Why trilogies don’t work

My big accomplishment for the second day of my vacation is seeing The Matrix: Revolutions. It wasn’t horrible, despite some negative reviews. But I think the big disadvantage The Matrix Trilogy is battling against is the general challenge trilogies and their makers face: overly high expectations.

Usually, movies that seem worthy of ending up as the first part of a trilogy are often groundbreaking or special in some way. For example, “The Matrix” was particularly innovative because of its groundbreaking special effects. It truly took advantage of how far computers had come and what the whole concept of special effects can really bring to the big screen– the ability to create a world completely unlike our own. Instead of trying to make the real world more “special,” such as making explosions bigger and louder, the special effects in “The Matrix” helped create this new world, what it was like to be in this concept of “the matrix,” and rendered an aural and visual experience impossible otherwise. Another example of this kind of special effects use would be in the Quidditch scene in Harry Potter.

In addition to special effects use, “The Matrix” was innovative because of its storyline. To most, it was particularly unique and posed very interesting questions by asserting that our entire human existence was just a simulated computer experience. (Although, I and others argue that this storyline was very similar to the 1998 movie Dark City.) Moviegoers were blown away by this fantastical premise and were drawn into watching Neo discovering the matrix– we learned right along with him.

However, with the second movie, the special effects were no longer as novel and glamourous as in the first, although technically they were quite impressive (especially the many Agent Smiths). And the storyline wasn’t so earth-shattering anymore– we already know about this world set up in the first movie– and everyone is just waiting to find out what happens next, some type of resolution and since we all know there’s a third movie coming out, we’re not really drawn into the second movie in the series. So, in the end, you end up writing off the second movie as simply a stepping stone, a set up for the finale– how most middle movies in trilogies are written off.

Then why is the third movie considered such a disappointment? Because with the first movie, we are blown away by the premise, with the second movie, we are just waiting to see what’s next and with the third movie, we finally do see what happens. And it never lives up to what we expected. After we’ve identified with a concept, characters and a storyline, while waiting for the next release, we consciously or subconsciously develop an idea of what we think would or should happen, an idea of what we might want to happen. And even if never truly realize those ideas, verbalize them and make them real to ourselves, we build up a subconscious expectation of something that’s probably impossible in the end and find ourselves wondering why the final movie in a trilogy is never as good as we thought it was going to be. It’s like getting hyped up for a party and then, it’s rarely ever quite as fun as you thought it was going to be.

Trilogies that are often considered in this category:

How do you work around this problem? One option is to make a trilogy out of movies with storylines that don’t really have anything to with each other, but have the same characters that exist in the same overarching universe. This holds true for any series or sequels. Some people don’t feel that these movies deserve to be called “trilogies,” but nevertheless, they often are. Trilogies that fall into this category:

Of course, the problem with this option is that you can always break the three movie rule and continually make additional sequels (as is the case for both of the above trilogies), usually of far lower quality than the first three movies. Examples of this pitfall:

The other better option is to only make a trilogy (or any other series of sequels) out of a story that is truly epic enough to warrant multiple movies. Don’t just make a bunch of sequels because with special effects and whatever else, you can stretch a storyline for three movies. All three movies should follow an overarching story arc, but in the end, each movie should be chock full o’goodness and can usually stand as a great movie on its own (even if you might follow the story better after seeing what comes before and/or after). Trilogies that fall into this category:

Of course, with sequels being so popular, I’m sure bad sequels and even worse, bad trilogies will continue to be made, released, and disappoint.

Vacation: Day 1

Things I did today:

  1. Slept in. Although I did have a dream about work.
  2. Caught up with my TiVo.
  3. Cleaned my house.
  4. Agonized over my yet unshipped eBay purchase.
  5. Got my nails done. (Current nail color: Cognac by Essie.)
  6. Gave in to my temptation to check my work email. 91 messages. Scary.
  7. Bought and installed a new 160 GB hard drive, although the partitions are all messed up because of the 137 GB confusion.
  8. Picked up some shampoo finally.
  9. Had some milk tea and Q-Pop chicken. Yum.

The last two done while dodging a strange drunk guy in downtown (and being mistaken for being with him/his friend). All in all, a surprisingly productive day for a vacation day. On the agenda for tomorrow: sleep.

Finding God

Growing up, I was a pretty loyal church-goer, involved in and leading youth group activities. When most people look at me, they probably cannot imagine a time when I was considered “religious” or “devout,” but really, it’s true. My belief in God has gotten me through some very tough times, especially while I was growing up when life at home and otherwise was not exactly a picture perfect paradise. Toward the end of high school, I began to grow very disillusioned with the church and the sometimes hateful message that Christians can promote in the name of God. So, over the past seven or eight years, my church-going has dwindled and to the naked eye, people may think I’m just a sinful pagan.

