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Friday, November 30, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final Release 

When figuring out how to approach this review, I was reminded of the Penny Arcade comic strip about the perils of reviewing classic video games. “Here’s your review,” says Tycho, speaking about a hypothetical critique of Pac Man. “It is ****ing Pac Man!” So it goes for Blade Runner: its methods and language are so entrenched in the modern movie vernacular that it is simply impossible to review the film in its original context, sans baggage. Either you’ve seen it and you know how you feel about it, or you haven’t and you don’t. To both parties I say: see this re-release. Even if you don’t like the movie one bit, its status as a massively influential classic is absolutely unquestionable. If you care about movies at all, you will take this chance to see it on the silver screen. It really is that simple.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Handy Guide. 

How I Feel 95% of the Time:

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How I Feel the Other 5%:

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(All images courtesy Achewood, of course.)

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

There needs to be some kind of bar exam to practice criticism. 

News flash: dumb fundie watches horror movie, completely misreads subtext:

I can't post a complete review here until late Tuesday Night, but the fact is that, in "The Mist," the biggest villain besides a mysterious mist produced by (who else?) the military (guess King doesn't like our troops so much either) is a Christian woman, who wears her religion on her sleeve. Played by Marcia Gay Harden, the Christian woman resembles the Fred Phelps folks from the Westboro Baptist Church who protest at troops' funerals and shriek our troops deserve to die because of our sins. This woman echoes them and blames the plaugue of the mist (and the monsters it spawns) on our sins. Among them, she cites abortion and stem cell research. And she causes the murder--the "sacrifice"--of innocent soldiers. Just like the Phelps team.
Here, Schlussel almost gets it -- note key use of the word "almost" -- by recognizing that Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody is in fact from the shrieking pack of crazies, and not from anything resembling the mainstream of Christianity. (Indeed, her denomination is never even given; one suspects this is is not for posterity but because Carmody is the type to read only what she wants to read, without the intrusive interpretations of others. Hold up; my Irony Meter just exploded.)

But then:

Um, here's a newsflash: Conservatives and religious Christians detest the Phelps crew of protestors. We don't agree with them. And we're not like them, no matter what Stephen King thinks.
I would dearly love to see Schlussel's citations where King equates Carmody with all conservative Christians. (By the way, what's a "religious Christian"?) I don't get it; didn't she just get done saying (correctly) that Carmody is all about The Crazy, and not about the mainstream?

But already there were several problems with the argument. It's not that King "has a problem with the troops" -- I guess Schlussel missed the parts where the G.I. is one of the major heroes -- but that he distrusts the military's paymasters. "Science as Pandora's Box" is a long-standing theme of King's, perhaps the theme, and its mark can be felt anywhere from The Mist to The Dark Tower series to his ultimate statement on the subject, The Stand. The majesty of science weaponized for destructive ends -- man, why would a guy raised on science-gone-wrong '50's horror/sci-fi movies and novels have a problem with something like that? It's worth noting that in the original novella, the project leaders responsible for the whole mess are also responsible for a spat of other horrible doings in King's universe; see Firestarter. Even if they claim to be "the military" or "the government" and wear the proper uniforms, they are still bad people. Joining the military does not mean one is automatically an angel. It means one is 18.

And, of course, King also has a long-standing theme about the dangers of "poison religion," as he phrases it in The Gunslinger. (Note for cherry-picking fundies: "poison religion" means religion distorted toward poisonous ends, not all religion is poison.) King doesn't like fanaticism, doesn't like how it turns people against each other, how it uses fear to turn us into base creatures, how it makes us less than the sum of our parts when we need our strength most. It's a theme he shares with George Romero, as I cited in my review. Given that King's life experience is rural Maine, and that the vast majority of his stories take place in that same setting, it only makes sense that he'd use the native brand of fanaticism -- warped, distorted half-readings of Christianity -- as the go-to archetype of choice. You don't see a lot of "Allah Akbar!" in Bangor, you know what I'm saying?

But of course King knows no single religion (or secular organization containing more than, oh, one person) has a monopoly on fanaticism; fanaticism is sadly endemic to the human condition. It's sort of sad that grown adults smart enough to string a sentence together don't understand this.

