Friday, July 30, 2004

Doers, Thinkers, & Liars.
It's a mad hate-on.

I hate talking about politics. Well, I hate talking politics with people who really care about politics...or, people who think they know something about politics. In that category, I especially hate idealists, specifically those with a take charge "we can make the difference" sort of attitude. What's even worse is when they have no idea either what they're talking about politically, or they have no conceptualization of history, sociology, and psychology.

Personally, I couldn't care less about politics for a lot of reasons.

It's not because I believe that I, myself, or the common man is powerless. I do to a degree, but that's not why.

Truth is, in many ways I believe that much of our government is powerless, but that's not it either.

I don't think of government is the great evil. In many ways, it's too petty to be evil. They don't fight it out over issues, they squabble. It's that and the fact that all of these idiotic laws from two hundred years ago. It's that and the fact that so much of it is tied up into media, advertising, and propaganda. It's all that and the fact that I'm voting alongside a majority of folks who know as much about politics as I do or less (and that's bad going on worse).

Ok, I know something about them and I know about history, sociology, and psychology.

Anyhow, I got into an argument concerning politics either. That's not true. The person who had a vested interested in politics was arguing politics with me. I on the other hand, was arguing a specific point about image, charisma, and speeches. The reason this came up was his incessant playing of speeches from the Democratic National Convention yesterday evening.

He claimed it was educating. I claimed it was the same sh!t I've heard at any political convention for either side. And I think that's the media's fault.

My analogy was that if I made a product and then I was selling that product, would I ever say anything against it. "Drink B-List Cola, it's sweet, refreshing, and had half the calories other colas...though it does cause about 3 flipper babies every year..." Not likely.

Now I've got nothing against John Kerry personally, but the pararde of family members, friends, and fellow veterans became tiresome. My feeling is that I'll judge him a few years in (if he is elected) about whether he did any of the stuff he droned on and on about. See, when he has DONE something, not speechified about it.

That's where the argument came in. He argued that speeches weren't part of, the hell they aren't in a election race. Maybe it's one of the good things about the media I'll have to give in to, but if you've ever followed candidates parading around the company, you've no doubt noticed that they change their tune depending on who they're talking to. Or they get vague. Or they evade certain issues.

I'd like to think that I elected someone because I believed in what they stood for, not because they told me what to believe.

That's not even the point.

Even if I did believe in them, it still doesn't mean they'd be able to DO anything when they got there.

That's sociology. It's the fact that every issue seems to come packed with controversy. It's because everyone wants "what's coming to them." It's because no two party members can agree on any one thing. It's because of a total lack of vision for the greater good, for the future.

Like I said, the media, big business, big money.

If you haven't read the story about why Tom Ridge is stepping down as Homeland Security Secretary, you should look it up. (See, I advocate education about the government.) The being tired part I can understand, that actually sounds honest. I'd respect a guy who said, "You know what, I'm trying my best, but I'm just beat." It's the college thing...hmmmm...well, go look it up.

Then again, this is all speculative. That's thinking. Thinking is pretty ethereal. Theorizing is ethereal. Like thinking and theorizing, with the exception of filing taxes once a year and the possibility of breaking a traffic law, the government doesn't impact much on my life and so is ethereal. Anyhow, that wasn't meant to be jab, it just turned into one. Fact is, thinking is useful, but don't get me wrong, THINKING is not better than DOING.

The ideas that Karl Marx thunk up for the Communist Manifesto weren't all necessarily bad ideas. That's just it though, they were ideas. The fact is, as Russia was able to prove, it doesn't work in practicality. Now a lot of modern communists (think Thinkers) say that that was because it was true Marxist Communism. Well, I look at that as showing that it must be flawed if you can't get it right just bursting out of the gate. While it has held on in other countries, I don't think anyone would argue that the remaining communist countries are exactly the promised utopias that was hoped for.

Of course, to be fair, I can't back anarchy either. Now again, anarchy is a loaded term. Because of past associations, anarchy is thought to be some violent overthrow of the government. I can't dismiss it, but remember denotation and connotation. Well the violent punk rock version is part of the connotation of the word, anarchy. The denotation is self-rule. It means each persons governs themselves, makes their own laws, and answers only to themselves. Again, thinking-wise, it sounds great, especially to thinkers.

Here's where we can play the psychology and sociology cards. What about 'leader' and 'follower' personality types? What about those mentally incaple of self-rule? What about those too lazy to come up with anything for themselves? What happens in human interactions when two opposing view points meet? What about couples? Family units? Etc...

In practicality, it would take a split second for anarchy to break down into systems and organizations again. In reality, there could only be a few hundred people on Earth who could never run into each other for anarchy to truly work...and that would be over in a single generation.

Anyhow, this certainly isn't to say that thinking is bad. Some really good practical stuff has emerged from some of the most hare-brained thinking. It has a lot to do with shooting really high, and finding a good middle ground to actually land on.

Which brings me to my last little subject matter.

Somewhere along the line, I believe in this century, wrongdoing somehow became absolved as long as "no one got hurt." Allow me to elaborate: 1) Robbing the bank with shotguns then someone could or would get hurt which is wrong, but 2) Embezzling all the money out of the bank didn't kill anyone, so it wasn't bad. I'm not saying the law doesn't punish them the same when they are caught, I'm saying that it's a bad thing that they did whatever in the first place believing it was ok so long as there was no physical violence.

I file this under LIARS, because, after all, they are lying to themselves. Crime is crime.

Likewise a lie, is a lie. Once again, people justify this like they do breaking minor laws. "It was only a little lie." It's still a lie, just like speeding is still breaking the law. No speeding doesn't not put you on par with someone convicted of multiple homicide, but you did break the law.

I'm not saying all politicians are liars. Lemme put it this way, what Obi-Wan Kenobi said about things being true from a certain point of view, I can agree with. But you can't bend the truth. If you change it, even just a smidge, then to some degree you are lying.

Stories are often organic, and change over time. You should be allowed to change your mind and opinion without being branded a liar. It can be tough to find the middle ground. But if you go into something knowing that you are bending the truth, knowing that you are changing or substituting something else...guess're lying.

It's not to say that you can't do what you wanna do, or believe what you want to believe. Just be stand up about it.

Much of the world can be broken down in terms of internet dating. Guy puts his profile up and lies about his interests. Girl puts up picture of someone else. They meet. Assuming by fluke it doesn't work out, guy gets mad at girl or vice versa because the other person didn't tell the truth. A lot of times they get downright indignant about it. How can they? They were both lying.

So in conclusion, assuming I had an exact point, I would prefer it if neither candidtate made a single speech at all. If all we had to go by was their records and nothing but their records: what they voted for, and what they voted against. Maybe they also get to chalk up a list of what they currently believe or back. Then once they were in office, you could actually judge whether they did what you wanted, or voted the way you voted.

I don't know. With all the liars, criminals, thinkers, and non-thinkers out their, I don't know if we really want their representatives to be in a position of power.

Anyhow, it was a loosely connected affair, but it was what I was thinking.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Festival Circuit
Remember what I said about people taking subjects and themselves way too seriously?

For the most part, I avoid places where people who are into what I'm into congregate.

The exception would be most places of business.

Take music stores. I worked in them for years. All kinds of people come into them buying all kinds of music. Generally, the average member of the population's taste is horrible no matter what they buy, but at least it's diverse. Besides, the odds are pretty good that unless you end up chatting it up with someone who works there, you're not gonna end upconversing with someone who's into the same stuff unless you already know them.

Book stores are largely the same....and quiet as tombs, generally speaking. I always thought that was funny. Libraries were meant for reading. Bookstores were meant for commerce. (Ok, maybe the really upscale rare bookshops deserve more reverence.) Anyhow, you'd think that people would find something of a literary forum in them. However, especially at Barnes & Noble, you get the library-style dirty look if you're making noise.

Movie shops are largely anonymous. You can tell if it's a movie snob that works there, but you'd have to be tailing someone as they picked stuff up to know about the customers.

Comic shops on the other hand....well, not every customer is a dorky fanboy...but your odds skyrocketed. Customers in comic shops tend to be talking some sh!t either with the clerk or with each other. You can spot a newcomer or someone looking for a present or something from a million miles away. They just don't fit. So with few exceptions, I try to stay out of them for long periods of time. To be fair, I actually find I like most of the clerks. They're into the stuff, but usually nowhere near as annoyingly as the folks shopping there.

Now take that annyoing factor and multiply it by a 1000, and you start to feel the vibe at the San Diego Comic-con.

Before we go there, let me reiterate the first idea I posited above about avoiding congregations who are into my interests, namely festivals.

When I was a wee lad, I did get my dad to take me and a friend of mine to a couple of comic shows in Detroit. They were small affairs, and their primary purpose was dealers trying to hawk their wares. It was long boxes of sealed books on display on table after table, and the only interruption might be some collectible toys or movie memorabilia. If you weren't there to buy, then you had no other reason for being there. Geek Interaction Factor: Low.

Technically I did go to a lot of art and arts and crafts shows thanks to my parents, which were festivals of sorts. Other than the occasional corn dog or Icee, I generally couldn't have cared less. I was already drawing and what not in those times, but that aside I still knew then that that stuff was a small step up from unicorns on black velvet. Geek Interaction Factor: Low. Dorky Middle-Aged Adults W/No Taste: Off the chart.

