Thursday, December 10, 2015

Movie Review: Krampus

You can read my review of Krampus at www.kingyak.com. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dear Science Fiction Fans: You Need To Let Things Go

You'd think that since science fiction* is all about exploring new ideas and seeing the world in a different way, science fiction fans would embrace change, but that's not entirely true. Sure, they're open to new ideas and are always willing to give the latest movie, TV show, or book series a shot (as long as it has spaceships/vampires/guys with swords, at least). The problem happens later, when they've decided they like that new thing. Once a science fiction fan's decided a thing is "theirs," they don't want to let it die.

In and of itself, that isn't a problem. Science fiction "fictons" (to use a word stolen from Heinlein that the Hex Games crew has been trying--and mostly failing--to popularize for years) are by their very nature ripe with possibilities for new premises, new characters, and new stories. The problem is that sci-fi fans don't want to see creators exploring all these possible stories, they want to see the exact same thing that made them enjoy the thing in the first place. They want to see the same characters doing the same shit over and over again, even when it's gone on for so long that it can't possibly be fun for anyone anymore.

I understand the nostalgia thing. Hell, I almost missed out on the Buffy TV series (which turned into one of my favorite shows of all time) because Kristy Swanson was "my" Buffy, which may be what forced me to re-evaluate the resistance to change that makes science fiction fans complain whenever there's a remake or sequel that's different than the one they grew up with. I promise you that even though we all know that Harrison Ford and Mark Hamil and all the rest will at best be doing long cameos in the new Star Wars movies, there will be fans who complain that Abrams spent too much time on all the new characters instead of focusing on "the real heroes." These people would honestly rather see a geriatric Han Solo lumbering around shooting at storm troopers than something new and (shudder) different.

As an aside, this insistence on a "right" way of handling things is even sadder when it comes to comics, because the "right" way to do a comic is always the way it was done when the person doing the talking started reading them. People who started reading comics during the Frank Miller years will completely discount the decades of Batman not being a grim psychopath to insist that Batman should always be a grim psychopath.

There are people who still hope for more Firefly. It's been over a decade, everybody's moved on, and thanks to Serenity they were able to give the story an ending, but if somebody suggests that there might be a reunion in the works, thousands of fans will piss themselves in joy. I was right there with them for a while, but there's a point when you just have to accept that Firefly was a thing and that thing is over now. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see more stories set in that universe, maybe even with some of the characters from the original show. I'd love to see (most of) that group of actors work together again, and look forward to watching Fillion and Tudyk's web series. But I don't want anyone to try to make more episodes of Firefly.

Why? Because there's no way for it to be Firefly. For starters, at least two of the characters are dead, and based on what Whedon's said a third one would have died in the interim unless they try to pretend that everyone aged prematurely from the stress of stuff that happened on Miranda. Also, as much fun as it was to watch Adam Baldwin being a terrible person as Jayne, I've got a feeling it would be less fun now that we know he's a right-wing asshole in real life. The main reason I don't want to see a Firefly reunion, though, is because I've seen Red Dwarf: Back To Earth.

I loved Red Dwarf. We used to rent the VHS tapes of the show at the comic shop I worked at, and it was one of my go-tos for background noise. A few years ago, someone sent me a DVD of Back To Earth, which I hadn't even heard of. It was a 3-episode reunion show made in 2009, ten years after the show had ended. The crew ended up on modern-day earth where they had to meet their creator, and it was full of Blade Runner references and fourth-wall breaking and stuff I'd normally really enjoy, a starbug made out of a Smart Car, and lots of other good stuff. If they'd made it ten years earlier, it would have been great, but it wasn't.

What was wrong with Back to Earth? You know that really awkward scene in Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back where they show up at Holden MacNeil's door and Affleck stiffly repeats some of Jay's lines from Chasing Amy and it's just weird and awkward for everyone? Back to Earth was like that. You could tell that the actors really wanted to recapture the magic of the old episodes of Red Dwarf, but it just wasn't there any more. Even the bits that worked came across as sort of stilted and sad. It was depressing to watch.

