Monday, March 28, 2011

May 2nd Election

Oh god. An election. Do we really need one?

So for those out there in the audience that don't know, or haven't heard, the Liberals forced a vote of non-confidence in Parliament. The Conservatives, the minority government, dissolved the government and called an election for May 2nd. This is all due to the proposed budget from the Conservatives.

This is the fourth election in seven years for Canada, and frankly, it's bewildering that we even need an election. I'm officially predicting that the results will be roughly the same as the previous election, a Conservative minority government, and Stephen Harper will be our Prime Minister until he does something royally stupid.

I can't believe that the Liberals and the NDP think they are strong enough to take on the Conservatives. First of all, Michael Ignatieff is one of the weakest political leaders I've ever seen. He's a nice guy, and I like his background, but as leader of the opposition, he's done nothing substantial enough to become a presence. Even though in Canada, we vote for an MP in a riding, in reality, most of us are voting for a party and the figurehead of that party. I can't in good conscience vote for the Liberals because they - frankly - have their heads far too up their own asses. They're not doing anything remotely important or substantial. They're merely bitching in Parliament about how corrupt the Conservatives are. Yes, we know, Liberals. You all are. But anyways.

A coalition government still isn't going to work either. The NDP will never get enough seats to get even a minority, and the Liberals are just going to run around like chickens with their heads cut off, stumbling around blindly while the Conservatives cackle and rub their hands together in the corner.

Yes, this is very astute and methodical political discourse I'm entering into.

Anyway, I'm voting for the NDP in my riding, who is Pat Martin, a guy who's had the job for eons. My parents are going to vote NDP because the Liberal candidate in their riding is an idiot and their Conservative MP is against gay marriage.

This election is going to cost money and it's not worth it when the outcome is assured from the beginning.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Great news

An article I wrote about the quality of teaching at Red River College is going to be printed in the next issue... tentatively. I don't want to get too excited because it's a newspaper, and news trumps editorials all the time. They also seemed receptive to my pitch of book reviews. The school paper lacks a deep Arts section; they usually just run little articles on movies or video games. I pitched reviews on new books, which means I'm going to have to start reading newer books.

I'm going to start with Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, of which I wrote 1500 words in the fall of last year. I know that Freedom isn't new, per se, but it was the biggest book of last year. I'm also going to try and read more nonfiction. University students like their politics, so I want to cater to that audience.

I'm currently reading Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, which is a Pulitzer Prize winning history of the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan from the 1979 uprising all the way up to September 11, 2001. It's 700 pages, so I'm not that confident I'm going to read it very quickly.

So check back in this space for a link to your favourite blogger in print! Yes, in print! Who says newspapers are a dying medium?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New bicycle

I've been riding the same bicycle since I was in high school. It's a Giant Kronos, and it's got to be from the early nineties at least. I bought it used for 200 bucks and took care of it. I replaced the tires, replaced the brakes, replaced the chain (twice) and replaced all of the cables at least once. It's a road bike though, made for streets and racing. It's not a mountain bike. I made the decision to go with that and I don't regret it, but I do miss having a mountain bike.

So I decided to buy a new bike. And by new, I mean a used bike. I found this bike online and I called the guy to take a look. I was kind of "meh" about the whole deal because it was a Raleigh Tomahawk, not the world's fanciest bike by far and it was 150 bucks. If I'm spending that much on a Raleigh, I may as well buy new I was thinking.

But when I stepped into his basement, I could see that the guy knew his bikes. The entire basement was full of bikes and bike parts. He had street bikes, pixie bikes, mountain bikes, winter bikes, bikes with Nos gas attached to it, tandem pixie bikes with full suspension. He assembles bike and he customized bikes, and thanks to a welding machine, he makes bikes.

He told me all the mods he had made on the Raleigh. I was sold. Obviously this low-end bike was taken care of and loved. Obviously this guy wasn't selling me a piece of crap. So I bought it. Tonight, I spent like an hour tweaking the brakes and shifters and everything else. It's ready to go.

This is the first bike I've ever owned to have suspension. I currently have to set to just under rock hard. I'm not really sure how I feel about the suspension. It's going to be a constant tweak until I have it set just right. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Death and Life of Bobby Z

A couple summers ago, I read every single Richard Yates novel in the span of a couple months. For the rest of that year, I tracked down every novel and purchased them new, making him the last author I have successfully completed "collecting" if you will. I did not post a review for every novel, other than Revolutionary Road, because I'm not sure what else I was going to say other than "OMG this guy writes so good" and "he's so much better than everybody else". It was super-exciting to discover an author, especially one so goddamn good. I had been resigned to not discovering anything as awesome, so it was a pleasant surprise. But it's hard to write 800 to 1200 words about each novel when the themes and content are so similar, and my reaction to the work was so similar.

Now, we come to Don Winslow, another author that I've discovered, that I'm really excited about. I read The Power of the Dog, I read Savages, and now I've read The Death and Life of Bobby Z, and I have to admit that I'm at a loss at what to say about it without coming off as some sort of troglodyte (there's a word I don't use enough, and a word I had to look up to be sure of spelling). Winslow's strengths and weaknesses as an author seem to be pretty consistent from novel to novel, with some variation. So mentally copy and paste all that I've said about the other two novels and insert them here.

But of course, you don't visit my blog to do copypasta. You read my blog to see what kind of zany shit I can pull out of a book or a movie and call it criticism! Let's take my razor sharp critical eye and glance at The Death and Life of Bobby Z, but all the while, remembering the basic loves and hates of Winslow's writing.

Tim is a three-time loser, that is to say that he has been convicted three times. Under the 3 Strikes law, as it's called on the streetz, homey, that means Tim is going away for a long time. A couple Feds approach him, thinking he has nothing to lose, and ask him to pretend to be Bobby Z, a legendary dope-dealer, who unceremoniously croaked in custody and is needed for a prisoner exchange with some scary Mexican gang. Since Tim looks a lot like Bobby, why not have Tim play Bobby, switch the prisoners, then extract Tim afterwards?

Well, things don't quite go as planned, because the exchange is sabotaged by a double-cross, and Tim flees into the arms of the Mexican gang, who are just holding him for the big bad, the crazy leader with huevos who was wronged by Bobby Z.

On top of this impending doom, Tim falls hard for Bobby's former flame, and meets Bobby's kid, who latches onto Tim as fast as fast can. Tim wants to protect his new people, but also make it out of this lion's den with his head still attached to his shoulders. Will he succeed? Will he survive? Who knows?

The Death and Life of Bobby Z is a movie. It's a movie that you read and you turn the pages but it's a movie. Here's what the movie is made up of: beautiful California locales spanning the entire state, sex, beautiful women, sniper rifles, a tense chase scene across a desert (that made me think of the final 50 pages of All the Pretty Horses), a gunfight in the San Diego Zoo (hey! I've been there! I've even been on the gondola that features heavily in that scene), a gunfight at the docks and on a boat, an obese man burning alive in the hot sun, etc, etc, etc. It's a spectacularly cinematic book.

You could easily adapt this thing into a movie. First of all, there isn't too much internal stuff, the hard parts of books to adapt. You ever try adapting the Telemachiad of James Joyce's Ulysses into a film? Impossible is the word. Winslow completely eschews interior exploration in favour of tough guys fucking each other up with guns and grenades. Nobody ever takes a moment to think about each other's feelings. Secondly, you put Matt Damon in the lead role, Penelope Cruz as the love interest, and some fucking kid as the kid, BANG, you have a movie.

It sounds like I didn't like this book. Here I am complaining that the book is too much of a movie. But I'm only half joking. I was exaggerating about the lack of internal stuff, too. There is some. Tim, who's relationship with his father is not good, and the kid, who's relationship with his real father is not good, come together in a really organic and beautiful way. So it's all the more heartbreaking when Tim gets separated from the kid for dramatic effect and for tension. I'm not really spoiling anything here. If you've seen a movie with a surrogate dad and a kid, then you know it has to happen.