Then there was that one Lollapalooza that I went to. I spent the whole day watching bands, and largely avoided the festival aspect. It was in Miami. The following day or week (it's a little hazy) Hurricane Andrew wiped out the area. Geek Interatction Factor: Low. Hippie or Drug Scene Interaction: Significant. (Unless you're in the 'pit' or involved in some love-in swaying, you can pretty much stay out of everyone else's way.)

My first real festival came in my senior year in college when I paid in full to attend South by Southwest Music and Film Festival in Austin, TX. Now the previous years I had attended screenings tied into SxSW, as well as screening for The Heart of Austin Film Festival (which occurs in Fall, and doesn't have the huge music component), but I had never gotten the badge and hit the panels and so on. In my final year, I did.

Don't get me wrong, it was fun. I got to meet Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy), and Billy Bob Thornton. I met B-movie auteur Jack Hill (Foxy Brown, Switchblade Sisters) and his frequent star, B-movie icon Sid Haig, thanks to Quentin Tarantino, a big supporter of the fest. I hung out at a lot of the screenings with Harry Knowles, creator of Ain't It Cool (though I already knew Harry from around town. Keep in mind Rodriguez, Richard Linklater (Dazed & Confused), and several others were also regular fixtures in town and at the University.)

However, the experience was oft marred by three regular features:

1. The Movie Geeks: The weird overly specific questions. The attempts to sound more intelligent than the film-maker. Their all too life consuming obsession with movies that they just bled all over everywhere.

2. The Hollywood Wannabe's: These fell into two groups: Wannabe Scenesters, and Wannabe Filmmakers. The W-Scensters were either acting jet-set or would-be starf*ckers. The W-Filmmakers constantly harped about the projects they weren't actually working on or would never actually complete.

3. Oddly enough the Filmmakers themselves: Not the Hollywood types, the indy directors who got their stuff into the festival. In the course of conversing between them and the wannabe's, especially after seeing their movie, it was this weird mutual mental masturbation that was spewing up the scenery. (Note the clever play on words.) Well, some were cool, but too many were preparing for their next role as a pretentious has-been filmmaker.

So you had to pick and choose what you went into. You had to get in and out of screenings and panels unscathed. And it helped if you had a friend or acquaintance you could stand to keep you company in those long festival lines.

Again, imagine that ten- to one hundred-fold worse...and only in one day.

That's Comic-con.

I suppose because it's even more geeky, fantasy-driven, and looked down upon that it has to get that much more pretentious, out of touch with reality, and with an important "All of this is so cool" attitude.

And I like comics, movies, toys, and animé.

I get thrilled at seeing Lou Ferigno just like the rest of them.

This year, I stuck to the dealers. There were some comics I was looking for, and often Comic-con is the place to get a deal. Problem is, it's actually getting more and more difficult to actually find comics for sale at the con. Now this wouldn't be so surprising if this wasn't the world's largest comic book festival. That's the whole reason we were supposed to be there, but now it's much more about toys, video games and movie stuff in a lot of ways.

Hell, the guys from the movie I'm working on now had a panel there that in addition to having the geeks at the con foaming at the mouth, it has also inspired a net nerd rampage on chat rooms and movie bulletin boards.

All those things go hand in hand, but you would hope that the comics wouldn't fall by the wayside.

Granted, I didn't stay in San Diego, and I only went for one day. I missed out on the scene that went on at the bars and hotels around town. I'm led to understand you could run into a lot of your favorite artists and writers and whatnot outside of the overwhelming autograph driven pushy sweaty lines environment. I was living in Austin so I was a part of SxSW by default, but here I just visited briefly.

About the only guy I got to say 'Hey' too all too briefly was Frank Cho of Liberty Meadows.

Now, I could rehash the material about geekdom and personal hygeine. I mean a lot of it is true. You stuff a couple thousand people with questionable grooming habits in a convention center...well, the B.O. quotient is going through the roof. Not too mention, that once again, I felt like one of the only people who had seen the sun in the past couple of years.

I guess my real problem was the rise in costumes this year.

My problem with fan costumes is that they are never built well enough to be cool. The people in them are lost under the illusion that they look cool. And a lot of times, it's just the complete stylistic ignorance of the fact that what looks cool on paper doesn't always look cool in real life.

That's in addition to my general disgust with permanent 24-hour mental escapism. If it's not the drone automaton who goes to work, comes home, turns on the TV, goes to bed, and does it again the next day, then it's the elaborate b.s. of the geek. I think all this Goth "I'm a vampire" crap stems from the same thing. It's not an effort to be different. It's not an attempt to break conformity. It's an attempt to run away from reality and responsibilty. "Count Couer de morte doesn't need to clean his room. The undead don't care about the world of the living."

It's just like that other stereotype about geeks not being able to get girls. Granted I've seen more girls at comics shops and at the cons in the last couple of years than I ever did as a kid. And I don't mean the utterly creepy geek chicks either, but we're talking average to above average at least in appearance (I didn't bother to get to know them). However, many of the girls you see are working booths. They're scantily clad. They're dressed as schoolgirls and super heroines. They're hawking video games, movies, guessed

Of course, they fawn all over these geeky fanboys. If all the blood wasn't rushing from the fellas' heads to their d!cks, they'd hear how fake and condescending most of these girls sound. The one's who do sound somewhat genuine tend to be the real attention whores, and having anyone drool over them is good news to them. But that isn't what really irks me...

It's the fact that these morons walk away thinking that's how these girls really are...all the time. That women are like what they see in comics, movies, and porn. Now granted, I've got an imagination and when isn't the fantasy better than the reality, but you should at least have some practical experience to ground that imagination.

Anyhow, speaking of women, my happiest moment came when I plunked down $20 for a die-cast metal action figure of Venus A, Mazinger's chick. She's new (well, relatively) from a line of Japanese collection of the classic giant robots. I have to admit that I miss metal toys. They generally looked better. Had better paint jobs. Held up longer from kid abuse. And they just had a weight to them. Anyhow, I hadn't bought any in the past because of the expense, so I was happy to get a deal on one. That's about as geeky as I get, and most non-comics people who've noticed her in my apartment thought that she was pretty cool.

In the end, it's all good fun. I try no to be too judgemental. I certainly didn't start flinging nerds out of my way (but I can't say I wasn't tempted). But at the same time, it still bugged me pretty well. Keep in mind, most of these thoughts were afterward, I don't walk around super-aggro, I was trying to enjoy myself.

So that's my report on the con. Fun to go to, but prepare to be scared. If you're not scared, then much of the above might just apply to you.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Without Ending...
Sabu's surreality strikes twice.

Sorry about skipping out on my Monday promise yesterday to cover Comic-con or more J-cinema. Busy-ness has been picking up, and I got more stuff to do during the majority of the day. Gonna have even more stuff to take care of this weekend. It's funny how much I try to get through stuff to get back to doing nothing if I so choose. I don't aim for being lazy, but if I want to be then I want to be able to. See?

It seems though, that once this stuff picks up, it starts going into overdrive. Once upon a time, tolerances might've been higher, but do you find yourself heading for "God? Why me?" territory a lot quicker these days. Unfortunately, I'm no different.

Which brings me to the movie I watched this weekend. It developed a healthy, "Well, at least I'm not that guy" sensation in me.

Unlucky Monkey (1998, d. Sabu)

The Story: The first story follows a bank robber who accidently kills a woman in his escape from the job, and who is being driven insane by what he's done. The second plotline follows three down-and-out yakuza who accidently kill a mob boss who's taking over their former boss's operations. Throught the story, their lives continuously intertwine until the crazed climax.

The Review: As I mentioned in my review of Tenchu, it was sort of weirdly appropriate I should watch this film on the same day as they have similar themes. Well one theme that I wanted to focus on which I suppose you could call divine retribution. These guys don't get it easy, nor do they really deserve to.

I would call this movie effective, but not in a crowd pleasing manner, at least not for Western audiences. Typically we like to see good triumph, especially in redemption stories where the bad hero with the heart of gold finally changes his ways. I suppose it could be summed up as marked triumph over extreme adversity. Sometimes we will even root for the bad guys if they're our protagonists for the same reason: they overcame impossible odds.

Unlucky Monkey just doesn't work like that. It's got a very zen sort of justice.

Our bank robber turns out to be a good guy at heart. This is really developed through the bizarre lengths with which his overactive imagination tortures him with guilt, as well as a subplot involving his helping a housing community's efforts against the company that's polluting the river near their homes. However, he can't escape the mistake he made in killing the girl. Obviously he feels bad for what he's done, but he shouldn't have been running round wildly with a butcher's knife and he shouldn't have been robbing a bank (though he doesn't actually rob the bank which requires some explanation, but the point is that he was going to). Now when I say can't escape it, I mean that very literally. Despite his best efforts to get caught, killed, or commit suicide, nothing comes to take his guilt away.

Like I said, he's a good guy. I don't think people would like that he has to keep sufferint.

I liked it. It was fitting. Maybe a bit much in terms of no possible redemption, but nice to see someone not turn their life around in a couple of hours of screentime.

