Sunday, June 30, 2013

World War Z

Just saw "World War Z" -- the movie adaptation of Max Brooks' novel. Gripping -- as intelligently constructed as a carnival haunted house ride. Syntax of scares aside, it gets bad grades in basic science. OK. Let's say that zombies are not the inexplicably unstoppable undead who keep going and going like brain-eating Energizer bunnies. Let's say zombie-ism is biological (an infection caused by a virus, bacteria, prions, whatever). If so, the logic of biology applies. If a zombie moves (let alone runs or climbs giant walls) it has a metabolism. I.e.: a zombie is alive. Thus, a zombie eats, breathes and excretes waste. It would not "go dormant" if no victims were available. It would freaking die. This applies, whether or not the zombies were disease vectors, and bite to spread the pathogen, as opposed to obtaining sustenance. Zombie or not, ya gotta eat. Thus spake Mr. Science. That gripe aside, great movie.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Richard Matheson: he was legend.

Richard Matheson is gone -- the sci-fi author who penned a raft of novels and short stories ("I Am Legend," "Hell House," "The Shrinking Man," "What Dreams May Come,") and a grab-bag of film and TV scripts (including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" -- "The Twilight Zone" episode in which William Shatner freaks out at the sight of a gremlin on the wing of his plane). Prolific and brilliant, a tough act for other dreamers to follow. He was legend.

Quote of the week: Kurt Vonnegut

“I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the “canary in the coal mine theory of the arts.” This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.”
Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, June 24, 2013

Kill Ugly Radio

Commercial radio digs its own grave, as Variety observes: RIP Radio. But this is all just part of a larger, heinous trend. As I said long ago, our society made the risky bet of subsidizing nearly all of our intellectual and cultural life with advertising—under the assumption that advertisers would calmly stay behind an invisible wall and not dictate content. Advertisers did, of course, resulting (across media platforms) not only in barely disguised advertorial—but more subtly—the fragmenting of media content into increasingly narrow micro-audiences defined by demographic niche. This, of course, is a recipe for boring, banal, gutless content. Or loud obnoxious content that merely confirms the prejudices of its viewers/readers/listeners. This paradigm kills the space for creative risk. In radio, DJs don't get to play new releases—those decisions are all made by program directors. In TV, there's no time for a struggling show to find its legs (as the original Star Trek did in the old days). In movies, blockbusters that EXACTLY COPY the last blockbuster. Etc. Now, a new paradigm emerges. Writers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers and journalists all work for free or next to nothing because they're idiots. (One in a million breaks through—but it’s as rare as winning the lottery.) Users don't pay for content—but they willing pay through the nose to the owners of the content pipelines.
Welcome to the machine.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Super Duper Superman

I was eight years old, walking home from school. Ran into another eight-year-old doing the same thing. The lad attended some hooting, hollering, tambourine-slapping, holy-roller church. He informed me that Superman was Satanic, along with the Beatles. It seems that Superman was an evil appropriation of the Moses narrative. Moreover, his name (Kal-El) meant son of God -- so, basically, Superman was Jesus in a cape. I scoffed. But, goshalmighty, the little shit was right.
Which brings me to director Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel." Clever Zack appropriates the science fiction side of Superman -- and his subtextual supernatural/theological side, too. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. But not if you're Superman. Krytonians, it seems, lack the sinful nature. And if you extend the theory, that's a neat definition of righteousness. Evil is a base being who usurps God's authority. Good is a godlike being who acts like just plain folks. Superman / Clark Kent is the alien among us -- and the American among us. The character proves what's right with Kansas. He has godlike powers. But he ain't in it for himself. He just wants to help. Evidently, Kevin Costner raised him right.
Snyder (again, quite cleverly) avoided making the movie that had already been made. He started off with a science fiction movie (beautifully visualized) that hit the alien origin of Superman hard. From there, he emphasized Kal-El's alienation on Earth. He's not a superhero, yet. He's a covert superhero, doing the job, but ducking the glory. But, when General Zod appears (a recycled Kryptonian villain from the Richard Lester movie), Superman steps up to the plate.
"Superman I" had the tagline, "You'll believe a man can fly."
This movie's tagline could be, "You'll believe a superhero can be good."
In this day and age, it's quite an accomplishment.
My apologies to holy-rollers everywhere.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

You're brilliant. You're fired.

27 photographers laid off at The Chicago Sun-Times. (Reporters will now snap their own pics with iPhones. Ain't that a kick?) Jaron Lanier's observation holds: Photographers, musicians and journalists are the canaries in the coal minethe first who get the axe, thanks to redundancies created by big data and cheap data input systems (i.e.: the built-in iPhone camera) that even idiots (or reporters) can use. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, kids. Teachers, nurses and nearly everyone else will follow. 

“If a man is skilled in his work, he shall stand before kings.”
—Proverbs 22:29 
So the Bible says, and it still is news, though perhaps old. An updated proverb…

“If a man is skilled in his work, he can be replaced by a machine.”

Not nearly as encouraging, eh?