Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mind's Sharper Wires

Oh, yeah, my point yesterday was that, unless you're talking in terms as broad as killing innocent people, other people's ideas of what's evil can be silly and/or frightening (see Pat Robertson's stance on homosexuality). And you get situations like the movie I watched last night, Detective Story, a 1951 film noir directed by William Wyler.

The movie's very obviously an adapted play, taking place almost entirely in one location, a police precinct in New York. The filmmakers aim for a gritty, realistic feel, right down to sweat stains on the detectives and the colourful individuals who find themselves handcuffed in the room or there to report crimes. Some of these characters are a bit too broad, like the old woman who complains about foreigners in her building developing an atomic bomb, but perhaps the diversity of life on display helps emphasise the fatal flaw of the protagonist, Detective Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), whose fanatical zero tolerance for crime makes him seem like a Dirty Harry prototype, though in this case it leads to his downfall.

Kirk Douglas delivers a good, slightly over the top performance but the reason I wanted to see the film was Eleanor Parker, who plays his wife. Sadly, it looks like she'd been starving herself since I saw her in 1948's The Woman in White, providing another piece of evidence that the popular appreciation of curvier women in the 1950s is sadly a myth.

But this didn't apparently impede her performance. I was surprised to see a movie from 1951 dealing with the subject of abortion as explicitly as this one does, and although the abortionist doctor is portrayed as a murderer, Parker's performance, as a woman who had an abortion, gives her dignity and the emphasis is more on the injustice of society's treatment of women who have had an abortion and women who have had sex out of wedlock. Along with the torment Detective McLeod feels as he finds that his uncompromising championing of purity comes in fact from the same spiritual source of cruelty and destruction he'd always hated, the movie ultimately does what all good films noir do, which is to, seemingly almost by accident, reveal the inhumane nature of imposed morality.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Virtually Beyond Good and Evil

I need to read Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil again. I've been struggling to recall it as I've been thinking for a couple weeks about the fallacy of objective morality. Though perhaps the more important question is how morality applies to video games.

I consider myself a gamer, but I don't play a wide variety of games. Usually just one at a time, and often very old ones. But I like watching some of the video commentary on modern games, like Zero Punctuation (Yahtzee) and, more recently, I've started watching Total Biscuit on YouTube after Tim first told me about him a few months ago. I find I like listening to his mailbox segment while inking since it's almost entirely audio--as it happens to-day both commentators I mentioned were talking about morality mechanics in video games, games that attach a certain moral value to actions of the player, bestowing specific powers upon the player for amounts of points accrued for "good" or "evil". Specifically, Yahtzee and Total Biscuit are talking about how these morality systems never seem to work, Biscuit citing one example I had personal experience with, the Knights of the Old Republic games which tended to make the "evil" dialogue options also pretty stupid--basically rude and heartless statements to people, implying that subtlety and complex duplicity are things which evil people apparently haven't the capacity for.

Do you get my point there? My sarcasm? If so, you either have a definition for the word "evil" or a latent conception of what the word is usually taken to mean, in either case making the KOTOR system seem relatively silly. But when you try to articulate it, I bet you'll find it's hard to precisely define what is evil. I am in the camp that says there is no objective morality, but I'm sometimes comfortable using the word evil for consistently destructive behaviour, though I usually reserve the word for fictional characters. A prime example would be the Master on Doctor Who--all there is to the guy is wanting to do bad. There's little consistency to his motives--sometimes he wants to rule the world, the galaxy, the universe, sometimes he wants to destroy one of those, sometimes he just wants to troll the Doctor. The only consistency to him is that he always wants to do the Very Wrong Thing, which is of course what makes him so uninteresting. For a better evil character, I'd point to someone like Jaffar in the 1940 Thief of Bagdad--there seems to be more to him than just a blank, default antagonism. He's possibly motivated by a jealousy of others' happiness, by his fixation on the Princess, his need for her love. Some would say he's not really evil, just misguided, but of course, to say that, you'd have to have a definition for what is evil--maybe you regard evil as just the blank silliness of the Master. I might say having a capacity for empathy and going against it anyway for selfish reasons has the potential to be far more terrifying than a simple psychopath. Calling a real person "evil" for behaving in this manner may be counterproductive--you're hardly going to convince someone to come back from the Dark Side if you casually use terms that suggest you consider them irredeemable. This is why I'm generally less comfortable using the word when referring to real people.

