Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Zelazny Effect

Roger Zelazny is probably my favorite science fantasy author. Counting anthologies of his work, he has had 53 books published under his name, and another dozen or so collaborations with other authors.

He is perhaps my favorite fantasy author ever, and out of those, what, 65 books, I own, maybe, a dozen. I've read, I would guess, a dozen more. And out of those 25 or so books by Zelazny that I've read, I've only really, genuinely, enthusiastically enjoyed 7 of them -- the first AMBER series, the first novel of the second AMBER series, and, especially, LORD OF LIGHT.

I also own, and like, many Zelazny anthologies; he was, arguably, better at short stories than he was at novel length works. But, while I will pick up anything by Zelazny and try to read it, more often than not, I get a third or halfway into the majority of his books that I try out and then I give up in disgust. His plot wanders or disappears, his characterizations go demented, his prose style veers wildly out of control, I cease to be able to comprehend even remotely whether he is writing about a red red rose growing all horny-thorny from of the center of a solid steel catcher's mitt that once belonged to the half-blind Norse god Odin, or a fiery-mantled singing dog hung by its star-jeweled collar from the shimmering skyhook that is the Orion Nebula. And I can't begin to make myself care, either.

So it would be safe to say that the vast majority of Zelazny's work that I have read I do not like, and I have little hope I'd like much or any of his work I have not read. Regardless, anything I have not yet read by Zelazny I would happily essay given the chance, and even with all of the above, I still regard Zelazny as one of the best writers of fantasy fiction ever, and he is without a doubt my favorite all time fantasy writer, and why?

Because the first six CHRONICLES OF AMBER, and especially LORD OF LIGHT, are --
That. Fucking.

Okay. Hold that thought.

A Perfectly Cromulent Blogger has been kind enough to link back here to me based on a comment I left in one of his threads a few days ago.

The kernel of my comment that APCBer re-posted and then responded to at some length was as follows:

It’s odd. Something has changed in how films are made these days. Back in the 80s, when I was in college, I had many favorite directors, and I based my moviegoing choices around them. None of them were completely reliable (in fact, looking back on it, pretty much every director I ever would have listed as a favorite at that time — Hill, Spielberg, Scorcese, Romero, Myers, Gilliam, Kasdan, Cameron, Howard, Levinson, McTiernan — ended up producing more movies I disliked than liked; Hill, in fact, has only directed five films I really enjoy out of 25… and most of the others have similar track records).

And yet, nowadays it seems like I have no favorite directors, and while I will weigh directors when deciding what movies to see, it’s no longer anything like the decisive factor it once was. Curtis Hansen directed one good movie right in the middle of an ocean of crap, but it was SUCH a good movie… I like Chris Nolan’s work, but what the fuck was that INSOMNIA nonsense? Bryan Singer did USUAL SUSPECTS, sure, and the first two X-MEN movies were swell, but I still can’t scrape SUPERMAN RETURNS off my nutsack. Peter Jackson? Jesus Christ, even if I didn’t keep a cheap videotape copy of THE FRIGHTENERS around as a reliable insomnia cure, I need only remember how mind bogglingly awful the last two LOTR installments were to get me past that. Barry Sonnenfeld? Lick me, WILD WILD WEST boy.

And this has made me wonder exactly where it was that all my favorite directors each jumped the tracks. Because every single one of them has, at some point or another. A few of them are still making movies, but at this point, there is no particular director's name that will move me to automatically get my ass out to a movie theater to see something they've done. Even my favorites have disappointed me too often, so that nowadays, when I hear names like 'the Coen Brothers' or 'Martin Scorcese', yes, my ears perk up... but then I remember some dreadful piece of crap each of them has thrown at me over the past ten years or so (like FARGO and HUDSUCKER PROXY for the Coens, and BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and GANGS OF NEW YORK for Scorcese), and I falter. I hold back. If it's a good cast or there's something else about the project that interests me, I may make an effort to get out early and see the film; otherwise, I wait for reviews.

So directors no longer polarize me... at least, not to the positive. There are still directors whose work I will not watch for love nor money, people like Robert Zemeckis, or, lately, Frank Darabonte. The two Scotts, Ridley and Tony, will generally push me away from movies they helm because those movies are usually dreadful, but each of them has, by apparent random accident, directed a few of my favorite movies (THELMA & LOUISE, ALIEN, and BLADE RUNNER for Ridley, THE LAST BOY SCOUT and CRIMSON TIDE for Tony) as well, so, you know, I try to keep an open mind. But none of those four films are strong enough by themselves to get me over just how bad the vast majority of the Scott Brothers' product has been.

But the Zelazny Effect does, or at least, did, hold for a long list of other directors whose work I once enjoyed, from the early 80s through the mid to late 90s.

I'm almost certainly going to forget to list one or two of my 'favorite' directors from this period, but nonetheless, I'll take a stab at listing them all:

The Coen Brothers - I saw RAISING ARIZONA in the theaters in the summer of 1987 and fell in love with the Coen Brothers. I'd seen BLOOD SIMPLE on campus earlier in the decade (many of the thousands of movies I saw during the 1980s I saw on campus, for free, as a member of Syracuse University's Film Board) and been largely impressed with the directorial style even if I hadn't cared much one way or the other about the characters or the storyline. RAISING ARIZONA was utterly charming and remains to this day one of my all time favorite movies. The Coen Brothers then followed that movie up with the equally but differently brilliant MILLER'S CROSSING, which also remains one of my all time favorite movies. And this pretty much cemented the Coens in my mind as 'favorite directors' --

-- until BARTON FINK, which was good, but a good step or two down from the apex of cinematic genius represented by the Coens' two preceding films. Still, it was far from bad, so I had high hopes the Coens would get back to giving me topnotch entertainment with their next movie, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.

Which, unfortunately, sucked.

But not as badly as FARGO, which is without a doubt one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and which may still represent my biggest cinematic disappointment of all time, as I deliberately waited on FARGO until I heard reviews, and all the reviews were excellent, and I really like William H. Macy, and regardless of any of that, FARGO still sucked so hard it left a blood blister on my balls.

I mean, Jesus CHRIST that movie sucked.

HUDSUCKER PROXY was just empty. Sterile. The Coens got a huge budget for the very first time, based on their previous two films, and they apparently spent every penny of it on wardrobe, sets, and lighting. Was there any characterization at all in that film? Maybe in the glowing tip of Paul Newman's cigars, or the soles of Tim Robbins shoes. Yet I would eagerly take shelter in a perpetual hell comprised of a movie theater showing nothing but HUDSUCKER PROXY and serving stale popcorn drenched in movie theater oleo before I would willingly sit through FARGO again, with its waddling, honking nightmare of a Frances McDormand bumpkin copper hooting and bumbling her way from one dumbass snow-encrusted crime scene to another. William H. Macy chews his own hair off, Steve Buscemi rolls his eyes and falls weeping to the ground, an enormous number of people get shot by morons, there are hookers everywhere, and I kept praying that Texas Ranger Jack Benteen or New York mobster Henry Hill would show up at some point and start either blowing holes in everything or pistol whipping everyone. But neither of them did and I wound up staggering out of that film like a drunken hobo, eyes wide with appalled disbelief, spine nearly dislocated from the force with which I had unconsciously shrunk back into the depths of my seat away from the dismal banalities and stupidities enacted on screen.

And since then it's been pretty much turtle shit all the way down. THE BIG LEBOWSKI, like that unseen tertiary character in CLERKS, died trying to get its own dick into its mouth. This would have cured me of the Coen Brothers forever, but then O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU came along and suddenly the motherfuckers could give me a good movie again. Huzzah! This suckered me into getting THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, which was nearly as enjoyable as watching a toad sit on an dead old lady's knitting for two hours. But then INTOLERABLE CRUELTY had George Clooney in it, so I watched that, which horror immunized me against THE LADYKILLERS, but now, all that good press and all those rave reviews have me wanting to see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, and maybe I should just lobotomize myself with a power drill to save myself some grief.

It's the Zelazny effect, you see. RAISING ARIZONA and MILLER'S CROSSING were so good, that the Coen Brothers only have to toss out one fair-to-middling film every eight years or so to keep me hoping, no matter how horrible the detritus they put out is in between them all.

Martin Scorcese - probably the living prince of the Zelazny Effect as it applies to film directors, Scorcese gave me four movies so brilliant that I am willing to forgive him for endless reams of disappointing drivel ever since. The four movies I liked so much? THE KING OF COMEDY, THE COLOR OF MONEY, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, and, finally and mostly, GOODFELLAS. So wonderful were each of these films that I stuck with Scorcese through such crapapaloozas as CAPE FEAR (the biggest goddam waste of Nick Nolte and Robert DeNiro in the history of film, and both actors have made some pretty crappy films), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (I went hoping for the Daniel Day Lewis of LAST OF THE MOHICANS, and got some preening fop that Chingachgook or even Major Duncan Heyward would have cheerfully slapped to death with their scrotums), and CASINO, which would probably have been a fabulous movie if I hadn't already seen it three times better with Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino.

All this crap should have cured me of Scorcese, and let me happily skip over everything he made afterwards, but, nooooo, I got sucked back into BRING OUT THE DEAD, which was pretty much unrelentingly pretentious garbage, and that should have warned me off anything else by Scorcese, but then along came GANGS OF NEW YORK, which looked SO cool I had to go see it, but it was unbelievably wretched, so that did indeed let me skip THE AVIATOR. But I got pulled back in to THE DEPARTED, because I like cop movies in general, and the cast was pretty good. And THE DEPARTED is a good movie by late 90s -- early Oughts standards, it's just kind of mediocre for Scorcese.

In point of fact, Scorcese may also be an example of the anti-Zelazny effect -- so utterly disappointing were CAPE FEAR, AGE OF INNOCENCE, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and GANGS OF NEW YORK to me (not to mention earlier crap like AFTER HOURS) that it's very difficult for me to make myself watch a Scorcese movie now, because you just don't know when he's suddenly going to throw Terri Garr in a beehive hairdo up on the screen again, and I dasn't chance it, either.

