Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Archive for the category “thinky thoughts”

Some Valentine’s Day Poetry

I’m a day late actually posting these and they’re no “Roses are Red”, but I thought I would try my hand at some double dactyls since they’re sort of fun.

Not to be one of those “It’s so commercial” people, but…

Higgledy piggledy
That great saint Valentine
Married some folks in the
City of Rome

Now we pay tribute with
Cardiogonical
Chocolates priced so high
I’ve lost my home

And with the help of some info from Wikipedia,

Higgledy piggledy
Reverend Valentine
Bound pair of lovers for
Life with a ring

Or it just might have been
Non-Canterburian
Tales from Geoff Chaucer that
Claimed love’s the thing

The overuse of the delayed character reveal in Jack Reacher

I went to see the Jack Reacher movie with my family last week during the holidays.  I haven’t read the books, but I really enjoyed it.  In contrast to a number of recent action movies I’ve seen (particularly Bond), it didn’t try to throw so much stuff into the plot that things stopped making sense.  And, in spite of hitting all the action movie tropes (initial refusal to come out of retirement, car chase, girl getting kidnapped and going to save her even though she’s clearly bait in a trap), it didn’t feel overly predictable.  It was just predictable enough that I felt clever for figuring the occasional thing out, but not so predictable that I had it all figured out and got bored.

But what I thought was strange about it is that the writer or director or someone involved in the movie seems to be a huge fan of what I think of as the delayed character reveal.  And in a bizarre way where the use of the technique doesn’t serve any purpose that I can determine.  Let me try to explain.

Sometimes a character’s face is hidden from the audience.  Things about the character are revealed by shots of their hands or other character’s reactions to them or voiceover narration about the character.  Then, at an appropriate point, the camera finally moves to show the face of the actor playing the part.  This is the delayed character reveal.

As explained on the TV Tropes page for The Faceless, there are several possible reasons for hiding a character’s face.  Sometimes, like in Kill Bill 1 or the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie, hiding the villain’s face makes them seem more important or threatening.  Sometimes it’s done to show a crime but still keep the mystery of which character (who will be seen throughout the story) is the culprit a secret (eg. Murder She Wrote, Law and Order, most CSI episodes).  But neither of those are quite what I’m talking about and in fact the sort of hidden face here doesn’t necessarily have to be used for a villain or a twist ending.

Perhaps closer is what sometimes happens on the TV show Criminal Minds, where they show a crime without revealing the perpetrator’s face, but the point isn’t so much to preserve the mystery of the killer’s identity.  Often in Criminal Minds, the culprit isn’t otherwise seen as a character in the show: the FBI agents don’t speak to the criminal before they manage to track them down at the end.  Instead the point is more to keep the possibilities open for the audience to form ideas about them without an actual image of the face.  As the FBI narrows down the profile, the image in your mind gets sharper and it becomes clear to the FBI agents who the killer is at the same time as the camera finally gets a clear view.  Often the reveal is of someone we’ve never seen before.  Sometimes there’s a twist like they had been looking for an old man all along, but just realized the killer is a young woman, but often it’s just that the connection between the killer and the victims is made.  This style of delayed character reveal doesn’t have to come at the end of the story and can be quite brief.  It can also be done with heroes, having people describe them while they are still off-screen or in voiceover while headless shots of them go by so you can get a sense of the character before their face is shown.

So anyway, Jack Reacher has three delayed character reveals in just the first 20 minutes and several later in the movie as well.  I will discuss just the first three and there aren’t really anything I consider spoilers since the end result is pretty clearly telegraphed ahead of time, which is part of what makes their abundant use so bizarre.

The movie starts out with shots of a man driving a van fairly recklessly into a parking garage interleaved with shots of making bullets, prepping a gun, etc, so it’s clear he’s up to no good.  He parks, pays and gets his gun out of the van and starts lining the sites up with people in a park across the river.  During this time, we only really see this guy from behind or in shadow and so the idea conveyed is “Who is this guy?  Why is he doing this?”  He shoots five people in the park and then his face is shown.  On its own, this isn’t such a strange reveal, potentially falling into the “faceless people seem more threatening and have an air of mystery category.  But in fact it turns out that this is not the Big Bad with all his hidden motives and master schemes.  Rather it is some hired gun, who does feature quite prominently in the story as Reacher’s adversary, but for whom mysterious motivations are not required.  Neither is it some well-known actor, which is often the case in these sorts of reveals.  So it seems a bit strange to hide his face for the first ten minutes of the movie and then reveal it for very little payoff, but it wouldn’t be that remarkable if it weren’t for what happens next.

