Archive for July, 2010

I know, I always call my updates that when it’s been friggin’ forever, but I don’t care even one bit!

First of all, I must mention that there’s a new Films of High Adventure over at Fantasy Magazine, this one on The NeverEnding Story. We’re probably the nicest we’ve ever been to a movie prominently featuring an annoying moppet telling the audience what they’ve seen/are about to see, so, yay!

Moving on, I’ll be heading to Florida this Saturday to visit my folks! I’m looking forward to reading some novels, chilling out, cooking some food, doing crafty stuff with my mom, taking walks with my dad, all that sort of thing. Sadly, John will be in Orlando at a staff conference for his job while I’ll be in Tampa, but I think we’re going to organize some WoW parties with Raechel, who’ll be holding down the forts in Boulder.

I am also very proud that I just sent out the novel I finished up recently to the host of awesome beta-readers who volunteered to tell me if it sucks or not, and also correct my grammar. I am excited to get some outside eyes on this project, because I am too blinded by love for it to be objective at all. I know we need some time apart, this book and I, so I’ll be reading some non-fiction so maybe I can perk up a few details, and also reading some fiction to cleanse my palette. I’ll also be working on some various and sundry fiction and creative non-fiction things, and I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with short form since I can’t recall the last time I wrote a short story.

Additionally, I feel the need to mention that I just read what I believe might be one of the most racist stories ever written, and no, I’m not talking about that piece in the NYT about how Indians have taken over New Jersey (though it was, obviously, in the running). No, I speak instead of Robert E. Howard’s “The Vale of Lost Women,” which wasn’t published during his lifetime but still managed to find its way to the printed page several times. I know it’s pretty un-shocking to out Howard as a racist, but seriously. I give authors from the past so much leeway when it comes to the odd racist comment or sexist trope. I feel strongly that there’s a place and time for holding people accountable for their beliefs–and that people, both living and dead, should be held accountable for their beliefs–but that such accountability need not be the only way to consume and interpret stories written during a different time. This story, however, gets a big brown F in every way. It is hideous. Not only does it have Conan straight-up telling a girl he’d rape her if he felt like it (and, OK, whatever, I’d forgive that in isolation, it’s a Conan story), but the girl in question is a little white girl with blonde hair who was captured by black savages and raped by their hideous leader. Let’s just for a moment consider Howard’s description of the leader, a fellow by the name of Bajujh (FAIL, already):

On an ivory stool, flanked by giants in plumed headpieces and leopardskin girdles, sat a fat, squat shape, abysmal, repulsive, a toad-like chunk of blackness, reeking of the dank rotting jungle and the nighted swamps. The creature’s pudgy hands rested on the sleek arch of his belly; his nape was a roll of sooty fat that seemed to thrust his bullet-head forward. His eyes gleamed in the firelight, like live coals in a dead black stump.

Woah. Also, the rest of the language regarding Bajujh and his tribe hits all the notes–the black folks are compared to animals (“panther-like”) or demeaned for possessing native African-ish features (their hair is described as “kinky” and “wooly” as compared to Conan’s and the little white girls’ flowing tresses, among other crimes of wtf). The women are described uniformly as “wenches” (often “ribald wenches”) with white eyeballs rolling wickedly in their black faces or, by Conan himself, as “black sluts” who make him sick with their very appearance. Jesus. So, yeah. I don’t know why this struck me as being blog-worthy, I just. . . I’m making my way through my anthology of all the Conan stories, and up until now there’s been some serious-business Orientalism and some problematic white-dude-conquers-brown-people-for-good nonsense, but this was my first encounter with out and out WHAAAAAA?!?!?! in that book. I’ve read novels about slavery written by white English during the 18th century that were less racist and accorded more respect and humanity to black folks than “The Vale of Lost Women.” Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Finally, and most of all, sadly, I recently had to put my beloved cat Penelope to sleep. About a year ago, the vet noticed some of her liver values were elevated. Perhaps eight months ago, she was diagnosed with fatty liver disease, which is curable with effort and attention. We gave her the effort, we gave her the attention. Things were looking up for a time, she was steadily improving. Then, right before we went down to Florida for weddings and family visiting, her shape got kinda odd. At first it looked like maybe she’d just gotten a pot belly–she was eating more–but I took her in for a checkup before the vet had recommended anyways, to be sure. It turns out that her liver had failed, though her pathology wasn’t totally consistent with that or anything else. I believe now that a number of things just gave out at once. We did everything the vet recommended, but it wasn’t enough. The vet was frankly baffled she was even alive and as perky as she was toward the end. Most cats, apparently, would’ve succumbed to disease or depression far earlier. Penelope was a fighter, though–she loved her life, it was obvious she was trying every bit as hard as we were, but she started to decline after a few mild gains. A few days before we made the decision to have the vet come to the house and help her pass on, even though she was having trouble jumping, she got into bed with me, something she hadn’t done in years. Every day she meowed and purred and snugged and took a few little laps of tuna water or hummus, even though she was having a hard time keeping herself clean.

