Movie Thursday

The Nerdwriter just posted a video that’s a great continuation/compliment of my post last Thursday about the lack of good storytelling in many films today.  He uses moments vs scenes as his breakdown, and I think its a good one:

“Pictures hung on a clothesline” is how I describe the feeling of disjointed and gratuitous (usually action) sequences that are strung together in the most threadbare of manners.  Nerdwriter’s focus on moments really puts it down to a point, and is similar to what the HULK spoke about where the director’s sole aim and focus is on affectation.

It’s not that the visuals, or that the moments, aren’t necessarily good as they are meaningless.

Without the scenes, without the narrative, without good storytelling, there’s nothing to engage with, to be a part of, and to embody.

And that is what I find most unfortunate.

And that is why I strike this rallying cry for recapturing the skill of storytelling.

The term “motion picture” doesn’t have to just mean that the image onscreen is changing. With good storytelling, the motion is what happens inside of us, both inside, and outside, of the theatre.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

“I remember when my son was about two, we were walking in the woods one November morning. We were along a ridge, looking down at the forest below, where a cold haze seemed to hug the forest floor, and you could see out across the forest below us for miles, and it was just so extravagantly beautiful. And I kept trying to get my oblivious two-year-old to appreciate this landscape. At one point I picked him up and pointed out toward the horizon and said “look at that, Henry, just look at it!” And he said, “Leaf!” “What?” I said, and he said “leaf” again, and then reached out and grabbed a single brown oak leaf from the little tree next to us.

I wanted to explain to him that you can see a brown oak leaf literally anywhere in the Eastern United States in November, that nothing in the forest was less interesting. But after watching him look at it, I began to look as well, and I soon realized it wasn’t just a brown leaf. Its veins spidered out red and orange and yellow in a pattern too complex for my brain to synthesize, and the more I looked at the leaf with Henry the more I felt like the cliché of the stoner who just can’t believe how beautiful everything is.

The intricacy of that leaf astonished me, and I was reminded that aesthetic beauty is as much about how and whether you look as what you see. I was, in short, face-to-face with something commensurate to my capacity of wonder. From the quark to the supernova, the wonders do not cease. It is our attentiveness that is in short supply, our ability and willingness to do the work that awe requires.”

John Green

Architecture Monday

This is a rocking bit of adaptive reuse, a renovation and addition to an existing park museum that ties the converted building into the landscape to be completely in tune with its mission and exploration of the park and the natural environment that surrounds it.

click for project info

What a great idea.  The building takes the existing hexagonal roofs and extends them down to the ground before covering them all in greenery, creating, in effect,  a series of polygonal hills through which even runs a stream.  New window openings in the roof both bring natural light deep into the exhibition space below, and also allow for new second floor offices and meeting rooms.   Best of all is a boardwalk-like path that leads up from the ground to walk amongst those roofs, culminating in a lookout post that hovers over a marsh, the impetus for this park (with water management being of prime importance in the Netherlands…).

This sculptural outside is carried through on the inside too.  The shapely forms coupled with circular lights is a great backdrop for the art and exhibits, inviting exploration.  At the same time, I really like the angular windows that pulls the eyes out to the landscape, the very park and life that the museum references.

Plenty of light and the ‘pod’ like nature of the original building makes for an airy and lively feeling, and a natural-feeling grouping for the various exhibits .

There’s a lot going on here I’m really loving.  The adaptive reuse of the existing museum, the greenery and the connection to the surroundings (including a stream that extends from within the building to the waterway outside), the great handling of light, sustainable design, and the expressive spaces, complete with moments to just sit, look out the window, and contemplate.

Very cool.  Gotta add this one to my list of places to visit.  The Biesbosch Museum Island by Studio Marco Vermeulen.

Movie Thursday

Storytelling.  Or, rather, the lack thereof.

I’ve been bemoaning the lack of good storytelling in most new movies for a number of years.  I’ve even taken to calling it a lost or threatened art.  There’s a lot I pile under the general umbrella of storytelling, including characterization, narrative flow, meaningful development and impact, engagement, depth and levels and layers… but it can also be boiled down to “the way a story grips you and engages you.”  Good storytelling can take the most simplest of plots and have you so hooked you’re enthralled the whole way through.  On the other end, however, it kills me when I watch a movie that has a very interesting premise, interesting ideas, and even interesting sequences and moments, a plot rich with potential… and it falls flat by a lack of good storytelling and leaves me feeling hollow in the end.

And sometimes there’s that really weird feeling where I leave the theatre having been entertained, but every step away from the theatre and the enjoyment fades.  The movie ends up being poor (or worse, abysmal), and I’m not left with a sense of anything.  Of intensity, of character, of growth, of engagement.  Or even of a good narrative.   And definitively no desire to see it again.  And yet… in the moment… it was kinda… fine?  Like sugar water;  sweet, but no substance.

It seemed like a dichotomy… could a poorly told story really be so ok in the moment?

Well, HULK to the rescue to help clarify those odd feelings.  And to write absolutely brilliantly in deconstructing what seems to be the trend in Hollywood these days, of how many of the big name directors and the big studios have, either inadvertently or advertently, misdirected themselves and have actually lost the thread that makes great stories, well, GREAT.

It’s a long read, and it’s all in CAPS since it’s written by the HULK, and it’s actually his review of The Force Awakens (a movie that also made me somewhat insane).  And it’s written with dexterity and carefulness and consideration and a wonderful depth that you might not expect from the HULK.  It’s completely worth the read:

There’s so much good stuff in there .  Very much aligns with my own thoughts, and great for teasing them out in a way and in ways I hadn’t yet noticed or been able to pinpoint.