The police arrive on the scene and start gathering evidence: picking up shell casings, dusting for prints, security footage.  This gets them a name and they head to the man’s home.  We are less than 15 minutes into the movie at this point, so it could not be clearer that this is not our guy, yet the film-makers still go to the trouble of keeping this man’s face hidden: having the police find him passed out face-down on the bed, keeping shots below the neck and, as he is being questioned, keeping the cameras focused on the interrogators so the man’s answers come from off-screen.  This goes on for a couple of minutes before the camera pans over to reveal what have known to be the case since they busted into the man’s home: this man is not the face of the man we saw in the parking garage.

The wrongfully accused man then asks for Jack Reacher.  Who is this Reacher guy, the police and DA want to know.  A detective does some research and explains to the DA that Reacher is an ex-army member of the military police.  We cut to a shot of a man’s legs walking.  He was exceptional, the detective’s voiceover tells us.  He served in wherever, has a bazillion medals blah blah blah.  Headless man is still walking.  But Reacher is basically a ghost now, dropped off the grid since he got out of the army.  His payments go to an account in Virginia and he always collects them by wire transfer at a location they won’t be able to get without a warrant.  We see the legs walk up to a Western Union booth and the woman behind it hands over some cash with a nod as though she sees the man regularly.  Headless man walks away.  The description continues and the legs go a few other places.  Now I don’t see a lot of commercials and this wasn’t my movie pick, so I didn’t know a ton about the movie going in, but even I knew that Tom Cruise played Jack Reacher.  It’s on the poster outside the theatre.  So when the DA, defense attorney and detective are talking in the hospital outside the accused man’s hospital room and the legs walk up to them and they want to know who the man is, I’m not quite sure what the point of revealing Tom Cruise’s face as he introduces himself as Reacher is supposed to be.  It’s unusual to meet the main character so late into a movie but presumably the idea is to emphasize that Reacher is a tough guy to find and make his protestations at being drawn into the events more believable.  But delaying it even longer than necessary with these awkward camera angles is puzzling.  Once Reacher’s name is mentioned, shouldn’t it be fine to just cut to him doing his thing?  That’s what we’re there for.

After this, I couldn’t stop noticing how characters were introduced and re-introduced.  Weirdly, they sort of subvert the trope with the Big Bad.  He is standing off in the shadows at first, but it’s not long before he steps out and one of the minions then actually turns his head away to avoid seeing the Big Bad’s face because he thinks that increases the likelihood of his being killed.

Anyway other than the overuse of the delayed character reveal, which I found distracting (I kind of want to watch it again just to catalogue them all), I really enjoyed the movie.  If you’re an action movie fan and not bothered by Tom Cruise, I recommend it.

Peace, Harmony and Ralph Lauren

So there was a bit of a knitting dustup about knitting social network Ravelry using the term Ravelympics for knitting toward specific, self-imposed goals while watching the Olympics and making use of the online forums to post results, and the US Olympic Committee, who felt that the name might constitute trademark infringement (there is also an issue with the rings logo, which I actually understand and agree with the USOC on). I’ve never participated in the Ravelympics (though this whole incident is the first time I’ve really looked into it and I’m thinking about joining in, although maybe on Team Apathy. But then again maybe not.), but I’m not aware that anyone ever thought the hat dash was an official Olympic Committee-sanctioned activity and so I was going to write some snark stating pretty much that and maybe make a pun about knitting needles near the dressage making it difficult to stay on their high horses and then try to get a dig in at the US for being so litigious. But then the USOC apologized and the Yarn Harlot showed up to be all reasonable and I decided maybe I should just let it go.

But as it turned out, I couldn’t exactly do that. Because apparently I have a lot of feelings about the Olympics and actually maybe some of my anger about this letter was not about knitting or Ravel-whatever-it-ends-up-being-called specifically, but more frustration about the general commercialization trend.

Read more…

Addendum to previous Snow White post

I previously outlined some thoughts on a Snow White movie where Snow White learned to reject her passive instincts and set out to defeat the Queen and tear down the social constructions that make beauty so valuable. And thinking about the plot I outlined, I realized it was actually very similar to another movie I had never connected with Snow White before: Kill Bill. Now wait wait, stay with me here for a second and consider the characters and basic plot points of that movie versus the one I outlined.

