Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No Same Love For White Rap From President

Obama pops Mackelmore’s tags in most emotional SOTUA yet

Article written by George Stefano Pallas.  Views, bad writing, and horrible rap allusions expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author, unless they’re directly attributed to him, in which case he accepts full responsibility for his transgressions and apologizes for being acquainted enough with the subject to make them in the first place.

In his annual state of the union address, President Barack Obama touched on many pressing issues that still face America in the wake of the preceding administration, from creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, closing the economically troubling wealth gap, making universal access to health care a reality, ensuring that all workers can receive a living wage, and taking firm action against climate change, but possibly the most unexpected and impassioned highlight of his speech came when he broached the racial controversy over white privilege in contemporary rap culture.

He has been called the first hip-hop president by many political analysts, having fondly spoken of the genre’s prevalence on his iPod and utilized the sway of acclaimed rappers like Ludacris, Jay-Z, and Kanye West to his advantage in the historic 2008 election, but Obama nonetheless insists that recent events have demonstrated an upsetting trend in the industry away from its colored roots.  “Hip-hop has always been an African-American art form,” said the President Tuesday night.  “Trying to just cut out the cultural background of this music as though that identity never existed is like trying to erase the discrimination and hate endured by millions of African-Americans prior to the civil rights movement; it doesn’t work and it only fosters ignorance.”

The President’s remarks appear to have been formed directly in response to Seattle-based hip-hop duo Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis’ sweeping victory at the 56th Grammy Awards last weekend.  Both artists are white and picked up all the awards in traditionally black-dominated categories, winning Best Rap Song for their hit take on “Thrift Shop”, beating out Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album, and even triumphing over the final rapper for the highly coveted Best New Artist prize.

The outcome immediately provoked furious rants on the internet about the ramifications of honoring white performers for black artistry, rounded off with accusations that the judging committee made “the safe choice” by favoring the Caucasian group.  Even with the rise of Eminem, white hip-hop has always borne a social stigma for its perceived degradation of ebonics and the fact that the “N-word” factors so heavily into its beats, and the Grammys has only exacerbated animosity towards the genre.

Mackelmore himself, who once wrote a song lamenting that the white face could so readily appropriate the black genre, issued an open apology to Lamar on Instagram for exploiting his pale complexion to cheat the “good kid, m.A.A.d city” rapper out of his rightful distinction.  “Sorry for being white, man.  You got robbed.”  Last year, the progressive singer confessed to Rolling Stones that his skin color has played a key factor in his success, saying, “If you’re going to be a white dude and do this (unprintable), I think you have to take some level of accountability… I do think we have benefited from being white and the media grabbing on to something… even though I’m cussing my (unprintable) off in the song – the fact that I’m a white guy – parents feel safe.  They let their six-year-olds listen to it…”  But sometimes even the most heartfelt apology isn’t sufficient to make amends, as the case has proven with Obama and white rappers at large.

The President contended that hip-hop poseurs “recall all the most hateful and disgusting aspects of blackface and should be renounced by anyone who, like myself, supports love and equality for all people, no matter what their skin color is, what god they worship, or who they love.  Professor Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis are clearly smart men and good guys whose music is having a positive impact on a lot of young people, but, as an African-American, it pains me especially that they would strive to spread a message of tolerance with the gay community by demeaning the black community.  Obviously I’m disappointed in them; I’m even more disappointed in those who would reward such an insensitive delivery for such an important message.”

Mr. Mackelmore and Mr. Lewis weren’t the only white musicians that Obama targeted yesterday evening.  Although he didn’t specifically enumerate anyone else in his emotionally charged monologue, the 6-year incumbent later went on air with his old pal Jimmy Fallon to take aim at Eminem, who has claimed front stage in a number of performances with the ethnically ambiguous Rihanna, the now retired Beastie Boys who started the whole affair, and Pitbull.

Obama didn’t settle to rebuke Mackelmore and his relatives merely for usurping the trade of his black brothers and sisters, lambasting them also for assuming a guise of public commitment while privately amassing vast sums of wealth through their divisive music.  “For a guy who’s only got $20 in his pocket, Mr. Haggerty has profited immensely from preaching antipathy to those who are not like him,” said the first black president of the United States, segueing into a plea for economic justice.

“This is exactly why I support raising the minimum wage for hard-working Americans, so that no one has to live in poverty while fat-cat rappers bring in millions of dollars that they don’t need.  As members of the American family, we often assume the ceiling can’t hold us, that we can rise as high as we want by our own initiative, but eventually enough is enough.  People like myself and Haggerty and Lewis don’t need another tax break, and I remain committed to making sure that everybody gets a fair shake and does a fair share.”

Although half of the assembly present and John Boehner rose to their feet in deafening applause at this point, it remains to be seen whether Obama’s fiery speech will rekindle his waning influence among the traditional hip-hop singers who fueled his campaign for office, along with notable figures like Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton, and Samuel Jackson.  Kanye West in particular has had a kind of falling-out with his former idol, using an industry simile to illustrate their current relationship.  “Obama was supposed to be the coolest person on the planet – now he gotta say our names to be cool.  It’s like a feature; we feature in his interviews right now. They need a feature from us to get relevant.”

One of Obama’s top supporters.  “I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had the best music video of ALL TIME!”

This comes shortly after Obama declared Kanye’s music “outstanding” and complimented him for bringing awareness to minority oppression with the anti-Illuminati protest song “New Slaves” (“Yeah they confuse us with bull____ / Like the New World Order / Meanwhile the DEA / Teamed up with the CCA / They tryna lock n_____s up / They tryna make new slaves) and to sexual assault with the now famous pro-women’s rights music video “Bound 2”,  in which he and Kim Kardashian lay their true love bare on a motorcycle for all to see.

Another one of Obama’s top supporters, and his wife.  This was the only photo from their Grammys ‘performance’ that passed muster under our PG-13 test.

One of the President’s biggest celebrity representatives, Jay-Z also criticized Obama’s reaction. “Me and Obama, we’re really tight, like we text each other all through the damn night.  He’ll say this and I’m like, ‘Word, brother.’  But he took it way too far this time, muh_____.  They say imitation the sincerest form of flattery.  Mackelmore, Lewis, they ain’t mocking me.  Ball so hard.  This ____ crazy, uh!”

The American Civil Liberties Union immediately leapt to the defense of card-carrying (literally) member Mackelmore, decrying Obama’s rhetoric as a verbal assault on his right to free expression.  White House press secretary Jay Carney defused these claims with the explanation that, “President Obama fully respects the right of artists to sing about social issues that concern them, just as he respects the right of anti-Islamic indie filmmakers to make whatever crude, disgusting, or offensive slanders they please.  There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis because they don’t like the idea of a white rapper.  Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis and give them the benefit of the doubt precisely because they’re white rappers.”

The Author declined to watch the Grammys in full or part on the basis that they’re fast deteriorating into “kiddie porn” and “GLAAD-tailored propaganda”, but he too had an abundance of critical words for M&RL.  “Granted that we disagree on about 99% of public debates, there’s a certain satisfaction in being able to meet with Obama that 1% of the time.  Kanye West is a jackass, white gangster rap is utterly disrespectful and obscene, and Mackelmore is the dumbest, most inarticulate pile of Truther manure left of… well, left of everybody really.  The dope’s a broken keyboard, reeking of R. Kelly’s sheets, arraying himself in better artists’ clothes that he picked up for 99 cents: even his closest followers acknowledge that his top single is just a lame, profanity-laced cover of a vastly superior Tyler Ward/Lindsey Stirling title.  Hey, Mac – go officiate some ‘gay weddings’ and leave the music to those who can play a real instrument.  Or, you know, sing.  Or, you know, look increeeedible…”


Addendum by the Author: Just kidding.  If I plugged Lindsey into every single post, it would quickly cease to be very funny or attractive, unlike… well, yeah.  Look, it’d be reaaaally awkward, is what I’m trying to say.  No worries, though.  I have at least three more topical plugs waiting in the wings.

Correction from the editing staff: Even though Obama did single Pitbull out as a “white rapper” on the Late-Night Show, the “Timber” artist is actually a Cuban-American who incidentally has a light skin hue; we should have reported this distinction as such in the original version of the article.  The staff of the Files apologizes on behalf of George Pallas for any confusion this error might have wrought.

Notice to concerned parties: Yes, the Author did survive the State of the Union drinking game last night, though he was only barely able to get this article up afterwards.  George Pallas abstained because he had to attentively observe and record the address live from the Capitol floor.

