Friday, December 30, 2005

Best Movie of 2006?

Snakes on a Plane

That's AWESOME. That's my favourite thing EVER. That is so mind-bogglingly brilliant I'm at a loss.

It's called Snakes on a Plane. It's about a bunch of people on a plane and, hey, snakes! Now there's truth in advertising. You can't say you didn't know what to expect. People won't be coming out of that muttering, "Well if it was just about a bunch of snakes on a plane they should have made that clear."

This is a defining moment, people. This is the beginning of a whole new GENRE of cinema. Think of the possibilities:
Alligators on a Train
Leopards on a Bus
Great White Sharks in a Taxi
Rhinoceroses on Bicycles

I'm blown away by the sheer brilliance of it. Samuel Jackson's career is about to hit a whole new level.

I'm going to be happy all day about this. Between this and Slither, it's enough to make you wonder if maybe the pure joy of the B-Movie isn't entirely lost to us, after all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Biggest Thing In The World

Okay, first of all I have to rant a little bit about how unbelievably stupid it is that the Empire State Building is trademarked. Seriously, you have to get permission to use a picture of the thing in your movie.

You know, if you build a great big frickin' skyscraper in the middle of a great big frickin' city, I don't think you get to tell people how they can use pictures that happen to include it.

Intellectual property law in service to the marketplace. It's an ugly, ugly thing.

Done. Sorry about that.

But I did want to talk a little bit about the Empire State Building and its place in King Kong. Hope I don't need somebody's permission to do that.

Just to deal with one typically asinine point -- the notion of skyscrapers as phallic symbols. Tall buildings don't look the way they do because that makes them resemble erect penises. They look the way they do because in order to maximise the value of a single piece of real estate, you build straight up in a floorplan that as much as possible completely fills the area of the lot.

Kong climbing the world's largest phallus, while an arresting image in and of itself, doesn't, in my view, offer a very interesting take on the story.

Kong climbing the world's largest symbol of civilization and progress, on the other hand, does.

This of course is why the film ends as it does: because Kong, as the perfect symbol of primitive individualistic power, can only prove himself against the ultimate symbol of civilized cooperative power. If he doesn't tame the greatest structure in the world, the supreme achievement of many little people working together, then how will we ever know if he's really as bad-ass as we want him to be?

It's been said (dunno who by) that Skull Island represents the human mind -- with its minute portion tamed (conscious) and settled, and a great wall that blocks off the savage, untamed portion. The notion is that we each have a Kong wandering the jungles of our minds, a beast of pure selfish need and fury that is capable, when it wishes, of dominating all else that lies within our subconscious. This, of course, explains why there's a gate in that great big wall -- because we each of us have a gap, an opening whereby that beast can emerge and run rampant in the streets of our mental New York.

You can go too far with this, of course, but hidden in the Freudian mumbo-jumbo (don't you sometimes want to just slap Sigmund Freud upside the head? Maybe it's just me) is the truth that everyone likes to watch monsters go crazy. Animals, people, little stop-motion figures, whatever. Movie-going audiences have been eating up destruction and mayhem since the earliest days, and there does not exist the little kid who doesn't giggle with glee while stomping a sandcastle into oblivion.

When Kong unloads on the overhead tram, or when Godzilla starts torching Tokyo yet again, or even when Norman Bates puts on the dress and starts running around (um, everyone's seen Psycho, right?), we are watching chaos overwhelm order. We are watching the monsters go crazy, and monsters going crazy makes us happy. It reminds us that we don't have to put up with all this crap. We don't have to kowtow and scrape and ass-kiss. Heck, no! We can wrestle tyrannosaurs, break chains (even ones made of chrome steel), and toss automobiles about with abandon.

We can climb the Empire State Building, if we want to. But we know what's waiting at the top. And it's not bigger than us -- it's little. Little buzzing fussbudgets that individually are fragile and easily brushed aside, but in swarming masses overwhelm us with their insistent poking and annoying and relentless drive to injure us, to force us from the position we've climbed so laboriously to achieve. Suddenly, being the biggest doesn't seem so important. Because in the world of rationality, of civilization, the lesson is that the biggest, the loudest, the scariest doesn't always win.

Being the biggest thing in the world is a liability.

King Kong is NOT a tragedy. Nobody cries when the monkey dies (sorry, Mr. De Laurentis). We feel regret, sure, because Kong is magnificient, and because part of us yearns to roar and demolish and defy the great structure of our society. But part of us also knows that what thrives on the secret dark portion of Skull Island has to stay there, and when it escapes, or is dragged in chains into the light, it must be tamed and thereby destroyed.

Kong reaffirms us in our knowledge that the social order we subscribe to is necessary. That the rationality we impose on our own souls is healthy. But it also refuses to let us kid ourselves into thinking it's easy, or that no price has to be paid.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sleeping With The Monkey

One of the more interesting differences between Jackson's Kong and the original is sexualizing of the story.

(there will be further spoilers in here, so Jill, you decide if you want to know more)

In the original, Fay Wray's body is presented front-and-center for the audience's appreciation. She is displayed in a near-explicit sexual fashion from the get-go (and she's reaching for what? An apple. Hm. Forbidden fruit, anyone?). Her initial encounter with Denham is handled in such a manner that their conversation could be interpreted (and indeed is interpreted by Darrow herself) as negotiation for sexual favours, and her presence on board the ship is marked by the display of her body.

Even an audience that isn't paying attention to these details is going to react to a beautiful woman standing around almost naked. She is vulnerable, she requires protection, and even more to the point, she is AVAILABLE. She's a mare in heat, and we are given the expectation that at some point, this filly will require mounting.

Not to be too crude about it.

But the voyage to Skull Island, in Cooper's film, sets up Ann not so much as a romantic partner for Jack (although that happens, of course, in one of my favourite 30's lines of all time: "Say, I guess I love you."), but as a sexually unfinished figure, as desire embodied without fulfillment.

Naomi Watts is not nearly so sexualised in Jackson's film. She is instead romanticised. Where Fay Wray reacts to Denham's pitch with stuttering confusion and uncertainty, Watts simply walks out on him. It's not at all clear that Wray's Darrow wouldn't have gone along with Denham even if he WAS a pimp. Watts is not subjected to hostility from sailors who distrust her sexuality; instead she partners up with them to perform vaudeville shows.

Once the monkey shows up, however, things are quite different.

Not in presentation; Wray is still relentlessly sexualised and her undressing by Kong probably ranks as one of the least likely stripteases in cinema. Not on the level of Saffron Burrows in Deep Blue Sea, perhaps, but still it's pretty silly. We don't see anything that anthropomorphic in Jackson's film, as his Kong is as fully a gorilla as can be. Willis O'Brien's creation is honestly a very large, uneducated man with communication difficulties. And he undresses Fay Wray with the curious wonder of a boy learning how to unhook a bra for the first time.

But what actually happens in the story at this point flips the sexualization meter the other way. Now it's Jackson's film that gets all sexified. Wray is undressed by the ape, but then before Kong can (and here the mind fairly reels, as they say) consummate his burgeoning lust, she is snatched away from him by Driscoll's courageous rescue.

Watts' Darrow, however, finds a very different relationship with the big guy: she actually sleeps with him.

In Jackson's film we see Darrow and Kong in fact consummate their relationship. Well, we don't ACTUALLY see that happen, as this is a PG film (and the anatomical difficulties are, to say the least, intimidating), but they fall asleep together and she awakes in his embrace. Were he a human being, there would be almost no question that these two characters have become one overnight.

And big props to Naomi Watts for communicating this in the scene where Driscoll shows up to rescue her; we can see in her eyes that she's not immediately convinced she wants to leave. Kong has protected her, he's been an enthusiastic audience and he's shown her beauty and tenderness. That's frankly more than she's gotten from anyone else. She's found a real man at last.

Cooper's film does provide Wray's personification of sexual need with the fulfillment so desperately required -- she is engaged to Jack and so that story is all wrapped up. Phew. Filly has done been mounted. That sexualization that was so important to the early part of the film is withdrawn from the latter, and all that is left is the acting out of the rage of the jealous monkey. Jackson, on the other hand, maintains Kong as someone with a real connection to Ann. The only someone with a connection to her, who can draw her out of her hopeless life.

The original doesn't provide this interpretation. Kong is not a desirable mate in the 1933 film. He is an angry, jealous, 30-foot-tall stalker. He's a gigantic two-year-old throwing a tantrum because his toy has been taken away, and although we feel a connection to him, and even admire him for his unwillingness (or inability) to bow to necessity, we are not horror-stricken at his death. Cooper did not make a tragedy.

Jackson is trying to. It's a tough sell, because, you know, giant monkey fighting dinosaurs just isn't classic tragedy. And I'm not sure it works. Ann can't end up with Kong, and we can't feel too terrible that he's finally destroyed.

Because monkey love, ew.

And it just might be that the old standby of holding off on the consummation until the END of the story is the right choice, cinematically. When Kong plunges to his doom in Jackson's film, we can think, "Hey, at least he got to sleep with Naomi Watts." But in Cooper's film Kong is decidedly unfulfilled. He never acquires the civilizing relationship he needs, and somehow that makes his end MORE satisfying.

It's like John Woo's Mission Impossible: 2, the first part of which is a remake of Hitchcock's Notorious, with the exception that the spy sleeps with the girl right at the start of the film. I think they did this in MI:2 because they thought it would strengthen the bond between guy and girl, but it has the opposite effect, and I think you could argue the same is true in King Kong. Once our heroes get it on, a big part of the reason we're watching goes out the window.

The Moonlighting effect, you might call it.

