Archive for January, 2011

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Summer Wars

January 9, 2011

Have you ever done math so hard that your nose bled? Summer Wars, a Japanese animated film, is about a young boy who goes on vacation to meet his friend’s family and finds himself accidentally enabling an evil AI to overtake the internet. This boy, Kenji Koiso, is a math prodigy, and, as with most young geniuses, is shy and nervous around girls. He receives a message on his cell phone that is a string of digits. He manages to decrypt it in a single night, thinking it is an amusing puzzle. In so doing, he inadvertently allows an AI to take over not only his account, but a variety of other online functions. To take back the internet from this AI before disaster hits, Kenji must use pure math to decrypt numerical sequences at break-neck pace, hence causing a nosebleed.

The internet in Summer Wars, called Oz, is basically an ultra facebook on which people store all their information, conduct their business, and run their jobs. This means that not only is credit card information on the internet, but also launch codes to nuclear missiles and global positioning systems for satellites. So, if a hacker with bad intentions were to access this site, he could disrupt all aspects of life, from traffic signals to medical information to defense. Which of course happens.

Oz

Oz

Oz is a wildly colorful, neon pastel-on-white wonderland of wacky animal avatars. The entire space is reminiscent of Takashi Murakami‘s work, blending cuteness, commercialism, and manga to create a coherent alternate reality. In it any function that one would ever conceive to do online can be done. This includes martial arts sparring, which ends up being a venue for attempting to take down the evil AI that overtakes people’s accounts. A note about this AI: it was created at “a robotics school in Pittsburgh,” and bought by the US government. It was never meant to be evil, it just got out of hand.

Luckily, by visiting his friend’s family’s house in the countryside, Kenji coincidentally is in the same house with the creator of the AI and the coolest fighting rabbit avatar owner that Oz has to offer. Said owner is about 11 years old, but can type really quickly.

The film does not entirely center around Oz, it mainly centers around the family, which has come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of its matriarch. The family consists of men who are vocal but passive, and women who are assertive, yet spend much of their time and energy in the kitchen. While the women remain unaware of the imminent devise of the Earth, the men find a way to get a supercomputer into their house, and play video games in such a way as to save the world.

This outside world, although visually not as fantastic as Oz, is nonetheless more compelling for its ability to

Reality

Reality

contain stories, conflict, depth and food. The film does not explore people’s actual lives getting taken over by the internet, but rather their virtual lives, namely, the information over which they have power. All the numbers and codes with which a person is associated, from his bank account to, say, the access codes to the city sewer authority computers, if one is the head of the sewer authority, are all kept in Oz. Although a person’s identity can’t be overtaken, his function can be assumed and abused. The repercussions reverberate in the actual world. This abuse is made visual by having the AI, whose avatar is a tattooed warrior, knock around the pieces of graphs, topple dominoes with points of data, and rearrange plates containing the commands to traffic signals. Luckily, there are young math geniuses and computer gurus to save the day.

Summer Wars is playing at the Harris Theater through January 19th.

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Tiny Furniture

January 5, 2011

Tiny Furniture

The worst thing that can happen to a person after graduating college is to have to enter the adult world. Luckily, this is not always necessary. One can always move back in with her mother, provided that her mother is really cool, lives in New York City, and is rarely home. It also helps when mom has a stocked wine cabinet and a freezer full of frozen appetizers.

Tiny Furniture stars Lena Dunham as Aura, a young woman who has just graduated college in Ohio and has returned to New York with no idea what she is going to do with her future. She stays with her mother for a few weeks as a stop-gap measure before her friend moves to town and they can get an apartment. But living with her mother is the perfect opportunity for her to “figure things out,” meaning hang out with fascinating yet unsavory people. Her best friend from when she was a young child, Charlotte, lives in the neighborhood, and they quickly develop the sort of obsessive friendship that causes Charlotte to be jealous of all Aura’s other friends. Aura also falls in with the two types of men all women should avoid, egoists and men who quote Nietzsche.

Wrong guy type 1

Wrong guy type 1

Charlotte helps Aura get a job as a day hostess at a restaurant, a job that entails taking reservations and flirting with the chef. This chef is the sort of guy that high school girls fall in love with. He is intense and interesting when you’re around, but he doesn’t actually care about you. He is likely using you for your drug connections, as a back-up if his girlfriend dumps him, or just someone to kill time with at work. He makes plans and breaks them. Instead of seeing him as the egoist he is, Aura spends her time analyzing and justifying his every word and action.

The wrong guy type 2

Wrong guy type 2

Meanwhile, a young video maker she met at a party is staying with her. He has a hit youtube channel, where he stars in videos in which he rides a toy horse and quotes Nietzsche. She met him at a party, invited him to see a movie, and found out that he was broke. So of course she invited him to stay in her mom’s house with her while her mom was away. He, too, is using her for her hospitality. And he’s the sort of bad guest who complains and makes suggestions. When the cool mom returns home, her greatest gripe is that this man who is staying in her house is not even sleeping with Aura.

Throughout the movie, Aura seems to become more childish, and relies more and more on her mother. She convinces herself that her mother needs her, so she decides to stay in her mom’s home rather than get her own place. Meanwhile, her sister writes bad poetry that wins awards, and makes cutting yet true observations about Aura’s lifestyle. Aura doesn’t seem to find herself like she had wanted, but to lose herself in a sea of people who have conflicting expectations of her. She makes poor decisions about who to please and how to please them. She tells Charlotte how everyone in Ohio was so sweet and serene, how they baked for fun, but how they didn’t ‘get it.’ It seems that her years away from cruel, self-absorbed people has caused her to remain naïve and easily manipulated. Yet, she is funny, observant and lovable, and ultimately relatable.

Tiny Furniture is playing at the Regent Square Theater through January 13th.