When I say it's heartbreaking, I'm not joking. I thought I was going to cry when it happened. I thought that a happy ending wasn't going to happen and I felt sick to my stomach. This means that Winslow did his job properly. I felt for Tim and his surrogate kid. Great job, Winslow. That's a hard trick to pull off and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that only 10% of all professional authors can do it. I'm a pretty uncaring person. I could give two shits about fictional people (Andy from Toy Story 3 being an obvious exception). And yet, here's Winslow, making me seem like a bitch cause I wanted Tim and the kid to be happy and safe. Damn you, Winslow.

What's different about this 1997 novel versus his other two that I've read? Cause I mean, Winslow's style is pretty set in stone, his obsession with California firmly documented (you and me both, buddy) and his pet plot points are all pretty much the same. There's not much different, I'm afraid. You know what you're getting into. The differences are purely superficial, like the setup (even that's not really that inspired) or the plot twist that for some reason caught me off guard (when in hindsight, it's totally obvious). But this isn't a complaint. This isn't a problem for me. You see, I'm okay with this. You know why? Don Winslow is slowly becoming my go-to guy for a good fucking summer read that isn't chock-a-block with Illuminati or art history. This is tough guys fucking each other up in California and it's funny and exciting and suspenseful. That's what I want from Winslow and he delivers in spades.

I tried reading T. Jefferson Parker, a guy that has some similarities with Winslow, in terms of subject matter and setting, but I couldn't get past the first ten pages because Parker isn't having any fun. When I'm reading The Death and Life of Bobby Z and his other books, I can visualize Winslow, sitting at his desk, wearing a white khaki dress shirt, his grey chest hair peeking out the front, in his pants with no shoes or socks, laughing maniacally over his hilarious one-liner and taking a toke on his joint and looking out the window at the beach, cause his office totally looks over the beach. He's having fun, I'm having fun, it's a good fucking time.

One of the reasons why I like certain works of art is because I get a sense that the people making it are having a ball. If you're an artist, and you're getting paid to do your art, you should be overjoyed at the chance. Anybody who's all dour and morose when making art should be taken out and replaced with fun guys. But Winslow, and guys like him, are having a great time and that increases my fun level. Not all art has to be serious and talk about world events, contrary to what I say sometimes. Mindless art is needed. It's for taking you out of your shitty existence and putting you in the place of the guy who can get the girl, shoot the bad guy and blow up the bad guy's base. And really, Winslow isn't mindless art. He's doing a good job and showing us that - hey - the world is full of bad guys and sometimes you need a guy like Tim.

Winslow's world is kind of black and white. And again, this isn't a bad thing. His heroes aren't really the most white-knight of guys, but they clearly stand for principles such as bros and honour and whatever. His bad guys are all nasty fuckers that torture hot blonde girls and get off on it. They're the type of guys that rape and wave chainsaws in your face. Translation: they totally deserve to get their heads blown off. So yeah, black and white, not so bad.

So here's to you Don Winslow, I wrote 1500 words about a book and I barely talked about the meat of that book. I'm totally in love with your books, and if I ever met you, I'd tell you that. It's just too bad that my library only carries a few Winslow books, and he has so many. Maybe when I make real money, I'll just buy 'em all and then donate them to the library, so other people can discover this guy and travel to Cali and shoot some bad guys.

Holy shit. They DID make a movie of this book, starring that Paul Walker fellow. According to IMDB, it's got about a 5.7 out of 10 for score. And it was direct to DVD. Probably cause it stars Paul Walker. Is this worth seeing? Yes, I don't think I will be catching this flick. I'd rather not have my experience marred by Walker's questionable acting. (Although, and this is fucking off-topic, that Running Scared movie from like six years? That was so bat-shit insane as to wrap around the quality spectrum from awful right into awesome)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hell at the Breech

Readers of this blog will remember that I have a thing for Southern fiction. Tom Franklin had been recommended to me, but it's taken me awhile to get around to reading his debut novel, Hell at the Breech, but I finally did so let's take a look.

It's 1897, and the white rural poor of Clarke County, Alabama are getting sick and tired of the white land owners jerking them around using the law and using them as indentured servants. After one of the well-liked store owners gets killed, his brother organizes a vigilante gang called Hell-at-the-Breech. The gang begins to terrorize the richer men, and coerce the reluctant to join their ranks. Only Sheriff Billy Waite, old, drunk and about to retire, can see both sides and tries to maintain the peace, but the blood is flowing freely.

One of the reasons why I like Southern fiction so much is because of the colourful characters. Faulkner, O'Connor, Styron, all these greats, not only were they adept at prose (in fact, experts), but they populated their books with clearly defined and beautifully drawn characters. Even though I haven't read The Sound and the Fury since I was 19 or 20, I still remember Quentin Compson and I can still see him pulling that stupid watch out of his coat for the hundredth time. I can still see the Loftis family of Lie Down in Darkness as they yell at each other. And I'll never forget the grandmother in A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Franklin may not have the prose as perfect as his Southern brethren, but his skill at drawing characters is, frankly, amazing. At first, Franklin introduces a huge cast of Southern folk and moves the narrative back and forth in time, so it's hard to keep track of everybody. Slowly, throughout the middle section of the novel, Franklin keeps delineating each and every person until they are an entire county of living breathing people. Billy Waite, the most McCarthy-esque of the cast, could stand beside Quentin Compson and Peyton Loftis and Anse Bundren and even John Grady Cole. He's an amazing character.

The other reason why I like Southern fiction so much is that it never ever shies away from violence, and this novel has it in copious amounts. It's a strangely cinematic novel, which is interesting because of its pace and it's really a character study of the two protagonists. When the violence comes, Franklin shows himself to be an expert at choreographing action, letting the reader understand and see where everybody is. Not very many authors can handle action scenes, especially of the complexity that occurs in the final scenes of the novel. Regardless of the coherency of the action, Hell at the Breech is an staggeringly violent novel, filled with more bloodshed than... well, than a McCarthy novel (save for Blood Meridian maybe).

But is there anything to Hell at the Breech other than some cowboys and farmers shooting it up? Well yes and no. I'm hesitant to conclude that this novel says anything particularly profound about the economic struggle of farm folk in the late 19th century. This is a theme that Faulkner did over and over again, and he frequently contrasted the colourful salt of the earth folk with the slow decay and crumble of the Southern lifestyle. He was concerned with the decomposition of an empire. Franklin's sights aren't set as high, it seems. He wants to tell a ripping good yarn (and succeeds mostly) and I think he wants to say something about morality and manhood, pet themes of McCarthy as it were. Waites, the sheriff, is constantly up against the limits of the law, being forced by the rich to use the law, and these actions often force Waites to question his own lawfulness. Where does law come from? From government, from God, or from real justice? That's the major question that the novel asks, but Franklin never quites unpacks his thoughts on the matter, and keeps to a hail of bullets. This isn't a major criticism, certainly not fatal.

Hell at the Breech is a pretty damn good novel. I was enthralled and excited for most of the book, and was completely drawn into the characters thanks to Franklin's success at creating his cast. I am definitely going to be reading his next novel.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Complete History of Jack the Ripper

Let's talk genre for a minute, you and I. Okay? Great. Genre is very important, and it's something I tend to revisit every once in awhile. Certain books fall squarely into a genre and fit there comfortably. Others tend to straddle the borders, one foot here, another foot there, etc. Some books purposefully challenge notions of genre. The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden is certainly one that does, not that you'd think it from its classification in the library.

I've always been interested with serial killers and I've always been interested in history. One of the greatest mysteries of all time is the identity of Jack the Ripper. Who was he? What happened to him? Why did he do the things he did? Lots of questions and very few answers.

