Why Avatar Was Revolutionary and the Studios Just Don’t Understand Why

Ever since Jame’s Cameron’s Avatar hit movie theaters last year people have been oohing and ahhing at the technology that was employed to make the very-true-to-life planet of Pandora seem real. His use of 3-D technology and the ability to create photorealistic computer-generated characters out of pixels was cool and ahead of its time and cost a whole lot of money to make…and it shows. The film *looks* great and it’s enjoyable and all, but I’m glad it didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar. That would have been like giving Star Wars the Best Picture for having really awesome special effects.

And everyone said that Avatar would be a game changer, the meme was coming down the pipe even before the movie was released and the whole understanding of why it would be the game-changer-to-be was because of the photorealistic characters. But for some reason that whole angle of the film has been lost in the cloud that it was in 3-D.

Glorious 3-D! Plants and animals and those Huey helicopter looking VTOLs and floating mountains and all. All of it in 3-D. And like I said earlier, the film looks great.

So now other studios have latched onto that breaking new technology from the 1950’s also and films all over the place are about to be released in 3-D, whether you want them to be or not. Clash of the Titans was filmed in standard 2-D, but after Avatar splashed big Warner Bros. went back and made Titans into 3-D to satisfy this unquenchable desire for Perseus and the Kraken and Medusa’s head to be in 3-D. The remake of Piranha is going to be in 3-D and even more films are coming out in that cutting edge 20th Century technology.

But butts in the seats in theaters have been declining for the past several years since HD has been introduced into the home theater market. The big studios have been asking themselves what could bring people back to the theater and they think they’ve found it, for now.

Going back to the game changer – I don’t see why the studios haven’t figured out yet why Avatar is really such a big deal, because it’s fairly obvious. Maybe it’s because of legal issues that would be involved in the making of film, but the logical end to what Avatar has brought us is filmmakers being able to have any actor or actress, living or dead, in their film. George C. Scott as Robert E. Lee in a Ridley Scott picture? Done. Jimmy Stewart and Jim Carrey finally together in a comedy after all this time? Doable. Grace Kelly back to play Julia Roberts’ mother? Not impossible. All it takes is a bunch of LEDs on a stand-in actor’s head and we can paint Charlie Chaplin in a new comedy from the Farrelly brothers. He could eat poop or something and then do a funny dance.

Voice talent could be big then and actors that never got work before could (secretly) put blockbusters on their resumes. Like I said, legal issues abound, since the families of these people might disagree with allowing their loved ones to return from the grave to be resurrected again on the big screen, but everyone in Hollywood has a price, right?

So 3-D? It’s a fad again. Hollywood should look to the real future – harvesting dead actors for profit.

Elijah McCoy, Lewis Latimer and Granville Woods: An Exercise in Frustration

So the paper is coming along but not fast enough. I have 10 pages but need 12-15. And now I’m getting nervous. I don’t know why, it’s just that I’m not done yet, and I did procrastinate (who doesn’t?) but I’m trying to make up for lost time now. I was sick for days and the thing is due on Thursday. With it being due on Thursday I’ve got a bunch of stuff written and I’m trying to make it cohesively come together. McCoy, Latimer and Woods, you are frustration!

Elijah McCoy, Lewis Latimer and Granville Woods: African-American Inventors of the 19th Century

I have a term paper coming up for my Contested Images:  Race, Religion, and Science in American class and I thought I’d post the synopsis here. I used to write a lot about historical topics on my site and its been awhile since I last wrote about history. Maybe when I’m done with the paper I’ll update this post and append the actual report (or maybe not, it’ll be about 15 pages long). Anyway, here’s the thumbnail sketch of it –

The end of the 19th Century was a turbulent time for African-Americans. The Civil War, having just recently concluded, was still an open wound in parts of the United States, and the lingering feelings and racism bled into the Reconstruction period and beyond. During this time, a handful of men rose above the difficulties to create life-changing inventions that would modify the future of entire industries. This paper will focus on the backgrounds, work and inventions of three influential inventors: Lewis Latimer, Elijah McCoy and Granville Woods.

Woods’ work in telephony and telegraphy, McCoy’s work in engine lubrication and Latimer’s work in the manufacturing of carbon filaments for Edison’s light bulbs made them forerunners in their fields for which they received praise and recognition in a time when such adulation for African-Americans was rare. McCoy’s invention lead users to coin the phrase “the real McCoy”. Latimer’s work was so important to the field of electric light technology that he was given one (out of twenty-eight) of the coveted spots in the Edison Pioneers, a group that represented the highest honor in the electrical field. Woods, known in some circles at the time as the “Black Edison”, pioneered different uses of telegraphy, allowing communication between station houses and moving trains.

