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  • September 1, 2006

    Everyone’s Invited: Interview with Matty Nash of the Mutaytor

    Filed under: Music, Interviews — robinson @ 1:22 am

    Matty Nash has stars in his eyes. Talk to him for five minutes and you will too. Nash is the leader of the utopian performing troupe the Mutaytor, an act that utterly defies description, but is so fascinating that you have to try. This generally leads me to incoherent, yet superlative sputtering. Matty was nice enough to talk to me about the Mutaytor, the message, the groundbreaking performances, and why we’re all rockstars deep down.

    Captain Supermarket: My first question is this: how the hell many drums do you people need?

    Matty Nash: How many drums do people need or we people need?

    CS: [Laughs.] You people.

    MN: Well, we need a lot of drums, because part of our formula is creating rhythms for nondancers to get involved with. Sometimes our audience is very much a nightclub or DJ crowd, but many times it is not and we’d rather involve people with our groove, so we try to use percussion and visuality to help people without rhythm really lock into what we’re doing.

    CS: I didn’t even think of that.

    MN: We want to make a real interactive and not an us-and-them experience but an us-and-us experience. I’ve talked to people that do not dance, that do not go to discos, that do not go see DJs, that do not rave, that we are the only band that they move their body to on the planet and that’s a real accomplishment because in a way, if we can get all the bodies moving, that’s when you start seeing a lot more smiling and a lot more community really connecting.

    CS: I definitely saw that at Street Scene. You were on one of the smaller stages, but you guys had one of the most active crowds.

    MN: That’s a real big motive for us and that is to really eliminate any real or perceived barriers in between the audience and ourself and I think that San Diego was a great experience for us – at the Street Scene – because it was largely people that had not experienced Mutaytor Force, it was all a green audience for us and they really responded well and came back more and more each time we played and they brought their friends along to say, “You got to see this, you got to experience this.”

    CS: It sounds like the band has a populist sort of message you would like to get out.

    MN: I think so, and I think the message is, “Everyone is invited to this party, whether you’re six or eighty-six years old, whether you speak English or any other language, whether you are a rockstar or an internet technology nerd, everyone is welcome to come and realize your own creative potential.” I think that certain bands get tied up with messages in their music, fashion or work or style, and Mutaytor is all about giving the audience a little bit of ignition to do their own creative thing, and not just on the night of the concert, but every night, everyday.

    CS: So you’re saying that if the Mutaytor had one purpose, it would be going out there and inspiring people.

    MN: That’s exactly it. The whole purpose of the Mutaytor Project is to ignite and inspire the creative potential inside of each audience member.

    CS: But yet it seems that you have a really good handle on what it means to be a rockstar. For example, you refer to the Mutaytor Force, the Mutaytor Culture, the Six Finger Salute… these are all serious rockstar tools, the kind of stuff I would expect to see out of someone like Bowie.

    MN: Yeah. We took our lessons from a lot of classic rock bands. I think that we combine the DIY ethic of the punk rock era, the giant bombast and overkill of the heavy metal era, and the underground stick-it-to-the-man of the rave era. We make no bones about it; we call ourselves and our audiences rockstars. And even though we might not live up to that on paper all the time, I think that we can really generate a feeling of connectivity that we’re not all alone, and there are other people out here trying to follow their dreams and goals, not just in performance art, but in any creative capacity, and that there’s no insider handshake. We’re all the same.

    CS: It seems like you’re rebelling against the nihilistic elements in a lot of popular music.

    MN: I agree, and that has its place, and we’re all fans, and we all have our days when it’s Nine Inch Nails-let’s-put-on-our-black-lipstick, but I really think that Mutaytor is all about positive universal messages and I think that sometimes bands that have an aggro look or attitude sometimes shut out a little bit more than they would maybe wish to. We don’t want to shut anything out.

    CS: Right. Bring it all in.

    MN: Bring it all in, exactly.

    CS: So you’re the leader of the Mutaytor, correct?

    MN: Yes. I call myself the founder of the project and I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented people and a very collaborative and democratic group. I steer the ship, but it takes a lot of work and ideas and opinions to really shape things fully. It’s very much of a collective.

    CS: That actually answers my next question. Well done, well done. [Laughs.]

    MN: [Laughs.]

    CS: We were talking earlier about the Mutaytor’s place in the LA scene. I was wondering if you would talk a little bit about the Mutaytor’s musical family tree. Where do you see yourself in relation to other bands?

    MN: We started our project at only underground events: art galleries, raves, warehouse parties, things that didn’t have hard ticket sales or big radio or big advertising. It was definitely off the beaten path. We grew out of the Burning Man culture that has a small Los Angeles scene and then found our way into the rave and DJ world as well as the art scene, and we figured that any one of those weren’t enough to support a band, so we tried to tap into smaller communities that didn’t quite have a movement or a scene wrapped around them and slowly built that up until we could schedule our own events. That was between the years between 2000 and 2003. And then we started doing so much business at these parties that Hollywood took notice and we started playing more mainstream venues, starting at the Tea Club and then moving to bigger 1500 seaters, like Avalon and Music Box. We found that we could adapt that world, that underground, edgy party vibe into something that could be enjoyed by mainstream audiences as well as our core following. We hoped the transition would be smooth, and it was actually scary how easy it was. We expected a lot more hesitance on both sides but it felt like everybody was rooting for us. So, it was something that started out as a very grass rootsy sort of thing, and we still have that with our extended family, but we have been able to attract enough of a business that we can connect with bigger radio festivals like Street Scene and Coachella as well as do bigger, high profile events up and down the West Coast.

    CS: I was wondering about your sound. You get a lot of genre-defying bands who end up creating their own name for their sound. But you guys beat the hell out of the genre, track it home and TP its house. Do you have a name for your music?

    MN: Not really. [Laughs.] I think we’re in the unfortunate position of being that keynote band in that scene that people will then describe other groups as Mutaytor-esque. The good news and the bad news is that we don’t really have a category per se that’s easily fileable in a record store or on iTunes, and that’s a blessing and a curse. What we do is we look at all areas of not only pop culture but we have roots that go into blues idioms, we have jazz players that play in our group, there’s definitely a folk or storytelling thing with our dancers providing the narrative, and we nibble at hip-hop, we nibble at heavy metal. I think that if you try to figure out our music, that would be a tall order and a large headache that would probably not get you very far. Ours is an experience. It’s not just a show, it’s not just a band, but what we try to do is create something that doesn’t work so well without the other. I look at our CDs and DVDs as souvenirs, not the product. The product is the experience with the fire, and the people flying over your head and giant, bombastic drum attack, and sex appeal, and comedy. That’s really where we’re coming from. To give you one little tidbit about what you will be hearing from Mutaytor in the next year in terms of our music is that we’re actually learning how to be a band. We would not really interface on stage and we would play the same routines and the same program, and we’re actually learning how to interface live, bass guitar, electric guitar, horns, voice, turntable scratch and I see that our next recorded output as being a hodgepodge of sounds, but more organic, more of a rock band instead of this DJ meets tribal attack.

    CS: I was actually going to ask you about that. I was wondering if you were worried that the recorded elements, the CDs and whatnot, would not give the whole experience of the band.

