Making a food replacement? Cool use of science. Naming it Soylent? About the same as calling glue Sticky Horses.
Every once in a while, airlines or third-party booking companies will mispost flight prices creating what the travel community calls a “mistake fare”. In September, United accidentally posted all its fares for free, charging customers just $10 in taxes. On Saturday, Norwegian travel-booking site, wideroe.no, posted trans-atlantic flights without the fuel surcharges , resulting in fares from $150 to $300 for most cities in Europe between January and March.
Normally, these are the fares that you hit hard to book as many as you can. But with four weddings in January and February and a Round the World trip taking up all of March, I was able to book only on weekend to Milan in February for $150 roundtrip.
Needless to say wideroe.no was being hit ridiculously hard. I received my confirmation almost immediately after booking around 4:30pm, but when I went to bed around 2am, the flight still hadn’t been ticketed. I was hoping to wake up to a ticketed flight, instead I woke up to a cancellation. For foreign credit cards, wideroe.no needed to confirm the charges. They tried to confirm at 3:08am; at 5:20am, they cancelled the flights.
I was (and still am) pissed, not because I felt like I was wronged (I wasn’t), but because what went wrong was totally in my control to prevent. I obviously had to sleep and there’s no way I could have known they would cancel the flights so quickly, but knowing that if I’d simply responded to an email I’d be going to Milan for $150 is a pretty terrible feeling. The fact that I’d also booked it for three friends added up to a full on Sunday morning pity party.
With the knowledge I had before going to bed on Saturday, I’m not sure how I could have prevented this from happening, but one step I will take next time is calling my credit card company before purchasing something like this from a foreign site. I would probably have still received the fraud email and I would have probably still had the flight cancelled, but at least I know I could have done everything in my power to prevent it from happening.
I’m going around the world in March (and parts of February and April) and I’m trying to detail the whole ordeal. Here’s what I’ve got thus far:
For those of you who don’t know, my friend, Mike Turner, and I are heading around the world February 28 through April 3. Here’s our full schedule:
New Zealand and Australia: February 28 - March 9 Seoul, South Korea: March 9–10 Kathmandu, Nepal and Bhutan: March 10–14 Tehran, Iran: March 16–19 Madagascar: March 20–25 Paris: March 25–27 Buenos Aires, Argentina: March 28 - April 2
I really want to take the time to detail the ins and outs of this trip; not only the actual traveling, but also the planning. I’m doing this mainly because I really enjoy writing about this kind of stuff, but secondarily I hope it helps people think with more specificity about these things. I’ve scoured blogs and Twitter feeds for broad information to help me specifically plan my trip. Similarly, I hope that you can take these broad strokes and plan your trip. It doesn’t have to be around the world, it doesn’t even have to be outside the country, but do something somewhere that you’re not used to.
So why this trip, why this itinerary and why right now? To be honest, why we chose this itinerary is intrinsically linked to the how, so I’ll get into that in later posts. Right now I want to focus on the other two.
Choosing to do the trip right now is more circumstance than actual planning. The original plan was to do it during November 2013 (so I’d be on it right now), but with work/life schedules, the amount of time it takes to earn points, and getting award availability for flights to each stop , March 2014 made more sense. I know “circumstances said so” is rarely a good answer, but for traveling, I found sometimes it’s the only answer.
When planning a trip, there’s always reasons as to when you’re planning it. Trips in college/high school were planned during summer months because that’s when you were free. Honeymoons are planned after weddings; Spring Break trips are planned during Spring Break; long weekend trips are planned on long weekends. Because of the way society works and the way the vast majority of us have structured our lives, we’ll always be planning trips, not when we want to, but because circumstances say so. I don’t mean that as depressing; it’s the tradeoff we make to have other things in our lives. I mean, what’s the alternative? Never get married because your wedding may be the same weekend as a good flight to the Maldives?
I want to wrap up with why we’re doing a Round-the-World trip. I’ve explained my ideology for travel and this kind of trip fits in perfectly with those ideas. Why this trip? Cost. Cost in money, cost in points, cost in time. It’s less costly to spend four days in Bhutan via an eight-hour flight from Seoul than two days there and two days back from the U.S. It’s not possible to book a flight from the United States to Iran, but when you’re coming from Russia, it’s just another stopover. Why spend thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands of points) to fly to Madagascar from DC when you can go direct from Paris? Cost isn’t the most profound answer, but profundity doesn’t get you into first class.
It’s funny, but the who, where, when, and why may be the least interesting aspects of this whole thing. Taking the trip will obviously be the best part, but I’m really excited to share about the hows and the preparation. Stay tuned. There’s quite a bit more to come.
Michael Lopp discussing his switch from Things:
How can I trust that I’m using the state of the art in productivity systems when I’m using an application that took over two years to land sync I could easily use? What other innovations are they struggling to land in the application? Why hasn’t the artwork changed in forever? What is that smell? That smell is stagnation.
His general take is spot on, but honestly I’m surprised by the timing. Cultured Code has promised a refresh later this year. I have enough dedicated to the ecosystem to give them that long.
