Monday, March 31, 2008
Anathem Plot Update
Lev Grossman, geek blogger for Time magazine, reports on the plot of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Anathem:
Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of a 3,400-year-old monastery, a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians—sealed off from the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable "saecular" world that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, world wars and climate change. Until the day that a higher power, driven by fear, decides that only these cloistered scholars have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one by one, Raz and his cohorts are summoned forth without warning into the Unknown.Interesting. No mention of other planets or aliens (as originally rumored, though the above doesn't rule that out either), but a promising plot, I guess. [via io9]
Posted by Mark on March 31, 2008 at 10:02 PM .: link :.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
I've spent the better part of this past week catching up with the third season of Battlestar Galactica on DVD (in preparation for the start of the 4th season later this week) and I realized that it's not something I've discussed on the blog, so here are a few thoughts (Spoilers are called out at the start of a bullet).
Posted by Mark on March 30, 2008 at 09:21 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Time is short, so just a few interesting links that I've run accross recently:
Posted by Mark on March 26, 2008 at 08:35 PM .: link :.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I recently finished watching both seasons of Dexter. The series has a fascinating premise: the titular hero, Dexter Morgan, is a forensic analyst (he's a "blood spatter expert") for the Miami police by day, but a serial killer by night. He operates by a "code," only murdering other murderers (usually ones who've beaten the system). The most interesting thing about Dexter's code is the implication that he does not follow the code out of some sort of dedication to morality or justice. He knows what he does is evil, but he follows his code because it's the most constructive way to channel his aggression. Of course, the code is not perfect, and a big part of the series is how the code shapes him and how he, in turn, shapes it. To be honest, watching the series is a little odd and disturbing when you realize that you're essentially rooting for a serial killer (an affable and charming one, to be sure, but that's part of why it's disturbing). I started to think about this a bit, and several other examples of similar characters came to mind. There's a lot more to the series, but I don't want to ruin it with a spoiler-laden discussion here. Instead, I want to talk about vigilantes.
Despite the lack of concern for justice (or perhaps because of that), Dexter is essentially a vigilante... someone who takes the law into his own hands. There is, of course, a long history of vigilantism, in both real life and art. Indeed, many classic instances happened long before the word vigilante was coined - for example, Robin Hood. He stole from the rich to give to the poor, and was immortalized as a folk hero whose tales are still told to this day. I think there is a certain cultural fascination with vigilantes, especially vigilantes in art.
Take superheroes, most of whom are technically vigilantes. Sure, many stand for all that is good in the world and often cite truth and justice as motivation, but the evolution of comic books shows something interesting. I haven't read a whole lot of comic books (especially of the superhero kind), but the impression I get is that when the craze started in the 1930s, it was all about heroics and people serving the common good. There was also a darker edge to some of them, and that edge has grown as time progressed. Batman is probably the most relevant to this discussion, as he shares a complicated relationship with the police and a certain above-the-law attitude towards solving crimes. Interestingly, the Batman of the 1930s was probably a darker, more violent superhero than he was in the 1940s, when one editor issued a decree that the character could no longer kill or use a gun. As such, the postwar Batman became more of an upstanding citizen, and the stories took on a lighter tone (definitely an understandable direction, considering what the world had been through). I'm sure I'm butchering the Batman chronology here, but the next sigificant touchstone for Batman came in 1986, with the publication of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Written and drawn by Frank Miller, the series reintroduced Batman as a dark, brooding character with complex psychological issues. A huge success, this series ushered in a new era of "grim and gritty" superheros that still holds today.
In general, our superheroes have become much more conflicted. Many (like Batman) tackle the vigilante aspect head on, and if you look at something like Watchmen (or The Incredibles, if you want a lighter version), you can see a shift in the way such stories are told. I'm sure there are literally hundreds of other examples in the comic book world, but I want to shift gears for a moment and examine another cultural icon that Dexter reminded me of: Dirty Harry.
Inspector Harry Callahan is an incredibly popular character, but apparently not with critics:
Critics have rarely cracked the whip harder than on the Dirty Harry film series, which follows the exploits of a trigger-happy San Francisco cop named Harry Callahan and his junior partners, usually not long for this world. On its release in 1971, Dirty Harry was trounced as 'fascist medievalism' by the potentate of the haut monde critic set, Pauline Kael, as well as aspiring Kaels like young Roger Ebert. Especially irksome to the criterati was a key moment in the film when Inspector Callahan, on the trail of an elusive serial sniper, is reprimanded by his superiors for not taking into account the suspect's Miranda rights. Callahan replies, through clenched teeth, "Well, I'm all broken up about that man's rights." Take that, Miranda.I should say that critics often give the film (at least, the first one) generally good overall marks, praising its "suspense craftsmanship" or calling it "a very good example of the cops-and-killers genre." But I'm fascinated by all the talk of fascism. Despite working within the system, Dirty Harry indeed does take the law into his own hands, and in doing so he ignores many of our treasured Constitutional freedoms. And yet we all cheer him on, just as we cheer Batman and Dexter.
