mokie: A package of meat wishes you happy holidays (holiday of the day)
January is full of kings - Three Kings Day, Martin Luther King Day, and the birthday of the King, Elvis Presley.

(And, of course, the Goblin King, but I try to celebrate David Bowie every day.)
mokie: A package of meat wishes you happy holidays (holiday internet)
Sure, technically there's a real holiday on January 2 - Hogmanay, a Scottish holiday that apparently involves bonfires and lots of food - but I'm not Scottish, and how many 'gorge yourself by a fire' winter holidays can a person take?

So I settled in for Science Fiction Day with an episode of Black Mirror, an acclaimed UK anthology series about the perils of modern technology. Or I tried to. Then I fell asleep, because flu.

Ah well, no harm done - every day is Science Fiction Day around here...

Cross off "Crossbones"

Saturday, 26 July 2014 11:34 am
mokie: Hannibal Lecter sits on his shiny blue couch (media viewing)
‘Crossbones’ effectively canceled by NBC; final episodes to air August 2

Welp, everyone called that. I think most people thought it would fail not because of its actual flaws, though, but simply because nobody has yet figured out how to make a decent pirate-based TV series. (That's discounting Black Sails, because I haven't seen it yet, and One Piece, because I have.)

My take is that there are simply too many contradictory expectations of what a pirate show should be, and Crossbones never fully committed to embracing or bucking any of them. For instance, the reviewer in the linked article says, "It didn’t have the sort of fun that you would have expected a show all about pirates to have." Maybe they noted the vague whiff of Hercules/Xena camp, which suggested a possible return to the glorious cheese of the '90s. But I wouldn't expect a show about pirates to be fun - I would expect gritty realism, as a backlash against (and way to stand apart from) Disney's pirate movies. Meanwhile, the mere appearance of pirates (or Robin Hood) prompts my mother to sigh wistfully about the lack of good old-fashioned Fairbanks-style action these days.

Crossbones doesn't have gritty realism. It's hard to pin down what it does have, and what it actually is, which is a real problem. The design, from sets to characters to plot, has a touch of realism mixed with too heavy a dose of modernism and mercenary self-consciousness: setting and wardrobe that cross the line from eclectic to Pottery Barn, female pirates that might as well be wearing pins saying, "Let me tell you about how there really were female pirates," bits of plot that reek of modern screenwriters unable or unwilling to accept the limited playground of historic fiction because it inconveniences them, and an overall product that feels like a product crafted around the motto, "Yeah, this should sell well to the 'fangirls'." There's also a slight movie vibe which sounds good in theory, but in practice undermines the story and sabotages the pacing, because the tension can only build - and that leaves what should have been a few minutes of back-story drawn out into a tiresome season-long lead-up to plot.

And what is the plot? Good question.

At first appearance, it seems the plot will be a battle of wits and wills between two powerful men, from the point of view of the man caught between them, as the governor of Jamaica pursues his conviction that the notorious pirate Blackbeard isn't as dead as everyone thinks. Unfortunately, the story tipped its hand as to its allegiance too soon, and never really got around to the dramatic face-off that was dangled out. Keeping the governor in the picture without actually using him in the story turned him into a simple, straightforward villain, saved from being a buffoon ("D'oh! Zorro outsmarted us again!") only by being portrayed as viciously unhinged. He becomes a minor bit of back-story and all the while it feels as if he's supposed to be a major player.

Once the show gets its toes wet, the ostensible plot - what really should be a subplot, and would be if this were a movie, but that damn pacing - is that the spy/assassin slipped into the pirates' midst by the governor discovers bigger wheels in motion, and so not only has to put his plans to kill Blackbeard on hold, but also has to earn the man's confidence. Yes, but no: they're too quickly comfortable with each other, because the show wants us to believe that Blackbeard is almost supernaturally savvy when it comes to judging character, a development which feels sloppy and inconsistent (not unlike Malkovich's accent). The actual subplots all feel like plodding distractions to disguise how thin the plot is, and the fact that this would have been a much better 2-hour movie than it is a full-season series.

The actual plot? Pirate politics that are never adequately explained for the audience, despite near constant chatter about what Blackbeard hopes to accomplish with his pirate society. British/colonial politics that are never adequately explained for the audience, despite the focus on two Jacobites in exile. Information that's necessary to understanding the larger story withheld in a misguided attempt to build tension by keeping the audience confused and in the dark, all while back-story is dragged out so slowly that it seems to be going nowhere, and side plots meander along like directionless padding.

All that said, and despite the tone here, I enjoyed it more than expected. I might even miss it. It looks like the main goal down the line was to be the adventures of the notorious pirate Blackbeard and the sneaky spy Lowe, and that sounded very interesting.
mokie: Vintage photo of a woman with legs crossed reading a book (reading smut)
So I was discussing fiction with a friend... No, that's not quite right.

