January 29, 2010

Search Overload

Alternate title: It's time for another very important rant.

Have you ever seen a Bing commercial?

Well now you have. Have you ever seen a website with Bing-powered hot links?

It's kind of hard to see what's going on there, but some websites have hot linked words throughout their text. These display this super obnoxious bing window on roll over. Not after clicking the word, just accidentally rolling over it with your mouse. Now these bing windows are annoying enough, but what puts it into rant territory is their exact similarity to what the commercials are making fun of. You are reading a block of text and suddenly, one word triggers a total freak-out of search results only tangentially related to what you are actually reading. So the bing commercials are inadvertently demonstrating the experience of reading a bing-linked web page. And I agree with them. IT'S OBNOXIOUS.

January 24, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

There are spoilers in this post. It is less of a review and more a movie summary with some discussion. But don't worry! You can be told the entire plot of this movie and still not know what on earth is going on when/if you finally watch it for yourself. If you did see the movie (or just read the summary), feel free to comment. This movie was very unusual, and I wouldn't be surprised if I misunderstood the entire thing.

The movie starts out 3 days before Dr. Parnassus's daughter, Valentina, turns 16. Dr. Parnassus is hundreds of years old. He "won" immortality from the Devil by promising him any offspring he fathered once they turned 16. Valentina doesn't know this, and Parnassus spends the first part of the movie in a drunken emo stupor over this sad fact. Guyliner and everything. The Devil decides to make another wager with Parnassus, to give him one more chance to keep his daughter. The first person to win five souls by the time Valentina turns 16 (by now it's only two days away), gets to keep Valentina.

My life sucks. :(

To win a soul, a person has to go inside the Imaginarium, and make the right choice. The Imaginarium gets "turned on" when Dr. Parnassus goes into a trance. The person walks through a broken mirror, and they are transported inside their own imagination. Eventually, they will come to a decision. One guy has to chose to either climb a giant mountain, or have drink in a pub. Another woman must chose between spending time in a motel room with Johnny Depp, or floating down a river to be awesome and dead like Princess Di. Four other guys have to chose between joining a violence-loving, cross-dressing police force or running home to mommy. It's weird. I don't quite get what it's supposed to be, but it seems like both decisions are based off of the same desire. One is just the easy way to get it, and the other is the hard way. It doesn't quite make sense, but one choice means Dr. Parnassus has won, and the other means the Devil has won. In the choices above, the "Dr. Parnassus" choice was climb the mountain, float down the river of death, and join the cross-dressing police force. If you choose the Devil's option, you explode inside the Imaginarium, and are presumably dead. If you chose the Dr. Parnassus choice, you get to come out of the Imaginarium on a leafy swing, feeling pure bliss, having been "reborn."

Choose the river of death or get blown up!

So right before the devil makes this new bet, the Dr. Parnassus crew (Valentina, a midget, and some other guy named Anton) "rescues" a guy named Tony - Heath Ledger's character. They find him hanging from a bridge. He claims to not know who he is, but he's lying. He tags along to help them get five more souls, though I'm not sure why. He says it's to repay them for saving his life, but I think he was just using them to hide out. He charms some women into the Imaginarium, and goes in with them to help them make the right "Dr. Parnassus" choice. He eventually gets recognized by the people that tried to kill him in the first place, and runs into the Imaginarium to hide. Inside his own imagination, he's amazed by what seems possible in there. He loses the four guys chasing him (they all run home to mommy and get blown up), but has to leave before he gets to make his choice.

Step inside. I swear I won't kill you.

It's finally Valentina's birthday. The Devil and Parnassus have each won four people when Valentina finally learns what's going on. She runs away in anger. Meanwhile, Tony offers to go into the Imaginarium to be the fifth soul Parnassus needs to win the bet. As he's about to go inside, Valentina returns, very very angry. Tony convinces her to go into his imagination with him, saying they can run away and just live there forever. She agrees, despite Anton's protests that Tony is a liar. (Oh yeah, Anton found a piece of newspaper that explained who Tony really was: the chairman of a charity that was selling orphans or something. I'm not exactly sure, I thought I heard "organs," but Jill insists he said "orphans." Either way, orphans were involved. I'm just not sure if they were being harvested for organs, or sold whole. Either way: Tony = bad guy.) While in the Imaginarium, Valentina finds out the truth about Tony. She runs away, meets the Devil and comes to her choice. Still mad at her dad, she chooses the Devil's choice out of spite.