And monkey love is still ooky.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Talking To Myself

Okay, so obviously I've seen Jackson's new version of King Kong. I'm going to have a lot of thoughts about this picture, as the original is pretty much my favourite film of all time, and I think it's interesting to compare the differences between the pictures.

What struck me first about the two films and their differences was the final famous line.

"No, it wasn't the airplanes that got him. It was Beauty killed the Beast."

In the original, Denham delivers this line to a police lieutenant standing next to him. In Jackson's Denham is alone and speaks to himself.

Which is weird. Says me. People don't do that in the real world, only in movies.

Partly this comes from the built-up "movie reality" that has accrued over the last seventy years of film-making that audiences accept nowadays (which one might argue derives from the old theatre tradition of "asides"), but partly it points to a hollowness in Jackson's picture.

In the original, Denham's line is as natural and perfect as can be. The theme of Beauty and the Beast has been established from the very beginning of the film, reinforced throughout, and Denham's response to the lieutenant's remark about the airplanes is simply his character reinforcing that notion. It wraps up the story for us and in a way tells us why we've been watching, but it does so within a context that grows organically out of the world of the movie.

Jackson mostly eschews the "Beauty and the Beast" motif until Denham's appearance on stage in New York. Of course it's present, but by no means to the degree in which it is in the original. THIS film is much more about the relationship between THIS girl and THAT monkey, as opposed to the more symbolic representations of the first film.

Likewise, Denham simply disappears for the final act of Jackson's film, whereas in the original he follows Kong to the rooftops, and then works with the police to track him and eventually bring in the airplanes. He's not accomplishing much, but he's present. And so he can speak with a police lieutenant. He can be recognized by the crowd around the body.

Denham doesn't have such a comfortable place next to Kong's body in Jackson's film. He's truly alone here, isolated in the crowd, anonymous and indistinguishable from anybody else. He's not bigger than life. And yet Jackson can't keep that brash, confident line out of his picture, and so we get this contrived, artificial moment that draws a fond smile because of its reference of the old favourite, but it obviously doesn't quite work here, and only serves to remind us that we're watching a remake, not a personal vision.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Did You Ever Hear of... Kong?

In celebration of Mr. Jackson's re-release of the original classic of all classics, I have created Kongadelica. It's not a thing of beauty, but it makes me giggle.

I love GarageBand almost more than I can stand.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Better Than Gilgamesh

It has to be said: "Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers" is the best name for a band since "Gilgamesh and the Guitar-Gardeners" took Babylon by storm.

Sumeria, whatever.

It also ought to be said that it's not all that surprising that The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension never really took off and became a bona fide hit movie. It's a bit of a mess, story-wise (The Lectroids are stealing the Overthruster! The Lectroids don't have the Overthruster! The Lectroids have their own Overthruster! The Lectroid's Overthruster doesn't work! Wait, is the planet going to be destroyed or not!? Huh? What?), and the effects are probably best described as "charming", but more than that, Buckaroo Banzai doesn't wear a costume.

Have you ever wondered why it is that superheroes always wear outlandish costumes? I guess there's a couple of reasons (makes it easier to draw them if they're always wearing the same thing, makes them more recognizable on cover illustrations), but I was thinking recently that one of the key reasons is that by depicting characters in idiot costumes, costume superhero stories clearly indicate that they are taking place in some alternative fantasy world, NOT our own.

We can accept that Superman flies around and stops criminals more easily if we're told right from the get-go that this story is taking place in a fantasy land. Likewise Batman, who arguably isn't a super-hero at all, just a man with great skill, lots of money and phenomenal luck, wears a costume in part to let us relax our suspension of disbelief and accept the goofy stories that we're being told.

I think it's harder for many people to relax that suspension of disbelief if the cues announcing a fantasy setting aren't as clear.

Now, given that Buckaroo Banzai starts with a character who goes from brain surgery to inter-dimensional rocket test pilot, and is named Buckaroo Banzai, it could be argued that the cues here are reasonably clear. But a big cape, primary colours and even a mask would go a long way toward making that crystal.

Not that I'm arguing for that. I like Buckaroo the way he is, and indeed I like this film just the way it is, thank you very much. It does a great job of evoking its wacky little world without ever falling into over-explication. It respects its audience, and assumes we're all in on the joke, which is is a sufficiently rare thing for any film that in that quality alone it's worth watching.

Buckaroo harkens back to the pulp heroes of yesteryear, when a man could excel at ALL things, and didn't have to specialize in one field. It wants to tell us (and this is the central argument of nearly all fantasy) that one person CAN make a difference, that we CAN make choices that will effect not only our lives, but the very course of history.

Maybe that's why fantasy typically gets a bum rap from most critical wankers: because it dresses up its core struggles with the trappings of historical significance, rather than relying on the inner world of the human spirit. A real writer would be able to tell that story, present that struggle and give it weight and power and resonance without armies or dragons or evil masterminds. Using such elements is seen as "cheating" -- much in the way that over-stirring music can alienate rather than move an audience.

But would Buckaroo's story be BETTER if it didn't feature a possessed Dr. Lizardo (that's another problem -- you've got a character named DR. LIZARDO and you have him possessed by some clown named John Whorfin? WTF?), Lectroids from Planet 10, the perils of the 8th Dimension and the threat of nuclear annihilation? Now that's crazy talk. Because we all know that critical wankers who say things like got said in the previous paragraph are joy-killing turdballs who probably don't even like dinosaur movies.

TAoBBAtED would have been more popular had the story been more coherent, had there been LESS goofy ideas thrown about, and most importantly, had they put Buckaroo in a cape and a mask. But it would have been less of a movie. Even if they'd added dinosaurs.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Infinite: Epic Modern

At last, here it is! The crown jewel of EN Mini-Games!

INFINITE: EPIC MODERN

Every generation tells tales of heroes... men and women with prowess and valor far beyond the norm. But although modern man prefers to think of these tales and their protagonists as legends or exaggerations or outright lies, the truth is... giants still walk among us.

Welcome to Infinite, a minigame of Postmodern Pulp Adventure.

Legends Live. In Infinite, the line between man and myth, history and legend, is blurred. The heroes may discover that many of the fantastic characters from myth and fiction... from Victorian detectives to Pulp Era adventurers to modern super-soldiers... have real-world counterparts, although their exploits may have been misreported (perhaps intentionally).

Evil Waits. At the heart of Infinite is a secret cabal of unfathomable antiquity and unimaginable evil. The Hidden Masters have lurked in the shadows for millennia, secretly manipulating all mankind for their own devious purposes. In return for absolute obedience, they offer their servants the greatest reward imaginable... eternal life.

Heroes Arise. In every generation, a handful of extraordinary men and women stand against the Hidden Masters, wielding powers and abilities that push the limit of human potential. Infinite presents new rules for advancing d20 Modern characters beyond twentieth level, creating heroes and villains who will forge legends of their own.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Linkslutting

This is Sugar Bush Squirrel:

If I had anything clever to add, I would.

But it's a squirrel in a Pope hat. What can you say?


Bruce Lee Statues: For Everyone

The Bosnian city of Mostar unveiled a bronze (BRONZE!) statue of Bruce Lee as a symbol of the fight against ethnic divisions.

"We will always be Muslims, Serbs or Croats," said Veselin Gatalo of the youth group Urban Movement Mostar.

"But one thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee."

Wise words.


Jane Siberry Is Cooler Than You

But I don't have to tell you that, right? Cause you already know. But maybe you didn't know that brilliant, uber-cool Jane is now selling mp3's online at her store. Plain old mp3's, no DRM here. And the pricing is interesting: Pay What You Like. Yep. If you want to take it all for free, you can. You can even "pay later" so after you've listened for a while if you feel like going back and topping up, you can.

THIS is where the music industry is heading, and the sooner the RIAA realises it, the happier we'll all be.

Here's Where I Work

One of my co-workers has put up a webcam looking out our windows at Burrard Inlet. You can see the container docks and the heliport just past the rail yards, and beyond the Coast Mountains.

Another thirty degrees to the right you get a spectacular view of Mount Baker. Trust me, it's amazing.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005

An Alphabet of Cinema

That is the final review of the project I started way back with Akira. I intended to write a comment on one film on my shelf for each letter of the alphabet. And we have done so. Here's the full list:

A: Akira
B: Black Orpheus
C: Crime Story
D: Dragon Inn
E: Evil Dead
F: Fallen Angels
G: Go
H: His Girl Friday
I: The Iron Giant
J: Josie And The Pussycats
K: The Killer
L: Ladyhawke
M: My Fair Lady
N: Ninja Scroll
O: Out Of Sight
P: Peking Opera Blues
Q: There Is No Letter Q
R: Raiders of the Lost Ark
S: Snatch
T: Time Bandits
U: Underworld
V: Versus
W: Wages of Fear
X: Xena: Warrior Princess (A Comedy of Eros)
Y: Yojimbo
Z: A Zed and Two Noughts

So now I'm done. Guess I'll have to find something else to talk about. Or else do it all over again. That'll mean buying another film that starts with "Z" before I get to the end, I guess.

All This Decay

Strange questions come to mind when watching Peter Greenaway's savage and delicate lyric on the nature of death (and therefore, life) that is A Zed and Two Noughts.

Alba asks the very pertinent question: "How much of oneself can a person lose and still recognize themselves?" In her case the losses are physical and dramatic, but looked at another way, we're all losing parts of ourselves all the time. I think that's one of the things Greenaway is suggesting in associating Alba with Oliver and Oswald; the men have also lost crucial parts of themselves, and their ever-more-frantic efforts to re-establish the identity they once possessed leads inexorably to decay.

