Thursday, December 31, 2009

Even Cat People Get the Blues




So I saw Avatar. And after seeing the trailer for Clash of the Titans, I find it pretty hilarious that here's a Sam Worthington movie where his entire job description involves blending in to an environment. Specifically (that is, if you've been living under a rock the last six months) the environment of the planet Pandora and its blue catlike inhabitants, the Na'vi.

First things first. Visuals, since that's what this is, primarily, and the majority of the critical acclaim which Avatar has received has focused on those amazing visuals as well as its innovative use of 3D. I was worried initially I'd get an an absolutely titanic headache watching this, based on my limited experience with 3D movies before, but this article set me straight. I had no problems, except on occsion with closeup shots. Anything shot at middle distance, provided you just trust Cameron and let your eye go where he wants, works fine. The landscapes are gorgeous. The action is fantastic and there's a minimum of BOO! GOTCHA! 3D work.

The whole 3D thing raises questions of its own about the future of movies. Movies went color long before TV, and fifty years ago, threatened by infiltration of TV into every American household, movies went bigger. Specifically, wider. And at $10 a ticket, $5 for popcorn and a zip-dandy recession, 3D is here to stay. And if the above article is any indication, it may change entirely how shots are framed and composed.

So this movie looks amazing. Amazing. Not only is it simply pretty, but Cameron and his art department have taken great pains to depict a completely alien ecosystem. Most of the terrestrial creatures have two sets of forelegs, joined at the knee, suggesting a common evolutionary path. It's not like they stuck a couple of fake horns on a dog. There's bioluminescence everywhere. Big freakin' pterodactyls roam the sky. And there's the Na'vi. In keeping with the planet's low gravity, they're tall & gangly, but in service to the plot, these natives are hard to kill. Also: restless.

Which is where our guy comes in. Perhaps it's simple human arrogance on the researchers' parts, but I can hardly see how they expected to be taken seriously, let alone generously, as what the Na'vi call "dreamwalkers." Worthington gets downloaded in to an avatar, a cloned Na'vi that looks like the blue-cat-Hakeem-Olajuwon version of himself in order to shill for the evil company that's here searching for their Nth metal.

Same old story. It's Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai in space. And really, this is the focus of all the negative criticism of the movie. Rightly so. It's a shopworn cliche. The Na'vi are just another band of Noble Savage, painted blue this time. Of course Our Hero was going to bed their princess and become King. That was just inevitable. So Chameleon Sam falls for M'Ress (because she's a cat and played by Uhura, get it? Anyone? Anyone?) and turns against Space Blackwater's Evil Colonel of Evil, whose Evilness Can Be Seen from Space. He rebels, using Advanced White Guy Tactics, and they save the day. Hooray.

But it's so PURTY!

Other reviewers, specifically AV Club's cool, refreshing Sam Adams, argue a different tack with regards to the movie's politics, drawing an allegory not just to the obvious Native American similarities but also to the privatization of warfare brought on by strange bedfellows like Blackwater and Triple Canopy in this country.

I'm not sure that I buy all that, but it's an interesting read. More than anything, again, this seems like Dances with Wolves or Last of the Mohicans or any white-guy-cum-Indian movie you've seen, even going so far as to use its science fiction pedigree to grant the World Spirit Circle-of-Life animism present in most Native American mythologies a literal foundation. Space Blackwater's guys mock the Na'vi's religion, but we're shown it actually at work here, which seems an unintentional slight against people who have actual religions based around this kind of thing. There's no weird tentacle connection to a worldwide superconsciousness on Earth to tell us not to buttfuck the environment in to a bloody husk, so that must be why we did it, right? Right?

I do recommend the thing. If you have to see some version of the White-Guy-as-Reluctant-Savior cultural trope at some time in your live, it might as well be the floating mountain, helicopter dragonfly, bioluminescent moss, blue-cat-people, pterodactyl riding, Now-in-3D-with-100%-more-Michelle-Rodriguez version.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Clash of the Titans

Sometimes, things slip by me. Like the entire career of Sam Worthington. Where'd this guy come from? It's like Hollywood, bemoaning the lack of charisma in its current generation of actors, decided to cast the SAME uncharismatic actor in every damn movie.

You might have noticed him in Avatar. Or last summer's Terminator 4, where he was the one who looked distractingly like Christian Bale in a lot of the teaser pictures. Or you might not really have noticed him at all, since he tends to blend in to the surroundings, and not in a method-actor way but more of a most-beefcake-chameleon-ever way.

So then I find, this morning, a trailer for the new film 'Clash of the Titans.' Below.



I like that bit. "Titans will Clash." It's Clash of the Titans, so I should bloody well hope so.

If you've been living even deeper under a rock than I have (seriously, Sam Worthington and Lady Gaga are the two things from 2009 that ambushed me like the Cheney-era CIA) let me start off with a bit of history. This film is based, not just on the success of 300--though this time it looks like they decided to make something other than a Fascist Instructional Cartoon--but also the 1981 film Clash of the Titans. It had Burgess "The Penguin" Meredith, Lawrence Olivier as Zeus, and a young Harry Hamlin as Perseus, before he would go on to star in a bunch of things you or I have never heard of.



That's a fan-made trailer, updated for today's attention spans. The original Clash was the last really big showcase for the model work of Ray Harryhausen, who designed, among other things, the menacing skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts and that big, Godzilla-like Venus creature in 20 Million Miles to Earth. He's a legend. A legend of stop-motion monsters. I'll bet he makes some token cameo in this flick, which has replaced all his charming, I-know-they're-dated, stop-telling-me-they're-dated, stop-motion effects with a bunch of CGI monsters and creatures who look like they missed the audition to a Guillermo del Toro film. Of the former I'm ambivalent. It's amusing to me that we've advanced this far in creating creature effects that are for the most part no more realistic than they were in 1981, just cheaper and made on a Mac instead of with silly putty. Of the latter I'm pleased. Guillermo del Toro doesn't make a whole lot of movies and it's nice to see the monster freakshow jet-set getting in on other Disposable Friends of the Hero-Killing action.

The original Clash was very much in the mold of Star Wars, going back directly to the source material for its hero's Joseph Campbell-ing about the place. It's been years since I've seen the thing, but I don't think Perseus was aware that Zeus was his Dad. It was much more an adventure movie, the young lad sailing off to fight monsters and win the heart of the girl.

In this one, at least in trailer 2, ol Worthius seems conflicted about his demigod nature and Zeus is much more of a prick. Oh, Liam Neeson. You'll do anything, won't you? You're like Morgan Freeman, an actor of immense gravitas who will do films like The Bucket List. I haven't included Trailer 2 here because Trailer 1 was so dorky. "Titans will Clash" indeed.

"I'm dark and conflicted!" Worthius shouts at the screen, and I suppose I believe him. But I'm not going to mistake growling or shouting at the screen for drama, rather I'm going to miss the feeling, encapsulated by this movie of my childhood, of going off to adventure just for the sheer hell of it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home

There are stars out here. Actual, proper stars. Get about five miles from town and on a clear night like tonight, the whole sky is laid bare. I can see the Milky Way, faintly, from the ground. I'd forgotten. I always forget, it seems, things like the stars, or the lonely, sparse beauty of the place, coming up north from Wyoming across the sandy bluffs, ragged with scrubby trees.

I'll be home a little over a week. Chatting with family, meeting up with old friends, falling in to those patterns effortlessly, under the starlight. I wouldn't ever want to live anywhere this small, not really, but it's hard not to become a little intoxicated drinking in those stars.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lie Detector

In Praise of Lando Calrissian




I tried watching The Empire Strikes Back for what was probably the eleventy-first time last weekend. Alas, Lucasfilm pulled some predictably asinine tomfoolery and the non-digitized version does not conform to the dimensions of my laptop. I have had no trouble with other DVDs, they all fit my computer automatically, as does the "Special Edition" version of Empire and the other Star Wars films.

Screw it. I've seen these movies seriously probably a hundred times since the pan-n'-scan, VHS, taped-off-HBO version, well-worn and kept in my parents library alongside favorites like Cosmos and Ken Burns Civil War.

