Friday, September 25, 2009

The Hurley Pro

A few years back brother Josh joined me at the San Diego Comic Con for a day. While he enjoyed himself, for him it was a glimpse into an alien world. I could identify most of the "celebrities" there; I geeked out if I saw Jeff Smith or Mike Mignola walking by.

Last Saturday I experienced the inverse when I accompanied Josh to the final day of the Hurley Pro being held at Trestles in San Clemente (right on the border of San Onofre -- check out the power plant in the background of the picture below for reference).

We got there at about 8:30, but had to park a few miles away and take a shuttle over. It's not the easiest beach to get to to begin with, but it was an absolute zoo because of the contest. We got there in time to see the tail end of Taylor Knox's heat against Roy Powers. Knox (pictured below) is an alum of Carlsbad High School, so naturally we were cheering for him. He won the heat, but the waves weren't very consistent in the morning, so it was a lot of waiting around. Josh geeked out frequently by identifying surfers and industry people walking around us. Apparently brother Ben (who missed it because he was -- wait for it -- surfing) is an even bigger surf nerd and would have been able to point out a lot more. They were also handing out free swag from time to time, another similarity to Comic Con.

We stayed for two more heats, first Dane Reynolds (pictured below) vs. Rob Machado (I actually know who they are!), then Kelly Slater vs. Kekoa Bacalso (heard of Slater, of course). Reynolds vs. Machado actually had to get restarted 10 minutes in because neither one caught a wave. It was really boring at the beginning. When waves finally did come through, it was pretty fun to watch. It was my first time seeing pro surfers do their thing live, and the waves weren't breaking that far out from the beach, so we had a pretty good view of the show.

After the Slater heat, we went surfing ourselves at "Uppers," north of the contest spot. I've only surfed Trestles twice before, it's a world-reknowned spot, and there was a pretty big line-up already out there, so I was nervous about going out. But it turns out there were more newbs than veterans out there, so I had nothing to worry about. I rode Ben's single-fin and had a great time.

Later we got out and went back down to the contest to see the quarter finals. I think we got to see Knox vs. Reynolds first. The waves had picked up, so it was an exciting match, very fun to watch. We stayed through Slater's next heat too, also good, and then took off, watching the rest live on the internet.

It was a fun day, and I loved being the lesser nerd for once.

(All the photos are from Hurley's website.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Name on the Bullet (1959)

This is a pretty good little Western that I'd love to see remade (or remake myself, in comic form). The title and premise are fantastic. Very simple, but ripe with promise. A known assassin-for-hire, John Gant (played by real life war hero Audie Murphy), arrives in town and checks into the hotel. Everyone has heard of him, but no one knows who he's there to kill. His method is also known: he provokes his target into a fight and then kills him in "self-defense," so he gets away with it legally. Gant plays it cool for several days, allowing the more tightly-wound members of the town to self-destruct under their own hidden guilt. He befriends the town doctor named Luke (Gant reflects on the Biblical reference to the apostle/physician) before Luke learns who he is.

The build-up is handled pretty well. The seedier residents immediately begin to panic and conspire against each other and Gant. None of them are particularly memorable characters, but they ratchet up the tension and provide a few great scenes when they each face Gant. The most memorable is when a tall, skinny, wife-stealing gambler gets drunk and confronts the seated assassin. Gant calmly prods him, even placing his palms flat on the table. "All right. If you think you can do it, go ahead and try. My hands are on the table. I couldn't possibly outdraw you. So go ahead and shoot."

Another stand-out scene features Gant facing down a large posse determined to kill him or drive him out of town. "There are many of you. Yes, you could kill me. If you're willing enough. But it's only fair to tell you that I'll kill you, Stricker. And you, Dutch Henry. The physician. His father. And there might even be time for you, storekeeper." The scene has been played out many times since then, most memorably for me in Tombstone, and while I don't know if No Name on the Bullet was the first to use this scene, it's certainly one of the most potent uses. (Warlock had a similar scene, and is also from 1959, by chance.)

