Friday, December 29, 2006


Touched By The Bloody Hand

posted by barsoomcore

When we first walked out of Gibson's Apocalypto, my thinking was that real question with this film was: "Is it fatalistic or not?"

It seems most people's question was "Why was it so violent?" but I guess those people don't watch very many violent movies. Apocalypto isn't the gratuitous bloodbath everyone paints it as. Yes, people get their hearts cut out and their heads cut off, but the cutting happens for the most part off-screen. If you can't handle the heart-yoinking scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom then this MIGHT be too much for you. Otherwise, it's not that big a deal.

No, as I say, my concern was with the implied fatalism. A quick conversation with Steph was enough to reassure me that yes, the film does indeed posit a fatalistic view of life. The descent of civilization is prophesied, and comes true exactly as described, and there is not a thing anyone can do about it.

That's not in and of itself a bad thing. Well, not quite.

The problem with stories that put forward a fatalistic view (most allegories fall into this trap) is that once you as a viewer have realised that the story takes place in a world where fate holds sway, it becomes hard to engage much with the characters. We CARE most about characters who are doing something to affect the world, and in a fate-driven world, individuals can have no impact; they can only fulfill their role.

Because of course we want to believe that we live in a world where our choices matter, where the pains and trials we undergo have meaning and impact and value. And of course we are terrified that we don't. And so in the end, watching Apocalypto becomes an exercise in watching these poor saps who cannot turn aside from their destiny, and just feeling sorry for them. It sure does suck to be them. Yes sirree.

So how is this different from The Passion, Gibson's brilliant masterpiece? Isn't that fatalistic? Isn't Christ as fated to die on that cross as these Americans are to collapse under their own superstitious dread?

I wondered about this as I was washing the dishes.

Wash wash wash. Wonder wonder wonder.

But once I realised the difference, I understood immediately why The Passion is so moving and why Apocalypto, for all its glory and energy, is so flat.

Christ knows what's happening to him. He chooses his fate. The Christian story isn't a story about the working-out of some pre-ordained fate -- it's about a man choosing compassion and inner strength over fear and weakness. The story is so powerful partly because we're all up there, hanging from the crosses of our own lives and asking, "Why me? Why am I stuck here?"

And the answer it gives is: "Because you know it's the right thing to do. You didn't have to do this. You could have stepped aside. All you had to do was open your temples to the money-lenders, stone those who reminded you of your own failures, and join in driving out those who speak the unwelcome truth. If you would have put aside your conscience and your passion for honesty, all would have been so much easier. But you chose to do the right thing, to suffer for THEIR sins, to allow yourself to take on the burden of THEIR dishonesty and fear, and so you can just shut up and bleed, because you got nobody to blame but yourself. Because you knew it was the right thing to do."

Apocalypto can't even ask the question, let alone answer it. Which is too bad, because it is beautiful and horrible and full of tremendous performances. But it's mute beauty, silenced by its own fatalistic vision.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Modern Times

posted by barsoomcore

Well, Scratch Factory has gotten to the point where we're thinking of hauling in some of our spread-across-the-internet ventures. Today we've managed to get organized enough to host the Modern System Reference Document, the complete rules of Wizard of the Coast's d20 Modern game.

This document has been (and continues to be) hosted a couple of places online, and mad thanks to the gang at 12 To Midnight for being kind enough to do so in its very early stages. If you're looking to drop a dollar or two on RPG goodness, they've got some mighty fine work over there.

And obviously there's a debt owed to Wizards of the Coast for going ahead and releasing so many products under the Open Gaming License, and really changing the world of RPG publishing. It was a bold move, lo these many years ago, but the industry is healthier because of it.


Friday, December 22, 2006


Badassitude Revived

posted by barsoomcore

Nothing but good stuff today.

New Trailer for Grindhouse

As Steph said, "Holy Jesus Fuck."

Is there anything that could possibly be more amazing than that? I mean, it STARTS with a shot of Danny Trejo jumping a motorcycle with machine guns through an explosion, and manages to get COOLER!