When I was a kid I wanted to be Lando. I'd like to think nowadays that it was because my nascently literary mind recognized him as the closest thing to a morally ambiguous character (it's that same moral ambiguity that makes the previously mentioned Nancy Botwin such a win in my book) in the whole of Star Wars. Lando's a good guy. He's responsible for a whole city, and when you're responsible for those people, sometimes you have to make a deal with the devil, and sometimes that blows up in your face.

Really, though, I think it was the cape. There's that scene in Empire where Lando gets in to a scuffle with Han Solo and his cape comes off, revealing that at no time (unlike in Jedi) was it ever attached. That's right, America. Lando Calrissian saunters through Cloud City wearing a cape attached to his shoulders through the sheer virtue of his own awesomeness. THAT'S why I wanted to grow up to be Lando.

All the other kids, they wanted to be Han Solo or Boba Fett, and while I can't fault Solo (guy has his own ride and it is sweet) Fett dies like a chump in Jedi, and his biggest proponents can't explain to me the decision-making process that leads your salty badass to dress in pastels. Pastels. Who is it that orders his supercommando uniform from Mandalore Ltd., complete with rocket backpack, and gets ocean green highlights? Who? I ask you.

Give me Lando. Give me a guy who can fly the hero's ship if he has to, who owns the best real-estate in the galaxy (seriously, how unlikely is it to find an earth-liveable sweet spot on a gas giant, complete with shining white city?) who has to weigh his responsibility to hundreds of thousands of people against his responsibility to his friend, who makes a deal with the devil only to be redeemed, who Rocks. The. Cape.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In Praise of Nancy Botwin




Of course I came to the party late. 'Weeds' ended its five-season run on Showtime on August 31. I'm about halfway through season 4 at the moment, so, again, late. But let me just say this: though my research has been unscientific at best, I feel comfortable making the following pronouncement: Nancy Botwin is (or was) the best-written lady-character on TV.

It goes back to the Bechdel Rule. The rule that states it might be a good idea for women on TV to be well-rounded, well-written characters who aren't either simply ciphers for the men in the story or otherwise defined (or choosing to define themselves--I'm looking at you, Sex and the City) by the men in their lives. Too many female characters on TV spend a predominant amount of their time preoccupied with the men in their lives. They don't have agency. Things happen to them to which they are expected to react, but they're seldom pro-active and it's always about the boys (I'm looking at you now, Grey's Anatomy and Desparate Housewives--it's right there in your title!)

Which isn't to say it's a total wasteland out there. Think Peggy Olson in Mad Men. But she's not the anchor of that show, not its heart by far. No, I can think of no other show which is entirely anchored by the presence of a strong female character, who grows and develops, who is flawed and interesting, who gets the bulk of the screen time. (Though I have heard good things about Nurse Jackie)

TV occasionally tries to float us one, but the lady in question ends up either written deliberately as Queen Superbitch (see Canterbury's Law, a short-lived House knockoff where House is a girl and a lawyer instead of a doctor) or some kind of living saint (see HawthoRNe). Through five seasons of Weeds we got to follow Nancy Botwin as she triumphed, fucked up, escaped with her life, fucked up again, loved and lost and dealt a copious amount of pot.

I hope we see more of her.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hiatus

I am still me, tethered to the shore. The light has gotten brighter in this room since I turned it on. Pupils dilating. Can your trip be about something? Does it have to be? Must you record & retransmit everything for the hope of public adulation? The difference between experience and transmission (for lack of a better word).
That the only virtue of life lies in experiencing it, but that the thing you personally think of is how to package that experience & transmit it, to make it a story of holding the back of her arm, not just the experience, and casting aside stray thoughts that don't fit the narrative, the STORY. But--take the metaphor again of the movie in which people are stoned, the transmission of this experience, that it is necessarily hollow, you can't get people to experience the movie, it's not holographic, no smellovision. Already you're figuring how to bundle this up & sell it.
You can't just experience it, you have to transmit it. The movie in which peoplea re stoned, the people in the auditorium watching the film, to those people we sound ridiculous because cinema can only transmit the image of people being high, not the sense of meaning or altered perception inherent in it. (And those people aren't even stoned either, they are doing this for hours @ a day, rehearsing the scene as written.) This gets us to language, I suppose, as the first form of transmission (I am referring to script here) and therefore, while necessary, is still a bastardization of experience (and yet I'm a slave to its rules and feel the above sentence was bogus in a way I don't care to go back and correct.)
Those people in the archetypal, prototypical film can't tell you waht it means to have any experience they're having (& they're not really having them, just performing them, but take it as writ) they exist only as images representing an experience through which (darkly) you look.
It's like 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I think Kubrick is trying at is to represent visually in the film's final montage what it must have been like for cavemen to encounter that obelisk, so removed it was from their perceptions. But he can't, so what we're left with is a lightshow, which is what all cinema is, essentially, a lightshow. A dog & pony show. Cinema/Lit--CinemLit?--is the outgrowth of our need as humans to transmit our understanding. That is, our capability of abstraction of thought. But that's just it, what we construct are mere abstracts not the thoughts themselves. Have I used the word apophenia yet? The fundamental, I dunno, flaw in humans. We cannot experience the thing naked, we must clothe it in meaning. make it modest. Decent. The old man in the mountain is just a rock, but we see a face, part of our abstraction is apophenia.
I have strayed too far from my original point. And that is that representations are by their nature flaowed, but that's not a bad thing, right?
Just to be, that's the thing, not to have to trake, transm it, package the experience but to wander out into the waters, untethered to the shore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Matt Largo is pushing thirty and standing in a nightclub

Emptying your pockets is the first ritual. Make sure you're not carrying any deadly devices. Or smuggling in cheaper booze. Guys at the door ahead of me, 30's probably so why do you feel so out of place? several-beers-a-day voices, low and gravelly and laced with subliminal menace.

Don't be too judgmental. That might become a problem later when the two guys in head-to-toe white latex costumes (complete/replete with breasts) show up. Or Doberman Mask guy. True story. Whole S&M getup and everything, but with a mask that looks like the head of a Doberman Pincer. He's this close to fighting Batman.

And now I think I should come to one of these things dressed as Batman. I might fit right in. I tried to be inconspicuous, totally aimed for it, but landed at Hipster Douche, a sartorial continent I visit not infrequently these days.

Between the vintage bookshop and the the Kinko's lies the Necto.

I can't help feeling this is significant. Between rows of old stories and the germs of new ones (I printed the first copy of my manuscript at Kinkos, not realizing place is fucking OUTRAGEOUS in terms of $$) lies a place where God knows how many stories have occured. It's the circle of fucking life, man.

The room is dark, split-level. Dance floor below, ringed with posters of obscure movies. Occasionally the smoke machine expectorates and we become brief silhouettes. The more earnest dancers are at the center, ringed around by less enthusiastic parties. This is not a hard-and-fast rule. And hey! Co-ed stripper poles!

I'm not the oldest one here, thank God, or the most male-pattern-bald.

This is Industrial Night and the predominant color is black. Woman with creative shreds across her black top, fishnet bobby-socks. Guy in light-up gas mask, another guy in a paper SARS mask and a bunch of tie-up glow sticks. He defies my attempt to find a single nickname for each of these folk. Unlike Top Hat. Girl in short gingham dress that stops just below the apex of her long, long legs. She smokes a cigarette indifferently. The dance floor is ringed by tables and chairs and booths. There are stairs below to more music and the bathrooms. Somebody brought kamikazes to the ladies'.

The place is distinctly cold, which is no mean feat considering the ecstatic tangle of dancers. More smoke and I'm shrouded again. Girls with bikini tops, or sometimes a forthright bikini, or some kind of lingerie/dominatrix ensemble. More fishnets. A couple toward the edge of the storm is dancing slowly and necking. Closer to the center another couple is considerably more fervent.

The crescent-shaped, red-velvet-backed booth I'm sitting in now is like a fort for wallflowers.

Anne says some people go to be noticed, some for the comfort of anonymity. Here the weird can be weird without worry. Those latex twins, she points out, could be on the city council. DoberMan could be the Mayor. And some come to dance, to be swept away, their eyes closed, taken up in the beat like leaves on the wind. Is this what I'm missing? To let slip the anchor of self-consciousness, at least for a few hours on a Monday night in danger of making good on the threats the weatherman has been making all day. Out here we're all one in the dark.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oh, blog, how I've missed you...sort of

So my computer up and died. Or very nearly. The old girl is on life support, each one of her faculties being ever more diminished day by day, it's like a watching a loved one die, only since it's my computer the loved one in this case is the weird uncle who owned all that porn.

