Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

Fiction to Make NonFiction

A swashbuckling pirate leaps onto a ship, and the high tech images of rocks make you think the people involved are designing a tale of fiction. Dare we ask how those skills can be used in reality? The team that put together the documentary, The Cove, found that the usual skills of film making required knowledge about pirating and stunt camouflage simply to make the movie.

The Cove takes viewers into the hidden area of Taiji, Wakajama, Japan, where the fishing industry regularly kills and captures dolphins. The 2009 Sundance award winning documentary showed how migrating dolphins were trapped in the secret cove by nets and were then slaughtered with knives and spears. Yet the trappers usually gloated when they could send live dolphins to the sea world entertainment industry as they pocketed tens of thousands of dollars from the buyers of live dolphins who perform before cheering people.

To make the movie, the movie crew led by producer Fisher Stevens and director Louie Psihoyos had to find clever ways to find the culprits so they resorted to the world of subterfuge that we usually see in fiction. Set design traditionally aids the movie director to thrill the viewer because the special effects take people into the world of the story. But camouflaged rocks were not used for the benefit of the viewer. Experts from KernerFX, once part of Industrial Light & Magic had to use special effects to hide cameras. The fishermen would not simply allow the documentary people to film them, so the dolphin killing had to be photographed by cameras without the documentary staff being around the area. The cameras were high definition and looked so much like rocks of the terrain that the film people had a hard time relocating the cameras.

How could the consulting use of pirate tactics help in making a movie? Stevens and Psihoyos had to place the cameras and evade the fishing fleet. What better skills could be found than those of pirates such as when they slip around a vine-tangled bay to hide their ships when the Royal Navy threatens to appear. The movie makers had to plot the speed of their ships and distance the way the pirates navigated. Swimmers used underwater microphones to pick up some of the sounds from the fishermen. Their swimming would have made Long John Silver envious.

The usual strengths of knowing how to shoot the camera and how to stage the ships for a presentation were not enough to make The Cove a success. Stealth and special effects came to the fore with The Cove’s planning. Dare we ask if fiction’s great pirates came to mind as the crew with Stevens and Psihoyos mounted a modern day crow’s nest?

The Cove image courtesy of

Laughs Abound

Senate Charges Public Extra

Washington DC —

New laws allowing utility companies to charge residents for wind turbine use has passed the Senate because of the newest corporate senators selected last week.

Senator Con Public (R-NV), the corporation that operates a regional utility power grid in the midwest, became a senator when the laws allowed corporations to be considered individuals. The change meant that corporations could run for office.

Slick Fleece, the corporate attorney representing, Senator Con Public, proposed the wind turbine law because the corporation worried that the public would be generating too much power on their own and would not need as much from the utility.

“We’re too big to fail,” he said. “So we have the right to take the power the people generate and then charge them for it.”

Senator Sierra (D-Calif), the new senator representing the Sierra Club, argued that people should be paid for the energy they create from the wind turbine use.

However, the new block of senators includes Sen. Hess (R-NJ), Sen. Exxon (R-TX) and Sen. American Express (R-CN). That block threatened other non-corporate senators so the move to help the common people failed.

Roman E. Gal, the attorney for Sen. American Express said that the finance sector had to help out old friends in the energy area because, “they’s just good ole boys.”

When asked if the power of American Express’ handling of money threatened the fair discussion of policy in the senate, E. Gal answered, “this is the free market at work — if people wanted to avoid how we throw money around, they can vote us out.”

Yet Moss Greenfield, the attorney for Sierra pointed out that the senate block of his friends, Senator Save the Children (D-Mass), Senator Johns Hopkins (D-MD) and Senator United Way (D-IL), lack money to explain their positions to the public.

“Every time we start to show our side, those other guys buy ruffians to shout at meetings,” Greenfield said. “The ruffians tried to stop the windmill production by saying that the wind was free for everyone and must be Communistic.”

The public was confused because they could not understand how the wind could be a Communistic ploy. The public was also confused in the recent senatorial elections that allowed the corporations entry into the Senate. One long time Democratic senator from New Jersey was ousted by Sen. Hess when the corporation ran continuous car ads and threatened the public with the fear that gas stations would close if Hess lost the seat.

Other confusion hit when the public couldn’t understand that using American Express cards meant voting for that senate seat. Sen. American Express was even accused by some human senators that restaurants were being used as voting booths for the senator. People were denied meals if they failed to vote.

The dissension in the senate has lead to the formation of a Human Caucus with the call to set up a minority bloc before the voices of the average person become totally drowned out.

“This is getting ridiculous,” said Human Sen. Shaken Mike Boots. “I even heard that one of these corporations is going to run for President — what happens on an overseas visit? Do we have to fund sending the entire corporate office overseas just to meet a head of state?”

Image courtesy of

Lights, Camera, Action!