I think Rodriguez is at his best paired with someone like Tarantino. On his own he tends to deliver messes like Once Upon A Time In Mexico or Spy Kids 2. But when there's someone there to keep him on track, his wild visual imagination really revs up the screen. And I don't know what to say about Tarantino. He's smart, he's honest and good grief he knows how story works.

Whether he's twisting it up in knots or just letting it play out simple and straightforward, he's got a so-far-unerring knack for it. No reason to think this won't be more of the same.

But wait! There's more!

The Hall of Badassitude

This is supremely brilliant and perfect example of the higher spiritual development the human race is steadily evolving towards. This site explains why Sho Nuff, Muhammad Ali, Australia and the B2 Bomber are totally badass, and it's not only hilarious, it actually gets kind of inspiring at times. The perfect way to spend an afternoon is to spend it reading about so many incredibly bad-ass people that you get inspired to be a little bad-ass yourself.

A couple of simple quotes to demonstrate:

Re: Australia

Even the plants are fucked up in Australia. Known only as "The Stinging Tree," this spawn of Satan looks deceptively innocuous. It's a mild-mannered-looking thing that's merely covered with tiny hairs. But the slightest touch of those hairs has been known to instantly kill rodents within a day, paralyze dingos and dogs, and cause excruciating pain (and yes, even death) to humans. I mean fuck, seeding the land with enormous reptilian carnivores and holocaustic insects is bad enough. But disguising certain agony and death as a little tree is truly a hallmark trait of sociopathic genius.

Then there's the Platypus. He deserves his own paragraph because of how much of a deceiver he is. He lulls you into complacency because his neurotoxic spurs don't directly kill humans most of the time. Don't be fooled; you'd beg for death. All human victims of Platypus stings suffer immediate hyperalgesia (clinical hypersensitivity to any sensation of pain) for weeks or even months after the sting! That's Australia's way of saying "don't fuck with me, asshole, or I'll send a Salt Water Crocodile to fuck you up and shove Box Jellyfish up your urethra while force-feeding your wife eucalyptus leaves. That'll teach you not to use the word "crikey" in a pejorative context. Fuck-ass."

Australia is a psychotic, cold-blooded murderer that would swallow you whole if you so much as left the front door of your house (and this is assuming that your Sydney Funnel Web barricades are in working order). Whoever thought up the concept of Australia was inflicted with the madness of Nietzsche and the megalomania of Qin Shi Huangdi. And you know what? Genocidal, rampaging hellholes bent on exterminating all life on Earth are truly badass.

And the movie Starship Troopers:

Space marines are just awesome. I'm pretty sure it's impossible to make a movie about any kind of marines and have them not rock ass. I mean, even Imperial Stormtroopers are cool and all they did was bump into each other and fire their blasters in the wrong direction for three consecutive films.

I had previously thought that we were lacking in badassitude. I'm glad to be corrected.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Why Music TV Sucks

posted by barsoomcore

Because they don't play shit like this:

The Amateur

(thanks, JAmes!)

Or this:

Algorithim March! (with ninjas)

(thanks, Yosem!)


Sunday, December 17, 2006



posted by barsoomcore

The Automatons are upon us!

A number of reasons why this movie is incredibly cool:

1. It's called Automatons
2. It's by a company called Monsterpants Movies
3. Robots get their mechanical heads BLOWN THE FUCK OFF:

4. The filmmakers registered and used the URL "". Honestly, I'm kind of surprised it was available.

See? Technology is benign. Computers love you. And they help you make crazy beautiful movies about how computers and robots will bring about the end of the world. This can only be good.

Aren't you glad you live in a world where a kid with this sort of shit in his head can nowadays go out and actually FILM it? Forget about the flying cars, man. I'm living in the future.

All this courtesy of DISContent, the most righteous pulp cinema blog of our times.


Friday, December 15, 2006


Made Out Of Meat

posted by barsoomcore

More from Mike Thorpe, Application Analyst


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Pretty Golden Flower

posted by barsoomcore

Sometimes, pretty is not enough.

Despite the tremendous beauty of his films, Zhang Yimou has NOT proven himself as an action-film director to us yet. Raise the Red Lantern is a tremendous (if melodramatic) film, but both Hero and House of Flying Daggers failed to deliver real stomp-down action scene goods. Neither live up to the standards of films like King Boxer or The Magic Sword, that's for sure. Nor do they carry the wild abandon of Swordsman II or Dragon Inn.