    MN: Yeah, we know that it never will and we don’t even address it. I don’t view the songs or the CDs as the product, and that’s a little bit scary to people in the music industry, because all of a sudden, “Wait a minute, I don’t have the control anymore!” [Laughs.] They’re gonna buy the CDs. We do okay with that stuff, and our music does get licensed for a lot of uses in the commercial realm, but these are just milestones, these are just signposts, they’re really just, I use the word souvenirs, but they’re really just clues to unlock the bigger picture of our experience, which is the whole thing put together and I think that’s something that makes the audience a little bit more active rather than passive and I think that it makes music snobs have to go the extra mile to understand us and then enjoy us. I think that once they turn that corner, we become one of their favorite bands by default because we’re reinventing the paradigm of how music is sold.

    CS: So are you using the internet, like youtube and myspace, to get the experience out there?

    MN: Absolutely. Those are great tools for us to connect with our audience and it’s so easy to get content up and out there. Our growth on our website as well as our myspace and youtube presence has been exponential. We’ve been national touring this year. We’ve got out to the East Coast and the Midwest for the first time and help build our audience the old fashioned way, just by a lot of shows. I do see us using not only the internet, but certain kinds of radio stations, certain kinds of TV stations, to help project our message as well. I do think that, ultimately, we will be able to do the kinds of numbers that bigger rock bands do, in terms of album and DVD sales as well as concert tickets and I think we could even go beyond that and create Cirque du Soleil-style installations in Vegas, Asia and Europe, as well as create different kinds of shows; full performance art centers, versus sporting events, versus theatre, versus rock concerts, versus festivals.

    CS: It’s funny that you brought up Cirque du Soleil because that’s one of the only things I could think to compare the show to.

    MN: Yeah, when people ask me for the sound bite, I tell them we’re Cirque du Soleil on steroids. Cirque du Soleil is the biggest game in town and they’re the best at what they do, and that’s not what Mutaytor wants to be. They already are that, and they cover that ground very nicely, thank you.

    CS: It seems like you guys have a little more on the burlesque angle, sort of the stuff that they wouldn’t do, the hula hoop tricks, RayRay.

    MN: I think that there is some content that would be recognizable in their shows, but instead of an acrobat that’s been doing it since they were four, those are otherworldly humans that we could never approach being, or trying to come close to. What we have with Mutaytor are real people, ordinary people, doing extraordinary things. These are people, who, in their regularly scheduled lives, have degrees in science, are graphic artists, are martial artists, are teachers and lawyers. Our day job profile is staggering. Very few of them come from a musical performance art background. Mutaytor changed all that.

    CS: Where do you find them? Or do they find you?

    MN: It’s a double-headed process. I’m good at discovering talent and nurturing it, but I don’t decide content or dictate how an act will go or how a song will go. That’s up to the individual to pursue their creative dreams, and me and the rest of the group will try to create the tools and space to make that vision happen. And people that know me are just like, “Matty, you gotta check this guy out. Wait till you see what he can do.” Our turnover rate is surprisingly low. We don’t add or subtract a lot of bodies per year. What we try to do instead, is have a modular, rotating cast that we can call on, that not only exists in Los Angeles, but in other cities that we travel to, so that we can tap local talent in every town that we play, both musically and visually. This works to keep our sound and look fresh, makes touring easier, as well as integrating local talent, so that when we’re visiting a new town, somebody can look up on stage and go, “Oh my God, I know that girl! What is she doing with these people?”

    CS: So you’re kind of the musical Justice League.

    MN: We are the musical Justice League, and quite honestly, I don’t think there’s anybody on this planet that couldn’t be in the Mutaytor somehow. I really do think that the welcome mat is there, it’s just a matter of the right time and place and talent. There are some people that it might just be a once in a lifetime appearance, and there might be other people – you might be a charter member and not even know!

    CS: RayRay definitely caught my eye.

    MN: Yeah.

    CS: Where did you find him?

    MN: RayRay is the creation of Raymond Persi who is a director and animator of The Simpsons television program. Raymond won an Emmy and we’re very proud of that fact for his work on The Simpsons. What RayRay is, is a creation where he can get out some of the ideas and messages that aren’t appropriate for The Simpsons or his other professional work. What I really enjoy about RayRay, is that to me, and I think to a lot of the other people in the audience watching, is that it represents the duality inside of us all, the inverse of the ego. It kind of sucks having to be a nice person all the time and do the right thing and do the moral thing, do the human thing, and wouldn’t it be cool, if every once in awhile we could just get away with doing the naughty thing, doing the wrong thing? And I think what RayRay does is get to get away with it and exploit that fact magnificently and in a harmless, fun way. I think that the fact that they don’t have mouths makes them enigmatic and mysterious, and I think that we’d all love to be a little bit more mysterious and have people wonder about us, like, “Wow, what’s going on?” I think that RayRay’s messages are a lot deeper than they appear to be on the surface, that there’s a double, if not triple, entendre going on with all of their acts and I think they touch upon some of the hot buttons that we can’t talk about, or show necessarily, but that RayRay somehow gets away with it.

    CS: Certainly the Communist imagery was pretty striking.

    MN: I don’t think it’s Communism, but I think there is a politic involved, and I think there’s very much of the The Man versus the common man and RayRay likes to revolt and upset the mores of society, and he’s a cartoon, so he can make up the rules.

    CS: Tweaking noses without ruffling feathers.

    MN: I think that’s a great way to put it, and I think that’s important. We don’t want to do anything that’s going to turn off audiences. We have sex appeal, but it’s positive sensuality. We have humor, but it’s not antagonistic or too biting. We have drama, but it’s not too heavy. We want there to be enough lightness and balance so you just can’t wait to see what’s coming up next on the stage.

    CS: Well, it definitely works. What’s next for the Mutaytor?

    MN: Fourth quarter this year we’re going to be doing a lot of West Coast appearances. In September, we’re going to be taking part of the Vegas Music Conference in Las Vegas, and this is a West Coast branch of the big Miami Winter Music Conference which is a big DJ gathering. At the end of the month, September, we’re going to be playing our first major stadium show. Mutaytor is going to be on the bill, in Northern California for Download Festival, which is going to be at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, and we’ll be joined by such luminaries as Beck, and Muse, and Wolfmother and the Shins. October sees us at seven nights of mayhem at Universal Theme Parks in Hollywood, in Universal Studios. We’re going to do seven nights of Halloween content up there with zombie go-go dancers and all kinds of pyro and hijinks. Then November will see our first real return to our theatre work here in Los Angeles, we’re going to do a DVD shoot, our first concert DVD film at Henry Fonda Music Box. Then back up to NorCal for An Evening with the Mutaytor at the Fillmore.

    CS: Did you say zombie go-go dancers?

    MN: Yep.

    CS: Dude, I am so there.

    MN: I know! Zombies are sexy as hell, it’s just that they just have this bad reputation for eating people and converting the undead and they are that, but they’re so much more.

    CS: There’s a lot of prejudice against the undead.

    MN: I know.

    CS: Let’s just break down those walls too.

    MN: [Laughs.] No, Mutaytor is going to stay among the living. We might invite a few zombies onstage to rock with us, and again, we convert civilians into rockstars and maybe those civilians might be dead at the time.

    Visit Matty Nash and the Mutaytor at http://www.mutaytor.com/ to see clips and pics of this most unique troupe, and unleash your inner rockstar.

    August 25, 2006

    Motherfucking Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane

    Filed under: Movies — robinson @ 9:19 am

    If you went to Snakes on a Plane opening weekend and had no idea what to expect, you were either 1) my mother or 2) hiding under a rock for about three months or maybe 3) both. I should really ask my mother about that. Anyway, it’s Snakes on a Plane, people. You cannot have a clearer synopsis of the plot than those four simple words.

