Archive for December, 2012

The End of the World As We Know It; A Discussion of Nihilistic Complacency, and Universal Catharsis

There’s a scene in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World where Steve Carell’s character – Dodge Peterson – reunites with his father for the first time in 25 years. It’s revealed that the father (played skillfully by Martin Sheen) abandoned his family when Dodge was young, and the vacuum created by the end of the world acts as the appropriate motivation to force Dodge to seek out his absent parent in an attempt to bring their relationship to a cathartic resolution. At first I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief; after all, the movie’s plot involves a 70-mile-wide asteroid named Matilda approaching the planet, leaving Earth’s inhabitants with nothing but three weeks until the inevitable collision, and our inevitable end.

 

Despite the film’s insistence on maintaining a semblance of realism and reality – including several scenes showing anarchy spreading throughout the world in the forms of riots, and rolling blackouts and a lack of water being the result of the government’s nihilistic apathy – the scene where Dodge attempts to resolve his longstanding issues with his father (and actually succeeding) was the sole moment that I found unrealistic, and I was unable to accept the film’s premise. The resolution was too perfect, and the reconciliation completely disregarded any possibility of the father’s negative qualities. In a more realistic situation, it would have taken months and years for Dodge to fully trust his father once again; given the characters’ circumstances, however, I’m ashamed to admit that the scene’s potency only recently struck me.

 

Today is December 21st, 2012 – the supposed End of the World as predicted by the Mayans and Nostradamus after them. Obviously, the world didn’t end today, because the Mayan equivalent of December 21st, 2012 is nothing more than a reset of the entire calendar itself to insure continuity for at least another 5 quintillion years. At the same time, no astronomical anomaly capable of ending the planet has been charted, meaning that the human species – and every other species that we share the planet with – can continue existing until Earth is consumed by our sun 5 billion years from now, when the yellow star expands and sequences into a red giant, eventually consuming the solar system’s inner planets.

 

Interestingly, though the consumption aspect of the planet’s demise is debated, there appears to be little doubt that the heat radiating from the sun will leave the Earth as nothing more than a dead planet with a surface of molten rock in a matter of a few billions years after the sun sequences.

 

Despite this theorized end, today is December 21st, 2012, and contrary to many irrational prophecies, the world has not yet ended. Certainly, the human species will continue attempting to eradicate itself through war, poverty, famine, illness, and the slow ecological destruction of the planet, but for all intents and purposes, we haven’t quite yet succeeded.

 

What I’ve only now come to realize, through the help of the widespread exposure given to the recent trends in predicting apocalypses, is that the end of the world is cathartically, complacently romantic. The apocalypse, as most prophecies tend to describe it, isn’t the end of the universe nor is it even the end of our solar system; instead, it’s the total destruction of the planet Earth, and the absolute annihilation of the human race – so far, the only discovered intelligent lifeforms in any part of the universe.

 

To the universe, it’s merely the end of all life on Earth, and is the end of humanity, but to humans it serves as an undeniable sign of the pointlessness of our existence.

 

Imagine for a moment that a 70-mile-wide asteroid was actually graphed to crash into the planet in less than three weeks time. Yes, people would run around scratching items of their bucket-list, and some might even live to their heart’s content doing everything they wished they could do but never had the courage or the time to; families would reconcile, lovers would reunite, parents would spend more time with their children, unhappy cubicle slaves would quit, people would go skydiving, some would go rocky mountain climbing, and a few brave souls might even attempt to ride bulls named Fu Manchu for 2.7 or more seconds. No human on the planet would have an excuse to not live like they were dying, for the simple fact that in three weeks time, every single human being on the planet (and the planet itself) would no longer exist from a purely ontological perspective.

 

This isn’t to say that handfuls of survivors would be capable of perhaps resuscitating the planet; once the world ends, everything is gone including 5 billion years worth of ecological, geological, social, cultural, intellectual, educational, mathematical, scientific, literary, philosophical, religious, and psychological evolution and devolution. It’s daunting to know that generations worth of change would be eliminated in an instant (and that’s assuming a quick end like an asteroid), and it’s even more daunting to be faced with the knowledge that everything the human race has done will ultimately be reduced to ruin simply because the sun will undergo an inevitable astronomical change 5 billion years from now.

 

Therein lies the dual nature of human existence.

 

Our existence is ultimately meaningless because any given astronomical anomaly can destroy our planet, and that’s assuming we don’t get there first on our own. However, human existence is simply meaningless from a universal perspective; shifting the point-of-view to that of an actual human produces difficulty in validating one’s nihilism. The cliched way of thinking is that an individual is held accountable for their actions because their motivations have the ability of resonating with the entire planet. A single shift in worldview can mean the fruition or completion of any given person, organism, nation, or idea and though the universe couldn’t care any less, the rest of the planet certainly does.

