Thursday, March 20, 2014


After listening to the crazy lady explain that the Big Gub'mint knows all and sees all, I went across the street to catch a showing of Pompeii.

I was hesitant with this one. Growing up reading archeology books, things like Pompeii are real for me. I even got to see the original in Italy years ago, which is now a tourist museum, still in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It's a sobering experience, seeing all those people frozen in their final moments...

So when I heard they were making a movie out of the tragedy, I was initially thrilled. Then I saw a trailer. It looked like a mash-up of 300 and Titanic - cornball star-crossed love for the girls and he-manly stabbings for the boys, with the special effects filling in for any actual acting. But I went to see it anyway and I'm pleased to announce it's more a mash-up of Gladiator and Titanic.

"Winter has come, bitches!"

Sure, it's got the cornball romance angle and everyone Lords and Ladys each other like a Brit melodrama, but it makes up for it in the violence and death. John Snow plays a Celt - because every pasty white dweeb dreams of being a Celt - whose family was exterminated by the film villain, necessitating he be raised as a gladiator. That's how he gets from rainy Londinium to sunny Pompeii, where he meets the fish-faced patrician girl of his dreams!


Thank god the director put some earthquakes and sword fights in, or I'd have fallen asleep. Speaking of - Paul W.S. Anderson is another reason I was hesitant. He's the man responsible for those awful Alien versus Predator movies but he also did Event Horizon and Pandorum, two of the best sci-fi horror films since the original Alien. Very uneven record...

While Pompeii isn't as timeless as those two, it holds its own better than expected. This is due to two factors - or maybe one and a half. The first is the supporting cast, which includes that official villain I mentioned earlier played by Keifer Sutherland. His faux-anglo accent is the worst of the lot but it's so affected that he sounds like a younger Mister Burns, which is appropriate since every chance he gets he goes for the evil option. In any other film it would be obnoxiously two-dimensional but he's only really here so you can enjoy watching him die.


Next up is the greatest - and most wasted - talent on screen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Most people remember him as that African guy on Lost, because most people are ignorant swine. Agbaje is John Snow's rival gladiator, which naturally means they're allies once Mount Vesuvius blows its top, with the older and more experienced black guy constantly deferring to the younger white guy. It's annoying because Agbaje's character was far more interesting - one fight away from being legally granted his freedom under Roman law, fatalistic and jolly in equal measure, the sort of character that could have carried the whole movie on his own. But here, so subordinated to the pretty white kids that he makes the expected Noble Sacrifice so they can escape - though there is something impressive about standing to greet the pyroclastic flow with half a sword still in your guts.

So let's use a classy picture.

And if Agbaje were the star instead of just the ethnic sidekick, then that other little positive of the film could've blossomed. The fatalism he expresses at times, the understanding and even acceptance of his own mortality, is both very Roman and very alien to modern sensibilities. It lurks everywhere throughout the film, from Princess Fish-Lips sacrificing herself to Sutherland's Snidely Whiplash to protect her family and the city from Roman domination to John Snow's constant open defiance of his own masters, all of which is eventually blotted out by unconscious nature. Along with the sun.

It's a surprisingly grim subtext for a swashbuckling popcorn flick. Not enough to really make up for the hokeyness but let's say three stars.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Me Nation

I spent the weekend traveling back and forth to Virginia, getting a re-education in the psychology of ordinary fucking people. While getting lunch in Alexandria, a lady with nothing better to do than drink rum and coke alone at noon started sounding off, "The government knows where that plane is! They got those spy satellites!" Because the US government is so very interested in the fate of some plane out of Malaysia. Implicit in her jabber was the assumption that the now infamous airplane is in fact somewhere, as opposed to scattered across the bottom of the sea. You know, the scenario with a 99% probability.

It's the sort of stupid bullshit you hear from functional alcoholics a lot but let's examine the implications. The United States federal government knows all and sees all. Now, if you're worried about terrorists crawling out of your toilet - like the majority of Americans from about 2002 to 2007 - that's actually a comforting thought. Total Information Awareness works! However, that's not the reaction we saw with the PRISM revelations. Because obviously if the government can see everywhere and anywhere, it's going to be focused specifically on you. That's the dominant brainwave of a systemically narcissistic culture.

Further proof can be found here. And if you're averse to clinking blind links, that's one of the stupider articles on Alternet making the case that last year's bombing of the Boston marathon was an inside job. Not with any actual evidence of course, just innuendo and pseudo-skepticism relying on the assumption that of course the Feds would want to blow up an American city. Implicit in the assumption is that only Americans can or even would do such a thing because only Americans are real. Only American interests are real - or rather, the interests of individual Americans. The fact that the Tsarnaev brothers were motivated by revenge for fallen Muslims is dismissed out of hand as too outlandish - because it's not venal and self-serving enough to be understandable to the average American narcissist.

And that's why Americans have been so helpless on the whole Crimea issue. Politico tries to reconcile the two extremes of Putin's character, indulging in the equally prevalent American pathology of only seeing in dichotomies. What only one in a dozen of their own analysts can see is that the two theoretical Putins - the technocrat and the bully - are both entirely consistent with everyday nationalism. Putin is a shrewd tactician and he is grabbing Crimea for the glory of the Russian Empire. And like the Tsarnaevs, Americans just don't get why he would do something that doesn't directly line his pockets. Therefore he's crazy.

For added comedy, as Russian troops were rolling on Ukraine last week, everyone's favorite useful idiot filmed himself in front of the US Constitution's preamble lecturing on the importance of incognito browsing of porn sites. Think it was a propaganda scheme by the FSB? "Before we lay smackdown on Ukraine, we put Comrade Snowden on intertubes to distract yankees."

And Snowden is just dumb enough to think it was his own idea, because he's so grand. Typical American...