    But how exactly do the snakes get on the plane? It’s not like they have frequent flyer miles or wallets or even pockets. The plot goes like this. Sam Jackson (played by Sam Jackson) has to get a normal guy from Honolulu to LA to testify against a surrealist crimelord. In an effort to liberate the minds of those on the plane, the crimelord secrets a whole crate full of the leathery bastards, sprays the complementary leis with crazy pheromones and the rest, as they say, is hilarity. The snakes get out, Sam Jackson screams and curses, and you basically have the best ever episode of 24. The cast is fine, although if the herpetologist had been played by Christopher Walken, we would be talking about the greatest movie of all time. Imagine Walken saying “Snakes… on a PLANE.” Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.

    Most people are discussing the power of the internet in the creation of Snakes on a Plane, and frankly, that angle is done to death. Let them pontificate on the power of the internet. I’d rather talk about the snakes on that plane and, of course, the snakes in our hearts and pants.

    There was a time when I hated Sam Jackson that ran, roughly, for a ten year period following Pulp Fiction. After the Oscar nod, he went on autopilot, playing his usual persona – a wild-eyed hothead who screamed every line at the top of his lungs, something Dave Chappelle mined to great result with Samuel Jackson’s Boston Lager. He kept getting these dramatic roles, too, and I’d be forced to sit there, just waiting for him to suck. Then came Deep Blue Sea, which I saw because it had sharks in it, which, to me, is one of the essential marks of a good movie. Sam Jackson was doing his thing, and you know what? It was entertaining. I wanted to see this lunatic screaming about sharks. I was still a little anti-Jackson when I heard about Snakes, but then I realized something: I really, really wanted to hear him holler “I am sick and tired of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” Really, though, if you didn’t, you must be dead inside. And then I saw his appearance on The Daily Show. The unhibited glee he took in his profane interview with Jon Stewart was palpable. The same thing came through in his Onion AV Club interview. Here was a guy who was just damned happy to be in movies, and who wanted to make the kind of movies he would want to see when he was fourteen. The interviewer asked him if he would rather do Oscar-bait dramas or B movies, if he could only do one or the other fgor the rest of his crew. When he said B movies, my heart grew three sizes right there and then. Sam Jackson, I will watch you battle any motherfucking menace in any motherfucking arena. As long as you roll your eyes around like a maniac and bellow profanity while you do it, I will keep spending my money on your films. I’m secretly hoping they’ll make some sort of Deep Blue Sea/Snakes on a Plane crossover, where a plane filled with sharks crashes into a snake pit in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and Sam Jackson teams up with a recently regurgitated Sam Jackson (in a dual role) to fight them. How does that not sweep the Oscars?

    As fun as all that is, Snakes on a Plane works on multiple levels. I’m serious. Stop laughing. It works as B movie homage, when the bad dialogue, cheesy special effects and sudden and unexpected nudity (all of which are partially due to Sam Jackson being cool enough to realize this flick needed all of the above) turn this into something that would have been released before studios became obsessed with the PG-13 rating. When the hard R rating was decided upon, the studio issued the following commands: more snakes, more gore and more nipples. That’s like three of the five movie food groups right there.

    Things get interesting when Snakes on a Plane is examined on a subtextual level. Understandably, the plane has returned as an object of fear for moviegoers. We don’t trust them yet, but the wonderful thing is that Snakes isn’t about a likely danger. Not only have snakes never actually attacked anyone on a plane, the movie takes pains to point out that snakes only attack when provoked. We Americans aren’t frightened of what will kill us – we’re scared of what might. Fast food, hurricanes, pollution? Forget that! What if there are razors in my apple! Snakes satires these irrational fears effortlessly, and best of all, completely unintentionally. By making a goofy movie, we lay ourselves bare to our true neuroses, whether it be the Jungian fear of random acts of violence with no avenue of escape or the Freudian phobia of multiple phalluses lashing out at symbols of fertility (and just check out how they stop the snakes from getting up the birth canal… er… stairs. A giant diaphragm. I shit you not; it was like the whole movie became a health class video from 1989).

    I’m not saying that Snakes on a Plane is a classic. I’m not saying it will endure. I think they aimed low – right about crotch level – and hit dead on. A few more drafts would have turned this into one of the great creature features, something to stand alongside An American Werewolf in London. And, in my perfect world, the movie with have ended with Christopher Walken saying the following line:

    “Forget about it, Sam Jackson. It’s snakes on a plane.”

    August 18, 2006

    Ask Doom 1

    Filed under: Comics, Ask Doom — robinson @ 9:29 am

    [Note: This column goes back to the days of my old website. You probably never heard of it, but this was the one thing I updated on a regular basis. I’ve decided to reprint the ones I have, and if they get a good response, I’ll go back to writing them monthly. Unfortunately, the earliest columns were lost along with my last computer, and these come from 2001. The story so far: Dr. Doom gets arrested and tried on TV by a Judge Judy equivalent, who sentences him to live with the Fantastic Four, go to Anger Management and write this advice column. Doom now devotes his vast intellect and power armor to more mundane tasks. Read on. If you dare.]

    Greetings, dear readers. Doom’s editor has informed him that, as of this week, Doom’s column is to be published in a more prestigious format. This pleases Doom, as now the carefully worded subliminal commands Doom conceals in each column shall convert a legion of new minions with each week! Read Doom’s columns with care, peons. Doom has noted some rather embarrassing effects if only half of a command is read. Doom had John Storm walking about New York clad in a ballerina outfit screaming “bowling” every fifteen seconds. It took Doom and that insolent Richards nearly a week to rehabilitate him. Boy, was Doom’s face red.

    Doom has realized that his new readers might be suffering from confusion as their primitive minds try to grasp Doom’s words. The Monarch of Latveria, working with that imbecile Richards and his ludicrous Fantastic Four? Read Doom’s older columns and absorb his vast wisdom, as well as the sad tale of Doom’s current existence. If you are unwilling to learn at the metal-clad feet of the future ruler of this Earth or unable to read the multi-syllabic words it pleases Doom to use, this is the short version.

    In an effort to curb Doom’s more violent tendencies, the crude Richards has taken Doom in and enrolled him in an Anger Management Class with several unsavory characters, including the “Incredible” Hulk, the self-styled General Zod, a barbarian by the name of “Conan” and a plumber from Queens. Doom would have vaporized the lot of them long ago, but for the divine Sue Richards. She has stayed Doom’s hand, but it shall not be long before the king of this and every other world shall have his revenge.

    Doom feels that he has opened up enough about his current situation, and he believes that new readers should be able to keep abreast of things. If not, they are not worthy to grovel at Doom’s feet! Now, on to the letters.

    DEAR DOOM: I have a child with Attention Deficit Disorder. As you are no doubt aware of, ADD is a serious disease that many of our young people suffer from. Most people seem to think that it is an invention of overanxious parents who want an easy explanation as to why their children are brats. The fact of the matter is that it is a potentially dangerous condition that receives little to no recognition by an unsympathetic press. I wanted to write to you, so that you might use your killer robots or whatever to raise awareness of ADD. –CONCERNED MOM IN HOBOKEN

    DEAR CONCERNED: You dare issue an ultimatum to Doom? You dare presume that the Tyrant King of this and every other parallel Earth would use his valuable resources to defend your simpleton child? Ask not what Doom can do for you. Ask what you can do for Doom.

