Monday, March 30, 2009

And then I'll do as I please

Gary Numan - Rip

Infected Mushrom - Becoming Insane

Hanzel und Gretyl - Komm Zu Uns


Sunday, March 29, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 25? 26? who knows?!

Aleksandr Nevskiy (1938, Soviet Union) - Considering that the message here is "never mind the Mongols who just passed through our village, the Germans are our real enemy", it's not surprising that Hitler broke the pact. Watched: 18 minutes.

Carefree (1938, USA) - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers spoof psychoanalysis. Best (only?) attempt in film history to combine tap dancing with golf. Watched: 16 minutes.

Little Tough Guy (1938, USA) - The 'Dead End Kids' from 'Dead End' reach a [two words, two syllables] in this terrible followup. Watched: 8 minutes.

Mr Wong, Detective (1938, USA) - What is it about the 30's and stereotypical Chinese detectives? Boris Karloff could at least have tried to look the part. Watched: 6 minutes.

The Great Waltz (1938, USA) - A movie about Johan Strauss and his immortal waltzes. I hate Johann Strauss and his immortal waltzes. Watched: 4 minutes.

Suez (1938, US) - Yes, but what I want to know is: Whatever happened to Napoleon the second?! Watched: 14 minutes.

Le quai des brumes (1938, France) - Probably a very fine movie about a cynical deserter, but not for me. Watched: 15 minutes.

Marie Antoinette (1938, USA) - A cheerful, empty-headed princess marries a royal imbecile, and then she's beheaded by the citizens. Interesting, but the acting is either bad, or an accurate portrayal of some truly annoying people. Watched it all.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Being king means never sleeping through the night again

Well this isn't too bad. Kings is a modern retelling of the David story, with Ian McShane as Saul, Chris Egan as David, and a tank as Goliath. It does a more or less 1-to-1 mapping from Biblical Israel to alternate universe America, which is smart: When your source material is one of the greatest stories in ancient literature, there's no reason to change it.

There's a comic book series, Testament, which did the same thing with the book of Genesis. I didn't like it. The mapping was odd, the appeal of the original legends was lost by trying too hard to be clever. Kings, so far, does not. Michael Green maps Bronze Age to Internet Age in a way that is both creative and mostly faithful to the story.

I'm not sure about Jonathan, ("Jack"). He's gay, which the original story hinted at, (one of many delightfully inconvenient passages in the Bible), but also shifty, possibly treasonous, and unlikely to hook up with David. It's an odd departure from the source. There's also an evil corporate presence I don't remember from Sunday School. But - I'm beginning to sound like a nitpicking Watchmen-fan.

The tone of the show is well done: Contemporary, with a sideways step towards the mythical. It's the only example of Biblical SF on television I can recall, and I want to see where it's heading. (Even if I know how it ends. Probably. Unless this is all a ruse leading up to a shocking departure later on.)


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

30's movies marathon - part .. oh who's counting?

Jezebel (1938, USA) - A 1850's New Orleans woman tries to win love through manipulation and audacity, which doesn't work out too well. Told against a background of Southern elegance and happy, comical slaves. Fantastic, racist period piece, with Bette Davis switching comfortably between brave, pathetic and cruel. Watched it all. IMDB reviewers call it a prelude to Gone With the Wind, which is nonsense - this is far better.

You Can't Take it With You (1938, USA) - A group of free spirits explore Maslow's fifth layer in their commune, which is threatened by .. (queue Psycho-music) .. tycoons. Nice, well-intended, and naive, in a way that's a little less interesting now that we're all like this. Watched: 30 minutes.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938, USA) - The beloved classic, reimagined as Dennis the Menace. Watched: 10 minutes.

Ask a Policeman (1938, UK) - Loud jokes that beat you over the head with how funny they are. Watched: 8 minutes.

