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Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Problem with Movie Reviews

I read movie reviews not to find out if a movie is good or bad (I'll be the judge of that, thank you) but to see if a movie generates enough interest for me to actually watch it. Also included in movie reviews these days is an assessment of how the film delivers on racial and gender issues. Too many white people? It will be noted. Problematic treatment of women? Whether they're being sexualized as "the whore" or marginalized as "the girlfriend," this too will be noted.

These things are, apparently, crucial a certain audience's ability to enjoy the film. Which brings me to this review of Z for Zachariah, which almost avoids that stuff before dropping it like a deuce at the end.


Z for Zachariah could have benefitted from a deeper plunge into the ways race and gender relate to faith.


I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know...maybe a deeper plunge into those issues would have improved it.

Maybe a deeper plunge would have proved to be a distraction. Watch the trailer below. Would a deeper exploration of race and gender make this movie more interesting to you?


Meh. Seriously. Just because Chiwetel Ejiofor is in it doesn't mean it's 7 Years a Slave. Ejiofor is a fine actor and a bonafide leading man. For him, talent not ethnicity should win out. Surely not every performance needs to become an opportunity to talk about race.

Still, this kind of thing in the commentary world may be waning. Not completely, I fear, but there was a time I think when a piece like this wouldn't have waited until the last paragraph to discuss the "deeper plunge" into racial and gender issues. It would have been front and center, in the first sentence under a piece titled "Z for Zachariah's Race Problem."

Books

It's never been difficult to incorporate reading into my daily life. I've always thirsted for knowledge and appreciated the novel and short story as art forms. But if you're careful, you'll do a lot of reading and not much finishing.

I have on one side of my bed a stack of half-read books that I finally admitted I would have to revisit at a later date.

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle, much more different than I expected, but printed with a weird, blocky typeface meant to thicken up the pagecount of the book. (I suppose publishers can justify this kind of thing with aesthetic concerns, the larger print and extra white space make it "easier to read," but I always come away with the impression they do it to justify the list price, make you think you're getting more book than you are.)

Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale, one of my favorite authors, a Hap and Leonard book. I got about seventy pages in, before I started reading...

Imajica by Clive Barker. I've attempted this one a few times, couldn't manage the physical effort required to read the book. It's 896 pages, a real brick. Open it on your lap and within minutes your legs will go numb. Luckily they published a split version, cutting the novel in two, so that you can actually hold it in hand. Unfortunately, I got through half of the first volume and lost interest.

So I moved on to Barker's latest, The Scarlet Gospels. Also rather disappointing.

What about Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert? My God, what a slog. Dune is rightfully held as a masterpiece. (It was way better than any book should be, a real stunner.) But the sequels have a bad reputation. I now know why. I have 60 some pages of this one left, so it's going on my "finish" pile. Once I finish it, though, I think I'm done with the Dune books.

Or Hannibal by Thomas Harris. I've been reading this one off and on for a year, and it just dawned on me that one of the reasons is that I don't want to actually finish it. The writing is so good. Is it a good book? Not really. The plot is rather absurd, the characters even more so. But the words... This book I picked up, saw my spot marked, and unlike my reaction to Dune Messiah, thought, "Oh, good, there's still at least a hundred pages left."

So while I'm slogging through Dune Messiah and savoring Hannibal, I've committed to reading Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, hopefully a better book than movie, and Child 44 by Tom Robb Smith, also hopefully a better book than movie. So far, I'm enjoying both of them. Shutter Island has Lehane's page-turning readability and Child 44 is showing off some pretty decent literary-type writing. (Seriously, though, Tom, who said you could put your dialogue in italics?)

If these don't work out, there are a thousand others on the shelf waiting for their turn.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Musicians Shouldn't Teach History

A few weeks ago I went to a reggae concert at Red Rocks, featuring Tribal Seeds and Rebelution.  I'd never heard of either band, but like any white boy stoner, I have a fondness for the music.  There was a joy and positivity in both bands that really hit the spot.

On the way out, someone handed me a CD sampler that had a couple songs from Tribal Seeds latest record, Representing.