This paper will cover what these inventors were famous (and not so famous) for, how their backgrounds as the children of former slaves impacted their opportunities and educations, and how their race played a part in their notoriety as well as how their inventions changed our lives.

Things We Can All Do Without, Part 3: Nostalgia for Hair Metal Bands

Dear Hair Metal Bands,

I’ve been noticing that, for some crazy-ass reason, you’re making a comeback on that radio station that I hate to listen to but have to hear when I’m in the car with my wife and kids. You know who you are, you Def Leopards and you Whitesnakes and you Poisons. I’d even throw in Twisted Sister, since I keep hearing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on that station and even on commercials. What’s up with this trend?

It’s probably some “our core demographic was in junior high or high school when these songs were originally popular, so to make them feel young again and increase revenue through advertising, let’s give them the songs that were cool when they were kids” thing. Like that whole Beatles Rock Band game and the “Oh God, Patrick Kennedy is quitting the House! What will we do without a Kennedy in government?” thing.

But man, I hate this music. Its corny factor, the lame “Eighties kids” being a demographic of buyers of this crap. Hair metal was silly in 1985, why would it be any different now? When you look at some of these bands’ websites you see that they’re just a bunch of old guys trying to hang on to whatever they had 20 years ago. They probably want the same things they got 20 years ago too: teenage girls and booze, which, if they were 20 years younger, wouldn’t seem so creepy and gross. Of course now they’re like Bad Blake from Crazy Heart, sleeping with middle age to early AARP aged women that used to be the teenage girls they slept with back in 1985 and playing in venues that 20 years ago they wouldn’t want to be anywhere near.

So all of you hair metal guys still trying to hang on (I’m also looking at you, Enuff Z’nuff). Man, get new lives. Reinvent yourselves. No one would fault you. Even David Lee Roth and Dee Snider tried radio gigs. There are othere things in this world besides your hit record on pop radio 20 years ago. Give it a shot, it could work.

After Seeing Amores Perros, I Only Want to Go to the “Fake” Mexico

When I was a kid my family and I would rent a condo in Puerto Vallarta and go to the beach for a couple of weeks every other year or so. It was great, and we’d just hang out and go to the beach and explore around. We did a booze cruise too, but since I was 7 at the time it didn’t mean very much to me, but at least we got to go on a big boat.

And the people of the area were very nice and we always had a great time there. It was fun.

So fast-forward many years later. To a month or so ago.

I had seen the preview for Amores Perros at the Inwood Theater many years ago and remembered at the time that it had been said that it was a sort-of Mexican Pulp Fiction, so when I saw it was going to be on IFC a couple of weeks ago I set up the Tivo to tape it. It sat there for awhile, waiting for us, and we finally watched it.

Oh boy.

If you don’t know about the movie, Amores Perros follows several groups of people in Mexico City in a non-linear story. There is Octavio, who is in love with his brother’s wife and wants to help her leave him, so he starts putting his pet Rottweiler into dog fights. There’s also a guy who is cheating on his wife with a soap opera star and her dog falls down in this hole in the floor and then she falls into the hole and requires some sort of surgery and she can’t walk anymore. And there’s a homeless guy who’s a gun for hire, killing people for money, but all he really wants is to see his daughter again and tell her that he loves her, so he double-crosses two business partners and steals their money and then….

But that would give away the ending, which, like mostly everything in Amores Perros, is heart-wrenching and sad.

And what you see of Mexico City is horrifying. It’s actually worse than Man on Fire, which was also a film about a guy who’s seeking revenge for a kidnapped little girl in Mexico City. The only thing that Man on Fire has that Amores Perros doesn’t have is a guy gets his fingers chopped off. Or Denzel Washington. He’s in Man on Fire, which makes the cool quotient of Man on Fire rise dramatically.