Nicholas Meyer - I loved TIME AFTER TIME, which I first saw in the early 80s at Syracuse University. I was very pleasantly surprised when Meyer signed on to direct the second Star Trek movie, WRATH OF KHAN, and even more surprised when WOK turned out to be the best Star Trek story that would ever be filmed -- a movie so good, in fact, that it is still one of my favorite films despite plot holes big enough to fly a Romulan warbird through. (Why is Starfleet searching all over the galaxy for a lifeless planet to test the Genesis Effect on when it turns out the Project: Genesis satellite lab is actually orbiting a lifeless planet? And how is it that a genetically engineered supergenius can't figure out Spock's pathetically obvious "If we went by the book, Admiral, hours would seem like days" radio code? Or that in space, you can move your ship up and down as well as backwards and forwards?)

After TIME AFTER TIME and STAR TREK II, Meyer made VOLUNTEERS, which was pretty much crap but which I enjoyed anyway; then he made COMPANY BUSINESS which I badly wanted to like but couldn't, and then he made a really crappy Star Trek movie (VI) to balance out his really good one, and then he fell off the planet, so that's okay.

Walter Hill - Much to my surprise, when I look up Walter Hill, I find he's made something like 25 films. Out of those 25, I like five -- THE WARRIORS, 48 HOURS, STREETS OF FIRE, EXTREME PREJUDICE, and JOHNNY HANDSOME. I like these moves a great deal, so much so that I still consider Hill to be a 'favorite director' even though his other twenty films are, as far as I can tell, pretty much crap.

STREETS OF FIRE is one of my all time favorite movie length music videos; I think the transcendent brilliance of its casting director and chief photographer is matched only by the abject awfulness of whoever wrote that godawful script. Absolutely every single character in the movie looks completely and utterly perfect for the part they are playing; it’s only when any of the actors tries to mouth so much as a single syllable of the script that the movie becomes painful to, not watch, no, never watch, it’s doubtless one of the finest pieces of eye candy ever put together… but oh my god, it’s agony to listen to any of those jamokes bumble, grit, contort, and otherwise exhort their way through any of that execrable dialogue. Other than the music, which I enjoy beyond all let or hindrance, STREETS OF FIRE should have been a silent movie. Not that the crappy banter and verbal byplay would have worked any better on cards, but at least we would have been spared the anguish of Michael Pare and Amy Madigan attempting to emote.

Having said all that, SOF was probably Hill’s best directing effort ever, at least, from an entirely visual viewpoint. As far as complete films go, though, I’d say Hill’s best work was either EXTREME PREJUDICE (Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironsides, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe and Rip Torn blowing gigantic holes in everything that moves — life don’ ged much betta dan dat, even Maria Conchita Alonso running around breathing heavily for far too much of the footage can’t ruin that movie) or 48 HOURS… and I’d only consider 48 HOURS for the position because James Remar is such a good psycho.

I like THE WARRIORS a lot, but it seems to me to be pretty much a pencil sketch (albeit one by Jack Kirby, perhaps) compared to some of Hill's later, more fully realized works. STREETS OF FIRE has more dimension to it and is a more interesting urban fantasy, and while Hill certainly stages wonderful fight scenes, it’s his gunfights that truly excel. And, while I think Ajax is a fun character, he’s a two dimensional one (essentially, little more than a loud, mean asshole) surrounded by other cardboard cut outs in THE WARRIORS. His portrayal of Albert Ganz in 48 HRS, on the other hand, may be the best rendition of a pure sociopath ever seen in the action film sub-genre. And, of course, 48 HRS has a lot more going for it than just Remar; even with the disadvantage of Eddie Murphy’s constant preening, it still had a solidly memorable cast (Annette O’Toole just sizzles) and Nick Nolte’s brooding, unstoppable Jack Cates was a leading man performance only to be exceeded in Hill films by the same actor’s Jack Benteen later on in EXTREME PREJUDICE.

I'll end all this by saying EXTREME PREJUDICE may well be the finest pure action movie ever made.

Steven Spielberg - What I like Spielberg for is the first and last Indy movies, JAWS, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, and SCHINDLER'S LIST. Spielberg has made other movies which I wanted to like but that ultimately disappointed me (ALWAYS, AMISTAD, JURASSIC PARK,and A.I., just to name four) and one that is such a horror and a blight to me that I fly into a Hulk-like rage whenever I am reminded that it actually exists (MINORITY REPORT). All told, I'm pretty much over Spielberg (if MINORITY REPORT weren't enough, all the mediocre crap he's made since 1998 would have been) but I'm eager to check out the next Indiana Jones movie, just to see if digital special effects have progressed to the point where we won't be able to see Harrison Ford's walker in any of the action scenes.

George Romero - Romero became a favorite strictly on the basis of the last two DEAD movies, DAWN and DAY. His other stuff has been hit and miss at best, including the latest DEAD installment, LAND OF. Nowadays, I hear Romero's name and I go "nrrrr... maybe".

Terry Gilliam - MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL should be enough to make Gilliam a favorite director for all eternity in any sane continuum. You add in TIME BANDITS and BRAZIL and you'd think he could withstand nearly any subsequent flaw or failure on his part. But, well, along comes THE FISHER KING, and suddenly, you know, doubt creeps in. But then, he does TWELVE MONKEYS, which may be just about the only truly intelligent, internally sensible time travel SF movie ever made, so, okay, he's good again.

But then, along comes FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, which was not just bad, but "oh God somebody pop my eyes out of their sockets with a plastic DQ spoon and then rupture my eardrums with my Oreo Blizzard straw before I have to in any way perceive one more second of this godawful movie" bad, I mean, dreadfully appallingly bad, on the same level as DEEP IMPACT or SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE bad.

So, then, you pretty much have to resign yourself to the idea that Terry Gilliam may well never direct another watchable film in his life, and perhaps it's time to move on. Although I'm given to understand that if you drink heavily, do a lot of illicit drugs, or both simultaneously, FEAR AND LOATHING works much, much better for you. Maybe that's true; I wouldn't know.

So, in the end, Gilliam has fallen from my favor, which was really hard work, given how much I liked four of his movies.

Lawrence Kasdan - BODY HEAT, SILVERADO, THE BIG CHILL and THE GRAND CANYON are some of my favorite movies. On the other hand, watching THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST was like being trapped inside a gigantic molecule of pus for two years, I LOVE YOU TO DEATH was just stupid, and WYATT EARP was so fucking boring and poorly put together it made TOMBSTONE look like a John Ford Western. And speak not to me of the horror that was FRENCH KISS; like THE JANUARY MAN, those of us who actually enjoy Kevin Kline's work must never be reminded of this film's existence, lest we simply implode.

GRAND CANYON was somewhat misshapen, but still fairly enjoyable, whenever Mary Louise Parker wasn’t snarling, spitting, whining, pissing, moaning, and rolling her eyes all over the screen.

It's not out of the question that Kasdan could make a movie I might like at some point again before either of us die, but it strikes me as wildly unlikely.

James Cameron - Unlike most SF fanboys, I'm not wild about ALIENS, mostly because I was so disappointed that the interestingly futuristic, corporate controlled homeworld culture largely implied in the first ALIEN somehow metamorphosized into a 1980s Reagan era Planet America with interstellar spacecraft, humanoid synthetic slavedroids, and gigantic machine guns. So that movie, which many hail as Cameron's crowning SF achievement, never worked for me. On the other hand, you will find no bigger admirer anywhere of THE TERMINATOR, or of Cameron's mostly disliked underworld adventure THE ABYSS. (I admit, I much prefer the stripped down version originally released in theaters and on videotape to the more recent, much slower and more bloated Director's Cut that has recently come out on DVD, but that's neither here nor there.)

However, if I was disappointed with ALIENS, I was positively mortified by TRUE LIES and horrified by TERMINATOR II, with which, in one foul 137 minute stroke, Cameron managed to completely undo every intelligent, internally coherent story element established in THE TERMINATOR, and give us a lot of stupid horseshit dressed up with cool digital F.X. instead. Since then, of course, he's also gifted the world with TITANIC, which was sort of a weird adventure of The Phantom where The Phantom pretended to be a creepy rotter for reasons of his own, but it all turned out okay in the end because Leonardo diCaprio froze anyway. And then there was all that DARK ANGEL nonsense on FOX TV, which launched Jessica Alba's career, providing us with two FANTASTIC FOUR movies (the second of which is pretty enjoyable) and, sometime next month, THE EYE.

Paul Verhoeven - God I love ROBOCOP. And BASIC INSTINCT was pretty good, too, plus, I enjoyed FLESH & BLOOD. But TOTAL RECALL was a 5 gallon gas can full of fermented donkey piss, STARSHIP TROOPERS was an anal assault to every Heinlein fan living and dead, SHOWGIRLS was unwatchable whenever Gina Gershon wasn't sucking Elizabeth Berkley's tongue, and HOLLOW MAN was the biggest waste of Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue in the history of celluloid. Yet I would still check out nearly anything Verhoeven directed, based nearly solely on ROBOCOP. The Zelazney effect, indeed.

Ron Howard - A very reliable director (at least, for me) up through PARENTHOOD. Um… well, okay, he wasn’t, really; I loved SPLASH, liked COCOON fine, liked GUNG HO a bit less (never been the world’s biggest Michael Keaton fan), nearly put a gun in my mouth halfway through WILLOW, then came back for PARENTHOOD, which I mostly enjoyed. But Howard pushed me away with BACKDRAFT, a movie that had no idea what it wanted to do or be and that managed to utterly waste Donald Sutherland, Robert DeNiro, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, shoved me off a cliff with FAR AND AWAY, kinda-sorta threw me a half assed hank of knitting yarn for a lifeline with THE PAPER, got me all the way back with APOLLO 13… and then squandered it all with every movie he’s made since, especially the horror men call A BEAUTIFUL MIND. (The First Movie Where Jennifer Connolly Keeps All Of Her Clothes On, While Russell Crowe Loses His Mind. If only they’d used that tagline I could have saved seven bucks at the box office.)

Overall, I don't feel any wild, pressing need to check out Ron Howard movies any more. And I would normally go along with A Perfectly Cromulent Blogger's assessment of Howard -- "When he stuck with the harmless stuff - like Splash and Coccoon - that lingering Happy Days taint was fine, but even his Big Movies are too sterile and sitcom-y." But Howard proved to me that he could direct a Big Movie even within the limits of his old sit com writer gang Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz with PARENTHOOD, and move beyond them brilliantly with APOLLO 13. His work has fallen off badly since (although I admit, I enjoyed THE MISSING quite a lot; it's a very decent post-modern Western, in a fluffy, forgettable, "nobody's gonna care in twenty years" sort of way).

