M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is an underrated masterpiece

Todd VanDerWerff, on Vox, putting it out there that contrary to the knee-jerks out there, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is:

  1. a technical achievement
  2. a well-done commentary on the post-9/11 Iraq War
  3. a good human story

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it an “underrated masterpiece”, but I’ve always been the one guy I know who loves most of Shyamalan’s work because of how he tells great stories of personal human struggles. Starting with Signs, the twists were incidental to the story.

He tells the story he set out to tell. The Shyamalan problem is a marketing problem — the audiences are usually there to see a different story than what he’s actually telling.

I first noticed this with Signs. The hype and advertising around it were for a summer blockbuster (“ILM did the aliens, yo!”), but the movie was about a man’s struggle with faith during a time of personal turmoil.

He’s said as much about his work in an interview in The Independent:

A common misperception of me is That all my movies have twist endings, or that they’re all scary. All my movies are spiritual and all have an emotional perspective. – M. Night Shyamalan

I don’t recall the advertising around The Village, but I assume it was making it out to be a horror-esque movie. I won’t explain the crux of that story here, since my wife hasn’t seen it yet (read the spoilers in the linked article if you want them), but it’s also exploring questions that we all deal with in modern society (as the Vox article articulates well).

Lady in the Water is another movie where you have to take him at his word as a filmmaker. The story is explicitly framed as a bedtime story, and I assume the movie is less enjoyable if you ignore that aspect of it. (It’s hard to ignore — there’s even a prologue that tonally sets it up this way).

The reason I’ve enjoyed his movies is I trust Shyamalan as a filmmaker more than I trust his marketing team. Even with that said, Lady in the Water is the last of his movies I’ve seen (with the unfortunate exception of The Last Airbender). The ads around The Happening pointed at a genre I don’t generally care about, but I should have known better by then not to trust the hype machine around his movies.

I think it’s time to re-watch his canon, and newly watch the ones I’ve missed. Maybe I’ll even find some redeeming factors in The Last Airbender if I go into it looking for his trademark stories of struggle and growth. The source material, Avatar, is chock full of that, but I didn’t go into the movie with that mindset — I was more worried about it ruining a show I loved, which is probably just a self-fulfilling prophecy when you’re looking for things it “does wrong”. (To be fair, I don’t think this movie is fully redeemable, but at least I might find some redeemable qualities in it. I like his movies, but that doesn’t mean everything he does is perfect.) At any rate, I’ll see where a re-watch of The Last Airbender leaves me.

Let the Shyamalan marathon begin!

the human 30%

The New Yorker has a piece on how Netflix relies on the human gut working alongside their trove of customer data to determine what shows will be a success.

“It is important to know which data to ignore,” he conceded, before saying, at the end, “In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix.” But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? “Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment,” he told me later. Then he paused, and said, “But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense.” — Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix

It’s a nice tempering to the battle cry of “Big Data!” everywhere, and encouraging to hear someone speak up on the role of human intuition in the age of the algorithm.

I was reminded of the partnership (and probably conflict) between these elements when, earlier this evening, Netflix recommended a few movies in Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise under the section “Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead”.

netflix-algorithm

While the New Yorker piece was looking at the curating of content, not the recommendation algorithms, I can’t help but question if an algorithm or a human categorized the Madea films.

At first I took it as a failure of the algorithm, but on second thought, this feels more human than machine. To a machine, it would be obvious that Tyler Perry is a man and that the top-billed actors in this movie are men. Categorizing films based on gender of the lead would be a non-ambiguous task when working solely with data. The soft-categorization of this feels like something a human would do after asking “well where else are we supposed to put this?” On the other hand, a very human decision would be to say “there’s no way we can call this a female lead”.

And maybe that’s the most confounding thing about it — that it’s hard to say either way if it was a human or machine decision that put Madea in my recommendations.

 

 

winzip problems

Working on my parents’ computer this evening, and it appears WinZip overrode the built-in zip/unzip functions of Windows. Context menus were only giving me the option of opening my zips with WinZip, but the trial had expired so I couldn’t actually unzip anything.

A manual uninstall of WinZip and a clean install of 7-Zip later, and then I see that the system’s zip functions are suddenly available. It didn’t click until then that they were missing previously.

That’s just evil.

I wasn’t used to that behaviour, since I’ve mostly used WinRAR and 7-Zip for the past decade, and neither of them have overridden the system’s zip handling in my experience.

It looks like the nostalgic shine that WinZip used to enjoy in my memory just got a little marred.

what’s old is new again

It turns out some posts were inexplicably lost in the reboot. The obvious one is the blue bar photo post I mentioned the other day, but I noticed other posts linking to non-existent posts. And then I got an email from someone mentioning that the Internet Archive has some posts of mine that didn’t make the transfer, either.

My plan was to put a call out for anyone who had the text of my posts in an RSS reader or email, until I came across this guide for selectively importing posts into WordPress. Luckily (and oddly) enough, all those missing posts were still in the export XML file I created before switching hosts.

So long story short: they’re all back.

Long story longer, there were over 60 items that I ended up scouring through my WordPress XML backup file to re-import.

23 of these were published posts, 35 were drafts. Others were unfinished drafts that I was glad to delete immediately.

I have no idea why these didn’t import last time.

I keep taking from this that having extensive backups has saved me from 1) myself, and 2) technical oddities. You never know when you’ll need them…

And yes, I backed up before re-importing, and I’m about to backup again.

