull together a set of films which, at first, appeared to capture the film noir mystique. But once the films fell into the trap of replacing story with detailed CGI gore... and actress Kate Beckinsale quit after the first film... essentially the rest just became sequels for the sake of building a franchise.

But Breaking Dawn: Part 1 has followed the novels very closely, just as its predecessors. And that is where the adoring fans were going, to watch the characters they had read about so many times just pop out of the pages waiting to culminate and stir the novels even further. There are several stand-offs in this film. During one particular 30-second square-off all I could think was, "Oh Dear God... who gets killed?” only to be awoken from my novel memories [Yes, I read them all folks] when Jacob comes out and causes everyone to stop fighting because he “imprinted” on Bella’s half-vampire baby, which means he will serve whatever role he needs to in her life as she grows up. In the movie, the werewolves’ goal was to kill the baby. So to bebrutally  honest, the Twilight movies are here to stay in the ranks of highly successful book-to-movies. 

Even the books are still successful— perhaps, dare I say it?...even more than the Harry Potter series. Although the quantity of Harry Potter books sold has been higher, the Twilight books have had more staying power in the top 10 on USA Today’s Best-Selling Books List, according to a USA Today article. The final installment in the saga, Breaking Dawn: Part 2 is scheduled for a November 2012 premiere.

Will there be records broken? Count on it. Will the merchandising continue to soar? More than ever. In fact, I wouldn't at all be surprised if the last film in this saga surpasses one or more of the top ten films of all time.

Monday, December 05, 2011

What Fears May Come... From Love

Years ago, showing another person affection, kindness, tenderness, thoughtfulness, consideration and respect and even openly displaying your love was the most natural thing in the world. Nowadays people don't have time to listen to what you have to say, let alone take the time to understand how you might feel. We cover our ears and blindfold our hearts to stop any form of pain creeping in. Sooner or later it finds us anyway. It's the price we pay for clogging up our arteries. These days we don't even give ourselves permission to admit that we need love anymore. We're too scared. Love isn't supposed to be as necessary as food. But it is. If it weren't, why do we feel so much despair and gloom when it's absent, and so elated and exhilarated when we find it? Things have gotten to the point now where it's almost embarrassing to tell anyone you're lonely. So we've closed our hearts and souls, partitioned them off with this impenetrable material so that others don't even know how to get in anymore.

Still, we wear this facade, we march bravely through a series of emotional hells as if we're so damn strong, as if we're invincible, as if we've got our lives totally under control. Some of us actually boast about how good we are at it. How well we're holding up. Well, sometimes I don't hold up very well. And from what I see so many of my friends the same way. We're tired of getting up in the morning, smiling, simulating delight, when in reality the emotional texture of our lives feels more like a desert. Our hearts are dry. Our souls feel like black sunsets. Our minds like monsoons. I pass hundreds of I've-got-it-all-under-control women on the streets every day. But privately, and particularly at night, many of us ache and pray for more love and affection than we're getting, because despite our social status, our incredibly high incomes, our processed appearances, there's a dark void inside us that's all waiting to be filled.

In the past several months... years... we dared not admit that the "unknown factor" that might fill up that empty sense of darkness... is another human being. Now it's an overt display of weakness of will to confess that you still need and want love, companionship, affection, tenderness. It's cause for shame to admit to anybody that you're not getting any, haven't had any in so long that you now spend most of your time apologizing to yourself for continuously allowing yourself to be emotionally shortchanged. It's so much easier to just play it safe, because safe is at least predictable. In the meantime, however, we are barely eeking by. We parade around as if life is so wonderful, but it's so phony, and the energy it takes to fake it begins to wane. After a while you get tired of faking it. You get tired of lying to yourself, and to others, that you're so damn happy. A BMW can't hug and kiss you at night. Shearson Lehman Bros. won't comfort you when your mother dies. A 5,000-square-foot house doesn't care if you live in it alone. The phone company doesn't care a shift if your lover just left you for another woman or man. 

Now, everyone frantically runs the other way if you act as though you really do like them... let alone "love" them. This still baffles me. They seem to be trying to convince themselves that they're better off without intimacy, trust, compassion, support and true love, at least until they can make up their minds what to do once, or when and if... they ever surrender. These same people are treating love as if it's some terminal disease, and if they catch it they're goners. As if there's no "afterlife" if it doesn't work out. I wish more of them would watch how well people DO recover. Observe how resilient we are even after someone breaks our hearts. We are good at picking ourselves up off the ground and going forward with our lives. We don't have any other choice.