I'll try and be better about updates. Maybe even some new short fiction, but no promises. Off to the races...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fuck You, Jeff Sessions

The Sotomayor hearings have finally ended on Capitol Hill, with the nominee gingerly dancing around any actual points of law while Republicans, led by Senator Jeff Sessions, continued--though mostly losing steam at this point--to hammer away on one sentence in one speech she made eight years ago. Sessions, along with Senators John Cornyn of Texas and John Kyl of Arizona (and I think that dick Lindsey Graham got in on it, too) continued to harp on Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment, something that has gotten to "whaaazuuuuuuuuup" levels of historical tediousness in the space of an eyeblink.

Here's the thing: Her comment was unfortunate, no question. But what these cats seem to be implying is that the default setting for a human being is a(n affluent) white male. And to some extent the Democrats, in not calling the Republicans on their shit EVEN WHEN THEY, THE DEMOCRATS, ARE FUCKING IN POWER have tacitly upheld this little bit of mythology. Of course her background is going to inform her decisions. How could it not? Should we staff the court with Cylons? To seize on that comment, however, in the way that they did smacks of political posturing (knowing they don't have the votes to stop her) and a careful, quiet racism.

More than health care, more than the economy, more than two wars and the kind of tax cuts that work better for men like Sessions than Viagra, the Supreme Court was my issue going in to this election. Full disclosure: there was no way I was voting Republican, unless all the Democratic candidates were killed and they replaced McCain with himself from 2000 (kinda like Iron Man. That's right. I went there. Google THAT, bitches). But what for me more than anything else made the 2008 election so urgent was the idea that, if elected, John McCain would have the chance--and by verdict of his masters, the imperitive--to cast in the role of Supreme Court justices an ever increasing number of Complete Fucking Lunatics. I can only hope that President Obama remains in office long enough to affect real change on the Court; his appointment of Sotomayor merely keeps a balance up.

Of course in a perfect world, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito would be killed in a fiery plane crash while making vehement gay love in a manner that allowed their corpses to be readily identifiable. In a perfect world they'd be replaced with 25-year-old Marxists, preferably ones with "Fuck You, Religious Fucking Lunatics" tattooed on their foreheads.

When they weren't harping on Sotomayor's speeches, the Republicans took special glee in pointing out the Court's reversal of one of her own decisions, the firefighter's union discrimination case. Well whoop-de-freakin' doo. So she didn't agree with the Supreme Court. Congratulations. SO DID FOUR MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT! If the decision was unanimous then I could see it, but it squeaked by in another 5-4 ruling, one that underscores the absolute necessity of keeping the Court from sliding further to the right. Maybe not in this case specifically, which is full of a lot of vague generalities about how discrimination suits can be brought to bear, but the Court has had a lot of 5-4 rulings in the past few years. It would take only a nudge to bring us to Scary Town.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Singularity




It wasn’t what she wanted. The procession, the cavalcade of famous mourners, the speeches, the tears, the mausoleum with scenes from her films played on a 24-hour loop. What she wanted, and she’d been quite clear on this to Danny at least, was to be taken to Bikini Atoll and blown up with a nuclear bomb.

For a long while there, Skye Ferris was the most beautiful woman in the world.

She grew up in a tiny basement apartment in Queens, New York, from where her final procession would begin. A simple wood coffin at first, to remind us all of her humility. Daughter of immigrant parents, who changed their name upon arriving here. A trifling fact, this, but part of her narrative, part of the American Dream mythology of her.

And now that she was dead, Skye Ferris had graduated to full-on mythological construct.

There was the question of what to do about all those billboards, of course. Some of them, the ones you could get to easily, had become shrines. Candles and everything. Not even the Bonnie & Clyde way she’d gone out could dim the people’s enthusiasm for her.

Since computer layouts made it so easy, magazines like People and Us had files at the ready, whole commemorative issues laid out for the moment news hit that someone famous was dead. They were working overtime. The New York Times obit column was already fetching a hundred dollars on eBay, and it was the private view of many that North Korea’s latest missile tests were Kim Jong-Il’s frustrated attempt to shift the limelight back to himself. It didn’t work. The whole world seemed at a standstill. Actress & humanitarian Skye Ferris, dead at thirty-five.

There was a serious rumor going on that her embalmed body would be put on permanent display, vacuum-sealed or whatever it was they did with Lenin, in her mausoleum. All Sleeping Beauty, in a cradle of glass. Guests allowed in nine-to-five. Closed on Sunday. Cosmopolitan magazine wrote a column on “Ten Steps to Ferris’ Funereal Hair” that was widely acknowledged as both tasteful and actually kind of moving.

She was breathtaking in life. Her bright, expressive laughter, her enigmatic eyes, her hair face lips neck shoulders arms breasts back waist hands fingers hips ass legs knees feet toes. She was perfect. (Also, she could act, which, let’s face it, wasn’t always the case in these situations.) Sure, there was the string of bank robberies across Southern California, but too there was the white dress she wore in Don’t Say a Word and the shy, self-conscious way she demurred from singing on Late Night with David Letterman. Her accomplice, screenwriter Danny Freeman, was cremated without ceremony, according to his wishes, one week after the standoff.

A hundred thousand white roses would be dedicated for the purpose of putting her to rest. White roses on her casket, white roses on the street leading from Queens to the cemetery where her mausoleum, hastily but soundly constructed and guarded over by stone angels that bore more than a passing resemblance to Ferris herself, waited.

There were those of course who pointed out, when the 24-hour news cycle had briefly exhausted itself on coverage of her last film or her mission in Darfur, that this was the last thing she would have wanted to be remembered merely as ridiculously good-looking, and others too that pointed out she was, in fact, a criminal, that she and Freeman were shot to death during an armed robbery of the East Los Angeles Savings & Loan carrying two million dollars in currency and with a dozen hostages who, really, were just happy to be in the same room with her. But these alternate takes on her were dismissed as cynical attempts to cash-in on her legacy.

Sotheby’s sold the glass slippers she wore in Surviving Cinderella for 1.8 million dollars.

Skye Ferris’ father forgave the officer who fired the shots, but Leo Luntz got death threats every day until he died, which, as it happened, was about two weeks later, courtesy of a noose he’d threaded himself.

All this was getting everyone down. Talking heads extolled her virtues even as other talking heads with slightly different hair called her campaign of terror across the Pacific coast yet one more example of Hollywood Liberal Media Elite Left-Wing Liberal Mayhem Excess Insanity. But mostly they all agreed that Skye Ferris was really just devastating to look at.

On the day of her funeral, it rained. Not enough to call the thing, but enough so that none of the mourners in the packed Giants Stadium felt all that comfortable. Perfect funeral weather. Fellow actors and friends gave tearful tributes. Singers sang songs. There were wreaths of white roses and petals dropped from the air, bringing the estimated count up past a quarter of a million. She was a gentle soul, said Walter Hurley, one of the hostages the Former Miss World kept in the East Los Angeles Savings and Loan for nine hours.


Whatever she was, whatever private pain or exquisite boredom drove her first to acting and later to make off with almost ten million dollars in cash over a period of six weeks, whatever answers there were to the question of her, died on that day in Los Angeles, thousands of miles from her home.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Confession

It was in tears on the steps of the Governor's Mansion that C. Quincy Arberghast, two-time Governor of the Great State of Michigan, revealed to the world and apologized for the disappointment of his life.

"I have been," he confessed, "for the past thirty years, in a committed, monogamous relationship with my wife Carol."

He apologized to floozies. He apologized to hot-tub manufacturers. He apologized to Craigslist Casual Encounters, who could use the good press. He apologized to his fellow lawmakers, who expected him to lead by example. He apologized to cigar makers. He apologized to the Moral Majority. He apologized at length and with deliberate eloquence to the news media, recognizing that without celebrity deaths or celebrity babies or political sex scandals they might actually have to go out and find some actual news, and he apologized to late-night talk-show hosts, since the affair he'd failed to have he'd failed to have with a man, which would have provided surely endless guffaws when paired with the fact that, as a young man, he'd worked years in a meat packing plant.