The Texans (1938, USA) - Evil cardboard yankees force confederate veterans to pay taxes and work for a living in reconstruction-era Texas. It's a travesty! It's up to a band of brave, doomed rebels to save the South, by relaunching the Civil War with Mexican and French soldiers on their side. Yes, they're the good guys. Watched: 14 minutes.

A Slight Case of Murder (1938, USA) - Gangster tries to go legit when prohibition ends, but Society Won't Let Him, (they hate his crappy beer). Watched: 8 minutes.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tell him it's a non-optional social obligation

This show makes me smile: The Big Bang Theory.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Possibilities for being entertained

About nine years ago I played in a Team Fortress Classic team. TFC was a PC game with a large community of competitive leagues. Our team would meet online to practice and plan tactics, and then compete with other teams in our league. The only difference from a sport was that we weren't getting any excersise out of it. But it was hard, fun, and social.

While I was playing TFC, Jim Rossignol was coaching players in Quake 3, another first-person shooter. He did it so obsessively that it cost him his job, which got him started on a career in gaming journalism. Today he's an editor of the excellent PC gaming blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and has written a smart book about online gaming culture.

This Gaming Life is about the social aspect of computer games. Rossignol believes that games are a waste of time, and that's a good thing. They prevent boredom, one of the major challenges of a leisure-based culture, and they give rise to interesting new forms of social interaction.

Rossignol writes about nationally televised Starcraft championships in South Korea, where gaming is part of the mainstream youth culture. We hear about corporate backstabbing in EVE Online, a space adventure MMORPG with its own functional economy, and about the mod community, where fans create their own variations of commercial games.

Unusually for a non-fiction book about a hypable cultural trend, Rossignol's tone is that of a calm and reasoned essay, providing genuine insights into gaming culture. More of that!

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The eye sprang out of his face like a yolk from a broken egg

It's easy to see why Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird made him unpopular in Eastern Europe. A kid wanders through Poland during World War 2, and, suspected of being a gypsy, is abused by superstitious peasants. Every page hammers down the message of how stupid and brutal Eastern European peasants are. Who wouldn't be offended?

It's harder to understand why many reviewers thought the novel was semi-autobiographical. At one point the kid pushes a man who is trying to kill him down into an abandoned bunker, where he is eaten by rats. The rats swarm over the man, tearing his flesh apart, consuming him, until all that is left is a lone hand sticking up from the sea of rats.

That's not a traumatic war memory. That's a visual punchline in a self-mocking horror movie. There are many episodes like this, and I wonder if some of the novel's reputation came from 1965 readers being more easily shocked, and mistaking their reactions for the discomfort one can get from a truly great novel. Me, I think of Evil Dead. I almost stopped reading, not because it's too disgusting, but because I think Kosinski is trying to be serious here.

The second half is better. Kosinski ends the gore-fest, and gets to the point, which is to make the kid a sociopath who muses over why some people are strong, and others weak. Who is the more useful ally: God, Satan, Hitler or Stalin? The answer, he concludes, is no-one. Everyone stands alone, separated as by mountains.

Monday, March 16, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 23

Topper (1937, USA) - Manny-man man's man Cary Grant plays an irresponsible playboy who kills himself and his wife in a drunk driving accident. They then return as ghosts to teach a respectable banker to be an irresponsible drunk driver too, (or at least help him stand up to his shrewish wife). Loved it. Watched it all.

The Good Earth (1937, USA) - I don't know which is more stupid: A movie set in China where all the main characters are white, or this, where the characters are Chinese, but they're all played by white actors. Watched: 14 minutes. IMDB reviewers beg us to consider the casting in the context of its era, and not condemn it out of "political correctness". I wonder if they excuse all 30's racism equally?

Conquest (1937, USA) - Polish countess Greta Garbo is pressured into offering herself to Napoleon in the hope of securing freedom for her people, but all she gets in return is rape and dishonor. She falls in love with him anyway, but again (and again, and again) she is betrayed by his ego and ambition - just like Europe. Excellent. Watched it all.