The comments are about what you'd expect. King is attacked (retroactively, as The Mist was written in '79/'80) for having problems with organized religion, which (again) any sane person would, and for not attacking Islam enough. Take this one:

Being a typical Lefty Boomer that he is, the "organized religion" that creeps him out, is only the Western religions, of course (Christian, Catholic, Baptist, Seventh Day, Mormon, etc.), but never makes even a peep about Islam.
Now, King has never said anything of the kind, but let's not let pesky facts get in the way of some seriously juicy speculation. I take issue with "OldSchoolW"'s definition of "Western" religion. (Ditto his grammar, which I had to clean up; the editor in me could not stomach a sic.) "Western" religion in the actual sense of the phrase includes Islam, as it is one of the three Abrahamic traditions. It's basically Christianity's rambunctious younger brother. What he thinks of as "Western" religion is more like what came after the East/West Catholic Church split, so I guess OldSchoolW would be okay if King's next villain was a Greek Orthodox Christian.

I have never understood the fetishism for victimhood that many conservative Christians have. Western Christianity (hooray proper usage!) currently benefits from the widest and most pervasive cultural hegemony in the history of the world, but these folks still act as if they're on the defensive. They are astonished, astonished, that fiction might portray a group that claims over a billion members with drastically different ideologies as having the occasional bad apple.

I say all this as a kinda-sorta Christian myself. But putting the Member's Only coat on doesn't blind me to the fact that many people who wear the same label have absolutely nothing in common with me, and have ideologies I find repugnant or even contrary to the label. They are my "brothers," as anyone is, but they are also still people... and all that that entails. It is because of this -- I like to call it "basic awareness," or alternately "not being a total fucking moron" -- that I am able to take lessons from the Mrs. Carmody character without thinking I'm being personally attacked, or that the magical tally card of "fairness" (in this context, meaning "in my favor") is out of whack.

To sum up: Schlussel is a fucking idiot, and she needs to get the hell away from my movies.

(Link cred to Lartigue.)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stephen King's The Mist 

The Mist is a zombie movie without all the zombies. Of course, the best zombie movies (Romero’s, 28 Weeks Later, even Shaun of the Dead) aren’t really about the zombies at all. The zombies are just the pressure, a faceless reminder of the inevitability of an ugly, unsentimental demise. It’s really about the people, you see, and how slowly (or quickly) civility get thrown out the window when the survival instinct overpowers rational thought. So goes The Mist. When it focuses on the people – melodramatic though they may be – it’s at its best. It’s when the monsters come charging out of the mist that things get a little wonky.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For the three or four people who still read this thing... 

Should I change to one of Blogger's pre-defined templates? I like having the banner up top and everything, but I've just recently realized how huge the text is, and the general old-clunkiness of it. I have no gift for HTML myself, so a change would mean something relatively generic.

Any thoughts?

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Monday, November 12, 2007

TV's Frank on the WGA strike. 

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

I won't stop till the AMPTP stops being putzes. 

The supreme irony here is that the tool best suited to spreading the word of the WGA is the internet, one of the two sticking points in the negotiation between that guild and the AMPTP. I suppose it's up to us to show what the internet is capable of. Not a lot, in most cases... but here we can do different. This shit matters, people. Silence is unacceptable.

Some info follows.

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John August explains what residuals are, and why WGA members get residuals while other occupations and industries do not. Good for refuting the inane "do plumbers get paid every time you flush?" line of argument.

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Mark Evanier also clears up some misconceptions about residuals in clear, concise terms.

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Here's a video if you're more of a visual learner:




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Mark Harris, whom I believe to be one of the best industry analysts going:

"It's a shame that the WGA so neglected its own image in the weeks leading up to the strike, since it has led too many observers to embrace the laziest kind of neutrality — a position that sneers at the hyperbole of both sides, and in so doing suggests that the writers and producers are somehow equally far from reason — that a magical midpoint of compromise could be found if everyone would just calm down. That's not what's going on here. The writers may be conflicted and prickly, but they're also right. The studios and networks are wrong. And yes, when you strip everything else away, it really is that simple."

(More.)

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John Rogers lays it out eloquently, then knocks down some of the stupider counter-arguments to make the rounds. Check the comments, too. (I knock down some of the other stupid counter-arguments in the comments of this post.)

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Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards have made statements in support of the WGA. They have not, of course, given back any money given to them by higher-ups in the entertainment industry, or perhaps used some of those donations to help feed the strikers or people in related industries (caterers, costume designers, etc.) who will soon be out of work as a result.

