Friday, April 21, 2017

Scott Pilgrim and the Perils of Judging a Film from its VFX Reel


The Academy Award (tm) for visual effects is not given for the film that has the splashiest visual effects, or the most innovative, or the most expensive, or even the one with the most visual effects in some quantitative sense. According to the rules of the game, the film that wins this prestigious award and confers on its recipients a competitive lustre, is the film where the visual effects best serves the film.

Sadly it is not the film with the most computer generated robots beating the heck out of other computer generated robots, but rather that film where the robots who are beating the heck out of each other appear to be doing so in a way that contributes to the film's higher purpose.

Of course no award process is perfect and compromises need to be made. One of those compromises is that only films that make use of visual effects are considered for the award in visual effects. Who knew? This is a logical limitation that can have the most unfortunate effect, so to speak, depending on how dreadful the year's visual effects films are. Another issue that must be faced is that the side-by-screening of the different films in competition must necessarily restrict that screening to an edited compilation of the visual effects for each film. Whether that “effects reel” is 10 minutes long, or 12 minutes, or 15 it is by definition an abbreviated version of the larger creative project.

Trust me, when seeing these effects reels back to back, even 10 minutes per film can seem like forever.

It happens though that an effects reel for a creative project may not actually communicate the real value of those effects in context. This is why it is often the case that the selected films (those films that go past the bakeoff and are actually nominated for an award) may seem to go to those films with the largest budget, or the greatest number of giant robots exploding, or even, heaven forbid, the films that generated the most money at the box office.

So, years ago I attended the bakeoff and one of the films in competition was Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010). Although it was nice to see a film that did not depend on explosions or giant robots per se to communicate its higher vision, I was bored with it. Many of my friends thought it was very original, but I didnt. To me it seemed nothing more than a rip off of the classic genre of the 1 or 2 person fighter games from the world of coinop video games.

What the VFX reel did not communicate, and which I only discovered later, was that this film was actually a pretty good low budget film with visual effects. It wasnt totally successful, it fell apart near the end but the first 2/3rds or so of the film is actually very, very funny. The premise is that a very young man, maybe 23 or so, falls in love with a woman who has moved to Toronto from NYC to escape her previous life. But if our hero wants to date her, he must first defeat in battle her evil former lovers.

It is also a good example of regional filmmaking, being based in Toronto as Toronto, not as Toronto as a film location trying to be some other city.

So if you get a chance to see this film, or the first 2/3rds or so, and if you appreciate regional, low-budget filmmaking, this is a pretty entertaining example.

And I never would have guessed this from just seeing its VFX reel out of context.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Central Dilemma Theorem


I am so upset by the recent events in America (Trump, Gorsuch, Russian intelligence operations, the Republican congress that betrays us every day) that I cant even write my blog. Because what I want to write about I am not particularly qualified to write about excepting of course that I am an American citizen. Nevertheless, it is all I want to write about today.

 Never before has my powerlessness in life, my inability to influence my environment,  my complete non-existence to those in power ever been a problem.  But in this current situation here seems to be nothing anyone can do, and the system has clearly failed.

The good news is that it makes it much easier to relate to periods of history that I study (I mean why not, what else do I have to do) and how people must have felt when their nations (and the predecessors to nations) seemed to be coming apart before their eyes.

Like someone in Britain in WW 1, like a Jew in Nazi Germany, or a Russian in 1917, don't people understand what is going on? Why dont they see the terrible cost that their inaction is imposing on us. Some of them are idiots, some of them are selfish, some are self-deluded. They think they can do whatever they want and do not realize that some mistakes can not be recovered from.

Do they think we are just not going to insist on the tax returns being released?  Do they think they can stall us from making them appoint a special prosecutor?  Do they think we will not be able to impeach Gorsuch the way they destroyed the system to "approve" him?  Do they think we will not get to the bottom of the Russian Information Operation?  

Who are these people who call themselves Americans?  

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Story About the Civilian Use of Force in International Conflict


On the occasion of Donald Trump, the moron king, attacking Syria and blaming Obama for Syria using chemical weapons, I have an anecdote from my days at the RAND Corporation.

There is a story from RAND that would have happened years before my time if it happened at all.

For many years, RAND managed for the US Government a lot of the original strategic simulations, what are popularly called wargames but which are more properly described as simulations of international conflict. They may not be primarily about war. Basically you had teams (red team, blue team, etc) and you had referees who managed the game, but what made the games interesting (and classified) was that the teams were made up of real people from the Dept of Defense, the US Military, the NSC, possibly members of Congress and so forth.

The goal would be to evaluate some different scenarios where nations might come into conflict and evaluate different policies, approaches, and so forth in advance. Anyone who has ever been through any of these types of simulations, even on a more informal basis, will tell you how involving and compelling they can be.

So you had civilians and military personnel mixed together in tension filled situations and you might expect, if you watched stupid Hollywood movies that it would be the military personnel who would first call for war and that it would be the civilians who would beg for peace. Give peace a chance, they might say. But the story I was told was pretty much the reverse of that. That it was the military personnel who knew damn well what war involved who were for diplomatic solutions but it was the civilians, the politicians, who were freaked out and "pushed the button" so to speak. 

Take that for what you will.

Moron Trump pushing the button