Monday, August 02, 2010

Some thoughts on Harvey Pekar

I'm not a big reader of comic books, but I have lately been reading a few. One series that I plan to read is called American Splendor. The author, Harvey Pekar died a few weeks ago, and I was sorry to hear it. There was something beautiful, familiar, and tragic about the character and maybe the man himself.

On the suggestion of a friend I watched the movie with the same title. The movie stars Paul Giamatti as Pekar and also features pieces of the comics and clips from interviews with Pekar himself. Giamatti does a great job of capturing his physical eccentricities. The comic is auto-biographical and tells the stories of his life. Most of the time Pekar represents himself as a depressed, tragic character whose life is unremarkable except for some of the unfortunate events that he encounters. Many of these brought on by his own attitude.

What makes the comic and the movie interesting is how faithfully he is able to capture the sense of of his characters. He is able to represent the conversation, tone, and pace of his life in a way that feels so real, so familiar, so honest. Most of the stories in the movie are simple, or mundane, or tragic. But, they feel completely real.

What's amazing is that in life's mundane pace, there is so much that is beautiful and interesting, even if it's unremarkable. The beauty and interest arises from the detail. The complexity of real people is interesting, their quirks, their shallow conversation and their trite interests. I found the man's work so rich. It's as though in his negative, complaining attitude, he's obligated to record and portray the complexities and eccentricities of real people. To sum up what I took away from the movie: In its richness life is wonderful, even when the dominant theme is suffering.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Remembering Enemy Mine

"Jerry, old Drac ... where would you be without me, huh?" -
"Back home."

When I was a kid, like every self-respecting middle class American family, we owned a VCR. Unlike most families, we didn't have any rhyme or reason as to what movies we owned. We didn't buy movies for ourselves, and so we owned whatever movies we received as gifts. This resulted in only a handful of very random movies. What few movies we did own we watched over and over. Maybe a hundred times, we'd quote them, we'd make fun of them, the language in these movies became a part of our vernacular growing up. One such movie was 'Willow.' We called each other 'peck' for years.

Another wonderful movie that we owned was called 'Enemy Mine'. Enemy mine stars Dennis Quaid and Louis Gosset Jr. as the Drac. The story is about a future space war between humans and Dracs (the aliens). Quaid and Gosset's characters shoot each other down in a space ship battle royal and get stuck on a hostile planet. They end up cooperating in order to survive and becoming friends. When other humans are found on the planet and become a threat to Gosset, Quaid decides to side with his new friend instead of his own kind. I know what you are thinking, and yes, it's Dances with Wolves, with aliens.

It's a weird movie. Yet it does have it's appeal. I cannot watch it objectively. It's so familiar and ingrained, that I don't have the ability to see it with new eyes. Although, the effects are terrible.

It's available as a streaming movie on Netflix. I encourage anyone who reads this blog to go and watch it, for the first time if you've never seen it before. And tell me, is this a good movie or is it a joke?

Description from Netflix:

Earthling Davidge (Dennis Quaid) is one of many space warriors facing a brutal battle against the reptilian Draconians, among them the soldier Jeriba (Louis Gossett Jr.). But when the pilots' spaceships crash-land on the same planet, these foes must team up to stay alive. The stakes climb higher after Jeriba gives birth to a baby Drac, and Davidge becomes foster father to his own natural enemy as he tries to survive in a hostile land.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Iphone 3.0 . . . Better than Christmas

I can't tell you how excited I was when I rose from my bed this morning. Today is the first day of Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). What that means is that today is the announcement for the new Iphone. I felt like a little kid Christmas morning. . . that makes me a fanboy.

Sometimes my wife asks me why I get so excited about these technology things ("Yes, I love technology. Not as much as you, you see. Still, I love technology."). I have tried to explain, but the answer never seems to satisfy her. Maybe it's one of those things . . . you get it or you don't care.