Make that change. It is a Democratic principle to stand by unions; they need to put their money where their mouth is if they want to lay claim to the party name.

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While you're at it, let some theater chains know that you're going to be spending your money elsewhere until the AMPTP wises up. Don't harass local franchises; go right for corporate.

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Go to fans4writers.com (founded by Whedon fans, who I made fun of not too long ago) to find out how to politely but persistently tell the studios what your stance on the matter is.

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Here's a list of advertisers for the major networks, complete with contact information. Let them know how you feel about the studio's treatment of writers on their dime.

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CSI's David Rambo on where you can donate:

"Thank you so much for your support. It's very much appreciated.

The WGA currently has a $12 million strike fund. However, the people who will need assistance as this drags on longer are those in film and TV who don't have access to the strike fund: the office assistants, crew members and actors. They will really need the help to be able to continue in support of our strike, and there's no fund for them. There is, however, a wonderful 125-year old nonprofit organization that provides direct, confidential assistance to all entertainment professionals in need, such as those I just mentioned. It's called the Actors Fund, and you can find out more or make a donation through their website: http://www.actorsfund.org/

If you do donate, let the Actors Fund know that your contribution is in support of those affected by the writers strike. They'll appreciate it, and so will I."

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Some rather telling video clips from the six media companies' head honchos. It seems they weren't always so confused and uncertain about how digital distribution would make them money.



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They actually cancelled 24 over this? I have never been more convinced this strike was the right idea.

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Fearless #1, Y the Last Man #59 

Fearless #1:

Now, here’s a comic that seems to have nailed a good formula for investigating the root appeal of the superhero comic, or at least its “empowerment” aspect. Rich heir Adam Rygert is positively crippled by anxiety in his normal life, but thank god “normal life” isn’t all he’s confined to. Through the requisite connection to a reclusive genius, Adam dons the full-body suit of his alter ego Fear. The suit, appropriately enough, pumps his system with a gas that makes him fearless. Hiding his identity, removing himself from consequence, is what gives Adam his bravery.

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Y the Last Man #59:

We’ve got one issue to go in Y the Last Man, one of DC Vertigo’s few long-lasting series in the post-Transmetropolitan and Preacher era. But the way long-form comic stories are told (six-issue arcs in these latter days, designed to set up and conclude smaller stories while progressing the meta-narrative), we are actually deep into epilogue territory. The main thrust of the story – the central question of “why?” at the heart of the man-killing plague mystery – is over and done with. We have our MacGuffin closure. These final issues are about wrapping up the characters. This is at least as important as the “actual” conclusion. In an ideal serial storytelling scenario, the story hook lures us in, and the characters keep us coming back.

Here there be spoilers:

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Re: Your Brains 


By Jonathan Coulton.

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Fred Claus, No Country for Old Men 

Fred Claus:

I wonder if at any point during filming Swingers Vince Vaughn thought his career might take him here. “Here” is Fred Claus, a land of candy cane lane sets, green-screened elves, and Paul Giamatti in a fat suit. It’s not a bad “here,” just a curious one; what casting director looked at the guy’s work in Wedding Crashers, Psycho and The Locusts and said “Hey, let’s get this guy to play Santa’s misanthropic brother in our broad family comedy”?

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No Country for Old Men:

The weakest moments in Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men are on display in its trailer. They’re the lines that build up Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh into “some kind of ultimate badass,” and I suppose for the purposes of a trailer this is all right. But at feature length, those moments are unnecessary and even intrusive, like the filmmakers waving a flag to get the audience’s attention. They are the few moments where the Coen Brothers forget that cardinal rule of storytelling: Show, don’t tell.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Solidarity! 

As you probably know, the Writers Guild of America is striking. I won't go into explaining why -- if you're here you probably have a good idea, and if not, John Rogers' explanation is superior simply due to the fact he's an actual member. It's pretty hard news to avoid, really; even Gabe and Tycho are talking about it.

For a slightly different perspective on what's fueling the fire of the strike, check out mega-successful producer Marshall Herskovitz's reasons for leaving the TV arena in favor of the internet. I had no idea any of that "finsyn" stuff went on in 1995; between that and the radio deregulation of 1996, the FCC really fucked the creative community in the ass ten ways from Sunday. Bill Clinton, I'm disappointed you let this shit happen. Majorly so.