However, I still believe in God and I probably live a better life now than I did when I was practically living at church. Perhaps because how I live my life is no longer about the hard and fast rules dictated to me by my pastors and Bible Study teachers, but marked more by an overarching responsibility to be kind, generous and honest. I can just see my old Bible Study teachers wagging their fingers at me and clucking their tongues at how I’ve lost God because my whole life is not consumed by the idea of Christ as savior. But I find it very hard to believe that even if Christianity was the “right” religion, the God of the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible would turn away people who are kind, generous, and honest, but don’t happened to believe in Christ. All those countless people who never heard of Christianity, who simply grow up where Christians are a voiceless minority, who turn away from Christianity because of all of the ways Christians hate and condemn others– how could God turn away all those good people? If anything, the biggest enemy of Christianity seems to be Christians themselves– they fail to get up and spread the word of the Gospel and when they do, they do it in a way that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, showing us how hateful and unjust human beings can really be.

This was a big argument I used to have with many of my Bible Study teachers and since they themselves were usually only a few years older, college students helping out at church, they had little to offer in the way of answers. I would always ask, if we believe in the concept of being “saved,” how is it fair that a serial killer could confess and be reborn minutes before his execution and go to heaven while presumably, a man like Mahatma Gandhi, simply because he did not believe in the Christian God and did not repent and atone for his sins in the particular way Christians say we should, would not? Or if the doctrine of predestination is true (since I grew up in a Presbyterian Church), what is the point of evangelizing, converting? What is the point of anything if we were already hand-chosen so long ago?

End of days

Despite my dwindling church-going lately, part of me is still looking out for the rapture and the end of days described in the book of Revelation. Like in that movie The Seventh Sign. Despite wondering whether the Christian God is the “correct” depiction of God, part of me is still stuck in that world, expecting the end of the world to play out just like the Bible describes it and that I should keep an eye out for the signs. Of course, I don’t know what I do if it did turn out to happen exactly like the book of Revelation. Probably go on going what I’m doing because even if the Bible is right about that, I still can’t believe God would be as much of a control freak and big meanie as Christians sometimes make Him out to be.

But with what I’ve been seeing in the news lately, the world seems to be in such a state of chaos that sometimes, I wonder, I fear that it is the end of days– or at least the beginning of a horrible time that will take a lot of time and effort to get over, correct, come back from. In the same way the world had to recover after the horrors of World War II, to recover emotionally and physically, to somehow try to correct so many wrongs and find a way to go on, I think we’ll find ourselves heading down a slippery slope that is going to take a lot to get back up.

Fires continue to burn and ravage in Southern California– and this time, it’s not nature taking its toll. If this was just a natural phenomenon, what can we do but shrug our shoulders, shake our head, and keep on fighting? But now, we find our firefighters exhausted, our neighbors homeless, injured, even dead because of a lost hunter and some arsonists.

We continue to pour money and troops into Iraq while people are jobless and struggling at home. President Bush seems to have undone all the work Carter and Clinton were able to accomplish in North Korea and the threat of nuclear war by the hand of an isolated nation and its mad leader haunt us. And all the while, we still feel the horror and painful effects of September 11th, remembering those we lost and yet, the ones who are responsible still walk free.

And even closer to home, hate continues. Congress passes poorly written laws banning medical procedures that save lives, forcing us to make a blanket decision on who deserves to live with no room for individual circumstances. And even though we came so far with the Supreme Court’s decision on sodomy, Congress works to ban gay marriage, introducing the first Constitutional amendment that would be specifically for the purpose of denying rights to a partcular group of people.

And the people seem to be desperately crying out for a remedy, for a leader who will bring some sense to this world, but we seem to be at a loss. Why else would we elect an actor as governor? Are we so madly desperate for leadership, for reprieve that we so easily forget the last time we elected an actor to governor and then president?

We’ve started down a road that we can hopefully get off, turn around and never go back down again, but nevertheless, our nation will have to go through a great mending period to set things right.

You’re never alone

It’s pretty messed up when your boss basically tells you that you are working too much and tells you to go take some time off. In fact, he doesn’t even consider it “vacation.” He’s just sending you on a really long break.

It’s also pretty messed up when you go to the dentist and he tells you:

  1. There’s nothing wrong with your tooth. You just need to stop grinding your teeth and clenching your jaw. Relax.
  2. Get some sleep. Your geographic tongue is out of control.

Everyone pretty much knows that work seriously took over my life the past few months and not in a “I’m really excited about my job and I’ve got lots of projects I want to work on” kind of way. And of course even after I’ve finally come to admit that I am seriously burnt out, looking at my calendar, I can hardly find time to take two days off before Thanksgiving, which will be a whole other stress-fest unto itself. And even if I did take a four-day weekend, I can hardly think of anything that I’d like to do or anywhere I’d want to go (that wasn’t completely expensive and far away). At this point, I’m pretty much looking at sleeping like 16 hours a day, watching TV and sitting around in my underwear. While a good plan, the problem with it is that it means I’m at home with a high-speed Internet connection and my computers. Which means I’ll probably end up checking work email which means I’ll end up thinking about work which means I’ll end up doing work at some point during my prescribed time away from work.