Just watched it again.  On reconsideration, this is too good not to plug.  And she sings/raps in it.  *Swoon*

Saturday, January 25, 2014

3 Stinkers – Hi Yo Silver, Away With Thee

Mainstream movie critics had an abundance of harsh words to say about Disney’s 2013 reboot of the Lone Ranger franchise, but their three main contentions essentially boiled down to these: “The Lone Ranger is racist and intolerant of differing cultures”, “The Lone Ranger is overlong”, and “The Lone Ranger features way too much shooting, killing, stabbing, and cannibalizing for its PG-13 rating and family-friendly source material”.  In a rare convergence of opinion, I would like to second these shrewd observations and offer the sincerest of compliments to those normally tasteless commentators who so often lead gullible moviegoers astray.  The Lone Ranger is a deeply racist and vile propaganda piece brimming with resentment and cynicism, directed not so much against Native-American tribes as against “the white man” and Christianity.  At two and a half hours in length, The Lone Ranger is a disgrace to all epic westerns that preceded it, not because it has a daunting run time but because the writers can’t think of anything meaningful, exciting, or even humorous to put in it.  More so than Man of Steel, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, and just about every other supposedly kid-friendly movie that turned out not to be, The Lone Ranger is needlessly gruesome, takes itself so seriously as to be painful, and has an exorbitantly high body count, which isn’t inherently bad when the director knows what kind of movie he’s making but really rubs viewers the wrong way when he clumsily tries to alternate between moments of cartoony comedy, FX-driven adventure, and revenge drama.  All these complaints are legitimate and damning in themselves, but I feel compelled to add a fourth, namely that The Lone Ranger is gravely and unforgivably insulting to my intelligence, a stupid movie produced by a cast, crew, and studio who arrogantly assume that I’m stupid enough to accept even the lowest trash as entertainment.

The Lone Ranger employs a story-within-a-story device that should be all too familiar to anyone who has seen The Princess Bride or Life of Pi; in this case the audience is a little boy dressed as a ranger of ye old westerns and the narrator is an elderly Indian museum dummy who just magically springs to life upon the boy’s examination and claims to be “the Tonto”.  Yeah right, the young actor scoffs in an expression that I think is disbelief, and so the makeup-smothered Johnny Depp proceeds to recount an origin story of good men, bad men, sword fights, monsters, true (adulterous) love, and the rest, but we’ll get to that last bit later.  Of at least three problems with this framework, the first is that the kid who plays the boy can’t act, rendering his intrusive scenes opposite an even-weirder-than-usual Depp all the more intolerable.  Secondly, for those few wary movie connoisseurs who do look into this garbage, the storytelling old-timer refrain does little but stir distracting memories of those aforementioned masterpieces, thereby inviting mental juxtapositions of a truly contrived and shallow relationship with truly endearing and memorable ones (at least in Princess Bride; I myself didn’t care much for the trick in Life of Pi).  By setting itself up for comparison to such giants of romance and adventure, The Lone Ranger only makes its shortfalls all the more blatant.  Finally, giving Tonto – or Depp, as I shall henceforth call him out of respect for the character – free rein to direct the movie’s events however his unstable mind imagines they happened essentially gives the screenwriters a license to disregard all rules of plausibility, realism, and credibility in their narrative, a license which they exploit to the fullest.

Subpoint a) Chained together by one of many really bad guys in the movie, Depp and the future lone ranger race across one of many runaway trains in the movie to be violently ejected from the top when it derails.  Somehow they survive the initial explosion and potentially bone-fracturing collision with the ground, coming unscathed to a stop against a wall, but they’re still bound and one of the carriages is hurtling towards them at high speed.  Fortunately, a spinning metal beam falls right out of the sky and penetrates the dirt directly between the two, conveniently smashing the chain restraining them and forcing the train car to halt a couple feet from the invincible heroes.  Phew!  For a second there I thought the poster characters were going to die in the first 20 minutes of the feature.
Subpoint b) The lone ranger gets shot and comes back to life, because he’s that good.
Subpoint c) The lone ranger runs into the plain sight of three hostile gunmen and tries to talk them out of a fight, at which point they fire in unison at the open door that frames him not ten yards away.  Naturally, being bad guys, they all miss.
Subpoint d) A pack of mutated CG rabbits gather around a campfire at night to devour one of their own with razor-sharp teeth.
Subpoint e) A woman climbs around the outer side of a train moving at high velocity, then later gets thrown halfway out of another train by a bad guy, but her dress catches on something and saves her life, much to the ranger’s relief.
Subpoint f) For the sake of time and pixels, let’s just say that all the train sequences in this movie depict physically impossible stunts and ask the viewer to suspend disbelief to a level that’s not even funny.  Take the most ridiculous fight in POTC, the duel on the revolving wheel in the jungle for instance, double the absurdity, remove the witty and likeable characters, and you have The Lone Ranger from start to finish.
Subpoint g) Silver the stallion opens and imbibes a bottle of beer, gallops across a flaming roof, literally flying over obstacles, and stands upright on a tree branch some 15 feet above the ground.  “Something very wrong with that horse,” intones Depp.  More like, “something very wrong with this movie.”  The grave error of setting such an unreliable, mentally off-kilter, and, um, dead a narrator loose to exaggerate the truth however he wilt – to “season the truth with little lies”, as Mr. Eugene Krabs would have it – is that the reality of the story’s events must become so twisted and indistinct in the eyes of viewers that none can invest the slightest care in the characters’ outcomes.

Perhaps I should summarize the plot.  Armie Hammer from Aaron Sorkin’s Facebook Movie and Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Was Gay plays John Reid, a pathetically unmanly and physically hapless lawyer who eschews the Bible in favor of John Locke’s Treatises on Government (two completely unrelated and mostly irreligious documents by a philosopher who was anything but an Atheist) and is ever trying to catch up to his older brother, a hardened ranger with a hottie of a wife.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Twins, then you can think of the elder Reid as Arnold Schwarzennager and the younger as Danny DeVito.  The former got all the good blood while the latter got stuck with whatever undesirable stuff was left over, or so it initially appears.  As it turns out, John – or Hammer, as I shall also continue to call him out of respect for the character – is a “spirit walker”, meaning he’s a great warrior who literally cannot die in battle, which is overall a nice asset to possess in a big-budget summer flop where one’s life is perpetually endangered by gunfire and various exploding or crashing things.  The Reid brothers’ competition is brought to a premature conclusion when a brutal villain named Butch Cavendish ambushes the two in a canyon, putting an end to the one who can actually brandish a gun and giving the one who can’t a motive to learn how.

In fact, Butch has shot and butchered countless people throughout his life, all for the sake of securing enough money to get a replacement set of teeth, or so I infer, as he’s not exactly the handsomest hunk to roam the wild west.  That he has a hankering for eating the hearts of his victims doesn’t do much to compliment his already sordid reputation.  Verily, we can only recoil in disgust with Hammer as he beholds the animal utilizing his still living brother as an opportunity to practice his carving skills, which would be a emotionally poignant moment if the rest of the movie weren’t so pervasively comic and weightless in tone and if the writers had taken any pains for basic character development.  After an obligatory pep talk with Johnny Depp, Hammer becomes obsessed with bringing Cavendish to justice, and he’ll never tire of verbally reminding us so, just as all the other characters never grow weary of calling him “the wrong brother”, noting that the hot widow’s scarf matches her eyes, or pontificating about the significance of a singular silver bullet within western mythology.  Even when it isn’t alluding to or just copying scenes from A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Batman Begins, or the director/writer team’s previous collaborations in POTC (especially At World’s End), Lone Ranger so frequently beats its audience over the head with symbols and motifs as to be egregiously condescending.

Possibly the greatest point of difference between the original radio/TV drama and this revisionist drivel is that the lone ranger and Tonto were actually good guys back in the day.  Having seen only a handful of the old episodes, I can nonetheless aver that the two always stood up for the weak and defenseless, respected women, fought valiantly for peace and justice, scorned personal temptations such as taking vengeance against their enemies, and in brief did all things that befitted a man of chivalry and honor.  Rugged virility and the clash between good and evil men have ever been common themes of the western genre, and The Lone Ranger show largely reflected that tradition, whether or not it did so very professionally.  Elliot/Rossio/Verbinski, on the other hand, thought it would be more interesting to weave a story of good guys who are only marginally less loathsome than the bad guys, wherein Depp’s Tonto is a recognized client of a seedy whorehouse who plots to avenge his Comanche tribe over the blood of the wendigo white man and Hammer’s ranger lusts after his brother’s wife, eventually winning a kiss from her after he majestically rides in on a green screen to save the day.  Even the brothel-attending Indian can tell that’s perverted.

The most offensive thing about Tonto’s portrayal in the picture has nothing to do with ‘whitewashed’ casting or the dead bird crowning his head, which is partially the result of a rather traumatic childhood and partially a reminder of the debt he owes his people, but that the writers draw him as a stupid and unprincipled savage.  Likewise, the worst thing about this incarnation of the lone ranger isn’t Hammer’s inability to act or to maintain a fake cowboyish accent consistently but that he typifies the metrosexual archetype that liberal Hollywood is gradually coming to embrace as a worthy substitute for the man of muscle and action.  At the apparent ‘climax’, Tonto makes a rare display of inner wisdom, confronting Reid’s cowardice with this forceful condemnation: “You are not a man.”  Never was a word uttered more true in this sorry picture of broken masculinity, and what a miserable truth it is that Helena Bonham Carter outmans the lone ranger tenfold.  She plays a prostitute for about five minutes on-screen and was apparently hired for the sole purpose of shooting at an overly pushy guy with her boot gun and yelling, “No free ‘rides’, gentleman!”  Ha ha.  I get it.  That was almost as funny as Sofia Vergara’s boob gun in Machete 2, which critics loved if only because it appealed more directly to their sophomoric mentalities and because she’s a HispanicLatinoSomething star in their favorite gay propaganda show.

