Thursday, January 28, 2016

THE CHiCKENiNG


This is the craziest, most creative, and most detailed thing I've seen in awhile. I've seen THE SHiNiNG a number of times, including in the theatre at a midnight showing, and I think this remix is brilliant. I especially love how the beautiful location of Colorado and the (fictional) Overlook Hotel is made to look like Reno, NV; the sandwich scene is hilarious; and re-imagining Scatman Crothers' character as a spaced-out alien is funny as hell. I only wish Kubrick could have lived to see this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kevin Costner Can Suck a Bag of Dicks

I used to like the film The Postman. I didn't understand why it was panned; I thought on first viewing it was an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre: Kevin Costner as a Shakespeare-spewing thespian in a rough-hewn world, singing literally for his supper; a former photocopier salesman (or is it repairman?) rises to become a dictatorial warlord in the post-ap; Tom Petty playing himself; etc. So what's not to like? Well, like Waterworld, Costner's forays into the post-ap genre, be it in front of the camera, behind, or both, end up, usually, made fun of. I mean, in Waterworld, he demanded extensive, expensive re-shoots because he felt like he looked kinda balding. In a true post-ap situation, going bald would be the least of someone's trouble.

 Have mule, will travel: but what Costner really wants is a horse and to bring capitalism and government back to life (sigh)

I actually don't mind the whole premise of The Postman -- in fact, I think it has some clever moments/characters/dialogue, etc -- but what really bothers me about the film is how it ends. (Spoiler, folks.) Through Costner's inadvertent rebooting of the US Postal Service (which he does at first only to keep himself alive, not for anything more grand-scale or noble than that), the anarchism of the post-apocalypse once again returns to a nation governed by a renewed, rebooted US government. A statue of The Postman, a nation no longer wild, free, anarchistic. Government -- and, we assume, capitalism or some form of it -- restored. The end. What a happy ending.

I would argue that this is actually an unhappy ending. That, although the world of The Postman before the postal service-cum-US government was restored was harsh, violent, and subject to the rise (and fall) of brutal warlords, at least it was wild, free, and anarchistic. Before The Postman's transformation, the world was similar to Edward Abbey's novel Good News: not an anarchistic utopia by any means, but a world in which nature had recovered (somewhat) from the abuses of civilization, people were generally free, and freedom fighters kept those would rise to power in check. (Btw, many people didn't understand that Abbey's title meant that the utter collapse of postmodern-industrial civilization would be a good thing, good news.) Like the many biases that exist in any culture, we have been instilled with an anti-anarchism bias: in other words, we've been conditioned to think that a world without the coercive, punitive, and supervisory power of government would be a hellish, harsh, war-ridden nightmare. This is simply fallacious. In The Postman, the (human) world's not in the best shape in the post-apocalypse, terrorized by roving bands of warlord-led marauders, but this is how humanity has actually lived for millions of years. And government is nothing more than warlord-led marauders, except it's called a "President" instead of warlord, and instead of marauding for women, livestock, slaves, gold, whatever, the marauder is the Internal Revenue Service, or the cops, TSA, CPS, NSA, FBI, what have you. Either way, there is oppression and danger in the world. I'd rather I have danger in the form of wild animals or wild people than the abuses and dangers of governance. I'd rather the world be wild, free, and, perhaps most importantly, re-wilded in its inherent dangerousness, than under the control and spell of a government that provides the illusion of safety, coherence, justice, control, and protection. But this is exactly what The Postman leads up to: thanks to hero Kevin C, everything gets fixed in the end. And, worst of all, capitalism gets re-instated just like the federal postal service, showing that humanity never learns. As Slavoj Zizek has said, "We can imagine the end of the world, but not the end of capitalism." This is exactly what happens in The Postman: the world ends, but neither, ultimately, does capitalism or government. Unfortunately.

 The Big Chill: handed out to every Baby Boomer, to go with their predilection for flashing the peace sign, self-worship, and selling out

Another film I detest is actually connected to The Postman via one Kevin Costner. In the iconic, perhaps quintessential Baby Boomer film The Big Chill, Costner plays a suicide victim whose death brings together his BB friends. Apparently Costner had more scenes in flashbacks that were cut from the film. In the standard version, all we see is his body in close-ups being fitted for his funeral suit. Although the suicide premise is indeed sad, what conspires is a Baby Boomer love-fest of well-to-do-ness, self-absorption, and inward-looking-ness, set to a thumping soul soundtrack (the music is the best thing about this film). Baby Boomers have been criticized, of course, as being their own heroes/heroines, and one of the most fortuitous generations ever -- in the right place at the right time. Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio is currently talking about the first time successive generations have the possibility of a worse life than current ones, but this actually already happened between Baby Boomers and their Gen X offspring. Despite the war draft of Vietnam, Baby Boomers have had a pretty sweet ride, and they can often act very privileged and entitled about it. VICE magazine took on Baby Boomers in an issue completely devoted to them, and it's pretty eye-opening and spot-on. I'm trying to temper my tendency toward verbal razors, but The Big Chill kinda asks for it: we watch, and wish more of the characters took Costner's character's lead.