What alternatives did they have, though? Or, why is it so important to recognize ourselves? Perhaps that need lies at Oswald's (or is it Oliver's) quest to understand the history of life as a deterministic process leading to his wife's death.

What's Vermeer got to do with it all, anyway? I'm no art historian, and I'm lazy, so I can't bring much Vermeerish knowledge to the question. But painting is always a means of freezing a moment in time, of announcing that this moment, this spot, this direction of view is IMPORTANT somehow. Van Meegeren, however, is obsessed not with reproducing the world he sees, but the world Vermeer saw. Is this just another expression of the drive to avoid decay? Artist seeking immortality -- and yet Van Meegeren ISN'T seeking immortality, is he? He's not painting under his own name -- he's painting as Vermeer. He is putting aside his own immortality in order to subsume himself into another's.

And yet, he believes that Milo's child is his. As does Van Hoyten, the foul cynic. Can they both be right? Or are they, like Oswald and Oliver, struggling, desperate to cling to something they themselves cannot identify or discuss.

What's the purpose of our struggling, our suffering, our urgency to live? There's a lot of urgency in this film, but it's a mindless, helpless sort of urgency, as single-celled organisms (and later, more complex beings, including grief-stricken zoologists) thrive and multiply. Is there any direction here, except towards entropy and irrelevance?

Why do we struggle so? Van Hoytens calls the struggle of life "A dreary fiction," and so... do we agree? Is all the importance we attach to what we do just that -- a fiction that we create? Venus de Milo tells erotic stories about animals, stories we never get to hear the end of. Van Meegeren creates fake paintings we never get to see. Alba imagines a family she can never have.

Loss and emptiness echo through the film, juxtaposed with frenetic action and striking contrasts (a white animal with black stripes, or a black animal with white stripes?). One of the great triumphs of A Zed and Two Noughts is how it resists purely story-focused analysis. The viewer is compelled to submit to a visual and auditory understanding that the story itself cannot encompass. Michael Nyman's tremendous score and the gorgeous photography of Sacha Vierny entrance us and carry us through to the film's shocking, hilarious, inevitable conclusion.

Summarizing this film is an exercise in futility. "What happens" here is far less important than what we see. What we hear. What we feel. Digust and arousal and sympathy and wonder.

It's as though the elements of plot and story are being exposed as the same sort of frantic, meaningless activity as those jumbled protozoa, those confused black/white/black animals, those teeming swarms of maggots and snails, and even those zoologists take desperate part in every day in the history of this little earth of ours. Perhaps Greenaway is asking us to consider that there is indeed something beyond that endless struggle: What we see. What we hear. What we feel.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mission NOT From God

The opening shot of Kurosawa's Yojimbo (you knew I was getting to Kurosawa eventually, didn't you?): distant mountains, snow-covered and majestic. And then Mifune walks into frame, massive and dark, dwarfing the mountains. This nameless samurai is bigger than the world he inhabits. The question for Yojimbo is, does he represent us or does he represent a force beyond what any of us can manifest? Are we bigger, can we be bigger, than the worlds we inhabit?

Soon after his arrival the samurai remarks that "This town is full of people who are better off dead." The casual assertion of moral judgement is a startling one, and one could be tempted into reading that this suggests the samurai is a super-human force of retribution. He's bigger than us. WE would never say this, or if we would, we'd certainly risk a hubris-based fall from grace. Deciding who is or isn't better off dead is a problem we prefer to leave to God.

Tolkien illustrates that point of view when he has Gandalf tell us that, "Even the very wise cannot see all ends." Tolkien's worldview requires a God who alone possesses the capacity for moral judgement, and to whose authority we all must submit. Kurosawa, ever the humanist, rejects this idea, as Yojimbo will ultimately show. The samurai is human. He is not God, and he is not bigger than us, even if we are the innkeeper, and his outrageous willingness to sit in judgement on his fellow man is only a more extreme version of the moral decision-making we are all faced with daily.

Every day, we make moral decisions. The young man at the beginning, desperate for an exciting life, his father, furious at what's happening to his town, and the mother, resigned to her fate -- all these people are making moral decisions. On what grounds do they make those decisions? From where do they receive their guidance?

Not from God, surely. Not in Kurosawa's world, anyway.

The only difference between the samurai and the innkeeper is the willingness (indeed, the eagerness) of the samurai to come to grips with the implications of his moral decisions. The innkeeper, at first horrified, comes to realise that his dour guest is actually the most rigourously, courageously moral character in the whole story. Only he recognizes that his moral choices are entirely his own responsibility.

Of course the samurai "succeeds" in the end because his skills are so spectacular. In this regard, he is not one of us, and the easy reading of Yojimbo is to suggest that he is allowed to make his moral judgements because he is clearly so much superior to all those around him. That the answer to our questions is that he does NOT represent us. He is beyond us. But that's too easy. Too easy for Kurosawa, and too easy for Mifune.

The bad guys are vanquished by his skills, to be sure, but the good guys are transformed by something else. By witnessing the samurai's willingness to endure the consequences of what he has wrought. Never asking to be judged sympathetically, he is recognized as a hero by the very act that dooms him to torture and suffering. And by going stoically to his doom, making no effort to sell out those who betrayed him, he demonstrates exactly the quality that inspires the innkeeper to risk himself for the cause of doing right.

And, in the very end, it is the innkeeper's stoicism and willingness to endure that inspires the cowardly cooper to take his first steps into serving something greater than himself.

The samurai is NOT bigger than us. Not in any meaningful way. Sure he's luckier, and sure he can hit a tumbling leaf with a thrown knife. But these are just decorations, just as much as those pretty mountains in the beginning. What really matters are people. We are bigger than the mountains.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Upcoming: EPIC MODERN

The next EN-MiniGames release is well down the pipeline, and I can at last reveal the secret: Epic-level rules for d20 Modern, right to you. Play characters like Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, or Captain Nemo. d20 Modern goes without limits, without ending. We call it

INFINITE: EPIC MODERN

And we're pretty sure you're going to like it. Watch this space for more details.

Gimme Speed

If you follow Boing Boing you've already seen this, but if you haven't, HOLY CRAP.

140 miles per hour through the streets of Paris.

(34.1 MB, by the way)

Fuck you, John Frankenheimer. Fuck you very much.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

I'm The Little Hot Dog

I'm still struggling to find words to express How Cool This Is.

Insane people with kids' records. I want to give these to my nephews.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Holy Ugly Record Labels

Sony CDs Install Spyware

Gee, I wonder why CD sales are drying up?

Friday, November 4, 2005

Free Adventures!

I know it's been stupidly long and right now I'm sleepy anyway so shouldn't even be writing, but I did want to mention that if you want copies of With A Bullet or The Basement of Doom (the supplemental adventures for our last two mini-games), you can download them for FREE from the EN World Game Store.

So what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Shell Casings, Rain Water

Gun-Fu: With A Bullet, the first adventure for the Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics d20 mini-game has racked up its first review online -- four stars!

This is Gun-Fu where shell casings rain like water, and a duffel bag full of guns is standard equipment.

Yep, he caught the important bits, alright. Good review all round.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Xena: Warrior Unrealist

The Xena: Warrior Princess episode "A Comedy of Eros" is curiously mistitled -- it's much more a reworking (using the term very loosely, of course) of A Midsummer Night's Dream than A Comedy Of Errors. But what's in a title?

The great thing about fantasy is that it lets you tell stories like this, where characters just senselessly and without warning fall in love with each other, and you can absolutely have it NOT be their fault. If this weren't a fantasy, these people would be lunatics, and we'd be unable to watch the story. It wouldn't even make sense to us. But because it's fantasy, and there's a giggling little goofball with a magic bow and arrow running around behind the scenes, we accept the inevitable chaos and enjoy the anticipation of each wacky plot twist.

There's something to be said here for UNREALISM. Steph and I have talked at length about why authors write fantasy, and one of the notions we've come up with is that fantasy allows you to talk about things that reality doesn't. Xena takes place in the same place Midsummer does: in the forest of the imagination. In this place, characters can endure pressures and influences that are personified in ways that a "realistic" show could never do. Which lets you focus on exploring aspects of human nature in, sort of, isolation.

So for example, "A Comedy of Eros" lets the storytellers look at how people REACT to love, without worrying about how they fall in love in the first place. Without the bow-weilding cherub, the story would have to explain how Xena falls for Dracos, or how Dracos falls for... and so on. But the story's not about HOW people fall in love with inappropriate objects but rather how people can, even in the face of otherwise-all-conquering passion, exercise their will and their faculty for reason to maintain control over their own destinies.

Which is what Xena was always about. Xena did terrible things. She was hate-filled, angry and selfish. But using her brain and her heart, she was able to behave like a rational, compassionate person. At its best, the show bore witness to the human capacity for re-definition of the self.

"A Comedy of Eros" isn't quintessential Xena. There's no Kevin Smith smirking deliciously as Ares and there's no Hudson Leick out-loonying Lucy and heck, the climactic sequence isn't even a fight; it's the best live-action "Hallway Full Of Doors" sequence ever filmed. But it does express the core idea of the show. When Xena overcomes her own feelings and is able to see clearly what's going on (and come up with a solution that saves the day and STILL lets her express her misguided passion), she is re-defining herself consciously in an effort to do what she knows is the right thing.

Our temporary passions can mislead us, but they only do so through distraction. Our priorities and our standards don't ever go away; we just trick ourselves into thinking we can ignore them just this time. At its best, Xena reminds us that exercising our will and our capacity for reason is our best defense against cruelty and unhappiness.

