Monthly Archives: August 2010

Advertiser To Whom I Give a Break

As has been previously discussed in my Puzzlement of Spam Advertising entries, I do not get Internet blog comments spam as an advertising strategy. It seems to me to be idiotic since it’s simply caught in spam filters and deleted, and the pretend comments they do are really idiotic. But when I got one from finger-puppets.co.uk (or the spam advertiser they hired,) I got curious enough to myself click on their link when they were snagged into my spam filter. And the company, Little Fingy Puppets, is trying to do some good (or at least says they are.) They employ knitters to make finger puppets in the rural Andean mountains of South America so that those families can help their communities rather than move to the cities to look for work. And they give away (again, so they say,) a small percentage of the net value of their sales to charities in the U.K., such as Cancer Research UK and to efforts to help the communities of their knitters environmentally and in the U.K.

So again, I can’t vouch for this company’s track record or anything, but they seem to be a nice company, making cute toys and trying to do the sort of things I support. So while I will not put their idiotic, fake spam comment attached to an old post up, I will give them their very own blog entry with link:

http://www.finger-puppets.co.uk/

So there you go. If you’re in the UK particularly, you can check it out. I can tell you that kids do love finger puppets. Also, they have finger puppet show videos on their site. Which is just weird enough to be charming.

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Movie Trailers With Poignant Animation

First up, Sucker Punch, which is a Pan’s Labryinth sort of tale mixed with Girl Interrupted and Final Extinction:

Then, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga Hoole. I grew up with owls, thanks to my mother. I loved screetch owls, great horned owls you did not fool around with and barn owls were just, well, odd. This movie, based on the successful children’s book series,  is just visually beautiful, something we don’t always get with the comedy in animation today. And well, it has owls:

Next, the Pirates of the Carribean folk apparently had some extra time while doing the fourth movie, and so have prepared this ridiculous animated western for next year, featuring Johnny Depp’s voice natch, called Rango:

And finally, the Ice Age crew went with the parrots in Rio. Yes, it is cheesy. Yes, it is about as far from noir as you can ever get. And watching the hang glider take out the beach umbrellas made me laugh:

Also, my sister had a parrot. And I grew up with hawks too, so really, it all fits. But mostly, I’m just addicted to pretty colors, including the dark ones in Sucker Punch.

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The Costume is Still Impractical

Of all the female superheroes who have graced comics, the one who is most well known, on a par with Batman, Spiderman and Superman, is Wonder Woman. The comic was not exactly a feminist landmark, even for the 1940’s,  and was initially saddled with fetishist content, but the icon outgrew her origins, turning into a pure-hearted, kick-ass warrior woman in a star spankled leotard, useful accessories and boots, and paving the way for countless female hero characters in spandex. Over the years, Wonder Woman made the transition to animated films and television shows with the other major superheroes and in the 1970’s, got her own live action show in the U.S., starring Lynda Carter, a woman who so looked like the embodiment of Wonder Woman, it was frightening.

With all the work to reboot major comic franchise characters from both the comic titans of Marvel and DC Comics, there has of course been interest in having a live action film of Wonder Woman in some form, but the project has been in limbo forever. One of the problems cited is that Wonder Woman looks like this:

wonderwoman_large

 

It being no longer the 1970’s, how, they wonder, do you get a live young actress into an outfit like that and not have it look utterly cheesy? (Although, seriously, in the days of reality shows and Lady Ga Ga, I don’t really understand why they are having this concern.) So DC Comics has now revamped Wonder Woman’s costume and completely changed her story in one of those alternate universe things that the comic folks like to do, and now she looks — at least in some comics — like this:

This has caused enormous debate, and it’s not all because the costume is slightly less sexy. Essentially what the rejiggered look does is make Wonder Woman look like every generic action movie heroine in a body suit and half the female comic characters as well. She’s Laura Croft with more jewelry. This then makes it very easy for an actress to slip into the costume, if the film ever makes it that far.

Will it matter if Wonder Woman’s new look has the personality of a toaster? Hard to say. But even with the update to a hip club ensemble, I am once again struck by the great impractibility of superhero costumes. The lack of pockets. Of lightweight body armor to dull the impact when the superhero is thrown. (Sure, Superman’s skin won’t be battered when he gets driven into a building, but if he had armor that absorbed some of the impact, he might not be driven so deep into the building and have to waste seconds climbing out of it.) Of practical boots with thick rubber soles. Basically, the old Wonder Woman fought crime in her bathing suit and the new one is fighting crime in her comfy pajamas. You’ve come a long way, baby. 🙂

And if they’re done now, could we have the movie please?

