Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

After trying to enjoy it for years, I've come to the opinion that modern American lit can sit and spin. Except David Foster Wallace, the one poor bastard who tried to say something real in the hyper-self-conscious language of the seminar creeps and wound up hanging himself. He's a good read, which is why I initially avoided the film adaptation of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

It's a shame this film didn't suck because then I could title the review "A Hideous Film" or something equally punny. Is not great - for the most part - but it's pretty alright, especially for a first time director. Jon Krasinski, the smirking everyman of The Office, put this together and it's obvious he's both a Wallace fan and deeply entwined with the mingy world Wallace struggled with, making for a film that's much too comfortable with it's own targets.

For those of you who never read it, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is actually a short story collection and gets the title from a number of interviews - or really monologues - from very ugly and very familiar men, mostly about women. This film does the ugly well, but only up to a point.

One particular interview is with a guy who has a hilariously complicated and neurotic sexual fantasy - always in a gym and always with stopping all time around him while he plows the chick of the moment. Originally, this fantasy goes out of control as he freaks out over all the madness he would cause by freezing people worldwide, just to get his rocks off. Think Alex Portnoy to the tenth power of cocaine.

In the film, it cuts off before it can get that weird and we're left with just the dolt smiling over the awesome powers he cribbed from Bewitched.

I couldn't find him so here's the guy who ejaculates democracy.

And Krasinski is a very middling actor. He has the good grace not to make himself the star of the show, instead focusing on some sallow hipster knock-off of Felicia Day as she goes about conducting the titular interviews. These are taken verbatim from Wallace, illustrated through the magic of film, and are for the most part well acted. The only one that falls flat is the penultimate scene with Krasinski himself, which stays faithful to Wallace's overwrought delivery but can't muster any of the humor or humanity.

But before that, we get to see Krasinski as a phenomenal director. Seriously, just watch this:

...I'll be honest, I didn't expect much from this movie. I just threw it on so my wife and I had some noise during dinner. I certainly wasn't expecting anything this good! Hell, the rest of the film feels stodgy and try-hardy in comparison.

Everything here - the delivery, the set, the subtleties - is perfect. This is what film can do that books can't! This one scene takes Wallace's prose and gets to the core of desperation while still reciting things verbatim. It's better than I ever would have expected from a dead writer cash-in flick and better than anything I've seen since A Serious Man.

One scene may not make a movie but this comes pretty damn close. It's enough reason to check out the rest if you have the time before Europa Report comes out.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Boot Stamping on Your Face

I'm not sure who to hate more in the whole Snowden fiasco. Michael Hayden, for losing his shit in a ludicrously partisan op-ed? Glenn Greenwald, for raising up a suburban American dweeb as the second coming for just reiterating what everyone with a clue already knew about the NSA? Or said dweeb himself, Snowden, who for all the good he could've done for some real government transparency has flushed it away in a half-baked stance that's devoid of historical awareness or anything approaching the political will to affect some good change for once?

Mostly, I'm going to hate You the citizen. You got your panties in a twist at the thought of some federal office drone reading your embarrassing emails and ignored the one really important aspect of Snowden's leaks - the outsourced, for-profit security state.

The real Ministry of Love...

This has been going on for decades and nobody wants to pay attention. Defense spending was crooked as all hell even before Reagen but it was under that reptile's for-profit revolution that you started seeing things in the budget that had no fucking use whatsoever. The B1, Star Wars, pretty much anything that threw money down the business hole so that contractors could buy bigger and uglier houses in the DC suburbs.

Fast forward to now and you've got government surveillance filtered through IT companies, most of whom like to put on libertarian airs. Like Palantir, a typical technogeek outfit that loves to harp on individual liberty while taking fat CIA contracts. And let's not forget how the only reason the spooks can root through your data is because Facebook and Google gave it away. That the government doesn't need to be clever to invade your privacy but just ask the sites you inexplicably trust for your info, that's what should be worrying. Unless you hold to the belief that corporations can't be as oppressive as governments, like Cato flunkey Glenn Greenwald.

"And as you can see here, I supported the Iraq War until the Koch Brothers told me not to."

It's not just that the public and private institutions you've placed your trust in have betrayed you. It's that, should a real threat be brewing, this outsourced surveillance is worse than useless. Remember, this was all going on in the lead up to Boston with Tsarnaev the younger posting straight-up jihadi videos on YouTube! Even without their super secret spy gizmos, every three letter agency could've spotted that! Didn't help in the least. In the aftermath, we had the amateur detectives of Twitter getting ready to string up a Saudi for the crime of being scared. I called that bullshit out as it was happening and as far as I can tell I was the only one. When it turned out to be a nothing story, everyone just went back to the usual white noise that substitutes for thinking in this country.

And that's what I find really troubling about all this - that national defense is reliant on a system with little grounding and even less interest in reality. If such a half-assed system continues, the events of Boston will be easy to repeat as anyone serious will just be lost in the noise. And you're all cool with it because Business Good, Government Bad.

You cretins don't deserve any privacy. You'd just drown in the toilet.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Florida Did Wrong

How is America going to move beyond the racism that lead to the murder of Trayvon Martin? Simple, it ain't. At least not until a whole lot of crackers die of old age, along with their children and their children's children... So yeah, racism is gonna keep killing young black men in hoodies for the forseable future.

But depending on where it happens, no one will be punished for it. Let me say up front I don't know and don't particularly care if George Zimmerman is racist. I'm more inclined to believe a gun owning buddy of mine who described the shlub thus - "I see him as that guy who just got his first  gun and couldn't wait to try it out." And then he threw in some Beavis laughs for emphasis. However, he would've just been another trigger happy moron if not for the State of Florida.

"Stand Your Ground" is the catch all for self-defense laws which could charitably be described as "pro-active" and more accurately described as "ludicrously paranoid." See, every state recognizes your right to defend yourself when attacked but that's not good enough for the dumbasses who think every brown person is planning to mug them. So they clamor for an expansion of existing law, saying they have no obligation to retreat first and may meet the threat as they deem appropriate. The idea is to put a stop to the imagined railroading of equally imaginary responsible gun owners who were just defending themselves. What it has actually lead to is encouraging escalation.

Let's have a quick legal aside - "escalation" is the fancy way of saying "he punched you so you stabbed him." Technically you were defending yourself but you did so in a disproportionate manner, which makes you the agressor. And guilty of assault.

Unless you're in a state with Stand Your Ground on the books! You can still be considered acting in self-defense if you shoot someone who's unarmed or retreating from you or even if you're a known drug dealer. Proponents of the law say they are shocked - shocked! - that such shenanigans could occur but that's what happens when you adopt broad legislation to appease a mouthy minority of screwheads. And you're statistically more likely to get off if you shoot a black person.

Now let's talk about Martin and Zimmerman. Like I said, Zimmerman's a clown but let's give him the benefit of the doubt for now: Supposing that Martin did indeed attack him first and battered him against the sidewalk so his shaved head looked all bloody, does that give Zimmerman cause to defend himself? Absolutely. Does being attacked by a bare-handed teenager give him the right to respond with lethal force? The proper legal answer used to be "Hell no, that's escalation!" but thanks to Stand Your Ground, it isn't possible to make that distinction anymore.

Trayvon Martin is dead because he crossed paths with a trigger happy idiot. No law would have prevented that - at least none this rotten country will consider. But his killer walked free because of a law dreamed up by paranoid hicks that encourages ordinary citizens to go beyond common self defense into outright murder. And this won't be the last case.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Apocalypse? Please...

Ever seen a movie that was both fantastic and terrible? It's a unique experience and one you can have right now a your local multiplex, courtesy of World War Z.

Based on the novel by the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft - no, really! - this flick is... Well, all of you know what it's about. Zombies, armageddon, headshots, if you've been in any way engaged with popular culture for the past seven years you know exactly what you're getting.

An inspiring story of can-do spirit!

But doing the familiar really well is just as important to film as innovation and on that fron World War Z is very... Hold on, this is a little complicated.

I'm going to state right out that I do not like zombie stories but I liked World War Z. The book, that is. I enjoyed how Max Brooks took dozens of little stories to tell one big story that was horrifying, inspiring, and balls-out funny in a number of places. He also injected it with a subtle but clear vein of satire - from an obvious Karl Rove stand-in reduced to literaly shoveling shit in Texas while trying to defend his bosses utter cock-up of the pre-apocalypse, to the description of "LAMOES" or "Last Man On Earth Syndrome" who indulge in the classic lone survivalist fantasy only to pick a fight with the new blue-uniformed US Army and promptly get vaporized. Stick that in your AR-15 and smoke it!

I was also of the opinion that it's one of those books which are simply unfilmable and said so to friends when the first rumblings of a movie adaptation came out some years ago. But two weeks ago I went to see it, ready to give it the benefit of the doubt. And World War Z - the film this time - sidesteps those unfilmable issues by not having much of anything to do with the book at all.

Oh sure, there are zombies and they start in China and there's a wall around Israel and the UN is organizing the survival of the species from a fleet at sea, but that's where the similarities end. Rather than a bunch of little stories forming a greater hole, this is just one big story that's so much hot air.

Brad Pitt plays Brad Pitt, a former UN investigator used to such scary places as Afghanistan and Chechnya, and he's sent by the Black King of the World to find Patient Zero from which a random biologist can hopefully extract an antivirus. Pitt continues in his Patient Z search even after said biologist is killed by a ricocheting bullet five minutes later.

So as an adaptation it's simply not but how does it stand on it's own?


Pitt follows up getting the last hope for humanity killed with a globetrotting adventure - okay, just Israel and Cardiff - trying to complete the search himself and always one step ahead of a CGI zombie horde. It gets a little ridiculous, everywhere Pitt goes, zombies invariably follow to the point you wonder if he's somehow attracting them. Like, if he was launched into space would all the zombies helpfully expel themselves from the Earth like dolphins?

"So long and thanks for all the brains!"

Not that he really has to, since the six screenwriters cram in a deus ex machina conveniently located at a British lab. Turns out sufficiently sick people are invisible to zombie bran-dar and the undead hordes will part like the Red Sea for a single cancer patient or kid with meningitis. At last, a fighting chance for humanity! Roll credits!

...Wait, what? Not at the deus ex machina, but at the credits. I left the theater feeling like the movie ended three hours early. No reconquest of the world by the living, no Studs Terkel wannabe interviewing the survivors, just Pitt taking a paddle boat to see his family.

But what makes the abrupt ending so jarring is that World Tour Z is actually pretty good in spots. The opening of Pitt and his Pitts trying to escape the madness around them is nice and tense, keeping the monsters just enough out of sight to really work the nerves. The later lab sequence is similarly good and creepy - and I swear it's a Half-Life reference inserted by J. Michael Straczynski because he's a huge nerd. What else would you make of people running around a research facility where the doctors and technicians have all turned into shambling monsters and they get whacked with a crowbar?

That's not a dig at Straczynski, by the way. I love that guy's work, he really knows how to take a story on a grand scale and communicate it through relatable characters. And besides Brad Pitt as Token Hero Square-Jaw, the characters in this are really good. The dead biologist, Nelson Mandela Junior, an Israeli soldier girl who accompanies Pitt because he helpfully hacked off her arm. The only wasted talent was Peter "Malcolm Fuckmothering Tucker!" Capaldi and only because there's not much use for his glorious obscenity issuing from a World Health Organization dweeb.

"Zombies? Release the lubricated horse cock!"

Wrapped up in some excellent music and visuals - besides the CGI zeke rush - and it's a pretty good flick... It just feels anemic. And it's too bad this wasn't a vampire film, 'cause then I could end on a really bad pun.