Looking them up later, I was struck by the album cover.  It features an Olmec head, huge stone monuments fashioned into faces from the Mesoamerican heartland. 
The Olmec are one of the oldest civilizations in Mesoamerica and are often considered the "mother culture" of all the later Mesoamerican civilizations, from Teotihuacan to the Maya and later Aztec.  They're known for the stone heads, which probably depict kings dressed in ballgame attire. 

In the modern age, looking back with our stupidity, we see these heads and see nothing but questions.  We give them numbers "Colossal Head 3" and mark their location, but the history is basically lost.  We look at the heads and it could be anybody.

But transport an actual Olmec person to the 21st Century, and they could tell us exactly who the heads represent. "Yeah, that's King George.  He was a power-mad drunk.  And this is King William, quite the ladies man.  He built this whole place."  (I use Anglicized names to demystify them.  Their real names and histories are lost.)


In our ignorance, we look at the heads and note details.  7 tons.  Made out of basalt.  Look, this one has almost African features...

Now I'll stop right there.  In my mind, the error is somewhat obvious, but other people look at these stones and this thought --"They have African features"-- actually occurs to them.  And when you say to them, "What the fuck are 'African features?'" they actually have an answer.

Look at the broad nose, the thick lips.  It's obviously a black person.  Never mind that we're talking about a stone head carved in Mesoamerica before anyone from Africa stepped foot on the continent.  The broad nose, the thick lips!  Must be Africans!

One's racist notions do not actually provide scientific proof.

At any rate, I mention this all because the flutter of excitement I felt when I saw the cover to the Tribal Seeds record --"Ah, cool, an Olmec head!"-- was quickly dashed when I realized they were intent on making that Olmec-Africa connection.

From the song:
History they’re teaching is wrong
Theres nothing new underneath the sun
Everything in life got it’s purpose
High above and beneath the surface
Each day we pray giving thanks
In remembrance of where we came from
The Olmec civilization is in alliance with the Africans
Well, no, the wrong history to teach is the one that says the Olmecs were buddies with the Africans.

Good music, though.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Falling Bear

Dear internet,

I hope you have fun posting Falling Bear 2 to your Facebook walls.  Like it, leave a funny comment.  Make that little musical "Aww" sound. 

But also keep in mind that this bear's life is in a very precarious position now.  She will no doubt be humanely handled and escorted off the premises.

But this is what happened to Falling Bear 1.  She was tranqed, trucked off hundreds of miles to an unfamiliar forest, released, and as soon as the Dept of Wildlife rangers drove off, she started running back home.

A few months later she was hit by a car trying to cross the interstate, killed, never making it back home.  A tragic end to a comic moment.

The fate of this bear will hopefully be different.  But she will be in for some terrifying few months as she navigates unfamiliar lands and unknown perils.  She's coming back. 

Be assured of that.

Too Many White People In the Room

The dumbest thing on the internet right now:


A guy is putting together a series of videos intended to highlight "Hollywood's race problem." But it really encapsulates everything I've come to dislike about the Social Justice Warrior left.

It's so egregious, I'm willing to even take it as parody.

But I'm afraid it's not.  I'm afraid it's a sincere attempt to highlight the fact that there's just too many white people in movies.  I mean, I hope I'm not missing the point.

Moonrise Kingdom isn't a racist film and Wes Anderson isn't a racist director, but he can be fairly (according to this dude) lumped in with "Hollywood's race problem."  Guilty of too many white people.

Forget artistry, aesthetics, color, music, sound, set design, camera movement.  These are not what's important for film.

What's important is that the ideal of multi-culturalism and ethnic diversity be reflected on screen, and if that's not achieved:  FAIL.

That idea must be crushed to powder and art must be left free. 

On Legal Gay Marriage

My Mom noticed I let the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US pass without comment.  In my defense, I've let most things in the news pass without comment.  It's a new thing I'm trying, called NotBlogging.  It's like blogging...but it's not.

At any rate, same-sex marriage is finally legal in every state in the Union.  I suppose I should be magnanimous, but nah.  If gay people getting married makes you cry, I hope the tears burn.  Get over yourself and your tiny little prejudices.