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Anyone told Laura Schlessinger Yet?

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Sound and Fury

There’s an uproar among the dying book sections of dying media giants — bestselling authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner complained that bestselling author Jonathan Franzen was getting way too much coverage, mainly from the New York Times which reviewed his new novel Freedom twice, and this is because the Times and similar special marketing channels favor, the authors claim, white male authors who are declared literary.

Are they right? Probably a bit. If you lined up all the coverage the Times has done of male “literary” authors versus female “literary” authors in the last five-ten years, I’m sure the males outnumber the females substantially. And certainly, the non-white authors have a hard time in lily pale Anglo media getting as much coverage as their white counterparts, though some of them do. Certainly an effort is being made to counter this trend in these publications, but it’s at the usual slow, glacial pace.

But the real problem in this particular case  is not that Franzen’s book is getting a lot of attention, which was only to be expected given his track record. The real problem is that the way publishers used to publicize books and print media used to review them — the imaginary social class  system of literary versus commercial that was inherited from the 19th and early 20th centuries — is increasingly useless to people today. That system relies on perpetuating the statistically incorrect  idea that the masses, being poorly educated and unsophisticated peasants, will buy commercial stories in droves, creating bestsellers, while the educated elite, the ones who read The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker, keep literary works of fiction barely alive.  Why would they do this? To sell books, both as racy “commercial” fare to those who think they are in the lower classes, and “you’ll look so smart” literary fare to those who think they are in the upper classes or want to be, and so will also read certain forms of “literary” print media. Everyone knows that whether a book is considered to be or marketed as literary or commercial has very little to do with whether it becomes a bestseller or not, but the genius in the gutter versus the hack in the mansion myth is still clung to with a strength that makes younger readers  and critics shake their heads in puzzlement.

What Weiner and Picoult are actually facing is the old-fashioned view in publishing and among print media that only a tiny minority of women can be literary writers compared to men. When Helen Fielding wrote The Diary of Bridget Jones, a scathingly satiric, fun, cleverly structured literary novel, and it became a bestseller, publishers and the media did not instantly think, hey lets use this to show we’re in the age of interesting women writers. Instead, the media dubbed any contemporary novel written by a female about a female as “chick lit” — commercial and a passing fad, easily dismissed, and publishers obliged by slapping romance style pastel covers on any book they had that might fit, regardless of its content or the author’s writing style. And so Weiner, who writes contemporary satiric dramedies about women, and Picoult, who writes dramatic contemporary novels about controversial topics, find themselves largely locked out of the publicity channels reserved mainly for literary authors, male or female, such as the New York Times. (The other publicity channels are open to authors of all stripes.)

Is Franzen a more literary writer than Weiner and Picoult? That’s a subjective assessment and in the precarious world of social class, a potentially fragile one. Like Weiner and Picoult, Franzen’s The Corrections was a bestseller that then also became nominated for the National Book Award. Then the book got selected by Oprah Winfrey for her television book club. This threw Franzen into a panic because Oprah, getting her female viewers to buy various novels, would potentially make Franzen look too commercial, and he could then lose the NBA. So he announced he was thinking of declining the book club endorsement, which threw his publisher into a panic.  Oprah got so angry that, even though she let a chastened Franzen on to her show, she shut down the book club altogether for new fiction for years. Franzen’s sales climbed further up the bestseller ranks with Oprah’s word of mouth, and he still managed to win the National Book Award — which also increased his sales. But the main point is that as long as books are declared unwelcome because their publisher gave them a pastel cover, their actual worth as literature is not really being assessed one way or another. And many, many books with pastel covers will never be bestsellers either.

In my view, Weiner and Picoult were wrong to use Franzen as their example of the problem, and the issues are bigger than simply male versus female writers. That doesn’t mean, though, that female authors aren’t still having to climb bigger hills than their male counterparts throughout the fiction world, (despite recent claims by some that females are taking over fiction publishing and fiction writing.) For instance, the British Fantasy Award — I was astonished to learn today that only one female writer has ever won the Award for Best Novel, Tanith Lee for Death’s Master in 1980. This oddity becomes even stranger when you look at the other winners of nearly thirty years of this award and discover that Ramsey Campbell won the award seven times, and that Stephen King, Michael Moorcock and Graham Joyce have all won it  four times apiece. Over half the awards went to four white guys? Clearly the British Fantasy Award voters like their horror novels, and the difficulty of women to make much headway in horror up until recently is well known. But I find this statistic more disturbing than Franzen getting two New York Times book reviews.

