Archive for November, 2003

surrender to your inner fanboy

December 17th. 12:01am. Return of the King. A theatre to be determined shortly (most likely Battery Park Regal).

Who’s down?

Drop me a line, preferably in the next day or so to facilitate mass ticket-buying. Also indicate if you’d be into a ceremonial slog through the DVDs the weekend before, perhaps on Sunday afternoon/evening.

And don’t even pretend for a second that you’re not a big enough dork to consider this. Because you are.


Quick late-night culture vulture run-down. I have just returned from the Knitting Factory, where and her friends took me to see:

1. A Hasidic reggae/dub band, Mattisyahu, with a lead singer who beatboxed about moschaich in full black-hat-and-jacket regalia.

2. An orthodox genderqueer slam poet, Matthue Roth. (Who has, apparently, appeared on Def Poetry Jam, which I would pay hard cash money for a video of.)

3. A Yemenite/breakbeat/free-jazz/punk/metal/klezmer band called Juez (pronounced, before you ask, “you-ezz“)…that covered the Trogdor song.

I freakin’ love this city. Love love love, do you hear me? (And how lame am I that my little sister knew about all of this and I didn’t? Very, apparently.)

All of the above acts are well worth seeking out if they appear in your own city.

Also: Just because.

give ME the brain!

In this post, I will quote a comment from another blog in order to illustrate a problem with yet a third blog, employing a metaphor first coined on Usenet. This obviously makes for some small personal watershed “arrival” moment as a blogger, and probably means that any sane person will stop reading right now.

Okay, like a lot of my friends, I’m a regular reader and fanatical admirer of James Lileks, for reasons which are pretty much self-justifying: the man writes beautifully, and he’s laugh-out-loud funny as often as not.

But Lileks has a daily not-quite-a-blog column on his site, and reading it has become an increasingly uncomfortable experience. It’s not just that he’s a frothing supporter of the war in Iraq, it’s the particular flavor of feral, unexamined (and indeed examination-proof) freudian-angst-transferrence expression of that support that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and it’s been getting substantially worse over the past few months.

Today he managed to outdo himself by going nuclear on Salam Pax, the mildly famous “Baghdad Blogger” who provided some first-person updates of notional interest from Iraq in the days leading up to the war. The actual exchange is here; you can read it or not as you like, since I’m not actually trying to address its particular content here; suffice it to say that it’s stunningly nasty and comes off as almost an unintentional parody of the stereotypical warblogger position.

Anyway, Lileks’ rant kicked off the depressingly predictable chain-reaction on discussion sites both pro and con, and has provided at least a day’s worth of grist for the very small mills that process this sort of thing (your humble correspondent very much included). You can go read all that at the usual places if you’re interested, but for me the only truly worthwhile observation came in the comments section of Kevin Drum’s blog, wherein a fellow named Carlos managed to not only put his finger on what’s been disturbing about Lileks’ slow slide into shrill self-parody, but actually managed to express the problem cogently and amusingly. Since it was pretty much buried in the slurry of substantially less interesting commentary, I’m doing my part for humanity by presenting it here in toto:

Let me introduce a term of art from another forum into the discussion: the Brain Eater.

Very roughly, it’s when an idee fixe begins to overwhelm any previous good qualities a writer might have, and at the same time, any perceived dissent by others from the idee fixe goes to reinforce other mental rigidities said writer might have.

It’s a wholly bipartisan ailment; but for some reason, engineers seem especially prone to it.

It is highly correlated with being wrong, though of course not one hundred percent. (Although, in the advanced stages, the Brain Eaten victim might as well be a stopped clock.)

While there have been documented remissions, and even reversals, it is usually a one-way decline.

It seems pretty clear that Lileks has been under heavy attack by the Brain Eater for quite some time now. Right, wrong? Chomp chomp.