Semi-related:  A bakery in Oregon was fine six figures for refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple.  Discriminating against gays is illegal in Oregon, you see, and for some reason, this bakery thought it would be smart to make a political statement out of it.

And while my first instinct is "A six-figure fine for refusing to bake a cake?  That's absurd," my more dominant instinct is "Suck it up, dummies." The problem with pressing the hot button is that sometimes you get burned.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Smart Cars and Smart Criminals

A dumb criminal sees an armored truck and dreams about robbing it.  A smart criminal see an armored truck and dreams about filling it with his ill-gotten gains.

These guys...are smart criminals.  


Car2Go, not just for hipsters and their walkable neighborhoods.  Also can be used in drive-by shootings.  Reserve yours now.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Mean Girls Moment

Stop trying to make the "tiny house" thing happen.

I don't care how eco-friendly it is, how cleverly you utilized the space, or all the cool design elements.  None of this changes the fact that you live in a shed.  (If your shed has wheels, it's a trailer.)

 My objection, of course, is not that people want to live this way.  More power to them.  It's that they want us to call their sheds/trailers "tiny houses."  Just...

No.

Double Star

Driving home last night, I saw some lights in the Western sky.  From a distance, it looked like a jet, too bright and "close" to be stars, but then I noticed the lights weren't moving.

It occurred to me that I was looking at celestial bodies of some sort, probably Venus.  Turns out it was Venus and Jupiter, lined up just perfectly for a myopic earth-dweller to see across millions of miles of space.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

True Detective Is Not a Comic Book

True Detective returns tonight, and I'm looking forward to it.  Last season, and the reaction to it, blew my mind.

I think this season I'm just going to watch it and ignore as much of the commentary as I can.  Because they just don't seem to get it.

Cue Alyssa Rosenberg:
Last season, “True Detective” was marinated in a shared horror mythology about a fictional city named Carcosa, which shows up, among other places, in the Robert Chambers short story collection “The King In Yellow.”
Whut?  Where did this come from?  Carcosa was mentioned, yes, and there was a "Yellow King," but c'mon.....This notion that there was some kind of "shared horror mythology" appeared on the internet, not the show.

But then again, Rosenberg tips us off to the fact that she wasn't really watching True Detective, the show that's on TV, but rather True Detective, the show she wishes it to be.
Moustache-twirling isn’t the same as insight, just as making your serial killer an incestuous hillbilly is not some visionary, searing indictment of sexual culture below the Mason-Dixon line.
It's true, as a searing indictment of Southern sexual culture, True Detective fails.   But that's like saying that Lebron James failed to win the Stanley Cup.  No attempt = no fail.

The way I see it, and I may be alone on this, but the fact that the serial killer is just an incestuous hillbilly and not some diabolical comic book villain is a pretty good "Fuck you" to everyone who wants to focus on the symbolic. 

The problem with reading everything like a comic book, when a two-second glimpse of the Infinity Gauntlet is imbued with meaning, is that it can train you.

Rosenberg is trained for comic book style viewing, not pulp fiction style:

I suppose it’s some sort of accomplishment that that first season of “True Detective” trained me to pick up on all these crumbs, but I have little confidence that they’ll make a satisfying meal.
Thinking back on my John D. MacDonald and Raymond Chandler binge-reading, I've come to ignore the crumbs.  They don't mean anything.

And that's doubly true for comic book movies.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On Analytical Modes

Paragraph found in a post on why the new Entourage movie is bound to fail critically:
But there’s more to the changing tide of Entourage’s cultural reception than that. It’s not just that Entourage didn’t evolve—it’s that the whole conversation around TV did. Needless to say, pop-culture criticism as a whole now pays far more aggressive, fine-grained attention to the political implications of art within the context of criticism. We increasingly consider aesthetic judgments to at least overlap with ethical ones, in part if not entirely. This change has allowed for some of the best TV criticism of the past few years, coming from some of the best critics. It’s led one of the most popular shows on the air to be flayed to the bone every time it airs a rape scene. It’s spearheaded the critical reevaluation of Friends. (OK, Chandler is the worst.) Yes, it has also produced plenty of ham-fisted and wrongheaded analysis—but, no matter your opinion on it, this analytical mode is now built into the way we talk about culture.
A couple things:

A)  My opinion on it is that it's shit.
B)  I hope it's more of a phase than "this analytical mode is now built into the way we talk about culture."  Because...
C)  It's not that this analytical mode has "also produced plenty of ham-fisted and wrongheaded analysis," it's that it's likely to.