So last year I started watching Hemlock Grove, but got distracted and wandered off. When I saw an advertisement for the upcoming second season, I thought two things: "Better to catch up and keep up, then," and "Wait, what? 'Emmy-nominated'? Hemlock Grove was nominated for a fucking Emmy, but there's no love for Hannibal?"

Because I like Hemlock Grove, more or less. Contrary to appearances, it's not yet another True Bloody Vampire Twilight Diaries teen romance soap opera with fangs, but a collection of Hollywood's classic Silver Screen movie monsters translated to a modern setting, and that's a pretty nifty idea. But I love Hannibal, and most of the critics who've bothered to watch it call it the best show on TV right now - better than Game of Thrones, better than Mad Men, better even, some thought, than Breaking Bad. And yet it was more or less snubbed by the mainstream American awards shows, and even the piddly media awards; for instance, it shows up only in vague "Best Villain" and "Best Show" categories on TV Guide's online awards voting. Why is that?

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in not watching horror... No, that's not quite right.

Because society is full of snobby assholes who take great pride in bragging about not watching horror. And the little committees that pick award nominees and winners are loaded with those assholes. This is no surprise to 'genre' fans - we're pretty used to the world looking down its nose at us - but it is a surprise to see so many vampires and werewolves sprinkled around out in the open and accepted. They're not horror anymore, but romance, the new soap operas, and the voters are totes cool with them as long as they stay sexy and don't look like, y'know, monsters.

Even so, I suspect Hemlock Grove's nomination had more to do with patting Netflix on the head for making its own series than the series it made.

But anyway.

So I was discussing that with a friend, and we wandered off on a tangent about romance novels, including paranormal romances, historical romances, the old-fashioned gothic romances, and all that jazz. Eventually we circled around to poking the fanfiction concept of 'id fic' with a stick, because that is a clever, clever way to look at literature.

Id fic appeals to the squat little reptilian pleasure-seeking part of brain, your id, the little masturbating monkey mind, the part of your brain that embarrasses you at parties with inappropriate thoughts and grunts, "Uhn, sexy!" at shit you know just ain't right. As one fanfiction writer put it, "Because 'good' stories often have to temporize, to maintain reality and your suspension of disbelief and the dynamics of the canon. But idfic says fuck that, let's turn this shit up to ELEVEN and SEE WHERE IT GOES."

See? That's brilliant. Instead of blushing through flustered and defensive explanations of how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn has deeper meaning, or romance novels aren't really about the smut, or how pulp fantasy novels have deeper wish fulfillment blah blah blah, look at the freedom of just saying, "It's id fic" - acknowledging that the masturbating monkey mind loves its stories, too, and that this is totally okay.

But, at the same time, it also lets us see how V.C. Andrews' hypermelodramatic incest porn, etc., can have deeper meaning, because where you've got id, you've got context for the tight-laced and prudish super-ego to stroll in: the masturbating monkey mind likes it dirty, and what the masturbating monkey mind finds dirty has a lot to say about the culture and society and baggage of the mind it squats in. For instance, Wuthering Heights is a big ol' floppy melodramatic mess of id, crouched in the corner fapping furiously and leering at onlookers, but it's also a classic that "challenged strict Victorian ideals of the day, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality."

Would it be going too far to suggest there's also super-ego fic? Stories that consciously and purposefully poke at social constructs and cultural baggage, that get all up our noses about being a better person? Those stories certainly exist - they're the things we rarely read on our own, because they're preachy and boring, not at all as interesting as peering through a book-shaped keyhole with the masturbating monkey mind at things we know we'll later feel dirty for enjoying.

Maybe that's what I like so much about Hannibal - having both the monkey and the monk at the dinner table together, uncomfortably aroused.

Edited to add: Yes, I know, the id fic concept has been around for ages, but my circles don't overlap that way. Sometimes it takes a while for things to pop up on my radar. Also, when discussing some topics, particularly fandom or fan-adjacent topics, things work out best if I just assume that the other person has no idea what I'm talking about until/unless they say otherwise, and thus I need to explain from scratch without getting too slangful or complicated.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
#1. Room 237
The structure of this documentary about the search for hidden meanings in Kubrick's The Shining seems to intentionally mirror the movie: creepy labyrinthine rambling, and then someone whips out the crazy.

Long before the documentary rolled up on Netflix, I'd seen an article (or three) mentioning some of the more plausible theories, and did some back reading on them. That's why it's so odd that the film does a relatively poor job presenting those theories: the documentary is a long series of rambling interviews with voices we never seen, played over clips from the movie edited together, looped around, rewound and replayed, while the soundtrack jogs along being inexplicably more creepy than it was in the actual film. It could easily have been trimmed not just for a tighter pace, but to better cover the theories. Instead, the detached voices ramble, and the more they ramble, the more obsessive they begin to sound, like the famous director himself.