But they are very, very pretty. And The Curse of the Golden Flower looks to continue that tradition, at the very least. And thank heavens Yimou has gotten past his Zhang Zhiyi infatuation. Seriously, Yimou, she's just not that good. Going back to Gong Li makes us love you more.

The trailers are starting to intrigue me. Ninja-rappelling always works for me, and Chow Yun-Fat in Tang Dynasty dress is a hoot. Since it seems not so much a kung-fu movie and more of a war movie, maybe Yimou's stately style will be more suitably showcased. Nothing's ever certain, of course. But Gong Li took that piece of crap Miami Vice and made it her own -- which I found kind of disorienting, since I always think of Miami Vice as being about Crockett and Tubbs, but hey, I'm happy to watch Gong Li out-act everyone else in the picture. And she wasn't showing off nearly as much cleavage there as she is here.

If you're going to make a pretty movie (which clearly you are, if you're Zhang Yimou), starting off by putting Gong Li in front of your camera is a good way to start. Yimou's problem for the last few films has been finding a story that DESERVES the level of prettiness he's giving it. And casting Zhang Zhiyi. Seriously, dude, what were you thinking? But anyways, in storytelling you have to EARN the qualities of your story that you emphasize. If you write it in verse, you'd better not only write good verse, you better be telling a story that NEEDS verse for its telling. Hero and House of Flying Daggers both lacked much weight to them -- even though they purportedly told stories of great significance. But the thing is, you have to earn your significance, too. You can't just say, "This is the story of how China was formed," and expect your audience to go, "Okay, then. We'll make sure to be very worked up about all this." You have to get them worked up about it through your storytelling. The story of how China was formed can be either exciting or painfully tedious, depending on the telling.

So while it's nice he makes such very pretty films (and they really are very, very pretty), what's the point? Well, in a couple of weeks the Golden Flower unfolds, so we'll see where Zhang Yimou has gotten to, and where he's able to take Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat. But he'd better tell a story that deserves all that prettiness.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006


6573401 Letters

posted by barsoomcore

Sorry I've let this little saga slide. I DID send a letter to Mr. McKee, listed as the owner of 6573401 Canada Inc., at least a month ago now. Letters contents follow:

Dear Mr. McKee:

I am writing to you in your capacity as the owner of 6573401 Canada Inc., about which I have some questions.

I am a shareholder in Some Company, Limited. As such, I received your offer to purchase my shares. I was interested, but not sufficiently to accept the offer, as you may be aware. But I have become ever-more curious about the nature and intentions of 6573401 Canada Inc..

What can you tell me about your company? What are your intentions with respect to ownership of Some Company? What other companies to possess shares in? What sort of objectives do you have, business-wise?

I would appreciate any information you can provide me. Thanks!

I received a response from 6573401 Canada Inc.! With Mr. McKee's name at the bottom. He appears to be a lawyer (there's a surprise). The letter states (in part):

As you know, 6573401 Canada Inc. (the "Buyer") made a written offer (the "Offer") dated May 2006 to acquire all the issued and outstanding shares of Some Company, Ltd. ("Some Company") from Some Company's shareholders. the Buyer completed the acquisition of all the issued and incredibly complicated terminology that I can't be bothered to type, but apparently means that some OTHER company ("Company Not Issued With A Special Title") has my few pennies.

So I wrote back, asking about CNIWAST, and was told to do the following:

In brief, you must deliver the following materials to CNIWAST's office in Vancouver, BC:

- share certificates representing your Some Company shares (or, where you have lost those shares, an affidavit of loss and a bond of indemnity in the form accompanying the Offer); and
- a letter of transmittal in the form accompanying the Offer.

Not at all sure what a "letter of transmittal" (the "Letter of Transmittal") is. But I will continue to investigate. The truth is out there! I want to believe!


Monday, December 04, 2006


Prehistoric AWESOME Times!

posted by barsoomcore

Mike Thorpe, Application Analyst, in an obvious effort to score points, dropped the latest issue of the greatest magazine in the world on my desk.

"Prehistoric Times" Issue #79! How did I miss the first 78? Good grief.