On that note, I close with this video, featuring the cast/crew of The Office on strike. It's quite a lovely little... "promo."



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They really have thought of everything. 

Text Adventure game based on Hamlet, courtesy Leah.

My immediate reaction, as transcribed from AIM:

Me: dammit.
Me: it didn't understand "lament"
Me: what the fuck kind of Hamlet text game is this.

Well, I thought it was funny.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

So who was this Godwin guy, anyway? 

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, Bush broke that holiest of debate laws when he likened the Democratic Congress's debate over the Iraq War and torture to... well, I'm not even going to bother rewriting it, just read this paragraph:

Bush argued the debate over the Iraq war and the administration's anti-terror methods harkens back to debates decades ago over resisting action when Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin first talked about launching a communist revolution, when Adolf Hitler began moves to establish an "Aryan superstate" in Germany and in the early days of the Cold War when some advocated accommodation of the Soviet Union.
As it just so happens, I've picked up and am reading a fascinating and multi-award winning YA book called Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. It lays out a very factual, straightforward, almost dry accounting of the creation and rise of the Hitler Youth. What adds the little extra are the huge number of photographs and access to several people who were members of the HY, whether by choice or by force. Reading it, I pulled some altogether different lessons re: Iraq/Iran from the lead-up to World War 2 than Bush did. A handful of pertinent quotes follows, sans editorial emphasis; you'll find none is needed.

"The Treaty [of Versailles] also installed a democratic government, called the Weimar Republic. Unaccustomed to democracy, many Germans had little faith in their president and elected Reichstag [parliament]. They longed for a strong leader who promised them jobs and a better life, even if he had extreme ideas. Tired of poor living and working conditions, they wanted a simple but drastic solution. And so, on February 1, 1933, as Hitler's voice boomed over the radio, the German people felt grateful for his leadership. "This time, the front lines are at home," Hitler told them. "Unity is our tool. We are not fighting for ourselves but for Germany."
[...]
"The children also listened to special Hitler Youth radio broadcasts on official Nazi radio sets, called the People's Radio. These inexpensive radios could only be tuned to radio stations approved by the Nazi party. Eventually, the law would forbid Germans from listening to foreign news or other "impure" or "un-German" broadcasts."
[...]
"On February 27, 1933, one month after Hitler's appointment, a known Communist and arsonist set fire to the Reichstag, the parliamentary building. Claiming a Communist plot, Hitler declared a national emergency. He asked the Reichstag members to suspend civil rights, and they did. They took away the sanctity of home, privacy of mail and telephone conversations, and the freedom of speech, press, and assembly."
[...]
"The Jehovah's Witnesses held out, too, refusing to salute the Nazi flag even though it meant persecution. The Nazis rounded up Jehovah's Witnesses and trucked them off to concentration camps where many were killed. Eventually, it became dangerous for Germans to have friends who were Jewish or who belonged to the Jehovah's Witness faith. Those who dared were fined or jailed. Calling them unfit parents, the Nazis threatened to take away their children."

No, I am not saying ZOMG BUSH IS HITLER or ZOMG THE NEOCONS ARE TEH NAZIS or even ZOMG WE ARE CREATING A NEW NAZI GERMANY IN IRAQ. There's no simple 1:1 history lesson here. But there are lessons, warning signs, and trends that illuminate our present. This lesson, for instance: Whenever an outside nation (or coalition thereof) attempts to create a new nation and its borders, it never fucking works out, ever. EVER. Please see: Israel/Palestine, Iraq, post-WWI Germany, the Sudan, the former Yugoslavia.

We ignore these examples at our peril.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Crime Bible #1, Midnighter: Armageddon #1, Special Forces #1 

Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood #1:

Here’s a confession: I have not read a single issue of Countdown, 52, Aftermath, or other related mini- and maxi-series. I never formed any attachment to 95% of DC’s humongous stable of characters and I have no love for wildly over-plotted angst festivals, so there really hasn’t been any reason for me too. Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood is a little different. It was my first chance to see Renee Montoya (always a favorite of mine) do her Question thing without having to read 30 friggin’ comics just to understand what was going on. And the premise – about the book of a holy sect dedicated to the sacred art of criminality – is a pretty good one. And, oh, hey, it’s Greg Rucka writing this thing? I’m in.