And then they get to the moon landing conspiracy theory, which sounds like it was added intentionally to make everyone involved sound crazy.

#2. Death Becomes Her
Death Becomes Her took the bones of Hollywood's classic monster movies and turned them into a Hollywood monster movie.

A disgraced surgeon working on corpses to give them the semblance of life? An inmate asylum who funnels their obsession into eating? A slinky and seductive foreigner offering eternal youth? Not one, but two brides? Even zombies get a nod near the end of the film.

The horror isn't shambling creatures rising from the grave in search of blood, but shambling stars emerging from the plastic surgeon in search of youth, part of an industry based entirely on the preservation of appearance, the rejection of reality and fear of the passage of time.

#3. Lilo & Stitch
Lilo & Stitch was the first Disney movie in which we see protagonists who are orphans and the implications of that.

The golden age princesses had their parents conveniently removed in favor of wicked stepmothers and fairy godmothers, and later animal protagonists lost their parents for drama points, but it never mattered: the princesses were content to sing and wait for their prince to come, the animals were too young to care or got a narrative cut-away to hit us with the death but spare us the grieving. (Damn you, Bambi.)

The Disney renaissance passed on stepmothers in favor of single/adoptive parents and wicked fairy godmonsters (hey, worked for Maleficent). Neptune's daughters appear to have no mother, but Ariel gets a little hand from Ursula, while Belle had only crazy old Maurice and a long-gone witch who thought it was appropriate to turn a castle's worth of people into furniture because someone was once rude to her. Jasmine's mother? Pocahontas's mother? Chief Powhatan's first on-screen act was to let us know she was dead. Hercules? Kidnapped, adopted by a nice couple, later reunited with his parents. Simba? Lost his father, adopted by a nice same-sex couple, later reunited with his mother. Tarzan? Orphaned (but too young to grieve), adopted by a nice couple (of apes), later reunited with his species.

Lilo? Orphaned, grieving, arguably acting out because of it.
Nani? Orphaned, grieving, trying to keep their tiny broken family together in spite of it.

Beside the fantastical half of the story, there's this small human story about loss and coping with it. No Prince Charming can come to their rescue, though David offers support; no evil monster is going to rip them apart, though a social worker threatens the family (out of concern rather than malice). The big scifi tale of an isolated special snowflake created in a lab (almost a shot at Disney's family-free princesses) gains its depth by smooshing it into this little human story.

#4. The Addams Family
The original comics, TV show and movies all show the Addamses as part of a community that accepts and even celebrates their weirdness. While the plot may be about the average Joe or Jane stumbling into weird Addams territory, the Addamses and their culture are always accepting and welcoming of these mundanes - more accepting and welcoming than the mundanes are, certainly.

Weird moment of synchronicity! I jotted that down several months ago intending to expand it into a whole ramble at some point. A day or two later, the_phredPhred shared a blog post arguing that the Addamses are the most well-adjusted family on television, because: Gomez and Morticia are clearly in love and enjoy spending time together while also giving each other space to pursue their own interests; Wednesday and Pugsley may play dangerous, but "seem to view one another as accomplices, rather than rivals"; it's an extended family, in which relatives and employees are clearly respected and cared for; and they didn't change who they were to please others, or demand that others change for them.

Another blogger expanded up on this with a brief comparison to the '60s other televised 'horror' family, the Munsters, and might have definitively explained why most people are either a Munsters fan or an Addams fan:
"On one level, the Munsters were a campy stereotype immigrant family, while the Addams' were strictly old-money. Two different spins on the American experience. On another level, the Munsters are 'externally validated' and live entirely for the approval of others. The Addams are 'internally validated' and totally comfortable with themselves as long as they live up to their own standards. The Munsters are ashamed of their unique qualities, while the Addams' celebrate and enjoy them. (Only Grandpa Munster is unabashed, and continually has to be reigned in). [...] In my experience, Business people, early risers, team sports players and dog owners all seem to like The Munsters while artists, night owls, individual sports players and cat fanciers see to prefer The Addams Family."
It makes me wish Mockingbird Lane, a very-Addams reboot of The Munsters, had been picked up. Ah well.

#5. Roseanne
In many ways, Roseanne is less about a working-class family than it is about the death of a small town.

The small town of Lanford, Illinois, is almost a character in its own right. Outline the series, and you'll see not just the changeable fortunes of the Conners, but the decline of Lanford: the closing of its primary employer, a loss of quality jobs, a slip in the local economy affecting local businesses, the town quietly fading into a trucker's stop-over point. It's part of why the last season rang so wrong, but for the right reasons (or, at least, right on paper): it wasn't a big fantasy about her husband not dying, but about the main character having the money to save everyone, culminating in saving the town itself by restoring its primary employer, Wellman Plastics. It all centers on one line in the monologue: "When you're a blue-collar woman and your husband dies it takes away your whole sense of security."