Monday, September 12, 2005

When The CBC Works Again

Can it be as cool as the BBC? Can we have stuff like this?

Look! People in Afghanistan are pretty much exactly like people in Canada, only poorer. Who'd'a thunk?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tiny Terrors Comes To Life!


In less serious news, EN Mini-Games released recently Tiny Terrors, our second d20-based Mini Game for EN World. From the product blurb:

The Mini-Game of Toys, Nightmares and Monsters Under The Bed



Tiny Terrors is a brand-new d20 mini-game that lets players take on the Boogeyman and other fears of childhood, fighting for innocence and childhood spirit as living toys, sworn to defend their owner against the REAL monsters under the bed.

The forces of nightmare are on the march, targetting children all over the world, lurking under beds and in dark closets, down in the basement and up in the attic, hungry for the innocence of their prey. The only thing that stands between the minions of the Boogeyman and his helpless victims are toys, righteous defenders of innocence. Action figures, construction kits, stuffed animals and even security blankets rise to answer the call to duty, taking on the Boogeyman and foiling his sinister schemes.

Tiny Terrors lets you take up the role of these stalwart defenders and join the fight. With feats like Kung-Fu Grip and Die-Cast Construction, new advanced classes like Dog Rider, Collectible and Haunted Toy, and all-new monsters and abilities, Tiny Terrors proves that small scale means big fun.


...

Yes, sir. Who doesn't want to play a security blanket? Come on. The game is based on d20 Modern, with all-new races, basic classes, advanced classes and all the usual goodies: new feats, new skills, new monsters, new fun. You're gonna love it. You know you will. Am I ever wrong about these things?

5 Days With Katrina

A photographer who went through the Katrina disaster has posted a spectacular slideshow of the images he took throughout the 5 days he was there. It will give you quite a different impression than what the media has provided, and makes much more understandable what happened. And much less excusable the reaction on the part of the authorities.

It's a little long, but I very much recommend going through the whole thing. Once you get started, you won't be able to stop.

Friday, September 9, 2005

What's Going On In That Country?

New Orleans Police Assault Toronto Star Reporter

Shouldn't they be trying a little harder to PRETEND they have a free press? I mean, this is hard to smooth over, isn't it?

Isn't it?

Isn't it?

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Suspense And Melodrama

Mean-spirited, nihilistic, spiritually bankrupt.

And more tension-filled and nail-bitey than any film I know of. That's Wages of Fear.

Watching Yves Montand's Mario transform, from hopeless lout to shameless toady to smug hero, is to watch the human spirit crush itself out of existence. Sure, there's all the scary stuff, but is Mario's fate the only one available to humanity? Faced with scary stuff, do we have to turn into savages?

You can say, "Yeah but look at everyone back in the town. They're partying, they're happy together, even that schmuck Smerloff is grinning and cheerful."

But I say, "Sure, but they're ignorant. They don't understand what's happened, and they have no idea what their former comrade has gone through, the things he has done in order to succeed."

But here's the thing: the ending. Now, I don't want to give too much away, but the ending is kind of a cheap shot. I mean, everything important has already happened to this character, right? He's already given up everything, so what's up with this goofy ending sequence?

Without that sequence, there's still hope in the film. Without that last sequence, there's still the notion that survival, whatever the cost, is worth something in and of itself. But Clouzot seems to want to strangle even that, to take us back to those tied-up bugs from the beginning (The Wild Bunch, anyone?) and hammer home the point that nobody has any power over their destiny, that survival only means delaying the inevitable, and that human selfishness, bravado and short-sightedness will win out over any more 'refined' sensibilities.

But I think Clouzot over-reaches himself here; he's so eager to make his point, that we're all doomed and all we can do is grin like idiots into the maw of death, that he lets movie-land melodrama eat away at the power of his story.

"Ah," but you say, "but the whole POINT is the arbitrariness of life and death and how there's no telling when the blow will fall."

"Yes," I smile sadly, "but we KNOW this story isn't arbitrary. Stories are NEVER arbitrary, they are the result of conscious decisions on the part of the storyteller. So we know that this choice, this ending, is the result of a deliberate decision by Clouzot, and not some random act of a disinterested Fate. And knowing that, we cannot give the ending the weight Clouzot would no doubt like us to give, since it is clear he could have just as easily chosen another ending. Unlike the rest of the film, there is nothing inevitable about this ending, about this fate. It is nothing more than the hand of Clouzot attempting to draw a picture for us, saying, "See? See? Witness the arbitrary! Comprehend the incomprehensible!"

But it is all too comprehensible, and that is where the film, for all the power of the first hour and forty minutes, becomes a parody of itself. Had we ended amidst the flames and chaos and collapse, this story would have allowed us to interpret what we saw in our own minds, but this closing sequence tries to EXPLAIN to us what the story is REALLY about, to dictate to us how we are meant to interpret what has gone before.

In another sense, the story is already over; what do we care what happens? Perhaps this is why the arbitrary choices throughout the story don't offend -- they are part of the story. This final choice, in contrast, stands apart from the emotional journey, and sounds like nothing so much as the hoarse braying of canned laughter on an unfunny situation comedy.

Wages of Fear is an intense journey of suspense. But it didn't have to turn into a cartoon.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mac Spreadsheet?

Would somebody PLEASE make a useful spreadsheet for the Mac that

A) Isn't Excel?

B) More or less works without being hideous (I'm looking at you, Mariner Calc, and you, Mesa, oh, and you, Appleworks)

C) Doesn't take half an hour to start up (hi, Neo Office)

If you're willing to do this, I'm willing to shower you with praise. Thank you.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Kill Copyright

I don't really mean that. But copyright has gotten wildly out of control, and somehow, someway, somebody has to put it down. So I'm stepping up. I'm not the brightest, I'm not the best, but I do have a sword.

"Copyright" ought to do what it says -- protect the right to copy.

That's COPY, not quote, or mock, or adapt, or make reference to (or even use of).

We have copyright so that artists don't LOSE money through bad people copying their work and selling it as an alternative to the "official" version. That is, David Bowie records an album and tries to sell it, only to discover that everyone's buying the CDs I'm burning in my basement. Copyright law makes sure that in such a case, where Mr Bowie has demonstratably lost sales, he gets paid.

This strikes me as a fine thing. It also strikes me as something that shouldn't go on forever. At some point, EVERYONE ought to get a chance to sell David Bowie CDs, regardless of what Mr. Bowie thinks about it. He makes his record, gets a fair chance to make some cash on it, and then it just becomes another batch of music anyone can do whatever they like with.

Cool? I think so. And that's pretty much how it works.

But something funny has happened. Copyright law has gotten both fatter and taller.

First off, it's obvious that eventually, copyright will be extended indefinitely. That means created works will NEVER become public domain, will NEVER be available for anyone to use. This is a problem. It means artists will never be able to use these works to develop their own stuff, not without paying whatever prices the copyright owner (who won't be the original artist, now long dead), wants to set. The word "artist" is preceded by the word "starving" sufficiently often that we won't folks don't need to have pictures drawn to understand what a bad place that is.

This is Mickey Mouse's fault. IF copyright is not extended to last indefinitely, then eventually Steamboat Willie (from 1928) will pass into the public domain, and from that point on, the rest of Disney's catalogue will stop generating such massive and reliable profits for the immense corporation that is Disney these days. Everytime we get close to seeing Mickey for free, a great hullabaloo sets up in Washington DC and they move the goalposts a few yards further down the field.

Somebody's gotta stop this. Seriously. This is out of control. At first copyright lasted a set number of years. Then it lasted until the death of the creator. Then it lasted till 50 years after the death of the creator (how does THAT make sense?), then 75. What's next?

Of course corporations now make sure the copyright to the works they profit on are in the name of the corporation. Not sure how you measure when a corporation dies.

Anyway, copyright is also getting extended OUTWARDS. Take the recent case in which Raincoast Books of Vancouver asked for AND RECEIVED a court injunction forbidding people from reading the copies of Harry Potter they had lawfully purchased, on the grounds that Ms. Rowling's copyright gave her the power to restrict the readership as she (and Raincoast) chose.

This has nothing to do with protecting Rowling's earnings from loss through unauthorized copying. This is just strong-arming the public to maximise revenues. The real danger, though, is that this case can now serve as a basis for yet further extension of the definition of copyright -- a definition that is already dangerously over-extended.

When libraries are unable to lend material, when schools cannot make use of educational matter, when computer manufacturers force users to use only the software THEY want them to use, when people die because pharmaceutical companies won't allow their patent drugs to be sold in a generic form in countries where nobody can afford the "brand name" version -- we have a problem.

There needs to be fair use, and fair access to information. There needs to be a flow of works into the public domain so that penniless artists (and surely we will always have those) can make use of them to develop their own art. If Shakespeare had been subject to copyright law many of his works could never have been written, as they draw heavily on other sources.

I feel moderately strongly about this. Frankly, I don't even think having to pay musicians to use their music in a movie makes sense -- it's not like anybody's going to buy the first season of Moonlighting INSTEAD of Let It Bleed, are they, so it's not like Mick et al are LOSING money because "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is playing in one episode. So why should they get paid? They're more likely to MAKE money, anyway, as people hear the song and say, "Hey, that rocks. I'm downloading that right now."

Well, okay, maybe they're not going to make a lot of money that way. But anyone who sees a strong future in BUYING recorded music isn't really paying attention to what's going on, are they?

Point is I think we'd all be better off, and less confused, and artists would be making more money, if copyright was scaled back and meant just what it means -- protection of the right to copy.

