Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sucker Punch and Battle Los Angeles (there be minor spoilers ahead)

Today was a rare convergence. It's my Spring Break, and it's one of my wife's regular days off, so we went to the movies. There were two movies out that we wanted to see, so we decided to see them both in one day. The first was one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and the second was, if not one of the best, certainly belongs in my top twenty. The first one we saw was Sucker Punch.

The title is pretty much how I felt when the end credits finally rolled. I have seen worse movies, but not many, and even fewer with the budget of this cinematic wankfest. I kept picturing the writer of the film being a 16 year old white virgin who watches only Quentin Tarantino films and plays video games. I picture a be-zitted introvert with a collection of fake Samurai weapons who thinks he wails with his 'chucks', and aside from his matronly mother has never spoken with a woman beyond a squeaky voiced order to the lunch lady. All of the women in Sucker Punch dress like they're getting ready for a Vegas fetish party, and the camera is frequently positioned just below and behind their fishnet bedecked butts. And even when we are in the video game-esque fantasy sequences there are more crotch shots than in a gynecological training film. And all of this adolescent objectification is wrapped in a story of such powerlessness and cruelty that you quickly wonder just what the fuck is the point. There is no real message, other than a schmaltzy voice over claiming that only you can prevent forest fires, or some other cheesy bullshit. To be honest I really didn't give a shit about anyone or anything by the end of this craptacular waste of money, time, and talent. Visually it's interesting, but not Watchmen or 300 interesting, and the worlds within worlds thing was hackneyed, ham fisted, and about as subtle and interesting as listening to a lecture on hemorrhoidal treatment. I have enjoyed many of Zack Snyder's offerings before, but this one will, I hope, quickly fade from my memory like a root canal that outlasted the Novocaine.

On the other side of the ledger we have Battle Los Angeles. Now this is how an alien invasion film should be made. The plot isn't complicated, aliens invade Earth and we follow a group of US Marines as they attempt to rescue some civilians in Los Angeles. The movie hits the ground running, and after a minimum of exposition to tell you who the leading players are, all Hell breaks loose and the action doesn't really let up for the next 110 minutes or so. The performances are spot on, the dialogue snappy and believable, the effects perfectly suited to the feel of the movie, and the ending does not feel one bit contrived. The pace is fast, but not so fast as to lose the audience, and it even manages to twang a heart string or two. I've heard folks criticize it for its lack of comic relief, but I never felt that. Whereas Sucker Punch had me checking my watch within thirty minutes, Battle Los Angeles flew by, and even though there is the inevitable comparison to Aliens to be wrestled with, I think this movie holds up quite well in that respect. It was well written, well acted, and very well edited, and I suspect I'll own the bluray once it comes out.

I will say this for these two films; I feel no need to equivocate on them. Sucker Punch is utter crap, and Battle Los Angeles is fantastic.

In my opinion, of course. Your actual mileage may vary.



Henry Rollins on Selling Out

NSFW language, but I've never heard this put better.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

USITT Lament Update

So the initial response I received from my email of dissatisfaction was a politely worded version of 'Gee, sorry it sucked for you, but we'll see you next year, right?' About what I expected. Then, yesterday, in the midst of the craziness of playing catch-up I got another email from the man who books the workshops apologizing for the sound workshop, and saying they'll be sending me a refund for the price of the workshop. It's not much, compared to the price of the full trip, but it is a very nice gesture, and will go a long way toward my looking with a more friendly eye at next year's offerings.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

There and Back Again

So, this past week was...interesting. And just so we're clear I say interesting in the 'sucked balls' sense of the word. But first we need a bit of background. Sherman, set the Way-Back machine to last November or so. *insert the flashback sound and visual effects of your choice here. I prefer the Wayne's World version*