Barry Levinson - My love of Levinson all goes back to DINER, and, to a lesser extent, TIN MEN. Those two movies kept me interested enough in Levinson to keep checking out his work up through, I dunno, BANDITS. But BANDITS was pretty awful, and that, combined with how generally disappointing stuff like SPHERE, SLEEPERS, DISCLOSURE, RAIN MAN, and AVALON had been, and how unrelentingly awful TOYS and YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES were, and even DINER can't keep me afloat any more. I'll watch DINER another fifty or sixty times before I die, I have no doubt, and enjoy it just as much as ever every single time. But I'm not heading out to the theater on the strength of Levinson's name any more.

Rob Reiner - THIS IS SPINAL TAP in and of itself justifies lifetime veneration of Rob Reiner. Add in THE SURE THING, STAND BY ME, and A FEW GOOD MEN and he should be a solid lock for personal fave forever. But Reiner has thrown some truly horrendous horseshit down the chute at me over the years, too -- THE PRINCESS BRIDE, NORTH, MISERY, and THE STORY OF US, among others. (I shouldn't dislike THE PRINCESS BRIDE as much as I do, given how much everybody else seems to like it, and I probably wouldn't, either, if I hadn't read the book. Yes, Reiner's movie adaptation is about as faithful as any movie adaptation could ever be, but it just goes to show you, some books cannot be adapted well onto film, and probably shouldn't be. And you'll never get any points with me casting Robin Wright-Penn as any part that is supposed to be at all attractive, much less, as the most fabulously beautiful woman in all of human history. I mean, bitch PLEASE. And having said all that, Cary Elwes was a fabulous Wesley.)

John McTiernan - my high regard for this director came nearly entirely from PREDATOR and DIEHARD. But nearly everything he did after DIEHARD was pretty much turd-like, including the DIEHARD sequel he came back and directed when his name turned into box office poison after LAST ACTION HERO. The last thing he did was the dimwitted and boring BASIC back in 2003, but he's got four different movies in pre-production right now, so I suppose he could get lucky and have one of them end up being watchable. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

Brian dePalma - What did I like dePalma for? PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, CARRIE, THE FURY (the book was better, but what the hell), BLOW OUT, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES. Is it enough to get me by crap like BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, SNAKE EYES and MISSION TO MARS? No no a thousand times no. I can, however, still remember how terribly disappointed I was when CASUALTIES OF WAR turned out to be crap, though. I'd really expected better of DePalma. I guess I had to learn sometime.

John Carpenter - HALLOWEEN was excellent, and I remember enjoying Carpenter's original version of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 a lot when I saw it on campus, too. Carpenter's THE THING was brilliant, as was THEY LIVE. Yet THE FOG was a retcher, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK turned out to be the worst SF film disappointment of the entire 80s, STARMAN made you wonder why you ever wanted to hit Marion Ravenwood in the first place, PRINCE OF DARKNESS just blew chunks, and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS was an even worse disappointment for the horror genre than ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK had been to SF.

And then Carpenter really started chewing up film stock and spitting it back out -- VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED just sat in the front yard eating dirt, ESCAPE FROM LA was (unbelievably) worse than its predecessor, VAMPIRES hit the ground with shovels in both hands, each tentacle, and every orifi, and ended up tunneling down nearly to the depths of DEEP IMPACT and SUPERMAN IV, and while GHOSTS OF MARS was several steps back up from VAMPIRES, it still was perhaps best summed up by the rhetorical question "What the FUCK am I doing still watching John Carpenter flicks?"

And I haven't even mentioned MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, which would have made me run screaming out of the theater if I hadn't already knocked myself unconscious banging my head against the back of the seat in front of me.

Nothing Carpenter has done has been good enough to overcome the sheer tonnage of unrelenting crap he's done since, so the Zelazny effect really doesn't apply to him. I'm just done with him.

John Sayles - my listing Sayles as a favorite director is really only based on a handful of movies — BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, LONE STAR, CITY OF HOPE, and, especially, EIGHT MEN OUT, the finest sports film ever made. But that’s the same Zelazny effect in a nutshell… a few good movies, combined with one brilliant one, far outshine all the crap I couldn’t stand and, generally, don’t remember.

Since the early 90s, I really no longer have 'favorite directors'. As I said before, something seems to have changed in how movies are made these days. Maybe it's all the different studios working on the same property; maybe it's how movies get developed these days, with all the packaging and merchandising and attachments. Whatever it may be, no one director seems to do anything consistently any more; even prolific directors who do a great many films seem to mostly end up doing a lot of stuff I can't stand and maybe one thing I really like a lot.

These days, if a single contemporary director winds up making ONE movie I like, it's a cause for celebration. If that same director does TWO movies I like, it's like a thermodynamic miracle, and it's nearly as reliable as gravity that there will be three completely crappy movies between the two. It is almost impossible to imagine someone like Paul Thomas Anderson ever doing three movies I'd like... at least, it is after MAGNOLIA and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE.

So there are no directors who really move me, all by themselves, out to the theater any more. I mean, you can't trust any of them -- Barry Sonnenfeld gave me THE ADDAMS FAMILY and the first MEN IN BLACK movie, and then puked up the hairball that was WILD WILD WEST. James L. Brooks did BROADCAST NEWS, which remains one of my favorite movies ever, but I'LL DO ANYTHING was a disappointing abuse of Albert Brooks and Nick Nolte, and AS GOOD AS IT GETS made me shit blood clots for weeks afterward. And what the fuck am I supposed to do with Zack Snyder? His DAWN OF THE DEAD was a fun to watch but feeble remake of the utterly brilliant original, 300 was pretty astonishing once you get past the insanely conservative underpinnings and the usual Hollywood contempt for actual history, and, well, I just know he's pissing all over WATCHMEN even as I type.

For example, Curtis Hanson. I haven't liked anything else Hanson has directed (I mean, seriously, BAD INFLUENCE? THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE? THE RIVER WILD? WONDER BOYS? Can you say what the fuck, dude? Sure, I knew you could), but I am a huge L.A. CONFIDENTIAL fan.

Having said that (now, here's my L.A. CONFIDENTIAL schtick again, longtime readers of the blog, you've read it all before, you can skip to the end) I believe that movie ends five or six minutes before the actual ending; credits should have rolled immediately following the moment when Eckley ‘holds up his badge to show he’s a cop’, as the black and whites are rolling up the hill towards the Victory Motel, seconds after he’s ‘shot a suspect he knows is guilty in the back, to prevent him being acquitted at trial’. At that point, the movie is over and every character has completed their necessary arc — Lynn has advised Eckley that she’s ‘all right’, neatly taking her off the stage, Dudley, Bud, and Hollywood Jack have all paid for their murderous sins with their lives (some of them we’ll mourn more than others, but in a true morality tale, there can be no redemption for any of them short of the grave), while Eckley, who has never been guilty of anything worse than political conniving, has managed to prove himself a cop by Dudley’s entirely corrupt standards, while simultaneously demonstrating that he truly ‘doesn’t have to do it the way his father did’.

The last five minutes is crap; a sudden resurrection and happy romantic ending for Bud White and his hooker with a heart of gold, a medal for Eckley, and about 270 seconds of elaborate expository dialogue for those too lazy to pay attention to the preceding 133 minutes of film-making, or (ghod forbid) read the book. But as I have the movie on videotape, it’s no problem for me to hit STOP and then REWIND when I see Eckley holding up his badge and walking into the oncoming headlights.

No, there are no favorite directors any more... but, if movie making has changed in the last ten years, the entire medium is changing even more, even now. The time way well come when I will have favorite directors again... men and women who make entire movies entirely for posting on the Internet, or transmission via cellphone. When that time comes, who knows? Maybe I'll be able to say "I'm a big Fill In The Blank fan" again.

Until then, though, I guess I'll just be like everyone else, and go to see movies that have seriously kick ass trailers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Magic act

Take one of those paper snowflakes that kids still make in kindergarten by folding a paper four or six times and then cutting it through in little triangles. Take it and crush it in the palm of your hand. Wad it up good. Clench your hand hard on it for a minute.

Then let go.

Watch it unfold again, bit by bit. See the intricate design start to re-appear, slowly, centimeter by centimeter, paper facet by paper facet. Uncurling crisply, there in your palm, with little crinkle-crackle sounds.


You see the title -- two words, superimposed over a slow tracking shot of an outdoor field that is full of top hats. Top hats, top hats, everywhere, tumbling on top of each other in a light, playful breeze.

You hear a voice -- it's Borden's voice, but you don't know that yet -- asking "Are you watching closely?" And as you hear it, we cut to a shot of --

Doves in a cage. Another voice comes in, explaning "Every magic trick has three parts, or acts --" An old man (part of you exlaims to yourself "It's Michael Caine!") reaches into the cage and lightly grasps a dove. He takes it out and shows it to an adorable little girl in a quaint dress from a long ago era. He continues, advising the little girl that the first part of every magic trick is called The Pledge -- "A magician shows you something quite ordinary" --

And we see a magician on a stage -- we don't know yet that this is Angier -- in front of a large audience, raising his arms. The curtain goes up behind him, revealing some sort of wondrous machine. The audience applauds --

And we're back to the old man, whose name is Cutter although we don't know that yet, either, putting the dove into a cage, and covering the cage with a cloth --

As the magician's female assistant, a woman we've never seen before (and will never see again, another minor point that will become very important later on), points to several men in the audience, allowing them to come up and inspect the machine themselves --

--but wait! One of the men is sneaking back stage, telling a stagehand who tries to stop him that he's 'part of the act' --

On stage, the magician takes his coat off as the machine starts up in a crackle of electricity, giving off a brilliant, frightening barrage of lightning bolts --

-- below the stage, we see the intruder go up to another stage hand and look in his eyes, closely -- the stagehand is clearly blind --

-- we return to old Cutter, who has made the cage and the dove disappear, explaining that this is called The Turn, and is the second part of the act --

-- on stage, the magician (Angier) turns slowly, stately and dignified, then moves into the machine, where he is surrounded by crashing electrical bolts, closing his eyes, opening his mouth, his facial muscles taut with pain, and determination, and... perhaps... fear...?

