Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Battle Game for Buddhists: further thoughts on Shadow of the Colossus

Provocative article about a PS2 game I used to enjoy playing with my son, Shadow of the Colossus. I agree with the author's argument, that a game like SotC was either a beautiful anomaly in the canon of gaming, or it represented a more evolved iteration of gaming than preceded or followed it. I haven't played it in awhile, but its game-world, its gestalt, has stuck with me: a vast landscape that was almost uncannily realistic -- yet notably alien and foreign, like the way Cronenberg created a subtly alternate universe in his film eXistenZ that was recognizable and intuitive, but just oddly different enough to be compelling, surreal, and a little scary. (Christopher Nolan used this technique in the quality mainstream film Interstellar, with the three Earth-like planets that the astronauts visited.)

This may look a little cheesy, but there was something about the detail, quietness, vastness, absolute freedom (as the article above's author notes, the game creator didn't give a shit what you did in/with the game, or if you played it at all, or just galloped around anarchistically on your trusty steed through the landscape), and beautiful ruins of the game. I am a big fan of natural light, light through ruins and decayed structures, and the magic/golden hour of the day, which SotC emulated well. 

SotC was based on the earlier game ICO, which I haven't yet played. 

There is a plot and goal of SotC, don't get me wrong -- in fact, it's a very daunting game, and gets harder as it progresses. If you're into finishing/solving/beating the game rather than enjoying the ride, there are a number of beastly, massive colossi to find, battle, and defeat. Though each colossus is intimidating, each has a vulnerable spot, a glowing blue sigil somewhere on its giant body. But there's no time limit, no pressure from the game to go the right way or make progress, and you can just as well ride around in circles on your horse on a majestic bluff as you can beat the colossi. This is what the article's author is talking about: there's no social sharing/bragging aspect -- it's just a well-created, absorbing, epic game that you can while away the hours playing and not interacting with others, in person or online. Granted, if you wander (I think that's your avatar's character name, Wander) too close to a colossus 'hood, you'll have to engage in battle (or run away). The colossi are impressive, each with its own charismatic personality, and your avatar, horse, and comatose princess to awaken are all engaging characters, but the real star of SotC are the landscapes, the crumbling, desolate, medieval structures, the quietude and vastness, the ambience of the weather, the ennui, the way that so much of the game is just wasteland and existential freedom. SotC doesn't try and dazzle you with explosions and sounds and constant stimuli like the crack-esque experience of a kiddie casino (aka arcade) game. SotC is stimulating, but in a more cerebral way. It has all the freedom of Grand Theft Auto without the populated, postmodern, gritty settings and characters. SotC is like a battle game for Buddhists. 

I never beat SotC. I got close to the end, but one of the later-stage colossi I couldn't beat. But that's okay, because I loved being in that world. Around that same time, I was playing two other games with my son: RHEM 3, and Cabela's Big Game Hunter Alaska. 

Both games are notable, like SotC, for being largely solitary adventures in occasionally hostile but mostly empty, beautiful landscapes, with a lot of anarchistic and existential freedom to do as you please.  RHEM is a puzzle game populated with steampunk-esque things to figure out; it's a great combo of the natural and the (abandoned) man-made. Big Game Hunter Alaska is a point-and-shoot, but more than that, too, because of the attention paid to the landscape/setting, and the fact that you could just as easily not hunt things as hunt them. I guess I like abandoned structures, unpopulated areas, decay, nature, and post-human places. 

Things black mothers fear

I've been listening to and having some good, rich discussions about police brutality, institutionalized racism, and this disturbing new (?) trend of cops having open season on young black males -- and I've not only talked within my familiar, preaching-to-the-choir crowd, but with all kinds of people from all walks of life, including a white mother/guardian of a black teenaged male. She also recently dated a conservative, pro-police cop. (I wrote about the general issue here.) Here is an essay written called "Things black mothers fear" from Atlanta's Creative Loafing alt-weekly.

I think it's uber-important we not just get polarized and debate the issue on philosophical grounds, but find win-win solutions and areas of common ground (such as agreeing that Reno, NV's MOST program is a step in the right direction). Police Chiefs from Seattle to Nashville are also speaking very intelligently on this issue, and one thing I think is great that has sprung from the tragedies of these young men's deaths (and the lack of indictments of their shooters) is that we are removing cops, firefighters, EMTs, soldiers, first responders, etc, from their infallible pedestals simply because of their job title. After 9/11, I worried that heroizing and lionizing these folks in our fervor to fight some vague and questionable (not to mention linguistically inconsistent) War on Terror would lead to bad things (civil liberties abuses, for instance). Sure enough, it did. But now we are seeing cops and first responders as human, all too human, fallible people who make mistakes and need calibration from time to time (as we all do). This is good. And it's highly important we maintain a society that is free enough to be able to question everything and everybody, as no one should be above the law -- for who watches the watchmen?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Enzy '14

