Monday, August 22, 2011

The 2011 Cyber-Blues


I don't know what to write about anymore.

I used to write all the time. (Online, I mean.) It was easy! Hell, I was doing a couple blog posts a day for a while there! But that was way back in 2008... back in the "oughts"! Here in "The Future," in 2011, we don't have time to read each other's blogs; to read through rambling amateur articles of "blah, blah, blah," about whatever. That used to be an appealing thought - to meander through someone else's deepest thoughts and feelings on some random given subject. It was something we could do while doing other work, or on a quick coffee break, or just relaxing at home in the evening while the TV was on in the background. But am I wrong in feeling that those days are now long past?

Nowadays, thanks mostly to Twitter and Facebook, and maybe other sites like tumblr.com - and probably texting and the entire advent off my iPhone in general, as well - we really have become used to getting our tidbits of personal exchange in bite-sized chunks. The mere fact that you've read this far says a lot about you. (I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but it says something.)

Even as I'm writing this, my attention span for my own thoughts is proving to be far too short! Too erratic, and constantly shifting. And yes, part of that is due to my own inherent A.D.D. (and these stupid sticky "F" and "G" keys... makes it much harder to type on this laptop!), but a few short years ago, it wasn't like this. Now, I'm just writing this to practice writing. To keep a dialogue going in my head as a writing exercise, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how much more "long-form" my writing used to be. I used to write journal entries... with a PEN and PAPER! All the time! Through most of my twenties, I'd say. And now? Nothing.

I hardly ever do a blog like this anymore. I've even cut down the actual amount of interaction I do on Facebook, even though my usage has not declined. I'm just checking in on Foursquare or GetGlue or Spotify... these iPhone and computer apps that link into my social networks and show my friends what I'm doing or what I'm watching or listening to... but the actual dialogue... the interaction has declined. It's weird... and maybe sad. But maybe not - it's hard to say here in the midst of this era of social networking. It's all an experiment, of course. Our hindsight will surely be 20/20.

Anyway, I hope to return to some more long-form writing. Maybe if I can think of anything clever or interesting enough to discuss passionately... but... I dunno. Seems like the Internet's making me numb.

Bummer.

Mike: OUT.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Old Blogs, New Clicks! (On blogging... and trailers!)

Here's a blog I wrote on MySpace back in 2007. Just thought it was worth adding to my collection on here. It's a bit dated in some of it's references, but... that's history, people! Enjoy!

On blogging... and trailers!

So I came to a conclusion about blogging today in the shower. I had been kind of opposed to the whole idea because I figured, "Why should I tell the whole world about all my most personal thoughts and feelings?" But then I realized, not all of my thoughts and feelings are all that personal. Some are pretty easy to just blurt out - even to a stranger! So here I go. This is the first of my random thoughts on random things, just to see what others reply with and all that. Dialogue is good.

So today's topic is... Movie Trailers!!!

So I saw the trailer the other day that came before Transformers (which was a fun movie) and I was really thrilled to see J.J. Abrams new trailer for a film that is as-of-yet untitled. Everyone loved it.

"In the trailer, seemingly shot on a shaky, hand-held camcorder, Manhattan friends are at a going-away party for a guy named Rob, who is leaving for Japan.

The band 'Wolfmother' blasts in the background, and in a flash the lights go out and a painful background howling is heard. On the TV screen, NY1 reporter Roma Torre reports a "thunderous, roaring sound."

Party-goers head to the roof, where fireballs attack. On the street, the Statue of Liberty's head is thrown to the pavement."

(from: BAIT BALLS OF FIRE - MORE CLUES TO HELP SOLVE MYSTERIOUS FILM PUZZLE by FARRAH WEINSTEIN of the NEW YORK POST)

And the fact that Abrams and company decided not to show us a monster or even give the film a name had a tremendous effect on us all. The amount that WASN'T shown was what we enjoyed the most. This is a timeless truth in suspense and most good storytelling... Spielberg did it well in Jaws - (we don't even see a shark until an hour into the film!)

