Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sure Don’t Feel Like Christmas Time

Its really odd to me, but this year, I’m just not feeling the Christmas spirit. Last year it was practically unavoidable, what with working in a retail job during the holiday mercantile mad dash. But this December, well, its all been pretty low key for me. I don’t want to hear badly performed soft-rock Christmas carols, I don’t want to fend my way through the rabid flocks at the mall who are searching for quantity over quality, hell, I don’t even really want any presents. Not that I don’t appreciate the gesture, but, honestly, I don’t really need anything and that money can be spent on someone more needy than me. I’ve gotten my shopping out of the way early and right now, I’m just kind of waiting for the whirlwind to end and then work its way to New Year’s.

Burnout from last year aside (when Christmas never ever, EVER ended thanks to work), I’ve just been cold on holidays in general this fall. I shot my Halloween wad sometime in August, then moved to second shift at my new job and had a pretty good Thanksgiving and really couldn’t give a shit about the official “Christmas Season.”

And I think that’s got something to do with it. It could be the Dortmunder Gold coursing through my system right now, but it seems to me that “the Christmas Season.” No, wait, I’m sorry, Let’s be culturally sensitive and generic. “Holiday Season.” (That’s a rant for another time. I’ll just leave it with io, Saturnalia!) I think the problem with the “Holiday Season” is that all this talk about Christmas Magic and Hanukkah Miracles and Kwanzaa, um, Goodness is pretty damn hollow right now. I mean step back and look at it. Where are the idiotic holiday sitcom specials (well, okay, the Writers’ Guild Strike may be an answer)? Where’s the love? I’m not even referring to the violence in the world. I mean where the hell is “goodwill toward men”? It just feels like this nebulous “Holiday Spirit” is just something that you do for a little while and then you go back home and try to forget about it till next year. There’s no fucking magic to it. I need more beer.

Ah, that’s better. Where was I? Right. So when I was a kid Christmastime meant something different. It meant that people went out of the way to help a stranger. It meant trying to convince my parents not to take me to the department store Santa because sitting on a stranger’s lap creeped me out. It meant getting a shitload of presents from my grandparents. It meant going to midnight mass because dammit, Christmas wasn’t Christmas without baby Jesus. But above all that, it meant treating people with extra respect, because in the middle of December (which can get pretty fucking cold up in Northeast Ohio) with the slush and the snow and the wildly fluctuating temperatures and people bundled up in ugly old school nylon winter coats, people are having a really shitty time as it is, and maybe, just maybe it isn’t actually very funny seeing an old woman slip and fall on a patch of ice. And even more maybe, it might just be a pretty decent thing to switch off your goddamn autopilot and actually go over there and help her up, ask her if she’s okay and not need anything in return.

That’s just an example, but its getting me closer to what pisses me off about this bogus “holiday spirit” thing. BluRay doesn’t mean shit when you’re so wrapped up in your own little vacuum of self-importance. I’d say it would make baby Jesus cry if he saw what we’ve become, but its not what we’ve become. We’ve always been like this. Its human nature to ignore problems and put them off until they’re breathing in your face. Hell, I do it all the time. But dammit, its also human nature to get pissed off by yourself and your own stupid tendencies. And I realize I’m slightly tipsy at this point, and that you’ve probably already heard this before, but reiteration is important people.

Its surprisingly easy to do something good and decent for another human being when you don’t expect or even want a reward. That’s it right there. That’s the fucking Christmas Spirit that I honest to God haven’t seen a whole lot of in the “world at large.” I’ve seen a helluva lot of vitriol and demagoguery being spat across televisions nationwide as part of this absurdly early “campaign season.” I see drivers doing a whole “Ben Hur chariot scene” just driving to the mall. I see the occasional Salvation Army Santa ringing his bell while shoppers guiltily hurry by him and try no to make eye contact. I swear, it makes me want to spew my Subway Meatball Marinara sandwich from eight hours prior all over my keyboard just thinking about how generous and compassionate humanity is as a whole. But even if I sound a little cynical, I’m not negative. I know we’re capable of doing better. I’ve seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt. Its just not the norm. The ideal and not the paradigm.

So happy holidays, merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, merry Kwanzaa, io Saturnalia, happy birthday Son/Sun God and all that other stuff. Sure, no problem. Enjoy your ham, kosher dinner and even New Age Winter Solstice tofurkey. Just, take a damn minute to look out your window. See the freezing rain and snow? There are people out there in it right now. Yes, even this very NOW. Spare that moment to think about them, how they’re cursing the weather and trying to get home (if they have one), how they’re worrying about getting a gift and not being able to find it/afford it. Imagine their lives sucking eggs and then mentally photoshop your face over theirs. Golly, it sure would suck if that was you, wouldn’t it? The homeless family living out of their car, the harried mom and dad who didn’t get the gift they promised junior Santa would bring, the lonely bachelor sitting on his couch wishing he had some fine foxy lady to get warm with. It sucks to be everyone from time to time. REMEMBER THAT WHEN YOU SEE SOME RANDOM STRANGER. They’re not some extra in your movie of life. They’ve got their own shit to deal with, and you know, even giving them a simple smile and hello might be enough to help their day not be a total stressfest.

Merry Christmas. Goodwill towards mankind. We don’t deserve it, which makes any goodwill shown all the more precious.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Shucks-howdy, its been a while. Whatever, I’ve been busy and have nothing to apologize for. A lot’s happened in the interim, mostly good, some bad. Helped drink a bottle of King Cobra (not advised, despite the $1.44 price tag) on a wedding eve and subsequently spoke with an genuine Irish accent for an hour, caught a glimpse of enlightenment where every abstract concept I’ve spent my entire life believing in was challenged and validated, and gave a wedding toast as the best man that started off with “Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us here together.” All true stories. All took place within 72 hours..