The most knowledge I had about Jack the Ripper came from Alan Moore's From Hell, which uses Stephen Knight's The Final Solution as its foundation. In the first ten pages of his book, Sugden immediately does away with Knight's proposed masonic/royal conspiracy. Sugden is a historian, not a theorist, a novelist, a fabricator, or a journalist.

You see, this distinction is key for reading this book. This is not true crime. This is clearly history, and it's the work of a true historian.

Over the course of 500 pages, Sugden lays out every tiny piece of evidence that has ever come into contact with a Ripperologist, and Sugden uses his training as a historian to sift through this evidence, sort it out, and determine what is relevant to the case and not to amateur sleuthing. He goes through every source document possible, and he wades through an incredible amount of secondary sources. On top of all of the original research, Sugden even reads every important Ripper book, from the oldest, to the most ridiculous. He's a true historian.

And because of this, most of the book involves Sugden bemoaning the lack of historical evidence. More source documents are lost to time than are preserved when it comes to CID's investigation into the Whitechapel Murders. This book is the sad story of how time marches on and makes the past even more inscrutable.

The secondary theme is that of humanizing the people involved in this tragedy. The victims' lives are all laid out for the reader, from the earliest known piece of evidence, to tracing their final steps on the night of their murder. The oppression of the tragedy falls onto the reader, which is clearly the point. This isn't a true crime paperback that revels in the gore and the gothic and the violence. This is a history of the victims and a history of how the police tried to catch the killer.

It's also a history, and not a true crime expose, because Sugden is extremely cautious to identify Jack the Ripper. At the end of the book, Sugden lays out the suspects that contemporary police thought was the Ripper. In keeping with the rest of the book, Sugden methodically dissects each stack of evidence against the suspect and eventually comes up with nothing. He's very careful to say that one person fits the bill closest, but there isn't any physical or documentary evidence to actually posthumously convict anyone. Ultimately, the Ripper case will end up being a mystery for all time, but Sugden is hopeful that maybe one day, evidence will be unearthed to clear it up once and for all.

I've never read such an exhaustingly overwhelming history book. The detail is stunning. Luckily, Sugden's wry and tasteful style never bores the reader. Sugden is remarkably good at the cutting turn of phrase that writers such as Wilde were experts at. He is able to dismantle an entire book with a scathing sentence. He also does the hard task of humanizing the participants, the sign of a true historian, who brings the past to life with research, ethics, and a purpose. Sugden conveys the tragedy that was the Whitechapel Murders so eloquently.

The Complete History of Jack the Ripper does what it says on the tin. For any students of history, or any casual observer of Victorian England, this is a perfect gateway to another world that seems to tantalizingly close, but never quite there.

Playing For Change

This amazing charity foundation goes around the world and has street performers sing the same song and then they edit it together for an amazing video that unites them in song. This particular video documents them recording John Lennon's achingly beautiful "Imagine" as well as displays the fruits of the foundation's labours: schools for music in third world countries to spread the love of music for everyone. Real change is possible in our world....

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Imperfectionists

I've been waiting so long to read Tom Rachman's debut novel. I put a request in at my library like a year ago. It's already hit paperback and I'm so behind. If I was a reviewer for a real blog or newspaper or whatever, then I'd be laughed at for my tardiness. Anyway, here's my review for The Imperfectionists.

In Rome, there is an English-language newspaper staffed by Americans of widely diverse backgrounds. They're all mostly journalists, and they all are struggling to keep afloat in an industry turning online. There's the staff obituary writer who gets a chance to interview a famous political thinker in order to write the obit, there's the accounts payable lady who ends up on the same flight as the man she decided to lay off, there's the freelance writer with children of different mothers around Rome, there's the budding journalist vying for a Cairo correspondent position, and many more.

This is the second debut novel I've read this year, and what did I open with? Oh yeah: "hey you ever noticed that debut novels feel like collections of short stories loosely tied together?" Well, here we have a perfect example. This isn't a novel in the strict sense of an overall narrative with a few protagonists. No, this is literally each chapter has a new protagonist, and there is little to no forward motion to the narrative. This is a book of short stories featuring a shared cast. That's it.

But this can't be leveled as a criticism against the book. This can't be a complaint. Dubliners is one of the finest books ever written, and it's a collection of loosely tied stories. So then what's my problem with this book?

Well, honestly, it feels weak. Structurally and emotionally weak. There's only one short story in the entire mixture that successfully hits its purposeful tone of melancholy and sadness, and this story is about an older editor who is living with a girl much younger than he is, and the problems with that romance. Without spoiling it, it's devastatingly heartbreaking. It's horrendous. And it works.

When Rachman tries to heartbreaking elsewhere, showing us how fundamentally sad these people are, it comes off as irritating. He struggles to mine any real emotion that doesn't feel fatuous to the reader. He pushes these sad people against walls, but nothing authentic-feeling bounces back. He's just so tantalizingly close to realizing a William Trevor or Alice Munro style of devastation, but he just misses so.

Rachman has an obviously good ear for dialogue. A couple stories are just people talking for 30 pages, and it works because Rachman gives each character their own voice. I'm going to assume that these characters are composites or even doppelgängers of people who worked at Rachman's newspaper in Rome, so that would explain why he was so good at faking their voices. Of course, I could be wrong and he invented these character whole cloth, but come on. C'mon.

I didn't really like this novel. It was irritating in places. Part of this were awkward turns of phrase, or a line of narration that seemed extraneous, like an editor told Rachman to add this line in order to clear up any ambiguity. Hey, editor: a little ambiguity would've served this novel well.

Still, it's not a terrible first novel. It has its rough edges but it's got some pretty good dialogue and a couple excellent scenes. While Rachman's reach for emotion exceeds his grasp, I still look forward to another novel from this guy.

Homemade Sushi

I made this myself. This is my fourth time making homemade sushi. I made sushi-style rice (with the soaking and the rinsing and rice vinegar) and I used canned crab, cucumbers, avocado, a little bit of orange ginger sauce and then when I ate it, some tobasco sauce, which I've recently became a fan of.

Click to make them ridiculously big.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Switch

I wrote 1500 words about the sexual politics of Easy A earlier today. I know that seems like a lot, but I have really strong opinions about things. If you haven't noticed. Anyway, I decided to watch The Switch, a romantic comedy starring two of my favouritest actors, Jason Bateman and Patrick Wilson. Jennifer Aniston's in it as well, but she's just a womb in the movie. Almost literally. The movie has its cute moments, but it's too stuck in romcom stereotypes to be funny. There's your review. Done.

Instead of writing 1500 words about The Switch, I'm going to post hot pictures of Jason Bateman and Patrick Wilson, both of whom I desperately want to be friends with. They're both ludicrously funny and exhilaratingly handsome. So here you are, sexy pictures of men instead of a review of a film. See? I can be sexist too.

They're just so fucking hot. I would totally do them. Nothing looks hotter than a man in a suit. Thanks for reading.

Easy A

I wanted a comedy. Something easy to watch. I chose Easy A, starring the gorgeous and funny Emma Stone. I thought it was going to be funny and breezy and I might just learn a little lesson after all is said and done. Unfortunately, all was not meant to be. Let's dive in, shall we?

Olive is an invisible entity, listlessly drifting through high school with no boyfriend, one good friend, and a family that loves her. On a whim, she lies that she lost her virginity to a college boy. When she confesses to her gay friend, he sees an opportunity. He asks that she fake sex with him so that he can pretend to be straight. Once Olive does this, more and more losers come up to her and pay for the right to say that they've had sex with Olive. As the religious nuts in her school try to bring her down, and the boy that she actually likes drifts further away, Olive is getting in over her head.