As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, I’ve been trying to make a decision between Apple’s new iPads. In the past, this hasn’t been an issue: the first three years, there was only one in existence; last year, much to my surprise, the weight difference between the mini and the fourth-generation iPad made the call an easy one. But this year, with both products coming much closer together in features and weight, I’ve had to make a decision on which way to go.
I’m not entirely sure the value of iPad reviews, so I’m going to steer away from telling people what they should buy. From my experience, people use them in so many different ways that codifying what is valuable is probably impossible. You can compare between similarly functioning devices, but stating that “this is the iPad that everyone should buy”, kind of misses the point. What I can do is tell you what I value in an iPad and how I picked which one to use.
With no (or very little) choice in actual iPads previously, the only real decisions were in storage size and whether to go WiFi/Cellular or WiFi-only. Even these decisions are colored by the way you use it. I don’t store music, videos or photos on the actual device (instead, I rely on cloud storage solutions like iTunes Match, Netflix/Air Video/StreamNation and Flickr), so I always bought the lowest storage capacity. Similarly, I can tether the Internet connection from my phone to my iPad, so there was very little need to pay the extra money for a cellular-capable iPad.
These preferences changed this year. As most of you know (if you don’t, you soon will), I’m taking five weeks to travel around the world in March. When I travel, the only devices I bring are my iPhone and iPad; this means, that this iPad will be my main computer during that time. While I’m devising ways to swap out movies and offload trip photos, I’d rather err on the side of having too much storage. So, this year I’m going with a 32GB model.
As for cellular capability, there’s several reasons why it makes sense for me to go that way this time. First and foremost, some of you may have heard that T-Mobile is offering 200 MB of free data every month. The only catch is that you have to purchase the device outright as opposed to financing the device through T-Mobile (something I wouldn’t have done anyway). Second, for the first time, all iPads run on all carriers, so if I wanted to run it on my current AT&T plan, it’s as easy as swapping out the SIM card. Finally, since iPads are unlocked, when I travel abroad, I can buy a SIM card from a local carrier and gain Internet access abroad. Are these worth the $130 premium? For most people, probably not. But in tandem, they solve several problems that I may face this year.
So, having decided to go with a 32GB, cellular-capable model, the only remaining decision is whether to go with the mini or the Air.[1. Apple’s recent naming conventions drive me crazy. Why is the A in Air capitalized, but the m in mini is not? Don’t even get me started on the s not being capitalized in the iPhone 5s] My gut reaction was to stay with the mini, especially since the only complaint I had with the device– the lack of a retina display– was rectified in this release. But, with weight being the reason I chose the mini over the fourth-generation iPad and the Air only weighing in at about a third of a pound heavier than mini, I thought it would be worth my time to seriously consider both devices.
Luckily, Apple has a fairly generous return policy: a full refund if the device is returned within 14 days. Also, with the Air debuting on November 1– before the new retina mini– I could sell my old mini and give myself a full two weeks to use the Air without being tempted to go back to the smaller device.
Today (November 15) marks the end of the two weeks with an Air. While I’ve realized that I do miss many things about a larger-screened iPad, with Tuesday’s surprise launch of the retina mini, I didn’t even hesitate; I returned the Air and jumped right back to the iPad mini.
My personal usage of the iPad tends towards reading: Instapaper, books, Twitter, RSS feeds, web browsing. But with this round-the-world trip, I realize that I will probably be doing quite a bit of movie watching, trip-report writing, and photo editing on long flights. In all honesty, that’s the only thing that made this decision truly difficult. For my money, the absolute best device for watching videos and looking at photos is a full-sized iPad. As far as touchscreen devices go, the full-size iPad is also the best for typing and photo editing. But, the two things I do the most on the iPad are best served by the mini.
Not to be cheeky, but the single thing I and everyone else does the most with the iPad is carry it. Whether I’m transporting it from room to room or country to country or simply holding it to look at the screen, the size and weight of an iPad is the single biggest factor in my decision. It fits in my back pocket for when I need to put it away for a second, it slips into the tiny pocket at the top of my travel backpack, it disappears into my bag with my work laptop; these and a thousand other instances are why weight was the deciding factor last year, but size is the deciding factor this year.
As I mentioned before, the biggest use of an iPad for me is reading. While size/weight may be my most important factor, it’s meaningless without the device performing well in other areas.[2. If size/weight is the only factor, why not buy a piece of paper instead of a laptop?] All things being equal, reading on a mini is exactly the same as an Air; the quality of the screen and the distance I hold it from my face provide the exact same experience on both devices. When it comes down to it, the way I hold a mini while reading is much more comfortable for longer periods of time than the way I hold an Air.[3. I recognize that some may say that what I’ve listed as two reasons is actually one (smaller size=smaller weight=better able to hold it to read). But for the same reason I don’t believe you can tout the larger screen size of the iPad as a feature, I think “smaller size/weight” and “easier to hold because it’s lighter” are distinct features. There’s nothing inherently better about a larger-sized iPad; there’s no instance where you’d rather be carrying an iPad Air in your bag than an iPad mini. In that state, both are simply taking up space and weight, so of course you’d choose the smaller/lighter version. The iPad Air’s larger screen has benefits when it’s on and being used, but when you’re transporting it from place to place, it doesn’t.]