O-Ren is the evil Queen. Like the Queen in the movie, she loses her parents in a horrific incident at a young age and has to do terrible things to survive. On the surface, O-Ren appears to have a great deal of power and independence, heading up a large corporation, chopping off the heads of men who dare to question her and with her own bodyguard army. But actually O-Ren works for Bill and is part of a corrupt system. Probably you could make arguments for some of the other women as “the Queen” character. They all work for Bill and support the existing system, especially Elle Driver in the first movie, who is very much set up to be in competition with Beatrix Kiddo, fighting for Bill’s attention and approval. But Lucy Liu has more screen time in the first movie, so let’s go with her for the moment.

Beatrix Kiddo is the Snow White character. She used to be part of Bill’s team, was the star of it in fact and benefited hugely from it. But then something happened. Not a poisoned comb or a huntsman being sent after her. Beatrix got pregnant and was forced to start thinking about the world she lived in and the sort of world she wanted her daughter to grow up in. She realizes her current situation where Bill gives the orders and she has to kill people for a living is terrible and she decides to leave that life behind. Snow White is too pure of heart to lead an assassin’s life, but she has also been accepting of a system that valued her for weird and messed up reasons.

At first Beatrix tries to sneak out quietly, avoid conflict, the same way Snow White runs to the dwarves. But of course Bill can’t let her leave. He and the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad try to kill her (again, no poisoned apples in sight, but that’s the parallel) and very nearly succeed, so that Beatrix is lying in a hospital bed, which is the equivalent of Snow White’s coffin. She comes to and realizes passive attempts to ignore the evil she was formerly a part of will not give her the life she wanted for her daughter and she comes to the same conclusion Snow White would come to in my version of the movie: she has to tear the whole freaking system down.

This doesn’t just mean killing Bill (who is that movie’s equivalent of the mirror), although that is the final objective. It means getting rid of everyone, like O-Ren, who supported the move to kill her when she was just trying to get out of the way. So she makes a plan and commits to doing whatever is necessary to see it through.

I wouldn’t make this part of the Snow White story as bloody or vengeance-focused as Kill Bill, but it’s strange how well things correlate now that I think about it. This is why you shouldn’t think too much about things: your brain starts to do weird things.

How I would write a Snow White Movie

I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman last night. As a film that starred Charlize Theron’s hair and a dress made out of ravens and goo, there was a lot to like about it. As a film about Snow White, it was pretty mediocre, maybe even less than that. It was way too long for one thing. And long in a bizarre way, like they actually had a decent script at one point but then someone decided folks weren’t getting their money’s worth so they went back and filmed people walking through mountains and getting rained on to stretch the thing out to two hours. But I also feel like it really missed some key points of the story. I really love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. I support having multiple interpretations of a particular fairy tale and so I thought that rather than do a straight review, I would outline how I might attempt to tell a more adult version of Snow White (which in Snow White and the Huntsman means “darker and edgier”, but I’m going to give a few options), with some commentary on the movie.

Read more…

In which I try to avoid being the last person on the planet to read The Hunger Games

This post contains spoilers for the first book in the Hunger Games trilogy.

I have been hearing about The Hunger Games for quite some time, but when I saw the movie trailer1, I mentioned how good it looked to a good friend and that I had bought the book on sale over Christmas and not cracked it open yet. She pretty much said “Read it. Read it now,” which is not something she does too often. So I pushed it to the top of the list, in spite of the fact that I have just finished the also-dystopian Wool 4 (which I’ll probably discuss after I’ve read the last one) and have been watching a bit of darker sci-fi TV stuff. Why I think this will help with the winter blahs I don’t know.

I really enjoyed it, found it a real page-turner (finished in about a day). I will probably wait a little while before picking up the remaining books in the series, both to try and read something a little lighter and for reasons I’ll talk about later. For those of you who have checked out the last post-apocalyptic novel post, you might be interested to know that there is no knitting in this novel. There is, however, one attempted drowning of a cat that, yes, is meant to tell us about the desperate world in which these people exist and the calculating  and compassionate natures of two different characters (previously, on cats and dystopias. I’ve seriously got to start cataloguing these). There are a few other subjects dealt with in slightly more detail, however. Read more…

Knitting through the Apocalypse

YarnPotential

Imagine you come across an isolated car, undriveable due to gas shortage, and you yourself have nothing but time because there are no jobs or anything and whatever yarn you can find is basically fair game. What about this situation does not scream yarnbombing?