A Game of Steves

Thursday, 6 March 2014 07:34 am
mokie: Hannibal Lecter sits on his shiny blue couch (media viewing)
I keep my criteria for characters simple: if they were replaced by a new guy for an episode—a random Steve who had all the skills required of the character for that episode—how much (if at all) would I care?

NBC's Dracula: "Mr. Grayson had to go...uh...do something...yeah. Steve is in charge at the moment."
Sweet, maybe Steve will better less distractable and better at follow-through.

The Blacklist: "Agent Keene can't be with us this week, but Red's willing to talk to Steve."
Then I'm willing to watch Steve. Can Steve do his job without a master criminal holding his hand and making his position in the organization look like some really fucked-up nepotism?

Hannibal: "Dr. Lecter can't make it this week, but you can talk to Dr. Steve, who brought some suspiciously tasty cookies..."
BOO. NO. GO AWAY, STEVE. GO JOIN TOBIAS IN THE NOBODY-WANTS-TO-BE-YOUR-FRIEND CLUB.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: "Agent Dude can't—"
Alright, bring on the Steve! Let's see what Steve will do! Don't ever leave us, Steve! I'll even bother learning your name!

Breaking Bad: "Steve, let's cook."
NO. I DO NOT TRUST THIS STEVE. SHOOT STEVE.
mokie: Man with an old computer monitor for a head drinks through a straw (media pop culture)
A month or so ago, for reasons I can't remember, I found myself reading about milestone episodes of South Park--which episode really gelled the show's dynamics, and which episode cemented Cartman not merely as a tiny Archie Bunker but a budding psychopath, etc. This kicked off a marathon review of the entire series for me. It's turned up a few surprising realizations, like that Stan and Kyle aren't as interchangeable or even alike as many fans claim (and complain about), and I can't explain that without going full nerd, so I'll just leave it there, because that's not the realization I want to write about.

I realized that some of the episodes are so damn far ahead of the moment that many of us don't seem to get them at the time of release.

The episode that brought this home is season 12's "Britney's New Look", about the media frenzy over Britney Spears and her long, slow public meltdown. In the episode, the boys learn people will pay insane cash for Britney photos and trick their way into her motel room by telling a guard they're her kids. For the distraught but otherwise normal Britney, this is too much: under the stress of the media onslaught that she knows will never let up, she blows her head off. Through some fluke she survives, and nobody treats her any differently except the boys. They feel guilty and try to help her escape, only to discover it's a massive conspiracy, and she's just a human sacrifice for a good harvest. (Yes, really.)

(Edited to add: I refuse to add spoiler tags for a TV show that aired two elections ago, especially as the spoileriffic element is the whole point of the episode.)

First, there are the reviewers who see only a parody of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and describe it simply as that, even though I don't think that's technically accurate. The episode imitates the end of Jackson's story, the crowd surrounding the damned woman with cameras instead of stones, but it's using Jackson's story to satirize paparazzi culture, not satirizing her story itself. (Interesting aside: Jackson said about the original reaction to her story, "People at first were not so much concerned with what the story meant; what they wanted to know was where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch.")

Then there are the folks who missed the point. Spears fans protested that it was a heartless mockery of a low point in her life, and completely missed that she was being portrayed sympathetically, while everyone else (even the boys at first) were villains. Show fans whined that there weren't enough jokes, not enough Cartman, and the only laugh they got was hearing Clinton say "spearchucker" in debate with Obama, completely missing, well, probably anything in the series more intelligent than a fart joke.

And then there were the folks complaining that if they were going to do a Britney Spears episode, they should have done it properly, because there's so much to make fun of, missing both the point ('Holy fuck, there's celebrity poking, and then there's this, and this is not right--we as a society are killing this woman, let's back off and not do that anymore'), and the fact that they were in fact the very people the episode is actually satirizing. For example, and an egregiously creepy example it is, there's the review that crowed the episode "takes a stab at Britney Spears and her popularity" "[w]hen the Queen of Trailer Trash visits South Park," and "[o]nly the boys seem to notice her head is blown off in a great parody of her train-wreck life. We love how Matt and Trey treat her as a brain-dead machine propped up by the media. No head. No brain. Doesn’t matter. Look at the camel toe!"

That's driving right past the point and off the pier, into a lake of fire.
mokie: Hannibal Lecter sits on his shiny blue couch (media viewing)
Sometimes you get a look behind the curtain, and you realize that the little man back there is pulling so many more levers than you imagined. Stephen King's On Writing, for example, opened my eyes to how he thought about and structured stories. Suddenly those weird elements in his stories that just don't work (you know the ones) made more sense: they still didn't work, but I could see the reason, the intention and framework behind them.

Other times, though, you pull back the curtain and discover that the little man has no clue what he's doing--but it won't stop him from congratulating himself without cause. That's what it felt like to read an interview with the creator of the classic Nick show Clarissa Explains It All.