-- we see Borden beneath the stage, looking away from the blind man, now -- he sees a large square glass tank, full of water -- his eyes widen in -- surprise? Shock? Even... fear...?

-- the lightnings flash, and reach visual crescendo! Under cover of the blinding glare, a trapdoor opens beneath the magician's feet -- he drops into the tank full of water below the stage --

-- the old man, Cutter, gestures and lets a dove fly free from his other hand, as the little girl applauds in delight --

-- Borden, eyes wide, watches in obvious horror as Tangier pounds on the glass of the tank, screaming for help within the water, drowning --

-- the old man is on the witness stand, testifying that he saw someone slip below stage that night, and followed him -- it was Borden, and he was watching Angier drown --

-- we cut to Borden, in the dock, in chains --

That is the first three minutes and thirty two seconds of The Prestige.

The Prestige unfolds like that paper snowflake I was talking about. Its presentation of events is non-linear; the narrative jumps from one point in time to another every couple of minutes. Each particular facet of story you see gives you exactly enough information to proceed to the next presented moment. Information comes from every direction. This is Borden. This is Angier. This is Cutter. Angier is dead -- or is he? Borden is on trial for Angier's murder -- why? Oh, this is where Borden and Angier first met. This is how Angier's wife dies, and why he blames Borden. This is where the rivalry, the mutual obsession with each other's destruction, begins. This is how it proceeds -- back and forth. Up time and down. Minute by scattered minute, scene by disconnected scene.

Each man has a secret. Each man perfects a trick, an amazing trick, a trick no one can ever figure out, a trick each of them will kidnap, maim, murder, steal, blackmail, even die to protect and/or steal from the other.

The pledge.

The turn.

The Prestige.

Tremendous movie. Go watch it.

The also ran

So, here's a thing --

Couple of days ago, some person named 'ran' showed up for the first time in a few of my older comment threads. This person, whoever they are, was agreeable and complimentary, advising me that they agreed with every word I'd posted and, in fact, stating enthusiastically that "you've got a new fan, fanboy".

Then, in a more recent comment thread, I mentioned my preference for Israel over other, less democratic, more insanely xenophobic, Arabic countries.

You could nearly hear the abrupt SCREEEEEEEECH! of emotional brakes, the sudden KRAK! of an appalled and astonished head whipping around and the POP! of eyes bulging as 'ran', whoever he or she might be, took that particular comment from me in.

Then I got:

I take it you were a big fan of apartheid era South Africa too?

good day sir.

Sic transit gloria mundi and all that other good Roman shit, I guess.

This seems like as good an occasion as any for me to stick my foot right back in it, so, with no further ado, I re-present, from one of my previous blogs, originally posted back in December of 2002 --


I just like Israel. Sue me.

I'm about to go on the sort of long screeching political tirade I'm really not very good at. Nonetheless, it's my blog and I'll make myself look like an idiot, for the very few who will every actually read this, if I want to.

Supporting Israel is one of those things that, these days, makes most of the other liberals I know want to disown me and insist that, no matter what I may say, I'm certainly no damned liberal they want to acknowledge as a comrade and kindred spirit. Over the course of my adult life, many of my opinions on hot button issues have convinced various left wing larynxes I'm acquainted with that I cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to consider myself anything but, at best, a 'moderate', and in many ways, a raving 'conservative'.

For example, since I am a white male, and I regard affirmative action as being a well intentioned, poorly conceived, badly executed program whose logic has been insupportable from its inception, many of my liberal contacts over the years have looked upon me with horror. To my mind, you do not combat racism by enabling and institutionalizing reverse racism, but most of the liberals I know, especially the Caucasian ones, have had oppressor guilt imprinted on their DNA patterns since their gestation, and are apparently simply incapable of understanding that you do not wipe out bias by instituting a system in which everyone making any sort of choice or distinction MUST, as a matter of law, pay MORE attention to race, and in fact, prioritize their choices BY race, rather than ignoring race altogether and simply looking at the qualifications of each candidate, as should be the actual goal of any social initiative meant to wipe out racism.

Affirmative action is a big one, but my liberal acquaintances are also appalled by my reluctant, through-gritted-teeth, less than full throated affirmation of abortion rights (as a male, I acknowledge it's not up to me, nor should it be up to the government, to decide for any woman what she will do with her own reproductive system; nonetheless, I hate the very idea of abortion and would have a very difficult time respecting any woman who ever had one for frivolous or casual reasons, or as someone on CHICAGO HOPE once put it, I support birth control, not abortion), and they especially hate the way I insist that although I really like the idea of gun control, the Constitution of the United States simply and irrefutably prohibits it absolutely, and any statute being enforced within the United States, be they Federal, State, or municipal, that in any way inhibits or interferes with the people's right to keep and bear arms, is unConstitutional, until such time as we amend the Second Amendment.

And, lately, as I wryly note above, supporting Israel, especially in its most recent horrifyingly violent ongoing conflicts with Palestinians, has become yet another issue that liberals want to disown me for.

However, I will note that until very recently, supporting Israel was considered to be the very definition of liberalism. American conservatives, for the most part, have viewed Israel's existence with dubiety (to say the least) for decades since its inception. Most conservatives used isolationist bluster to make what was actually simply 'good old fashioned Jew hating talk' seem more acceptable, but the bottom line for the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s seemed to be, if you supported Israel, or, at the very least, if you supported the idea of the American government supporting Israel in any way, shape, or form, you were either a goddam yarmulka wearing commie symp pinko Marxist Jew undermining American values yourself, or you were a devious fifth columnist in the secret pay of the Zionist-Marxist International Axis trying to overthrow the American government and bring the U.S. into a one world government dominated by the godless commies.

My, how things have changed.

Bill Connoll, whose alarmingly thought free left wing blog Thoughts On The Eve Of The Apocalypse I was recently directed to by the generally excellent (if slightly too knee jerk for my taste) Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, seems to sum up the viewpoint of most of the left wing liberal bloggers I'm aware of these days, in this post , where he notes, among many other things, a report entitled:
Killing The Future, Mostly of Palestine
Two days ago, Robert Fisk reported on the release of Amnesty International's recent report, "Killing the Future: Children in the Line of Fire
In one of its most shocking reports on the Israeli-Palestinian war, Amnesty International today condemns both sides in the conflict for their "utter disregard" for the lives of children -- 250 of them Palestinian and 72 Israeli -- who have been killed over the past year.

Although the Fisk report then goes on to say, with remarkable sanity and balance:

"It also attacks Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority for imprisoning militants for political purposes rather than submitting them to fair trials for the killing of children. It says the assertion by Palestinian armed groups that international law imposes no constraints on them is untrue. "No violations by the Israeli army, no matter their scale or gravity, can ever justify the targeting and killing of Israeli children or any other civilians by Palestinian groups."

This clearly annoys Connoll, as it would most of my fellow self named liberals these days, who dislike it when anyone says anything mean about Palestinians, whom my fellow left wingers, in apparent knee jerk reaction to the current conservative and populist biases against Arabic culture, have embraced as oppressed, patriotic heroes and cultural martyrs. Connell notes :
Ironically, the very same day Fisk's report was published, the International Herald Tribune ran a storystating, "A 12-year-old Palestinian schoolboy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers Monday and 22 other children were wounded by Israeli gunfire while throwing rocks and debris at army tanks in the besieged West Bank city of Nablus, local officials reported. Five adults were also wounded."

Remarkably, I've heard little about any of this in the American media.

Connoll's post is simply one of many I could have pulled off nearly any of the liberal blogs I read and generally enjoy and agree with. In fact, over on William Burton's always thoughtful and never, to my mind, knee jerk or reflexive, blog, someone whose name I cannot recall posted a several hundred word comment calling me a racist and a bigot, at great and enormous length, because I indicated in one of my own posted comments there that I like Israel a lot more than I like Palestine, in both sweeping general and pretty much every specific comparative point I was aware of.

Liberals, as I've stated, seem to have simply, for the most part, absorbed a maxim: American conservatives don't like Arabs right now, so we must love Arabs and defend their right to be Arabs and to exist as Arabs with every fiber and particle of our beings.

Since Israel is now, as it has pretty much always been since its inception as a nation, in a death-struggle with various Arab nations, but especially those who call themselves Palestinians, this apparently means that liberals are now against Israel.
Well, again, as I stated at the top of this: I just like Israel, especially as opposed to Palestine. And while I admit, I'm no minutely informed political power blogger who knows everything there is to know about domestic and international political affairs going back to the mid 19th Century, and I'll admit, I may certainly be guilty of oversimplifying things, nonetheless, I would like to state some hard truths, as I perceive them, on this subject.

I like Israel, especially as compared to their cultural and political opponents, the Palestinians, for many reasons. I'm going to try to set out those reasons on a couple of lists -- List (A), of things Israel does that I generally judge in a kindly and approving fashion, and List (B) of things Israel doesn't do that I view similarly. Ready? Here we go:

List (A): Israel does:

    • elect its government democratically

    • tolerate different religious views

    • live in peace with anyone, no matter what their origin, race, culture, or belief system, as long as they don't shoot at them

    • eschew the mutilation of its adolescent female population's genitalia as a social control mechanism

    • allow its women to wear whatever the hell they want to in public or private, pretty much

    • allow its women to vote, drive, and fuck anyone they feel like fucking, whether or not they're married at the time

    • allow its women to leave burning buildings regardless of their state of dress or undress

    • have an actual criminal justice system with courts and judges and juries and trials, as opposed to one where religious fanatics make snap judgements on the spot and carry out barbarous, cruel, often lingeringly torturous punishments and/or executions without any chance of appeal

    • commit most if not all of its violent acts with uniformed troops against an openly declared, sociopathically fanatical enemy, said uniformed troops generally acting only in either undeniable self defense or in retaliation for previous, terrorist style attacks by non-uniformed personnel who generally target civilians

I could go on and on, but -- no, wait, I think I will go on and on for a little bit longer, anyway, with List (B). Israel does NOT:

    • enforce its own particular religious doctrines by allowing bands of armed thugs to roam the public streets beating those they see breaking the Laws of Moses

    • punish girls caught taking walks with unsuitable boys by allowing government officials to gangrape them

    • punish adulterous wives by burying them up to their necks in the sand and then having mobs of men throw rocks at their heads until they die, with or without an actual trial to establish the guilt of this remarkable non-crime

    • dance and sing in the streets when large buildings full of non-combatant strangers fall burning to the ground, killing thousands

    • deploy biological and chemical weaponry on its own citizenry, or, as far as I know, anyone else

    • pay a death benefit to the families of sociopaths who strap bombs on themselves, walk into public areas frequented by Palestinian civilians, and then self detonate

    • call those same self detonating, murderous sociopaths 'heroes' and 'martyrs', not to mention 'soldiers' despite the fact that none of them wear a uniform when they carry out their 'military attacks'

    • dress up babies as suicide bombers as a hilarious cultural in-joke and then take pictures for the family photo album

    • hijack airliners full of non-combatants and drive them into large buildings full of non-combatants to make some insane geo-political point

    • embrace a rabid cultural ideology entirely devoted to the eventual eradication through any means necessary of an entire population of human beings they just don't frickin' like, regardless of whether or not that population actually accedes to their ridiculous demands or not

All of the above are reasons why, shockingly and appallingly, I support Israel, especially as Israel is contrasted with the Palestinians, and Arabic culture in general.