In any case, of course, it's all dependant on perspective--who's to say the deaths of innocents isn't a good thing to God and/or the universe. But it's evil to me and anyone whose perspective I could get with, so I'm fine having a perspective that includes the existence of a good and an evil.

However, it doesn't make sense that I get good "karma" for killing some bandits in Fallout: New Vegas and then get bad "karma" for stealing from them. One can see how this went wrong--a game designer decided killing serial murderers was good, while stealing was bad, and forgot to think about nuances. In this respect (as in several others) Oblivion was a far superior game--there was no good/bad meter for players. If you stole something, it was illegal, but that only mattered if someone saw you steal it or you tried to sell it to someone. Imposing morality is almost invariably obtrusively artificial. It's usually only fun when you're deliberately fucking with the system, laughing at the game rather than with it.

Twitter Sonnet #277

Joyous tuppaware bleats oil paeans.
Neapolitan discharge swirls sweet smog.
Blissful talk show hosts eat hot pink crayons.
Aerosol pastel feathers need much grog.
Congress of potatoes pass an eye bill.
Squishy stress balls congest all procedure.
Pupa stillness is a pure act of will.
Tiny crowns on bugs give us all closure.
Green vein muscles throw bone petals too fast.
The enormous hat conceals a person.
Cat calls are sometimes routed right to Bast.
Some proteins can rebuild Johnny Carson.
Killing R2 doesn't beat the Daleks.
Meaningless mail's not better through Fed-Ex.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Topiary Whiskers

My mouse has developed a habit of double clicking when I mean to single click. I guess it's probably to do with it being a ten dollar mouse. My ambition on most weeks is to spend no more than twenty dollars, but it seems something always comes up to thwart me. I already spent seventeen dollars on a sketch book this week. The first one I bought since late last year--the Michaels arts and crafts store where I get my art supplies has changed rather dramatically for the better. It's got one of those funnel aisles now where people wait in a single queue for the next register teat to open. Since I'm one of those people who stresses about whether he'd be better off in an aisle other than the one he chose, I love these systems. I'd rather be digested and shat in a linear manner, thank you. Though it doesn't take care of the main problem at Michaels, in that its one of those places people seem to regard getting rung up as a social occasion.

Having a wonky mouse certainly adds a new dimension of challenge to playing chess, but I couldn't blame it for the fact that I still haven't won a game, except against very easy opponents, in weeks. It took me five days to solve this puzzle someone left on the wall of one of the chess clubs a couple weeks ago.

White mates in three moves, white to move.

Solution: White King to f3, black King takes white knight at g5, white Queen to f4 (check), black King to h4, white Queen to h6 (mate).

It is hard, but everyone else managed to solve it within a few hours. Sometimes I think my brain only peeks out from clouds of nonsense a few times a month. I played a couple really close games last night, but then didn't feel like I could focus even on a movie afterwards.

I am excited by the pictures surfacing from the upcoming Hobbit films. I'm less excited by more and more news of characters being added from Tolkien's other writings as well as new characters being created entirely. I can't say I'm not a little jazzed about Sylvester McCoy playing Radagast the Brown, but mostly I'm worried this is going to turn into The Lord of the Rings: The Phantom Menace: Extended Director's Cut Edition.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Big Leaky Rubber Sacks in Space

I'm beginning to view the automobile as a weekend extravagance. I have saved a lot of money this way, and I've fed a lot of ducks.

I finished off the episodes of Christopher Eccleston's tenure on Doctor Who last night. His final three episodes are not exactly the best written of the series, though they're not totally awful. I loved the action with the Daleks and the Dalek war fleet--and it's a good thing the show looks so good, because the special effects have to do a lot more heavy lifting for some unprecedentedly limp scripts. Even the old episodes that weren't hard science fiction at least gave you the impression the writer was interested in science. Discussions about physics or biology are replaced by genuine technobabble--connecting wires for some kind of "delta wave" in the last episode, just another of a series of uninteresting deus ex machinas that include the TARDIS's soul and the sonic screwdriver that apparently just does anything now. I mean, I said before I thought it was silly when the device was taken away because it made it too easy for the Doctor to unlock doors. But there was at least a logic to it before--from time to time, you'd see him use it as a screwdriver, where it applied a remote force on a screw, drawing it out or screwing it into a socket. It made sense that a deft hand could use it to manipulate a lock mechanism--even when the third Doctor used it to detonate land mines, it made sense because it's a device used to apply pressure or pull from a distance. It doesn't make sense for it to be used to interfere with a teleporter or for it to be a remote control for the TARDIS. It's particularly annoying when it's used in the former instance for a cheap gag that wasn't especially funny.