But still, Amores Perros is terrifying. And I’m also glad I never paid to see it, unlike Trainspotting. I will never go to Mexico City after seeing this film. Do I want to fear for my life, or that I might be kidnapped, or a family member might be kidnapped and then held for ransom? What if I paid and that family member was killed by the kidnappers? Or caught in a car chase where someone is racing an injured dog to the hospital? Then again, the dog is a Rottweiler, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about it dying, but still, what if I was hit by those guys while driving? And then a crazy homeless hitman stole my wallet while he was pretending to help me? And what if a crazy homeless hitman killed me while I was there? How much would someone in Mexico City pay to have me killed if the Peso is so low to the dollar?

It boggles the mind. Give me a fake dreamy Mexico where the people are friendly and wonderful and no one will kill me if I decided to travel there. I’ll take Mexico in the late 1970’s for $1000, Alex.

What were some of Glenn Vance’s happiest memories of traveling as a child?

You know the answer.

When Christmas Carols Go Wrong

I was out at the mall today buying some stuff and and heard Bing Crosby singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” over the intercom speakers and, being in a good mood that I was, listened very closely to the lyrics. If you take them literally the lyrics make the singer sound like a tool. There isn’t any mention of ‘please’ at all. Think of it this way – carolers are singing outside of someone’s house….

“We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

“Wow, thanks guys. Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Now bring us some figgy pudding.”

“Okay, have a good night. Stay warm!”

“No, bring us some figgy pudding.”

“Figgy pudding?”

“Yes. Figgy pudding. Now. We won’t go until we get some.”

“Stop it. Leave.”


“I don’t have any figgy pudding. What is figgy pudding?”

“We won’t go until we get some.”


“Because. We love figgy pudding.”


“What the – dude? We caroled for you. Now bring us some figgy pudding. Bring some right here.”

“Get it yourself. I don’t have any figgy pudding.”

“We won’t go until we get some.”

“People, leave! Now! No figgy pudding here! Not going to be any either!”

“We’re not leaving.”

“Get out of here! I don’t have any figgy pudding.”

“Ok, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer then.”

“Dude, I’m going to show you some good cheer in a few minutes. Let me get my .12 gauge of good cheer for you.”

The Creative Mind of George Lucas Divines a New Star Wars Character

The Place: Skywalker Ranch.
The Situation: A creative meeting is taking place to create a new Star Wars character who will be the focus of a new live action television series that takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.Major brainstorming is going on.
The People: Present are George Lucas and the LucasFilm databank keeper.

Databank Keeper – “Okay, so what have we got so far?”

Lucas shakes his head. He is tired and exhausted from running the Lucasfilm empire.

George Lucas – “Nothing. We have nothing.”
DK – “Alright…what is it? Human, creature of some sort….something…”
GL – “Not human. We have enough humans. Make it a creature.”
DK – “Sentient or not?”
GL – “Definitely sentient.”
DK – “Wise or not?”
GL – “Wise? Like Yoda?”
DK – “Yeah.”
GL –  “Hmm…not so wise. Just normal.”
DK – “Okay, a normal creature. What does it look like?”
GL – “Furry. Tall and furry.”
DK – “Like a Wookiee?”
GL – “Okay…no, make it short.”
DK – “Like an Ewok?”
GL – *Sigh* “Scratch furry. Make it scaly. And green.”
DK – “Like Greedo?”
GL – “…Okay. Scaly, green, big beaver teeth.”
DK – “Like Walrus Man?”
GL – “Why is this so hard?”
DK – “I don’t know. You thought this stuff up.”
GL – “Short. Pigish…creature.”
DK – “Like an Ugnaught?”

Lucas hits his fist on the desk – repeatedly.

GL – “Okay, not scaly and green. Scaly and…orange.”
DK – “…Orange is good.”
GL – “Yes, orange is good. Don’t have many orange creatures.”
DK – “What do we call the orange creature’s species?”
GL – “How about a…Rith.”
DK – “No can do. Too close to ‘Bith’. And ‘Sith’.”
GL – “Toynarian! Vimbanite! Morax! Anything!”
DK – “Toydarian, Mimbanite, Gorax. Already done.”
GL – “Okay…Flangian.”
DK – “Flangian?”
GL – “Yes. A Flangian. He will be a Flangian.”
DK – “Where did you come up with that?”
GL – “I just…created…it.”
DK – “Fine. What’s the Flangian’s backstory?”

Silence for 5 minutes…and then…

GL – “The Flangian was recruited by criminal elements on his home world, Flangia, and eventually grew up on a crime boss’ ship, the Bardo’s Luck. He eventually bought his freedom from the crime boss and joined the Imperial Academy. He was a good pilot but he got kicked out for…some reason…so he got back into crime and smuggled…things…around the galaxy. And then for…some reason…he got caught up in the Rebellion.”
DK – “…That’s Han Solo.”

