February 23, 2007

Batman Returns...yep Batman Returns

I haven't watched this movie in like forever. For those of you unfamiliar there was a time when Michael Keaton was Batman. In his first movie, he was fantastic. A good mix of smart, crafty, secretive Bruce Wayne, creepy dark mysterious batman, and bumbling millionaire. Then the second movie came out and he was just...bumbling.

Really compared to the next two Batman flicks, this movie wasn't that bad. In fact I still believe that Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer did a pretty good job of acting. The art direction is good. The music is still good. Other than a few reality bending moments (see postscript) the movie did fine. But, Tim Burton was replaced after this movie.

Joel Schumacher then took his place. He brought the kitzch from the original 60's series. The dialogue started to lack. The acting was getting worst (although I'm still a big fan of Jim Carrey's Riddler and Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy). Even the music changed.

I realized that changing directors is pretty typical in the film business when a franchise is not doing well. TV does it too. So do professional sports teams. Why? Why do we feel the need to switch up leadership when something isn't working? Is it their faults? Is it time to give them a second chance?

There's a simple counter argument to this as well, again movie related. The Broccoli family has owned the rights to the Bond series since the first movie. My friend Eric is a big Bond fan but even he admits that at times the franchise could use a bit of a kick. I remember people suggesting that Quentin Tarantino should direct a bond flick (the dialogue and action would be sweet). Or Denzel Washington starring as bond (the man's got the style and swagger and after winning an Oscar in Training Day definitely has shedded a typecast, good boy type image).

Why do folks hold on when sometimes new breath, or a new perspective can be added? What do they fear with allowing others the chance to take a different spin on their work?

Both questions, valuable. Both questions can teach us a lot about the human condition.

Now for two football examples.

Bill Cowher. What if he were fired after his superbowl loss in 1996? And yet, after winning the superbowl in 2006 he came back. Had an average season, then retired to be with his family.

Barry Alvarez. Had been offered a handful of coaching jobs during his time with the Wisconsin Badgers. And despite never winning 'the big one' brought pride and a renewed interested in Badger football.

Examples of second chances, and maintained legacies.

We can only control our own actions. I imagine tons of Tim Burton fans really would have wanted him to direct some more. I imagine that some folks hoped the Broccoli's could find their new Bond nitch. Such is not the case. And we can only learn from those instances.

From a writer's standpoint, I can appreciate wanting to be given some time to develop your writing. You can't just sit down and expect to produce a fantastic piece of writing. In fact, the process of learning about what your writing shortcomings are is half the fun. Half the growth.

At the same time, you start to, as my writing professor once mentioned, let go of your little darlings. You start to let go of ideas you once thought were fantastic. In fact, as I'm taking poetry it's awesome to see how most poets are inspired by others, taking a piece of what someone has written and running with it in another direction. It's something new, something different.

So to this I say, no when to let go, know when to give it a chance.


Postscript: I can't help but watch this movie and (fortunately for me...heavy sarcasm) Batman Forever was on after that. In fairness...time for some movie fun:

Batman: How instant killing was Smilex gas? Vicki Vale was in a car...car's aren't airtight. So what's the deal? And Knox had on his mask for like...10 seconds?

Batman Returns: So the Penguin breaks into the batmobile and finds a way to hot wire it to his control. Yet the batmobile has the ability to track the foreign object and batman has the ability to punch through his floorboards to get to the device. WTF?!?

Batman Forever: In the beginning of the movie Two Face fills a vault with acid...Batman eventually returns the vault back to the original location, sealed, seemingly still filled with acid. Did anyone tell the police that who had to open the vault?

Batman & Robin: In the two preceding movies, there's a mention of the new batman love interest mocking the previous one. In this movie there's not love interest...but can we mock Nicole Kidman's character anyway since it was pretty cheesy?

February 13, 2007


Poetry is the class de jour this semester. Perfect timing. As in my previous classes, this one is coming at a perfect time in my writing evolution. My lit crit class got me used to the work; my playwriting class got me used to intense revision; my fiction class was a good testing ground for finessing the craft (although, it’s never completely finessed).

Poetry is teaching me about tools.

A writer has several tools at his disposal. First there are basic story elements: characterization, plot, imagery, etc. Each of those elements has a series of different genres, styles, and ways to construct them. For instance, a romantic writer (which I drift into from time to time) is focused on creating very distinct good guy and bad guy characters with distinct imagery. It conveys a message within a message.

Poets also have similar tools, and can write in different structures. They can rhyme or not rhyme. Use alliteration, or assonance. They can manipulate meter. Their tools focus much more on the individual words which are used (most contemporary poetry is not the long stanzas of words like Shakespeare or Milton). There is leanness to contemporary poetry, I’ve noticed. You make the most of your space, of your words.

I’m sure expert poets have all of the tools catalogued and ready to use at their whim. I’m sure it’s taken them years and years of writing, and reading, and experimenting, to see what works best for them. As my brain usually epiphanizes in this manner, I thought of cooks, then engineers, doctors, even lawyers, politicians. I realized that in the end, every profession is a craft, and each craft has a set of tools.