As the title states, this isn’t an iPad review; I’m not trying to convince you to buy one or the other or trying to compare all the features of these iPads and other tablets. I’m giving you a very specific set of things that I do and try to explain why the iPad mini makes more sense for me. It may seem like this was an easy decision, but for most, it certainly will not be. Don’t kid yourself here: these are the two best tablets on the market and you will be very happy no matter which one you buy.
The Friday I left for the Bourbon Trail, my buddy, Jason, called me up to see if I could come to Vegas the next weekend; he was going for a conference and had a room at LVH (the old Las Vegas Hilton).
As opposed to some of my fellow travel friends, I’m much more of a planner; I like to book things well in advance. Not because I don’t like traveling on the spur of the moment (I do!), but because I despise overpaying for flights and hotels. If I’m going to spend a lot to get somewhere, I want plenty of value from it. I looked at my options for Vegas; most round trip flights were going for over $1000 at terrible times with terrible layovers. I was about to call Jason and let him know I couldn’t make it, when I realized the Cardinals were playing the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series the week before.
I quickly scanned my options and realized I could pay far less than $1000 if I went IAD (Washington Dulles) to LAX to LAS to DCA (Washington National). I’m not much of a first class person, but if I can get good value, I’ll fly it. United was running super saver direct flights from IAD to LAX, first class for 25,000 miles and I booked it immediately. The short jump from LAX to LAS could be had on Southwest for under $100 (or 4000 Southwest miles). But the problem child, as usual, was the flight from Vegas back to DC; nothing under $500 was available.
I’ll fully admit it: part of the reason I like to travel is because I enjoy the process of cheaply collecting miles and spending them frugally. Since sometimes the destination isn’t as important as how good of a deal I’m getting, I frequently make it this far in travel planning, only to scrap the whole trip. If I can’t get a deal on every aspect of travel, I’ll often just go somewhere I can. It’s at these decision points, you really learn what’s important you. Most of the time for me, it’s traveling cheaply. This time, it was spending some time with three friends, two of which I don’t get to see that often. I bit the bullet and booked the flight. (Don’t feel too bad for me, I’ve got a pool of Citi ThankYou Points that I reserve for just this situation; I only paid $10 out of pocket.)
I arrived back to DCA on Monday evening from the Bourbon Trail and quickly hurried home to see the Cardinals lose terribly and to pack for an early Tuesday morning flight to Los Angeles. This was my first time in LA and between working in the morning and the games at night, I wouldn’t have much time to see the city. My buddy Mike, who was also coming to Vegas, caught wind of my trip and flew out to LA to meet me.
While I’m not quite the scalper my uncle Bruce is (he never buys a ticket before going to the venue), I’ve gotten pretty good at playing chicken with Stubhub. If you’ve ever sold tickets on the erstwhile site, you’ll know that there’s an option to gradually decrease the price of the ticket as it gets closer to the start time. If you’re willing to wait until the last possible second (sometimes less than an hour before the game), you can get great tickets at pretty good prices. We ended up getting tickets to games four and five of the NLCS for about $80 per ticket, only a couple of rows behind home plate.
Mike and I hit a couple of other tourist spots in LA, including seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas at El Capitan, but with work and the games, Friday and Vegas quickly came upon us.
I’ve been to Vegas four times and now that I’ve left as a winner and a loser, the feeling is always the same: never again until next time. I enjoy blackjack and craps and that’s what I do. Jason wanted to see shows and that’s what he did. Mike and Bluwin wanted to roam the strip all night and that’s what they did. It’s a city that is what you make it.
After your first mistake of staying for five days, you’ll never do it again; there’s only so much artifice and sin that one can stand. I stayed for just at 36 hours and it seemed like the perfect amount of time; everyone stays up the first night and crashes the second, so why not schedule that crash during a flight home?
I’ll be back to Vegas, likely sooner rather than later. Someone is always planning a trip and I’m always game to go. LA is a different story. I’m glad I went and I’m glad I saw Dodger Stadium, but the combination of traffic and tourist traps aren’t really my speed. I’m sure I’ll be back at some point, but I can’t imagine it would be for anything other than a specifically planned event.
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Most of you know I’m from Kentucky, but outside of Oaks/Derby (which I’ve also never been to) the Bourbon Trail may be the Commonwealth’s most famous tourist attraction. The trail consists of seven distilleries, all within thirty or so minutes of each other. While there are some notable exceptions, all the big ones are there: Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and Town Branch.
I’d previously mentioned British Airway’s insanely great redemption offers of 9000 Avios roundtrip from Reagan National (DCA) to Nashville (BNA). I was able to fly Julie, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend and myself roundtrip to Nashville for 36,000 Avios. In comparison, most award flights cost around 25,000 miles roundtrip.
We knew from the beginning that our goal was to make it through the entire trail. You can complete it in any order, but visiting all seven distilleries netted you a pretty nice Bourbon Trail t-shirt. In order to prove your meddle, you’re given a Bourbon Trail Passport, in which you’re required to get a stamp from every distillery. While we had three days to do the trip over Columbus Day weekend, the goal was to compress the seven distilleries into Saturday and Sunday, so that we could spend Sunday evening and Monday in Nashville.