Okay, so the reason why the movie is called Easy A is because there is a tenuous link between this film and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, one of the greatest works of literature ever. I read The Scarlet Letter for university and we spent a lot of time on it. I can confidently say that I'm familiar enough with it to say that any links between the novel and Easy A are completely superficial.

When embracing her newfound, but artificial sexuality, Olive decides to wholeheartedly accept her ostracizing by the school, by sewing "A"s into her slutty clothes. Also, she dresses slutty. While this is easy on the eyes for the viewer, it presents a rather confusing point of view.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne has an affair with the minister, produces a child, and is shunned by the community. She is forced to wear a scarlet "A" on her clothes and take her punishment with silence and heart. But, as Hawthorne explicitly states in the text, reading symbols at their surface is a dangerous thing to do. Yes, the narrator explicitly tells the audience not to read too deep into the symbols that plague the community. The two biggest symbols in the book are the letter "A" and Hester's daughter Pearl. Both are products of a strong womanly hand. The link between the two cannot be overstated. Hester's skill at embroidery are unmatched and her "A"s tend to transcend clothing and reach paroxysms of high art. The same can be said of Pearl, who is a beautiful, radiant child full of smiles and good cheer, despite the community's passive aggression.

I don't mean to make this entirely about The Scarlet Letter, but I do want to make this point. There's too much conflict in Easy A's subtext for the movie to make any sense. Is Easy A about the empowerment of women? Or the enslaving of women to a society obsessed with sex? Is Easy A trying to say that sex is dangerous or that sex is natural and beautiful? Is Easy A trying to say that lying to everyone is worse than lying to yourself?

None of these ideas purposefully poke their head out of the miasma of bad jokes and sunny California locations. It's a mess of sexual subtext. And it never once addresses the double standard that persists in North American society.

At no point does any character take a moment to ask if female sexuality is inherently good, bad, or just a thing that exists. Olive just traipses around in her slutty clothes, letting the rumour mill run, but she never stops to think that being sexual isn't a bad thing. She studiously avoids losing her virginity, maintaining it in her mind, but in public, lets every fat loser stick their dick in her. While Olive thinks that she's challenging social norms by sewing "A"s into her clothes, she's actually just playing into the patriarchal tyranny that infests the high school society.

There's a disturbing scene in which Olive finally gets asked out on a date, and she goes to a lobster restaurant with some cute guy that's never expressed any interest before. After the awkward dinner where it's clear the cute guy has nothing to offer a girl of wit and intelligence, the guy gives her a Home Depot gift card and tries to make out with her. He's confused the reality (paying for fake sex) with the rumour (actual sex), which means he's paying for real sex. It's disturbing because this is a real fucking possibility. The guy keeps trying to kiss her and nobody in that goddamn parking lot did anything to help. Olive is almost raped, and the movie just moves on from there.

You know what would've been a better movie, far more progressive and true to real life? If Olive had lost her virginity and told her friends about it, how it was shitty and unromantic, but at least it was real. Then she could have challenged social norms by being open about her sexuality and confronted people with their repression. Not only would this have been more emotionally honest with the audience, but it would've been closer in theme to The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne never once lies about what she did. She wears her badge of shame and challenges its authority by proudly displaying the beautiful product of the adultery.

The only thing that Olive is proud of is her irritating wit, and her slutty clothes. Lying about sex is always going to translate to lying to yourself and your desires. We can't help be the people we are going to be. You can't change your sexual orientation anymore than you can change your race. Why are we celebrating a movie that includes a scene in which a gay character pays a girl to help people think he's straight?

The sexual atmosphere in North America is dangerous right now. While many people are doing whatever the fuck they want in their homes, which is their business, there is a small minority of people out there telling everybody else that sex is bad and that anything other than heterosexual missionary is morally repugnant and pure deviancy. This movie is playing into that hand. This movie is telling people that sex is dangerous, even fake sex is dangerous. Look at all the lives it ruins.

The two most positive characters in the movie, and the funniest, are Olive's parents, played perfectly by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci. Both of the characters are open about their sexuality, how they experimented with the opposite sex, how they like sex, how the mom was a "slut" if only because she liked to have sex. They're even okay with Olive having a gay boyfriend. I admit that these characters are moral center of the movie. I admit that this movie isn't pure poison, that it isn't Republican.

But there isn't enough of these two characters. Olive learns some lessons about lying to herself, but she never fucking understands that sex isn't goddamn dangerous. She just dives into a relationship with a hot guy who makes irritating references to John Hughes movies. She says at the end of the movie that she will probably lose her virginity to this guy sometime soon, sometime in the future, maybe when they get married.... AH! Is it such a big goddamn deal? You've totally missed the point, Olive!

Why didn't this movie confront social norms by asking if it's so bad to be sexual? Why didn't anybody in this entire movie ask of themselves, "hey good for Olive, I guess? If that's what she wants?" Why didn't anybody think to themselves that maybe having sex is natural and nothing to get all worked up over?

I worry about our society sometimes. I worry because of rape and sexual abuse and of gay-bashing and of general intolerance.

Anyways, the movie's kind of funny and has some great lines, but nothing special. Blah blah blah. It's got some fucked up sexual politics though and it made me mad. Can't we show sex in movies to be what it is in reality? Sometimes beautiful, often hilarious, sometimes sad and angry, sometimes awkward and often pleasant! It's our biological imperative and yet we're obsessed with obsessing over it.

That's the end of the review, almost 1400 words about how this movie misunderstands The Scarlet Letter, but I wanted to mention something sort of related. The judge who said that the girl was asking for sex by dressing like a slut? He's an asshole, but that doesn't mean we should threaten his life. But rest assured, he's a fucking asshole.

Monday, March 14, 2011


A while back, I decided that Don Winslow's The Power of the Dog was one of the best books I had read in all of 2010. And yet it took me fucking forever to read another novel by him. It was almost like I was worried that it wouldn't be as good so I avoided Winslow. I decided to man up and read his 2010 novel, Savages.

Ben and Chon grow and distribute marijuana in Southern California. Ben is the grower, the chemist, the Buddhist, the dreamer, and Chon is the muscle, the gun, the badass. O, or Ophelia, is their girlfriend. It's confusing, don't ask. When the Baja Cartel want to take over their operation, Ben and Chon refuse and say screw you. In response, the cartel kidnaps their beloved O and asks them to come up with either three years of indentured servitude or twenty million. The boys decide to do the sensible thing and rob the cartel to pay them and then rescue their O. Too bad the cartel's populated with fucking crazies who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

In my review of The Power of the Dog, I compared Winslow to modern-era Ellroy, Soderbergh's Traffic and seventies paperbacks with sex gods blowing everybody's minds. To reiterate, this wasn't a complaint, but rather an observation. Savages is a different kind of novel than the first one I read. Savages is a character study first, and then a kidnapping story second. Thirdly, it's a continuation of the themes (and some plot points) picked up by The Power of the Dog.

And it works completely because of Winslow's deft narration and investment in his cast. First, let's talk about Winslow's prose. It's an acquired taste for sure. My mother would hate it. It's snappy and rings like a bell, with short sharp sentences and mid-sentence paragraph breaks for increased emphasis. The narrator speaks straight to the audience and uses a very conversational tone and language, as if the narrator is telling you this over a few beers in your local bar. There's asides and tangents and jokes and puns and riffing on the current political climate in the US. Make no mistake, this is a novel set in 2010 and is a product of its time.

There's references to Obama, to Glenn Beck, to Skype, to Facebook, to all manner of modern day conveniences, but also to the political problems facing the US right now. Soldiers, returning home, without any future, are being hired by drug lords for military operations. The recession is in full swing and those with money are holding onto it for dear life. The racism and the class warfare between the rich Mexicans and all the rest of the Mexican community back home and in Cali. Cults, life coaches, shopping, Rodeo Drive, cyber-terrorism, Darfur, rape, political corruption. For a book that's really only about a few character, it's a big book.

