Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why I Understand Nicolas Cage

Having seen a movie starring Nicolas Cage recently ("Kick Ass"), as well as previews for at least one more big-budget action movie he'll be starring in later this year, ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice"), I've found myself thinking not so much about his career as about his apparent inability to manage his considerable financial resources. Not being much of a financial wizard myself I certainly wouldn't presume, here or elsewhere to advise Mr. Cage on how to handle his money, but even though he probably makes, per big-budget movie, more money than I will make or even need in my lifetime, I honestly believe that I can relate to the impulse that has possessed him to buy far more property than he was, per recent events, able to manage.

It hits me that no matter how much money someone has, there is no end to the cool stuff one can buy with it. Like I said in my "window shopping" post recently there is so much gratification to be had from just walking into a store and taking in the glorious sight of all of those products, whether they're clothes, books, toys, appliances, home furnishings, or anything else consumers can think of to spend their money on that sometimes it can even surpass the satisfaction of actually buying something, especially when one knows that one cannot possibly buy everything in sight. Now, I imagine it would be a complete game-changer, as it were, to all of a sudden have the money to afford everything in sight; the possibilities are staggering.

I'm not saying that it isn't altogether irresponsible to blow enough money to feed a third world country on worldly possessions, because God knows it is, but putting myself in Nicolas Cage's shoes and envisioning myself with all that money I started imagining all the things I could buy with it, if I really wanted to buy stuff. I mean, if, for example, I treated real supercars like I do the toy cars I collect, then quite possibly not even millions of dollars would be enough, especially coupled with lots of world travel and investments in, of all things, castles. In the right hands (so to speak), even a hundred million dollars wouldn't go very far. After all, with real estate taxes, things like castles continue to drain resources long after the purchase price has been spent.

Now, honestly, I don't think I'd need to buy all of the things that Cage reportedly has, but I wouldn't feel right judging him as I know what kind of impulses motivate people who collect things. Anyway, I'm still giving him my money for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and the inevitable "National Treasure 3" because no matter how much people bash him I generally find his onscreen performances entertaining, but I sure hope that at some point he overcomes his insatiable urge before his star fades so that, if nothing else, he doesn't see out the remainder of his career making direct-to-DVD garbage for a paycheck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Contrived Controversy

This is going to sound weird; though I genuinely enjoyed the movie "Kick-Ass" to an extent, I took an equally genuine amount of satisfaction when I learned that it failed to set the American box-office on fire last weekend. It made me feel smug about how little the opinion of internet fanboys means in the real world, as it were. As much as I liked the movie (and I didn't like it THAT much, I'd like to emphasize), I never got behind any of the vitriolic comments posted by internet fanboys over at decrying almost any and every negative review posted about the film, even the well-thought out ones that didn't harp on morality issues. Essentially, that particular site was governed by a cadre of "nerd police" ready to defend their beloved film tooth and nail against anyone who had anything bad to say about it. Well the film's box-office, while respectable, fell well-short of industry expectations, putting into emphasis the simple fact that, internet fanboys' belief to the contrary, they are NOT a significant demographic. If the box-office failure of "The Grindhouse" and "Snakes on a Plane" left any questions as to this issue, the tepid returns of "Kick-Ass" should have answered them.

What made me even more smug, however, was that apparently a great number of people refused to be baited by writer Mark Millar's deliberate and heavy-handed attempt to court controversy by creating an 11-year-old mass murdering vigilante named Hit Girl. People didn't turn out in droves like they did for "The Passion of the Christ" or "The Da Vinci Code" to see why the Jews or the Catholics or the self-appointed guardians of morality were throwing tantrums about the film. Nobody picketed the theaters (or at least, nobody who caught the eye of any national media outlet) claiming child abuse or anything like that. Yet, when he was being interviewed about the comic book about two or three years ago, I rather got the impression that this was the effect Millar was gunning for; he was out to push the boundaries of taboo, and essentially to see how people would react to Hit Girl, not because he particularly wanted to address any urgent social issues, but just for the simple sake of offending people. While reading one such interview I could practically see him (in my mind's eye) gleefully rubbing his hands at how the conservatives would get their panties in a twist over his work. Some of them have, but not nearly enough to generate even a fraction of the furor that accompanied "The Passion" and "The Da Vinci Code" and not enough to put a record-breaking number of fannies in the seats, so at least he isn't quite laughing all the way to the bank the way he might have hoped.

People who do things just for the sake of controversy are truly irritating. I can think of a number of people in the local entertainment industry who have managed to get press time long after their stars had faded by saying or doing something calculated to get them in trouble, because without it they lose all relevance. What disappoints me about Millar is that he is a truly talented writer who is capable of getting people's attention on merit rather than on the strength of cheap stunts; his run on "Ultimates" at the beginning of the millenium is regarded by many as a modern classic, and for my part I absolutely loved his twelve-issue run on Spider-Man about five years ago. Sure, he's often had a gimmick, including writing about the Antichrist in "Chosen," but he's sold more than a fair share of books through good, compelling writing.