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SFF Novels to Check Out

Debra Doyle & James Macdonald — Lincoln’s Sword – In this alternative history fantasy set during the U.S. Civil War, the prophetic dreams of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln may save the Union. From the authors of  Land of Mist and Snow.

Jocelyn Drake – Pray For Dawn, Wait for Dusk – Books #4 and #5 of Drake’s increasingly popular vampire enforcer series.

C.L. Anderson – Bitter Angels – Anderson won the Phillip K. Dick Award for this well regarded tale of spies in space.

Carlos J. Cortes – The Prisoner – In a future, dystopian Earth, political prisoners escape into the sewers in this SF thriller.

Darryl Gregory – The Devil’s Alphabet – From the author of the acclaimed Pandemonium, another bizarre horror story about a strange disease that turned folk in a small town into three strange races except for one teen who returns to the town later in adulthood to figure out its mystery.

J.A. Pitts – Black Blade Blues – A lesbian blacksmith/movie props master fixes a possibly magic sword, deals with dragons and may have to save the world while her own world is falling apart. (Pitts, by the way, is a guy. Not that it should matter in 2010.)

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Inceptioning

Since the Christopher Nolan film Inception came out, there’s been a lot written about it and a good bit of that writing seems to be confused over the film’s dream thiefing aspects, despite the endless explanations in the film itself. While it’s true that the film does have some significant plotholes and ommissions, a lot of the big complaints seem to be because people couldn’t follow how the dream sharing works. (Not that I blame them.)

SPOILERS in the material below:

Confusion #1) Why was Mal, Cobb’s wife, a psychobitch, and if so, why would he have married her?

The real Mal was not a psychobitch.  The real Mal, the late wife of Cobb, was a lovely woman who loved Cobb and gave him two adorable children. When she and Cobb experimented with shared dreaming, going very deep into their sub-conscious minds, this caused her to become mentally ill, unable to distinguish reality from engineered dreaming. Cobb had to insert a thought in her mind through the dream world to get her to kill herself in the dream world, which would wake her back into the real world. But on waking, Mal continued to have that thought that she needed to kill herself to awake from the dream, and so killed herself in the real world. Cobb then unwisely built a memory palace in his mind using shared dreaming, in order to hold on to his memories of Mal. But his guilt and depression over her death cause that memory of Mal to warp into an unpredictable manifestation from his deepest sub-conscious of that guilt and her mental illness that then wreaks havoc on his ability to concentrate, to control things in the dream world.  She is violent, destructive and sabatoges Cobb because those are the feelings he has about himself and what he deserves. That’s why Cobb also can’t see his children’s faces in the dream world.

Confusion #2) Why isn’t the dream world (a series of layers,) fragmentory and ever changing like real dreams and why can’t they just do whatever they want or need in the dream world?

Shared dreaming is not the same as real dreaming. It is a chemically induced state that allows different people’s sub-consciousnesses to interact within a designed, chosen framework from one person’s sub-conscious. When Cobb experimented with his wife  and when he is showing Araidne how it works, there isn’t a specific goal, and so a large amount of change can occur. However, there are problems — too much experimentation can cause a person to become unable to distinguish between reality and dreaming, as happened with Mal, and the main sub-conscious of the shared dream may react defensively to too much change that shows the world isn’t real, especially if that person doesn’t know he or she is in a shared dream world, in the form of projections — imaginary people formed by the mind.

To steal an idea from an unknowing person’s mind, (dream thieves,) the dreamworld has to be designed beforehand, in the mind of an Architect, and then changed as little as possible, allowing the target to people the dreamworld and naturally come to think of the information that is sought. It’s important that the dreamworld be as little fragmentary as possible and you don’t make big changes, especially in corporate espionage where the target may have been trained to recognize being in a shared dream and defend themselves from dream thieves through projections and other means. For this reason, the thieves often go two layers into the sub-conscious of the target, in hopes of more successfully lulling the target into revealing information. Cobb, a fugitive concerning his wife’s death, worked as a dream thief Architect with his old pal Arthur, but because he increasingly cannot control his sub-conscious (leading to problems and a destructive Mal surfacing,) he has had to hire Architects to design the dreams for him, but even so, his problems are messing up his work, specifically with a mission concerning a CEO named Saito.

