Archive for December, 2003

build me an army…worthy of Brooklyn.

It’s official: I have the Cold of Sauron. I thought it was leaving me last week, but no, it was merely packing its bags to make a quick jaunt south from my head and sinuses into my chest and throat, where it has blasted the landscape and begun erecting its dark citadel.

As a side-effect, I now sound exactly like the Voice of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings movies, and have thus been wandering around my apartment and office muttering:

…much to the amusement and occasional horror of my guests and co-workers.

Little do they know that they are to become the beginnings of my terrible orc army!

Yes, I am loopy on cold medications. Why do you ask?

seasoned bleatings


— Krusty the Klown

(And if you’re in a prayerful mood, think a kind thought for the kugel in my oven.)

moving right along

While in France last year, I came down with a mild cold. Nothing truly debilitating, but it did require at least one late night emergency run to a local druggist to lay hands on some cold medicines and tissues. In the process of doing this, I learned that in French, a cold/fever/flu is called le grippe, a name which delighted and continues to delight me, bringing to mind as it does the image of an Addams Family-style disembodied hand, grasping and squeezing mightily but ultimately kinda fruitlessly at my throat.

And that, I think, is about as much good humor as I can currently summon on the topic. The common cold: feh. I’m on the recovering side now, but I’m still stuck in that horrible state where all day I feel like I’ve just groggily woken up, and no amount of caffeine will shake it.

I hope to god it’s mostly gone by tomorrow, since I’m going to be spending a good chunk of the weekend on public transit. My dear friend Sylvan is having his post-elopement reception party in Boston on Sunday, and I’d sooner cut off my arm than miss that. So ready or not, off I go.

Boston folks: this is gonna be kind of a quick in-and-out sort of trip: up saturday morning/afternoon, back on sunday, so I haven’t bothered notifying most people. If you feel like saying hi, Miranda and I will be at Man Ray for ‘s birthday bash on saturday evening sometime around 10pm or so. That’s pretty much it for unstructured social time on this trip: if you can’t make that, don’t sweat it: I’ll be back twice in January for the usual obvious reasons, and will be being all sorts of social then.

third time charming

So in the precious few moments between the lights in the theatre dimming at 00:05 and the feature presentation of Return of the King commencing at around 00:15, the fine folks at Regal/UA cinemas gave us advance notice and/or warning of the following possibly diverting entertainments coming Soon to a Theatre Near You:

  • Spider-Man 2 — Appropriately enough, they led off with a trailer for the other decades-overdue marquee franchise series based on a beloved pop culture property starring a diminutive and improbably soulfully-eyed male lead and directed by a former maker of gleefully violent zombie films. And it’s a corker of a trailer: a carefully staged character moment between Peter and Mary-Jane, and then the cars start flying. It looks like Raimi got to spend a lot more time and effort on the effects for this one: the web-swinging shots are much better-looking. Hopefully the extra effort also extends to the scripts, and Dr. Octopus will be a less arbitrarily-motivated villain than the Goblin was in the first movie. But who am I kidding? They’ve got my $10 already.

  • Hidalgo — Urk. That crashing sound you hear is Viggo Mortensen’s charisma and charm colliding head-on with his questionable taste in projects not involving hobbits. From all appearances, this is an ill-advised mish-mash of The Black Stallion Returns, Seabiscuit, Lawrence of Arabia, Raiders of the Lost Ark and, well, every race movie ever made but let’s peg the approximate quality level here and say The Cannonball Run. Starring Viggo as a blonde Native American who talks to his horse, who whinnies a lot. Based on a true story, like that’s any excuse.

  • The Chronicles of Riddick — Well, er, hm. The trailer doesn’t mention this at any point, but this is the 5-times-the-budget sequel to 2000’s Pitch Black. Pitch Black was an agreeable-enough B flick that wore its Aliens derivation like a badge of honor, hummed along efficiently, and somehow established Vin Diesel as a probable star. I liked it fine, and a lot of the same players are returning for this one. Still, there’s a weird whiff of overeagerness/overdesign about the trailer’s visuals; call it the “Stargate Syndrome”. And are we really sure we wanted to see this much more of Vin Diesel, this soon? On the other hand, bonus points for casting Judi Densch in a big-budget stupid sci-fi film. Maybe a matinee.