Transformers came out in theatres and exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. The Simpsons movie hit and…pretty much met my expectations. The last Harry Potter book was released and I’m cheerfully apathetic about it. Yes, I know, a fanboy who doesn’t care about Harry Potter, blasphemy.

As August heat slowly rises and the summer blockbuster season slowly grinds down, one reflects that there aren’t a whole lot more slam-bang movies on the way. Run Fat Boy Run looks good, Superbad could be super or bad, Rush Hour 3 probably will be bad but its got Jackie Chan and he makes anything watchable (like Around the World In 80 Days).

And then there’s Stardust. Based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, at its core, its about a young man searching for his heart’s desire. And its got witches, unicorns and lots of fratricide. And a star that lands with an “oof.” It’s a charming novel and I’m really hoping the movie ends up on a similar level as The Princess Bride. I’m very curious to see it and hope its good. Probably a good date movie. Gentlemen, that’s not a hint. Chicks dig unicorns and true love and things of that nature. Take your lass to see it and she will likely go “aww” a lot, squeeze your hand in the darkness of the theatre during emotional scenes and will potentially shower you with kisses afterwards for being such a sensitive, deep, and romantic guy. Unless of course the movie sucks, then the scenario might play out differently.

Now, if only someone would make a movie out of Neverwhere…

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Proboscises And Overuse Of The Word “Woo”

I read Cyrano de Bergerac for the first time today. Not in the original French, but that’s not the point. Blew me away. Whatever else he may have written, Edmond Rostand has rightfully earned his place in literature. Cyrano is larger than life, the page and probably even the stage. A hero of epic proportions and outlandish deeds, a man who faces down 100 men with only his sword. A poet, philosopher and warrior but one cursed with an outlandish nose. A dreamer with a wit even sharper than his sword.

The other characters are just sort of there. Mostly they are obstacles for Cyrano, creatures that don’t exist on the same level as he, and who can’t fully understand him. Early in the play, he’s asked why he gave away all of his wages to stop a play, leaving him broke for the rest of the month. The friend, Le Bret, tells him “What a fool!” Cyrano responds “But-What a gesture!” Cyrano’s actions are not those of a fool, but the deliberate actions of a poet, and it is far more poetical to woo the love of his life on behalf of someone else than to never woo her at all.

Cyrano’s love for Roxane is heartbreakingly painful, but so poetical that it transcends mere pain and becomes this thing of exquisite altruism. That Roxane remains oblivious to Cyrano’s love until his death only compounds the sweet pain of it. Its like the Blues in that regard. Misery upon misery is heaped up until the dam finally bursts and by that point its too late for Cyrano and Roxane, but the audience leaves with both a sense of “well at least my life’s not so bad,” but also a longing. A longing to love that deeply, to have a Roxane to fight a hundred men for or a Cyrano to be wooed by under a balcony.

For some, Cyrano’s deeds strike close to home, and so do the consequences. To live poetically is difficult, yet oh so heroic. To woo beneath a window and a bursting, round moon and fail. To walk alone at midnight along empty streets searching for that perfect word to say. To sit on a rooftop begging the stars to finally give them that one chance. To know that failure is honorable as long as it is glorious. Most can’t handle that kind of life. Admittedly it is a little bizarre, not to mention lonely and often painful, but its like the biting wind of winter; the pain reminds that you’re alive, and it sweetens the victories. A Romantic like that, being so placed in a universe where every object, gesture and word has meaning, can’t believe that there is any other way to live that does not ring hollow.

At least, that’s how I see it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Spider-Man Is The New Black

So Spidey 3 finally hit. Saw it opening night with my posse. Good times. Liked it. If you somehow happen to be one of the few hermits out there who didn’t take part in the “breaking of all box office records” or perhaps a misguided youth who threw money away on a Jon Heder/Will Ferrell Movie.

What’d I think? It was a ride. A damn exciting ride that manages to keep its numerous plot threads from crashing down most of the time. The cast were all excellent, even Topher Grace (I hated “That ‘70s Show” very much).

Though I did have a small problem with the movie. The foreshadowing was incredibly thick. I found myself successfully predicting a lot of the big moments of the movie as though I was a soothsayer. It wasn’t bad storytelling, just incredibly obvious storytelling. Which I suppose is all right, since Spidey is something of a modern Morality Play. Responsibility. Vengeance. Doing what’s right. Not being an assface to the people that care about you.

And assface Peter Parker does become. See, he’s riding high at the beginning of the movie. He’s saved the city and popular with the masses. His girlfriend’s in a Broadway play. His best friend wants him dead. …Okay, maybe its not all wine and roses, but nothing he can’t handle and it seems like everything revolves around Spider-Man in a good way. Of course, he gets so wrapped up in all the good stuff happening to him that he completely and painfully fails to see the problems that Mary Jane is having (and Kirsten Dunst puts in her best performance of the 3 movies). Then he finds out that the guy who killed Uncle Ben wasn’t who we thought it was. It was a guy named Flint Marko, who’s conveniently just escaped from prison and been turned into the shape shifting Sandman (because that’s what happens when you get caught in a late night particle accelerator experiment) THEN an alien life symbiote from SPAAAAAACE lands and bonds with Peter, giving him the black costume.

After that, the movie can pretty much be subtitled “Peter Parker: Douchebag.” He goes from confident to cocky to arrogant bastard. Sure, he comes to his senses and ditches the symbiote, but not before a LOT of damage is done (like being completely responsible for the creation of Venom)

The scenes where you really see Peter acting like a total ass are both incredibly painful but also totally necessary. Its what happens when a character’s who’s whole tagline is responsibility gets irresponsible. And yeah, Peter gets so emo, it hurts. He pretty much deserves every beating he gets in the movie after the getting the symbiote.

