Tuesday, December 23, 2008

haddy grimmble, randoob*

*From In His Own Write, by John Lennon:

Randolf's Party

It was Chrisbus time but Randolph was alone. Where were all his good pals. Bernie, Dave, Nicky, Alice, Beddy, Freba, Viggy, Nigel, Alfred, Clive, Stan, Frenk, Tom, Harry, George, Harold? Where were they on this day? Randolf looged saggly at his only Chrispbut cart from his dad who did not live there.

'I can't understan this being so alonely on the one day of the year when one would surely spect a pal or two?' thought Rangolf. Hanyway he carrie don putting ub the desicrations and muzzle toe. All of a surgeon there was amerry timble on the door. Who but who could be a knockingon my door? He opend it and there standing there who? but only his pals. Bernie, Dave, Nicky, Alice, Beddy, Freba, Viggy, Nigel, Alfred, Clive, Stan, Frenk, Tom, Harry, George, Harolb weren't they?
Come on in old pals buddys and mates. With a big griff on his face Randoff welcombed them. In they came jorking and labbing shoubing 'Haddy Grimmble, Randoob.' and other hearty, and then they all jumbed on him and did smite him with mighty blows about his head crying, 'We never liked you all the years we've known you. You were never really one of us you know, soft head.'

They killed him you know, at least he didn't die alone did he? Mery Chrustchove, Randolf old pal buddy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Weekend Update

DOUBT. There was a great article about Philip Seymour Hoffman in Sunday's New York Times. Here's the money quote:

In “Doubt,” for instance, which was originally a play, he is a Catholic priest who may or may not have been inappropriate with a young male student. He is suspected and accused by the principal of the parish school, a nun named Sister Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep. “If I asked 10 people on the subway who I should cast for the older nun, they’d all say Meryl,” Shanley told me. “But I didn’t know what Phil would do with the part of Father Flynn, and that intrigued me. I did know that he would make Meryl sweat, that she would be up against someone of equal intelligence. Meryl is a street fighter, and she schemes as an actress — she wants to win the scene. Phil won’t play that way. He won’t engage. Before their big confrontation scene, Meryl would be muttering ‘I’m going to kick his butt’ for the entire crew to hear. She’d look at him and say, ‘I know you did it.’ And Phil would just laugh and say, ‘Meryl’s always trying to get in my head.’ ”

And she never does. But she sure gets into your head, which is one of the beauties of the movie. Run don't walk.

So did everybody have a party on Thursday night? Because I've talked to three different people who were out Thursday night, and all four of us had one of those the-hours-just-flew-by great-times-partying how-the-hell-did-it-get-to-be-2-AM nights.

OZ. Speaking of time flying by like nothing, I can't think of the last time I sat through a 3-hour movie and felt like it was 90 minutes long; unless it was last night, when I saw Australia. Apart from being totally fascinated by how immobile Nicole Kidman's face is (especially when she tries to express emotion; at this point she's the perfect choice to play Buster Keaton), this is one of those movies that gives melodrama a good name. Plus the theatre was packed for an early-evening Sunday performance, which is way unusual.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yay Us! or, Why Aliens-Visit-Earth Movies Are Like Soviet Propaganda

Look! It's Neo John Constantine Klaatu!

One can have a delightful time riffing on the earnest balderdash at the heart of this remake reworking of the classic Robert-Wise-directed Day The Earth Stood Still. There's more than enough here to give a moderately-talented stand-up comedian a good 90 minutes worth of sure-fire jokes. Only 10 of which would be about Keanu Reeves, who has now achieved the apex of Schwarzeneggerite Acting. Just as Arnold always made his robot roles seem human and his human roles robotic, Keanu can always be counted on to make his aliens seem human and his humans act like fucking weird-ass aliens. As for the other 80 minutes? Where to begin? How about the so-called science? I mean really--casting John Cleese as someone who's won the Nobel Prize for Altruistic Biology? (That must have been the same year Enron won the Nobel for Selfish Economics.) And evidently the study of Altruistic Biology involves writing a lot of equations on a blackboard--y'know, like physics--except it's not physics, it's terrestrial biology, so how could an alien (a) understand the symbols and then (b) correct the errors? At least in the original, it was a problem in interstellar transportation. Here, the equation is never explained; for all we know it could be a recipe for chicken soup. Except that--wait--making soup from chickens wouldn't be altruistic, would it? And think about it: when was the last time you saw a biologist writing an equation? Correct answer: about the same time you saw your boss doing trigonometry during a sales conference. (Which would actually take place if Hollywood decided to make a movie about that sales conference. Count on it.)