Because of the shortened weekend schedules of some of the distilleries, we knew it’d be impossible to do a tour at every location. The plan was to tour Four Roses and Wild Turkey on Saturday morning and then Woodford Reserve in the afternoon. We would then drive to Town Branch to see if we could do a tasting and get the stamp (but not the tour). The first tour on Sunday was of Jim Beam, followed by a quick stop at the gift shop at Heaven Hill (and, of course, a passport stamp) and then onto Maker’s Mark for the last tour.
If you’re trying to do the trail in two days, I can tell you that this schedule is completely doable and it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing from place to place, but you also must resign to the fact that you can’t see and do everything. The goal of this trip was to visit all seven distilleries, but also have some time to spend in Louisville and Nashville (where we spent Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively). This schedule allowed for that, but didn’t allow us to do the tours at Town Branch and Heaven Hill.
Perhaps most amazingly, each distillery felt uniquely different; the method for creating the bourbons were all similar, but the processes for doing so varied greatly. Four Roses had the feel of a small-scale operation. Woodford Reserve was on an amazingly beautiful campus where the bourbon was made, aged, bottled and shipped all from the same location. Jim Beam had the look and feel of one of the largest whiskey producers in the world. Maker’s Mark had an amazing history and let you participate in the process of dipping a bottle in its iconic red wax.
Even for the non-bourbon drinker, I’m happy to report that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is well worth your time. The biggest worry before the trip was that as the trail wore on, the distilleries would start feeling repetitive. I’m happy to say that’s not the case as that each had its own character and backstory. Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was lunch on Saturday at Woodford Reserve: a classic southern meal on the porch in rocking chairs, filled with lots of bourbon-themed menu items.
If you’re looking for an out-of-the-way trip to one of the most beautiful areas of the country, I can’t recommend the Bourbon Trail enough.
Favorite Bourbon: Russel’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Favorite Distillery: Woodford Reserve Favorite Tour: Jim Beam American Stillhouse
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Deadspin’s Drew Magary on why the Cardinals suck
I think Yankees fans are horrible people: selfish, arrogant, profane, and miserable all at once. But at least they don’t attempt to hide their repulsiveness. At least there isn’t this deliberate, “Oh, we’re not like those OTHER fans” fakeness that OOZES from the Cardinals and their acolytes. Wanna know who you really are, Cardinals fans? You are this. You are poorly disguised Yankees fans in ugly Christmas sweaters carrying a Jell-O mold to your neighbor’s door. And your constant attempts to turn every October into an extended production of Our Town makes me want to hang myself with a extension cord.
Frequently hilarious and frequently true. There’s a reason he’s not writing this article about Blue Jays fans. Take it as a compliment.
The first goal of traveling cheaply is to cut down your biggest cost. My biggest cost is flying to Nashville. It’s not home, but its airport is. I’m there probably 10–12 times a year, so I had to figure out how to do it on a budget.
British Airways has a sweet spot of 9000 point roundtrip award tickets on direct flights to destinations fewer than 649 miles away via it or any of its partners. I’ve lucked out that the DCA to BNA route meets those four criteria: award ticket availability, fewer than 649 miles away, BA partner, American Airlines, flies the route and it’s direct. It means with one credit card application, I’m able to do five and half roundtrip tickets home.
I’ll post a full review of the Bourbon Trail when I get back, but I’ve already had a change to my travel plans: the Cardinals are playing the Dodgers in Los Angeles next week and I need to be there.
The one thing I promised myself is that I would travel. Like most forward-looking promises, I left it to future Jordon to determine what that actually means. Unfortunately, future Jordon is at just as much of a loss.
The actual act of being one place and then in a couple of hours being in another, I’ve pretty much solved. Anyone who I speak to regularly (or who follows me on Foursquare) can testify that I’m somewhere different two or three weekends a month. Sometimes there are weddings or birthdays or holidays or people to see. Those reasons for traveling are fairly easy to quantify. It’s the other reasons for traveling, the trips we plan just because we do, that require further analysis.
This analysis is intensely personal and applies to me until it doesn’t. At its simplest, I travel for experiences. And that means I travel indiscriminately; I book flights based on where travel companions want to go and/or based on the price from the closest airport. I have a list of places I want to go, but I’m not too concerned about it right now. At this point, quantity of experience is of much more concern to me than quality of experience.
Does that make me a bad traveler or a bad person? Maybe. But, it’s been about 18 months since I decided to travel in this manner and it’s lead me to some places that I’ve really enjoyed that I may not have otherwise visited.
Why am I writing this now? Over the next six months, I’m traveling to Kentucky to trek the bourbon trail; I’m going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas; I’m going back to Kentucky for a wedding; I’m going to rural South Carolina for a wedding; I’m going to Fort Lauderdale for a wedding; and I’m taking a five-week trip around the world. I’m going to write about these experiences and others that will crop up. The posts will cover the where, when and how. But, I want anyone wondering why I’m taking these trips to know why: because I can and because I want to.
Former St. Louis Cardinals (and current Anaheim Angles) First Basemen, Albert Pujols, on his time in St. Louis:
My time there was great…Whether you want to call it my best years, you can call it whatever want to call it. I had success there. But I also learned they’ve moved on without me. I’m the same way, too.