Likewise, our three yakuza aren't gonna make it either and you know it. That doesn't stop them from hanging on like rabid dogs. Their tenacity and simple strings of coincidence manage to do little more than prolong their lives. Watching it, the viewer should be able to pick up on that long before the ending despite whatever they might hope for these guys. The most telling scene occurs just before they are attacked by yet another hitman. One of the trio pipes up that he's proud of being yakuza, and what they're going through is what it's all about. It's about looking cool, flashing money, getting chicks, and throwing down some violence when necessary. The other two start cheering him on just before bullets start flying, and they run away scared like little girls. The point, to me, is that they chose this lifestyle, they embraced it, and now they must pay the price for being a part of it. Again, they're not as cold or ruthless as those hunting them, but they're a part of the world.

Now, luckily this isn't Abel Ferrara (The Bad Lieutenant, The Funeral). Abel's take on no-redemption stories is grim and dark, and dark and grim. Sabu on the other hand, keeps it funny. Even much of the violence is a weird series of slapstick pratfalls. Now that doesn't mean that it's light. I suppose it's more that he doesn't feel the need to deal in grim material and kick your @$$ with keeping dark at the same time. You're not going to walk away from it thinking of it as a light comedy, but you're not leaving having lost all faith in humanity, God, and your future.

Because of that it walks an unsteady line, and just makes it to the other side as far as I was concerned. For others, I'm not certain it's something they could enjoy as I keep stating. After all, there's plenty of things this movie treats as humorous or exaggerated that some folks would find anything but funny. Some I'd understand, other stuff is people needing to get over themselves.

I've liked what I've seen of Sabu's stuff thus far...well, okay, of the two I've seen. The plots to the others sound promising. I'll be keeping an eye out. I doubt they'll make it to the states in a theatrical form, but let's hope some do-gooder video distributor puts their mitts on a couple.

I'm done. I'm tired. I wanna sleep. I have to find somewhere new to live.


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Friends, Romans, Countryman.  Lend Me Your Names...

Cause I got no time for nothing else

A friend of mine recently had a child (and if she reads this she'll have to forgive
me for recylcling), and decided on another name from amongst the pantheon of Roman

Not a bad idea. It's much more imaginative than naming your kid Tyler or whatever.
And it's got some sophistication...which could border on pretension depending on
which way you go. You don't want to put to much pressure on a kid who may not be
able to live up or live down a name like Caracalla.

So I thought, in case any of you wanted take any other imperial names, I thought I'd
run down my thoughts on them. (Note from the middle: I'm not even halfway through
writing them and I'm sick of this. You'll love it.)

The Names of the Roman Emperors:

1. Julius (Technicality) : So he wasn't really emperor. Anyhow, though I think
you could avoid comparisons to the Mall Food Court chain Orange Julius, it still
seems these days to be the name one would bestow upon a circus gorilla.

2. Augustus/Octavius: Too obvious. He was probably the best, and best known. You
steal from greatness, you're giving them something to really live up to.

3. Tiberius: Like the man the name's too grim, and sounds too much like a water-borne
illness: "The whole town was killed by the well water. It was infected with the
Tiberius bacteria."

4. Gaius "Caligula": Have to look at both. Gaius seems like a pretentious
way of naming your kid with the weirdly anonymonus name of Guy (unless you happened
to have a last name like Smiley). And though I love the way Caligula rolls off
the tongue and the fact that it means "Little Boot" sounds very childlike,
it's still guilt by association. Besides, no one knows the man anymore, but plenty
of people remember the pseudo-arthouse porn movie.

5. Claudius: Not anything necessarily too wrong with the name...but it does have
that "get your ass kicked in the schoolyard" kind of ring to it.

6. Nero: Each way I turn, there's almost something offensive about this name.

7. Galba: Sounds too much like the name of a Star Wars alien.

8. Otho: Only if you plan on raising an evil henchman. "These are my sons
Otho and Oddjob."

9. Vitellius: Sounds like an infomercial health product that comes on right after
Body by Jake. No dice.

10. Vespasian: I can almost recommend this one. I don't know how much ass-kicking
it would earn. I think it would confuse kids more than anything. You can kind
of yell it in that perfect annoyed mom tone.

11. Titus: A name I have always liked, like Billy Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.
Unfortunatley I also kind of think Roman underwear: "Maximus, you've soiled
you're Titus Whitus." (Ok it was a weak stretch.)

12. Domatian: Rare breed of extinct dog.

13. Nerva: Wrong. All wrong. It either sounds like something out of anatomy book
or some Chico Marx bad Italian accent joke.

14. Trajan: Another name I could get behind, and that I can't think of a joke
for it above condom humor.

15. Hadrian: Not bad. Seems like a misspelling of Adrian, an entirely overused

16. Antoninus: For some reason I think inflamed red and purple baboon butt every
time I read this name. "The male rubs agains the tree bark, enflaming his antoninus
to attract females."

17. Marcus Aurelius: Here's a man I respect. Loved The Meditations. You'd have
to use both names though. Marcus isn't enough, but the Aurelius might be too much.

18. Commodus: You can say it with authority, but this name is a life of toilet
jokes waiting to happen.

19. Pertinax: Your alternative to Viagra...or another one of those Herpes medication

20. Didius: Sounds like a nonsense sound used in some Uncle Remus song.

21. Septimius Severus: There's a joke in there somewhere, but I'll just say....Uh....

22. Caracalla: Here's another good mouth mover without all the bad connotations
of Caligula, but it sounds more like a place than a name: "Welcome to Caracalla
Stadium, the home for your Los Angeles Panthers!"

23. Geta: Again with the space alien names...and a chick space alien name at that.

24. Macrinus: Again with the biology name: "He sprained his Macrinus Majora."

25. Diadumenianus: All obvious problems aside, can you even imagine being able
to genuinely sound mad at the kid by the time you got all of that out?

26. Elagabalus: No. But his other name "Heliogabalus" I can almost get
behind. The 'gabalus' bit is kind of what makes it sound cool, but also kind of
ruins it.

27. Alexander Severus: You'd have to use the whole thing all the time. No Alex's.
It would have to be "Alexander Severus, you don't get a bite of dessert until
you finish your pot roast."

28. Thrax: Not so much a Star Wars alien as the name of the evil cosmic super
villain: "Now you shall taste the wrath of THRAX!"

29. Pupeinus: Great for the kid for the first few years. What kid wouldn't love
being known as his two favorite things: his "Poo" and his "Penis".

30. Balbinus: A medical adjective for something swollen (ex. the lymph node had
become balbinus.).

31. Gordianus: You'd never get away from being accused of trying to make the name
Gordon sound important and cool again. It'd never work.

32. Philippus "Arabicus": Definite no to Philippus, but were it not for the climate
of the time, I could almost go for Arabicus (The Arab). Sounds hardcore. He'd never
need a nickname. It's built in.

33. Decius: Pretty lame, imperially speaking.

34. Trebonianus: Sounds like a heavy tuba music move: "After the third cord,
you'll have to come in sharp with this trebonianus."

35. Aemilianus: This name I could get behind. It's got street cred straight up,
and class at the same time. Like a tough but suave variation of Emilio. Pretty
much anything with an "Ae" is hip to me.

36. Valerianus: There's no real joke here, but the male variation of Valerie doesn't
sound tough enough to me.

37. Gallienus: Two sounds that just don't go together.

38. Claudius II "Gothicus": We've covered Claudius, but Gothicus? C'mon.
You gonna put the kid in black diapers and Robert Smith makeup right away? Besides,
you can't tease that fine baby hair up enough.

39. Quintillus: High marks to anyone who bestows upon their child a name starting
with 'Q'.

40. Aurelianus: Good last name...not so sure about a first name.

41. Tacitus: Too adjective sounding, in the ankle biting dog that won't f*ck off
kind of way.

42. Florianus: If Otho is the evil henchman, this is the total sissy. You can't
put flowers in a man's name.

43. Probus: Do I even have to go there? Thank God, good taste prevails.

44. Carus: Pronounced like 'Carey', it would pretty much suck. Pronounced like
'car' without a hard sound, it would rule with an iron fist.

45. Numerianus: Nerd alert. Hand the kid a slide ruler on the way out of the

46. Carinus: Sounds wimpy compared to Carus.

47. Diocletian: Mouthful name, but not without a certain cool. Say is with me
"Dio-cle-tian." See what I mean.

48. Galerius: Well, it sure beats Gallienus, but that's not exactly tough to do.

49. Maximinus: Kind of cool, but sounds like a living contradiction. All and
nothing. Then again, I kinda like that.

50. Maximianus: One extra letter is all it takes to eff it up.

51. Constantius I "Chlorus": Does this guy sound constipated with some
horrible disease or is it just me?

52. Flavius: That's got Roman gigolo written all over it.

53. Maxentius: All these names with 'Max' in them and so few of them sound really

54. Licinius: The biological name for some kind of creeping vine.

55. Constantinus: There's like twenty of these guys in a row with this name. Now
the traditional Constantine sounds damn cool but awfully heavy handed, but with the
'tinus' at the end...Well sing it with me: "It's Istanbul, not Constantinus..."