That brings me to the thing that inspired this blog post: They're making more episodes of Red Dwarf. Here's a picture from it:


Even without the example of Back to Earth, this picture should tell you why this is a bad idea. Look at how old Craig Charles is today. The other guys look older, too, but even though they're the characters that shouldn't age (being a robot and a hologram), it's Lister looking old that's the real problem. If you had to boil down the character of Dave Lister to three words, they would be "young and stupid." He's the trickster archetype of the group, the untamed id who makes things interesting for everyone else, and that's not a character that ages gracefully.

I'd love to see more Red Dwarf, but I'm pretty sure that this series, which looks like more of the same Red Dwarf, is going to be as uncomfortable to watch as Back to Earth. And if anyone claims that the premise of the show doesn't allow doing anything without these characters, they weren't paying attention. Despite the "last man alive" premise, they ran into all sorts of other characters during the show, and that's before you remember that they regularly traveled through time and to parallel dimensions. There are ways to keep the Red Dwarf ficton alive without making us watch Dave Lister go from young and stupid to old and pathetic.


*I'm using the term "science fiction" in its most imprecise form to represent sci-fi, fantasy, super-heroes, horror, and the whole spectrum of geeky shit.


"Love us with money, or we'll hate you with hammers"--Milk & Cheese


Monday, November 16, 2015

The Wikepedia Litmus Test

So, against your better judgment, you've gotten into a debate online. It happens. You don't really know the person you're talking to and so far they seem to actually be interested in having some kind of rational, nuanced discussion rather than just an exchange of scripted knee-jerk reactions, but it's still iffy. You don't really want to waste your time only to end up hit with a wall of copypasta sometime later, so how can you figure out whether they're legit?

It's actually pretty easy. Just cite Wikipedia (after doing your due diligence to insure that the page you're citing is unbiased and well-sourced, of course). If they respond by telling you that Wikipedia can't be trusted, you can ignore anything else they have to say and go on about your day.

You're probably thinking, "Wait a minute, Wikipedia can't always be trusted. They've actually got a point." True. Kinda. You're right, Wikipedia is a terrible source for recent information, and the very nature of the beast makes it possible for editors with an agenda to introduce bias into controversial pages. They key word in the fictional statement I'm pretending you made is "always." There's a huge range of subject matter for which Wikipedia is completely trustworthy.

When someone brings up the "Wikipedia can't be trusted" meme (which almost always happens when a Wikipedia page contradicts their own argument), what they're really saying is "Wikipedia isn't always 100% accurate, so I have no way of knowing whether or not to believe this page." Since a good Wikipedia page includes source citations (often with links that you can follow and use to evaluate the source right from your computer), someone who says this is basically admitting that either they can't be bothered or don't possess the intellectual tools to critically evaluate a resource for themselves. If they can't figure out on their own whether they can trust something as clearly cited as a typical Wikipedia page, they're not smart enough to waste your time arguing with.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Starbucks Thing Is Even Dumber Than You Think

If you're at least semi-literate and have an internet connection, you've heard the accusations about Starbucks joining a huge list of other companies in the "War on Christmas." When I first saw the stories in my news feed, I mostly ignored them, assuming this was a case of one Fox News fan complaining, one blogger realizing the clickbait potential and writing about it, and every horrible site on the internet picking up the story like a South Park gnome who just found a pile of underpants. Then last night @midnight played the original Youtube video that supposedly started the whole thing and I realized it was just too dumb to ignore.

I'm not going to link the video (because screw that guy), but after the expected rant about how Starbucks doesn't love Jesus because they didn't put any snowmen on their coffee cups this year, he shares his brilliant plan for punishing Starbucks' blasphemy: everyone should go to Starbucks, buy a cup of coffee, and tell them your name is "Merry Christmas," effectively forcing Starbucks to acknowledge the holiday at dumbpoint.

The idea of threatening a company with what amounts to the opposite of a boycott is so seemingly counterproductive that I have to wonder whether the whole thing is a joke or a well-planned marketing campaign by a company cynical enough to suspect that support of the--"buycott," I guess?--from Bill O'Reilly or Sarah Palin or some other wingnut would mean tons of Chick-Fil-A diners and Hobby Lobby shoppers who've never even been to Starbucks suddenly showing up to demand that the barista sell them some overpriced coffee with "Merry Christmas" written on the cup.

I think it's even more fascinating if the real-life Paul Blart who made the video is completely sincere. If he's serious about this, there are some really odd assumptions that he's got to be making. For starters, he's got to believe that the Starbucks cup is a deliberate attempt at Grinchery. The "War on Christmas" meme is so steeped in the dumb that that one's kind of a gimme, so let's move on to his plan to get back at Starbucks by buying coffee under the name "Merry Christmas." This part of the scheme seems to suggest that forcing some Starbucks employee to write "Merry Christmas" on a cup and then maybe say it out loud when the coffee's ready in some way harms or humiliates the corporation. Well, these are people who seem to honestly believe that bacon affects Muslims like holy water affects vampires, so maybe he's under the impression that making Starbucks say "Merry Christmas" enough times will send them back to the Fifth Dimension or something.

Of course, even if you accept that the words "Merry Christmas" in some way hurt or annoy the Starbuck's company, it's kind of a stretch to assume that the probably minimum wage employee behind the counter is going to give much of a shit what name they write on the cup. The only thing about it that might bother them is the fact that the whole "name on the cup" thing is so everyone knows which cup goes to which customer, and having 15 idiots calling themselves "Merry Christmas" could cause confusion. Hey, maybe that's it! He's going to disrupt Starbucks' business with the confusion caused by a lot of of customers using the same name! Eat it, Starbucks!

Unfortunately, that plan's pretty dumb, too. Let's face it, people who work in the service industry spend most of their time adapting to new forms of customer stupidity, so it's not going to take them long to come up with a way of dealing with multiple customers named "Merry Christmas." Maybe they'll add a number, maybe they'll add your actual name after the greeting, but they'll come up with something. Even if you don't give them that much credit, there's still the problem that, based on my (admittedly limited) experience with Starbucks, any bottleneck the confusion might create would be in the wrong place to hurt business. Any store that's busy enough for the plan to affect will probably have a dedicated register jockey, and the bottleneck would form where people are waiting for their coffee, not the line. Unless the confusion locks up the process so badly that people don't have anywhere to go after paying for their coffee, the register line's going to keep moving and few people will leave. The slowdown only affects people who have already given Starbucks money. And for that matter, it's the customers who mostly have to deal with any confusion caused by a restaurant full of "Merry Christmases." All the baristas have to do is call the name and stand there until somebody figures out that "Merry Christmas 37" is them.

Long story short, the whole "make Starbucks call you 'Merry Christmas'" scheme is a way to give money to a company that's doing something you don't support and to mildly annoy some poor son of a bitch who's already stuck working at the mall during the holidays. That seems like kind of a petty, dickish way to celebrate a holiday that's at least theoretically dedicated to a guy who was all about peace, love, and forgiveness.


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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Book!

My latest book from Brainfart Press, Dispatches from the MGT. is on sale now.
The true purpose of management is a mystery. As far as most American workers can tell, their primary function is making signs. The value of these signs to the continued operation and profitability of the company, much like the value of management itself, is unclear, but the signs themselves can be fascinating. Sometimes they’re incomprehensibly bizarre, sometimes they provide insight into the almost alien attitudes that management has towards the rank-and-file employees, and sometimes they’re unintentionally hilarious.

Dispatches From The MGT.: Curious Signs from the American Workplace collects some of the strangest workplace signs from all across this great nation.

Available through CreateSpace and Amazon.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dear Conservatives: You Don't Get To Be Outraged by Martin Shkreli

I get it. Martin Shkreli, the guy who increased the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750 a pill is easy to hate. I mean look at him:


A thousand monkeys with a thousand typewriters writing a thousand villains for thousand terrible Nic Cage movies couldn't come up with somebody who oozes douchiness as much as this guy. I suspect that Shrkreli's unapologetic horribleness is the main reason that even conservatives have been calling him out as the scumbag of the moment. The fact that he's such a blatant prick means that it's reasonably safe to see his detestable actions as those of one bad seed rather than an indictment of the system that allows him to create a situation where poor people will die because they're poor. 

The problem, of course, is that Shrkreli is far from the only one. Every drug company that exploits U.S. law to charge ten (or more) times as much for a drug as it costs in other countries is turning poverty into a death sentence. Every Congresscritter who votes for a law or trade agreement that further extend patents on drugs (many created through publicly funded research) to infinity and beyond, or to prevent Medicare from negotiating on drug prices, or to do any of a dozen other things that the lobbyists who fill their campaign coffers tell them to do, is putting profit ahead of the lives of poor people. Beyond the health care system, every corporation that claims it can't afford to pay its employees a living wage while it gives its top executives multi-million dollar bonuses and uses huge profits for stock buybacks is doing the same thing Shkreli is doing.

The only difference between between Shkreli and dozens of other executives is that Shkreli is being completely honest. Instead of blaming market forces, he's basically admitting that he's raising the price of the drug because he can. If you believe in trickle down economic and tax cuts for the rich and deregulation and that the free market is always the best solution, your only complaint about Shkreli should be that he doesn't have the decency to conceal how disgusting unfettered capitalism really is.


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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

San Andreas Review

I went to see San Andreas, because of course I did. You can read my review at kingyak.com.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

I'm too lazy to cross-post my review of the From Dusk Till Dawn series (season 1) today, so I'm just going to link it here.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Originally posted at kingyak.com:

I remember enjoying the Mad Max movies, but am not exactly a rabid fan. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve even seen them since high school. If I did watch them in the last 20 years or so, I must have been drinking because I don’t remember much about them. I vaguely recall some of the characters and maybe a scene or two, but plot-wise I just remember that there were a lot of car chases and fights over gas. I should probably watch them again. The point is, I didn’t go see Fury Road because it was a Mad Max movie, I went to see it because the trailer looked cool. If the movie perverted the franchise in any way and my review fails to reflect that, blame it on Guinness.

After some opening narration and lizard eating, Mad Max gets captured by a tribe of people with highly impractical but extremely cool-looking dieselpunk technology. He tries and fails to escape, but the focus shifts pretty quickly to Imperator Furiosa, who’s got a mechanical arm and is about to leave town on a mission in a post-apocalyptic war truck. As I watched Furiosa’s introduction, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. It took me a few minutes to figure it out, but once I recognized that Furiossa was being played by Charlize Theron, the problem was obvious. “Oh my God!” I said, clearly startling my fellow movie-goers, “IMPERATOR FURIOSA DOESN’T HAVE A PENIS!”

I got kicked out of the theater. I spent the next two hours wandering around an abandoned garden gnome factory trying to work out what the filmmakers were thinking. They had clearly implied that Imperator Furiosa was kind of a badass who could drive a big truck and shoot guns, and probably fight off armies of radioactive kangaroos if necessary, but it was also abundantly clear that Furiosa was a girl. I was stumped at first, but the radioactive kangaroo thing reminded me of Tank Girl and then I remembered that I’d actually seen a ton of movies with badass women who could actually do stuff. In addition to Lori Petty in Tank Girl…

...Sorry, I was just thinking about Lori Petty in Tank Girl…  

 ...Oh, right. Review. Badass women. There was Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku in Buffy, Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games, Michelle Rodriguez in...well, pretty much any movie with Michelle Rodriguez. Actually, women who kick ass are pretty common in fiction. Now that I think about it, there are even quite a few badass non-fictional women who drive trucks and shoot guns and fight radioactive kangaroos [citation needed]. I wasn’t sure why I got so weirded out, and suddenly really wanted to see the rest of Fury Road. I crafted a clever disguise out of some old Twix wrappers and spirit gum and was able  to purchase a ticket for the next showing and make my way to the auditorium without being recognized by the theater’s elite staff of highly trained teenagers. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Actually, that’s probably it.

After leaving town, Furiosa, despite her schlonglessness, abandons her mission because she’s secretly smuggling some women out of town. Before being smuggled, the women were unwilling concubines of the tribe’s creepy leader guy. Once creepy leader guy realizes what’s going on, he and his army load up into their mechanically implausible (but really awesome-looking) vehicles and go after her. Since one of the war boys (weird bald white guys who are just every damn where) was in the middle of getting a blood transfusion from Mad Max (for some reason I apparently missed) when the call to arms came, Max ends up chained to a pole on the front of one of the warbuggies. He spends most of the first chase scene there, but eventually manages to get free and enter into a sort-of alliance with Furiosa. The rest of the movie is essentially an ongoing  (but not continuous) chase scene with lots of action, crazy cars and weapons, and even a little plot and character development. I’ve heard a few people complain about Max taking orders from Furiosa, but since he’s the one joining her gang and she’s the one who knows what’s going on, it makes sense for her to be in charge even though he has a weiner and she doesn’t. Besides, there are a lot of scenes in the movie where Furiosa does what Max says, so it’s not like he’s her buttmonkey or anything. Once the inevitable competitive pissing has run its course, it’s almost like having enough mutual respect to acknowledge one another’s strengths allows Max and Furiosa to accomplish some pretty impressive (and violent and bloody and often really cool) things. Weird, huh?

I enjoyed Fury Road, but it wasn’t quite everything I’d hoped for. For one thing, Tom Hardy talks weird and it’s sometime a little off-putting. More importantly, the movie is only “one big chase scene” in the sense that the bad guys are always somewhere close behind. There are a lot more breaks in the action that I anticipated. I expected the movie to be one big chase scene in the same way Shoot ‘Em Up is one big gun fight, but it isn’t. Even though it’s not quite non-stop action, there’s still plenty of Big Damn Action. It’s also well worth seeing on the big screen just for the visuals. All the characters, equipment, and sets walk a fine line between awesomely badass and bafflingly weird, so even when your attention wanders there’s still a lot of cool stuff to look at. As long as you can get over that “major character with no dong” hurdle, you’ll probably enjoy the movie.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Review: Horns

Cross posted from kingyak.com:

In Horns, Daniel Radcliffe plays murder suspect Ignacious (“Ig”) Perrish. In addition to being suspected by everyone in town of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple), he’s lost his job, is constantly hounded by reporters, and is just generally having a shitty time. To make matters worse, the crime lab that held all the evidence that would have exonerated him just burned down and there’s a rumor that a new witness for the prosecution has come forward. As if that weren’t enough, he wakes up one morning with devil horns sprouting out of his head.

Since nearly everyone in town already thinks Ig’s a murderer, you’d expect them to consider the horns proof of guilt and burn him at the stake or something, but that’s not what happens. Most people notice the horns, but aren’t weirded out by them. People comment on them like they would a new haircut. Instead of treating Ig like a monster, people start telling him their deepest, darkest secrets, and in some cases acting on impulses they’ve kept buried for a long time. Ig also finds that he can make some people do things just by giving them commands. He decides to use his newfound powers to find Merrin’s killer.

At first Ig takes everything in stride despite the fact that many of his closest friends and family members have, under the influence of the horns, admitted that they think he’s a murderer or a disappointment or just an all around terrible human being. When his almost Dude-like ability to abide doesn’t get him anywhere towards solving the murder, Ig embraces the dark side. He gets himself a pitchfork, makes friends with the snakes that have been following him around for most of the movie, and starts using his abilities more aggressively. It kind of works out for him, but calling it a happy ending is definitely stretch.

Horns takes a few scenes to establish everything and get moving, but once Ig sprouts the horns things get hilarious fast when Ig starts interacting with small-town weirdos saying and doing things without any filters. This part of the movie had sort of a Drowning Mona vibe: really funny, but kind of dark and horrible and wrong if you actually think about it. The modern-day scenes are broken up by  flashback sequences that cover the time from Ig and Merrin’s first meeting as children up until the murder. These scenes aren’t as funny or dark, but have a Stand By Me feel that works to keep things from getting too wacky. Once Ig embraces his inner devil, the tone of the movie does a 180. There’s still some humor, but it’s mostly a revenge story from there on out. This kind of tone shift would probably make a lot of movies seem schizophrenic, but here it seems completely natural.

I don’t really have any complaints about Horns. I expected that the biggest hurdle would be not thinking of Radcliffe as Harry Potter, but except for some unavoidable Parseltongue thoughts when he started befriending snakes, that wasn’t really a problem. The fact that Radcliffe can pull off a competent American accent probably helped a lot. The lack of explanation for Ig’s magical powers is the sort of thing that would have annoyed me in a lot of movies, but in this case I was fine with it, probably because the film doesn’t even try to explain the weird stuff. The movies that usually piss me off are the ones that try to pretend to have a coherent mythology/cosmology when it’s abundantly clear that they don’t. In the world of Horns, some days you just wake up with horns that give you magical powers that help you solve your girlfriend’s brutal murder. If you’re ok with that, you’ll probably enjoy this movie.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review: It Follows

Cross-posted from www.kingyak.com:

So there’s this blond girl who likes to swim. That’s pretty much the extent of the protagonist’s character depth. I’m sure that she and the other characters in the movie had names, but I really can’t imagine anyone who wasn't directly involved in production bothering to learn them. I certainly didn’t so, I’m going to refer to them as blond girl, blond girl’s sister, reader girl (because she reads), and friend zone guy (because I’m pretty sure he spends a lot of time on internet forums bitching about being put in the friend zone). These descriptions probably make the characters seem more interesting than they actually are. All of these people spend their time at blond girl’s mother’s house watching old public domain sci fi movies and being boring as shit. Blond girl’s mother is sometimes there, but only speaks in once scene that was presumably included mainly to prove to us that the mother is played by a human actress and not a mannequin.

Once the film makers have established the existence of people who can technically be described as characters, blond girl goes out with a guy who seems paranoid and he chloroforms her after they have sex. Turns out this isn’t because he failed date rape class, but because he has to tie her in a wheelchair so he can show her a woman walking toward them really slowly.This is the It That Follows. It’s been following him, but now it’s going to follow her because the It is a symptom of some kind of supernatural herpes he gave her.

What It does is follow, really slowly. If it catches you, it kills you (by dry humping you while leaking water from the crotch), but it’s easy to outrun because it just walks toward you. So it’s kind of like Jason, but without the hockey mask or the machete or the ability to teleport to a spot right in front of you so it can kill you. It can change its appearance, but since only the person it’s following can see it and it never speaks, that’s really not really relevant in any discernable way. If blond girl screws somebody else, It will start following them, but if It kills that person it will return to following her. If It kills her, it will go back to following her date, and so on until it works its way back to patient zero for the dumbest STD epidemic ever.

Most of the rest of the movie consists of the group of unengaging characters moving from place to place to avoid the It That Follows. As you may have already guessed, a monster that can be easily avoided by moving away at a brisk pace does not lead to edge-of-your-seat suspense. Since there’s no mythology behind the monster for the characters to discover, most of the movie consists of the characters going somewhere, maybe experiencing a cheap jump scare, noticing the monster, and going somewhere else. At some point the cool guy across the street joins them and blond girl passes the It to him (which doesn’t make friend zone guy very happy), but the It kills him.

After cool guy dies, friend zone guy tells blond girl that he really wants to help her. With his penis. She turns him down (almost certainly not for the first time) and seems resigned to eventually being killed by the It, but then he has a brilliant plan. The brilliant plan involves luring It into a pool and electrocuting it, which makes sense because….reasons? It doesn’t work, but some bullets to the head might have (even though a bullet to the head failed to take the thing out before). In any case, there’s a shitload of blood in the pool when they’re done.

In the next scene blond girl finally bangs friend zone guy, but it’s unclear whether she’s passing the It to him or if they think the It is dead. I kind of hope she was supposed to be passing It to him, because otherwise this movie is pretty much a fairy tale for the Elliot Rodgers crowd. The next scene shows friend zone guy driving slowly past some hookers, so maybe we’re supposed to assume that he passed the It to them. I don’t really know, and can’t say that I care.

In conclusion, It Follows is a horror movie with exactly none of the things that make for a good horror movie. I’m not going to give this one a star rating because even zero seems like too much. This doesn’t feel like a movie made by people really bad ideas executing them poorly at every turn. It’s more like a movie made by aliens who have seen a horror movie but don’t quite understand how the human brain processes fiction. Even if I could get the money and time I spent on this movie back, it wouldn’t be enough.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Just As I Suspected

If you click, blogger will show it to you at the same size in their lightbox. Right click and open the image in a new tab for easier reading. Obviously, I can't say where I got this, but involves someone whose name rhymes with Teepee Merman.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wanted: Left-Leaning Billionaire To Buy Election

I'd like to see some rich guy give Bernie Sanders enough money to buy the 2016 election. Actually, a cabal of rich guys might be the way to go, since it would probably be easier to get a consortium of merely-rich Hollywood Liberals on board with this plan than to find a single filthy stinking rich corporate types to do it. Whatever the details, I think a Bernie win thanks to an unexpected influx of ridiculous amounts of cash would be a good thing.

While I agree with a lot of Sanders' policies and ideas, I don't want him to win because of some misguided belief that electing just the right Chosen One will significantly change the country. Congress, much of the judicial system, and other institutions of power are wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate America, so despite what some Nader voters and Hopium addicts may think, the guy in the Oval Office isn't really going to change things in any major way. If you're a business tycoon who's afraid that a Sanders presidency will usher in Scandinavian dystopia of Democratic Socialism, don't worry about it. If you don't believe me, take a look at the Obama administration. It's mostly been a continuation of the same policies as every administration of the last 35 years. The most radical legislation (aside from a few inevitable social policies that would have at most been delayed a few years under a Republican administration) has been an incredibly corporate-friendly health care bill. Your ability to continue increasing your fortune through dangerously unregulated industry, outsourcing, legalized tax avoidance, and a government-subsidized labor force will not be significantly impacted if you buy this election for Senator Sanders.

So what's the point of spending millions to elect Sanders if it won't make a difference? I think there's one effect a Sanders presidency with a clear receipt of purchase will have: It will push Congress to do something to overturn the Citizens United decision. Those in power often reverse their stances when the policies that were designed for their own benefit are suddenly used to the benefit of others. A perfect example happened this morning, when police organizations and Law & Order types called for a special prosecutor in the Freddie Gray case, despite having insisted that it was unnecessary in dozens of cases when the regular prosecutor had strong police ties. A Sanders election that clearly could not have happened without Citizens United will force our "elected" leaders to face the possibility that unlimited money from the "wrong" millionaires and billionaires could potentially lead to the election of other politicians whose policies actually reflect the will of the people. Too much of that could lead to government accountability and transparency, which I think we can all agree is the antithesis of the current American system.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Context and Perception

A lot of people on all parts of the political spectrum have been cheering the angry mother in Baltimore who wasn't happy to find her son participating in the uprising there.


I can't help but wonder what the reaction to this video, particularly from those on the Right, would have been if it had taken place in any other context. Would the same people be cheering this woman as a good mother if the scene took place on the same day in any city but Baltimore? I suspect a lot of the same people would post the video, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the comments would not be about this woman's parenting skills.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

White on White Violence

This clip from a while back has showed up a few times in my assorted feeds. It seems timely. 


Monday, April 27, 2015

Still Not Charlie Hebdo

The Intercept has some letters between writer Deborah Eisenberg and PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel regarding the decision to give the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo. Nossel's response occasionally comes close to the all too common tactic of equating criticism of speech with support for suppression of free expression, but for the most part these letters provide a more nuanced version of the arguments on both sides of the Charlie Hebdo than a lot of the think pieces that have tried to squeeze the discussion into a binary narrative.

Although Nossel makes many valid points, many of them are defending against arguments that Eisenberg never makes. Even in light of the pro-Hebdo points that do hit home, I still find equating Charlie Hebdo's victimhood with heroism problematic. No matter how layered some of their satire may be, they still rely on unnecessarily racist depictions and have frequently printed cartoons (particularly those of Muhammad) that are gratuitously offensive to most Muslims no matter what secondary satirical purpose they may serve. Eisenberg sums it up well in her second letter:
But ridicule of Islam and Muslims cannot in itself be considered courageous at this moment, because ridicule of Islam and Muslims is now increasingly considered acceptable in the West. However its staff and friends see it, Charlie Hebdo could well be providing many, many people with an opportunity to comfortably assume a position that they were formerly ashamed to admit. This is not a voice of dissent, this is the voice of a mob.
Give it a read. It's a little long, but well worth the time.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Unfriended Review

Cross-posted from www.kingyak.com:

Since The Blair Witch Project bored us all to tears and/or gave us motion sickness, there have been hundreds of “found footage” horror flicks, most of them unwatchable. Unfriended, at least, offers a slight twist on the formula: Instead of constructing the movie around camera footage of some idiots walking around in the woods, the story plays out during a Skype session between some idiots in their bedrooms at home. I went to see it thinking there was at least a chance there’d be some clever use of technology as a means of storytelling. 

 Not so much. Once you know the basic premise, you can guess how the story plays out: background is established through Youtube videos and Facebook timelines, private conversations take place via instant messenger, and what little glimpse we get into the main character’s internal monologue plays out through website visits, Google searches, and possibly music selections, though the last one only really tells the audience that she listens to incredibly bland music. There are a couple of instances where computer glitches are used for spooky effect, but otherwise Chrome tab product placement is about as clever as the filmmakers get with the “it all happens on the desktop” premise.

The story is equally predictable. As you probably know from the previews, a mutual friend of the characters, Laura Barnes, committed suicide a year ago and now her ghost has come back to haunt them online. It’s pretty quickly revealed that the suicide was the result of online shaming. Since I had just finished Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed the day before, this kind of piqued my interest, but the film doesn’t really supply any interesting commentary or subtext (this is very much a “just text” kind of movie). Anyway, Ghost Laura is back for internet-driven revenge.

Since Laura took herself out after after her darkest secret (that she got drunk and shit herself) was revealed online, she’s getting her revenge by revealing the other characters’ darkest secrets to one another. Which brings us to another problem with the movie: all the secrets are incredibly boring, high-school gossip kind of secrets, in part because the characters are so boring and two-dimensional. The characters are so shallow that only one of them (the geek) is individuated enough to count as a stock teen movie archetype. The others are only slightly more distinct than “high school girls #1-3” and “high school boys #1-2.” The format and the decision to tell the story through one desktop (presumably to keep the audience from getting confused about who’s the current POV character) provides some excuse, but it’s a weak one since the Skype conceit allowed them to put actors on the screen. If the movie took place 15 years ago and we only saw the character’s ICQ messages, the flat characters would be a lot more forgivable. This is just weak writing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not one of those horror movies where creative or spooky carnage makes up for other failures. Apparently, Ghost Laura kills people either by possessing or mind-controlling them into offing themselves with whatever’s lying around, and most of the death scenes use the “you can only see what the webcam can see” premise to cover for the lack of budget and creativity. There are no spooky ghost effects, no really creative murder weapons, and no Final Destination bus-style “holy shit” moments.

Overall, it’s like the filmmakers came up with the hook and then half-assed everything else. The plot is predictable, but that’s not the problem. The premise basically allows for “actual ghost killing people” or “revenge hoax,” and neither would have been unexpected enough to count as a twist. The real problem is that they they told a predictable story badly. The idea of telling a story via computer screen is interesting in theory, but the novelty wears off very quickly. Once that happens, the only thing to hold your interest in is the ever-lessening hope that the filmmakers have another clever idea up their sleeve. They don’t.