With the exception of the eighth Doctor, the ninth Doctor is the first Doctor we never see set foot on an alien planet. Every episode of Eccleston's tenure either takes place on Earth or in Earth's orbit. They talk about seeing things in other parts of the galaxy and on other planets but we never get to see any of it ourselves. It's frustrating in the last few episodes when the show concentrates on strikingly superficial relationship material. Jack Harkness appears to be overcome with love for both the Doctor and Rose, but we never see how this love developed. The Doctor and Rose do have nice chemistry, and the stuff between them is good in the early part of the season, but it's reduced to wailing and declarations in the final episodes without much substance. If they're really interested in toning down the science fiction elements in favour of interpersonal relationships, I wish it could have been a little more cerebral. It starts off good with Rose having issues with becoming an adult and the Doctor trying to reclaim himself after a horrible experience, but all this is trampled under the pyrotechnics of the final three episodes.

And just weeks after I first identified the "type" of Doctor Who episode--the Deadly Game Show type, let's call it--there's already an example of it in the new series with "Bad Wolf", only this one has the potential to become much more dated for its use of actual modern game shows. Though it's certainly better than Vengeance on Varos--the business with Jack Harkness getting a makeover is funny, and the Doctor's easy affection for Lynda is sweet. It wasn't as good as the Dalek stuff later on except we just had to make the Daleks half human, didn't we? Half human Doctor, half human Daleks, really, people, do you so need that to identify with characters on screen nowadays?

Oh, and I didn't even mention the whole season-long Bad Wolf gimmick which not only didn't make sense but was also totally pointless.

So I guess my final verdict on the ninth Doctor's tenure--mostly better than the sixth Doctor's tenure.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Cunning Instinct Even for Subcategories

Never screw up a werewolf's filing system.

The Howling was apparently meant to be a cross between a horror film and a comedy. Some of the humour does work in a sort of mild, vague chuckle producing way, like all the juxtapositions and references to other wolf related media--cans of "Wolf" brand beans, Wolfman Jack, even a brief glimpse of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. There's stuff that may be homages to old horror movies or jabs at them, as when the vulnerable heroine decides to go out and investigate the scary noises alone or this scene where her flashlight goes out in the middle of the forest at night;

I guess they'll just have to somehow find their way back by the massive floodlights just off screen. I wish I could say this was something movies didn't do anymore--my favourite was in Passion of the Christ when Jesus is being hunted down in the forest at night and there appears to be a football stadium of lights over every rise.

Some of the horror elements don't quite work, I suspect, because of to-day's faster paced special effects. Watching the man-to-wolf transformation sequence in the film is sort of neat, except it takes so long, and actress Dee Wallace isn't terribly good at reacting--she starts to look oddly indulgent; "Oh, yes, I'm so frightened, I'm rooted to the spot, compelled to watch your, what, two hour metamorphosis? Oh, it's only been thirty seconds? Huh."

The best part of the movie is the nymphomaniac werewolf chick, who looks sort of like Angelina Jolie before Angelina Jolie looked like a bare skeleton with wax lips.

I can see a lot of similarities in terms of tone and sensibility to the director's next film, Gremlins, in which he seemed to overcompensate for The Howling's primary flaw--an almost total lack of personality in its leads.

Anyway, I was moved to improvise lyrics for the music that plays in the film's ending credits;

Twitter Sonnet #276

Shadow stripes strip rolling eraser burn.
Paper tongues wreath a white scissor cut face.
Data freezes in a green crystal fern.
Mercury minds are too dear to replace.
Jelly tinsel eyes set orange ocean sun.
Squid beads slide on a marine abacus.
Sheaves of calculators tumble to one.
Rebel worsted conceals a blunderbuss.
A red skirt clashes with green leather shoes.
False feet exceed the demands of running.
Digits of cloud press a darkening bruise.
Laurel crowns belie vegetable cunning.
Cool avocados fatten black crust heat.
Breading covers can't conceal insect meat.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

God Save the Burrito

Every weekend, I get a bean and rice burrito and go over to my friend Tim's house to play video games. Last week my burrito had green ink all over the tortilla and shards of plastic in the beans, so I've been looking around for a new Mexican place. Yesterday I was in a part of town I don't normally go to and saw this Terminator 2 pinball machine in a place called Los Primos, part of a chain apparently with only three locations. They have already mastered the chain restaurant technique of smaller, duller burritos for higher prices.

