Friday, November 30, 2012

Negative Effects of the Internet

This is an article I wrote several years ago for a website called helium which collects people's articles and pays them just a few cents for those articles. Not a good deal. This morning I got an e-mail several years after I wrote this article that my article was deleted from the database for some odd reason, so I'll gladly share it with you here.

In the internet age, everyone's attention spans are getting shorter and a lot is being left out. My sophomore year in college, for example, I had a roommate who had a few habits that got on my nerves. He would cycle through his mp3s and never be able to play a single song all the way through. He would never be able to watch a half hour TV show, instead perferring highlights on ESPN, clips from Saturday Night Live reruns (back when they aired on Comedy Central), and MTV videos.

It frustrated me that he could never sit all the way through a program without changing the channel. I would listen to entire CDs from start to finish, watch entire movies, and plays. I would go to class and listen throughout the entire lecture. How awful it must be to have that small an attention span, that my poor roomate, has, I thought?

Fast forward five years later and after discovering the joys of youtube and other forms of internet video for the past year and a half or so I've turned into him. This is the tragic thing that youtube has done to me.

With so many forms of entertainment being available to me every time I log into a computer, I want to experience them all and can't sit still too long at any one thing before something else grabs my attention. Why watch an entire episode of the Conan O'Brien show where you can just see the clips of the skits since it's on MTV's site? Why listen to the radio when you can get any song you want on demand? I started taking those shortcuts toward instant gratification and I'm having trouble finding my way out. My primary form of entertainment has gone from two-hour long movies to a one-hour long drama like Heroes to half-hour shows to clips of Monty Python, Conan O'Brien or Mad TV on youtube and it's affecting everything I do.

I can't sat still through lectures and often through work I find myself channeling through youtube, a TV show on demand, or some other video or radio station site. I can't watch TV through the commercial breaks and I'm often alternating between two or more shows. I'm an instant gratification junkie, in short, and I'm fully aware that's a more chaotic and less peaceful place that both society and myself have fallen privy to.

How is this a problem? Well, aside from the obvious answers of all the ways a shortened attention span makes it more difficult to focus on anything and get anything done, I feel like we can't fully appreciate anything at all as well. Remember Beethoven's 5th symphony? Oh, silly me, I forgot that you folks in generation X won't dare listen to anything unless it has words being sung/screamed loudly accompanied to a keyboard, guitar, drums and bass, and you folks in Generation Y, live in a world where only rappers are considered true musicians, so that's pretty much synthesizer, drums and bass (see we've already shortened our attention span from 4 instruments to 3).

Anyway, Beethoven's 5th symphony is that one that goes Dum-Dum-Dum-Duuuuum, Dum-Dum-Dum-Duuuuum. It's a very dramatic piece that even my 5-second attention span college roommate had downloaded on his computer but that well-known part of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is only the 1st movement of four parts. If you listen to the 2nd part of the symphony, it's very boring and insipid on its own, the third is kind of iffy, but the 4th is where it all comes together. When you get to the fourth, you realize that the second and third movements were put there for a reason: to provide contrast to the 2nd and 3rd movements. The symphony takes over 30 minutes to listen to (or maybe it's 20 or 40, I really am just guessing here, but it's at least 4 times longer than your average song on the radio, put it that way. I couldn't find on wikipedia, google, amazon, my desk encyclopedia or this old music textbook how long the symphony was) which very few people in Generation Y has the patience to do
but it is that much more rewarding to get to movement 4 . And that's exactly what we're missing when our attention spans get reduced to wax: The metaphorical second and third movements of the movie, TV show, album and quite possibly life itself.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mindy Project: Thanksgiving Episode Review

I generally don’t care too heavily for the standard romcom but for two weeks in a row, The Mindy Project has gotten me to feel Mindy’s pains of a woeful love life. Last week, there was the painful realization that Mindy’s biological clock was running out. This might not have been so emotionally painful if not for the way it all played out: A screwball comedy scenario of Mindy getting an intimate interview from Dr. Castellano segued rather suddenly into a poignant third act in which Mindy was bedridden with depression.

