Monday, May 29, 2006

White Crosses

This is a reproduction of something I wrote some time ago, for a previous online column I did back before it was called "blogging" (sometime in 2000/2001, IIRC.) I'm putting it up here because it seems appropriate today.

"The local radio station's been running promos all weekend, talking about how Memorial Day isn't just about the paid vacation, or the long weekend, or barbeques or fishing trips. They're having their DJs record little messages, talking about remembering the men and women who've served this country, who've defended our freedom, and how proud they are to live in such a great country.

"Which is fine, I suppose, as far as it goes, demonstrating to us that one of the littler-understood holidays has a purpose (Labor Day, I think, is the other one that seems to be less celebrated than used as a convenient excuse for a day off.) But I don't think they've got the right end of the stick, here. I could be wrong, but I don't think they're understanding Memorial Day at all.

"It's not about celebrating the men and women who've served our country and defended our freedom. Surely that'd be Veteran's Day? And I can't imagine that it's a day to think about how proud we are to be Americans...I think Independence Day would be more appropriate for that. In fact, I think that patriotism actually interferes with the true purpose of Memorial Day.

"Memorial Day is a day to remember the dead. It is a day in which we contemplate the wars that have been fought, for politics, for kings, for territory, for hatred, or for no reason at all. It is a day in which we consider the North Vietnamese soldier fighting to reunite his country, his flesh burning with napalm, and the day in which we consider the American soldier dying half a world away from the people he loves with a sniper's bullet lodged in his head. It is a day when we look to Russia and imagine a generation of young men decimated by war, a country bled white by the invading Nazis, and in which we try to imagine what it must have been like for the German soldiers as they froze to death fighting for the dreams of a madman. It is a day when we look at the world around us, and at the millions of graves that we've already dug, row upon row of white crosses staring back at us, and ask ourselves, is this something we want to do again?

"Perhaps it's no wonder that people prefer to think of it as an excuse for barbeques and fishing trips."

Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men 3: Spoiler-Free Review

On the whole, a good movie, but it makes two major mistakes that keep it from continuing the "each X-Men movie is better than the previous one" trend.

First, they give Halle Berry more screen time. This is problematic, because she gives every line about the same exact reading, which is to say a disinterested, vaguely snappish monotone. She has no screen presence at all; at any given moment, you'll be more likely to watch for background cameos by minor X-characters than you will be to pay attention to whatever she's saying. And given that for one reason or another, Scott, Jean, Xavier, and Rogue don't get much screen time, she has to carry about half the movie. And that's 51% more than she can successfully lift.

The other is (not a spoiler, because it was in the trailers) Jean's back from the dead. This is a story arc that deserves its own movie, but they've decided to try to fit it in at the same time as the "mutant cure" arc that forms the story's A-plot. Which means that neither one has enough time to really work, and further means that the work of establishing the new X-characters (because as previously mentioned, Scott, Jean, Xavier and Rogue are all, for one reason or another, absent for much of the movie) goes unfinished. Beast is nice enough (although the make-up is lousy), but you never get a real sense of who he is. Kitty and Colossus remain cameo-level characters even though they're supposed to now be first-team X-Men. This hurts the movie in all sorts of little knock-on ways. Really, Jean should have come back at the end, and they should have had enough confidence in the franchise to believe that they would do a fourth.

But that's the bad stuff. The good stuff? Everything else.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Disturbing Geek Moment of the Day

I was, for no particular reason, thinking about Spider-Man's webbing, when suddenly my chain of thoughts slipped a couple of notches in the gear, leading to a disturbing realization I must now share with you all. It works as follows:

Peter David once commented on how much money Peter Parker could make just by patenting and selling his web-fluid. He talked about all its potential uses, from medical (sutures, stitches, and temporary casts that dissolve on their own after an hour) to law-enforcement (web-bombs that incapacitate crowds of protesters without hurting them is practically the holy grail of SWAT teams.) But, I suddenly realized, he'd left an important one out.

If the webbing is, as we've always been told, an adhesive so powerful that no human can break it, no matter how tightly they struggle, that dissolves on its own after an hour, and that won't stick to certain chemically treated fabrics, could make billions by marketing it to bondage fans. "Bondage gear in a can--spray on, and they won't move for an hour."

I didn't even have time to ponder the story implications of that disturbing realization, though (although it involves an unscrupulous chemist, Peter realizing he'd never actually patented the web-formula, and a lot of public humiliation when crooks start referring to him as "that kinky sex vigilante!") because my brain had already skipped to the next logical step...

Peter and Mary Jane must have used his webbing like that already.

I mean, they were newlyweds, Mary Jane's always been presented as a fairly freaky chick, insofar as the Comics Code can present such, and every couple goes through at least one "it seemed like a good idea at the time" sexual encounter. At some point, she must have decided to use the web-shooters on Peter to keep him from going out and fighting crime while she was in the mood. At least once.

And you just know the whole rest of the day, when Peter was webbing up super-criminals, he was getting weirded out in a big way.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Odd Businesses

All seen on actual checks at work:

"Interstate Meat Service" (it's even written in 70s porn-movie font)

"Wagner's Meat" (continuing the 'meat' theme--and yes, I know it doesn't sound too bad, until you see the slogan at the bottom of the check. "You can't beat Wagner's meat." I hadn't actually intended to try, thanks.)

"Linco Iron Erection" (never fails to bring a smile to my face, that one.)

"Kuntz Electric" (presumably one hopes they never entered into a partnership with Linco Iron Erection.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Watch This Space

I'm writing a book. More info later...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

If I Could

If I could have any super-power from comics, I think I'd want Multiple Man's powers. It just seems like the most effective power for a person who's not going to be fighting any super-villains; super-speed doesn't really help when you're working with computers, talking to people, or really doing anything other than running. Super-strength? Yeah, how often do I need to lift really heavy things, exactly? Stretching, flame powers...invisibility has some potential, but really, duplicating yourself is where it's at.

Suddenly money's not a problem--you can work twenty jobs, and only have one person's rent bill. You can finally sit down and really grind out levels in that MMO, because you can have one of you dedicated to doing exactly that 24/7. Reading? Watching movies? Feel free to suddenly become the most educated person on the planet, because you can read a whole library in a week. It's like suddenly having 40 times as much free time.

Not to mention you always have someone intelligent to talk to.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ted Kord Lives!

For anyone who remains bothered by the death of Ted Kord, the Silver Age Blue Beetle, in the recent "death-tastic" crossover 'Infinite Crisis', there's an easy 'get out of jail free' card in recent continuity. When Blue Beetle joined the SuperBuddies a few years ago (don't ask--no, really, just don't, it's a textbook example of You Probably Don't Want To Know), the team traveled to a parallel universe and met their own evil counterparts. Except for Blue Beetle, whose evil counterpart was strangely absent. Oh, and he suffered a mysterious bout of amnesia during that story.

So there you go. The Blue Beetle that Max Lord shot was the evil counterpart, who had taken the opportunity to swap places with his good version when they passed through. In our universe, he had started to take his first steps towards redemption, inspired by the heroes of this world...and it cost him his life.

Actually, that's even more depressing than the version that DC published.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

State of Horror

I watched 'The Fog' yesterday--it was the original version, not the re-make, but they had a trailer for the remake included on the DVD, and it's interesting to see. Because it does seem to be a snap-shot of the way horror movies have changed for the mainstream audience.

1) Everyone's younger. Every single character in the re-make of 'The Fog' (and from the looks of the trailer, it was a pretty literal re-make) is easily ten years younger than the same character was in the original. Some are twenty or thirty years younger. It's as though you can't make a movie about anyone other than photogenic twenty-somethings anymore. (Which could be a movie idea in and of itself...a mysterious force "deleting" everyone over a certain age from history, smoothing over things and leaving a Calvin Klein-ready community in its wake?)

2) There's much less gore. OK, this isn't immediately evident from the trailer, but it is evident from the rating they put at the end of the trailer. Back in 1980, every horror movie had to have the gore and nudity amped up to R-rated levels, because the big bucks came from teenagers sneaking into R-rated movies. They wouldn't bother with a PG horror movie--too wimpy. Now, theaters enforce the ratings more stringently, and so the big bucks come from skimping on the gore just enough to get that rating down to PG-13 and getting those 13-16 year olds to see the film. Which means that there's far less scares, and far more "atmosphere" (read: far less scares, and far more long shots of dark areas with spooky music.)

3) The technical elements of film-making have improved greatly. While the original 'Fog' did have some classic B-list actors and great direction from Carpenter, the overall cinematography and special effects did betray that it was an early 80s horror film. The current 'Fog', for all of the problems listed in 1 and 2 above, does look like a more lavish, slicker production. Less money now looks nicer than more money did back then, which is a good thing for future film-makers.

So what does all this mean? That most horror movies, as we see them today, are pale and weak descendants of bloody ancestors. They give not real horror, but the pretense of horror. Audiences haven't really been shocked and scared in a long time by these imitation horror movies.

I think, though, that what hope there is comes from 3. With the costs of making a slick, lavish-looking horror film dropping, it's entirely possible that we could see a new wave of horror films that don't need to be big hits in theaters, that don't need to wimp out to cater to bored 13-year olds. They can do what they want, be as edgy as they feel like, and see the profits on DVD. (Hopefully, 'Slither' will bear me out on this when it hits DVD.)

Of course, I think the most shocking thing to people reading this blog will be finding out I care this much about horror movies. :)