Thor

May. 11th, 2011 11:31 am
intertribal: (baby got heart attacks)
This was entertaining, much more so than most superhero or pseudo-superhero movies.  It's not particularly subversive, and the humor is kind of slapstick, but oh well.  The bad guys (to the extent that there even are bad guys...) are all aliens, so at least there's no demonization of human cultures going on.  The parts that take place on Earth are way more fun than the parts that take place on, uh, Thor's home planet.  Overall, alternated between funny and campy!dramatic, but in a very non-annoying way - and we all know how easy it is to annoy me.

I thought they actually did a really nice job with the everyday folk in this one - Natalie Portman's character was very likable and relatable and cute (and everything about Thor was filtered through her perspective, which was awesome, because it almost felt more like he was the love interest, not her - which is really fucking rare in action movies, to allow women to show desire - usually it's just like, Exasperated Love Interest Suddenly Becomes Willing To Make Out With Hero, How Did That Happen? Don't Ask), with her main adjective probably being "clever."  Her assistant, Darcy - the political science student - was the comic relief, and was a riot.  Then their beleaguered scientist mentor dude was Stellan Skarsgard, and he did a good job; I generally like Skarsgard anyway.  It all takes place in a very desertified New Mexico.

The aliens - Thor's people, and their enemies the Frost Giants - are a little headscratchy.  They have a nice-looking planet, sure, with the cosmos as their sky and a long psychedelic crystal highway that leads out to the rainbow bifrost bridge - kind of like something off a sketchy "space art" web site.  And their attire reminded more of Saint Seiya than anything else, did anybody watch that show?  Disturbing anime, that.  Anyway, they're all completely identical to humans aside from their ridiculous armor, which was played for some laughs when they eventually came to Earth.  The Frost Giants are corpse-gray with red eyes and live in a desolate ice world.  Character development in this "realm," as Thor would say, was a little weak, but I think is a good example of what I was saying the other day - heroic heroes are more interesting than antiheroes. 

Thor comes straight out of Hero Mold, you see.  He is a total stupid dumbfuck when he first becomes an adult, but his flaws are hero flaws - wants to go after the enemy and teach them a lesson, doesn't want to wait for diplomacy, must defend honor, blah blah blah - a lot of sound and fury and prideful bombast, but he doesn't angst or consider switching sides or even behave all that reprehensibly.  There was one part where I thought he might suffer A Very Painful Lesson (TM) because he's smashing all these Frost Giants with his whack-a-mole hammer while miles away his friends are about to get eaten by a gigantic ice Balrog/Troll, but no, he sees that they're in danger and saves them.  He has some character defects, but they're heroic defects.  And he becomes much less of a dumbfuck as the movie progresses.  But thank God, you know, thank God that he wasn't "I'm just a loser and I'm sad about my average life but holy shit look I have superpowers now I am uber cool woohoo."  I am so done with that kind of superhero.  With Thor, at least we've moved beyond the standard "what does this power mean?" conversations, because you know, Thor knows he has power.  He's been groomed to be a leader all his life.  So instead of "you too can be a leader" claptrap you can actually concentrate on what good leadership is (not that this movie is very deep, but eh).  And if that means that fewer boys in the audience can "relate" to Thor, too damn bad for them.  Captain America looks right up their alley.

Loki, his brother, the "bad guy," is a whole bucket of crazy.  He's kind of sympathetic, and he's certainly Thor's shadow-self, and he doesn't seem to be motivated by Unrepenting Evil or whatever, but neither his motives nor his personality are consistent.  I don't mean that he develops as a character like Thor does - he's just wildly inconsistent.  I accept that he's keeping his true motives and plan to himself, but towards the end I kept going like "Loki, why are you doing that?  I thought that's what you wanted!" and "Loki, what the fuck?"  Unlike Thor, you never really figure out what Loki believes or values - we get that he values himself, yeah, but he seems to have literally no opinions or belief system beyond that - which is just as bad as the villain that is evil Just Because.  

But, oh well.  The movie ultimately comes down not on the side of genocide, which for an action blockbuster, is pretty good.
intertribal: (baby got a nobel prize)
What I immediately thought of after I heard The Big News (I was watching Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, which did not cut away to any breaking news report, so I heard it from fengi on LJ first) was "what now."  Is the war on terror over?  I think your answer to that depends on what you think "causes" terrorism, or why you think terrorism exists.  By this measure I figure that moderates are most likely to think the war on terror is over.  A crime/offense took place (9/11), we had to go after the person responsible (Bin Laden), and now that person is dead - the end.  Justice is served, the slate has been washed clean, now we can start over with "peaceful dialog" (this was a comment on the NYT... made me laugh, I had to say, the idea that enemy death -> peaceful dialog.  Trying to imagine Bin Laden saying that after 9/11, you know, like, "well, now that the towers have fallen, I hope we can have a peaceful dialog with you guys."  What an empty gesture). 

But the right isn't going to think the war on terror is over - after all, Islamofascism still exists, and that causes terrorism, and until the entire religion is wiped out, terrorists will still exist, and we will still be at risk.  And the left isn't going to think the war on terror is over - because military, political, and economic policies that encourage terrorism either directly (funding terrorists) or indirectly (blowback) will continue, so terrorism will continue.  From a long-term view, it's hard to believe "terrorism" will ever be vanquished.  Guerrilla warfare will never be vanquished either.  It's a strategy of waging asymmetric warfare, not a cult.  But I guess the moderates will have a field year speculating about what this means for Obama's re-election and we'll be throwing around words like "murderous militant" and "enemy of democracy" (this was from one of Nebraska's representatives, Lee Terry.  I really doubt Lee Terry has a firm understanding of what democracy actually is, based on this statement), etc.  The domestic political scientists and politicians and pundits will be going nuts pretending they have any clue what goes on internationally in their efforts to forecast What This Means For America, and this isn't a conversation I'm really interested in.