I don't think sex on Doctor Who is as new as everyone thinks is. Three oozed virility over Liz Shaw, Two and Jamie had an odd tendency to spoon when they were crouching behind cover, and Four and Romana were just obviously a couple. I guess it's more explicit now, sort of. I finished the two parter "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" last night--the Wikipedia entry says "dancing" is a metaphor for sex, which I don't think I really needed explained to me. I think the real difference is that the characters are a little more cavalier about flirting with each other in dangerous situations.

But I quite liked the pair of episodes--I loved the rather interesting Sci-Fi explanation for the gas mask zombies--I was worried we were going to go spiritual again like we did at the end of "The Unquiet Dead". Instead, we had a genuinely creepy menace and a genuinely interesting explanation for it. Which is not to say the corpse stealing aliens in "Unquiet Dead" weren't interesting, it's the maid's talking from the grave that bothered me--in almost thirty years of the classic series, they never resorted to unambiguous supernatural like that. It seems to relate to another of the things I'm a little disappointed by in the new series, which is the sentimentality. "Father's Day" was effective I thought, though the universe lining up to make a character sacrifice himself went a bit overboard for me. And "Empty Child"/"Doctor Dances" has a lot of "England will prevail in the end" stuff that was a little too patriotic for me, particularly when the Doctor starts marvelling at how resilient the English are in the face of the German threat--how the Germans were unstoppable "until one tiny damp little island says, 'No. No. Not here.' A mouse in front of a lion. You're amazing the lot of you." Even when the Doctor was rubbing elbows with British establishment, I never got the sense of this particularly patriotic perspective from him. I would have preferred in place of this speech maybe one about how, in humanity, the grace of people struggling for survival contrasts with those seeking to destroy and conquer.

Here's a daddy long legs yesterday who may have bitten off more than he could chew;

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sweetened Sugar Topping Glazed Sugar

I found this video a few days ago--it may be the single most insipid thing I've ever seen;

It's like mainlining maple syrup. And yet I want to have sex with all of these girls. That's how they get you. With the sex. Though I guess part of the intended appeal is that they're virginal. 58 virgins--according to the Wikipedia entry, AKB48 holds the current world record of pop group with the greatest number of members. It's run like a theatre troupe--the group even has their own theatre in Akihabara, which makes me think about how old patterns of life manifest themselves in the modern world.

Once a country with an intricate, legal prostitution industry, Japan now has the distinction of an extraordinarily low sex drive. One might say what pop sensations like AKB48 represent is that absence of sex is the new sex.

People used to thinking a certain way about how pop idols appeal to people might question the point of a group with such a large number of members--in the video, it's difficult to get a real impression of any one member's personality, but this is of course the point. Each member has superficial personality traits hardcore fans obsess over, but the overall goal is to create an interchangeable army where even the dream of intimacy is impossible for being so diluted.

So often, when I see things like AKB48, I feel compelled to think of the other side of the screen, the over 40 million views the video has--think of the content, it's basically a blitz of non-specific love and acceptance. Think about the deep, fundamental, ongoing psychological pain someone must be in that this is all they can take. As an artist, it makes me feel like a parent who wants to make millions of kids eat their broccoli.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Walking is Strange

It was sort of ridiculous the number of interesting subjects to photograph I came across yesterday when I walked to the store. I stopped to feed the ducks, then saw another crayfish inexplicably crossing the dry dirt path apparently to get from one part of the river to another.

For some reason this butterfly kept fluttering in circles in one area to continually land in the same spot. It would fly away when I approached but always return. Finally I sat next to the spot and waited. It landed right next to me in a moment and didn't seem bothered by my close camera getting macro shots.

Ants are interesting too!