"You have to remember that before Clarissa, girls were given outfits to wear. Matching clothes. Girls didn’t pick their own clothes and make their own styles. Now we take it for granted. Annie Hall was a good example for adults. People didn’t create their own styles except in minor ways. Punky Brewster wasn’t fashionable. She was being 'quirky, goofy girl.' She was really Pippi Longstocking." (Mathew Klickstein, "Inside Clarissa Explains It All with Creator Mitchell Kriegman," Splitsider.com 27 February 2012)
Bullshit.

We'll put aside the fact that kids bucking their parents' ideas of suitable hemlines and haircuts, and picking out their own clothing to make their own styles, is half the history of modern pop culture, most frequently and fondly remembered in the '60s tug-of-war between mod and hippie and the '70s war between glam and punk. Sure, as a Boomer, Kriegman should remember those days, but let's keep things closer to the era of the show in question.

Before Clarissa came along in 1991, we had three seasons of Becky Conner's fab fashion sense and Darlene's descent into demi-goth territory on Roseanne, not to mention Denise Huxtable, not just a fashionista but a fashion student, and her sister Vanessa, who seemed to change up her personal style a couple times per season.

What did Clarissa Darling do? The same thing Punky Brewster did: brought a watered-down version of a specific style to television five years after the hip kids started it. In Punky's case, it was defanged and pastelized punk, and yes, she was fashionable: the show hit as whitebread department stores began selling blue lipstick and multicolored converses to decidedly non-punk teens. For Clarissa, it was eccentric layers loaded with patterns and vintage and accessories, straight out of Pretty in Pink--of whose costume designer On This Day in Fashion's Ali Basye says, "Vance excels at capturing, without irony or kitsch, the instinctive thrift and experimental, sometimes awkward dressing that is distinctive to adolescents." (Emphasis mine.) ("The WTF Prom Dress of Pretty in Pink", 28 February 2011)

What Clarissa did was nail (not invent) the vest + untucked shirt + shorts + tights/leggings + boots look that is so very, very '90s, and which Kriegman seems to think is the first time teens picked out their own clothing. He's wrong about that.

"It was amazing that they accepted that first episode with Clarissa trying to kill her brother. In those days, people did not talk about sibling rivalry at all. It was kind of taboo. But we went right at it with her trying to kill him. No one seemed to give me any trouble about that. They just let me do it. I don’t think you could ever do that in a show now. But I think it was healthy to bring out the fact that people can talk about sibling rivalry in shows like this."
Bullshit.

Did this man not watch TV at all? Sibling rivalry is the bread and butter of sitcoms. Jan and Marsha, Marsha, Marsha (1969 - 1974), Thelma and J.J. (1974 - 1979), Raj and Dee (1976 - 1979), Willis and Arnold (1978 - 1986), Vanessa and Rudy (1984 - 1992), Mike and Carol (1985 - 1992), DJ and Stephanie (1987 - 1995), Bud and Kelly (1987 - 1997), Darlene and Becky (1988 - 1997), Bart and Lisa (1989 - 3043), Eddie and Laura and Judy, till she went into porn (1989 - 1997)... Not to mention every other TV show that has ever featured siblings, ever.

How taboo can something be if the Smothers Brothers built a comedy act around it?

Does Kriegman believe sibling rivalry is defined by acts of cartoonish violence? Even there, he's not even breaking new ground on television: Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp had him beat by nearly 60 years. Not even on modern TV, as Darlene's torment of DJ bordered on criminal and started three years before Clarissa first aired.

It's irritating. I want to give Kriegman kudos for an awesome show that legitimately did break ground: while it didn't invent the 'teen sitcom', Clarissa Explains It All did re-popularize it and bring the target age down a few years to include pre-teens; it was one of the first non-animated Nick shows to be carried by a single character instead of a concept that allowed for an ensemble cast; and it was one of the first teen-aimed shows to feature a female lead. Given how '90s Nick shaped the network and influenced later tween programming, that's a pretty big deal.

But I can't shake the annoyance of the irrational teen fashion claim, and the nonsensical sibling rivalry claim. It makes me want to offer less praise, because unwarranted pride is just arrogance. Sure, Clarissa was OK, but she wasn't All That...
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (geeky)
The season finale of AMC's zombie drama The Walking Dead airs tonight, and the network is running a marathon of the entire series so far. Since I'm a fan of the show, I figured I'd wax philosophical. And before anyone asks, I've not yet read the comics, so this probably won't be relevant to them at all. Don't open, spoilers inside )
mokie: Red Dwarf's Rimmer does a very embarrassing dance (people are crazy)
Yes, seriously.