Instead of using the same giant canvas that Winslow used in The Power of the Dog, this book is more interested in what happens when powerful people overstep their boundaries and fuck with the wrong dudes. Ben and Chon go on a crusade against the Baja Cartel in order to save the one person in the world that they would do anything for. Of course, there is a price to be paid for this: the loss of innocence and the soul.

It's heartbreaking, because you have to know how it ends. You have to know because when three people love each other as much as they do, there's no way it can end with happy smiles and no blood. It's a point in Winslow's favour that it's never cloying or irritating. It's simply organic and it broke my heart.

Savages' greatest strength, second only to its relentless pace, is Winslow's investment in character. He builds each character and let them be people, with enough backstory for you to picture the person, and enough to make the emotions take their toll, but he never gets bogged down in explaining who the person is, their life, their love, their thoughts. Only enough to get the job done, which sort of explains Winslow's style.

I said that Savages is a big novel, but it's lean and mean. Yes, Winslow pokes at all sort of sleeping bears like Obama and that super annoying Alaskan, but it's always in the context of a bit of background or for a laugh. The rest of the novel is as lean as his prose. It's just hums along at a fantastic clip and it rarely takes a sunny detour down a path not needed.

Savages is a great summer read, full of action, hot girls, drugs, heists, guns, and a load of great characters. I didn't love this one as much as the last Winslow, but that was a pretty hard act to follow. I loved Savages and I will read another book by him for sure.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How I grew to love life

I'm sure many of my readers have been wondering why I haven't read a book in March. I'm sure many of them are wondering why I stopped posting Yoga Journal posts. This is a personal post about myself and my life, posting for posterity and for myself. So if you read this blog for reviews about nothing, then feel free to skip this post.

The three year relationship I was in ended in January. It was an easy breakup for both parties and it was civil and easy. Regardless of how easy the breakup is, there are still emotions and sadness and grief and anger and whatnot. This post isn't about the breakup. This post is about how I reacted to the breakup.

I started getting rid of all my stuff. I have too much stuff. Too many things cluttering up my life and my apartment and it's all baggage that I need to carry around. In a very obvious form of symbolism, I sold as much as I could. I also started fixing things that were broken, such as my dresser and my external hard drive. Anything to streamline my life. Anything to make things easier for myself and to give myself projects.

Here are the projects I started and some of which were finished: recording of music, yoga, learn how to make sushi, read more nonfiction and keep the apartment clean. Yoga I kind of gave up, but I replaced with actual exercise, so it's not a bad thing. In terms of recording music, I spend six hours and all I managed to complete was a 1 minute, 20 second song that sounds like Nine Inch Nails. I did learn how to make sushi and now I'm obsessed with it. I just have to be careful and not eat too many bad things.

I'm super serious about being healthy now. Here's how it started. First, I stopped using acne wash for my face, because I wanted to know if it was making it worse. Turns out it was. My face is getting clearer. So I kept going. I gave up shampoo and soap over three weeks ago. The idea was to try and let my body's chemistry regulate itself rather than artificially remove all the natural oils. You can look it up and see how many people are going it. Right now my head smells not great but not disgusting, but my hair is much softer and easy to manage. It also doesn't get that greasy feel at the end of the day. In terms of my skin, I'm seeing more softness, but nothing drastic. As my diet evens out and all the junk food leaves my system, the smell will dissipate and I will have a neutral smell overall, like my body does right now.
My diet right now consists of 1500 calories, which is probably half of what I'm used to. I had a bad weekend of eating Thai food and Chinese food, but I did have more fruit and more vegetables. Instead of beer, I drank gin and water or gin and diet pop. I also abstained from chips and other snack food. I want to use portion control and math to lose weight, along with exercise.
My dad gave me a bike trainer which holds up the bike so I can ride in the apartment. I've been doing more and more with each progressive day. It feels good, man.

I was lonely in 2010. Even in a relationship I was lonely. I was working night shifts and stuck at home without any money and in a bad relationship. Since we broke up, I went out with a different girl who is super fun and nice but we're better as friends. I've also been hanging out with tons of people I haven't seen. I receive texts all the time. All my friends have been amazing and I love them all. I love that even my friends at school have hung out with me, have wished me luck, have helped with my health, with my school, with my life. I love that my ex-girlfriend's group of friends invited me out to a party. I love that one of my friends suggested a trip to California. I love that one of my friends introduced me to a girl with whom I could have "fun" with.

I love that when I wake up, I'm not angry. I'm happier. My whole future sits before me at my feet, a cloudy path that's so inscrutable, but it's exciting because of that. I can do anything I want to do and I will. I've thought of moving to California after school's done. Or moving to Montreal. I've thought of getting more tattoos. I've thought of dating girls. I've thought of not dating girls. I've thought of moving back in my parents. I decided to move in with a friend who has been super amazing to me the past two months.

I got my old job back at the restaurant. I missed all my friends and I missed the social aspect of work. I have fun with people. I'm not a loner, but I'm happy with alone time (a psychology experiment just recently proved this to be a norm for people), so I needed the people. But, I didn't get my old job back, I was moved to a different restaurant where I know some people, so now I have the chance to make NEW friends. Very exciting.

I'm writing again. Very slowly, but I'm writing. I've already completed over 20 pages of good prose and a good plot. It's really hard work because I have written a novel since I was in university and I'm out of practice, but it's exciting regardless.

Sometimes I'm sad because I think I have to go through the whole dating thing again and try and find someone, and the odds are that we'll break up within five years. That depresses me a little. But then I suddenly think that it doesn't matter. I don't have to find somebody right now. I don't have to date. I just need to improve myself, lose weight, finish school, stay healthy, make new friends, and then it will just happen. It's when you stop looking for it that you will find it. I'm not looking for anything outside me anymore. Now, I'm looking inside and figuring out how I make it more awesome. There's a fucking handsome, clever, confident and healthy dude somewhere inside me. I just need to bring him out.

I love my life.

Thank you.

Monday, March 7, 2011


It's not very often that I bore people with the details of my dream, but this one is worth talking about.

In the dream, I am in an insane asylum, but not gothic. It's a modern hospital, and I am in the crafts room along with numerous other patients. There is another crafts room that is slowly accumulating more patients because the crayon selection is better. I am drawing scenes from my alternate life (my real life) with crayons. The patients are all people I know in my alternate life. The orderlies are also people I know.

The scenes that I am drawing are from my alternate self, and one of the other patients remarks that I'm just a dreamer and that these things never happened. I tell him that they did happen. I tell him that I remember them.

Then I wake up. And for a split second, I question my own reality. Am I the man who dreams of the asylum, or am I the man who dreams of sanity?

Dreams sometimes mess with my sense of reality, and this one sure did. While I showered, I went over my memories and tried to determine if my real life was real or if they were false memories. It was a weird way to start my week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Black Swan

I suppose after being so critically acclaimed, I would have to see the movie. I'm not really interested in ballet or Natalie Portman, but I am a fan of the director, Darren Aronofsky, except I haven't seen his movie about wrestling. Anyway, so here's my review of Black Swan, recipient of Best Actress for Natalie Portman.

Nina is a beautiful but overly technical dancer. The director of her company, Thomas is mounting a reinterpretation of Swan Lake. After the lead dancer is given the short shrift, the lead is open, and Thomas casts Nina as the Swan Queen, even though she doesn't display enough passion to do the dual role of the Black Swan. Lily, a beautiful and mysterious dancer from another company arrives, and is cast as Nina's alternate. Both Thomas and Lily attempt to bring Nina to a more passionate world, one where she can play the more sensual and erotic Black Swan. In addition to her mounting suspicions that Lily is trying to take over, Nina must also deal with accumulating physical problems, such as her toes mysteriously webbing.