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Midnighter: Armageddon #1:

It’s weird to see a comic book work so hard to undermine itself. Scarcely a sequence in Midnighter: Armageddon goes by without one character or another remarking how often this sort of thing happens and how unexceptional it should be for the title character. So what’s the “this sort of thing” I’m talking about? Ah, the usual: Wildcat member Void takes the Midnighter to a possible post-apocalyptic future, and it’s up to him to prevent it from happening. Just as you’re thinking “Wow, this is every fill-in arc written for teams like the Authority since pretty much the beginning of comics,” the Midnighter says much the same thing. I suppose the intended audience reaction was amusement. That wasn’t how I reacted.

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Special Forces #1:

In the back of Special Forces #1, writer-artist Kyle Baker gives us the inspiration for his story in the form of two news clippings about the same story: In May of 2006, a couple of Army recruiters were put under investigation when it was discovered they had signed up an 18 year-old boy who had been diagnosed as autistic. Especially highlighted were two statements from both: that the Army has been under unbelievable pressure to recruit, and that despite being autistic, the 18 year-old qualified for entry into the Army in both mental and physical examinations.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wherein we find I don't like Joss Whedon very much. 

TV/movie/comics auteur Joss Whedon is back on TV with a new series on Fox starring Buffy regular Eliza Dushku. The sci-fi series Dollhouse will premiere next year; Whedon has a seven-episode order.
More here.

Early estimations by esteemed parties (me) state that of the several beautiful young women cast, one will play a sexpot, another will play a geek girl so geek boys won't feel threatened, still another will be a hardass, and Dushku's character will be the lead by virtue of the fact she will possess two (2) of these traits.

Further, Whedon fans will claim that this series is great action/sci-fi/horror, by virtue of the fact they have not actually been exposed to good examples of any of those genres. Alas, they will be denied a "Best Referential Humor" category in the Emmy's. Again.

Dushku will play Echo, one of a group of secret agents who can be imprinted with different personalities depending on the assignment.
Further, the esteemed parties (still me!) will be enraged that despite the likelihood of Dollhouse possessing one-quarter to one-half the IQ of short-lived DC Vertigo title Human Target, it will receive ten times the audience.

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So you can probably tell I don't like Joss Whedon. I think he (along with guys like J.J. Abrams) represents a sort of new laziness in the fantasy/sci-fi/horror field, wherein referential humor, half-smart genre mash-ups, plot crutches disguised as "idiosyncracies," and high concepts rule the day. But what really gets me -- and I admit I should probably discount considerations like this when weighing someone's artistic merit -- are the fans. They are astonishingly pleased with their perceived sophistication, despite being the fan base equivalent of people who think the Olive Garden qualifies as fine dining.

Take Whedon's thing with female characters that bothers me. They all break down into the archetypes listed above, and the lead character is defined by her ability to possess more than one of these traits. This is "empowerment" according to his fans, and I have had people -- people smart enough to form sentences -- actually tell me that his inability to render women beyond these insultingly simplistic categories is some kind of virtue. "At least he's doing that much," they say, leaving unsaid the assumption that the rest of TV has the gender politics of the WWE.

But the real damage? You never have to improve yourself as an artist with that kind of fan base. Take Firefly: It's like the Wild West, but in space! Take careful notice of this, because it will only be reiterated every few minutes. Here's the captain and he's Han Solo but wearier, here's the amoral guy, here's the ah... sexpot woman, here's the geek girl woman, and the hardass woman, and.. erm... yeah. You're getting the idea.

One season, one comic book mini-series, and one thoroughly mediocre movie was enough to forever enshrine Firefly into the hearts of "Browncoat" fans everywhere. It's kind of a handy trick, really; do just enough material to tantalize the easily impressed and then let them make the legend for you. It helps that Firefly was aired incomplete and out of sequence before getting canned, which gives everyone the cozy feeling of being an underdog. The legend writes itself, and Whedon reaps the reward of infinite good will while the fans do most of the work for him by dreaming of "what might have been."

Now, I don't think he's an evil man, just kind of a creative lightweight who has unfortunately found the kind of fan base that have programmed themselves to like everything he does. It's not exactly the best environment for artistic growth. So here we are back at square one again, with pretty young women doing the "hot girls who kick ass" routine one more damn time...

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