I could ramble on about all the cheap potshots Lone Ranger takes at Christianity, Caucasians, and American exceptionalism, but others have already documented these things at length and I won’t do the movie any favors by restating old findings about the bitter contempt it exudes for this country.  One can only wonder if the screenwriters saw or heard a single episode of the source before taking up their pens.   Just in the nick of time before the credits roll, Hammer delivers a much needed nod to the classic series in the way of a hearty Hi Yo, Silver, to which Depp retorts in deadpan horror, “Never do that again,” before limping off into the horizon as a drunken old man – an image that could easily be interpreted as a symbolic stand-in for the movie.

I agree with Tonto.  Never do this again, Disney/Bruckheimer.  You have produced probably the most abhorrent, insensitive, ill-mannered, pointless, and thematically confused Utah/Arizona/California/New Mexico/Texas travel brochure in the history of film.  All those states deserve and have received far better treatments from the Coen Brothers, John Ford, George Ray Hill, and a bunch of Youtubers who have nowhere near $250M to burn.  Would that I had some new Lindsey Stirling and Piano Guys music videos to cleanse my mind of this train wreck, but alas, I have completely run out of both*.  Oh well.  Unlike Tonto, his Kemosabe, Butch Cavendish, and pretty much every other character in this visual bloodbath, watching listening to the following performances for the 6th time never killed anybody.

Depp: “Good shot.” [referring to a fatal ricocheting bullet chain reaction pulled by the ranger, the like of which is only possible in stupid action movies that defy the laws of physics]
Hammer: “That was meant to be a warning shot.”
Depp: “In that case, not so good.”

Grade rating: C-.  About as funny and charming as Butch’s cross-dressing right-hand bandit.  “I just like them pretty things.”

22,450,000 views and 263,000 likes.  That means this sold about twice as many plane tickets to the great southwest as The Lone Ranger.

No, there arent any sweeping Utah mountainscapes in Assassin's Creed III, nor did the redcoats ever come close to setting foot in Utah, but who cares about accuracy when the video has Lindsey Stirling in it?  Only 12,000,000 views for this one but probably thrice as many plane tickets.

*OK, I haven’t completely run out of Piano Guys videos.

Unrelated side-comment: I’m rooting for the team that isn’t from the People’s Republic of Seattle.

Another unrelated side-comment: And the Grammy should go to… good grief, this is the very best you elites you could scavenge out of last year’s musical treasure chest?  Daft Punk?  Who’s running this charade?  Whatever… give it to Sara Bareilles, then.  Mumblegrumblesostupid.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3 Stinkers – So Tall A Word For So Small A Movie

In his own words, WTF?!

One of the many prerequisites for a functional animated movie is a story that would hold up without animation.  This is not to say that all live-action films are necessarily superior to animated ones, nor to insinuate that all stories are more suited to live-action than animation, but only to point out that bright colors and buoyant characters alone are hardly sufficient props to support a motion picture.  Another basic rule governing animated and traditional movies alike is that they must retain even a semblance of logical coherency, no matter how fantastical their setting or incredible their heroics.  Blue Sky Studios’ Epic violates both of these rules with ease and commits so many cinematic infractions on the side that it will tire all but the most impressionable of children.  The reason why someone elected to tell a story of animated humans who live in animated homes next to an animated forest wherein dwell animated leaf people who ride animated hummingbirds and fight animated “boggons” is that the very idea of tiny nature people sharing the same planet with us lumbering, massive “stompers” is, for lack of a better word, a stupid premise, so stupid that it couldn’t possibly stand on its own without pretty CGI to mask all the faults behind its all too familiar plot.  I was already predisposed to hate this pile of three-legged dog crap just because it’s another issue in a long series of anti-capitalist, man-hating kiddie propaganda, but the blatant Environmentalist undertones of Epic are surprisingly the least of its offenses – the greatest being that it’s just dumb.

Epic’s origins are hard for me to pinpoint precisely without more thorough research on the creators’ sources, but if I had to speculate blindly I would guess that it stemmed from the drunken hangover of some guy who watched either Alice in Wonderland or James Cameron’s Avatar a few too many times.  Like a lot of lazy movies, it opens with a voiceover from the protagonist laying out in plain terms the subject matter of this particular kid flick.  We’ve all heard the cliché that “Mother Earth” is a living, breathing, evolving organism, arguably more alive than the good stewards who tend to it.  Epic conjectures that this cliché is literal fact: the forces of nature are embroiled in a mythic war of arbitrary good and evil whose outcome will ultimately determine the fate of all mankind, hence the movie’s assertive and by no means accurate title.  On one side of the conflict we have the noble, peace-loving insects, amphibians and leaves – everything that actually exists –, and on the other we have the bark-like, bat-riding boggons, who are bent on the total destruction of the world’s woodlands for no particular reason other than that they’re bad guys.

Scratch the sentence written a few arguments previously; the opening voiceover and rest of the movie never explain in plain terms what the heck a boggon is except to show they’re mean and ugly, nor does it illustrate how a certain Mr. Toad peacefully coexists with a certain mosquito confidante, nor does it articulate how a glowing, flowery “Pod” (it should have been called a Bud) that’s prized by the good guys can shrink a full-size human down to miniscule-size in a matter of seconds, nor does it establish a very scientific link between the tree critters’ destiny and man’s own, but we’ll get to all the other non-clarities in this mystery of a movie later.

“M.K.” looks like a student of college age who has no more urgent matters to attend to than visiting her loony single dad (is he divorced, widowed, or what?), who busies himself by maintaining a network of cameras so as to document an invisible civilization that lies deep within the beautiful and completely tranquil wilderness beyond his abode (The Village, this is not; Beowulf, this is not).  Her father lives as any paranoid, research-obsessed Hollywood-scientist who abandons his family to focus on work might be expected to, alone with nobody to comfort or amuse him but a three-legged dog which, like his office, his backyard, his car, his daughter, and all his surroundings, is completely computer-generated because the director was too dull-witted to consider that many real-world things don’t need to be animated and are better shot as is.  Take, for example, James and the Giant Peach, an admittedly forgettable movie that nevertheless mixed live-action photography with stop-motion animation to strong effect, or perhaps The Miracle Maker, which is entirely animated but intertwines stop-motion with more traditional, hand-drawn scenes to artistically distinguish Jesus’ parables from his own life.  But I digress.

One day our generic Hollywood heroine decides to go for a cathartic stroll in the forest, where she happens upon a little fairy (voiced by Beyonce of all the people who can talk into a microphone) who has been pierced in the chest by an arrow and now extends to her a magical shrinking flower that practically hollers Smell Me.  Disregarding that this is clearly an evolutionary offshoot of magical shrinking Eat Me cakes, M.K. smells the flower as it entreats her and immediately gets miniaturized into a realm of green-clad merry men.  For some reason, it takes her an incredibly long time to process this unfortunate development, even though the bushes and trees tower above her like the giant landmarks of Pandora and she is immediately taken into the custody of bird-mounting cavaliers and vaguely black, anthropomorphic slugs who evoke Star Wars’ dreaded Gungans in communicating with unmistakably inner-city accents and dialects.  Granting the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume these worthless slimeballs were just a well intentioned but woefully counterproductive effort by the producers to inject racial ‘diversity’ into the cast by any means.

I started writing this review right around the movie’s halfway point before convincing myself to shelve it for two months before steeling myself to take it up again this Newyear, so the finer details of the plot are currently a little foggy in my mind, but I seem to recollect something about the bad guys wanting to steal the Pod for their nefarious purposes and the good guys having to stop them.  Along the way M.K. learns the profound Moral of the Story, that “just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t real”, and gets twitterpated with an obligatory romantic interest unlike any she’s met before.  “Let’s just say that men of his stature are in, hm, short supply.  A ha ha!”  Wrong fairy tale movie.  Cue Beyonce end credits song.

Speaking of Beyonce, she can’t play a computer-animated character, nor can any other member of the ensemble, which consists largely of B-list stars who have no prior experience in voice acting.  Unlike Jack Black, Mike Myers & Eddie Murphy, Patrick Warburton, Andy Serkis, Stephen Fry, Diedrich Bader, and a host of other actors whose voices have vividly defined and distinguished their animated roles, none of Epic’s cast members remotely stand out in their vocal presence, nor do I comprehend why any of them were sought out to work on a movie that’s ostensibly aimed at young children.  How many kiddies know who Steven Tyler, Pitbull, or Beyonce are, anyway?  How many ought to know?

Really.  Who was the ******* **** who thought this was a ******* good idea?