  • The Mask ReturnsAKA “Look Who’s Masking” I guess. The silence in the theatre after this one wrapped up was as if everyone had simultaneously discovered a dog turd in their popcorn. But alas, the stench of failure was emanating from the screen in front of us. There have certainly been less essential sequels made (cf: the entire straight-to-video animation market, e.g. “Snow White 2: Happily Ever After“), but quite possibly none so addle-brained. See, it’s like The Mask only the Mask is a baby this time! No, I’m not kidding. No really. I feel embarrassed just admitting that this exists. Let us never speak of it again.

  • The Butterfly Effect — So like, dude, Ashton Kutchner is this dude who can, like, go back in time and like change the future, only like, he keeps fucking it up and having to go back and do it again and dude, each time it gets worse and there’s this bit where his totally hot girlfriend turns into this total crack ho skank, and then he’s gotta talk to this dude in prison about how it all sucks, and like Ashton looks totally wigged out I guess cause the prison dude isn’t like instantly making Ashton his girlfriend! I kid. Sort of. I guess this is proof that we have all now been “punk’d” by Ashton. My one actual criticism, and it’s an oblique one: if we’re gonna keep almost making film versions of Replay, would it kill Hollywood to, uh, actually make a movie of Replay one of these years? I’d like that a lot.

Okay, and then…

Return of the Jedi, Godfather Pt. III, Matrix Revolutions, Alien^3, Jaws 3-D, Terminator 3…

…Return of the King is nothing like any of those films.

I can’t even pretend to be able to give a coherent review of this film now. I saw the midnight showing with a group of friends, got home at 4am, and was completely unable to sleep, because my brain was still swimming in images from the movie, wanted to process them, and Would. Not. Disengage.

There are other films that you can compare this to, but none of them come off the better for it. Every other fantasy film of the last decade looks like a shoddy toy in comparison, and I can’t think of many “non-genre” films that fare better. It’s not sui generis: it wears its influences proudly. But the standard for quality and scope has now been officially and irrevocably set once again. This is the bar that everyone else gets to measure up to from now on.

This movie, put simply, kicked my ass up one side of the theatre and down the other, then took my lunch money and started dating my sister. Go see it. A lot.

and speaking of saddam…

More people should read this. Spread the word.

bad hair day

(Somewhat belatedly. Sorry, had a socially distracting weekend.)

Keine mitleid für Saddam:


So after the inevitable interrogation and trial, I’m nominating Saddam for an appearance on “Queer Eye for the Psychopathic Dictator”. This man needs a makeover something fierce. Well, except that he’ll be dead, but bullet holes and/or noose marks are just a slightly bigger-than-normal makeup challenge for Kai. Although he might have trouble if they decide to give him the Mussolini treatment.

Seriously though, if the complete insanity that American politics has descended into in the last two years has an upside, this is it: at least our target of convenience was a truly loathsome one. Nobody will miss Saddam except the Amalgamated Torturers, Executioners and Bagmen Union of Iraq, and even they’ll sleep a little easier knowing that the New Boss is about a million times less insane than the Old Boss.

Saddam was not quite the worst of his breed, but with Amin and Assad pere having passed the scene, he might reasonably claim to have been the longest-lived: a distinction that he will get to enjoy in a jail cell until such time as he gets to enjoy it posthumously. And frankly: good riddance. For whatever disagreements I’ve had with this war and the way it was prosecuted, the passing of Saddam and his regime is only a net positive for the human race. We might yet manage to contrive to make his replacement worse, but we’d have to try really, really hard.

Fuck the local political calculations for the nonce: I’m pretty unconflictedly happy about this. It almost makes up for Idi Amin having died peacefully in bed.

In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson: “He was a pig. He will not be missed.”