Anyway, as awesome as the cover is, the awesome increases on the inside. Reviews (Reviews!) of dinosaur parks! Ads for scale model dinosaurs! Reader art!

Reader art! And their readers are, like, sculptors and painters and shit, so it's AWESOME.

And ads for Dinosaur Wallpaper! Dinosaur Models! Dinosaur Finding Tools!

I defy you to find a better value for your dinosaur magazine dollar. This is what dinosaur magazines ought to be. This is why God invented dinosaurs in the first place. I mean, aside from confusing the whole evolution issue, there. THIS is what dinosaurs are all about: selling cool products. If you don't subscribe to this magazine right now, you are against LIFE.

It may have been an obvious effort, but it certainly succeeded.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


Blue, Blue, Electric Blue

posted by barsoomcore

Anne Carson is a very great poet. And sometimes (more often than I always expect) she is very, very funny. This poem from The Believer makes me laugh.


(PAESTUM 500-453 BC)

First detail

Above, the blue arm ballet sparkling its way from stranger to
stranger on a luck of clouds.
Below —


What verb to.
Such as leap into water.
Such as ravish her and want to.

Through with love she sings Naked except for a.

Second detail

“swimming at noon always reminds me of Marilyn Monroe”

Etruscan saying

The Etruscans: Are you blue, Marilyn?
Marilyn:                A little blue.
The Etruscans: What do you do when you’re blue?
Marilyn:                Go underwater.
The Etruscans: Why?
Marilyn:                 Slow world, I like that.
The Etruscans: Slow bodies?
Marilyn:                 Bodies pulled around by faces.
The Etruscans: Diverse faces (sorry!)
Marilyn:                 Actually, all the same face.
The Etruscans: Frightening? Seductive?
Marilyn:                 No, beautiful.
The Etruscans: Odd sort of beauty.
Marilyn:                 Like a new brassiere.
The Etruscans: Or a very usual verb.
Marilyn:                 What?
The Etruscans: For instance the verb ‘is’.
Marilyn:                 I didn’t know ‘is’ was a verb.
The Etruscans: What did you think it was?
Marilyn:                 A light for the other verbs.
The Etruscans: In written Etruscan it’s the only verb we have.
Marilyn:                 You’re kidding.
The Etruscans: Is, was, has been, had been, will be, might be, should be, to be, to have been, to be about to have been, being, being about to be. And of course the negatives of these.
Marilyn:                 How do you get married or go to the beach?
The Etruscans: We do such things, just don’t write about them.
Marilyn:                 No novels, no screenplays?
The Etruscans: No literature.
Marilyn:                 Why bother writing at all then?
The Etruscans: It is needed on tombstones.
Marilyn:                 Oh I see.
The Etruscans: Now there’s a slow world.
Marilyn:                  You got that right.
The Etruscans: Now you’re sad again.
Marilyn:                 No just thinking. My pain self etc.
The Etruscans: Les choses derrière les choses.
Marilyn:                 I guess.
The Etruscans: Getting colder now.
Marilyn:                  Time to go in.
The Etruscans: And tomorrow?
Marilyn:                  Tomorrow will certainly be.
The Etruscans: You are very funny.
Marilyn:                 So I’m told. 



Thoughts on Ashoka

posted by barsoomcore

I don't normally try to push my causes on others, but I've been watching and listening to and talking with the folks at Ashoka for over a year now, and I'm convinced that they're the real thing. They call themselves "social entrepreneurs" and "innovators for the public". Their notion is that the ideas of entrepreneurship are ready now to be transformed into the social sector (actually, this is a process that's been going on for some time, according to them), and so similar sorts of fostering that we've seen in the private sector (funding start-ups, rewarding individual effort) will help get things going in the public.

I admire and agree with the notion of fostering rather than dictating change: Ashoka does not try to set policies; instead, they help local citizens implement change as they think their neighborhoods require. By putting people all over the world in touch with each other, and providing training and in some cases funding to those entreprenuers that are trying to change their societies, they believe they can transform the world.