So this is pretty much Anti-Climax of the century, for me.  Hadn't we all moved past this, in our justification of Iraq and Afghanistan?  Hadn't we all adopted new excuses: liberating women, liberating civilians from dictators, spreading democracy, making the world safe - and then, fixing what we broke?  I thought that good old revenge was already off the table.  But now we're back to Square 1, apparently, and in U.S. history books of the future the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan will be a few long paragraphs, no more than a textbook page, under the title Response to 9/11.  Then maybe whatever happens next - wherever we go next, in our war on terror - will be under the next entry, another few paragraphs.  Hundreds of thousands of people killed: the "response." 

Also, I've read some comments that the U.S. turned itself into a monster in order to respond to 9/11, but I don't know about that.  I think it's a nice fantasy, that America was some kind of stoic Lady Liberty prior to 9/11 and then was transformed into Hel the Hag by a massive act of violence, good girl gone bad.  But it's hard to say that after reading a book like Overthrow or Shock Doctrine.  Foreigners have been waking up to find themselves in secret torture cells with a CIA agent for decades.  Let's not forget that, even though it would be easier to.  It is frightening, really frightening, to look at the news in the context of the history of U.S. foreign policy.  Maybe that's why a lot of political scientists don't like to do it.

So, anyway: some historic-centric links.

Juan Cole: I was also dismayed by the propagandistic way the White House promoted its war on and then occupation of Iraq. They only had two speeds, progress and slow progress. A big bombing that killed hundreds was "slow progress."... I think if Bush had gone after Bin Laden as single-mindedly as Obama has, he would have gotten him, and could have rolled up al-Qaeda in 2002 or 2003. Instead, Bush’s occupation of a major Arab Muslim country kept a hornet’s nest buzzing against the US, Britain and other allies.

Chris Hedges (that paragraph about the empathy the US received after 9/11 is incredibly true, and incredibly sad, in retrospect): 
The flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

I was in the Middle East in the days after 9/11. And we had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion. And we had major religious figures like Sheikh Tantawy, the head of al-Azhar – who died recently – who after the attacks of 9/11 not only denounced them as a crime against humanity, which they were, but denounced Osama bin Laden as a fraud … someone who had no right to issue fatwas or religious edicts, no religious legitimacy, no religious training. And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.

We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood. When Robert McNamara in 1965 began the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, he did it because he said he wanted to “send a message” to the North Vietnamese—a message that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.  These groups learned to speak the language we taught them. And our response was to speak in kind. The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaida has been handed.
intertribal: (baby got a nobel prize)
This is why racism remains a "thing" in my novel, which is post-apocalyptic (and I don't even have the apocalypse coming from across borders - it's just part of social organization in Junction Rally, as it has been for all its years of existence).  The Yellow Plague: Asians and Asian Americans in Post-Apocalyptic and Zombie Fictions by Bao Phi:
But like many brands of American horror and action genres, popular post-apocalyptic and zombie fictions tend to veer towards straight American male fantasy - many of the fictions and films in the genre operate under the assumption that, if all hell breaks loose, all issues of race, class, and gender are (supposedly) irrelevant compared to basic human survival - and consciously or otherwise, most leaders that emerge in these imagined post-racial scenarios are straight, white alpha males. In the Western pop imagination, there seems to be a desire to wipe the difficult questions of co-existence off the table - and what better way to do that, then to imagine a situation where five to ten random (and mostly white) strangers must fight off mindless brain-hungry hoards while trying to divide the bullets, bacon, and fresh water into equal shares? Where the musings and philosophies of fancy pants artists and social commentators like myself are next to useless?

Let's say that North Korea or China suddenly launched an attack on present-day America, like in the video game Homefront or the upcoming remake of Red Dawn. The popular, traditional white male western narrative would then position a white hero leading a resistance of people against the invaders, and our race wouldn't matter - because we're all Americans right?

No. History has taught us is if that shit went down, and Asians in Asia attacked America, the first people who would be fucked would be Asian Americans. We'd be imprisoned without due process, called traitors, tortured and murdered in the street. And yet none of this is ever explored in post-apocalyptic scenarios where Asians bring about doom. I guarantee you, if a science-project-gone-wrong in North Korea causes zombie apocalypse tomorrow, you can bet it's the Asian Americans who won't be getting their share of beans at the survivalist pot luck.
I think this argument - on the emotional/psychological desire for an apocalypse to "wash away" people and structures you don't like - is perfectly applicable to post-apocalyptic fiction that isn't British and isn't even all that "cozy" (i.e., involves cannibals and zombies and killer flus).  Some of the comments imply it better fits the American model anyway.  Related: "AEnema" by Tool: "Some say we'll see Armageddon soon/ I certainly hope we will/ Learn to swim, see you down in Arizona Bay." Who reads cosy catastrophes? by Jo Walton:
I argued that the cosy catastrophe was overwhelmingly written by middle-class British people who had lived through the upheavals and new settlement during and after World War II, and who found the radical idea that the working classes were people hard to deal with, and wished they would all just go away.

In the classic cosy catastrophe, the catastrophe doesn’t take long and isn’t lingered over, the people who survive are always middle class, and have rarely lost anyone significant to them. The working classes are wiped out in a way that removes guilt.
And from the comments (man, this is so why Zombieland did not work for me):
On a bad day, it could even be secretly, guiltily desirable: all those people who fit so well in the modern world, but didn't know how to deal with *real* change, would be swept away. And the people who knew how to prepare would be vindicated. The reader is implicitly in the category of people who can deal with change, of course, by virtue of having read the book.

The desire to be freed of social constraints and to get fat off humanity's detritus crosses the economic divide.  
Pop Agitprop from Cheap Truth #13, published in the 1980s, a series of scathing reviews by sci-fi authors, of sci-fi authors - I think this gets to the heart of the problem with a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction very well (and is related to that terrible Dodge Ram commercial as well, re: the sheer amount of self-stroking misanthropy that goes into crafting a post-apocalypse):
The gem of this collection is Vernor Vinge's "The Ungoverned," a sequel to his commercially successful novel THE PEACE WAR. In this ideologically correct effort, radical Libertarians defend their realm from an authoritarian army. Thanks to their innate cultural superiority and a series of fraudulent plot Maguffins, they send the baddies packing with a minimum of personal suffering and a maximum of enemy dead.