I'm not even sure what to say about this movie other than it was fucking weird. Very fucking weird. Nina's tenuous grasp on reality slowly deteriorates while simultaneously becoming more aware of her physicality and eroticism.

This movie is all over the place. It's a gothic melodrama, and I mean melodrama, full of loud strings and passionate moments of excitement and the darkest emotions one can feel. It's full to the brim with paranoia. Nina keeps seeing doubles around her, seeing her own face everywhere, her reflection doing things she would never do.

I was reminded quite a bit of Cronenberg's The Fly. Both movies are concerned with the monster that we could be, and what happens when we let the monster take control. Nina's slow transformation from virginal white swan to dark erotic sensual monster is very similar to Seth Brundle's slow deterioration into Brundlefly: the physical mutation, the ever-growing awareness of power, and the sexual aspects.

But where The Fly is concerned with heartbreak, Black Swan is intent on fucking with your mind. Reality is in the eye of the beholder with this movie, and it is what you make of it. Is Nina actually transforming into a swan? Is she actually falling apart? Or does she just think she is?

It gets weirder in the last thirty minutes of this movie. Very weird. I'm not going to spoil the end of the movie, but suffice it to say that grand guignol and chiaroscuro elements come full force. Giant music just blares at you as Nina goes off the deep end, the lighting changes from stark to blood red and night blue.

An interesting element of the photography is how close the camera sticks to Natalie Portman. For a good portion of the film, there are only a few variations on shots, and the most common one is a tight close-up of her face. Sort of like the poster. We never stray far from her head, even during the dancing parts, when Aronofsky uses a handheld style to try and get as close as possible, sort of like Scorsese's Raging Bull.

I enjoyed the movie. I guess. I don't know. It struggled to keep my interest during the more down to earth segments, and I was never very invested in Nina as a character - a fatal flaw considering she's in every single scene. What I did enjoy were the elements of body-horror, one of my all-time favourite subgenres. My comparison to Cronenberg isn't really that far off.

The most frightening thing in the world is when the thing you trust the most betrays you: yourself, your mind and your body. Nina is falling apart mentally and her physical state mirrors that. Her own decay is so absolutely fascinating, and Aronofsky keeps the viewer as close to Nina as possible as to avoid any semblance of outside reality seeping in.

Did Portman deserve her Oscar? Why the fuck not. The Oscars are totally irrelevant. It's not a measure of skill or merit. It's a bizarre reward for being in prestige films. Oh well.

I liked Black Swan. I'd like to see it again so that I can appreciate the finer details that Aronofsky built into the film. While I found the usual artists-being-babies plot to be a bit tiresome, I was utterly captivated by the thriller elements. Polanski may have found his successor after all.

Thoughts on the Matrix Trilogy

The Matrix Trilogy really isn't as bad as people remember it being. I saw The Matrix back in 2002 when it was playing at the IMAX, in preparation for the release of the dual sequels. It was the only time I had seen it on the big screen. In 2003, when the first sequel was release into theaters, I saw it twice - once on the release date, then again with a bunch of friends. I also saw it in the IMAX, thus making it the only film I've ever seen three times in a theater. I even went to see Dreamcatcher so that I could see The Final Flight of the Osiris, which led into the first sequel. Finally, I saw The Matrix Revolutions twice, once on the release date, and then again in the IMAX.
Therefore, the Matrix Trilogy holds a couple honours in my life. It's the only entire film series I've seen in the theater, as well as the only film series I've seen in its entirety on IMAX screens. (When The Dark Knight Rises comes out, that trilogy would be the only other series to be seen by me in the theaters) It remains the movies I've seen the most in theaters. The first sequel was released while I was in Philosophy 101 in university, and I wrote two academic papers on Plato's Cave and David Hume that referenced the Matrix films explicitly. Both were A+ papers, by the way.
I admit to being disappointed the first time I saw the third film. There was no way that the conclusion could live up to the hype in my head. But I tempered my expectations telling people I knew there would be no easy answers in the final part.
Upon seeing Tron: Legacy, and thinking about how much of it was influenced by the Matrix films, I decided to re-watch the trilogy, but skipping the first movie, because I've seen it probably twenty times. I haven't seen the sequels in probably four or five years, and I wanted to know if I would enjoy it as much as I did back in the day. I've assembled some thoughts on the experience for you to enjoy.

When it comes to film series, I usually love the first one, but then love the second one even more to the point of skipping the first. This happens all the time. I've seen Alien maybe three times, but I've seen Aliens at least twenty. Dead Man's Chest remains my favourite Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and The Empire Strikes Back is the only film poster I have hanging on my wall. The second Spider-Man is the best, and the second X-Men is the best. An exception to this rule is that Scream 2 sucks and Temple of Doom isn't that great.
For the Matrix Trilogy, the same rules apply. The second one remains my favourite, even after a four-to-five year hiatus. Part of the reason why the second installment is usually better is that the status quo has already been defined, and there's less work on the film's part to set up.
This is especially true of The Matrix: Reloaded. One of the reasons why it's my favourite is that it starts off right away with action, and then sets the tone with inevitable apocalypse and destruction. The stakes are ridiculously high, and they manage to increase them with the twist that occurs at the end of the film.
Reloaded wisely changes the game when Neo meets the Architect. It turns over a few things established in the first film, but doesn't completely contradict the events. I say that this is a wise move because it forces the viewer to question the past of the Matrix and the future. Not everything is clear anymore - even if you know the status quo, the filmmakers change the game. A revelation that The One is a systemic anomaly but useful and required is a very big twist and it works. It makes the viewer question whether the revolution is part of the plan. It also feeds into the determinism theme.

Philosophically speaking, I'm against The Matrix movies. They put forth a theory that the human race is special because of free will. That's what all the hullabaloo about choice is in the three films. I personally believe in determinism, a theme that constantly pops up in the fiction I write.
The Matrix movies are obsessed with belief, almost to the point of distraction. The word "believe" has the be one of the most uttered words in the entire screenplay. Morpheus says it every other word. It's like Lawrence Fishburne had it written into his contract.
Faith and free will and choice are illusions in my book, but this trilogy thinks otherwise. The power of love and the crazy things it makes us do is one of the biggest motivators in the films. Both Neo and Trinity do all sorts of badass things for each other and it's the power of love that causes things to change. Neo chooses to save Trinity rather than Zion in the second film, which continues the chain reaction to destroy the human race. All for love.
Now that I'm a little bit older and not an arrogant university student, I'm looking at the philosophy in the Matrix movies and wondering if there's more or less to it than I thought there was. Well, the answer is both. I'm appreciating what they were trying to do in relation to free will and humanity, but on the other hand, it's no goddamn David Hume. It's simplicity disguised as complexity. I don't think the Matrix movies are all that philosophically mature or deep, but I don't think it's all surface. I wouldn't write a paper on the movies now that I'm 26.

A small amount of the special effects are a bit laughable in 2011 (the rubber doll effect of completely CGI people), but overall the visuals are exceedingly impressive. Even after staying away for four-to-five years, my experience with The Matrix sequels was excellent. I love how everything looks in these movies. I love the colour scheme: green for inside the Matrix and blue for outside. I even love the strange Jedi-style costumes the characters wear.
In the assault on Zion scenes, when the millions of sentinels converge on the dock, the synthesis of live action and CGI is utterly and completely seamless. It's a masterclass in how to weave together different realities. No matter what anyone thinks of the story or the pseudo-philosophy, the CGI effects are stunning, even 8 years after the fact.

Agent Smith is still the best part of the movies. He's such an engaging villain and he's played with such vigor by Hugo Weaving. He's a great actor playing the part with every ounce of energy he's got. When actors just throw themselves into roles, I'm more inclined to appreciate rather than actors simply going through lines.
Smith is a great villain because he's unpredictable. He shows no mercy and has no respect for humanity and that makes him dangerous. That's why he's so damned scary.