See this movie, if for no other reason than Bruce F’in Campbell.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NOT the E-2 Aircraft, University of Iowa Mascot or Alan Alda

Its rather nice seeing comic book culture coming up from the underground these days. I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that the 20-30 somethings rising to prominence in entertainment were all part of that “Saturday Morning Cartoon” set that grew up in the 80s. And now that this precious 18-35 demographic is graduating college and gaining disposable income, they’re spending it on what they want to see, which seems to be revivals of the stuff they grew up on (see Transformers).

Next weekend, Spider-Man 3 cometh to theaters nationwide. Spidey’s been an icon for decades now, and (next to Wolverine & Captain America) the public “face” of Marvel Comics (like Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman over at DC). Marvel’s usually done right by Spidey (we WILL NOT mention the Clone Saga) and he’s had numerous TV series and crossovers and the character himself is just so damn likable that he’s rightfully cemented himself as a top character.

But he’s not my favorite. Neither is Wolverine (who, while a badass when he’s done right, is just WAY too overexposed that its become a cliché), nor Superman or Batman. Not even Captain America, even though I’ve got nothing but love for the character. Deadpool comes real close, but no, top honors go to Clinton Francis Barton!

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Pirate Boots! PIRATE BOOTS!

“Who,” you ask? The simple version is that Clint Barton was a trickshooting carney who wanted to do some good but ended up on the wrong side of the law and fought Iron Man a couple times before reforming and joining the Avengers (you can look up the longer version if you like, but it might make your head explode). Since then he’s been the quintessential Avenger, spitting in the face of danger, mouthing off to anybody (even his mentor, Captain America) and saving the world at the last minute with nothing but an arrow. No armored suit, no powers of a god, just an everyman with top level hand-eye coordination. He doesn’t even have the super soldier serum that Cap was injected with. Since the ‘60s, Clint’s probably quit the Avengers more times than anybody else, but he’s always come back, more times than anybody else. In the 90s, he even took over leadership of a team called the Thunderbolts (who were former b-level villains who masqueraded as heroes in order to conquer the world, but found out they actually liked being heroes and tried to reform legitimately) before coming back to the Avengers again only to get himself blown up in the incoherent “Avengers Disassembled.” I was sad when it happened, and more than a little pissed since it was at a time when I was just getting back into comics in college and Hawkeye was one of the main reasons I wanted to start reading again (The other reasons being Firestorm I, Blue Beetle II and Booster Gold, who all met grisly fates over at DC. Booster got better, and the new Firestorm is actually a pretty cool character, but I still haven’t forgiven DC for putting a bullet into Blue Beetle’s head)

Unlike a lot of kids, I wasn’t all that into Spider-Man and the X-Men. I was an Avengers fan, and trolled yard sales looking for old comic books, mostly for books that had Hawkeye on the cover. I even took up archer in late elementary school, not because I wanted to be like Robin Hood or even Green Arrow, but I wanted to be like Hawkeye. And that’s the thing really, Hawkeye resonated with me. Here was a guy who came up from humble beginnings, was kind of an outsider, wasn’t the smartest guy in the world but wasn’t stupid by any means, respected talent and merit more than reputation, wasn’t afraid of making stupid mistakes, and hid his insecurities (and boy howdy did the thought bubbles cover the panels when he was thinking) behind a big ol’ grin and a gaudy purple costume and a pair of pirate boots. I identified with all of that and still do. Even the pirate boots.

About a year or so after “Disassembled,” Marvel launched “House of M,” a big crossover about a reality warp by the now crazy Scarlet Witch (She’s a mutant and a longtime Avenger before going loopy in Disassembled and has WAY more confusing backstory). Anyway, thanks to her, Mutants are the dominant power in the world and her negligent daddy, Magneto, is basically king of the world (I probably should’ve mentioned the Magneto thing earlier). Anyway, it was an interesting idea but kind of fell flat as a miniseries, but it did do one thing, it brought Hawkeye back to life, who shot a bunch of arrows into Wolverine, sulked a lot when he found out he was supposed to be dead, then was killed again by Scarlet Witch.

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A LOT of arrows

BUT THEN…when the whole shebang ends and Scarlet Witch reverts everything back to the proper reality (albeit with a lot fewer mutants around), there’s evidence that our boy Clint is back among the living. Again. Fast forward to 2006. Aside from Civil War, it turns out that Clint has indeed come back to the land of the upright and has a lot of questions he’d like to ask the woman who was once his friend and killed him twice. He tracks down Scarlet Witch to the totally fictional Eastern European country of Wundagore and finds out she’s depowered herself and has no memories of anything to do with the Avengers or superhero stuff. Then they shag, since he stopped a street urchin from mugging her and has been harboring a huge crush on her for 30 years or so (consider that in that time she married a synthezoid/robot-man and sort of had kids with him, and Hawkeye himself bounced from failed relationship to failed relationship until he married a woman who later died while saving him in a hell-like dimension and her soul is still technically trapped there, I think. Continuity is not easy.)

Anyway, aside from a couple of mini-series, the best place to find Hawkeye stories are in any of the older Avengers or Avengers West Coast titles. Inside Avengers circles, Hawkeye is easily one of the top five most popular, so he’s been around for a lot of their big storylines. The Essential Avengers volumes are a pretty affordable place to start looking (albeit without color)

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This about sums him up. He single-handedly takes down Deathbird, a villain the X-Men routinely have trouble with, then plants a big wet one on her. Because it was funny.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Know what you should do? I mean, all of you. Every last one of you. Man, woman and swamp monster. You should hightail it to your nearest darkened theatre and spend two hours basking in the glory that is Hot Fuzz.

Now, if you’ve seen Shaun Of The Dead, you might be aware of this movie. After all, its got the same two actors, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost.

If, however, you are a swamp monster without a passing interest in recent British comedies, here’s the skinny. Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop movie parody, much like Shaun was a zombie movie parody. Anyway, Nicholas Angel is a London supercop. He’s so good, in fact, that he gets “promoted” to sergeant and transferred to a small village in the country because he’s making the rest of the department look bad. So Sgt. Angel arrives in the village of Sanford, a town voted the best in England with a non-existent crime rate. The first half of the movie concerns itself with Nick being a by-the-book cop trying to adjust to the rural and rather lazy local force and being partnered with Police Constable Danny Butterman, the Inspector’s son. Then the “accidents” start happening.