One can also expend a Vietnam War's worth of ammunition attacking the so-called plot, in which an alien visitor comes to earth in order to give the UN a warning about how we're selfishly putting ourselves first instead of the planet, only to say, "Screw it, you don't deserve a warning, I'm scouring this planet of you and your stupid civilization," only to say, "Wait--you humans have another side to you, let's see if I can give you another chance," after a ten-year-old kid selfishly wants the alien to raise the kid's dead father from the grave and then cries because he can't get what he wants. Now there's a kid who's going to grow up cherishing the environment.

But the thing that really cheeses me off is something which should not surprise me at all at this point in my movie-going life, since it is a staple of all Hollywood-made science-fiction films (and far too many science-fiction novels)--namely, the not-so-subtle message which proclaims to the entire cosmos that "Being human is the best thing in the universe." Doesn't matter where the aliens are from, or how advanced they are. Once one of them spends five minutes in the company of us earthlings (preferably a human female; Lois Lane, anybody?), all that advanced alien intelligence takes second place to admiration and envy for our unique, incredible, top-notch mortality. It's the first commandment of all sci-fi movies: "We are the Human Race; thou shalt have no other races before us." We get second chances when we don't do anything to deserve them; we get allies and friends when we do nothing but attack them; and we win over everybody (and everything) just because of who we like to think we are when we're at our best. It's sort of like being American, except that it's a species-wide delusion instead of a national one. Like in this movie, where we see an alien agent who's been living among us for 75 years proclaim that he is going to stay on the planet and suffer total annihilation because he's fallen in love with us. The fact that he's played by a Chinese actor sends the not-so-subtle message that just like everyone in the universe wants to be an earthling, everybody on earth wants to be an American.

I don't know about you, but just once I'd like to see a sci-fi movie where an alien impersonating a human for 75 years says "These earthlings suck! Get me out of here!" Just once I'd like to see an alien ambassador tell the United Nations: "We are nuking this fucking planet because if you yahoos ever get space travel, you'll kill us all." Just once I'd like to see Starman turn to Karen Allen and say "This thing you call love is the Stockholm Syndrome of breeding, and how stupid are you not to see it?" But no--I have about as much chance of seeing that in a movie with aliens as I do of seeing someone break the Second Commandment of Sci-Fi, which says: "Anyone who's immortal and could live forever secretly longs to age and die like a normal human being." (I'm looking at you, Hancock .)

Oh yeah, baby--aging and dying is the best. Ask any immortal. Just like being part of the Human Race is the best. Ask any alien. They all want to be us, love us, save us, or protect us. You know what that means humanity is? Not just a state of helpless promise, like a new-born baby; not just something which instills worship, love, and respect in total strangers--but something which compels everything it meets to worship it as the be-all and end-all of universal creation.

In other words, humanity worship is a virus that infects everything it touches. Now that's a sci-fi movie plot.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The line every guy wants to hear

"The truth is that you're a quiet, sensitive type but if I'm prepared to take a chance I might just get to know the inner you: witty, adventurous, passionate, loving, loyal, a little bit crazy, a little bit bad, but, hey, don't us girls just love that?"

Under Repair

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I played The Dark Knight Drinking Game, where you have to do a shot of Jameson's every time you see Heath Ledger's tongue.

Needless to say, after 20 minutes I had to be rushed to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

Friday, December 5, 2008

gold and silver

Where Ideas Come From

I've started reading Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, by Jonathan Glover, and a little light went off in my head when I came to these lines on page 23:

"The idea of humiliating a blind beggar appals us. Narrow self-interest might lead someone to take the blind beggar's money away; retaliation would be unlikely, and there will be no social sanctions if no one else is around to see. But the idea disgusts most of us."

The light was like a flashbulb illuminating a picture: a blind beggar with a bowl in front of him, and in that bowl is a 20 dollar bill. Nobody else is in view. You walk up to the beggar, and you look down, and see the 20. What do you do? Do you take it? And if you don't, what's stopping you, if not some inner sense of morality that has nothing to do with religion, but just fellow-feeling for an unfortunate human being?

Then I thought, okay, what if you need 20 dollars? What if 20 dollars will buy you medicine that could save your life, and you're dead broke, and that 20 is right there for the taking? What do you do then? Wait--too selfish--what if it's not for you, but for your kid--your baby needs medicine and you need $20 to get it, $20 you don't have. Do you take the blind beggar's $20? And if you do, doesn't the fact that you need it for someone else make it okay? Like you could say to the blind guy, "You agree with me that saving a child with this $20 is a good thing; you'd let me take it if I asked you." It's as if the fact that there's a third party involved negates the idea of theft, because it's going towards something.