I am the proud recipient of the 2014 influenza virus, and when I'm not sleeping 16 hours a day, adjusting from hot to cold and back, and staring out the window, like a zombie, at the woods, I have to say I can put my ego aside and admire what a beautiful virus our little friend Enzy is. I don't mean any disrespect to people who have lost loved ones to the virus (more common of course in the pre-vaccine days), but sometimes it's nice to take a vacation from one's anthropocentric viewpoint and just admire what a tenacious little bugger Enzy is, flying through the air, entering the body (lungs in humans, intestines in birds) and replicating itself as fast as possible in living cells before the body's immune system figures out what monkey business is going on and forms antibodies to stop the endless viral copying.

One has to admire the thing at least aesthetically. Its knobby outer defenses and core full of RNA, drifting in the body turning cells into micro-Kinko's photocopy places, trading its host's misery for its own pursuit of happiness..

Getting the flu (no, I forgot to get a flu shot this year) made me think about the band Triclops! (mentioned in previous post, as Fleshies and Triclops! share a singer): many songs do exactly what I was talking about -- decentering away from the human perspective and looking at natural phenomena through the eyes of a botfly ("Love Song for the Botfly"), the SARS virus ("With SARS, I'll Ride the Wind"), even the subtle differences between Homo sapien and Homo neanderthalis morphology ("Glaciers (Cry of the Modern Neanderthal)"). Here's a nice live version of "With SARS, I'll Ride the Wind" when Triclops! were in their prime. A pretty fun live band: impeccable musicianship, but never shoegazey or self-absorbed, as singer John insisted at every show that he confront and commune with the audience (and with the floor and nearby objects at hand). I have a feeling he was the class clown in school.

The video for "Love Song for the Botfly" is hard to watch for me. The way the botfly makes its living is pretty gruesome, and I just read in a survival manual that the way to get a botfly out of your flesh is to strap raw bacon to the affected area: the botfly will instinctively crawl into the pigflesh and be out of your body. Whoever thought of that, pretty clever. 
Bacon: not only is it tasty (cooked), but raw it can clear up that nasty little botfly problem you're experiencing.

The human body: where does it begin and end? Who does it belong to? Some cultures, such as the Jainists, view any living thing as sacred, while other cultures seem to value life very little. It's a funny ol' world. But many sacred living creatures -- yes, if we look at it in Jainist fashion, we must include influenza and botflies -- rely on being parasitic to other creatures for their very survival, their very essential sense of self. 

So right now, I'm camp host to Enzy 2014. Currently botfly-free, and not a Neanderthal, though others may disagree. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fleshie night

You gotta love a venue that utilizes a Target dry erase board for its lineup announcement. These dry erase boards aren't just for sorority sisters to keep track of dormroom chores, folks. 

Saw Swiftumz, The Whoosie What's It's, Fleshies, and Schlong tonight at good ol' Eli's Mile High Club in a gritty part of Oakland, Ca. In that order. Swiftumz were okay: some simple chords, a kind of early Soul Asylum/midwest punk vibe, with a standout song that was cheerfully played (with those simple, happy, major chords) about being hellbound. Morbidly obese singer/guitarist, which is cool 'cause he wasn't the Jared Leto/Thirty Seconds to Mars-type frontman. 

Next up was The Whoosie What's It's, clad in holiday regalia (sweaters), who played a fun female-fronted pop-punk that didn't take itself too seriously. Very cool sweaters: a Descendants xmas sweater, and the drummer had a xmas sweater of Santa pooing. 

But I really came for Fleshies. Fronted by John No/John Geek of Triclops! lineage, Fleshies are a well-oiled, seasoned, fun-punk band who put on an energetic live show. 

The Fleshies bassist sported a cool Basquiat t shirt

Fleshies frontman John is a consumate entertainer, adept vocalist, and all-around good guy. (He's also a substitute schoolteacher by day. Ha!) He measured the length of the mic cord pre-show knowing he'd be right out in the crowd on the first song -- punk is about being on the same level ground and amidst your audience, with intimacy and camaraderie. 

John putting his mic up to a tom drum during the low Buddhist chanting that the soundguy played in between Fleshies songs. 

Some crowdsurfing. Punk shows are messy. We share fluids, like sweat, blood, and beer, and bounce 
around against each other. When people fall, they are instantly pulled up and cared for. This is more than I can say for capitalism. 