First, and very characteristically, it is post-apocalyptic, conveniently destroying modern society so that a lunatic-fringe ideology can be installed as if by magic. Vinge avoids extrapolating their effects on society, because society is in shambles.

John Dalmas contributes a decent male-adventure Western. Unfortunately this story pretends to be SF. It is set on yet another colonial planet lapsed into barbarism, a fictional convention that allows SF writers to espouse reactionary social values without a blush of shame.

Dean Ing's recent novel for Tor, WILD COUNTRY, takes a similar tack. This book, the last in a post-apocalypse trilogy, is a meandering series of shoot-'em-ups. Its hero is an assassin. The villain is a gay heroin-smuggler, as if an America devestated by nukes did not have enough problems. Ing's hasty depiction of future society is grossly inconsistent; ravaged and desperate when the plot requires desperadoes, yet rigidly organized when Ing suddenly remembers the existence of computers.

The book is a Western, set in a West Texas conveniently returned to the robust frontier values of Judge Roy Bean. Men hold their land, with lasers if possible, while women raise corn and keep the home fires burning.

The book is speckled with maps, diagrams, and lectures on the Second Amendment, which, one learns, "absolutely and positively, guarantees citizens their right to keep and bear arms."  Like his fellows, Ing treasures this amendment, the last remnant of the American policy that he is willing to respect. There isn't much mention of, say, voting, or separation of powers. Power resides in the barrel of a gun, preferably the largest and shiniest possible.
No We Can't by Hunter (this one is political, but I think it ties in nicely with the apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic, vision, and the desire for this vision to actually happen - thanks to [livejournal.com profile] realthog for linking it):
Past-America could provide at least some modest layer of security to prevent its citizens from descending into destitution in old age; we in this day cannot. Past-America could pursue scientific discoveries as a matter of national pride, even land mankind on an entirely other world; we cannot. Past-America was a haven of invention and technology that shook the world and changed the course of history countless times: whatever attributes made it such a place we cannot quite determine now, much less replicate. Public art is decadent. Public education is an infringement. Public works are for other times, never now.

America of the past could build highways and railroads and a robust electrical grid. We cannot even keep them running. Of course we cannot keep them running: that was past-America. That past America had a magic that we modern Americans cannot match. Perhaps it was beholden to Satan, or to socialism, or merely to some grandiose vision of a better future, one with flying cars or diseases that could actually be cured, with proper application of effort. Whatever the case, past-America was wrong and stupid, and we know better.

We are told all the things America cannot do. We have yet to be told any vision of what we might still be able to do, or what hopes we should still retain, or why our children will be better off than we were, or why we ourselves will be better off than we were a scant few decades ago. Perhaps the very climate of the world will have changed, and the sky will be hotter, or the storms will be bigger, but none of those are things we can do anything about. Perhaps there will be nuclear disasters, or oil spills, or epidemics, or perhaps a city here or a city there will be leveled by some unforeseen catastrophe; we can be assured of it, in fact, but none of those things are things we can expect to respond to better next time than this time. Those are not, we are told, the tasks of a nation.
intertribal: (bottoms up)
Chuck Klosterman has this interpretation for why we're living in a zombie moment (I remarked upon this a couple nights ago, when I noticed two different zombie video games being advertised on TV):
In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.
I'm pretty sure zombie fiction is popular because it's an adrenaline rush to live vicariously through people who are slamming axes through other people-not-people's heads.  That had to be part of what it was for me.

Five years after 28 Days Later blew my mind, I think I'm exhausted of the genre.  I just don't think much can be done with it, after all.
intertribal: (one-two-punch)
I finally got with the internet and tuned in to The Walking Dead last night.  It is certainly a tension-filled show.  But for the most part I was left feeling sort of turned off - I think maybe I've just overdosed on too many immediately-after-the-apocalypse scenarios.  I used to be really, really into the genre, back when I first saw 28 Days Later.  But I've become more and more frustrated with what I see as the genre's common pitfalls (like Hooray for Patriarchy, and Lucky Token People, and Good Vs. Evil).  I recently watched the first season of the (canceled) BBC show Survivors - which, when I first heard of it last year, really intrigued me - and just had to stop because I couldn't take it anymore: the succession of deliberately-crafted morality plays (it's like everyone wants to write their own Left Behind according to their own personal, political, and religious compass), the very hammy acting, the predictable ups and downs of the survivors' emotions. 

Survivors is definitely worse than The Walking Dead.  So I wonder if my un-enthusiasm for this critically-acclaimed show means that this type of post-apocalypse scenario just isn't my thing anymore.  I still got a real kick out of Pontypool, but Pontypool was very, very different.  No guns in Pontypool.  No foraging.  No emergency transportation.  No strangers thrown together, even, just co-workers.  Contagion - which is what I really like about zombie movies - remains.

Or maybe I just need to take a break from massive apocalypses.  I'll probably keep watching The Walking Dead, but with lowered expectations.
intertribal: (smoking room)
I mentioned a while back that I got a free copy of The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, through a give-away at SF Signal.  I've finished it.  It is one of the worst books I have ever read - but maybe I'm the wrong reader for it, because I don't read the action thrillers that this thing is modeled on. 

I suspect that a lot of readers are just happy that these vampires are not Twilight vampires.  Indeed, they are unmistakably fiendish, murderous, grotesque.  They even defecate as they drain you of blood!  While I sympathize with the "finally, GORE!" crowd, these vampires aren't really vampires either.  They're more like zombies.  Can you imagine Lucy shambling down the road in a bathrobe, flailing mindlessly for anything that's got a vein available?  No.  Vampires are supposed to have some degree of charisma, some amount of style - I'm the person who thinks Herzog's Nosferatu is one of the most gorgeous and romantic movies ever.  They are not supposed to be a sexless horde.  Yes, The Strain's monsters suck blood.  But they fit the zombie category better.  Same with the vampires in the I Am Legend movie.*

Onto the thing that really bothered me.  More than the bad writing and unconvincing battle scenes (several Amazon reviewers mention the improbability of an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor with broken hands being the kick-ass action hero that he is), more than the repetition of vampires attacking their neighbors and turtle-slow pacing: I accurately predicted what would happen to the main characters. 

