Saturday, May 29, 2010

So long, Gary Coleman

In memory of Gary Coleman, a photo Wil Wheaton deemed the greatest of all time. Totally.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Weekend Sendoff

Have a great weekend! In the US it is Memorial Day weekend -no work till Tuesday! Here's Cinematic Orchestra to kick things off:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where There's Smoke

I've got my head sorted over the end of Lost. "Event" episodes of shows require some crunching. I needed to put in extra crunch time to get at the bottom of why I was so dissatisfied and what it comes down to is expectations.

Beware: here there be spoilers.

I really wanted an explanation for the Smoke Monster, something more than oh, he's that guy who got chucked into a hole. But this was a drama about characters persevering through incredible shitstorms of difficulty, not a science fiction adventure series.

Lost wasn't a comedy either, though there's a good argument for spinning one.

Emotionally, the finale makes sense. We see beloved characters reunited for a happy ending. Jack is resolved with his dad, Christian, who explains why they are all at church together: Jack created it so they could all go up into the light and spend eternity together. This was about Jack becoming a better person. Everything else was dressing. I wanted intellectual thrills but those went away with Mr Eko when he was stomped by Smokey.

Benjamin Linus staying outside the church at the end suggests that for some the journey continues and there's no reason for them to be at or inside the church. Not everyone important is there, like
Michael or his son Wally who is like twenty feet tall now and nobody would believe he was the same teenager from first season. But Jack and everybody who made it to church on time did become better folks, even John Locke, healed by Jack in the sideways timeline.

Locke is the first one to believe that the island is a special place. When the Smoke Monster corners him in season one, he isn't killed but sees a bright light, the island's true nature. He does get killed later, by Linus, but appears to be resurrected when Smokey assumes his form. Believer to Beelzebub. Jack heals him in the sideways timeline (long story) and redeems the man, which was very nice of him to do.

This was a show about heart. The finale feels right, and that is just what the creators wanted to accomplish. In other words, it was a chick flick, which is cool but why not just call it Days of Our Lost. That would be truth in advertising.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Speechless Tuesday

From Wooster Collective

Monday, May 24, 2010

Questions for the Smoke Monster

Where did it all go wrong, Smoke Monster? I was so into you. We had good times. The parties, the laughs, the occasional polar bear. Then you went bipolar. What happened? I took off, hurt and confused. You weren't yourself anymore and you saw other people and it was all smoke all the time. No more polar bears. The laughter died. Still, I came back. People said you had changed, you were fun to be around again. I gave you another chance. Why did I believe it could be the same between us? I thought the excitement would be there again, but I was wrong, so wrong.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happy 30th, Pac-Man, Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde!

Friday Fume

I'm ready to call it quits. Not that I go to Facebook for any reason more profound than "Yo, homie, whassup?" but the stupidity reached a new high this week. It started with people calling for a boycott of the site over privacy concerns. Boycott?!? It's a social network, for crying out loud. Leave if your privates are so threatened. Then you've got a day dedicated to offending Muslims. Really? To all my friends that have stayed away from Facebook, I'm in solidarity with you. It's never been my style to tell folks they have to be part of Facebook. You are not missing out. What works for me and what I like is connecting with old friends and sharing photos, jokes, what have you, the same things most other Facebookers are there for, but what with the morons carrying on like they have been lately, I'm seriously looking at alternatives.

On that note, check this out from the always brilliant xkcd:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For The Love of Artifacts 2

Buyer beware: brick and mortar shoppers, otherwise known as Cro-Magnons, can have a tough go tracking down that special book. Here's a couple from my cave...

Visit the crystal worlds of Cordwainer Smith and see the brave tiger man who can pluck insects out of the air with his toothpick fangs. He's damn good at rescuing lost animals, but as this is the fifth time this oxygen-challenged horse has been "lost" in the Anthracite Mountains, people are starting to wonder if rescuing isn't all he's good at.

This is a rare comic, don't ask me why, but it is definitely easier to track down than Little-Size Man-Thing. A mucky mound of male aggression, he crashes through windows in crowded public places at the slightest provocation.