So then I went back to the original image of a blind beggar with a bowl. No possibility of unselfish rationalizations. There's going to be a $20 bill, and you either take it or you don't.

At which point I started turning it into a story. Blind beggar and bowl on an empty street; no one watching. The beggar is really blind. Person #1 walks by. Never looks at the beggar. Never acknowledges the beggar's existence. Eyes straight ahead, walks past the beggar and down another street corner. Gone.

Person #2 walks by. Sees the beggar. Stops. Pulls out a $20 bill. Drops it in the bowl. But because it's a bill, it doesn't make a sound, so the beggar doesn't know he's been given something. Person #1 frowns, grudgingly pulls out some change, throws that in the bowl as well. Beggar says "God Bless you" when he hears the change hit the bowl. Person #1 walks off satisfied, because his/her generosity has been recognized. Turns down a street corner. Gone.

The beggar and his bowl, as a breeze comes up. The breeze swirls down the street, and when it gets to the beggar, the $20 bill corkscrews out, floats like a leaf in the air for a moment, and then falls to the street outside the beggar's bowl.

Person #3 walks by. Sees the beggar. Sees the $20 bill outside the bowl. Hesitates for a moment, then keeps walking. Walks by the beggar. Stops, turns around, looks at the $20, maybe even starts to walk back; and then shakes his/her head, turns his/her back on the beggar, and walks down the street. He/she looks back once more before turning a corner and vanishing.

Person #4 walks by. Sees the beggar. Sees the $20 bill outside the bowl. Without hesitating for a second, he/she reaches down, takes the $20, and puts it back in the bowl, then heads down the street, turns a corner, and is gone.

Person #5 walks by. Sees the beggar. Sees the $20 bill inside the bowl. Without hesitating for a second, he/she reaches down, takes the $20, pockets it, heads down the street, never looks back, turns a corner, and is gone.

Five people; five different responses to the beggar and his bowl, and the beggar and his $20.

"So what happens next?" I ask myself. And my immediate response is, "The beggar gets up, takes off his black glasses or whatever he was wearing to convince people that he was blind, looks down the street where the five people were walking, and smiles." Which means that there's something bigger going on here. These five people are now part of a moral experiment, and the blind beggar is running it.

I wrote down a title ("Five Points"). I wrote down "Melville's Confidence Man" next to it, because this could be a modern version of that novel. Then I started making premise notes: "Five people get five different chances to show what they're made of. Five different moral/ethical choices. The first one: no one sees them (or because they think the beggar is blind, they believe no none is watching. Same thing.). Second choice: a stranger witnesses, and they all know they're being watched as they're being tested. Third one: a friend or acquaintance witnesses. Fourth one: whenever one is tested, the other four are the witnesses (establishing/connecting the groups at last). Fifth one: the world sees it, which means it's televised live or something.

"How does it end? No idea yet. What are the choices they face? No ideas yet. Who are the five? Good question. Say the fifth person, the one who steals the $20, is the best-dressed of all five, whether male or female, and visibly richer than the other four. Except possibly the first person, who would be on the same social scale as #5. For symmetry's sake, that means Person #4, who puts the bill back in the bowl, would be the poorest. Which leaves #2, the one who gives the $20, and #3, the one who sees and hesitates but keeps on going. The obvious choice would be a woman for that person, so let's go with a male. And this is just test #1, after all. In the other tests, the reactions of the five will differ depending on who's watching and what that means to each of them."

Which is where I stop making notes and drop my pen and shake my right hand because it's cramping up.

And that's where ideas come from.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


(Add this to the Countreie Matters discard pile: a scene-openiong monologue that stops the play dead:)

“You fought a battle and he won. He won her.”
Well he can have her. I will not be my uncle
And steal another man’s wife. I will not steal
Another man’s wife if she were Helen of Troy.
I will do nothing. And the world will think
That I am weak and must be pigeon-hearted.
Tomorrow the King of Denmark shall be married
And Hamlet takes a wife. By doing nothing.
If the King turns and runs away? He is
A coward. And if Hamlet stands and thinks
“All will be well?” Then he too is a coward.
So what is bravery then, when saying no
And saying yes are the twin children of
Timidity? Is valor in the act
Itself? Is heroism standing up
When lower men sit down, or charging forward
When slower mean hang back? It is the man
Who moves that the world looks up to –- the man
Of action who’s courageous, not the man
Who silent stands and lets the moment pass
Like Hamlet. Who can I be but myself?
I’m not a man who dares death for an eggshell.
I am a man who thinks about the egg,
The chicken, the barnyard, the farmer --
The history of agriculture and
The cumulative effects of drought and flooding
On crop rotation. And then dreams about
The farmer’s wife, like she was Helen of Troy.

copyright 2008 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


DOCTOR HURT:“Bruce! I am your father!”
DC EDITORIAL: “Not if we have anything to say about it.”

