July 2, 2010 - June 25, 2010
Thursday, July 01, 2010
Penny for your
SOME PENNIES. CountryPunk is feeling mellow. I'm not. I'm fed up.
The weird one had this to say:
Let me guess? Early next week you will
pound the shit out of the concept of "collegiality".
I am to guess, you will go so far as to say that those who do not agree
with you politically, could not possibly, not EVER, be considered a
You will go on to pound your drum of
nationalism, as seen "properly" ONLY through red-tinted glasses, and
only seen from some red-hot, high perch such as yours.
Now let's talk about your "fans" for just
haven't called on us to be "collegial". In fact, you've only called on
us to be in agreement with you, to be "productive" on developing new
and improved websites purporting your view, or TO BE SILENT!
Yet I still love you, and here's why.
You are the BEST "Wizard of Oz"!
Yeah. Wizard of Oz. That's me. Except I'm not hiding, figuratively or literally, and my thunder and
lightning are not pre-recorded special effects. I'm not a journalist,
so I have no need for
collegiality. I have no authority other than my thoughts, so I have no
need to ask for compromise, consent, or discussion for the good of the
group. Furthermore, my glasses are not tinted. They're just 2X reading
glasses, so that I can read the fine print. Anyone who seriously wants
to contend with me can add up all his comments and pit them against my
(only 2 millions words worth about everything).
If they do that, they'll see that only a military sharpshooter will
ever take me out. Sarcasm won't. Crazy non sequiturs won't. LSD
hallucinations won't. Appeals to Rodney King "Can't we all get along?"
won't. 'Nice' is not a word that has any meaning here. InstaPunk
is, always has been, and always will be about destroying the enemy. Who
is everyone who disagrees with us or, more specifically, me. Which
should be a disincentive to nonsense (comments)
The punks show keen eyes, more often than not. Particularly for their
The MOVIES! Where we live forever!
I think I will be a butterfly today.
The rest of you can be vampires or werewolves...unless you choose to be
Note: The toy soldiers die first!
The cowboy and BUZZ?
Well, you get my point.
This movie will go on as long as it needs to go on.
And just like musical chairs, one of us is going to have to give up our
chair in rather random fashion.
And if, by chance, I am lucky enough to find a seat?
I could be convinced to give it up for IP, if he would only stop
whining, for cripes sake!
Musical chairs is a game that suits some. Usually those who want to
fit in. I don't. Most of the people who comment here know what they're
getting. What's that? Ammunition. They're not fans. They're not
journalists. They're citizens. They're mad. And they're free.
Free to look elsewhere for better insight. Wherever they find it.
This isn't a club. Or a cult. Or a dream. Or even a movie.
It's just punks thinking and living on an electronic page. Usually,
thought and emotion are separated here. But both are necessary if
anyone is to see life-felt conviction. The proof that it's not some
intellectual game. (Whining? Really? It can't be a slap at me, and if
it's a slap at my friend CountryPunk, I'll be going home with a
windpipe in my briefcase. He may not care, but I do.)
The ones who are here know why they're here. They don't much care
about random snipers. Any, all,
of us can be taken out by random snipers. No big deal. Some of us will
be. Even by a bad pennysworth of ill will. It's been known to happen.
What won't happen is that any of us will change our minds because
someone jeers in the crowd. If the presumptive sages understood that,
they'd give up trying to sound superior without a shred of evidence to
back them up.
As we've said repeatedly, we don't ban people from commenting. But
we reserve the right to make you outcasts. A thing that happens to the
stupid, the pretentious, and the pointlessly annoying.
Some free advice. Its real worth? Pretty much like the catcalls from
the peanut gallery. One penny.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The other day I went all curmudgeon in the comments, and I feel
obligated to explain. We were about to take delivery on a deerhound
puppy, which should have been (and was) a joyful experience, but I was
also afraid. I didn't feel like turning the page so quickly on Psmith.
