01 Fast and Furious

Ten things I learned from watching Fast & Furious 6 (some minor spoilers follow):

1. There is no problem that cannot be solved by driving fast and punching hard.

2. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson abides by a philosophy succinctly summarized as “ABF,” or “Always Be Flexing.”

3. The “Fast & Furious” franchise is the United States’ answer to England’s James Bond: a seemingly immortal, ridiculous action franchise that crystallizes the stereotypical values of its country of origin.

4. Cool female characters more interesting than the rest of the cast are rendered completely inconsequential when dead.

5. According to the unique Physical Laws of Diesel, the older Vin gets, the more mass his neck accumulates.

6. The aforementioned Rock is a walking Predator drone, authorized by his fists to operate anywhere in the world with impunity.

7. No matter the circumstances, Paul Walker’s expression is forever frozen in time.

8. If you think the film is at any moment as absurd as it can be, just wait a second.

9. Everyone with a British accent is evil.

10. Nothing says “America” more than a film that in its closing moments gathers a multi-ethnic collection of freedom loving, golden-hearted outlaws around a dinner table to join hands and say “Grace.”


J.N. Wiedle, “Helvetica”

Way back (about 15 years ago), when personal computers were still in their popular infancy, my father bought our family an enormous monolith of a machine – a Gateway, I think – that, compared to even the most basic of its decedents today, was a jalopy. The thing took forever to boot up, forever to open a window of any kind, forever to do just about anything. Regardless, my brothers and I loved it. Though our legitimate uses for it were few beyond simple word-processing, we loved it because it managed to play (at reduced settings and a painfully slow frame rate) some of the coolest video games of the day. After getting my hands on Myst, I was hooked on adventure and puzzle games and spent an inordinate amount of time chronicling every piece of lore and the details of every mystery. I don’t remember the particulars, but along comes this game, Grim Fandango, and it absolutely blew me away.

The art style was reminiscent of Mexican “dia de los muertos” Mexican folk art, 40’s and 50’s art deco, and it was all mixed together with a film noir sensibility that appealed to me beyond any game I’d encountered until that point. It doesn’t hurt that at the time I had fallen in love with and was consumed by a leather-bound collection of Raymond Chandler’s most beloved Philip Marlowe detective novels. The story of Grim Fandango focused on a grim reaper in the land of the dead as he tried to unravel a growing mystery that was complicating his “life” as a reaper. The unique visual style, the characters, the voice acting, the story, and the music all combine in some weird alchemy to create a truly compelling, excellent game. If you can find it, I strongly recommend playing it. To say the game is “fun” is an understatement.

All of this aside, I came across J.N. Wiedle’s web comic, “Helvetica,” linked to from a post on another blog, and upon seeing it I was instantly brought back to those hours spent with Grim Fandango, trying desperately to make sense of the mystery. “Helvetica” tells the story of a newly dead soul as he tries to understand the life he lead and deals with the existential questions that understandably crop up as a result of being dead. It’s funny, beautifully illustrated, and like Grim Fandango, just a ton of fun. Check it out for an equally unique, rewarding, and spell-binding adventure in the land of the dead.

TED, Chip Kidd, “Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is.”

First, let me get this out of the way: Kidd’s one-armed glasses are ridiculous. I understand that he is an eccentric personality and I love what he has to say, but come on. The distracting, awkward way they sit on his head seems completely antithetical to his preoccupation with efficient design.

Anyway. This TED talk is similar in it’s purpose to the one I posted a couple of weeks ago in March in that the speakers are both concerned with how the design of objects influences a person’s interactions with those objects and shapes their experience of the world. In Kidd’s case, he is dealing with an object that once held a sacred place of cultural reverence, but has stumbled in the past decade: the book.

Let it be known that although I own a Kindle of my own, I share some of his bitter feelings about the book’s recent fall from grace in favor of digital distribution of written works. I still buy most of my written material in hardcopy, stubbornly eschewing the portability of hundred-kilobyte versions. I dream of owning a house that comes equipped with, or in which I can build, a library. As it is, stacks and boxes of books still fill the corners and closets of the apartment, waiting for Ikea shelves of their own.

Through his various examples of how the tactile experience of a book can inform or affect the reader’s enjoyment of the text within, Kidd makes a great case for the value of visual design and why the physicality of books still matters. Seeing the story behind one of the most well-known logos of all time – the Jurassic Park emblem – is especially interesting.

TED, Jeffrey Kluger, “The Sibling Bond”

Beware: I am about to gush at length about the bonds of brotherhood.

As the oldest of three brothers, this TED talk felt enormously relevant to my own experiences and hit very close to home. I can say without embarrassment or reservation that my relationships with my brothers are among the most rewarding and important in my life. Though we’ve grown apart physically as we’ve gotten older, it is impossible to forget or ignore the genuine brotherhood between us whenever we are together. Deep-seeded philosophies, aesthetic beliefs, and practical outlooks on life unite us.

We’ve never been dependent on one another, and there have always been petty conflicts, but there is an almost palpable respect and appreciation that has become especially apparent as we’ve moved on from the safety of college and education into the realm of adulthood. As we’ve aged and cultivated our own experiences, we’ve conveyed those experiences to illuminate new ideas and paths. I know that my brothers, wherever they are and whatever they are doing, will always be among my best friends.