56. Constans: Doesn't work, besides no one wants to be the male version of Constance.

57. Magnentius: Another super villain, or a kind of lava flow.

58. Julianus: Must've been the true fall of the empire when all the emperors had
such girly sounding names.

59: Jovianus (Jovian): I don't know which way to go with this one: The Gravity
of a Wise God or Sir Laughs-a-Lot. I like it though, I like it.

60. Valentinian: "Gigolo, table for 40 in champagne room."

61. Gratianus: Somewhere between really friendly, and hellatiously annoying.

62. Valens: If it wasn't for a life of LaBamba jokes, I could almost dig this

63. Eugenius: Definite get your ass kicked name, but depending on how the kid
turned out in the smarts department, it'd either be really fitting or sadly ironic.

64. Theodosius: Beats Theodore for originality, but not much else.

65. Arcadius: It is the video game world after all. Is your kid the next pinball

66. St. Marcianus: Too much 'Marcy' in there, but it you got to keep the Saint
part at the begining, it could be hip. (And for girls, this guy's wife was named
Pulcheria, which even saying makes my naughty bits feel unclean.)

67. Honorius: Not a fan of 'H' names generally. Somewhere between honor and horny.
Could work out.

68. Petronius Maximus: Together, it sounds like 'major boner.' "Gaius man, Lucretia
bent over and I was sporting a petronius maximus."

69. Avitus: Not bad, except that it sounds like the name of Conan's buddy.

70. Majorianus: Too much like Marjorie, Drum Major, or Margarine? You be the

71. Libius Severus: Again? Libby?

72. Anthemius: The Roman master of the power ballad. He would be ancient Rome's
answer to Poison or Whitesnake.

73. Olybrius: Kinda cool. Kinda cool.

74. Glycerius: The major component in some explosive. No go.

75. Julius Nepos: If it was Julius Necros, you'd have another cool super villain.

76. Leo: Name's gone trashy.

77. Zeno: Super Villain

78. Basiliscus: Unlike Caracalla, this actually is a building turned into a name.

79. Anastasius: For the last one, before the Byzantines, it's not bad. I'd never
name my kid that, but it's not bad.

Then again, I skimmed the Byzantines, and the only one I really like was Phocas.
That's a pretty strong name.

In the end, choose wisely, if you don't want a beat down beat up kid.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Measuring Out Heaven's Punishment Leaves You With Hell to Pay
Gosha had the right idea...

I finally got around to watching the DVD copy of Hideo Gosha's Hitokiri (aka Tenchu ["Heaven's Punishment"]) that I've had sitting on my shelf for about a month.

Back in my "anything and everything on celluloid" days in college, I watched this a few other of Gosha's movies. To me, besides being beautifully shot, Gosha was the balance between the higher art of the Kurosawa samurai film and the bloody more exploitave actioners like the Lone Wolf or Razor movies. The Gosha movies always featured a substantial plot, but had just enough blood spray slice-n-dice spread out through it.

I believe it was Gosha's Hunter in the Dark (1979) that featured my favorite severed limb scene ever. When the hero of the story attacks a house full of guys, the first victim to rush up to him ends up with his sword stuck in the ceiling with his hand still holding onto the sword's hilt and about half his arm hanging off it. The hilarious part is that throughout the rest of the fight, the arm can still be scene hanging off the sword which is hanging from the ceiling.

So let's get on with it:

Hitokiri (aka. Tenchu) (1969, d. Hideo Gosha)

The Story: In the midst of political turmoil amongst the Japanese clans during the power struggle between the emperor and the Shogunate, small town ronin Izo Okada joins the political machinations of fellow townsmen Hampeita Takechi. A ruthless Takechi manipulates simplistic Izo into a puppet killing machine who realizes only to late that what he thought was newfound wealth and glory was only a path to damnation.

The Review: First lets discuss the actors.

Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays Hampeita Takechi, was a samurai movie staple for nearly 30 years. He whooped @$$ for Kurosawa. He whooped @$$ for Gosha. He even whooped @$$ as the bad guy in a spaghetti western, Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die! (1968). The man has a face carved out of smooth but hard stone. He has intense hypnotic eyes. His screen presence can emanate power. In short, a great actor for action films. Now, he doesn't whoop any @$$ with a sword in this movie, but his maneuvering is chockful of evil. Not being just a stupid action star, you believe that a man of this stature could command such acts.

Next, our hero Izo Okada is played by none other than the legendary Shintaro Katsu, the original Zatoichi. In fact, he was 18 or 19 Zatoichi movies in before he did this one. This role was the exact opposite from the seemingly simple but impossibly cunning blind swordsman. Knowing it's Katsu would make it seem hard to put his most famous role aside for th viewer, but I never thought of it. The man could play the down-n-dirty rogue as well. Though essentially a nasty and in many ways stupid character, Katsu still manages to find the spots to make you care abou the guy and his ill fate.

Last, rival swordsman Shimbei Tanaka's icy style of whoop @$$ comes thanks to one of Japan's greatest authors, Yukio Mishima. Yukio's part is a sort of standard character, the master swordsman who cares about nothing save mastering the sword, and yet Mishima's intensity gives Tanaka some shine. What ultimately makes his role chilling, is his character's suicide after being framed for a murder, as Mishima himself publicly commited suicide a year later.

Most likely this movie has way too much story for what most moviegoers want out of a samurai flick, that hack-n-slash. This is in addition to the fact that much of that story is anything but happy. Even I get a little heavy lidded at certain points, but nonetheless its a well told story with some difference. We know early on that Izo is on the wrong track blindly murdering people for Takechi. Each time he performs the act, he yells "Tenchu! (Heaven's Punishment!)" at his victims. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out that eventually Izo's going to be dealt some divine punishment all his own.

Izo is a good man at heart, but who allowed new found riches and power steer off course. What I love about this movie (without giving away the ending) is that he doesn't get to come away clean and destroy those who corrupted him. Why not? Because it's just as much his fault that he allowed himself to become corrupted. Also, this movie does something rare in that it takes these problems beyond just the protagonist and antagonist. Society knows Izo's wrongs as well, and many of them turn against him as well. This is in additon to the number of enemies Izo already had by placing himself in the midst of a political war.

Definitely of note is Hitokiri's powerful cinematography. Shots are carfully framed often using the set and its decoration as frames within the frame. The subdued use of color as well as the deep blacks of the shadows add to the artistry. Even little conceits unjarringly pass through the screen beautifully. After one brutal nighttime assassination, the victim is left in the paved stream. Though it's dark, a deep crimson flows with a faint glow from the victim down the stream. Amazing. Also, there is frequent use of the character's face as landscape (though never to the same extent as Leone), which only works because of the striking distinctness of each of the actor's features.

In the end, it won't be as satisfying to those who desire really black and white/good guy and bad guy type movies, nor those who prefer a steady stream of corpses in their samurai movies. Nonetheless, I enjoy it, and I would be happy if action movies today were only half as intelligent or had half as much substance.

Interestingly, I also took in Sabu's Unlucky Monkey which featured an even more pronounced sense of spiritual cinematic justice. Maybe tomorrow, I'll talk about it along with the other movie I watched, Takashi Miike's The Guys From Paradise, a movie which despite all of Miike's cinematic nihilism does have a more standard morality tale conclusion.

But then again, I did go to the San Diego Comic-con.

Decisions. Decisions.


Friday, July 23, 2004

"...burnt up like well done steaks..."
Who loves Spaghetti Westerns, baby?

Thankfully I had the hour I needed last night to finish the last Spaghetti Western that I had received in the mail some time ago.

After having gone for so long with famine in that arena, it's so strange that I've had such an on-going feast of them now. Everything that I found for rental in Austin, which was more than I had found anywhere else, tended to be second generation bootlegs off of European tapes. Most were widescreen, and unedited, but usually those unedited scenes were either untranslated and unsubtitled, and of a quality less than an already poor image.

Still, anyone who loves this stuff knows: You take what you can get if you really want to see it.

Anyhow, I finally took in one of the final major Sergio Corbucci's I still needed to see. Those left, for those interested: The Specialists, The Hellbenders and Navajo Joe. I'm not as interested in Grand Canyon Masscare (his 2nd Western), Johnny Oro, or Samurai unless someone informs me differently.

J & S: Criminal Story of an Outlaw Couple (1972)

The Story: Robin Hood-like bandit Jed (Tomas Milian) continues to terrorize the Southwest while being pursued by relentless Sheriff Franciscus (Telly Savalas). In a close shave with Franciscus, Jed is saved by Sonny (Susan George) who wants to follow him and become an outlaw herself. Eventually the two find love and lust while together on the run.

The Review: If Bonnie & Clyde and Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid had a bastard movie child, it would be the story of Sonny & Jed. Unfortunately, it lacks the psychological depth of the former, enough of the charismatic humor of the latter, and the coherency of both. But somehow, Corbucci always seems to pull it off.