Keanu Reeves? Not a very good actor. But is he any good in these movies? Well... yes and no. He plays the stunned spaced out guy really well, but when the messianic elements come into play, it's a little hard to believe (ha). He never really bothered me in the movies like he did most critics. He was just a powerful piece in a bigger game. I didn't really watch these movies to enjoy high quality dramatic emoting. And I didn't get it, so I wasn't disappointed.

One thing that struck me that I didn't really notice until now is the masterful control over tone. These are dark movies without a lot of hope, and it's possible that the viewer would just feel depressed, especially in the dirty Zion scenes. But the directors keep the tone even and balanced, with light touches here and there, but never inane comedy or people getting hit in the crotch. From the second scene in the Matrix Reloaded, the tone is set to dire, and the filmmakers sustain this sense of dread throughout the rest of the trilogy, up until the final scene between the Oracle and the Architect.
But it's never oppressive. It's never the hopelessness that pervades zombie movies. Even though things are dark, I was never bogged down by the movies. In fact, the opposite. There's a sense of exhilaration when the good guys manage small victories and they kick at the darkness. This is an example of the marriage between tone and the audience's investment in the characters. If I even felt a little bit better when things go good for the protagonists, that means the directors have done their job, and I'm colluded into the experience. It's not the easiest thing to do in the world, and this trilogy accomplishes it.

Overall? Yes, I still love these movies, despite their numerous problems. But I don't think they are as bad as the reviews would have you believe. I think the world's expectations were too high and the fans too quick to judge. These movies are still very good and I will watch them again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Additional thoughts on Tron: Legacy

I went with Jenwa to see Tron: Legacy in the cheap theater, and I have some additional thoughts to add to my review.

Again, I was really impressed by the visuals, and this time, because I wasn't so immersed in the story, I was able to savour the visuals. Two particular details really stuck out for me. Firstly, in the real world, the light bled a little, giving me the impression that it was filmed with digital cameras, such as the Red One camera. I was reminded of Collateral a lot, or of Fincher's later films (some of which were filmed with the Red One). It's a striking style that isn't utilized enough. Digital film lacks the grain of 35mm and it can't quite keep up with motion or light, but the colour and resolution is far better. Anyway, that's my nontechnical opinion regarding digital film.
The second detail that struck me was the simulated effects of light in the scenes on The Grid. Instead of having light make lens flares, as in the Star Trek reboot, the director has the light mimic the reflection of light on glass, as if The Grid is behind a computer screen. It's a subtle effect. Because it's not nearly as distracting as lens flares, and the mimicry never calls attention to itself, it's very appealing.

I saw this movie first in the IMAX theatre, and I was disappointed in the 3D effects. The field of depth wasn't anywhere near as deep as in Avatar, and just like in all 3D movies, I got so used to the 3D that it was not noticeable by the halfway point. In my second go-around, I wanted to avoid 3D so that I could enjoy the colours better. However, that was not meant to be. I saw it again in 3D, but this time, I purposefully removed my glasses for the 2D scenes, and I have to say, it was better in 2D. I don't care if part of the movie was filmed in 3D, because it's just not that noticeable.
Colour plays such an important role in this movie that the 3D damages the experience by muddying up the image and dulling the colours. I am not an opponent of 3D movies. In fact, I've seen many and most of them entertain me, but not quite enough to justify the exaggerated price tag. It's a fad, and it will pass. I'm going to be more choosy about which films I see in 3D.
Tron: Legacy was better in 2D, which means to me, that I didn't have to fucking wait until February to see it. Oh well.

The character of Tron plays a huge role in both the original and the sequel. A huge role. But in the sequel, we only see his face for a few moments, and it's all in flashback. If the makers of this film went to the bother of de-aging Jeff Bridges (a special effect that is both impressive and unnerving - thanks to the uncanny valley), why didn't they give Tron more face time? This sort of leads into my next point, but I'll get to it in a second. Tron's change in behaviour, both leading up to and then occurring through the movie, aren't detailed enough. If he's so important, why not let the character's arc breathe a little?

Another hour of material could have easily been added to this movie and I would've been happy. Here is a movie that's shouting for an extended version. First and foremost, more screen time for Tron (see the above point). We never see his face, and we should. We should see what happens to him, slowly but surely. There could be more exploration of the Grid itself, rather than just the games and the bar from The Matrix: Reloaded. There's so much that's implied by little things here and there, and you could easily expand on things. Maybe not add a character, but just have the cast explore the world a little bit more.

The technobabble is ludicrously inane upon the second viewing. Isomorphic algorithms? What the fuck does that mean? By strict definition, an algorithm is a way to calculate a function, and isomorphism is a type of mapping that shows relationships between two objects. Therefore, a self-aware program with biodigital DNA is not a mapping of two different functions. That doesn't mean anything. Oh well.
There's a line where Flynn hears about Wi-Fi and proclaims that he thought of wireless linking of digital devices in '85. No shit, Flynn, anybody who knows what radio waves are was working on wireless technology. We had fictional wireless devices since before Flynn was born, so shut up.

Overall, I fucking loved the movie a second time. It's amazing that the movie managed to live up to my ridiculous expectations. Now, let's start working on a sequel, Disney.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Trio of Comic Reviews

I've stayed away from comics for awhile. I've only read a couple things here and there. I'm not sure what happened, but I just gave up on them. I've been re-reading a few series here and there, but I haven't started anything major. Except for these three series. So here's a few hundred words about each series.


I started reading Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's series a long time ago, but since it was so plagued with delays, and the first few issues aren't really that good, and my taste for Warren Ellis has gone, so I gave up. But when the final issue came about, and I had the chance to read the entire series, I gave it a go and read it in one sitting.

It's hard to talk about Planetary without any mention to Ellis' style, which is of idea after idea after idea being thrown at the reader, hoping some of it will stick, and the interconnectedness of the entire world. Everything is possible and everything is real, in Ellis' world. Planetary is that very same idea, but populated with comic book pastiches and archetypes. The original characters aren't interesting or unique - they are just riffs on familiar Ellis characters. If you've read Ellis before, you know what you're getting into.

But this makes it seem like Planetary is boring or predictable, when it really isn't. The first bunch of issues are all set up, in done-in-one style issues, but then the grand conspiracy begins to take shape, and Ellis goes nuts with how vast this particular scheme is. The primary twist at the centre of the series is fairly left-field, and fits in with his pet themes. The only reason why I saw it coming is because I was familiar enough with Ellis' style to correctly guess.

The series is good, but it's not great. It's not particularly cohesive, as it tries to balance X-Files-like story arcs and monsters of the week, and the main villains aren't very fleshed out. In fact, you could say that of any Ellis character post-Authority. None of the characters have any depth, and they all simply talk at each other.

The Authority, and to a lesser extent, Stormwatch, represent Ellis' best work, by far. Not only is it cohesive, but it's stunning and populated with sharply drawn characters. Planetary is just a pale imitation, and an imitation of Alan Moore's self-referential stuff.

Ex Machina

I love Brian K Vaughn. I think he's a fantastic storyteller with a great eye for character and for plots. He works best on long form stories, where he can stretch his legs and create a whole universe. In Ex Machina, he's made an alternate history tale, with the world's only superhero giving up and running for mayor of New York City. It's a clearly political work that lets Vaughn showcase his pet beliefs.

Unlike Y The Last Man, Ex Machina isn't so concerned with destroying the world and recreating it (figuratively and literally) as it is with moving specific characters through the real world. What would happen if a superhero really wanted to make political change, is the central thesis.

And of course, the individual who struggles against the system is bound to lose, as David Simon has shown us. Mitchell, the main character, must balance his beliefs and his morals against a larger framework and a multitude of people who would see him lose everything. It's a classic of superhero serial storytelling, but more realistic in setting than Superman.