But I had another thought in the shower this morning (- I do all my best thinking then). Wouldn't it be great if we could go into a movie BLIND? I mean, what if there were no trailers... anywhere - ever? What if we simply decided what films to see by the name alone? Or maybe they shouldn't even have names! Like Abrams' film! Well, I'm sure it will have a name eventually... won't it? (Maybe not!)

But what if you just had to pick a number? 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5? And whichever one you picked, that's the theater you went into. And then you'd sit down with your popcorn and your soda that's three times bigger than your bladder, the lights go down, and you watch a story unfold before you without any preconceived notions of what will happen?

What if, when I went to see 'Knocked Up' last week, i didn't know that the nerdy guy would end up in bed with the pretty girl? And what if I didn't KNOW that she'd end up pregnant, as the ads all imply? IMPLY!?! Nay! They TELL me that it happens! There's no surprise at all! They basically set up the whole story for me before I get there, AND show me most of the funniest scenes, so I don't have to bother laughing when I'm actually IN the theater - thanks Hollywood!

Why even start the movie at the beginning then? I've already seen the trailer so many times on TV alone that I know the characters and the set up when i come in! Just start the film around the middle of Act II and I'll follow along just fine! Then I can be on my way in half the time!

See, what I'm saying is that as much fun as it is to MAKE a trailer, or watch a trailer, they're just there to make money for the studios. A good story - a GREAT story - will make you jump at each and ever plot twist. A good story assumes you don't KNOW the story already, so it hits you hard with every punch. But a movie trailer... this is totally different.

A movie trailer is a very unique phenomenon, as far as the history of story telling goes. I'm sure Shakespeare had to advertise his plays, too. Everyone wants to know what the story is about. But I'm sure it's usually done with a tag line or something. When movies became big business, and trailers were developed into what they are today, it took all the mystery out of the story.

Have you ever watched a movie without knowing what it was about? Sure - we all have. When you're a kid, you see some movie on TV that you've never heard of and before you know it, you've sat through the whole thing. And if you're lucky is was a good one, and it kept you on the edge of your seat the whole time. I was actually lucky enough to go see "Groundhog Day" in the theater without knowing anything about the story beforehand. As soon as the hook hit, I was floored! It was brilliant and made my laugh so hard, I really did cry! I was, as stated previously, on the edge of my seat! And this was a comedy!

So, maybe it will never happen, but I'd like to suggest to all you filmmakers and producers out there - maybe some of us don't WANT to know what your movie is about. Just dangle a little carrot. NO! Only part of a carrot! NO! Just waft the carrot-smell our way and we'll come seek it out on our own! And when we find it, we'll love it so much more! I promise.

Oh, but not you, J.J. Abrams... you already know this. (Thanks for LOST!)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Great "What If?" Film Trilogy of Spring 2011

All of a sudden, in the aftermath of the Oscar season highs, there's a small slew of films that seem to be rooted in some sort of a sci-fi/fantasy reality version of our own world. Like "The Truman Show", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", "Pleasantville" and, on a more-recent and grander scale, "Inception", these films are about the human drama that unfolds after a certain fantastical premise is introduced and accepted.

These films are "Limitless," "The Source Code" and "The Adjustment Bureau".

These films all seem to be coming out at the same time, so I've decided to make a thing out of it - calling it, "The Great 'What If?' Film Trilogy of Spring 2011," just so that they're all connected in my brain and now feel like one big event rather than just three separate and kinda-not-great movies. Somehow, I think this will make the whole thing more enjoyable. I say "What If?" because, even though every work of fiction can technically be called a "what if?" scenario, these films take something that is basically fantasy, throw it in with some (hopefully) interesting "everyman" characters, and as a result, certain events unfold that have less to do with the actual fantasy element, but - when done well - are engaging because of the characters themselves.

Let's take a closer look at these three films...

LIMITLESS (2011)



Starring Bradly Cooper (A.K.A. that hunky guy from "The Hangover"), Robert DeNiro... and a bunch of people who's names you've never heard before. Director Niel Burger had a small hit in 2008 with The Illusionist (staring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti). The Leslie Nixon screenplay is based on the Alan Glynn novel, "The Dark Fields".