Carol Arberghast was resolute. She told the reporters they'd get through this. She stood by her man.

Destroyed




This is your boot on work. I'm strangely proud of this, as I'm strangely proud of every pair of boots I demolish in the course of a year.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Repurposed Image #2




Liv felt strange as the effects of Professor Zodiac's Transmogrification Ray took hold.

Monday, June 29, 2009

In Which We Ask An Eternal Question...

Comparisons are at the heart of the superhero geek community. So certain hypothetical situations come to mind, like who would win in a fight? Superman or Thor? Or, alternatively, Which Superhero Would Construct The Most Efficient Bong?

Batman: In his never-ending quest to both understand and subsequently terrorize the Criminal Element, Batman must try and understand what drives these criminals today, with their hip-hop music and their low-slung cars and their LOLcats. He's watched Commissioner Gordon's copy of Reefer Madness about a million times but he still can't get the appeal. And of course this is a guy who makes his own shark-reppellent at home, so Batman's not about to do anything half-assed.

Wonder Woman: Pros--The Amazons have had centuries independent from Man's World in which to perfect the technology necessary for maximum smokage (as I believe the kids are still calling it). Also, you are smoking up with an attractive lady superhero, which is always rated as a plus.
Cons--Invisible.

Green Lantern: Pros--Can instantly create some byzantine, elaborate water pipe capable of keeping half a dozen people buzzed and happy.
Cons: As his concentration dissipates, well...

Green Arrow: Pro--He can shoot it from his bow
Con--He shoots it from his bow

Zatanna: Have you ever tried to do the alphabet backwards? Now try to summon up the Demon Etrigan, speaking only backwards (because that's how Z rolls), on a dare, in the middle of the goddamn night, on the top of the goddamn roof in the middle of Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. FAIL.

Superman: Yeah, right. Like this guy has ever gotten high off anything other than Vitamin-D milk. Same goes for Captain America, who is clearly more of a 'roids man.

Spider-Man: Also a no-go. Despite his ability to make home-made spider-goop dispensers, Peter stays away from this sort of thing chiefly because the one time he smoked pot in High School he was literally climbing the walls. Then the ceiling. Then the outside walls. Then a flagpole.

Wolverine--does not own a bong. Wolverine does not own a hash pipe. Wolverine has smoked up with Che Guevara, with Mick Jagger, with General Fucking Patton, and you will hear all of these stories, in lurid, lugubrious detail, often repeating himself. Memory problems, you understand.

Jean Grey--There are no pros here. I do not need this woman reading my mind and thereafter burning down my house. No, sir. Not me. Plus there's a nonzero probability she'd bring her husband along and he'd take off those specs of his.

Storm: Pros--Actually watching the weather change, though this is more of an experiential thing than a technological one. Vibranium? Anybody? Vibranium?
Cons--Electrocution

Thor: Pros--Actually constructed from pieces of the Rainbow Bridge.
Cons--Impossible to lift.

Hawkeye: Pros--can shoot it with his bow
Cons--You learned your lesson with Green Arrow, goddamn it. How many archery-themed comic characters do we NEED, for Christ's sake?

Iron Man--Tony Stark, you gotta figure, has access to more high-tech defense-level technology than even Batman, meaning the Ironbong must be truly a marvel of technology, but nothing can rival that of...

Mr. Fantastic--The guy's raided the labs of the Mole Man, Anihilus & Dr. Doom. He's been to the Blue Area of the Moon and the Negative Zone. He built a rocket in his basement, for crying out loud. And you gotta figure the man has devoted serious time to keeping Ben happy and mellow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Get Me Started on The Black Transformer

When I was a kid, playing at Star Wars, I wanted to be Lando Calrissian. I like to think that my childhood self recognized that, even more than Han, Lando represented the lone morally gray character in the Star Wars universe, but really it was the cape. I fucking practiced walking around with a blanket on my shoulders, trying to keep it up on sheer force of awesome. Keep in mind I was, at most, six. I don't still do this. Very often.

Why I bring this up is that the trailer for M Night Shyamalan's adaptation of popular kids' show 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' has debuted, and it's reinspired some ire from late last year, when the casting was announced. Take a look at the below pictures:






The little Asian kid who's the star of the show has been effectively replaced by a cherubic-looking little White kid. As has ninety percent of the cast, except, as it happens, for the main bad guy. He still gets to be brown. Now of course, lots of people are naturally quite up in arms over this, and though I haven't seen frame one of the cartoon, I'm with them.

Because I feel insulted. I feel insulted to learn that Corporate Media doesn't think I, or kids anyway, can empathize with and root for someone who isn't white. It insults me and every time I played Star Wars or pretended to be Mr. Sulu in Star Trek because he got to FLY the ship and every book I've read that doesn't have some White lead or every movie I've seen not starring John Wayne.

This is Cherry Chan, Me-Make-Pee-Pee-in-Your-Coke, flat out racist. And further it perpetuates the myth that we can't get along, that we have nothing to say to or learn from each other, that we're incapable of seeing anything of value in the experiences of another race or culture--not even that! That we are somehow so stunted that the random adventures of an Asian-looking, Buddhist-inspired kid in some mythical Earth THAT ISN'T EVEN THIS PLANET somehow has to be sanitized.

Note, of course, that nobody thought it was a good idea to make Boromir black or Pippin Indonesian or give Legolas a wheelchair. That movie had more white people than a John McCain rally.

I hope this movie dies a death so momentous and unmourned as to serve as an example to generations of film students and Corporate Heeewers that some bullshit comes at too high a price.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I've been reading a lot of Douglas Adams lately

So, apologies to his estate, and all that.

The Val'Ahr'Ahrin of Trepanis V are a willowy, telepathic people who are unique in the universe as they are the only alien race known to eat poetry and excrete literary criticism. This is to say that their highly developed telepathic brains draw sustenance from rhyme and meter, metaphor and simile, image and verse. This is to say further that as a byproduct of the process of digesting poetry, the Val'Ahr'Ahrin excrete a substance which is entirely indistinguishable from dogshit.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It Was The Bondage That Did It




Back up. Let's go back in time. Twitter apparently has some kind of ace word-search function where you can follow someone if they mention casually in one post a word which coincides with your interest. I don't really see the point of this, but since my own twitter feed is entirely facetious and fictional, I suppose I can't really complain. So, the way-back:

Dateline April 8: My fictional alter-ego returns from The Hell That Is Sweden, mentions bourbon, gets followed by bourbontwits, a sort of robot/cocktail enthusiast.

May 16, I run in to the Greater Orange County Beautification Society, a pack of socialites who run around shooting people up with botox and nearly drown me in liposuction fat. Net result? "Free Plastic Surgery is now following you on Twitter." Some time after this they stop following me because come on.

Occasionally some little robot or other will pop up and start following me for a day or a week before disappearing. I don't generally get rid of them because the beautiful thing about twitter as opposed to other social networking sites is its one-way nature, which suits microfiction well. I can keep doing up my output and hoping that somebody happens on to my feed who might actually appreciate my circus of the weird.

The keywords are a bit odd, though, as I can't for the life of me figure out why a Tampa Tourism Robot is following me (I really hope it wasn't the joke about the joke about prison rape). Then, dateline June 18, I make an idle comment after escaping the chains of A Mad German Physicist, a comment about the chains, and suddenly I have no less than three bondage-themed twitterbots following me. Which, again, I don't mind. I do need people to read this, it's just odd. Likely it's a nascent form of something the website will develop later, an unsophisticated manner of finding out if people hold your interests. In my own case I throw a lot of words around. I can't imagine any of them being really all that helpful.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Things Which Irritate Me

I realize having a blog is essentially howling in to the void, and I realize that these things quite often become simply repositories for meaninglessly personal drivel, but there's something I just have to get off my chest:

PEOPLE! (Especially journalists, especially reputable journalists) STOP USING THE WORD "WAY" FOR EMPHASIS! I don't know where it started, or when it started but it needs to stop. You sound unprofessional. It's infuriating. Nails on a chalkboard. "So and so have cut way back on their donations to flood relief" or some other damn thing. I wish I could come up with concrete, specific examples to support this rant but every time I'm driving and I hear this on the radio I'm too busy shouting. It's as bad as people who use "literally" for emphasis, the next one of which I swear I'm going to metaphorically, figuratively fucking strangle to death.