My God, the whole article sounds like divorce proceedings that are finally cooling. The funny thing is, that’s exactly how Cardinals fans feel: we had a spouse that we loved unconditionally, but they wanted more respect. And that spouse was willing to give up unconditional love for more respect.
It’s tough not to be happy seeing someone who spurned you doing poorly, but Albert’s number will be retired in St. Louis and he’ll go into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal. Both sides will eventually make up and it finally feels like we’re taking the first few steps on that path.
The goal of iOS has always been to make sense to its market. In the beginning, this was done by skeuomorphism: Calendar looked like a desk calendar, Notes looked like a notepad, Contacts looked like an address book, the camera had a shutter animation. People had used a desk calendar, notepad, address book, and camera, so Apple designed those apps to look and act like their physical equivalent to get people accustomed to their digital equivalent. While this design made very little sense digitally, it made perfect sense to anyone who had used one of the physical equivalents. It was comforting. It was intuitive.
But now we’re in 2013 and the market has finally reached a point to where the training wheels can come off. People can now intuitively use a digital app even if it doesn’t look like its physical counterpart; it’s taken six years, but hand someone an iOS 7 lockscreen and they’ll know how to slide to unlock the phone without an arrow telling them how to do it.
People will say that Android, Windows Phone and WebOS have been designed like iOS 7 for years. That’s true. But Apple’s goal has never been to be first to market with anything. It’s goal has been to come to market at the time the consumer was ready for the product. With the iPhone, it meant years and years of bad skeuomorphism to prepare people for good digital design. Apple can now move away from making physical sense and towards making digital sense. Not because it previously didn’t know how and not because the tech community wasn’t ready, but because the market wasn’t ready. Thomas Edison wouldn’t have released a light bulb before we knew how to harness electricity. Apple wasn’t going to release a digitally true iOS until the infrastructure (people’s understanding of digital manipulation) was ready.
I’ve used the iOS 7 beta for a day now. It’s rough. There are things that don’t make sense. But the blueprint is there. It’s time for iOS to move away from making sense to the market and towards just making sense.
“These five maps, however, jumped out at us for how they each illustrate deep and lingering differences between the American North and South, as seen through several different data points. Of course, the patterns aren’t perfect, and exceptions abound; major cities in the North turn out to be hotspots of inequality on par with much of the Deep South.”
There’s nothing here that most people didn’t already know, but what’s interesting to me is that major cities in the north are just as (if not moreso) unequal as the south. Could that be the key to solving for this problem?
This speech by Director Steven Soderbergh has been making the rounds. It's a long, but I would argue, necessary read over the state of cinema.
What really interested me was his take on art as problem solving:
Art is also about problem solving, and it’s obvious from the news, we have a little bit of a problem with problem solving. In my experience, the main obstacle to problem solving is an entrenched ideology. The great thing about making a movie or a piece of art is that that never comes into play. All the ideas are on the table. All the ideas and everything is open for discussion, and it turns out everybody succeeds by submitting to what the thing needs to be. Art, in my view, is a very elegant problem-solving model.
I don't quite agree with what he's saying here, but our sentiments are very similar: art is important because it explains things that may be unexplainable with plain language.
Our minds are constantly looking for connections between things and sometimes the best way to make those connections is by relating it to something that's conceptually the same, but practically different. In the Bible, Christ did this with parables. With movies, it's done by putting a similar story in a different setting. Science Fiction arose from this concept: it commented on modern problems by placing the story in a futuristic setting or an alternate reality. Doing so helped us get a fresh look on modern problems by eliminating biases that may have resulted come from personal feelings rather than the facts of the problem.
It may sound obvious, but art solves problems by helping us think creatively. Creative thinking isn't a skill that most people just have; it's something that needs to be developed, cultivated and maintained. This is why it's so scary that we consistently see the arts cut out of schooling due to budget issues. Science, rational thinking, mathematics: they all require various levels of creativity. Not because they're "soft" or because they're inexact, but because they require a mind that's willing to bend in order to fully comprehend.
We may be able to teach our kids the concepts of chemistry, but how are they supposed to expand the discipline if we're not teaching them to think creatively?
As always, this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, not the best. If you want to tell me how wrong I am, that’s what Twitter is for.
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
There are two distinct ways to tell a kid: by their age and by their actions. Age is linear, it moves in one direction; I turn three, then four, then five. Actions are most decidedly not a linear thing; I suppress lashing out at someone today, but not tomorrow. Because they aren’t linear, actions that we associate with kids occur in people of all ages. (think of the term, “he’s acting childish”, which doesn’t usually describe actual children and is never used positively)
So when does someone stop being a kid? Age may be relatively easy to determine (13? 16? 18?), but what about actions? When do we stop acting like a kid? When does someone calling us childish turn into an insult?
Could it be the first time we are forced to accept reality? The first time we are faced with inarguable evidence that’s contrary to the way we think?
Beasts of the Southern Wild is about the things we know to be true as children that we forget when we grow up. It’s about all of us having our place in the world. It’s about knowing what is right and staying to watch it happen. It’s about staring a harsh reality in the face and saying no, thank you.
In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.