Easy to be cynical about. And maybe they're wrong. But read their founder's most recent statement and see if you can maintain your cynicism:

"The most important contribution any of us can make now is not to solve any particular problem, no matter how urgent energy or environment or financial regulation is. What we must do now is increase the proportion of humans who know that they can cause change. And who, like smart white blood cells coursing through society, will stop with pleasure whenever they see that something is stuck or that an opportunity is ripe to be seized. Multiplying society’s capacity to adapt and change intelligently and constructively and building the necessary underlying cocollaborative architecture, is the world’s most critical opportunity now."

There's plenty of ways to get involved with this crew -- one of their services is linking available volunteers to needy projects. Like any not-for-profit group, they need donations (Ashoka does not accept funding from government agencies). But really, just reading about what they're doing and what's happening all over the world is enough to get you thinking.

And thinking about it, while it's no substitute for action, is at least the first step.


Saturday, December 02, 2006


Dream of Happyness

posted by barsoomcore

Leading into the rather good Casino Royale, we were treated to a number of movie previews. There was The Pursuit of Happyness, We Are Marshall, and Dreamgirls. A tearjerker cute-kid-plus-down-and-out-but-trying-hard-dad film, a college sports movie and a biopic on the Supremes.

No shortage of difference there. But somehow, watching the trailers, these all looked like the same film, just told with different window dressings. And that film is really a piece of propaganda, and a particularly pernicious form thereof. The message of all three films, at least as expressed by the trailer, was "If you believe in your dream strongly enough, if you don't allow anything ti distract you from your dream, you can realise it."

Besides the fact that this ignores the universe's total lack of concern with an individual's attitude towards what they do, this evil little bit of P.T. Barnum hucksterism inflicts a sort of cruelty even towards people who ARE successful: it requires people to HAVE a dream in the first place.

I don't think I have a dream. I don't think I've ever had a dream. Once upon a time I wanted to be a writer. Then I grew up and discovered that being a writer was a more complicated issue than I'd thought. So I guess I am a writer, or I'm not writer, depending on how one chooses to define "writer". But in any event, "being a writer" is either stupidly trivial to accomplish (I write, therefore I am a writer) or so dependent on other people's opinions that my efforts, no matter how Herculean, aren't sufficient to ensure my success (getting published).

And I think I count as a pretty single-minded sort of guy. I can remember folks telling ME that they wished they had a dream like I do, because then their lives would be so much simpler. For most people in the world, sticking to their guns and seeing their dreams through isn't the tough part; the tough part is CHOOSING a dream in the first place. And because most people live in the real world, it isn't even feasible or responsible for them to just pick one thing and put all their effort into making it happen -- they have to juggle all sorts of needs and responsibilities in their everyday life. Why tell people that if they only had ONE desire, and put all else aside, they'd succeed? That just seems unecessarily cruel.

Or at least simple-minded.

Life is complex and sophisticated, and story-telling like this tries to pretend it isn't. It makes you feel like you're being inspired, when in fact you're being encouraged to do nothing substantive -- you're being told that step one is HAVING A DREAM. So those of you without dreams are perfectly justified in sitting around doing nothing until your dream arrives. Or forced to fret and worry because, unlike these heroes, you don't have a dream you feel like you can commit to and give everything to. Which offends me, because I don't think it's very healthy to obsess over ONE THING anyway. I prefer to embrace -- even savour -- the complexity of my life. That I don't know what I'm doing from one day to the next. Sure, there are some landmarks I try to steer by, and some stops along the way I'm looking forward to, but honestly, I'm not trying to accomplish anything other than just... have fun. Be happy. Get a few laughs.

That sounds shallow, but I don't think it is. In one of Dr. Suzuki's books (no, not that Suzuki, the other one) he talks about recognizing wisdom, and how our need for wisdom to come packaged in ancient tomes, or on misty mountaintops, or couched in complex, difficult language, is really a manifestation of pride. Of seeing ourselves as SO WONDERFUL that the only wisdom worthy of our attention is that which has been dressed up and made to look significant, just to please our own egos. When in fact, if I'm being humble (which I almost never am, but I do try), there's wisdom to be found on all sides of me, if only I will let go of that pride that insists I need more.

But it's hard to make a melodramatic trailer about... um... noticing shit. So I get it. But it's not MY Dream of Happyness.

Labels: ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?