John assumed an 80s aerobics instructor persona/attire for the night and made fun of chakras, energy healing, the void, etc. But all in good fun. 

John is pretty amazing to watch. Despite plummeting into the audience, getting carried around, and cutting his arm up accidentally on a broken pint glass, he never missed a line of lyrics in time with the music. He did these same kind of shenanigans when he did vocals for Triclops!, except with them he affixed flashlights to his mic, hands, and feet, and went further into the crowd. Triclops! once played an in-store gig at The Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, Ca, which is set back maybe ten feet from the sidewalk parallel to Santa Rosa Ave, and while the band played inside, John wormed out the store to the sidewalk singing on his back, to the confusion of cars passing by on the ave. 

After the show John went straight to the merch table to sell Fleshies albums and shirts. I brought him some wet paper towels for his bleeding arm and asked if he needed help. Nonchalantly, he said, "Yeah, I should probably look at it, get some soap on it." 

Schlong apparently hadn't played in a couple of years, so had a kind of reunion show. They were good. They played fast, hardcore stuff, mixing in some reggae and ska, and a cool cover of a Steely Dan song. Hard to follow an act like Fleshies, but they did well. All in all, a bunch of happy punk bands that celebrated the holidays in the way only, well, happy punks can. And I was there in the thick of things, a happy punk myself, a bellyful of Eli's legendary tater tots (sadly, they no longer focus on Cajun cuisine for some reason) anchoring me amidst the tumult of the crowd. Happy holidays! Hope y'all are watching BAD SANTA and SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT as well as the more mainstream ELF, NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION, A CHRISTMAS STORY, and THE WIZARD OF OZ. And I hope you get what you want for xmas and give what people need. And don't shoot your eye out. But keep your finger in the sky. And watch out for this wizard:

Friday, December 19, 2014


Speaking of Trona (the film) in the previous post, I watched David Fenster's similar film (longer than a short film, shorter than a feature length film) Pincus. It's about a guy taking care of his father, who has Parkinson's, basically. The son is good at taking care of dad but bad at running the family business which the dad can do no longer. It's also an interesting and ultimately ambiguous look at alternative healing strategies and things like didjeridoo healing, crystals and sounds, psychics, yoga, acupuncture, meditation and other alternative/Eastern medicines -- some more pseudoscientific than others. The dad is played by the filmmaker's father, who really does appear to have Parkinson's. It's pretty funny to see this poker-faced old Jew who says his life is hell (because of the disease) react innocently and rather neutrally to this alt-healing crowd. Some scenes are just darkly funny in themselves, like the dad all stuck with acupuncture needles, or laying on the floor, cramped from Parkinson's, as a dreadlocked hippie blasts him with a didjeridoo. There's also the son, played by David Nordstrom from Trona, whose character is like a younger Jeff Lebowski.

I recommend it. I like Trona better for its sheer surrealism, location, characters, and dark humor, but Pincus, a bit more grounded in reality (whatever that is) perhaps, is still very much worthwhile. I rented it on Vimeo. Director (also writer-editor-cinematographer-conceptual artist) David Fenster is very talented and I like his take on things. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Checker at the Gates of Fawns

Sometimes I have experiences that make an ol' realist-pessimist like me think that the world is definitely going in a bad, wrong direction. Item: I got carded at Target last night buying two cans of chili, some ham, generic NyQuil, and an anti-bruxism mouthguard. I looked at the checker incredulously and said "For what?!" He said the NyQuil. I said, "Dude, I'm 41." I gave him my ID. I know that getting carded is flattering and ego-boosting to females, but it feels sometimes like the policies we have are largely absurd, stifling, and overly-numerous. I mean: for the vast majority of human history, we either hunted a deer successfully for dinner, or we didn't. We lived in a lawless, free world. There were incredible hardships, as humanity has now in different ways, but I can't help but think we've lost something essential and perhaps never attainable again unless there's a major societal upheaval/reset and a rewinding (meant to say "rewilding" but rewinding works too!) of the developed world. Or maybe I was just born in the wrong time. I know that bad apples spoil the bunch, and that the checker was only doing his job (although after Eichmann/the Holocaust, that reasoning always chills me a bit, even though a checker at Target is not a Nazi). And I know that robotripping (consuming a whole bottle of Robitussin or NyQuil or whatever OTC cold/flu medicine at once) exists -- hell, I've seen the film Trona. But it feels like we live in world with far too many restrictive rules, policies, procedures. We live in a culture of fear, of kneejerk litigiousness. Sigh. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Open Letter to Sony Re: The Interview