(Now if we can just get rid of Bush and Sharon by November 04, it will have been the Best Year Ever.)

by your command

Short, shameful confession: this weekend, I watched the Sci Fi Channel’s remake of Battlestar Galactica.

I went in with expectations that could charitiably be described as low. I came prepared to mock, and mock mercilessly. I had little hope that I would not have changed the channel after the first half an hour. The only reason that I was bothering at all was that it was written and produced by Ronald Moore, who was responsible for HBO’s “Carnivale”, and many of the better episodes of “Star Trek Deep Space Nine.”

So it’s to my considerable chagrin that I report that, in large part, it… didn’t suck. In fact, in parts, it was pretty damn good. It wasn’t anywhere near perfect or even great, but I sat through the whole two hours and then tuned in to watch the conclusion the following night. There were parts I liked a lot. I might even watch it again.

Okay, that bad stuff first: Tricia Helfer as “Number Six” is channelling Natasha Henstridge in “Species” in a very, very bad way. Additionally, Six’s first two scenes are completely gratuitous, not to mention nonsensical. The guy playing Apollo is bland, blonde, boring and whiny. God help us, the brought the Cute Kid back. (Boxie? Boxy? I don’t care, just shove him out an airlock ASAP.) Putting the Cylon “eye” onto the front of the fighters was cheese-o-riffic. Grace Park looks a little lost as Boomer. The editing is a little choppy in places. And the dialogue gets a little hammy whenever someone has to give a speech or invoke religion in any way.

But the good stuff, weirdly, is almost everything else. The script is…mostly…good. Occasionally really good. The pacing was slow, careful and deliberate. The plot, with only a few exceptions, makes consistent sense. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell were terrific. The secondary characters come off as more than a collection of standard archetypes. There’s actual drama. War in space is presented mostly not as an antiseptic videogame, but as…war, with consequences, casualties, and an impossible moral calculus to navigate.

The special effects were excellent. (Although putting maneuvering jets on the Vipers only points up how bad a design they are in the first place. But I digress. Geekily.) The operational chatter in the background actually sounds related to what’s going on rather than just arbitrary technobabble. There is no deus ex machina ending, and the status quo is most certainly not returned to at the end. The woman cast to play a kinda butch character (Katie Sackhoff as Starbuck) actually has broad shoulders and visible muscles. And, miracle of miracles, the direction is actually good: there’s even, in the beginning, a long tracking shot that might have taken some actual rehearsal time to put together.

There are plenty of nits to pick if you’re in a mood to pick nits, and a couple of outright groaners, but overall, color me happily surprised. I’m a little dubious about its prospects as a continuing series, but I’d probably at least give it a chance.

An aside: the weirdest aspect of this has been reading through the reactions on the usual fora (IMDB, Ain’t It Cool News, etc) and finding out that there are apparently still dozens, maybe even hundreds of fans of the original Battlestar Galactica series out there, who care deeply and passionately about it. Reading their reactions to the new show has been like watching the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy character emerge out of the TV screen. These people are really, really scary.

Is the new Galactica better than the original series? That’s easy: anything is better than the original Battlestar Galactica. Seriously. Grass growing, paint peeling: these and every other stereotypically boring and/or excruciating activity are better than watching Lorne Green and Richard Hatch shed termites as they try to act, interspersed with the same 15-second FX shot repeated over and over again. I, like many people who grew up in the 70s, had somewhat fond memories of the show, but trust me: that fondness does not survive exposure as an adult. I actually own a laserdisc copy of the original Galactica pilot movie, and it’s useful for torturing people who have unwisely admitted to liking it: they generally last up until the Space Disco Scene (yes, there really is a Space Disco Scene) before they crack completely and start begging for the pain to stop…

Somehow, Ronald Moore took whatever nugget of a compelling idea was buried beneath all of those layers of cheese and crap, and brought it out to stand on its own. Br-fucking-vo.

rocket science, apparently

So a few nights ago, via the magic of TiVo (and, I confess, the Daily Show), I finally got to see the infamous moment from the last Democratic candidate debate, wherein Ted Koppel asked the assembled participants to raise their hands if they thought Howard Dean could beat George Bush in the general election, and Dean alone raised his hand.