And I admit here that I think our cohesiveness is at least partially a testament to quality parenting as much as it is a testament to mutual appreciation among like-minded persons. In other words, it’s not an accident that we share this bond. Our parents always encouraged group participation, but never to the point of diluting our individual personalities. Friends and family joke that we are essentially clones of one another, and despite the negative connotation, I have always taken that as a compliment. My brothers continue to impress me with their unique abilities, attitudes, and goals and inspire me to be exceptional.

On a lighter note, it’s funny to note that each of us does accurately exhibit the differing characteristics Kluger identifies, and I’m sure this is the case in many families. It’s just especially humorous because with three brothers separated in birthdays across only five years, it becomes obvious that each sibling does indeed exhibit some very stereotypical behaviors. The eldest is definitely the serious, test-subject leader, the middle is definitely the aloof, quiet achiever, and the youngest is definitely the humorous, head-strong entertainer.

I realize my thoughts on this talk have been all over the place – sentimentality is largely to blame – and I’m sorry for that. I hope it hasn’t proven insufferable. When it comes down to it, I simply hope that I have been an inspiring example to which my brothers can aspire and a close friend on which they can rely. Honor means a great deal to me, and luckily I’ve had the honor of being raised alongside two of the most impressive young men walking the earth.

Lisa Hanawalt, “Drive”

There isn’t much to be said about this endearing graphic review of the film Drive beyond the obvious: You should check it out. Hanawalt has a great sense of humor and touches on some of the things I, too, found strange about this movie. Though it was an interesting film and right up my alley thematically, it felt disingenuous to me. The violence seemed unnecessarily brutal while the rest of the film’s world didn’t reflect that same grittiness, robbing those scenes of their credibility.

It also doesn’t help that I think the movie closes with what is possibly the most hilarious theme song ever put to film: College’s “A Real Hero.”  It’s like some kind of anesthetized riff on Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero,  and THAT just makes me think of 1) Footloose and 2) Short Circuit. I guess all three of those films focus on the same character archetype: social outcast with a propensity to unique heroics and taking the law into their own hands. I just wish that Gosling’s heroics weren’t forcibly accompanied by bizarre pregnant pauses and unsettling-yet-humorous vapid-or-deep-who-knows? sloth-smiles (see above). Seriously, it looks like he’s perpetually cracking up at a joke that is simply too funny to share with anyone around him, even the weepy Carey Mulligan. Maybe that’s the point? That he sees everything around him as a big joke, a game? I’m usually pretty good at figuring this kind of thing out and I don’t have a clue on this one. Hence my feelings of disingenuousness.

I hope this doesn’t imply I dislike the movie. I actually liked it quite a lot. I appreciate what the director, Nicolas Winding Refn – whose other works I’ve enjoyed (especially Valhalla) – was going for with this. It has great production values, a stylish aesthetic, excellent cinematography, and a minimalist, but interesting story. I like films that let the viewer do some work. Refn obviously intended to create a film that hearkened back to “the good old days” when the stoic, take-charge hero set an example to be emulated and admired.

Some may cringe with regards to the violence, but this character is an heroic update appropriate for an arguably more brutal (at least desensitized) modern age. Drive especially reminded me of Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen (both of whom I love) and that’s never a bad thing. I just wish it had a little more driving and a lot less film school pretentiousness.

At the very least I am thankful the film exists to give birth to the creative review above. Enjoy!

Boulet, “The Darkness”

This comic, collected in a single running story on the page above, is among the best I’ve ever read on the internet. In fact, it may be one of the best I’ve ever read anywhere, period. In a well-illustrated and humorous way it tells the story of one young man’s quest to find love and the difficulties he encounters as a result of the overwhelming attractiveness of his brooding roommate.

It’s a great, relatable premise and one that is explored lightheartedly while also addressing some of the most important aspects of romantic relationships: attraction, honesty, emotional connection, love. It also addresses issues nice guys often feel pressured to confront when trying to impress the opposite sex, including the decision to adopt or not adopt certain personality characteristics one feels may be more attractive. As you can imagine, the protagonist has a lot to learn in this department and Boulet has some great insights to share throughout the story.

One of the most amazing things about this comic is that it was drawn entirely within a 24-hour period earlier this year. If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will. Boulet is an incredibly talented writer and artist and I cannot recommend this comic enough. I hope you take some time to sit down and enjoy it – I guarantee you will have a heart-warming smile on your face by the time you reach the end.

Comics Alliance, Andy Khouri, “‘Where the Wild Things Are’ Creator Maurice Sendak Trolled by Stephen Colbert”

There are some really amazing quotes and exchanges in this interview. Colbert (one of my favorite people basically ever) and Sendak are very well matched. It turns out the most effective counter to Colbert’s ironic, mocking sarcasm is a fervent, curmudgeonly disregard for political correctness. Sendak’s got nothing to hide and it’s beyond amusing to watch Colbert try to get a rise out of him. It’s especially interesting to hear Sendak’s opinions on the state of children’s literature since it’s so clearly important to him to treat children as people, without any special dispensation.

In general I love hearing creators of supposedly squeeky-clean works cut loose and give it to their audiences straight. This interview reminded me a great deal of Shel Silverstein’s classic song, “Fuck ‘Em,” another gem in which Silverstein rants at length about everything he hates. I don’t think people expect that from such a beloved children’s author. Anyway, it’s worth watching if only to witness a quality slug-fest between two creative heavy-weights.

Maurice Sendak: “I don’t write for children. I write. And somebody says ‘That’s for children.’ I didn’t set out to make children happy, or to make life better for them, or easier for them. I like them as few and far between as I do adults, maybe a bit more because I really don’t like adults at all, practically.”