In short, its the story of a man who is given a pill that will allow him to utilize 100% of his brain's potential power, unlike the rest of us mere mortals who are stuck using less than 5%. This is such a ridiculous concept (as using that much of your brain instantly would probably drive you insane and cause your head to explode) that it makes giving into the premise that much more of an act of pure will, but that can be fun, too.

To me, the funniest thing about this premise is that it's pretty much the same story as a 2001 episode of The Simpsons ("HOMЯ"), in which Homer discovers the root cause of his subnormal intelligence: a crayon that was lodged in his brain ever since he was a child. He decides to have it removed to increase his IQ, but discovers that being smart does not necessarily equal being happy.

I think that's pretty much what's going to happen in this film, too.

But here's the weirdest part of the premise: let's say that such a pill actually was created. And as the film seems to suggest, there is really only one single pill that is ever manufactured. Why does THIS Joe-Schmo get to take it? It's a top-secret drug being developed by the government, but somehow this average, everyday, unpublished copywriter is able to get his hands on it and gets to pop it back like a Tylenol... and it works!?

Okay! Sure! Why not? I'm in. Let's see where this goes.

SOURCE CODE (2011)



Starring Jake Gyllanhall, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga, "Source Code" is director Duncan Jones' first foray into the Hollywood Filmmaking machine since his beautiful and original independent film, 2009's "Moon" (Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey), was so resoundingly acclaimed.

"Source Code" is basically this: a guy is sent back in time in order to find out who was responsible for the eventual bombing of the train that he is on. He is sent back exactly 8 minutes before the train explodes and every time he fails to stop the bombing, he dies and wakes up back in his present time. Eventually, he decides that saving the hot girl is more important than his particular mission and goes rogue. It seems a bit like the premise of "12 Monkeys" but we know it's not going to be anything like a Terry Gilliam film.

The ridiculousness: As a human race, we've figured out time travel... and we use it to investigate a recent train bombing? How about 9/11? How about the assassination of Kennedy or Lincoln? How about Hitler!? I suppose there are some severe limitations to the technology. I guess I'll have to check it out to get the whole story.

And finally...

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011)



I think this one is going to be the best one.

Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and the ever-creepy, ever-evil Terrence Stamp, "The Adjustment Bureau" is screenwriter George Nolfi's directorial debut. The script, also by Nolfi, is loosely based on a 1954 short story written by Phillip K. Dick, called "Adjustment Team." The film's score is done by one of my personal favorites (ever since he scored "American Beauty" in 1999,) Thomas Newman, and there are also two songs ("Future's Bright" for the opening sequence; "Are You Ready" for the closing credits) by Richard Ashcroft, front man of the British psychedelic rock band, The Verve.

Personally, of all of the aforementioned films, I see this film as the most invested in its weird, sci-fi element but also as the one that delves the deepest into what will probably turn out to be the strongest and most interesting characters.

Here's the premise: When aspiring congressman, David Norris (Damon), meets a mysterious ballet dancer (Blunt), he is instantly smitten and distracted. The whole world turns upside down, however, when a mysterious group of white men in dark suits and fedoras appear and inform Norris that he was not "supposed" to see the woman again - these men are the Adjustment Bureau; the people who keep the course of each and every person's destiny on track. Norris has skewed his own path, and has somehow been enlightened to the existence of the bureau. This knowledge empowers Norris to make a choice - to follow his given path, or to create his own.

The premise itself, although ridiculous in a realistic sense, is much more obviously poetry - a fantasy designed to highlight the battle of free will that we all struggle with; the responsibility of making choices and heading down certain paths in our own lives. And for this very reason, I believe this film has the strongest and most relevant theme out of the "trilogy".

So there you have it. Who wants to join me on this journey in seeing all three films as they come out in theaters!? Please leave comments below and tell me what you thought of any or all of the films discussed here. (Or any others! What the hell!?!)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Dark Knight - A Comment on Fear, Chaos and Anti-Terrorism Attitudes in Post-9/11 America

I just watched Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight for about the 5th or 6th time, and it's definitely one of those stories that causes you to see something new on each of your first ten (or so) viewings. This time around, I noticed all the overt references to terrorists and the moral dilemmas inherent in the issue of how to respond to terrorism on one's home turf, which had somehow eluded me in the shadows of Heath Ledger's historic, Oscar-winning performance as The Joker, Nolan's cinematographic and storytelling mastery and the over-all geek-love for the ol' cape-n-cowl.