Okay, let’s dispose of the obvious: tossing out a grade-school-level wiseass crack like that was an insult to both the participants and observers. Koppel should be ashamed of himself, and Kucinich justifiably took him to task. But really, whatever. With the present state of politics in this country, we should count ourselves lucky that the debates aren’t moderated by Howard Stern, and the candidates not required to have a swimsuit competition.

The real problem here, and the thing that makes steam leak out my ears the more I think about it, is that apparently all of the candidates (excluding Dean, I guess: file him in the N/A column for this stunt) fell for it. So once again, I would like to degrade the democratic process by abusing my stance as a person of no influence whatsoever to deliver a small message to Messrs. Kerry, Mosley-Braun, Sharpton, Kucinich, Edwards, Lieberman, Clark and Gephardt:

Everyone who didn’t raise their hands, out of the goddamn pool this instant.

Look folks, this is very, very simple. It does not matter if you don’t actually think Dean can win. It doesn’t matter if you’re sure you’d make a better candidate. The story is: my dead grandmother could beat Bush. With one hand behind her back.

That is what you say. That is always what you say. Because otherwise, the story reverts to that of Bush being “unbeatable”, and you are doing the opposition’s work for them.

“Any of my honorable competitors could wipe the floor with that nincompoop.”


Seriously, this was a bad moment. And if you think we won’t see it OVER AND OVER AGAIN in the GOP’s ads next year, you are sadly mistaken.

And kids, if you’re still curious as to why Dean is walking away with the nomination this year, you can consider this to be goddamn exhibit number one: He alone out of all of you clowns seems to be aware that there’s an election about to happen. And if you’re still wondering why you got worked over like an 86’ed drunkard in 2002, this is still exhibit A: because every time some clown hands you a gun, you obligingly line up in a circle, aim to the right and fire.

it’s raining cash!

If you live in New York, you really, really want to go to this web page, and enter your name in the form.

It turns out my old auto insurance company in Boston owes me a refund. Who knew?

Now I just need to find a notary public.

two horrid tastes that taste horrid together

God, where to begin with this?

gehry monstrosity

Short form, for those of you too lazy to read the article: a Brooklyn real estate developer is pitching an idea to buy the New Jersey Nets NBA team, and move them to Brooklyn. To house them, he suggests building a massive sports center over the Atlantic Avenue transit hub. And god help us, it looks like it might happen.

Okay, first of all, Frank Gehry must be stopped. I’ll grant that this design is actually relatively restrained by Gehry standards, but it’s still yet another imposing aluminum monstrosity with detail frills that are going to look completely ridiculous in 5 years or less. As anyone who’s ever spent any time around Atlantic Avenue at 2am will attest, the last thing that neighborhood needs is more ugly architecture that will look abandoned and menacing after dark. And frankly, one of the things I like about Brooklyn is that it has so far largely avoided the plague of faceless, ugly glass-and-metal buildings that are coming to dominate Manhattan’s skyline. And not to harp or anything, but what is with Gehry’s obsession with functionless, 6-story-tall wavy sheets of metal? It was, maybe, cute once. As a career motif, it’s just embarrassing: it’s like letting a 6-year-old with a Star Wars fixation design your monuments.

Next: everyone who actually believes that this project will actually come in under budget and without any emergency cash infusions from the city, please raise your hand. Right, okay, you’re excused to go to the library: you can look up the word “gullible” in the dictionary. It’s there, promise. Also, please note:
Gehry’s preliminary plans for a 19,000-seat arena would not require public financing, city officials said. Instead, the project would be funded by Ratner, his investors and tax revenue from 4,500 residential units and more than 2 million square feet of commercial and retail space.

One of these things is not like the other, one does not belong…

And finally, the article’s money quote:
…it will require the city to raze part of the adjacent Park Slope neighborhood, displacing businesses and at least 100 residents.