Grant Morrison’s run on Batman began back when the Cedar Tavern was still open, which means it’s taken more than 24 months to publish 17 issues and fulfill Morrison’s promise of an event that will shake Batman continuity to the core:

"When we begin to suspect the identity of the villain, I think it's the most, like I said the other day, it's possibly the most shocking Batman revelation in 70 years."

Sorry, Grant, but the only revelation in Batman 681 is that you need to read another bunch of comic books to find out how the story ends, which is so typically DC they ought to patent it. So why am I so cheesed off about this that I keep trying to think of a good image equating DC with the hooker who promises sex but never delivers, or the drug that never really gets you as high as your dealer says it will, or the event that never lives up to the promise of its advance billing? Why, with all of DC editor Dan DiDio’s relentless insistence on story and character whenever he’s interviewed, do story and character continually take second-place to a micro-managed, event-driven cross between continuity porn and fan fiction? Obvious answer: because it sells. Other obvious answer: because the so-called “characters” of the DC universe are properties first and people second. This means that they cannot change like real people, cannot grow old and die, cannot grow at all, because their existence is tied to a branded and marketable commodity whose recipe, like that of Coca-Cola, cannot be deviated from. It can only be refined. Which in character terms means that the same old stories get told in greater and greater detail, until continuity becomes an exercise in fractal mathematics.

Which is why there was probably no other way the RIP storyline could end except with a death that is so obviously not a death that only stupid people in a comic book universe will believe it. Like Dick (Nightwing) Grayson, for instance:

Hey! That full-pager reminds me of something. Something like this:

Right – the final page of Batman 658, which ended the Batman and Son arc. And killed a couple of people just as unlethally as Bruce Wayne gets killed in Batman 681. I’d like to think this echo is authorially deliberate, but with the delays and the artist shuffle, part of me believes that DC Editorial took Morrison’s original ending and tweaked it, or had Morrison tweak it. And isn't Batman supposed to get gunned down in front of Damien? That's the way it's told in Batman 666:

And yes, this is the legend of the Batman, but still -- a bloody death in Crime Alley sure makes for that circular the-end-is-the-beginning tale that clever authors love to try to pull off whenever they can. Possibly Morrison's original intention? Hard to say. But the fact that I'm continually reaching for the "editorial interference" card means that I can't help saying "Who dealt this mess?" Especially when I read the "I am Thomas Wayne" stuff.

I don't know about you, but there's something awkward about all that dialogue, like it was originally clear and then got rewritten to the point of being deliberately vague. "I am your father." "No you're not." "Then the only alternative is dot dot dot." Which is why a lot of people think that this guy is the devil incarnate. Which means the most shocking revelation in 70 years of Batman continuity is that Bruce Wayne is Jesus Christ. Which would explain the immortality angle in this full-pager, right?

Snark aside, I shouldn't have to feel like the kid who has to explain "No soap -- radio!" when I read a supposedly-self-contained comic book story. I have no idea who the villain really is, or what all the talk about wearing other people's skins is about except that Morrison used that in The Invisibles and maybe he's doing a Stephen King Dark Tower thing here, fitting all his disparate little floppy writings into a consistent universe. Good luck with that, Grant. But as someone who over-intellectualizes everything, when you've got me scratching my head? You've already lost the normal audience. And if it was DC Editorial and not you behind this train wreck helicopter crash of an ending, than all I can say is: why do you hire writers when all you end up doing is rewriting their work?

Malcolm in the Middle: The Adult Years

Monday, December 1, 2008

Weekend Update

The day we give thanks we no longer live with our parents. Watched parade on TV? Check. Listened to "Alice's Restaurant?" Check. (Thanks, Tommy!) Avoided watching football? Check. Side dish forgotten and never served for dinner? Check. Turn-around-twice-and-it's-Christmas clock pushed into overdrive? (December? Already?!?) Check.

Batman: RIP. More later, but seriously -- wtf? Check out the comments here, and meanwhile ponder the fact that Grant Morrison is now responsible for both the defining Superman and dumbest Batman storyline ever.

Tamara Drewe. And just to clean your graphic novel palate after the balderdgoulash of Batman: RIP, check out this modern adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd through a David Lodge lens. British author Posy Simmonds has brewed up a clever mix of test and artwork, with pinpoint characterisations told through a multitude of pitch-perfect first-person voices. And once you've finished this, hunt down her earlier work in the same vein, Gemma Bovery.