The cinematography camera work direction storyboarding is just as bland as the performances.  Some animators have harnessed the freedom of digital software to simulate camera movements so sweeping and complex that they would be effectively impossible in real life.  Exhibit A) of this kind is Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda, with How To Train Your Dragon trailing close behind; both films featured several spectacular tracking and spinning shots that wouldn’t be easily achievable with real camera gear.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have animators who deliberately try to minimize the impression of software upon their project’s cinematography.  Surf’s Up cleverly satirized documentary filmmaking by mimicking the handheld camera bobs and jerks that permeate the genre, while Rango paid homage to spaghetti westerns with its emphasis on still shots, broad landscape profiles, and dramatic framing.  Epic doesn’t faithfully observe either of these techniques, nor does it carve out a unique and interesting style to call its own other than a jarring preeminence of Anti-Physics.  In a home invasion sequence initiated by mini M.K. and her new mini pals, the filmmakers repeatedly demonstrate the Theory of Sizeist Relativity, which holds that bigger things always move slower than smaller things regardless of their actual velocities in respect to a common point. So what if the dog by virtue of its superior strength and length of stride would easily outrun the tiny leaf people?  Viewers don’t want to see a massive dog charge into its diminutive targets at high speed because that would be unexpected, and viewers generally buy tickets to see their expectations fulfilled, not to see realism.  Hence the dog running in slow-motion while all the microscopic heroes flee at normal speed. Again we witness the controversial Theory in numerous conversations held between toads, caterpillars, fruit flies, and gastropods that are all animated at roughly the same height and width but pale in comparison to the towering, carnivorous mice which prowl the wilder regions of the woods.

Actually, that part just makes no sense, kind of like all the energy I’ve expended by now to deconstructing the plotline and physics of a children’s cartoon, and a really lousy one at that.  For all its masquerading as an original film (based loosely on a literary masterpiece entitled “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs”) in a deluge of uninspired sequels, Epic still felt like the same insipid CG fare I had gorged way too often throughout my youth, having some Tale of Despereaux here, some Lorax there, and some Bug’s Life and Thor (giant becomes small, fights little people’s battles, falls in love with a little person, kisses little person goodbye, returns to the giants’ world, and starts searching for a way back) spilled haphazardly all over the place, but never adding up to anything.  So derivative is the script that it even stoops to plagiarizing jokes from more adult-oriented pictures, viz. The Descendants.

“Your friend’s completely retarded, you know that?”
“Hey, I have a little brother who’s retarded/squashed by a stomper.  Don’t use that word in derogatory fashion.”
[A moment of awkward silence]
“I’m just kidding, I don’t have a retarded/squashed brother!”

Too bad a stomper didn’t, eh, stomp on this tripe before some boggon studio got a handle on it.

Grade rating: C

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Experts Ask: Is MLK Overrated?

Article written by George Stefano Pallas.  Views and bad writing expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

With the partisan gridlock so deeply ingrained in the political process and culture itself, Americans usually welcome opportunities to put their differences aside and join in the collective celebration of a noble person or ideal.  Whatever one thinks of the long war on terror, people of all creeds and convictions can unite on 9/11 Day to remember and raise awareness of the tragedy that enveloped thousands in an instant.  In the same manner, whether or not one supports a living wage for all of the middleclass’ workers and the preservation of the earth’s resources for one’s great-great-great-great-cubed-grandchildren, everybody can find common ground on Labor and Earth Day respectively.

The public gathered this Monday to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his transformative views on income inequality, LGBT rights, Stop and Frisk, Stand Your Ground laws, and the racially skewed makeup of the SNL cast, but revealing studies released on the dawn of the reverend’s birthday have unfortunately spoiled the mood for many of the occasion’s most enthusiastic devotees.  Vice-President Joe Biden summarized many American’s beliefs when he declared King the “first sort-of mainstream African-American who was articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” but apparently his admiration isn’t universal.

Joint research by the history, political science, and English departments of Princeton University and Harvard has found that King’s famous I Have A Dream speech – the same that Americans called attention to five months ago on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2 – is unremarkable from a historical perspective and far overshadowed by more elaborate and memorable speeches.

The professors and interns who conducted the investigations assessed the strengths of numerous famous orations in 5 categories – persuasiveness, organization, delivery, execution, and assertiveness –, ultimately ranking I Have A Dream behind other iconic moments like President Barack Obama’s United Nations address, Michael Bay’s CES presentation, Heath Ledger’s accepting comments at the 2009 Oscars, and Bill Clinton’s inspirational rally at last year’s DNC.  Says the director of the groundbreaking scientific report, Hugh Gore Black, “No one should make the mistake of assuming that we’re flatly dismissing King or his defining speech, nor should anyone make the mistake of assuming that King’s defining speech is completely without flaw or comparison.”

The key findings of the study are outlined as follows:
* “King immediately opens on a note that’s equally arrogant and whiny, leaving a sour taste in his spectators’ senses that doesn’t completely fade even once he gets to the emotional high point of his argument.  Associating himself with Abraham Lincoln and declaring that he is currently engaged in ‘the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation’, King comes across as a narcissist who’s absorbed simultaneously in extreme pride and extreme self-pity, especially when he laments that the Negro is not yet free, ‘badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination’, inhabiting ‘a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity’.”
 * “By equating himself to a slave in post-Reconstruction America, King desensitizes his audience to the atrocities of real slavery in much the same way that gays who sell their campaigns for ‘marriage equality’ as a civil rights issue dull people’s intellects to the magnitude of the real civil rights movement and the injustice of a government that segregates its citizens by race.”
 * “King uses a gratuitous and long-winded banking metaphor to describe the Declaration of Independence and America’s failure to abide by its self-evident truths.”
 * “King uses the words ‘brotherhood’ and ‘justice’ and ‘police brutality’ repeatedly without explaining what they mean to him.”
 * “King insists that he has dreams.  Lots and lots of them, all basically tooting the same horn.”

In the summary appended to the document, the research group accorded the King’s speech a shockingly low score of 24.9 points out of a possible 25.  The verdict illustrates a vast disparity between the American people’s reception of King’s words and the quality of the words themselves.  When asked by USA Today/Gallup surveyors about I Have A Dream around last year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2, 95% of respondents, ±3 percentage points, were able to cite at least four words of the speech from memory without aid.

“It was obviously a very powerful and moving day for a lot of people,” remarked Tanishia Brown at the time, a worker for the Military Leadership Diversity Commission present at the scene of the Mock March on Washington.  “It didn’t matter if you were black or white, religious or rational, gay or straight, Democrat or Republican – his message of fairness and equality rang out and connected with everybody.  Martin Luther King had a dream that an African-American president might someday occupy the White House, and thanks to his work that dream has come true.”

It’s no surprise then that prominent representatives of the African-American community have rushed to censure the controversial results of the study.  Entertainment queen Oprah Winfrey said, “The Princeton-Harvard review of Mr. King’s speech is just more hard proof that America has a long way to go before we have completely eliminated the influence of Racism.  I’ve had a lot of personal encounters with racism in the last year, from being turned out of designer clothing stores and being overlooked in the awards races, but this is the most hurtful blow to me and my people’s dignity yet.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee went even further in her defense of King.  “If not for the passionate rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., I would still be bound by the chains of second-class citizenship and discrimination.  Thanks to him, I stand here before you a freed slave.”

Conversation over MLK and what causes he would advocate if he were alive today will persist for many years, but race relations between white and black America will only grow broader so long as divisive studies like this continue to be commissioned and published.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

3 Stinkers – Youuuuu're Despicable

I'm with these guys and Emerson Cod.  Oooooh, heyell no!

What a strange irony of Hollywood it is that the movies which least warrant sequels always end up with the most sequels.  Animated movies by nature are never written to be serialized, as most children have neither the patience nor the intellect to sit through a story with more than one conflict or apparent climax; so it is that every kiddie flick ever produced is planned with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and so it is that every kiddie flick follow-up unavoidably feels like a gratuitous and lazy money-grab.  To this date, I haven’t seen a single exception to this precedent of crappiness, and the first 15 minutes of Despicable Me 2 have already reinforced my biases against movies with numerals in the title.

I wasn’t quite as enamored of the first movie as some other people were, thinking it a quirky and sometimes amusing but rather unoriginal rehash of Shrek and some other unexpected hero stories (that Megamind came out only a couple months later wasn’t a huge blessing for either film).  To its credit, Despicable Me actually had a plot with genuine struggle, escalating action, a climax, a meaningful resolution, and characters who had to choose between good and evil – all components that Despicable Me 2 forgoes entirely in exchange for uninspired slapstick, physical humor, and cartoon cliches.  DM2’s narrative has all the complexity of typical fan-fiction, imagining scenarios that a character might deal with without giving any probable explanation as to why he should be dealing with them in the first place.  “What would happen if professional villain-turned single father Gru was pressured by his adopted daughters and neighbors into getting a girlfriend?  What would happen if that girlfriend just so happened to be a redheaded member of a formerly unknown Anti-Villain-League who brandishes a lipstick taser and knows some kind of jujitsu?  What would happen if a new supervillain from Gru’s past called El Macho resurfaced as an Italian restaurant owner with a chemical formula that can turn living organisms into crazy, purple monster-forms of themselves?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see?”