Save for Murphy (and maybe Edgar Stehli as Judge Benson), the performances are mostly adequate. They do the job, they're certainly not bad, but they're nothing special, either. I'd like to see some stronger character actors filling the supporting roles in a remake, and a more interesting actor playing Luke. (The most interesting parts with Luke are always Gant's reaction to him rather than Luke himself.) Murphy as Gant captivated me, however. I don't think all of that was because of his talent, however. While he certainly plays his role well, with a Death-like calm and serenity, I had recently devoured his Wikipedia entry and was in awe knowing that this baby-faced actor was one of the most decorated soldiers in history*. It was hard to divorce the man from the part while watching him.

The dichotomy between the killer and the healer is perhaps a little too obvious, but it works here. Some of the dialogue from Luke is a little on-the-nose, and I longed for a more interestingly written character, but Gant's dialogue is pretty good. He has some really good lines and only a few clunkers. (Anytime he makes medical jokes to Luke, like "that's your prescription doc... fill it," I groaned.)

With a length of just 77 minutes, this is a decent Western with a few exceptional elements that are worth your time.

*Seriously, read it. It's fascinating. That guy kicked a lot of Nazi asses. They even made a movie about it; Audie played himself. That one is coming soon in the queue.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unflattering snap-shot

While perusing DVDBeaver's review of Monsters vs. Aliens today, I came across the screen capture below. I still haven't seen the movie (it's in the queue and I'm looking forward to it!), but even during the trailers, the design of the humans bothered me. I liked the creature designs quite a bit, but the people looked weird. The guys' faces were oddly lumpy, and the women looked too similar to each other and to other CG designs I've seen. This particular screenshot, though, is particularly unflattering. It looks as though a 3D model was made based on a 2D drawing that didn't quite translate into an appealing puppet when viewed at all angles.

I think the eyes are the worst part, but the mouths and jawlines are funky too. Look at the mouth of the woman on the far left. With the way that the teeth are visible it just looks incorrect. Like I drew it, not understanding bone structure and anatomy well enough to bluff it. I know they're stylized, but it seems like you'd want to make sure the stylization didn't hurt the aesthetic functionality of the model before you approved the design.

I've noticed this with other CG films, but this screenshot really brought the issue into focus. Anyhow, still looking forward to the movie. I've heard it's a hoot and a half.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Family Brag: Surfing

I may have mentioned here before that my brothers are great surfers, but I just discovered that, as of this weekend, there is finally a qualitative measurement that will prove it.

Josh participated in a fund-raising surf contest last Saturday and took 2nd! He got a giant trophy and everything. I think he said there were about 30 contestants. The guy that took 1st also got 1st last year, and his name was "Lance," which fits in perfectly with Josh's dream of being in North Shore (the bad guy in the movie, played by surfing legend Laird Hamilton, was also named Lance). The funds were raised for a Mormon scout troop, I believe, which doesn't fit in quite as well with the North Shore narrative.

Anyhow, thought that was cool.

Happy birthday, Baby-Cakes

My wonderful wife turns 29 today. Here she is in 2005 acting her age.

Love you, Sugar Gams!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This year's stupid trend

Every Fall I get to watch all the new students come back to Biola with all their new clothing trends and what-not. I'm now six years out of college, which is apparently long enough for me to notice and hate what all the kids are wearing.

Some of the trends from the last few years include: head-bands (guys and girls), leggings under skirts and shorts (girls), Castro hats (girls and guys -- only lasted for a brief season, though), vests (girls, some guys). Most of these are gay-tarded and I hate them. (Amy is now writing me an angry comment about "gay-tarded.")

The newest one, which isn't all that new, but has surged in popularity, is cut-off jeans. For dudes. And not baggy jeans, the tight hipster jeans. I tried finding a picture of a dude wearing this online, but Google Image Search still insists that mostly girls are wearing this, so that will have to do. Rest assured, though: the picture below is exactly what these shorts look like on these guys.

What's worse, some of these dudes cut them off just below the knees, making them effectively "man-pris" (credit goes to my friend Joel for coining that term). It used to be just one guy we saw a few years ago wearing shorts like this. Now every hipster dude at Biola is wearing them.

