Friday, April 27, 2012

Some Random Thoughts

     As of this writing I was having a wonderful time vacationing in Orlando Florida only to have this terrible realization: I skipped March and have nothing good for April. I could blame laziness, schoolwork or the exploits of "The Man" for my hiatus but that would only make for a cheap laugh. So here are some topics and films that I found interesting but not enough devote a half of a dozen pages of text and videos out of each one.
     But first a quick shout out to Devin Sloane a friend and fellow blogger of Short Stories. He just started a Kickerstarter for a book series he is working called Anagrin: The Escape. I think its going to be a badass series and that you all should check out his Kickstarter page, make a donation, read his short stories, and then read the rest of this article. Don't worry, this article can wait.


Letterbox is Your Friend
     When home video became the norm the biggest problem is that not every film can "fit" on a TV Screen because many films are not filmed in same aspect ratio.  Here is the problem:

     The average TV either has a 1.33:1 or 1.77:1 aspect ratio (fullscreen and widescreen respectively) which is the standard film size for television shows and films prior to 1950.  But the standard ratios of cinema screens, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1, are obviously much larger than the average TV.  Simply put, how does one fit a rectangular image into a square screen?  The most popular answer these days is to letterbox the image, which involves compressing overall size of the picture until the width matched the fullscreen size. This allows viewers to see the entire image, but the image is significantly shorter, which is why the picture is in-between two horizontal black bars.
     A common misunderstanding is that you actually lose part of the image because of these black bars, and to fix it meant to adjust the TV until the bars cannot be seen, this led to popularity pan-and-scan. For the sake of brevity here is a video explaining why both of those choices are horrifyingly awful.


So for the sake of my sanity please leave the black bars alone.

The MPAA Sucks
     The Motion Picture Association of America is known for many things, but most notably for the official film-rating system, a very flawed rating system.  The ratings board is loaded with bizarre rules where any film can get a good or harsh rating just because of a technicality. Even worse is that not only are the reasons for a bad rating vague, but also do not describe their context. The most recent example of is Bully, a documentary about various victims of bullying, which got an R rating for "strong language".  Specifically, there is one scene where a bully goes into a violent, curse-ladened rant towards a fellow student. Supposedly, the point of the R rating is to warn parents of any risky content, but when an intellectually important film like Bully shares a rating with trash like The Hangover Part II, Project X, and The Human Centipede then you see the problem.
     The ratings encourages parents to stigmatize films based on their content and does not encourage them to understand their quality.  Compare The Hunger Games and Wrath of the Titans, both film are rated PG-13 and revolve around violence; but I would rather take a kid to see The Hunger Games because at least the message being expressed transcends the violence while Wrath of the Titans is just all kinds of stupid.  Yet if I were like most viewers and examined both films just  by the PG-13 rating and the trailers then I would both were equally dull.  The only way the MPAA can even fix these problems is if they somehow create a system where the ratings that represents an appropriate age, but also tell people about quality of the work.  Oh wait, Common Sense Media already does that.  Well in that case who cares about the MPAA.

Now for some recommendations.

The Last Waltz
     For those unfamiliar to classic rock and country, you may not know who The Band is, but have heard their songs.  The songs by The Band especially "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" are just as much a part of the American music scene as Bob Dylan, which is not bad given that they were his back-up band for a time.  Recently their most appraised member, singer and drummer Levon Helm, died of cancer and it shocked me that it was underplayed by the press.  Anyway, for the sake of remembrance, a good place to for a neophyte to hear their music would be The Last Waltz.  The Last Waltz is a documentary about their final concert, The Band plays their classics, dozens of guest stars show up, and it was all filmed under the watchful eye of Martin Scorsese.  It is pretty epic.



Daisies (1966)
     Daisies is avant-garde comedy film from the former Czech Slovakia about two teenage girls who decide to commit anarchy in response to societal oppression.  A word of warning, Daisies is not for the casual crowd.  There is no plot, there moments that can cause sensory overload, the characters are living cartoons, and there maybe to much or too little political subtext, depending on the viewer.  Watching Daisies is like watching a Karl Marx and the Marx Brothers variety show, but if that collaboration has you excited at all, then this will definitely be your thing.  DVD's of Daisies are hard to find but it is available on youtube for free.

I could not find a good trailer but this sums up the beginning pretty well.

Senna
     Easily one of the best films about racing in recent memory.  Senna is a documentary about the life and death of Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest Formula One racers to have ever lived.  The Formula One scene was so enraptured by Ayrton Senna that the director Asif Kapadia had no trouble finding stock footage of his races, his family, his work behind Formula One, and every thing else.  In fact, the entirety of Senna is just stock footage edited like an elaborate biopic, there are interviews but they are nothing more than voices narrating the story.  This use of stock footage works in that it forgoes anything that would down the pace and allows for a very intimate view of Senna.  It is also thrilling, as well as terrifying, to see the actual races edited as tight as the car chase in Bullitt.  

 
Archer
     Lets end this with something less serious.  Archer is a animated comedy series about the misadventures of Sterling Archer, an ISIS spy so incompetent that he would reveal his identity to an entire crowd if it meant getting an easy lay, booze, or both.  But it is not like his colleagues at ISIS are any better because they are absolutely insane.  With employees like the food raping mad scientist and the secretary with a choking fetish, its amazing that anyone manages to survive in this hostile work environment.  The psychotic humor of the show is controlled really well thanks to having some of the best dialogue on the and voice actors the business.  Truth be told, Archer may not be as deep as South Park, but it is a much funnier show.  Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Netflix.  And now I leave you with Fort Kickass.


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