Lucas breaks a technical Oscar against the wall.

DK – “You know this isn’t easy, George! Remember how long it took you to come up with Yoda?”
GL – “Jar Jar was so much simpler.”
DK – “Yeah, but the whole ‘race’ thing with him…”
GL – “Yeah, that sucked.”
DK – “Yeah.”
GL – “Okay…he grew up privledged, but then was sent to a farm when his parents died. He moved to a swamp planet and then after being hunted down by Dark Jedi he fled there to go live with…Ewoks or something. And his best friend, he’s a Jedi too, and so his friend and he love the same girl but finally have a duel on a space platform -”
DK – “…You’re kidding…right?”
GL – “…What?”
DK – “That’s like everybody you’ve ever created in the whole saga, main-character-wise.”
GL – “Hey, who came up with this? Me? Yes, me! I’m detecting a more critical tone than usual, so don’t screw with me! Remember, man, I am your boss. Making this stuff up is hard!”
DK – “Well exsqueeze me.”
GL – “Shut up, Jar Jar.”
DK – “Okay, easy one. What’s his name?”
GL – “How about…Fluke Bolo?”
DK – “Or Gorge Mucus? Come on, man! Are you kidding? Are you really out of ideas? Come on, man!”

Lucas hangs his head.

DK – “Okay, let’s take a step back and start over again. What should we call our scaly orange Flangian? I don’t know. Just say whatever pops into your head. That’ll be his name.”
GL – “Bill.”
DK – “Bill?”
GL – “That’s the first thing that popped into my head.”

George twiddles his thumbs….

GL – “Okay, we can work with…Bill.”

Michael Jackson

I thank my lucky stars everyday that my family and I were overseas from mid-June through mid-July. We went to Italy. It was wonderful and we had a great time and our family felt better again since Kim and I had been working 60+ hour weeks.

In the town of Loro Ciufenna that we were staying there was a newsstand that sold, on each Sunday, one copy of the International Herald Tribune. The IHT is the European version of the New York Times, but from a decidedly Euro-centric viewpoint, but you still have to put up with Paul Krugman and Roger Cohen. So the first time we bought the IHT (for  2 Euro) and splashed across the front page was a story about Michael Jackson, sort of a career retrospective and how it mentioned that he had planned to tour in the fall. Only after 10 or so paragraphs did it mention that he was dead.

Wow. Michael Jackson was dead? I called my mother and asked her when it had happened and was told that it was a few days after we had left the States, which made me happy to be in Italy, because it meant that I didn’t have to live through all of the crap that was going on in the States about how, oh my God, he’s dead! What happened? What will we do without this lovable eccentric genius who died before his time? Let’s all run out right this freaking second and buy everything that we can that has Michael Jackson’s voice or picture or essence on it!

Supposedly Michael Jackson’s estate has earned over $100 million since his death. And yes, I feel for his children, whom I’m sure loved their father, even though he nicknamed one of them Blanket. And I’m sure that his family was sad when he died, but I hope there is some remorse they feel cashing checks for everything from their shares of his estate to the new reality series that is going to be broadcast with most of the Jacksons in it. I’m probably being pessimistic, given what human nature is really like, of course.

I think that the thing that gets me the most about this Michael love is that everyone seems to have forgotten how completely freaky this person they are worshiping was. All of these “Thriller” dance things and “Thriller” on Party City television ads and Neverland Ranch and the child-sex thing – what the – ? This person, only a few years ago, was considered a freak of nature, a possible child rapist and understandably distrusted by many people. Is the new love the product of a remarkable PR campaign? It’s definitely possible. Who knows.

And why do I care? Part of the “Thriller” thing is, I’m sure, a long-lost love of an ephemeral, imagined 1980’s and a simpler time. Do people feel lonely for this? Should I care at all?

Give it a little while. It will go away.

I hope.

Wilco at the Palladium and the Perils of a Band Giving Their Third Album a Goofy Name

When I was 19 I got to see one of my favorite bands of all time, Uncle Tupelo, play at a club in Dallas called Trees. I was a DJ at the Baylor University station and had heard that they were going to be in Dallas opening for Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, which I didn’t really like, but gladly paid the $20 to see that night. My friend Kathleen and I drove the 90 miles northward to go to the show and I was blown away. Jay Farrar broke more stings on his guitar than I could believe and Jeff Tweedy was cool in a doughy kind of way on bass. They ripped through track after track and ended their set after about 30 minutes. It was amazing.