In the interests of not getting into spoiler territory, the two do as buddy cops do. They bond, they learn from each other, and stop some crime. The first half of the movie isn’t necessarily slow. You know that foundations are being laid, red herrings being dangled, but you’re trying to piece it all together. Then it all gets put together and the swerve it takes is both brilliant and incredibly creepy. And then of course, this being a buddy cop movie, the climax is a hail of bullets, but my God is it one of the most incredible shootouts I’ve ever seen on film, and its compounded by the nature of the people involved in the shootout. I honestly can’t say any more about it without ruining it, so just trust me. Trust a faceless, random voice on the internet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Yeah, there’s this movie coming out this year. Some sci-fi thing about robots from space that disguise themselves as cars and planes and cassette players and big robotic tyrannosaurus rexes (GRIMLOCK AM SMAURT!). Apparently a lot of fandom is really looking forward to it.

My Transformers exposure mostly comes from the G1 cartoon (and “Transformers Generation 2” which was the same cartoon only with lame CG effects added to make it all hip and cool for the 90s). To me, the Dinobots will always be “special teams,” Bumblebee will be whiny and useless, Starscream will always be a big bitchy prima donna with a screechy voice, Megatron will always be a gun and not a tank, and Soundwave will always be the best Transformer ever, despite being a tape deck. I can't even count how many times I tried to get my voice to sound like his when I was a kid.

Let’s sum up; I’m of the mind that if it doesn’t have “You’ve got the touch, you’ve got the power” as one of the songs in it, then how can the movie possibly be enjoyed?

Personally, I think a lot of fandom is going to be royally disappointed and pissed off that its not Spielberg’s gift to nerds. Trans-fans are notoriously uppity on things like continuity and canon, despite having several series that are generally very loosely linked. Personally, I’m not really expecting too much out of it. Certainly not the “nuance” that a lot of Trans-fans who read the comics want. We’re talking nuance coming from a license that was a Saturday morning cartoon series based off of cars that turned into robots fighting robots that turn into planes. Its like taking the “drama” of Gundam seriously when the entire purpose of the Mobile Suits is to beat the holy hell out of each other in new and innovative ways. Hey, I loved G.I. Joe a lot too, but if they announced a live action movie, I wouldn’t hold my breath for an Oscar nod.

Now M.A.S.K. on the other hand…

* This actually explains it pretty well

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I am a filthy, dirty whore

Yesterday, at Best Buy, by complete chance, I stumbled on the DVD section and saw all 4 seasons of Scrubs for $19.99 each. Suffice it to say that Season 1 was getting pretty lonely back home.

I feel so dirty. And I’d do it again. I mean 20 bucks for a season! How am I supposed to resist?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sanguis In Machina

My DVD drive is haunted. That is the only explanation I can conceive. Last year my old DVD drive decided to stop reading DVDs. It would read regular CDs just fine, but put a DVD in and it would basically crash Windows Explorer forcing you to CTRL-ALT-DEL. That (plus the release of Medieval II: Total War, the only game that I actually went out and bought the day it was released) was enough for me to upgrade.

As it stands, I’ve got a sexy new Sony DVD-RW drive that works and burns great. Except for one little thing. Often, but not always, after I open the tray, it slides shut a few seconds later, occasionally trying to take my finger with it. It would seem that the god in the machine wants a blood offering.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Midnight Cookies

There are some barbaric individuals who view cooking as a less than manly art. Something fit only for the likes of women and sissy men. I say thee nay. Just look at Emeril. And Alton Brown. And Mario Batalli. And Anthony Bourdain.

Cooking competence is indeed a very good boon. It means not spending all one’s money on shitty fast foot. It means having control over exactly what you’re putting into your mouth, so if you don’t like applesauce, there ain’t gonna be any applesauce on your watch. More importantly, you can feed yourself AT ANY TIME YOU WANT. Plus, women like men who are capable of feeding themselves. And since I’m rocking a bachelor lifestyle going into grad school, ain’t nobody else gonna feed me.

Case in point: I wanted cookies tonight. I wanted them bad. Nothing in the pantry. A lesser man would chalk that up as a loss. Not I. An egg, vegetable oil, cookie mix and an oven at 350 Fahrenheit was enough to put me in business.

Result: Cookies bigger than the nonsense you find in a bag, and WARM.

Hell. Yeah.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

If There’s Anything I Truly Believe In, Its This:

Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks is absolutely, positively, unquestioningly the best song ever in the history of the world. When I say “ever” I am referring to it in the ultimate sense. Never before nor ever in the future, is there a song as good as Waterloo Sunset. And I am prepared to go to the grave content in the knowledge that this is so. So prepared that should anyone challenge this claim of mine, I will jam my index fingers violently into my ears and repeatedly shout “Dewie-dewie-dewie-dewie-dewie” in a high-pitched nasal whine until I pass out from lack of oxygen.

Oh, I’ll do it, too. Just try me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Oh, yeah. This thing

Blah blah blah, Ides of March. Yeah, yeah. I’ve been busy. And I’m still savoring the fact that I’ve heard “Wakandan Vibranium” on national television. Its like there’s one less thing that has to take place before I can die completely fulfilled.

Go see 300 if you haven’t already.