First Note: Most of the reviews I found of this film seemed stuck on the fact that it featured the occasional use of the word 'f*ck'. I assume it was just surprising because it was a western. However, you'd think that any review written after about 1985 wouldn't think twice about. I only noticed it because people talked about it. Other than that it

The first thing that carried this movie was of course Tomas Milian. The funny thing was that this is the same character I've seen him play in I don't recall how many Spaghetti's. Jed is equal parts Vasco of Compañeros and Cuchillo of Run Man, Run amongst others. Probably the only really different one I've ever seen for him was Chaco in Four of the Apocalypse. Ok, there was his turn as Django in Django Kill!, but what can you really compare that one too? My point though is that Milian is always fun to watch. He's raunchy and obnoxious, but ultimately repugnant in a weirdly endearing way. This one's got him acting particularly bad, but he'd still not completely without redemption.

Susan George on the hand doesn't have the believability of the scamp who's obsessed with her bad guy like Natalie Portman in The Professional. She spends too much of the movie quiet and timid after her first outburst that saves Jed. After they marry and finally start their crime spree together, their chemistry does pick up, but it's a little too long in coming. Maybe I've been spoiled by the Corbucci chemistry pairing of Franco Nero and Milian (Compañeros) or Franco and Tony Musante (The Mercenary). The only nice difference was that there was a little romance which is usually way outside the scope of the Spaghetti.

Our final character is Franciscus, the relentless sheriff. Savalas specialized in essentially playing two parts: slimy villains and smarmy heroes. Either way, the man was gonna exude some serious smugness. The problem is, Corbucci didn't seem to know what exactly to do with him. He wasn't a bad villain, he just wasn't quite there; however, it seemed like he should hvae been. The man has screen presence. So in some ways he's a villain left out on the tangent much like Palance's Curly in The Mercenary. Jed briefly explains why Franciscus wants him so badly, but it wasn't enough. His only major character change is being blinded while trying to catch Jed in a fiery barn. After that he becomes a spectral character which makes him more interesting but only further alienates him from the story.

So I mentioned some pretty critical stuff at the top, and I feel I should talk about least, briefly. Bonnie & Clyde actually took the time to explore the why's behind the attraction and the violence. As I mentioned above though, I like Jed as a character, but I couldn't really see anyone falling love with him. He doesn't have the cool factor like Martin Sheen in Badlands, another similar outlaw pairing. He's more of a gruff ragamuffin. From Jed's point of view, a character asks him why he allows Sonny to tag along, and he answers "I don't know." I agree with him, I don't know either, but I already explained why above. Once they're together they have some solid together moments, but getting there seems wholly unbelievable. Because of that, though the movie tries for a strong humor factor, but just can't hold it up. (Not that it's entirely without laughs.)

Finally, though the movie moves along at a decent pace, has enough spiky dialogue, and a few good shootouts, it's the story that lacks in pacing. If the events of the first half were shortened and the latter half lengthened, I think it would have worked...or at least worked better. Nothing in particular dragged for too long on it's own, but various scenes or moments hurt it in the bigger picture.

Still, the movie wasn't totally without merit. I kept watching it. I'd probably watch it again some time.

For the Corbucci enthusiast: Anyone who has seen a Corbucci western or two knows that someone at some point is gonna do some crimes with a machine gun. Minnesota Clay and The Great Silence are the only exceptions I've seen (though I guess Silence's Mauser is a machine gun of sorts). It's not quite like spotting Hitchcock, but I'd say it's something of a trademark. The hilarious thing about J&S is that you see Milian give the gun to some villagers at the beginning of the film, but you don't see it used for an hour and a half at the end of the film. Amazingly, once again, everyone's standing in a straight line next to each other when the mow down gets underway.

I gotta run, but I gotta copy of Arizona Colt with Giuliano Gemma on the way. We'll see how that one turns out. I'm always on the lookout for more. Also scored another Japanese and another Korean flack. We'll see what's worth commenting on.

You be good.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

"Here's Lookin' @ You Kid."
The Ministry of Information Retrieval

I read something a while ago that got me pretty good and ticked off.

I didn't feel the need to talk about it at the time, but today, having nothing else to talk about, it's a perfect topic for my kind of monologue.

In case you hadn't noticed or if perhaps you're just joining us, I should restate that fact that I think the majority of the world is pretty durn stupid. Not everyone mind you, nor all the time, nor on every topic, but generally speaking pretty stupid. Some of them were born dulled, and some of them have just been dulled down over time. I'm not pointing fingers...I just think a lot of people are stupid.

Oh and tasteless too, but that isn't what this is about.

In reading an on-line review of a book I enjoyed about the effects of television on the world, I came across a review that...well, it annoyed the hell out of me frankly. Now, I suppose that I could've written a rebuttal, but the review was at least a year old. Who says my critic would even recall what they hell he/she had written that long ago, or more importantly, that they would care. Yesterday I talked about talking about things to excess, and the only thing I left off was ranting. Unless you're Dennis Leary, you're unlikely to win over anyone to your side by ranting at them.

So I'll rant here.

(As usualy, I'm gonna b!tch, b!tch, b!tch right up until the wry twist, so keep reading.)

In typical internet fashion, I'm not going to quote my source, just like I didn't tell you the name of the book in question nor where I found the review. The point is that it was a springboard for this. It's larger than that person and their review. It goes like this:

The argument came in two parts as a rebuttal against the book's author's claim that TV had dumbed down many aspects of the world. The author of the critique came back with the argument that the internet has become a vastly useful tool for sharing information that people now frequently use. The second part of their stand was the proliferation of the megabookstores like Barnes & Noble as well as on-line bookstores. The conclusion was that the theory of declinism because of the TV and the TV age was false.

Allow me to retort.

When I was in college, not too painfully long ago, I had several professors tell me up front: "If you use any internet sources, you might wanna have a couple of back-ups in print." That was in addition to telling us that we should be using a reputable web source in the first place. It wasn't to say that Joe Blow's website was totally without credibility, but it looks more impressive in your research if it's coming off of a university, library, or news site.

The fact is that the internet is rife with pure bullsh!t in an amazing amount of ways and places. Because it's all-access and full of free speech, it's been left open to all sorts of misinformation, misleading informtation, subjective information, revisionist information, and just plain lies.

A good for instance is a website I was led to for a Creationist Science Fair. For those of you who don't know, creationism believes that the opening chapters of the Bible about the creation of the earth, of animals, and of man was soley God's work exactly as written. They primarily deny the various aspects of evolution, but there are a myriad of other minor doctrines to their "science."

Now, I've mentioned a few times that I'm a spirtiual man and a believer...but this stuff....well, it makes me want to puke. But that's not what I'm here to say, that's just my opinion. Now granted even the theories of evolution have their problems, and there're plenty of things that can't be satisfactorily answered by them. Personally, though, I believe that kids should presented with both and allowed to decide, but I don't believe either should be presented as flat out fact.

So that's one good example. Part of the reason I didn't just laugh the page off was the 2nd prize winner for middle school level "Women Were Designed For Homemaking." It was followed by a description. Now the bits about women carrying children inside them, and the nursing stuff I couldn't so much argue with as it's biologically true. What irked me was this bit: "social sciences show that the wages for women workers are lower than for normal workers, meaning that they are unable to work as well and thus earn equal pay." Now despite the faulty reasoning, I can't figure out if this is the work of a really precocious researching middle-schooler or the agenda of some family or church unit.

Actually this was a bad one to use. A) I'm not here for Christian bashing, B) This whole thing is a topic all to itself, and C) It's opinionated information. They have an opinion. I have an opinion. They don't agree, so it almost demands that we duke it out. Well, not here, not now.

In any event, it's not successful as truth, and not acceptable as fact.

So let's switch sides.

I came across a site on Satanism (may as well stay religious) which didn't so much get into faith as it tried to argue historically that Satanism was the original religion.

Ok, I'm kidding. I'm not really gonna waste my time on that, but it did make for entertaining reading. I look at it this way: They go use all this information about how the Inquisition of the Catholic Church used torture to force people to believe in Jesus to prove Christians are evil, I use that information to prove that they were a bunch of @$$holes and not Christians at all.

Now that I've forced myself into this hole when I wanted to talk about facts, I've seriously got to move on. I will say that the one props that I'll give the Satanists: They sure know more about their bullsh!t, than most "Christians" actually know or understand about the Bible.

Then again, according to my research, that symbol of the pentagram with the goat's head in it was chalked up by the Catholic church from the the pagan pentacle in order to frame the Knight's Templar for worshiping "Baphomet." Of course, that's just surface, Satanism's sort of a kitchen sink of all sorts of historical, minor religious, and made-up crap.

Anyhow, we all know about the Holocaust revisionist websites as part of the white supremacist crap. I've seen host of conspiracy theory websites that present their information as fact. I've seen movie review sites where I'm not even sure they really saw the movie. I've seen news sites that were thinly disguised tabloids. And even though my two religious groups were somewhat weak example, they nonetheless prove that the internet isn't the sources of fact my critic way back when thought.

Ok, ok, most of those aren't credible sites, but also while I was in college I noticed: 1) Kids will look for the quickest shortest research to get their "facts" (Think CliffNotes) and 2) Most kids don't know how to research anything to begin with (hence leaving them unqualified to discern fact from fiction).

The Second Point was the screwing jackrabbit-like appearances of the mega-bookstores as proofs of the rise of intelligence.

Well....I worked in a Barnes & Noble at the beginning of that sweeping craze, and I paid a goodly amount of attention to what people bought.

