21 September 2008

Myspace zombies and the Hellfire monster known as Sandra Bullock

Thanks to George Romero, every generation gets the zombie movie it deserves. 2005's Land Of The Dead, in which a city surrounded on 3 sides by water is made into humanity's last refuge against the walking dead, is at its core a comment on poverty and the culture of fear our own culture has become. The masses live in the rundown shambles of a broken urban landscape, pacified by liquor, loose women, and staged zombie fights. The rich live in a pristine skyscraper, high above the city, where they can go on about their lives as if nothing had happened. Thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, we are virtually guaranteed that the undead will infiltrate the skyscraper by the end of the film, proving once and for all that power and money can only protect you for so long against the unstoppable forces of nature.

Last year's Diary Of The Dead, like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project, is told mainly from a first-person, you-are-there point of view. Diary follows a group of film students shooting a no-budget horror film when they first hear the news on the radio that the dead are coming back to life. The kids are mainly forgettable, their drama strictly boilerplate; for some reason they have their alcoholic faculty advisor along for the ride, a generically knowing and wizened middle-aged man who speaks not in dialogue, but in epigrams, like "Mornings and mirrors only serve to terrify old men." On first look, it seems as though Romero has done a poor job creating characters with whom the viewer can identify. It seems like a terrible movie because there's no one we can care about, but I think that in this new, 1st person, handheld genre, we don't need characters we can identify with because we are there. It is our experience of events that counts. The person behind the camera and his friends might as well be on the other side of the world for all we can help them. In this youspace/mytube culture, we are not only numb to staged violence thanks to years of horror movies and cop shows on tv, we have taken the extra step of actually seeing real people suffer and we come to feel that it's not so bad. More than once in Diary, we see a person walking around by themselves while the camera follows them. Of course, they get attacked, scream for help, flail around and so on, but the cameraman doesn't lift a finger to help. Documenting the experience, rather than survival or saving lives, has become the new imperative. Now, that means that everyone has a camera, everyone's a blogger, everyone takes time after work or between zombie attacks to upload the latest documentation onto the collective consciousness we call the internet. (I include myself in this. I own a videocamera, and this very document is my contribution to the collective consciouness, the hive mind, if you will.) 50 years ago you knew your schoolmates, family, the guy at the bakery, the town drunk. Now it's possible to interact with or just watch all sorts of people from all corners of the planet. Of course, it all gets blurred after a while, just becomes background noise. Go to youtube and look up anything, you'll get hundreds of videos which all start to blend together after a while, not because they're so much the same, but because they're all virtually anonymous.

This is Romero's point. (Thought I wasn't gonna get around to it, didn't you?) Our experience, because it's so well documented and readily available, turns us all into passive observers who are incapable of caring about the objects of our fixation. It turns us all into zombies, in a way, but instead of flesh, we have an insatiable appetite for more and more human experience. Like zombies, we don't really taste it or want it for any reason other than biological imperative, we just consume.

Diary Of The Dead is the 5th film in George Romero's zombie trilogy. I already told you about the 4th. If you haven't seen the first 3, don't miss out. They are gory fun, but they are also products of their times, and as such can tell us a lot about what America was like at the time. Just get off your ass and put them on your netflix queue, or stream them, or maybe even walk to your local video store, if it still exists, and ask the Human behind the counter for Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, or Day Of The Dead. A quick programming note: Dawn and Day have each been remade in the last few years. I've seen the new Dawn, but not Day. The Dawn remake is not a bad film; anything with
Marcellus Wallace and the chick from eXistenZ can't be all bad.

There's a lot of good zombie stuff out there, particularly Max Brooks' excellent books, "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War." Other filmmakers have tackled the genre: Peter Jackson, that king of Nerds who was responsible for the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy, made one of the silliest and bloodiest zombie flicks ever,
Dead Alive, which for reasons unknown is listed at IMDB as Braindead. Who can forget one of the most terrifying zombie flicks, and one of the few to feature zombies that run and jump instead of just doing the Undead Shuffle, 28 Days Later? Please do not confuse this film with the Sandra Bullock train wreck 28 Days. MAKE SURE YOU SAY "28 DAYS LATER" WHEN YOU ASK FOR THIS FILM. No one needs to see Sandra Bullock in anything.

That is all.