However, I realize that that list isn't enough. (Well, I realize that nothing I say will be enough; those who are adamantly opposed to me will not be persuaded by anything I say; only those who already agree with me before I ever sit down to write this will agree with me after reading it. But what the hell, it's a slow night.) So, a few more points to the 'why I like Israel and think Palestinians should shut up and go away' argument:

Let's look, once more, at one of the things my fellow left wingers (God, how they hate it when I call them that) bring up the most often in their 'Israel just sucks and so does the American media's coverage of the Middle East' blather, namely, the fact that lots and lots of Palestinian children have been killed in this conflict by evil Israeli Defense Forces -- apparently, far more of them, in fact, than Israeli children have been killed by Palestinian 'soldiers', 'martyrs', and 'heroes'. And this fact, my liberal fellow travelers endlessly trumpet, is all but ignored by the goddamned Israel hugging American media. (My fellow liberals do tend to eschew the terms 'Jew loving' or 'Zionist', but I swear I can sometimes almost hear them gritting their teeth as they force themselves not to type either of them.)

Looking at the report passed along by Connoll, I see the International Herald Tribune ran a story stating, "A 12-year-old Palestinian schoolboy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers Monday and 22 other children were wounded by sraeli gunfire while throwing rocks and debris at army tanks in the besieged West Bank city of Nablus, local officials reported. Five adults were also wounded."

Now, this leads me to ask two rhetorical questions. The first I frankly admit, I don't know the answer to, and what I'd guess, based on my own beliefs and perceptions, could well be wrong. Still:

1. Exactly what is the percentage of dead Palestinian children that have been killed by unformed Israeli troops after violently provoking said troops by engaging them as an armed mob with missile fire, and, apparently, the support and encouragement, if not outright leadership of nearby Palestinian adults? As opposed to, say, the percentage of Israeli children who were killed by non-uniformed Palestinian terrorists walking into eateries and shopping centers and libraries with bombs strapped to their nutball asses and self detonating?

My guess, which again, I fully admit, could be wrong, is that both percentages are going to be pretty high. Furthermore, I'd also guess, just off the top of my head, that the percentages of Palestinian children killed by non-uniformed Israeli terrorists with bombs (or anything else) while they were just sitting around reading books or eating ice cream is pretty fucking low. Similarly, I'd also guess that the percentage of Israeli children shot down by uniformed Palestinian defense forces after they started screaming, charging, mobbing, and throwing rocks at said uniformed and armed soldiery is pretty low.

In fact, I'm going to guess that probably the reason so many more Palestinian kids have been killed by Israeli soldiers than Israeli kids have been killed by Palestinians, is that in general, Israelis, whether they are children or adults, do not attack armed soldiers with their bare hands, or with sticks and stones and pieces of street debris. (Unless, of course, the armed soldiers are trying to herd them into ovens or something.) This may speak to Israelis being more civilized than Arabs in general, or more intelligent, or more sane, or all three. In this specific case, I suspect it actually speaks to Israelis raising their children to be tolerant, as opposed to Arabs and Palestinians in particular raising their children to hate Israelis and to believe that if they die fighting the enemies of Allah they will automatically go to Paradise (and that last belief strikes me as not only being completely nuts and insanely irresponsible, but also simply an undeniably evil thing to teach a child). But what the hell do I know.

My second rhetorical question on this matter is this:

2. You're a uniformed tank commander in a region where you, the soldiers under your command, and the people you are there to protect and patrol, are surrounded at all times by violent fanatics who will stop at nothing to cause you, and them, harm. It has been demonstrated to you so many times, and so tragically, that no sane person can doubt it, and no responsible peace officer can disregard it, that among your enemy, there are no individuals who can be safely judged by appearance, gender, race, or age as non-combatants. It has also been demonstrated repeatedly that a mistake on your part will certainly lead to your death and the deaths of the people under your command, and those you are there to protect. Abruptly, while on patrol, you find yourself surrounded by a screaming mob of adolescents and some adults, all obviously hostile and vigorously and violently engaging you and your troops with sustained missile fire.

I want to take a moment to note, here, that 'you' as the uniformed tank commander in this example are not necessarily Israeli. You could be an American in Hanoi in 1968, surrounded by Vietnamese 'civilians'. You could be a Bosnian Serb. You could be a Sunni Muslim nervously patrolling a Shi'ite neighborhood, or a South Korean soldier in the DMZ. In some parallel timeline, you could be a Native American, fighting to defend your last remaining free territory from the evil encroachments of the Vile White European Invaders. And it's helpful (although those I'm writing this mostly to won't remotely want to) to try and take away the nationalist and cultural labels from this, and just see a generic situation. But, continuing the question, or thought exercise:

Utilizing what superhuman ability granted you by the deity of your choice, or perhaps your otherworldly origin or the effects of atomic radiation on your parents' DNA, do you instantly come to the conclusion that mixed in among the rocks, sticks, pieces of brick, bottles, and other missiles hurtling at you and your soldiers, there is no Molotov cocktail, grenade, or crude but effective homemade Semtex bomb? And, barring your use of said superhuman ability to instantly reach this crucial, life and death conclusion, what amount of force do you conclude is justified to preserve your own life, and the lives of your troops, and the lives of the people you are charged to protect, against this attack? And how much time do you think, in this exercise, you would have to ponder this before you had to take some sort of action?

Analogy is always suspect, but I'll tell you what: if I get a bunch of my buddies together, we all get rocks and clubs, and we head across town to the closest Islamic mosque and gather around it as a screaming mob, waving our clubs and hurling our rocks through the windows, I'm personally willing to bet that the cops are going to show up pretty goddam quick with guns drawn and tell us, in no uncertain terms, to stop doing that shit or they will shoot us dead. And I suspect even more that, if there were already cops standing around outside that mosque when we arrived, and we started tossing rocks at them, they'd start shooting back at us. And I suspect they'd do that even if me and my buddies were adolescents or teenagers, once they gave us a warning or two to cut the shit. American adolescents and teenagers have been known to carry guns and explosives, and the fact that an armed peacekeeper only sees rocks and clubs doesn't mean they won't necessarily respond with lethal force.

I'm also pretty sure, although the news reports Connoll reviles for their lack of balance (meaning, sympathy for Palestinian patriots, heroes, and martyrs) don't mention it, that the Israeli Defense Forces in question probably told the Palestinian mob in this particular example to cut the shit or they'd be fired on. Maybe more than once.

Now, suppose instead of cops protecting that mosque in my example, there are American Special Forces troops, with loaded M-16s and full combat ordinance, stationed there instead. And suppose instead of me and my buddies, or a bunch of obviously American kids that these Special Forces guys don't know, through generations of repeated atrocities, are willing to do anything to kill them, they are instead being attacked by a mob of -- I don't know -- fanatical Iroquois secessionists who have over the past forty years demonstrated a willingness to go to any extreme of violence to wipe out American soldiers and peacekeepers illegally occupying what they consider to be their own legitimate territory. Exactly what's going to happen to that screaming, attacking, rock throwing mob of zealous partisans?

My fellow liberal lefties seem to quite ardently believe that when Palestinian terrorists attack civilian targets with lethal weapons of indiscriminate effect, they are behaving patriotically and heroically. In contrast, when uniformed peacekeeping troops retaliate for those terrorist attacks, or even fire in self defense on fanatical mobs attempting to swarm their position, they are unconscionable war criminals who should be perfunctorily tried and then summarily hung.

Okay, that may be an overstatement; most of my fellow bloggers do, as a nominal afterthought, condemn Palestinian suicide bombers. Yet still, the vast and overwhelming impression I get is that the left wing of blogdom these days somehow, even while condemning Palestinian terrorism, views the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces as being somehow every bit as bad, if not actually worse.

One final rhetorical point and then I'm done with this, at least, for now:

"Land for Peace" is another biggie that both the liberal Israeli left wing, and the liberals over here, keep harping on. The Israeli occupation of the Left Bank is an immoral incursion. The Palestinians of the left bank are an illegally occupied and oppressed people. If Israel is serious about peace, then Israel has to get the hell out of the Left Bank, apologize for illegally settling it in the first place, pay reparations, and, I don't know, line up individually by the millions to kneel and kiss Arafat's ass and murmur sincere imprecations of their cultural remorse on live, internationally broadcast television.

I don't know whether or not the Israeli occupation of the Left Bank is an immoral incursion, and while I admit that, let me also state that I in no way am saying that the Israelis are some sort of fantasy Jedi Knight culture composed of nothing but noble heroes who are all wise and benevolent and good. Are there bad Israelis? I'm sure there are. Have the Israelis done bad things? I have no doubt. So has everyone. I've done bad things. Everyone I know has done bad things. America has done bad things, Russia has done bad things, France has done bad things, Belgium and Switzerland and, I don't know, goddam Luxembourg have all done bad things, I would imagine. And the occupation of the Left Bank, for all I actually know, is a Bad Thing that Israel has done. Nonetheless, I want to point out one more thing that seems to me to be obvious, but that no one else has even mentioned:

Based on what seems to be generally known and admitted by pretty much everyone of every political persuasion about Palestinians and Israel, what's going to happen if Israel just throws up its hands, says "Holy shit, you guys are right, we just suck -- we're outta the Left Bank, and y'all have a party, okay?"