Songs of Summer

After watching the Academy Awards and seeing The Weary Kind from the movie Crazy Heart win Best Song, it got me thinking about the significance of music, namely songs in movies. Whether it is to further convey an emotion, a narration or create a particular mood, the use of specific songs in movies, can either make or break a film. One film in particular, (500) Days of Summer, creatively uses an eclectic blend of songs that help to show what can happen when the very different expectations of two people do not meet the reality of their relationship. I dare to ask if more movies might take a cue from this type of storytelling.

Shown from the point of view of Tom, a lovesick and hopeless romantic who thinks he has finally found his soul mate in Summer, the movie reflects (in non-linear fashion), the highs and lows that Tom goes through in trying to woo the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately for Tom, Summer, is an independent woman who has a casual, carefree stance on relationships and dating. The songs in the movie show the ecstasy and agony that Tom experiences along the way.

In one particular scene, it is morning and Tom has just had his first “casual” encounter with Summer in his apartment. As he leaves for work, the Hall and Oates song, You Make My Dreams, starts playing. The song reflects Tom’s complete and utter bliss at making his first physical connection with Summer. Not only do we hear the song, but it seems that Tom does too. As he walks down the street smiling, the sun is out, the sky is blue, and everyone seems to be his friend congratulating and high fiving him as he walks along. As he continues walking, Tom breaks out into a dance routine with everyone else around him as a marching band comes trumpeting by. A little animated bird then comes fluttering down upon his shoulder whistling a sweet song. The music stops abruptly as we are fast forwarded toward day 303 in his relationship with Summer and a very different looking Tom comes out of the elevator to work. He’s tired, his clothes are disheveled and it’s obvious that things with Summer are anything but blissful.

One of the most effective and powerful scenes in the movie occurs when Tom meets up with Summer after they have been estranged for a period of time. Summer invites Tom to a party she is giving. Tom accepts thinking that the two of them will pick up right where they left off. As Tom approaches Summer’s apartment, the screen splits into two. On the bottom left of one screen, the word “Expectations” appears. On the bottom right of the other screen, the word “Reality” appears. On the “Expectations” side of the screen we see Tom’s image of how the party goes. At the party, he and Summer are inseparable and she greets him with a huge kiss and loves the gift he has brought for her. They are talking, giggling, snuggling and joking around like they did in the past. On the Reality side, we see, well we see the reality of the situation. Summer greets Tom with a hug and curtly thanks him for the gift he’s brought over for her. Tom basically hangs out by himself drinking while Summer carouses with the rest of her guests. Toward the end of the evening, he is also shell shocked to learn that Summer is engaged to be married. He staggers out of the party blindsided.

What makes this scene so innovative is not only the split screen, but the choice of the song, Hero of the Story by Regina Spektor. As the scenes at the party unfold, particular lyrics of the song really stand out. The first lines of the song, “He never, ever saw it coming at all” is a foreshadowing of what Tom is about to experience when he sees that his expectations are not aligning at all with the reality of the situation. Throughout both scenes, the words, “I’m the hero of the story, don’t need to be saved” and “It’s all right, it’s all right, it’s all right”, reverberate over and over and serve as a reminder to Tom of what is and what he wished could have been. In one world he is indeed the hero and everything is all right. In the other, the words serve to mock him and falsely reassure him that everything will be OK despite Summer’s revelation. The use of animation to convey Tom’s hurt and loneliness as he staggers down the street is a fitting end to the scene.

Whether it’s a sappy song like She’s Like The Wind by the late Patrick Swayze, or a powerful, nostalgic song such as Old Friends (Bookends) by Simon and Garfunkel, Marc Webb, the director of (500) Days of Summer, utilizes music in innovative ways to keep you not only emotionally invested in the main characters of the film, but also to help move Tom and Summer’s story along.

I’m not a fan of romantic comedies. They’re too generic, overly sappy or melodramatic, or just plain dumb. But much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry, (500) Days of Summer offers a new and creative twist on an otherwise boring and lame genre through its use of music, animation and cinematography. I dare to ask if more directors of this genre could take a hint from both Webb and Gondry.

(500) Days of Summer image courtesy of

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fiction's Philosophy

Mumbai Morality

Poor kids race through Mumbai streets as they steal from decent people. The act is deplorable, yet the torture of minor crimes by enforcement fits with correcting wrongs — right? Fiction’s philosophy makes us dare to ask how we define morality as seen through the eyes of characters in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

In Slumdog, morality seems to have a number of faces from Jamal who risks everything for love, to Salim, Jamal’s brother, who seeks materialism while saving Jamal’s lover. Meanwhile, the upper society symbols of justice and entertainment offer torture and jealousy.