One person will not be responsible for our demise, we say to ourselves and to one another. We have also learned how to live with pain and disappointment, because we're used to it. We've learned how to deal with it. We get off the train. We look for another route, not an easier route, but a better route. And even after riding many different trains, we still hop on a moving freight train if we think that what we need might be inside it. 

But closeness is something SO MANY are shying away from because apparently it could lead to death. They don't want us to see them completely naked. They don't want us to see their heartbeat because then they would be discovered, they would be found out: that they're even more vulnerable than we are because they work too hard trying not to be. But I swear, I'm way too tired of guessing which door is the right one to knock on, and I'm almost out of breath... not to mention time. I just don't "get it". Our hearts are surviving at the poverty level. We're scared to death that getting "too close" will cost us too much. Apparently it's become so expensive to love that many of us are now simply unwilling to pay. This bothers me.

It hurts to acknowledge that you aren't being loved, or that you haven't loved anyone since you aren't exactly sure when, and that's when that ache begins to feel more like pain and you realize you're much older now, that this isn't college, that this isn't a term paper: It's the Final Exam and you're failing in a big way. You look around and realize that you're alone, and this picture is all wrong. Or the person you once cherished is gone. Or they're there and you wish they were gone. Or perhaps you simply no longer cherish them; they no longer cherish you. All you know is that your emotional life feels like a dead zone, as if it's been freeze-dried. This is not at all the way you dreamed it all would be. And you know what most people are very good at doing? Keeping up appearanaces. It's all about the walls and defense mechanisms... not wanting to reveal that maybe they should move in another direction. Open another door. Take a chance... whether it makes complete sense or not. 

I believe that the choices which make no sense whatsoever are often exactly the ones we should trust, because there is something we are supposed to learn. And yet you're still hoping, still praying, still waiting for that massive waterfall of rose petals. So you keep your fingers crossed that one day you might get lucky and find what you need. That one day you'll feel the rush, the rapture. That one day you'll meet the person who'll put the passion back into your life, who'll make your spirit quicken, who'll make your soul and heart feel like a harp. That one day you'll be able to merge because you've found the person with whom you mesh. That you have finally arrived somewhere you want to stay.

In the meantime, however, you continue to live your life as if it's a checking account. For years you assumed you had an unlimited reserve, but now your life is half over, and the checks are starting to bounce. You are surprised by your own mortality, how much you've let slip by, how much you haven't done, how differently you'd do it if you could do it all over. But you can't. I write primarily because I want to make deposits, not withdrawals. For me, writing is more like having a savings account: It's that zone God put inside all of us to go to when we've run out of checks. I'd like to think of writing as a kind of gift you give to others. It doesn't have to be the perfect gift, and it can't be the whole gift, because I don't know exactly what everyone needs.

I'm just curious as hell as to why we do what we do. I want to find out what's wrong, what's missing, what we need to do to make our lives better, to restore what we've lost: generosity, self-respect and respect for others; the desire to make others happy; kindness; love. I'm intriuged by what people feel, how we survive, why we treat one another the way we do, and the effect that treatment has on our lives.

I often hope for too much, and I know it. I'm a die-hard idealist and wouldn't want to be any other way, which is another reason, I think, I write. So far it's the easiest way I've found to stretch myself out, to be of some service to the world, even if it is on a small scale. All I'm trying to do is explore, investigate, probe the living, breathing world of all people... because they're my family, as we are all parts of the same whole... and I care about my family. My primary interest lies with those who overcome the odds. I'm more interested in people who either force themselves or are forced to learn how to untie the knots in their lives, who are willing to tough it out, go through hell if they have to, in order to come out happier, sounder people.

Long-standing victims are usually just that, and I find them boring. I'm much more interested in how people exercise courage, faith, how we overcome our fears.

One of my major hopes is that anyone who reads whatever I write will enjoy the journey, the expedition, even the painful parts, but I also hope they laugh. We need laughter, too. And to be honest, I get a charge from the probing. The digging. The search... the quest. Some people think that writing down your feelings and thoughts and observations is scary. It often is. But I'm willing to make the emotional investment because when I was growing up, my grandmother and my Mom taught me that anything worth doing in life should be a little scary, that you have to be willing to jump off the cliff before you can see where you might land; but you have to believe that you're going to land. So my investment is an emotional one, and it is expensive, but I'm willing to pay, because sometimes it's inside that so-called danger zone that I discover where the secrets of happiness are hiding.