Very disappointed with Sony's decision to not release The Interview due to poorly-written terrorist threats from the GOP (Guardians of Peace) -- who, if this is not a publicity stunt, is most likely a North Korean bunch of internally oppressed nationalists who can't take (or probably make) a joke. But, come on, theatre owners and Sony studios: unless there's more we don't know, why cave so easily to this kind of cheap and crappy-syntaxed terrorism? It is very important that non-vanilla, non-milquetoast, non-Christmas movie movies get made and given their fair chance to compete in the moviegoing marketplace. I'm not saying The Interview is a Kubrick film -- it looks like yet another in this line of sort of stupid, bro-y Rogen-Franco comedies -- but it's important that it gets a chance to be shown, even if that brings risk. As Voltaire said, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." And if the US Government contacted Sony and said to not release the film -- who decides what movies get shown? The government? That sounds like.. North Korea.

Film is an invaluable and, admittedly, volatile medium to get people a-thinkin', and a-feelin'. But it's crucial it remain as open and free as possible. Consider the great, enriching discussions brought about by Zero Dark Thirty. Sony: I may hate The Interview, but please don't take away my right to have that experience and make that decision for myself. The best film experiences I've had have been rowdy and almost dangerous* -- film should rile things up, like a good punk rock show, an Andy Kaufman skit, or a harmless prank. We live too asleep; we need things that wake us up. And with terrorism, terrorists are only successfully if their targets give in and allow themselves to be terrorized without fighting back. I'll take the risk going to a movie theatre showing a controversial film. Please allow me to continue doing so.

* the first Jackass movie was a very rowdy, boisterous, vocal crowd; I saw A Clockwork Orange at midnight and it was raucous: bottles rolling under the seats, fervent support of the nasty rapist antihero Alex, and someone -- actually a theatre employee watching the movie after her shift -- ejected from the theatre! The worst thing is when people have an aesthetic experience and it's very neutral/commercial/soporific. We need constant reminders to wake up, and film does this well when it does it well.

Monday, December 15, 2014

There Will Be Camp Blood

An odd juxtaposition perhaps, but I was watching Friday the 13th (1980) for the first time, and I couldn't help but notice that, despite how generally horrible F13 is of a movie, it contained some unintentional scenes of immense beauty -- namely on-location, well-filmed, crisp, analog scenes of rural northwestern New Jersey in the late summer/fall (of 1979, but many parts of that area don't change very much over the years). If you recall from Grizzly Man -- a documentary shaped posthumously from raw, freewheeling footage Tim Treadwell shot of himself communing with bears before being consumed by one -- Herzog deftly noticed a scene where Tim momentarily stepped out of camera frame, but the camera still recorded, unintentionally capturing the lovely sway and swirl of Alaskan trees in the wind in the background.

Gotta love a young Kevin Bacon in his Bob Weir nuthugger jorts. And the painter's pants with no shirt and red suspenders -- stylish! 

Grizzly Man or Friday the 13th

I gave F13 three stars out of five on Netflix, which was prolly a little generous. I did like the scenery, and I know the film is iconic as one of the first mainstream slasher flicks, inspiring a host of imitations and those dreadful F13/Jason sequels upon sequels upon new beginnings upon reboots upon reboot sequels upon crossovers. (Wanna see a so-bad-it's-good-movie? Freddie Vs. Jason is your ticket.) Did the backgrounds remind me of a mostly happy childhood in northern NJ? Sure. The lush foliage, magic hour light, rainstorms -- the film provided nostalgia for me. But plotwise, it's a moronic foray into gore and base sexuality. (Accordingly, critics largely panned it and audiences loved it, and it made huge financial returns on its relative low budgetness.) It's a dumb, cheap, sleazy film. But man those film-shot, on-location scenes. 

And here's another connection to another film, There Will Be Blood: notice how in F13 the (SPOILER) killer is a grief-stricken mom whose son drowned while the camp counselors supposed to be watching him were having sex (and prolly smoking that dope, hash, Colombian gold, the weed, you dig?*)? The killer mom's M.O. is largely to slit throats. Remember that scene in TWBB when Daniel Day-Lewis responds to a man off-topicly telling him how to run his family, namely how to raise his deaf son? 

Some fiercely protective, vengeful parents here. 

(* actual dialogue from the wacky motorcycle cop in F13)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bill Basinski

Writing this post half-expecting the power to go out at any minute from a gusty rainstorm comin' to town. Kind of an exciting way to write.

I've been listening to composer William Basinski lately, probably most known for his Disintegration Loops -- music he recorded in the early 80s that became more interesting after gestating for 20 years and experiencing tape decay. There's a pretty beautiful video on YouTube of the first loop set to footage of the evening of 9/11/01 in New York City. It somehow works. An excerpt from the first loop was also used effectively in the dark comedy The Comedy. A classical orchestra has played the first Disintegration Loop; it's a very simple, repetitive, beautiful piece of music that's hard for me to listen to because it reminds me of someone I, as they say, miss dearly.