Deedley Dee--Deedley Dee--Deedly Dee

So every year I check the United States Institute for Theatre Technology website to see what sorts of classes will be offered at their annual conference. If the offerings seem useful, as they almost always are, then my school sends me there to get me some larnin'. This year the pickings were kind of slim, but one workshop stood out. Basic Sound System Design and Optimization. Now many people think that the stuff I do with lights is esoteric and difficult to understand(stop giggling, Deb), but to me, anyway, lights are child's play compared to the intricacies of sound. So I jumped at the chance for some formal training that would help us to upgrade our equipment, and to learn to use it properly. So I registered for the conference (just under $500) and the workshop ($125), and started looking for hotels. Unfortunately these conferences are always held in large convention centers which are usually in the middle of cities, in this case Charlotte, North Carolina. There are any number of hotels available, but they're always expensive. The first time I went to USITT I booked a hotel that was less than $100 a night, but it was so far from the convention center that what I saved in hotel fees I spent in cab fare, so it makes sense to spend a bit more and stay within walking distance of the venue.

The conference always runs from Wednesday to Saturday, but the workshops run either on Monday, or Tuesday, or sometimes both. The sound workshop was only on Tuesday, so I booked my $150/night hotel for Monday through Friday. Then I went to book my flight. I had hoped to fly into the main airport in North Carolina, but Charlotte is two hours away from there, so I had to fly to a smaller place where only the higher profile airlines go. Granted this is not my personal money, but it does come from my department's budget, so this was really making me uncomfortable. But, if it would help us get our sound system working well, it would be worth it.

Fast forward to the end of February. An email comes to all who are in the workshop letting us know that the time of the thing was being changed; no big deal; but it also came with a more in-depth description of the class. The word 'basic', it seemed, was something of a misnomer unless you already had a degree in acoustical engineering, and I realized that my working knowledge of how to run sound systems would probably not do me much good in this class. So I contacted USITT to see if I could cancel my registration. I was informed where to send a letter, and also that there was no guarantee that I'd get a refund. So rather than lose nearly a grand all tolled I decided that surely I'd get something out of the class, and the conference is always informative...right?

Wrong! Well, mostly wrong. I was right about the class. It was essentially an infomercial for a pricey bit of proprietary software, and covered absolutely nothing about system design beyond how the software interacted with the company's amplifiers. I tried to keep up with the information the very knowledgeable gentlemen were putting forth, but it was like being an auto mechanic who was suddenly dropped into a class on the proper tuning of a nuclear reactor. I understood most of the basic concepts, but the applications they were describing were quite beyond me.

Fortunately the class was only the one day, so I went back to my expensive hotel room to chill. And I mean that literally. There was a thermostat in the room that didn't seem to do anything. Then I began to learn that in expensive hotels, rather than there being more amenities then in, say, a Motel 6, there are less. No free WiFi, no free breakfast, and the restaurant in the lobby was expensive as hell. Just as an example their weekly drink specials included $4 drafts on Thursdays. That's the special price!!

Well, Wednesday was when the conference started, but there weren't any classes I wanted to take, so I wandered the city. There is a nice science museum and IMAX there, so that was fun. Then I puttered around my room and watched TV. Thursday was better, with useful classes and the opening of the vendors show room with its requisite SWAG hunt. If you've never been to a conference like this just about every theatrical vendor, from curtains to lights to stage floors and makeup, sets up a booth to hawk their wares. Many of them give away little goodies emblazoned with their names and web sites, and we geeks live for these bits of silliness. It's kinda like trick-or-treating as you go from booth to booth seeing what you can get, be it a rubber duck, or a highly compressed tee shirt, or just a pen or key chain. There were also interesting demonstrations of new equipment and materials, and everyone had a scanner that read a bar code on your name badge so now I'm on a dozen new emailing lists...some of which I even care about.

Friday morning had the last class I needed, and then it was straight into a cab and on to the airport. The flight home was uneventful, but I have rarely been so happy to get back from a trip. All tolled I wasted nearly $500 and three days of shop time to attend a useless and misrepresented workshop when I could have flown up Wednesday and come back Friday with the same amount of useful information. I have sent an email to USITT recounting the salient points of this tale, and I shall be looking much more closely at next year's offerings, but I fear this will have to go into the 'lesson learned' category of my life rather than the 'wrongs redressed' column.

But at least I got a cool rubber ducky.

Marius the Peeved.