In the spirit of the "quote contest" over at Secret Forest, I'm reminded of Voltaire and what he had to say about images like these:
It is not sufficient to see and to know the beauty of a work. We must feel and be affected by it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Heaven's Hitman 1

Mr Lazybones in full effect this week, flashing back with you this time with a game review written and forgotten about lo these six years and recalled only this morning whilst waxing nostalgic for... how you say? Entertainment with substance. Painkiller fits the bill. Not yet a believer? Read on...

Note that this is the first half of the review, which apparently is too damn humongous for a single post. The second half is below the jump.

Review by wngl

"Painkiller makes history"

Allow me to start by saying that Painkiller offers what is possibly the sweetest combat tool in the history of first person shooters. It is something out a baroque phantasy, anachronistic and deadly. Whirling talons can be used in melee or at range, with an accompanying coherent beam that fries anything crossing it. To look at it the weapon appears as if it were forged in some 13th century alchemists' lab; the laser lends it a touch of some new Dark Age waiting in the future, when aspects of both past and future will combine.

Painkiller the game is represented by this weapon, also called painkiller. It's a good metaphor for the game as a whole. There is an undeniable sense of temporal collision, since traversing the many incredible realms of the game will take you through many epochs of human history, usually at the same time.

Each successive level of Painkiller builds upon the last in intensity and pleasure. It gratifies on many different levels, not only as a first person shooter. Obvious care has been given to the look and feel of the game, so much so that the result is one of the best aesthetic experiences I've had from a computer screen. The challenges of overcoming hordes of enemies are almost secondary to the visual splendor of the imagery. It's easy to believe that the designers are aware of this fact. There are many opportunities both during and at the conclusion of levels to explore; with secret areas and holy relics only accessible when a level is done, the player is forced to do just that.

The whole aspect of Painkiller tantalises as it presents a state of reality where history has accrued and folded over itself. Consequently you have a tempest of anachronisms as WWI-era infantry mingle with sadistic soldiers that look straight out of William S Burroughs' dystopian novel, The Wild Boys. A palace from the Golden Age of Islam resides next to a Medieval cathedral, the stained glass of which is decorated not with saints but Pan and Astaroth. Cold War nuclear terror rises up to cast a shadow over the Reichstag battleship Bismarck. Kabuki-masked samurai commit seppuku at the heart of a chemical plant. The mash of these elements and many more lend unprecedented thrills.

Heaven's Hitman 2

Taking a close look at the surroundings and creatures inhabiting them, there is visible a kind of acid-washed texture that grows over everything like moss, as if they were bathed in angry time and rotting at the touch. It seems wrong, terribly wrong. And given the premise of the game, nothing could be more appropriate.

When you talk about first person shooters, it is impossible to go without mentioning the mother of them all, Doom. Like Doom, Painkiller gains a certain frisson by incorporating demonic elements into its narrative. Rather than a gung-ho Marine, however, now you are enlisted by Heaven to route a massing army of demons in Purgatory. Things go a step further than Doom, where the realms were invented and fantastic; in Painkiller you recognise too well where you are and this creates a more resonant experience.

Because the settings are familiar, there have been complaints that Painkiller takes liberty with religious iconography. This argument doesn't stand up under scrutiny. Painkiller is no evangelical tool and is clearly not intended to convey an interpretation of religious experience. If there is a subtext at all -and I'm not saying there is, it is a game after all- it is not religious but political. You cannot play Painkiller to completion without being made aware of a bias, but it is one that has little to do with spirituality and seems more rooted in a deep sense of humanity.

Painkiller is stunning to look at, so much so that there are times I feel lost in a fresco. It's blessed by tremendous soundscapes as well, equal parts terror and serenity. Gameplay is easy and logical; weapons are very effective; movement is fluid (though I do wish you could crouch!). A lot of thought went into the creatures and the result is AI that has lots of character and unexpected humor in it. Overall, I have to say Painkiller is the best game to come out in a long time; not only is it fun to play once, it improves the more you revisit it.