This week, I found the same effectiveness in making Mindy’s rather typical problems carry that extra sting. In this episode, Mindy goes to Gwen’s Thanksgiving Party in somewhat of a mopey mood because her sports agent boyfriend (yes, that sleazy guy from the night club) doesn’t want to be exclusive with her. Her mood temporarily brightens when she bumps into an old flame only to find out that he’s with someone else. 

Mindy’s dilemma of suddenly becoming emotionally unpredictable upon hearing the news that an ex (Ed Helms) is with someone new is fairly universal and increasingly more prevalent with the advent of facebook. In fact, the inability of facebook to make the news of my exes disappear is my number one complaint with the medium. It is also why I found myself really rooting for Mindy to snag back the man that got away. After all, I think it’s fairly well established that Mindy’s current boyfriend really isn’t a keeper. It is interesting in its own way to have Mindy try to better herself by dating a sleazy sports agent she doesn’t have a future with but it’s not particularly meaningful. This is why I’m particularly pleased that the Josh-Mindy scenes are taking up only two or three minutes an episode.

This is an also an episode of pairings. Morgan comes along as Mindy’s plus one to Gwen’s Thanksgiving party. This might not make very much sense, but it’s a good way to get some inter-group chemistry going by isolating these two. It also helps that Ike Barinholtz is making Morgan fun in every scene he’s in. It’s been a while since Barinholtz left Mad TV and it’s a good thing he’s finally finding a meaty comic role to sink his teeth into.

The B-story was fairly lackluster but it sported another good pairing. Betsy goes home to a family that treats her like a kid and there’s unresolved tension. Nothing particularly grandiose comedically here but I do like the Betsy-Jeremy pairing. Because the show is seen through Mindy’s point of view (I’m referring here to both the showrunner and the character), Jeremy’s primarily defined through his sexuality.

Therefore, a good way to develop Jeremy is to pair him up with a woman who he has no desire to have sex with. I know that with the way characters are always being paired up, it seems premature to rule out Betsy from Jeremy’s menu, but I’m pretty sure Betsy is meant to be too plain and frumpy to appeal to someone like Jeremy or pretty much anyone. So as a result, we don’t get sexy playboy Jeremy but curious foreigner Jeremy and I’m fine with that.

Last but not least, the C-story features Danny paired with no one. Watching Danny enjoy Thanksgiving in solitude tugged at my heartstrings which was pretty much the intended effect. Here’s hoping Danny learns to open himself more..

Random thoughts:
-Am I only the one who feels like they tried to plug a dinner party scenario into a Thanksgiving episode? There was little talk of turkey or football, Morgan would have likely had his own plans, and why would Mindy feel the need to go with a date? 
-Mindy and Gwen have low-to-moderate chemistry as friends. When they get into a girlfight, however, it’s a whole another story. That was pretty intense and pretty delightful at that. Anna Camp just earned her place on the show with that scene
-I’m kind of used to thinking of Ed Helms as a bad boyfriend from "The Office" so it was kind of ironic seeing him as a legitimate possibility for Mindy
-Ever notice how characters on TV flirt better than we do in real life? Even with a gun pointed to my head, I don't think I could have come up with as witty responses in conversation as Ed Helms' Dennis in the conversation with Mindy right after he falls down the stairs. Oh yeah, and he just fell down the stairs.

Go On Episode Review: Dinner Takes All

Go On has its moments as a Steven-Carrie-Ryan show and its moments as a Ryan-and-the-group show but for a number of reasons (logistical, for one), merging them together usually feels forced. This Thanksgiving-themed episode was a good case in point of that awkwardness. That Ryan's group members would ditch their established plans to have Thanksgiving at Ryan's radio station stretches believability just a little. That Carrie would skip Thanksgiving with her family to participate in a hair-brained (not to mention, immature) scheme by her boss, when an entire episode resolved with the pair establishing such boundaries, stretches believability just a little more AND negates some of the growth the characters have made to date.

The main Ryan-centered plot is that Ryan and Steven reunite with an old friend (Lauren Graham) who Steven begins to crush on. Ryan, attempting to be a good friend, initially throws his backing behind Steven and agrees to be his wingman. Cue Act II:  Ryan changes his mind and wants Lauren Graham and while he's not ready to date yet, he doesn't want Steven to have her. Ryan's long been a bit egotistical and we're supposed to understand that goes with the territory of being a famous radio personality (and also goes with the territory of being played by Matthew Perry), but I had a problem with the show's lack of awareness that this was not a good thing Ryan was doing. Especially since he shared his plan with the group, and Lauren didn't even step in and say this might be unhealthy.