I've been listening to another Basinski work, the Variations. "Variation IV" has particularly stuck in my craw -- note this is from the Variations: ...Chrome Primitive album. Basinski employs "variations" quite a lot in his work. 

Also came across this well-written review of said album, which starts off in an apparently self-absorbed reviewer fashion, but actually makes a good point about the hectic pace of postmodern life today, and how Basinski's works can help us slow down, be in the moment, focus on one thing, and have a meditative experience. There is a definite sadness to much of his work, but there's also quite a range: some pieces are lighter, more joyous. "Variation IV" is just a melancholy B flat root note to D over and over, but it really struck me. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Some thoughts on death-by-law enforcement

Death by cops is big in the news and at the water cooler these days, as it should be. And it just keeps happening, disproportionately to minority populations and the mentally ill. And grand juries are seeming to have this tendency not to indict cops who use excessive force, break rules, and/or kill when those things are necessitated by the situation. (Anarchists often get jailed for refusing to serve on grand juries.)

I came across a somewhat older copy of the Reno News and Review, who ran a 3-part series called "Fatal Encounters" about death by law enforcement. It started in February 2014 -- before Ferguson and post-Ferguson incidents -- and the project investigated deaths by police starting way back to 2000. Here's the third installment from last June, which focuses on the MOST (Mobile Outreach Safety Team) program, in which a mental health professional goes out with a cop responding to calls.

The MOST program only costs 1/4 million per year, which is probably around or less than Oakland, CA police officers make in overtime. I've seen a MOST-like program in action in Sonoma County, and I think the model is effective. The mental health professionals are also trained negotiators, a good skill to have in situations where cops are summoned.

I've been trying to understand the death by cops phenomena in the most open-hearted, open-minded way, but I can't help but think that too many cops don't value non-white and non-sane life as much as white, sane people. Who decides what sanity is? Lyotard, in The Postmodern Condition, outlined how a facet of the postmodern condition is that truth is established by those in power. The definitions of things are established by those in power, as is science and science's priorities. This is an important point because the best way to be safe from the police is to be 1) white, 2) a go-with-flow, productive, law-abiding capitalist. Basically, to not question the way society is structured is to be the safest, because cops -- and no disrespect to the good ones -- are essentially capitalism's security guards.

Punk band MDC (it stands for many different things, including Millions of Dead Cops) bring up a good point, a flaw in the policing system: what if officers are Klan members? Or, short of that, what if cops carry with and in them institutionalized racism?

The other problem is that cops have a code of silence and brotherhood, so while this can promote unity and solidarity among cops, it unfortunately also closes minds that best remain open. And America is sooooo polarized by racial issues, people's love/hatred for Obama, and lingering, damaging myths about other cultures in the US. But I hope that someday we can have a society in which parents of any color/income/etc can not live in fear of police shooting their children. 

the Iceman (not the Mafia one)

One of my favorite movies of all time is 1984's overlooked gem Iceman. This film came out during the reign of Timothy Hutton, who plays an anthropologist who gets the chance to study a revived 40,000 year old Neanderthal named (roughly) Ahroo who is discovered amazingly intact in the ice of the arctic.

If this sounds far-fetched, it is and it isn't. Seven years after the film, a wet mummy 5,000 years old was discovered in the Italian Alps and nicknamed Otzi (pronounced "Oot-zie"). Amazingly intact, he had lots of food in his stomach (ibex meat and fat, einkorn grain), had possessions with him (shoes, a copper ax, clothing), his eyeballs were intact, and he was apparently murdered by arrow. He wasn't as perfectly preserved as the fictional Iceman, but his DNA was extracted and decoded, determining his eye color (brown) and even diseases he had (lyme disease, heart disease). If morality isn't touched upon and the technology is advanced enough, he could conceivably be brought back to life. 

Otzi sounds like "Tootsie" to me, so I juxtaposed. 

The 1984 film is well-done: compassionate, deeply funny at times (Arhoo's open-mouthed, head-back growl-laugh!), beautifully filmed, inventive (Arhoo wakes up from sedation in the arctic research station's vivarium, which he thinks is the real natural world at first), and good at showing the conflict between rather technical cold science/medicine -- viewing Arhoo as a specimen to study and research -- and viewing him anthropologically as a man with emotions, family, spiritual beliefs, a language, etc. 