Range Defenders (1937, USA) - Oh God, it's a horrible, ultracheap Western. Noooooo...! When did they begin making good ones?! Watched: 5 minutes.

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A very innocent time

I wonder what impression a viewing marathon of 1946 films would leave on the mind of someone who never knew that year. How true a picture would it give of the time? When I look back, as I frequently do, at movies of the thirties and forties, and compare them with the reality I knew then, as schoolboy, soldier and young newspaperman, I can say that they reflect very fairly our backgrounds, our values and some of our ideals.

I insert the word "some" as one who has never been politically committed, except for brief periods after every political meeting I ever reported: if it was a Labour meeting I came out somewhere to the right of P.C. Wren; if Conservative, my feelings would have made Lenin look like a hesitant moderate. But I concede that those with strong political views might not think that old movies gave a true picture, inasmuch as they had no time for extremism, either way.

What does come off them, very strongly, is a remarkable innocence. No doubt the Hays Office and the British Board of Film Censors had something to do with it, but not all that much. It was, as I look back and remember, a very innocent time - even with the Depression and Hitler and the atom bomb, it was still innocent. Perhaps that was why they happened.
- George MacDonald Fraser, The Hollywood History of the World


Saturday, March 14, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 22

Young and Innocent (1937, UK) - A British movie that doesn't suck! In fact it's good. Hitchcock does his innocent suspect thing, with black humor and many inspired scenes, such as a jazz drummer in blackface trying desperately not to reveal his villainous twitch. Watched it all.

A Damsel in Distress (1937, USA) - Merging Fred Astaire with P.G. Wodehouse sounds like a good idea, but .. nah. Watched: 15 minutes.

Salama fi khair (1937, Egypt) - En Egyptian farce! It's actually funny, at times. A lazy office worker gets stuck with a large sum of money, and becomes afraid of thieves. Watched: 31 minutes.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937, USA) - A man happens to look exactly like the crown prince, and happens to meet him just in time to fill in for the prince at his coronation after he's poisoned. This will no doubt cause 1h and 40m of intrigue and confusion, but this sort of aristocratic adventure doesn't interest me. Watched: 15 minutes.

La Habanera (1937, Germany) - A Swedish woman visits Puerto Rico with her humorless aunt, where she is swept off her feet by the natives and their exotic customs (bull-fighting etc.) Watched: 14 minutes. IMDB reviewers say the romance doesn't last, and she ends up safely in the arms of a fellow Aryan.

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The audience will laugh them off the screen

At first glance, Hollywood and pirates would seem to be made for each other, but in fact they are not. Apart from the technical difficulty that sailing ships are nightmare machines which refuse to stay still, and even large models have their problems, there is the plain fact that pirates - the real pirates of history - the Blackbeards and Morgans and Kidds and Calico Jacks - are too bizarre, too larger-than-life, too unreal even for the cinema. That they were real is irrelevant; their truth is too strange for fiction, and pantomime and Peter Pan have turned the grim reality into a comic figure which usually defies attempts to fashion it for conventional drama, or even melodrama.

Madmen who run about with blazing fireworks in their whiskers, eccentrics who hold religious services and prohibit swearing on their unholy cruises, red-headed hussies who put to sea disguised as men and fight duels to the death - they may do for send-up, but try to present them as they truly were, and the audience will laugh them off the screen.
- George MacDonald Fraser, The Hollywood History of the World

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

En hilsen til besteforeldre

No rights were ever given to us
By the grace of God
No rights were ever given
By some United Nations clause
No rights were ever given
By some nice guy at the top
Our rights - they were bought by all the blood
And all the tears of all our
Grandmothers, grandfathers before.

For all the folk who gave their lives for us
For all the folk who spit out - never say die
For all the fires burning on our highest hills
For all the people spinning tales tonight
Fight all the powers who abuse our common laws
Fight all the powers who think they only owe themselves.