I miss her so much. Her favorite chair looks so empty now, the little bed next to mine that she slept in toward the end of things seems even smaller. I had been getting up in the middle of the night to pet her and check on her after the diagnosis/prognosis, and a few times I’ve woken up for that purpose only to realize that she is beyond being checked on any more. I am glad she is at peace, but twelve years wasn’t enough for me.

I know I don’t usually talk about writing stuff too much here, but I’m a bit overwhelmed and maybe a little happysad that yesterday I finished the final chapter of the novel I’ve been working on. I wrote THE END, typed it like it was no big deal, and woahmigod. Now editing, which I’m generally better at/enjoy more than banging out rough drafts so I should really go do some of that.

This project was certainly whirlwindish, given that I believe I started the pre-planning for this manuscript around mid-April of this year. It’s a short novel (under 100k), but damn! It just took over my life–it wanted to be on the page. Sure, it needs work. Sure, it’s not totally internally consistent. But I love it, and that makes me pretty happy.

I am fucking sick and tired of hearing Tea Party nutjobs talking about slavery. It needs to stop, because it is clear that, like so much else, Tea Party rabble-rousers have no concept of history, politics, or reality in general. I saw this ad a while ago and it induced a bit of frothing at the mouth–Abraham Lincoln thinks the federal income tax is akin to slavery? Oh shit right, it’s not like the first federal income tax was approved during the Lincoln presidency oh fucking wait no that is completely wrong, he signed into law the first federal income tax! But hey, why not grandstand and posture? I’m really sure that since the Revenue Act was terminated and then reborn as several other ways of taxing folks before the 16th amendment was approved that just really makes the Tea Party case! Indeed, paying a federal income tax that pays for public services like roads and schools and libraries and stuff is exactly the same thing as when a person of one race is born into a “peculiar institution” that allows him or her to be bought and sold, whipped, raped, worked without compensation, and psychologically abused by a different race! OK! As a white person, that makes real good sense to me!

This kind of bullshit nonsense is why I am frankly baffled when people are all like *shock* omg *shock* when the Tea Party is called on its shit for being a bunch of xenophobic, racist white folks with no ethos other than generalized rage over not getting their way in Washington, and, I dunno, when papers dare to consider not publishing re-runs of “Peanuts.” Lord have mercy on my blood pressure.

Well! Upon further consideration, the whole shock factor is  probably because Tea Party rabble-rousers are also total cowards, given that the article I was just about to link, penned by one Mark Somebody over at MarkTalk.com (it’s not right or left, it’s right or wrong!) was taken down and covered up like a cat burying a particularly odious turd, likely because he realized that penning a fictional letter from the NAACP to Abraham Lincoln about how apparently affirmative action and welfare are measures supported by “colored people” who don’t really want to be free, but who just want the federal government to be “massa” is completely inappropriate and insane! True!