Posted by: Carlos at November 21, 2003 01:22 PM

Chomp chomp indeed. Carlos is, of course, referring to a Usenet coinage properly known as Brain-Eater Syndrome, and he’s so on-target here that I’m writhing with jealousy that I, with my long tour of duty in the trenches of alt.religion.kibology and other areas of kook-baiting, didn’t think of it first.

So the next time you find yourself confronted with someone who can’t seem to remember that six months ago he was sure we were going to war in order to prevent Saddam from releasing VX nerve gas in the NYC subways and now is 100% sure that our only goal was the moral uplift of the Iraqi people, don’t lose your cool, and consider a moment of passing pity: his brain has been eaten, after all, and that can’t have been comfortable.

brush your breath

Courtesy of those kind folks at Amazon.Com (“Just send your paycheck to us, it’ll be easier!”), my copy of The Two Towers Special Extended DVD Edition arrived today. It is only due to the fact that I have incredible self-control that I am not running home immediately to begin watching it.

As always with amazon, the box came with a few extraneous coupons and such inside it, but this time there was something new as well: a complimentary sample pack of “Cool Mint Listerine Oral Care Strips”.

Think they’re making a comment on the personal hygiene habits of the average American geek?

oh yeah, and…

New (to me) apartment: successfully warmed the hell out of.

Many, many thanks to everyone who attended: a full list would take me ages to type in, and You Know Who You Are anyway. It was a great time, and M and I were overjoyed at having so many of our fabulous friends packed into our apartment all at once. You the man. No really: it’s all you.

Hostly duties prevented me from taking as many photos as I’m normally prone to do, but what I have will get posted soonish.

Amazing Hanukah-style lamp miracle except in reverse: we actually finished the party with less beer than we began with. In fact, when the final tally was done, there were only two bottles of Sierra Nevada stout hidden in the back of the cooler. So unless there’s a large cache of half-full bottles tucked behind the couch (I suppose I should actually verify this by hand), I believe is the first time in human history that this has happened. The newsmedia will be duly alerted.


I’m going to keep doing this until it no longer amuses me. Cope.

This weekend’s expedition to see The Matrix Revolutions supplied a bumper crop of trailers:

  • Paycheck — Oh how I want to believe. I want to believe that one day there will be an adaptation of Philip Dick’s work to the screen that’s even half as good as Blade Runner was. I want to believe that John Woo will make a film in America that’s even half as compelling as his middling Hong Kong work. I want to believe that someone other than Tarantino can wrest a good performance out of Uma Thurman. And despite myself, I want to believe that Ben Affleck can stop being annoying. I’m likely to be disappointed on every score here, but I’ll pony up the $10 in the name of unfounded optimism.

  • The Last Samurai — Each successive trailer for this film chips away at a little bit more of my soul. Why must evil triumph over good? Why must the innocent suffer? Why must there be a twenty-foot-tall poster of Tom Cruise dressed as a samurai, riding a horse, with an expression of extreme constipation on his face, looming just outside my office building over the path to my favorite lunch joint? Why does this movie exist? Because god hates us, that’s why.

  • Torque — You can almost hear the pitch for this one being made: “It’s The Fast and the Furious…but on motorcycles!” And, well, TF&TF was stupid but kinda cool, and motorcycles are axiomatically cooler than cars, so…maybe. In the right mood, with the right amount of alcohol, this could be big stupid fun. In the wrong mood, I could find myself remembering that Michelle Yeoh did that exact same motorcycle-jump-onto-a-moving-train trick in Supercop, except without a stunt double or digital editing. We’ll see.

  • Along Came Polly — Meh. Ben Stiller goes back to the well of Farrelly-esque romantic comedy, except that this time instead of wooing kooky anorexic Cameron Diaz, he’s pining for kooky-artist-with-bad-breast-job Jennifer Aniston. The trailer is one of those that leaves you feeling like you’ve seen the entire movie already, and really wished you’d waited for video. On the other hand, for all my snarking, both of the leads are enormously talented, and the trailer tested positive for traces of Philip Seymour Hoffman (and IMDB suggests that there’s a supplemental dose of Hank Azaria), so I could be talked out of my meh-ness.