But it's a tragic story, too, because -- from Charlie Kaufman's Human Nature to Encino Man to At Play in the Fields of the Lord -- the big problem is: fitting in, the clash of cultures and timespans. Arhoo (they call him Charlie) is robust yet small-framed, strong, Neanderthal through and through in body and mind, and very indicative of Man being closer to an animal state at times, a rough-and-tumble simian but with the beginnings of the mind of modern man. He's talkative, curious, emotional, despondent at times, a good hunter and gatherer, eats gross food, and likes Neil Young. He asks where his children are. 

Descriptions of this film place it in a canon of stone age-interested films that came out in the 80s (Quest for Fire, Clan of the Cave Bear, et al), but I think our curiosity about our origins is always with us, always a ripe theme for narrative exploration. Because, in a way, we don't know who we are, we are locked in history (as Herzog says in Cave of Forgotten Dreams) unlike our ancestors, still evolving, and developing such technological and scientific prowess that we have cracked the genetic code and entered into the brave new world of cloning, creating chimeras (mice with human ears attached, glow in the dark pigs, etc), and, potentially, bringing back extinct creatures a la Jurassic Park.

If we find a mummy in better shape than Otzi (who was subjected to tremendous glacial pressures, water and ice, open air, etc), and we can revive him or her, should we? Is Iceman a good guidepost for this exciting, high-stakes part of the human adventure? I think it is. And I think it should be read as a cautionary tale, because (spoiler alert, sorry) Arhoo/Charlie eventually commits suicide. He just doesn't fit in, he's distraught about his family, he's astoundingly alone, he's treated like a piece of meat by the scientists interested in finding his apparent powers of immortality, his environment is a mirage, and his explanation for all that happens to him in his second life and all that he understands -- and doesn't -- is that his god is a real trickster, a real fucker, a birdlike being to be feared, appeased, and ultimately sacrificed to. 

Further thoughts on The Rover

Call me a sucker for well-done Australian post-apocalyptic films.
I'm actually pretty surprised people overall weren't more impressed with David Michod's The Rover. I'm not a big Twilight fan, but I found Robert Pattinson amazing in this film, and Guy Pearce has almost always delivered in a big way (remembering of course some misstep films, like that time machine movie he was in).
Michod's latest is a simple story, a kind of bleak road movie, with a lot of ideas and, to me, a very plausible, haunting vision of a potential future. ("Ten years after the collapse.")

No spoilers here (ok, maybe some spoilers): this is a film about simple theft in the desperate times of a new Wild West in Australia.  But there are also hints of something else going: people from all over the world coming to Australia to work in the mines, which are alluded to as being under Asian control. Even the film's official website posits a detailed, possible timeline leading up to the "collapse" the film vaguely references, and that the film takes place in "the Asian century." There are very few businesses left, but what stores do exist sell "tins of things", auto parts, petrol, ammunition, underage boys for sex, opium, guns, and alcohol. The bar, the railroad/mines, and even the whorehouse/opium den seem to be under Asian control. Guy Pearce's fierce yet sensitive, complex character seems to lament the good old days, when Australian currency was just as strong as US dollars, and he just doesn't seem real thrilled about the brave new Australia he lives in. (But then again, as we find out, there're some reasons for this.)

Is The Rover a xenophobic film? A cautionary tale? Does it blame a potential future collapse on a specific population? This is not easily answered, for everyone in the film is struggling to survive, and most disagreements are handled with bullets, as Guy Pearce's character notes. No one seems to have the upper hand of societal and economic control, but the closest population to that is Asian. 

Slavoj Zizek, in Comradely Greetings: the Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj, writes of "the rise of the new phase of capitalism, capitalism with Asian values (which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia and everything to do with the anti-democratic tendencies in today's global capitalism)." The problem is, being a very visual film (and film of course being a visual medium), The Rover does posit this significant holding of power by distinctively Asian people, which the film's backstory/website confirms*. The film is violent and bleak, the reasons (at least in the film, though they are explored in the website) for the collapse vague and presumably numerous (societal, economic, environmental, etc). Is there anything good in this brutal vision of Australia in the near future? 

In Apocalypse Movies (1999), Kim Newman writes "there's an aesthetic pleasure in ruins...there's an appeal in getting rid of all the boring people in the world." "The more complicated a civilization becomes, the more fun it is to imagine the whole works going up in flames." There isn't a single boring character in The Rover (ever bought a black market handgun from an ex-circus dwarf who talks to himself?). But there doesn't seem to be much good, much goodness, in Michod's vision. Pearce's character alone kills 7 or 8 people in order to do at the film's end what he set out to do in the beginning, before things get derailed and rather out of hand (and he has a violent past, we learn). 