You know how sometimes you’re reading along in that post-apocalyptic novel and you find yourself thinking “This is a pretty good description of the rapid rise and extreme control of a political/religious organization in the power vaccum left after that plague/nuclear/environmental disaster, but there should really be more knitting.”  Yeah, me too.

It’s not that post-apocalyptic novels are completely devoid of knitting, but in my experience, the main focus often falls elsewhere.  And this is a bit strange.  Partly because, if industrial manufacturing is severely limited, people who craft cozy things should be an extremely valuable resources.  But mainly, of course, because in the bleakest of times one turns to comforting, meditative things one loves, like knitting.

Preferably knitting in fuzzy mohair or bright colours.

Crater and Knitting

If yellow and pink socks can't save us, we must ask if this is still a world worth living in.

A brief summary, from a knitting perspective, of some of the post-apocalyptic stories I have read:

  1. Earth Abides: the struggle of a small group of people to preserve information when they can barely survive day-to-day.  At first I thought there was no knitting in this book; a big part of the story is that very few people have useful skills in the new world in which they find themselves and, not only that, they generally don’t have much desire to learn them.  However, Google books tells me there is a mention of Ish spending a night reading by the fire while Em knits beside him.  Whether she does this for comfort or practical reasons, I can’t recall.
  2. A Canticle for Leibowitz: also the struggle to preserve information, this time headed up by some future version of a Catholic monastery.  No knitting that I can recall, although it’s been ages since I read it and the book must be at my parents’ place since I can’t turn it up at home.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale: weird political organization that claims to be religious creates a class system based around women’s reproductive ability1.  This book has several knitting scenes, perhaps unsurprising since Atwood herself is a knitter.  But weirdly the knitting is not done by any likeable characters; rather it’s used as a creepy way for the privileged to pretend to show how compassionate and supportive they are of the lower classes.  And at one point knitting is used for violence.
  4. Y: The Last Man: the decay of political organizations altogether and descent into anarchy, although the whole women’s rights business sort of becomes a moot point.  Enjoyably, Agent 355 knits and this seems to be the only example where it’s explicitly stated that the character knits because they find the action relaxing or comforting (“to keep [her] hands busy”).  She says her grandmother taught her.  She also notes that needles can be used as weapons in a pinch.  Note: I’m only a few volumes into this, so I could be a bit off here.

(Mistakes?  Other examples?  Help me out fellow nerds sci-fi fans.)

So, on balance, there’s actually a fair bit of knitting going on as the world ends2, but if this still isn’t enough for you, GOOD NEWS.  Writer and friend-of-fibre-enthusiasts Hugh Howey has put out a series of short stories/novellas with a knitting theme called Wool.  The first book does not contain any knitting references, but the second one has a main character who knits:

This was her favorite part, casting on.  She liked beginnings.  The first row.  Out of nothing came something.

I’m only just starting the third one3 and it seems like there will be less actual knitting in this one, but each book’s title is related to some part of the knitting process and the atmosphere of the book is sort of metaphorically related to that knitting action I guess.

He also answers questions while knitting at a S&B.

So, yes.  Wool.  Knitting sci-fi-type people should check it out.  You never know when disaster could strike.  Grab your needles and be prepared.

Jayne Hat

Men come and go, but knitted Jayne hats abide

1. Noted without further comment: the wiki page, imdb page and SparkNotes page all have higher Google rankings than the Amazon link to the actual book. Return to post

2. Aside: two of the most memorable scenes from the above novels (hopefully this isn’t too spoiler-y.  I won’t say which ones), involve really disturbing descriptions of people killing cats and how that’s symbolic of what desperation brings out in humanity.  Is this a thing, that in really bleak futures we will spend a great deal of time thinking about cats?  Wait, is Cat’s Cradle literally about cats?  No, don’t tell me.  I will get to it eventually.  Maybe it just says more about me that those are the scenes that have stuck with me all these years. Return to post

3. I thought I heard somewhere that the series was only available on Kindle, but I seem to see a paperback on Amazon.  Anyway, if you have the Kindle app on something, which can include your computer if you don’t mind reading off a laptop/desktop, the first couple of books are pretty short and only 99 cents each, which is a decent way to find out if that’ll work for you. Return to post

Via: First heard about the series on Metafilter, which has more details about it being self-published and how it’s risen in popularity, which is also a pretty interesting story.

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