First, there's the very popular "Hitler took everybody's guns! If the Jews had guns, maybe the Holocaust wouldn't have happened!", which Salon answers nicely:
Proponents of the theory sometimes point to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as evidence that, as Fox News’ Judge Andrew Napolitano put it, “those able to hold onto their arms and their basic right to self-defense were much more successful in resisting the Nazi genocide.” But as the Tablet’s Michael Moynihan points out, Napolitano’s history (curiously based on a citation of work by French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson) is a bit off. In reality, only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred. The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps. (Alex Seitz-Wald, "The Hitler gun control lie", Salon 11 January 2013)
The same article also points out that Hitler did not come for everybody's guns, as the much-cited 1938 law actually deregulated gun ownership for most residents. It restricted gun ownership for Jews, but was just one of many restrictions on the Jews.

(Those wondering when Jews became non-white might as easily ask Google when Italians became white, or when the Irish became white, or ask why some Iranians get upset when referred to as non-white. Race isn't as simple as skin color--it has lots to do with social and historical context and power, us vs them dichotomies, and at times with who is and isn't considered fully 'people' at all. You can find books on it from the Jewish perspective, if you're curious. In the meantime, you can think of it as 'ethnically specific tragedies', if you find that easier.)

Then there's Gawker's story, with a title that speaks for itself: "Al Sharpton Rips Into ‘Gun Appreciation Day’ Chairman Who Thinks Slavery Might Not Have Happened If We Had Just Given Black People Guns"

Yes, seriously.

Of course, it was a different story when groups of black people actually were arming themselves, and the NRA helped to draft gun control measures instead of fighting against gun control. Meanwhile, remember when the neo-cons argued that slavery wasn't so bad, bred mutual respect between the races, and at least kept black families together in 2-parent households? Or when Quentin Tarantino decided he was an expert on history and declared "Roots" 'inauthentic'? Okay, that last one's unrelated...

Except that, for both "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained", Tarantino has been criticized as exploiting another race's past tragedy and rewriting it as a revenge fantasy, ignoring history and, some believe, implying that the oppressed could have taken care of themselves had they just grabbed those bootstraps and gotten a little more inventively violent.

Huh. Guess it does apply.

And this is just the headline-level racial fuckery emerging from the gun control debate. It's not touching on comment sections, where eyes are rolled, racial slurs are tossed out, and the threatening specter of the gangbanger is waved. It comes together as a disjointed vision of a Mad Max future, in which armed and melanistically-rich criminals roam free and run Bartertown, formerly known as the US of A, and by the way, their ancestors could have saved themselves from us pasty bastards in the first place if only they'd had guns.

Except nobody is enslaving us. Nobody is forcing us into concentration/re-education camps, or sending us off to Thunderdome.* There was a whole lot more going on in pre-Civil War America and the Third Reich than the oppressed parties not having guns, and much of that had to do with those parties being considered barely (or not even) human by the Powers That Be.

Guns aren't what's keeping society from suddenly imploding on itself. Society isn't imploding because, despite all the gloom, doom, school shootings and terrible cable reality shows, it works pretty well for the most part. Rethinking our stance on guns to take military weaponry off the streets isn't going to change that, or leave us bare and defenseless against barbarians at the gate. It might, however, stop a mass-murdering fuckhead or two from donning body armor and walking into a school to make himself famous.

Meanwhile, as some folks are suggesting that the only thing those other folks needed to fix their problems was more guns, completely different folks are uncomfortably wondering exactly why killers who arm themselves and walk into schools almost always turn out to be young middle-class white men. Is it just statistics? A dramatic rise in mental illness, or a dramatic drop in effective treatment? A pathological reaction to stressful times, changing demographics and social norms, and/or loss of status?

This is progress of a sort, given that a decade ago, we were uncomfortably discussing whether these killers were monsters created by video games or monsters created by bullying. Now that bullying is an openly discussed issue, video games aren't just for easily-demonized geeks anymore, and more killers clearly fall outside the stereotype of the kid playing out his revenge fantasy in real life, we can stop asking why that person committed this one horrible crime and start asking what it is about our culture that's incubating this trend.


* I know there's a tangent on the American penal system in here waiting for someone, but I've only got the one rant in me today.
mokie: Red and Kitty Foreman are obviously exasperated (disappointed)
After watching George Romero's Land of the Dead a few days ago and Rob Zombie's Halloween tonight, I feel like starting a movie review series entitled, "I see what you were trying to do, and here's why it didn't work."

I see the earnest effort. I see the love. But I also see where they fucked up (yes, including making the film at all) and damn, it hurts.
mokie: A girl in a bathtub wearing a snorkel (soap)
A while back, in response to a drawing of Steampunk Sailor Moon, sweetevangelinesweetevangeline posed a question: what would a Sailor Moon soap smell like?

Cherry blossoms! No, wait--basmati rice. Maybe cotton candy? But more importantly--swirls. SWIRLS!

Obviously, this required much deep thought.