The main character (MC) is a "handsome," "genius" CDC dude who's in the middle of a divorce.  He really, really, really wants to be around his son Zach, who is just like him, brilliant and intense, etc.  Unfortunately, his beautiful ex-wife (who was the one calling MC a "handsome" "genius"), who never understood him and was always second to his work, wants custody of Zach.  And she has a new boyfriend who MC thinks is trying to replace him in Zach's life.  New boyfriend is pathetic (works at Sears) and sniveling.  Also, MC has a new love interest, who also works at the CDC (has the potential to understand his brilliance!) and gets along with Zach.  

So I'm like, hmm.  Clearly new boyfriend is going to die a horrible death.  Clearly Zach is going to end up with his rightful father.  If not for the new love interest, ex-wife would also end up with the MC, but given the new love interest, she will also die to make way for the MC's new and improved family.  I knew this because it is the plot offered up by disaster movies such as 2012 and War of the Worlds**.

I was exactly right.  Not only did new boyfriend turn into a vampire, providing the MC with the opportunity to stab him repeatedly (I think this was actually narrated in the book as stabstabstab), but the ex-wife was turned into a vampire who now wants to steal away Zach, the bitch!  One of the final lines of the book?  "The custody battle for Zach was not over."  She escapes to presumably reappear in the second book, as the MC laments that she will "haunt Zach forever."  And the girlfriend?  She stays behind in the final battle to take care of Zach. 

This kind of thing really bothers me, and I'm trying to figure out why.  For one I'm not sure about a custody battle subsuming the end of human life in New York City.  And on a basic level, it seems unrealistic as hell.  Disasters - or genocides - are not typically wish fulfillment scenarios (imagine if instead of vampires, people were being annihilated by an army instead; imagine the outrage that would ensue from trotting out genocide as an excuse for the main character to get whatever he wants [assuming he's seen as righteous and not a war profiteer, of course]).  Then there's the nasty little "why are you so special that the disaster works out aces for you, when everyone else is dying?  why should I be happy for you?" feeling, like it just doesn't seem fair, or justified.  But of course who am I to criticize what someone else wants to do with their story?  Why do I even want stories to be fair/justified?  I wouldn't care if the MC wasn't also this heroic figure that we're supposed to cheer for - I love to hate Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22, for example - but this book is written in such a way that there's no negotiating what side you're on, no unreliable narrator, no perspective except for the MC's.  Maybe I'd prefer it if the MC was scheming to use the vampire apocalypse to get Zach, get rid of his ex-wife, impress his girlfriend.  Etc.  Sure, he'd be a dickface.  But he'd be more interesting.  It would seem more accurate.  The outcome would not be inexplicable. 

And then there's the whole Hooray for Patriarchy aspect of it all.  Mothers are pretty much all doomed in The Strain, and by doomed I mean "turned evil."  There are two female characters of any importance - the ex-wife and the girlfriend, both defined entirely by their relationship to the MC - and the ex-wife goes bad, of course, while the girlfriend is billed as this sort of tough, smart counterpart to the MC but is really just the MC's toadie and on-call baby sitter.  She mostly stands back and screams in horror.  Two other female characters at least appear repeatedly: a blood-sucking lawyer turned vampire who eats her neighbor's kids (and then hunts her own kids) and just wants to get rich off lawsuits, and an unstable OCD-afflicted housewife who kills herself when her husband becomes a vampire (because she needs him to survive).  Contrast with the only vampire who shows any degree of complexity and morality - OCD housewife's husband, who nobly chains himself up in the shed so that he won't hurt his family.  D'awww.  Maybe this would make a good Father's Day present or something.  Certainly not a good Mother's Day present.  A father's love is protective, self-sacrificing, virtuous.  A mother's love is possessive, harmful/deadly, frightening.  What the fuck, you know?

* I suspect that somebody who's well-versed in the I Am Legend story could argue that it influenced The Strain, but that somebody is not me.
** To give W of the Worlds credit, though, it doesn't kill off mom's new boyfriend (or mom, but mom only dies if there's someone to take her place anyway).  I also appreciate W of the Worlds for clearly showing Tom Cruise's character's flaws - i.e., showing why his wife got a divorce, why he doesn't have custody.  In the case of 2012, though, mom's new boyfriend actually steps aside and then dies so that the "real family" can be together. 
intertribal: (grim reaper)
I sort of recognized the name Daniel Drezner, though I'm not sure what I've read by him.  He seems to be that extremely rare rock star poli sci theorist, at any rate, Samuel Huntington for the digital age.  In any case, he has written a book called Theories of International Politics and Zombies, and he has a little bite-sized tidbit up in Foreign Policy, which is trying to be a rock star poli sci publication (difficult when people like me can never remember the distinction between you and stodgy podgy Foreign Affairs): "Night of the Living Wonks."  He's trying to mockingly figure out how different IR theorists would predict the world would respond to zombies.