What are you waiting for? GO!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

Ironically, death may in fact be the best thing to happen to Captain America in the last few years. After all, he’s been around for years and years and this is the most people have been talking about him in a long, long time. I’m not talking about the fanboys. They’ve already known Cap was an icon in the field. Now the mainstream’s talking about him. Hell, the Colbert Report’s featured him TWICE now in two weeks. That’s some immediate publicity. Throw out the social commentary possible about a character dressed in the American flag being assassinated and you’ve got yourself a media blitz that’s got Cap as much name recognition as Spider-Man and Wolverine right now. If it lasts, even better, since it’ll make his return all the more anticipated/welcome (and come on, he WILL be back. It might take a few years, but this IS comics after all)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I'm Just A Ruthful Kind Of Guy

Now, Justin Timberlake got it wrong. Sexy was never gone, so there was never any reason to bring it back. Can’t bring back what’s always been there. There’s plenty of other words that have gone missing that are totally worthy of coming back.

Take the word “ruthless.” Its come to mean someone who is without mercy. And, if you’ve got even a very light grasp of how English grammar works, you recognize the -”less” part from other words. Penniless, Merciless, Dauntless, Fearless. “-less” clearly mean a lack of something, and implies an opposite value. “Merciful, Fearful, etc.

Even since a kid I’ve always wondered if “ruthful” (the logical extension of this dichotomy) was the actual opposite of “ruthless.” Well, according to the New English Dictionary, it is. So I’ve decided to bring it back. Look out America, you’re about to get a dose of ruthfulness!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Barbarians at the Gates

I’ve been watching a lot of the History Channel. More so than usual. This week alone they’ve run a special on the Dark Ages and are proceeding through a series on Barbarian tribes like the Saxons, Vandals, Lombards & Franks. That alone is enough to warrant my continued happiness.

Even more amusing is the location of where they’re filming the live action reenactment segments; Trakai castle in Lithuania. I know this because I’ve been there myself and can recognize the walls and architecture. Last night they did one on the Saxons that was pretty much all filmed at Trakai. Warms the cockles of my heart and it made me fire up Rome: Total War again on the PC.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What's "Tatars," Precious (pt. 2)

One thing history tells us is to never piss off Tamerlane. Tokhtamysh, bolstered by his conquests, tried to bring Persia under his rule, coming into conflict with Tamerlane in 1385. Big. Mistake. Tokhtamysh was defeated and deposed in 1395, where he fled to a very unlikely haven; the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and struck up an alliance with its Grand Duke, Vytautas. Tokhtamysh had fought successfully against Vytautas’ father Kestutis in the 1380s, but this was much, much different. Vytautas gathered an alliance of Eastern European that marched from Moldavia and conquered its way to northern Crimea, but it was badly defeated at the Vorskla River in 1398 by two of Tamerlane’s generals (and a large army of Tatars. It’d be pretty embarrassing to lose to just two guys). Vytautas escaped with his life and the battle halted Lithuanian expansion into the Black Sea region. Tokhtamysh fled into the steppes but was killed by rivals in the early 1400s. Tamerlane died in 1405, in case you were wondering.

Surviving members of Tokhtamysh’s faction were granted asylum within the Grand Duchy by Vytautas, and also given land and nobility status, where they became known as the Lipka Tatars. In 1410, at the battle of Tannenberg/Grunwald/Zalgiris (depends on who you talk to), Tatar light cavalry served alongside Vytautas’ Lithuanians and Jogaila/Jagiello’s Poles. The battle was a crushing defeat for the Teutonic Order of warrior monks, and halted their expansion in the Baltic.

The Lipka Tatars remained in service as nobles and valuable cavalrymen in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that followed it, and maintained their Muslim faith even as Lithuania transitioned from a pagan to a Christian land, and are still a well-defined ethnic minority in Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus.

And that’s an incomplete, imperfect and utterly confusing history of the Lipka Tatars and how they got to Lithuania. And knowing is good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What's "Tatars," Precious? (pt. 1)

Genghis Khan’s Mongol empire is rather difficult to comprehend. Maps can only give an idea of the immensity. A slice of land that stretched from Europe to China was all under one man, and the fastest way to cross that land was on horseback. Even under ideal conditions it would take a hell of a lot of time to traverse it.

As with all great conquerors, Genghis’ Khanate broke up into fragments after his death, divided between his sons. He was a tough act to follow, and the fragmented khanates stayed that way for a while.

Now, the Tatars (or incorrectly, “Tartars”) were a tribe of Turkic speaking Steppe horsemen similar to the Mongols, and indeed, seemed to be part of the great Golden Horde after Genghis brought them to heel. In Europe, they had a profound impact on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and had a tremendous impact on the region of Bulgaria, and the name Tatar became synonymous with any Turkic speaking Mongols. They inherited a significant part of Genghis’ empire as the White Horde, and this is where things get interesting.

In the late-1300s, a descendant of Orda Khan named Tokhtamysh, gained control of the White Horde with the help of another Mongol general, Tamerlane. Tokhtamysh went on to conquer the Blue Horde (the other half of the Golden Horde) and reunited them under one banner in 1380. Good times for the Horde, right? Well...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I’m not technically late

That new “Robin Hood” series hit American shores on BBC America last night. Its not too stupid or insipid. But the one thought going through my head the whole time was “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” I’m expecting a lot of camp from this series. A LOT of camp.

Also, Tiramisu is good. Real good.

That is all.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Supernatural Male Enhancement

Its been a lifelong mystery to know which saint’s feast day occupied my birthday. But that is a mystery no longer! March 3rd is the feast day of a certain St. Winwaloe (or Winwallus, Wingaloeus, Waloway, Wynolatus, Vinguavally, Vennole, Valois, Ouignoualey, Gweno, Gunnolo, Bennoc, Winwalloc, Guenole, or Guingalois, among other names) who died on that date in 532 AD. Now, since this is the Dark Ages we’re talking about here, there’s more legends about him than facts, but Wikipedia and the Catholic Encyclopedia agree that he was the son of Fracan, some minor British chief/noble who fled from the Saxons and/or the plague to Brittany, and his mother was named Gwen, with the notable nickname of “the Triple-Breasted” (that part’s from Wikipedia). Winwaloe, according to legend, wanted to go and visit St. Patrick in Ireland, but was warned off by a vision from the saint and instead went on to found the Monastery of Landevennec near the city of Brest, and by all accounts was a good holy man who died in his monastery at a ripe old age. He was mostly venerated in Southern England and Northern France. But that’s not the interesting part. This is:

For some reason, Winwaloe gained the reputation of a “phallic saint” (possibly because one of the French forms of his name was confused with the word gignere, “to beget”). Anyway, he is one of several phallic saints invoked against impotence. Most interestingly, a book in my possession about patron saints of things gives a legend that there was a statue of Winwaloe in Brest carved with an erect member, and that people would carve off a little piece here and there in the hopes that it would remedy the relevant problem. Miraculously, despite centuries of this practice, the, ahem, length of the statue has not diminished. Or so it is said.