The final soapy result: violet-scented cold process soap in white with pink and black swirls, topped with clear melt & pour soap in which iridescent pink glitter and tiny star glitter are layered for a holographic effect when the soap is tilted and turned.

Hologram soap!


It's an experiment at this stage. A few folks (including sweetevangelinesweetevangeline) have agreed to test it out when the cure's complete, to see how well the mixed bar holds up under regular use. (I have an immature sliver in the kitchen soap cup being used for that test. So far, so good!) A small bit of color lifted from the pink into the melt & pour on one bar, and fingerprints on glycerin are a nuisance. But so far, the only real problem has been photographing the effect: the illusion of depth comes from the twinkle of glitter at different layers, and there's no capturing that in a regular photograph.

Hologram soap, cut bar


Oh, and the part where I create an intensely girly soap, in pink and glitter and floral scents, only to have my 12-year-old nephew walk in, pick up a bar, admire the side colors and say he really likes this new flame soap.

Next batch will be bonfire-scented...
mokie: A tiny, sad cardboard robot walks in the rain (sad)
A little while back, South Park did a whole episode dedicated to reclaiming the word 'faggot' as an all-purpose insult because the young men who make up its target audience really, really like that word. The show argued that the word has other meanings and is not in and of itself a homophobic slur, and it shouldn't automatically be assumed to be a homophobic slur. I mean, it's not like their young male viewers also use 'gay' as an insult or say stupid shit like 'no homo', right?

Except yes, they do.

Now when is South Park going to get around to a certain racial epithet that the young white men want to use? Where's the argument that 'nigger' isn't racist and has other meanings? For example, according to two local DJs in the '90s, it's used to call someone ignorant in parts of the South, and that's not racist, right?

Except yes, it is.

Does anyone really have to explain why?
mokie: The Dark Knight's Joker inserted into a scene from Beetlejuice (confused)
They finally did an American remake of Absolutely Fabulous.

There were a few changes. Like Patsy's now a glutton rather than a lush, Saffy's a boy, everyone's under 18, and they call it iCarly.

I haven't been this disturbed since I realized I'm the DJ...
mokie: Firefies swirl beneath a tree on a moonlit night (happy)
From the Terminator 2: Judgment Day trivia page:
The "forced medication" scene (Special Edition only) had to be re-shot several times because actor Ken Gibbel wouldn't hit Linda Hamilton properly with his nightstick. The scene was very physically demanding and Hamilton was furious with Gibbel because he repeatedly botched it. She got her revenge in a later scene where she beats Gibbel with a broken-off broom handle - the blows are for real.
If you check Gibbel's IMDb page, you'll notice T2 is his last acting role.

She beat him right out of the movies!
mokie: A tiny, sad cardboard robot walks in the rain (sad)
...but "V: The Final Battle" is its Phantom Menace.

I remember loving it for the hybrid twins (oh, Elizardbeth!) and being unimpressed with its hocus-pocus ending. How did I miss the sloppy plotting, the clichés, the suddenly inconsistent characterization? Oh, right, I was only eight-years-old.
mokie: Ghostbusters' Vinz Clortho wears a collander and answers questions (nerdy)
The opening of the original V miniseries (1983) is a thing of beauty.

A Hispanic man in soldier garb is walking through a scene of chaos, discussing the results of their most recent action. His ranting pegs him as a Salvadoran freedom fighter, and as we pull back, we see his audience, an American cameraman. As the military bursts upon the rebel camp, Mike and his sound tech Evan alternate between dodging for cover and stepping out to get that perfect moment on film.

"You're going to get me killed this time, Donovan!"

"You're going to get another Emmy!" With clear admiration, Mike points out the rebel leader, who has calmly pulled a pistol on an encroaching helicopter. "Look at him! Look at him!"

The two journalists finally reach a vehicle and make a break for it, but are pursued and run off the road by another helicopter. Mike takes cover, camera rolling of course, to draw fire so the injured Evan can reach the trees, but the helicopter abruptly stops firing and pulls away. Mike turns to see the cause: a mammoth aircraft--no, let's be frank, it's a flying saucer--stretches across the sky overhead and grows larger by the moment. After a moment of shock, Mike has the presence of mind to resume filming.

Let's break it down, shall we?

- During the '80s, the reference to the conflict in El Salvador made this topical. War and revolution are timeless, though, so it also serves now, decades later, as a way to establish a time period for those familiar with history, and a foreshadowing tone for those not--and it does the former without seeming dated, like fashion or pop culture references might.

- We learn almost everything we need to know about Mike Donovan, who will go on to be the series' protagonist. Not only does he keep a clear head during danger, he has the guts to take big risks and the skill to make it work--which is a complimentary way of saying cockiness overrides the good sense to come in out of the bullets. He'll put himself on the line for others, and he has an idealistic streakpossible spoiler ).