4. Seven Psychopaths
Seven Psychopaths may not have the whimsy of Moonrise Kingdom, the deep-seated emotion of Amour or the faith-based issues of Life of Pi, but screw those guys. Nihilistic to its core, razor sharp and bitterly funny, Seven Psychopaths is the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Well, assuming you agree that everyone knows that Ghandi was wrong, but nobody’s got the balls to come out and say it.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
It’s interesting to me the lack of comparison between this film and Beasts of the Southern Wild; both have similar themes with inexperienced child stars, yet one is hailed as a masterpiece of cinema and the other has Edward Norton in short shorts.
But where Beasts deals with staying resilient in the harshness of reality, Moonrise Kingdom is more concerned with the clinging to the last gasp of a fantasy world where everything turns out OK. Sometimes that means running away to the wilderness, sometimes that means an affair, sometimes that means leading the local scout troop. This world is harsh, you find respite wherever you can, even if it’s not real.
You may not be able to outrun reality, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying.
2. Django Unchained
People who dislike Quentin Tarantino say that he merely repackages old movies, but that’s a criticism that could be directed at everyone. This paragraph is merely reordering and repackaging words that someone else created. The Mona Lisa was painted with colors that other people had discovered. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was composed with notes that were already in existence. Quentin Tarantino crafts movies out of movies that have already been crafted. This ability is why critics call him a genius.
But why do non-critics do the same? Why does most everyone coming out of a Tarantino movie rave about it?Because he understands why most people go to the movies.
Film Crit Hulk put it the best: <blockquote class="twitter-tweet">THE GENUIS OF QUENTIN TARANTINO IS HE NEVER ONCE PRETENDS THAT WHAT YOU ARE WATCHING IS NOT A MOVIE.
— FILM CRIT HULK (@FilmCritHULK) December 26, 2012</blockquote>
Most people aren’t looking to go to a movie to change their life. They think Amour is depressing or the Master is about nothing. Tarantino knows that if a movie is going to be loved by the general public, it better damn well be entertaining.
Entertainment is just as essential to a Tarantino film as sound or picture is to films in general. Pair that with a filmmaker who is willing to do whatever it takes to comment on a subject (sometimes to his detriment) and you have why Tarantino has a claim on the title of the greatest living filmmaker.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
Everything in our lives have costs and benefits. If I pay $20 for dinner, I have the benefit of dinner, but the cost was $20. If I work out five days a week, I have the benefit of health, but the cost is time and pain. If I spend time with my friends instead of studying, the benefit is the good time I had, the cost is that I do poorly on my next test. Our lives are filled with an almost infinite amount of choices that shape the very being of who we are.
What happens when we get to committed to making a series of choices? If I pay $20 for dinner every night, I may not have money to pay my rent. If I work out five days a week, my body may break down under the load. If I go out with my friends and never study, there goes my chances to get a good job and have a happy life full of hard work.
This is the space that Zero Dark Thirty lives in.
Was the search for Osama bin Laden worth it? We have the benefit of the man who ensured that 2,753 people still aren’t coming home to their families being dead, but are we sure we understand the cost? Did there come a point that we were so committed to the choice to search for bin Laden, that the costs didn’t matter to us anymore?
Zero Dark Thirty isn’t about giving answers to these questions; it’s about setting us up to search ourselves for the answers. It’s the seminal work of 2012.
Great movies inform people of where they are. Zero Dark Thirty allows us to inform ourselves.
Cloud Atlas, The Queen of Versailles,The Impossible, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Killer Joe
Yet to see:
End of Watch, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, the Loneliest Planet
As always, this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, not the best. If you want to tell me how wrong I am, that’s what Twitter is for.
I joked on Twitter that ParaNorman (and it’s predecessor, Coraline) have been tricking kids into seeing scary movies and making them deal with heavy issues for a while now. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if ParaNorman and Coraline weren’t designed to trick adults into dealing with heavy issues.
One of the best scenes in Team America: World Police is its opener, which basically asks if the solution (Team America destroying Paris to kill terrorists) is better than the problem (terrorists destroying Paris). ParaNorman grapples with these same issues. What if our reaction to what we’re scared of is worse than what’s scary? Sometimes we as humans get so caught up doing what we think is right, that we completely miss that it’s hurting the very people we’re supposed to help. (cough Congress cough). Those are heavy and complex issues for any movie, let alone one that’s (ostensibly) meant for children.
If you have working ears or eyes (or both) and are in the U.S., you may have heard or seen something about a gun debate. Some people think we need more guns; some people think we need fewer. But, isn’t this debate kind of missing the point? Is the goal to increase/decrease guns or is the goal to stop gun violence? Sure one (or both) could cause a decrease in gun violence, but we as humans tend to latch onto solutions our gut tells us are correct, despite a frightening lack of evidence.
Is Looper anti- or pro-gun? Of course not. It’s anti- killing the symptom to a problem and assuming the problem is solved. Old Joe assumes that going back to kill Cid stops both the problem of his wife dying and the Rainmaker’s reign of terror. Instinctually, that makes sense: if Cid becomes the Rainmaker, then killing Cid stops it. But what if just the threat of killing Cid causes the reign of terror? Even if Cid was killed, what if threatening him causes someone else to become the Rainmaker?
If you are truly anti-gun, the reaction to the Newtown shootings must have you horrified: an increase in gun sales amid fears of crackdown. If you think that more guns equals more gun violence, it turns out that merely the suggestion of laws that decrease the amount of guns has actually increased the number of them.
