Feeling Aged at Twenty

For a while now, I’ve been noticing a disturbing innner trend: I feel old. Very old. On some occasions, I’ve unironically mumbled “damn kids.” No doubt, this is a product of the rapidly-accelerating advance of technology (Singularity, anyone?), but to me, it doesn’t bode well.

You see, I was an early member of the Internet generation, and when the much-touted “Web 2.0”, user-created internet arrived sometime this decade, it only made sense to me. I’ve always been one to try to keep up or at least keep informed of the latest technical innovations. Now, though, I’m finding that I don’t have the energy to run in the twenty or thirty different directions that my brain is pulling me. There’s too much to read, too much to write, too much to digest, too many Wikipedia queries to make. It’s all just too much, too fast.

To me, this is foreshadowing what is to come. Before long, it will be impossible for the standard human being (I like to call them MOSHes (Mostly Original Substrate Humans), after Kurzweil) to keep up, even if they’ve been — as future children will no doubt be — steeped in the nöosphere since birth. Not only is this trend going to push us towards mind augmentation and transhumanism sooner rather than later, but it hints at things to come. Maybe all this Singularity stuff is crap, a “rapture for nerds” as some of the characters in Charles Stross’s Accelerando sometimes call it, but we’re certainly steaming towards some kind of technosocial discontinuity, if a fairly hip (and wipe that grin off your face!) technophile like myself is already feeling dated and obsolete at twenty!

Movie Review: “The Mist”

I saw a couple of trailers for The Mist, based on the Stephen King novel of the same title, and I was wandering through the bookstore a few months ago and thought that I’d give it a read. I found it gripping, interesting, and ultimately satisfying, as I find many of King’s novels.

Since I’m a firm believer in the ancient principle that a movie will always be worse than the book it is based on, I wasn’t expecting much when today I rented The Mist. But I wasn’t quite prepared for just how bad it is.

For the first three-quarters of this two-hour (two-hour!) movie, the plot sticks very close to the plot of the novel: a strange mist descends on a town, trapping a bunch of terrified people in a grocery store. Horrible things come out of the mist and do horrible things to the people. Classic Stephen King.

Given that the plot is interesting and psychological — two things you don’t see in movies these days — you might wonder how it would be possible to screw it up. Let me give you a list of good ways, although I might make director Frank Darabont angry, since he’s really the one that came up with these:

  • Atrocious dialogue. At times, it was so clumsy that I actually cringed. They took some directly from the novel, but not all of it, and the clash between the dialogue written by King and the dialogue added by the filmmakers is painfully obvious.
  • Flat characters. They should be moving. They should be sympathetic. They should be interesting. But they’re not. They feel like, to use an old phrase, cardboard cutouts, which makes it especially jarring when, in a rare moment of good acting, they express genuine-looking emotion.
  • They explain the mist. This is a mistake that most modern horror films make: either they explain who created the monster and how, or they tell you what’s making the zombies crazy, or something like that. The only two horror films I’ve seen where that’s been pulled off competently are 28 Days Later and I am Legend. One of the keys to the creepiness of King’s book was that they gave vague hints as to what happened, but they never actually told you. That’s always way creepier than actually coming out and saying it, which The Mist does with the same habitual clumsiness with which it does things.
  • The ending is incredibly depressing. I’ll try not to ruin it for you (anyway, Darabont already did that for me), but suffice to say that, even though it’s meant to seem bleak, gritty, real, and painful, it comes across as needlessly cruel, sadistic, and depressing. So, so depressing. Now, I’ll give Darabont credit where credit is due for creating an ending that is something we haven’t often seen before, but there is a point at which a depressing ending will puke all over the entertainment value of the rest of the movie. Darabont reaches that point, pays no heed, and keeps going, until he reaches the point known only as “Mass suicide in the movie theater.”

Now, I do have more than bilious hatred to spew about The Mist. I do enjoy tearing a bad movie to shreds, but I can’t do that with every aspect of the film. For one thing, the special effects are as incredible as anything you’ll see today. The mist feels real, and the filmmakers know when to use computer-generated mist and when to use an actual fog machine. The creatures are not only fairly faithful to King’s description, but they’re also suitably creepy. Even some of the scenes they made up and threw in there are fairly grotesque in a good way, the kind of good way that makes people want to watch horror films. As I said above, the ending, while depressing, is at least fairly daring. And Darabont, some of the time, keeps very close to King’s original idea.