See? Isn’t theology fun? And in case you were wondering who the other phallic saints are, here’s a few: St. Ters, Saints Cosmas & Damian, St. Foutin, St. Gilles, & St. Rene. Most seem to be French.

Now Is The Winter Of Our Lack Of Content

So I’m sitting here trying to think of some kind of nonsense to write about while trying to keep to my self-imposed deadline, and nothing’s coming to mind. Which is odd. Life’s good, there’s plenty of entertainment coming up soon (both high and low brow) to deal with, but lately there’s been a lot going on in life that’s superceded this here side project.

Oh. Wait. Here’s something. Morel Orel on Adult Swim is just so…creepy. Really creepy. Tom Goes To The Mayor creepy.

That is all.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Because “1,500” Doesn’t Sound As Dramatic

When the legendary reputation of Sparta is mentioned, its usually backed up by an example of Thermopylae, that epic battle where 300 doomed Spartans held a pass for two full days against some 400,000 Persians.

Well….. It is true that a numerically small number of Greeks held out against a numerically superior army and caused King Xerxes no end of consternation, but it wasn’t just 300 Spartans. Herodotus says that there were something like 5,000 or more Greeks present during the course of the battle from all over Greece. Most of them withdrew after the Persians encircled the Greek position, leaving a very small rearguard to protect their retreat. Yet even then it was not JUST 300 Spartans. Some 700 Thespians (from the polis of Thespiae) volunteered to stay behind with the Spartans, and they died just as bravely as the Spartans, and some 400 or so Thebans also took part, but they surrendered to the Persians before the end (which really steamed the rest of the Greeks). After the Spartan King Leonidas (Sparta had two kings at a time) was cut down near the end, the Greeks regrouped and were shot down in a storm of arrows. According to historians, the casualty estimates are about 1,500 Greeks and 20,000 Persians. Even though it wasn’t as lopsided as its been romanticized, the Greeks were still badly outnumbered. Herodotus gives a number of over 5 million Persians at the battle, but that’s a hotly debated topic among historians.

While by itself, the Spartans clearly lost, it did by the rest of the Greeks time to regroup and work toward forcing Persia into a naval battle at Salamis. Sparta does have a well-deserved reputation for ferocity and valor, but the city-state itself was a curious mix of privilege, xenophobia and outright cruelty that was completely unlike any other Greek polis. They had a mystique, even in antiquity, that still resonates.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Exterminate! Exterminate!

One thing I love about Doctor Who (aside from the awesome theme music) is how the greatest threat to the universe are a race of human sized salt shakers with death lasers. At the mere mention of the word “Dalek” the Doctor gets all quiet and scared. The Daleks really are a joy to watch. That, and Billie Piper’s really cute and also fun to watch.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Thank God For Wikipedia

Having other things on my mind today, I didn’t have any content for tonight’s update. So you’re going to hear about Chinese water chestnuts.

Yep. Water Chestnuts. The crunchy discs found in American Chinese cuisine.

Eleocharis dulcis, which is the scientific name for the goody, is an aquatic plant that is native to China. Its not at all like chestnuts. Water Chestnuts stay crunchy when cooked, and are jam packed full of starch and fiber. Enjoy.

Monday, February 26, 2007

As Opposed To The “International Monetary Fund”

Ah the wonders of technology.. Tonight’s update was going to be a lengthy espousal of the supremacy of the IMF channel to other music channels. Then my damn word processor crashed and I’m too surly to type it up again. My fault for not saving it in time, I suppose.

Anyway, the IMF (International Music Feed) provides more music, wider content and fewer commercials than its domestically limited counterparts.

One more thing, if you actually do end up watching IMF, keep an ear open for the Fratellis. They’re a pretty kickass band, and Creepin Up The Backstairs is a rockin’ tune.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

You May Already Be A Winner

Judging from all of the random e-mails I receive, Africa is positively teeming with rich yet persecuted millionaires who are dropping dead like flies and leaving their money hidden in random banks. Then it passes on to some legitimate heir to try and get the money back, yet for some reason, they can’t get access to the money and need someone to help them out. Sometimes its not an heir but a lawyer claiming that I am the last surviving relative and the next of kin. Whichever it is, I have to respond with the utmost secrecy for it to be safe, even though its supposed to be perfectly legitimate. All I have to do is provide my significant information and some sort of down payment.

If some long lost Protestant farmer millionaire uncle dying in a plane crash doesn’t get you greedy for large sums of cash, there’s always the lottery. The South African lottery, that is.

Yes; somehow, despite never setting foot on the continent of Africa, nor ever signing up for any such contest, I have won a significant sum of money. All I have to do is provide my significant information and some sort of down…payment… Wait a minute. That sounds awfully familiar. Besides, if I won some sort of lottery, why would I have to give THEM money to get the money? That’s counterintuitive.

The first time I got one of these, I thought it was pretty original and the horrible grammar and spelling was cute. And they were a change of pace from the completely nonsensical spam mail that read like dadaist poetry. Then more and more started appearing in my inbox. Now I get, on average, three a month. Not so original anymore. Still laughably written, especially when you consider that these are supposed to be “educated lawyers.”