So this time around, I was really looking at what comments Nolan was making (along with his screenwriting partner and brother, Jonathan Nolan) on our modern world. Once you notice it, it really does stick out pretty palpably. For example, it's easy to say that the film is the story of a city - Gotham - under siege by a madman "terrorist" who calls himself "The Joker;" a man who has murdered several people around the city and is threatening to kill more until the Batman reveals his true identity. This, of course, would be a simple fix if Gotham didn't truly need Batman to keep his identity secret so that he could go on protecting them and living as a symbol of its citizens' right to live without fear. And now that freedom is being threatened - and people are living in fear. What do you do?

The scene that really stuck out for me on this concept was when Batman devises a sonar system utilizing every civilian cell phone in Gotham city as "a high-frequency generator/receiver" to give him ultimate control to see everything everywhere in the city. His trusted accomplice, Lucius Fox, says that the invention is "beautiful... unethical... dangerous."

I think the obvious allusion here (which, sadly, had escaped me until now,) is to the Bush-era wiretapping, email-reading and phone-monitoring that was allowed to occur under the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. A storm of controversy surrounded the act at the time of its passage and the concept that the government had allegedly granted itself permission to invade the private affairs and conversations of its citizens on the basis of anti-terrorism investigation, obliterating a few very important civil liberties that are essential to what many Americans call their "inalienable rights."

"This is wrong," says Lucius Fox.
Batman says, "I've got to find this man, Lucius."
"At what cost?" he replies.
Batman explains to Lucius that he is the only one who has control of this power, much like, under the Patriot Act, the President is the only one who has control over its civil liberty-invading powers.
"This is too much power for one person," says Lucius. "Spying on 30-million people isn't part of my job description."

Now ultimately, Batman knows this is illegal and unethical. But he believes that it must be used this one time to allow him to capture the terrorist that is plaguing the city. He tells Lucius how to destroy it after it has served its purpose and Lucius is happy to do so, which is all well and good for Gotham City. But it raises a very serious question for our real lives. Is it ever okay - morally justifiable - to invade the privacy of an innocent civilian with the hopes that it will lead to an ultimate justice? How can this power be misused and abused? - for inevitably, someone, somehow will abuse it. And what implications will that abuse have on the future of freedom in America? Is it the slippery slope that some would have us believe, leading our country to a point of vulnerability that will be its undoing? Or is it simply a necessary evil? - the ends justify the means?

And then there's the situation in the film where there are two ferry boats - one carrying civilians and one carrying prisoners - which have each been rigged with explosives. Each boat's passengers are given the detonator to the other's bomb. The Joker announces to both boats that if the passengers of one boat choose to detonate the other, their boat will be spared - but if no one uses their detonators, then The Joker will blow up both boats. It's a classic, diabolical "Joker-style" catch-22. But it's also extremely reminiscent of the Cold War nuclear proliferation conundrum between super powers like the United States and the Soviet Union; both have nukes to destroy the other, but whoever fires first may doom themselves. The Joker says he won't destroy that boat, but how can they trust that the detonator they hold isn't actually the one that will blow up their own boat? Mutually-assured destruction? Hmmm...

Ultimately, even though both sides weigh the pros and cons of "pushing the button", they both decide not to - no one wants that kind of guilt on their conscience, even if they do live through it. In the end, the passengers of both boats decide to have faith in the goodness of their fellow human beings and let the chips fall where they may. In other words, they don't give in to fear.

And suddenly, I've realized that a major theme of The Dark Knight is "enslavement to fear". Go ahead - watch the film again and see how many overt references there are to fear; being free from fear, the power of fear, manipulation by fear...