I'm tricksy and false.

Parnassus is devastated. The Devil offers to make one more bet: if Parnassus can kill Tony, he'll give him his daughter back. Tony is being chased by an angry mob. Parnassus catches up with him, and finds out how he's survived the previous hanging- he put a pipe down his throat to prevent strangling. Tony tries to explain to Parnassus that the Devil was just tricking him, that Valentina couldn't count as the fifth soul since she was the prize, and if he helps him get away, he'll pick the correct "Dr. Parnassus" choice and Valentina will be saved. Dr. Parnassus doesn't listen and helps the mob finally succeed in killing him. The Devil shows up and tells Dr. Parnassus that he doesn't know where his daughter is. He says he never really had her in the first place.

It's many years later. Dr. Parnassus is sad, and still old. He's begging for money and someone that looks like Valentina drops some money in his cup. He follows her and sees she married Anton and has a daughter. He doesn't interfere, and with his midget friend, decides to sell puppet shows on the street. The end.

Not going to lie. This movie was little bit crazy pants.

What was the Devil? He was clearly Parnassus's adversary, but he wasn't necessarily "evil." Jill thinks he was just indifference. I think he represented something closer to realism, or cynicism. A world without imagination, or faith, or story. The "Dr. Parnassus" choices (for the most part), seemed to involve a great sacrifice for something greater than yourself. For an ideal that you valued. And the "Devil" choice was the quick easy way to get a cheap imitation of that ideal.

What was Valentina's choice? Valentina chose the Devil in the end. Valentina's choice was between a door that said "his" and a door that said "hers." She clearly went through the Devil's door ("his"). When she went through, the Devil said, "Damn. I've won." But she wasn't blown up, and the Devil told Parnassus he never really had her. Did she not really make her choice? Did it not count? She left the world of Dr. Parnassus for the real world. But then, that real family-life always was her ideal dream, her imagination.

What was Health Ledger's character supposed to be? The movie played up his huge significance -- the cards don't lie, the hanging man, etc. -- but he ended up being largely inconsequential. He did help drive parts of the story, but he didn't mean anything to it. The story had nothing to do with him, he just happened to be there for most of it.

Overall impressions:
I think I liked it. It was beautifully made and well-acted, but I was never sure what was at stake, or why it was so important for Dr. Parnassus to win. It wasn't difficult to be entertained by what was happening, but it was hard to be really invested.

January 21, 2010

Yet another useful list

Currently in my stack of books to read, in no particular order:
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Maximum City, by Suketu Mehta
  • The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett (I keep wanting to read something of his, but don't know where to start. I pulled this off of the bookstore shelf randomly. Well. The wizard hat wearing kangaroo did influence me a little bit. Any fans of his that could point me to a better starting place?)
  • The Chosen, Chaim Potok
  • The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor
  • The Ruby in the Smoke, Philip Pullman
  • Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman (Someday, I will finish this book.)
  • Relic, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

What's in your stack?

January 18, 2010

The Lovely Bones

NOTE: As long as you've seen the previews for this movie, this post contains no spoilers.

Movie #2 this year: The Lovely Bones. (Movie #1 was An Education. I'm going to try and write mini-review/reaction posts to the movies I see this year, but I probably won't write one for An Education. I really liked it. If I take too long to get my thoughts down about a movie, that's about all I can articulate.)

