Lenovo PSA

If for what ever reason you are contemplating buying a new Lenovo Think Pad go throw your money in a fire and let the warmth irradiate your skin, it will be a better investment. Why do I have such a hate for the new Think Pads?

Simple. The track pad on the new models was created by someone that doesn't have fingers and is designed to spite everyone who does. Yes it is that bad. You might as well use your elbow to control it. And if the primary function for controlling a device is so inherently flawed as to make it unusable then the entire device is ruined.

It doesn't matter how good of a deal you get. Don't be tempted by the technical specs. There are no circumstances where it is worth your money unless you are a self loathing masochist, then by all means go ahead. 

Marvel and the Failure to Climax

This post has been a long time coming.

I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the different ways Marvel has played with what a super hero movie is has kept the films fresh and engaging. Except in one area. The climax of the various films have been plagued by a sameness that is disappointing compared to all the things they have done so well. And before I can get to my issues with the endings, it is important to cover what they are doing beautifully.

There is a general adage that DC has interesting villains and Marvel has interesting heroes. I can't speak to the comics, but in terms of the films the shining point of the MCU really is the heroes. Tony Stark's struggle with the legacy of his father has evolved into his personal struggles with mortality. Steve Rogers legacy centers initially around his struggles to manifest the internal strength he possesses in a way that can physically change the world. Over the films the physical struggle has largely gone away and it his moral courage that has been tested. All the central characters have had similar growth over the course of their respective films and it is one of main reasons why 12+ films in everything still feels fairly fresh.

It hasn't been perfect though. For Age of Ultron I went down to LA to watch the Marvel Movie Marathon that Marvel and the Nerdist put on. Seeing everything film back to back for 30 hrs really gives a lot of insight into any repetitive crutches the films may be using that you wouldn't necessarily notice viewing them in theaters 6 months to a year apart. Add sleep deprivation into the mix and anything that isn't clicking really stands out.

The thing I noticed over the course of 30 hours was I was really engrossed in the first 2/3 of the film and napping through the climax. As much as I praised the character growth across the films, the character growth within the film has been limited by the what is probably the defining aspect of the superhero genre, the need to externally resolve character growth.

(To the people who claim that comic books films aren't their own genre, I strongly disagree. The genre pairs nicely with just about any other genre and frequently uses the stylistic trappings of the partner genre, but without failure the character is going to overcome his personal demons by taking them out on the villain at the end of the film.)

Since we know the film is going to end in a final battle, the role of the villain becomes very significant. A how interesting and exotic a villain is largely irrelevant still. The original Iron Man still holds up despite the fact that Jeff Bridge's Obadiah is fairly bland character. What he does represent is the perfect external counterpoint of Tony's internal struggle with his dad's legacy. Obadiah is the worst manifestations of his Dad's merchant of death characteristics. Tony represents these same ideals at the beginning of the film which makes his transformation all the more powerful. His internal struggles to change are compounded by all these external roadblocks and he has to overcome them simultaneously. Defeating Obadiah is the culmination of this struggle and results in the Tony's moment of catharsis, "I am Iron Man." In comparison most of the other films have failed to achieve this same level of connection between the villain and the hero's internal struggle.

The Red Skull is at best a revenge target for Captain America, but really his internal goals were more or less complete when he successfully rescued the POW's and proved his value in serving his country. Once the Red Skull is revealed to Captain there is a need to defeat him because he is the bad guy, but because his arc is already done there is no dramatic momentum and the ending is just a vestigial bow on top of what was an otherwise excellent drama, albeit a very explosive bow. 

Thor is much better because everything standing in his path is a physical obstacle on his path towards redemption/maturation. Loki's manipulations provide a great counterpoint to Thor and directly force him to grow. Loki and Thor are both selfish and very self serving at the start of the film. For Thor this leads to his banishment and Loki's rise to power. Loki's failure to value life is ultimately what pushes Thor to start putting others before himself and directly creates the conflict that allows Thor to prove his worth.

Iron Man 2 is really weak in this aspect and I think that is one of the reasons people don't have a very favorable opinion of the film. Tony is struggling with the responsibility of being Iron Man and the fact that the suit is literally killing him. Yet Whiplash is another manifestation of his fathers legacy and the military complex again. The two don't compliment each other and it just feels like Whiplash is the nuisance that Tony has to deal with while struggling with his real problems. In comparison Iron Man 3 takes a similar theme and really nails it. Tony is struggling to overcome his PTSD from the Avengers which has made him all to aware of his own mortality. To overcome his enemies he is forced to lose the suit and realize that he really is Iron Man, not the suit.

