Stan and Ollie

For all that I take Hollywood out behind the woodshed for their odd views on the world and near total rejection of the truth and beauty of the world, credit where credit is due.

John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan recently put out a fantastic period piece that delves into the latter days of the career of Laurel and Hardy, and it is tender and warm and funny and includes one of the most suspenseful scenes that I’ve experienced in a long, long time.

Set sixteen years after their heyday, the lovable duo are trying to stage a 1950s comeback using their 1930s style humor.  They grapple with the changing times, their rocky friendship, and the incredible stress and strain and blessing of wives who love them even as they don’t fully understand them.  This is a movie about friendship, and the way men relate to each other, and I didn’t think that you could make a movie like this anymore, but the madmen did it.  They really did it.

It’s in there, and they nail it.

The only thing I can think of is that this is as much a movie about Hollywood and film-making as it is about fraternal love.  The execs who greenlit this film must have been tricked into the latter by being sold the former.  For my money, the financial and career stuff only matters insofar as it affected the deep love these two men had for each other.

If you are in the mood for a charming little film without a single explosion or super-power or sex scene, give it a shot. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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Let Go Your Feelings

No one is coming to save your precious Star Wars.

I get it.  It was fun while it lasted.  You had some good times, and would really like just one last visit to the old haunts for old times’ sake.  But this…

Spoilers: He couldn’t

This ain’t it, chief.  The original trilogy represents that rarity where heavy handed studio involvement polished up a turd and made it shine like a diamond.  All of the reports and interviews from that era point to a confused mess of a film that took some serious editing wizardry to cobble into the classics we know and love.  When Lucas held the reins, we got the fun but empty and meandering noise-machines of the Prequels.

And then we got Red Tails.  There is no chance a Star Wars made with today’s George Lucas at the helm would share any of the OT’s deep message or fun spirit.  And if you think he’d write a tale any less woke than Jar Jar Abrams and Rian “On Your Parade” Johnson, then you need to sit down and watch Red Tails again.  That’s a harsh medicine to take, but one that should help cure you of your delusions of Lucas’ grandeur.

It had a good run, but it’s over now.

But take heart, there are better intellectual properties out there.  The wheel of life continues to turn, and just as the newcomer and bold risk-taker of George Lucas supplanted the dreary seventies aesthetic in his day, we have a legion of bold risk-takers working to supplant the dreary teens aesthetic of our day.

Good things are on the horizon.  Keep your eyes open and your powder dry – we’ll find them together.

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A Normie Looks at Sci-Fi

Happy Tax Day.  Here’s hoping you’ve got a nice cushion to sit down on now that Uncle Sam is done having his way with you.

If you have watched any Devon Stacks’ analyses of the Hollywood machine, then you probably view everything that trickles out of Big Media in a whole new way.  Once Devon parts the waters and shows you what’s happening beneath the surface, you can never go home again.  Not always nice, not always easy, learning to spot the buried messages represents a vital component of life for those still resisting the final collapse in these, the latter days of the Pax Americana.

If you haven’t seen one, I highly recommend his summary and analysis of Ciderhouse Rules.  This pro-abortion film was lauded by the illiterati, in stark contrast to Big Media’s overwhelming censorship of current release UnPlanned because of the “sensitive nature” of the subject.  Translating parcel-tongue to English, what they mean is that they must protect, not the delicate sensibilities of modern viewers, but the annual fetal contributions to Moloch.

Watch three of his analyses, and the next thing you know, you’ll start making connections of your own.  Which brings us to the very normie sci-fi scene.

While stuck on a long flight and desperate for entertainment I skipped the usual blockbuster fare to check out James Cameron’s take on sci-fi, and thanks to Devon Stack…it was hard to watch.

It’s a series, actually, with Episode One dealing with Aliens.  We’ll talk about a couple of other episodes in future posts.  The episode on aliens gives us all the fodder we need for today.