 

In essence, my ultimate point is dual in nature: The End of the World is cathartic insofar as one remains complacent through their life, choosing to remain inactive and refusing to attempt to exercise any amount of control over the events that occur around them. Certainly, the belief that the entire human race’s existence is meaningless and inevitably pointless is a universal truth, but as far as humans are concerned, we stand to lose everything once our planet ends.

 

Sadly, as many “End of the World” plots tend to highlight, including a man’s quest to find the love of life before time runs out for the rest of the planet, we only seem to recognize the importance of our existence once our existence is brought into question.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; today isn’t the end of the world, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

Rock of Ages (TheByteScene Review)

2.5 Rock-and-Roll-Will-Never-Dies out of 4

 

There’s a moment near the end of the film’s first act where Tom Cruise is on stage singing about how he’s a rock god that I found myself startling bored by the absolute chaos that I was witnessing. Donning a wig and bandana combination that made him look like a cross between Kid Rock and Axl Rose, Tom Cruise tramples around a stage in spectacular fashion singing Bon Jovi at a flabbergasted Malin Akerman while back-up dancers and groupies join in on a scene that’s intercut between a bar and a concert with screaming fans. Despite the film’s best efforts, however, the scene fails in producing any amount of intrigue and while it was all very pretty to look at, nothing took away from how boring it all managed to be.

 

In a way, that’s the film’s only problem; between a star studded cast that includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Mary J. Blige, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston, choreography that was as gaudy and bombastic as Rock-and-Roll itself, and a plot so paper thin that every twist could have been plotted from the opening number, the movie churns at a breathtakingly monotonous pace. It’s boring, plain and simple, and it’s the perfect advertisement for the Broadway production or even an actual rock concert.

 

The plot is infinitesimally straightforward: A green-eyed Oklahoma girl moves to Los Angeles for a shot at the big times, ends up working at a bar on the Sunset Strip called The Bourbon Room that’s fallen on hard times, falls for a bar hand in a band whose deep fears and insecurities render him with an unfortunate case of stagefright, all while working her way towards no genuinely explained goal. At the same time as these unfortunate events, Los Angeles elects a new mayor with a wife seemingly hell-bent on destroying rock-and-roll forever; one wonders what her motivation is for exactly 15 seconds before her true designs make themselves apparent.

 

It’s really unoriginal.

 

Listening to Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough sing about their undying love for one another, I found that I didn’t particularly care about the hardships they were enduring. I already knew what was going to happen in their predetermined relationship, and the pitfalls and misunderstandings that accrue throughout the film seem irrelevant and unimportant – the characters make a point of insuring the audience remains uninterested in each development. Instead of using the music to enhance the plot, or to provide some sort of exposition, detail, or depth to an otherwise stale film, the movie embraces the Glee school of theatrics where the music is the plot and all major exposition is developed through song. This school of exposition fails frequently specifically because the audience stops caring about the characters and start caring about nothing more than the music itself.

 

Indeed, Rock of Ages fails because it detaches the audience from the characters and the plot by making sure that all we care about is the music. Ironically, that seems to be the film’s thesis: Rock will never die, which is all and well assuming that the audience needs convincing that rock is dying in the first place. In what can only be described as the greatest point missed by Adam Shankman and the producers of the film, the only reason many people may choose to see the film is specifically because rock didn’t die. Rock is, in fact, quite alive, and will remain to do so as long as people enjoy listening to blaring guitars, thunderous drums, and vocals that make even the most ardent believers in testosterone-consumption therapy lose confidence in their masculinity. I daresay that Rock of Ages succeeded in fulfilling the one tenant of rock that must never be considered: The movie sold out.

 

Certainly, it didn’t sell out to merchandising deals or labels that only care about money over the music; the movie definitely didn’t sell out to a major corporation by lending its name to an otherwise less-than-exemplary product; in no way did the movie relinquish its morals and values in the pursuit of fame or fortune. Instead, the movie sold out to the lowest common denominator by choosing to pursue brainless movie production that emphasizes flashy visuals and bombastic sound over well-rounded characters and an interesting plot.

 

I once had the pleasure of attending a 20-minute production of a Guitar Hero themed production at Canada’s Wonderland. The musical selections were almost identical to Rock of Ages, with the sole distinction that the Guitar Hero production knew it was nothing more than a marketing ploy designed to sell video games. The so-called “Actors” enjoyed themselves because they were dressed up in some of the most inane costumes that have been worn outside of a masquerade and were lipsyncing rock anthems by using plastic instruments. At no point did they take their “Gigs” seriously and the audience had fun because they were aware of the productions true purpose as a mindless distraction from a theme park built around mindless distractions.