- New Model Army, My Country


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 21

Dead End (1937, USA) - Excellent drama about street kids in a poor New York neigbourhood. Smart and unsentimental, with great performances by the kids, and a fine supporting job by Humphrey Bogart as a bitter gangster. Watched it all.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937, USA) - You know, I find it hard to believe that Snow White and the queen are the two most beautiful women in the kingdom. It's .. unlikely, and not borne out by the visual evidence. The movie looks great for its time, but the story is stupid, full of cute animals and cute songs - in other words a typical braindead FX movie. (Besides, I think this is how it really happened.) Watched: 27 minutes.

Love From a Stranger (1937, UK) - Another terrible British movie. Watched: 6 minutes.

Souls at Sea (1937, USA) - Gary Cooper isn't the right actor to play a slave trader, even one with a conscience. Watched: 19 minutes.

Stella Dallas (1937, USA) - Character drama that feels too much like a novel. Watched: 17 minutes.

The Last Gangster
(1937, USA) - Is that a promise? Good enough, but I've seen it all before. Watched: 15 minutes.

Lost Horizon (1937, USA) - Silly but well-made oriental adventure with something of a Spielberg flair. Watched: 37 minutes.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Movie colorization

I just noticed that three of the DVD's I've bought because of my 30's movies marathon, She, Things to Come and My Man Godfrey, contain both a black & white and a colorized version of the movie. In other words, movie colorization is back.

What a great idea. I know - colorization has a bad reputation. But it's undeserved. These movies look great. There's nothing wrong with the quality. That is, Things to Come both looks and sounds bad, but so does the black & white version.

I don't see any good reasons not to colorize old movies, now that the technology is good enough. The last stand of the purists is that "they weren't meant to be in color", which is a stupid thing to say. Of course they were meant to be in color. They just didn't have the money. Color technology existed in the 30's, but it was expensive. Few directors would have said no if they'd had the option.

There are movies that would look worse in color. Black & white is a tool, and some directors knew how to use it. But most black & white movies are just .. colorless. To oppose all colorization is to give blind obedience to accident, (this movie got the budget, that movie didn't).

One critic of colorization is George Lucas, (yes, George Lucas, the man who changed Star Wars!), who is afraid that old comedies may be less funny in color. If so, the problem is hardly the color, is it?

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Bechdel test

The Bechdel test was formulated in 1985 in a cartoon by Alison Bechdel, where a character says that she only watches movies that meets three basic requirements:

1) It has to have at least two women in it, who
2) talk to each other, about
3) something other than a man.

The joke is of course that there aren't many. If you live by the Bechdel test, you don't see movies very often.

The Bechdel test is simple and obviously sensible. It's not about watching movies with a stop watch to ensure equal time between the sexes. It's not about someone's subjective idea of what is or isn't offensive. It's about a basic measure of intelligence.

"You mean you've made a movie where the women don't talk to each other? Or they do, but all they can think of talking about is the male lead? Which planet does this take place on?!"

And it's not like we can put all the blame on the film industry. Yes, they make movies that only rarely treat women as actual people. But the audience doesn't notice, or care. The fact that there's even a name for this test is proof that it's needed.

Please notice it.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Not a very comfortable seat




Okay then. George R. R. Martin. A Game of Thrones.

Perfect. Brilliant.

The fans who are pestering Martin about when he'll finish the series are assholes. Of course it takes time to write this good. I wouldn't even mind if there was only this one book. It's that good.

And yes, this is the perfect material for an HBO series.

No more to say. I'll try to do better with the next one.


Monday, March 2, 2009

30's movies marathon - part 20

Stage Door (1937, USA) - Loud comedy about a boardhouse for girls who want to make it in the theatre. I especially like the scenes where Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn are sniping at each other. (Now why is is that the few 30's movies I've seen that are Bechdel compliant are about actresses?) Watched it all.

