Wednesday, January 28, 2009
With Oscar season upon us, it's time for some movie reviews. To help you save time and money, I'll start with the worst.
Richard Yates, author of the novel Revolutionary Road, was once a darling of American literature. His talent was compared to J.D. Salinger and John Cheever. This novel, his first, was a finalist for the National Book Award, along with such modern classics as Catch-22.
But his books never sold well. In fact, for awhile, ALL of his books went out of print. Before this movie came out, the name Richard Yates barely registered with anyone any longer outside of a few obscure, elite corners of academia.
It's easy to understand how he fell so far. His view of the world is skewed and myopic. The product of a broken home and two broken marriages, and a victim of alcoholism and mental illness, Yates seems to have made the classic mistake of thinking that because he was unhappy and fucked up everyone else must be unhappy and fucked up too.
There is this certain type of person who loves to sneer at regular, ordinary family life. Many of these are amongst the intelligentsia, many others are in artistic or other sorts of lifestyle communities. These are the sorts of people who derisively refer to children as "spawn". Whenever I hear that word, I feel a tremendous urge to whack such people in the head with a baseball bat.
Richard Yates might as well be the patron saint of such people.
This movie is a two hour long rant about how regular, middle-class family life is a horrible, soul-destroying living death. Such a contention, in my books, is ignorant and tantamount to a hate crime. I would sooner recommend going to see a snuff flick or a hardcore anal bestiality porno.
Winslet's acting was adequate, although it was a little hard to tell because it was so hard to identify with the character's gigantic determined-to-be-miserable stupidity.
posted by Mentok @ 12:36 PM, ,
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Somehow or other, I managed to get through the 1980s without reading the Watchmen series, despite being at the time a rabid comic fan. With the much-heralded movie soon to be released, I had to correct that.
I really wanted to like the Watchmen, because it's all about a concept that I've often liked to noodle about: what would costumed vigilantes and/or superpowered beings be like in the real world? Several works have examined this question, such as the early episodes of Heroes and even the current Batman movie series.
Comic legend Alan Moore's take on this contains a lot of cool ideas. First, in this alternate but initially believable reality, costumed vigilantes emerged as media-inspired copycats. Soon after the notion of costumed crime-fighters appeared in comic books, some half-wits started to imitate it in real life. You can easily imagine that actually happening.
In the story, these vigilantes were initially tolerated by the authorities, largely because they served as a useful public distraction from the Depression and WWII. Eventually, though, the public tired of them and they became a nuisance to the authorities. They are first largely hobbled during the paranoic McCarthy era before finally being outlawed in the early 70s. The story picks up about a decade later, as former vigilantes slowly start to come out of hiding as members of their dormant fraternity start getting mysteriously killed off.
The story also maintains believability by allowing for only two super-powered beings, both of whose back stories seem fairly plausible. One super being, Dr. Manhattan, is so powerful that he is no longer really human and is manipulated by the US government as, essentially, a living weapon that allows American hegemony to extend even further than in our reality. No Superman code of ethics here - this is the "real" world.
The story contains all sorts of cool little well-reasoned tidbits. For example, Moore reasoned that, since comics are an escapist media, if superheroes really existed comic readers would lose interest in them. In Moore's imaginary reality, comics have instead focused on pirate stories.
Yet, for all of these positive features, I was disappointed. I had much the same reaction to it as I've had to other Alan Moore works: Great concepts, enthralling opening chapters, but as the series drags on it runs out of steam and becomes poisoned by too much of Moore's dark vision of the world. Moore is great at making imaginary things seem real, but piss poor at describing the real world in a believable or empathetic way.
There is a theme that runs through all his works: "the Establishment" launches horrifically evil conspiracies aimed at crushing personal freedom in order to fulfill their own greed and lust. Moore's obsession with this idea has become profoundly boring for two reasons. First, Moore is so naive about the way "the Establishment" actually operates that his outrageous conspiracy plotlines lack credibility. Second, Moore's characters - "heroes" and villains alike - are all so rotten - so murderous, valueless and sociopathic - that there is scarcely such a thing as a sympathetic character in any of his graphic novels.
This is especially evident in the scenes dealing with Dr. Manhattan, ostensibly the ultimate hero of the story. His ultimate power has left him completely emotionally detached, like Spock or the Borg on Star Trek. He no longer cares about life and death and therefore is unconcerned about an imminent nuclear war. His ex-girlfriend goes to try to convince him that human life is worth saving. Supposedly, Dr. Manhattan has an epiphany about this and decides to intervene, but it's hard to understand why. Moore's own view of humanity is so bleak and cynical that I think Jesus Christ might have second thoughts if he had to listen to Moore babble on.
Maybe they'll be able to fix these things in the movie. Maybe the scriptwriters will succeed in creating characters with whom we can identify.
But, whether they succeed or fail, one thing is certain: Moore will no doubt condemn the movie version of his story, but not before he cashes his cheque. I think that says more about Alan Moore in particular than it does about the human race in general.
posted by Mentok @ 3:45 PM, ,
Monday, January 05, 2009
A great deal of ink has been spilled about how various sorts of modern folk tales - such as urban myths, old wives tales and fairy tales - actually have hidden moral meanings that help socialize children and adults alike into accepted behaviour.
But one category of modern folk tale that has so far escaped examination is the school yard joke.
From the time we're helpless toddlers until we are self-assured adolescents, we hear hundreds if not thousands of these little witticisms. These range from the innocent little puns of children to the offensive drolleries of teens.
Few of them are really very funny, yet they endure because, just like fairy tales, each of them teaches us an important life lesson.
To start off the discussion, here are a few of my favourites:
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the best
Knock knock! Who's there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock! Who's there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock! Who's there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn't say banana?
Take your Ritalin, dammit.
A duck goes into a hardware store and asks the manager: "Do you have any gwapes?" The manager says: "No, we don't have any grapes. This is a hardware store." The next day, the duck comes in again and again asks the manager: "Do you have any gwapes?" The manager, getting agitated, says: "No, I told you before, we don't sell grapes at a hardware store." Third day, duck again comes in and asks: "Do you have any gwapes?" This time, the manager lets him have it: "If you come in here again to ask for gwapes I'll nail your beak to the counter." The duck scoots out, but the next day he comes back again. This time he asks: "Do you have any nails?" The manager says: "Ah, no, actually, we had a big sale and we're sold out of nails at the moment." So the duck says: "OK, then, do you have any gwapes?"
Don't drop acid while you're working.
The teacher asks the class to draw something beautiful on the board. Little Suzy goes up and draws a flower. Little Jenny goes up draws a butterfly. Finally, Little Johny goes up and draws a dot. The teacher asks: "What is that supposed to be Johny?" Johny says: "A period." The teacher asks: "And can you tell us why you chose that?" Johny says: "I don't know, but my sister missed two of them and my dad said, 'Well, that's beautiful! That's just fucking beautiful!'"
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
One day, little Johny Foguerphaaster was making out with his girlfriend in the garage. They had just started going at it when Johny's mom called him for supper: "Johny Foguerphaaster! Johny Foguerphaaster!" "I'm tryin', Ma, I'm tryin'!" he replied.
Obey your parents.
posted by Mentok @ 4:49 PM, ,