But don't take my word for it. Play for yourself and see!

Reviewer's Score: 10/10, Originally Posted: 04/20/04

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Speechless Tuesday

Okay, "speechless" is an ironic tag, sorry about that! Next week we'll resume the speech-free format but I was so moved by today's act of courage by Elvis Costello that I wanted to highlight it. Bravo to him for saying "yes" to human rights and free education in Israel. Here is what he had to say, taken from his website:
It is after considerable contemplation that I have lately arrived at the decision that I must withdraw from the two performances scheduled in Israel on the 30th of June and the 1st of July.

One lives in hope that music is more than mere noise, filling up idle time, whether intending to elate or lament.

Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.

Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way...

Sometimes a silence in music is better than adding to the static and so an end to it.

I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which is a matter of regret but I can imagine a better time when I would not be writing this.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Looking for that perfect romantic film? We watched Ladyhawke for the gal's birthday this weekend and it was just the thing. She had never seen it and for me the years were many since viewing this great fantasy. The lovers are perfect specimens of humanity... when they're not turning into animals. As with all love affairs involving jealous bishops and the Evil One, the situation is complicated, and the curse on our heroes turns one into a hawk by day (guess which, the title is a dead giveaway) and the other from dusk to dawn into a black wolf. You thought you had problems.

This is a charming film. You are rooting every minute for beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer to be reunited. Two more handsome lovers you'll never find; I've seen Mr and Mrs Smith and I'll take this film over that one any day. Their companion Matthew Broderick is a thief and escape artist called Mouse who talks to God like Ferris Bueller talks to the audience. "We have come full circle, Lord," he says at one juncture. "I would like to think there is some higher meaning in this. It certainly would reflect well on You." He's a big part of the charm, lightening things up when the story starts to feel a bit heavy, and like just about everything else in the movie he never makes you forget you're in a period piece.

Just about everything is perfect. The Italian settings are magnificent, the castles in particular at Torrechiara and Rocca Calascio (pictured below) transporting you to a majestic vision of the 12th century. There is, however, the small matter of the music. You might have heard about it. Using pop-synth keyboards for a movie set in the High Middle Ages is plain goofy, no way around it, but you can simply ignore the score and enjoy the story. It's like Confucius says: Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.

Grab your honey and check out Ladyhawke, it's fun and so very romantic.

Scan Arcana No 5

Scan Arcana No 4

Set the wayback machine for 2005 and indulge me once more in a look at the world that was, interpreted in journal form. June is nearly here to mark this little blog's fifth anniversary and I've been pegging handmade pages to the screen for your amusement. Once more into the breach, dear friends, this round's on me.

Oops, set the dial back too far, this page is from 2004! We lost Nina Simone the previous year and the Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in a million years, major events from both ends of the proverbial spectrum. I remember getting the news about Simone while working the night shift as a barista. As soon as we could, my coworker and I got our sad selves a pub and raised cocktails to the memory of the High Priestess of Soul.

The mood was definitely more festive when the BoSox stomped the New York Yankees in the American League Championship. The glorious pitching of Curt Schilling, whose injured tendon at the end of game 7 turned his sock a bloody red, carried them to victory against all odds and finished off what to date is the finest playoff series I've ever seen and some of the best baseball playing in the history of the sport.

A hometown shout-out is in order. Remember Scott Peterson, the guy who chopped up his wife and threw her in a lake? His guilty verdict was reached in my hometown of Redwood City. It was a long circus of a trial and I remain proud of my peoples for seeing through the bullpucky and sending this creep to the hoosegow, where he remains to this day.

Let's not forget the unforgettable Donald Rumsfeld! One of the more charismatic and slippery (and quotable) Secretaries of Defense the US has seen in a good while, Rummy makes many appearances in my journals. His stick-it-up-your-nose rhetoric was right in line with the old school goon squad that operated in George W Bush's first term, what history will remember as the Cheney Administration; I don't think it fooled many citizens that anybody but Rummy and his old pal Dick Cheney were running the Executive Branch. Good riddance to those bastards.