In both our country and the world of Looper, things are out of balance. Looper tells us that it’s important do something, but it’s also important to make sure that doing something doesn’t make the problem worse. It’s a message we could all take to heart.
Do they still do spelling tests in high school? Does taking (at least) an hour of instructional time a week to teach people how to spell things makes sense? Especially when 20% of students will have vocational occupations and the other 80% will work on a computer? Shouldn’t we use that time to teach them something like computer programming?
If you agree to all of that, surely you also agree that some people need to learn how to spell things. Say…maybe the people who create the spell checkers?
It didn’t have to be this way, but through years and years of franchise neglect, James Bond became a lot like a spelling test: a relic of a bygone era that still has its place, but its worth is greatly diminished. So, how do you bring one of the greatest franchises of all time into the modern era?
By acknowledging that James Bond is a relic. He’s a landline in the smart phone era.
Skyfall is so successful because it shows what happens when the cell towers go down. No matter where we get to as a society, no matter how marginalized certain skills become, some of those skills will still be necessary. We’ll always need spelling because without it, language loses meaning. We’ll always need landlines, because sometimes cell towers go out. We’ll always need agents on the ground, because sometimes our cyber tools are not enough.
Time marginalizes everything that isn’t willing or able to change. But, you know what? Not even time can rob the worth of even the most marginalized.
How do we know what is good? Is it by the actual acts we perform or is it relative to the bad we’ve experienced?
Think about the very emblem of what we call good– our heroes. Do we call the guy who rides the train to work a hero? Or do we call the woman who rescues the boy from the well one? The soldier who sacrifices himself for his company? The baseball star who hits a come-from-behind home run? We base the good off the bad we experience. Most things we consider good adhere to this.
If you had a person who did not understand what love was, how would you describe it to him? Is it even possible to describe?
Is love something you instinctually know or is it something you learn how to do? Is it something you show with actions, emotions or words? Does love have to develop over time? Does it have to be tested in both good and bad situations?
Amour is the answer to those questions. But in order for those answers to have meaning, it must show the cruelest of the cruel. Great loss can show great love.
6. The Cabin in the Woods
Southerners don’t love violence. Americans don’t love violence. Westerners don’t love violence. People love violence. It’s pervasive in everything we do. From the big hits in football, to the nightly news, to Animal Planet documentaries, to, yes, video games, people have a macabre interest in watching things get hurt. Some have learned to repress it better than others, but it’s there in the very meaning of being human. We’re just lucky that people only love violence and not committing violence.
But there’s the question. If we love violence so much, why do we not want to commit violence? Could it have something to do with the aforementioned violent activities? Could it be that football or video games assuage those violent tendencies?
I don’t like to usually come out and say what I think movies are about. But it seems to me that the Cabin in the Woods is so fundamentally misunderstood, that it needs to be said. In addition to being a straight-up horror film, in addition to being a spoof of some of the tropes we’ve come to expect in horror films, it’s a literal interpretation of what we discussed above. Bradley Whittaker and Richard Jenkins’ characters have to satisfy the old gods with violence. They don’t do it to be sick, they don’t do it for enjoyment; it’s done because not doing it leads to the end of the human race. Those characters literally embody the writer/directors of movies, video game programmers, football coaches that create this violence for us to consume. Without them, could the violence committed in our society be ever worse than it already is?
As always, this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, not the best. If you want to tell me how wrong I am, that’s what Twitter is for.
20. The Avengers
If nothing else, the Avengers shows us that to be a really good superhero movie, you don’t have to be really dark. Also it shows us that they don’t have to be really dark to make a billion dollars. Now if only Joss Whedon would use that money for good. (i.e. getting Firefly back on the air)
What drew people to this movie? Was it the subject matter? (Abraham Lincoln) The director? (Steven Spielberg) The marketing? (it’s your patriotic duty to watch this!) It’s something I’ve puzzled over since seeing it. These are the kind of dramas that most people try to avoid (rightfully so, I might add).
This movie did a lot right (limiting the scope to the 13th amendment, all the casting) and did some other things wrong (too much talking about taking action and too little actually taking action). I love the way that this film portrayed Lincoln as a master politician and the way it actually showed him making those deals, but man, is that for the most part, really, really dull. I realize the Catch-22 this puts the film in (hooray for portraying boring things, boo for those things being boring!), but even if the fundamental point of your picture is really good, it may need to be tweaked to be palatable.
18. The Dark Knight Rises
This was a spectacular ending to arguably one of the greatest trilogies of all time, but I can’t help fighting the feeling that not only did it not need to be made, but also that Nolan didn’t want to make it. The Dark Knight concluded with what felt like the end of Batman’s arc; that truly being a hero is doing what needs to be done, no matter the personal cost.
Where was the Dark Knight Rises supposed to go from there? Not only did it subvert the themes of the first two movies (Batman sacrificing himself for the greater good), it actually ended up right back where the Dark Knight ended. Only this time it only appeared that he sacrificed himself because, boom, he’d fixed the auto-pilot on the Batplane and escaped unharmed. If Batman Begins and the Dark Knight told us that sacrifice is necessary to evoke real and meaningful change, what did the Dark Knight Rises tell us?
