The Star Wars Name Blender

January 29, 2017

Jyn, Cassian, Baze Malbus, Bistan, Chirrut – these are just a few of the Rogue One characters, an unmemorable blitz of names that reads like the fevered output of the Star Wars Galaxies random name generator. They just don’t have the iconic flavor of Han Solo, Princess Leia, or Obi Wan Kenobi. The easiest name to remember, Saw Gerrara, is due mainly to its simplicity.

Saw Gerrera

But that name presents its own challenges, especially if Saw were a Space Catholic. Probably one reason he kept his inner circle so small was to avoid confusing interchanges like the following:

“Have you seen Saw?”

“I saw Saw on Saturday. He didn’t look good.”

“Why? Where did you see Saw?”

“I saw Saw at the Holy See.”

“Who did Saw see at the See?”

“I don’t know. I’m worried he might be having a personal crisis.”

“He’s probably despondent. The Sith got a seventh seat during a secret Senate session.”

“You’d despair too, if you were seven-eighths machine. Yesterday I had to saw Saw’s seventh finger out of a sewing machine. He was trying to sew his seersucker suit.”

“I’ll bet Saw saw someone at the See to make his peace. He might be looking to the end. I just hope he can fulfill his final wishes.”

“What’s that?”

“Saw wants to see the sea before he dies.”

“I thought you saw Saw at the See on Saturday?”

“… I gotta be honest. I don’t know what we are talking about anymore…”

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Dispatches from the Braindead Megaphone Cafe – What Pootin Wants

July 7, 2016

We live in interesting political times. The discussions at the Braindead Megaphone Cafe have become particularly interesting. The following conversation between two males was recently overheard:

“These pretzels are making me thirsty.”

“You got half a beer in front of you.”

“I was thinking of getting orange juice. Like yours.”

“This? This is a screwdriver.”

“What are you? Some kinda damn Ruskie?”

“Hell no. I get my screwdriver with Wild Turkey. It’s called America.”

“Hell yea.” [Fingers bartender to order his own America.]

“We gotta do what we can till Barry Hussein’s outta there. Trump’ll handle that Pootin right.”

“Yeah.” [Sips drink ruminatively.] “Even Putin knows that. He said, you know, Trump’s talented. And real smart.”

“Pootin knows he’s met his match.”

“Yeah.” [Sip.] “Kinda makes you wonder, why would he say that?”

“‘Cause it’s true.”

“Yea, I know, but… Putin wants to keep beating us. He beats us with Barry. He beats us with Hillary. So he doesn’t want Trump to be president. Why would he say all that stuff?”

[With eyes askance] “You sayin’ it isn’t true?”

“Not that. It’s just, it’s like he’s saying we should vote for Trump. And we know he doesn’t want us to vote for Trump.”

“Well … he is Russian. They play mind games. Like them KGB guys in the Red Dawn.”

“Which part?”

“All of it. They can do their mind games and turn soldiers against their kin. He’s trying to turn us.”

“Yeah.” [Smiles] “Yeah. He knows we’ll do the opposite of what he says.”

“You mean the stupid ones’ll do that.”

“Hell yeah.” [Raises glass] “We’ll do exactly what Putin says. That’ll show him.”

[Both salute and finish their drinks with a flourish]

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Inherent Vice on film

January 25, 2015

I was gratified that PT Anderson decided to include the eloquent “dark crews” passage in the film version of Inherent Vice. However, I did regret the exclusion of the “1 percenter speech” from the Golden Fang lawyer to Doc near the end of the story – it would have been apt for our time:

“…We’ve been in place forever. Look around. Real estate, water rights, oil, cheap labor—all of that’s ours, it’s always been ours. And you, at the end of the day what are you? One more unit in this swarm of transients who come and go without pause here in the sunny Southland, eager to be bought off with a car of a certain make, model, and year, a blonde in a bikini, thirty seconds on some excuse for a wave—a chili dog, for Christ’s sake. We will never run out of you people. The supply is inexhaustible.” (Pg. 347, Penguin)

But I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t in film – it might have occurred while the guy next to me in the movie theater was snoring. Thanks a lot, you fat bastard…

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The Confused Kryptonian

July 3, 2013

There are some good parts to Man of Steel, but overall the movie stands on some really shaky reasoning. For one, if Jor-El’s consciousness controls Zod’s ship, why doesn’t he fly it off into a black hole? That might have a few (thousand) lives.

But a more egregious logical violation is the confused state of Kryptonian biological philosophy. On their home planet, the Kryptonians developed and then mandated a process of genetic engineering. Following the planet’s explosion, Zod, ever the good soldier, loaded up all the materials to get it started again in the “Genesis Ship,” which itself is a curious choice of names for an alien (non-Christian) race.