Yes, you read that correctly: we are seriously proposing to destroy large underdeveloped sections of what are probably the two fastest-growing residential and small-business neighborhoods in the city (Ft. Greene being the other) in order to build this white elephant.

Folks, the jury is not out on projects like this. It came in a long time ago, and the verdict was: not profitable. Sports centers are money-losers for everyone but the building contractors, and commercial spaces attached to sports complexes are… how do I put this? Have you heard anyone complaining that the problem with downtown Brooklyn is that it lacked convenient access to TCBY and a Starter Store? For that matter, have you heard anyone complaining about Brooklyn’s lack of available office space? This thing is the Renaissance Center, version 2.0.

The really infuriating thing here is that the Atlantic Avenue hub really is in need of some redevelopment help and beautification. But as will attest in great detail, the city makes it nearly impossible for a would-be small business owner to get started. But they’ll roll out the red carpet for a cynical scam like this.

You’d think that when you’re right next door to the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d be a little more suspicious of someone trying to sell it to you.

if you hate it when your friends become famous…

…you’ll just love it when it happens to your bitter, bitter enemies.

Nothing curdles the milk in my coffee like doing my normal morning media-imbibing frenzy and seeing, once again, somebody who should know better referring to Clayton Cramer as if the man weren’t a complete nutcase.

Oh well, at least this finally gave me the impetus to put my Standard Cramerbot Rant into a permanent location. (That would be the final link, above.) Please do feel free to spread the love.

(If you’re finding this post mostly impenetrable: don’t worry, that’s just a sign that you had better things to do with your time circa 1988 than have extended arguments with high-functioning sociopaths on Usenet. That’s a good thing. Pat yourself on the back.)

stop me before I thrill again

Provided for your displeasure: the top ten proposed taglines for

10- Deconstructing your Gaze for $20/month.
9- Putting the “Ahhhhhh” back in Simulacra.
8- Society of the speculum.
7- Dominating the subversive paradigm.
6- Derive-by photoshoots.
5- The text is the body. The body is the text. $20, please.
4- Privilege to the Pr0n!
3- Hot horny amateurs in the desert of the real.
2- Signifier? But I just met her!
1- Simulacrum? Damn near killed him!

Votes and additional suggestions solicited.

a hard habit to break

One of the constants of my life has been silly, sleep-deprived conversations that lead inexorably to the registration of a domain name. Don’t ask how this happens, it just does. And now, as a result of yet another one, I am now the proud owner of:

I’m soliciting amusing suggestions for what the heck to do with it. Plus, as always, email accounts/forwards are available for the deserving.

consumer distorts

Why do why did I think for even one minute that ordering anything from Gothic Cabinet Craft would be a good idea? I should have my head examined.

Big flowery hugs and kisses to the staff of GCC on University Avenue in the Bronx, for:

  • …nodding and grunting in the affirmative when we asked for a morning delivery, which turned out to translate to: “Actually, our delivery window is between 11am and 4pm, but we’ll let the delivery dispatcher tell you that on your answering machine the night before the delivery date.”

  • …being oh so helpfully willing to reschedule delivery for ten days later. Still in the afternoon.

  • …helpfully pointing out when I called them at 4pm today to ask whether my shelves were actually coming, that it was still 3:55pm by the clock in the store, and that therefore my order was not in any way late. Yet.

  • …having such courteous regard for their driver’s zen equilibrium that they would not dare to call his cell phone to disturb him with my trivial concerns.

Never, ever again. And if you’re smart, you’ll let my mistake be your instructive example, and never do it in the first place.

the war on terrorism jumps the shark

It’s finally come to this:

I’m not saying these people are associated with terrorist organizations,” [NYPD] Captain McGowan said, “but some counterfeit rings are. It’s a great way to destroy our economy.

Uh oh! Terrorists! What are those damn terrorists up to this time?

Well, uh, apparently terrorists are now selling knock-off Gucci handbags in Chinatown. Because as we all know, if Prada’s profit margins slip 1%, the terrorists have won. And our economy will be destroyed.

I can’t make this stuff up, folks. We are officially living on Bizarro-Earth.