Long time genre fans expect to see the usual Boomer perspectives.  Naturally, his version of the story of science fiction begins and ends with the era of the Boomers. To be fair, he is a film guy making a film about film people, so it’s no surprise that his documentary would ignore the foundational stories of the genre.  It does start with HG Wells, but then skips straight past four decades of science fiction to land on rubber monster B-movies. The usual Big Pub diversity hires get trotted out to offer Narrative Approved talking points about how the genre has matured under the careful guidance of perverts like Arthur C. Clarke without a mention of giants like Howard and Burroughs and Lovecraft and Merritt and the rest of the True Golden Age writers. Oh and they talk to Ken Liu – he’s great and one of two bright sparks in the show. Hilariously, the other is Keanu Reeves, who comes across as one of the smartest people and deepest thinkers in the documentary.

As a sign of how shallow the thinking is, Cameron et al. discuss how science-fiction was a small and unpopular field – remember that the enormous popularity of the pulp works has been memory holed and they start with the dweebish era of the Campbellian age – but that it has overtaken other genres as evidenced by the current rage for superheroes and spaceship movies.  It then goes on to talk about how science-fiction has always been popular as evidenced by the popular films from the fifties, sixties, seventies, etc.

Let’s set all that aside and instead analyze what Cameron and others of his ilk have to say about their goals.

Cameron discusses “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with Spielberg.  At the nine-minute mark, Cameron mentions that, “You really created a kind of, almost an alternate spirituality, or alternate religion.”

Wait – what? Why do we need an alternate spirituality? What’s wrong with the one we’ve got? It’s an optimistic framework for understanding the universe, one that proclaims our ultimate victory over death if we accept the price paid for us by the blood of our Savior. Why, it’s worked well for two thousand years, it has built a civilization responsible for the greatest advances, the lowest infant mortality rates, one where the greatest threat to people’s health is overabundance. One that put a man on the moon, wiped out diseases that once decimated continents, one that shared its bounty with the world, and flung wide its doors to welcome all comers. It would take a lot of effort to convince people to give up a civilization like that – the kind of effort that could only be conducted by outsiders who don’t understand or accept or appreciate the gifts of Western Civilization.

Speaking of…

“Yes,” Spielberg continues, “and the superior civilization is going to find the best of you, and pull the best of you out of yourself.”

The superior civilization? Spielberg makes movies about a strange alien arriving in America and showing the poor benighted locals a superior culture and new spirituality, and the struggle these wise aliens face thanks to the inherent prejudice of the…

Oh.

oh

Mel Brooks was right!

Well, this just got really uncomfortable.

The documentary shines a light on the two-faced nature of Spielbergian sci-fi. It lurches back and forth between two contradictory positions that carry the same message.

On the one hand, it delves into the role science fiction can play in demonstrating the failures of Western Civilization.  What a shame, the story goes, that a few outsiders would enter a world like Pandora or countless worlds filled with noble savages just like it and start mucking up the place.

On the other hand, it delves into the role science fiction can play in demonstrating the failures of Western Civilization as it struggles to maintain its own identity in the face of invasion by the Other. What a shame, the story goes, that a few outsiders like the Prawn or countless races just like them would enter a world like ours and meet with such resistance and fear of their obviously superior ways.

Either way you look at it, Western Civilization is the worst.

In the end, though, the greatest glimpse into the mind of the twentieth century’ greatest film-maker comes at the tail end of the episode when he admits that all he has ever wanted to do was help filmgoers get comfortable with the idea of aliens among them, aliens dedicated to improving the way of life of the locals. Spielberg wants to encourage everyone to understand that aliens are good and the changes they bring will help them evolve into a better sort of being. All they have to do is stop being afraid of change and the Other.

Unless the other is American, Christian, or Western.

Those guys are the worst.

Cool story bro.

On a related note: Don’t give money to people who hate you.

I’m going to go take a shower.

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Flying Sparks – All the Cool Kids are Doing It

It’s this new comic on the streets where you read it and feel adventurous but wake up the next morning and find out you’ve been romance comicked and you don’t even mind.

I speak in memes now.  Only in memes.