Some of have favorite tools. For instance, Alton Brown, cook extraordinaire, is a big fan of a huge iron skillet he’s had for years. My dad, who is very good with building all sorts of contraptions, is a big fan of his band saw. My new favorite tool is my laptop. I use it most of the time, and rarely does it not travel with me.

Inside each of us are a series of mental tools which we use to work through our problems and/or paint our own future. These tools can range from patience, humility, integrity to sarcasm, over analysis, avoidance. The most important thing to realize is that a tool is a tool. It is a neutral device used when necessary (or reflexively) and the intent behind it makes a helpful or harmful tool.

A scapel cuts, period. What it cuts, why it cuts, is up to the user.

What tools do you use under what situations? Are you more accustomed to some tools? Are there tools which are too awkward for you to use? What tools do you wish you could learn how to use? What tools create more harm than good? Do you habitually grab the hammer when you should grab the screwdriver? What tools do you posses which you haven’t recognized? Is there a spatula you’ve never used? What tools do you take for granted?

As we learn our crafts in life, see what tools you use in your area of expertise. Make a list of all the tools you’ve used. Pay attention to the ones which you use all the time compared to the ones you rarely use (as a note, Alton Brown recommends that you consider throwing out some of those tools...sometimes we need to let go of certain tools to learn new ones).

In the end, be a craftsman of life.


PS: Many of you are aware that I’ve been following the careers of Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon pretty faithfully for some time. In HUGE Rob Schrab news, he’s decided to finish the Scud The Disposable Assassin comic book series which he drew when I was in high school. Big fan. Really excited. The most interesting note to this part of his journey is that he turned down the opportunity to direct the next Tenacious D video in order to finish up the comic. Wow.

February 03, 2007

The Hand vs. The Button

I'm a big fan of advertising wars. For some reason it makes me feel as if it's a good show of healthy competition. And it engages the public a lot more in what products are being advertised. Recently the Office Deport Helping Hand is new gimmick of the month. If you're unfamiliar with this commecial, a bunch of office people are hanging out and holding a big white box that has a hand which lives there, and apparently aids in office work (apparently the Addams Family Thing spawned another hand and is now working for corporate America).

The Helping Hand is of course a response to the Staples Easy Button. Again if you're unfamiliar with this fantastic device, you hit a little red button, and everything is made easier. Simple, been on the air for a few months now. Then comes along The Hand. Now the entire world of office supplies is flipped on its head and no one knows what to do. Do you go with The Hand or The Button? Well fellow consumers look no further than the following comparisons to help you decide:

Round 1: Versatility
The Button, when instantly pressed, not only delivers a huge number of items but also has the ability to consolidate your processes. One click that's it. In order to match those efforts you would need about 100 hands, and all of them on some type of roller cart so they could move around. Winner: The Easy Button

Round 2: Resources
I imagine a live hand living in a box needs some type of nourishment (or at least skin cream) in order to function on a regular basis. Thus, if you're buying The Hand you probably need a few trips to the pet store to get minnows, or crickets, or whatever that thing eats. The Easy Button takes 2 AA batteries. Winner: The Easy Button

Round 3: Manufacturing
The Easy Button infuses arcane sciences and futuristic technology in order transport necessary supplies to your office. There are miniaturized teleportation devices which instantly beam certain items from the Staples Easy Button Warehouse. The small technology costs a lot, close to about $10,000 from what my sources tell me. And although those numbers are high, I'm not going to begin to described what harvesting techniques it takes to have a bunch of boxes full of alive arms. Winner (for ethical standards): The Easy Button

Round 4: Independence
Yeah, a bunch of arms eventually get smart enough to figure out how to move and interact with each other. Thus, left by themselves, they would be able to run a whole corporate division on their own. A small plastic button can't quite get that job done. Winner: The Helping Hand

Round 5: Job Security
At the same time, this also means that you'd be easily replaced by the hand or have the hands take over your company. In order to disarm the easy button, you just remove its batteries. And corporations need to pay someone to press that button. Winner: The Easy Button

Round 6: Life
I can't imagine the relief I would feel if I could just press a button and see any obstacle instantly solved. I'm sure the stress would just float away. But is that really the point of life? Is it all about looking for a quick fix to our problems? I think that having such a device which alleviates all problems wouldn't necessarily teach you anything either. You'd be quick to run to the button and solve the problem. There's no sense of accomplishment. I mentioned in a previous post the importance of challenge and support. Well, where's the challenge when something else is taking care of it? A helping hand, however, is something different. It's a small boost, or even a word of support to help you. Nothing solving your problems, but something that encourages you to find the solution, to see that you have the power to conquer your own challenges. No button can give you that kind of empowerment. Winner: The Helping Hand

Many things to glean from this advertising war. And even though I think there's an interesting metaphor in the comparison, which has some practical merit, I do have to admit that even from the get go I am pretty biased. I do have an Easy Button (usually pressed AFTER I have accomplished something, a nice mental pat on the back). And I myself will shamelessly plug this device as it only costs $5 at your local Staples and the proceeds are donated to the Boys & Girls Club of America. Now that's an easy way to give a helping hand.