I don’t think it is an accidental choice of words when we say a good story is “spinning a yarn”.  Because, like yarn, there are many threads that are beautifully woven together.  Really well told stories are full of characters versus just a bunch of caricatures, and characters who act, consistently, in line with who they are.  They can be rich, they interact authentically, and they grow.  A really well told story has a solid narrative (not plot, but the actual narrative) that has connective tissue that engages and flows, rather than a series of moments or action moments hung up on a clothesline.   A really well told story says something.

And it’s not a matter of whether it’s an “action” movie or a “comedy” movie versus a “serious” movie.  That’s just an excuse to justify a badly made story/movie.  Because you can absolutely, 100%, have great action movies that are also strong in the storytelling department.  You can have tense action in a sci-fi movie, as this poster on Ars Techica put it:

“The [recent Star Trek reboot] movies haven’t been sci-fi. They’ve been action movies in space. That’s not what Trek is about. Wrath of Khan managed to get some exciting space battles in while still getting at the morality of not one or two but THREE dilemmas brought about by science: Khan’s genetically modified superhuman abilities, the potential for abuse of the Genesis Project, and not keeping an eye on the madman you left behind in an uninhabited star system. Separate from that, it dealt with the concepts of sacrifice and friendship and where they cross.”

This is just one more thing that has me loving Zootopia all that much more.  At its basic level, it has an interesting plot (bunny cop trying to prove herself has to team up with a con fox while a conspiracy brews underneath).  But it’s the storytelling that truly elevate the movie sky high.  A narrative about hidden bias.  Two rich, flawed, complex characters who interact authentically, consistent with their characters, along an arc, and who, very importantly, by the end, grow as individuals and together.  The scenes progress seamlessly, are interwoven well, and rarely devolve into being used solely for action/excitement/scare/laughs.  It’s a tight package.

And best of all, it’s in that category that most often gets so easily excused for poor storytelling:  “Oh, it’s just a kids movie.”

There is no reason a movie that appeals to kids cannot also be an amazing story told amazingly.  Miyazaki, Pixar and, when they do movies like Zootopia, Disney has shown us it can be done.   And very well.

I know to some I may seem harsh or snobbish when it comes to movies, but I am not willing to excuse a lack of good storytelling when it’s demonstratively possible.  I don’t say it’s easy – not by a long shot!  I’ve written fiction and it takes time and practice to develop the skill.  And even the best studios and directors and writers stumble.  But it is developable.  Also, not every story has to be or will be the most amazing story ever.  A solid fair is still really darn good.

This is really a long winded post to just invite you to read that article by the HULK.  It hones in on what makes so many movies disappointing and hollow, and I hope we can aim the movie producers back towards a sensitivity and understanding of good storytelling, so that they re-aim their efforts towards that rich and fertile land.

Storytelling is one of the most ingrained and human of our qualities.  We need to honour it.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships.”

That’s quite the provocative line.

If you’re like me, you might have a strong reaction to that assertion by David Foster Wallace.  It might be of the “feh, not me, I’m not a follower” variety, or maybe it’s of the “oh no way, I know many who worship less than I,” or somewhere in between.  A reaction.

It’s a challenging statement.  Often, though, those are the best kind.

Wallace elaborates*:

“If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant  you. … Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

That hit home for me.  I do worship, just not in the way I thought.

Worship is one word out of many that we can use to describe those things that we make a part of ourselves and that we elevate to the highest ideals.  They are the areas where our attention and efforts are consistently focused towards.  Sometimes they’re quite silly.  Other times, not.  And once we have elevated it/them, once we worship them, once we make them part of our identity, make it part of who we are, we will righteously fight for it.

We aim ourselves that way because we think it will bring us satisfaction.

However, if we make those – power, money, beauty, intellect, being right, smart, funny, etc  – our prime modes of worship, then there’s  a problem.  They are transient, impermanent, randomly distributed, material, and perhaps above all, relative.  They are all on shaky ground.  They can crumble instantly.  They will crumble over time.  And if we hook ourselves to that, then we’re ripe for anguish as they crumble.

“But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”

Reflecting on ourselves can often bring up the most shocking realizations.  There can be quite the difference between who we say we are and what we value versus what our actions and behaviour, in reality, demonstrates who we actually are being and what we worship.  Those areas where we don’t have peace of mind… maybe we’re inadvertently worshiping something.

Sometimes things are well hidden from our view, but at least here we can look at our actions as the clue.  And even better, we can ask a trusted friend to be our mirror.  And see.

“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

We’re never stuck with what we worship.  We can see, we can observe, and we can choose.  We can choose to be that which brings us and those around us the most fulfillment, empowerment, love, and peace of mind.


* This is from Wallace’s famous “This is Water” commencement address.  I’ve shuffled the order of the quotes around a bit from the original.  Here’s the entire speech:

Architecture Monday

There’s a new set of videos out by Wintergatan, with a couple of new instruments and a new song that’s great, but can we just pause from that excellence to notice the incredible natural rock wall in the back of his workshop/studio?



I’m really curious to see how this all comes together!  Is it built against a cliff face?  Are those boulders?  Quarried rock?  The floor is level paving stones, and the far wall is plastered over and built right up against the rocks.  Emerging from the rocks, there is at least a stub wall, with pilasters, also built to seal to the rocks.  What is the wondrous landscape that makes this possible?

(I also really like the music box paper being used as a light diffuser!)

Using natural elements in the design is a wonderful thing.  It’s hard to beat the texture and richness and just feeling of time that comes from well incorporated natural elements.  Even if/when it turns into a bit of an impromptu shelf:


Making a natural rock face part of the design brings to mind the cabin I posted about here just a few weeks ago, as well as this:

and also one of the most famous examples, Falling Water, where the existing features of the site were brought in and used as the hearth for the fireplace: