Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Haunts Me About Firefly

We all know what 'Firefly' is about, right? Mal was one of the Browncoats, who fought a failed war against the Alliance and, after it was over and his cause of freedom was lost, he went out to the frontier to live free like a person oughta. The Alliance and "civilization" are slowly encroaching on his wild frontier, but he's determined to defy them any way he can.

It's a great story, one that feels authentic because it is authentic. Joss Whedon took his inspiration for his "space Western" by transplanting a lot of the causes of the original "Wild West" to a different setting. The original American frontier got its reputation for lawlessness due to an influx of Confederate veterans who felt frustrated and bitter living in the Reconstruction South. They migrated westwards, where they used their military skills to carve out a living however they could. Until, of course, the federal government moved west as well, taming the new frontier.

So the Browncoats are basically the Greybacks. Which is what haunts me...because Joss Whedon never really says why the war started. What was the cause the Browncoats fought for? Mal and others say that the Alliance "meddled", but that was the basic attitude of most slaveowners as well. Mal certainly doesn't seem to show any socially unpopular attitudes--he's friendly to Book, to River, to pretty much everyone as far as a misanthropic cynic like him is capable of being friendly--but what did he stand for? What made the Alliance say, "No. This cannot be tolerated, not in a civilized culture"?

I wonder. And I wonder if maybe Joss Whedon didn't intend me to wonder, just a little.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

John Scalzi and the Myth of Inerrancy

I recently decided to pick up John Scalzi's book 'Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded', based on the fact that I'd heard good things about him as a blogger. I did feel a little trepidation doing so, having already read his 'Rough Guide to Science Fiction' and found myself more than a little irritated by a few of its claims, such as "You're not a true science-fiction fan if you don't like 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai'!" (a claim right up there with "You're not a real gourmet unless you can appreciate the subtle flavors and distinct aroma of yak vomit," or "The true automotive enthusiast loves the classic lines and dynamic handling of the AMC Gremlin.") But on the whole, I found myself greatly entertained by the book, and thought Scalzi was generally pretty clever and insightful.

Except for his column on Star Wars, which takes a few good points and weaves them together into a wild mess of incoherent fanboyish speculation that bears no connection to the worlds of art, commerce, film theory, mythology, and quite possibly chemistry and physics as well. I'm aware, of course, that despite Scalzi's repeated assertions that he's not particularly famous, his fame relative to mine is similar to George Lucas' relative to his, but nonetheless I feel bound to reply, knowing he'll probably never see this. (Which doesn't mean I plan to insult him just because I don't think he'll answer back. My policy when blogging is never to say anything I wouldn't say to someone's face. Which should tell you something about my lack of social graces, looking back...)

Scalzi's basic assertion, for those of you who couldn't be bothered to follow the link, is that the reason the prequels weren't any good (he takes it as an article of faith that you'll agree, but I don't mind that, because the prequels really weren't any good) is that Lucas doesn't actually have any talent as a film-maker; he's obsessed with detailing the mythology of the Star Wars universe, and anything good in the movies is either (to quote Scalzi) "unintentional, achieved through special effects, or is the work of hired guns, notably Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett".

This statement tells me something pretty important right off the bat. Namely, it tells me he hasn't actually seen the movies in a long time. Fan opinion has a tendency to petrify in the absence of occasional connection with the material; over time, the actual feelings you had about the original work slowly get leached away and replaced by the discussions you had with other fans. Everybody "knows" that 'Empire' is the best Star Wars movie, because we all talk about it all the time at conventions and we all agree on it.

In fact, Empire is pretty damn awful. It's a long, shaggy-dog story that starts with the Rebels having established themselves in a very stupid position with no logical explanation, and then proceeds to make an entire plot of, "Will our heroes get away?" Which is a problem, as the answer can never be anything other than, "Well, yes, of course." (Except for Han, who gets captured in a weak attempt at a cliff-hanger; it's funny fans excoriate 'Return of the Jedi' without ever considering the fact that it's forced to spend a half-hour extricating itself from the plot cul-de-sac left at the end of 'Empire'.) Most of its reputation rests on the fact that "it's dark" (never underestimate the attraction to grown-up fanboys of a "darker, more adult" version of something they liked as kids), the romance between Han and Leia (which was rightly eviscerated by Jeanne Cavelos as the moment when Leia stopped being a strong female character and started being a shrill, whiny stereotype of the Girl Who Just Needs a Man In Her Life) and the "I am your father" bit, which was good but not nearly good enough to rescue the movie. The actual great movie is the original, always has been, but it's become fashionable to hate it because We're Too Grown-Up For That Now.

The point is, the second I hear, "The only good one was 'Empire'," I immediately know that this is going to be someone who is discussing the fan orthodoxies of the Star Wars movies, rather than the movies themselves. And Scalzi doesn't disappoint. He makes the entirely correct point that Lucas has nobody who can gainsay his opinions when making the prequels, nobody who can edit him, but then goes on to make the claim that this means that we're seeing undiluted Lucas, without the filters of talented people making him better, and that this just shows how inept Lucas really is without others there to save his bacon.

Now this isn't just stupid, it's disappointing. Scalzi is a very intelligent man. He knows the value of a good editor--hell, he extols it elsewhere in the same collection of blog entries. But somehow, he completely forgets that film is a collaboration and that strong editorial voices make your work better when he has the chance to take a baseball bat to someone he doesn't like already. Of course, Lucas' work isn't as good when nobody can tell him where he's going wrong! Twenty years off from writing and directing probably didn't help much either. But to suggest that this means that the movies were good despite Lucas, not because of them, shows an absolutely staggering ignorance of the basics of film-making.

Yes, Lucas hired other people to do important work on the movies. That's kind of the nature of film-making; the number of movies that can be made by one person can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. But his role on the film was to provide guidance and direction to the "hired guns" that Scalzi apparently thinks did their work in the dead of night, having possibly tied Lucas up to prevent him from interfering with their attempts to rescue his film from mediocrity. Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan didn't turn up with a finished script for Lucas to delight over, then hand off to Irvin Kershner to film; at every stage, from the initial script conference to the two-page brief to the outline to every single draft of the movie, they got copious notes from Lucas on what he wanted changed. And when they finally got around to shooting, it wasn't like Kershner did his work in a vacuum, either.

Lucas was responsible for everything that happened in the Star Wars movies, because that was his job. The man created an entire new company, staffed it, and helped them revolutionize the entire special effects industry because he had a very specific idea of what he wanted his movie to look like and the technology wasn't there yet when he started filming, and we're supposed to believe that the end result of the original 'Star Wars' was "unintentional"? (And anyone who says, "It just had good special effects" misses the point so completely that they've pretty much disqualified themselves from the conversation. 'Star Wars' created a whole new standard for special effects based on the visual aesthetic that Lucas wanted to create--it wasn't just that they were "good", it was that they created an immersive effect that no other film had tried to create before. They were an artistic decision, not merely a technological innovation.)

Ultimately, I feel like there's something fundamentalist in the assertion (not unique to Scalzi) that the Star Wars movies were good despite Lucas, not because of them. The fan mentality simply cannot cope with the idea that the same people responsible for works of staggering genius like the original trilogy can make something so staggeringly inept as the prequels. So in order to preserve our belief in a Towering Auteur Figure Who Can Do No Wrong, we make the brilliant genius someone else in the process and insist that it's them who did all the great stuff. (Which may be the other reason why 'Empire' has become the Official Good Star Wars Movie...although you don't exactly hear people lauding Kershner's other films like 'Never Say Never Again' and 'Robocop 2'.) We don't like our creative idols to have feet of clay, and we don't like to think that studio interference makes movies better, not worse. Lucas' reputation is a casualty of that mindset.

Or, if none of the above convinced you, I can put it another way...Scalzi's essay is the equivalent of arguing that the 'Sandman' comics wouldn't be nearly as good if Neil Gaiman didn't have any editors, and if he drew it all himself. Sure, it's true, but it's meaningless, and anyone who would actually try to present it as an argument for a lack of talent on Gaiman's part would be an idiot.

Sorry, better Scalzi that up a bit, just in case he reads this. "Would be a spastic lemur with the brains of a syphilitic toad." Hope that's a little more entertaining.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Brief Recommendation

I am given to understand that Tom Tomorrow has released another collection of cartoons, "Too Much Crazy", available on Amazon. I strongly suspect that Tom Tomorrow needs my help promoting books like Arnold Schwarzenegger needs Woody Allen's help moving a couch, but for what it's worth, "This Modern World" is the best political comic going today, by a country mile, and it's always filled with humor and brilliantly incisive wit that perfectly skewers everything wrong with politics today. Tom Tomorrow has the ability to cut through the bullshit like no other, and I include "The Daily Show" in that.

So yes, "Too Much Crazy". I recommend it sight unseen, and I look forward to getting it myself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Debunking Myths About The "Amazing Race" Finale

Amazing Race 17 is over, and we have another million-dollar winner! (Yes, I actually care about The Amazing Race. Indulge me for a moment, here.) But before we start looking forward to Amazing Race 18: Unfinished Business, we should take a look back at the finale to the last Amazing Race and briefly debunk some of the myths circulating around the events of the last leg of the race. This is spoiler-heavy, so if you're one of those people that waits a few days to watch, wait a few more days to read.

With that in mind, let's move on!

Myth #1: It was bad race design because there was no chance for the racers who were behind to gain on the leading team.

Actually, there were two big chances and one small chance for racers to swap positions. At the float road block, teams that made mistakes could and did lose time on the racers who did it right the first time. (Although I would agree with anyone who pointed out that usually, the judge at a "assemble this thing" challenge doesn't point out what the racer did wrong, only whether or not they did it right--without that advantage, this would have been a third big chance.)

After that, the puzzle represented a huge opportunity for one team to take the lead. If anyone had known the answers to those questions without having to look it up, they would have jumped ahead. And one team did come up with a speedy, clever way to look up the answers without having to drive out of their way, giving them a huge speed advantage over the other two teams. Unfortunately, it happened to be the team already in the lead. Likewise, the "game show" memory challenge could have been a huge stumbling block to any of the three teams, allowing the other two to pass. It wasn't, but it could have been.

Myth #2: It was unfair because one team got a bad taxi, which lost them the race.

Jill and Thomas didn't lose the race because they got a bad taxi. They lost the race because they let their taxi drive around aimlessly for long periods while shouting, "Do you know about the Internet? Can you Google something for us?" instead of just saying, "Take us to the nearest hotel," or "Take us to the nearest Starbucks." By the time they did realize that the cabbie was not going to look up the answers to their clue for them, which was officially Way Too Long, they were in full-on panic mode and just started stopping at random places hoping they had Internet access. I'm not saying they were stupid, or bad racers--just that they had a brain-lock moment at the worst possible time. The taxi driver had very little to do with it. "Taxi roulette" is real, but it's not what lost Jill and Thomas the race.

Myth #3: If the teams are going to have a puzzle clue, they "shouldn't be allowed to look it up on the Internet".

Technically, this isn't a myth, it's an opinion. But it's an opinion that doesn't take into account the facts, which makes it worth debunking anyway. The fact is, any kind of puzzle clue that actually takes local lore into account (which they should, being Amazing Race clues and all) is probably not going to be one the racers know off the top of their heads. Which means either asking locals (and replacing "taxi roulette" with "knowledgeable stranger roulette") or going someplace to look it up. At that point, you might as well send them to the local library and put the clue there. (And technically, Nat and Kat called the local library, making their strategy more in line with the supposed ethos of the "puzzle clue" than either of the other two teams.)

Myth #4: The Race was "stacked" this time around to allow a female/female team to win.

This myth centers on two arguments: One, that they allowed an "unusual" number of female/female teams, and two, that they purposefully chose "weak" male/male and male/female teams so the female/female teams wouldn't be challenged. As to the first...there were eleven teams racing, same as usual. There are three possible gender combinations: male/male, male/female, and female/female. Four teams out of eleven is about a third, and a third of the teams being one of the three gender combinations is perfectly sensible. And as to the's a circular argument, and a sexist one to boot. How do you define a "weak" team? If, as many commenters seem to be doing, you define it as "a team that loses to a pair of GURLS!", then by definition any female/female team that wins is beating a "weak" field of competition. Whereas in fact, Nat and Kat beat out several teams that had as good a chance as any to win. Some of the teams were obviously DOA, but the same is true in any season of the Race. Nat and Kat won because they were smart, and because they stayed calm under pressure and didn't make mistakes. And as a result, they're each $500,000 richer. Good for them!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Underrated Movies: Jason X

Naturally, as all those of you who follow Feng Shui know, this is the story of renegade Buro supersoldier Jason X and his struggles to overthrow the tyrannical government of 2056. They took a few liberties with the source material, but--

No. Wait. This was the movie that actually got parodied before it got made, on MAD TV. The concept of "Jason In Space" was so inherently silly that most fans didn't even watch it. The few that did, though, got a surprisingly sly and silly horror comedy that gleefully sends up the tropes of the science-fiction genre by sending them up against Jason, one by one.

For those of you who haven't seen it, the basic premise is as follows: Having gotten thoroughly sick of trying to shoot, stab, incinerate, detonate, and strangle Jason Voorhees, the government decides to freeze him until someone can figure out why he's so damned unkillable and finish him off. Due to a wacky accident in the cryogenics process, a top expert on Jason's mutant physiology got frozen along with him. (And let me say that I just love this straight-forward, common-sense extrapolation of what we've seen in all the previous movies. Oh, and David Cronenberg makes a cameo in the beginning.)

Fast forward a few hundred years, and a group of Archaeology students are taking a field trip to the ruined world known as Earth. They find Jason and the expert, take them on board, and revive her...little knowing that Jason is pretty self-reviving. Just as soon as two teenagers start having sex, he's off and running!

What follows is a hilarious sci-fi slasher mash-up. We get holodecks, Space Marines, sexy lady androids (the sexy lady android gets all the best lines and the second-best moment in the film) and basically every sci-fi cliche, all of whom get hacked, beaten, and in one spectacular scene, frozen solid in liquid nitrogen and shattered. And speaking of holodecks, the holodeck does provide the single best moment not just in this movie, but the entire Friday the 13th series. There are times when you're not sure that you're supposed to be laughing at what you see on the screen--the film boldly straddles the line between "camp" and "so-bad-it's-good"--but you will have fun the whole time.

Given that it has a Rotten Tomato rating of 21%, I'd say it definitely qualifies as "under-rated".

Monday, December 06, 2010

An Apology, and a Personal Goofy Idea

First, the apology. I know that my posts are getting delayed to the point where I've actually missed a couple in the last couple of weeks; the long-story-short is that after four months of being unemployed, I lucked into a job that is not only offering full-time work at a decent wage, but is actually offering unlimited overtime. It's a golden opportunity to catch back up on my finances, but it's cutting into my free time and energy something wicked. Rest assured, though, that I have no intentions of quitting. My wife wouldn't let me, for one thing.

So today, I'll share one of those little ideas that I might someday pursue, if I someday luck into a lot of money and get to do my own thing without worrying about whether my business is all that successful. I'd like to buy an old movie theater.

Now when I say "old", I don't really mean that old. I'm thinking one of the multiplexes that they overbuilt back in the 90s, when the movie theater business geared up for a huge expansion and found out the hard way that the studios were passing all the losses for crappy movies like 'Godzilla' and 'Waterworld' onto them. A lot of them have been repurposed or demolished, of course, but I like to imagine I could find one. Then I'd transform it into a revival theater. Not one that shows art-house movies, but one that shows classic popcorn flicks--my ethos, plain and simple, would be that it's just more fun to see movies in the theater.

The concessions stand would serve real food--either I'd subcontract out to local restaurants or I'd hire a good chef, but it'd have actual yummy fast food like burgers and fries and stuff instead of just popcorn and nachos. (And yes, I know, movie theaters have expanded their menus a lot lately. That just shows it's a good idea.) I'd also have an arcade in the theater--not just a few video game machines in the corner, but an actual arcade. And the movies...

Every month would be themed, with movies that fit that month's theme and a published schedule for them. For Valentine's Day, for example, the theater would be split into two halves--the "Romance" side would feature flicks like 'The Princess Bride' and 'Say Anything', while the "Anti-Romance" side would feature movies like 'Heathers' and 'Heavenly Creatures' (although some might call that really romantic. After all, nothing says "love" like killing your mom.)

October would be huge; nothing but classic horror flicks all month long, culminating in a Halloween "lock-in" where one double-price ticket buys you as many flicks as you can stay in the theater for (and yes, sleeping bags would be allowed.) And we'd show the complete Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween series.

And every Friday night at midnight, we'd have the Midnight Movie Cage Match--two movies play in two different theaters, and I keep track of attendance. Winner stays, loser goes. (Rocky Horror Picture Show is not invited to this competition, because I think that too many people would go to it simply because "we always go to Rocky Horror!") Films like 'Little Shop of Horrors', 'Shaun of the Dead', 'Slither', 'Clue', 'Grindhouse', 'From Dusk Till Dawn', 'Army of Darkness', 'Mars Attacks', 'Return of the Living Dead', 'Doomsday', 'Donnie Darko'...two movies enter. One movie leaves.

I'm aware that this is not a major money-making proposition. It is, in fact, probably a money-loser (although I like to imagine it wouldn't hemorrhage cash.) But I think it'd be a fun place to work and spend time and run, and that's almost more important than money. Assuming you have money to burn, which I don't at the moment, which is why I'm working sixty hours a week. Which is why, to bring it all back to the beginning, I'm apologizing for the slow update schedule of late.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Meet 'N Greet #7

Today, ye scurvy dogs, we be talking about another City of Villains character I made. This sea dog were once another ordinary pirate like you and me, until he ran afoul of cursed treasure that forced him to sail the seven seas for all time, doomed to search endlessly for the man he stole from so that he can return it!

His ailment, Cursed Treasure Syndrome or CTS, strikes a pirate every thirty seconds. CTS is the single largest cause of undeath for pirates, swashbucklers, privateers, and buccaneers across the Spanish Main. The CTS Spokes-Pirate is stealing, maiming and killing to raise awareness of CTS throughout the Rogue Isles. Your involuntary donation could help remove an unlucky seagull from around a sailor's neck, return cursed gold to its rightful owner, or just let an unlucky pirate have a night on the town (inasmuch as he can, given his inability to taste real food and drink.)

CTS can strike anyone at any time. So please, give before it hurts.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crazy Fan Theory of the Week

The aliens in "Alien" (and it sequels) are sentient.

Sure, they don't talk, either to the humans or to each other. But that doesn't mean they don't communicate. Maybe they "speak" in ultra-sonic frequencies (those big, dome-like foreheads look suspiciously like the skulls of dolphins, used for echolocation) or use pheromones or telepathy or some sort of other sci-fi communications. And yes, they are astonishingly single-minded predators, and you'd think that an intelligent species would display some sort of ethical structure to their behavior. But intelligence doesn't necessarily imply culture, especially when (as is definitely the case in the first movie) each new alien has to create its own civilization from scratch wherever it's born.

But if you watch the movies under the working assumption that they're actually very smart, if uncivilized, a lot of things make sense. The alien in the first movie doesn't just wind up in the escape pod by chance, it heard the announcements and decided to get the heck out of Dodge. The aliens in the second movie display excellent strategy and tactics, placing their nest in a spot that neutralizes their enemies' most powerful weapons while allowing them free use of their own. And the alien in the third movie practically runs a textbook guerrilla warfare campaign against its opponents right up until the end.

So the next time you watch the "Alien" flicks, don't think of them as mindless, voracious killing machines. Think of them as extremely intelligent, voracious killing machines. Somehow, that makes them even scarier, doesn't it?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Rising--All-New, Extra-Plausible Edition!

Chapter One

Jim was a zombie. He'd been hiding in his Y2K bunker, but when his wife became an intelligent, tool-using zombie, she used the phone to call a dozen other zombies who had access to construction equipment and they broke in and killed him.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Vision of "Doctor Horrible, Part Three"

First, let me offer the caveat that it's always easier to look at someone else's work and say, "Oh, I know what they should have done," than it is to actually come up with the idea in the first place. Everybody's a critic, everybody's an editor, and most of everybody is wrong about how good their changes are. (I have had people send me "corrected" versions of my short stories. Suffice to say that I was not moved to incorporate their plot holes and forced expository dialogue.)

That said, I really do think that the final chapter of "Doctor Horrible" dropped the ball on a lot of levels. Act Two ends, for those of you who haven't seen it recently, with Captain Hammer telling Billy that he recognizes him as Doctor Horrible, that he can see that Billy has a crush on Penny (who is starstruck by Captain Hammer) and that he plans on sleeping with Penny just to crush Doctor Horrible's spirits. Doctor Horrible, who has been struggling with the moral dilemma of "kill or be killed" (he's been ordered to prove himself as a supervillain by murdering someone, or else face death himself at the hands of uber-villain Bad Horse) decides that he's suddenly got it in him to kill after all.

Act Three picks up a few days later. UM? Doctor Horrible has just worked himself up into a killing frenzy over the thought of Captain Hammer molesting his sweet, innocent Penny...and his response is to go home and think about what to do next? Penny, who has up to this point been portrayed as more innocent than Mary Marvel, gives it up to Captain Hammer? (This also has the side effect of making Penny look dumber than a bag of...well, penises, I suppose...because she doesn't realize that Captain Hammer is taking advantage of her for sex, which he couldn't be more obvious about if he tried.) And then, of course, the story ends with a good old-fashioned Woman in a Refrigerator, as Penny becomes nothing more than the toy that the two Important Male Characters accidentally break. What's Penny's reaction to finding out that Billy is really a villain? Does she hate him, or does she see through his facade to the innocent beneath? Does she ever see Captain Hammer for the heel he is? Who cares about her, she's just a silly woman!

So, my Act Three takes a step back. It's the night of the Big Date, as Captain Hammer takes Penny to the HammerCave. Before their date, Billy gives Penny a friendship bracelet, to show that even though she's dating someone--someone handsome and rich and strong and charming and...**chokes down bile** Anyway, he still cares about her. In a strictly platonic sense, of course.

But secretly, the friendship bracelet has a tracking device hidden inside. When Captain Hammer takes Penny to the HammerCave, Doctor Horrible will follow them! And once you're inside a super-hero's secret hideout, they're always powerless against you. It's like you're in their underwear or something. Armed with his freeze gun, Doctor Horrible stalks the couple as they go on their date.

Of course, the date is all about CH making hideous faux pas after hideous faux pas, but still charming the innocent Penny with his smarmy manner. DH watches, his rage growing, until finally he takes her back to show off the HammerCave...and DH follows in after them. He stalks them slowly, waiting for just the right moment to strike...

And doesn't get the chance. Instead, Penny whips out a compact paralysis beamer from her purse and blasts the (stripped down to his boxers) Captain Hammer with it! As he gapes at her in immobile shock, she gloats at him--did he really think that anyone could be that sweet, that innocent, that pathetically naive? A homeless shelter? Pah! A perfect cover for a true supervillain, allowing her to pretend to be kind and decent while secretly reveling in the misery of others! A perfect place to hide for the soon-to-be-newest member of the Evil League of Evil...BAD PENNY!

Suddenly, Doctor Horrible leaps out of the shadows, filled with outrage. Penny can't be evil! She's the sweet, innocent girl of his dreams that he loved from afar! She can't have...lied to him? Penny, of course, points out that he's simultaneously confessing that he's a supervillain while complaining that she lied to him about being innocent, but he kind of misses the irony. The two of them do battle, causing rockfalls and explosions in the HammerCave. (Cheap rockfalls and explosions, natch.)

In the end, Penny is lost under the falling rocks. Doctor Horrible is about to let Captain Hammer perish as well, but realizes that while true loves come and go, a really good enemy is irreplaceable. He submits his victory over Bad Penny as proof that he's truly bad to the bone, and is accepted into the Evil League of Evil. (Yes, Penny still dies, but she dies as a well-rounded character with her own goals and drives within the story. And of course, during the stinger, we see her sitting at the edge of an underground pool, trapped behind tons of rock, but still alive. "I'm Bad Penny," she whispers to herself. "I'll keep turning up.")

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More About the Horse Race

Last week, I mentioned something in passing that this week reminded me of, and I thought I might ramble about it a bit. In specific, this week's political prognostication about the 2012 elections reminded me of my comments on the media's drama addiction last week, and finding out that they're already talking about the elections of two years from now with scarcely even a pause for breath from talking about the ramifications of the 2010 elections,'s hard not to notice, isn't it?

Elections are the perfect kind of news for corporations following the "news as entertainment" model. (Which is, and has always been, most of them--I don't want to suggest that this is some sort of "things used to be better back in the Good Old Days" post. Far from it--anyone who thinks that Rupert Murdoch is controlling the content of Fox News too much should read David Halberstam's "The Powers That Be", where he talks about the ways that the old newspaper magnates ruthlessly suppressed dissenting points of view.) The election provides the same kind of excitement and action that you get in a sporting competition, with clear winners and losers as you approach a finish line, but you can always claim that any article about the upcoming election is a legitimate, serious political discussion because the person who wins will be deciding our nation's future.

But realistically speaking, they're all treating it with about the same degree of concern as ESPN does for the baseball season. (Actually, possibly less. At least ESPN anchors are allowed to admit that they have a favorite team that they root for.) The endless polls are just a way of keeping score, sound clips from the debates are played like highlights on SportsCenter, and once the election's over? Who cares about who won and what it means, it's time to look forward to the next big game! As a result, the actual importance of governing is diminished in favor of campaigning. And whoever winds up winning, we all lose when that happens.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Giving Away My Silly Ideas

This came to mind yesterday, but I'm no cosplayer--I don't know how to make costumes, I feel self-conscious wearing costumes, and I certainly couldn't make myself participate in something like the Masquerade at DragonCon. But for those of you who do, here's an idea you can use for a group costume/skit. You'll need five people who can either sing passably, or who can lip-synch to a good singer that you can find. Some skill at performing elementary dance moves in synch will make it work much better, too.

Everyone will be a Green Lantern--you can just go with the basic costume, or be more elaborate and dress up like your favorite specific GL. Then you go out on-stage and begin singing the Temptations' classic hit, "My Girl". But, and this is the key point, you get a giant inflatable rubber ball, paint it with appropriate colors, have it tossed out right before the chorus, and replace said chorus with "Mogo".

"I guess you'd say, 'What can make me feel this way?' Mogo! Mogo! Mogo! Talking 'bout Mogo..."

Yes, it's a terrible joke. But the right audience would lap it up.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It Needs To Be Said

The news media is all over themselves analyzing the results of the 2010 midterm elections. There are so many narratives to follow that they're practically getting dizzy (oh look! Minnesota's having another recount! Oh, well, at least we've got practice.) But the consensus seems to be that this was a resounding victory for the Republicans and a stirring rebuke to Obama's policies.

Which manages to ignore the facts of one of the most unprecedented election results in the history of the United States of America. (Literally. There has never been a time during the 96 years that both houses of Congress were directly elected by the people that one house has switched parties but not both.) The fact that the Republicans took back the House of Representatives, but not the Senate, is a clear signal that the major news media is managing to studiously ignore, possibly because they want to drum up some excitement for the 2012 elections. (I don't believe the media is particularly biased in favor of conservatives or liberals. They're biased in favor of drama. Elections are like crack to them.)

The fact is that in a year when Democratic enthusiasm was at its lowest ebb, when everyone and their mother knew that the Republicans were going to retake Congress simply because a dispirited progressive faction was punishing the Democrats by staying home, the Republicans still managed to blow an absolutely golden opportunity. They fell far short of everyone's projections in the House, and fell short of controlling the Senate at all. Why? Mainly because in a few key races, they nominated candidates who didn't hide behind platitudes about "living within our means" and "taking government back for the people", and instead talked in detail about what they stood for and what their policies were.

Those Republicans lost, big time. Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle--every one of them said in detail what they'd do if elected, and every one of them heard the resounding voice of the American people saying, "No thank you." Even in reliable red states or red districts, outspoken conservatives like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann had to spend millions of dollars to hang on to what should have been safe seats. The fact of the matter is, in order to get re-elected, the Republicans had to pretend not to be Republicans. That's the narrative that you're not hearing about right now. But you might hear a lot about it in a couple of years. Because two years is a long time to ask the Republicans to pretend not to be Republicans.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Modern "Dracula"

There really hasn't been a theatrical adaptation of "Dracula" in a while. The last high-profile effort was "Bram Stoker's Dracula", which is mainly remembered for not being much like Bram Stoker's "Dracula". There have been some TV versions since then, and there may or may not be a film in production for 2011, but it's a story that could stand another remake. Like "Hamlet" or "A Christmas Carol", it's a story that seems to reflect timeless themes and lends itself to a variety of interpretations--none perfect, but all interesting.

What might such a remake look like? Honestly, it'd probably look a lot like the recent "Sherlock Holmes" movie: A glossy, high-energy, high-budget version of the classic story with some big-name stars in the major roles. (I'm thinking maybe Viggo Mortensen as Dracula, perhaps?) And such a movie could be very good, just like "Sherlock Holmes" was. (Or, of course, it could be very bad, just like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was. Big-budget Hollywood movies can be a crapshoot like that.)

But I think a more interesting approach would be one similar to the approach taken by Steven Moffat's "Sherlock" TV series. For those who haven't seen it, the show completely abandons the Victorian era that the character is synonymous with to jump into the present day, updating Watson to a military doctor wounded in the present-day Afghan conflict who blogs about his encounters with the eccentric, almost-sociopathic consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. It's a little difficult to wrap your head around the idea of a world where nobody knows Holmes' name, but the series works magnificently.

Taking "Dracula" into the modern day...many people don't know it, but the original novel was written as a collection of letters from various people, compiled by Mina Harker (nee Murray) into a statement of evidence against the vampire, Dracula. A modern-day version of this might take the form of video footage--news reports, candid shots, home movies and the like--that Mina compiles after the death of her friend, Lucy, to show to van Helsing. Then the second half of the movie would involve van Helsing filming his vampire-hunting efforts, or at the very least getting one of the others to do so on his behalf, in order to prove to the world that his theories about vampires are real. It could have the potential to be the next "Quarantine", a found-footage movie that has a reason for its central conceit. You could do a lot of interesting things with Dracula's image on the video...perhaps it doesn't quite behave like a normal picture does. Maybe it flickers, or moves in strange ways, or changes when others aren't looking...something like the way things worked in "Paranormal Activity".

Of course, it could wind up more like "The Zombie Diaries". Found-footage horror movies can be a crapshoot like that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Problem With Zombies

Tomorrow, "The Walking Dead" will premiere on AMC, the latest in what seems to be an endless wave of zombie-focused horror. Ever since 9/11, it seems like our cultural outlet for the sense of wrenching shock that hit us when the World Trade Center collapsed has been the endless variations on the zombie apocalypse story; it seems like the common thread to all of them is the main character waking up to suddenly realize that overnight, Things Have Gone To Hell In A Handbasket.

That theme runs through the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, "28 Days Later", "The Walking Dead"...and even in stories where the character is awake and active through the zombie apocalypse, it always seems like events move a little faster than the perception of them (as in "Planet Terror" and "Cell", for example.) You can never stay on top of a zombie apocalypse, anymore than you can keep up with events in a world where the Official Enemy is Al-Qaeda one day, the Taliban the next day, Saddam Hussein the day after that, and the entire religion of Islam a few years later. It's a potent symbol, a mythic pool that keeps on welling up as we express our nation's trauma.

But the problem is (yes, I'm getting to it, now that I'm done being pretentious) that what makes emotional sense doesn't always make literal sense. One of the big set-piece sequences in "The Walking Dead", one that they're replicating for the TV series, is the hero's trip into zombie-infested Atlanta. You see the endless hordes of zombies overrunning the city, complete with a crowd of them clustered around a deserted tank.

At which point, the logical brain rebels. (Or at least, mine does.) "No," it says to the emotional brain, "that is not a potent symbol of the impotence of traditional military power in the face of a terrorist fighting force that can control the grounds of engagement! That is a potent example of the dumbest fucking tank crew ever, because short of running out of gas in the middle of downtown Atlanta, there is absolutely no way on God's green earth that a tank could be stopped by any number of zombies you care to name! It's a TANK! Teeth and fingernails have about as much chance against a tank as Bambi does against Godzilla! It does not matter how many zombies there are--more zombies just means more time hosing down the tank treads after the inevitable victory! Gah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Because that's the problem with zombies. No matter how potent they are as a mythical symbol, no matter how many movies and books and TV shows and comics and audio plays portray them as an implacable, undying, endlessly patient force of primal killers, the fact remains that they are, at heart, a bunch of slow-moving unarmed and (for the most part) unarmored humans who don't use tactics, strategy, ranged weapons, or dodge attacks aimed at them. Ask the US military if they would trade off "has to be shot in the head" and "can turn their victims into members of their fighting forces" for "no weapons, no armor, no strategy, no tactics, no ranged capability, and oh by they way they don't know what the word 'duck' means", and the US military would say, "HELL YES!"

Basically, the only way the zombies win is if everyone is colossally stupid. And while it's fun to imagine a world where zombies have won, and will remain so, the other reason that the stories always start with the hero waking up to find out that the zombie apocalypse has already happened is so that the writer doesn't have to explain how the military loses to unarmed people walking slowly towards them.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Did I Miss This One?

A while back, I posted some ideas for "mature" updates of kid's cartoons, complete with the blood and gore and nastiness that characterizes said updates. But somehow, I managed to miss an obvious one!

Steve is trapped in a strange house where everyday household objects seem to possess a malevolent intelligence. There's a way out, but can he find it before he falls into one of the deadly traps created by the sinister puppet-master behind it all? If he wants to survive, Steve will have to decipher every last one of...

"Blue's Clues".

It's like the 'Saw' movies with an evil dog-woman! I smell money, people...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Open Letter to the Guy Standing Behind Me at the Obama Rally

So let me try to reconstruct your logic, here. Obama is up on stage, in front of a crowd of ten thousand people, in the middle of a speech about the need to get out the vote for the Democrats. Suddenly, during a brief pause in between two sentences, he hears two words ringing out from the crowd:


And suddenly, his train of thought is utterly derailed. He stops thinking about his speech and his mind shifts to another topic completely--the War on Drugs. It hits him: How could he ever have believed that the laws against marijuana use were fair and justified? How could he not have seen the vast public support swelling just under the surface? This changes everything, he realizes. He now has just one priority for the next two years as President, and that's convincing America to decriminalize pot. That nameless speaker was right! This is the answer to all America's problems! This is the time, this is the place! Let the call go out, America! Barack Obama says, "LEGALIZE IT!"

Was that what you thought would happen when you shouted that? Seriously? And if it was, did you think he maybe didn't hear you the first two times?

Seriously, people. I'm all for legalizing marijuana, but there's a time and a place to make your voice heard. That was neither.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Terminator Inference Theater!

It's funny, but despite really liking the "Terminator" movies (well, actually, I really like the first and third. I think the second his highly overrated...) I never did get around to seeing "Terminator: Salvation." And honestly, I don't think I will, because to me, a "Terminator" film that shows the actual war against Skynet is like a "Star Wars" movie that shows how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. The original films craft just enough of a story to give you an idea of how it happened, while letting you fill in the blanks with your own imagination. The result is a seamless illusion of a greater story that's just as amazing as you imagine it could be, because you are imagining it. You just don't realize it.

It's fun to look back at the Terminator films and try to extrapolate a version of the future from them. For example, we can assume that there was an original, unaltered version of the timeline, because we see that history changes from one movie to the next. Since the time travel doesn't cause a closed loop, then there must have been a "genesis" timeline, one that propagated the changes that led to the temporal war we see. Presumably, in this version, Reese came back in time to accomplish another, unrelated goal--perhaps to sabotage Skynet's systems in some way--and wound up falling in love with Sarah Connor and impregnating her with John Connor.

Presumably, John Connor's existence was a massive turning point for the war. It must have been, because we see from Reese's dreams that Terminators are common enough that humans have standard counter-measures for them, and yet Skynet only sends one T-800 back in time to stop John Connor. Since there's no reason not to send more, it stands to reason that they only sent one because that's all they could send. This implies that the time travel facilities were captured not long after the T-800 was sent back. (You could theoretically ask why Reese was the only human soldier to be sent back, but don't forget, Skynet was trying to change history and the humans were trying to preserve it. They have an incentive to keep disruptions to a minimum.)

Obviously, Reese succeeds in preserving Sarah (and John) Connor's existence. But he fails in one key aspect--he allows the T-800's remains to survive. This gives the designers of Skynet a boost, which explains why they send back a T-1000 instead of a T-800 in the second movie; they've managed to survive a bit longer in the war in the revised timeline, long enough to send back two Terminators instead of one (and one of them an advanced prototype, at that.)

It seems like the heroes win a big victory in the second movie--after all, they destroy much of the research conducted on Skynet, setting back the robot holocaust by years. (If T3 is to be believed, the nuclear war was originally "scheduled" for just after the T1000 arrived.) But the machines did achieve one important goal--they gave John Connor an affection for Terminator models that resemble the governor of California. This allowed them to assassinate John before he could complete his job of leading the humans to victory, which gave them enough time to develop the T-X model and send that back as well. It seems like the humans are losing ground with each film, in fact.

Of course, this doesn't take into account the Fox TV series (which I never got around to seeing, because despite Summer Glau, I just didn't have the time to invest in it) or the fourth film, either of which could contradict this timeline. And of course, there are always other explanations. I still want to do a fifth film in which it turns out that John Connor was never anything more than a red herring, used to divert Skynet's attention while the real leader of the resistance gets on with winning the war. At the end, after defeating Skynet and capturing the time travel facilities, he starts sending back Terminator after Terminator, each one programmed to contact Skynet and give it the vital information that destroying John Connor is the key to victory.

Oh, come on. You know it'd be a great twist.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Hate Wasted Opportunities

...and I just noticed a big one. I was thinking about "Rock of Ages", the classic JLA storyline from the mid-90s penned by Grant Morrison. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, it involves Lex Luthor reforming (or forming--DC continuity was still a little unsettled back then) the Injustice Gang as a group of "all-star" villains to take on Morrison's "all-star" JLA. Luthor has an ace up his sleeve, too, in the form of a powerful artifact called the Philosopher's Stone with reality-warping powers.

But even as most of the League takes on the Injustice Gang, a few heroes have gotten shanghaied by Metron to the future, where it turns out that Darkseid has taken over the world and enslaved its populace into mindless drones with his Anti-Life Equations. Worse yet, it turns out that the cause of all this was the destruction of the Philosopher's Stone at the hands of the JLA...defeating the Injustice Gang in the present is the beginning of Darkseid's ultimate triumph.

Needless to say, it's all resolved well. The heroes escape back to the past and stop Superman from crushing the Philosopher's Stone, the JLA defeat the Injustice Gang anyway, and everything is right with the world.

Now, fast forward a little over a decade. Morrison's star has risen, fallen, and once more risen with DC, and he's in position to write what they're marketing as the ultimate crossover, the big Darkseid epic to end all big Darkseid epics, the so-called "Final Crisis". In it, Darkseid's plans are finally coming to their ultimate fruition; he's got the Anti-Life Equation, he's destroyed or corrupted the New Gods, and he's ready to crush all free will in the universe and turn everyone on Earth into his mindless drones. And of course, the only thing that can stop him is...

Wait, what? The Miracle Machine? Seriously, Morrison? You ignore an absolutely perfect piece of foreshadowing that you yourself set up eleven years in advance in order to stick in an obscure continuity reference that only a handful of fans will even recognize?

Alright, nobody ever gets to complain about Mark Waid's hard-on for the Silver Age ever again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting Ahead of the Trend

I've been thinking a bit lately about the way franchises change over time as their fanbase ages. It seems like as the fans get older, they want to continue to have a main character in their favorite action-adventure series that they can relate to; if they're in their thirties, dealing with the challenges of mature relationships and child-rearing, then Spider-Man should too! They can't continue to identify with a young Spider-Man, and they certainly can't stop reading Spider-Man. Ergo, Spider-Man should change to be more like them. (Inevitably, the word "stagnation" gets thrown around in these discussions.)

But we older fans forget that younger fans age too. And if we want a darker, more "adult" take on our favorite characters, well...isn't it only logical that they will too? Let's go ahead and get to the grim and gritty take on the next generation of franchises now, and beat the rush, shall we?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Turtles are retired following the death of Shredder, but are forced out of retirement when Bebop and Rocksteady go on a brutal rampage that kills dozens of people. They follow the trail back to Baxter Stockman, who has gone insane, but he resurrects Shredder as a zombie Shredder who brutally tortures Splinter to death. The Turtles avenge their mentor by throwing Shredder into a wood chipper (see, irony! He's shredded!) only to find out, when they go after Stockman, that he's just a flunky for the true villain...April O'Neil! It turns out that Everything They Knew Was Wrong(tm), and O'Neil has been behind every villain they've ever fought. She did it all to further her stagnant journalistic career, including mutating the Turtles themselves (while pinning the blame on Shredder.) In the end, they kill her...but her body falls into the mutagenic ooze, setting up a potential sequel.

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: When Rita Repulsa's love potion wears off, Lord Zedd mercilessly slaughters her in full view of the audience, and begins his plan to destroy the Earth...starting with the Power Rangers. His new nanoscopic monsters infiltrate Alpha's systems, secretly turning the robot against Zordon. Alpha sabotages the Morphing Grid, robbing the Rangers of their powers, then traps the Pink Ranger in their headquarters and tortures her. Dying, the Pink Ranger sacrifices herself to detonate Alpha's anti-matter power core, destroying him, her, Zordon, and the HQ. The surviving Rangers, unable to access the Grid, steal a space shuttle and break into Zedd's moon base, stealing his own weapons and using them against them. After a bloody shooting war (in which Goldar kills two more Rangers before they put him down) the Rangers reveal that the battle was only a distraction--this was actually a suicide mission, and they armed every explosive in the base. The resulting explosion can be seen from Earth, where a young group of teenagers watches it. The light show gives them strange, mysterious powers...

Pokemon: It's a show about a little boy who runs around capturing wild animals, locking them up in a tiny cage, and then pitting them against other wild animals in brutal gladiatorial contests. Really, I don't think there's anything you could do to make this one darker if you tried.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

My Confession

In the comments thread for the last entry (and by the way, I said it over on MightyGodKing and it's still true here, I love getting comments. Blogging is essentially unpaid writing, and getting feedback makes it all worthwhile. Thanks to everyone who comments on my posts!), sorry. In the comments thread for the last entry, Justin Garrett Blum said, "if it were true, then why did Tim Burton do such a dark film and why, of all of Batman films, was that the hugest smash hit?" (It, in this case, being my claim that the 60s Batman series made it hard for Batman to escape the label of being a campy kids' show.) And I'd like to respond to that, but doing so involves a confession. Crucify me if you may, but...I really don't like Tim Burton's Batman. I actually think it sucks pretty bad. And I think the only reason it has the reputation it does is because fans were cringing so much in anticipation of another Adam West-esque campfest that seeing a movie that treated Batman the way he was in the comics made them raise it onto a pedestal that it doesn't deserve.

The thing you need to remember, in order to make sense of all this, is that comics were actually popular and accessible to the general public back in the 1980s. (Rim Shot!) Seriously, Batman comics were easy for kids to get hold of back then, and the character had a massive fan following among teenagers. This meant that there was an enormous disconnect between the audience of Batman, who had come of age on Denny O'Neil and Alan Moore and "knew" the character to be a dark, serious, vengeance-obsessed detective who fought crime with grim brutality...and the popular impression of the character, forged by endless syndication repeats of the Adam West series, who "knew" the character to be a campy, brightly-colored kid's character who fought goofy pun-based villains like King Tut and Egghead. The discontent by Batman fans was bubbling under the surface like a pressure-cooker, just waiting for someplace to vent.

That someplace was Tim Burton's Batman. To Batman fans, and remember, finding out that the movie was going to be grim and serious and gothic was like finding out you'd just won a war you'd been fighting for twenty years. This was "our" Batman, not the stupid Batman for old fogies, and the word-of-mouth on that movie was killer. Every kid told every other kid that this Batman was going to be cool, not lame, and it created a buzz that turned the film into the smash it became. (Which, I hope, answers Justin's question. It's not that I think that Schumacher's films would have been good if not for the Adam West series, but the reason they were bad in the specific way they were bad was down to the 60s show.)

But setting aside that exuberant exhilaration at finally getting a Batman flick that didn't use the phrase, "Holy (Insert Stupid Catchphrase Here), Batman!"...which I can finally do, I think, after twenty-one years of emotional distance and lots of actually good Batman adaptations, including but not limited to the animated series and Chris Nolan's excellent film, The Dark's actually not very good. Michael Keaton is a decent enough Bruce Wayne, but he's clearly not physically capable of doing most of the stuntwork as Batman and the rubber muscle suit they put him in hampers him even further. The action sequences mostly consist of Batman standing still as thugs caper around him, until he finally manages to lift a fist up far enough for someone to run into. (Speaking of things that were long-term harmful effects, it does seem like it took a long time for people to get past the need to put their heroes into stiff, impractical costumes with sculpted muscles...)

The film labors, like most "first movies" in super-hero sagas, under the weight of having to introduce the character and its rationale. It's really most unfortunate in the case of Batman and Superman, two characters whose origins are already very well known and very simple to explain; honestly, there's no reason why, "My parents got shot by a mugger" should take longer than five minutes to show. But in practical terms, there's no Joker/Batman action until about forty minutes in, and that's too long. (Although, in the film's defense, it is better than the Donner Superman, which doesn't get around to even showing Superman in costume until about the same length of time has passed. I swear, cut off the opening Krypton sequence and people could be forgiven for thinking that the film is a coming-of-age drama set during the Great Depression for the first half-hour.)

Nicholson...on the one hand, he's just doing Nicholson. On the other hand, this is probably the film best-suited to him just doing Nicholson. (That's the big problem with his part in The never believe he's sane long enough to be surprised when he goes nuts.) On the other other hand...for a reported $50 million bucks, including his chunk of the gross, you'd think that he could have gone on a diet, maybe? The Joker is supposed to be gaunt, but instead he's pudgy. (Again, this goes back to the action sequences. The dramatic final confrontation between Batman and the Joker is two out-of-shape guys in their 40s wearing silly outfits kind of hitting each other. It really undercuts the climax when you can't believe either one of these guys could take the other in a fight.)

I could go on--the Smylex gas plot is undernourished, the chemistry between Basinger and Keaton is non-existent, the story involves (perhaps even pioneers) the terrible super-hero movie cliche of the hero revealing his secret identity to his girlfriend after swearing he'll never reveal it to her, and the Prince soundrack is, in retrospect, awful and overused. But at this point, I'm just piling on. The movie is a typical bloated summer blockbuster, plotless and star-heavy, and the only reason it was the success it became was that its target audience was desperate for any kind of Batman movie where the sound effects weren't presented in big word balloons on the screen. Now that we've tasted better fare, this one hasn't aged well at all.

Or at least, that's my opinion.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Insanometer: Batman and Robin

Part of me wants to say, "This movie isn't insane, it's just awful." And certainly, "awful" is a big part of it--nobody explained to Joel Schumacher that Batman could be other things besides the campy 60s series (not even after the seriously terrible "Batman Forever", which you'd think would have tipped some people off) and he set out to direct a movie that Adam West and Burt Ward wouldn't be out of place in.

(As an aside, I've never really liked the 60s TV series. I know some people say, "Hey, if you manage to set aside the pernicious and detrimental effect it had on Batman as a character, super-hero comics in general, and the reputation of the medium as a whole, it's actually got some funny bits," but every time I watched it, all those funny bits seemed to revolve around the idea that the people making it knew it was crap, instead of thinking they were doing something worthwhile.)

In any event, "Batman and Robin" is terrible, yes. But it's not just terrible...or at the least, it's terrible in such a way that you can't imagine how any sane person could have made it, which is the same thing for our purposes. The film opens smack-dab in the middle of what it laughably calls action, as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mister Freeze steals a giant fake diamond with the aid of his evil hockey team and ice gun. Although honestly, I think that most of the security guards he froze solid probably preferred the icy chill of death to his constant ice-themed puns.

This is actually one of the strangest things about the movie. They keep the deadly-serious motivations of the villains, for the most part--Freeze is still trying to save his dying wife while trying to find a cure for his own condition, and Poison Ivy is still a madwoman who wants to wipe out the entire human race--but the actors play their characters like the comic relief B-villains. While Bane, who could probably sustain a movie in his own right, is reduced to being the comic relief C-villain...but plays his part relatively straight.

In any event, Batman and Robin spend what feels like forty years trying to stop Mister Freeze, only to fail miserably and get into a fight about how Robin is too impetuous and Batman doesn't trust him. (Hint: This will be a Theme.) Meanwhile, Michael Gough's Alfred tries to play his part with dignity, which is hard to do when your entire role consists of mouthing bland platitudes and then grimacing in pain after everyone else leaves the shot. (See, Alfred is dying. Just in case you didn't get that, the movie takes great pains to drive the point home with wince after wince of anguished pain. After a while, you start wondering if maybe he shouldn't eat an all-burrito diet.)

Then Alfred's hot niece comes to visit, played with role-destroying vapidity by Alicia Silverstone, and then that sub-plot stalls for time until we find out she's actually a rebellious kung-fu biker chick underneath her schoolgirl exterior, but a nice rebellious kung-fu biker chick who would love to channel her energies into vigilante crime-fighting if only she stumbled into the Batcave and found out that her dying uncle had made her a skin-tight spandex outfit. Hypothetically.

Then we cut to plant researcher Pamela Isley, who's insane. But not nearly as insane as her boss, Jason Woodrue, played with enjoyable scenery-chewing skill by John Glover. (Don't get me wrong, everyone chews the scenery in this movie. But Glover at least does it with some panache, and he's playing a mad scientist who's actually meant to be over-the-top.) Woodrue is using her research to create a super-steroid called Venom, which he uses to make a super-soldier named Bane. Then he tries to kill Isley, but only succeeds in turning her into Poison Ivy, which allows her to make a rather more successful murder attempt on Woodrue. (Uma Thurman, by the way, delivers all her lines like she's channeling Kim Cattrall in "Big Trouble In Little China".)

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne helps a bunch of scientists build a "telescope" which is actually a giant MacGuffin for whatever the plot needs to do in the third act, and we find out that he's got another girlfriend (continuing the streak of having a new "serious girl" every movie. Given that both Vicki Vale and Chase Meridian found out his secret identity, and that both of them vanish without a trace in the next film, it might be worth investigating some of those bottomless pits in the Batcave. Just saying.) Oh, and he announces a big charity auction with lots of diamonds involved, which he's planning as a trap for Mister Freeze because his freeze-gun uses diamonds for fuel. (Despite the fact that synthetic diamonds have been around for fifty years, super-villains who need to use them to power giant lasers always seem to need the real thing. Go fig.)

Batman and Robin show up at the charity auction, because the best kind of trap is always the kind that involves dozens of potential hostages! Poison Ivy shows up too, planning to, um...I guess, something maybe with money, or...maybe she any event, she shows up and uses her pheromones to turn Batman and Robin against each other. This takes the form of them bidding on the right to date her, leading to Batman pulling out the Bat-Credit-Card in what had to be the exact moment where audiences lost their patience with the entire franchise so badly that they wouldn't make another live-action Batman film for eight years, and that only after replacing the director and all the actors concerned.

Then Mister Freeze shows up, and after a brief, embarrassingly perfunctory fight scene, he's captured and sent to Arkham. Poison Ivy decides to break him out so that they can team up and destroy the human race. Because nothing makes a more natural team than a plant-themed villain and one who wants to freeze the entire planet in sub-Arctic cold! Oh, yeah, that's Freeze's new motivation, because Ivy murders his wife and blames it on Batman. Which creates conflict, because Bruce finds out that Alfred is dying of the same rare disease that was killing Freeze's wife, and Freeze is the only one who knows how to save him!

During the break-out, Robin gets hit with another dose of Poison Ivy's pheromones, and decides to strike out as a solo super-hero. Which is somewhat ironic, as this movie was so terrible it actually acted as a speed-bump for his acting career. Playing a character who wants to be more ambitious and stop living in other people's shadows, even as the part winds up forcing him to take supporting roles for a while? Yeah, that qualifies. I think. In any event, Batman and Robin are totally on the verge of breaking up their partnership, and it's certainly not the kind of problem that can be solved by a wooden, unconvincing speech delivered with an utter lack of interest by George Clooney. So there's that, then.

Then we get into the third act. It turns out that by sheerest coincidence, Bruce Wayne's "telescope" can be used to beam freezing cold all over Gotham City, and Freeze plans to do exactly that! Robin tricks Poison Ivy into telling him by pretending he's still under her spell, then Batgirl defeats her in an awkward, stilted, hideously sexist sequence that neither actress will ever live down. By the way, this is the point where the script remembers that everyone already knew Barbara was going to be Batgirl.

Then it's just a matter of defeating Freeze and beaming heat all over the city to melt the ice, which can apparently be done with Bruce Wayne's "telescope". It is really damned hard to escape the conclusion that Bruce Wayne built a gigantic, obvious super-weapon as a lure to maniacal super-criminals all over the world just to give himself something to do. Afterwards, they show footage of Ivy confessing to Freeze's wife's murder, reveal that she's not quite dead yet after all, and offer Freeze facilities in Arkham to cure his wife if he'll only save Alfred. It's sort of like a plea bargain, except that the actual law doesn't get a say in the matter. Freeze agrees, handing over the cure and saying, "Take two and call me in the morning." That's this movie's Mister Freeze in a nutshell--no matter how bleak his life and his outlook, he still has a sunny quip for every occasion!

So the movie ends happily. Alfred is cured, Poison Ivy is in jail (with Mister Freeze as her wacky cell-mate), and Batman and Batgirl and Robin go off to fight crime. And we're happy, because the movie actually ended. As bad as the description of the plot sounds, it doesn't do justice to the terrible performances, the bizarre art direction choices (every set looks like it was decorated by a twelve-year-old girl and then lit by blacklights) and the incompetent action sequences. The film itself? About an eight on the Insanometer. The fact that everyone concerned, at every step of the process, thought that this was going to be a quality summer blockbuster with the potential to set up a fifth film, "Batman Triumphant"? That's got to be an eleven. Maybe even a twelve.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Words Have Meanings, You Know

As we're now fully into the 2010 election season, being bombarded by political ads from all sides whichever way we turn, a question has finally occurred to me: Why are they called the Tea Party? I don't mean, "What's the historical context of the phrase, and does it somehow relate to the famed 'Boston Tea Party' of the American independence movement in the late 1700s?" I mean, why do these guys call themselves a "party"?

Because last I checked, a political party is a group of like-minded individuals that seek to have their views represented in government by fielding candidates for office. And also last I checked, there's not a single Tea Party candidate out there. There are plenty of independents out there--the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Reform Party, the Communist Party, even the Connecticut for Lieberman Party, although oddly enough, it's not fielding a candidate this year. ("You say your name is Fred Lieberman? Well, we just love that name! Can't get enough people in office with the last name 'Lieberman'!") But apart from the entirely unrelated and extremely tiny Boston Tea Party (which is mostly endorsing Libertarians this year anyway) there's not a single "Tea Party" candidate to be found.

Instead, we get Republicans. "Tea Party darling" Rand Paul? He's a Republican. "Tea Party favorite" Sharon Angle? She's a Republican. "Tea Party embarrassment and total headcase" Christine O'Donnell? She's a Republican. All of the supposedly anti-establishment, not-part-of-Washington-politics-as-usual, brand-new-party Tea Party candidates seem to have one thing in common: A little (R) behind their names that they'd just as soon you not notice.

Let's be blunt and call this what it is: An attempt to rebrand the Republican Party in the wake of their disastrous performance over the last decade. The Tea Party is nothing more than the radical right wing of the Republican Party, and should be referred to as such. Anything else is just giving them exactly what they want: A chance to pretend that despite having the same worldview, policies, and goals for America, the Republicans of 2010 have nothing to do with the Republicans we've thrown out of office over the last four years.

Not that I blame them. Heck, if I were a Republican, I'd want to pretend I was someone else too.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Geeky Amazing Race Joke

I couldn't inflict this on the readers at Mightygodking, but if you're reading me here, you probably have a pretty high tolerance for my peculiar sense of humor already, so here goes. This week's premiere of "The Amazing Race" had the contestants racing from Heathrow Airport to Stonehenge to collect their next clue. My comment: "When they get there, they should find a giant metal box that slowly opens up to reveal Karen Gillan, holding their next clue. And she'd look at them and say, 'OK. This is where it gets complicated.'"

Now you see why I didn't inflict it on a large audience.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What Bugs Me About "The Event" that I actually had an idea for a comic book called "The Event", that I was thinking vaguely about pitching to CrossGen, during the five minutes before that company imploded. The idea was that there was a guy who developed perfect precognition--not only could he see the future, but he could see every possible future including the futures created by him altering the future as a result of his own actions. And he saw, five to ten years down the line (an appropriate length of time for a sixty-issue series or so) a big, apocalyptic event coming down the line. Something very Cthullhu-esque, if you get my drift. The rising of some ancient evil, that could only be stopped through a very specific and unbelievably complex series of events. Essentially, a one-in-a-million chance to save the world...but this guy could see every single thing that needed to be done over the next five or so years to make it happen.

And so he becomes this elaborate puppet-master, working behind the scenes to ensure that all these different people play their roles in saving the world. Some knowingly, some unknowingly, some even unwillingly (after all, he's the only one who knows the big plan, and he can actually see how big of a mistake it would be to tell the wrong person. Some of these people would suspect him of trying to destroy the world, not save it.) The story would be told not from his point of view, but from the viewpoint of the people he's manipulating: Every issue would gradually unveil the plan and their parts in it, until at the end they come together in the full understanding of how they need to save the world from the creature that would destroy it.

The opening gambit--and the opening scene of the first issue--would involve him getting one of the key characters involved in events the only way he can. He steps out in front of her car. She winds up getting him medical treatment, meets a nurse who's also involved in events...and then he disappears from the hospital. The two of them begin investigating his disappearance, leading them into the conspiracy behind it all... (The opening panel is captioned with, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," with a picture of the guy walking directly into the path of the car.)

I would have fleshed it out a bit more as a serious pitch, of course, but there's no point now. Trying to pitch a series called "The Event", involving a big conspiracy? Nobody would ever take the idea seriously again. Thanks so much, NBC.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Misdelivered Package

Hmm...three interceptions, no TDs, failure to convert a fourth-down in a game-to-go situation...I think we accidentally signed the wrong player. We wanted to sign the Brett Favre who played for Green Bay back in the mid-90s, but we accidentally got the Brett Favre that played for the Jets a couple of years ago. I know they both live in Mississippi...maybe those three Vikings players who went to go get him wound up at the wrong house?

They should probably check. But if they do go back down there, they need to get the Brett Favre who played for the Packers in the 90s, not the Brett Favre who played for the Packers in the 00s. That guy was mediocre, at best.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Zombie Fans Hate Fast Zombies

I'm reading "Day By Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile", by J.L. Bourne. It's the sequel to "Day By Day Armageddon", which is the tale of a virus that reanimates the blah blah blah civilization collapses blah blah blah lone survivor has to blah blah blah fortified against the living dead. Sorry if I can't seem to work up much enthusiasm for it, but zombie fiction has an unfortunate tendency to the formulaic, much like romance novels. People don't read zombie books for surprises, any more than they really expect the latest Danielle Steele novel to end with the couple deciding they really aren't right for each other, and giving up on the relationship because of all the obstacles in their way.

But I pressed on with the sequel nonetheless, and I noticed something while I was reading about the hero's daring rescue of his sixth and seventh fellow survivor. Namely, he doesn't actually seem to have much trouble dealing with the zombies. And it occurred to me that this is actually a pretty fundamental feature of the genre--the zombies are slow, unintelligent, and suffer from a weakness that makes them easy to defeat. The hero outfights what he can't outrun, outruns what he can't outfight, and outthinks everything else.

Which leads to the question, "How the hell did the zombie problem get so bad in the first place?" The zombies are slower than the walking pace of even a child, they don't use any kind of tactics or strategy, they are exceedingly gullible (in the "Day By Day Armageddon" series, they're attracted to any loud noises...set up a loudspeaker playing "In Your Eyes", and you've pretty much neutralized the zombie threat for half a mile around) and their only weapons are tooth and nail. And as Jonathan Maberry pointed out in his book, "Zombie CSU", tooth and nail are actually fairly sucky weapons in even unarmed combat. It's much harder to break the skin with a bite than it looks. So why is it that in zombie fiction, the zombies always overrun everyone and everything...except the protagonists, who never seem to have serious trouble with them?

I think the answer is that zombie fiction is exceptionalist fiction. The audience is encouraged to identify with the protagonist, the lone man (or, on rare occasions, woman) who rises in the brave new world of the zombie apocalypse. These people who were relentlessly average, stuck in a menial job and an uninteresting life before, they were just waiting for their chance to shine. The crisis might not be a serious one--it just requires a cool head, a steady aim, and a willingness to gun down one's former neighbors--but that's way too much for the sheep-like masses to handle. It takes a real man (or, on rare occasions, woman) to deal with this. A real man like (insert audience stand-in here)!

Of course, not every zombie story follows this formula (originally, Romero made his zombies non-threatening to emphasize the idea that the true threat is our inability to co-operate) but a surprising amount do. As a result, you can see why stories with the zombie as a fast-moving, genuinely lethal and terrifying threat tend to be viewed as a blasphemy against the formula. The harder it is to overcome the zombies, the more sympathetic and understandable the "failures" are and the harder it is for the audience to see themselves as so much better than everyone else. Fast zombies suck because they're a real danger, and that's not actually what zombie fans want.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shameless T-Shirt Plug!

After looking around a bit, I decided to go with CafePress after all. So for those of you who want to go ahead and buy yourself some geeky T-shirts, here's my brand spanking new T-shirt sales site! I'll be adding designs as inspiration strikes, but here's the initial line-up. I hope everyone enjoys them enough to buy one.

And I mean EVERYONE. In the world. Six billion sales should set me for a while, right?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Question for the Internet Hive Mind

I've been thinking about leveraging my lack of fame to sell some geek-themed T-shirts, but everything I have heard (and, for that matter, experienced) about Cafe Press suggests that it actually kind of sucks for selling product. But I still want to do this; I have quirky sayings in my head that must be printed on fabric and sold to smart, pop-culture savvy sci-fi fans, dammit! So I figured I'd ask my readers about their experiences with online custom clothing, what they've seen for themselves and heard elsewhere. Is there a site you really like? Please, then, mention it in the comments section!

Oh, um, and obligatory controversial opinion, witty topical reference, strange and goofy pun. You know.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Inevitable Star Wars Remake

It's going to happen, right? I mean, we all know that sooner or later, someone is going to remake "Star Wars". They remade "Psycho", they remade "The Manchurian Candidate", they remade pretty much every iconic horror movie of the last's only a matter of time before someone says, "Hey! 'Star Wars' was good for its time, but that was almost thirty-five years ago. Who can relate to this Mark Hamill guy nowadays?"

And I figure, let's go ahead and embrace it. If it's gotta be remade, let's have a good remake. One with a good cast and a good director who can handle the material well. My choice for director is simple: J.J. Abrams. He did a good job with "Star Trek" (lens flares aside), he's got some solid sci-fi chops apart from that, and I think he'd make just the right changes. (Which, frankly, are minimal. It's a good movie that holds up even now.)

As to the cast...let's go role by role, shall we?

Tobey Maguire as Luke Skywalker. You need someone with that air of youthful naivete, and Tobey Maguire does that very well (as evidenced by the fact that he's my age and still playing high-school kids.) The only question is, would he be able to pull off the cockiness that Hamill displays? After all, Peter Parker isn't exactly Mister Overconfident.

Maggie Gyllenhall as Princess Leia. This is actually the genesis of the post; I saw her in "The Dark Knight" and thought, "She would be perfect as Princess Leia." She's smart and pretty, which is absolutely vital to the role--the last thing you want is some eye-candy starlet who's reading all her lines phonetically. The thing that set Leia apart from every other sci-fi heroine at the time was grit, and Gyllenhall can play grit.

Chow Yun-Fat as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yes, I know, he's not Toshiro Mifune. But he's awesome, and the perfect age to play the Old Master/Wise Mentor figure for the movie. And if you could level a single criticism at the original "Star Wars", it's that it wasn't exactly a model of diversity. Having a major character played by an Asian can only help.

Leonard Roberts as Han Solo. Not exactly a marquee choice (but then again, the only big names in the original "Star Wars" were Sir Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing) but he's charming, suave, charismatic, and has made a good career for himself in TV (if you've seen "Heroes" or Season Four of "Buffy", you know who he is.) This could be the break-out role he needs, and he's exactly the kind of person needed to play the part.

Alan Rickman as Grand Moff Tarkin. Let's face it, it's the role he was born to play. A lifetime of being suave, sneering British villains has been leading to his destiny, that of reprising the role of one of the greatest British character actors ever to politely condemn his enemies to death.

Jason Statham and Samuel L. Jackson as Darth Vader: Yes, I know, Statham's not quite as tall as Prowse; but I'm picturing a slightly sleeker re-design of Vader, one more in keeping with modern action-movie styles that makes him into a lethally quick cyborg Sith Lord. Less of the "massive and powerful" and more of the "across the room and cutting his way through six guys before you can blink." For that, Statham works better. As to the voice...part of me is tempted to just say, "Heck with it," and stick with James Earl Jones. But I am determined to recast the major parts, and so Jackson it is. (If the remake goes all the way to "Jedi", I'd pull a Sebastian Shaw and put a different actor into the suit for the final reveal. Probably Daniel Day-Lewis.)

David Tennant as C-3P0. Oh come on. How can I resist?

Of the other parts, most of them would probably be unknowns and character actors. And of course, I'm open to suggestions...after all, that's what comments sections are for!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Horror Tropes That Could Probably Use a Rest

1) In "found footage" horror movies, where the camera is actually being held by a character in the movie, I think you'd probably surprise more people by now if you didn't have the camera-person die horribly at the end, usually right as they discover something shocking. (e.g. "Cloverfield", "The Blair Witch Project", "Quarantine", "The Zombie Diaries" (three times in that film), and others.)

2) It does not make your zombie movie a new and different zombie movie if your cast of characters is trapped in a different location than a farmhouse. Ripping off "Night of the Living Dead" is ripping off "Night of the Living Dead", no matter where they're trapped. (Putting fast zombies in was innovative...twenty-five years ago.)

3) Cell phones exist. Please get used to it, or else set your movie in an era where they didn't. Constant refrains of, "Oh, no! My cell phone doesn't work!" get old, fast.

4) There is a small, but significant difference between "the serial killer is very intelligent and has a good knowledge of his target's behavior" and "the serial killer has a precise understanding of every conceivable event that will unfold over the course of the movie, right down to minor and inconsequential acts of chance such as the way water flows down a drain." (See the first "Saw" movie, which would literally have been five minutes long if the killer's taunting gambit had played out even slightly differently.)

5) M. Night Shyamalan. Really, who does this man have pictures of?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Question of the Day

Is there a "Ventriloquism for Dummies" book? And if so, does it actually teach you ventriloquism, or just how to be a dummy?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

If Cartoon Characters Aged In Real Time...

...Pebbles Flintstone would be almost fifty, now, with two kids (Chip and Roxy) who are almost ready to graduate high school. Fred would presumably be dead, life expectancies not being much in prehistoric times.

...Judy Jetson would be sixty-four (and presumably wondering if her boyfriend will need her, or for that matter even feed her.) This being the future, though, she might retain her youthful looks well into her second century, so that might not be so much of a problem.

...Jonny Quest is a bitter fifty-seven year old, who probably has endless therapy sessions where he talks about his intimacy issues due to his dad's inability to love him. "He thought that just giving me an Indian boy would solve everything. Well, it didn't, Dad!"

...Scooby-Doo is forty-eight (that's 336 in dog years. Actually, I think that's just "dead" in dog years.)

...Hank, the oldest member of the "Dungeons and Dragons" party, would be forty-two and probably well into the Epic Character supplements; while the youngest, Bobby, would be thirty-five and have several NPC henchmen by now.

...the Planeteers are all in their early thirties, and have emigrated to the United States due to political instability in their respective homelands. (Kwame's sick of all the "email spam" jokes. Please stop telling them.) They don't do much forming of Captain Planet these days, but they do make sure to recycle, and Ma-Ti attended a rally at the state capitol a few months ago about "going green".