After that Kat and I left. Like I said, I didn’t like Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, so I didn’t stay, but I followed the band I went to see for the next several years. I didn’t see them live anymore, but I got all of their albums and watched their progression from country-rock (starting with “No Depression”) to a mixture of bluegrass and country-folk (“Anodyne”). I didn’t know about all of the internal turmoil that was going on within the band at the time, I just thought they were great. And it hit me hard when I heard that they’d broken up. Great bands break up every other day, but this one hit me rather hard. I really liked them and now I had to stop being lazy and find something new to listen to.

Of course, I didn’t have to wait long. Farrar went out and formed Son Volt and Tweedy formed Wilco.

And if I’d been looking for a band to like after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, Wilco was real love.

Their first album “A.M.” is fantastic. It continued an already established sound that Tweedy and begun with Uncle Tupelo and carried it a step further, in more of a Rolling Stones direction. If CDs could wear out I would have worn out “A.M.” by now. It is still one of my favorite comfort albums to listen to.

Their second album is less than perfect though. “Being There” has great moments, but interspersed through it are tracks that I could have done without (‘Outta Mind, Outta Sight’, ‘Kingpin’, ‘Hotel Arizona’) and that made me not love it as much as I wanted to. Not saying it isn’t good, it is, but I didn’t have that total unconditional love that I’d felt with “A.M.”.

After that a year or so went by and they came out with “Summerteeth”. And I thought, “Hmm…that’s a stupid album title.”

And my love for them stopped there. It was like people who like kids from TV shows in the 70’s. Peter Billingsley never aged beyond A Christmas Story. Mark Hamill never aged past Star Wars. Cryogenically frozen, my love for Wilco stayed. And that was 1999.

Fast forward to a week and a half ago.

My friend Jimi has an extra ticket to their show at the Palladium, his wife doesn’t like the experimental guitar work of current Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, and they can’t get a babysitter, so a free ticket is mine for the taking if I want it. And I do. So we go.

And the show was great. They played for about 2 hours plus and, strangely, didn’t play much off of the 2 albums that I love so much. Mostly from “Summerteeth”, “A Ghost is Born” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. So now I’m catching up on my education by listening to their other albums.

And I have one thing for Mr. Tweedy. Please, Jeff, no more goofy album titles. I’d rather we didn’t break up again for such a long period of time. Thank you.

Things We Can All Do Without, Part 2: The Plain White T’s

Dear Plain White T’s,

My son has very cool tastes in music. He’s five years old and he likes Johnny Cash, Weezer, The Avett Brothers, The Pixies and other hardly-ever-on-the-charts bands. He doesn’t like girl singers, just boy singers, but the boy singers he likes by and large are pretty awesome and I’m proud to say that, yes, my son knows the words to Cash’s “Sea of Heartbreak” and The Avett Brothers “Die Die Die”.

My wife on the other hand does not always listen to cool music. She gravitates towards the ‘mix’ stations, and that’s where our trouble starts.

If you ever listen to any of these ‘mix’ stations you’ll realize that they are pretty much easy listening for 30 year olds. Songs you used to shake your fist in the air to, like Bon Jovi, or piano ballads from Elton John, or the official band of the ‘mix’ station, The Fray. These songs were once cool, long ago, and now are not, but these ‘mix’ stations continue to pump out these songs every hour so people listening in office buildings can hum along to something and hopefully, god willing, get them through the day.

Several months ago one of the big songs on these ‘mix’ stations was “Hey There Delilah”, a sappy syrupy love song written, I guess, to the singer’s girlfriend. The song is pretty lame, but for some reason my son, who has very cool tastes in music, loves it.

Plain White T’s! Grumble grumble grumble.

Where did you emo wannabe’s come from? Will you ever leave us? Probably not, now that you have some other crummy song called “1, 2, 3, 4” on the radio, on that ‘mix’ station that my wife listens to and my son hears as my wife drives him around Dallas. Why can’t my wife listen to something awesome like Hüsker Dü or Wilco or Grandaddy or something like that? Isn’t there a law against music like this? Aren’t we closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay because of people like The Plain White T’s?

Maybe we should waterboard The Plain White T’s. That would be satisfying.

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