Festliches Nürnberg (1937, Germany) - Having finally freed itself from Jewish oppression, the German people celebrates with a spontaneous outburst of goosestepping. You know, sometimes I feel sorry for the regular German people I see in these movies. Other times I feel they got just what they deserved.

Marked Woman (1937, USA) - This gangster movie taught me a new word: clip joint, a shady club that scams its customers. Watched: 23 minutes.

Paradise Isle (1937, USA) - An American washes ashore a South Sea island where the white men (including himself) are arrogant jerks, and the natives are happy, subservient and child-like. Watched: 15 minutes.

Pensionat Paradiset (1937, Sweden) - Light summer vacation farce. Watched: 18 minutes.

Kid Galahad (1937, USA) - Just some lousy boxing movie. Watched: 6 minutes.

Nothing Sacred (1937, USA) - I love what this satire about a fake victim of radiation poisoning who becomes the darling of the New York press is trying to do: It's full of odd jokes and black humor. That doesn't save it from being, at times, kind of bad, but I refuse to hold that against it. Oh, poor, doomed Hazel Flagg! Watched it all.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dårlige spådommer er verre enn ingen spådommer

Kjetil Johansen skriver om spådommer for the 21te århundre:
"Å spå om framtiden er risky business, men like forbannet en nødvendig aktivitet."
Nei. Absolutt ikke. Dårlige spådommer er verre enn ingen spådommer. Dårlige spådommer gir deg illusjonen av kontroll, de setter deg fast i et spor og gjør deg mindre oppmerksom på uventete og ukjente faktorer. Og alle spådommer som går 100 år - eller 5 år - frem i tid er dårlige spådommer.

Spådommer ekskluderer, en spådom er den "mest sannsynlige" av alle scenarier, derfor lander man på én og slutter å lete. Hvilken du lander på sier mye om deg, lite om framtiden. Let heller etter muligheter. Muligheter akkumulerer. Desto mer du observerer, desto flere muligheter ser du.

Kuren for spådomstrang er å møte hver dag med tre erkjennelser:

1) Jeg kan ikke ta noe av det som finnes nå for gitt.
2) De viktigste hendelsene som skjer i dag får jeg ikke får høre om.
3) Jeg aner ikke hva som kommer til å skje videre.

Dette gir deg ingen kunnskap om fremtiden, men det gir deg et forsprang på alle andre ved at du ikke tar beslutninger basert på verdiløse spådommer.

Å spå er som å se med øyne som nesten aldri gir riktig informasjon. Da er det bedre å lukke dem, og trene opp de andre sansene dine.

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Saxons, grocers and other Fundamentalist Materialists

Patapsychology begins from Murphy's Law, as Finnegan called the First Axiom, adopted from Sean Murphy. This says, and I quote,"The normal does not exist. The average does not exist. We know only a very large but probably finite phalanx of discrete space-time events encountered and endured." In less technical language, the Board of the College of Patapsychology offers one million Irish punds [around $700,000 American] to any "normalist" who can exhibit "a normal sunset, an average Beethoven sonata, an ordinary Playmate of the Month, or any thing or event in space-time that qualifies as normal, average or ordinary."

In a world where no two fingerprints appear identical, and no two brains appear identical, and an electron does not even seem identical to itself from one nanosecond to another, patapsychology seems on safe ground here. [..]

The canny will detect here the usual Celtic impulse to make hash out of everything that seems obvious and incontrovertable to Saxons, grocers and other Fundamentalist Materialists. Patapsychology follows in the great tradition of Swift, who once proved with a horoscope that an astrologer named Partridge had died, even though Partridge continued to deny this in print; Bishop Berkeley, who proved that the universe doesn't exist but God has a persistent delusion that it does; William Rowan Hamilton, who invented the noncommutative algebra in which p times q does not equal q times p; Wilde, who asked if the academic commentators on Hamlet had really gone mad or only pretended to have gone mad.
- Robert Anton Wilson