Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.

They need to teach aesthetics.  It ought to be a mandatory class.

It seems that even Ebsen Storm thought that Subterano (the film I rubbished in my last post) was terrible: he was credited as ‘ Mort S. Seben’ .

We can appreciate art in two ways.  The first is to appreciate its form.  The second is to appreciate its substance.

My classic example illustrates the first: The Old Man and the Sea.  It’s amazing but it has absolutely no substance.  Wagner is another good example: the substance is ugly (Germanic people are the shiznit, yo), but the form is magnificent.

It’s more difficult to find good art which can be appreciated for its substance alone.  The works of the Beatles, I think, satisfies this.  Musically, it’s rubbish.  Its message was an important reflection on its era (at least, the later stuff was).  Godzilla films were about the fear of science post WWII in Japan.

SPOILER WARNING… not that you’ll go watch the film, but it’s always best to be polite.

Subterano is about a dystopian future (shock!) where computer games (shock!) are a big deal and there’s a rebel who’s trying to escape from the authorities (shock!).  A group of polar opposite personalities (shock!) have to bond together in order to escape a death game (shock!).

The resolution to the film is that the protagonist and a few of his women escape the death game.  The death game was being conducted by a sociopathic adolescent who is upset that he failed to kill the protagonist and his women, so he starts up another game with a new set of victims… Continue reading “Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.”

And someday you’ll see I only wanted to please… and I’ll play you this CD

There are some things in life when you think that something is going to be really, really good, and it turns out to be really craptacular.  The Phantom Menace, A Confederacy of Dunces, most films starring John Malkovich, the entire life of Neil Gaiman (including his ‘Hey, I’m sorry for upsetting people with my crappy behaviour, but you guys are a bunch of disabled feminists’ girlfriend, Amanda Palmer).

These things serve to remind us that we cannot take enjoyment for granted — the material world is a place of misery and disappointment created by a malicious deity who didn’t want humans to understand Gnosis.  Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.

On the other hand, there are things which do the opposite of this.  We come across them not expecting much and discover that they’re beautiful, wonderful, mysterious, and completely lovely.  There’s a richness to them which you’d never have suspected, and you feel slightly silly for having doubted how magnificent it is.

Of course, I’m talking about Monkey: Journey to the West. Continue reading “And someday you’ll see I only wanted to please… and I’ll play you this CD”

I’ll love you in the morning when you’re still hungover… and we need to reboot the Prequels

Let’s face it: the Star Wars prequels sucked.  There were two and only two good points:

1. Yoda fighting; and

2. Aayla Secura.

These are facts.  But even (1) is a poisoned chalice: it makes it even more baffling why Yoda didn’t fight Vader.  Vader would have been no match for Yoda and yet Yoda hides out on Dagobah.

Bit that’s just one small problem in the sea of problems that is post-Prequel Star Wars.  For a good run down on the major and fundamental problems, see this.

But let us be constructive and not destructive.  What would have made a more satisfying set of prequels? Continue reading “I’ll love you in the morning when you’re still hungover… and we need to reboot the Prequels”

I dislike Superman. Despite the fundamental problem with his character — that he is invulnerable to everything except magic and concrete magic — he’s boringly one-dimensional.

Indeed, the only time he’s a good character is when he’s starring in one of those ‘What if…?’ tales.  For the best example to date, check out Red Son: instead of landing in the Bible Belt, Superman’s infant pod is knocked off course and he lands in Soviet Russia.  Instead of protecting America from supervillians, he protects the proletariat from the evils of American capitalism (headed by none other than Lex Luthor).

Then again, the only time Pingu is awesome is when he’s communist.

So when it’s reported that Chris Nolan might be rebooting the Superman movie line, I die a little bit more inside.  Superman is inextricably woven into the idea of the Ideal American.  For three generations, he’s been the ideation of the white, Protestant, American male: he’s always good, he’s always right, he always wins, and he always brings hope.

While Batman has strong links with the capitalist fantasy of dominating the underprivileged who threaten their power structure (he’s a wealthy industrialist who dresses up in fetish wear to punch up escapees from a psychward — Arkham Asylum — who threaten their power structure), Batman’s become a lot more interesting since the ’80s turned him into an antihero.

You can’t have a canonical antihero Superman.  That might not be a bad thing: we’ve become a little bit too absorbed with antiheroes over the past two decades and it gets a bit tiresome.  Oh look at you, you edgy outsider who doesn’t care for the rules but is determined to seek justice.  P.S. Your featureless mask is terrifying, Rorschach. Continue reading “”

And under our blue skies – marble movie skies – I found a home in your eyes… but blue cat aliens might upset other people

When seeing their favourite scifi hero has travelled light years to a distant planet which has sent out an audio-visual distress signal in English to help the locals, nerds get distressed.

They don’t whine that faster-than-light travel is impossible.  They don’t mention that faster-than-light communication is impossible.  They don’t mention that audio-visual distress signals are impractical or that English as a universal language suggests that colonialism has a bright future ahead of it.