Nonetheless, The Rover is a beautiful film, gorgeous even, in the way only a postapocalypse can be that beautiful. (The film's excellent score and sound design add to this aspect, too.) Sunsets, sunrises, bodies crucified on power poles -- this is not beauty in the traditional, safe sense, but a bold new kind of beauty. This is the dark side of anarchy, the negative aspects: selfishness, distrust, violence, crime, tragedy. But there is a certain freedom in this world, a return to the pros and cons of a primitive existence, and the undeniable aforementioned ravaged beauty. As an anarchist, I'm surprised I'm not opposed to this movie as it has a habit of showing anarchy in pretty much only its darkest aspects. But that's because it doesn't: in this future world, there is still mutual cooperation, altruism, human-human and human-animal empathy and connection, and, yes, goodness. People struggling to restore sanity but surviving in the meantime. Kind of like any time in history.  

* to be fair, the film also captures how Australia is a country steeped in violence, the genocide of Aborigines, and with its European origins that of penal colony stock. There is a business in the film run by a white Australian, and the only doctor in the film is white Australian as well. Further, the police, who are indistinguishable from the military at this point (sound familiar?), seem to be almost exclusively white Australian, indicating that while the economic upper hand is Asian, the government and police/army is still firmly white. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Careful what you wishmaster for

So this brings us to Wishmaster in my Bad Film Analysis. 
The union dockworker above gets a little too jiggy wit' his coffee and hooch, and inadvertently drops a statue on a person, destroying the statue, which had a dazzling ruby opal within. Another unscrupulous dockworker pockets the jewel and unloads it at a pawn shop. Pawn Shop Pauly takes it to an auction house, where it is appraised by our protagonist, who looks like Sarah Connor's stand-in (yes, that Sarah Connor). 

Here is our protagonist, above, making the crucial decision about what kind of date she'll go on with what turns out to be the Wishmaster's first modern-day victim (The Mazz (as I call him) hasn't kicked ass since like 1127 A.D., locked up in the magic jewel as he's been). How about Top Ramen and fisting?
This is a movie that relies on special effects in lieu of all else. Robert Englund and Wes Craven were involved. But this is a baaaaaad movie, Jim.

Oh, my god. I'm whoring myself like a whore sandwich between the Pac Bell and Coke Corporations. Is this a commercial or a film? It doesn't matter, as long as I get paid. 
I made through about 24 minutes of Wishmaster. I liked the premise -- getting what you wish for carries unexpected and often devastating consequences -- but I. Just. Can't. 
One thing I did like was the use of Cinemascope. I love how that looks. So, F+, final grade. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

2 great movies w/ bird themes

Two very excellent movies are in theatres right now: Mockingjay 1, and Birdman. Bird-themed movies.

Man, the Hunger Games series just keeps getting more and more subversive, and I love it. Don't listen to whoever said the final book in the series is not as good because it deviated from the Hunger Games arena format of the first two; I think Mockingjay 1 is the best film in the series so far. It really shows how parasitic the Capitol is to the Districts, and how truly evil -- like most governments in real life. President Snow delivers a wonderful line along the lines of "what you love the most destroys you the most." It is sad when governments resort to that tactic of harming those you love the most to try and control and destroy people.

Birdman is like no other film I've ever seen, and I've seen a shit-ton of films. Amazingly acted and taking place on all kinds of meta levels, the film is also completely an exploration of Buddhist ideas without being very directly about Buddhism. I grew up watching Michael Keaton movies -- Mr. Mom, Gung-Ho, some movie where he's into cocaine, Batman, etc -- and I'd always liked his at-times intensity and everyman persona, but he knocks it out of the park here. As do all the actors. The special effects and one-long-scene-ness of the film are amazing. This is dark humor central that is somehow -- perhaps it's that last scene with the actress who could be my daughter, grown up -- very life-affirming. There are so many details and WTF-y moments. Edward Norton is good as ever; Andrea Riseborough is HOT. I love how a Raymond Carver story anchors the film. So original (which is so hard to do these days) and so well done. Bravo. (Btw, kudos to the filmmakers for leaving it in that Zach Galifianakis did one of his classic, self-conscious mispronunciations.)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

House Show

Jason Lytle of Grandaddy semi-fame released a very beautiful live recording from a house show in Portland, OR today. Funny between-song banter too. Check it out. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Panic in the Tower of Dorks

Anyone who knows me knows my sheer love of bad movies. Even I have my limits with some films I can't get through (a xmas dog film w/ that Shorty Rosso guy who rescues pits in southern CA while simultaneously running a dwarf talent agency and having a reality show too comes to mind...), and I love good films. But there's nothing quite like a bad film. Bad films remind me of that Tolstoy quote about happy families generally having similar characteristics, but unhappy families having an infinite amount of ways they are uniquely unhappy: bad films certainly tend to share characteristics (bad lighting, bad acting, poor camera work, low budgetness, plot holes, whatever), but they are all so uniquely bad!