So (American) realists would say:
How would the introduction of flesh-eating ghouls affect world politics? The realist answer is simple if surprising: International relations would be largely unaffected. Although some would see in a zombie invasion a new existential threat to the human condition, realists would be unimpressed by the claim that the zombies' arrival would lead to any radical change in human behavior. To them, a plague of the undead would merely echo older plagues, from the Black Death of the 14th century to the 1918 influenza pandemic. To paraphrase Thucydides, the realpolitik of zombies is that the strong will do what they can and the weak must suffer devouring by reanimated, ravenous corpses.
(American) "liberals" would say:
Provided that the initial spread of zombies did not completely wipe out governments, the liberal expectation would be that an international counterzombie regime could make significant inroads into the problem. Given the considerable public-good benefits of wiping the undead from the face of the Earth, significant policy coordination seems a likely response... Quasi-permanent humanitarian counterzombie missions, perhaps under United Nations auspices, would likely be necessary in failed states. Liberals would acknowledge that the permanent eradication of flesh-eating ghouls is unlikely. The reduction of the zombie problem to one of many manageable threats, however, is quite likely. Most countries would kill most zombies most of the time.
And neocons (they're their own category?) would say:
Neither accommodation nor recognition would be sustainable options in the face of the zombie threat. Instead, neocons would recommend an aggressive and militarized response to ensure human hegemony. Rather than wait for the ghouls to come to them, they would pursue offensive policy options that take the fight to the undead. A pre-emptive strike against zombies would, surely, be a war against evil itself.
I'm not really sure what to make of this, except I think he may be underestimating zombies' disruptive capacity.  The whole thing is clearly an attempt to get "young people" to care about political science, by the way: "interested and intelligent students of world politics should use their own brains -- before the zombies do." 

iron man 2

May. 9th, 2010 10:47 pm
intertribal: (to be with you in hell)
Context:  I saw the first Iron Man because our passes didn't work on Speed Racer (I was one of those crazy people who liked Speed Racer, btw), and I must confess that it was a little much for me.  I know, "too much" is basically the definition of a superhero movie, but the whole uber-American rock star CEO thing was just not something I could get into. 

This Movie: Because of the above, I actually ended up liking Iron Man 2 more than Iron Man.  Things go wrong in this one.  There's some doubt cast on the viability of the military-industrial complex, both for a nation and a person.  The whole thing is basically a metaphor for nukes - right down to flashbacks to Iron Man's dad making '50s era, Jetsonian promotional vids for technology that will save the world, etc. - so fittingly the two big specters in this movie are: 1) Dangerous, angry people who've been steamrolled by America and its shiny, fancy nukes making shitty, dirty nukes; 2) Nuclear energy turning out to be poisonous in the long-run.  And in the end, the bravado is toned down.  I for one appreciated this.  My favorite scene was probably Iron Man's disastrous birthday party that kind of highlighted how ridiculous the "techno-fantasy" can become.  No wait, my favorite scene was actually the one where Iron Man (or rather the guy that wears him, Tony Stark) presents Pepper with strawberries as an apology, and it turns out that's the one item she's allergic to.  That's what I mean: things go wrong for the rock star CEO in Iron Man 2.  I mean, I was actually rooting for him at the end here, and I wasn't rooting for him in the first one.

The action is a little meh on this one, to be honest - my eyes kind of glazed over - but since The Dark Knight my standards for action sequences have gone up astronomically.  There's also this whole subplot with the Avengers that I thought could have been junked, because introducing random people who look like they're from another superhero universe just distracts, frankly.  If I was not sitting with someone who knew who the hell these people were I would have been going, "who the fuck are these clowns?"  And do we really need to have the "climactic" battle between weaponized mechas intercut with Scarlett J. in a leather catsuit using sexy martial arts to take down security guards?  Don't answer that.  My point is I'm here to watch medium-sized robots fight, and Scarlett unfortunately reminded me way too much of this Scarlett, from this horrible, horrible movie.  That's bad.

Overall, though, I liked the movie and can recommend it.  

4s Marry 4s, 7s Marry 7s:  Yes.  But I think Pepper is awesome, so YMMV.  I thought the snippety interaction between RDJ and Paltrow was one of the best things about this one, and the saving grace of the first. 
intertribal: (pleased to meet you)
1.  Tatjana Soli [The Millions]: Legacy of a Photo.  AP headquarters at first rejected the photo for the indecency of frontal nudity, rather than focusing on the bigger indecency of children being burned alive. Ut and head of the department, Horst Fass, argued that napalm had burned off her clothes and refused to crop the photo. Finally an exception was made because of the news value of the story... Although the Chicago Tribune ran Stephanie Sinclair’s photo of the dead Iraqi girl, some worried that it was too graphic, and a compromise was reached to include a story on the legacy of cluster bombs with it. According to an interview with Sinclair on Salon.com: “I found that the Iraqi civilian story was really hard to get published in U.S. publications. And I worked for many. I don’t know why. I think they’re looking at their readership and they think their readers want to know about American troops, since they can relate to them more. They think that’s what the audience wants.”  [Bonus: Uplifting closing paragraphs!]

2.  Bruce Falconer [The American Scholar]: The Torture ColonyDeep in the Andean foothills of Chile’s central valley lives a group of German expatriates, the members of a utopian experiment called Colonia Dignidad. They have resided there for decades, separate from the community around them, but widely known and admired, and respected for their cleanliness, their wealth, and their work ethic... The days were productive. Schaefer exhorted his colonos to righteous sacrifice, frequently reciting the words “Arbeit ist Gottesdienst” (“Work is divine service”). Large signs attached to garden trellises and decorative iron latticework inside the Colonia reinforced the message with pious declarations like “Supreme Judge, We Await Thee” and “We Withstand the Pain for the Sake of Dignity.”... Schaefer, through an informal alliance with the Pinochet regime, allowed Colonia Dignidad to serve as a torture and execution center for the disposal of enemies of the state.

3.  Loren Coleman [Twilight Language]: 3 Days, 3 Attacks.  I have pointed out that in China (and Japan), due to their strict firearms laws, such countries tend to manifest their "copycat school violence" in terms of "stabbing" series.  Five incidents in a little over a month and three attacks in three days have left at least 9 children dead in China, all by knife-wielding older males... A mentally ill teacher on sick leave for the past four years broke into a school and wounded 18 students and a teacher in southern China’s Leizhou city in Guangdong province on April 28... The attack on March 23, 2010 shocked China because eight children died and the assailant had no known history of mental illness. At his trial, Zheng Minsheng, 42, said he killed because he had been upset after being jilted by a woman and treated badly by her wealthy family. He was executed by firing squad on Wednesday, April 28, just a little over a month after his crime.
intertribal: (fuck it all)
Some thoughts about the guy who flew a plane into an IRS building, killing himself and an IRS worker.  On the one hand he's a "hero" to the Stormfront people (natch) and random people on Facebook who quote Thomas Jefferson and say he's a real American patriot, etc.  On the other hand, he finishes his "manifesto" not with the line that the newspapers are quoting, "Well Mr. Big Brother IRS man… take my pound of flesh and sleep well," but this, "The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed."  He also calls Bush a "presidential puppet" with "cronies."  So are Stormfront and the "anti-tax movement" now also Communist and Bush-hating?  Because that might make them more interesting.