The fact that Mr. Mark took the offending post down shows two things. First, it demonstrates how little Tea Party grandstanders wish to actually induce critical thought in their audiences, but rather get people fightin’ mad and slink away into the self-satisfied darkness of their suburban homes. Also, it demonstrates that Tea Party sorts also just love to miss the point. This paragraph I’ll quote below is genuinely amazing:

I would suggest to those offended by the term “Colored People” (the phrase that made my article so controversial) please contact the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and join me in calling for an end to their use of the racial slur and that Mr. Jealous take me up on my offer to travel with me on the next Tea Party Express so that he may meet all of you in person.  His contact information is below.

First of all, hey! White folks don’t necessarily get to determine what’s a slur and what’s not, or how people of color refer to themselves! Secondly, the article in question wasn’t controversial because of the flippant, ignorant throwing-about of the term “colored people” (that part made it merely gratuitously inappropriate) but were, in reality, offended by his allegation that affirmative action is akin to black folks wanting to be under the protection of a kindly “massa” once more, since apparently in the minds of Tea Party wingnuts. . . slavery was just white folks taking care of black folks? Right, I forgot that Gone With the Wind was a perfectly accurate depiction of slavery in the American south. Gosh, it is just totally real American history that black folks really don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies!

I will admit that I’m not as familiar with American slavery as slavery in the British West Indies, but damn it, I’m definitely familiar enough with American slavery and and its repercussions to say with all certainty that analogizing slavery to income tax or affirmative action or welfare is just about the most ignorant thing in the world and it needs to stop. And it needs to stop not because I’m some ivory tower liberal trying to silence free speech of salt of the earth Americans, but because it’s stupid and inaccurate.

For many years I’ve been critical of the tactic used in the animal rights movement to analogize industrial animal agriculture to rape. I hate it more than anything, and while I won’t get off topic by addressing my issues with that particular mental exercise, I find the Tea Party lust to imagine themselves enslaved and oppressed to be similarly disturbing and misguided. A terrible thing (or a perceived terrible thing) is not always exactly or even vaguely the same as some different terrible thing, and I think that making crackpot analogies merely serves to draw attention away from the real issues that could perhaps be discussed in rational ways should people wish to do so.

What the fuck am I even saying? Obviously it is better to nonsensically spout off dreck about how being a rich white dude in America these days is like so totally the same as being Big Jim out in the cotton fields. Bread and circuses worked for the Romans for a good long while, so why not?

Before we begin, a little linky-poo: Matt Staggs has an article up over at Suvudu.com about why some folks get dragon tattoos. My little demon-dude is up at the end after many interesting responses, so as Dr. Steven Brule would say, go check it out!

You know the drill: Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. After watching and loving The Terminator we decided to give the sequel its due. While I still can’t figure out why the movie was called Judgment Day–didn’t they, you know, stop it from happening?–I’m ready to do some judging of my own, so let’s get to work!

The Film: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? James Cameron—big time. Though he directed and co-wrote, Cameron did receive screenwriting help from his old buddy William Wisher, Jr., who went on to work on Judge Dredd and the Exorcist prequels. Seemingly straight-faced soundtrack by Guns N’ Roses, Dwight Yoakam, and George “Bad to the Bone” Thorogood. Hackting by Arnold, Linda “Chin-up” Hamilton, Edward “Is this Really the Height of My Career?” Furlong, Robert “It Was for Me, Too, Kid, So Suck it Up” Patrick, and Joe “Eureka” Morton.

Quote: If you can’t come up with a quote from this on your own, well, you’re probably better off.

Alternate quote: For reals.

First viewing by Molly: Last week.

First viewing by Jesse: In the theatre—so, nine years old.

Most recent viewing by both: Last week.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: See The Terminator.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Decent. I was thrilled to be allowed to see it in the theatre, which was a first where this sort of thing was concerned, and consequently the last for some time thereafter. I remember thinking Edward Furlong was pretty awesome, and, as with a whole generation of kids who wanted a dirtbike and a pet Terminator, I got my hair cut just like him. The ‘do went well with my brightly colored hammer pants. Ah, 1991.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

For some reason it won’t let me embed these clips, so link!