The short answer, of course, is, “No.”  It wouldn’t be interesting to see Gru get himself a girlfriend because he was perfectly delightful without one, it wouldn’t be interesting to see his eldest daughter go through the same process with some exotic rich boy, and it most certainly wouldn’t be interesting to see Gru face off against another randomly conjured nemesis without undergoing any changes in his own character, no more than it would be to watch Batman go up against Superman for no other reason than to see “what would happen”.

“What if so-and-so got himself into such-and-such a predicament that has nothing to do with the issues he faced prior?” is almost never a compelling basis for a story, as demonstrated by the Madagascar sequels (“What if the animals we love from the first movie went to Africa/Europe?”), Shrek sequels (“What if our fairy tale heroes had to contend with Fairy Godmother and/or Prince Charming, got body-swapped, or were warped by Rumpelstiltskin into an alternate universe?”), Toy Story sequels (“What if the toys somehow wound up in a fat, chicken guy’s apartment or a morbid daycare center?”), Kung Fu Panda 2 (“What if there just so happened to be an evil peacock menace voiced by Gary Oldman somewhere in China and what if Po had to stop him to attain inner peace?”), and now by this pile of minion dung.

Speaking of minions, there are way too many of them in this picture, having evolved from a sparsely utilized source of comedy into a perpetual distraction and cheap substitute for plot progression that only the most weak-minded of kiddies will appreciate.  Most people regard the minions as the very best thing that the Despicable series has going for it, but I would contend the opposite: the minions seem like characters that the writers plucked right out of a Looney Tunes episode, got a little carried away with, and in so doing forgot that they were making a full-length feature film.  The one cause for their existence in DM2 is to fall down, babble in a nonsensical dialect, and beat each other up for comic effect.  In fact, that’s virtually the only thing that happens in the first half hour of this bloated, utterly shallow cartoon, and when conflict finally does arise, it’s all of an artificial and forced variety, stemming not from the protagonist’s dueling wills to uphold both his paternal duties and (decidedly less noble) occupational ones but from uninteresting villains and trials which are summoned as a kind of deux ex machina.

There are two exceptionally animated sequences late in the movie, the first being wherein swarms of mutated purple minions charge over themselves to scale a Mexican castle, World War Z-style, and then dissolve into a yellow throng when Gru’s gunship turrets rain antidote darts on them, and the second being wherein Gru does a slow-motion back-flip and diver spin while firing dual blasters at advancing minions, Matrix-style.  By the time viewers finally reach these moments, however, they’ll already have suffered through such an excruciating onslaught of stupidity and juvenile humor that nothing can truly impress them, and they’ll be too preoccupied playing spot-the-pop-culture-reference, as I was*, to form a clear judgment of DM2’s own merits.  So low are the depths of this movie’s unoriginality that even most of its soundtrack is plucked unabridged from its predecessor.

Kids have had a really cruddy moviegoing year between this, A Bug’s Life 2 (review forthcoming on Thursday), The Smurfs 2, Ice Age 5: The Cavemen Drift, Monsters Inc. 2, Cars 3: In the Sky, Cars 4: This Time With Snails, and Raining Meatballs 2, but we can’t expect conditions to improve until parents grow a spine and take a firm stand against Hollywood recycling.  A message to the universe: don’t do drugs, say no to peer pressure, and never, ever recycle.  You may feel that the whole world hates you for it, but there can be no greater reward than the knowledge that one has stuck to the path of virtue and done the right thing in spite of sheer opposition.

Grade rating: C-.  In other words:

* Those are just a couple of the cheesy allusions counted while watching; also detected were traces of the Hulk, the Love Boat, Kung Fu Panda, Joe Vs. The Volcano, and the Backstreet Boys.  It was a really lame movie.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ultimate Basketball

“Hey, quickly, throw it here!”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m standing five feet in front of you and urging you to throw me the frisbee.”

“You just said you’re positioned within a five feet radius of me.  Why on earth should I ‘throw’ the frisbee to you, who are standing almost right beside me, instead of passing it to one of my teammates farther down the field, preferably waiting in the endzone, which is 15 yards off and which you could easily run to, catch the disc within, and score a point thereby in no more than the next 6 seconds?”

“Because I’m a Handler and you’re a Receiver.”

“Come again? I don’t follow your innuendo.”

“Ha, there’s no innuendo.  They’re terms originating from basketball.  In basketball, some of the players are Handlers, passing the ball to their teammates at the end of the court, and others are Receivers, catching the ball and doing absolutely nothing with it until they can relinquish it to the handlers who passed it to them earlier.  The coach and the Handlers of a team actually need to possess some degree of skill, while a Receiver can be any human being.”

“It sounds like your receiver shouldn’t be playing professional sports in the first place.”

“Hey, if I’ve learned nothing in school, it’s that even Epsilons are important.  Anyway, Ultimate Frisbee is just like basketball in that offensive teams are divided up into Handlers, whose responsibility it is to deliver the disc unto their teammates, and Receivers, whose responsibility it is to run around aimlessly hoping they don’t wear themselves out in vain and to immediately throw the disc right back in the direction it came from if they ever do get hold of it.  I know it seems formulaic, asinine, and unnecessarily tiring for everybody involved, but that’s the way it works best.”

“You lost me at ‘Ultimate Frisbee is just like basketball’.  In basketball, you can run with the eponymous object and drop it without automatically yielding it to the opposing team; the goal is an inanimate object instead of a human player, teams consist of five people instead of generally seven or more, and the court length is .26% that of an Ultimate field.  This argument by comparison also constitutes an Existence Ergo Expedience fallacy, assuming that because some practice, institution, law, or custom exists in some form at some place, it’s inherently practical and should be applied to every other situation.  This is the same tactic that Democrats utilize whenever they try to inflate America’s debt or borrow destructive and inhumane socialistic policies from other nations.  ‘The minimum wage has been observed and enforced for decades.  Therefore, on the basis of its present existence, it should continue to be observed and enforced for decades more.’  ‘Congress has always raised the debt ceiling whenever the government runs up against that check, so we must have a responsibility to raise the ceiling whenever that scenario arises.  To not follow the precedent set by our pathetic forerunners would be unspeakably irresponsible and cause irreparable economic harm.’  ‘Every other country in the world has socialized medicine and state-subsidized homosexual marriage.  The United States has some serious catch-up to do.’  ‘Double taxation is everywhere.  Therefore, double taxation is good.  We should double tax the private sector even more.’  ‘Basketball players routinely split themselves into two skill divisions and resign each other to fulfill one task and one task only.  Ultimate players ought to adopt the same gimmicky handicap.’”

“Dude, we don’t have time to think logically about this.  Would you just hurry up and give me the frisbee?  No one’s here right now and the defense is catching up to us.”

“I know no one’s here right now.  That’s why you should be running in the right direction instead of standing still and begging me to hand you the disc.”

“I can’t run because I’m a Handler.  Running is beneath my social status just as throwing is above your own.”

“Social status isn’t a factor in real sports.  Teams are formed based purely on athletes’ physique, awareness, and reaction time, all of which I have in sufficient abundance, having played this game for many months or even years, to make a scoring pass into the endzone if you’ll only tow your sorry rear over there.”

“Look, either you’re a Handler or a Receiver, and since this field can only accommodate two Handlers a team, you’re not one of –

“False dichotomy fallacy.  You wrongly assume that players can only execute a single role within their team’s united body, when in fact the best Ultimate players can work both sides of the disc, handling and receiving it.”

“Hey, watch it.  There are women playing this game too, you know?”

“You started this, Handler.”

Ultimate Frisspeak-to-English Lexicon*
Break– To burst into a sprint and so outdistance one’s defender as to catch the disc without significant risk or trouble, trouble, trouble.  Breaking is a two-man stunt that requires the full and immediate cooperation of the disc operator to work successfully.  Otherwise the breaker only depletes his energy and ability to subsequently defend his own mark in the event of a turn.
Cherry Picker – One who patiently waits out the duration of a round unimpeded in the endzone for some observant teammate to pass him the disc and who very rarely sees that patience rewarded.  Ranks third on the Ultimate social hierarchy behind Handlers and Receivers.
Cut – See “break”.
Dump it – “That guy blocking you is big and scary, and I don’t want to exert myself getting to an open space.  Give it to me!”
Floater – A surefire way to deliver the disc unobstructed unto the tallest player in the vicinity where gravity breaks the wind’s grip on it.  Also the cause of many an injury resulting from too many people leaping towards the same location and colliding in fragile places.
Give and go – “I judge you too incompetent to pass the frisbee successfully down the line.  Surrender it behind you unto my superior hands and run forward so that I can throw it back to you slightly further down… if I feel so inclined at the moment, which I won’t.”
Hammer – To hurl the disc upside down like a tomahawk in an arc that looks cool to the eyes but is almost always disastrous in practice.  No, I can’t do it consistently.  At all.
Hang on / Hold up – Synonymous with “dump it”
Pass back – To throw the disc in the wrong direction.
Rain  “Let’s come back another day.”
Short throws – The process of inching the disc down the field by 1-3 yard increments. As opposed to long throws, which score points exponentially faster but no one ever dares to endorse, at least not openly.
Taking your time – Refusing all opportunities to the pass the disc forward whenever an opening presents itself; wasting everyone’s time in “taking” one’s own.
Tea Party – An advanced maneuver in which two players disregard the two-step rule and charge down the field together in an unstoppable stampede.  Not a real political party.
Tron – A personal idol to every Ultimate player and legendary dual-wielding champion.  He fights for the Users.
Wind – An environmental hazard that augments the necessity of making “short throws” and rigidly enforcing Handler-Receiver roles.