  • The Missing — Let me go on record right now as saying that in 5 years when they decide to make the inevitable Johnny Cash biographic film, Tommy Lee Jones is required to play the part. The man does the Craggy and Weatherbeaten look better than anyone else save Clint Eastwood, but with the advantage of not being Eastwood first and the character second. And Cate Blanchett may be the most beautiful woman working in film today, and a fine actor in her own right. That said, this film appears to be a child-in-peril flick crossbred with the latest in nü-hörrör stylings, and I kinda regret not using the time to go get more raisinets. Except that apparently Regal Cinemas doesn’t carry raisinets, and isn’t that illegal for a movie theatre to do? Why not stop carrying popcorn at that point? I ended up with a bag of these unspeakably nasty things that purported to be chocolate-covered cookie dough bits, which succeeded in reminding me of the time in 4th grade that I ate half a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, without ever once reminding me why cookie dough tasted good.

  • Troy — Well, this was probably inevitable after Gladiator. Starring Brad Pitt’s pecs, Orlando Bloom’s cheekbones and Eric Bana’s bedroom eyes, and, apparently, a lot of boats, Troy promises to be, um… er… Okay, let’s just cut to the chase here: Brad Pitt in a toga. Are you tumescent and/or moist? It’s okay, you’re among friends, you can admit it. You’ll pay up just like everyone else. The real mystery here is the presence of Peter O’Toole, who you’d think would have learned his lesson about classical historical drama after Caligula. Dance for me, little boots!

Oh, the actual feature presentation?

There’s been something of a critical pile-on on The Matrix Revolutions. It’s ugly; the kind of thing where you’re reduced to putting pull-quotes from Gene Shalit in your newspaper ads. The Des Moines Register Says: Action! It’s not entirely undeserved, but I get the impression that a lot of this is a sort of boil-over of annoyance related to cumulative exposure to the flaws of the first two films. Really, Revolutions is, at worst, no worse than Reloaded (well, except in a few respects, and I’ll get to that), and is often quite a bit better, but I can’t really blame anyone who just gave up and said “enough of this shit” ten minutes into this film.

The big problem, frankly, is spotty scripting, especially the dialogue. Things start out well enough: there’s an appropriately reserved, almost funereal air to Neo’s initial conversations with the Oracle, Agent Smith is all gonzo intensity, and Bane is genuinely creepy. But then, as observed, suddenly we’re in the middle of a John Wayne-esque WW2 film, complete with the Gritty Sergeant and the Plucky Corporal, and there’s one scene where a major character dies that goes on so long that you expect her to start belting out Mimi’s death aria from La Boheme, and oh god there’s the Plucky Kid again, and this all wouldn’t be so bad if every line weren’t so comic-book obvious that you see it telegraphed from a great distance…

Argh, okay, I was supposed to be talking about why I liked this movie. Which I did. Partially this is a matter of low expectations from fantasy entertainment: with “The Fifth Element”, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” as recent benchmarks for quality in this genre, it’s hard to not cut at least a little slack to a film that’s trying a little harder than that. And there is, honestly, plenty to like here. If you indulge the dialogue, the plot itself provides (to me, anyway) a satisfying ration of narrative closure to the story. The setpiece action sequences are jawdropping, and mostly demand a little more emotional involvement from the audience than Reloaded‘s seemingly arbitrary scenes. A lot of the supporting cast carries away the film: Harold Perrineau, and Nona Gaye especially. Mary Alice completely sells the part of the “new Oracle.” Monica Belluci wears another dress made out of 10% latex and 90% optimism. And miracle of miracles, the Wachowski Brothers have figured out a way to get Keanu Reeves to emote onscreen without making the audience immediately snigger: cover his eyes. Absent Ted Logan’s dazed-yet-friendly Holstein stare, Keanu showing emotion is almost convincing.

In short: you could do worse things with your hard-earned $10.