Scots are great at guilt. Every moment of relieving anticipation also
felt like a betrayal. Confusing and contradictory emotions make Scots
angry -- at themselves and the world. All my own posts for a couple of
weeks have been distractions. I know some of you are saying, "All this
for a dog? Get a grip."
Yes, I know the difference between dogs and people. I have a
two-year-old granddaughter. I know the difference. But I also know that
we encompass and control the lives of our dogs. The responsibility is
total because dogs spend their whole lives being two or so. I know I
spent time in my office doing business work, and InstaPunk, which could
have been more time with Psmith and the others. I could have walked him
more than I did, spent more time on the couch with a hand on his head
or haunch. Could I have made his incredibly short life better? Did I
even deserve another deerhound? And what the hell is so great about
InstaPunk anyway? I was spoiling for a fight. With myself.
But now the new boy is here. It's our first full day together. I'm not
in the office. I'm in the media room with Mrs. CP's laptop tricked up
with attachable real keyboard, mouse, and power pack. He's snoozing on
a rug in the hall, eight feet away. (She's so much wiser than I am. She
planned the whole thing.) He's not Psmith. He's not a plug-and-play
replacement of Psmith. He's his own man already. And he does not make
me sad. When we took delivery from the breeder at a park on the
Delaware River (three hours worth of juggling seven leashes), I met
three of his litter mates and (surprise) two delightful whippets who
looked tiny next to our greyhound Molly, whom we took with us to ease
our boy's transition away from the only life he had known thus far. The
bonding was immediate. He clambered up on the picnic table bench to
give me a grave kiss minutes after we met him. When the time came to
put him in the car and carry him away from everything past he curled up
next to Molly and waited to go home. He ate like a champ, slept all the
night through on the bed, and had the stairs conquered, up and
down, by seven this morning. He
likes people more than dogs. Although he discovered another puppy in
the bathroom mirror this morning and whined at it. Maybe he's missing
the other puppies a bit. Otherwise, he's on top of the transition,
calm, affectionate, the ancient infant of his kind. He already knows to
ask when he wants to go out. He's a smart
boy. And he'll be a big boy, too. His paws are enormous, though he's as
narrow as a roof beam. A four-month-old, forty pound roof beam. With
eyes like the memory of earth.
I only had one bad moment. The breeder, who had spent well over an hour
on the phone with Mrs. CP before agreeing to release "the pick of the
litter" to us, explained that ordinarily her husband would also have
spent an equal amount of time on the phone with us. But then they both
read the post about Psmith. After that, she said, her husband told her,
"They can have any puppy they want." I thought piercingly of the lost
boy and couldn't speak, but I was glad at that moment for this blog,
however little value it may have in the grand scheme of things.
It doesn't matter if there's a grand scheme of things or not. What it
always comes down to is our
scheme of things. Right now he's squeaking his squeak toy. The breeder
says that's a sign of a courser. I don't care. If he wants to course,
we'll do it. If he doesn't, we'll find other things he likes to do.
He's been hunting for Psmith, from room to room, knowing there's a
deerhound here. Very soon he will realize that the deerhound here is
The greyhounds know it already. And so do we.
I thank you all for your forebearance. Truly.
First photo at home:
We listened to bagpipes together. He
didn't bolt. He did the regal thing instead.
Those of you who get it get it. Those of you who don't won't. I'm cool
with that. Everything's all better now.
Monday, June 28, 2010
If Yoda were a girl...
. In the InstaPunk tradition of watching and reviewing a
blockbuster long after everyone's stopped caring about it, Mrs. CP and
I finally ante'd up the scratch to see Avatar on-demand this weekend.
(I put up $2.50; she made up the remaining $2.49.) Did we get our
money's worth? I'll let you know at the end. But I wouldn't post this if I thought anyone else had said what I'm going to say. I read all the reviews and they ALL missed everything important. Such is life. Why I watch, however belatedly...
