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April 30, 2012

Picking You

My wife saw a picture of a cat that needs adoption and something sparked in her. On Sunday we went to visit the cat at its foster home. While the cat is loving and affectionate, we just did not feel that spark from the cat that indicated to us it was choosing us as its owners. A tad ironically, one of the foster owner's own cats seemed to spark and want to bond with us both and we sparked to immediately. But that pet is not up for adoption. For now, we'll continue being happy with our single pet.

What I have found over decades of pet ownership is that any time you force a selection on an animal, the relationship isn't as strong and the bond as pure as when you let the right animal choose you. Before getting our current cat, we visited a number of animals. Many were affectionate toward one or both of us, but generically so (similar to Sunday's cat). However, when we met and interacted with our cat, it was obvious he wanted to be with us. It was in the way he looked at us, the way he did not want us to leave, the way he puddled into our arms and seemed like he was at home and at peace.

Our cat has taken to our home easily, been easy to retrain from its previous owners, and easily fits into our lifestyle and ways of interacting with him. He makes just as much of an effort toward us as we make toward him. I am firmly convinced this is because he chose us.

Too often I see adults letting little children pick a pet based on color or activity level rather than on which pet takes an active interest in that family/person. Just as often, I then hear about them having problems training the pet, interacting with it, or that its personality just "changed" when they got it home and introduced it to its new environment. Whereas, when they were at the shelter or home and were interacting with the animals, there was likely one that came right up to the person and did its best to announce "Here I am, pick me!"

Awhile back, I had a cat die from liver disease. After a few months, I decide to replace the cat. When I went to visit a litter of kittens, there were a couple of kittens that immediately came over to investigate me. Two were orange, a male and a female. The male spent some time sniffing and playing with my shoelaces, but then got distracted by the other kittens playing and joined them, went and ate a little something, wandered back to me, and then went off to play with an old sock. The female cat, however, came over, stayed near me, and tried to climb my leg and get into my lap. She was totally focused on me the entire time and wanted to bond with me. She was picking me as the important thing and the thing to pay attention to and interact with. When I picked her up, she just melted into my arms and did not want to leave them. She purred and promptly fell asleep. It was obvious she and I had bonded, so she was my selection. And we had 10 great years together where she learned my routines, liked to be in my lap if I was reading or watching TV, and always waited for me watching the door when I came home from work. Had I insisted on the male orange tabby, I'm sure the relationship would have been very different and I might have even had trouble "taming" him. Instead, I went for the cat that chose me.

Pets are living beings with minds of their own. They need to pick their owners as much as their owners pick them. While you can take in an animal that does not chose you, the relationship simply will not be the same as when the selection, and the bonding, is mutual.

April 23, 2012

Genies and Bottles

Like it or not, the digital age is here to stay. We have smart phones (but dumb users), Facebook, Twitter, and the 24/7 news/opinion cycle. The moment one person hears something, it is out there for everyone to see, hear, read, and react to and cannot be taken back. You cannot delete something from the Internet, you can only remove the copy of something you posted at that time; all the other copies, reposts, reTweets, and spider-bots that look for and save copies of web pages will have their copies in perpetuity.

It astounds me that sports figures, celebu-tards, and politicians continue to try to use the "they hacked my account" excuse. That's so 2005. Haven't you learned yet that if you just apologize for the stupid, insensitive comment right away, the public is much more likely to believe you and move on to the next scandal? If you deny it, you just add wood to the fire.

One of my wife's family members died on Sunday, but the family waited until Monday to ask people not to post anything online about it. Too late. That should have been explicitly and clearly stated when they were making the phone calls announcing the death, otherwise it has become de rigueur to post whatever thoughts a person has immediately onto a Twitter, Facebook/Plus feed, or blog. In this case, a couple of family members were not told immediately, posted something, and the cat was out of the bag before the family could notify the rest of those they wished to call.