The way I see this scam is sort of like those movies that spoof whole genres. The first one, kind of stupid but kind of amusing on a fourth grade level. With each progressive sequel/spin off, it gets dumber and formulaic until you get to the point of wishing justified unpleasantries upon the perpetrators.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nice Bike

It was my privilege to see a preview screening of Ghost Rider last week. I know, I know, its meaningless since the movie’s in wide release now, but whatever. I’m sick and need a quickie update.

Ghost Rider is an OK movie. Simple plot is Johnny Blaze (Nic Cage) makes a deal with the devil to save his dad from cancer, which turns into a screw job when daddy Blaze dies anyway and Johnny gets drafted as Mephisto’s (I refuse to call him Mephistopheles as the movie does. It was originally Mephisto, and that’s what I’m sticking with) bounty hunter, a rider sent to collect on others who’ve made deals with the devil.

Well, Johnny ain’t happy about his situation, especially not when Mephisto sends him after his truant emo son Blackheart (also from the comics) and three elementally-based mini-bosses-I mean nephilim. And there’s something about Eva Mendes in there too, but the love angle falls a little flat (unlike Mendes’ torso, zing!).

Right, let's get this over with quick. Effects are pretty good overall. The flaming head stuff works pretty well and they do some nifty stuff with the bike, like driving up a building. No major complaints. Cage really puts in a lot of effort as Blaze (he’d better considering he’s got a Ghost Rider tattoo). Some of the imagery really jumps out at you, like the scene where Blaze & another Rider (a glee-inducing nod to the fanboy audience) charge off through the night to the final showdown.

As far as comic book movies goes, Ghost Rider’s pretty decent. Its not nearly as good as Batman Begins, X-Men 1 and 2 and the Spider-Man movies, but its no Elektra, Hulk or Fantastic Four either. Its middle of the road, hanging out with the likes of Daredevil and Blade. Look, the people aren’t going to be going in massive droves to see this movie. It will not inspire some youth to cure cancer. Its GHOST RIDER for crying out loud! Before this, his highest pop culture cred outside of comics was being a common theme for metalheads to put on their t-shirts.

I’m gonna go swig some Nyquil.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Commenting on the paradox of asking a man in a mask who he is

V For Vendetta is an interesting movie. Its definitely stylish and Hugo Weaving is awesome as the charming V, and is eminently quotable. Yet Alan Moore is not known for simple entertainment, and the movie is above all else, thought provoking.

Obviously the ruling regime of this dystopian England is a totalitarian is horribly oppressive and corrupt. And yet… despite V’s charms and just intentions, there is something absolutely unsettling about him. Its not the mask, its not the horribly burnt origin and lack of identity either, those are pitiable traits in his favor.

The thing that’s unsettling about V is that, under all of that Romance and bravado, he is as insane as the regime he wants to bury. He is a murderer, arsonist and demagogue. He subjects Evey to absolutely brutal psychological torment. He has good intentions, and certainly good motivations, but even he realizes by the end of the movie that he is just as much a monster as his enemies. There’s something about British comic characters being anti-heroes (see Judge Dredd. Just don‘t see Judge Dredd starring Stallone), and that’s in effect here as well. He does a lot of cool stuff, but when you deconstruct the character, he’s a lot less likable and a lot more disturbing. Gordon and Finch are definitely closer to real heroes than V, but they don’t wear masks or quip witty dialogue, so they don’t get the knee-jerk sympathy of the audience.
To my mind, a good movie is one that hangs with you some time after it ends. Either you get so wrapped up in the characters that your mind wanders to thoughts of “what happens next?” and “well what if this happened?” or you get drawn into the ideas thrown out by the movie. V For Vendetta accomplishes that.

And of course there’s a bald Natalie Portman for half of the movie for those of you who like that sort of thing.

That's A Mighty Nice Coat You've Got

I have over the course of the last week or two, subjected myself to quite a lot of cinema. Which is good, because it gives me something to blather about for a couple of entries.

Frank Miller’s Sin City is equipped with an all-star cast and a visual style unlike anything else out there (well, aside from the Sin City books). Is it ridiculous? The amount of punishment that people can take while still being able to survive is pretty ludicrous. Is it disjointed? Oh hell yes. The three stories barely intersect, but then again, the real story is the city itself. Which brings us to the violence. Sweet sassy molassy is it violent. It’s a movie populated by bad people doing horrible things to each other. I mean, Marv alone racks up a particularly memorable body count. And then there’s Kevin. If you see this movie, you will never, ever look at Elija Wood the same way. And he doesn’t even speak. Oh yeah, and there’s a hooker army led by Rosario Dawson. I'm not making that up.

Yet despite the buckets of blood spilled in this movie, Miller & Rodriguez make it strangely beautiful. It blends the grotesque with the stylish, as if Caligula had decided to direct film noir instead of making his horse a senator. Now, until the next 2 Sin City movies get made, there’s 300 on its way in March, which just has to rock the casbah. Frank Miller + Spartans. Come on, its not trigonometry.

So, what do you follow up a movie like Sin City? Well, if you’re me, the only logical progression is Garden State. Yes, Garden State. Because I like Scrubs, that’s why. Ok, let’s get this out of the way first. Women will and do love this film. Its got that certain “awww” factor that chick flicks have, yet is absurdist enough that its not emasculating to watch. Its actually a very gentle and, well, sweet comedy. Not a knee slappin’ “ZOMG ROFL!!1!1eleventyone!” kind of comedy that the industry tries its damndest to spit down our gullets like a mother robin feeding its chicks. Its more of a Royal Tennenbaums kind of funny. The thought I had running through my head the whole time was that it had that “student film” vibe. That and I really thought the line “What is Tickle?” was hilarious. It’s a nice movie, even if it is set in New Jersey.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hey nonny nonny

Hell has frozen over, and I am returned. Another Fat Tuesday come and gone, and here I am facing another 40 days/nights of blogging. Should be a good time. Let’s get started.