I don't consider self-help books as great sources of literature nor intelligence. I don't consider the latest best sellers as great literature (not that everything fictional has to be), but most of what I read of that ilk was not only crap in terms of plot but writing too. I don't know how much intelligence is found in the magazine rack either ("10 Ways to Dump Your Man" isn't exactly wisdom for the ages). Cookbooks, though useful, aren't exactly full of substance. I've already mentioned CliffNotes, and that's only when the movie was rented at the movie store next door. And so on.

It's sad when you get impressed by someone picking up something of quality. Then you gotta wonder if they'll ever actually read it. The other fate is if you happen to praise their choice, and you get that stare. Then they say something like "It's for my friend who reads weird/boring crap like this."

Oh, I almost forgot: What about the folks who never leave the coffee shop to actually come into books part of the store. You know the other 80% or more of the store. Oh wait, what about the ones with movies and/or music...plenty of folks never leave those sections either for the bookstore.

Like I said above, after working in a book/movie/music store one sees that people are also tasteless in a addition to stupid. I know I said this rant wasn't about that "fact," I just wanted to say it again.

In conclusion, I say that that critic was wrong, but here comes the wry twist.

I do agree that civilizatin isn't declining, at least not as a whole or not in the way my author or my critic think

Throughout history you can easily see where only a privileged few were ever truly educated. There's more and more people and more of them go to college, but I'd say it's proportionally not that truly different. If anything, Joe Average Peon back in the day didn't have all the book smarts in the world, but he did have a lot of valuable knowledge to remember about his trade, crops, and animals among other things. That's not to mention the value of common sense which I'd say Joe Average Peon had a lot more of. With all the modern convenience today, Joe Average doesn't know all that stuff.

I think that the decline is actually with practical, hands-on knowledge, general know-how type stuff.

It's like I posed before: If the nuclear bombs start falling or all electricity was wiped out tomorrow, could you survive? Could you save anyone else? Anything?

That's the actual decline.

The other real problem is advancement. We don't seem to truly be moving forward as a civilisation. According to early sci-fi novels we should be out of here, and whizzing around Saturn by now. Granted that's a little much, but considering how quickly the Space Race was conceived and built, why haven't we gotten any farther than we are?

Most of it boils down to desire and know-how. Not to mention looking ahead. I wrote something a little while ago about us being sated and over-saturated with media. Essentially desire for the future's been worn down by the fact that two weeks after Neil Armstrong went strolling on the moon, we weren't all flying around in X-wings gunning down Death Stars.

People, in addition to being stupid, have no capacity for being impressed or awed anymore.

I think that's TV's fault...and computers, like internet....and well, video games too.

Why do you have to actually go out and do or experience anything anymore when you can watch it, look up a video file on it, or do it "virtually?" It's just like that old thing about drinking if you think about it: You drink at a party to have fun, but eventually you can't have fun at a party if you're not drinking. Now if you're not too lazy to actually go outside and try to experience something you're miserable because it's too hot, or too dirty, or too far away, and there's no cool pumping soundtrack, and you could hurt yourself, etc.

Finally, if anything is an indicator on a) how wrong that jack@$$ was, and b) how stupid people are, have you read the reviews on sites like the Internet Movie Database or They're horrible. It's not even that crappy chatting's just crap. They can't spell. They can't grasp simple grammar. They can't maintain a coherent thought. And my favorite is when the worst ones try to put the smack down on how bad a writer is.

After all, I'm impressed that they could even read whatever they chose to review.

That's it. The End.


P.s.: I realize my stuff's not exactly Shakespeare, much less the King's English...but I still got at least three or more up on a whole lot of clowns out there. And I'm smart enough to go back and edit mistakes if I find them. Ppthhhbbbbppppttt!

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Make it Fast
I gonna have to get on the road early...

For all intents and purposes, I'll be spending this Saturday at the San Diego Comic-Con. I'll have a little booth set up, and I'll be spending the whole time ignoring my hordes of fans. So look for complete non-coverage as well as a continued barrage of Spaghetti Westerns, Japanese Wackiness, and Whatever Early Sci-Fi Crap I just picked up.

Ok. So the middle two lines I'm kidding about.

What's funny is that you, the reader, assuming you know no more about me than what you've seen here, you probably assume that I'm some sorta hella-geek.

Granted, if you caught me running around in my Green Arrow T-shirt, I might have a tougher time defending myself. It's sort of a geek-ass billboard...sort of. Some guys can pull off super hero shirts...and some are dorks.

Well for one thing, I'm in relatively decent shape. For another, my skin has seen the sun over the last 10 or so years. I practice a goodly amount of personal hygiene. I have left my computer at home while away for a weekend. Oh...oh yeah, and I don't talk about this sh!t in public.

After all, I've got this thing to spout off about all this crap. Why would I need to bore the general public with this crap? I mean, I'll talk comics in the comic shop. Well, sort of. Again, I got my limits. I don't do any of that "what if the Hulk fought Superman?" crap. In fact, it's hard to get me to even talk about favorite moments or storylines...Well, look: If you don't think talking about this stuff outloud sounds goofy as hell, try tape recording yourself doing it.

Trust me you will/do sound like a jack@$$.

Actually, since the comic book store I frequent is down the street from one of the movie studios, we spend most of the time yakking about movie crap.

Speaking of which, it's effing new comics day. I think I got me a copy of Daredevil coming out.

You know what? I gots to give my comic reading brethren a break. I had to switch away from writing this thing for a moment, and on my way to switching back, I had something of a revelation.

--Anytime you talk about anything you care about to excess, you sound like a jack@$$--

This is especially true when talking to someone who doesn't care about whatever that thing is.

I mean comic book geeks and Star Trek/Wars fans are easy targets because they're the most obvious. Once upon a time you could've thrown Dungeons & Dragons players in that visual category as well. They're easily seen on TV and whatnot anytime there's any kind of big time geek shindig...but...

Have you ever had someone try to explain to you how cool some video game they're playing ? Unless you like it too or are really into gaming, I'll bet you it's gonna sound ten kinds of stupid. It goes all the way back too. Try explaining Pac-Man in a really serious and socially engaging way. I'm willing to bet you sound stupid.

Religion's another one. Why is it that no matter what religion someon chooses to tell you about, they always come off sounding like a member of the Supreme Being Special Education team? If you're already a member of whichever franchise you'll probably go "yeah, yeah," but to the unconverted you sound about as sane as the homeless guy talking to "Jesus" fifty feet away from where you are now. And hey, I believe....but I don't believe in crying Mary statues and a whole horde of other wacky crap.

Politics...that's pretty obvious too. I mean, if you could stay awake combing through the painful legal garbage that goes into the wording of most legislative issues, you'd realize how absolutely pointless the language really is. The more passionate someone is about it, at the very least you can't help thinking: "I don't care how fervent you are about this, you still only get one vote like everyone else."

It goes for all kinds of other stuff that at first doesn't necessarily come off as geeky...but more or less could/should be.

Cars and Sports would be hot contenders. Unless I design cars or repair them, I don't need to know absolutely every technical spec about them...and neither do you. And I've yet to see where knowing the batting average of the '72 Yankees is going to save my or anyone else's life.

Well, music & movies, I guess I should mention them as well. I know that Luther Vandross sang back-up vocals on David Bowie's Young Americans album, but you don't need to know that. Unless of course, you're working on your upcoming Vandross biography. Movie facts and trivia are endlessly...well, trivial.

Granted, only a scant few of these tend to be equally unisex, as in just as many male geeks as female geeks. In fact, it seems that guys are the proudly reigning kings of storing up useless facts, the girls (usually just among girls) have their fair share of useless stuff to yak about. You know, besides soaps and celebrity gossip (again...too obvious to be worth dwelling on).

I got nothing against hair, make-up and fashion within reason, but each and everyone can be taken too far.

My current favorite has to be when any girl tries to go into the science of what some skin/hair/other personal hygeine product does for your body. It sounds like the same nonsense you'd see in an ad, only they lack the actress's sense of conviction. In other words, words are streaming out, but they still sound like they have no idea what they are talking about. (The same goes for health/diet products.)

Listening to this particular brand of tripe makes me want to do one of two things: 1) start my own line of bogus products, or 2) bug the p!ss out of the FDA until they start debunking and cracking down on this crap.

In the end, I guess my point is: 1) know what you're talking about, 2) always consider your audience (specifically consider that they may not give a sh!t), and 3) try to keep you enthusiasm for any ridiculous or pointless topic on a real short leash.

Truth is, in this day and age, just about everyone is a dork of one kind or another.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Rock 'n Roll's Best Egg Salad Sandwich
The best bit is the Caped Madman...

DVD hasn't been quite as effective as video in helping us pass around the truly bizarre and obscure. VHS tapes were a quick, easy, and rapidly degnerating way of passing along whatever weird sh!t of the week or month movie geeks were really into. They looked bad. They sounded bad. But until the sharp quality of DVD, we didn't know that our movies didn't have to look that bad.