In the wake of the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Americans were filled with fear; fear of more attacks, fear of death, fear of chaos, fear of war, and fear of a life unlike anything we've known up until now. This fear caused them to vote certain ways, act certain ways, say certain things and essentially freak out. The famous words of a long-past President were brought up a lot in those days - as a reminder - "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I could argue that The Joker knows this. But he also knows that the people of Gotham have forgotten it; they don't live their lives according to this noble truth. And perhaps he finds it hilarious to dangle the city's biggest fears in front of their faces and watch them scream in horror.

Truly, The Joker is a creature without fear - "an agent of chaos," as he puts it. He happily puts his life on the line, rigging himself with grenades as a threat to his enemies, pushing the barrel of a pistol to his own forehead and handing the trigger end to Harvey Dent in a lesson about introducing chaos into the world, or even laughing maniacally when Batman causes him to flip head-over-heels and plunge 400-some feet off of a downtown skyscraper toward his death (only to be wrangled by the bat-arang at the last minute and hoisted back up). The Joker has no fear, which would be a fairly healthy gift were he not also a criminally-insane, homicidal maniac and completely void of human compassion. His lack of fear is rather dangerous to others, but his points ring true.

The Joker tells Batman how he sees the people of Gotham:

"To them, you're just a freak... like me! They need you right now. But when they don't, they'll cast you out like a leper. See, their morals, their code - it's a bad joke. It gets dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you - when the chips are down, these 'civilized' people... they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve."

The Joker may be right. "When the chips are down," he says, the people of Gotham will react to their fears, out of desperation. "These 'civilized' people," - these Americans - will turn on one another out of fear and a survival instinct, vote emergency powers to their leaders, disabling their own protections, the laws that ensure their freedoms, and soon... "they'll eat each other."

But Batman wants to help Gotham realize its potential for good (especially if it's through an unmasked hero like Harvey Dent). The ferry boats don't try to kill each other; they don't fall prey to the Joker's tricks. Gotham is growing and under the purity of the glow of the Bat Signal, they find the strength to "endure" (as Alfred puts it). It's a happy ending for Gotham - they're showing signs of nobility, compassion and great humanity. Someday, they city may no longer need Batman, for there may come a day when their fears no longer put them at the mercy of terrorism.

Perhaps, someday, all of America will be so brave.




P.S. I guess fear has been on my mind a bit lately. Earlier today, I watched "The Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the National Mall in Washington D.C., hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - (a rally held in opposition to the fear-mongering, hate-mongering and mostly ignorance-mongering FOX News Corp.-funded rallies hosted by Sean Hannity, Bill O'Rilley and Glenn Beck and mostly focusing on the concept that fear is a manipulation tool and that we ourselves - and not the media - must have control over our fears in order to maintain sanity.) Jon Stewart gave a great speech about this. Watch it here:

And last night, I stayed up pretty late watching a Netflix movie called
Defending Your Life, whose premise was that, in the afterlife, we are all judged in a trial to determine if we've progressed enough to move on to the next world or if we must go back to Earth to learn more about overcoming our fears. Fear, in this movie, is what keeps the "little brains" on Earth, whereas the "Big-Brains" - those who use more than 5% of their brains - progress and go on to a much more wonderful world. In fact, here's a clip featuring the film's writer/director/star Albert Brooks as "Daniel" and Rip Torn as his lawyer in the afterlife, "Bob."

Friday, October 15, 2010

That Facebook Movie - Review


Okay, so
I'm a bit late on the bandwagon, but I just saw The Social Network. And like most reviews, I have to give it a thumbs up, too. Now, I certainly had to ask myself how much of that positive review is based on all the positive hype it's already been given by the media as well as the public; how much influence did that all have on my liking it? Maybe a little, but I also don't think it'll be my favorite movie of the year - I liked Kick-Ass and Inception more, for example. But there are a few things that made this film quite unique amongst its brethren films this year and which make it worth blogging about.

The film is the story about the inception of the most popular website in the world... as of right now. It was so strange to see that the story begins in 2003, a mere 7 years ago. I grew up watching movies like Apollo 13 or Almost Famous that recounted a moment in America's past in which the story begins decades ago. This film practically takes place here and now. It'd be nearly impossible to distinguish 2003 from today in this film if it weren't for the references to MySpace, Friendster and Napster as the popular websites of the day. Fashion, music and historical events are not relevant or eluded to in the world of 'The Social Network'. For all intents and purposes, this movie takes
place almost entirely in the present moment.