Some links:

The Lay-Person's Guide to Copyfighting

Cory Doctorow Interview

Access To Knowledge

The Geneva Declaration on the Future of the World Intellectual Property Organization

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Beer == Ostrich

There need to be more Surreal Beer Commercials.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Some Walk By Night

What are you watching?

What am I watching? Moonlighting.

Moonlighting?

Moonlighting. You know, the goofy private eye show from the 80's. Cybill Shepherd, Bruce Willis, a zillion lines of dialogue a second?

Is it good?

Is it good? Does Google goog? Does Spielberg spiel? Does Buffy buff? Yeah, it's good. No, scratch that. It's great.

Great?

Greater than great. Greatest.

Greatest?

Greatest. Imagine it --

I'm trying not to.

No laugh track for the funniest dialogue in twenty years. No web pages detailing the trials and tribulations of the heroes. Some of the best supporting actor work you'll ever see. And what's got to be the small screen's most incendiary, compulsively watchable relationship ever.

Compulsively watchable? Does that even make sense?

And then there's the whole "talking to the camera" thing.

Are you listening to me?

They just turn and make snide remarks straight to the camera. "The writers made me do it." "The network won't let us."

Why are we even pretending this is a dialogue?

"I'm a TV character."

The people who are reading this know it's just one person.

One person?

One person. The blogger.

But it's not.

It's not?

No, you don't see the big picture.

The big picture?

On the small screen.

The big picture on the small screen?

When they start talking to the camera, to the audience, don't you see? It's like saying these characters -- these PEOPLE -- exist outside the show. They don't exist in our world because yeah, they're fictional, but they're still people. They have an internal world of their own.

I wish you'd stay in your internal world. But I see what you mean. The show is telling us that even though we all know these are fictional characters, we can still believe that they're real people and still care about what happens to them.

It's the old razzle-dazzle.

Razzle-dazzle?

Razzle-dazzle. Tell 'em what you're gonna do, explain how you're gonna do it, then go ahead and do it right in front of them and get away with it.

I don't know if they get away with it. Not forever.

Nothing's forever.

It is gutsy, though. I guess that's why I like it.

You like it?

I like it. They're saying "We know these characters aren't real, and we know you know these characters aren't real, and we're even going to TELL you outright that they aren't real, just to make sure you know we know you know they aren't real and we're STILL going to make you care about them."

That's gutsy.

Gutsier than just ripping off the style and using that to pad a post.

Pad a post?

Pad a post.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Everybody = Kung Fu Fighting

Obviously you have to make a major motion picture about The Bolivian Wrestling Girls.

I just don't know who you cast in it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

With A Bullet -- New Adventure


Caught by surprise! But it's true!

With A Bullet, a brand-new adventure for Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics, is now available at RPGNOW.

The adventure costs only 99 cents and features maps, pics, statblocks and loads of coolness. Everything you want. Very little you don't.

There's also a EN Minigames web page on EN World (thanks, Russ!) where you'll be able to keep up on upcoming releases and whatnot. Enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Two Guys and a Girl

It's kind of funny that the cover image for Versus, which is far and away my favourite samurai/gangster/zombie picture, is a picture of a cool guy in a trenchcoat with a sub-machine gun in one hand and a katana in the other.

Because the story itself, once divorced from the impressive amounts of pretension that it's wrapped in (that's not a bad thing, you understand), is really just the old old story of two guys and a girl.

With, as mentioned, an immense amount of straight-up pretension. And nobody does pretentious like the Japanese, it has to be said. Not even the French.

Versus is really just two hours of pretentious puffery surrounding a story in which two guys fight over one girl. All the screaming violence, the over-the-top gore, the ultra-cool poses, the hip threads, the goofy metaphysics and the intense expressions on everyone's faces for the entire picture are all just that -- a way of adding importance and "seriousness" to a story that has none.

This is a good thing. It means that when watching Versus, the only bit of the story you need to pay attention to are the expressions on the faces of the hero, the bad guy and the girl. Everything else is just there to make you go, "Ooh, cool." And that gives the whole film a sort of lightness that a picture like, say, Night of the Living Dead (which most definitely is NOT a "two guys and a girl" story) doesn't possess.

We usually think of pretention as a fun-killer, as something heavy and ponderous. But in Versus, it's the pretention that sets the story free. Interesting that the "heaviest" point in the whole picture comes when the bad guy explains everything to the hero. This is just a waste of time, really, since it has nothing to do with who's going to get the girl. It's trying to make the pretentious parts of the film actually MATTER, which they patently don't, and the fit isn't convincing. And so I always find myself losing interest right around here. It feels like the film-makers are starting to believe their own pretention, take it seriously, and that's nearly a kiss of death.

Fortunately a lot more people die (most of them more than once), and lots of things explode and get holes blown through them and there's one of the best swordfights EVER, so it's all okay.

I guess the point is that when pretention contributes NOTHING to the story, it's actually easier to take. I think this is why I always drink the foam off my cappuccinos first -- froth is fine, and coffee is fine, but mixes them accomplishes nothing. Too many pictures do a far worse job of separating their froth from their coffee than Versus

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Be Your Own Hotspot

That's incredibly cool.

4th Generation Media

Jonrog being even more incredibly brilliant than he usually is. Scroll down and read the comments -- the gathered brilliance in this conversation will make your head explode.

Underoos

If you watched the original release of Underworld and didn't like it quite as much as you wanted to, you ought to track down and check out the new extended version. It's a markedly better film, although the last act still falls apart.

Still, vampires, werewolves and Kate Beckinsale's shiny bottom. Underworld gets forgiven all its flaws.

Thing is, this movie wears its "meaning" so boldly on its sleeve there's not really much to comment on, is there? Yeah, yeah, we all need to get along better, yeah, yeah, lying is bad, yeah, yeah, arrogant old spuds need to get their clocks cleaned by svelte young things in skintight leather. With swords.

But heck, I found things to say about frickin' Ninja Scroll, surely I can manage to blather on about Underworld for a while.

There's no doubt that I have a bit of a thing for steely-eyed women dealing retributive mayhem. Ripley, Xena, Beatrice, there's a long line of these gals on our DVD shelf, and I'm a sucker for it everytime. Probably best not to delve too deeply into the reasons why, but the really successful stories of this type are the ones that manage to maintain the character as a believable woman while still giving her stomp-down ass-kickability. Ripley and Beatrice were both excellent demonstrations of that. Xena was for two seasons at least (maybe two and a half).

And now Selene. Steph pointed out that Selene's journey is to give in to the emotion she's feeling for Michael, and THAT'S what gives her the ruthlessness she needs to carve a space for herself free of Victor's oppressive influence. As long as she keeps herself repressed, as long as she refuses to let her natural, "human" emotions to rise up within her, she can never break free of the hold her elder has over her. It's only once she begins acting to manifest the love she's acquired for pretty-boy Michael that she can gain her true independence.

Love leads to ruthless, gory, redemptive violence. It's almost Shakespearean.

Underworld nearly collapses in on itself as it lurches towards its over-blown climax, but the final moment has a certain lovely poetry. Selene is ultimately forced to chose between her boyfriend and her father, and she makes the choice that Western society has been telling us for a long time is the right one: she chooses the relationship she found, rather than the one that was given to her.

And in the moment she does so, Selene soars into the air in one of the most graceful shots in the whole picture. Released from the restricting bonds of obligation and opression, our heroine becomes gravity-free. In skintight leather.

With a sword.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Something To Do With Free Will

Time Bandits is, like many, many stories, concerned with the struggle of good against evil. Evil of course loses because good is right, true, honourable, and backed with superior firepower.

But the question arises: Why does evil even exist in the first place?

I mean, given that good's calling all the shots, why does evil exist?

In Terry Gilliam's extraordinarly bleak world (even if it is rather droll and amusing) the answer (from the mouth of the Supreme Being himself) is, "Something to do with free will, I think." The comedy of Time Bandits is sort of recursive -- it keeps undercutting itself, until there's practically nothing left for it to stand on. I've tried to analyze this film about four times now, and each time gotten to a point where the film denies the thoughts I'm having about it, and I have to give up on that line of reasoning.

Time Bandits doesn't want to give us anything to take seriously. It wants to tear away the importance of EVERYTHING, in a gleeful, giggling disregard for authority. Even its own.

"Something to do with free will."

The movie resists the urge to make any statements, to support any point of view, even one of tolerance for any point of view. EVERYTHING is flawed, it seems to be saying, EVERYTHING is a waste of time, EVERYTHING is suspect and unworthy of regard.

Except, maybe, for courage.

Kevin, our young hero, never gives way to cowardice, and he inspires his diminutive friends to the same heights. When he gives up himself so that the others can rally help, he's manifesting the one principle that it seems Time Bandits won't attack. And Sean Connery's friendly grin at the end of the picture promises that for those of us who are willing to take on onerous tasks, face danger and work for the common good, get to um...

Be firemen! Yay!

And live forever, apparently, which isn't so bad. Especially when you're on the side with superior firepower.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Life With An Action Hero

It probably wasn't Guy Ritchie's plan, but Snatch turns out to be a pretty interesting take on what life is like when you run into an action hero.

Destructive, frightening and painful.

Mickey the bare-knuckle champion is the action hero of this piece, with Turkish and Tommy the hapless witnesses to his action story. Mickey never makes a misstep. He wins every bet, every fight, and when wrongs are done to him he delivers retribution. He is as unstoppable as the Terminator or Rambo.

But he's not the center of this little story. No, sir. Snatch is much more interested in what it's like being in the wake of this whirlwind of will. And it's not inspiring or life-affirming. Turkish and Tommy are, if they're affected at all (it's not exactly clear), left embittered and angry once Mickey roars off with his incomprehensible friends.