- The early '80s loved their post-Vietnam para-military action flicks. First Blood had come out the previous year, Red Dawn would come out the year after, filmmakers chucked words like 'lone,' 'cobra,' 'wolf,' 'delta,' and 'force' into a hat for film titles, and nobody yet trusted Arnold Schwarzenegger with real dialogue. The miniseries takes advantage of the audience's genre familiarity by starting with images of guerilla fighters, guns and helicopters to establish a certain expectation for the series. And then it's batted aside almost casually, by an impossibly large flying saucer.

Independence Day owes a huge debt to V in terms of imagery, with giant craft hanging over iconic sites like the White House and the pyramids at Giza, but V goes a step better. We meet our ensemble cast with the news report's audio in the background as they discover the news, but where ID4 interrupted casual everyday activities, V interrupted guerilla activities, biomedical research, an archaeological discovery, a burglar at work, a child being hit by a car--each moment introducing a member of the ensemble cast and telling us something important about them. V's aliens didn't interrupt work or breakfast, they disrupted everything.

It was enough to put me on the edge of my seat in 1983, and it's still effective almost 30 years later.
mokie: A large white shark rearing from a tiny child's pool (devious)
Halloween decorations hit the stores in August. Christmas decorations are out by October. Sweet and innocent Easter decorations are on the shelves before raunchy red Valentines Day tchotchkes have left them. But where, I ask you, are the Shark Week decorations?

That's racist, America.
“If I had to choose between being eaten by a shark and having my heart broken again, I’d rather get eaten by the shark—because at least I’d know that shark actually wanted me.” (Sean Patton)
mokie: A Japanese lantern in front of lush green bushes (thoughtful)
Titan A.E. was supposed to be a groundbreaking integration of digital and traditional animation from the true heir to the throne of Disney, Don Bluth.

Except by the time Titan A.E. was released in 2000, Disney and various Japanese studios had been experimenting for a decade with mixing traditional and computerized animation, and Saturday morning had at least three fully CGI cartoons, with a handful more that toyed with computerized elements. To add insult to injury, Bluth's integration was poor, both on its own and in comparison: fingers didn't hold objects, characters stepped into doors instead of through them, and so forth. When we first see the rotoscoping--classic rotoscoping, so blatant and clumsy it immediately brings to mind 1978's Lord of the Rings or 1981's Heavy Metal--it becomes painfully clear that this is "Don Bluth Does Digital!", a desperate attempt to stay relevant by a man clinging to the days when he was a contender.

But the problems go far deeper than style, to a serious lack of focus and commitment in the story itself.

Both the loss of Earth and the loss of the protagonist's father are rushed through so quickly that I don't even need to hide that with spoiler warnings. We're not emotionally invested in either the big picture loss or the protagonist's loss because it's over by the time the title appears, reduced to mere backstory: here's why they're in space, hey did you notice that ring? Where the movie really begins, Cale's fatherlessness and the loss of Earth are just how things are. Depending on the story, that could work just fine.

Unfortunately, the story the filmmakers want to tell requires us to feel sorrow for Earth That Was the lost home planet and father, the longing to belong somewhere, and the urgency to find Titan, and they never step in and give us a reason to feel any of that. We enter a world already made, with characters pretty much used to it, and it's hard to care. It's hard to believe the characters care, either. They seem more heavily invested in cynicism, sarcasm, and general postmodern asshattery than in their search and the story. The characterization is all over the place, at times so blatantly derivative that it feels like the whiniest Star Wars or Firefly fan-film ever, even though it predates the latter by two years.

That's partly because Firefly creator Joss Whedon was a screenwriter on this. Watch the film knowing this, and it becomes a wonderful example of how to completely fail to pull off anything Whedon. Titan A.E.'s complete lack of motivation for its characters? In Firefly, that comes across as depth and moral ambiguity. Whedon's trademark quirky rapid-fire dialogue became famous in Buffy*, to the point that it's something of a watershed program, but in Titan A.E., the dull delivery instead gives the impression filmmakers just couldn't decide whether a moment was meant to be dramatic or humorous. It's like Monty Python as recreated by a Bible study group, or worse, the pilot for the American version of Red Dwarf. They've got the script, they've got the plot, but they have no idea.

In the end, the problems transcend all of that: the movie just can't decide what it wants to be or who it's for. Where better storytelling and production might have pulled off an 'everything to everyone' open-ended approach, Titan A.E. doesn't have it: it is the film equivalent of that guy who thinks trying hard and giving a shit makes him look uncool, so he half-asses it and pretends that makes him hip. Yes, as a film, it's a douchebag.

But consider all of that and ponder with me this notion: should Titan A.E. be remembered not as a tired wannabe work by a former animation titan, but as a very, very awkward dress rehearsal for Firefly?

* Though you can catch hints of it earlier in Roseanne, where he also arguably laid the groundwork for Darlene's evolution from basic tomboy to realistic teenager.

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y-* tags categorize dreams.

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