People who resort to controversy to generate attention in this society are inevitable, but it saddens me when people who don't necessarily need the controversy desperately court it to stay in the spotlight.

All I can say to the people who refused to be baited by the blatant attempts to generate controversy by the makers of "Kick-Ass" is this; good job. This film should stand or fall on its own merits, not because Mark Millar is able to generate outrage with an 11-year-old, female version of the Punisher.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On (Window) Shopping

Even though I don't go to malls nearly as much as I used to, I still understand the allure of the mall. While the air-conditioned comfort is a no-brainer, I love walking among the books, magazines, comics, restaurants, DVDs, games and toys, even if about five times out of six, I don't buy anything at all.

Since my late adolescence I've come to look at shopping malls a source of comfort, a place where I can get away from the difficulties of life, which came into sharper relief when I was on my own and supporting a family.

I take some solace knowing that I still find more comfort sitting in empty or relatively quiet churches, and sometimes, in my office, after a long day's work, than I do walking around a mall looking at items I usually can't afford, but the urge to walk around malls and window shop incessantly still exists. I mean, I don't think I've ever bought anything at Bonifacio High Street, but I still go there, pay the 35 peso parking fee, and walk up and down, alternating between Fully Booked, Hobbes and Landes and Maxitoys, just staring at all the stuff, whether they be books, magazines, resin sculptures of pop culture figures like the Lord of the Rings characters or Spider-Man, or astronomically priced 1/18 and 1/43 model cars.

It's hardly a religious experience, nor is it exactly the same thing as standing in an art gallery or museum (though it's closer to that than to standing in a church), but there is a gratification in being able to just stand in a nice, cold room surrounded by a bunch of beautiful products, whether or not I ever actually buy them.

In fact, as bizarre as this may sound, sometimes there is a gratification in not ever even buying these things, because these stores in which I browse these items, with their air-conditioning, lighting and comfortably upholstered furniture (in some cases) are like refuges from the trials and tribulations of the outside world. It's not quite the sanctuary that home (or an empty church) is, but there is something comforting about standing in one, and seeing the cars lined up in their shelves. I have no such shelves and my cars are stacked up in boxes. When I want to admire or photograph them for my galleries I have to take them out and painstakingly unpack them, in some cases even having to unscrew them from plastic bases. Even if I had shelves to keep or display them in I'd have concerns such as dusting them or keeping them at cool temperatures so that their rubber tires would not melt and stick to the surfaces on which they are displayed. In the store, there is no such concern as the stock is, during the hottest times of the day, stored in full-airconditioning and yet remains on glorious display. To remove them from these safe havens (even assuming I were willing to pay the exorbitant prices charged by Hobbes and Landes) and expose them to the dust and elements that I mentioned earlier is not a prospect I relish in the least. Of course, there are a number of cars I dearly want to take home and in a few instances I do (albeit from the much cheaper Greenhills merchants) but the times I don't buy anything far outstrip the times I actually plunk down the money for a new haul.

Window-shopping remains, for the most part, a preferable alternative to actual shopping, no matter how much money I have in my bank account. I may go home most of the time without anything, but at least it means I have one less new item to worry about storing, cleaning, or in general just maintaining somehow. And of course, I still have money in my wallet.

Friday, April 16, 2010

On High Horses

A healthy chunk of the criticism levelled at the movie "Kick-Ass" zeroes in on what most writers describe as its morality, or lack thereof, with the specific focus of that ire being the foul-mouthed, murderous 11-year-old named Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz. I will not contest that there is something off about the concept, and in fact I was initially put off from watching the movie precisely because of it. I mean, I have a four-year-old girl and the thought of casting a little girl in that role seemed revolting to me.

The thing about art, whether in literature, music or film, is that sometimes, in my opinion, it has to challenge our perception of what is good and proper, whether the end result is an affirmation of one's belief or a reexamination of them. I was genuinely curious about the film and ultimately decided that if I wanted to knock it, I would have to try it first. So basically, I walked in half-expecting to hate it, despite my efforts to suppress all expectations or preconceived notions.

Ultimately, however, I couldn't. I enjoyed myself too much, even though the movie definitely had its flaws. It be self-indulgent and it often engages in one too many nudge-nudge, wink-wink moments to fans of superheroes, but director Matthew Vaughn, whose "Stardust" adaptation I enjoyed three years ago, really seems to know how to tell a story. Sure, Hit Girl is a big part of that story and yes the violence is pretty disturbing, but to judge the film solely on the "morality" of the film while overlooking breakthrough performances by Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz and a fantastic return to form for Nicolas Cage is to allow one's own preconceived notions to curtail one's ability to appreciate an attempt at art on its own complete terms.