Molly’s thoughts prior to re-watching: I was really excited, as I remembered the hype surrounding T2 and thought The Terminator was just marvelous. Little did I know. . . never mind. I’ll say it all later.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: After being wary of re-watching the first Terminator, I was more optimistic about re-watching T2, not having seen it all the way through since I was a kid. Which shows how very, very mixed-up and foolish these columns make me.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Who could’ve guessed that the high jinks and kid-friendly action of T2 would please me less than the dark horror/sci-fi balance struck so wonderfully in The Terminator? Wowza! Shocking revelations aside, I suppose I should be generous enough to mention that I believe, had I viewed these films as a kid, my feelings would be somewhat different, since I can’t believe Young Molly would be the only kid in America to not squee at the notion of a pet Terminator. Anywho, I started getting really philosophical watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and I think I’ll share those musings, as even in the sober light of day, I think my theory about T2 holds up. Here it is: with a few notable exceptions, the problematic differences between The Terminator and T2 mirror the problematic differences between Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. Many of the stinky decisions Richard Fleischer made in order to completely ruin Conan the Destroyer have some bafflingly-accurate counterpart in T2. A short list in the order I thought about them writing this right now (and feel free to add your own):

  • Music: The gravitas of the scores of both Barbarian and Terminator are legendary—though I might personally feel that Poledouris’ epic, weighty score for Conan the Barbarian outstrips the eerie synthesizer in Terminator, both effectively convey the fact that you should be paying attention because what’s going on onscreen fucking matters. Then we have the goofiness of Destroyer and T2. Destroyer, as I believe I noted in our official review, is sucky because it’s just the goddamn soundtrack to Barbarian but sped up and dumbed down. T2, for its part, adds in a bunch of annoying pop standards to try to jolt the audience out of the glassy-eyed state of  “oooooooh shiny!” James Cameron was clearly attempting to invoke, given the script.
  • Presence of Wisecracking Sidekicks: How many wisecracking sidekicks appear to quip their lines adorably in Barbarian or Terminator? Fucking none, save Linda Hamilton’s friend, I guess, but calling her a sidekick would be a stretch. As we all know, Conan’s sidekick Subotai in Barbarian is the fucking jam for many reasons but his lack of wisecracking, “classic lines,” or “signature moves” elevates him exponentially. Then there’s Destroyer and T2. In Destroyer, we get the Most Annoying Sidekick of All Time, who I will not dignify by taking the time to google his name [Jesse says: say what you will, Tracy Walter was pretty ok in Repo Man]. In T2, Stock 90s Troubled Youth John Connor is kinda the main character, but so is the Terminator, so they sorta kinda become each other’s sidekicks and thus must both make wisecracks to fulfill that stereotype and omg I don’t even want to think about this any more AT ALL.
  • Pacing: The presence (or absence) of wisecracking sidekicks is a decent indicator of intended audience with the Conan and Terminator franchises (who wants to hang out with Conan talking shit/have a pet Terminator? Kids, that’s who [Jesse says: that is some ageist bullshit right there, but I’ll let it slide]), but so is pacing. Barbarian/Terminator had a weight to them—careful plotting, attempts and even the occasional success with character development. They both do that thing where there’s rising action, several climaxes that keep getting more climax-y, and falling action. Destroyer/T2 bank on us knowing who these characters are (and caring due to our affection for the first films) and just go buck wild with ‘splosions and shit getting shot and fire and guns. Also they attempt to go for the yuk-yuks, but more on that in the next section.
  • Self-Awareness: You know how Conan punches the camel in Conan the Destroyer for the yuk-yuk factor, because we all remember Conan getting trashed and punching that camel in Barbarian? And you know how they get Conan’s wisecracking sidekick to comment on the action? Yeah. You know how in T2 they repeat all the good lines from Terminator for the yuk-yuk factor and later reboot the Terminator so he can mug and grin for John Connor? Boo.
  • Honorable Mention: Presence of A Really, Really Crazy Lady: I’m pretty much done here but I’d like to mention another odd coincidence/element of both Destroyer/T2 that kinda sucked—both feature a lady character who’s so single-minded that she ends up ruining things, big time. The fact that Queen Whatever from Conan the Destroyer is a villainess and Sarah Connor is just batshit insane from knowing the future and being abused in Stock Post-Cuckoo’s Nest Mental Institution doesn’t really matter very much, because they both are so incapable of just listening to the men in their lives that they totally ruin a bunch of stuff.