But they probably just didn't read the manifesto.

Meanwhile Littleton, CO just barely avoided another school shooting incident (but this time by a 32-year-old!), and a killer whale dragged a Sea World trainer under and thrashed her around until she died.  And I know I missed psycho biology professor who, until it was revealed she'd already killed her younger brother, attracted a shocking number of comments on the New York Times sympathizing with her killing three of her colleagues because the tenure system really sucks, yo.  Yep, just another day on Planet USA.
intertribal: (yes and)
I recently watched Right At Your Door and Blindness.  The first is about dirty bombs going off in Los Angeles.  The second is about people in some unnamed first-world city mysteriously going blind.  They're both told from the bottom-up perspective of the civilian victims of these plagues, and they both involve issues of quarantine.  That is, the government tells civilians what to do, civilians demand information, government tells civilians what to do louder.  And "what to do" = stay in some confined space for God knows how long.

The actual Quarantine movie had a lot of this too.  Quarantine and Right At Your Door are pretty similar, however.  The governments are both identifiably American and they behave predictably, rationally - they sequester the infected area, send in people in HazMat suits to collect samples in order to figure out what's wrong, and try to keep communication as open as possible.  Of course, people respond to this by screaming their heads off, but what the hell else is the government supposed to do?  It's quarantine.  I always side with the government in movies like this - I just want to tell the hysterical people to calm the fuck down and worry about the zombies/toxic dust, because the government is doing all it can outside and can't help you inside.  The government in RAYD are actually pretty nice, considering a cloud of toxic dust is spreading over the entire American Southwest.  They also turn out to be giving everybody kind of bad advice, but they're trying to act on the information they have.  The government in Quarantine is a little meaner, and when infected people try to escape despite warnings, they're shot.  IMO this is overkill, and it's more likely they'd be shot with tranquilizer darts.  Still, not totally crazy considering these people are in and of themselves deadly weapons. 

Right At Your Door is told entirely from the perspective of the hysterical civilians, so it's essentially a panic movie, except for brief moments of tenderness (like a woman dying in the toxic air listening to her voicemail full of concerned friends and family).  There's a lot of terrible driving and people screaming at each other without listening to each other and conversations like, "I went to the hospital but I couldn't get in!"  "Go round the back before they see you!"  "There were so many people there!"  "GO ROUND THE BACK NOW" "oh my God what is happening to us" "GOOO ROOOOUUND THE BAAACK" and so it's a pretty fatiguing movie that doesn't do anything we haven't seen a million times before.  

The government in Blindness, however, behaves in a way that no first-world government would.  They drop all the blind people in what's essentially a prison block, telling them to find themselves a ward and a bed (THEY ARE BLIND) and then randomly drop boxes of food in the yard, telling them that distribution is "your responsibility" (THEY ARE BLIND).  There's no healthcare, no sanitary conditions (in other words, total quarantine fail), and no effort to examine these blind people because nobody wants to touch them (THERE ARE HAZMAT SUITS IN USE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MOVIE.  WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?).  So of course the prison block devolves into a Hobbesian horror show, and Gael Garcia Bernal hoards all the food because he's the only one with a gun.  I'm not going to get into the incredibly pessimistic approach this movie takes toward the behavior of people in crisis situations, but I am going to say that I could not believe a first-world government would do this.  It's about as likely as selling death-row inmates to a TV show that puts them on an island to kill each other for a live audience.  Sorry, but no.  I know you hate the government, but no.  I would buy some overwhelmed third-world governments dumping everybody with a contagious disease in a prison block and not knowing what else to do - I still don't buy the existence of "wards" (why not single prison cells, and have someone shove food in through a slot?) or the air drops of food boxes (they're freakin' BLIND).  I get that this is supposed to be an exaggeration, or even a black comedy (the music gives it a sort of nasty Clockwork Orange vibe - the movie that fucked me up for life), but in the context of a cosmopolitan ultra-city where even the hookers speed around in taxi cabs, this is just too ridiculous to be taken seriously.  If the government truly did not know how blindness was spread or how to cure it, and had no prison cells or hospital rooms to spare, it's more likely that they would just shoot all the blind people and kill the infection dead. 


You see?  HAZMAT SUITS.

I also thought Garcia Bernal's evil deeds were a little too well-organized given the guy has just suddenly gone blind.  They say it's a disease that defies bureaucracy (which is why the government is useless) and yet bureaucracy is exactly what takes place in prison.  But that's just opening a whole big ass can of worms - the good doctor's wife can see, and she does freakin' nothing to take advantage of this once the food-hoarding and gang-rapes start.  She's just like, yes, I will suffer with you.  WTF.  Too much female martyrdom and male cowardice/evil.  Why is everybody in the evil Ward 3 male anyway?  The fact that everybody in all the wards just agrees to Garcia Bernal's demands because he - A BLIND MAN - has a gun (how the hell'd he get that through security?  for that matter, why were these people allowed to take their purses into quarantine?)... Ok, I said I wouldn't get into the behavior of people in crisis situations, so I'll stop. 

If you want to watch a movie about people in the government being wicked in ways that have happened time and time again the world over, watch Death and The Maiden.  If you want to watch a prison horror opera, watch Oz (man I miss Oz).  Blindness is a red herring.
intertribal: (readin about it)
When I first watched War of the Worlds - midnight showing (2005) - I wasn't too fond of it. I didn't like that all the main characters somehow miraculously survived, in spite of the world totally going to shit. It's very Hobbesian, which I don't enjoy. I thought the ending was too convenient (obviously I need to write to H. G. Wells about that one).