David Fincher won't be winning an Oscar for best director for this film. And why not? Because he simply did his job perfectly well - he told the story clearly and succinctly. No flash or flair, no crazy gimmicks or elaborate set pieces. Just a good story told exceedingly well - and that rarely wins Oscars. After earlier successes with Seven and Fight Club, and - to a lesser extent - Zodiac, Fincher seems to have matured and focused his craft down to the simplicity that a good story requests of its director. No single shot, camera movement or creative edit in this film is noteworthy or memorable enough to comment on it now - only the characters and the performances their actors offered, and the faithfully-captured takes they performed. The film is a textbook example of efficiency. Think about it - to tell a story with so much dialogue about code-writing and algorithms, and at the same time to make it this intriguing to the viewer takes decades of experience on top of a polished talent as a storyteller... and probably the help of a great screenwriter, too.

Which brings me to Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter from TV's The West Wing and such films as A Few Good Men and Charlie Wilson's War. I'm starting to really get to know Sorkin's voice from his films, and more specifically, from his characters. He makes bold moves with his characters, who's real-life counterparts would dispute as wildly inaccurate, to which I can only imagine Sorkin responding, "Yes, but a story about the real you would be much more boring." It seems a bit of a shit-storm has already come and gone about the inflammatory creative liberties Sorkin and Fincher took on the real-life story, but that's their job: to make it entertainment! And Sorkin's characters are given powerful dialogue. In the opening scene, our hero's girlfriend has just dumped him and she scorns him with the film's mission statement:
"You're going to be successful, and rich. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."
Sorkin spends the rest of the film proving her point and motivating his character to disprove it, resulting in 2 hours of here-and-now meta-drama revolving around law suits, broken business partnerships and friendships, and an unwittingly-cannibalistic chicken... all because of a little heartbreak. Ain't that just how it is? (Click here to read some of the more memorable lines from the film.)

Before diving into the analysis of the story itself, I'd also like to say that I think it was a brilliant decision to team up with Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) for the films musical score. He, along with composer and some-time Reznor collaborator, Atticus Ross, created a score that was timely, subdued, but perfectly poignant in the right moments for this film. Some great moments include a scene I'd dub "The Sean-a-thon" and the Rowing scene on the Themes river (a beautifully-shot and edited little sequence that could easily have been for a Timex commercial). The music masterfully mixes a hint of the digital in a sea of the emotional.

Now, the story, as you will know whether you've seen the film or not is about the creation of the social networking site, Facebook, by Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg - a socially-inept but creative computer programming wizard, as played by up-and-comer Jessie Eisenberg, who, over the past 5 years, has worked his way from total obscurity to leading-man Oscar-buzz-worthy performances in just a handful of films. We follow Zuckerberg and his best friend Edwardo Saverin (and the Best Supporting Actor award goes to... Andrew Garfield, who is best known as... well, the next Spider-Man) as they spin a wheel of lies and brilliance into a golden thread tainted with treachery and greed. Zuckerberg is the bane of the existence of three fraternity brothers, including the Winklevoss twins, (amazingly and surprisingly played by one actor, Armie Hammer - I had no idea!) who accuse him of stealing their idea for an exclusive social website. Spoiler Alert: They're not totally wrong.

Superstar Justin Timberlake plays Napster founder Sean Parker as an overconfident millionaire playboy who's facade of perfection is on the cusp of its inevitable crumble. He steps in to help Zuckerberg and company realize the full potential of such a radical idea as Facebook and he is first worshiped and then villainized all within an hour of screen-time. His character slowly pulls a believable "180" without ever coming across as evil or mean. I credit this more to Sorkin than Timberlake, although J.T. does his job well.