When Saito then forces Cobb and Arthur to attempt an inception — implanting an idea in a person’s head, instead of stealing information, Cobb knows it can be done because he did it with Mal, but for it to work, everything must be very controlled and reinforcing. Cobb recruits and hires Ariadne to be the Architect. Ariadne designs three different levels of dream world and then gives the designs to members of the team, each one will be the main focus (director) for one layer, though the layers will effect each other. Cobb is told as little about these three layers as possible to keep his sub-conscious from acting against them. Araidne fears that this won’t be sufficient, though, so she insists on going along as part of the team. The three worlds together form a narrative  that will lead the target to the idea they want to implant, but they must keep that narrative simple and direct. Once they’re in the dreamworld, if they change things radically from the reality of the dream layer, then the whole thing can fall apart, so they can’t just dream stuff up. Eames shows up with a big gun in one layer, but that’s because he designed to have the gun before he went into the dreamworld. He is also able to change his face to appear as another person, but that’s again because it was designed beforehand.

Complicating things further is that to insure they’re able to go through the dreamworld layers and do the inception, they all have to be sedated, which means the shock of dying in the dreamworld won’t wake them out of it like normal. Instead, if they die in the dream world, they’ll just dive deeper into their sub-conscious and could even end up in a coma. Instead, they need to effect their inner ear with a sensation of falling and/or plunging into water, which will cause the brain to kick the sedative. This is obviously a weak point, but they do stick to that logic in the film. Further complications occur when their target, who has been trained to defend himself against dream thieves, realizes he’s in the dream and they have to accept and use such obstacles in order to keep him on track for the narrative and get the idea implanted.  (Plus then you can have neato fight scenes, including a moving tribute to James Bond movies. Ariadne apparently has a sense of humor.)

So essentially, the shared dream world becomes like a video game. You can make a few choices, but you can’t change the design. (And of course, Inception will make an awesome video game.)

Confusion #3) Is Cobb dreaming or in the real world at the end of the movie?

Nolan left it up in the air. The likelihood is that Cobb is in the real world. However, if he decides to do a sequel and he wants to, Nolan could have the whole team be still trapped in a dream state, etc.

Some of the Problems:

The concept of dream thieves is largely flawed. To put the target into a dream world, you have to kidnap him and drug him. If a corporation is willing to fund a kidnapping attempt and that attempt is successful, then it’s just as simple to assassinate the target and create havoc in the rival company, rather than the far more elaborate attempt to get information out of the target’s head. (Yes, you get the info without the person knowing maybe, but surely someone is going to notice that they’ve been kidnapped.) Or better yet, just steal the info in the real world the old fashioned way. And going to the exorbitant cost of an assassination team for the dream thieves if they fail means that it’s an even less efficient spy idea, and that dream thieves have little loyalty to their employers and are likely to sell them out. Basically, Cobb’s job makes little sense the way it’s presented to us.

It’s never really explained why, if a person dies in the inception dreamworld under sedation and plunges deeper into shared sub-consciousness, or dives deeper on purpose, they got dragged down into Cobb’s deep sub-conscious world. We’re told that this is going to happen, and presumably it’s because Cobb’s been building a memory palace and is screwed up, but we never really get a clear explanation for why — if Ariadne designed the worlds and Arthur, Eames, and Yusef then hold those worlds in their heads — the lowest limbo level is Cobb’s domain.

We’re told that the deeper you go, the more time will pass, even though it’s less time in the upper levels and even less time in the real world. We’re told that the mission could take them months in perceived time because of this. But while time moves slowly in the upper levels compared to the lower levels, it’s not a matter of months passing, but of hours in the dream worlds, except for Saito down in the deepest limbo, who appears as an old man at first, but then is able to change. Mal and Cobb supposedly lived lifetimes down in the deep levels of sub-consciousness, but when Cobb gets Mal to kill herself in the dreamworld, she is her current age, not old, so also changed herself. So the time aspect never gets very logical and seems completely mutable.

Overall, most of the logic in Inception holds together, at least as much as it does in any thriller these days, and it is a fun and visually interesting heist story. The characters are a lot of fun, impeded though they are by having to establish the very complicated system Nolan dreamed up. But the movie does keep doubling back on itself, as College Humor so adroitly points out in this spoof:

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