My comic to-be-read pile is looking a little thin these days.  Thankfully, Jon Del Arroz is here to help with that.  Flying Sparks Volume One was a lot of fun, with my chief complaint that it was too short.  Flying Sparks, Volume 2 should help correct that little problem.  You can back it here:

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Drik Gently Season Two – The Shark Jump

This review is spoiler free, which if you’ve seen the show is a feat given that mentioning pretty much anything that happens in the show will spoil some surprises.

The first season of Dirk Gently felt like an early David Tennant Doctor Who replacement.  It had the same wide-open sense that anything could happen, anything might lie just around the corner, that quick wits were a suitable substitute for fast hands, and that discretion was often the best part of valor.  Dirk Gently had that same goofy sense of adventure punctuated by brief bouts of maudlin depression that imbued him with a sense of vulnerability despite his tendency to dance through the raindrops with dry hair.  It was a quirky, fun adventure that avoided a lot of the usual pitfalls for genre television.

And then along came Season Two.

It’s not entirely without merit.  Several of the characters show real arcs, some for the better and some for the worse.  In most cases the changes are slow and organic and feel natural.  The new cast members on Team Good include a local Sheriff who stands out as a good guy swept up in the bizarre tidings and managing the weirdness with aplomb.  The show stretches its budget to the limit and the story provides suitable explanations for all of the really weird and artificial looking props and settings.  The scope of Dirk’s world gets fleshed out, and we learn more about how and why the (kind of) superpowered folks exist and do what they do.

And then they had to dive headfirst into the usual mood-killing nonsense.  The big damn hero is gay?  Check.  Manic-pixie girl with world-crushing powers?  Check.  The effective male leads are all evil?  Check.  The frail housewife that physically overpowers her farmer husband in a test of strength?  Check, and that one was particularly egregious – it sucked all the tension and impact out of what could have been an effective scene if the housewife had simply surprised her husband instead of out-muscling him.  Kids are the wisest of us all?  Check.

Swap a few genders.  Ditch a couple of clichés.  Lose the needless Narrative tropes.  You get the same thrills and fun of Season One without the baggage.  Once again a viewer can only sigh for what might have been had the producers had the guts to cut against the grain and take a few risks instead of sticking with the same tired old digs at traditional culture.

Which leads to my theory that the poz is changing.  It’s…evolving.  They are becoming smart enough to feed you a bit of hope, to give you a solid first taste of the story they want to tell.  Once they think they have you hooked, they inject large does of cultural poison into the mix, knowing that most blind consumers won’t notice until their ten year old child is sexy dancing for money in front of a crowd of men in assless chaps.  It’s insidious, and based on Season Two, I’ve actually gone back and added an addendum to my previous post warning everyone to stay away.

 

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Gun Ghoul

Happy Ides of March, everybody.  Watch your backs!

Back in December I took the Arkhaven Comics then new online book store for a test drive.  Wil Caligan’s Gun Ghoul showed up in plenty of time, but personal events made reading a comic centered on death and justice too painful.

Still, Wil’s a good guy who deserves support, so I cinched my belt tighter, sniffed and thumbed my nose like a good Mayberry Sherriff’s Deputy and shouldered my wife through a story of loss, revenge, and redemption.

I just can’t get enough of the Caligan art style.  In a way it reminds me of Warhammer 40k miniatures.  The proportions are off, but in a good way.  The figure work exhibits a willingness to bend and stretch in ways that…I think it’s what the Diversity and Comics guy calls “rubbery”…that strive more to communicate action than reality.  The style hovers on the boundary between lifelike and cartoony in a way that heightens the enjoyment.

It’s just fun to look at, is what I’m saying here people.  It makes for a stark contrast with the deliberately ugly art used in so many drawn mediums today.

The story of Gun Ghoul is your basic ghost-gunfighter shooting all the bad guys tale.  It’s a comic apparently written for comic buffs as the opening vignette shows us the eponymous hero prior to his transformation as well as a number of his soon-to-be-nemeses.  It never actually spells out which is which, though.  If you aren’t comfortable with the standard comic book tropes you have to pay close attention to the art and the story both.  As a non-buff myself, I took the latter route, and can say that it’s nice not to be coddled to or treated like I was an idiot.  Comic books don’t need flashbacks, not when you can thumb back to th scene shown in the first two pages yourself.