2004 was one of the more pathetic election years in US history and the stage for political satire was ripe. Billionaires for Bush were savvy commentators on the sad state of affairs, culture jamming right up there with the Bush on Mars movement, and provided some welcome comic relief from an otherwise dismal time.

I'm a collector of stickers. There's a public discourse going on in the urban streets of the world, little messages being exchanged between artists in the form of stickers. I love 'em and never pass up a chance to immortalize them in the pages of my journal. Because my journals are immortal, don't you know.

Let's close with timeless words of wisdom, kiped I believe from Saturday Night Live:
When in doubt, poopy poop poop fart
From your friend in all things scatological, I bid you farewell and have a good weekend.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Toothpick Castles

Call it Who Farted Cinema. You're sitting there wondering where that bad smell is coming from and then it hits you: it's coming from the screen. There's nothing like a stinky movie to make you question everything you hold dear.

In case the handsome mug above is not already familiar to you, it belongs to a gent called Zardoz. He floats through the air with not-quite-the-greatest-of-ease. He rises at the horizon like a concrete sun and comes bipping and bopping down through the clouds. He has a strange power. Stare into his eyes and you'll find yourself wearing diapers and growing your hair into a buccaneer's ponytail.

It can happen. Even the great Scotsman himself, Sean Connery, isn't immune.

Picture the scene, Sean Connery in his best suit, window open onto the view of his golf course, and who comes creeping up over Hole 9 but old gray face. Next thing the great Scotsman knows, Zardoz has taken control. Doffing his worsted wool suit, on goes the red nappy and bandoliers. The weather outside is windy and wet but no matter. At the door he nearly forgets his revolver, grabbing it from the sideboard with a little shiver. It sure is cold all of a sudden.

If you've seen Zardoz, it reeks of weirdness; if not, you should skip it if you don't go for the kind of movie where you might have to hold your nose. This is smell-o-vision on an epic scale.

As mentioned in my earlier post, some movies are Toothpick Castles. Creations of disturbed, deranged minds. I never questioned Sean Connery's sanity until seeing this one, and you know what happens when you start questioning celebrity icons. You start thinking they're loony, and if Zardoz isn't damning enough, there's Highlander 2: The Quickening on the great Scotsman's resume, the biggest pile of scoop law violation ever.

I still love Sean Connery. He doesn't do anything halfway. Only an actor this charismatic can pull off these kind of stunts and still emerge smelling like a rose.

The giant floating head doesn't last long. Within the first ten minutes of Zardoz, it descends from the heavens, dispenses some wisdom about guns not genitalia, spits out a heap of bullets and rifles, and afterward is killed by Sean Connery.

That, if nothing else, proves his sanity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Speechless Tuesday

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

For The Love of Artifacts

There's a simple reason I eschew e-readers: there's no artifact. There's no weight of the book in your hand, no turning of pages to dog ear. What I would miss more than anything, though, is cover art. Collector of paperback editions that I am, cover art is where it's at. In honor of great cover illustrations, I chose a few from off my shelf to pine a bit. The image above from Stephen King's short story collection, Night Shift, is a real showstopper. I may not want to give it a high five but one look at that cover and I'm compelled to read the book.

I'm not even a Thomas Pynchon fan, but when I saw this paperback the other day, next thing I knew I was buying it. For three bucks you could do a lot worse than this little gem. V is Pynchon's first novel and the only one I've not read, so who knows, the Dali-esque cover might make me into a fan after all. The text at the top creates a nice balance and anchors what might otherwise be a weird concept.

Ah, Philip K Dick, my old friend. Here we have not only an arresting image of genuflecting freak man (he's the title character) but a title that demands your attention. When it comes to titles, Dick had a special gift. I like that The Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is implied here (the stigmata is) by the halo and contrasted nicely with what appear to be Pterodactyl wings depending from his shoulders. This dude is not invited to my next party.