13 September 2008

My Report on Constitution-Class Starships, by Frakkin Toaster Jr, age 8

For my report I looked at Memory Alpha's page about the ships and I talked to my uncle who served aboard one of the ships for 4 years. He told me all sorts of cool stuff, like when you get into a turbolift, which is like an elevator that goes all over the ship, and you have to grab a handle, turn it, and just tell the lift where you want to go. And they have tunnels that go all over the ship. Those are called "Jefferies tubes." My uncle doesn't know who Jeffries is or why they named the tubes after him. And I looked for it at Memory Alpha but I couldn't find it.
The 2 pictures at the top are pictures of 2 different models of Constitution. The one on the right is the old one, and the left one is about 25 years later. They did something called "refit" to the whole Constitution line. My uncle says that if she weren't so sturdy, they would have scrapped the whole line. It's the first time Starfleet has done such a big project on ships that were 25 years old. Any way, you can see that they replaced the old deflector dish, the one in the front of the lower body that looks like an old 20th century satellite dish, with a new dish that glows blue all the time when the ship is powered up. I think this looks cooler. It was a good change.
The round part in the front is called the saucer section, because it looks like a saucer. The bridge is at the very top in the middle. The bridge is where the Captain and First Officer sit. Also the navigator and the science officer and the communications officer. The rest of the saucer section is labs, sickbay, crew quarters and the kitchen and the dining hall.
The bottom part with the dish on it is mostly the engines. And the engine room, and the torpedo room. The engines are ginormous. They use "controlled reaction of matter and anti-matter" to create enough energy to create something called "static warp field" around the ship. This is why they can go up to Warp 6, which my uncle says is 32 times the speed of light. Also the shuttle bay is at the other end from the dish.
The 2 long cigar-shaped objects are the warp nacelles. They are where "static warp field" happens. I don't really understand it. My uncle says that you have to warp space if you want to move faster than light. He tried to explain it by saying the universe was an apple and he wanted to be a worm or something, but I don't get it.
The most famous Constitution-class starship is the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701. Its captains were Captain April, Captain Pike, Captain Kirk, Captain Spock, then Captain Kirk again. Then when Captain Kirk found out it was going to be decommissioned, he stole it right out of spacedock! And then he blew it up! And when he came back to Earth he was acquitted of the charges and given a new Constitution-class starship. This one is called Enterprise, too, but it's NCC-1701-A so you don't get confused. I don't know why he didn't go to prison or get kicked out of Starfleet, but I think it had something to do with that day last month when it rained so hard and all the grownups got really worried and we got sent home from school early.
The Constitution-class starship is 288 meters long and 72.6 meters high. It has 23 decks and a crew of 430. It has 4 twin bank phaser emitters, 2 single bank phaser emitters, and 2 photon torpedo tubes. My uncle says the shields are so strong they could withstand an attack by 3 Klingon birds of prey.
That is my report on Constitution-class starships. Please give me a good grade. My uncle said he would take me to the Mars Shipyards if I get a good grade.

12 September 2008

A video meditation on September 11, 2001 in newsprint

Hint: watch it on fullscreen to see all the details

I made this collage on two 24x36 sheets of thick black construstion paper. I glued the newsprint to it and covered the whole thing with clear contact paper so the paper would be preserved, and it has been. Today was the 7th anniversary, and the first one when I did not bring the collage to whatever place I work at and put it up on the wall. Instead today I photographed it for the first time and put it to a song.

On September 18, 2001, David Letterman came back on the air after a national week of mourning. Everyone was wondering when it would be ok to laugh again, and Dave didn't try to be funny at all. He gave a monologue from his desk, his take on events, and I remember one sentence clearly. He was talking about the hijackers' religious motives, and he said, "Does that make any sense? Does that make any goddamn sense?"

He only had 2 guests on that night, and it was pretty somber. Tom Brokaw sat with Dave for 40 minutes and they went over everything, then Tori Amos came out and soothed with a song. The song is "Time," written by Tom Waits. He performs it on his masterpiece Rain Dogs, while Tori's version is on her collection of covers, Strange Little Girls. I knew she was coming out with a cover album, but I had no idea what songs. Straightaway the piano was strangely familiar, because I know and love Waits' original. When I realized what song she was actually singing, my heart broke. It was the 9/11 moment for me. That's when it all hit me, a week later. That's why I used the song.

I'm sorry if you didn't want to see this. I understand. Sometimes it feels like picking open an old cut, but I think it's true that we need to remember it. This is not about patriotism, this is about humanity.

Be excellent to each other.

10 September 2008

If you've seen this and hate it, I'm sorry, but it's way too funny and cute not to share. Click here

John uses anger when it suits him.


He also uses violence when it suits him. Remember when he laid the smackdown on Charlie for stealing the baby, or the way he beat Mikhail into a pulp just to make the point that he was not to be trifled with? Combine that with his blind faith in the Island and his own destiny, and you have him throwing a knife into the back of a young woman. To be fair, she was gonna basically FSU on the Island, but we were never blessed with Locke's certainty about her.

Another thing about John: How many of the people who followed him into the barracks made it out alive? Hurley, Sawyer, Aaron, and, maybe, Claire. That's it.

His stubborn head nearly got everyone killed when his faith in the Button was shaken. He knocked Sayid out just as he was about to get a fix on the radio tower. He blew up the submarine. The submarine, man. Blew it up.