Watching it again now, after having seen 2012, I feel bad. Because despite having pretty much the same cast of characters (deadbeat dad, older son, younger daughter, ex-wife, ex-wife's new husband - latter two not really involved in War of the Worlds) and the same basic situation (mass destruction), War of the Worlds is a much better movie. It's better-acted, better-written, better-directed. Tom Cruise is a way better actor than John Cusack. Dakota Fanning is a way better actress than, fuck, anybody in 2012. As nauseating as Hobbesian situations are, Roland Emmerich's better-angels-of-our-nature transcendentalism is more annoying and less realistic. If War of the Worlds is a manufactured blockbuster (which it is - Spielberg, after all), then 2012 is as manufactured, as artificial and plastic, as an amusement park ride.

So, sorry, War of the Worlds. I gave you a bad rap. I still think your ending is a pathetic 180-degree emotional cop-out. I completely agree with this review by Rebecca Murray:
Unfortunately the movie’s 117 minutes long and those last 17 minutes are just plain horrible. Spielberg delivers a dark, sinister sci-fi story and then screws the whole thing up with an ending that doesn’t fit. In fact, the ending’s so out of place it almost ruins the whole experience. You’ve got to wonder if the ending that’s included in the theatrical release is the only ending that was shot. It actually feels like an alternate ending that was tacked on when a test audience vetoed what Spielberg really wanted to show us. If this was in fact Spielberg’s first and only choice for the ending, then jeers for not sticking with the tone of the film through its entirety.
But, you know, other than that.
intertribal: (so fuck this shit)
I like Independence Day, a lot. A lot of people think it's kitschy, and I think Roland Emmerich tried to listen to them. So he tried to "grit up" his disaster movies. The Day After Tomorrow was the new standard for disaster, and 2012 very much follows the standard. That is:

1. Scientists in Not-America discover Something Terrible that will destroy All Life On Earth.
2. A broken, white, middle-class family in America is set up as the movie's protagonists/heroes/every-men.
3. The government worries about how to tell the public and evacuate people.
4. Horrible Things start happening around the world. These are shown in 5-minute snippets ending in impersonal destruction.
5. Evacuation begins. Scientists in Not-America and secondary characters in America die, Tragically. Masses and masses and masses of anonymous people also die. Monuments, religious and political, fall.
6. Protagonist Family has to Band Together to Survive. Leaving anyone in your party behind is, always, not an option.
7. Some Books are preserved as cultural artifacts/cultural templates. This is Meaningful.
8. A Beloved Dog associated with the Protagonist Family Survives.*
9. Horrible Doom approaches. It must be outrun or otherwise avoided.
10. All Life On Earth besides the evacuated Survivors is pretty much dead.
11. Against All Odds, Protagonist Family Survives, Stronger Than Ever, and re-joins the other evacuated Survivors. Other evacuated Survivors rejoice at this news, because Protagonist Family is seriously the most important thing, ever.
12. A 2-minute explanation shows that things aren't actually That Bad, and there is some promised hot, dry land in Not-America that will be used to support the evacuated Survivors.

*: This is a trope from Independence Day, not Day After Tomorrow.

Same Shit, Different Day.
intertribal: (there's a she-wolf in your closet)
I saw the following 3 movies in theaters over the past week.  Blame Christina, not me.  Obviously, I recommend none. 

THE STEPFATHER

Five-Word Summary:  Single mom marries family annihilator.
Take-Home Lesson: Remarriage is EVIL. 
Laughability: 5
Sex: Underage
Violence: 1

LAW-ABIDING CITIZEN

Five-Word Summary: Grieving dad destroys justice system.
Take-Home Lesson: The justice system is EVIL.  Real men KILL.
Laughability: 3
Sex: Rape
Violence: 4

SAW VI

Five-Word Summary: Dead psychologist's torture campaign continues.
Take-Home Lesson: Health insurance companies are EVIL.
Laughability: 4
Sex: None
Violence: 6
intertribal: (there's a she-wolf in your closet)
This is inspired by my bff [livejournal.com profile] royinpink's posts on teaching history, and an earlier post I made about Nazis and our perspective on them.  It's just an anecdote, but I like anecdotes.

Indonesian schools are really bad at teaching history.  Sejarah, history, is part of IPS (Ilmu Pengetahuan Sosial), social knowledge, and although I think that history everywhere is often a tool of social control, this is particularly true in countries like Indonesia, where we went from no mass education to the Dutch Ethical Policy to authoritarianism.  So my history classes in elementary school were very, very bad.  Bad as in factually incorrect.  My mother gave me homeschool lessons on top of my actual school lessons.  No idea what it's like now.  Judging by reports of what it's like in Japanese and German history classes, I'm going to go with "tense." 

So obviously I didn't know that in 1965, between 500,000 and 1,000,000 "Communists" were killed in Indonesia, over a span of a few weeks.  Oh, I knew about 1965.  I knew it as Gestapu, Gerakan September 30, when evil Communists kidnapped and killed six military officers and dropped them in a well called Lubang Buaya, Crocodile Hole.  The real tragedy, as taught to us, was that the Communists had also killed one general's little girl.  A reasonably well-done propagandistic movie about her death was supposedly shown to school children every year on September 30, although I have never seen it (my mother has). 

By the time I learned about all the mass executions that were carried out "in revenge" for the generals' deaths, I was in college.  I knew about the Cold War and McCarthyism by then.  I wrote a research paper about who was doing the killing.  The Indonesian Army has always said that angry mobs got out of control and hunted out Communists themselves, but nobody believes that the Army had nothing to do with what was happening.  However, the Army couldn't have killed all those people on its own, and I doubt the Army would have wanted to.  My theory, which seems to square with the few accounts of civilians who were involved in the killings, is that the Army pushed the gory details of the generals' deaths on the already anxious public, drove into towns with guns and tanks, and "strongly encouraged" young patriotic, Muslim men to do their part protecting Indonesia and kill Communists.  I think the Army wanted entire communities to get involved because they wanted to share the blood.  One anecdote I read was about a dentist who had killed Communists in 1965 and had nightmares where he saw the faces of the people he killed, years later.