Far. How's "far" for you people. "The reach of health-care reform might far exceed its grasp." Doesn't that sound better than "way exceed?" Doesn't that sound patently not like you're twelve fucking years old?

Howling in to the void. Man oh man oh man.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Digital Projection




Today is the day TV stations across the United States switch their signals from analog to digital.It's pretty much a nonevent as events go: most people I know have cable and there's been a slow stream of PSA's about this thing since at least the middle of last year. It was originally going to be February, now gets settled in to June 12th, destined to be a footnote against what I can only hope are positive election results in Iran and the less important (but no less potentially incendiary to Things I Own) results of the Red Wings game.

What makes this date special for me is that it was a deadline of sorts, now passed. Back in 2008 I was still struggling along, lost, making no headway, uninspired, unfinished, unhappy. Then came the beaming, beneficient visage of Miss Lisa Edelstein.

This is nothing new. I watch House every week, after all. But this time, this time Lisa was telling me that in February of 2009, my cozy old analog TV signal would be replaced with a slick new digital one, and I had to update or I'd be left out in the cold, Entertainment wise. Well. Not MY signal. Somebody's.

This Gave Me an Idea and got me writing again, and I made a personal deadline for February...25, I think, to be done. And when that didn't happen it didn't quite matter because they pushed the digital switchover date to June 12. And now it's June 12, and I'm still not finished. I'm closer, however, and I have something relatively coherent that passes from point A to point Z without skipping too many letters.

Here, instead of nothing, is the scene I wrote:

She left Ann Arbor before five and arrived after having to double-back several times along dirt roads, at the transmission tower at eleven. She parked the car just off the road and tested her camera in the dark. Goddamn cameras. So many settings and preferences and balancing options to do what her eyes did naturally. How to play this? Hover just out of sight and get photos or confront them out right? The police would eventually cotton on to this whole thing. She wasn't exactly their target demographic. Only the violently old and the impeccably paranoid would have refused to or simply not be bothered to switch their antennas to digital receivers, as offered free of charge by the Government. But somebody somewhere was going to do what she did and stumble on to this transmission and Get An Idea. And that's what she'd tell them. Somebody is going to tell your story. Either it's the unfeeling smiling news anchor of the all-digital eleven-o'clock news or it's me. Grinning, confidant, she made for the tower.

The gate was rusted and permanently cast open. In the dim starlight the place looked like some lost relic of an ancient civilization. Vines consumed the side of the squat brick building. The tower itself was unlit, its lonely spire a dimly visible silhouette against the stars. The sounds of a gas generator could be heard just beyond the flat bulk of the building. Decades ago this had been a network affiliate, a piggyback for signals from New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. She wondered about the generator and its dull percolating roar. Zoë tried the door. Locked. So they weren't so hopelessly naive. Time for some good old-fashioned Lois Lane action. Zoë allowed herself a few moments reflection on just what a bad idea this was before she launched in to it. These jokers were not going to be happy when they were barged in on. This was clearly their little secret and if she thought they'd just go along with her and tell her their story, she'd have to be out of her mind. Conspiracy nuts, alien nuts, crazies. They were gonna hang her, strap her to train tracks, throw her in the basement and ransom her. She let all the possibilities metastasize in her mind before deciding on which window to try and force open. The night air was damp and cold. She walked the circumference of the building. The generator was surrounded by a fence capped with rusted, aging barbed wire. So it was the windows then. There was a precise, measured delineation of this thing's stupidity. The people inside were murderers, rapists, psychopaths. Not interested in press.

The perfect woman. It's what Mal called her. She wasn't an idiot, she knew what he thought. All bright and smart and sweet. Like candy or something. That's how everybody saw her, all the time. Ooh, poor you, she mused for not the first time. The windows were just out of reach and almost obscenely narrow. It was, in fact, exquisitely awful to be adored by everybody constantly. Not a bed of nails, mind you, certainly. It made her job easier. Men and women, everybody seemed to respond to her. She was absolutely, positively going to break a nail doing this, which bothered her more than she cared to admit. She backed up, loosened up, brushed her finger against her nose in a subconscious gesture which had meaning only because she'd seen it in TV, and bolted for the wall.

Her first attempt was not a success.

Zoë was going to be a dancer. That was her mother's dream for her. She checked her nails, instinctively. Safe. "Maybe somebody heard inside and they've got pitchforks or something. Or worse, they'll kill you with a fucking Theremin." This was getting undignified. All this sneaking around. The front of her jacket was grimy now and her hair was coming undone. She shrugged. Knock? "Why not?" She ran more grisly situations through her brain. Imagine the worst. Give it length and breadth and height and a name and set it loose on your mind so when the kooks inside turn out to be very pleasant kooks, you can be Pleasantly Surprised. Zoë's mother was probably the only person in Christendom who didn't believe Zoë personally ate sunshine and farted rainbows.

"So," she reasoned, approaching the door, "As long as mum isn't in there, how bad can it be?" She knocked on the door.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bellwether




A few years back I caught about half of a documentary on...The Sundance Channel? I think it was the Sundance Channel, so this was of course back when I had so many channels they could afford to be named after Western characters. At any rate, the film in question was Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy (which, by the way, came out a full three years before the similarly-titled Anchorman and is also, like I said, a documentary.) The last half of the film more or less devotes itself to Jeremy's attempts to break in to mainstream cinema with meager success. The man was (and is) a household name, but in trying to get parts in Hollywood pictures he wound up playing himself or some Ron Jeremy-type (or, in the case of The Boondock Saints, a cameo where he gets quickly murdered). Eventually he went back to the thing he does best, though taking time to pop up occasionally at three in the morning for bizarre infomercials about MALE. ENHANCEMENT.

He wouldn't be the last to try and make the ascent. Traci Lords (okay, so I have a hard time telling who among these are household names and who I just know) had a brief stab at a Legitimate Television Career when she starred in the (reputedly quite fucking lame) SciFi Channel series 'First Wave' back in the 90's and has been slumming it (well, that's relative...and gee, there are a lot of parentheses, aren't there?) in B-Movies and occasional TV bit parts.

And so now there's Sasha Grey. Grey's coming along at a time when porn and porn culture is at an all-time high in terms of visibility, when niche cable outlets like G4 devote segments of their shows to the industry and send news teams to the Adult Entertainment Expo. Premiere Magazine sent David Foster Wallace, of all people, to the Adult Video Awards. Grey's starring in a film by Steven Soderbergh, who is nothing to sneeze at. So is she a bellwether? Or just a canary?

I'm thinking this over because I saw the movie this evening. It was good. Sasha Grey, while by no means Meryl Streep or anything, avoids the cliche of the Porn Actress Who Really, Really Can't Act to Save Her Life or the Lives of Others. She plays Chelsea as a guarded, vulnerable person trying to navigate a world where everyone wants a piece of her, and the one time she lets her barriers down, well...wouldn't you know it.

But as Soderbergh pictures go, this isn't Oceans 25 or something, this is one of his smaller pictures, and Grey, let's face it, is playing it pretty close to type in the role as a professional escort. If she was starring opposite some giant robots, for instance, then maybe she'd have a chance, but this has all the potential to be a mere flash in the pan, a historical footnote in America's long dark back-of-the-cupboard relationship with its sexuality and depictions thereof.

Though to quote porn-industry blog fleshbot (link NSFW)

"If anything, we suspect that Sasha is attempting to remake the notion of what a mainstream star is, and does-much the way she's remade any notions of what an 18-year-old pornstar looks and sounds like .... it's also possible that Sasha could rise to fame in the mainstream cinema while continuing to work as an adult star-perhaps completely remaking our notions of what it means to have crossover appeal."


Time will tell. But giant robots surely would have helped.

Repurposed Image #1*




Twilight on Titan, beneath the terraforming mists. Perpetual, unending twilight that casts no shadows. They were together, once.




*picture from a professional skywatcher, attempting to catch the apparently newfound 'asperatus' cloud.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Poetic License to Kill

What do you suppose the protocol is for telling someone you based a character on them? Or that one was at least inspired? And what are the legal ramifications, I wonder? Obviously famous people don't count. If you're in the public eye, if you're Paris Hilton or Al Gore, then the boys from South Park can make crude paper cutouts of you and mock you to their hearts' content. But you gotta wonder...