Twitter Sonnet #275

Cognac climax plateaus in a stasis.
Bacta addicts balloon with sluggish will.
Gum adheres on a need to stick basis.
Bubble Yum grains always mess up the mill.
No sign of life came with the newspaper.
The air misses a baby gorilla.
Only old sounds warm any new caper.
Shaking iron grids Yorick's maxilla.
Flower nostrils sneeze crushed skeleton dust.
Pages of beat strawberry redden hands.
Hammocks dip for a coy marshmallow bust.
Repetitive grins hold in shifting sands.
Crustacean audiences are fruitless.
Apricot digestive tracts are bootless.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life in False Faces

Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin is a kind of satire one doesn't often see, particularly not within the last twenty years. To be sure, there were plenty of people when it was released in 1975 that thought the film was racist, who took it as precisely the sort of thing it was mocking, which is often how unimaginative people take satire. It's for that reason satire is usually very broad--One has to be able to easily follow the line of logic that Stephen Colbert's obsession with himself is an absurd exaggeration of Bill O'Reilly's egotism, or Peter Griffin's infantile stupidity mocks the way men in sitcoms are written as broadly stupid, which in turn is a satire on typical American men.

But while Coonskin has several examples of brilliant, very straight forward satires of logic, like the various attempts of black characters to placate "Miss America," manifested as a buxom white woman wearing only red white and blue paint, the bits I enjoyed the most were what seemed to be satires by way of dream logic. The mafia boss's wife who goes through a metamorphosis when she's fatally shot from old woman, to beautiful young fairy, to moth.

I understand a lot of the movie riffs off of black American folk tales, most of which I'm unfamiliar with--I only recognised the bits from Song of the South, nicely parodied with the protagonists Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Brother Fox. So I don't know how much of the fascinatingly weird stuff is references to folk tales I don't know. I loved the isolated, short segment about the single mother who tells stories about loving a cockroach and a rat.

The movie's nightmarish at times, not just because of the strange and violent imagery. The fact that it's never been released on DVD and is only available in a rather weathered form gives it the feel of something buried in the cemetery of American consciousness, the footage too dark and the black characters, drawn and coloured in likeness of racist caricatures, frequently disappear into photographed backgrounds.

There are garish invocations of basic human ugliness and one gets the impression of human souls in pain, forced to inhabit the grotesque cartoons.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I didn't find out until yesterday that Lady Gaga used a bit from the Vertigo soundtrack in the intro for her "Born This Way" video. The first two and a half minutes, nearly half the video, is basically a Bernard Herrmann music video starring Gaga. The pink triangle at the beginning even brings to mind the V in the Vista Vision logo which accompanies the same piece of music at the beginning of the movie. Though the unicorn in the middle makes it seem more like the Tri-Star logo. I actually really like the costumes and makeup in this video, except for the extra bones in Gaga's face. It's a shame the song itself is exceptionally bad--"Bad Romance" remains the only Gaga song I can at all dig.

Of course, the reason I watched it was that "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody video was released yesterday;

There seems to be a quite earnest argument in the YouTube comments about whether "Weird Al" Yankovic has breasts now or if, just possibly, his head is superimposed on a female dancer's body. It's a good thing he didn't show a train coming straight at the camera or these people would be terrified.

Not one of Yankovic's best parodies, though I do like it. It's certainly better than the original, and I take a certain amount of pleasure in seeing a video that almost never got made--I suppose most people know that Yankovic originally thought Gaga wasn't going to give him permission to release the song on his album. She'd initially refused to grant or withhold approval on the song until after it was recorded--even though he'd sent her the lyrics to read. When she refused permission after he recorded it, Yankovic released the song for free on YouTube (sans unmade video) prompting a massive internet backlash that ended with Gaga granting permission for the song to be released on Yankovic's album, claiming that she had been unaware of it as the responses Yankovic had received regarding her permission had all been handled, supposedly, by her manager. Personally, I think it's more likely that Gaga simply doesn't have a well developed sense of humour and her vanity was swayed by the apparent public opinion in Yankovic's favour.

Last night I watched "Dalek", the sixth episode of Doctor Who with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, and possibly my favourite so far. I certainly never rooted for a Dalek so much. Mainly it was because the Dalek in question was being held captive by an obnoxious American asshole--the Doctor described the Dalek as better than the American guy because the Dalek was "more honest" and damn, it's true. When the Dalek had the guy quivering against the wall it was so intensely satisfying. The episode finally tapped into how oddly adorable the Daleks' unabashed need to EXTERMINATE is, at the same time showing what a real badass war machine a Dalek is. I love how they stuck with the old Dalek costume most of the time, too--the few instances where a cgi Dalek is used are actually less effective though, again, they help establish an effective seeming killer.