 

Honestly, Guitar Hero Live lasted 20 minutes, was nothing more than a marketing ploy, contained almost the same elements, and it was still more enjoyable, well-rounded, and well-written than Rock of Ages.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

Men in Hope (TheByteScene Review)

2.5 Incredibly-Well-Decorated-French-Czech-Restaurants out of 4

 

Not unlike relationships as a whole, infidelity as a subject is one that elicits reactions and opinions from anyone within earshot, even if an individual has no experience with adultery. From a purely psychological standpoint, the concept of adultery is straightforward and simple: An individual feels unfulfilled for any multitude of reasons -whether emotionally, physically, or otherwise – and decides that the only logical recourse is to have an affair. The possibility of risk, the dangers of being caught, and the potential losses to be accrued are all meaningless in the name of actualization and fulfillment, though Men in Hope attempts to argue that there’s more to infidelity than mere desire fulfillment and that the reasons behind feeling unfulfilled are not as straightforward as cheating itself.

 

Jiri Machacek and Bolek Polivka play the film’s two main leads, Ondrej, a young accountant turned chef/restaurant owner, and his father-in-law Rudolf, an adulterous rollercoaster designer turned cabby in the fruitful throes of retirement. In a sense, the two are polar opposites, representing different ideals on women, marriage, and relationships in general, and despite their legal relationship the two maintain a close friendship. Ondrej is entirely aware of Rudolf’s secret affairs, and though the son-in-law maintains a staunch disapproval of the older Casanova’s infidelities, he plays along with the charade with nothing more than several sardonic remarks.

 

Perhaps it’s because most father-in-laws don’t get along with their son-in-laws in film and television, but it’s refreshing seeing the two characters get along with each other instead of sharing a mutual dislike for one another. The dynamic the two actors share with each other onscreen is nothing short of remarkable; through no less than five or six lines the two actors manage to portray a well-rounded friendship guided by wisdom, respect, and trust. Certainly, standard jokes are made at Ondrej’s expense, but the dialogue flows naturally and each beat feels appropriate instead of forced.

 

The same thing, however, cannot be said for the story. I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but the plot whizzes by at an unnaturally fast rate with character motivations being shaky at best and developmental arcs leading almost nowhere. Certain conflicts are ratified almost as quickly as they’re introduced, and certain characters are so underdeveloped that it’s a wonder why they were included in the first place. Interestingly, Ondrej and Alica attempting to conceive – the film’s overlying conflict, and the presumed motivation behind the two characters – is one of the least developed plot points in the entire film. Some fault lies in the character of Alica; if the plot was a moving car, Alica would be nothing more than a leaf caught in the windshield twisting and turning based on the road and the direction of the wind.

 

Alternating between playing a nagging wife to a sycophantic husband, an unhappy restaurant owner running a sinking ship, and a disappointed daughter to a cheating father, Petra Hrebícková is forced into an underdeveloped role that ultimately goes nowhere simply because so little is done with a character who is so integral to the plot. Alongside Vica Kerekes’ Sarlota, the redheaded vixen who throws the story into motion (and begins Ondrej’s descent into ruin), Hrebickova comes off as unnecessarily contrived and incredibly shallow. Despite the fact that Sarlota is a more interesting character than Alica, it must be mentioned that her progression is just as convoluted.

 

The film focusses on the difference between men and women in a way that transcends basic gender roles; the male characters are better written and better played than their female counterparts, and through a cross medium irony the male characters come off as more interesting. Once again, however, these differences don’t progress past elementary gender roles and apart from a brief scene where a character is asked why it’s worse when a woman cheats, the film spends little time on society’s views regarding the hypocrisy surrounding the differences between female and male integrity.

 

Despite these literary weaknesses, praise must be given to the film’s cinematography, editing, and set design. Each scene is gorgeous, every set-piece is stunning, and the film’s overall look and feel is marvelous. Light, specifically ambient lighting, is used to great effect and the movie juxtaposes hot and cold brilliantly. For a movie about infidelity, it’s amazing how often scenes are sunny and bright, and it’s even more amazing how appropriate it all seems. As Ondrej continues his affair with Sarlota, and his character grows, so does the film’s beauty. The cinematography isn’t enough to salvage the characters’ sloppy writing, but coupled with slick editing and a minimalistic soundtrack, the movie is pleasant to experience.

 

Ultimately, however, the film’s weakness lies in its execution; underdeveloped motivation, coupled with poorly written female characters, a story that speeds past informative introductions and conclusions, and an incredibly random third act all leave a very ironic sense of unfulfillment.

 

I wanted more from the movie, not because I expected more from the outset, but because it felt like the film was trying so hard to prove that it could be greater than it really was.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK