Friday, June 29, 2012

Picture of the Now

Some pictures are worth a thousand words.

This is worth five.

"I will NEVER get laid!"

The Notorious and Legendary Dog and Pony Show

Fuck this country. Just fuck it with a hammer...

Okay, so Obamacare lives. Yay, right? 'Cause that sure is a victory for The People, what with a round-about tax-in-everything-but-name scheme dreamed up by those progressive luminaries at the Heritage Foundation. It's like single-payer, only without all that accountability and efficiancy.

But the sick thing is yes, this is a victory. Not just that it tweaks all the Tea Party screwheads but that this is the only way in our rotten system of getting healthcare for every American. Thanks to half a century of stupid propaganda, we can't even look anything that could be construed as "socialism" - and when you get right down to it, any modern state is going to have socialist aspects. Because that's just how shit gets done these days. Hell, we already do it in this sucker nation.

Look at Medicare - not Parts A and B that Johnson gave us but the much more comprehensive Part C. It's called Medicare Advantage and it's administered by the same insurance companies that routinely deny you coverage. Not so they can pay for granpa and granma, those old dust bags still pay a premium of five figures on average. It's just somewhat regulated as said companies are working under contract to CMS. It's not like a single-payer system, it is single-payer! Only warped through enough bureaocratic hoodoo to disguise that fact, lest it appear to be the dreaded socialism.

The American healthcare crisis has nothing to do with paying or even providing service. That's covered, more than even infrastructure. No, we're in a mess because we're all too fucking scared stupid of a fifty-year-old bogeyman to just do what works! We're like those idiots in Pompeii, praying to the impotent statues while the lava flows in!

If you like Obamacare, you're a sucker. If you think it's an afront to liberty, you're a fool. Either way, when you get cancer it'll be a rare instance of justice in the world.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How We Learned to Get Along After the Bomb

I've been spending most of my free time playing video games instead of reading the news because fuck you and fuck your election. And while I drift between indie platformers and good ol' war porn, I always find myself drawn back to one game in particular -

Fallout 3.

Pictured - 90% of the game and you'll never mind.

It's been out for almost four years now, a dinosaur by current standards. It's been patched, it's got half a dozen DLC packs, and it's not on anyone's radar. And it's still magnificent.

Basic premise - the Cold War went hot and Earth got nuked silly. That's been used as a fictional setting for seventy years now but it works brilliantly in Fallout for a number of reasons. First, the setting is an intentional throwback to both the cheesy optimism and slow-boiling paranoia of the 1950s, right down to the grimy clothes and burned billboards extolling the wonders of Tomorrow. This would just be background if the creative team behind Fallout didn't have a brilliant satirical awareness, leading to atomic cars that explode into mushroom clouds, a rump state president constantly broadcasting his plan to revitalize civilization through baseball, and a lovable old man who cheerfully declares, "God bless the USA! And nowhere else!" Add in dozens of little adventures to have in this post-nuclear hellscape - from battling mutants to freeing slaves to collecting radioactive cola - and you got one of the most original and vast games ever.

And a dog!

The game kicks off with you being born - literally, bloody placenta and all! - into this world and running through aquick tutorial grafted into the milestones of childhood such as birthdays, BB guns, and standardized tests. Then everything goes to hell and you have to escape from the subteranean vault of youth into the bright, scary world of adulthood. Where you go from there is up to you but the game has dozens of side quests across the Capitol Wasteland, in addition to your primary quest of tracking down your dad. I've played the main storyline of this game half a dozen times and the side stories about as much. And I still can't get enough of it.

And these really are stories - you don't get a "Bring me X scalps of Y monster," but characters with their own drama to resolve. Sometimes you resolve said drama with lots of explosions but just as often you'll have to talk to people, saying just the right things to get them on your side. Screw it up, and you've blown your chances with those people and whatever help they could've provided down the line (assuming you don't just re-start from your last save like a cheap pansy-ass).

Or you can murder the bajeesus out of everything you come across. The game provides ample weaponry to do just that - up to nukes! - without any boundaries other than a "Karma Meter" you can safely ignore. Drop too low and the Regulators, Old West-style lawmen, come to take you down but rise too high and it's degenerate mercs doing the same. It's like they're saying, "You're screwed either way, you gonna be an asshole about it?"


Nice metaphor for life, that. And it makes playing Fallout 3 into a sort of Rorschach test. Grand Theft Auto is the go-to for hand-wringing over violence in video games making people into monsters, but you can't not play GTA without being a mass-murderer - similar to every first person shooter ever. In contrast, Fallout provides you the opportunity to do the same but whether or not you do is entirely your own choice.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Fuck Joss Whedon

I've already mentioned that "literary" writing is dead in America, but what about popular writing? Much worse, though not a zombie because that would imply it was ever human. And you wretched swine are into that. However, after careful study, I've found much of this awful emanates from one malignant tumor in the body of contemporary entertainment...

Obey the neckbeard!
Joss Whedon. The mingy manchild who gave the world Buffy the Vampire Slayer and some other shows loved by people who think of Buffy as the best show ever. They'll tell you all that stuff is clever, original, feminist, or whatever adjective gives them a warm fuzzy feeling. These people are idiots because, by any objective criteria, Whedon's work fails on all those points.

Clever? If you think stunted mumbling constitutes wit. I understand some poor souls have never seen a Coen brothers movie so that's not too much of a stretch. What cleverness does occasionally show up feels forced and awkward, or pops up in the middle of a serious moment, ruining the drama. Because Whedon has no sense for revision, "killing the baby" as it's often called. It sounds funny so leave it in, context be damned!

Original? Compared to what? I'll admit the "cheerleader kills the monster" was different but not seven seasons different. And having seen enough Angel and Firefly to be unimpressed, I can say he just recycles the same plots and archetypes with only cosmetic changes to the setting or accents. The one thing that ever stood out to me in Angel was when the title character got turned into a puppet - but that was still overshadowed by some turgid romantic subplot. After watching Burn Notice, I see that Whedon can't even write romantic tension for adults, just awkward teenagers and those with all the emotional maturity of awkward teenagers. Which explains his popularity in certain circles but I'm getting ahead of myself...

As for the whole feminism thing, lots of others have called bullshit on that. I'll only add that for supposedly empowered female characters, they sure do love the cock. And not in a healthy way but in the way fantasized about by impotent male nerds.

Which brings me to those miserable bastards known as Whedonites. To be fair, Whedon himself isn't always terrible. At best he's mediocre, couching the same cheeseball one-liners from Arnold's day in contemporary geek in-jokes. This would make him just another Hollywood hack, except his mouth-breathing fans hype him to the stratosphere. Go to Amazon right now and check out the reviews of The Avengers. A handful of the 160-ish reviews are negative, and they have on average 500 down votes. Compare that to any other product on the site... and it doesn't compare. Five times as many down votes as reviews! It's a cult of personality masquerading as a fandom!

Should the object of worship be held accountable for such behavior? Hell yes, he enables it by presenting the same escapist fantasy to these losers over and over. A common criticism of the internet - "bad information can circulate forever in a bubble where everybody agrees with it" - springs immediately to  mind, only in this case it's bad storytelling. Left to survive on their merit, Whedon's tales would be confined to the B-movie bargain bin. Thanks to an energetic minority - with nothing else going on in their lives - he's been propelled to summer blockbuster status.

And, in the instances where these trolls don't shout down all legitimate criticism, Whedon denies all responsibility for the subsequent bomb! He famously said of his work on Alien: Resurrection, "They cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do,"  when the simple fact is not even Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Ron Perlman could salvage the steaming pile of a script Whedon delivered. Try this - watch that mess again and see how often you cringe. I'll bet good money it'll be at all those "clever" lines of dialogue.

So fuck Joss Whedon and fuck you double if you like him. You're what's wrong with America.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

At the Mountains of Madness - in Space!

Prometheus is everything I'd hoped and more. Not just a welcome escape from the parade of geek-bait saturating the multiplex this summer, but a complex tale that draws on the best traditions of science fiction.

And it is really damn pretty.

I should talk about that first because Prometheus has the most gorgeous cinematography this side of Herzog. Long, sweeping views of primordial Earth at the start, followed by wide extraterrestrial planes and ancient ruins that manage to be both alien and familiar. Even at his worst Ridley Scott has one of the best visual sense in the business and it feels like he's been saving it for a decade just to do Prometheus right.

Hell, just gimme this on a loop and a bottle of absinthe...

So it's got the right look. That's important in a genre film, whatever else it may be going for. Prometheus goes for a lot and succeeds at it. Completely. Those reviews you see fussing over parts that don't make sense or whether or not it's a true Alien prequel? Written by idiots, the lot of 'em. Because it does make sense and Scott rightly does not care to make this a prequel. It's in the same universe as the previous film, nothing more.

Maybe all the critics have been watching meatheads in spandex for so long it's atrophied their brains. Prometheus is awash in big themes that are easy to spot - parents and children (with parallels to Man and God), meaning and absurdity, creation narratives and existential terror. The sort of heavy shit you find in novels by Philip K. Dick (or even Alastair Reynolds when he's not being a gizmo fetishizing git). And you don't get answers to these questions, which is the whole point. Jesus, I'm having to defend ambiguity in film? Has everyone been traumatized by the shallow attempts at this in "indie" films or are you all just that fucking stupid!?

No, that's a rant for another time. We're still on a happier topic here...


A film trying to present Big Ideas can fail hard - like said "indie" trash - but Prometheus makes it work thanks to a brilliant cast. There's not one actor wasted or character you want to see killed off. Even Charlize Theron as the bloodless corporate oligarch is multilayered and sympathetic. Noomi Rapace goes from cuddly scientist to iron-willed survivor believably and Idris Elba is fantastic as always even though he's not allowed to use his natural English accent. The studio was probably afraid Daniel Craig would be out of a job if he did. I think the world's ready for a black James Bond, don't you?

But the absolute best is Michael Fassbender as the android David. He steals the show and is so deserving of Best Actor you know it will never happen. He mixes a refined, intellectual maturity with the emotional immaturity of a repressed teenager - petulant, vengeful, and terrifying. The alien bioweapons are just doing their thing, like any other animal. David displays the real malice. And even then, he's not a villain. Fassbender plays him as almost a coming-of-age character - which fits back into the dynamics of parents and children as explored in the film. Explored ruthlessly and without easy answers, as it should be.

My God, I'm full of stars!

I haven't touched on the story, have I? It's a bunch of scientists going to check out a planet ancient people drew a map to. Bad shit happens. You could sum up Blade Runner just as briefly and it would also be leaving out all the really important parts. In fact, I'd argue Blade Runner is in the same universe too seeing as Scott explored similar concepts and the critics were similarly stupified because they're stupid. Roy Batty goes to meet his maker, as Peter Weyland, and the outcomes are similarly nasty for all involved. I'm trying not to spoil things for once because you should go see this. Hell, I'm going to see it again. In imax!

'Cause this right here is it. This is 2012 in film. The rest is noise.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Veteran: Stolid Action

If I didn't have NetFlix right now I would probably kill myself. Seriously, why do you stupid fuckers keep feeding your cash to the worst crapfests Hollywood can crank out? I saw The Avengers last weekend and I think I have PTSD from all the hyper-self-conscious one-liners. Joss Whedon is a cancer...

This all left me craving something slow and methodical. The Veteran is very methodical and even more very slow but I feel like I was intentionally misreading it.

The story goes that this ex-Para, Miller, is just back from Afghanistan and needs to fit himself back into civilian life. I'll credit general Brit gloominess for making this work because there is nothing maudlin in Miller's plight. He just needs to get his shit together and has no help.