And the episode mined more of the Doctor's recent trauma, turning his conflict with the Dalek into a fascinating last surviving members of two opposing factions story. The idea of one of the Doctor Who universe's emotionless villains having a story where they get emotions has seemed like a viable one since the Cyberman in The Invasion was given the capacity to feel fear and ran terrified--and terrifyingly--through the London sewers. This is territory somewhat explored on Star Trek: The Next Generation--I'm thinking mainly of Hugh and Seven of Nine, the turncoats of the Borg which are basically identical to the Cybermen. But "Dalek" was more effective than both of those examples.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Home is the Place that Doesn't Stand Still

Twitter Sonnet #274

Your face can come outside if you go bald.
Beyond Glasgow smiles become gore spheres.
"This is it," goes the joke told by Ringwald.
Recon dresses can hide covert ops tears.
Whisp'ring taffeta crushed brittle brown vein.
Clear shards spoil the awaited alloy.
True old steel bears a red tarnishing stain.
Golden masks greet grim rocket gun envoy.
Mottled deli sliced sponges launch skyward.
Pleasant breezes can't invade your black car.
Prototype bow tie was just a halberd.
Putting on the ritz can still leave a scar.
Improvised maracas imprison flies.
For every cg elf a real one dies.

I still don't want to say much about my new comic, but I will say I'm already really sick of drawing gladiolas.

I'm five episodes into Christopher Eccleston's tenure as the Doctor on Doctor Who. It seems to me he's spinning a lot of plates--he has to be the familiar Doctor, he has to add his own interpretation, he has to be more romantic, and, perhaps the most interesting aspect of his performance to me, he needs to show how the Doctor has been changed by the destruction of his homeworld. This is a rather a good idea to make him more accessible to modern science fiction audiences--it seems to have made him more vulnerable and more dependent on his friends, most notably his current companion. Eccleston plays the Doctor with kind of a manic quality that feels false at times. The way he grins and works the TARDIS's new bicycle pump--the impression I get is the Doctor throwing himself into his old patterns of living, the old wanderlust and joy of discovery, in an effort to outrun his sadness. Rose, as the young woman dazzled by the strange and haunted man, is a credible counterpoint, and it makes sense that her mother's worried. The Doctor's newfound hatred for "domestic" also reflects this--this is such a contrast to the more homebody-ish seventh Doctor making dinner at the Brigadier's house. It's more reminiscent of Ace and her hatred for her mother--one could say the Doctor has kind of become Ace. It would be really interesting to have Ace appear at some point in the new series with a sort of thematic role reversal.

I also like this change because I usually found the episodes on Gallifrey to be some of the most stilted and uninteresting. Though there was a line in The Invasion of Time that still makes me smile--when the Doctor, pretending to be the new tyrannical ruler of the Time Lords, is offered a jelly baby and says, "One grows tired of jelly babies, Castellan. One grows tired of almost everything, Castellan, except power."

I like how the ideas of impermanence and death are played with in "The Unquiet Dead", subtly showing us things about the Doctor's state of mind as he reacts to the plight of the ghost like aliens.

But I must admit, Eccleston's Doctor doesn't always work for me--some parts I feel like I'm supposed to be laughing along with fall flat for me, like when the Doctor and Rose are giddy about going to Downing Street in "Aliens of London". I don't buy that reaction from the Doctor.

And while I think his mania nicely reflects recent emotional damage, it would be nice if one of the other characters on the show reacted to it in some way.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

"War Never Changes," Except Apparently in Every Detail--But I Get Your Point, Perlman

I beat Fallout: New Vegas yesterday. Sort of. The epilogue slideshow telling me the fates of around fifteen characters and sideplots made me realise there are an extraordinary number of alternate endings to this game. I got a lot of unhappy or ambivalent endings--people wandering off into the wasteland unfulfilled, going crazy, changing their names, or just carrying on as before. I was toying with the idea of installing Oblivion again and playing it again before Skyrim's released, but now I want to try for some of the other endings in New Vegas. I never even found the guy voiced by Kris Kristofferson.