Jamal’s moral code was in direct contrast to the way the upper classes viewed concepts of right and wrong. Jamal thought little of stealing for survival. Yet he ignored the chance for wealth as he pushed the quiz show to the limit just to keep the line open for his lover, Latika, to see him. Jamal looked at degrees of wrongness. It was all right to steal in the streets. Stealing knowledge to stay in the quiz show was part of the bigger picture for Jamal rather than the idea of committing a wrong. In Jamal’s eyes, an even greater wrong would have been to allow his Latika to remain with the mob leader that his brother Salim worked for, because that would have taken her life’s spirit from her. Jamal’s goal was to rescue Latika, so committing a wrong to accomplish that goal took on a sense of righteousness.

Salim’s sense of morality focused on getting ahead by gaining a reputation in crime, although he rejected torture of the innocent. He almost allowed Jamal to become blinded just to be a better beggar, yet stopped at the last second because the act went against his grain. Salim could even aim a gun at Jamal when he saw his brother threatened his path. But he turned on his mob boss so that Latika could escape.

A different moral mentality flowed through the police inspector who believed torture helped get answers from people. He had to use electronic pain to force Jamal into admitting that he cheated in the quiz show, even though Jamal was innocent. The crime that he thought Jamal committed was not terrorism or murder, but the punishment was not an issue from his perspective.

Prem Kapur, the quiz show host, displayed another version of morality. His disgust with the thought that a poor kid could not have wisdom led him to become jealous of Jamal. The further Jamal reached in the show, the more Prem wanted to derail the youth. Winning was not his place, and Prem’s moral code called for him to protect his caste. During the show, he tried to give Jamal a false clue. When that failed, Prem had Jamal arrested.

In Slumdog Millionaire, morality’s many faces make us ask how we define good and bad. Maybe the key component is whether the characters in the movie have a sense of selflessness and care about others. Yet even that leads us to ask how we define acts that help us while hurting others if the eventual goal considers the others fate. But that very concept means many variables drift and flow into play. Many degrees of selfishness or selflessness must be considered within the pressure of outside forces. Dare we ask how we would run through Mumbai streets?

Slumdog Millionaire image courtesy of

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Follow The Bouncing Brawl

The Bigger They Are (Or Think They Are)...

Long before Tiger Woods ascended to the top of the golf mountain and became one of the most dominant and well-known golfers of all time, his father was already anointing him as a force that would not only change the golf world, but the world in general. I dare to ask if the seeds that ultimately led to Tiger’s fall from grace were planted a long time ago. Tiger’s quest for popularity certainly played a role in his fall, but was the way he was raised also a contributing factor, and could it have prevented his womanizing ways?

Back in 1996, Sports Illustrated talked with Woods’ father about young Tiger’s potential not only as a golfer but his role in the grander scheme of things. Here’s what Woods Sr. had to say,

"Please forgive me...but sometimes I get very emotional...when I talk about my son.... My heart...fills with I realize...that this young going to be help so many people.... He will transcend this game...and bring to the world...a humanitarianism...which has never been known before. The world will be a better place to live virtue of his existence...and his presence.... I acknowledge only a small part in that I know that I was personally selected by God nurture this young man...and bring him to the point where he can make his contribution to humanity.... This is my treasure.... Please accept it...and use it wisely.... Thank you."

Notice the words that Tiger’s father uses to describe his son. He claims Tiger will “transcend this game”, be a “humanitarian” and that the world will be “a better place to live in” when (not if) his son reaches golf immortality. I wonder if Woods Sr. preached this same sermon to a young Tiger growing up. If these words were reinforced repeatedly, and Tiger grew up thinking and believing he was indeed the Chosen One or Golf’s Savior, could he have bought into the God Complex that his father was espousing? Could this behavior have led Tiger to develop the more narcissistic tendencies that ultimately caused him to go down the path of infidelity? Did Tiger’s family overtly or subtly reinforce notions of entitlement within their son?

On the flip side, I wonder what would have happened to Tiger if Woods Sr. was still alive. Would Tiger’s father have used the same words he used above to steer Tiger clear of his ultimately womanizing ways? Perhaps he would have reinforced the idea that Tiger’s potential to be the greatest golfer of all time and an international celebrity meant he needed to rise above the needs and desires of the average person. In Woods Sr.’s eyes perhaps that meant that Tiger needed to be “better” than everyone else not only physically, mentally, and spiritually, but also morally.

Though these questions cannot be definitively answered, it is interesting to note that after Tiger’s indiscretions came to light, many of his “close” friends had commented that throughout college and his days as a bachelor, Tiger had a roving eye and a penchant for young, cute girls, blonde ones in particular.

Many hoped and believed that Tiger would be immune to the temptations and pitfalls that went along with being not only an international sports star, but a celebrity as well. Wasn’t he the Chosen One after all? Before all of his affairs came to light, Tiger had carefully crafted an image of a devoted family man and intense, driven athlete.

While there’s little doubt that Tiger will eventually return triumphantly to the golf course and win many more titles, it remains to be seen if the public will ultimately embrace Tiger like they did before this incident occurred. Unfortunately all we can do is wonder if this all could have been avoided if Papa Woods was still around to guide his “Chosen” son.

Tiger Woods image courtesy of