But, I care. Oh, how I care! Among other things, the new iphone has a better camera that will also include software for video recording. (Now, if you were motivated you could already do video recording, but it required a hacked phone.) Statistically speaking, you are probably more like my wife than me (on this point, anyway), and you are saying . . . "Who cares?"

Let's get into it. The camera being better means close up photos of text, barcodes, etc. One application that already exists that will now work properly is the a barcode scanner that looks up products online. WHAT! That's right! You walk into the store, take a picture of any product, WITH YOUR PHONE, and it will tell you what it costs on Amazon, Ebay, etc.

That's just one example, though. You could read any text into the phone via the camera and connect that information to any online source. Check you flight status by taking a picture of your ticket, save business cards of associates and search for keywords online, read nutritional information about your last meal from the lable on the box and keep a perfect record of all the foods you eat, etc, etc.

So, there's that. The video recording has it's own applications as well. I'm going to get a little more theoretical now. Suppose that you are at a major event, rock concert, presidential inauguration, local bar, etc. Suppose everyone has a video recording enabled phone at this event. If there are thousands of people video recording from different angles, it's possible that this could create a near perfect 3D representation of the scene. You've probably seen Batman where he hacks into everyone's phone and Morgan Freeman is like, "No man should have this power." It's kinda like that. What if something goes down? Someone is injured, or history happens, or you are arrested? There's a perfect record of what happened from every possible angle.

The thing I like about technology is that as it develops it bridges the gap between our meat brains and omniscience. I have no illusions, we are far, far away from perfect knowledge, and the progress we have made is but a tiny step towards it, but where we are now, relative to where we were say, 40 years ago, is incredibly profound.

Think about how you used to get information, and how you get it now. Do you have questions about your health or available jobs or when a movie is playing? How much effort did it take to get those questions answered 20 years ago? What about if you wanted to know the definition of an unfamiliar word? How about if you wanted to know what 30 of your not so closest high school friends were doing with their lives? Pieces of information that were simply too much effort to be worth it, are now trivial to get to. Idle curiosities can be instantly satisfied, which leads to a broader and more intricate general knowledge base. The integration of technology into our lives is accelerating, which means that the progress that we make in the next 10 years will equal what we did in the previous 30. How can you live in these times and not get excited about it?!?

Well, I suspect that those of you pre-disposed to my argument are already with me, and those who are not pre-disposed are still saying, yeah, but, so what? I get that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My only problem with Susan Boyle . . .

Is that I don't think she's real. Inspiring, but planted.

My heartstrings were yanked on, just like the other gajillions of people currently watching the youtube video. But, I remember the same basic set up a few years ago. I remember Paul Potts. I remember being inspired when I heard the something divine coming out of what looked to be a homely vessel.

Notice anything eerily familiar in the set up??? Well, hold on, there's more. A little later, on America's Got Talent, there was this guy . . .

Besides the obvious similarity of song choice (he may have known about Paul Potts, chosen the same song deliberately). It's a popular piece. Notice the caption, 'insurance salesman.' Not unlike 'cel phone salesman.' Now we have Susan Boyle. Sorry about the link, they've disabled embedding (infuriating!).

Susan Boyle

Never been kissed, lives at home with the cats, full of confidence. It feels manufactured. I think that people who make TV for a living know what appeals to people, and I think for millions of dollars they are willing to manufacture so-called reality TV. Is it possible that the whole thing is on the level? Of course it is. If I had to put money on it, I'd go with created, not discovered.

There's more, here's another example of success in Britain, copied in America: Connie Talbot

Kaitlyn Maher

Neal Boyd and Kaitlyn Maher were both on the 3rd season of America's Got Talent, just months after Paul Potts and Connie Talbot faced off (they were 1st and 2nd respectively) on Britain's Got Talent. I'm seeing patterns, maybe I'm crazy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My wife is AWESOME!

She has finally seen the light and been converted . . .

Check out her latest post