You would think the solution to this would be to leave my house and to leave my computer behind. Oh, but I’ll have my Blackberry wherever I’ll go. Doh. I guess that was the whole point of getting that right? Have email with me wherever I go? And yes, you’re probably saying “Well, leave the Blackberry at home.” Ah, but my obsessive-compulsive need to always have a phone with me and always be reachable in some way will never let me do that.

I think I just need to let go.

4 things that make a good manicurist

I used to bite my nails all the time. Then, one day, I got bored and decided that I wanted to try out having long nails– I wasn’t playing piano all the time anymore and I wanted to make my hands look a little more “grown-up.” First, I got artificial nails (silk wrap) and got regular fills (acrylic). I kicked my nail biting habit and my natural nails were able to grow out underneath the acrylic. Once my nails actually became long and strong enough, I switched to natural nails. Now, I faithfully get a manicure every two weeks and a pedicure every month and frequently get complemented on my perfectly polished and shaped nails.

Of course, some, including me, say that now I have an unhealthy obsession with taking care of my nails.

Well, I owe everything to my manicurist– here are 4 essential things that make a good manicurist:

  1. Hygiene & cleanliness. All implements should be clean and constantly sanitized. Same goes for the manicurist. If she sneezes, coughs, etc., she should be washing her hands or using hand sanitizer. There are a million places on your hands and feet where germs can enter, especially when removing skin and cuticle material. This is especially important for diabetics.
  2. Attention to detail. There’s a reason why they have those magnifying lamps. It may seem obsessive, but it drives me crazy if there is the slighest imperfection in the nailbed or shape of the nail (crooked, uneven, etc.). It becomes especially problematic after putting on polish and letting it dry– those imperfections will be even more noticeable.
  3. Health conscious. Well, at least when it comes to your skin and nails. Your manicurist should be looking out for you and making sure that not only do your nails look good, but that they also stay healthy. She should be making sure your cuticles aren’t drying out and that ingrown nails are taken care of. If your nail splits, she should be helping it stay clean and dry so it can heal– otherwise, fungus or infection can develop. If you have artificial nails, you should make sure your manicurist isn’t filing the nailbed too much. She will have to file it a little bit when putting on your full set and then each time she does a fill so that the artificial nail product has a slightly rough surface to bond to, but otherwise, your manicurist should be trying to keep your nailbed in tact. Your nailbed shouldn’t be flat and it shouldn’t hurt when filed. And your manicurist should be applying cuticle oil (and encouraging you too as well) to keep your cuticles moisturized without softening the nail.
  4. Confidante. Your manicure/pedicure time should be the opportunity to relax, whether that means you just close your eyes and let your manicurist do all the work or you talk about all the good and bad things going on in your life.

Current nail color: OPI‘s Route Beer Float.

Expandable TiVo

Everyone knows I love my TiVo. I could not live without it and whenever I get a chance, I become the world’s biggest TiVo evangelist. I’ll admit it– TV is a big part of my life. I read, surf the Web, hang out with friends, go out, etc., but a big chunk of my life is still spent watching TV, a phenomenon that is just part of my generation and every generation after. And TiVo has given me a way to effectively get all those other things done and get my TV watching in.

That’s why it makes me sad to hear when people are bad-mouthing TiVo the company, asserting that as more cable companies release their own DVRs, TiVo will be pushed out of the market. It’s unfortunate really when you think about how pioneering TiVo really was, but I don’t think it’ll happen. TiVo’s software is still the best around– the mark of a really great consumer device interface is that you don’t need to read the instructions. The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate and their software is not only reliable, but is really streamlined with the “right” features. And amazingly, that little sound never gets annoying.

But if TiVo is looking for a little help in boosting their consumer confidence, not to mention their sales, they should really consider making TiVo expandable. I don’t have a TV in my bedroom because when I go into my bedroom, I don’t want the TV there as a distraction from sleeping, reading, or whatever. However, I realize that sometimes it would be nice to watch TV in bed or while I’m getting ready in the morning. Yet, the main reason I don’t put a TV in my bedroom is because the TiVo is in the living room.

I suppose I could buy another TiVo, but frankly, my 40-hour box is just the right fit and I’m rarely ever dying for disk space. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to manage two separate storage spaces– I would be limited to a certain set of TiVo recorded material depending on which room I was in. In the end, what I need is some sort of remote client setup where I could access my TiVo from another room. I could rig up some really long cables and some type of infrared repeater for the remote, but that’s just silly. It would be great if some type of remote client box/piece of hardware could register with a specific TiVo as an authorized client and be able to deliver content from that TiVo, similar to expandable cordless phone set-ups (which I also have). For monthly subscribers, TiVo could charge some additional fee per remote client, similar to additional receivers for digital cable/satellite customers (which I also am).

TV is an integral part of my life and TiVo has become essential to that experience. Now TiVo just has to become “mobile,” moving with me, following me and becoming as necessary and compatible to my high-tech life as high-speed Internet access and wireless Internet access (both of which I also have).

And that’s my big TiVo thought of the day.