Two characters in The Big Lebowski are based on real people. (I know, it came as a shock to me too). They are Jeff "The Dude" Dowd and "Big Lew" Abernathy. Bridges modeled The cinematic Dude's speaking patterns on those of the real Dude, and the incident with the carpet pissers and the car theft are based loosely on real-life events that happened to Peter Exline, a film professor at USC.

All writers cannibalize their lives for the sake of fiction. But you gotta wonder what the dinner party conversations are like after the fact. I think all my friends secretly believe I'm clandestinely researching their every move, filling quires of notebook paper with quips and quirks and quiet observations. And what if I am? And what if they don't like it? How's this jibe with my natural tendency to try and ameliorate every situation I come in touch with?

It's a conundrum. I think Philip Roth said you gotta burn all your bridges as a novelist, though I strongly suspect he didn't use the word "gotta." We'll see, I guess. Blasted thing probably won't even see the light of day.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Peevish

Oh, blog. How I have missed you. How I have totally failed to update, all through this, the merry merry month of May. I took my job because it seemed at the time to be low stress, easy work. Could come home to write, could spend work time thinking about writing. Not so much, as it turns out, especially lately.

Oh, well.

One of my biggest pet peeves (WAY ahead of awkward segues) is the phrase "words can't describe." As in there are no words capable of describing how you feel. Bullshit. Or cop out at the very least. Just because you don't know the words doesn't mean someone didn't think one up for this very situation in which you find yourself. Saying there aren't words is a cheap way of implying an emotional punch to a situation without, say, finding a fucking dictionary.

Maybe that's just me. I love obscure words. And, in keeping with something I used to do on my LJ way back when, I'm here to impart more of that love to you.

Let's start with my favorite: floccinaucinihilipification. The longest word in the English language that does not contain the letter "e." Floccinaucinihilipification is the act of judging something to be worthless, and it has an interesting pedigree, etymology-wise. It's got four root words smooshed together: flocci, from floccus, a piece of wool (which had a figurative meaning in Latin as something worthless); nauci, from naucum, a trifle; nihil, meaning nothing; and pili, from pilus, a hair, a whit, something tiny and worthless. The story goes that someone 'round the 18th century combined the four roots. First use of the word in print occurs around 1741. Which also of course means that if, IF, there isn't a word out there for you, you can always coin one.

Floccillation, by the way, is in pathology the delirious picking at bedclothes by a patient, which goes back to the wool-related root word, picking as one would at wool.

Enantiodromia is the adoption of a set of beliefs opposite to the ones you previously held.

To rassaasy is to satisfy a hungry person and someone who blames themselves rather than others is intropunitive.

More to follow in coming weeks. Most of the words I got for this list I took from the book Word Nerd, by Barbara Kipfer. Check it out; it's a hoot.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kcarab Amabo?

Has President Obama been replaced with a double from the Evil Universe? I understand that to get elected, Barack Obama had to take the slow boat from the left back to the political center, but this? Reinstating the military tribunals, backpedaling on the Abu Ghraib photos, this is near Bush-levels of douchiness. I can only assume that he's been replaced by a pod person, an evil clone, or an evil alternate from an evil dimension full of evil.

Of course Dick Cheney is also in the news this week and in the news to give his opinion and not in the news because he is being publicly fucking executed, so maybe we've been living in the evil universe all this time.

I understand the sentiment about not wanting to release the torture photos on the grounds that it might put our troops more in harm's way, but not to sound callous, they're already in harm's way. And instituting a retroactive cover-up, especially for photos you've already said aren't as awful as the ones which already made it out, just makes us look bad. This is not the way we as Americans should conduct ourselves, and it certainly isn't the way for the current administration to distance itself from the policies of the previous administration. The logic of this is unfathomable to me; I'm forced to invent increasingly implausible scenarios whereby an intelligent, right-thinking good man would stoop so low as to thinking ideas that George W. Bush had were good ones. Right now I'm on crab people.

State Your Predestination

Oh, Miles. Will you ever stop being awesome? This past Wednesday, Lost aired its season-5 finale. I am blogging about it. There are spoilers. You have been warned.

Of course every yahoo with an Internet connection and one of these here web-logs has probably already prognosticated about the various ins and outs of Season 5's "The Incident" two-parter, from the (disappointing, at least for now) reveal of Jacob and his ideological opposite to my being totally wrong about Ilana and her boys being DHARMA bums. (Oh, well. I was right about Fringe and I can safely stay smug about that for another day or two.)

I don't really care about that. Most of the episode, up to and including the surprise deaths (one of which was unfortunately unintentionally HILARIOUS) that usually attend these things, was about moving pieces into place for season 6. What interests me though is that line from Miles, snarky as always, positing that Jack with all his faith in Faraday's science, is going to come around and actually cause the incident he's trying to prevent.

What interests me is this show's apparent take on time travel vs. free will. I'm a big fan of science fiction, as anybody can tell you, and sci fi, at least when it tries to market itself to the masses, has to take this cushy notion that our free will overrides the law of the universe. Think Back to the Future. Marty McFly goes back in time and because he has free will, because he has agency, he fucks up the universe by accidentally making out with his Mom, then fixes the universe by helping his Dad stop being a complete milquetoast.

Sorry if I just also spoiled Back to the Future for you.

The point is I can name at least a dozen other movie and TV time-travel escapades which all follow this pattern. Hell, it happens again in Back to the Future II for God's sake, with Doc Brown on hand to give us a tidy lecture on the creation of alternate realities. This is easy. It fits our instincts. I've had one reputable physicist explain to me that I can't actually hit a cue ball back through a wormhole and hit the eight ball in the past. That I would be physically prevented from actually altering the past, even if I could travel there, which, okay, is probably impossible anyway.

Sorry. That sentence got away from me a bit there. Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. Jack, I think, and by extension Faraday, is wildly delusional when he thinks his purpose in being thrown back in time is to stop the event that got him started on the path that eventually put him back in time. It's like the Terminator, right? The Terminator travels back in time to kill Sarah Connor so she can't give birth to the future Anti-Robot Jesus. Only Anti-Robot Jesus of the future sends a soldier back to stop the Terminator. The soldier impregnates Sarah Connor, because apparently you have time to do that sort of thing when you're on the run from an evil Austrian robot. So the Terminator's caught in a loop. He gets sent back to change something and ends up causing it.

But what if he succeeded? And what if Jack succeeded? It's the headache of time travel, it's why we invent whole parallel universes around the outcomes of our decisions. If Jack's bomb cancels out the EM effect that caused his plane to crash, then Jack isn't around to, five seasons later, get whisked back to 1977 to detonate the bomb to cancel out the EM effect...you get the idea.

Of course the problem with this time travel logic is that it has the effect of robbing your time travel story of any urgency. If your Killer Austrian Robot is always stopped, if Biff never becomes super-rich, if the plane never crashes, then all we're doing is going through the motions.

I think this whole thing can be viewed through the prism of an earlier episode, "Whatever Happened, Happened." Sayid shoots kid-Ben, reasoning that if kid-Ben snuffs it in 1977, he can never do all the terrible things that adult-Ben will do that put Sayid on his path, the path that tells him shooting a thirteen-year old is a good idea. Same with Jack. Jack's not gonna stitch him up, so Kate and Saywer take kid-Ben to Richard, and pretty much guarantee the little boy's going to grow up a Class A Creepy Fuck.

This has nothing to do with physics. Jack and Sayid and Kate and Sawyer still have their free will intact. It has to do with determinism. Everything that happened to Sayid up to the point that he pulls the trigger made him what he is, made him the man to pull that trigger. Same with the others. The chains we wear are of our own making. That's a heck of a statement for a TV show to make, I think. To say that the fate of the world rests on the fact that we simply cannot change our stripes. And that's what destiny is, then. The inexorable march of history, political and personal, toward the end. And there is, as Jacob says, only one end. Everything up 'till then is progress.

I guess we'll see in January.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Stars My Destination

My earliest memory is a fragment. I am sitting in the back seat of my father's car. I am three years old. My father and my mother and I are at the drive-in. I am staring up at the screen, enthralled. The movie in question is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Captain Kirk has arrived in Spock's quarters to find his friend Dr. McCoy there, burdened as it turns out with the carrying of his dead friend's soul. He speaks to Kirk in Spock's voice.