That's the plot in a nutshell. But the real meat of this film comes in the character study of Mark Zuckerberg. Is he really the nerdy, introverted and manipulative sociopath that the filmmakers have portrayed him as in real life? Does it really matter? For just another film-goer and Facebook-member like myself, I will probably forever see Jessie Eisenberg in my head every time I hear the name "Mark Zuckerberg" in the news, so this is the image that will prevail to the public. And the character was made deeper and more interesting to watch this way. It would make sense that someone with these particular personality traits, combined with the super-powers of divine computer programming skills and the ability to read social structures as mathematical algorithms, would have not only the ability to create the world-wide phenomenon that is Facebook, but the balls and the greed to pull it off. And yet, as the film's initial statement about Zuckerberg's asshole-ishness is again addressed at the end, it's all fueled by something else... something to which any of us can fall prey: desire.

The film ends without ending, for the story is still going on as we speak. Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world, Facebook has over 500 million members in over 200 countries world-wide, is valued at over $24 billion and undoubtedly, the real-life drama is still raging on behind closed doors. The film ends almost unexpectedly, with loose-ends still not tied up, relationships still unstable and lawsuits yet to be closed... and rolling the credits in the midst of such tension reminds us how über-present this situation really is (as well as situations like it that we may know from our own lives).

As clean, simple and everlasting as it all appears to the general public from this side of the Facebook main page on our computer screens, one thing I took away from this film is the reminder that nothing lasts forever. Not MySpace, not Napster, not friendships nor fortune. Not Facebook. Not glory. The only constant in the universe is change. And perhaps its only fuel is desire.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Blog of a Different Color

Okay, it's been a long time. A really long time. I don't blog anymore.

And it's weird, because I used to do it a lot - once a day for a while there. But that all changed when Facebook came along. Now, instead of having to dole this lengthy, wordy, time-gobbling paragraph at you via a blog page, (which is shoddily put together by a guy who has no idea how to make a real and unique blog all his own,) all I have to do is shorten it to a simple statement, slap it on my status update on Facebook and wait for the comments to roll in.

But, you know what I learned in the year or so of blogging that I did and the ensuing year or so when Facebook all but obliterated it? I learned that I have almost nothing to say that is worth much of anything. I have opinions and all that, but who cares? They're just mine. I can tell you about my day, review a movie or an album, comment on some recent news, but... so what? It all means nothing to you - my experiences are not helping you. Apparently, they were barely entertaining you. So, it seems that the blog just ain't where it's at. I'm really writing this to see if I even remember how to write a blog.

I think, if I were to ever get back into blogging, I'd have to align it with some sort of a more direct and specific message - maybe preach about my convictions and my beliefs. Maybe blog about real life lessons I've learned and how I learned them and how you can apply these lessons to your life. Maybe I can make this soapbox big and sturdy enough for standing upon once again.

Hmmm... interesting thought: "Be original." Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Okay, so, let me think about this for a while. I'll come up with a list of topics that I might want to tackle and I'll be more organized and thoughtful about the posts I make from now on. I can get pretty deep and philosophical when I want to - those of you closest to me know this. So maybe I can put it to work on a blog better than it could ever be expressed on good ol' Facebook. Whatdyathink? Here goes nuthin'...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rock and Roll in Retrospect - The 2000s

Is it just me? Or has this decade been pretty much terrible for Rock and Roll? I feel like, for the first time since its inception in the 1950s, Rock N' Roll has failed to produce anything truly revolutionary to define this decade.

Cases in point:

The 1950s saw the birth of rockabilly, and that classic 50's be-bop kind of rock that started it all. Elvis Prestly, Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and His Comets, Ritchie Valens, The Dave Clark Five and the like - the originators of the sound that would forever go on to be called Rock and Roll.

The 1960s saw... well, The freakin' Beatles! But also acts like The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Velvet Underground, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. These artists paved the way for the Free Love, Psychedelic, Hippie rock that would lead to the decade's swan song concert experience, "Woodstock".

The 1970s saw the rise of acts like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, The Eagles, James Taylor, Queen, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Pink Floyd. New brands of music came into being, like Funk, Disco and Motown.

The 1980s saw the rise of New Wave, The New Romantics and Synth Pop. Michael Jackson, U2 and Madonna rules the airwaves, while young metal acts like Metallica and Megadeth also paved the way for thousands of future "metal" bands. And in between were the 80s hair-metal bands like Poison, Bon Jovi, and Motley Crue.