I think morality and art appreciation can be compatible, but I think it's important not to mix the two. The craft of a movie boils down to how it tells its story; the effectiveness of the script, actors, directors, visual effects, lighting, sound design, etc. (and in the case of a film like "Kick-Ass," its comic timing). It's why films like "The Birth of a Nation," and "Lolita" have remained in the public consciousness despite the former promoting one of the worst possible evils and the latter touching upon a relationship that, even today, would be not only taboo but grounds for imprisonment. It's morals are something else, and can be varying degrees of good or bad. The important thing, I think, is not to appreciate a film solely based on its morals or perceived lack thereof; for better or worse, these films are kind of like cultural touchstones, like clothes or music; they can tell future generations what past society is like. I'm not saying "Kick-Ass" does that, but by writing it off solely on moral grounds, one risks missing the bigger picture.

Not only that, but by insisting on moralizing about a film, like the Catholic Church did with "The Da Vinci Code" one ends up generating a whole lot of attention the film may or may not have received without all the pontificating. For example, the fact that the DVC sequel, "Angels and Demons" was, relative to its predecessor, a box office failure, offers some testimony to the mileage the original film got out of all its negative publicity. It could well go down in history as one of the films that really spooked the Catholic Church. Without all the hoopla, given the bad reviews and people who didn't come back for the apparent sequel (which did not contain any Catholic Church-bashing), it may have just gone down as yet another murder-mystery-suspense film, end of story. I suppose the reasonable conclusion here is: the higher up one gets on a horse, the farther the fall.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Some outdoor shots

With this new digital camera, I now have increased confidence in my ability to create some pretty spectacular automotive illusions. Allow me to demonstrate...

Maybe writer's block isn't so's allowed me to discover a whole new side to myself...

Friday, April 02, 2010

On Writer's Block and Chinese Spam (And I'm Not Talking About the Canned Food)

I've been writing a little something for myself since last year; it's a book I hope to be able to have published when it's done, or failing that, which I am able to self-publish. It's a fiction book; writing law textbooks, despite my profession, somehow holds very little allure for me.

Lately, though, I've hit a bit of an impasse. I've always known it was hard to write when one has a lot on one's mind, but when I finally got back to work on my little novel over the Holy Week what took me aback was exactly how much time I'd been away from it. According to the time stamp I had last written there on the 28th of January, or over two months before I got going again.

I thought to myself; I couldn't possibly have been working that whole time, so what exactly have I been up to?

I got my answer when I went over my various blog posts, film reviews, and discussion threads over at my toy car collector forum. Long story short, not very much and a whole lot at the same time.

I guess it's easier to work around writer's block or write without any real inspiration when one is basically writing off the top of one's head, as one tends to do for stuff like blogs and online fora (though I recognize that there are much more serious bloggers out there who put a great deal of thought into their online musings); sometimes it feels easier for me to sustain quick bursts of creative energy than to go through the agonizing process of structuring a narrative. This was clear to me when I read the book I've written so far and saw that some of it was pretty engaging and some of it kind of just blundered along. My up and down days affect my ability to write a longer piece of work, unlike a quickie blog post, which is either great or awful reading all by itself.

One downside of blogs like this one and multiply is that people I don't know from Adam sometimes post all kinds of garbage. The latest batch I'm getting is a bunch of Chinese spam which, thanks to the google translator, I have determined is an advert for some porn. Good grief.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

My Generation's Turn to Be Remade

One of the touchstones of my youth was listening to remakes of twenty-year-old songs, hearing my mother say "the original sounded better," and refusing to believe her. That was the eighties, and the songs being remade were either sixties' era songs or older.

As early as 1998, I should have seen that it would soon be the eighties' turn to get the remake treatment, when a mullet-wigged Adam Sandler starting poking fun at the era (in which he had clearly grown up) in his film, The Wedding Singer, which was set in 1985.

Twelve years after the Sandler movie, when everything from even the last year of the eighties is officially over twenty years old (and where the people born in 1980 are now turning 30), apparently people sitting up in Hollywood feel that the era is now officially ripe for the remaking. It's been in the works for some years, with such popular 80's properties as Transformers getting the big screen treatment and making a mint, but in 2010 the floodgates seem to have burst open, with everything from toys, TV shows and old B-movies getting either an adaptation, remake or sequel. Heck, even the Disney movie Tron, which bombed when it was first released in 1982 but which has generated a cult following since, will be followed up by Tron: Legacy, a sequel literally 27 years in the making.

To make a brief rundown of the films and properties getting the remake treatment, here are a few I've seen advertised over the last few months in no particular order: Clash of the Titans (based on the 1981 film), The A-Team (based on the popular TV series), The Karate Kid (based on the 1980s film series) and Poltergeist (based on the 1980 film). I remember watching the original Clash of the Titans.

Now, I have no intention of decrying the remake in general and bewailing the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood. That's just as tired and old as the people claim the remakes to be. Some of the films I truly liked have been remakes, including the Lord of the Rings films (there was a prior attempt to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's saga back in the 1980s by adult-animation meister Ralph Bakshi)and Andrew Davis' 1993 film The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm not complaining, nor am I particularly happy to see it happening.

I just find it, well, in a word, funny to think that this day has come. So many of the things I enjoyed as a kid are so old they're getting made over with rock music and CGI. Boy this feels weird...