Why are these characters so popular? Why do we cheer such characters on even when we know what they're doing is ultimately wrong? I think it comes down to desire. We all desire justice. We want to see wrongs being made right, yet every day we can turn on the TV and watch non-stop failures of our system, whether it be rampant crime or a criminal going free or any other number of indignities. Now, I'm not an expert, but I don't think our society today is much worse off than it was, say, a hundred years ago (In fact, I think we're significantly better off, but that's another discussion). The big difference is that information is disseminated more widely and quickly, and dramatic failures of the system are attention grabbing, so that's what we get. What's more, these stories tend to focus on the most dramatic, most obscene examples. It's natural for people to feel helpless in the face of such news, and I think that's why everyone tends to embrace vigilante stories (note that people don't generally embrace actual real-life vigilantes - that's important, and we'll get to that later). Such stories serve many purposes. They allow us to cope with life's tragedies, internalize them and in some way comfort us, but as a deeper message, they also emphasize that the world is not perfect, and that we'll probably never solve the problem of crime. In some ways, they act as a critique of our system, pointing out it's imperfections and thereby making sure we don't become complacent in the ever-changing fight against crime.
Of course, there is a danger to this way of thinking, which is why critics like Pauline Kael get all huffy when they watch something like Dirty Harry. We don't want to live in a police state, and to be honest, a real cop who acted like Dirty Harry would probably be an awful cop. Films like that deal in extremes because they're trying to make a point, and it's easy to misinterpret such films. I doubt people would really accept a cop like Dirty Harry. Sure, some folks might applaud his handling of the Scorpio case that the film documents (audiences certainly did!), but police officers don't handle a single case in the course of their career, and most cases aren't that black and white either. Dirty Harry would probably be fired out here in the real world. Ultimately, while we revel in such entertainment, we don't actually want real life to imitate art in this case. However, that doesn't mean we enjoy hearing about a vicious drug dealer going free because the rules of evidence were not followed to the letter. I think deep down, people understand that concepts like the rules of evidence are important, but they can also be extremely frustrating. This is why we have conflicting emotions when we watch the last scene in Dirty Harry, in which he takes off his police badge and throws it into the river.
I think this is a large part of why vigilante stories have evolved. Comic book heroes like Batman have become more conflicted, and newer comic books often deal with the repercussions of vigilatism. The Dirty Harry sequel, Magnum Force, was apparently made as a direct answer to the critics of Dirty Harry who thought that film was openly advocating law-sanctioned vigilantism. In Magnum Force, the villains are vigilante cops. Then you have modern day vigilantes like Dexter, which pumps audiences full of conflicting emotions. I like this guy, but he's a serial killer. He's stopping other killers, but he's doing so in such a disturbing way.
Are vigilante stories fascist fantasies? Perhaps, but fantasies aren't real. They're used to illustrate something, and in the case of vigilante fantasies, they illustrate a desire for justice. The existence of a show like Dexter will repulse some people and that's certainly an understandable reaction. In fact, I think that's exactly what the show's creators want to do. They're walking the line between satisfying the desire for justice while continually noting that Dexter is not a good person. Ironically, what would repulse me more would be the complete absence of stories like Dexter, because the only way such a thing could happen would be if everyone thought our society was perfect. Perhaps someday concepts like justice and crime will be irrelevant, but that day ain't coming soon, and until it does, we'll need such stories, if only to remind us that we don't live in a perfect world.
Posted by Mark on March 23, 2008 at 07:16 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Crayon Physics Deluxe
Interesting trailer for a game called Crayon Physics Deluxe. It's like a more complicated version of line rider or something.