But that last point actually becomes a problem at times. Nobody expects any film based on a book to stay close to the original storyline and dialogue. At least not as close as Darabont stays. I’ve been hoping for a long time to see a movie that was really just a visual version of a book, but now I see the error of my ways. If every book-direct-to-movie adaptation is as contrived and clumsy as this, then I’d rather see the director change what needs to be changed.

And even though he stays painfully close to the original story sometimes, at other times, he deviates shamelessly, wandering off into irrelevant or story-crippling (see bullet point #3 above) tangents, adding things that needn’t be added (gratuitous unnecessary gore, and in all the wrong places, too), and subtracting things that he probably should have kept (that hazy, panic-induced, shocked sex scene between the main character and the girl comes to mind). But probably the most painful loss is the feeling of panic, the feeling of dread, and that sense that everybody is slowly starting to break down and go mad. King does this very well. Darabont doesn’t do it at all until very near the end, when suddenly it was as though someone slapped him on the back of the head.

One final note. In the book, Mrs. Carmody, the religious lunatic, was more of a shriveled old bat, a hag with little more to do than play with her stuffed raccoons, read tabloids, and babble about the state of the world. But in the film, she’s about thirty years old, and delivers all of her lines with a kind of sickening melodrama not seen since the Wicked Witch of the West menaced Dorothy.

All in all, a bad movie. It has its good moments, but in the end, it’s far too clumsily-executed to be interesting, and long enough to make you feel like you’ve wasted a good chunk of your life. If you’ve read the book, don’t bother seeing the movie. And if you’ve seen the movie, I’m sorry, but Frank Darabont has already ruined the book for you.

Final Judgment:

* ` ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ (1.5/10 asterisks)

Yahoo and Google: Uh-Oh…

I’m sure there aren’t many nerds out there who haven’t heard about Microsoft’s many attempts to buy Google in a bid to break into the search-engine market. Fortunately, up until now, Yahoo has refused, but this time, they’ve only gone as far as saying the business equivalent of “no comment.”

I’ve lamented these kinds of unholy unions before (for example, when Google bought Youtube), and in my (somewhat limited) experience, they never turn out well. When one company buys another, it usually has something very sinister in mind, and I’ve learned that that goes doubly so for Microsoft.

Not that I give a damn about Yahoo. I’ve been a member of the “cult of Google” for some years now. But, still, if Microsoft and Yahoo get together, who knows what kind of market-gobbling, grotesquely-deformed progeny might result? What next, will Microsoft be working busily to make Yahoo Search harder and harder to use, all the while being secretive and difficult and overcharging for everything? Will they try to get their hands on Google, too?

I’m aware that this is rather paranoid, but I assure you, that I am not (literally or metaphorically) wearing a foil helmet as I type this. I believe that there is a legitimate concern to be had in the monopolization of such a large horizontal slice of the information-technology market by one juggernaut corporation. If they get their fingers in too many pies (that’s a very odd expression, if you think about it), it seems that Microsoft wouldn’t have too much trouble subduing or at least delaying the open-source revolution so many of us tech-nerds have been dreaming of for so long. And what’s more, in a monopolized market, there is the obvious fact that the monopolist can charge exorbitant prices for crappy products.

Those are my thoughts. Take from them what you will. (That was my melodrama; do with it what you like).

Advertising Schizophrenia

Another odd title, I know, but it suits my subject.

You see, over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a very worrying trend in advertising. It isn’t as insidious as the ultrasonic “sound spotlights” (which can beam adverts at you that only you can hear (!)), or as dangerous as all the political advertising that’s going to be plaguing us in a few months, but it is still worrying: all the advertisers have gone insane.

I first began to notice this in car commercials. Then, it was restaurant ads. Now, it’s spread through most of the advertising community. It seems that the advertisers have gotten so good at manipulating us that they think they no longer need to design ads that actually make sense. Perhaps it’s some sort of attempt to bypass our reality filters and inject the “Buy our crap” message directly into our cerebral corticies, but either way, it’s damned annoying.

An example: the other day, I was sitting down with my parents to watch some television, when an advertisement for Kentucky Fried Chicken came on. It showed a bunch of jovial, racially-diverse young people sitting down and biting into Photoshop-enhanced chicken wings (that would probably rate as beauty queens, as far as fried poultry goes, and that, incidentally, look nothing like the real thing; but I guess I should be used to that by now), then, they acted surprised (incidentally, where do they get these commercial actors these days? It must be the suburbs, because only a white suburbanite is so good at dripping with insincerity), and said something like “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” Apparently, it was an advert for KFC’s new “Sauceless Hot Wing.” I wasn’t sure I’d heard that right, but I’ve seen the ad a few times since then, and that was, indeed, what I was seeing. What the hell!? Is this what the advertisers expect us to see as “innovation”? “Hey, look, we’ve got a hot wing without any sauce! Buy our crap!” And before someone counters, “Well, it’ll be nice not to get all that sauce on your hands,” allow me to provide a blistering rebuttal: No it won’t. The messiness of hot wings is part of their charm! It’s part of the experience! And people who really like hot wings don’t mind the sauce, anyway.