And the 1990s gave us Grunge and Alt-Rock! Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins... and the post-grunge era with Everclear, Live, Beck, No Doubt, Counting Crows, Ben Folds Five and Garbage. There was also quite the British invasion with bands like Oasis, Radiohead, and Blur.

But now... as we are about to close out the first decade of the new millennium, what have the 2000s given us? If I had to name something that happened for rock in this span of time, I would have to say that Indie Rock has had the best years here. Perhaps this is due to the ravaging of the giant record publishing companies at the hands of the Internet and programs like Napster and other Peer-To-Peer file sharing programs that gave millions of young people access to free music, legally or otherwise. And in the aftermath, up came the sounds of indie labels who had never had a towering infrastructure to begin with, and therefore did not crumble in the face of emerging technology. Successful Indie Rock bands might include Jet, The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, The Strokes, Kings of Leon, The White Stripes, Snow Patrol and Interpol.

Still, many bands had an amazing decade. Acts like Coldplay and Linkin Park raked in their millions along side old arena staples like U2, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones and Madonna.

Nickelback, Creed, Foo Fighters, Hinder, Seether and 3 Doors Down all seemed to continue to carry the dying flame of post-grunge alt-rock into the new decade, with varying success. Green Day arguable led one of the only real revolutions - that of the Pop Punk movement (or what I would call Bubble-Gum Punk) - with newcomers Blink-182, Yellowcard, All Time Low, Hit the Lights, and Every Avenue forging ahead. The other major movement could be called Emo Rock - categorized for its whiny, confessional, melodramatic lyrics and vocals. Emo bands that really "made it" this decade include Dashboard Confessional, Hawthorne Heights, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, 30 Seconds To Mars and The Plain White Tees.

Nu-Metal, a leftover afterthought from the late 1990s, saw a rise in popularity with bands like Evanescence, Linkin Park, System of a Down, Staind, Papa Roach, and Disturbed, although in my opinion, it never fully materialized with any bands that could be called the true leaders and definers of this sound. An odd blend of New Wave/post-punk/synth pop emerged in the later years of the decade with acts like Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, The Bravery, Bloc Party, Metro Station, Justice, The Veronicas, Lights, The Postal Service, Kasabian, Hellogoodbye, Owl City, and MGMT. And I won't even get into the dark and bloody mess that is "Metalcore" or "Post-Hardcore".

This is all excluding the terrible pop acts (Britney Spears, N'SYNC, The Jonas Brothers, Avril Levine, Ashlee Simpson, etc.) and the uproarious swell of popularity in Hip-Hop/Rap/R&B acts (Eminem, OutKast, T.I., Kanye West, Ja Rule, The Game, 50 Cent, Nas, Jay-Z, DMX, Missy Elliott, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Rick Ross, etc.) Hip-Hop/R&B was undoubtedly the winner in the music industry this decade.

But what, then, did the 2000s do or Rock and Roll? Sure, I was able to mention about a hundred acts that made some waves over the past 10 years, but what did it all amount to? Nothing, in my opinion. It was all very, very derivitive of the major steps in rock that were taken many years before. Most of it was based on the major acts of the 90s - rock didn't actually change all that much... it just kind of echoed into the future. For the first time ever, I feel, there is no clear and obvious statement being made in rock and roll for this decade's new generation of musicians.

I don't know what that means exactly. Maybe, if anything, it's a statement in and of itself, that this generation doesn't know what to say. The don't know who or what they are or where they're headed. In a post-9/11 world, they don't know how to define themselves at all. Perhaps all this muddled composition of styles is exactly an expression of that sentiment - of fear, loss of faith and of identity crisis. And, in my opinion, this statement taken from a Wikipedia page says it all; "New York City, once the leading market for the format, has no modern rock station as of mid-2009."

Overall, I'd say the best rock and roll acts to come out of the new millennium are easy to spot, and if I had to call them, I'd say it was these acts:

Coldplay
The White Stripes
The Killers
Fall Out Boy
Linkin Park
Muse
and Keane

(I'd also have to throw John Mayer in there for his amazing blues chops)

Here's to hoping that the 2010s will see a revival and a new revolution in rock music that the whole world can get behind.