    DEAR DOOM: When are you going to have the Incredible Hulk do the column again? He was cool. –HULK SMASH IN PHOENIX

    DEAR HULK: Doom would like to thank you for thoughtfully providing your return address on the card you sent. Doom would just love to discuss that emerald moron with you in greater detail. Doom wonders how enthusiastic you would be about the Hulk while staring down the barrels of Doom’s wrist blasters.

    DEAR DOOM: A just can seem to keep my kitchen floor clean! No matter what I try, those stubborn water stains remain in the wood, and this black crusty stuff collects in the corners of the wood. Help, Dr. Doom! I’ve tried everything! –FRUSTRATED IN KANSAS CITY

    DEAR FRUSTRATED: Be calm, distressed homemaker, for Doom once had the same problem. Doom had his old labs floored in linoleum, and try as he might, the Monarch of Latveria could not keep them clean. Whether it was burn scoring from Doom’s Immolator Cannons or those stubborn cloning fluid stains, those floors were a mess. Doom had tried those mop fluids they sell on late night television to no avail. They claimed to eliminate the most troubling stains, but they were as helpless before Doom’s floor as the X-Men are before Doom himself! So, after hunting down the company that made the stuff and disintegrating the lot of them, Doom hit on a novel solution.

    Take Doom’s advice and redo the floors of your kitchen in shiny adamantium. Doom found that the floors were easy to clean and their reflective surfaces afforded Doom the unique opportunity to gaze at himself while at rest. Additionally, the floors proved impervious to even the most advanced drilling equipment, so you will be safe from that insolent Richards and his “Fantastic” Four while you are cooking.

    August 11, 2006

    Making the Scene

    Filed under: Music, The Octagon — robinson @ 11:47 am

    Before last Friday, I had never seen anyone protest sorcerers. It’s an under-represented group in the protest world, really. I was just outside of Street Scene, a two day annual outdoor concert festival street fair thing that happens every summer in the Qualcomm stadium parking lot in San Diego. Whyte Kolla and I (in my other guise as Notorious LRH, the Scientolo-G) attended the Friday show, as we had last year, traveling under the aliases James Westphal and Dr. Kenneth Noisewater. Last year the lineup was amazing. This year, it was a little thinner, but there was no way I was missing it. See, my two favorite bands were on the card: Social Distortion and Bad Religion.

    We rolled up at around three, killed time by pacing the thoroughfare and starting a scavenger hunt that went like this: For every shirt of a band playing that day, we got one point with half points awarded for ODB shirts or shirts for bands that were playing Saturday. We had to stop at 6:00 because it was getting exhausting and I was already ahead by more than twenty points. This left me to wonder, is it no longer a faux pas to wear the shirt of the band that’s playing? Maybe if you’re at a festival, declaring your allegiance to a band, like it’s a gang or something. Kolla seemed to think that only made it worse. I mean, back in high school, I was That Guy once. I was young. I didn’t know any better. Really, we’re going to need a ruling on this at some point.

    We caught Joy Division cover band She Wants Revenge. This band looks like Smashing Pumpkins when they performed at Hullabalooza, except for the lead singer, who was slithering around the stage like Bruno on Da Ali G Show. They were a decent enough band, with the added bonus that I could sing along to any of their songs with the lyrics to She’s Lost Control. Their songs were a tad shallow, and I couldn’t help think that they doth protest too much. If there was one song about a drunken liaison with a confused young dwarf with herpes and maybe a buffalo or something, I would have paid more attention. Afterwards, Kolla told me about their Rolling Stone interview wherein they gave the impression that they didn’t even like the music they were performing. I can’t get with that. If a band doesn’t believe its own hype, how am I supposed to? The first key to being a rockstar is believing you are one.

    Two hours later and I was in front of another stage, awaiting Bad Religion. Greg Graffin came out looking like someone’s pissed off dad: a beefy guy just barely taller than his hair, wrapped in the last throes of grunge. You’re often going to hear me harp on the relevancy of art and artists. Well, Bad Religion could not be less relevant musically. They’re still doing the same stuff under the correct assumption that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Lyrically, however, their relevancy grows every year (especially with one of the highlights of the show, the brilliant Watch It Die). I was there to see American Jesus, the song that got me into them in the first place (and, by extension the song that got me into Social D), but I didn’t hold out too much hope. It was an older tune, off Recipe for Hate, and I didn’t know if they’d have time after playing their slower hits. But no. I heard him shout it to the band and then that badass guitar riff tore through the air, and I was in heaven. It was right about then that I started to think that Graffin’s name might be a killing word, since a Bad Religion tune (the strangely popular Infected) was playing on KROQ during the Northridge quake. Regardless, I refrained from chanting “Maud’Dib,” only because the guy next to me was roughly the size and shape of an Escalade. Periodically, an elevated train rolled through the show, sandwiched between Bad Religion and the ferris wheel. I kept wondering what the whole thing looked like to the people up there.

    After Bad Religion wrapped up, we went across the thoroughfare to catch the end of Queens of the Stone Age, a band that would be awesome if only they didn’t suck. We did not get there. As we passed a stage that shot fire into the night sky we saw what looked like a day-glo band formed entirely of drummers playing while a girl in vinyl did hula hoop tricks and a Chinese dragon danced around. How do you just ignore that? This turned out to be the Mutaytor. I didn’t know how it was possible for a band to cram in so much good stuff: loud techno-funk, burlesque dancers, wire fighting, fire eating and a Chibi Communist haplessly trying to train what for lack of a better term I’ll call his dog. It was like they made a list. “Let’s see, Captain Supermarket’s coming… he likes communist imagery, dancing girls and pointless risks to life and limb… how do we meld that?” And when they showed off their six-fingered salute, well that’s some next level rockstar shit. The other bands at the show should have been taking notes. I learned later that their bassist is John Avila, late of Oingo Boingo, my favorite band back in high school. This was meant to be.

    The Mutaytor was a hard act to follow, but if any band could do it, Mike Ness and his boys would have a shot. Sure, he’s getting older, but he’s still the biggest bad ass out there, and Ball and Chain is still the greatest rock song ever written (this is not a point of debate. Either you agree, or you skin kittens. There’s no in-between). Last year, they rocked the house, and it was one of the finest performances I’d ever had the pleasure of attending. This year they came on late, left early, and the crowd wasn’t into it. They came alive for some of the big songs, but that was it. Probably nothing could have lived up to last year, but it felt like they didn’t even try.

    Still, though, I finally got to see Bad Religion in concert and I have a new obsession in the Mutaytor. As long as Street Scene keeps it up, I’ll keep coming back. Especially if I get to do the six-fingered salute again.

    August 4, 2006

    Michael Mann

    Filed under: Movies, Directors — robinson @ 9:20 am

    Miami Vice dropped into theatres last week like six tons of elephant crap. Was anyone really excited to see that show become a movie? Perhaps only its creator, Michael Mann, one of the most inexplicably celebrated directors in Hollywood, a man who is critically hailed despite having never made a single film that could remotely be considered “good” or even “mildly watchable in a hotel during a thunderstorm after the local rodeo was burned to the ground by Visigoths.”