There's not just minor plots, there are several primary factions you can side with that change the ending substantially. I ended up siding with Mr. House, the super computer running New Vegas whose ending installs him as dictator of Vegas and the surrounding Mojave. You get a lot of hard-ass dialogue options when you work for him, and, hey, he's voiced by Rene Auberjonois.

This is Matilda, the character I beat the game with;

I focused on Medicine, Speech, and Guns for skills. Speech is so much more fun and useful in the Fallout games than it is in Oblivion, I'm hoping it's one of the things that'll carry over to Skyrim. I particularly liked the Terrifying Presence perk you get with a high Speech--you can cause people to lose their shit through dialogue without a shot being fired.

Anyway, the final battle on Hoover Dam was a great shit storm. I figured out the console command to pause the game while freeing the camera, so here are some random shots I found in the fray. Mind you, none of this is from cinematics, it's all stuff that was happening, much of it I wasn't even aware of until I tracked the camera around;

That's Raul Tajeda, the character voiced by Danny Trejo. You're not normally allowed to have more than one companion, but I used a mod to disable that restriction. It didn't really make the game easier since, having gotten my character to maximum level, the game was already pretty easy at that point.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A True Nature

I've played ten games of chess this week and I've lost ten. I find it impossible to say anything about the reasons behind losing that doesn't sound like an excuse to my ears. Me brain's not working the chess so well--even that sounds like an excuse. How it could be and not a simple statement of fact goes to mysteries of the human mind I guess.

I am really hungover to-day from last night's margarita. I really must forswear alcohol and sugar combos. How much happier would I have been with a simple scotch. Anyway, I was appropriately inebriated when I watched this;

I've watched both parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV this past week--BBC productions from 1979, both featuring Anthony Quayle as Falstaff, turning in a performance that vastly outshines Jon Finch's over the top, weepy performance as the King. It seemed to be a contrast between the older Quayle's more complex style of acting--savouring subtleties that one can inject in language--and a newer style of acting that demands a dial always turned to eleven, rendering King Henry unintentionally comical.

I read about John Fastolf, upon whom Falstaff was loosely based, when I was doing research for Venia's Travels. Shakespeare obviously took some liberties, on the face of it making Falstaff a broader character, yet incredibly exactly by making Falstaff such a consistent scoundrel he creates a character with a great deal of depth. It becomes a beautiful depiction of an old man whose personal philosophy, and the priorities dictated by that philosophy to promote his survival, is firmly entrenched so that asking him to change seems cruel, and one sort of roots for him. Though I think Quayle's sensitive performance emphasises this interpretation quite a bit--it nevertheless seems to be the appropriate way to play it, as I can't imagine Falstaff not being played to the crowd in Shakespeare's time. How could the groundlings do anything but love the man holding forth on the virtues of alcohol?

The story of the title character is less interesting, but his lines to his son and heir before he died about the burden of being a king who won the crown by deposing the previous king kind of struck me--I was sort of reminded of Poppy Z. Brite's entry recently about being a transgender meeting with the varying degrees of acceptance by people.

I met this Crowne: and I my selfe know well
How troublesome it sate vpon my head.
To thee, it shall descend with better Quiet,
Better Opinion, better Confirmation:
For all the soyle of the Atchieuement goes
With me, into the Earth. It seem'd in mee,
But as an Honour snatch'd with boyst'rous hand,
And I had many liuing, to vpbraide
My gaine of it, by their Assistances,
Which dayly grew to Quarrell, and to Blood-shed,
Wounding supposed Peace.
All these bold Feares,
Thou seest (with perill) I haue answered:
For all my Reigne, hath beene but as a Scene
Acting that argument. And now my death
Changes the Moode: For what in me, was purchas'd,
Falles vpon thee, in a more Fayrer sort.

It reminds me of Howard Stern talking about watching Chaz Bono's new reality show and how he marvels at the time and attention Chaz seems to give things like shaving and how masculine he looks in general. I think this is something that confounds a lot of cisgender people, who can't imagine being so focused on their own gender. Particularly for guys, who typically don't put so much thought into being guys. Though prominent examples of vain men like Anthony Weiner seem to contradict this impression. But like King Henry says, to a transgender I think it must seem like a continuous scene, acting the argument. I mean, Henry is King, but he constantly feels the existence of the question. I suppose it's a state of mind anyone can understand who's had reason to become acquainted with how really frail everything potentially is.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Defibrillating the Doctor

Looking at the two side by side yesterday, it's easy to see why the 1996 attempt to resurrect Doctor Who didn't work and the 2005 attempt did. Hindsight's 20/20, I guess, but I doubt there weren't a lot of people who didn't foresee the television movie/backdoor pilot failing to take off.