This was all very horrific for me, and late in my research paper it occurred to me that my father had been 18 in 1965 (my father died in 1998).  I called my mother in a panic - had he been involved?  The thought made me nauseous.  My mother said she didn't know, but he probably just hid somewhere and stayed out of it.  She couldn't imagine him not sharing something like that with her.  I believed that and moved on.  

Half a year later I was in Indonesia for an internship and I visited my relatives in Jogjakarta.  My father was the oldest of ten, and my aunt and uncle are the only relatives on his side of the family that I know, because they were the ones my dad was closest to.  On our last day there, we went to a military museum next to our hotel.  This museum was surreally awful.  Old tanks - made in the U.S.A.! - parked in front, with a dim, un-air-conditioned network of rooms under terracotta roofs.  Every artifact imaginable from various wars is on display, with little explanation.  Photographs of decapitated soldiers and open mass graves cover the walls.  And in the 1965 room, replicas of the dead generals' blood-stained uniforms.  This room quieted my aunt, who had been a teen in 1965, and she started to talk about fighting the Communists with my dad.  Something about storming a theater that was run by a Communist, and breaking into a school, and having bullets shot at her while she was on the roof.  I asked what my dad had done, and she said that he had gone to help "guard the Communists" that had been captured and were awaiting execution.  I don't know if he actually killed anyone or not, and will never know.

This shattered me.  At lunch I started bawling because I felt this made my father "a bad person".  My aunt didn't understand - "no, he wasn't a Communist, he was against the Communists!" - but my uncle, who had been a kid in 1965 but had gone to school in the U.S. (like my dad), got it.  There wasn't really much he could say, other than to remind me that my dad became an anti-government Marxist himself several years later, and smuggled copies of the banned Communist Manifesto into the country on steamships.  I called my mother and told her all this in the hotel that evening.  I felt bad telling her, because it would mean that my dad hadn't told her himself, but my mother just figured that it was a part of his life he didn't want to remember.  My parents were 40 when they got married.  They left behind a lot.

It took me a while longer to accept this without feeling ill.  In the long run I think it actually really helped my understanding of my dad's generation - explained the extreme sense of betrayal evident in the 1970s student protests that he was a part of - and my understanding of atrocities in general and the people that commit them, why they commit them.  It's a cliche, but it made me look at everything I thought I knew about history differently.  It helped me understand nationalism from a less biased perspective.  Of course my understanding is lacking, and always will be.  I don't have my dad to talk to about it.  Which is part of the problem of history in general. 

This song sort of sums up where I am now on this matter: "Freezing" by Philip Glass (vocals by Linda Ronstadt, lyrics by Suzanne Vega).  

intertribal: (the truth about that bitch)
I mean, arguably they're doing different things.  Shaun of the Dead is - comparatively - a realistic account of what would happen to most people if a zombie plague suddenly swept through their little world.  You scream, you throw anything, Zombieland is like all those people who have totally bought into the zombie fad because zomg, it would just be so much fun to run around killing monsters especially when everyone else in the world is dead and then we can take their stuff.  All the characters are expert survivalists - I guess because they did survive "this long" - who have loads of guns and vehicles (Hummer, Cadillac, unnamed SUVs...) and literally just kill everything.  Oh yes, there is the whole "emotional triumph" bullshit that feels like the ABC Family version of 28 Days Later: "without other people, we may as well be zombies" (?!!!) and I mean, the dorky guy-protagonist totally gets the hot girl (who always wears make-up) in the end so yayz zombie-killing time!  But there's nothing to relate to here.  It's hero worship.  And this sort of zombie-apocalypse fantasy - speaking from the perspective of someone who was into zombies and apocalypses way before pop culture's current obsession with them - has absolutely nothing to do with zombies or apocalypses.  I mean, this could be Transformers.  You know?  It's like... Transformers does Neon Genesis Evangelion. 

[There's this part in Zombieland, where the survivors are happily smashing things in a little store - and this is "enjoying the little things" - where I thought, "Ah, here it is.  The American zombie-humor movie.  What matters is destruction."]

And look, I am not allergic to destruction in movies (hello, I only started watching Battlestar Galactica because it promised destruction).  But this was just a little too I-can't-wait-for-the-zombie-apocalypse-so-I-can-blow-shit-up(-and-I-actually-have-no-clue-how-to-blow-anything-up-or-survive-any-kind-of-apocalypse), and it really doesn't move beyond that.  Hot Fuzz - which strikes my sense of humor perfectly - is full of destruction, but at the same time moves way beyond that, partly because it knows what the fuck it's doing ("Well, I won't argue that it was a no-holds-barred adrenaline-fueled thrill ride, but there's no way you could perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not accumulate a considerable amount of paperwork").  It's conscious of the tropes it's using and actually ends up achieving emotional resonance.  Same with Tropic Thunder, actually, so I know this isn't something all American movies fail at.  Shaun of the Dead also achieves emotional resonance.  But that, see, actually deals with certain givens of apocalypses: losing friends and family, losing all that is familiar and comfortable, losing safety, losing sanity, losing contact.  And it does this while remaining funny and entertaining!  Yes, people, it's possible!  In fact, consciousness of the tropes you're using actually makes the movie funnier!  Full disclosure: I didn't find Zombieland funny.  

Woody Harrelson was the best part of the movie.  Which isn't saying much except that, like Ron Perlman, Harrelson makes any horrible movie tolerable.  In this one, he was the only character/actor (God knows) willing to be flawed and not just TOTALLY ZOMG AWESOME/COOL, which of course means he's the comic relief.  Oh well.  With movies like this, collect all the comic reliefs, put them in a new movie, and then you'll have a good movie.  Every single character in Shaun of the Dead would be comic relief in Zombieland.  That's how straight this movie plays its tropes. 

And yes, I have taken those "would you survive a zombie apocalypse" facebook quizzes.  I got 90% likely to survive.  Take from that what you will.
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