That's why Ronda Roussey is in the movie.  You can't make a movie about four white dudes in this day and age without addressing "the political implications" in some way.  Throw in a cage-fighting girl, a boneable one of course, and it's a sop to all the wet blankets who would decry the testosterone overload.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Woah

A feminist calls out other feminists about their abjectly ridiculous complaints about Game of Thrones.

She says:
The issue here is bad arguments and why feminists need to avoid them. Feminism is supposed to be a movement against reactionary politics, so this kind of reactive, rationalizing behavior—the kind we see so often from conservatives—is a bad look. I spend a lot of my time trying to debunk conservatives whose entire worldview is built around coughing up bullshit rationales to justify their thoughtless reactions, from “abortion is icky” to “sexual women are gross” to “hip-hop doesn’t sound like the music of my youth so it must be wrong”. Being challenged or upset by stuff is not a reason to be against it. It often means you need to slow your roll and think about things harder. Plus, bad arguments makes it easier for anti-feminists to paint feminists as a bunch of overly emotional, thoughtless and censorious creatures. Don’t give them that.
I think Amanda Marcotte gets a lot wrong about George RR Martin's intentions about the series -I think Martin just wants to shock and horrify his audience, no cheap trick for an author who also writes horror- but she gets this right.

Being challenged or upset by stuff is, indeed, not a reason to be against it.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Stuff

I've been off all week and it's been nice to have time to get some stuff done. 

I saw Mad Max...twice.  It's apparently "the most feminist movie in theaters," so I did my liberal duty and took my 8 year old niece the second time.  You can find feminism in the movie if you're looking for it, but what I found interesting, aside from the eye-popping stunts and action sequences, was the narrative structure and world-building.

Yes, the narrative structure.  If Mad Max is a feminist manifesto, then it's also an exercise in pure visual storytelling.  Rather offering explanations, the movie just asks the audience to "Witness!"

In other news, there was a huge biker brawl-slash-shootout in Texas that left, what, 9 people dead, dozens either hospitalized or arrested.  On Sons of Anarchy there's a shoot-out every other episode and it's no big deal.  In real life, when this stuff happens, it's a big deal.

But this is what "smart" people have to say about it:
In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn't even mentioned, although pictures of the aftermath show groups of white bikers being held by police. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in "a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents," implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.
 This is what I've come to dislike about politics.  It always comes back to the hobby horse issue.  We can't have a biker brawl without bringing it back around to Freddie Gray.  Why not gun control?  Why not helmet laws?  I know, mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

Whatever the impulse is, it's not, "Hmm, this is interesting.  Let me see if I can understand it."  The impulse is always, "How can I use this incident to further my goals?"

I find the biker brawl interesting because it was apparently about turf and, ultimately, what patches can be worn on their cuts.  The Bandidos claim Texas, all of Texas, a claim that is now being challenged by other biker gangs. 

This has nothing to do with what happened in Baltimore.  It's own little beast, and this call for the media to treat it in the same manner as the Freddie Gray stuff, I cannot abide.  No.  No, and more no.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Freedom!

My truck's in the shop, so I had to take the bus home today.  Walking in my neighborhood to the house I passed a sign that I found curious.

It said
No stopping or standing.
I stopped.  I stood there.  I looked around.

This sign was a relic.   It sits in front of a row of cheap apartments set off the street only by a five foot wide strip of lawn.  Before the fence, before the sign, before the legalization of marijuana, one can imagine these apartments were a hub of drug activity.

If you stopped you were buying and if you stood you were selling.

No stopping or standing.

It took me a couple of blocks to come to this realization.  My first instinct upon seeing this sign was to grab it into both fists and shake it until it fell.

No stopping?  No standing?  No sign! 

But alas, it still stands, a reminder of all the little ways our lives and freedoms have been abridged by the misguided war on drugs.