Anyway. Just got back from seeing this, and I was really unsure about what I thought about the whole thing. When I'm like that after seeing a movie, I like to go to rottentomatoes.com and read what other people thought about it. I was surprised, this movie has a pretty low overall rating: 37%. There's no doubt this film was beautifully made, and the acting was fantastic. This wasn't like Avatar (grossly overrated at 82%), I wasn't rolling my eyes and compulsively checking the time or anything. I was invested for the entire film. But I can't say I enjoyed it. Never before have I longed so intently to be able to fast forward like I did during this movie. I even turned to my sister during a particularly horrifying sequence and said, "I don't like this. This needs to end faster." One of the reviews I read better explains my reaction:

The same opening that's compelling on the page - "I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973" - becomes the focus of dread for a movie audience, because we know, sooner or later, that we're going to be forced to sit through something we don't want to see. Even if director Peter Jackson ultimately chooses not to render the murder in graphic terms, actually seeing a young girl being tricked by a predator and gradually becoming terrified feels more than disturbing. It feels profane.

To be specific, it feels almost as if, by watching, we're violating her, too - not Susie Salmon, the central character, and not Saoirse Ronan, the brilliantly talented young actress who plays her - but all the real-life Susies. Even when presented with sensitivity, respect and taste, there's just something unsettling about public entertainment that's made from this particular variety of private suffering.

What is there to be gained from this, that we should feel worse? Or come to some false sense of understanding that makes us feel better about something we shouldn't feel better about?

For what it puts the audience through -- watching the scene where she is murdered -- I don't think the rest of the movie redeems itself. It isn't graphic in terms of gore and violence, but I felt like I just witnessed real evil. I can handle emotional movies, movies that explore the dark side of the human experience, but that emotional experience must have some element of truth.

I have this personal philosophy which partially involves what I call the stained-glass idea. When I was in England on study abroad, my class went to the Winchester Cathedral. In that cathedral, there is a stained glass window that was once shattered by Cromwell's armies. The parishioners of the cathedral gathered up the broken shards of glass and tried to rebuild the window. There are some parts where you can almost make out what the window might have looked like before, but most of it is a jumbled collage. I think there is an absolute Truth, but that it's like that window. It's shattered, and everyone has a few of the pieces. I don't think we have the ability to really see what pure Truth is, in this life. The best we can do is try to understand the pieces we have and to try and share them with others, to find out how our pieces of "truth" match together. And in the way they come together, try to see more truth. I think we do this best by sharing our stories through literature, music, film, and other forms of art. In order to get a better idea of the full window, I need to try to understand other people's pieces of truth. Other people's stories can be horrifying, but if I feel like I've seen a shred of real truth in them, that they are worth hearing.

I am having a difficult time seeing any truth in this movie, enough to justify the horror. I haven't read the book. I've heard it's really good. Many of the reviews claim that it's overall tone was much better than the movie. I may read it, but I'm going to have to get over the experience of seeing the movie first. If you loved the book and really want to see the movie, I recommend that you wait until you can rent it. Believe me, you'll be very grateful for that fast forward button.

January 15, 2010

100% Chance

I am being encouraged by Jill to share my random ranting about meaningless things. Maybe she's sick of being the sole recipient of these rants. Maybe this is the first step in her master evil plan to turn me into that crazy lady on the corner that's angrily yelling at what may or may not be an imaginary leprechaun on her shoulder. (Imaginary or not, being taunted by leprechauns is OBNOXIOUS.)

Whatever her reasons, I think it's a capital idea. Quite quite indeed. Top hat, monocle! Fancy ballgowns. (Crap. Her evil plan is working.) So here is my first in what may be many rants about random meaningless things. (And by "random" I usually mean "prompted by reading internet message boards.")

Very Important Rant #1: 100% Chance
  • Jamie: does it really make sense to say there's a "100% chance" of something? doesn't the 100% negate the chance?
  • Jill: valid point
  • Jamie: wouldn't you just say "this is going to happen"
  • Jill: yeah
  • Jamie: what they should say, what they mean, is 99% chance. as in very very likely.
  • Jill: right
  • Jamie: and don't even get me STARTED on 110% chance.
  • Jill: who is "they"?
  • Jamie: internet peeps mostly
  • Jill: haha
  • Jill: that'd be a funny little blog post