They do get a reward, eventually, but that's pure luck. Or rather, that's the just working-out of the universe Snatch describes: a universe where everyone pretty much gets what's coming to them.

Sort of like Josie And The Pussycats (THERE'S a leap for you), only in the case of Snatch no higher power is posited, guiding things. Things just work out because... well, they just do. The really violent people (even if we kind of like them) die violent deaths, the sort-of-bad-guys-but-not-really-hard-enough-and-kind-of-softies-besides get arrested but we know they won't suffer too much, and our heroes, in the end stumble onto a bit of payback.

And it's all very satisfying, isn't it? The story does keep things moving along quickly enough, no kidding (okay, maybe here's a follow-up to the great Hong Kong movies of the 80's and 90's), and it twists and turns with sufficient lightness. and as noted above, delivers to each of the characters an appropriate fate.

Except the dog. I think the dog gets off pretty easy.

The rawest scene in the whole film is, I find, the card game Turkish and Tommy and Gorgeous George play, as Tommy is fretting about what's about to happen. And for every scenario he comes up with Turkish replies, "We get murdered before we leave the building. And I expect we get fed to the pigs." When Turkish finally does lose his temper with Tommy and snarls, "It's not as though we've got a choice, is it?" he is giving voice to the worst fear and frustration we all feel. That we have no choice, that we are powerless to impact the wild swings of fate, the enmity of evil and the malice of our fellow folks. That we are helpless.

This despair is countered by Mickey, who creates his own fate and cares nothing for those he rolls over on the way. Mickey does not feel powerless. He is not frustrated. He acts to change things, to redress injustice. He is freedom and will incarnate, existing entirely outside the rules of society that constrain the rest of us. Turkish and Tommy rush to find him after all has fallen apart, but there's no trace of him. They cannot join him, and they cannot compel him. They can't even catch up with him.

But there and then, right at the moment of failure, Turkish and Tommy are confronted with potential disaster when the cops start asking questions. Turkish has a moment of inspiration as a new element (left by Mickey's people) enters the scene. So maybe it's not all accepting the vagaries of fate and resigning oneself to helplessness. Maybe in the throat of a squeaky dog, there's hope. And maybe an action hero CAN inspire, and not even in a hokey, simplistic sort of fashion, neither.

Or maybe Guy Ritchie just wants to encourage people to look after their dogs better. Hard to say.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Making It Up As I Go

Indiana Jones is a failure.

Well, he is in Raiders of the Lost Ark, at least, and I think that's why it's the only one of the three films I like at all. Having said that, I like Raiders a lot. I think just about everyone does. Raiders is a movie that has passed beyond entertainment to become a fixture of our culture, like Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles.

Which is why it's so strange that it never even crossed my mind that Indiana Jones fails at nearly everything he tries to do. He fails to keep the Ark from the Nazis, he fails to rescue Marian (a couple of times), he fails to better the smirking, oily Belloc. It is literally only the grace of God that puts the Ark in the hands of the "good guys" -- that, and Indy's willingness to submit to what is superior to him.

Belloc has to see what's inside the Ark. Indy doesn't always know that he has to stay clear of it (we can say his scholarly zeal overwhelms him), but when the Bad Things start happening, he's willing to close his eyes and be the obedient mortal who dares not risk the Big Guy's wrath.

But as an action hero, Indy is singularly ineffective. For every triumph (defending Marian at the bar, getting the truck away from the Nazis, finding the Ark in the first place), he gets his smugness handed back to him with a failure. Even at the final confrontation, when he has the bazooka trained on the Ark, his bluff is called by Belloc, and he puts the weapon down. Again, a failure.

Who made this guy a hero?

Well, he is awfully dogged, you have to give him that. Nothing seems to deter the guy very much. And he's sure a lucky SOB.

It's hard to justify the plot of Raiders. There's a lot of whoppers in here, the whole thing with the submarine only the most obvious. But somehow we forgive it all those sillinesses. Why is that? Why does this film get such a tolerant reception but the other ones (which don't seem, on the surface, to be much sillier) get reviled (by me, at least)?

Part of it is that only Raiders, of all the films, takes Indy on any sort of journey. Indy suffers in this film. He goes down far enough that he's almost willing (when provoked, at least) to commit simultaneous murder and suicide. That's a dark place Indy's in when he confronts Belloc in the Cairo cafe. None of the other films take Indy that far down.

Marian is also the only woman in these films who's actually a fit partner for Indy, and we all know it. Marian's great. She scrambles, looks for alternatives, and doesn't put up with Indy's crap. She's not completely immune to his charm, but then neither are we. I think the scene that most illuminates the difference between this film and the inferior follow-ups is the bedroom scene on the boat, as Marian attempts to treat her beat-up champion.

"Dammit, is there anywhere that it doesn't hurt?"

"Here."

Indy's hilarious surliness, and slow melting to Marian's love, is a wonderful thing to behold, and it's impossible to imagine such a scene in either of the following films.

There are limits to Indy in this film, human limits, and in the end, it is the things that Indy is NOT willing to do, the heights he refuses to scale, the mysteries he keeps hidden to himself, that save the day.

"Know your limits" seems to be what this film is telling us, but at the same time it's saying, "Never give up." Reminds me of the Stockdale Paradox from the book Good To Great -- in order to survive you must simultaneous be completely realistic in assessing your chances (without exaggerating your own abilities) AND have complete faith in your own eventual success. Indy manages this. He knows the things that he dare not meddle with (when the chips are down, at least), but he never ever doubts his ability to come through.

As he says, so famously and so appropriately, "I'm making this up as I go." That's faith.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Lifting Us Up Where We Belong

Henry Higgins may have found no answer to his eternal question, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?" but Tsui Hark has, and it seems his answer is, "Because she's already smarter, braver and more interesting than him anyway."

Peking Opera Blues, a six-hour epic compressed into 100 minutes, is one of the more glorious celebrations of feminine power cinema has given us. I hardly know what to say about it, however. There's just so MUCH stuffed into this film that it's hard to know where to start. Every five minutes I find myself thinking, "Oh yeah, this part! This part is great!"

But I have to try and control my enthusiasm in order to try and say something coherent about this picture. I guess.

But it's so hard. There's so much. So let's talk about that. About HOW MUCH there is in this wonderful, wonderful movie. There's romance (sort of). There's sinister evil. There's wild action sequences. There's suspense-filled tension. There's comedy of all descriptions. Heroic sacrifices, quick-witted ploys, bonehead mistakes, bonecrunching falls, touching heartfelt reunions, greed, love, duty, honour...

This movie epitomizes nearly everything I love about Hong Kong cinema of the pre-takeover days, most especially that stuffed-full-of-stuff-edness quality that these movies seem to have. Nobody seems able to stuff their movies so full of STUFF like this, not even the same Hong Kong filmmakers anymore. I don't know why that is.

They remind me of a quality Italo Calvino mentions in his Six Memos: lightness. Peking Opera Blues seems to dance along, a few feet above the ground, never getting dragged down into any of its many, many plot threads. Nothing ever gets completely resolved, it seems, none of the relationships get "sorted out", and by the time you get to the end, you're not exactly sure WHAT just happened. But it moves with such light-footed grace, and changes direction so effortlessly, that you're swept along and satisfied despite yourself.

It's as though the PLOT of the movie were in a kung-fu movie, and spends the show leaping and spinning and cartwheeling around every possible obstruction with consummate grace and skill. And I'm a sucker for grace and skill. It's why I prefer fight scenes featuring incredibly gifted performers doing incredibly difficult things over fight scenes featuring computer-generated images. And Peking Opera Blues delivers many of the same sort of thrills, only embodied in the narrative itself rather than any of the performers.

It's a masterful display of storytelling ingenuity, and it delights me beyond measure. And though it certainly celebrates the strength and cleverness of its heroines, through the effortless levitation of its plot it celebrates all that is clever and graceful in our world.

And ultimately, I think that's why we watch clever and graceful things: because lightness gives us joy. It elevates us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Designed By Intelligence

This is more funny than I have words to express:

A Letter On Intelligent Design

Hee. It's enough to give you faith in the human species again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Untied

Now Out Of Sight is a movie full of the joy of life. It seems to actually GLOW.

Interesting that the movie starts showing us the outcome of the one big decision Jack is faced with. It's that decision this whole film turns on, Jack's refusal to play by the rules that say he's just like everyone else. Eventually the story spirals back to this moment, but right there at the start of the film, freeze-framed in Soderbergh's lens, we see Jack reject it all, and out of that rejection comes everything else about this film.

The freeze-frame features strongly, markedly in this film, as if it were trying to tell us that you CAN capture moments, sometimes. You can hold a moment when it strikes. Maybe not forever, but for a while.

Like Jack and Karen calling a "timeout" so that they can just savour the beauty of the connection they've developed. They both know it can't last, but that doesn't mean they have to pretend it doesn't exist.

Out Of Sight is full of people who do things they can recognize as being, um, suboptimal (like Jack sticking with Buddy, the guy who tips his own sister as to where they are, or Karen dating a married guy), but we don't dislike them as a result. On the contrary, their foibles make them that much more endearing, and gets us all the more engrossed in what's happening to them.

That's not to say we don't admire these characters. Jack's breezy charm and Karen's fiery determination are sterling qualities, to be sure. But this story is far more driven by what the characters FAIL at than what they SUCCEED at. Jack could have had a job, right there at the top of the story, an easy, if not particularly prestigious, job, at a company where he's friends with the boss. But no. And Karen gives up her chance to make the big bust in that hotel lobby when all she had to do was speak into the walkie-talkie.