It's also a love story to comics themselves. Mitchell is a quintessential nerd and makes references all the time to other comics. Sort of like Yorick from Y The Last Man. Yes, there is a bit of repetition between the two series, especially in the rhythms of dialogue. Vaughn only writes a couple different voices, and they are engaging, but tiresome after 50 issues in a couple sittings.

Because it's a political work, I'm going to respond to its politics. Vaughn struggles to sustain a real political atmosphere. He tries to balance the boring bureaucratic stuff with espionage and standard superhero fare, a hybrid if you will. But I would have preferred if Vaughn went all the way with politics. Use the superhero stuff as background, and hint at the mystery a little, just like he did so successfully, but don't use it as a crutch.

The political stuff of Ex Machina is easily the most interesting part. In each situation, in each crazy, but real situation, Vaughn lets his characters do the work, showing not telling (some of the time) and it works. It's engaging and suspenseful. I was always invested in Mitchell, except when supervillains and other powers bullshit got in the way.

Maybe I'm just getting older, and my tastes for standard superhero nonsense is diminishing. God, this theme has been popping up a lot in my reviews.

Ex Machina is a fantastic series, despite its overly poppy dialogue, and its reliance on superhero tropes. A more daring series could have done away with 50 percent of the superhero stuff and remained engaging, topical and awesome.

Gotham Central

Despite the surprises contained within this series being spoiled by every other series, I thoroughly enjoyed Gotham Central. Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker created an amazing cast that uses the established Batman cast and forges its own tone and voice.

It's a police procedural at its heart, and it succeeds mightily. Each little arc is a mystery, and sometimes the solution features a fantastical Batman villain. Sometimes, it's just a sad story about sad little people.

The best part of the book, other than its engaging cast, is the use of Batman. The Caped Crusader is used sparingly, and his appearances are effective and powerful. He's never shown in any other light than supreme badass just materializing out of nowhere in the nick of time. He's also a huge dick to people.

The dynamic between the police and the Batman is very complicated, and this gives the series even more depth. Some cops like him, some cops hate him. They resent that they need Batman to survive such a city. They applaud him for capturing thugs, but they're angry when cops die in the line of duty and Batman does nothing to recognize it.

Of the huge cast, two of the best characters are Renee Montoya and Cris Allen, both of whom go on to bigger things in the future. But their origins as down to earth city cops with real lives and real families and real problems suits them best.

The big surprises are that Montoya is gay, which I've known since forever, and that Crispus Allen gets murdered, which shouldn't be a surprise because he becomes the spirit of vengeance, The Spectre, which is a very boring turn of events for Allen.

Anyways, this series rules, but it suffers from a couple problems. Firstly, the art is uneven after the main artist leaves the book. Secondly, the cast is fairly large, and I had trouble keeping track of everybody and their role in the large police department. But that might be me and not the book.

So there you have it - I read three full series and reviewed them for this blog. The best of the trio was Ex Machina, even with reservations, followed by Gotham Central and finally the not so great Planetary.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jackass 3D

I imagine that when production offices for Jackass 3D opened, the boys stood around, giggling about their upcoming plans, and then looking around and said, "Fuck me, has it really been ten years?" Time must fly when you're hitting each other in the sack and getting bit parts in shitty movies like Men in Black II. Yes, Jackass celebrated ten years of easy targets and dick jokes, to do so, they crafted their newest film in 3D.

I never watched the show when it was airing, back in the day. I had no time for such antics. In fact, I wasn't really even watching TV. Back in 1999-2000, I was reading Chuck Palahniuk, Naomi Klein's No Logo, and the design-fetish magazine Adbusters. Yes, I was knee-deep in anti-consumerism and trying to be a hipster before hipsters became hip. So, no I didn't have time for those boys. But then, I saw the movie, in 2002, and thus became a fan.

The grossout gags and wince-worthy stunts were not what drew me to Jackass. It wasn't their stupid games, or their plethora of celebrity cameos. No, it was the camaraderie. Saw what you will about the Jackass boys, but they are one of the tightest friend groups I've ever seen. When you do the things they do, you instantly bond with your cohorts, and you stick by them. Even after ten years, the core group remains the same, but with an extended family of friends and like-minded idiots.

The Jackass trilogy is a very careful ode to male friendship, and it's especially true of the third movie. After every painful stunt and every gross maneuver, the boys make sure the performer is okay and tell him how awesome he is. Nobody is safe from a punch to the face, no one is safe is from falling through a trap door into a pit of snakes. They always laugh about it and they always take care of each other. Nobody ever does anything out of spite or malice. They just want to be boys and have fun.

Of course, there are those that believe that the Jackass trilogy is an ode to arrested development, grown men in their thirties trying desperately to stay in Neverland, led by the braying Peter Pan called Johnny Knoxville. Even as adults, some of them with children (as shown in the credits crawl at the end), they laugh uncontrollably at farts and shit.

But is this so terrible? Is it so bad to laugh at scatological humour? Well, no. And yes at the same time. Will the Jackass crew find this stuff so hilarious when they are 50 or 60 or older? No doubt they will, but the fear is that their fanbase will grow up without them.

This leads me into the movie itself. I found Jackass 3D to be funny. But it wasn't as funny or cringe-worthy as the last movie. There are a couple different possibilities as to why I didn't find it as good.

1. The jokes aren't funny. The ideas have run out, and the boys are doing more extreme versions of stunts I saw eight years ago. Their well has gone dry. This makes the most sense. After ten years, how many times is an airborne port-a-potty filled with shit?

2. I'm desensitized. I've seen too much grossout humour and disgusting acts. The Jackass crew has been over-exposed and I've been over saturated with toilet humour. I'm not sure if this is especially true, because there were many instances where the boys themselves puke from the grossness of the acts. The acts are more extreme, and did often provoke revulsion in me. So it's not lack of sensitivity.

3. I'm older. It's true that I'm turning 27 years old this year, and I'm interested in different things than when I was 19 and seeing the first Jackass for the first time. I've done so many things and experienced new things, that maybe, like Andy in Toy Story 3, I'm putting away childish things for the next generation. This explanation as to why I didn't laugh makes me sad, actually.

I don't want to be old. I want to be a boy forever. Maybe that's an additional reason why I love the Jackass movies so much, in spite of me not laughing as hard this time. The crew allows me to experience being a rich child without any responsibilities and doing stupid shit for the amusement of myself and my friends. That's what a lot of men want to do, and we live through Jackass.

This is a fairly personal review of a movie about men hitting each other in the sack, but for a reason. I want to engage with this art on a personal level because the whole point of art like this is to engage the viewer on a personal level. There's no academia with Jackass, no intelligentsia, no status or class warfare. This is escapism that speaks to the inner child, and I should respond as such.

I still laughed a lot with Jackass 3D. There are absolutely stunning moments of comedy, such as when they get a bunch of superglue and start removing body hair. Or when Knoxville dresses as a grandpa and has public make out sessions with a girl in her twenties. Or a hallway with tazers suspended from the ceiling that the convicts must get through. Or when they get into the pen of a ram and try to soothe it with noise from a tuba. Or when a man successfully blows a dart through a tube using only the power of his farts. There are plenty of moments to love.

I wanted to love Jackass 3D but I ended up only liking it. Jackass 2 remains the best of the bunch, I'm afraid, if only because their budget was enormous and their stunts fairly insane. There were moments where I thought the boys would die and when they didn't, I felt the same relief as surely their friends did.

So that's 1000 words about why I liked Jackass 3D. I didn't love it because the ideas aren't as fresh, and I'm getting older, but I did like it because I want to be a boy forever, just like they will be, thanks to money and endorsements. Here's to you, Jackass boys for ten years of hitting yourself in the collective crotch.