Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Of the Uncanny Valley and Borrowing from Real Life

In an involuntarily film-related Oscars segue, Nero and the wee dervish thumbed our noses at the mundane Monday after-school routine and took in "The Secret World of Arrietty." Based on a personal childhood favorite of mine, "The Borrowers," by Mary Norton, this adaptation is gracefully rendered by acclaimed Japanese animator and art director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, of Ponyo fame. 

In the science of animation there exists a theory, stemming from robotics, known as the "Uncanny Valley." The phrase, coincidentally coined by a Japanese professor, refers to a state in which a robot is made to appear so life-like that it repulses the viewer. Stop just short of the uncanny valley and empathy and compassion are piqued, go too far and we are scared off, almost viscerally so, by that eery approximation of ourselves. 

Animators often rely on the uncanny valley when developing characters for the big screen or the video game console. It serves as a reliable litmus test for when an imagined person or creature becomes too real or too threatening for comfort. This phenomenon, paired with the marketing of branded toys, helps explain why so many of the movies geared towards children showcase bizarre character constructs which masquerade on screen, neither fully human nor animal.

In the case of Arrietty, Nero was charmed by the refreshing simplicity, the Zen-like beauty of hand-painted animation. Although the film was backed by Disney, the pace was nothing like the frenetic tempo of most Pixar movies. In fact, there were long pauses, real-time moments of silence and natural background noises like falling rain, wind and quiet footsteps. Those details paired with a bewitching soundtrack made for a soothing viewing experience.

The story presented characters, both human and animal, recognizable in nature, albeit Thumbelina-sized. The language was thoughtful and imbued with sincerity and respect. The plot line, which lacked a forced slap-happy ending, spoke to the larger issues of childhood -- that fleeting and magical netherworld, that sticky limbo, a spider's web, the Borrowers' smallness a metaphor for the  tricky-to-navigate safety net between being and knowing, and ultimately the inevitable, growing.  

Nero detected a spare and very Asian gravitas in the presentation. An existential solemnity reigned throughout, which translated into a deeper take on the themes running through Mary Norton's writings. The film was a quiet but reverent bow to the hierarchy present in the circle of life -- a tale of essentials and all that we ever really have. Time and people, people and time, and binding it all together, nature and its many driving forces, both large and pint-sized. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Of Film Noir and a Goth Dress Fest

Nero was vaguely nonplussed by the Oscar fanfare last night. Where oh where has the glamour of yore gone to die? And yet, the side of me that gravitates towards the true nero, the goth, the decadent and richly macabre -- the cinema veritas that is all things (film) noir, was bewitched by this dark creation from the house of Alexander McQueen. In keeping with the tone of Jessica Chastain's devilishly drop-dead frock, whip out your riding crops folks, cuz the woman standing directly behind her needs to be Spanxed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Of Time Capsule Capturing and iPhoning Home

Sometimes the details in life are best got 
through that daily compulsion -- the iPhone shot.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Of Snakes on the Brain and Athens Burning

Greece may be burning, folks, but it is very clear to Nero that the deities of Mount Olympus have decamped to some other ersatz Pompeii and are still hard at work collaborating with the Italians. Nero, still at heart a feral child, can't seem to cross paths with a single slithering critter without fixating. This spring, my animal attraction is aimed at a snake of a different stripe. Behold, fair Nerophytes, just a few of the sleekest specimens from Bulgari's latest Serpenti collection. With the double-arm wraps Nero is unabashedly smitten. Anyone else been fatally bitten?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Of Tinto Azul and Blueing Gray

There's something more than a little appealing
-- uplifting, mood-altering --
about a blue room on a gray day.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Of Mile-High Clubbing and Down-Dressing to Impress

Nero's forever and a day been a fan of a look I like to call "Airport Dash Chic." It's a fluid, fuzzy, gray area often best pulled off by (surprise-surprise) Europeans and others of a foreign ilk. The recipe goes something like this -- pour in a pint of English country aristo, pair with a pinch of Hollywood rocker, fold in a dollop of Amelia Earheart, then top the lot off with a light dusting of Indiana Jones. Of late, I've found it hard to ignore the fact that newlywed power couple Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig fit the mold to a tee. Whether racing off the tarmac or strutting the red carpet, this symbiotic duo oozes style in spades and leaves Nero pretty starstruck. Take a gander at the sartorially spotless hit 'n runs below, fair readers, and see if you don't come to the same conclusion. Nero's pretty sure this fixation goes far beyond my childhood Bond fetish.


Urban flâneuse, armchair observer, absent-minded scribbler, occasional epicure and carpool line cultural attaché, my nom de plume is Nero. Join me as I catalog a compilation of earthly delights and stuff that I dig. Alcira Molina-Ali



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