Still, while the episode's premise was a little shaky, it wasn't a half hour that was entirely devoid of enjoyment. In terms of character growth, Steven and Ryan had some good moments together and it's significant progress that Ryan is ready to start thinking about dating.

The group is also gelling together and those character quirks-Yolanda suddenly interjecting her loyalty to someone, Lauren awkwardly backtracking after overstepping her bounds, etc.- are starting to get more comic mileage as the traits become more recognizably associated with the characters. I especially liked the shared moment between Owen and Yolanda as they both related to each other as children of tiger moms who played string instruments (which isn't a thing, by the way, but I bought that it COULD be a thing in-universe).

The ensemble is easy to enjoy from the perspective that there's no show on TV where random people are connected by nothing but a common emotional denominator: loss. There's a certain chemistry between the characters and a bittersweet tone to the characters that sets this show apart but I could still use a little more humor. From a comedy standpoint, the show had exactly one scene that worked tremendously: The made-up unique Ryan and Steven engaged in their own unique drinking game. Whether that's enough to overcome a somewhat low joke-per-minute ratio is still up in the air.
Random thoughts:

-Ryan's voiceovers are corny. I'd even rank "Modern Family" above "Go On" when it comes to schmaltzy voiceovers to close out the episode

-I've heard the argument that Go On isn't that unique when you consider "Community" is still on the air and I've heard the comparisons (Personally, I don't like "Community" anymore but I digress). It's worth noting that Community stopped being about a group of involuntary study buddies after the first season. It was then that they consciously chose to take the same class. It also didn't really matter if they were taking the same class: The characters also basically just decided to be a gang. It will be interesting to see how Go On handles this dilemma of voluntary separation.

-Owen has been a bit oscillating between shy and confident.

-If I'm not mistaken, Lauren Graham is good friends with Matthew Perry and confessed to having a crush on him on "The Ellen Show". I know Ellen makes her stars do crazy things, but art imitating life?

-The New York Times had an infographic on the Fall Season's breakout characters last week and Brett Gelman's Mr K was on there. Am I the only one who finds him somewhat limited? Playing creepy-crazy doesn't take that much effort. I much prefer Julie White as whip-smart curmedgeon Anne.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Some Old-Timey Reviews from 2003 Films

In an effort to update the blog with something, I've decided to fill this space for now with reviews I used to post on the Internet Movie Database that I wrote when I first registered in 2003. They are entirely unchanged from when I wrote these nine years ago, so if you have a problem with their quality and accuracy, take them up with the 2003 version of Orrin. To very loosely quote an episode of Futurama ("loosely" means I'm not going to actually look it up): "I can't be held responsible for what year-ago me said or did. He was a maniac."
This was essentially my first effort to be a critic. I was out of college for a year and seeking to devote myself to something new and keep myself active. It was through doing these that I eventually got interested in being a critic and in film studies when I went back to college, so it all comes full circle:

Bruce Almighty:
Jim Carrey, who has thoroughly explored bathroom humor and Frank Capraesque drama, finds a very comfortable balance here. The plot: Carey is a newsman in Buffalo whose frustrations over his unmet aspirations to be a news anchor cause him to challenge God himself. God, in the form of Morgan Freeman, accepts his challenge setting up a pretty decent opportunity for some laughs. The choice to put Carrey's character in Buffalo rather than the New York City where most movies are set, seems to resonate in a symbolic sense, as the world Carrey inhabits always seems to be a little off the norm. Aside from Carrey's comedy, and a convincing performance by Morgan Freeman (as convincing as humanly possible, that is, considering he's playing God), I liked this movie because at heart it's very uplifting and speaks great truths about the power of love and `being a miracle.'