    It was a great show in its day, or so I’m told. I’ve never actually seen a single episode, but I’ve seen the images and they’re great, partially because of how dated they are. Only ten years after the fact, Adam Sandler was getting laughs at Miami Vice’s expense in The Wedding Singer. And what’s wrong with that? Whatever is stylish in one decade is bound to be goofy in the next: mullets, jheri curls, pastel suits and so on. Most people understand and give a little self-deprecating chuckle. Not Michael Mann. He must have been enraged that we were laughing at his beloved creation, so he had to remake it, but he didn’t know how. The answer arrived when his Tivo accidentally recorded an episode of The Shield. Mann watched and did what any self-respecting hack would do: he stole it, relevancy be damned!

    Relevancy, or the lack thereof, has been the story of Michael Mann’s career. He sees something he likes, doesn’t understand it, and tries to make it, even as other directors are exploring other avenues. His most celebrated film is Heat. Now, even if we ignore the fact that Pulp Fiction came out the year before, revolutionizing the cops and robbers genre, Heat was already a tired retread. Go watch Abel Ferrara’s underrated King of New York. It’s the same movie thematically while being a lean hundred minutes, while Heat, if I remember right, lasts just over three days. Oh yeah, and King of New York came out five years earlier.

    Most of Mann’s fans like to point to the intellectual qualities he lends to his gangster action pictures. Now, I’ve gotten more intellectual stimulation from the back of a cereal box, but let’s say for the sake of argument that we like endless scenes of tough guys whining about their lives. Did Mann’s fans ever see a real action movie, and I’m not even talking about pantheon fare like The Road Warrior or Yo-Jimbo, I’m talking about good solid flicks like Lethal Weapon, and think “man, I wish those guys spent some time bitching! That really would have sold it for me!” I’m guessing no. Mann arrogantly tried to fix what isn’t broken, and we the viewer must suffer for his pretension.

    Not all the whining is the fault of a script. Half of being a director is coaxing (or berating) good performances from your actors. My personal mark of a good director has been the ability to take an actor that I do not like (or am neutral on) and make me a fan. Mann likes to go the other way. Heat is post-Scent of a Woman and so Pacino was in full raving-maniac-mode, but this performance stands out for its sheer strangeness. Look at the bizarre reading of the line “She’s got a great ass!” Now, granted, the line is shit (and written by none other than Mann himself!), but a good director could have encouraged Pacino to sell it. Mann’s CV is full of these career nadirs.

    2001’s Ali had the chance to be the defining movie of the most written about human on the planet (No joke, Muhammad Ali even beats out Hitler in that regard, a situation that the History Channel is working around the clock to remedy). Instead, we got two hours of the Fresh Prince doing an impression. Not an insight to be found, since, once again, Mann wrote the script, and insights might have required, I don’t know, higher brain functions. This becomes especially damning in light of 1996’s When We Were Kings, one of the greatest sports movies ever made. In less time, we get a more complete picture of Ali (not to mention Foreman and a host of others), despite being about a single fight.

    Ali is not a critical favorite. That honor goes to Manhunter, and it is Mann’s strongest film (the cinematic equivalent of the world’s tallest midget). It is an adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon, a novel mostly known for being the first appearance of Hannibal Lector. Brian Cox played Lector in Manhunter before Anthony Hopkins took the role and created the most memorable psychopath in film history (and then parodied him in Hannibal and Red Dragon). Here is the tragedy: Cox is the better actor. Look at Hopkins’s imdb page. He has two indispensable performances to his credit – Lector in Silence of the Lambs and John Quincy Adams in Amistad. Other than that, you could plug any British actor into his other roles and you’d do just fine. Now look at Cox’s page. Chances are, at least twice as many performances jump out at you as ones you wouldn’t want to live without. Now what’s my point? That Cox and Hopkins played the same role and it is the inferior actor that we remember. Michael Mann directed Cox to a performance that allowed William Peterson to roll his eyes at Hannibal the Cannibal (seriously, watch the movie when Peterson is on the phone with him – it’s painful). Do you think anyone would roll their eyes at Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs? Oh, hell no. They’d get plucked out and eaten.

    Michael Mann’s ego is such that he believes whatever he shits is made of gold. His movies are flabby messes blindly groping for meaning, like an obese Buddhist in a steam room. Unlike many other bad directors, Mann’s true purpose is not elsewhere in the film industry, but elsewhere altogether, banished to some forgotten corner of the world, where he can be alone with what pass for his thoughts.

    That way he can’t hear us laughing at Miami Vice.

    July 28, 2006

    N is for New

    Filed under: Television — robinson @ 8:57 am

    I think most people would describe Degrassi as crack. That’s not the correct analogy. It’s a lot closer to pot, because, see, Degrassi is what the good people at DARE would call a “gateway drug.” My Degrassi addiction led to my not accepting a cable package that didn’t include The N, despite the fact that The N’s programming is generally targeted at people more than a decade younger than me, most of whom are considerably more female. It also led me to see their coming attractions for two shows that would make their debut over the summer: Beyond the Break, a surfing show, and Whistler, a mystery with snowboarding. I watched both and was immediately hooked.

    Ever see Blue Crush? Me neither. I can probably guess why not, since it was the same thing that kept me away. The girls. They’re just not hot. Kate Bosworth wasn’t even the most desirable woman in her own romantic comedy (Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!), Michelle Rodriguez seems a nice enough fellow and the other one looked like a half-finished Frank Quitely sketch. Beyond the Break solved that. Not only do you have a higher overall quality, you have three different flavors. Imagine the cast like the Whitman’s Sampler of hotness. For those fond of Malibu Barbie, you have Dawn. The girl’s bikini should win an Emmy. If that’s not your thing, there’s always Birdie. Absolutely amazing; her butt should have its own credit (or theme song, I’m flexible here). Lastly, you have my personal favorite, Kai. You just have to trust me on that one. There’s also Lacey, but she’s not terribly interesting unless you’re into “decent acting” or “semi-sorta-mildly-believable surfing.” It’s not just for oyster-lovers, either. For those into snails, there are several fellows to pick from. There’s the coach, Justin (that’s right, Justin) who looks sort of like Michael Biehn if he were left out in the sun for a year or two, and Bailey, who appears to be the product of a Tiger Beat-sponsored breeding program.

    Now, Beyond the Break isn’t what you’d call “good.” It’s not even what you’d call “decent.” It is, however, frickin’ amazing for all the wrong reasons, skipping over “unwatchable” and landing firmly in “Velveeta-soaked transcendent” territory. The gratuitous split screen, the pointless MTV jump cuts, the bad music, the wooden acting, the stilted dialogue, the cheap special effects… it all leads to a very good place. For fans of trash culture, you don’t get much trashier than Beyond the Break.

    Whistler is on the other end of the spectrum. It’s Twin Peaks minus the truly weird stuff. Local hero Beck McKaye (Don’t you love these names? When’s Chest Rockwell showing up?) is found dead, apparently the result of a snowboarding accident. However Beck is a gold medal-winning snowboarder, and in the words of his little brother Quinn, “Beck wouldn’t slip.”

    Thus begins the mystery where we learn that the golden boy wasn’t so golden. Not exactly original, but executed with such a glorious cheesiness and sense of fun, you can’t help but watch. The wonderful ensemble helps that, each actor selling every line like they’re terrified they will be doing McDonald’s commercials next week if the show doesn’t take off. The plot is all about the layers of mystery that are laid bare by one person’s death, and though the writers likely have no idea where they’re going, they look like they’re having fun getting there. It’s atmospherically shot in Canada, and unlike nearly everything else, is actually supposed to be in Canada. Outside, everything is in shades of gray (okay, so the symbolism isn’t exactly subtle), while inside everything has a warm firelight glow.

    The cast includes Beck and Quinn’s tavern-owning mom and dad, their uncle who works for the ultra-rich (and possibly incestuous) Varland clan, and the Miller sisters, the older of which (Nicole) works for the Varlands and the younger (Carrie) dated Beck until his death and on whom Quinn is nurturing a massive crush. I’m with Quinn on this one. Carrie has this wonderful look, like she’s the hot babysitter you had back in the early ‘80s who reminded you of Tiffany and who baked cookies when she came over and let you stay up late.

    The characters are all pretty solid with nice depth hinted at, but nothing tops the Varlands, who basically own the entire town. The patriarch, Adrien, is sort of a cross between Lex Luthor and Caligula and he just loves watching people with video cameras. His trophy wife Shelby is smoking hot and seems to have a bit of a Gertrude Hamlet vibe with Adrien’s son AJ, who is a lose cannon and the most entertaining character on the show. Nothing beats this moment in the second episode. Carrie is 40 Year Old Virgin-drunk and is about to get raped when Quinn comes to her rescue. Only problem is Quinn is a sensitive emo boy and couldn’t beat Tom Cruise in a stand up fight. So things are getting bad when all of a sudden AJ comes flying out of nowhere like Drunk Batman to break a bottle over the head of the would-be rapist. The guy is out of action. Carrie is safe. Yet AJ’s like “you guys go on ahead, I got some stuff to do,” and proceeds to casually continue beating the guy. So, yeah, love AJ. The only recognizable face is Nick Lea as Beck’s grieving father. For those who remember the X-Files before it sucked, Lea played Alex Krycek, Mulder’s nemesis. It’s a different role, and he’s good, but I hope he’ll just up and cap someone. As long as the someone isn’t a Varland, because I love them.

    Beyond the Break is a guilty pleasure to be sure, but it is a pleasure. Whistler is actually legitimately good, easily the equal to most of the prime time offerings on the major networks. Whistler is finally showing the world what we Degrassi fans knew all along: the N is for real, and it’s here to stay.

    July 19, 2006

    Surviving the Prequels

    Filed under: Movies, The Octagon — robinson @ 11:26 am

    I really wanted to like Phantom Menace. That didn’t work out, but I was willing to give Lucas a mulligan for it - after all, he was rusty - and as long as he realized that the movie sucked and vowed to improve, I would remain loyal. Then came the interviews. Lucas defended the movie’s myriad faults by calling them virtues that we just didn’t understand. I immediately vowed not to spend another dollar on the prequels. I finally sat through Revenge of the Sith for the first time this weekend, as the whole Yakmala gang took in the prequel trilogy in its craptacular entirety. To survive seven hours of Mega Maid-level suck, we made observations, dreamed up theories and followed extrapolations. Some of these are an attempt to make the prequels work. Others are just what happens when you get a roomful of bored Gen Xers.

    Commuting and Parking
    One of Mr. E’s obsessions is commuting and parking in the movies, but man, there’s a lot of it (eighteen shots of parking in Attack of the Clones alone). Now, just showing a ship going somewhere or landing might not be all bad, but the prequels take it to another level. It’s like Lucas developed some bizarre parking fetish, where the camera lingers on each and every ship as it arrives at its destination, extends its landing gear, and lovingly settling down on the ground. Count these scenes next time the Ludovico Technique puts you in front of the prequels. One safety note: this is not a drinking game. Seriously. You will die.

    The Fall Guy
    In the prequels, Obi-Wan falls from a great height the same amount of times as the episode he’s in. I really hope there’s no deeper meaning there.

    Droid Theft
    Remember the scene in Clones when Anakin returns home to find that if he’d just remembered mom a day earlier, she wouldn’t have died? He meets his crippled stepdad who’s eking out a living as a moisture farmer on Tattooine (which is sort of like being the cable guy in Amish Country). When Anakin leaves he takes 3PO with him, with no explanation given. Stepdad needed that droid to talk to the vaporator! He doesn’t speak Bochi! This is probably what happened to Owen and Beru in Star Wars. The stormtroopers came down, and Owen’s all, “Hey! You’re with Annie, aren’t you! You tell that bastard I want my protocol droid back!” *ZOT*

    Palpatine’s Laundry
    It started as a harmless joke. Palpatine wanted Darth Maul to pick up some shirts he left with the Trade Federation’s laundry service. But then it took on a life of its own. By the end of the night, we realized that not only could the prequel trilogy be read as a search for laundry, but so could the entire six part series. So, first Darth Maul fails to get the shirts, so Palpatine sends Saruman to do it. Saruman’s a little smarter (and he has management experience) so he tries to lure the Federation in with an alliance. As the third movie rolls around, Palpatine is pissed. Sith Lords have been dropping like flies, so he recruits Anakin Skywalker. Anakin tracks the shirts down to Planet Mordor where he kills the Trade Federation for failing to get the ion stains out of them. He stores the shirts in R2, who leaves with Padme and Obi-Wan. Still no shirts for the Emperor. The shirts elude Vader, slipping through his grasp first on Leia’s ship then on the Millennium Falcon, before Vader recognizes R2 in the Death Star Trench. By now, Vader knows R2 is slipperier than a greased coed, so he caps R2 in the head. He holds off on shooting Luke’s X-wing, because that destroys the shirts. When the Death Star is blown up, Vader has to scour the galaxy with probe droids, and is forced to take Han and Leia hostage just to lure them to Cloud City. By Jedi, Luke’s all dark. And what should he find when he opens up his loyal droid? Some nice, badass black shirts. Which is exactly why Vader takes him before the Emperor. The Emperor, seeing that Luke is rocking the shirts, decides to take him as an apprentice. See? It all tracks.

    Yoda, Sith Lord
    Palpatine is just a pawn. Yoda is the real Sith Lord, spending the prequels making arbitrary and destructive decisions that only make sense if he’s actually an evil mastermind. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Qui-Gon wants to train Anakin as a Jedi, but Yoda says no because he can sense that boy ain’t right. But then, about two days later, Obi-Wan asks to train Anakin, and this time the answer is yes. Huh? So Yoda is not cool with a Jedi Master training Anakin, but a guy who cut off his Padawan rat tail like five minutes ago is cool? The arbitrary decisions continue with his decision to attack Vader and Palpatine separately. The Jedi don’t believe in strength in numbers? This is topped off with the completely arbitrary decision to go into exile. Why? Couldn’t his power be better used in the nascent Rebellion? Couldn’t he train more Jedi to fight evil? Yoda’s lapses are also damning. In the original trilogy, Yoda can sift through Luke’s thoughts effortlessly, but in Clones, he has no idea that Anakin has a freaking redwood for Padme. Instead, he sends Anakin - a mere apprentice! - to look after Padme, whose entire wardrobe is from the Naboo version of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Yoda could not have been more obvious had he given Anakin a handful of rufies and some KY. Also, while none of the Jedi, including Yoda, could sense the betrayal in the minds of the clones, Yoda, and only Yoda was able to fight himself out of the trap. Sounds fishy to me. “But wait, there are only two at a time, a master and an apprentice! Everyone’s accounted for!” And whose word do we have on that? Yoda’s.