Especially in the days before legitimate director's cuts, there were a whole mess of bad video dubs of alternate versions of films that had shown in other countries. Occasionally someone somewhere managed to get ahold of a work print of a movie and have it transferred to tape. That's how I got to see the five hour version of Apocalypse Now. Of course, that generated two letdowns. For one, it's tough to watch a five hour movie that only has production sound and no music or sound effects. The other is that most of my favorite stuff got left out in Redux. I can say that the five hour version is really enhance by watching the Hearts of Darkness documentary.

Anyhow, I'm way off course.

My initial point was that it was in some ways so much easier to get lost in a vault of the cinema arcane with video tape....well, intially anyway. Slowly but surely many rinky-dink would-be distributors with a DVD burner have started putting out our least favorite $1 bin flicks out on a digital medium. The great irony is that rather than spending the money and doing a nice or even decent transfer, they actually make their digital dubs off the same crappy video they were circulating the decade before DVD. Well,...not all of them are terrible, but too many are.

DVD's a few years ago were primarily the products of the studios, and only a few upstarts were really putting anything out. Though some of the movies the studios decided to release were decidedly questionable, there was a lack of the truly random. That's not really a problem so much anymore....

You know you're in sad shape when you're looking at a DVD, and you have to ask yourself if what's on it is worth the minimal amount of time spent on the transfer, the printing cost for the sleeve, the nickel in plastic for the DVD and the case, or even the cost of the shrinkwrap. (The best is when they actually put one of those security tags inside them when you know they couldn't give this things away much less get anyone to steal it.)

Ok, so I've said a lot of negative stuff...but that's because it's funny. The truth is, all kinds of stuff, nicely or poorly done, is finally available for viewing and/or discovery. Nothing beats seeing something for the first time in it's original aspect ratio and with digital sound (assuming you find one that's not fullscreen and in mono sound even though the movie wasn't). That being said, let's look at what I looked at last night.

J-Men Forever (1979, d. Richard Patterson, written by Peter Bergman and Philip Proctor)

You'll notice that I mentioned the writers. Proctor and Bergman were both members of the comedy troupe The Firesign Theater. The Firesigns began in the late 60's doing long often improvisational comedy shows on the radio and then began simultaneously cutting albums featuring their brand of cut-and-paste media manipulations (newscasts, commercial spots, etc.). One of their most famous and beloved characters was Nick Danger: Third Eye, a parody of Sam Spade style radio crime fiction, and a perfect example of square culture meets hippie surreality. Hence the FBI (G-men) parody seems right up their alley....particularly when you consider how they chose to do it.

Woody Allen's What's Up Tiger Lily? is generally regarded as the first major movie to take another film and redub it with a new story. For those of you who haven't seen it, Allen took a Japanese spy film, removed all the dialgure, re-edited, and then reassembled it with a new soundtrack provided by a team of comedic performers. The result, in my book, is still hilarious. Oddly enough, it's the only Woody movie that non-Woody fans will watch and the only one that many Woody fans never seem to have seen.

J-Men acts a little differently. It takes footage from a myriad of serials from the 30's and 40's, slices it up, redubs it, and splices it back together into one story. Here's the story....

The Story: The fearsome Lightning Bug is attempting to destroy the world by broadcasting dangerous Rock 'n Roll on a strictly Easy Listening America, and creates a international and interplanetary cabal to help him distribute marijuana to cleancut Americans to further his cause. Luckily, the J-men spring into action to save the world with the likes the Lone Star (Captain America), The Rocket Jock (Commander Cody), The Caped Madman (Captain Marvel), et al.

The Review:
Comedy albums are pretty much built to be laugh-a minute. That's how they keep your attention. Movies, being both a visual and audible medium, tend to get old or tiring if they try to keep up too frantic a pace for too long. Airplane lays it on pretty thick, but even it takes moments to slow it down or even out the yuks. J-Men Forever doesn't seem to learn this lesson as it keeps hurling it at you fast and furious.

The problem comes with the source material. Laying jokes on the dialogue track is one thing, but the action in each scene stays the same no matter what. So you're limited by the acting and scene speed of your forty year old source material. If a joke flies, then it flies. If it flops, then a lot of time it just floats around on screen until the next opportunity opens up. Also, as the movie is piecemeal and in a constant rush, it never seems that coherent or compelling...again, the laughs have to save the day, and they aren't always enough.

Having said that, the movie is quite successful in blending the many sources together in one story. Perhaps the best device is merely explaining away the multitude of bad guys as the Lightning Bug's various disguises. Throughout the movie is a steady stream of J-men and villains alike who are constantly and conveniently eliminated every few moments explaining why they have to call in someone else. Also, the constant barrage of carnage footage (buildings exploding, cars driving off cliffs) begins to generate laughs for sheer over-the-top-ness.

There's fun to be had with each to of the super heroes featured in the film. Granted the filmmaker's had nothing to do with it, but the Lone Star's (Captain America's) costume alone generates a healthy gut laugh. The best, to me, by far was the Caped Madman (Captain Marvel) who let's loose a operatic yodel each time he flies through the air before attacking a foe. Furthermore, for all the talk of screen violence today, the Captain Marvel of yore seems to show a disturbing amount of ruthlessness for a super hero.

In the end, it was a highly enjoyable piece of work that definitely thrives on its own novelty. I'm not sure it has the re-watch factor that Tiger Lily has, but I'm sure I can at least get one or two more viewings out of it. I can certainly see getting a case of the mad chuckles if one was to watch this one with a few drinks in 'em.

"We're overwhelmingly overconfident, I mean, we're whelmingly confident!"


Monday, July 19, 2004

More Realism than Phantom Killer No. 1
With worth and worthless...

I swear to God that I spend entirely too much time reading articles about the legal difficulties of idiots. You know, guys who leave 80 bags of heroin in a rental car, and then are dumb enough to meet up with the "anonymous" employee who'll return it for a profit. Or the guy in Florida who brought an all new weapon into the domestic violence scene: a three foot alligator. Can you even imagine be pimp-smacked? Now, can you imagine being pimp-smacked by a three foot long alligator?

These aren't even your day-to-day @$holes either, but the fact that they exist is just as annoying. Let's face it: sure in the news it's always happening to someone else, but eventually you or someone you know could be in the path of one of these morons.

Anyhow, this sort of anger and frustration was pretty well reflected in the two flicks I took in this weekend.

The first was Yasuharu Hasebe's Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970), the third of five films about Japanese street gangs.

The Story: A gang of girls runs afoul of their male counterparts when they side with a group of mixed race teens that the boys are trying to run out of town.

The Review: That's the story. Read it. It's one sentence, and it pretty well sums it up. But you don't have to have a complicated story to have complexity. You certainly don't have to have one to have lots of sex and violence either.

In many ways this film came across as the exploitation continuation of Oshima's The Sun's Burial, which came ten years earlier. Both deal to some degree with the complicated issue whether it was Hirohito's failed quest for glory, or Japan's occupation by American forces following their defeat that led to a certain part of it's soul that resulted in the rise in power of the yakuza, prostitution, and youth street gangs. Oshima's movie never comes right out and says that's what it's doing, but is certainly more direct with its social commentary than Hasebe's.

Nevertheless, it's there. Hasebe's story involves the "half-breed" children of American soldiers and Japanese women. The Eagles, the gang of fellas, all drive around in leftover military jeeps, and frequent an abandoned American airforce base. More subtle is the frequent framing of American products in the background. The Eagles' leader, Baron, enjoys partaking in the American influences and leftovers as much as he enjoys hurting the human leftovers. Even the film's biggest confrontation is not born out of any traditional Japanese sense of right or honor as much as it is an obsession with acting out the finale of an American Western. (Keep in mind, early samurai films were based on earlier Hollywood Westerns, and then later were adapted back into Amercian films.) On a human side, Hasebe definitely generates sympathy against the racism against the mixed race kids, but it's clear that the generation after World War II have lost their way.

Much like the Blaxploitation films of the late 60's and early 70's, a lot of the social message can be easily swept aside by the sensationalism that keeps the movie moving. The movie is filled with regular @$whooping. It's got some drug scenes. It's got some rock 'n roll in wild clubs. It's got some sex, including a couple of near orgies. Ultimately, what subverts it most, though, is the fact that the proceedings all look so cool. Unlike The Sun's Burial, which was gritty and nasty from frame one, these kids seem to be doing too well and having too much fun for being so bad. Despite the frequent nastiness, it almost seems like it would be fun to spend an evening with these kids.

What made the film so frustrating was it's resemblance to real life. After a while, you want the Eagle's to be swatted down movie-world style for ganging up on these mixed race kids. The film keeps going, they keep getting nastier, and no one's gonna make them pay. Ok, it's not fair to say real life. Obviously, I wouldn't be reading these articles about these morons getting caught if they always got away with it. On the other hand, there's some social injustices that just go on and on and no one's ever finally nailed for them. Either their ignored, or the anger is all misdirected.

In all a cool film, if rendered ineffective by it's own nature. (This is the total Catch-22 of many of these movies. If they weren't full of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, they'd have a clearer better defined message, but without those things to attract audiences, they also wouldn't get made.)

The second movie I watched was subverted in a wholly different way: pure surreality. What else would you call it when three candy companies go to war in Yasuzo Masamura's Giants and Toys (1958).