People need to remember:
  1. Every single thing you post to the World Wide Web is permanent. You can never delete it or get every single copy removed. So think a second (and a third time) before posting it. Does not matter if it is a text message, email, blog, video, picture or other communication -- if it is posted to the Internet, it will always be on the Internet.
  2. Assume that everything you post to the World Wide Web is public. A personal email may be accidentally (or intentionally) forwarded to the wrong party or someone may CC/BCC someone you do not want to read it. Something you post to your Twitter or Facebook may be listed as "private" but can easily and quickly become public when the person you posted it to responds. And, once it is posted or sent, refer to rule 1.
  3. There is no such thing as "anonymous" on the World Wide Web. You may think what you are posting is done anonymously, but the government can requisition your information from the ISP, the content provider, or the social media site and quickly discover who you are. There are groups of "hackers" and never-do-wells who delight in breaking into accounts and posting your private information so that you can be publicly accosted (see the 4chan versus the little girl incident, for example). The best you can hope for is plausible deniability. Once it is posted or sent, refer to rules 1 and 2.
  4. Be respectful of others. This is the one most lacking in today's online communities. But if you consider rules 1-3, this one becomes a no-brainer. If you thought you could call someone names and bully them, just remember what happened to the little girl and her family when 4chan decided to make them a project. No one is truly anonymous, everything can be made very public, and all of it will be permanent, so be nice. If you disagree, do it respectfully.
Remembering and assuming these rules can keep you safe(r) in the digital age. It makes you think twice before posting that picture or video. It helps you not send that inflammatory email to your boss, coworker, client, subordinate that can get you fired. It makes you think again before posting that blog containing derogatory comments.

I only post a blog entry every week or two. But I write many more blog entries. It is just that I write them, let them sit in my Draft folder for a while, and then delete them when I realize I was out of bounds, did not want whatever it was about to be public, or was not being respectful. And I realize my anonymity to the general public is easily compromised both by those few who know who I am and by those who wish to make an effort to find out. It just is not worth it to me.

Actually, in reviewing the four rules I typed above, I think they are salient points for everyone's daily lives, regardless of Internet use. If we would all assume that everything we say and do is permanent, that everything we do or say can become public, that we cannot maintain our anonymity, and if we are respectful to others in all aspects of our lives, the majority of the scandals, situations, and issues we see reported in the news today would not happen.

It would be one small step toward putting the Genie back into its bottle.

April 16, 2012

The Woman in Black

Special Note:
I did not read the story this film is based on prior to seeing the movie. My wife did. She shook her head throughout, as it seemed most of the movie was only loosely based on the story from which it comes. I'd recommend not reading the story before watching the movie, as I was much more entertained by it, because I had nothing to compare it to, than my wife was.


I like a good horror story. Classic ghost stories can be some of the most effective to put on screen, because the forced perspective of a film allows the director and writer to really play up the tunnel-vision we get while watching a movie and startle you.

The Woman in Black, a Hammer Films production released earlier this year and starring Daniel Radcliffe is a decent horror/ghost story. It has the right use of mood, music, lighting, and startle moments to be quite effective as a ghost story. The acting is good enough that it pushes the story along, and the cinematography and effects are quite good.

However, it is how they tell the tale, and especially the ending, that lets the movie down.

Radcliffe is a solicitor named Kipps sent to a creepy mansion in the boondocks to go through a dead woman's papers and make sure everything is ready so that his office can sell the house and property. When he arrives in the small town close to the house, he is treated poorly; everyone in the town wants him to go back to London, but no one explains why. It becomes a little absurd how they so blatantly try to push him out of town -- I think anyone coming into that situation would become a bit belligerent and stay.
After getting a ride out to the house, Kipps starts experiencing all the classic poltergeist signs: he sees shapes and movement, hears noises, and sees things have moved around the house. He also senses some malevolence.
When he returns to the village, the village's children start killing themselves in spectacular ways, usually in front of him.
He goes to dinner at the rich man's house and the man's crazy wife starts to tell him things about the ghost haunting the manor. What she says is important, because she is the classic "seer" of the story -- the person who lays out the ground-rules for the horror story and what needs to happen. After a couple of times talking with her, he realizes that the Woman in Black, as she is known to the villagers, is a woman who lost her child in the marsh, and they never found his body. This drove her to suicide. As a ghost, she now finds the children of the village and lures them to their deaths so that she can be surrounded by children.
This leads Kipps to realize that the ghost needs closure by finding her lost son. He and the rich man take the man's car out to the marsh and Kipps dives for thee wreckage where the boy died. They are successful at finding the boy's body, and Kipps brings it to the house and leads the ghost to it. As soon as she finds the boy, all the supernatural events around the house seem to cease, and he and the rich man break open her tomb and lay the boy's body with his mother, at rest at last.
Or is she?
As Kipps meets his nanny and his son at the train station, the Woman in Black appears, along with most of the dead children, and lead Kipps' son onto the train tracks. Kipps dives after him and they are both killed. However, they meet Kipps dead wife (and his son's mother), who leads them to the afterlife.
Fade to Black
The problem here is that the movie provides no explanation or reason why the rules of the world, as presented by the villagers and the seer, did not work. If the Woman found her son, which all the letters she wrote and what the dead children, through the seer, indicate needs to happen for the Woman to rest, there should be a happy ending to the story and the Woman in Black should not have killed Kipps and son. But she was not laid to rest by that action, which leaves the audience unsettled in all the wrong ways for a ghost story.