    July 14, 2006

    The Man Factor

    Filed under: Games — robinson @ 2:02 pm

    I’d like to think that there’s this Hierarchy of Geekdom in a textbook somewhere. It would look like that famous depiction of human evolution with the monkey on one end and the naked guy with the spear on the other, only on this one, you have a Trekkie in his uniform, staggering from his parents’ basement on one end and on the other you have Mark Mothersbaugh. I’m not sure where I fall exactly, but I know that as a gamer, I’m a hell of a lot closer to the Trekkie. Now, when I say “gamer,” I’m not talking about computer games. I’m talking about games played with pencil, paper and improbably shaped dice, sitting around a table with a bunch of guys and doing bad impressions for eight hours at a time. It’s the hobby of the alpha geek, and the one that leads to Devil worship and prolonged virginity. I’ve been role-playing since I was seven years old, so you can imagine that I have a ton of things on my mind. First, the Man Factor.

    Now, a digression - I started writing this thing, and I realized that non-gamers are going to be completely lost without a quick glossary. Here goes:

    GM: Short for Game Master. AKA Dungeon Master or DM, Storyteller, Referee and in one case Hollyhock God (don’t ask). This is the guy in charge. Think of him as the game’s writer, director, supporting cast, special effects crew, best boy, lighting and sound guy all rolled into one.

    PC: Short for Player Character. These are the stars of the game. If Lethal Weapon were a game, Riggs and Murtaugh would be the PCs. Every player (that is, everyone around the table that’s not the GM) takes the role of a PC.

    NPC: Short for Non-Player Character. This is the supporting cast, played by the GM. If the Big Lebowski were a game, Jesus, the Big Lebowski and the Nihilists would all be NPCs.

    Everyone clear? Good. Let’s get started.

    Every game is balanced between two things: intrinsic plot and extrinsic plot, defined as plot generated by the PCs and plot generated by the GM, respectively. In other words, that which the PCs wish to accomplish (such as “paint a self-portrait” or “build a house”) is intrinsic, while the “real” plot of the game (usually defeating some big bad guy like Sauron, the Cobra Kai or the Fratelli Family) is extrinsic. Too much of the former and players can feel lost; too much of the latter and players can feel led around by their johnsons. In either case, you’ve got less fun on your hands (although, in some cases, more johnson).

    There are, of course, rewards to each approach. If a GM depends on intrinsic plot, the players are rewarded with free will. With extrinsic plot, the players’ only reward is the Man Factor: the idea that every PC is a bad mofo, and this is acknowledged every now and then. This doesn’t mean that he’s the Kwisatz Haderach or anything, but in his chosen field, he’s something special. Is he a driver? Then he’s Mad Max. Is he a scientist? Then he’s Egon Spengler. Is he a kung fu master? Then he’s Muhammad “I’m Hard” Bruce Lee.

    But the PCs don’t exist in a vacuum. There is an entire world of NPCs out there, and in this world, there are a couple of the GM’s favorites. Teacher’s pets, if you will. By definition, the GM likes these characters more than he likes the PCs, but it’s the wise GM that realizes that the game is not about his Mary Sues. In several cases, I have seen PCs reduced to the roles of spectators while the GM’s prize NPCs do all the really cool stuff. This would be the equivalent of Uncle Owen blowing up the Death Star, Horatio killing Claudius or that guy in Daniel-san’s apartment complex kicking the crap out of Johnny.

    The problem is one of ego. GMs tend to be control junkies (and I do not excuse myself from this description), taking some to the extremes of extrinsic plot, so that not only is every plot hook born from the GM, but the ending is a foregone conclusion with Mary Sues being employed to insure the “right” finale. The GM has a specific story he wants to tell and the PCs just get in the way: by missing “obvious” clues, seeing through the bad guy’s nefarious plan instantly, or just plain Playing Wrong. In fact, the GM is so annoyed with the PCs, his NPCs take every opportunity to belittle, bully and generally just be Superman-level dicks at every turn.

    While personally I prefer intrinsic plot and the accompanying free will, sometimes this is just not in the cards. Not every GM has the ability or inclination to give his players freedom. To be fair, I’ve been in many excellent games where the real amount of free will has been almost nil, but in each of these games the GM was firmly committed to the Man Factor (and just hadn’t had the name for it).

    Look at it this way: Frodo had a task to perform that he didn’t particularly want to do. He wanted to hang out in the Shire, cuddling with his Sam, and maybe having a little trip through Hobbit wine country. But out of nowhere, this crazy wizard (a total Tolkien Mary Sue) tells him to take Uncle Bilbo’s ring to Mount Doom or the World Ends. How satisfying would it have been had Frodo shown up at Rivendell, and promptly been told that he was a useless asshole, and was only on this quest because no one else could be bothered? Not very. Instead, everyone he comes across that’s on the side of good gives Frodo the proper respect (except for Faramir, but he apologizes later). Frodo has zero choice in what he does, but it would work in a role-playing game. And the reason why?

    The Man Factor.

    July 7, 2006

    Superman Returns… And He’s a Dick

    Filed under: Movies — robinson @ 12:03 am

    Superman Returns is being called a sequel to 1980’s Superman II, when it’s really a different animal, half sequel, half remake, and able to be read either way.  In this, its closest relative would be John Carpenter’s masterpiece The Thing, which was ostensibly a remake, but, if you look closer, it’s almost a sequel.  The difference is that while The Thing reinvented the movie and the mythology, creating in the process the finest horror movie ever made, Superman Returns was quite content to wallow in past glories for a turgid three hours that’s less of a movie and more a slog through the Fire Swamp.  Though while the bulk of the movie, from the identical credit sequence to the same supervillain motivation, is retread, it is in the character of Superman that we get some actual innovation.

    In terms of the movie itself, we’re not given an inferior product.  Sure, Brandon Routh looks like Madame Tussaud’s Christopher Reeve, but both Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth are vast improvements over the previous incarnations.  Gene Hackman’s Luthor would have been more at home on Superfriends, while Spacey’s Lex could have survived comfortably in Oz.  Kate Bosworth is a definite upgrade over Margot Kidder, but then again, so would Danny DeVito.  Bosworth delivers the kind of performance she’s becoming known for: she reads the lines that are written, emotes a little when the director tells her she should, and generally tries to be as inoffensive as possible.  As long as she’s the only woman onscreen, she’s just fine, but as soon as she’s with someone with actual charisma (not to mention secondary sex characteristics), she disappears into this null, almost as though her dialogue is being piped directly to your brain without having to hear it through a mouthpiece.  Singer wisely did not ever put her onscreen with the awesome Parker Posey, who would have chewed Bosworth up and swallowed her like one of those Pomeranians.

    Actors aside, the movie unfolds like you think it should: Superman does stuff, Lex talks about doing stuff.  The new wrinkle is this: Lois has a fiancée (played by Cyclops) and a kid (CGI).  Cyclops is a good guy, raising a kid that isn’t his and generally being the kind of good guy that that practically has “please run off with the first moody loner you run across” tattooed on his forehead.  Thus begins the love triangle: Troubled Yet Sexy Mystery Man vs. The Smart Choice.

    It is here that Superman drifts from the canon of the films in a much deeper way.  There has always been two Supermans, based on which identity is considered to be the “real one.”  The first is that Superman is the real guy, and Clark Kent the mask, an idea explored in that brilliant speech from Kill Bill.  This is an accurate take on pre-Crisis Superman, whose sadism is well-chronicled at the wonderful time-suck that is superdickery.com.  Superman is, in fact, a dick.  He’s a sociopath whose only pleasure seems to be in screwing over his friends.  After having a look at the superdickery, Batman’s ruthless takedown of Superman in Dark Knight Returns seems to not only be just but a necessity to protect himself, Lois Lane, Wonder Girl, Supergirl and Jimmy Olson fates that would make Torquemada blanch.  Bill’s right.  This Superman hates humanity, viewing them as stupid, clumsy and weak.