The Story: World Caramel's aspiring promotions manager and his assistant come up with a new campaign of spacesuits and a girl with rotten teeth in order to beat out their two rivals during their annual sales push. What follows has more veiled interests and double-crosses than a spy novel all in the name of the almighty dollar.

The Review: I'll just say that I loved this movie straight up from the opening credits, and those of you who read this tripe probably think it's redundant I should even say that if you read my little story synopsis.

First, though, I did have one problem with the movie, that like above, couldn't be avoided. Because this is a movie about candy companies at war, that does elimnate just how serious many viewers would take it. I could see where it would lead some viewers to think "No real corporation really acts like that," while if you read enough business stuff and you look at cases like Enron, you'll see that they do far worse things. Not only far worse, but much more destructive than just rotting your teeth. Like I said though, these are candy companies, and what they do is far too simplistic in scope compared to the megalith coporations today. And despite it's dark gooey center, the movie presents a bright, cheery and colorful face.

What did work?

I'm not going to say that all corporations are evil and all people who work for them are soulless whores. Nevertheless, when it comes to ambition and success, it can be pretty easy to lose one's soul. Our promtions director, at first, seems like a cool and controlled man with an eye for his business, but soon enough he shows his ulcerated, underhanded, overworked colors. His assistant, Nishi, hangs in the balance. He wants the success, but doesn't want to kill himself or cross others to get it. On the other side of him is his girlfriend who works for one of the rival companies. Her motto seems to be: 1) do what you have to, 2) you can't uncross a line you've gone over, and 3) keep your job as a job. I think these three are fairly archetypal models for the paths of the businessman.

One of the most telling moments comes when one of the rival's factory is destroyed in an accident, and the other is lagging in sales. Most of the executives are ready to pounce and obliterate the competition. Only one old-school director asks why kick anyone while they're down. He's immediately ridiculed. World ups it's production...and inevitably saturates the market, causing their deathblow to back fire on them.

The other strong thread of this film was the rise of World's spokeswoman, Kyoko. Granted, as some reviewers have pointed out, it's not uncommon for cute Japanese girls to go from being models to also being singers and actresses merely because of their popularity and not because they can sing or act. That's all well and good, but Kyoko's not all that cute to begin with. Even the characters point out that her looks are rather plain, and if anything are completely dragged down by her rotten teeth. However, the way I saw it play out was that because she appeared in a magazine, the public accepted her as beautiful. Their rationale: she has to be beautiful if she's in a magazine.

This a phenomenon everywhere to me. Pamela Anderson was a cute girl when she first showed up in Playboy, but after the forty cosmetic procedures and the overworked trash look, she lost all of that. Still, she continued to be the standard of beauty. I heard it over and over again: "You're with the world's like hottest girl, like Pam Anderson..." To me it was like "yecchhh!" Anyhow, Kyoko sort of works in reverse, her makeover does make her look quite attractive by the end of the film, but it eliminates what made her unique. Interestingly, though she loses all her youthful innoncence, her embrace of fame is not all complete as she seems to be happy with waiting for her fifteen minutes to be over. Interesting.

In the end the movie was a loud and colorful joyride that no realistic depiction of coporate life could've ever been. One thing I must agree with that multiple others have pointed out is that this movie does appear to be even more relevant than when it emerged at the end of the 50's. I suggest you take it out for a spin and see what you think.

Ok. That's enough. Go home. And if you're home: Go out!


Friday, July 16, 2004

We Respectfully Present Those Who Are Oft Titled 'The Wacky'
There's a reason I love this stuff...

I can imagine a crowd of people filing into some little indy theater because some arthouse movie got a spectacular write up in the paper. Then they would leave, sometimes before the film's end, and many would be muttering in reference to the reviewer, "Idiot." Some might ask for a refund, some'll start making fun of it, and most will just forget about it.

Personally, I don't necessarily agree that the critic was an idiot, but let's face it, you can't gush over stuff that the general populace just won't get.

Like all those people who went to Cronenberg's Crash. I watched them sit through an hour and a half of sex and car crashes, only to leave during the one homo-erotic scene that was fifteen minutes from the ending. Now watching James Spader and Elias Koteas get it on wasn't something I really needed or wanted to see, but compared to some of the other stuff it was pretty low key and tastefully done. If I HAD left it would've been during that scar massaging thing with Spader and the Arquette sister...whoa, nasty. But it got good reviews, it won some awards, but lordy, lordy, it wasn't for Joe Average's eyes and likely never will be.

Or the friend of mine who was working a theater when Taratino arrived on the screen. He worked at a small art house theater whose primary clientele was definitely of the senior citizen bracket. Well, they got Reservoir Dogs, it got good reviews, and the old folks shuffled into the darkened theater. Several days later the manager had to hang up one of those signs that reads like so: "Reservoir Dogs contains scenes of graphic violence. No refunds will be given."

Certainly Quentin has made his way closer to the mainstream, but his movies, that one in particular, is still not for many and certainly not past a certain age.

When I got to the end of last night's feature, I could only imagine patrons filing out of the double doors while the end credits song played. How many of them, young and old, would be mouthing something like, "Dude, what the f*ck?"

Monday (2000) d. Sabu (née Hiroyuki Tanaka)

Story: Working joe, Takagi, wakes up in a hotel room on a Monday morning having no idea what's happened to him, but slowly through little clues scattered about the room he pieces together the lost activities. He started at a funeral. He met up with his girlfriend. He went to a bar. He ran into some gangsters. He had a couple of drinks. Now he's got problems.

The Review: Back to the paragraph just before the one that started out "Story:". From the little synopsis above, you may not think there's anythign so strange about it. In fact, in the days post-Memento, it seems to be an almost banal plot line. Well, there's lost of stuff I had to leave out: 1) It's a synopsis, and 2) Some stuff you gotta see for yourself.

To prove my point, I'll elaborate. The first thing Takagi finds our some funerary purification salts. What starts as a somber occasion gets more and more surreal as the attendees began to prattle off strange memories of the deceased. Just before it's over, the deceased's sister receives a phone call telling her they can't cremate the body until his new pacemaker is turned off (or it'll explode). Deciding to take care of it then and there they nominate Takagi for the process. He opens the stitches and finds the wires near to the surface, but colorwise he can't tell one from the other. A wire is chosen and he cuts. Suddenly the crowd begins to back away, then the body explodes. It's surreal, disgusting, but FUNNY...but I don't see the average crowd laughing after the way it's presented.

So there's something in the tone that's already not quite gonna work for a lot of folks.

Keep in mind though, I was howling during this scene.

Then again, how many people here have seen a true Japanese gangster movie? And yes, Black Rain doesn't count. As in made in Japan by Japanese people. Well, part of what fascinates me about them is that like British gangster movies they are often intensely violent, and then funny for all the wrong reasons. As Richard Pryor once said, "All gangster stories are about the same thing...motherf*ckers that died funny." Well, American gangsters often miss out on this strange gallows humor, but not the Brits or the Japanese. We're talking center stage.

Of course the Japnese stuff is usually pretty ritualistic and often very graphically bloody.

If you don't like that sort of stuff, you aren't gonna make it through many of these movies. This one's pretty light on that sort of thing, but not completely without it.

A couple of reviews I came across for this title referred to the moving Falling Down with Michael Douglas. I can see the relevance, but this one's commentary is a little different. For one thing, Falling Down tapped into a deeply felt racism towards so many groups despite its weak attempts to save face (ie. Douglas's confrontation with Frederic Forrest's Army Surplus character). It had a social message, but Monday's is much clearer...very literally.

The reason I said this was a WTF inducing movie was really the ending not the comic violence.

Having a surreal atmosphere, and being a surreal movie are often two different things. This movie starts as the former and ends as the latter. It's a little jarring...and...

Here's where I think the movie critics go wrong. No matter how good you think certain flicks are, you still have to be able to see where any average audience is not gonna accept it. It's not that they're stupid, they just aren't going to like it. For me, this sudden and weird shift wasn't jarring, but I could already start crossing people I could share this one with off the list. Otherwise, assuming they finished it, I'd hear a lot of "Well, I liked it up until...."

I have to keep in mind that I've seen thousands of movies. I've seen a couple hundred Japanese flicks alone. There isn't as much that's gonna jar me.

But imagine you're watching a Tarantino movie. It's smart and fast-talking gangsters doing gangster sh!t. Most people can watch this, no sweat. Now imagine that two-thirds of the way into the movie David Lynch took over the director's job. Our gangsters are now having visions and fighting their way through what may or may not be alternate realities or plot possibilities. Assuming you follow me, how many people would make it to the end and how many wouldn't walk out saying "Dude, what the f*ck?"

Watching it through my eyes, naked demons and mass laugh-in hysteria don't seem all that strange a direction to go, but compared to what seems to be going on for the first hour...well, I don't know, you'd just have to see it and decide for yourself.

In the end, I enjoyed Monday. The premise alone was enough to sell me. Though it certainly had a few dark moments here and there, it was nowhere near as grim as Abel Ferrara's The Blackout which covered similar ground. In the end, it had a good build. The performance's were solid. The design and cinematography were sparse but effective. It managed to do something fun with its premise. I enjoyed it.

But I'm not saying you're going to. But I'd say give it a try. Nothing wrong with broadening it up some.