This doesn’t make the Dark Knight Rises a bad movie; on the contrary, it’s an incredibly good movie. But, it does mean that it’s not a great movie. Great movies have something to say that sets them apart from their piers and predecessors.
17. The Master
You ever have something that you can’t quite figure out and you’re not quite sure whether or not you like it, but months or maybe even years later, it clicks with you?
I think this movie is about father/son relationships. Or it may be about masculinity and the way we treat our post-war troops. Or maybe it’s about God and how we as humans do our best to subvert Him every chance we get. It may be about something that Paul Thomas Anderson had for breakfast ten months ago.
I can’t quite figure the Master out. I’m not sure whether or not I like it. What I do know is that it created this visceral feeling that I can’t quite put into words. Sometimes with art we worry too much about understanding it or trying to figure out what it’s trying to say. Maybe instead of trying to say something, art is trying to get you to feel something. Something you don’t quite understand. And maybe that’s the point.
16. The Hunger Games
How far away is our society from putting children on TV to do things that we know are bad for them and then watch it under the guise of entertainment?
Adapted from an (excellent) short film by Burton in the 80s, Frankenweenie feels like the logical realization of the story. How do you encourage people to push the limits while simultaneously warning them of where that may lead? You’ll hear a lot of people say that our modern society has an aversion to science, but is it science we have the aversion to or is it fear of what we may find with science? If Frankenweenie stopped there it would have been an interesting exercise in the question. But what elevates it is its core belief in meaningful relationships and the distance we go to sustain them.
14. Life of Pi
Faith and science get bad raps because people often misconstrue both. Faith is believing something to be true without evidence; science is a method for proving things to be true. Both have their places, but they’re not mutually exclusive: things I have faith in can potentially be proven by science. This isn’t controversial stuff.
What is controversial is when we get into stuff that science can’t prove. People equate science with truth. That’s wrong. Science is a method for proving something true, not truth in and of itself. Faith and science aren’t at odds; they’re two different ways of coming to truth.
It’s fairly evident where science is more useful than faith, but where does faith become more useful than science? When truth is subjective or unknowable.
Which of Pi’s two stories is true? Neither. They’re fictional stories within a fictional narrative. They’re subjective and unknowable; which is true isn’t important to the point. What’s important is the lesson you learn from them. Do you choose to believe that a boy could survive for 200 days on the ocean? Or do you choose to believe otherwise?
Does neither of them being true lessen their impact? Of course not. Stories aren’t there to convince us they’re true, they’re there to offer us insight into the way our own lives work.
We as humans do what we need to survive. If surviving means believing in something good in which there’s no evidence, don’t let anyone tell you to believe differently. Just as you can’t prove it, no one can disprove it.
13. Holy Motors
Sometimes you watch the movie and sometimes the movie watches you.
12. Silver Linings Playbook
If you’ve seen this movie, before reading on, come up with a sentence synopsis in your head.
What did you come up with?
Is it about two people falling in love? Or is it about two mentally-ill people learning to cope with their diseases? There’s strong cases for either (or both), but only one of those stories is resolved. This is often the case with romantic comedies; we’re left to believe that a happy ending cures all the ills that have been set up in the previous hour and a half. That’s more than fine for films that aren’t trying to realistically portray things, but it’s not for films that are.
All of that being said, I enjoyed it. The performances were great; the directing was great; and while it may not make thematic sense, it sure as hell made emotional sense.
The biggest achievement here is that Affleck realized the sensationalized story (CIA hires Hollywood to make a fake movie to save hostages!) would tell itself, and that his focus can be on the actual and emotional situation of the hostages. Looking back at this, it’s obviously the way to go. But, I’m not sure lesser filmmakers could have resisted the allure of such an original story, which would have come at the expense of the human situation. If that had happened, Argo would have still been a good movie, but instead it’s a great one.
Check back tomorrow for my top 10-6 films of the year!
As I'm preparing for my best of 2012 movie list, I had something quick I wanted to discuss: I can never figure out how much credit to give adapted screenplays. I understand that adapting the source material for a medium it wasn't intended for is an artisitic endeavor in and of itself, but how much credit does a filmmaker deserve if the plot, character and themes are established before the first word of the script is written?
Tom Hooper's Les Miserables is the poster child for this problem. While it's rarely subtle, I love Cosette as the literal emodiment of freedom, fought for and won by the old generation (Jean Valjean) only to realize that sometimes freedom has to be incubated, fought for, then protected (Cosette's marriage to Marius). But the movie itsefl? I could take it or leave it.
So when reviewing Les Mis, do I give credit to Hooper for his portrayal of what it takes to achieve freedom, even though I'm fairly sure it's more prominent in the book (though, probably not the musical). Or should I just judge Hooper based on his technical skill at adapting the source material? How much credit does Hooper deserve for retelling a two-hundred year old story?
Where I've come down (though, I can definitely be swayed) is that if I truly view movies as separate works of art from their source material, I have to judge them as separate works of art. Sure, most of what I like about Les Miserables should be credited to Victor Hugo and not Tom Hooper, but I'm reviewing Hooper's work of art, not Hugo's.
Man, I love practical ideas.