Speaking of Avengers, it is probably the best film after the original Iron Man. The entire dramatic conflict is centered around whether these individually super beings can transform into a super team. Again the manipulative Loki is the perfect foil to test the team as he specializes in stroking the ego's of the individual members and creating discord. The final battle is perfect because as it continues to escalate it forces the members to prove they can perfectly coexist because any friction, any individualism, would lead to failure.

For the sake of not getting too repetitive I am going to skip over Phase 2 and get to the conclusion.

As the universe expands and the movies get bigger the tendency to expand the stakes through world threatening catastrophes gets ever stronger. Marvel has done a pretty good job of justifying the expansion of its universe. Still they could do a better job and as they get to the universe threatening climax that is Thanos, it will be critical. The issue is going into a movie I know the end is going to be a final battle. The best movies have made that battle essential, but I would love to see diversification of the climax. I want someone to be brave enough to give us an amazing midpoint fight and a small personal dramatic climax.

My favorite superhero film is still The Dark Knight. A large reason the film is so resonate for me is because Christopher Nolan has come the closest to making a personal ending. The big action sequence in the Dark Knight is the transporting of Harvey Dent in the middle of the film. In scope it really isn't that big, but the stakes matter. The audience is invested and the tension is super high. The ending with Batman taking out the swat team is even more low key in terms of the action. The beauty is that the stakes comes from the moral choice playing out on the ferries. Everything revolves around Batman putting his faith that the general population of the Gotham is inherently good and worth fighting for and everything the Joker does is to test that. And even though the Joker fails on the large scale of the ferries, he wins on the personal level with the creation of Two Face. By destroying the legacy of Harvey Dent, he forces Batman to sacrifice his own legacy to achieve the goal of giving Gotham the hope that he has been fighting for.

The villain altering the path of the main character shouldn't be a revolutionary thing. Drama comes from having to deal with the consequences of actions in an unpredictable world. Too often the drama is missing because the hero only acts and the world reacts to them, but they are rarely forced to change because of actions in the world.

So the thing I am hoping for as Marvel moves ahead into Phase 3 is climaxes that matter. To overcome their individual challenges I want to see the heroes forced to examine themselves and adapt. We know the heroes are going to win in the end, but let's make the fight a little more meaningful to the individual characters involved. Because the heroes are great and I just want to see them used to their full potential.



This is a public service announcement. If you love dark brilliant comedy then the best show on television is back. What is it?


The first season was sublime. It took the tone of the movie and really delved into the world in it's own unique way. It had top rate acting, deep characters, great writing, and gorgeous production. It was everything True Detective was trying to be. If the second season is anything close to it we are in for a treat.

Stop reading and start watching!

Timey Wimey Problems

Lets talk about time travel. For me there are two main types of time travel stories, ones which the time travel serves as a vehicle to set up the circumstances of a story, but otherwise plays no part in it, and those in which time travel dramatically affects the characters of the story. The first is what the original Sherman and Peabody cartoons were based around. Show up at a specific time and place, learn some facts, head home.  The second style is definitely the more interesting use of time travel but not the easiest to pull off in logical way. Looper is a great example where actions in the past, like torture, have dramatic implications from the characters in the future. In fact when it comes to visualizing the life altering aspects of time Looper is the best there is. But as the title indicates we are here to talk about a very specific example of time travel, so lets get at it.

I love Doctor Who and it has done countless episodes of both variety. The Girl Who Waited is the perfect example of the cruel mistress that is time travel. Maybe I am just sadistic but for me time travel should have serious consequences, it is Faustian choice, but there is no Devil to bargain with. In the episode Amy Pond gets trapped in an accelerated time stream. For her time is passing at the normal rate, but compared to the Doctor and Rory she is experiencing years in hours. It is the relativity issue focused and magnified to its full emotional potential. By the time the Doctor is able to accurately locate Amy and send Rory to rescue her she has aged 40+ years. Using the older Amy as a guide they gain the ability to go back into her timeline and rescue her when she has only been trapped for a couple of hours. The catch is rescuing young Amy will wipe old Amy from existence. The Doctor has to decide who if the young Amy he and Rory are familiar with is really the real her. Can they deny the 40 years of experiences old Amy has accrued? This is the perfect time travel conundrum, there are no correct answers, only consequences which the characters have to deal with. And the show doesn't let the characters off easy, you can tell the scars of this incident will continue to haunt the Doctor. 