I was a Trekkie from an early age.

Appropo of the film itself, let's indulge in a little time travel. It's 2005. Star Trek: Enterprise has just been canceled, the fifth Star Trek TV series and the first since the franchise was relaunched to be canceled before its seven-season run ended. Enterprise lasted just four years. Three years earlier, the tenth film, Nemesis, stumbled in to theaters a colossal disappointment. The franchise appeared near dead. So someone advances the notion, something that had been around since 1991, of recasting the original series crew, of telling the story of them at their old academy days. Years go by, and finally, finally this idea starts to get some traction.

I was ambivalent to this idea from the start. Of course it made sense, rebrand your product using its most famous names. And ever since the first movie went to screens ten years after the original show was canceled, Star Trek has always been a movie series about, well, older people, and that just doesn't sell. Still, I didn't like the idea of someone stepping in to the venerable shoes of Captain Kirk, a man, however fictional, who was a big part of my life growing up.

Then came that trailer.



So I'm a trailer slut. What can I say? I was hooked.

Tonight I saw Star Trek. And let me tell ya: awesome. I should admit if it's not obvious by now that I'm incapable of being objective about this film, of reviewing it in the context of a film. I would not be an impartial juror. So let me tell you what I think in the context a hundred million other geeks are even now: how this film fits in with my childhood.

This movie is epic. From the first space battle to those two words, larger than life on the big screen, we are bombarded with massive sets, lots of punches, monsters, phaser fire being thrown here and there, guys jumping from space on to a big platform thing, planets in peril. One thing Star Trek never really had much of was scope, and that's a major benefit here. In their hopes of catering to a wider audience, director JJ Abrams and the producers of the film did what Americans have done best for decades: they threw millions and millions of dollars at the thing and it turned out it worked greatly to their advantage.

Really, it's hard for me to say anything bad about it, which seems to make writing out any sort of a review next to impossible. The film achieves what it sets out to achieve, and it does it in spades.

I wasn't sure about either Simon Pegg for Scotty or Karl Urban for McCoy, but both simply throw themselves in to their roles. Urban in particular cultivates DeForest Kelly's speech patterns, doing a dead-on impression without lapsing in to parody. Pegg is a delight. He isn't all that Scotty-like, but he's a fantastic comedian and he more than makes up for it. Chris Pine gets saddled with playing Kirk, and he wisely steers completely clear of Shatner's. Unique. Linedelivery! Zachary Quinto does great as Spock.

It's funny, too, in a naturalistic way that Star Trek has rarely managed well. The original series could be pretty amusing at times (some times not at all intentionally), but by the time the spinoff shows rolled around, the franchise seemed a bit stately and stolid and incapable of making any jokes that were not forced. (I'm looking at you, every single "funny" Deep Space Nine episode.) Here there are funny bits, quick quips thrown in as the film shoots along at its breakneck pace, but never in a way that distracts from the central danger.

And Leonard Nimoy comes back. In a move designed to tie this film in to the established Trek continuity, Nimoy's Spock is back from the future (well, further in the future anyway) trying to stop some other guys from the future from messing with history. It sounds complicated, and the exposition that Nimoy has to deliver is a bit of a stumbling block in the film's second act, briefly slowing to a crawl the movie's previously warp-speed pacing. But the film adroitly picks up steam again and you know all you need to know. Bad guy. Big gun. Gonna blow up Earth.

Of all the elements of the film, Nimoy's involvement caused me the most trepidation. It seemed like a good idea to simply make a clean break from the established history of the show, and putting on a guy who was in it 40 years ago does not seem the way to do that. I could easily see it turning prospective casual viewers off the idea. But the arrival of Future Spock is handled pretty gracefully and the film makes all-or-nothing significant breaches from established continuity. I see this as a good thing. David Gerrold (who wrote 'Trouble with Tribbles' for the show in '67) called Trek's continuity adherence (and, really, any TV show's) "hardening of the arteries." You establish a thing is done one way in one episode, it has to be done that way again, and pretty soon you've closed off a lot of your options. This film leaves the playing field wide open.

Humbug. Good reviews are no fun. Is there anything bad to say about this movie? I hated the sets for one thing, too "Apple Store." Overly contemporary designs have a way of dating themselves almost immediately. And there are a couple of instances of truly bizarre product placement. Apparently both Nokia and Budweiser are going to be around in three hundred years.

These are minor quibbles. And even speaking as a fan I think that non-fans will get plenty of enjoyment out of it. Subtract the numerous references to the original show and you still get a great adventure movie, and the original Star Trek at least is so culturally well known that the movie's "I'm a doctor, not a..."s and Logic vs. Emotion stuff won't fly over the heads of too many people who don't live in caves.

A fun time was had by all.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Police Cops

I was watching Lost the other night. There was a cop show following, a not-entirely-unenjoyable cop show at that, but it got me and my friend thinking: just how many cop shows are on the air? After perusing imdb's TV listings, I've come up with the following list:

Forensic Science Shows:
CSI: Original Recipe
CSI: Miami
CSI: New York
NCIS

Cop Shows:
Castle
Life
The Unusuals
Flashpoint
Southland
Cold Case

Shows about the FBI:
Fringe
The Mentalist

Bones
Criminal Minds
Numb3rs
Without a Trace

Law and Order variations:

L&O: Original Recipe
L&O: SVU
L&O: CI

For convenience's sake I'm sticking to broadcast networks (sorry, The Closer and Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye). Nineteen shows, spread out over the course of a week. That's almost three a day, for those of you playing Basic Arithmetic, the Home Game. So I had a thought. A once-in-a-lifetime Primetime TV event: Every cop show, every night, every network. Different teams, different approaches, but they all must solve the exact same murder.

Not a crossover. Rather, here's how it works: With only minor geographic changes, the story of, let's say, a prominent investment banker who was beaten to death with a name-brand shoe outside The West 43rd Savings and Loan. His money is in his pocket, this was no robbery. Now, each show's crack detective team, from CSI Miami's Horatio Caine and his sunglasses and crappy one-liners to Fringe's Walter Bishop and his mind control swimming pool, must each interview the suspects, uncover the evidence, make with the snarky, and solve the murder. Every cop show, every night.

You could have big-name guest stars, real method guys who'd have no problem putting the exact same spin on the exact same murder case, night after night, for what amounts to the better part of three weeks. We'd become familiar with their ins and outs. CSI's crew obsesses over tiny shards of glass while Bones Feds deal with the impact of Nike tread on someone's skull and The Mentalist himself gets all wiggy with potential suspects.

Each suspect is asked the same questions, slightly differently. The jokes are new, the banter and the b-plots of course there to keep us interested, since by Monday night we all know the score. But it's fun to watch them, dancing over and around the same evidence, coming to the same conclusions at just the last second, sparing the innocent man and damning the guilty. Upholding justice. Saving the day, every day.

It'd be awesome.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Waiting in the Sky

Gather 'round, children, to hear the tale from the halcyon days of the mid-nineties, a time when money flowed like wine, wine flowed like even more wine, and the national debt was something Chris Rock made fun of in ads for KFC. Gather 'round to hear of the Greatest Superhero Movie you'll never see. Gather 'round to hear of Starman.

No. Not the movie with The Dude. Or the short-lived TV show with the guy from 'Airplane.' No, to tell the story of the Starman, we'll have to take a trip back to 1940, with DC's 'Adventure Comics.'

By 1940, superheroes were a solid win for the comics industry, pushing the western, aviation and detective stories farther back in to the support columns. Along with debuting their first superhero group, the Justice Society, DC unveiled a few new characters, among them Ted Knight, the Starman.

Ted's thing was that he was a millionaire playboy. Heard that before? Well, this time he's a millionaire playboy astronomer, one who designed a mechanical rod powered by cosmic energy. In true comic book form, Ted takes his invention, which easily could have revolutionized the energy industry, and dons some tights and beats the crap out of people with it. Starman was born.



And he was kind of generic. He had a cool gadget, but so did the Green Lantern, he was a millionaire playboy and a scientist, but comics were full of millionaire playboys who didn't have to pull double-duty on the telescope circuit. Poor Ted's adventures didn't quite make it out of the Fifties.