This is apparently a sequel to Crayon Physics. [via clusterflock]
Posted by Mark on March 19, 2008 at 07:46 PM .: link :.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Hey Internet, Stop Being Such Cynical Effing Douchebags Blog-a-Thon
So in the movie blogging world (and probably others), there's something called a "blog-a-thon" in which someone proposes a topic and then lots of folks write a post on that topic (this is similar to what's called a "carnival" in other areas of the internet). I've never actually participated in one of these blog-a-thons, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Stacie Ponder recently threw up a challenge:
I'm not afraid to get excited about movies. When did looking forward to something or having an unabashed I cannot fucking wait to see that attitude become passe? These are movies, people...they're entertainment. I pay money to be entertained, and I want my fucking face rocked off. I want to circle a release date on my calendar and be the first in line when the date arrives. ...Well then, what shall I write about? She's not picky about it - I can choose a movie or a scene or just about anything I want. There's actually a pretty easy answer for this, one which I've been looking forward to for a long, long time. I got a taste about 2 years ago and had an opportunity to revisite about a year ago, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I could not participate. So another year has passed, and this time I'm ready. I've circled my calendar and I've even taken time off work so that I can partake in the filmic goodness that is the 2008 Phildelphia Film Festival. To be more specific, I'm filled with "complete and total unbridled fucking retarded JOY" for the Danger After Dark series, which is filled with all sorts of horror and gangster films. I've never even heard of most of them, but I think that's a big part of the appeal (and it's part of what made my experience in 2006 so fun).
Yeah, sure, the PFF isn't a world renowned festival like Sundance, Toronto, or Cannes, but it's my damn festival, and I love that there's a whole slew of genre films that I'll probably never get a chance to see otherwise. Sure, there are some other festival darlings I'll probably check out (Son of Rambow comes to mind), but what I'm really looking forward to is the unbridled joy of genre filmmaking. In 2006, I saw a bunch of Danger After Dark films, and absolutely loved every minute of it. The only thing missing from this year's festivities is another Adult Swim For Your Lives event.
Just a few movies that are currently on my list:
And then there's to the totally off the wall stuff, like Bad Biology (from the makers of Frankenhooker!) or Dead Fury (raunchy, gory, animated fun directed by someone who's actually known as FSudol).
No, it's not a prestigious festival, but I like it, and I can't wait.
Update: The Blog-a-thon is up over at Final Girl.
Posted by Mark on March 18, 2008 at 12:18 AM .: link :.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
It's been a while since I've kept up with what movies are in production. I used to totally geek-out on various movie news sites and forums. For instance, I remember seeing behind the scenes footage of the first Lord of the Rings film somewhere around 1999 (two years before the film came out). Since then, I've tended to let that sort of thing go (with an occasional exception), for a few reasons. First, it's really annoying to follow a production over the course of years and realize that you still have to wait two more years before you'll finally get to see it (the aformentioned LotR being a good example). Second, following every detail of a production tends to build up expectations that are too lofty... it's rare that a film will truly impress when you've spent years building up expectations (LotR is a good example of that, but again, that's the outlier. A film you've been following for years is more likely to be like The Phantom Menace.) And finally, following a movie production from beginning to end without learning spoilers is near impossible. Even movie trailers these days are often filled with spoilers (plus, they have a tendency to be overedited, repetitive and boring, but we'll get to that in a second.)
Trailers are an interesting art form. Since the advent of DVD, I've had the opportunity to watch a lot of older trailers, and boy are they awful! There are some exceptions, of course, but sometimes I'm really in awe of how bad movie trailers used to be. Now, I'm no expert, but I think the zenith of movie trailers was probably the 1990s. I remember going to the movies then and almost looking forward to the trailers as much as the movie I was seeing. Perhaps I've just matured to a point where the tricks of the trade just don't work on me anymore, but I remember enjoying trailers for movies that ended up being terrible. These days, I'm usually able to pick up on that sort of thing right away. Of course, the mid-90s were also a time where people were still in awe of what could be done with the latest special effects... something I imagine people have become bored with. Many of the things that used to make trailers interesting are now simply cliched tropes (i.e. frenetic editing, pulse-pounding music, movie guy voiceover, etc...) I think we're starting to see a trend for more interesting trailers, even though the typical stuff is still dominant.
So let's take a look at some recent trailers for big new movies and see if I should start paying more attention:
Update: Fledge comments, and answers the unspoken question: Why is it called a "trailer" if it's shown before the film?
Posted by Mark on March 16, 2008 at 07:33 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
GitS:SAC - More Thoughts
After several episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, I have a few other quick thoughts:
Posted by Mark on March 12, 2008 at 09:34 PM .: link :.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Wii Game Corner
Some quick reviews for games I've played recently:
Posted by Mark on March 09, 2008 at 06:19 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Initial Thoughts
I've started watching this series, and after the first episode, several things occur to me.
Posted by Mark on March 05, 2008 at 09:23 PM .: link :.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
Link Dump: SF Edition
I have a few ideas of longer type posts, but nothings gelling at the moment, so here are a few links I've run across lately:
Posted by Mark on March 02, 2008 at 08:08 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in March 2008.
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