It wasn't all bad--the first twenty minutes, with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, were rather effective. Partly because it's really heartbreaking seeing the seventh Doctor in distress on an operating table. He's so cute, it's like watching Mickey Mouse being killed. Which is not to say I thought Paul McGann was necessarily a bad Doctor, he just had so much bad material to work with it's kind of impossible to tell. It's kind of a tragedy the movie is considered canon, particularly in how it establishes the Doctor to be half-human. I can't begin to describe how much I hate this idea, I'm actually kind of skeeved out by it, because it's all part of the changes made to the show to make it more marketable. Someone thought, "We need to try to make this okay for people who are put off by fictional aliens."

And there, in a nutshell, is precisely what's wrong with the movie--the whole thing is broken under the yoke of financiers' expectations. You can see it in so many aspects of the production. The most signifying moment, I think, the moment I laughed aloud for the perfect crystallisation of wrongheaded bullshit, came in the chase scene when the Doctor races along in a stolen police motorcycle with the new companion, Grace Holloway, on the seat behind him and she says, "Great. I finally meet the right guy and he's from another planet!"


Grace, in a short space of time, establishes herself as one of the worst companions in the history of Doctor Who. She's like Peri a lot except her accent's real and she's unattractive. But her delivery is every bit as phoney.

I know it's shallow of me to concentrate on how perplexingly ugly she is, but one wonders why the studio would go with a 33 year old who looks 50 and has the facial bones of giant when she can't act. She makes Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard look like Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly.

Eric Roberts as the Master wasn't too bad--actually managing to capture some of the character despite his American accent, though at the same time he's clearly moulded to be a Terminator knockoff.

I will say it was nice seeing the better production values, seeing the show shot on film instead of video tape. It was produced partly by Fox and, like a lot of Fox's shows at the time, most notably The X-Files, it was shot in Vancouver, and it has that mid-90s Fox feel. But the expectations of the Fox network was not an environment in which Doctor Who could possibly hope to flourish.

It may be the digital camera that saved Doctor Who. "Rose", the premiere episode of the 2005 series has a much lower budget than the 1996 movie, but looks a lot better, largely due to the combination of cheaply gotten, unprecedented flexible filming technology, and a creative team freed from the expectations that go with a big, multimillion dollar budget. The story of "Rose" is therefore allowed to flow much more naturally while catering to an audience that can no longer settle for video tape.

Christopher Eccleston establishes his Doctor much more definitely than McGann did (or could). He's the first Doctor I see to repeat Tom Baker's tendency to grin inappropriately at just the right times, and this works well with the new energy between Doctor and companion. Not cheaply, desperately romantic like the 1996 movie, but rather establishing a distinct balance of power between the Doctor and the new companion. I suppose it's not unlike the Doctor's chemistry with Romana, though there's something slightly more vulnerable about Eccleston's Doctor.

I like Rose quite a lot. I also loved the use of an opening theme very similar to the 1963 original and the use of Autons as a villain is perfect in that they're just familiar enough to establish this as the old Doctor universe without being one of the big players, and they're pretty creepy in their own right. It made me want to watch The Spearhead from Space again.

Twitter Sonnet #273

Eyelids buckle an overbite hammer.
Parking garages stamp a dream meeting.
Anxious redhead knows a mind can stammer.
Spider brains spin ethereal tweeting.
Web beards become blundering gentlemen.
False night coerced caterpillar hunger.
Diner slop tubes bulge with extra muffin.
I would car sext Deborah Kara Unger.
Bootless gears threw out the swinging glass door.
New fake watches wind down to sleep again.
Time's told to a mechanical zinc whore.
True jelly hearts glow in double wrapped tin.
Violent ribbons of pink eels twist and shout.
Wisps of salmon coloured slices drift out.

Looks like I used the "in" rhyme twice. Oops. This sonnet is wrong, and if you like it, you're wrong, too!