    Then there’s the version popularized by the original movies.  In this version, Clark Kent is the “real” identity, and occasionally he dresses up in tights to save the universe, a version that came from Christopher Reeve’s masterful performance.  He sold Clark so well that we loved him.  He was the geek that had the knight in shining armor inside, and the only reason he couldn’t show it was his loyalty to his parents.  When he put on the mask (or rather took off the glasses), he was confident and strong.  He could be what was in his heart.

    Routh’s (or more accurately, Singer’s) Superman hints at a deeper idea.  He’s a self-obsessed dick like Superman, but like Clark, he’s not entirely divorced from humanity.  He is willing to abandon Lois with no explanation for the chance to see a world he has no way to remember.  He sees in Cyclops a man with a strong moral center, a man who is not a dick, and a man who deserves the family that Superman abandoned.  It is in his growing respect for Cyclops that he wants to stop being Superman and become a man who does deserve Lois and her CG moppet, someone neither Superman nor Clark.

    The film suggests a third persona: that of Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, a man with the morality of Norman Rockwell’s America wrapped up in the power of a God.  A friend of mine, Mr. E, was the one who dreamed this persona up; I only gave it a name.  Kal-El is a God with a weakness, and so must prevent people from learning that he is a God, and he apparently lacked the foresight to wear a mask, as common sense isn’t fueled by Earth’s yellow sun.  He has to stumble his way through life because if he displays even a flash of competence, someone is going to put it together that Clark is contact lenses and a little Brylcreem from Superman.  What he is underneath it all is the kid from Smallville (the place, not the show, because that Clark is a self-righteous prick and shares more in common with other insufferable assholes like Buffy Summers and Jack Shephard).  This person, Kal-El, has been torn apart by the warring extremes of Superman and Clark.  This is the man that deserves a family, and the goal of Superman in Superman Returns is to become neither Clark nor Superman, but Kal-El.

    This is the part of the movie that is worth something: the desire of Superman to become something greater than a God – a man.  Unfortunately, it’s lost in nearly three hours of pointless dickery.

    June 30, 2006

    Fantasy World

    Filed under: Television, The Octagon — robinson @ 1:55 pm

    I’ve heard a ton about fantasy baseball. I don’t understand how it works, really. I know it has something to do with stats, and there’s a whole subculture built around it. Some guys live and die with their teams, one of whom is Bill Simmons, the ESPN page 2 writer that once brilliantly compared the 1990 Detroit Pistons to the Cobra Kai. In a recent column (Simmons only writes one or two columns a week these days; I suspect any more might cause him to spontaneously combust or something), he talks about his own fantasy sports league addiction and his alternate version designed with his wife in mind – a version that’s based on US Weekly.

    I read it pretty soon after he posted it, and wasn’t at all surprised when I got an IM about ten minutes later from my cousin Fluffernutter:

    “So, when are we starting our Degrassi fantasy league?”

    Ideas like that don’t come along everyday. I feel like the guy who first heard the words: “You know, these hamburgers aren’t bad… what if we added bacon?” So, of course, it had to be done.

    And before I go any further, I should acknowledge that yes, I’m talking about Degrassi: The Next Generation. Yes, this show is on The N and targeted toward sixteen year old girls. Got a problem with that? Yeah, didn’t think so.

    We laid out the ground rules. Teams would consist of seven characters each, and draft order would be determined by coin flip. The winner could choose to draft first and fourth or second and third.

    Scoring is as follows: Participation in the episode’s A plot (any line of dialogue or important character reference) is ten points. Participation in the episode’s B plot nets five points. The episode’s A plot is determined by the synopsis on the cable. Twenty points if the character is the focus of the A plot and ten points if he’s the focus of the B plot. This is cumulative. If the character is the focus of the A plot and participates in the B plot (Emma battles bulimia and helps Snake reunite with Spike), that adds up to twenty-five points.

    Hook ups and break ups are both worth ten points, but to score on them they must last through the end of the episode. Being cheated on nets fifteen, cheating is twenty. Dealing with an “issue” is twenty-five, and traumatic issues are fifty. Issues are defined as anything that could be the topic of an after school special (Ashley taking ecstasy, Emma and her bulimia), while traumatic issues are the big turning points (Jimmy getting shot, Spike getting pregnant). If the character is killed, that’s worth a hundred, but you’re left with a six player team.

    Trades can be done at any time, except in the middle of an episode. Teams must always be seven characters strong (unless of course for the aforementioned death), and if a trade causes a team to end up with more than seven, the GM must let go enough characters to bring it down to seven. If a team ends up with less for a non-death reason, the GM must pick up enough free agents to bring the team to seven.

    It’s important to do these things right.

    I called the coin flip heads. It was tails. Fluff opted to pick first. Predictably, he selected Emma, knowing that I have a soft spot for her because she’s this unholy combination of Caitlin and Kathleen, on an IV drip of rufies. He threw down the gauntlet. This was cutthroat fantasy Degrassi.

    With the second pick I selected Manny. No surprise there. My third pick was a sleeper: Alex. Stunned him a little, which is what I wanted. I didn’t just pull Alex out of my butt (as frightening as that may sound). What with her coming out and starting up with Paige added to the fact that she’s been a background character mostly before now, made me think she’s due.

    Fluff then took Joey. I don’t get this pick. I figured if he was going for an adult, he’d take Snake (who is in the background of a lot of stories due to his position as teacher and Emma’s stepfather) or Spike (with whom he is in love because of the Skankin’ Pickle song and her inexplicable sing-song line delivery) or even Caitlin (to piss me off). Then he tried to take Craig, and for a moment I almost let him, but conscience dictated that I tell him that Craig had left for Vancouver. So he took Spinner instead. Bastard. I was going to take Spinner.

    My next pick was just plain logical: Paige. Been around since the beginning with the new wrinkle of the lesbian plot. Then I took Ellie, but mostly because I have a soft-spot for faux-Goths. I figured Liberty (the smart pick) would still be around next round.

    Nope. He took Liberty, who because she just had the baby has some serious storylines coming up. Then he took Jay. Another solid pick.

    I struck back, though, with probably my biggest coup of the night. Marco. There was a good moment when the Fluff said he forgot about Marco. Of course, I just realized that with Paige, Alex and Marco I have all of the gay main characters on the show. I should have called my team the “Bath Houses” or “Mamma Mia.” Stupid hindsight. Then I took JT basically to get in on all the Liberty storylines.

    Last round. Even though he hates him, Fluff took Jimmy. The last pick took him forever. He finally selected Snake.

    So I had to get him back for his first pick. I took Spike. He knew I was going to take Spike. Had to be done.

    So, we ended up with:

    The Broomheads (Fluff)

    1. Emma
    2. Joey
    3. Spinner
    4. Liberty
    5. Jay
    6. Jimmy
    7. Snake

    The Zit Remedy (me)

    1. Manny
    2. Alex
    3. Paige
    4. Ellie
    5. Marco
    6. JT
    7. Spike

    The season was a short one, since we only had the team for the last couple episodes of the season. Long story short, I won. What did it was my murderer’s row of Alex, Paige, Ellie and Marco. I’m already looking forward to next season.

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