One of the headlines has to be that we weren't terribly offended by the
anti-military theme. You know it's going to be there, but in a work of
complete fantasy, it just doesn't pack any punch. The reference to
"shock and awe" and the schlocky "twin towers" symbolism, for example,
come across as just plain silly in this context, clear anachronisms
that will contribute to the inevitable wearing down of this movie's
reputation in years to come. "Dated" is the word they'll use more and more. Until it's a film school footnote. All it will ever be: the umpteenth attempt to do a breakthrough 3-D thing. Sigh. Failed again.
the visuals are
beautiful. The graphic artists who created the landscapes and flora of
Pandora are genuinely gifted. (The fauna not so much. But more about
that later.) There has to be more to a movie than that. As Emerson
said, "Beauty without expression is boring." I was reminded of this
with a bump during the looong lyrical second act when our hero avatar
is exploring Pandora with Yodette and learning the ways of the
forest. I was in full passive spectator mode when Mrs. CP suddenly
turned to me and said, "This is one boring movie."
Things got much more exciting after that, obviously, but no third act
can restore what wasn't there in the first place. It's the very DNA of Avatar
that's fatally flawed,
beginning but not ending with the script. This is where Cameron's
anti-military bias offends the movie's entertainment value more than
this conservative's political sensibilities. His protagonist is merely
a placeholder, a necessary foil, for all the things which must
happen to carry the action to
its preordained conclusion. That's why it's an understatement to call
the plot predictable. It's more accurate to say that the plot is set
in concrete as soon as we've met Jake, the Colonel, and the corporate
weasel in charge. There's only one way this can go, and by golly we're
going there no matter how many implausibilities we have to bulldoze our
way through like the wrecking machines of the evil unobtainium mining
Including the character of the protagonist Jake. He's a Marine. For
James Cameron (as for Sigourney Weaver at first
), that's all we need to
know about him. He begins as a simple and soulless killing machine who
will follow any military-ish orders without question until events literally
club him on the head and
thence into consciousness. This assumption may be convenient for
Cameron, but it's deadly to much else, including plausibility,
suspense, and the vital audience identification with the main
character. When I say plausibility, I'm referring to the willing
suspension of disbelief, not the fantastic premise. There's no reason
whatever to think that a Marine corporal is somehow automatically
equipped to be an undercover intelligence operative prepared to
infiltrate a foreign culure, earn their trust and admiration, and work
continuously throughout for their destruction. That's the polar
opposite of what Marines are, in fact. They are frontal assault,
courage, duty, loyalty unto death, protective of innocent civilians,
and from first to last members of a unit -- not solitary soldiers of
fortune -- with inviolable standards of honesty, integrity, and above
To cover this massive contradiction, Cameron gives us a cheap, selfish
motive for Jake to sell out his sense of personal honor without a
moment's hesitation. Slaughter of whoever and however for the return of
his legs. At a time when, every single day, we can see instances of
American military men who clearly value their record of honorable
service over their lost limbs. And who are making supreme sacrifices in
two theaters of war to prevent collateral damage to civilians. Which
leaves us asking, "Who is this scumbag Marine who betrays his
officially assigned duties so easily (especially given that he's
already indicted the troops on the ground as "mercenaries"), and why
should we care about him at all?" The only answer: Because he is the
designated hero and at the proper juncture in the script, he will
become that hero. Built-in stalemate. The result is a protagonist
without an identifiable face, figuratively as well as literally (in his
atavar role). He's an expressionless cipher smack dab at the center of the
Which is the principal reason for Mrs. CP's ennui during the movie's
show-off second act. Sure, it's a spectacular attempt at visual
seduction. But structurally it's merely an enormous set piece whose
purpose and end result are axiomatic. It's a combination montage of
falling in love and, well, Rocky training for the big fight to come.