* May expand in the future.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An Old Man Goes to Sea What I Did There?

As far as emotionally draining and anti-climactic fishing novels come, The Old Man and the Sea isn’t nearly as bad as Melville’s Moby Dick, but that’s just about the most non-unique non-compliment I can possibly spare to any work, especially one that has attracted such adulation from the critical community.  I suppose I could cap this critique off right here and now by conceding that I just didn’t get this book, but many besides me have made the exact same concession in their respective reviews, and we at the Files aspire for original commentary where most can only weakly parrot each other’s sentiment.  In this case and many others where a widely lauded ‘classic’, e.g. Toy Story, Vertigo, or Moby Dick, is found wholly unapproachable or just pointless to a minority of audiences, studies by intellectual elitists desperate to make themselves sound smarter have proven that the reason detractors don’t “get it” usually owes less to their inferior perception and more to the lack of anything one can “get” from the classic in question.

And so it is with the critical response to Ernest Hemingway’s account of an aging guy all alone at sea.  Published in LIFE magazine in 1952, these brisk 127 pages of riveting action and adventure were the product of ten years’ worth of meticulous planning, drafting, and revising, an investment that apparently paid off for Hemingway in the long run, winning him the Nobel Peace Prize for Peaceful Literature Or Something two years later.  Good for him, but his book makes no sense.  Santiago is an old man identified by the author only as “the old man”; in spite of the skill and masculinity he continually demonstrates throughout his trials at sea, the poor sucker hasn’t caught a fish for 84 days (three short of his “record”), having contracted a bad case of the salao, “which is the worst form of unlucky”.  He no longer dreams of great fish, storms, or his departed wife, but only of lions on the beaches of Africa.  I think that detail’s supposed to be symbolic or metaphorical or real horrorshow deep because it’s repeated over and over, but I don’t speak symbolism fluently enough to explain it.  The Old Man entertains himself by reading of baseball games in yesterday’s newspaper, drinking coffee in the morning, and maniacally talking to himself within the lonely confines of his skiff, in much the same manner that video gamers argue with their unresponsive television sets and frustrated photographers/videographers yell at their editing software.  Perhaps there’s some intelligent design to the fisherman’s portrayal that I inconceivably overlooked (after all, I didn’t identify Dimmesdale as the baby daddy until the forest scene), but none of these assorted habits appear to accomplish any purpose grander than fulfilling the bare minimum of characterization that Hemingway presumes necessary to publish his tale.  The Old Man also loves a nameless “boy” (in the completely relative, senior-to-young-adult sense) whom he has schooled in the art of fishing from the day he was five, but the author declines to give a very clear cause for his affection, quite literally writing the filial figure out for 80% of the novel.  As Prim essentially is to Katniss in The Hunger Games series, so The Boy more nearly represents a contrived literary device to develop The Old Man’s character than a real character in himself.

Most of the novel concerns a three-day voyage at sea attempted by the titular man, who takes but a water bottle with him in the way of rations and obstinately refuses the boy’s help because “he’s with a lucky boat”.  Readers will observe his epic quest for and contest with a giant, 18-foot marlin for something approaching seventy pages, experiencing in painstaking detail every cut his limbs and face endure and the grueling torture that this tug-of-war exerts on his ancient back.  Hallucinations of baseball players inevitably set in and The Old Man moans so constantly about missing the strength and companionship of The Boy that the well-read comics consumer can’t help seeing flashing images of Frank Miller’s Batman grumbling about how he wishes Jason Todd, a.k.a. Robin, were present to lend a senile, no-longer-super hero a hand.  Eventually all his hard labor pays off when he skewers the sea monster after 48+ hours of aching muscles, sleep deprivation, and self-imposed starvation.  “Smile, you son of a *kaboom*”  Fighting the good fight, he finally secures the prize he so ardently sought… until the next 30 pages depict hordes of sharks gravitating to his craft and tearing his trophy to ribbons, leaving him with nothing more than an impressive skeletal framework by the time he returns to the village.  To put the matter simply, it was all a waste of time and energy, and not just for the fictional hero.

Whereas most books that end on so depressing a note of defeat give at least partial victory to the defeated party, The Old Man simply loses entirely, along with everyone else who followed him on a journey of self-discovery only to discover absolutely nothing.  Even animated movies about anthropomorphic animals realize that the losers have to win something for the story to be worthwhile.  Antarctic native Cody Maverick forfeits the Pen Gu Island surfing championship but finds something far more valuable: the friendship of fellow talking penguins Big Z and Lani and of similarly talking Chicken Joe.  On a more somber degree than I think any animated flick has achieved or even aspired to thus far, George Clooney’s character in The Descendants sees almost all that’s dear to him in life ripped away in a sudden and violent chain of disasters, losing his wife to death and, more crushingly, to another man, losing the trust he had placed in friends, and losing whatever bond he shared with his father-in-law, but somehow he emerges from the tragedy a wiser man and a better father.  If The Old Man of this maritime chronicle emerges with any knowledge or wealth he had formerly wanted, it would merely be the recognition that he’s an old man, which isn’t very inspiring, thought-provoking, or surprising given the title of the book.

Hemingway narrates his tale with the same clipped, unadorned, and strictly literal English that evolved from his reporting profession, quickly became his signature, and could appeal to anyone at a fifth grade reading level.  I wouldn’t necessarily condemn his common-man, journalistic prose as amateurish or dull, as it was admittedly engaging enough to pull me through the book in two days – way faster than my average rate –, but the stark simplicity of Hemingway’s style unfortunately parallels the dearth of meaningful conceits he incorporates in the plot.  I actually tend to like minimalist storytelling, from the ancient Greek drama of Sophocles or Aeschylus to the short stories of Poe to Signs and The Village to Gravity most recently, but all those narratives had a point, unlike this one.  Brody’s not the only seaborne hunter who needs a bigger boat, and by “boat” I mean something like “symbolical vessel for the characters’ progression”.

On the bright side, Shmoop has a hilarious summary of The Old Man and the Sea that’s well worth its weight in words.  I’m not going to steal the whole thing, but here are some excerpted passages:

About the ocean: everyone thinks of the ocean as a woman. That is, all the old, wise people. The arrogant youngsters call the ocean a man.
The old man sees a man-of-war jellyfish and calls it a whore.
* Some important stuff: the old man compares himself to the sea turtles, because their hearts beat after they are cut up into little pieces. Feeling sorry for them does not, however, preclude eating their eggs.
He catches a tuna. So much for reaching day 88. He can kiss that record good-bye.
OK, just kidding. This fish doesn’t count. He uses it for bait for a bigger fish, which is kind of like a guy with a gambling problem putting the chips he just won back on the table.
There’s about three pages of hoping the marlin eats the sardines and hasn’t gone away, might have gone away, but didn’t, then might have gone away again, and so on. Lots of tension, anyway. Tension, like the fishing line
The old man addresses the fish again. I love you, he says, but I will kill you. Fatal Attraction, anyone?
He then refers to the fish as a friend. The fish responds by almost pulling the old man overboard. His hand is bleeding. Love hurts.
He says again that he 1) must eat the tuna and that 2) wishes the boy were there. Think of it as a chorus in a song.
After all this talk about eating the tuna, the old man finally...eats the tuna.
He wonders if it was a sin to kill the fish. But he was born to do this.
Think again – was it a sin because he loved the fish, or not a sin because he loved the fish?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Rodman Loves Kim Jong-un To Death

Article written by George Stefano Pallas.  Jonathan Hurley in Seoul contributed to this report.  Views and bad writing expressed by the author are his alone and do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author.

In the aftermath of GQ magazine’s most influential Least Influential list of 2013, many Americans wondered what could possibly wound Dennis Rodman’s pride more than being dubbed a “Q-list celebrity willing to commit borderline treason just to hang out with a dictator who himself aspires to be a Q-list celebrity”.

Apparently, being declared an ex-Q-list celebrity.  As in expired, extinguished, and exterminated.  Dead.

The state-controlled Korean Central News Agency reported unexpectedly on Friday that the North’s “leader” Kim Jong-Un observed his circa 31st birthday on Wednesday by watching a peaceful, multi-cultural basketball game with the has-been NBA star and arresting him promptly after the diplomatic affair came to a close.  He had formally been charged with numerous crimes against morality and the state, including being a “despicable sports careerist and trickster”, producing pornography, wearing jerseys and piercings made in South Korea, conspiring to overthrow the government, “spying on behalf of the American scum”, and becoming “engrossed in cheating and corruption”, but the ultimate catalyst for his detainment was the ear-shattering and unsanctioned rendition of “Happy Birthday” he gave in opening the friendly contest.  Said Kim Jong-un’s head bodyguard and chief of the secret police Bang Bang-ow, “We were disposed to forgive these other inhuman and vile offenses because they are ‘best friends’, but this shrill and pathetic attempt by the American rat on the life of the Great Leader had to be punished with unprecedented, peculiar means and methods of our own style.”