But this rant isn’t just about fat-fried poultry. Car ads, too, are getting worse and worse. None of them make any sense, or if they do, their messages are painfully obvious. So, apparently they think we’ve become so simpleminded that all it’ll take for us to buy a new car is a bunch of loud music, pretty people, and nice graphics. Well, actually, now that I think about it…that probably is all it’ll take to get most people to buy a car. Sorry, I forgot I was dealing with Americans here.

Well, since I’m already railing against advertising, I thought I might as well rail against something more serious: pre-movie advertising. A week or two ago, I went to see Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (the disastrous result of which can be found here). Before the movie, there was the standard parade of random advertising. This parade has been getting longer and longer, to the point where it has approximately the same length as an actual parade, and is just about as boring. Then, an ad that was recognizably one of the new (schizophrenic) ads came on. It was loud, it was fast, and it was terrifying. The noise and the flashing lights drowned out my thoughts, and I got the extraordinarily unsettling feeling that somebody was trying to crowbar their way into my brain. So, since they haven’t figured out how to actually manipulate our minds (yet), they’ve done the next best thing and figured out how to make it impossible to think. Wonderful. Before long, I’m sure we’ll be seeing ads promoting Ingsoc and reminding us that Big Brother is watching.

Those are my (disjointed) thoughts.

Review: “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”

Having seen the previous Aliens vs. Predator, I walked into the theater not expecting much of the sequel (pseudo-creatively titled Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem). Every now and then, I’ll walk into a theater not expecting much, and come out pleasantly surprised. (This happened with I Am Legend) This, unfortunately, was not one of those times.

The movie starts off from the last film’s shamelessly sequel-friendly ending. From there, it takes off, and never even considers landing. This might sound like a complement, but I assure you that it is not. By “takes off,” I mean in the manner that a hummingbird might take off after some mischievous birdwatcher filled a birdfeeder with amphetamines. The movie’s attention span about matches that of it’s intended audience. Once again, this is not a complement, since it would appear that its intended audience is indeed a bunch amphetamine-addled hummingbirds. I can’t remember a single scene — and this (unlike my previous descriptions) is not an exaggeration — that lasted more than about five minutes. The cuts were so jarring and furious that what little plot there was was completely obscured.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

Read the rest of this entry »

Merry Something, Happy Something Else, etc.

Around this time of year, my cynicism tends to get a big boost. After all, what feeds cynicism better than the commercialization of a holiday that was originally — I think — supposed to be about goodwill towards your fellow humans and stopping your gluttonous hoarding for a moment to help your neighbors. Exacerbating this flaw is the endless stream of political correctness that makes any mention of the holidays that fall around December 25th about as clumsy as me on a unicycle. Add to this the endlessly repetitive Christmas soundtrack, and not only am I cynical, but I also have the urge to stick a long needle in both of my eardrums.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m gearing up for a rather serious rant, so if you’re not in the mood — and you’re probably not, given the fact that every other cynic on the planet is ranting right about now — then you’d best get out while you still can.

If you’re reading this, then you’re still here. I can’t understand why, but then again, I also can’t understand what’s so attractive about watching golf on television, so I won’t criticize. Anyway, the big rant:

  • As I get very tired of being a typical sarcastic cynic sometimes, I thought I’d put this rant at the very top of the list: I’m absolutely exhausted with all of the cynical people ranting about the holidays (holidays with a lowercase H). I mean, a time of year with so much money and corporate power behind it is not likely to go away soon, and history has proven that we cynics have little power to change the status quo. There are probably more productive and less hypertension-promoting uses of your time. After all, the only thing worse than actually having to listen to “White Christmas” is hearing somebody bitch about it for an hour and a half. That said, I’m going to be a good little cynic and contradict myself in the next bullet point, so that I can get some good ranting done.
  • It is obligatory for any cynic to complain about the music around this time of year. Supposedly, “White Christmas” was the song that made Irving Berlin great. To me, it’s the song that makes him an evil bastard with an aversion to other peoples’ continuing sanity. It’s gotten to the point where I’m no longer dreaming of a white Christmas, I’m having sweat-soaked incontinent Christmas nightmares. I know that’s a bit extreme, but anybody who’s heard “White Christmas” for the thirtieth time knows exactly what I mean.
  • The aforementioned political correctness is the next item on my ideological hit list. I’m so tired of hearing and reading the word “Holiday” and the phrase “Happy Holidays” that I would actually prefer someone to come up to me and say “Have a very crappy winter. I hope you die of exposure on a street corner.” While I think equality should be one of humanity’s foremost goals, I think that whoever is responsible for promoting equality really needs to learn to pick their battles. After all, as a quasi-Buddhist semi-atheist former Christian, I don’t think I’d honestly be offended if a Jewish person came up to me and wished me a happy Chaunukkah (forgive me if I misspelled that), or if someone wished me a happy Kwanzaa. I think that any excuse that we can find to wish each other a happy anything should be seen as valuable, and not nullified by trying to wish people a happy everything. And what’s worse, wishing someone “Happy Holidays” bears the stink of an attempt to broaden one’s holiday marketing demographic.
  • If I see one more suburban white family with a Doppelg­änger family of decorations on their front lawn, I may not be able to override my instinct towards destruction of property. Now, I should point out that I’m not (yet) so cynical as to be opposed to any Christmas (“Holiday”) decorations. I’m really very fond of a tasteful string of multicolored lights. It’s nice to occasionally mark a special day by doing something really peculiar like draping a bunch of tiny lightbulbs on your house. However, it seems that people (especially the aforementioned white suburbanites) are incapable of stopping there. Therefore, we end up with nativity scenes complete with full-size wise men, Santa Claus and reindeer, inflatable snowmen, little spinning things, animatronic wireframe reindeer, and whatever other random shiny blinky things the family can come up with. I — and I get the feeling I’m not alone in this regard — immediately begin wondering how much napalm I could make without attracting attention the moment I see a lawn so hideously decorated.

Environmental “Protection” Agency

Since I was young, I’ve always been something of an environmentalist. I haven’t been a passionate environmentalist for years, and here’s why: I gave up. I eventually realized that a government will enact environmental legislation only when it serves them to do so, and that they’ll ignore it when whatever crisis they were protecting themselves against has passed.

It’s a lucky thing I’m not passionate anymore, because if I were, then I would be up in arms right now, yelling in the streets. And nobody wants that.

Here’s what’s gotten under my skin lately: very recently, California attempted to pass environmental regulations much tougher than those mandated nationwide. As California is one of the most polluted states and, paradoxically, one of the most environmentally-conscious — they were the ones, after all, who mandated a quota of zero-emissions (electric) vehicles, before the industry shut them down — this would seem rather logical. And, of course, logic and government don’t mix well, so something went wrong.

I suppose I should learn to expect such things, in this age of do-nothing, get-out-before-the-ship-sinks government, but what happened surprised even cynical old me: the EPA overruled California. Yes, that’s right, I said the EPA. Those letters used to stand for “Environmental Protection Agency.” Given their recent actions, I would recommend we change their meaning to something more appropriate, preferably with a couple of expletives in there. My suggestion is “Excessively Petty Assholes.”

Many will no doubt think this judgment too harsh, but my sordid tale is not finished. California’s regulations were put in place because Californians complain that global warming threatens their water supplies, their agricultures, and — given the increased incidence of forest fires that warming brings — their population. The EPA’s response? “Not on your life!” The EPA actually attempted to claim that there was not a credible threat to justify such harsh local environmental regulations. What!?!? California, as a coastal state, will probably be one of the first states to face a credible threat from global warming. Hell, they’ve already faced a credible threat from global warming! Didn’t they have a terrible fire a few weeks ago?!

It gets worse. The EPA also said that global warming regulations should be nationwide, not local. Right. Because those nationwide regulations were getting passed in a real damned hurry. To me, this looks suspiciously like the current do-nothing administration just buying time until they can inflate their golden parachutes. I just hope that when the forests star to slowly burn away, the coastlines flood and erode as the icecaps melt, the North Atlantic current breaks down, freezing Britain under an ice-age glacier, and the water-shortage wars in Africa and the Middle East spread worldwide, that the fifty years of environmentally-ignorant politicians we’ve suffered through are mostly still alive, so that with whatever breath the toxic atmosphere will allow us, we can all point and laugh at them.

Hm…that was a bit cynical even for me. Note to self: don’t write any more posts early in the morning.