Further, The Big Chill is an unapologetic ripoff of an indie film called The Return of the Secaucus 7 by the underrated writer/filmmaker John Sayles. I feel for John Sayles: the man has ideas, and filmmakers with bigger pots of money than he had for his films just take his ideas and run with them (perhaps this is a compliment to Mr. Sayles, and perhaps it keeps him honest). District 9 owes a lot to Sayles' lovely 1984 film The Brother from Another Planet. But The Big Chill is a BB self-congratulatory, masturbatory film, and while some viewers might fall for its appeal to pity, it's actually a disturbing look at the BBs: white, well-to-do, their own heroes/heroines, former revolutionaries whose failed revolution of the late 60s turned them into exactly the Establishment they clunkily rebelled against in the first place. Baby Boomers lose one of their own and lose their royal shit about it. I'm not trying to be cold about suicide, but come on. There are, after all, other generations before and after the mighty BBs. And these generations only did little things like defeat Hitler, invent punk rock and the Internet, and lead a digital revolution/revamp of just about everything in the world. Ya know, just little footnote things.
But I want to be balanced, or what the Buddhists called to pendulate, and see the good as well as the bad and the ugly. I have to give Costner some credit where undeniably due: his early film Fandango is actually one of my favorite sleeper films -- an antiwar story about draft evaders in Texas in the early 70s -- and he's pretty durn good in No Way Out, Bull Durham, Dances with Wolves, and, hell, Waterworld is such goofy fun (and it's Mad Max 2, basically, set on a global-warmed, water-covered Earth*) and was so panned, I just have to feel sorry for the guy. Hell, he's just an actor -- well, when he's not a director. He's just making a living. He only reflects the times he lives in, not necessarily agrees with them, right? Ah, Kevin, how you vex us so -- so good dancing with wolves, and so annoying as The Postman or The Suicide Baby Boomer. And I have to admit you did a bang-up job in A Perfect World. You're a good guy at heart, I think, Mr. 'Ner -- just stay away from the post-apocalypse and those dastardly Baby Boomers, man.

* Notice how so many films borrow or downright steal from other films? Telling stories is dog eat dog!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

How Shadow of the Colossus and ICO Helped Me Deal with the Simple Horror of Sentient Existence

I've always liked video games, having grown up when the medium was born (yes, I vaguely remember Pong), although I'm not a hardcore gamer by any stretch. But I was quite taken by two games that were similar to each other -- Ico and its kind of unofficial successor, Shadow of the Colossus. 
Both are Japanese games that allow the player to have a lot of personal freedom to work through the levels of the game challenge -- or not all. If you want to just dick around in each game's world, you can. There's no timer, no prompt, not even an impatient avatar that stomps its foot if you don't keep things moving. Both games have vast, largely empty landscapes full of wild nature, subtle winds, and a castle to escape from (Ico) or large beasts to slay (Shadow) in order to save a princess. The game-worlds are based in minimalism, not the kind of sensory diarrhea overload of too many games these days. Less is more in Ico and SOTC's game-worlds, and the game is very patient with the player's pace. 

Although games that have come about since these two games might be more fine-tuned in their pixel resolution or realism, there's always been something about these two games that've captivated me. Perhaps it's a kind of realism that the game-worlds -- like our physical reality itself (nature) -- are largely apathetic to what your character does. Jump off the castle to your death (Ico), ride around on a loyal horse in circles forever (Shadow), waste away in the castle (Ico), tread water forever (Shadow), etc -- the game doesn't care, just like physical nature. Of course, you won't make much progress in escaping the castle (Ico) or slaying all the colossi (Shadow), so most players try to do something in the game. But no one's coercing you to. It's up to you whether you engage in the world and try, or don't do anything. Kinda like life itself. For the record, I've won Ico, but am stuck on one of the harder-level beasts in Shadow (and, quite frankly, disappointed and not as interested in the game since game-progress depends on the momentum to defeat beasts.) But -- and this is especially true of Shadow -- there is just so much land to explore. And sometimes I find it peaceful to just do nothing in the game-world, just like spending time in nature or meditating IRL. 

One of my favorite films is eXistenZ, a creepy David Cronenberg slow-burner that shows how virtual reality can often supplant "real life" so that the two can become dangerously confused. A game designer -- Jennifer Jason-Leigh in an enigmatic, almost shy role -- loves to escape real life by going into her game world, until the usually-clear difference (a very necessary demarcation in order to retain one's sanity) becomes progressively more blurry. However, I'm pretty clear-headed when I'm playing Ico or Shadow about which reality is virtual and which is real. But some interesting things happen when one adopts some of the attitudes from the virtual game-worlds back in ol' physical brute reality. For instance: what if our well-known reality, where we eat, breathe, play, work, love, hate, etc, is really a game? I mean, just like killing off a game character -- the old game-suicide -- one has suicide as an option IRL, always. And what if our physical reality -- the infrastructure, textures, and buildings, etc -- that we move around in so intuitively and purposefully, is only at root a high-resolution simulation in which we can't see the subatomic "pixels"? This may sound like crazy talk, but a prominent philosopher actually got a lot of interest in and attention to himself with his "simulation argument." It questions whether human life, or even planet Earth (or even our known universe) could be a sophisticated, high-resolution, extremely realistic simulation. 

So sometimes I walk around in waking life and imagine that "reality" is a high-res, extremely realistic simulation or game. That's not to say there's no danger (just like ICO, SOTC, and eXistenZ are in fact full of danger), but it somehow softens the harsh edges of sentience, the simple horror of being alive. Like a game, it's not real -- and at the same time, it is. When you play Super Mario Bros., it's just pixels you're moving around on a screen. But in reality, your heartrate increases, you find exhilaration or defeat and all the physical, mental, and emotional sensations associated therewith. Is the universe a hologram? A computer? Are we game characters controlled by others just as we control game avatars? 

We may never know -- and may we never know. 

(UPDATE: Just picked this up and started reading, and so far so good -- I think the author really gets it, and his description of playing SOTC via a projector on a large slanted wall is just so beautiful.)