Since Doctor Who is really a creature of the week type of show the plot is frequently revolving around keeping some scary monster in check. To me the Weeping Angels are conceptually one of the scariest creations ever and a example of Doctor Who at it's best and worst. There are two aspects of the Weeping Angels which make them unique. They appear like statues as long as they are being observed, but the moment they are unobserved they have the ability to move at insanely fast speed. And once they have grabbed a hold of you they can zap you back to a random point in time to finish off your life. From the first appearance their ability to overwhelm the characters if a vigilant watch isn't kept is put to very effective use. And while as scary as that cat and mouse aspect is, it is the consequence of being lost in time that elevates them.

My issues with Doctor Who are epitomized with how the Angels are portrayed on the show. The core idea behind them is so fundamentally scary that I am disappointed when it is not utilized to its full potential. Sadly, the more they appeared the more that seems to be the case. Unlike The Girl Who Waited the Doctor has not yet been forced to face the consequences of this aspect of time manipulation, outside of the Angels initial appearance in Blink. The Angels in Manhattan really drives the point home for me. Amy and Rory get caught by the Angels in a graveyard and Rory is zapped into who knows when. Amy chooses to be caught as well to rejoin him lost in time. The Doctor tells River it is impossible to go and rescue them because of timey wimey issues and is forced to say goodbye. It is all soften by the revelation that Amy and Rory live a happy life together in the 1920s with Amy becoming a successful author. The fact that the Doctor was more less unable to go back for arbitrary reasons has been a major source of grief for many fans. For me though that aspect of it is missing the point. I am much more upset with how the Weeping Angel's powers were misused, because if they had been honored than there would be no need to hand wave away a rescue attempt.

Here is how the episode should have ended in my ideal world. Once Rory is zapped into the unknown Amy again has a choice to make. The Doctor warns her that Rory could be anywhere and if she lets the Weeping Angels grab her it is highly unlikely that she ever sees him again. She says she has to try, closes her eyes and is zapped into the unknown. We end with Amy coming back to the spot year after year, hoping this is the day Rory will appear. This does the characters of Amy and Rory justice as the ultimate couple who refuses to let time get in the way of their relationship. It also honors the legacy of the Weeping Angels and their fearsome potential. Most importantly it honors the fact that time travel is cruel because it is impartial, which in itself is the fundamental reason the Weeping Angels are such great villains. The idea of Amy communicating to the Doctor one last time via book is still solid, but it should be her coming to terms with her existence that prevents the Doctor from going back to save them. Sometimes the struggle makes the reward that much greater and Amy finally reuniting with Rory one last time would be the ultimate reward. This lesson is one that the Doctor is in constant need of being reminded of because as a character he is simply the most impatient person ever. Time travel does that to you though.







If you are reading this it means I haven't been able to restore my archives yet. Once they have magically appeared, this post will vanish. Till then enjoy my newer musings.

The Devil Wears Eyebrows

I remember reading a bunch of reviews after The Departed came out praising Jack Nicholson's performance as being the devil incarnate. I humbly disagree. I don't think Jack was impersonating the devil, I think he is the devil.

Why you ask?

His ridiculous eyebrows! I submit the following scene from The Shining as proof and rest my case.

Sweet Sweet Serenity

In one of my recent bouts of insomnia I decided to rewatch Joss Whedon's Serenity and it struck me that the pre title scene is possibly one of the best ever. When you think of great opening sequences you always have to start at Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders has action, intrigue, suspense, all the things a blockbuster fan could possibly want. More importantly the opening perfectly informs the audience as to who Indy is and the type of universe he lives in. Spielberg makes it look so easy and yet when you look at all the films that have tried to emulate it and failed it becomes clear how special it really is. 

Serenity is no Raiders, stylistically it couldn't be any farther from it. Raiders is the embodiment of cinema. The way Spielberg uses the camera and the action to create a universe is a masterclass. In comparison Serenity feels almost like a play the way the universe is brought to life through the words of the characters inhabiting it. Just as Spielberg is a master of the camera Joss Whedon is a master of the spoken word. 