Youths! Youths and their clothes! *waives cane menacingly*

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Recent movies - District 9, The Hurt Locker

District 9 (2009) - Really enjoyed this one. My favorite thing about it is the casting and characterization of the lead, Wikus. He's such an unlikely hero, and not in the traditional predictable Hollywood way. This actor is a complete unknown, he looks and acts like a simple-minded but well-intentioned nerd. His superficial appearance, for one thing, is something you'd never see in another Hollywood action movie. He's small of stature, has a goofy mustache, and combs his hair the way I did for most of my life. Personality-wise, the movie establishes very early on that he probably only has his job because of his father-in-law, and he's not very forceful or confrontational, which makes you all the more nervous for him when he sets out to evict the violent and unpredictable residents of District 9. (A friend of mine said that as he was watching the movie he kept waiting for Wikus to get killed and the real protagonist to show up.) As you watch him progress through the movie, you begin to love him and really root for him, and it demonstrates great strength on the part of the actor and the director for bringing this about.

Beyond Wikus, the documentary style that moves to traditional story-telling works, the action is great (though gory - them's a lot of folks explodin'), and the characters of Christopher and his son work surprisingly well, given the limitations of the aliens' design. Oh, and the robotic suit? RAD. It also seems set up for a sequel (even the obvious sequel name of District 10 makes perfect sense given the events of the movie).

The Hurt Locker (2009) - Another one I was able to catch thanks to Shane. This is a hard one to nail, for me. As I was watching I could see all these potential paths the story could have gone down, but never did. There were lots of little details that turned out to be unused for the overall narrative. At one point we see the main character Sgt. James has been collecting signature pieces of the bombs he's defused. Later he discovers a child's body that has been used to create a "body bomb." Still further on in the movie he and his team decide that a particularly nasty carbomb wasn't a suicide bomb, and that the perpetrators must be nearby. We've also seen suspicious people at nearly every bomb site, people who are never addressed again. Each of these elements could have added up to a showdown between a villainous expert bomb-maker and Sgt. James, the reckless but talented and intuition-based bomb defuser, a la Blown Away or Speed. But they don't. These are just pieces of James' life. A picture of the last days of their groups deployment in Iraq. The film is structured more like a documentary than a standard narrative. The pieces don't add up to a plot, they add up to a character.

Even then, James is not an open book. I didn't quite get him, not even at the end when Shane reminded me of the movie's opening quotation: "War is a drug." We get a sense of him, and of the other characters, but they're not sharply defined by a descriptive piece of dialogue. The sense is that James enjoys being good at his work. He likes his teammates. And he relates and works best in that environment. When he gets home, he comes off as purposeless. We believe that he loves his wife and son, but in a distant way, and he doesn't quite know how to relate to them. Earlier, when we see him rather recklessly head off-base into an Iraqi city to find whoever is responsible for the body-bomb, we come to realize that the movie isn't painting him as some thousand-yard-stare, gung-ho warrior who loves combat for combat's sake. He's a man who cares about human life, even if he handles his own and the lives of his teammates a too loosely. He's an interesting and complex character, and the movie doesn't cheat to paint him that way.

The pacing of the movie is also unique. Again, in a conventional action movie, you could predict the beats as they come. There are several points in Hurt Locker where you think you know what's going to happen. But the scenes are cut in an unconventional manner. They are often edited so that the falling action and relief after each big tense moment are cut off. You are suddenly back on base. The feeling is like falling through the sky without a parachute, and when a parachute suddenly appears in front of you, you are teleported to the ground. You don't get to enjoy the relief, it's passed over.

By the way, the tension and action scenes are very entertaining, even if you are digging your nails into the armrest. Besides the many IED disarming segments, there's a great sniping scene when the team runs across some friendly bounty hunters in the middle of the desert. (An interesting aspect to the war that I haven't seen touched on anywhere else.)

I've been trying to figure out the message of the movie. I'm not sure if it has one. It seemed content to dwell on a few characters. The Iraq setting is almost incidental. It provides a really unique setting and vocation for the character, and it's about war (albeit a very different aspect of war from your typical war movie), but you wouldn't really call it a war movie. Or maybe you would, and we just haven't adjusted as movie-goers to the new reality that is modern warfare.

Ironic note: Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break, the source of many of the action cliches discussed in Hot Fuzz. She has now directed The Hurt Locker, an action movie that avoids all the ones I can think of. Rather than being full of meaningless fake (fireball) explosions, all the explosions are very consequential.