Now, as anyone who’s seen a sci-fi movie in the 1970s knows, genetic engineering is the sign of a morally bankrupt society corrupted by elitist tendencies, so as Zod goes to the mat to protect this way of life, we already know who the bad guys are. Zod’s soldier Faora-Ul is by his side and therefore must also be an advocate of this social structure. So it is truly baffling when she says the following to Superman:

“You have a sense of morality, and we do not. And that gives us an evolutionary advantage. And if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that evolution always wins.”

Now, there are many issues raised by this statement. For one, what does evolution win against? What exactly is it fighting?

But those are mere puzzlers to the larger issue. The whole Kryptonian Genesis project actually subverts evolution. What the Kryptonians are doing is not evolution in any sense. Evolution is messy and unguided. If I were to give a name to their process, it would be more like “intelligent design.”

Perhaps Faora-Ul spent her formative years on Bizarro World. Or her statement is simply an indicator of the poor state of Kryptonian schools. Faora-Ul must have had to join the military to get out of her jerkwater hometown but not before an underfunded public education system taught her that evolution is the opposite of what it is.

Or maybe she was home schooled…

I’m probably over-thinking it. I shouldn’t expect too much from a director who can’t keep his tripod steady or find the correct speed settings on his camera.

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Moths and Snails and Slugs

June 28, 2013

I recently critiqued the writing style in Swamplandia!; however, there was at least one passage that had a lasting impact on me:

“Outside our porch had become a cauldron of pale brown moths and the bigger ivory moths with sapphire-tipped wings, a sky-flood of them. They entered a large rip in our screen. They had fixed wings like sharp little bones, these moths, and it was astonishingly sad when you accidentally killed one.” – pg. 41

It is not the most direct association, but I feel the same overwhelming sadness when I accidentally step on a snail. The snails come out on the sidewalk right after a storm, when the concrete is still moist and they leave silvery trails behind them, and if you are not careful – and sometimes even if you are – you will step on them. They pop, mixing tiny shards with the goop of their ruined bodies.

But perhaps I am overreacting, becoming overwrought with emotion. Is it a personal defect? Evil would think so.

Time Bandits, Evil
“Slugs! He created slugs!”

I would assume he has the same opinion of snails as slugs, so in that case, what is the value of a snail? According to Evil, not much: “They can’t hear. They can’t speak. They can’t operate machinery.”

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Changing Places

April 6, 2013

E-books, tablets, iPads, they are flipping the concept of an ending. With DVDs and Blu-rays and VOD, all movies now have trackers, slide bars, countdowns, to tell you when the end is near, how close we are to completion. Used to be, we would sit in a dark theater, and you would have to guess, through the course of the narrative, when the movie would end. And some movies were really good at giving false indications, or no indications, when the the credits would roll. For example, I was fortunate to record my thoughts during the multiple climaxes (and not the good kind) for Face/Off

“Awesome, they are going to have the final shootout in the church. This should be great. Ok, now they are in a graveyard. Good, good. Slight change of scenery isn’t bad for the big climax. And this should be the… wait, holy s*&t, now they’re chasing each other in boats. What the hell, will this movie never end…?”

Really, I could still be in the theater, waiting for the next reel of Cage and Travolta beating on each other (and again, not the good kind). Both would probably like to go back to that point in their respective careers and live the rest of their lives in a perpetual chase scene.

For books, it was the opposite. Back in the day, you could feel the heft of the pages, and as that stack got thinner, you knew you were getting close to the end.

Jane Austen even comments on this circumstance in Northanger Abbey, noting that the reader can see the end is coming. David Lodge plays with this concept later in his novel Changing Places. But now, when you are reading on a digital screen, the end of the book weighs the same as the beginning. This screen is replacing the physical reality of a book, and we no longer count pages to the end. Books and movies, they have changing places.

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Pull a Pappy

October 18, 2012

“People like that reform. Maybe we should get us some.”

Truer words have never been spoken in a campaign. In this case, Governor Pappy O’Daniel is trailing challenger Homer Stokes in his reelection bid, so much that he suggests (ironically?) composing his concession speech weeks before the election.

His quandary is… How can you get reform when you’re the incumbent? Obama is in the same predicament. People like that reform, and he doesn’t seem to be the one to give it to them. And as the erstwhile Homer Stokes shows, nothing says “reform” to a disenchanted electorate more than a broom and a dwarf.

But there’s always room for a little reform, even in the most weathered incumbency.

Pappy O'Daniel in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Obama needs to pull a Pappy. It sounds dirty, I know, but there are a couple things to remember to get some of the RE-form.