My fellow left wingers all seem to think that, assuming the awful and intransigent and bloodthirsty Israelis would just open their eyes and embrace that most reasonable of all positions, why then, the Palestinians would fall to their knees and go 'lawsamercy, you Jews are our brothers after all!'. There would be a big group hug, everyone would dance and sing in the streets, two disparate cultures would embrace and learn from each other, the very heavens would open and manna would pour down and the Millennium itself would be fairly begun.

I'm sorry, I think that's just stupid. What I think is far more realistic is that the Palestinians would then say "About fucking time, you stupid fucking Jews. Now, since you've acknowledged that you have absolutely no moral claim on our holy ground, get the fuck out of Jerusalem right this instant, you infidel dogs, or we'll kill you all."

And I tend to think they'd put it exactly like that, too.

I also personally believe that if every Jew in Israel were then, at that point, to suddenly clap themselves on the forehead and exclaim woefully, “You know, you’re right, we have absolutely no moral grounds for living here in the Middle East, let’s just scatter ourselves back amongst the various nations of the Earth again", and got on planes and vamoosed, leaving the functional infrastructure of Israel behind for the Palestinians to take over without asking for one red shekel in compensation -- the Palestinians would still not say ‘thank you’. I suspect, at that point, that the Palestinians would move in, take over the houses and buildings and well irrigated fields built and paid for and died over by the Israelis for generations, and pretty much immediately lay plans to, using whatever methods were available or became necessary, wipe out the blot that they consider the Jewish people to be from the very visage of humanity itself.

(Actually, I suspect first there’d be a jolly damned big Islamic holy war over which particular subsect of Islam got to occupy the actual Dome of the Rock, and as long as they don't start throwing around nukes I say have at it, O Sons Of The Desert, but if there were any extremist Muslims left when the dust settled from that one, then they’d get around to plotting the deaths of every Jew in the world. After which, assuming there was ever an ‘after’ to that, they’d start plotting the deaths of every non-Moslem Shi’ite in the world.)

So, I don’t know. Maybe the Israelis should acknowledge that their occupation of the Left Bank is illegal and they should withdraw. Or maybe some of their detractors should acknowledge that Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, simply hate all outsiders in general, and all Jews in specific, and there is absolutely nothing Israel can do other than lie down and die, to placate them, or win lasting peace, in the Middle East.

Nothing, I mean, except wipe every Arab religious/cultural zealot off the face of the Earth. Which, to date, the Israelis have shown remarkable restraint in not actually setting out to do, in my opinion.

Ultimately, why do I like Israel, and dislike Arabic culture so much? Because Israel, and Judaism, are cultures of tolerance and permissiveness and individual freedom and democracy. Arabic culture, and Islamic culture, are based on intolerance, conformity enforced by instant, barbaric punishments, misogyny, autocracy, and violent repression. Jews, as far as I can see, raise their children to be tolerant and to not pick fights. Arabs, and especially Palestinians, raise their children to hate all non-Arabs (and some fellow Arabs) so virulently that they are willing to kill themselves, or send their loved ones off to horrible fiery deaths, in order to take a few of the enemy with them.

I sympathize with any innocents who get caught in a crossfire, and I also sympathize with those who are warped by spectacularly bad parenting, no matter what race or culture they may belong to. But when we’re talking about the victims of suicide bombers, as opposed to those killed when they willingly engaged armed soldiers in a violent confrontation -- well, sorry. My sympathies and support go to the Israelis.

I take it back. I’m not sorry at all.

It may be worth noting here, in closing, that it was probably this exact post that, long ago and far away, moved Dean Esmay, perhaps the prince of all right wing pro-war attack bloggers, to declare ringingly that I was his "new favorite blogger".

And it's this post, probably more than any other, that drives every left wing blogger who comes across it to near blithering insanity.

What can I say?

I just like Israel.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Baby steps

Jim Henley points me to this, over on John Cole's blog:

Like Henley (and most if not all of his commenters) I originally saw this on a big screen, as well -- we showed it as an intro to something (I'm going to imagine either BAMBI itself or some Japanese monster movie) back when I was a member of Syracuse University's University Union Film Board. Glory days indeed. I agree with Henley also; it loses something on the small You Tube screen... but, probably, it also loses something because it's just not as funny after you know what's coming.

Hard for me to believe, though, that so few people nowadays have seen or even heard of this. This short, and HARDWARE WARS, were very well known among college age kids twenty, twenty five years ago...

Jesus. Type it all at once like that, it's like getting hit between the eyes with a ballpeen hammer -- BAM!

Where do I file a complaint for my stolen youth?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sittin here watching the wheels go round and round

Wheel #1 -- THE FANTASY WORLDS OF JEFF WEBB, linked to from the sidebar, has gone dark. Apparently, somebody complained about the site and Angelfire shut it down. It makes me sad. However, I've started pulling together various examples of Jeff's art that I had scanned and posted to various other sites over the last ten years, and you can see about 17 of those pics over here.

I'll try to add more as I get the chance. Unfortunately, the bulk of my scans of Jeff's artwork are on my old computer, which is in the back room here at Castle Anthrax and which has neither an Internet connection nor a functional C or D drive. I could scan Jeff's artwork in again using this computer, but this is a family machine, and between three computer savvy kids and a computer savvy wife, it's difficult to imagine me having the several days worth of uninterrupted access I'd need to complete that project again.

In the meantime, enjoy what there is.

Wheel #2 -- It's just occurring to me that the 15th anniversary of Jeff's death passed unnoticed by me a week and a half ago. Well, it was a working Monday, and working Mondays are always pretty distracting in and of themselves. I still miss you, old buddy, and if I'm moving on and not thinking about you quite so much any more, well, I have to think you wouldn't mind. Seasons don't fear the Reaper, and neither did you in the end, but I still think he's a prick for taking you away from us. So, I raise a glass of bubbly Zik-Zak Cola and tip the old Black Blade in your general direction, and sometime today I'll try to play a little BOC for you, too.

Wheel #3 - Things aren't going badly at work, but an Unemployment claim is a nice thing to have to fall back on. As Woody Allen once described Annie Hall's apartment, it's like a free floating life raft, out there, just in case the worst happens. (Or something like that; I haven't watched ANNIE HALL in twenty years.)

And while it seems that nearly anything can happen at my current assignment, one of the things that cannot happen is for the U.S. Congress, staring bleakly into the abyss of what may be a grimmer global economic catastrophe than the Great Depression, to pass a fucking stimulus package containing extended Unemployment coverage.

Because, with a time of perhaps double digit unemployment looming, we wouldn't want people to be able to pay their bills or support their families or anything.

Supposedly, extended Unemployment, food stamps, and Medicaid benefits have been traded away by Congressional Democrats in exchange for bigger tax rebate checks targeted to more poor people. Now, when I say 'bigger', it looks as if those extended benefits have been sold down the river in exchange for maybe another $300 per check, which would raise the average rebate for poor to middle class folks from around $300 to around $600.

As I keep mentioning to SuperWife, when people live on our economic scale, for a government rebate to have any kind of real impact, the amounts have to be in the thousands, not the hundreds. A few hundred bucks, even seven or eight hundred, if we got it, is a month's rent and some groceries.

Plus, whatever they end up giving us, we won't get it until June at the earliest. Should my employers decide to end my current temp assignment tomorrow, well, it will be a long pull to June, and another six months of Unemployment benefits, funded by the Feds, would be a lot more help to me while I'm out looking for work than a check for a month's rent sometime this summer.

All this, because Republicans just hate the idea of giving a free check to the jobless. Like any Republican Congresscritter has actually worked for a living since early adulthood, if then.

Well, okay, I guess Katherine Harris blowing any Bush within twenty yards of her probably counts as 'work' in some sense. At least, no sane person could possibly think of it as recreation...

Wheel #4 - Tony Collett has been nice enough to give this blog a pretty solid plug in his latest blog entry. Thanks, Tony. And to all you ravening hordes of Mah Two Cents readers coming over here for the first time... yeah, this is pretty much the deal, right here. Sorry about that.

Wheel #5 - Plenty o' reading being done around Castle Anthrax since the holiday. In that time, I've knocked off... um... er... well... three out of the four ENFORCER books SuperWife somehow dug up for me, Dave Van Arnam's STAR BARBARIAN, and COBRA TRAP, the last Modesty Blaise book O'Donnell will likely ever write.

The ENFORCER stuff is bilious crap, as I'd long suspected, but I have fond memories of it from early adolescence, when the bizarrely pornographic sex scenes made me think I was putting one over on my mom by reading the shit. While some of the concepts are interesting, the insanely blatant Ayn Rand worship inherent in the series' basic premise, along with the way FIRST DRAFT WRITTEN IN A MATTER OF DAYS WHILE HALF OR MORE DRUNK is nearly stamped in invisible ink between every line of (badly typeset) text, would consign these books to a compost heap in the hands of nearly anyone else with even bare pretensions to sanity or reason. However, the twin sentimental associations of (a) childhood nostalgia and (b) SuperWife giving them to me for Christmas makes them treasured additions to my personal library.

COBRA TRAP contains what is probably some of O'Donnell's worst writing, which is sad, but no true Modesty and Willie fan can be without the story depicting their last appearance ever on this mortal coil, so I'm happy I have it, as well.

STAR BARBARIAN was cool, but to my surprise, its sequel, LORD OF BLOOD, which I'd first read around thirty years ago and which had made me yearn for decades to read its predecessor, is actually a much better book. It's wonderful to have both, though.

The In Stack is still pretty healthy, containing most of my CAPTAIN AMERICA and HULK MARVEL MASTERWORKS, and many actual books -- the new Joe Haldeman and S.M. Stirling hardcovers, and a whole lot of paperbacks, ranging from one of the L. Sprague DeCamp CONAN installments through an August Derleth Cthulhu anthology and back through some of Ben Bova and Andre Norton's hackier work, as well as KAMPUS by James E. Gunn, THIEVES' WORLD (edited) by Robert Asprin, and ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS, one of Mike Resnick's perpetual ALTERNATE SOMETHING titles, which I normally ignore, but this one has a story by Michael Kube-McDowell in it, and when the author of perhaps the best alternate timeline novel ever (ALTERNITIES) writes an alternate timeline story, I take notice.