Which brings us to Shakma. Or as I think it should be fully titled: Shakma the Purple-Assed Killer Baboon. As the above screenshot shows, it almost looks like a sitcom, but it's a 1990 horror film. (I do like the pseudo-Metallica logo though!) Lately I've been kinda fascinated with films made at the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s: they have a kind of in-between-decades, changing styles, pre-information technology feel about them, and I've noticed many films have a kind of look that must have been due to whatever film stock was available and affordable to lower budget films in those days. It's hard to describe, but hopefully you know what I mean. If you think of a film like Delusion (a good movie, and one of my all-time favorites) from 1991, that's perhaps the perfect example. I'm talking a kind of washed-out look to the film (that has nothing to do with film aging), mullety hair styles on men, pastel and primary color clothing, and the emergence of computers as major components in the story but the world still very much analog (pay phones, lack of cell phones and internet, etc). It was an interesting time in history, and films in its canon I find especially interesting. Also, re the title: Tim and Eric, in their Bedtime Stories, have spoofed that overused motif of the sitcom or movie title projected in front of the building or house where most of the story takes place (as theme music plays): see the episode "Roommates." 

Shakma (aka Panic in the Tower and Nemesis) disclaimer: I got through about 45 minutes of its 1:20 or so running time. It's a low budget film about a medical school whose dorky students and dorky professor play a kind of Dungeons & Dragons-type game in the eve/night inside the building they're in, utilizing rooms as "caverns," immobilizing spells, clues, a bad guy (Nemesis), and a princess to ultimately rescue on the top floor. There's a primitive computer element (Mac, perhaps) -- the game master (professor) uses one to track the players, who have tracking devices and walkie-talkies (half the movie is spent w/ actors pulling out and pushing in the walkie-talkies' antennae). Yes, super, super dorky -- even though the characters are not Revenge of the Nerds types, they're fairly normal medical students or something. A baboon experimented on earlier was given the wrong meds to put him down for good, and now he's on a fucking rampage in the building as the game goes on. Yawn. Remember that 80s movie TAG: The Assassination Game? A harmless game goes wrong and becomes harmful? 

My old roommate Patrick, a sweet, bearded computer guy, keeps showing up in my life post-roommatetude. He never told me he was in Shakma.

Utilizing basically one setting is a pretty much surefire way to ID a low-budget film, as well as using the set as-is, as this film does. Wikipedia lists the budget as $1,500,000 estimated, and I can tell you the breakdown just by watching the film:

Semi-recognizable actor Roddy McDowall: $1,000,000. 
Building rental, baboon rental, film production costs, catering, computer "special effects", and other actors: $499,990.
Halloween evil ape mask that character Nemesis wears: $10. 

Boom. Done. Watching the film, you actually wonder if 1.5 mil is a too-high estimate. It has elements of an after-school special mixed with an attempt at horror. 

Our hunky main character (I guess he's the protagonist; the great Culture Wars were getting underway, but things still revolved around the ol' white male in the late 80s/early 90s) tosses a lab rat at his gf and sings some Ramones. 

You gotta tranq ol' Shakma if he gets unruly or threatens to spoil the dorkfest Ren Faire game they plan on playing later in the building. Here's that late 80s/early 90s hair I was talking about. 

Every film bad or good has unique moments, scripted or not, that kind of stand out. Here, Shakma reacts to being tranq'd by inexplicably faceplanting and sticking his bright pink ass in the air. Poor guy, all detained by straps and experimented on. He's probably a standup guy, a veritable Mr Thundermug, if they hadn't fucked around with his brain. But every narrative needs some kind of cartoonish villain -- even in real life. 

Here we have an example of the fine dialogue in the film. 

The token black guy is not the first to perish at Shakma's hands, thankfully, but he's a bizarre actor/character: in an early scene he tries to pick up a girl by talking like he's in a Shakespeare play, and in this scene his "FOREIGN ACCENT" is trying to be a reference to Star Trek (engineering to the bridge), but he can't really do the accent, so he ends up sounding like a Hindu man living in Scotland. Star Trek, Dungeons & Dragons: this is a film evidently made by dorks for dorks. 

Not sure what else to say about this film. If it was so bad it's good, I might have finished it, but it's just bad. I didn't care at all what happened to any character, including abused, malevolent Shakma. This film is baboon shit, but worth it for a chuckle.