Why do I like him more than I like the "hero," Jack? I'll take John's side anytime. John is intuitive, well-intentioned, and ready to be open to things outside his worldview. He is usually trying to protect people, even if his methods are a mystery. Jack, by contrast, is small-minded and totally unwilling to believe he is wrong, blind to everything outside his rigidly rational paradigm. He pushes himself on Kate, he demands intimacy from her. People are objects to be fixed or saved. In short, and I don't use this word much, Jack Shepherd is an asshole. You wanna know why? This very conflict between John and Jack illustrates the depth of Jack's assholery. John believes that 815 landed on the Island for a reason, that the Island is an entity, with whom he communes from time to time. He believes that somehow he has been appointed to be the Island's protector and savior. In John's view, everyone who survived the crash was brought there for a reason. Jack, on the other hand, has seen and been through some crazy shit, but he refuses to believe in all the signs, all the magic, and instead pursues singlemindedly an escape, back to the world so he can keep on fixing people, maybe fix himself a new wife. (Kate) Their 100 day dance around the issue ends in a greenhouse. John begs Jack to accept his destiny, to stay and fulfill his purpose. He says to Jack, "You're not supposed to do this," a note of pleading in his voice. Jack basically tells John to piss off, thank you very much, that's the news and I am outta here.

But here's the rub: When the Oceanic 6 are on the raft, just before Penny's boat picks them up, (how lucky was that?), Jack all of a sudden tells them they need to lie, to concoct a cover story that will not only hide the island, but confirm dead all 325 passengers of Flight 815, save the six of them. The cover story assures that there will be no rescue party to pick up the survivors still on the island. Everyone left behind is stranded. I don't really ascribe any malice to Jack's motive here, just cowardice: He lied to keep the survivors on the Island because he knows they are exactly where they are supposed to be. Only he's not there. He had to leave. He put a gun to John's head and pulled the trigger in the name of getting off the Island, and his lie to the world is proof that he doesn't even believe his own bullshit. That's why Jack Shepherd is an asshole.

Also the time he forced Bai Ling to give him a tattoo. But that's another story and shall be told another time.

09 September 2008

I remember the first time I went to where you lived and saw the ticket stub from Juno on your wall. That's when I knew.

I remember waiting for you in the rain; we saw a crappy movie and I fell down the stairs and hurt my knee but it was a great night.

I remember trying to get onto a rooftop with you on July 4th. I thought an alarm would sound if I opened the door. I told you to get ready to run if it did go off. When I tried to open the door it was locked. We found a great spot anyway.

I remember grim topics and conversations about books, I remember wanting to read Harry Potter because I wanted to see what it was that you loved. I remember that I love you because you take me for me.

I am grateful that Bastian took an interest in this Toaster.

The road and days stretch out before us. I'm glad not to walk it alone.

02 September 2008

Katrina to Gustav, or my 100th post

I've had 1 or 2 serious girlfriends in my life, and I'm lived with quite a few women as roommates, but I've never lived with a girlfriend until this minute. That's pretty big. It's also pretty awesome. Also awesome were all the sunny days we spent together on the porch this summer over coffee and cigarettes, and the Harry Potter stories, which kept my brain afloat before, during and after the daily dose of dehumanization and despair that I call, simply, "work." Work is not awesome. Also not awesome was all the time and energy we put into finding a third roommate. I'll thank you not to mention the Friday from hell which involved putting my cat in a box and taking her on the bus, plastic tarpaulins, poison all over the kitchen, a job interview, two roomie screenings/showings, and a doctor's appointment to boot. Only good thing about that Friday: White Noise 2, starring Mal Reynolds and Kara Thrace.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, stress. I'm under a bit of it now. I'm in love with her, and so glad we're living together, but every other damn thing in my life is unsettled and unsettling. I could lose my shit at any time during my workday, tear off that silly apron, and walk away feeling like a million bucks. But I won't do that.

I'm not really telling you all this to be an emotional exhibitionist, but it affects you, Dear Reader, because I find it very hard to write under these conditions, and I've found that ideas don't sit in my head for too long without going stale. If I don't write it right away, it gets away, squirming and writhing down the drain.

Last week, I thought I'd write about Joe Biden. You remember Biden; I told you he should and would be picked for the Dems' VP nod, just a few days before he was picked. One thing I found out about Biden is that he had a stutter when he was a kid, and that his mom told him that it was because he was so bright and couldn't get the words out in time. I, too, had a stutter when I was a kid. One thing that Biden did not tell you, anyone that had a stutter when he was a kid has one even now. Most folks find a way to compensate for it, to keep it hidden. This is done by a process of natural selction. If a kid with a stutter wants to make it to adulthood with any self-esteem intact, he'd better find a way to hide it from all the kids who mockingly imitate him on the playground or in the classroom.

I've wanted to keep you updated on the progress of my volunteer assessment with the Dharma Initiative. They're still looking for volunteers, by the way. If you want to change the world, here's a portkey: Dharma Wants You There really hasn't been much to tell you on that front. though. Two simple tests, no hidden messages or risky secret assignments.

I started working on a video post, a short film about one of the greatest spoilers of all time. I won't tell you what it is, but I will tell you that it happens on the Lightning-Struck Tower, and that the incantation 'avada kedavra' is used.

This is a pretty long post, and I think it's best to keep them relatively short so people won't tune out when they see it will take them longer than 30 seconds to read. You're welcome, MTV generation.

So, anyway, this has been my 100th post. Stick with me for the next 100 and then you can brag to your friends that you were reading me before anyone heard of me.

PS: this is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated. (Thanks Mitch Hedberg!)