Why do they fail? That's kind of an important question in this picture, since those failures are so central to the story. Is there a common thread linking those failures? It seems like we could get away with attributing Jack's failure to pride; his pride is too great to allow him to let himself be demeaned and so he rejects the job. But is pride at work when Karen lets Jack go? Kind of, actually. She's just been burned by big Mr. FBI, put in her place, and by letting him get away she gives herself the chance to be the hero later on. So that's kind of pride.

Not sure I'm super happy with that explanation, though. Are these characters then defined by their pride? Not sure the rest of the film supports that notion.

The "timeout" has to feature strongly in any discussion of this film. It's the moment where all the time dilation comes down to the minute, to the second, where every other shot freezes some gesture. They put aside the things that separate them and celebrate the things that unite them. Union is not something that either of these characters finds easily, nor is trust something they give easily. And they've both been burned, while we were watching. Maybe there is something of pride in their coming together, a refusal to accept the tawdry sameness and regulation the world wants us all to resign ourselves to. Maybe what they recognize in each other is how they can elevate each other out of the roles society compels them to fulfill.

Me, a sucker for that shit? Never.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Wise Words

From Steven Erickson:

Civilization after civilization, it is the same. The world falls to tyranny with a whisper. The frightened are ever keen to bow to a perceived necessity, in the belief that necessity forces conformity, conformity a certain stability. In a world shaped into conformity, disssidents stand out, are easily branded and dealt with. There is no multitude of perspectives, no dialogue. The victim assumes the face of the tyrant, self-righteous and intransigent, and wars breed like vermin. And people die.

...

Destiny is a lie. Destiny is a justification for atrocity. It is the means by which murderers armour themselves against reprimand. It is a word intended to stand in place of ethics, denying all moral context.


Quoted for truth.

Can't Be Happy All The Time

Why is Ninja Scroll such an agressively dreary film? Why can't I stay awake long enough to actually watch the bloody thing?

I mean, it's got cartoon action, cartoon gore, cartoon sex -- I oughta be all over this sucker. But instead it plods along, plot point following plot point, without any sense of heart or joy or thrill to it. Dull dull dull.

This is the first film in this little odyssey that I just can't come up with positive things to talk about. Does it have anything interesting to say? Anything at all to say?

I think the most interesting point in the entire film is when Kagero reports to the Chamberlain about the disastrous mission to the plague village. The Chamberlain is shown having, let us say, workmanlike sex with some unnamed woman. While the woman squeals and groans, the (extremely large) Chamberlain looks thoughtful and bored, speaking with Kagero (who's just been raped) in an official-sounding voice that carries no hint that he's drilling this girl with sufficient force to knock the wind the out of her.

Why is this done this way? Why have this character be portrayed in this fashion? Is it pure titilliation?

Well, probably yes, but I'm going to bravely soldier on and see what I can glean from this, the only thing about this film that attracts my interest just at the moment.

We've just come from the sequence in which Kagero is raped, a sequence considerably more explicit than this one. This sequence is notable more for the sound -- the girl shrieking in pleasure as the Chamberlain plugs her -- that for any visual explicitness (we mostly just see the participant's faces, and the Chamberlain looks like he's reviewing legal documents rather than looking down at his lover). Coming as it does on the heels of an explicit rape sequence, the noise of the frantic woman, combined with the quiet sterness of the Chamberlain and Kagero's angry-looking (it's hard to tell what any of the characters are feeling from one moment to the next because the animation's so bad, but she LOOKS kind of grumpy (but then I'm known for my fondness for grumpy women, so perhaps I'm reading more into it than there really is)), the whole combines to be sort of a "Aren't things tough for Kagero" kind of scene.

If she played by the rules, she might be that nameless squealing woman, enjoying herself in sensory pleasure. But instead she wants to play with the boys, and she pays a price. Of course we find out later just how steep a price she's paid, but at this moment, all we see is one woman, a woman who suffers, watching another woman get her freak on, and there's something vaguely troubling about it. Maybe because the second woman's cries of pleasure come close to sounding like cries of pain, and now we're wondering if we're watching yet another rape.

Ninja Scroll maybe does have something interesting to say, after all, on the subject of pleasure. Pleasure is something that must be put aside by those who wish to make a difference. Even among the bad guys, there is bickering and feuding over the subject of sex. There aren't any happy characters in Ninja Scroll, nor is there any sign of happiness, and maybe that's what makes it dull for me. What do these characters have to lose? What are they fighting for? Personal vendettas, apparently, and the advancement of the whatever-it-is clan that Kagero and the Chamberlain belong to.

Without some kind of happiness, or at least the promise or memory of it, a story doesn't have much oomph to it. All the sacrifice and struggle and tension ought to drive things either towards or away from some sense of goodness, stability, strength or joy. Without that, it's just fireworks going off overhead: pretty enough, but hardly profound. And showing that source or destination of the journey is in many ways the HARD part of storytelling -- how do you show what the characters have to lose (or gain) without falling into cliche? Tolstoy said something (maybe it wasn't Tolstoy, doesn't matter) that all happy families are alike, but all miserable families are unique in their misery. If that were true, it would be impossible to avoid cliche when showing happiness; but I don't think it is. I just think it's hard to do well.

Ninja Scroll doesn't even try; and I think that's why I find it so dull.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Spreading One's Wings

Why do I love My Fair Lady so much? I mean, I LOVE this movie. Actually, it's not even really the movie I love; I fell in love with the songs and the stories long before I ever saw the movie. My mother had the original Broadway cast recording on vinyl (Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle) and I listened that disk nearly into nothingness. The brutal struggle between Eliza and Henry has always captivated me.

Partly because of its starkness. The war between the sexes has rarely been illustrated so nakedly, so savagely, so honestly. Both characters enrapture me: Henry with his complacent self-assurance and Eliza with her take-no-prisoners drive to better herself.

But also because I'm a sucker for musicals, and it was early on in this viewing that I realised why that is. When Eliza crosses Convent Garden after being scorned by Henry, and walks in among her fellow lower-class sufferers, she starts in on "Wouldn't It Be Loverly". And they all join her.

Who wouldn't want to live in a world with such a powerful sense of community, where all one has to do is break out into song and suddenly is surrounded by dozens of compatriots who lend their enthusiasm to your efforts, all in key and on the beat!

I think this is one of the great joys of the musical -- it takes us into a world where we can imagine a community consisting not only of the people around us, but the world itself. Invisible orchestras explode in glorious accompaniment, total strangers know all the steps and there's always a spotlight on you as you take your bows. The musical sequence is, among other things, an assertion of community, and thus, identity. Eliza's first song in the film grounds her in her "natural" community, shows us how rich a source of comfort it is for her. She BELONGS here, or at least, she could.

But it is never in Eliza's character to accept what is given to her. She's a goer, Eliza is, and despite all Henry's protestations that HE is responsible for all that happens, that HE created her himself, the truth is that it is Eliza who comes to him with her dream of escaping where she belongs. She drives the movie, her dreams and her belief that she can transform herself.

And what does Eliza transform herself into? Although the standard view is that the movie drastically "romanticizes" Shaw's original play Pygmalion?, the truth is more complex than it first seems. Shaw sends Eliza off to a well-established fate, providing a stable scenario with which to end things. My Fair Lady recognizes that the struggle between Eliza and Henry is far more entertaining and satisfying (especially to the participants) than any stable state could ever be. Are they lovers? Roomates? Spouses? Their relationship is impossible to define, rooted as it is in the constant tug of war between their towering personalities.

My Fair Lady is about more than the battle of the sexes. Seen more broadly, this frothy musical offers us a lesson in something eternal and resolutely human: the struggle we all go through in learning to accept and understand that which is not us. The medium chosen is a gender-based struggle, but what both Eliza and Henry discover is that there is more to the world than what they themselves are comfortable with, and that learning to live in that state of flux, where you have to simultaneously fight to retain your sense of self, and open oneself up to that which is outside of the self, is where we feel most alive, where we are most engaged with ourselves and the world around us.

"Where the devil are my slippers?"

Henry signifies that he accepts Eliza's gauntlet, and we know the battle will continue. I like to imagine them growing old together, still squabbling, still challenging each other and disagreeing. And hurting one another, because unless we are willing to be hurt, to be crushed even, we aren't really taking any chances. And if we aren't taking a chance, we're not growing.

Henry and Eliza are at their best when they are together, and what I think I love most about My Fair Lady is how it lets them be together without needing to wrap a ribbon and slot their relationship into a socially-accepted descriptor. We're all at our best when we aren't settling for other people's definitions.

Very Disappointed

Ladyhawke's moment of truth (see the discussion on Go, below) comes, I think, when Philippe says to the monk Imperius, "Every happy moment in my life has come from lying." It's a throwaway line (as moment-of-truth lines often are), but it highlights how important lies are to all of us.

Philippe carries on a running conversation with God about this very subject. He protests that God is confusing him and preventing him from learning moral lessons. But learn he does. By the end of the film he is putting himself in harm's way to help his friend Navarre without thinking, Navarre's rather serious threats notwithstanding.

He could have let the wolf drown. Nobody would have blamed him. And he would have been free of all obligations.

But he can't. Maybe it's all the talking with God. Maybe it's Isobeau's beauty. Maybe it's Navarre's great big sword. Maybe it's just because he is us and we couldn't bear watching ourselves fail to help out in such a situation.

