CGI Friday’s

November 25, 2009

Roland Emmerich’s disaster flick 2012 is a traumatic experience. The earth surface cracks; hot lava explodes into the air; merciless tidal waves flood entire cities; the North and South Poles reverse; the earth’s crust shifts as the core bubbles. It’s fire and brimstone, people! Now, as I lounge in front of the fireplace in the quiet, rural town of Staunton, Virginia, the wall clock ticking peacefully in the background, I can imagine the waters of the Atlantic ocean hurtling over the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance into our fair valley washing me away in an instant. According to the Mayans, this exact scenario will occur in two years. Nowhere is safe. Not Virginia. Not even Wisconsin. There’s nothing we can do but repent and meet our maker. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m storing up my lethal dose of morphine now.

How is all this death and destruction depicted on the silver screen? CGI, of course. I may be old-fashioned, but, to me, computer generated images are cartoon-like and unrealistic. Watching a video game that you can’t control really isn’t that fun. This movie isn’t a lot of fun either, even with addition of real live actors like John Cusack and Woody Harrelson. The fantastic, intricate models of vintage George Lucas made films more realistic–not to mention better for the economy. Think about all the sets and costumes that had to be manufactured! 2012 could have been a public works project for the recession. At least it would have had more impact that way.

I think people are getting tired of CGI, and low-budget, box-office surprises like Paranormal Activity are a testament to that. There are a few scenes at the end of 2012 that are shot tight and close in digital video with a handheld camera, and these are the most frightening and compelling. Computer images are merely crude simulations of reality. Reality is much, much scarier.


Let ‘er rip!

November 13, 2009


There are a couple of different types of music I generally cannot stand: techno, contemporary Rn’B, but nothing comes close to my distaste for smooth jazz–instrumental music with all the interesting edges buffed out till you have a kind of cloying white noise perfect for the dentist’s office. So imagine my surprise when I ended up at a Rippingtons’ concert yesterday at Indy’s Music Mill. Granted, the tickets were free, and I had been told that these legendary kings of smooth jazz were actually a jazz fusion band. However, any element of jazz improvisation was ripped from the Rippingtons long ago, and replaced by tightly orchestrated melodies seemingly written for corporate videos.

perfect-strangersThe Rippingtons are the aural equivalent of a Perfect Strangers episode. You could imagine their music in some humorous montage of Larry and Balki strolling in Central Park. Unchallenging and mushy, there’s something almost Soviet or propagandistic about The Rippingtons’ sound–music created by big brother to reassure the populace that their every move isn’t being controlled. Does that sound paranoid and libertarian? But really. How can people possibly enjoy it? I just don’t understand. And people were REALLY enjoying it last night…dancing in the aisles! Giving standing ovations! Take a listen. I know the following video is from the 90s’, but, believe me, they sound just as lame today.

It’s so soulless! All their songs are named after postcard pictures of beautiful places: Los Cabos, Kilimanjaro, Morocco, A Night in Brazil, Weekend in Monaco, Tourist in Paradise. It’s Conde Nast Traveler set to music. I think it would be fun to hear the Rippingtons’ take on Southeast DC or Detroit. Would they still kick up the reverb on the acoustic guitar or give it a grittier sound?

Sax player, Jeff Kashiwa, plays tenor and soprano sax in the Kenny G/Dave Koz style. But last night, he played mostly the EWI (electric wind instrument), probably one of the most annoying instruments known to man. The painful screeching of the EWI was exacerbated by the fact that sound man had no clue how to mix this band, favoring instead a hard rock sound–all drums and bass at excruciating decibel levels. I put bar napkins in my ears! At a Rippington’s show!

About an hour in, all my companions were in agreement that we should leave. One of them, a musician and jazz fan, said of the Rippingtons’ sound, “It’s not free at all.” He’s right. It’s contrived and artificial–evocative of safely-contained emotions. But, to me, the experience is far from pleasant.