1. People like music. And they don’t like people telling them what music to listen to.

2. Reform, at least the reform people vote for, isn’t an action. It’s a feeling. Homer Stokes felt new, even though he was a Grand Wizard of the KKK (which means he was reform in the wrong direction). You got to feel the reform. And you might have to dance for it.

Pappy O'Daniel in O Brother, Where Are Thou?

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Has Brad Bird read Superfolks?

August 12, 2012

I would guess so, since The Incredibles shares much thematically with this 1977 novel by Robert Mayer. I discovered Superfolks recently myself, and I find the concepts familiar – but only because we have been immersed in the postmodern phase of the superhero for multiple decades now.

Mayer should get credit for being a trailblazer in this genre, if it could be classified as such. He created a world with a fading pantheon of superheroes, dead, dismembered, retired, with his main figure, his “Superman,” stuck in a schlubby middle-class existence, doing the dull, enervating stuff you and I do every day. Sound familiar?

My first experience with superhero deconstruction was in the short-story collection Alien Sex. In the short story “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” which predates Superfolks by six years, Larry Niven speculated on the biological realities of the Man of Steel when trying to have sex and reproduce. Superman’s sperm, as with all other cells in his body, would be infused with super abilities and thus would shoot through Lois Lane at super speed, a notion familiar to all who have seen Mallrats. But Niven added the image of thousands of super-sperm, flying the skies over Metropolis, looking for eggs to inseminate. Niven’s speculative essay is definitely worth enduring the worst book cover ever.

Then came Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, which has yet to be bettered. Seriously – it is better than Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sin City combined. But I digress.

The Incredibles is firmly ensconced in this modern superhero tradition, but the thing is, Brad Bird, whether intended or not, takes it one step further and deconstructs all of humanity. You see, the Big Bad in the story, Syndrome, voiced by Jason Lee of “kryptonite condom” fame (from the aforementioned Mallrats), is a mythic character himself. What was his ultimate goal? It was to make everyone a superhero so that, in the end, there would be nothing “special” about his former idol Mr. Incredible. He is our modern-day Prometheus, bringing fire to us mere mortals, and like Prometheus, he was punished for his attempt to challenge the gods.

Syndrome never accepted the ultimate truth of The Incredibles universe: There are only a few special people in the world, and you are not one of them.

That’s why it is acceptable for the speedster Dash to compete in track and field with the “ordinaries,” despite the fact that there is no doubt he will win every single race with barely an effort. He crushes his fellow classmates, reminding them that, no matter how hard they try, they are just ordinary humans – and that will never be good enough.

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Thank you, Mr. Abercrombie

March 11, 2012

It is a late notice, I know, but I wanted to mention my sadness at the passing of Ian Abercrombie, who died on January 26, 2012.

Ian Abercrombie - Army of Darkness

He was sublime as Seinfeld’s Mr. Pitt, but I will always remember him as “spinach chin.” I will miss his talents and the true class he brought to all his projects.

Ian Abercrombie - Army of Darkness

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We are all Morton Downey Jr.

November 14, 2010

Remember that girl, during the 2008 presidential election, who faked an attack from an ardent Obama supporter? She scratched a backward B on her cheek, as one might do if one were looking into a mirror. Of course she later had to admit to fabricating the story.

If this event sounds familiar, and it should to Gen Xers, it recalls the downfall of Morton Downey, Jr., who claimed neo-Nazi skinheads had attacked him in an airport bathroom and etched a Swastika onto his forehead (a la Inglourious Basterds but with the opposite intent). Again, he made the error of drawing a mirror image of the symbol on his forehead.

The ploy did work in that he got attention for it, but that was back in a time when we could distinguish between good attention and bad attention. (My memory of the time is a little fuzzy, but I believe we could also distinguish between fact and opinion – life as a pundit was much harder back then…) Morton was scandalized and lost a considerable amount of social capital on the deal (and he was already overdrawn).

I thought of this incident while recently watching Predator 2, which has a pretty good cast for what it is. Morton has a minor part where he essentially plays himself – and I have to say, it demonstrates how, as a media figure, he was quite ahead of his time.

Of course we have smaller cameras now (where did he hide that behemoth to sneak it into a federally restricted crime scene?), but aside from that, he’s the perfect mold for a media icon today – he’s loud and values sensationalism over rational examination of the facts – or any examination of the facts.

We are all Morton Downey, Jr.

Morton knew where we were going – he just got there a bit earlier than the rest of us. Unfortunately he lived in a time when having a swastika on your forehead was still considered an impediment to your career as well as to your overall ability to interact with other humans. Nowadays, he and Colonel Hans Landa would be a tag-team show on Fox News.

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