Because, of course, that's exactly the purpose Philippe serves in this story -- he is us. Identification, anyone? We identify with Philippe, with his sarcastic recognition of the absurdity of not only his predictament but the entire world he inhabits. And that makes the whole story platable to an audience unused to the fantastic. If Philippe can accept it, we can shrug and say, "Okay, wolf, hawk, man, woman, got it."

But the problem with a character like Philippe is that he can't JUST comment on the fantastic nature of the story. He ends up questioning the very structure of the tale he finds himself caught up in: "I would like to think there's some higher meaning in this. It certainly would reflect well on you." When we hear that we of course laugh because it's such a presumptious thing for such a character to say, but also because we know perfectly that there IS a higher meaning in all this: the entire world created for this film exists solely to illustrate that "higher purpose" -- the story of Navarre and Isobeau.

Or is that it? Because you know, Navarre doesn't, like, learn much. Nor does Isobeau. They're more like a setting, a backdrop, really. A symbol of the division that exists in this world, that must be brought together and reunited before there can be peace and happiness. So maybe the "higher purpose" Philippe is hoping to see manifests within himself, as he finds the ability to make sacrifices on another's behalf. Not for any reward, and not because he's being forced to. Because the world isn't right and unless (to steal a few lines from Dr. Seuss) "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get any better. It's not."

I guess fundamentally, what's at the heart of Ladyhawke is the assertion that when you witness injustice and disruption, you become tasked with the responsibility to do something about it. Philippe doesn't get taught this lesson; God turns out to be a pretty bad instructor for our young hero. But he cannot turn away from the wrong he witnesses. He might insist that it's not his problem, a young man with prospects like his, but the truth of that statement cannot bring him happiness. Only the lie that he must help can do that.

It's Okay, They're Weasels

A lot of Chinese people die in John Woo's The Killer. It's not the most extreme example of his frantic cinema of bloody death (that title probably goes to A Better Tomorrow II) but there's no question a lot of Chinese people are filmed getting killed, their bodies bursting apart in slow-motion.

Most of these people die because of a lack of trust. The characters in John Woo's world are pretty straightforwardly divided; there are those who keep their word, and those who do not. Those who do not are forever scheming to destroy those who do, to blot out all evidence of honesty and honour, as though the mere existence of such traits made their own position untenable.

There's a saying Chris gave me once when I was complaining about a message board that had gotten overrun by annoying Internet goofs: "The munchkins always win."

Indeed. I adapted that to a more general phrasing:

The weasels always win.

It seems depressing and hopeless, and in a sense it is. Once the weasels get in, once they start spreading their cowardly, selfish practices around, the fight is over.

The weasels get into Hong Kong in The Killer. Young Johnny Weng distrusts everyone around him, and he amasses power and wealth as a result. And destroys everything our heroes care about in the process. By the end of the film, there is nothing left for the heroes to preserve but their own dignity and self-worth, and even that is in danger of falling apart.

But the film is too vibrant, too spasmodically energetic to allow a reading of hopelessness. Too many people die in the course of this fable for it to simply breathe a quiet sigh and collapse into entropy. Woo gives the struggle by the heroes to fend off the weasels too much weight, too much glamour and sex appeal for that. In the end, the bad guys are overcome, their schemes undone by the willingness of the heroes to pay any price, to inflict any amount of death, in order to stand for what they believe in.

Ah Jong and Inspector Li and good old Sidney believe in something. They believe a man stands by his word, and all the violence they pour out on the world around them is guided by that faith. In contrast to them stands Johnny, out to acquire money and power by any means. All of these are violent people who kill without remorse, who accept casualties in their war, but whereas Johnny is trying to create something that doesn't exist, our heroes are trying to preserve something they value. Something that exists only in themselves.

Johnny is the external desire, the need for status and comfort. Ah Jong, Li and Sidney are the internal desire, the desire to BE a certain kind of person, regardless of the external conditions. When Sidney goes to Johnny to get Ah Jong's money, he doesn't do so because the money is important; Ah Jong himself says it doesn't matter. He goes because if he doesn't, he becomes a weasel.

The weasels always win, it's true. But you don't have to become one. John Woo's great films (of which The Killer is, I believe, one) show us that we can be lions, even in a world overrun by the weasels. We may not change anything in the world, but if we stand our ground and deliver courage and honesty, we can retain our pride, and maybe even help others, those who have lost faith, learn to stand against the weasels.

Not because you can defeat them, because you can't. But you CAN refuse to be defeated, and that's even more important.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Rooms With A View Also In The Running

I had a very pleasant afternoon with Andrew Luther of Vanishing Goblin press, publishers of (among other things) the excellent collection Rooms With A View (in which I have a couple of pieces) is being submitted for an ENnie as well. So that means I have two products that are being submitted as potential nominees.

Hurrah! I hope I won't have to be disappointed AND triumphant at the same time. That sounds complicated.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hurrah For Totalitarianism!

Na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na yeah yeah yeah yeah...

Possibly the most transgressive quality of Josie and the Pussycats (which being a comedy, MUST be transgressive (see below)) is the complete failure of the heroes to actually accomplish anything at all except to get accidentally manipulated into being famous.

They aren't smart enough to figure out what's going on, and so completely fail to put a stop to the schemes of the notional "bad guys". The world has not been made safe for teenagers at the end of the film. Our heroes remain clueless. Even Val, the "smart one".

Josie and the Pussycats posits a hostile, malevolent world in which the powers that be are aggressively (and successfully) crushing freedom and beauty and emotion. When our plucky heroines DO realise what's going on, they simply fall prey to a larger scheme (one that we, the audience, receive a privileged insight on), and remain completely under the control of the system anyway.

But that's sort of a comforting notion, isn't it?

Even if the world is ruled by malevolent powers that are out to get us, at least it's ruled by SOMEBODY. At least there's a MEANING. At least we're fulfilling some sort of purpose, and all our fussing and bothering isn't just some kind of spiritual Brownian motion.

Josie and her friends, of course, don't worry much about that sort of thing. And the film does manage to feel triumphant in the end, even if the world remains in the grip of evil forces. At least the girls are friends again, and at least Alan M and Josie figure their thing out, and at least the concert audience cheers like mad.

You know, if your friends like you, and that cutie you're dreaming about likes you, and everyone in the world likes you, maybe it doesn't matter so much what's really going on. Maybe we shouldn't be worrying about global poverty, or the horrors of war, or the growth of totalitarianism. Maybe we should just rock out with some mindless pop tunes.

Na na na, na na na na...

Monday, June 13, 2005

HOT PURSUIT: ENnie Bound?

My book HOT PURSUIT: The Definitive d20 Guide to Chases has been submitted for nomination for an ENnie Award, one of the most prestigious (er, only) awards in online RPG publishing.

Obviously this is very exciting for me. HOT PURSUIT was huge amounts of fun to write and the response to it has been very gratifying. Should it get nominated, prepare for much giddiness.

Cross your fingers! Bribe the judges!

Made For Use, But Not Yours

The most charming moments in Brad Bird's lovely childhood fable, The Iron Giant, come when the Giant behaves like a pet or a toy. When he peers through the dark forest at Hogarth's retreating car, or sits patiently in the barn, we get a warm fuzzy feeling in our bellies, like everything's going to be okay.

But Brad Bird is too clever to relax with that sort of feeling. And part of what makes The Iron Giant so compelling is the graceful way in which he transforms the Giant from an innocent plaything to a steadily more powerful, and at last terrifyingly so, being.

Hogarth's words, upon learning what he has stumbled upon are: "My own giant robot! I am the luckiest kid in America!"

And in a way he is the luckiest kid, but the Giant doesn't belong to him. And Hogarth's journey, rendered almost effortless, is to travel from owner to friend, from one who commands to one who shares. The Giant gains more and more independence as the film goes on. His fateful cannonball is an announcement of his ability to simultaneously fulfill both Hogarth's desires and his own sense of humour and whimsy, and Hogarth responds with joy at seeing his "toy" begin to transform into the friend he doesn't seem to have.

Hogarth is fundamentally wrong about the nature of the Giant. It isn't a toy put in place for him to make use of. What exactly it is is never made very clear, but that doesn't matter: what matters is that it isn't what Hogarth thinks it is.

We like to imagine that the world was made to supply us with assorted things, and we're often very very good at(and very sneaky about) basing many of our feelings and decisions on that imagination. Something bad happens and we feel slighted. Something good happens and we feel vindicated. Neither, most likely, had anything to do with our actual worth, and yet it's very difficult for us to remember that. It's a scary world that doesn't pay ANY attention to our "deservingness", that doesn't reward or punish according to any code or standard.

Hogarth learns that, however. He learns that despite what he wishes were so, the Giant wasn't put here for his entertainment, nor even to cure his loneliness. That learning is painful and scary (as learning always is), but here comes the magic ingredient once again: love. It is Hogarth's unselfish love for his gigantic friend that makes it possible not only for him to recognize that the Giant's purpose isn't contained within his own needs, but also allows the Giant to discover that its purpose is not contained within the limits of its design. What it was made to be is not what it must be.

That which is alive bursts through the boundaries placed upon it. In a discussion this morning with Blake and Barbara and Jill on education, the idea came up that you cannot come up with a set of categories that you could coherently describe all people completely with, because what's important about people is precisely the sort of thing that doesn't fit into anyone's categories.

A robot ought to fit into categories; it's constructed. Designed with a purpose. It OUGHT to be more straightjacketed, more restricted, more oppressed and trapped and unable to change than any human ever could be. But by beginning to value not what it was made for but what it has to give, and what others have to give it, the Giant resists all those forces dragging it into darkness and becomes a hero.

And in that final, shattering moment, the Giant smiles and whispers to itself what it at last understands it has become: "Superman."