Killing himself softly with this song…

Rodman’s own companions had emphatically warned him against making such an inappropriate and unpatriotic display in front of a sworn enemy of the United States who routinely threatens to nuke them and their allies in the South.  One of the retired American players to participate in the game, Charles D. Smith, disclosed to the Associated Press that, “We always tell Dennis that he can’t sing.  He is tone deaf.  He did it alone.”  These remarks were obtained from within a concentration camp where Smith and his eleven teammates are being held indefinitely as accomplices in Rodman’s spontaneous transgression.

Rodman himself wasn’t lucky enough to starve to death in prison, as he was immediately escorted to a sentencing hearing convened right on the game court before being led out of the public’s view.  When asked if he wanted to speak anything in his own defense, his heartfelt last words were, “There’s going to be a lot of misunderstanding in the American press, but I have no fears at all.  Kim is my best friend and we’re just trying to bring people together, to engage a lot of countries through sports.  Why do we always strive on negativity?  This guy is only 31 years old!  He’s not a murderer!  He’s just gaining experience like everyone else!  I literally trust Kim with my life.”

And so he did, and Kim graciously requited that trust with a volley of bullets the very next day at Shinpoong Stadium, the same site of the public executions of eight political dissenters not two months ago.  Foreign policy analysts have noted that this is only another sign of a long-spanning personal ambition of Kim to permanently silence anybody who opposes or annoys him.  “He’s killed his former girlfriend, he’s killed his uncle, and he’s killed hundreds of people just for reading Bibles or refusing to worship him,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates on a promotion tour for his soon to be released memoir Duty, which incidentally has nothing to do with the Kim Jong-un regime. “Why would he even shy from killing his royal jester if doing so solidified his power and sent America a message of his resolve?”

Veteran (conservative) SNL host Dennis Miller added, “Alexander the Great was ‘only 33 years old’ when he had conquered the world as he knew it and had cut down millions of men in warfare.  Cutting down Dennis Rodman posed about as much difficulty as stealing a basketball from a short, fat, persistently drunk baby, albeit a very cranky baby.”

The Author’s Files would print gruesome photos taken at the scene of the stadium, but one witness of the horrific act testified that “the corpse was so riddled by machine-gun fire that it was hard to identify afterward” and Rodman’s remains were reportedly stuffed in a body bag and dumped into the ocean shortly following his demise.  Scholars have argued that this burial at sea is consistent with Korean funeral rites, but conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones have asserted that, to the contrary, the official Atheist doctrine of the DPRK gives no guidelines as to the proper treatment of the deceased.

Rodman may not be among the year’s healthiest celebrities any more, but on the bright side he can no longer be accounted among the least influential.  The KCNA has said that Kim Jong-un is seriously considering his old friend’s proposal to engage the world through the universal spirit of competitive sports.  Unfortunately, according to United Nations investigations, 84% of his team’s members are too skinny and malnourished to meet the basic Olympic qualifications for the sport.

Multiple western news sources have attempted to reach Kim Jong-un for an interview on his relationship with the late Rodman, but the leader is supposedly busy overseeing the construction of a water park inside his palace at Pyongyang.  Testing of the park’s attractions was opened last week to professional mechanics of the Workers’ Party.  If only Dennis Rodman were alive to see the fruits of his labor.

In other, less depressing news Anderson Cooper Maintains Bad Boy Image

Anderson Cooper would tell you he’s undergone a 360 revolution, but it’s really closer to 180 degrees. Originally regarded as one of the classier hosts on CNN, Cooper has been the subject of many an embarrassing headline in recent days, from his unwanted (gay) coming-out to his X-rated moves on live, Newyear’s broadcasts with Kathy Griffin, but all of his past mishaps dissipate next to his latest offense.  The would-be-rebel was arrested last night in D.C. for defiling public property in an experiment to determine how human waste reacts to extreme temperature lows.

Cooper had wondered aloud on his Wednesday show whether a video purporting to show a man’s urine vaporizing instantly in frigid, polar-vortex weather was real or fraudulent. As it turns out, the journalist was right in his suspicion that the video was forged, and the results of his research are consequently written all over the China-imported Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.

“I set out to bust this myth, and busted it I have,” he told his camera crew as he was handcuffed by the statue in the clear, grassy park and forced into a National Park Service police car.  “I’ve served my duty to inform and educate the American people.  Don’t try this again, kids.  Just because you see something on the internet or television does not mean you should try doing it yourself.”

CNN president Jeff Zucker has already submitted Cooper’s name to the Pulitzer Prize Board to be nominated for the Investigative Reporting category.  “His contribution to science really needs to be recognized.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Author's Playlist – Or All The Stuff That Isn't On It

Is this the American idiot of whom ye sing?

American Idiot – As recommended by a certain Greenpeace zombie Alfred Goyer, who actually answered the last issue of this series incorrectly but did so with such a gross, barbaric, and thoughtless display of incivility towards a pure and innocent maiden that he had to get what’s coming to him.  We at the Files pride ourselves on following a Code of Chivalry transcribed in the print edition of the journal, which holds that readers can direct any brand or measure of criticism at the Author, no matter how uncouth, inarticulate, or resentful, but that the Author will tolerate no insults or slights against the character of a lady – especially one he likes.  This is payback, Al, you coward, you slanderer, you musically tasteless scoundrel, you un-American idiot.

In case you aren’t familiar with the name Green Day or its legacy, allow me to preface this review with several words of wisdom by its founders.

“The only people who should sing about social issues or politics are the ones who aren't full of s***.” ~ Billie Joe Armstrong

If there is a God or anything like that, there’s nothing I can certainly do about it.  I believe we’re all part of the Force.  It’s like the Force.  There’s Luke, there’s Leia, and there’s us… I base all my religious beliefs in Star Wars.” ~ Mike Dirnt

“[The American flag] means nothing to me. Let’s burn the ****ing thing.” ~ Both, referring to a music video in which they do, in fact, burn the ****ing thing.

And so you now know all that there is to understand about Green Day.  They aren’t full of s***, at least from their perspective, they worship the holy trinity of Luke, Leia, and Han, and they have no qualms about desecrating a symbol of national pride to turn a profit, which they nevertheless revile in their music along with Jesus, country hicks, and George W. Bush.  Actually, pretty much the entirety of their iconic album American Idiot can be summarized in theses relating to George Bush: Bush is a war criminal, Bush is a heartless 1 percenter, and Bush just all-around sucks.

Lampooning politicians in music can be amusing when done as parody or satire, as self-described white comedian Paul Shanklin regularly proves in segments on the Rush Limbaugh program, but American Idiot sells itself neither as parody nor satire but as a completely serious punk rock album, and so it ought to be, and yet there’s nothing about it worth taking seriously.  This is what happens when you provide a bunch of disgruntled leftists with a microphone and ask them to sing whatever crosses their mind with no regard to its decency or rationality.  Unlike a lot of music produced nowadays, American Idiot actually means something inasmuch as the songwriters had a purpose in making it, but that something they meant to say just so happens to be a nothing, which is all this drivel signifies other than its authors’ stupidity.

On this its 10th anniversary, it’s interesting to note that American Idiot hails from an era when profanity wasn’t especially cool or common in mainstream music.  Back in the year of 2004, artists generally found more creative and articulate ways of expressing themselves than those involving the F-bomb or blaspheming the name of Jesus Christ.  Prudes!  Green Day, God bless ’em, heroically took it upon themselves to rebel against this tradition of prudishness and stuff as much gratuitous vulgarity into their songs as possible.  Here are some of the more poetic and thoughtful examples of Billie Joe’s verse:

“Well maybe I'm the faggot America. / I'm not a part of a redneck agenda. / Now everybody do the propaganda. / And sing along to the age of paranoia…”

“And I leave behind / This hurricane of ****ing lies / And I walked this line a million and one ****ing times / But not this time…”

This is some really deep stuff, Al.  Thanks for recommending it to me.  Anyway, American Idiot touts itself as a “rock opera”, with the implication that its songs tell a continuous story concerning several recurring characters, namely Jesus and his girlfriend Whatshername, but you wouldn’t reach that conclusion without the extensive use of visual aids, as pretty much the whole thing sounds like a cacophony of angry yelling and angry electric guitars.  The first and most patriotic track on the CD laments the “sound of hysteria” of a “new media” that’s turning everyone into American idiots, except for the speaker, of course, who’s perfectly rational and hasn’t yet imbibed the redneck kool aid.  The next song of nine minutes introduces us to Jesus of Suburbia, a coke-smoking, gutter-talking son of rage and love “from the Bible of none of the above, on a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin”.  According to this Jesus of only coincidentally symbolic name, “everybody is so full of ****”, having been “born and raised by hypocrites”, and He Doesn’t Care!  He Doesn’t Care!