[spoilers in the commentary; beware]

bored at work…

…and for once, the Friday Five questions aren’t completely annoying me. So with no further ado:

1. What food do you like that most people hate?

Kimchee. Mmmmmm…kimchee. Blessed, blessed kimchee.

Shut up or I’ll breathe on you.

2. What food do you hate that most people like?

Eggs. Shudder, twitch, retch, etc. The form doesn’t matter: scrambled, fried, deviled, omelet, boiled — it’s all horrible jiggly sulfurous congealed mucous. I honestly can’t understand the appeal at all.

3. What famous person, whom many people may find attractive, is most unappealing to you?

Britney Spears. Yawn. Nice body, I guess, and it’s not that I don’t generally find jiggly blonde femmes attractive, but her face is just… not doing it for me at all. She looks like what an 8-year-old boy who wasn’t actually yet into girls would describe if you asked him to imagine what a beautiful girl looked like. My eyes get no traction on her face: they just fall off and start staring at whatever’s next to her.

4. What famous person, whom many people may find unappealing, do you find attractive?

Gary Oldman. Objectively, well, he is ugly as hell. Doesn’t matter. He’s plugged straight into god’s own electrical socket. That works for me.

5. What popular trend baffles you?

Voting Republican. Rimshot

More seriously…with the previously noted exception of my addiction to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, I remain perpetually baffled by the popularity of “reality TV”. I mean, hello, this crap sucked back when it was called ‘The Real World’ Who authorized converting our entire nation’s entertainment output into this horrible format?

exit planet dust

Okay, haven’t had an excuse to rant about something in the `biz for a while now. It’s time.

As part of my usual morning’s devouring of media sources, I browed through The Register. El Reg is the tech world’s scandal sheet, and it’s consistently entertaining, but only intermittently informative. Most of their writers are Brits, but since they’re writing about the IT industry, they employ a couple of stringers out in California, that being kinda ground zero. Anyway, one of those stringers is Andrew Orlowski, and today the Register leads off with another one of his stories on Apple’s iTunes Music Store. The article is here. Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

Back? Okay, good.

There’s a problem here. And the problem is that Andrew Orlowski is, point-blank, an idiot. This is at least the third article he’s written for the Register harping on this very same point, and it’s just as daft now as it was the first time.

According to Orlowski, there’s some mass ideological movement converging behind the idea of compulsory copyright licensing for music, and only that dastardly Steve Jobs and his evil plan to use iTMS as a trojan horse to deliver eeeeeevil DRM technology to The Poor Exploited Children Of The World is standing in the way of this incipient technolegal nirvana.


Outside of a few techno-utopian bloggers, there is zero momentum in any arena that matters for compulsory music licensing. The labels don’t want it, Congress isn’t even considering it, and even the artists most associated with a liberal position on mp3 file trading aren’t pushing it as a solution. The reason is simple: the “vast pool of wealth” with which to compensate artists that compulsory licensing would allegedly create, would have to be administered by someone, and all of the options for that are head-explodingly awful. Sure, Bono and Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson will get paid no matter what, but how, precisely, is your local pub band supposed to determine what percentage of that pool is rightfully theirs, and who is going to be empowered to make that decision?

Slotcar Hatebreath, a writer for the defunct and sadly missed Suck used to joke that one day the federal government would subsidize artists to not produce art in the same way that it currently pays farmers to not grow food. It’s hard to envision any scheme for compulsory music compensation that doesn’t come eerily close to making that joke a reality.

And of course… the United States is just one country: how in the name of god could this be made to work internationally, considering that most of the world’s states are signatories to treaties that have rather bound their hands in regard to how copyright laws are implemented?

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Apple has actually managed to implement a system that satisfies the record labels’ paranoia and makes sure that the artists get their cut without overburdening the end-user with useless restrictions, and it turns out that the consumers like it just fine. This appears to piss off Orlowski something fierce, I guess because it’s depriving him of a windmill to tilt at.

sweet surrender