For all the problems that they could highlight, a small amount of angst has popped up on the internets once again about scifi aliens that are basically humanoid Earth animals.

Boohoo, the Na’vi look like cats, Gamorreans look like hogs, and everybody in Star Trek looks like a human with a silly forehead.  It’s all so terrible.

The problem with this whining is that it assumes — from the outset — that alien life forms are not going to resemble Earth lifeforms.  Philosophically, that’s a bad way to go. Continue reading “And under our blue skies – marble movie skies – I found a home in your eyes… but blue cat aliens might upset other people”

Sleep for days. Don’t ever change. You’ll be here in the morning just to hear me say… read the Canon

In order to maintain the pretence that I’m in any way a social creature, I joined a bookclub (see WriteronWriter for the blog of one of the co-clubbers).  In response to a recent article in The Australian (and see the replies), a short disagreement arose about the merits of Dead White Guy Lit.

There is obviously a difference between ‘popular culture’ and ‘culture’ simpliciter.  If there weren’t, those two words would mean the same thing.  We understand intuitively that there is a difference between ‘That which I find enjoyable’ and ‘That which I recognise as good’.  Note, this distinction has not always been appreciated.  Even somebody as elite as Immanuel Kant argued that, if there were a disagreement between the conventions of style and taste and that which he found pleasing, he would tell the advocate of the conventions to utter not a word more.  Cultural excellence was, somehow, immediate: it did not require further reasoning.  That Kant dedicates a book to the subject suggests that, perhaps, further reasoning was needed…

‘It’s very good but I did not enjoy it’ would be incoherent if there were not a divide between pleasurable and excellent.  As it is not incoherent, there is a divide.

So how can we distinguish between the excellent and the pleasurable?  The obvious answer is cultivation. Continue reading “Sleep for days. Don’t ever change. You’ll be here in the morning just to hear me say… read the Canon”

Is it in your genes, I don’t know… but if it sells, Hollywood will make more of it

Over on io9, Annalee Newitz accurately comments that Avatar is just CGI white guilt.

Avatar imaginatively revisits the crime scene of white America’s foundational act of genocide, in which entire native tribes and civilizations were wiped out by European immigrants to the American continent. In the film, a group of soldiers and scientists have set up shop on the verdant moon Pandora, whose landscapes look like a cross between Northern California’s redwood cathedrals and Brazil’s tropical rainforest. The moon’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, are blue, catlike versions of native people: They wear feathers in their hair, worship nature gods, paint their faces for war, use bows and arrows, and live in tribes. Watching the movie, there is really no mistake that these are alien versions of stereotypical native peoples that we’ve seen in Hollywood movies for decades.

[…]

[A] few of these humans don’t want to crush the natives with tanks and bombs, so they wire their brains into the bodies of Na’vi avatars and try to win the natives’ trust. Jake is one of the team of avatar pilots, and he discovers to his surprise that he loves his life as a Na’vi warrior far more than he ever did his life as a human marine. [‘When will white people stop making movies like Avatar?’, source]

She then follows up this analysis with a wail that white people keep making movies about white guilt (like Dances with Wolves and District 9). It’s almost as if she’s shocked that Hollywood would keep making profitable films.

And that’s what this is. Left wing whities — who are typically the sort of people who spend vast amounts of cash at the cinematron — love to feel guilty about the past and so they’ll gladly fork out to go see a film which makes them feel better for feeling guilty. Oh, and they’ll also complain that the film is intrinsically racist. Left wing people of all colours feel a sense of unity when they’re randomly calling things racist. It’s a bonding experience.

If white guilt films weren’t so profitable, they wouldn’t get made. As they are profitable, they do get made. It’s your free market at play. Continue reading “Is it in your genes, I don’t know… but if it sells, Hollywood will make more of it”

You ask me to enter, then you make me crawl… but the main characters have mismatched power levels

The Sorting Algorithm of Evil is an often criticised concept. Oh, shock. All the easy villains were in the first series, and now — mystery of mysteries — the real villains have shown up. And now the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up. And now the intergalactic queens of the universe who hired the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up…

But it exists for a reason.

Shows where one side clearly out matches the other have a habit of being dull unless you can put on your suspenders of disbelief quickly enough. Matches between Awesome Hero and weakling bad dude (see: Batman versus the street gangs) seem like petty bullying. Matches between Awesome Villian and weakling heroes (see: Star Trek: First Contact) seem wildly implausible when they end.

A worse example of the latter were several of the recent season finales of Doctor Who. The Master is completely wiping the floor with everybody, so the Doctor is granted magical powers by the psychic satellites. Davros has stolen the Earth to make a planetary weapon out of planets, so the Doctor learns how to control his regeneration so he can create a clone and a human-Time Lord hybrid clone… or something.

Good drama requires evenly matched combatants, and it’s poor writing if one of the combatants quickly level grinds in order to get a massive advantage over the other.

Enter: Jedi. Continue reading “You ask me to enter, then you make me crawl… but the main characters have mismatched power levels”