The story also follows two cops, one with a super-powered clairvoyant ability, as they track down the mysterious ghost-gunfighter slaughtering the criminal underworld one family at a time.  This adds a down to earth element, and allows for some real-time exposition in a way that isn’t forced.  We get scenes of Gun Ghoul’s villains hamming up the place before the big fights, including a bizarre one called the Red Hood.  His powers don’t fit into a neat little box.  He has a hood that operates similar to movie-Doctor Strange’s cloak and a cannibal/vampire touch.  Add a devil-may-care attitude reminiscent of Deadpool and you get a character that’s like a lot of things, but the creative blend turns him into an enemy that is ruthless, fearsome, and not at all likable.  Even ironically.

The first four issues are a fun read, though they can feel a little disjointed if you’re not paying attention.  You don’t want to skim this one as you’re drifting off to sleep.  It’s a title that asks more of its readers than most comics of its type.  Don’t let the fun art style fool you – it’s a darker and bloodier and more mature title than it appears on first glance.

Get your own copy here.

 

 

Get it direct from Arkhaven Comics.

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Do We Need God To Be Good?

Top comment by Gangiblob Flankis:  “I confess it took me a while to remove the impression that a cocky and worldly space-mercenary was narrating.”

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The Dirk Gently books never did anything for me.  Too twee.  Too “LOL so random”.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency represents one of those rare achievements where an American film company takes a foreign property, lets the executives demand changes to appease what they think the normies want, and actually improves on the original.

The plot of the first season revolves around two central lines.  The driving mystery centers on the murder of a tech billionaire days after his daughter went missing.  Obviously the kidnappers and killers are the same people, so finding one will allow Dirk and his new pal Frodo find the missing daughter.  The second plotline centers on Frodo trying to help his sister live with a debilitating psychological disease, while also coming to grips with the fact he has been a total ass to everyone his entire life.

In the opening murder scene we learn that the murder weapon was a shark.  In a ritzy hotel’s penthouse.  Frodo catches a glimpse of himself, a beat up version of himself wearing an odd shirt and big white fur coat.  The first on the scene he finds himself a person of interest and the cops show him video footage of himself sneaking around the hotel wearing a gorilla mask.  It’s pretty messed up, but I can assure you all of the mysteries have a reasonable explanation by the end of the season…for certain values of “reasonable”.

It’s really hard to talk about any of the events of the show, because it takes a refreshing ‘kitchen sink’ approach to genre fiction with everything from vampires (kind of) to magitech (kind of) to superheroes (kind of) to Men In Black (kind of) showing up at one time or another.  Each little revelation comes seemingly out of the blue, so going into any of them runs the risk of ruining a fun surprise for viewers.  Suffice it to say, if you’ve ever wanted a lighter-hearted X-Files with a bit more relationship drama thrown in, this is the show for you.  Imagine if Lost knew what it was doing and where it was going and took place in an idealized version of Seattle rather than a tropical island.

The woke quotient is surprisingly low for a BBC America production.  Yes, it has the obligatory badass black wahman who weighs in at 112 pounds soaking wet beating up teams of well trained soldiers twice her weight.  On the other hand, she is way out of her element and has, get this, a personality flaw in that her confidence is shot because she failed to protect either the billionaire or his daughter.  It also has a badass psycho-killer girl whose ability to blindly shoot armed men in the head without looking and over her shoulder comes off as considerably less woke given that she does so by dint of being one of those (kind of) superheroes mentioned earlier.

Dirk Gently himself does come off as a much more twee Doctor Who than any of the modern incarnations of that character.  The writers hammer home his “loose wristed, devil-may-care, everything will turn out okay because I’m magic” characterization HARD in the first two episodes, but if you can get through that, he settles down a bit.  You also learn that his attitude is a mask worn to hide the pain he feels at the loneliness that results from his (kind of) superpower.