Clearly he’d be a really pleasant guy to hang around, which is great, because Green Day’s disciples will get to spend the rest of the album listening to him and his profundities about American society, starting with the third track, Holiday, which is a kind of screed against the Iraq War and almost rivals the Grammy award-winning Bush Lied, Kids Died for compositional sophistication.  “Hear the dogs howling out of key / To a hymn called ‘Faith and Misery’ / And bleed, the company lost the war today. /  Hear the drum pounding out of time / Another protester has crossed the line / To find the money’s on the other side…”  Those pacifist protestors have it so hard in the United States, always getting trampled on by the thought police whenever they try waving their picket signs or singing their Green Day songs.  It’s just too bad we don’t have a 1st Amendment or something like that to consecrate their right to sing 21 Guns all day long. But wait, there’s more: “Sieg Heil to the president Gasman / Bombs away is your punishment / Pulverize the Eiffel towers / Who criticize your government / Bang bang goes the broken glass and / Kill all the fags that don't agree…”  I’m not even going to pretend that makes a whit of logical sense, nor do I remember the gay advocacy groups taking up arms against Billie Joe and his pals for using homosexual slurs every other song on American Idiot.  I guess they all got free passes like Alec Baldwin because they claim to endorse the secular redefinition of marriage.

The fourth track, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, is actually pretty good with its melancholy, subdued vocals and chords, not to mention the added benefit that it doesn’t overtly push any political message.  That makes 4 minutes of worthy music on a 50+ minute epic Broadway musical that’s anything but epic. Regardless, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool are only three of the American idiots associated with this foul, godless trash.  Every idiot band needs an idiot audience to support it.

One of the two good songs Green Day has ever made is even better with bio-mechanical warriors duking it out in epic fashion. I think this is actually a remix with some Oasis and Aerosmith spliced into the original song. There are other Bionicle videos set to BOBD that are better edited and don’t recycle the same footage, but few of them bleep out the one bad word that’s randomly tucked into the middle. Gosh DARN it!

Get Lucky – As recommend by a punk I knew in school.

The music of Daft Punk might sound remotely bearable if you were smoking crack, doing pushups, and watching Tron all at the same time.  Even then, you’d have to get lucky.  As the flagship song of the electric pop band’s whole career, Get Lucky is typically the most insipid and egregious of all their miserable creations, imagining the sound that results from strangling an already pathetic Adam Levine, overlaying his broken voice with a computerized backing track virtually stolen out of the Bee Gees, and massacring any remaining semblance of sanity with a chorus that evokes I Gotta Feeling and The Fox for all its complexity of verse.

The first lines are a cryptic allusion to Egyptian mythology, invoking “the legend of the phoenix” and doing nothing thereafter to elaborate on the legend or its relation to the speaker.  In all sincerity, my memory of the interludial lines is mostly smothered beneath the bitter after-taste left by the unforgettably stupid chorus.  Daft Punk sings in a flat and lifeless tone more befitting of a robot than a human being, evoking the keen observation of Obi-Wan Kenobi that “They’re more machine than man now,” which makes sense given the duo’s preferred stage look.

Rarely does one as verbose as myself get so severe an affliction of blogger’s block, but I can only grasp vainly for the appropriate words to describe how obnoxious and vapid this tune is.  If Get Lucky was nothing more offensive than a mindless ode to meaningless sex (“She’s up all night for good fun, I’m all night to get lucky, get lucky, get lucky…”), then I might find it within me to pardon Daft Punk for this insult to my intelligence, but the subject matter of the song’s lyrics is so deliberately ambiguous as to render the group’s offense truly unforgivable.  Perhaps the invocation of the phoenix symbolizes Daft Punk’s woeful attempt to resurrect itself from the ashes of their score to Tron: Legacy, which remains one of the most exhilarating of all time.  I guess they forgot that Tron fights for the Users, not the losers.  End of line, man.

This is how I'll choose to remember Daft Punk in the end times.

ApplauseNo living person would think to recommend this song.

I’ve never listened to this limp excuse for ‘music’ in its entirety, but when I do stumble across it, all I hear is, “Applause, applause, there will be a pause pause, you did a blah blah blah, so turn the lights on.   Paws.”  Then I recall that this is the #1 worst-selling track from Lady Gaga’s dud of an album with a cover that looks like ArtPorn.  There’s probably a lot of subliminal gay messaging under the outer layers of craptastic, but I refuse to subject myself to the pain of searching it out.  Based on her album’s miserable sales numbers, I kind of wish that this fame monster had played a more instrumental role in Obama’s re-election campaign.  Alas, he was too busy mingling with true, respected artists like Jay-Z, CeeLo Green, Beyonce, sans any stripper attire or destiny children.

I pity the fool who has to try describing how this woman’s real singing voice sounds.  What with all the electronic processing that distinguishes her craft, there’s not a whole lot of workable evidence in public circulation.

Burn – 

If you seek proof that the songwriting industry has lost its fire, fire, fire, fire and been hijacked by lazy poetry rejects short on original ideas, sentences, and words, look no further than Burn, Burn, Burn, Burn, which is exactly the fate that this song deserves.  I had to look up the lyrics because I couldn’t discern a syllable the singer is pronouncing outside of those two words repeated over, over, over, and over again for emphasis, and the internet turned up this result, which I have not and will never bother to check for accuracy:

“We don't wanna leave, no.  We just wanna be right now, r-r-right now / And what we see is everybody's on the floor acting crazy, getting loco 'til the lights out / Music's on, I'm waking up, we stop the vibe, and we bump it up… We can light it up, up, up / So they can't put it out, out, out / We can light it up, up, up / So they can’t put it out, out out / [Rinse, copy and paste]”

Does this not sound like every stupid pop song ever written?

Counting Stars –

Like most socialist anthems to wealth redistribution and collective ownership of property, Counting Stars accomplishes its purpose very subtly, with such tact that its subliminal messages will worm their way into all but the most discriminating minds without betraying the slightest indication of their existence.  The one difference between it and other socialist songs like Firework, I Kissed A Girl, everything else by Katy Perry, Born This Way, Poker Face, everything else by Lady Gaga, Imagine, All You Need Is Love, and everything else by John Lennon is that OneRepublic’s members don’t wear their socialism on their sleeves like the aforementioned hippie numbskulls, and as a result their music is all the more dangerous.

Most people will pass Counting Stars off as an innocent shanty about spurning the pursuit of material wealth for nobler aspirations, but lead singer and songwriter Ryan Tedder quite clearly had more sinister ideas in mind than just that.  On the one hand, the song promotes a vein of moral relativism that’s essential to the strict maintenance of all socialist communities; we see this reflected mainly in the speaker’s admission that, “I-I-I-I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing / And I-I-I-I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing.”  Socialism revolves around making thieves and criminals feel they’re committing acts of charity and justice by breaking the natural laws of property rights and Live And Let Live.  “I could lie, could lie, could lie / Everything that kills me makes me feel alive.”  Socialists never feel more alive than when they are destroying the collective body of mankind, for the only salvation they can perceive lies in the destruction of the old and selfish institutions to pave the way for a progressive, utopian paradise.

As if the leftist undertones of their song weren’t already spelled out blatantly enough for the vigilant listener, OneRepublic injects a very sly Obama plug into the second verse: “I feel the love / And I feel it burn / Down this river every turn / HOPE is our four letter word / Make that money / Watch it burn.”  Nor can they resist alluding to a memorable scene in The Dark Knight wherein the Joker sets fire to a tower of dollar bills and sneers, “All you people care about is money.  This city deserves a better class of criminal…”  The bridge echoes the image of the Joker’s bonfire too vividly to ignore, chanting repeatedly, “Take that money, watch it burn / Sing in the river the lessons I learned.”  But whereas the scene in Christopher Nolan’s film was meant to powerfully illustrate the evil, chaos, and madness espoused by the Joker, the same scene is depicted in the song as a moment of triumph and moral growth for the speaker.

OneRepublic can take its money and watch it burn for all I care.  If not for the freedom and opportunity posed to them by laissez faire capitalism, they wouldn’t have acquired it in the first place.  It’s too late to apologize for this catastrophe, I’m afraid.

One of my dear friends worked on (and appears in) this video… I guess that makes him a socialist. ; )  And the synthy violin track in the background is totally fake.  Trust me, I know how a real one sounds.

As before, one of these reviews is a complete and, I think, utterly plain fraud; correctly point out the disingenuous piece and you may leave a suggested song or album for me to review in the next issue of this series.  Incorrectly point out the fake and there will be hell to pay, because gambling is a sin, or so someone tells me.  Keep in mind that I’m more liable to write about titles which have cool covers on the Youtube.  I shouldn’t have to explain what that really means.

Actually, that one notice brings me to another, which is to disclose that the next music post is going to have an indie/Youtube theme, so keep that also in mind when brainstorming future review topics.  I’ll probably take any recommendations into consideration by this game’s winners, but if you ask me to review something by a mainstream, chart-topping artist with a recording contract, then you may have to wait a while to see my response.