Except when he does get help - some former comrade meets him at a bar and introduces him to some Brit spook who needs "a man I can count on." And here is where the film becomes two stories and my intentional misreading of things begins.

Earlier, Miller witnessed his friend trying to get his little brother out of a gang and the little brother - like any twelve-year-old boy - was a despicable little shit about it and ran off to stay with the gangsters. This is followed as the B-plot for much of the movie despite being the more interesting. There was a slew of similar American films following Vietnam where a vet comes home, sees the hometown going to shit thanks to gangs and drugs, and goes a little postal trying to make things right. Good action-thriller material that's both bleak and smart.

...But that's overshadowed by the A-plot of Miller working with the spooks to foil a terrorist attack. An attack said spooks are actually engineering, as they've engineered every attack as a means of keeping folks scared and controlled. Brian Cox lays this all out explicitly in a scene that had to give the Loose Change retards conspiracy-boners.

Miller naturally burns his bridges with the spooks and goes on a rampage against the local gangs. Because they're assholes and shooting assholes is heartwarming. And to the film's credit, this sequence is played for realism all the way to the depressing end.

And that's where my misreading comes in.

See, the B-plot isn't just better. It feels more real. The whole spooks-secretly-behind-terrorism stuff is like a Tom Clancy knock-off as understood by Jesse Ventura... But it fits if you assume it's all in Miller's head. He's having such a terrible time adjusting to the doldrums of civilian life, he's concocted an elaborate James Bond fantasy for himself in which he stops the terrorists, the evil spooks, and even saves the girl. He doesn't even have to kill his buddy that got him into this because said buddy is loyal to Miller. This is all then juxtaposed against the misery and decay of urban Britain, where the bad guys are lethal but small fish you can never be rid of. And the people you try to rescue don't care for the help, having quite willingly signed up with the wrong side.

That there would be a great film. But Miller goes on his climactic rampage with an Armalite pinched from the terrorists so this is really all as presented. Shame, we could've used a newer and more nuanced angle on the crazy vet story.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Summer Reading Guide

With the honorable exception of Prometheus, movies are gonna suck this summer. So if you want to escape the bad crazyness of an election year, the only place to go is your local library. Because socialism is cool.

Dog of the South by Charles Portis
If you've ever lived below the Mason-Dixon Line - I don't mean visited but really lived, bills and all - you'll immediately recognize the flat hell Portis describes in his best book. A sun-baked limbo full of mediocrities outrun by their own ambitions. But Portis is fair with them - which is still pretty brutal - turning the doldrums that passes for life in the land-locked states into high art.

The narrator and star of the show, Ray Midge, is every milquetoast you've ever met but with awareness. He's a loser, he knows it, and really just digs himself deeper trying to fix it. He goes on at what could be tiresome length - Portis spares us - about history and the Civil War and his righteous quest to get that car-and-wife stealing bastard Guy Dupree but every attempt to puff himself up fizzles out because Midge is smart enough to realize how ridiculous it all sounds. In that respect he's a completely fictional creation as few Americans of the South have ever had the capacity to recognize their wretched, pointless existence for what it really is.

Platform by Michel Houellebecq
It's not his newest or most famous but this is arguably Houellebecq's purest. Full of hate for sanctimony and love of life - and that sanctimony is clearly what Houellebecq, through narrator Michel, can't stand about Islam. And he never tires drawing correlations between the reactionary life-denying of Muslim extremists and the stuffy life-denying of urban liberals. "Protestant humanitarian cunts" indeed!

But a polemic does not make for a good novel, which Houellebecq knows or is too good to have to worry about. The characters are what really carries this, the interactions between Michel and Valerie which allow Houellebecq to critique everything from Tom Clancy-esque thrillers to fetish clubs without breaking the narrative flow. This is the sort of novel you don't just read for fun, but to see how novels are done.

Full Spectrum Disorder by Stan Goff
It's out of print but well worth the effort of tracking down a copy. Goff spent two and a half decades in the US Army's many special ops outfits across seven "conflict areas," from Vietnam to Somalia. And he's not shy about telling the awful, ridiculous truth of these misadventures. As America gears up to let JSOC run its foreign policy, this book is an important lesson that, while tactically good, this lot has always whizzed strategy down their leg.

But more than that, Goff is both an excellent writer and thinker. He fits these experiences into a larger thesis about both the American military culture (which really is it's own culture thanks to the all-volunteer aspect) and American culture at large. While stridently partisan Goff is still objective and practical in his analysis, a welcome change from the usual koombayah cant that passes for Leftist rhetoric in this country.

The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich by William L. Shirer
If you only read one book all summer, this should be the one. And not only because it's over 1100 pages. Again, I'm planning a full review for this in the near future but I will say now that if you want to understand modern global politics, you have to go back to where it started. And all of it started with a couple racist romantics in a German beer hall.

To his credit, Shirer doesn't bother with the over-affected "objectivity" that has so strangled American journalism in the past generation. He's clear and comfortable with his bias and why shouldn't he be? These are the frickin' Nazis! They didn't even make the trains run on time - a ludicrous myth that is abolished quite thoroughly in this book - and Shirer's regular skewering of Ribbentrop will leave you in stitches.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson
Not nearly as famous as the other Fear and Loathing but much more relevant. I read it for the first time back in 2008 and the parallels between Muskie and Hillary Clinton were astonishing. And disturbing. If you must indulge the madness of the election year, this will serve to better inform you than all the chatter that substitutes for analysis in this culture because things really have not changed. We're still fighting a lost war at the ass-end of the Earth and a disturbing plurality of people are still cool with it. It's the same suffocating mediocrity of Dog of the South all over again, but here shown as the distinctly American aberration it is.

If that sort of abject nihilism doesn't float your boat, this includes Hunter Thompson at the Republican National Convention doing what everyone fantasizes about - speaking his mind and getting away with it.

And don't forget to buy my books!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The People's Court

John Roberts must be on a personal quest to one-up the previous Volksgerichtshof headed by Roland Freisler. Remember back when they came out with a ruling saying cops can strip search you at will? Well, add in arresting you if ya get mouthy.

"When then-Vice President Cheney visited a Colorado mall in 2006, Secret Service agent Dan Doyle overheard Steven Howards say that he was 'going to ask [the vice president] how many kids he's killed today.' Howards then got in line to meet Cheney and, when he reached the vice president, told him that his 'policies in Iraq are disgusting.' As Cheney moved along, Howards touched him on the shoulder, prompting the supervising Secret Service agent, Gus Reichle, to accost and arrest Howards for assault."

Let's be clear - telling someone you're disgusted with them doesn't mean you're going to kill them. It means... you're disgusted with them. The Secret Service's mandate only covers protecting their charges from bodily harm, not unflattering opinion. And if you think touching someone on the shoulder constitutes assault, go take a walk through Southeast sometime. They'll teach ya "assault" over there real quick.

This was a pretty clear case of the trend (pointed out before) in this country of people with power being really insecure. Even if Howards appeared genuinely threatening - not just uncomfortably non-deferent - there's a dozen different ways to size up such a threat before arresting. An arrest ain't something simple, like a stern talking to. It's a long, complicated, and for the arrestee very expensive process. The only excuse, other than Reichle being an over-reactive coward, is intimidation.

Which clearly didn't work since Howards chose to sue their asses.

John Roberts to the rescue!
Fortunately for the wimps in the Secret Service, Chief Justice Roberts has their back. As do the liberal Justices, seeing as it was a vote of 8-0 in favor of retaliatory arrests. It provides yet another abject lesson in the ugly realities concerning the Roberts Court - when they're not relying on contemporary partisan dickering, as opposed to Constitutional precedent, this court will happily come together in favor of knee-jerk authoritarianism.

Which actually makes them quite representative of the collective American consciousness. Try this - ask a coworker or even a random person on the street if someone who's been arrested must have been doing something wrong. If the answer surprises you, you haven't been paying attention.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse: Favorite Fantasy of Losers

What the fuck is wrong with you people? Seriously, I'm in the middle of drawing up a summer reading guide for your ignorant asses and I check what's trending now - and it's fucking zombies? Again!?

A man ate another man's face in Miami. It happens. But just try searching for that - with no mention of zombies - and every result has fucking "Zombie!" in the headline. Even the guy in Baltimore who was more Hannibal Lector than George Romero is getting lumped in with them. Never mind Lector actually operated in Baltimore in those stories, so you'd think that would be the natural hook. Or at least you'd think that if you were a fucking grown-up. And if the past few days are any indication, even the thirty and forty-somethings on the internet are just fat boys.

But this got me thinking - why is everyone always jerking themselves raw over zombies? They're not sexy, like vampires. And not everyone has read World War Z, which is a surprisingly good book. So I got to thinking about what always seems to constitute a zombie story - gunplay, civilization in ruin, ragtag band of heroes making their own way...

For once I am ashamed of a pun.

Yep, we're back in the fantasy land of reactionary twerps. The cannibalistic undead are just another excuse to run around playing survivalist. And it really is playing - lots of these stories devote themselves to scavanging and shooting but how many Dawn of the Dead knock-offs show the survivors planting a vegetable garden? Or trying to secure a living space near a water source?

Because that's what real survival would entail, all the boring logistics of preserving yourself - and your comrades, 'cause ain't nobody survivng long without somebody. But it's not as cool and sexy as toting a shotgun through an abandoned mall by yourself, smashing windows to grab whatever you like. Sure, you'll die of something modern medicine could easily prevent long before a zombie bites you but that's after the credits roll so it doesn't count.

It's all stupid. All of it! But stupid sells real well these days. Makes me want to vote for Romney just out of spite.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nostalgia Sucks

Dark Shadows is a rotten mess of what could've been a great movie.

At it's best, it's reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow. A criminally underrated film that retold a classic American tale with a seamless blend of mystery, horror, and that distinct Tim Burton humor. What little is devoted to the character of Victoria reflects all these qualities but the key to it all working - the mystery - is torpedoed too early in favor of a half-assed love triangle between Barnabas, Angelique, and Victoria - who's really Maggie and possibly a reincarnation of Josette and now you've given more thought to what's going on than the actual screenwriter. That screenwriter is one Seth Grahame-Smith -

This jackass.

A writer who's only demonstrated skill is to take an established work and wipe his dick all over it, he abandons whatever might have turned into a real story at the earliest convenience to draw up a bunch of vampire sight gags and 70s references that are so cringingly unfunny I nearly walked out. The only reason I stuck this out is because I was taking my mom, a longtime Dark Shadows fan, as a belated Mother's Day gift.

Dragging things down further is the ensemble cast who are either wasted or a waste to start with. Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter can hold their own alongside Johnny Depp - a great actor, even in these awful circumstances - but they're never given a chance. Jackie Earle Haley, the biggest talent on screen as far as I'm concerned, seemed to be consciously phoning it in, having recognized this wreck for what it is. Then there was Chloe whatever, a terrible actress who delivers her terrible lines with the same mouth-breathing sneer and is only on board because American culture has been furiously jacking off to underage girls for over a decade now. Alice Cooper muddles through a cameo, lip-syncing his own classics, nothing like his show-stealing appearance in Wayne's World. And then there are a bunch of nobodies and nothings who only serve as further window dressing for Johnny Depp playing a vampire.

Pictured: Johnny Depp and scenery.

And how is Depp? As I said, a great actor even when things are at their worst, but here wasted on the sort of hackneyed fish-out-of-water antics last seen in Thor and spouting intentionally comic melodrama that still falls flat.

But worst of all is, judging by the trailers for both Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Snow White and The Huntress that preceded this cringe-fest, Dark Shadows is what we can expect from American writing these days. And if that half-baked fan fiction isn't up your alley, there's always the plodding navel-gazing of the Dunham set.

I now completely understand why Charles Portis rarely sets foot in this country anymore...