At eight episodes, it’s a short season, and one genre fiction fans should enjoy as it twists and turns and coincidences pile up on top of each other until the whole sordid knot gets untangled by the MacGuffin character that appears seemingly out of nowhere, but that’s only because of reasons that make sense and I can’t tell you without ruining things.

Seriously, if you get a chance, give it a shot.  It’s worth it.

[Edit to add:  Stay the hell away from Season Two.  It’s got a great hook, but the presentation is checks all of the full-poz checkboxes.  The servile bowing and scraping to the Narrative sucks all the fun and life out of what could have been some great television.]

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A Sniper’s War

Up for some pro-Russian propaganda? I got a flick for you. Be warned, though. It’s half cool, half head-slapper.

A Sniper’s War presents the story of Deki, a Serbian who enlists in the Russian backed “Ukrainian Separatist” movement that sprung up in the district between Ukraine proper and Russia proper during the big NATO-Russia standoff. He wanted to show his gratitude to Russia by shooting the NATO types that ruined the best country on earth – his beloved Albania. It’s a message film with an odd mix of messages. Part pro-Russia, part pro-Communist, and part pro-Orthodox Church.

Military types would know better than me about this stuff, but it purports to be a glimpse into the ways that low-heat wars are fought these days. Deki carpools to the front line in the morning to take up his position as a forward element in support of the other Separatist troops.  It’s a war film that features the kind of camaraderie you’d expect and lacks all of the usual globohomo posturing and clumsy anti-Christian messaging.

The heart of the film is an interesting character study of a man who leaves his family and country to strike a blow against a larger foe. The faux-documentary style adds a level of intensity to the story that helps mitigate the production’s relatively low budget.  In an interesting note, we never actually see Deki’s nemesis – we only read words he posts on social media to taunt Deki.  Which meets my level of expectation for modern warfare and makes him even more ominous than if we knew that he’s only evil because his Dad abused him as a kid.

The downside of the faux-documentary style comes in the form of the technical gaffes.  I’m no soldier, but even I know snipers don’t stick the barrel of their rifle six inches outside of the window to look for a shot…in the middle of a sniper duel. Come on, guys, even Nolan’s Joker knew that. To compound the error, Deki returns to the blind where he barely survived a hit by a dum-dum bullet to continue the duel from the same spot where he was shot. And earlier in the film Deki calls out exactly that kind of thing as a rookie mistake. It breaks the tension considerably when the filmmakers break their own rules like that.

In the end, though, it isn’t the setting that matters, it’s the characters.  And even though Deki is a filthy commie, he makes for a fine protagonist.  It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than most of the fare Hollywood squats out these days.

It’s also free on Amazon Prime at the moment.  On a related note, I won’t be watching the end of the Dirk Gently show after all.  It left free viewing, and I’m not about to pay to directly anything from BBC America.  I’m paying for free shipping.  A free peek at Dirk Gently might be a nice bonus, but it’s not something I’d use money for that could be better spent buying literally anything.

Edit:  Never mind.  I’m an idiot.

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Corrosion: Just A Taste

The first 80 minutes are free, but they tell a complete story from start to finish.  Reading this audio book the first time was a real pleasure – I’d already bought and read it before the call came down – and I like to think that my reading adds a little something to the tale.  There are a number of subtle threads woven through the entire book that I was able to bring out a little bit more in the reading,  A few of them I only noticed in my second read through!  There are probably other subtle winks and nods that went over my head.

The drama of this book’s release made it seem like a gimmick book.  Regardless of whether it was a gimmick that inspired Kalsi to put this book to ink, the results are anything but.  A surprisingly sophisticated look at the slow devolution of complex systems, and man’s ability to survive and adapt in the face of civilizational collapse, there are lessons to be learned here that go well beyond a well-deserved poke in a blowhard author’s eye.  Don’t let the impetus fool you – this book is the real deal.

Give it a listen, and you’ll see.

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