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


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 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.