Whether it lives up to the success of its Marvel predecessor Spiderman with whom this superhero shares several parallels, Daredevil is an undeniably solid film. The advantage for Daredevil's appeal is that unlike human spiders, blind people actually do exist and his struggles add a neat human dimension. The title sequence is done in Braille and the special effects, shown from our blind superhero's point of view, are amazing. The well-balanced story is somewhat dark in tone but not depressing, and gives us a good character portrait. What's best about the film, however, is its cast. Ben Affleck, with his do-good persona has superhero written all over him. Affleck isn't physically intimidating but that never stopped Tobey MaGuire in Spiderman or Michael Keaton in Batman. If you're looking for a love interest who can knock down bad guys in her sleep, no one can top Garner and as for the villains, you'll feel Mike Duncan Clarke and Farrell were practically born into their parts.

Swimming Pool:
Swimming Pool is a sophisticated and new kind of movie for our postmodern world in which reality and fantasy become so blurred together. Well, sorry, I'm not on board. Call me old-fashioned but I like stories with coherent beginnings and endings and while I appreciate Ozon's effort to give his films that artistic edge, I felt like I almost wasted a ticket. I say `almost', because if you trim down a few minutes, you have, more or less, a coherent story and up until the end I felt pretty entranced. Set in an appropriately eerie French house, the main characters are a well-known writer and her editor's sexually loose daughter who are forced to temporarily live in it. Despite all the sex, drinking, and violence going on, there's very little going on. Overall, the storyline is very static so it helps that Rampling and Sagnier show so much chemistry as two awkwardly mismatched roommates.

Uptown Girls:
Brittney Murphy and Dakota Fanning star as a very childish 22-year old and a very mature 8-year old in a movie that is pretty flawless. That is if you're a pre-teen and a girl. Everything from the heavy use of peppy teen music, to the shiny lights and purples and pinks decorating the sets and wardrobe to Brittney herself create a mood characteristic of a modern Cinderella story. For the rest of us, it might not be your cup of tea depending on how far removed you are from 12 and your gender, but it still has its moments. Brittney proves herself capable of creating movie magic on screen showing us her childish side, even if she overdoes it a little. As for her counterpart, Fanning holds up ok except that the writers didn't create a very convincing 8-year old. On the whole, the movie is rather intelligent and deals with some weighty material (death of a parent, neglect, etc) that is quite powerful.

Last Samurai:
Being released alongside so many other great war epics, The Last Samurai probably won't get the recognition it deserves, but that should not detract from its achievements. Set in 1870s Japan, this is an epic set around a washed-up Civil War veteran played by Tom Cruise. Whether you think he's too much of a pretty-boy or not, Cruise can still create magic on screen, even if he plays the same kind of guy over and over. To refresh your memory, Cruise starts his films (Rain Man, Jerry MaGuire, etc) as an arrogant jerk before meeting an inspirational figure, that leads him to a journey of self-discovery where he changes himself and turns into a true hero. This movie is the same, but within the context of a war epic, Cruise is just what the doctor ordered, and just as Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr did exemplary work alongside him, Cruise's brings out the best in costar Ken Wattanbe, who had an extroadinary presence, in an already emotionally stirring relationship. The story is beautifully told and visually beautifully portrayed.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico:
Once Upon a Time in Mexico, ('92 to be exact), a cinematic visionary named Robert Rodriguez made a pretty decent movie with only $7,000. The film, about a guitar playing hero taking up a life of crime after his guitar-playing hand is shot, got him enough attention in Hollywood to attract a bigger budget. Catching the end of this trilogy, it appears he used the cash to find more convincing ways of blowing people up. To call the movie violent is an understatement and there are a couple of moments so graphic that I recommend squeamish people stay away. However, the violence is first-rate here, and Rodriguez' gift of lightly sprinkling clever touches into his action shines through. Set against a masterfully crafted backdrop and a somber Latin-flavored score, Mexico is a shift from his earlier movies in its more epic tone. With a couple exceptions, there is very little character development and in its place is a complex story featuring a complex web of characters on various sides of the good/evil divide. Whether you're able to follow the plot, you'll probably be highly engaged by it and, in contrast to Mexico's tragic predecessors, be elated when the good guys win in the end.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two pics I have to publish for another blog

This is of absolutely no relevance to anyone who reads this blog. I've been hired to blog a few hours a week for a furniture store in El Monte and Los Angeles, CA and needed a place to store a couple of images.