Ah, but they had the name, and a string of reboots and recharacterizations followed. Oh, to be a second-stringer in the DCU.

Which brings us to 1994. As part of a plan to revitalize some of its underused names, DC decided to relaunch Starman. Of these reboots, it would be the only one that would take.



That guy in the goggles, that's our boy. Jack. The son of the original Starman. And here's where the plot of the Unmade Movie comes in to play. Jack doesn't start out wanting to be Starman. His brother's doing fine with the job and he and Jack don't get along. That's right up until Davey is snipered from a rooftop and the city erupts in flames. The Mist, Ted's old nemesis from the Forties is back, and he's got his own kids in tow, the vicious, murdering Kyle and the shrinking violet Nash.

Thrust in to the whole adventuring thing, and eager to avenge the death of his brother, Jack comes face to face first with Nash, who lets him go and later with the old man himself and Kyle, who killed his brother. Jack kills Kyle and the police nab both The Mist and Nash.

Boom. There's your first movie. Only Nash, she goes a bit crazy. She busts out of jail and proceeds to terrorize Jack and the city. And this is where it gets good, really. These two characters, two superheroes, are trapped in this cycle of violence started by their parents. In his seven years running the title, James Robinson deftly reinvented what it means to be a costumed hero and the pervasive nature of violence. Also, the man clearly loved comic books.



There was going to be a Starman TV show on the WB back when Smallville was first starting out and was a big hit, but the other superhero show on WB, Birds of Prey, tanked and the Starman idea was left to one side. Too bad. He's still out there, Hollywood. Waiting in the sky.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Live from 1978

When it was announced that Battlestar Galactica was coming back to the screen, fans of the original 1970's show were up in arms about the new version robbing them of their childhood memories of lunchboxes and playsets and the show's lovable robot dogs.

All that evaporated pretty quickly, and the show went on to spawn two mostly fruitless attempts to put a new spin on old saws The Bionic Woman and Knight Rider. BW was canceled after eight episodes, I think, and New-KITT has gone gently in to that good Knight. (If you think that's bad, take a look at the episode titles for that show). Now, I myself was irked because it seemed like my favorite show at the time, Farscape, was being canceled to make way for BSG, but, like the fans of Galactica Original Recipe, my ire died pretty quickly upon seeing the finished product.

I was actually surprised to find out later that many of my friends had never even seen the original show (its heyday was a couple years before any of us were born), and some of them even came to the new show years after the original fan anger died down. For them, I dedicate the following run through Youtube:

The original series' theme, as narrated by The Avengers Patrick McNee:



And the only clip I could seem to find of Dirk Benedict's 'Starbuck.' Both Benedict and Original Apollo Richard Hatch came out against the show at first and while Hatch turned around and wound up cast as Tom Zarek, Hatch rebuffed Moore's attempts to get him on the show and wrote a pretty sexist article for I think Dark Horizons or something about the gender-switching on Starbuck and Boomer.



Sadly, Youtube seems to be sparse on fans of the original (either that or there was another TV industry-mandated culling of TV show clips). I found a bunch of clips, though these have been fan-edited to spruce up the special effects slightly. Still: fun stuff.



And one more, the 70's origin of the Cylons as narrated by Lorne Greene's Commander Adama:



Full episodes of the show's first season (it had two, and an ill-fated spinoff, Galactica 1980) are available on hulu. I might actually watch the whole series one day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her

I started on Atlas Shrugged, at the behest of a friend. Now, normally I wouldn't choose to write about my feelings on a book until I'd finished the thing, but at present this blog has a dearth of things to write about, I'm going to chronicle my progress through this fucker.

I'm about seventy pages in. I've had the book a week. It takes me a while to get inertia started on any new novel, but that's neither here nor there. I had to read The Fountainhead in High School and I say "had to" because I found certain aspects of the plot to be morally reprehensible and in general Randian Objectivism (as though it comes in other flavors, I dunno) to be contrary to every natural instinct I've ever had in my life. Or maybe it's more the Objectivists, and the Conservatives who now who use Fountainhead and in particular Atlas Shrugged as clarion calls like they use the parts of the Bible and the Constitution that appeal to their vision of the world as shaped through Institutionalized Assholery.

Obviously I came to this tome with some baggage. Which was sort of the point for me. Because it's my friend's favorite novel, I felt I owed the thing a second chance, to take it on its own terms rather than through the prism of my own prejudices or through legions of line-quoting fucktards. Objectively.

Spoiler alert: Did I meet John Galt already?

Seventy pages in and here's what I can tell you. The lady likes the obvious dialogues. And cyphers. These two devices in tandem are slowly building up her philosophy, and that's fine. Speaking of John Galt, I like the way they're setting him up. He's not even a person yet, he's a cultural artifact, a saying, something in the background. Rand is fairly clever in the way she parses out information, and I'm willing to see where she goes with this.

We're setting up two sides, the people who are competent and the people who are largely incompetent. And the competent people, while not uniformly of the same viewpoint, are all squarely on the opposite side of the morons, who seem to parrot the same lines interchangeably.

This is where the book doesn't quite work for me. Rand portrays these titans of industry as wanting to share, and being concerned with keeping up the status quo, and of being frightened and repulsed by the idea of making any more money than their station in life already allows for. I have to call foul on this. From my experience at least, this isn't how the world works and it isn't how the powerful stay powerful.

Still. The book has potential. More to follow.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica miniseries




One of my favorite TV programs, the superlative Battlestar Galactica, ended its run last Friday. Now, one of my only complaints--though, sadly, a major one, was that the Sci Fi channel, in its infinite wisdom and foresight, saw fit to hack the program to pieces, splitting up both seasons 2 and 4 in twain, and leaving fans as much as a year to sit on their hands waiting for the show's return. It was hard to keep interest in the show, let alone catch some of its subtler character arcs. Case in point, the genial, slightly incompetent, officer-turned-mad-bomber Captain Kelly.






Kelly starts out as effectively third in command of the ship. By season 2 he's a poor-man's Apollo (if you don't know the show, just roll with it. All Will Be Explained). By the end of season 3 he's planted a bomb under a space shuttle, and mid-way through season 4 he's redeemed. And this is a one-off character, somebody whose total appearances I more or less just chronicled. So instead of getting any satisfaction out of his story progression, I'm forever like that guy in Memento, facing a case of "Hey, it's that guy, what's he do?" every time I watch the program.

So I decided, not too long after the last shot had been fired on BSG, to rewatch the whole show. To see Adama, Starbuck, Tigh, and the whole gang over again without the yawning chasm of time between seasons and bits of seasons. I can't promise anything more eloquent or intelligible than the reams of material already written about this show, but I can promise it'll be captured in my own inimitable style, that is unless I'm too tired.

So. The miniseries.

Did they say frack? "Frack" became a euphemism for "fuck" during the show's run, and a pretty effective one. It's the hard "k" sound at the end. Satisfying. But I don't remember it in the mini.

The ship is pristine! And, really, so is everybody. Hard times ahead. The show was almost uniformly bleak throughout, and really the pilot is no exception, but at least they have running water and food that isn't algae.

Both Edward James Olmos and Michael Hogan's performances are slightly different in this than what they evolve in to later, and I'm talking here about voices. They have a softer, less gravely quality I'd come to associate with their characters.

Katee Sackhoff has a tattoo on the back of her neck. Also she is awesome as Starbuck, from day one.

A number of overt references to the 1978 show are present here, which at the time were meant to appease the classic series' fans, who thought this was an abomination. After practically every news program (including my beloved All Things Considered) ran bits on this show last week, it's hard to remember that at the time, this show was a risky proposition and there was at least some group of folks that were vehemently opposed to it.

The pilot was produced as a TV miniseries, what in TV terms is referred to as a "back door pilot." That's a show that tells you it's a movie but is secretly testing the waters to see if people will watch these folks again for an hour each week. It would be a year before the first batch of episodes made it to the network. You can tell the moment (and this is true of most TV pilots, front or back) where it stops being a movie and starts informing you on the premise of the show, and this is also the point where BSG begins to abandon its overt connections to the classic show. There is no planet Earth, not really. Commander Adama, who as the series progresses will become one of its most staunch atheists, has woven a homespun faith about a place to settle. It's not enough to live, he says. There has to be something to live for. And considering what these people have in store for them, he's damned right.