I saved the best for last. If not for the cover art on this paperback copy, I might have gone my life without reaping the enjoyment of Shirley Jackson's prose. She is a terrific writer and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of her best. This is also one of my favorite book covers. The black windblown tresses draw you right into that staring eye and give it incredible power.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hot Rod Apocalypse 4

A cheap copy of Inglorious Basterds came my way and having watched it I'm scratching the old noggin why people said it was all that. I used to really like Quentin Tarantino movies but this my friends was a stinker, not bad per se but messy and unentertaining. And when Tarantino isn't entertaining he's dull, there's no way around it, like he gets trapped in a room by himself writing scenes of dialogue and can't stop talking about whatever crosses his mind like that begrizzled, bathrobe lunatic in the hotel lobby making toothpick castles and arguing with herself about yes goldurn it Bill Maher does wear pinstripes when stucco ceilings peel. Look at Kill Bill vol 2. Was anybody truly entertained by those scenes of rambling dialogue? As Truman Capote said, "That isn't writing at all, it's typing."

Okay, big breath. I just had to get my feelings on the table.

I hated Death Proof when I saw it, so maybe that means with time I'll come to appreciate Inglorious Basterds for the masterpiece it truly is.

Doubt it, though.

Death Proof falls into the Toothpick Castles category of film making, but with a twist: the first hour moves briskly and is go-go-gorgeous. My man Kurt Russell is cooler than he's been in awhile -Dark Blue wasn't awful but came out ages ago. His Stuntman Mike character is straight out of the Tarantino love zone, namely 70's cinema, and I'm right there with him. Please let me grow old to look like Kurt Russell in this movie.

The setting is Austin, TX, during a gulf storm and follows some hot chicks into a hot bar where the jukebox sounds like the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and they serve Chartreuse ("The only liqueur so good they named a color after it!") in shotglasses. This is the first half of the film I'm referring to, as you'll recall, and isn't to be confused with later developments with another group of hot chicks in Somewheres, Tennessee. When the story leaves Texas, my advice is to turn off the dvd or risk getting a feeling in your guts like alcohol poisoning as the dialogue goes on and on to Nowheres, Tennessee, and you wish they'd taken a left turn at Sweet Home Alabama.

When I originally saw Death Proof it was half of a collaboration between Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez called Grindhouse. They must not have gotten the memo I sent about Four Rooms. Don't remember that one? Neither does anyone else. Bringing these guys together is not a recipe for good times. What it is a recipe for is two hours of your life gone because of indulgent moviemaking that probably plays great at one of Mr Rodriguez's famous house parties but for the rest of us is an in-joke with no punchline. Granted, Grindhouse has highlights. I couldn't recognize them at the time, but when a cheapo dvd of Death Proof became available I said to myself why not give it another try.

Self: Why not give it another try?

Self: You think I should.

Self: I know you should, mofo honky.

Self: I'm a honky mofo now?

Self: No.

Self: No?

Self: You didn't listen. I said you're a mofo honky, not a honky mofo. There's a difference.

Self: Stop trying to sound like Samuel L Jackson. It hurts my ears.

So with scotch in hand -liquor so good they named a country after it -I sat down with the flick about hot chicks and Kurt Russell and... I liked it. Sharp dialogue, great music, gorgeous photography, and "bad" editing played for laughs: for a fan of 70's cinema, it's a lot of fun. The premise isn't too complicated. Stuntman Mike is a survivor of the seventies. He's got a Mustang funny car built for stunts, a death proof car, and he has a thing for showing hot chicks that they are not like his car, not death proof. I didn't say the movie isn't educational.

You can see where this is going. One gruesome smash-up later and you've got a lot of dead hot chicks and Stuntman Mike ready for the second half of the movie. Bet you can't even guess what happens next. More hot chicks. More Stuntman Mike. Pass Go and collect your death proof ducats and reach up and switch off the tube and save sixty minutes of your life.

Speechless Tuesday

Thanks for sharing, EME!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Happy Beltaine!

A big fat flaming thumbs-up for May Day, and to celebrate let's sing "Puttin' on the Ritz"!