.:.

The blues bar is here, by the way.

Another oldie and goodie is this thought from Richard Stallman.

And one more, for the road.

website reboot notes

It’s nice to have the site running again. I laughed when I saw my archives, though, as I’ve consistently posted three Januaries in a row. And only in those months.

I relatively recently switched hosts (from Geekstorage to CrocWeb), and decided to do a fresh start with my blog.

So I started fresh. But then tonight, while working with my old site’s sql archive, I accidentally overwrote this site with all my old posts. So I went with rule three and rolled with it.

Obviously none of my media made the sql rebuild trip, so a quick unpack and upload of my old archive’s media folder and I was fully up and running.

I only had one new post from this morning, so a quick repost of that and everything is back to new.

.:.

A few things I’m trying out on the new site — a new theme. Twenty Fifteen. It’s the default, but I’m going with it for a while instead of fiddling with perfection. I actually like it.

Speaking of fiddling with perfection, I’ve stripped back some of the plugins I spent way too much time trying to get working perfectly last time around. As much as I like the style and sentiment of Dave Winer’s paragraph links, I’ll wait on implementing that and others for a while.

I am going to try implementing Alex King/Crowd Favorite’s Threads along the way, though.

.:.

So in the end, it was a search in my archives for a photo of the best little blues bar in Bangkok that ‘prompted’ me to get everything back on this site. And I still can’t find the photo.

That’s life, I suppose.

G.I. Jay-Z

Ninjas ninjas everywhere!

I don’t know the story of the first G.I. Joe movie (outside of what the trailer told me), but it looks like they’re bringing the second one around the what made the comics so awesome in the early-to-mid-90s. Ninjas! Action! Excitement! Ninjas! Snake-Eyes! Snake-Eyes being awesome! Jinx. Red ninjas! Yellow ninjas? Snake-Eyes! Tommy! Tommy vs. Snake-Eyes (though not as much a mid-90s thing)! Scarlett!

See the ninjas for yourself!

What you see above is an example of why they’re bringing back all the 80s and 90s franchises in movies. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

I haven’t seen the fist G.I. Joe movie yet, but that teaser and this trailer for the second one are bumping it to the top of my “watch the comic-based movies of the past decade” list.

One thing that just struck me, though: my impression from the first movie’s trailer was that they by-passed making it a U.S. exercise in hyper-violent patriotism by making it a European or NATO-based team (not quite sure which, but that was the impression I got). The second movie looks set to make it much more Real American Hero(tm).

on my inadequacies as a photographer in a technological age – likely part one in a series

If I were counting down the days until the end of my contract in Thailand, the numbers would be getting rather small. But I’m not, so who really knows?

With one month left of work, we’re looking ahead to the following two months of travel around Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. There will be scuba, swing dancing, and sights galore throughout Southeast Asia. And photos. Lots of photos.

Oddly enough, even with the advent of digital photography in my life, I haven’t been putting (m)any of my photos online for friends, family, or foreigners to see. They’re currently locked away on my hard drive, waiting to be catalogued, geo-tagged, and left alone for another chunk of months or years. That’s what happens to digital photos, right? Never developed, rarely opened, often forgot? To that end, I haven’t even been keeping up with the Photo a Week thinger I started a few months ago. That’s the kind of thing I need, though, to get in the habit of not only taking photos on regular occasions, but showing them and learning from feedback. A couple of friends are doing 365 day projects, where they take a photo each day and post it online, but I’m not even to the point where I can keep that up on a weekly schedule. Though maybe that’s a good impetus — the commitment and routine of doing it daily. (They’re each taking a decidedly different approach to taking/posting photos every day. Steve is going more of the “make each photo a challenge” route and posting every day, while Maria is using it as a way to document her year in photos and to look back at her technical progression, and posting the results weekly. I think Maria’s route would be the best for me, considering my current skill level and increasing unwillingness to sit down at my computer every evening and while away my time online.)

So all of this was to say that I have a few thousand photos I’ve taken since October and nothing public to show for it. I’ve been playing around with some galleries and such to showcase some of my shots, have toyed with the idea of going the Tumblr route, have debated throwing things up on Flickr, but haven’t actually put any of those things together yet. It’s a weird conflict between wanting to show my photos and wanting to control and manage the things I put online in the way I want to. The problem is that if I keep going that route, I won’t ever do anything with my pictures, so in the spirit of actually doing something without having totally figured out the best and most amazingly technological and aesthetic and future-safe way of doing it, I present to you….a photo:

Photo of Christmas Tree at Central World
Outdoor Christmas tree at Central World, Bangkok (2011)

This is one of a small collection of Christmas tree photos I’ve taken in Bangkok. The collection is small, but the trees are massive. I guess they have to make up for the lack of snow.1 There was another tree inside the mall2 that was also impressivly large. Not as nice as this one at night, but impressive nonetheless.


  1. Which brings up a weird expectation about Christmas: as much as I love the movie White Christmas, our association of snow with Christmas is just as normal (or abnormal, as the case may be) as 30+ degree weather and whatever constitutes a Christmas tradition in Thailand. Normalcy (and expectation of that normalcy) is relative. 
  2. This is also the mall where I found a DC Comics store. Not a store where they sell DC comics, but a DC Comics store where they sell merchandise with DC Comics characters and words on them. Shoes, shirts, bling, etc. Alas, not a comic was to be found.