...and Dexter is now twenty-three. Although he has not yet succeeded in conquering the world, it seems like more than coincidence that he got a job at Google just before they changed their stance on Net Neutrality.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Conspiracy Theory? Sure, Why Not!

The new Spider-Man film has begun casting, with Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man (presumably a Spider-Man who hates Mondays and loves to eat his own weight in lasagna. It's a daring choice.) They're also working on casting his love interest, an as-yet-unnamed character (or, at least, one whose name they're not putting on the scripts that are circulating through Hollywood) who apparently is definitely probably not Mary Jane Watson.

Since I'm bored, I'm going to go ahead and circulate a half-baked conspiracy theory that I may or may not believe. Remember how "One More Day" happened, and went over like a lead balloon stuffed with dwarf star material because contrary to editor-in-chief Joe Quesada's expectations, nobody really was pining for a Spider-Man comic that looked just like the ones that came out when he was a kid in 1970? And how to the average Spider-Man fan, Mary Jane was and pretty much always had been Spidey's "true love", because we didn't even start reading comics until almost after they were married? And how the casual fan had barely even heard of Gwen Stacy, because all the film adaptations, cartoon versions, and even most of the non-616 versions of Spider-Man had Peter dating MJ?

So now they're rebooting the movies with a new, MJ-free version. The "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane" comic got canceled a while back, despite great reviews and steady trade paperback sales. Ultimate Spider-Man is living with Gwen Stacy. There hasn't been a cartoon Spidey in a little while, but the last one had a far more prominent role for Gwen and emphasized MJ's desire to stay single. (Yes, I know, they're returning to the original series' roots. That is rather my point, though.) All in all, it seems like there's a concerted branding effort to take MJ out of the picture in order to bring the alternate media versions of Spider-Man in line with the "Amazing" version, complete with what seems like a plan to push Gwen Stacy to the forefront.

Does this mean that Joe Quesada is abusing his lofty position within Marvel's hallowed halls in order to make all comics just like they were when he was a kid? (If so, he could probably take some lessons from Geoff Johns. **rimshot**) I doubt it, really. It seems like a lot of work for such a petty agenda. But if the new movie girlfriend for Spidey is named "Gwen Stacy", well...all I'm saying is, don't be surprised if there's a "shocking resurrection" a few years down the line in the main Spidey book.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Color Me Shocked

Oh, look. Despite his grave uncertainty over whether his ankle injury is healed enough to let him play, Brett Favre has managed to recover himself just in time for the regular season. Unfortunately, this indecision made him miss training camp, something we all know he loves so very very much. I'm so surprised that he couldn't make it this year. I'd never have expected this particular outcome.

In all seriousness, I will admit that there was something kind of hinky about the way all this played out--nobody was really expecting him to report before the end of training camp anyway, so why all the extra drama? Why the text messages that weren't, the trip to Mississippi to pay court to him, the epic levels of excitement about what seemed like a routine question? Did he really need the extra flattery to draw him back to the team, or was this all just the Vikings panicking over nothing?

I'm inclined to believe the latter, at least for the most part. I think that Favre always intended to play, he always intended to milk the injury for a free pass out of training camp (which he understandably despises), and that everything else was just a crazy little sideshow on the part of the Vikings. Either way, I'm glad it's over; I might be a Vikings fan, but I'm not one of those sports fans who excuses bad behavior when it's "my" team indulging in it. Favre really should be ashamed of himself, the Vikings haven't exactly covered themselves with glory either, now can we please shut up about this and play some football?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New On DVD

Apparently "Furry Vengeance" came out on DVD and Blu-Ray yesterday. Good for them. They get so much flack on the Internet, I think it's only fair that they should get their own back somewhere along the line. Brendan Fraser's in it--I'm guessing he's playing someone from 4chan, or Something Awful, perhaps?

In any event, it's probably fun for the entire family, or at least those parts of the family that aren't offended by people who like sex with heavily anthropomorphized animals. I probably won't see it myself, but anyone who's into that, have fun!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

500th Post!

I try not to make a whole lot of "milestone" posts, because somehow it feels like cheating--if every tenth post is, "Hey, wow, look, another ten posts!", then I'm really not earning those milestones quite so much, am I? But I like to think that the 500th post (which happens to fall right around the 5th anniversary of my decision to sit down and start blogging, give or take a week) is worth celebrating a little, in an egotistical sort of way.

So yes, I will toot my own horn a little and say, "Here's to me, for sticking with this as long as I have!" Thanks to every single person who read, especially those who commented, and I hope to do 500 more!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If the United States Government Was a Couch

Yes, I've been in a political mood lately. What can I say, it's nearing November and I'm hearing so much stuff that the opinions are leaking out of my ears. This is the benefit of having your own blog; nobody but me tells me what to say. The only measure I have of how bored people are getting is how many readers I lose, and um...look, I'm sure I'll get back to talking about crazy Silver Age comics pretty soon, OK?

In any event, today I wanted to talk a bit about balancing the budget, and more specifically about the Republican plan for doing so. They tend to talk about it in two ways: First, about the need to cut taxes. (Which I'd be fine with, if not for the fact that Republicans only think taxes can go one way: Down. No matter how low the taxation is, you can always find Republicans who will insist that the only cure for whatever current crisis we have is to lower taxes.) Second, though, is that we'd be fine if we just cut all the "waste" out of the federal budget.

Now, I'm not going to say that there's no waste in the federal budget. In fact, that's why their argument seems so strong; every time someone makes it, they go through the entire federal government with a fine-tooth comb and find an example of someone whose job it is to regulate ear sizes on rabbits raised for meat, or a department that spent $50 million dollars on boats just in case they need to go to sea as part of their job at the Department of Cactus Management. That's part and parcel of any big organization; the bigger it is, the more likely that something nuts gets lost in the nooks and crannies. You also hear about it in private enterprise; I recall reading about one company whose inter-office mail was so inefficient that employees were sending envelopes from one floor to another via FedEx. (Federal Express: When you're absolutely, positively too damn lazy to walk it down three flights of stairs by yourself.)

But here's the key--just because you find waste, that doesn't mean that there's an unlimited amount of waste to be found. Once you find it and fix it, it's gone, and it's a relatively small percentage of the money you need. It'd be like finding two bucks in change in your sofa cushions one day, then finding another three bucks a week later, and somehow coming to the conclusion that you can quit your job and live off the unlimited largesse of your couch.

The decisions we need to make to balance the budget aren't easy ones. Anyone who says they are--Republican or Democrat--is either lying to you, or is too damn stupid to know what they're talking about. Either way, they should be kept as far away from government as humanly possible.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Killing a Lie In Its Cradle

Conservatives who are up in arms about the overturning of Proposition 8 in California are trying to explain how non-homophobic they are by telling everyone that it has nothing to do with the icky, icky gays being allowed to marry just like normal folks. No, siree! It's just that they're deeply, deeply upset that one judge (one gay judge, who must be biased, because a gay judge ruling in favor of gay marriage is biased while a straight judge ruling against it is just applying common sense...) is allowed to overturn the will of the people. How is that fair, that one person can overrule a majority?

The answer is simple. That judge didn't overrule the majority. He just pointed out that Proposition 8, passed by a little over half the people in one state, conflicts with the 14th Amendment, which was passed in 1868 by 2/3rds of the US Congress, then ratified by 3/4ths of the country. In other words, Proposition 8 isn't the will of the majority. It's the will of a small, cranky minority that's trying to ignore all the people disagreeing with them. Which is working out about as well as you'd expect, really.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Demolishing Conservatism In One Quick Sentence

The fundamental flaw with economic conservatism is that they insist that private enterprise is more efficient than the public sector, while never actually considering the fact that what they're more efficient at is making money, and not at actually getting done the things that need to get done; for example, McDonald's might be the most profitable restaurant, but it's more profitable because it makes lots of cheap food it sells for a moderate profit, not because it actually makes tasty and nutritious meals.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Review: Paul Is Undead

Really, can there be a better concept for a book than "What if the Beatles were actually a group of brain-eating zombies from Liverpool with super-powers that set out to conquer the world with their music, only to fall victim to internal discord brought about by the arrival of Eighth Level Ninja Lord Yoko Ono?" Seriously, is it actually possible?

I fell in love with "Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion" the moment I saw the cover, and nothing I read ever convinced me that I'd made the wrong decision by snapping it up. It's a zombie book that isn't the same lame "zombie plague spreads across the world, here's the tale of the survivors as they try to fend off the hordes of the undead...and fail!" plot that's been the paint-by-numbers source of so many recent zombie movies, comics, and books. (I'm not pointing any fingers at any specific books, because hell, I've enjoyed a few of the paint-by-numbers zombie stuff...but let's just say that "City of the Dead" isn't getting a review like this.)

And it's more than just a zombie book. Author Alan Goldsher gleefully tosses in vampires, ghosts (the ghost of Ed Sullivan cracked me up), mole men, Satan, invisible men, and of course ninjas. Ringo Starr's difficulties as a ninja drumming in a zombie band forms a good chunk of the underpinnings of the book. It's a bizarre, kitchen-sink approach to writing that probably wouldn't have worked anywhere but here, but somehow it's exactly what the material demands.

In fact, that's a good description of the book as a whole: "It wouldn't have worked anywhere but here." Any other book would have worn out its welcome before the end of three hundred pages of comedy-zombie material. Any other book would have driven me nuts with the "oral history" style of writing. (Actually, that's not quite true. I hate non-fiction books that use the "oral history" style with a passion, but I adore novels that pretend to be non-fiction "oral history" style books. Perhaps it's because the style tends to simply present people's narratives unquestioningly, which is fine for fiction but very off-pissing when you're trying to find out the truth of something.) It's just one of those books that works because it's what it is.

And what it is, is hilarious. Read it for the account of the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, where the screaming wasn't hysteria, it was terror. Read it for the shocking account of the Shea Stadium concert where thousands were brutally murdered by Beatlemaniacs. But mostly, read it because it's funny.