I—I just. . . I know everyone loves T2, especially one Raechel Lynn Dumas, and so I feel bad putting it in the same sequel-fail category as Conan the Destroyer. . . but still. Big dumb blockbusters that are awesome (in the “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear” sense of awesomeness) and dark just work better for me than yuk-yuks and craziness. But since as a kid I totally thought Return of the Jedi was waaaaay better than, you know, Empire Strikes Back, I’d like to reiterate that had I seen T2 as a kid I likely would’ve loved it and had some degree of nostalgia/affection to balance out my allergy to George Thorogood and pandering camp.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Cats alive, that movie. First and foremost, it most certainly does not hold up to the first film in terms of aging gracefully/tolerably. It’s a louder, flashier, longer, and far stupider film than The Terminator, and yet is revered as one of the best films of all time by many a poll. Which goes to show that the lowest common denominator is, surprise surprise, pretty goddamn low, and that most people would rather watch a nonsensical mega-budget action movie with good effects to a lean, mean thriller with perhaps more heart than ability. I know, I know, stop the fucking presses.

Mind, as far as campy shoot-em-ups go you’d be hard pressed to find another early 90s cheesefest to rival T2 for technical ability and action set pieces—but then the first movie had both of those, and managed to avoid the ankle-snapping pitfalls that T2 is pocked with. When you’re trying to make a sequel to a movie about time travel you’re already setting out with a strike or two against you, and T2’s solution is to make things even more nonsensically convoluted in the hope that nobody will notice it makes zero sense whatsoever. There’s a reason critics compare the series’ narrative paradoxes to the old Planet of the Apes movies, which is never a good thing. Granted, I haven’t seen the third or fourth movies, or the tv show, which maybe ties it up real good, but I did play the Robocop Vs. Terminator videogame and feel like I can talk about the franchise with some small authority.

That said, re-watching it was a lot of fun, because, well, for all the annoying bits and stupidity it’s a pretty goddamn fun flick if one has the childhood memories I do, or if you’re the type who enjoys non-stop explosions, car chases, and shoot-outs [Molly says: I do, but I’m nothing if not perpetually disappointed by life]. Not the sort of fun movie I’m ever going to re-watch now that I’ve been back to the well, but hey, better than Conan the Destroyer. Maybe.

High Points: The T-1000 effects, which, as far as CGI goes, have aged impressively well. S. Epatha Merkerson showing up and taking her role seriously. The nostalgia factor, that draws one back to a mindset where the acting, plot, and pretty much everything else could be overlooked in light of shit getting shot and blown up with extreme prejudice. Shit getting shot and blowing up with extreme prejudice:

Link!

Low Points: Crazy mom being crazy. Any scene where shit is not getting shot and blowing up with extreme prejudice. The kid. The clumsy stabs at acting, which miss all the major organs and leave the audience bleeding out through countless agonizing gashes. The relentlessly annoying pop-soundtrack, most especially the scene where the Terminator goes into that redneck bar to “Bad to the Bone.” The camp, which rather than being so-bad-it’s-good, is often so-bad-it’s-bad.

Final Verdict: Seriously, we just compared this movie to Conan the Destroyer.

Next Week: Probably Alien.