"Perhaps the best alternate timeline novel ever" is a big claim for ALTERNITIES, I know. I mean, it's better than Poul Anderson's DELENDA EST? Better than S.M. Stirling's DRAKA books, or his PESHAWAR LANCERS? Better than James P. Hogan's THE PROTEUS OPERATION, or even Ward Moore's BRING THE JUBILEE?

Well... yeah, I'd say so. Obviously, your mileage may vary. Still, while I vastly enjoy all the other listed alternate timeline explorations, my favorite remains ALTERNITIES. Perhaps because of Kube-McDowell's rather unique set up depicting a series of color coded alternative timelines all of which seem to have diverged from a specific, central timeline within the last 50 years, thus setting up a framework full of 'alternities' fascinating close, yet oh so different, from our own present day. I find this more appealing than the rather wilder, more divergent timelines depicted in these others -- the modern day of Paul Anderson's DELENDA EST is virtually unrecognizable to me, and as it stems from an obscure change to the history of the Punic Wars, has little emotional power over me.

Stirling's alternate timelines as depicted in both the DRAKA novels and PESHAWAR LANCERS are intricately detailed and beautifully evoked, yet, again, while these are timelines I find fascinating and enjoyable (for the most part -- the resolution we are presented with in THE STONE DOGS, Stirling's third DRAKA novel, in which the vile and vicious Draka actually triumph over their more freedom loving, democratic foes, is one I find unacceptable and intolerable, and can't make myself reread), still, they are much further afield to me than the 'alternities' Kube-McDowell depicts, and thus, less interesting to me. (Having said that, PESHAWAR LANCERS is a fabulous novel on many levels; not only is it a superb alternate timeline extrapolation, but it's probably the finest pulp adventure ever written in the late 20th/early 21st Century.)

The one alternate timeline book I wouldn't say ALTERNITIES exceeds is, of course, the classic PARATIME by H. Beam Piper. However, PARATIME is a collection of short stories, not a novel, so it doesn't really count here.

Nonetheless, any or all of these works are terrific examples of the presently insanely popular alternate timeline SF sub-genre. I don't expect ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS to be anywhere near that good -- no Mike Resnick anthology is ever that good -- but, still. Kube-McDowell alternate timeline story? I'll read it.


Wheel #6 - There is no Wheel #6!

You can be about your business.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Marvel Ultimate Annoyance (Wii version)

I think I'm pretty much over MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE -- the Wii version, at the very least. Probably any version, though, as I have to assume that most of the stuff that aggravates me about this game is going to remain constant regardless of game platform.

The first thing that aggravates me is the different costumes the characters have. Now, if I hadn't used a cheat code to unlock all the different costumes, this could very well have been enough to keep me from ever starting the game in the first place, as both Captain America and Thor start in their Ultimates costumes, and I'd rather use a World War I limpet mine as a suppository than play either of those characters as their Ultimates version. But, I did use that cheat code, (as well as cheat codes to unlock all the characters, and to unlock all the powers) so that wasn't a hurdle for me. I wanted to put Cap and Thor in their classic costumes, and I did, and that was that.

However, two aspects of the costumes continue to annoy me. First, the cut scenes in this game do not have sophisticated enough software behind them to change out the characters, or their costumes, to correspond with the characters/costumes you are actually using in the game at the time that the cut scenes come up. So, whenever you get one of these cool little animated movies (and some of them are very cool indeed), if there are heroes in them, it's rarely or never the heroes you are actually running through the game at that point, and they are never wearing the costumes you have put them in. Which means, you get a great big heaping helping of Ultimates Cap and Ultimates Thor in nearly every little movie inset. (And a lot of Deadpool and Elektra, too, which frankly sickens me; I hate those characters and never ever run them.)

Now, I admit, it could be worse: Iron Man is in a lot of those movies, too, and for some reason I am eternally grateful for, the programmers did not choose to put him in his Ultimates costume. (They also didn't put him in his Classic armor, as I have chosen to do, but you can't have everything.)

I also admit, it would probably be prohibitively expensive to create alternate versions of each cut scene movie showing all the different possible combinations of characters and costumes an individual player might be choosing to use at any different point in the game. But, you know, fuck that. If the alternative is I have to keep looking at Cap and Thor in their crappy stupid Ultimates costumes (and Wolverine, Elektra, and Deadpool ever, at all), then I vote for prohibitive expense... and anyway, I can't believe it would be all that expensive. You program the computer to lay in a different image over a generic, cut out body form in each movie, corresponding to what characters were present the last time a game was saved. Can't be too hard... although I admit, I really have no idea what I'm talking about here. Which doesn't keep me from wanting what I want, goddamit.

That's the first aspect of the costumes that irritates me. The second is of greater concern to me -- each of the different costumes has its own built in enhancements and modifiers. This means that if you want to run the best, most effective version of a particular character, you may have to dress them in a costume you would not normally choose to have them wear. This would only be mildly irritating if, for example, the choices of Captain America costume were, like, WWII Cap (with the kite shaped shield, the somewhat differently shaped hood, and no stripes on his back), Classic Cap (with the traditional round shield), the U.S. Agent Cap (which Cap himself actually wore for a while, albeit in spectacularly crappy Mark Gruenwald stories) and the original Nomad outfit (which I frankly would find to be an awesome option). But nooooooo, out of the four options available, one is the goddam horrifying modern Ultimates Cap outfit and the other one is the outright appalling Ultimates WWII Cap uniform and regardless of what advantages those outfits may offer, I will never never never never never under any circumstances run a Captain America dressed that way, NEVER!!! -- and FUCK YOU ULTIMATES WEENIES GODDAM YOU ALL TO HELL YOU ASS LICKING NUTS LAVING SONS OF WHORES!!!!!!

So, because some (if not many) of the costumes available are vile, intolerable, and execrable, I intensely dislike the fact that the various different costumes offer various different pragmatic, useful options. Change the costumes, or make them all the same, or make the Ultimates costumes suck and the Classic Silver Age costumes rule; these are the only acceptable options.

So that's why I find how the costumes work in this game annoying, and, again, if I hadn't used a cheat code to unlock all the costumes, this might well be an impassible barrier towards playing the game for me. But, as it is, it isn't, it's just a constant recurring annoyance. Of which there are quite a few, the next of which is --

Power access. Unlike in KOTOR, the HUD in this game does not tell you what each of the hero's powers are as you are toggling between them. You have to memorize about six hundred different symbols, many of which are indistinguishable from each other if you are sitting more than six feet from your TV. This is annoying as shit. What I end up doing is toggling from one power to another pretty much at random, trying something out to see what it is (all the time hoping I haven't just blindly chosen a power that will drain all my hero's energy points in one shot). As there are twenty different heroes, and they all have like ten different powers, it's a lot of different power icons to try and memorize. Fortunately, I only want to play about half to 2/3s of the available heroes, so that helps, but not enough.

With the Wii, you also tend to trigger various different powers you didn't know you had, usually at the most inopportune movements, because with the Wii, random hand gestures actually do things. This is also annoying.

And then there's --

Character choice. This game boasts that it includes 140 characters from the Marvel Universe, and it probably does, but only 20 of those are playable. Now, you try to cut something as vast and varied as the entire cast of the Marvel Universe down to 20 playable characters and you're going to find it impossible to please everyone -- hell, you'll probably find it impossible to fully satisfy ANYone. But, having said that --

* DEADpool? You had twenty roster slots open and you wasted one on fucking DEADpool? Whoever made this decision needs to be tasered in the nads, pronto.

* Wolverine -- okay, I know it was inevitable, he's the most popular character by far that Marvel Comics has ever created, but I don't have to like it, and I don't. FUCK Wolverine, and every slavering drooling fanboy that truculently demands his presence in every single authorized Marvel game, ever. What, like fifty three different X-MEN and solo Wolverine games aren't enough for you assholes? Lick my balls, Logan-boys.

* Elektra? I know she got her own movie, but guys, it SUCKED. There are so many other Marvel characters more worthy of a slot here than goddam fucking Elektra, honestly, it makes me want to cry.

* Luke Cage? Okay, I know you're desperate for non-white characters, and frankly, Luke used to be one of my all time favorite characters, but honestly, what in the name of sweet loving Jebus does a great big black superstrong guy bring to the gaming table here that five thousand other better characters can't bring better?

* Blade? Yeah, yeah, three movies, and another non-white character, plus, you can put him in supernatural theme teams with Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange, but, still, he seems like a lame-ass in this group, and I've never been persuaded that Blade and all those other occult characters should exist in the same universe as the X-Men and Iron Man.

* Moon-Knight? MOON fucking KNIGHT? Has somebody lost their frickin' MIND? He doesn't have a movie, he isn't in the X-Men, he's not only a white guy, he's like FOUR DIFFERENT WHITE GUYS. I mean, it's... there's no... you can't... FUCK!!! Moon-Knight???? Jesus!

* Spider-Woman? SPIDER-WOMAN? It... I... ::gibbering:: Seriously, what the fuck?

* Ms. Marvel -- see Spider-Woman. Add more gibbering. Pump up the volume on WTF. Okay, I can see where you'd want a few female characters, and I can also understand how Storm has to be one of them so I'm not bitching about her, particularly, but, come ON now. If you're going to use Ms. Marvel, why not just give us Captain Marvel instead? He's got like seventeen different costumes you could switch between, and, you know, he's cool, too.

It could be worse, I suppose. They could have thrown in She-Hulk.

Those are all the crappy choices. Here are the characters that should have been in the game instead:

The remaining four original X-Men besides Iceman -- Cyclops, Beast, Marvel Girl, and the Angel. Okay, maybe you could have left out Angel, but the other three should have been there. And, as far as that goes, flyers come in very handy in this game, so, yeah, stick the Angel in there, too, and make the X-Men team advantage that you can have FIVE characters active at the same time instead of four.