Serenity begins with an oral history of the universe which is presented in the form of a school history lesson. At the same moment we are introduced to the secret hero of the film River Tam who beautifully demonstrates the rebels conflicting ideology to the rest of the class and the audience. Without a wasted word we are shown how the government treats dissent as the classroom memory dissolves away to reveal River's tormented reality as a tortured test subject. The focus shifts to the doctor responsible for the experiments and an unknown government official making inquiries into the program. This provides a quick overview into the heinous acts of the government and really enforces the ideological split between the government and the rebels from the history lesson. The unknown official is revealed to be River's brother Simon when he stuns the doctor and escapes with River. Again the perspective shifts as everything we just saw is revealed to be a hologram of the security footage being watched by our villain, the nameless assassin. Like all good villains, he quickly proves himself to be a completely merciless killer following his personal code of honor.

With an Inception like use of reality Whedon has given us a perfect who, what, when, how, and why of the universe. More impressively he has done it in a way which provides greater knowledge to long time fans of the TV show while getting new viewers up to speed for the standalone story. Frankly my description doesn't do the sequence justice and I think the reason why hints at the reason you probably won't ever hear Serenity mentioned in the same group as Raiders when the topic of opening sequences arises. Simply put, the brilliance of the dialogue and the Shakespearian way it is used to convey action and intent make describing it hard. If you aren't straight quoting it you aren't doing it justice. The action is so informed by dialogue that describing it without the dialogue present to illuminate it again fails to convey the whole meaning. You could present this scene live on a stage and it wouldn't lose any of the power or context. In this way the scene is a complete antithesis of Raiders. Since Raiders is so cinematic it lends its self perfectly to discussion. The iconic moments are all image based. Weighing the sand to swap with the statue, the tarantulas on the back, the darts flying across the hallway, and most iconic, the boulder chasing Indy through the cavern. Mention any of these moments and anyone has seen the film instantly has an image of what you are talking about. Serenity doesn't have any of those iconic images, but I would argue it does an equally perfect job at setting up the universe. Just like Raiders, the opening seems so simple and so easy to emulate, it betrays the brilliance of it. So start memorizing dialogue and the next time a discussion about perfect opening moments arises don't forget about this sublime scene.


The Hobbit: A Reflection

Mild spoilers if you haven't read the book

After seeing all three Hobbit films I feel like even though it is a simpler book than the LOTR trilogy it is the real unfilmable chapter in the series. Say what you want about stretching the film out into 3 movies, as a filmmaker I would probably make the same decision because Tolkien wrote a literary trap for film makers.

The reason LOTR was supposedly unfilmable was because of the sheer amount of content. But the core nugget in the story is pretty simple, there is a powerful weapon and the characters have to get from A to B to destroy it. Along the way the characters branch out and the world expands but the goal is still singular. All the action is based around how people are affected by this weapon good or bad, so really the only limitation to making it is you need time and money.

The Hobbit is different, on the surface the story arc is very similar. A group needs to go from A to B to reclaim a treasure. The problem is that the battle of five armies is in essence an act 3 bait and switch. This story that is supposedly about this hobbit's personal journey and growth all of sudden becomes an afterthought amidst the political gamesmanship of Gandalf v Sauron. The novel also gets away with a lot of this by giving us explanations after the fact from Gandalf or just not filling in the details. That type of exposition doesn't work in a film though.

So the question becomes do you cut the battle from the film and make the showdown with Smaug, which is the natural climax to the adventure story, the new ending or do you try to justify the battle. Peter Jackson went with the second option and it works as well as it can. The problem is all the exposition to justify the battle is scattered throughout the previous films in the form of the Gandalf B plot and if you don't already know what those scenes are building towards the film it's hard to put all the pieces together in the moment. Especially over three years of films.

So that's the problem. Is there a solution? I'm curious how two films would have worked. In the making of Smaug Jackson basically admits by stretching it to three he no longer had an ending for the 2nd film. I'd like to see what it would look like if you killed Smaug by the end of the first film (or at least the second) and moved all the Gandalf scenes into the the start of the third. By honoring the narrative arc of the book I think you are hurting the emotional arc of the film. If the final film contains the entire emotional arc of the battle of five armies, which is really Thorin's and Gandalf's story, I feel like it might be able to capture the power of LOTR. Or maybe not, it's hard to say but I'll be curious to see the recuts that appear online.

I do have to give Jackson credit for making three entertaining films. His visual gags are second to none for their creative energy and visual wonder, as ridiculous as they might be. I would love an emotional core that is just as strong, but for all the reasons I discussed, I just don't know if it's doable. The Hobbit seems simple but in many ways it's the most complex narrative of the series. Unless you take on the Silmarillion, then frankly you're just fucked.