The problem comes in that I was left wondering, well after the movie, why the rules failed and why the Woman is still haunting the village. Why didn't the discovery of her son work? Why didn't she find peace, being reunited with him? Why did she seek vengeance on Kipps for trying to help her? With no explanation, not even a hint, as to why this action failed, you are left feeling like most of what you just watched was superfluous and without meaning. Why did they provide you with all of that information about the ghost if none of it was accurate? If all of it was inaccurate, why in the world would anyone continue to live in the village?

I have a feeling that this movie had a very different ending until they test-screened it and found that they likely had a modest hit on their hands. Once that happened, my guess is that they tacked on that ending to show the Woman is still around so they could make a sequel (which, by the way, is being written and produced right now).


All in all, The Woman in Black is a good horror/ghost story, mostly effective in all the right ways. However, the very ending scene leaves a bad taste in your mouth and, story-wise, invalidates everything you've just watched. The 90 minute running time is just about right, there is a quality cast doing a good job, and the effects, cinematography, and music are all effective and done well.

April 10, 2012

Shake It, Don't Break It!

Shaky-cam is ruining good films. Take The Hunger Games. A very good adaptation of a popular book that has good stars (Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland). The writers did a good job of paring down the book's plot and characters for the movie (although I think they left out some things that may become important in Catching Fire, later). The two things that make this movie annoying as hell to watch are the use of shaky-cam and the quick edits.

I have said it before, shaky-cam is the last bastion of the inept director. If a director feels that he needs to use shaky-cam to "get you into the action" or "make you feel a part of the action" then that director has failed his audience. The large screen in the theater, the acting, the story, and the shared experience is what gets me into the movie, not your ability to shake what has become my entire visual field in the dark environment of the theater. All that does is make me sick to my stomach.

Gary Ross, the director of The Hunger Games, also uses very quick edits and blurring effects in addition to the shaky-cam. The end result becomes action sequences that may be thrilling... but the audience does not know because they cannot focus on anything long enough to see what is going on. The constant shaking of the field of vision makes many nauseated and left unable to watch what is on the screen, for minutes at a time. Last time I check, movie watching was a visual activity. If you stop your audience from seeing and watching, what, then, is the point?

What is more interesting about this movie is that Ross uses a steadicam just as often as he uses shaky-cam. So you have a scene where Katniss is running through the forest using shaky-cam, then fireballs fly at her using steadicam, then more running with shaky-cam. The switches between the two make the shaky-cam work seem even worse because your brain has a moment to stop and process everything and start to relax.

Worse yet, the first 45 minutes or so of the movie have the worst shaky-cam use. Then it calms down for a while and you get more comfortable, and then the action starts up and it is sort of hit or miss whether a scene will use shaky-cam. This inconsistency, as mentioned above, makes the return of shaky-cam more jarring.

Back to the quick edits. I have watched music videos. They use so many quick cuts that you would think that someone with ADD would have trouble paying attention. Yet, in some scenes, The Hunger Games makes these look tame. The edits are so fast, and often involve going from lighter to darker scenes and blur effects, that your eyes cannot adjust to the changes quickly enough to realize what you just saw. In some ways, it almost seems like Ross is going for subliminal action scenes... if he cuts fast enough you get the impression of action without him actually having to film action.

Taken as-is, I would have to give The Hunger Games no more than a B-. I think it has an A cast, a B+ script, an A for music and general effects, an A for costuming, and an A for how closely they kept to the actual plot and story of the source material. But Ross gets a C- for his direction and a D for the poor editing (overall) and jump cutting (specifically during action sequences).

All in all, if you have issues with shaky-cam making you sick, I would wait and watch this on the small screen where, I find, the field of vision is broader and the shaking on the TV screen does not cause as much issue.

Apparently Gary Ross is negotiating a new contract/deal to direct the second installment, Catching Fire, and the production company is hard-balling him. Good! At this point, my hope is that Ross would not be back and they would get someone who is better with action sequences to direct the next movie.

And, in case you are wondering, I have nothing against Gary Ross. He directed Pleasantville, one of my all-time favorites, and Seabiscuit, a pretty good sports story.

Second Addendum:
Gary Ross is out. He couldn't get the money he wanted, but is saying it was the aggressive turnaround time on the production that caused him to walk away. Now they can hopefully hire a director that is more comfortable with action sequences and one who doesn't need to rely on the schlocky shaky-cam.