Hawkeye -- are you kidding me? A game like this and you DON'T have a gimmicky super archer? Are you KIDDING me? Hawkeye would so totally rule in this kind of game. And one of his variant costumes should let him be Goliath, too.

Hank Pym. His four different costumes (assuming we don't want him to be Ant-Man, as he'll be too small to be easily seen on the screen) should be red and blue Giant-Man (with size change powers), blue and gold Goliath (no size change powers), Yellowjacket (limited size change powers), and Dr. Pym (no size change powers, but the party has no inventory limit when he's in it, either). I cannot tell you how much ass this game would kick if you could run a Pym giant in it; it is a shame and a crime that you cannot. It is a Federal crime that should have a very serious mandatory minimum sentence that Hank is just an affable idiot of a recurring NPC in this game.

The Wasp. First, she has endless potential costumes to choose from, and second, she's much MUCH cooler than any other Marvel superheroine except maybe Sue Storm. Okay, she's small and would be hard to see on the screen but fuck all that, I want the Wasp. NOW.

Namor. They relegated Namor to hostage, plot device, and crabby, ungrateful rescuee. Oh PLEASE. And if we get Namor as a playable character, we also need:

The Hulk. And then, we can have the real Defenders (Doc Strange, Silver Surfer, Namor, and the Hulk). That would rock.

Valkyrie and Hellcat. Hey, they're just as cool as Ms. Marvel or Spider-Woman.

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Both of these characters would be AWESOME in this game.

The Vision. Yes. Now. We so badly need someone who can walk through walls in this game.

Yeah, I realize that the X-Box 360 and probably some other platform will allow you to play a version of this game where you can have Hawkeye, Cyclops, the Hulk, and Nightcrawler, and for the last month I've been wild to get an X-Box 360 so I could play those characters. But, while the costumes and the character choice weren't enough to fully sour me on the game, now we're getting into the stuff that is:

Save spots. I mean, seriously, what the fuck? Why do I have to fight through obstacle after obstacle before I can save my game? That's idiotic. I have kids who have bedtimes and who occasionally want to play GUITAR HERO on the Wii; I have a work schedule, I have a wife who occasionally would like me to spend time with her. I can't sit on the couch playing a goddam video game for an hour at a fricking time because I haven't found a goddam save point yet. This game needs to be saveable at any fucking point in it. You want to make me wait for a specific spot to come up to change out my team roster or my costumes or my equipment or upgrade my stats, fine, but I need to be able to save this game when I want to save this game. Save spots are a huge fucking pain in the ass. In and of themselves, they are very nearly enough to keep me from ever picking up this game again.

And now we come to the last, final straw; the tipping point that makes it extremely unlikely I will play this game much or at all in the future -- goddam invincible unkillable opponents that I have to go through some stupid goddam complicated idiotic process in order to defeat -- OVER and OVER again.

I hate this. And this game is crammed to the gunwales with this crap. You can't just go in and beat the holy fuck out of everything that gets in your way, which is what a sensible Marvel Comics hero does, issue after issue after issue. No, in this game, the goddam Mandarin (and goddam Loki, BOTH of them) keep teleporting away from you, and you have to figure out how to do something unbelievably fucking retarded in order to beat them. Same thing for boss villain after boss villain after boss villain.

The most common gimmick is, they're simply flat out invulnerable to your powers until you do something to remove that invulnerability, said something which usually involves running all over the goddam map and collecting up items and then hitting specific sequences of buttons and making specific hand gestures and if you don't do it all correctly the first time, you DIE, and since you can't save this game whenever you'd like to save it, this means you usually lose several hours worth of progress and have to start all over again at the start of the level, and it's AGGRAVATING.

But mostly it's aggravating because so many of these complicated processes whereby you get rid of a boss villain's invulnerability, or you just defeat a particular menace, have to be done OVER and OVER again. So even if you DO do everything correctly the first time, it's not enough; now you just have to go through the whole sequence all over again, usually not just once, but THREE MORE TIMES.

You can't just figure it out and go through the whole complicated procedure once; noooooooooooo. If you want to beat the big ass Kraken in Atlantis, first you have to figure out how to make it smash the pillar you're standing next to so that said pillar topples over onto the Kraken's head, and then you have to REPEAT THAT COMPLEX SERIES OF MANEUVERS THREE MORE TIMES.

Similar restrictions obtain on beating any number of other monsters or villains. To kill Ymir, you have to beat hell out of a Frost Giant, then take its spear, then run up Ymir's giant spear and jump onto Ymir's shoulder and ram the spear you stole into Ymir's neck and shake it -- not once, but FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES. To beat Mandarin, you have to figure out how to lure an exploding spider onto a working teleport pad at exactly the right time, jump onto the pad and teleport into his hidden chamber, then pound the crap out of him -- FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES. To beat Mephisto, you have to grab his sword and take it away from him FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES. You have to go through some complicated stupid-ass procedure FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES to beat Gladiator, to beat Galactus, to finally defeat Loki, and there are probably more occasions during the game I can't remember right now where you have to (a) figure out something convoluted and (b) repeat that convoluted process FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES that I can't remember right now.

But it's all incredibly fucking tedious, and having read ahead about the game at, and having realized that there's just more and more and more of this bullshit remaining to me, well... I'm just tired of this nonsense, and I don't wanna do it no mo'.

They tried to make me do this kind of bullshit at the end of the first KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC, where you have to go in and fight Darth Malek and beat him down to a third of his life total something like 12 different times (because he keeps running over to a captive, comatose Jedi and recharging himself every time you do) before you finally beat him, and I did it once (I used grenades on his ass because frankly, his routine was just fucking tiring me out) the first time I played and since then I have never bothered doing it again, because it's repetitive and boring and exasperating and none of that is fun for me. (It must be fun for someone, as game designers seem to keep putting shit like this into a lot of different games, but I sure as hell don't like it much.)

Having read ahead in the file I linked to, above, it makes me a little sad that I won't finish this game, because apparently there is a pretty cool ending cut-scene sequence you get to watch when you do. But, honestly, I just don't have the patience to wade through all the necessary nonsense to get there.

Turn and face the strange

Above video shamelessly stolen from Sadly, No! I'd credit the real author(s), but I have no idea who they are. Sorry.

EVERYbody's doing the We Need Real Deep Serious Change Polka. So, although I never watch David Letterman, here's my Top Ten List of Badly Needed Changes In Government and/or Politics Today, just in case any candidate for office wants to take notes:

10 - We need to stop spending so much money sending poor kids to foreign countries to kill wogs in funny hats, and start spending money on sending poor kids to high schools and colleges which will teach them not to think of their fellow human beings as wogs in funny hats, and especially, not to kill them just because some douchebag told them to.

9 - Let's stop spending money on private schools designed primarily to perpetuate the toxic tribal biases and superstitions of privileged parents on their smug, spoiled offspring, and start spending money making our public education system the greatest place in the world for kids to learn how to think analytically and independently, and through that process, to become civilized, tolerant, enlightened citizens of the modern world and responsible participants in a truly democratic form of government.

8 - Create a free cable channel that is just for campaign ads. Hell, create seven or eight. Pass a law restricting all campaign ads to those channels. Provide a yearly budget for the creation of campaign ads in government studios. A small budget. For small studios. Like a public access channel for political candidates. Then let them gibber and gabble like loons, 24 hours a day, and if you're masochistic enough to want to listen to them, knock yourself out.

7 - Pay all elected officials by the hour. Set their hourly rate at Federal minimum wage x 3, and give them exactly the same benefits package as, say, a woman working in an industrial laundry somewhere in Maryland gets. Sit back and watch how many days they take off, how many half days they work, how often they raise minimum wage, and how quickly they pass some kind of decent national health care package and how efficiently they fix up Social Security.

6 - Any elected or appointed official who thinks the U.S. should use 'enhanced interrogation techniques' has to spend two weeks undergoing same in Gitmo, just like they were a wog in a funny hat their damn selves. If they still think waterboarding ain't torture when they get back to their cushy Washington offices, so fucking be it.

5 - Impeachment is no longer a function of Congress; any elected official can be impeached by public referendum. If a majority of a particular official's constituents wants them out, they go to the polls and vote them out. Watch how fast Bush and Cheney hit the bricks when the American people are the ones handing out the pink slips.

4 - Fix all electoral districts and precincts to independently designated parameters, such as states and counties. And, kind of a subset, when we have elections, let's let everybody who wants to vote do so, and then let's have actual people count all the votes afterwards.

3 - Legalize all the stuff that we all know should be legalized, because it isn't anybody else's goddam business if somebody pays a hooker for sex or smokes a doobe in the privacy of their own home. Put our cops to work preventing and/or solving real crimes, and tax the hell out of all the newly legalized vice traffic.

2 - Sic the IRS, the FBI, the Treasury Department, the NSA, and the CIA on American corporations hiding all their profits in illegal offshore bank accounts. Send some CEOs to Turkey or Egypt for 'enhanced interrogation' if you want.

And the number one change I would like to see made in how our government and/or political system works:

1 - All elected officials, all political appointees, and all candidates for public office are required to wear wireless electrodes on their genitalia at all times. Whenever they say the word 'God' or 'Jesus' or 'Bible' or 'faith' or 'religion' or in any other way invoke their own personal superstitions in an attempt to get votes or reassure the public, I get to push a button sending 50,000 volts straight into their naughty bits. And I get to hold the fucker down for as long as I want to, too. Talk to me about your goddam church NOW, bitchez!

As a final note -- while I'm actually very serious about all of the above (well, maybe not the electrodes), I would like to say this: the last fifteen seconds or so of that YouTube video quite genuinely chill me to the bone. If watching that doesn't tell you that these people are all part of the same elitist club, that none of them actually give a shit about you or anything that's important to you, and that none of them will do a single goddam thing to meaningfully help any of us or hinder the enormous global trainwreck that we are all rushing inevitably towards (and why should they? they'll still be perfectly comfortable in the aftermath of any disaster that could possibly occur), then you can't see the hand in front of your face, which is most likely just about to put a gun to your head.

I wish to... well, I just wish, fervently and passionately, that I thought there was ever going to be a political candidate for high office in my life that I could honestly and genuinely vote FOR, because I honestly and genuinely believed they were trustworthy and would do a decent job once they got into office. I am so sick of voting damage control... but what the hell else can you do?