William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing happens to by my favorite comedy by the Bard. Its witty, doesn’t rely too much on ludicrous plot devices and deus ex machinas to resolve the ending. And there’s not a fairy named Mustardseed in sight. it’s a polished comedy, laced with innuendo, and did I mention witty? That and it was made into an excellent 1993 Kenneth Branagh film (but that’s a review for another day).

Vitriolic lovers and their merry quarrels aside, there is something that’s been bugging me about the play. The setting is Messina, which is on the island of Sicily. Don Pedro and his bastard brother John are both from Aragon, Benedick is from Padua, and the meathead Claudio is from Florence. Padua and Florence are both on the Italian mainland, and Aragon is in northern Spain. What exactly are these people doing together on Sicily?

Well, I don’t feel like digging into textbook after textbook at this time, so a little snooping on Wikipedia has yielded some results. Shakespeare wrote in the late 1500s-early 1600s. The kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were united in 1492 by Ferdinand & Isabella, who celebrated the newly forged Kingdom of Spain by sending Columbus off to accidentally discover the West Indies. So, by this, Don Pedro, prince of Aragon, is not entirely an independent prince, or the setting of the play is before 1492. Now, what’s an Aragonnese prince doing in Italy?

Turns out Sicily was conquered by Aragon in 1282 after a local revolt (the Sicilian Vespers) against France. Aragon controlled Sicily until 1479, whereby it was ruled by Spain. So that’s a good chunk of time under Aragon. So that explains why Don Pedro acts like he owns the place. He does. Leonato’s welcoming of the Prince and his posse begins to make sense.

Claudio and Benedick’s presence is a little more nebulous. This is Renaissance Italy we’re looking at, so it was not uncommon for professional soldiers and nobles to be crawling all over the place looking for business and booty. Well, this is a comedy, so its focused on the booty aspect. Well, there’s not much that can be discerned about Claudio and Benedick. They are the Princes companions, but the do not have titles like he does, yet are described as “young nobles.” They have to be younger sons because of primogeniture (the 1st son inherits all the family holdings) and signed up with the Prince because Sicily is a perennial battleground and there’s plenty of glory and riches in warfare. They are very close to the Prince. Personal friends in fact. They don’t act like gruff mercenaries so they must have signed on with the Prince for their living and through service become good friends. I guess that’s possible with mercenaries, but still, it doesn’t really fit the tone of the play.

And what of Don John? Well, he’s a bastard. And an asshole.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Spies and Samurai

I’m bored, so you’re getting an update. See how this works?

Finally saw The Last Samurai. It’s the same old broken record of a plot. A man who’s fallen on hard times becomes a stranger in a strange land, learns to appreciate his life again through their foreign customs, and yet, he is also able to teach them how to appreciate what they already have. Yawn. Plot oversimplifications aside, the movie is laden with historical gobbledygook, which I won’t bother going into detail. That’s what Wikipedia’s for. I will say this though, while you’re watching the movie, know that all of those infantrymen in uniforms are raised up from the peasant class. Sure they may be conscripts, but they’ve been given training, a wage, and a chance at the military glory and respect that been the monopoly of the samurai class for centuries. Guys from regular families who finally have an opportunity to match their social superiors. Remember that while you root for the samurai.

Still, the movie is pretty to look at, but that alone is not good enough for a viewer with a decent enough level of intelligence. Even the fight scenes are just kind of average. And Tom Cruise doesn’t die at the end of a bloody last stand? The ONE foreigner just HAPPENS to be the sole survivor? I call bullshit on this movie and need a Kurosawa film to wash the taste out of my mouth. Where’s The Seven Samurai when I need it?

So I guess that was the bad news. Now the good news. Casino Royale is easily the best Bond film in a LOOOOOONG time. I guess it’s a franchise reboot, which, given the previous movie, is probably for the best. Anyway, it starts out with Bond becoming a Double O agent and trying to track down Le Chiffre, a sort of banker for the underworld. Double cross upon double cross fills the flick, and its nice to see a the “building” of Bond into what he is. Its refreshing. He starts driving a POS Ford and earns an Aston Martin. Two actually. And then of course, he falls in love (with the loveable Eva Green), which, as anyone who’s ever seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, knows can not possibly end well.

The movie gets a little outlandish here and there, but its all much more believable than space stations with death lasers, guys with metal teeth and a bleached blond Christopher Walken. All everyone’s after is a phenomenal amount of money. Again, refreshing.

And another wonderful little trick the movie does is give all of these dangerous and mysterious characters odd little characterizations. There’s a bomb maker with severe burn wounds all over and the agility of a spider monkey, Le Chiffre has a scarred eye that bleeds blood. We’re never told how he got it. Its not important. It just adds layers to the character, but isn’t important to the plot. Awesome.

Friday, January 05, 2007

No Resolutions

I woke up in a Cleveland hotel room on January first with a mouth tasting of cranberry juice and vodka. I’d fallen asleep with my glasses on, which is how I gauge how tired I was the night before. As the weekend’s events flooded back like the tide filling up Fundy, I got to thinking, first about whether or not I actually threw up some time around 3 AM, and then about what the new year offers. 2006 is dead, just as well.

New Year’s resolutions, when you think about them, are always so hollow. Oh sure, they’re usually things which a person ought to do generally, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to go on a diet this year if you need it, but come on. New Year’s resolutions are a mockery of self-improvement. Its done because its traditional, its something EVERYBODY does, and its just as traditional to break them within a week, and then laugh about it.

I say the hell with it. I don’t need to make a New Year’s Resolution, so it would be meaningless for me to do so. Hollow and hypocritical, so why bother? No. There will be no Resolution just because of the turn of the year. But I do vow one thing. Last year, despite all the shit I went through, I still managed to suck the marrow from life, and this year promises to offer even better opportunities to do so. And rest assured, I will do so.