But because we know all this, we also have time to ask questions and
notice what's missing underneath the flash and color. Why was do-gooder
anthropologist Sigourney so hostile to a cripple at the beginning and
so quickly affectionate after Jake enters the Nav'i culture? Doesn't
she suspect, particularly in light of all the obvious clues, duh, that
Jake is double-dealing, at best? Why does she insist on his video diary
without conducting interrogations, if not inquisitions, of her own?
What is her
And what's up with the Nav'i? They clearly know that Jake is a human in a
phonied up body, and humans are the greatest enemy they have ever
faced. Didn't they already boot Sigourney's social worker ass out of
their community? But speaking of enemies, exactly which ones
have these faultless
creatures ever faced before this in paradise? Oh well. Maybe they'll
explain that part later.
More importantly, what's up with Jake? How much beauty and sensual
delight and superhuman physical sensation do you have to experience
before you begin reappraising your whole relation to existence?
Actually, we already know the answer to that question. Nothing can
happen till the end of this set piece, at which point his
transformation will occur all at once with some kind of a bang. Forget
Leaving, perhaps most damagingly, the rest of the second act free for
us to start making up our own movie in place of the one that's being
delayed so endlessly (if beautifully) right now. For example, when Jake
finally turns on the cartoonishly evil colonel, how are Sigourney's
geeks ever going to protect that high-tech coffin of his from the
rampaging mercenaries while he saves the Nav'i from the evil
earthmen? (Virtual kung fu? Secret avatars in waiting prepared by the savvy Dr. Sigourney?) How are the
scriptwriters going to manage bringing the sundered lovers back
together after she discovers what a treacherous piece of crap he's
been? And what's it going to take for Jake to earn back a trust he
absolutely never deserved? Oh. Got it. That great big, really nasty
flying thing that's even bigger than their usual nasty, semi-domesticated
flying things has been tamed five
times before in ages of great peril
. (What peril? Never mind.)
Well. At least that's settled. Thanks.
In short, the movie is already a
shambles before the final act that absolutely everything in the picture
has been nothing but a setup for ever arrives. All of what
should be thrills, excitement, and stirring emotion in the final
showdown is ultimately, however technically astounding, pro forma
cinematic terms, a set piece of its own despite its self-consciously
Truth is, that last sentence also describes the entire movie almost
perfectly, at every level. Avatar wants so badly to be seen as an
order-of-magnitude leap of the cinematic imagination. It isn't. In
reality, it is a clunky assemblage
of references, borrowings, and set pieces stolen from a long list of
other movies. It's a kind of pastiche of great sci fi-fantasy-epic
blockbusters by Cameron's peers, including his own. So much so that
it's impossible to believe it's not
being done self-consciously and therefore either cynically or
fraudulently. The only possible excuse I can conceive of for what
Cameron has done in Avatar
that he believes if he copies and steals from absolutely everybody, the
end result somehow amounts to breakthrough creativity. Especially if he
admits it explicitly once or twice.
I had an "aha" moment at the end of the first act, when Jake makes his
manhandled entry into the Nav'i headquarters. The disdain, catcalls,
and evident loathing of what they recognized as an avatar by the
Nav'i tribe reminded me instantly of the scene in Last of the Mohicans
Day-Lewis's Mohican enters the enemy Indian camp. I flashed on the
image of that movie's archvillain Magwa, and then I heard Magwa's voice
. The voice of
the Nav'i chieftain was Wes Studi, the actor who played Magwa. "You've
got to be kidding me," I said out loud.
I'd had my suspicions earlier, but then I knew. That's when I began to
make mental note of all the bits and pieces Avatar
is made of. I probably
didn't catch them all, but here's a partial list with sometimes direct
and sometimes indirect hints about where various strands of Avatar
of the Rings (Lothlorien, archer elves, the Nazgul, etc, etc,
etc, and elves)
King Kong (flight through the
tree roots, monster submission to humanoid female, predator eaten by
bigger predator, oafish human interlopers, monster stampede)
Star Wars (Yoda ears, fauna,
giant military robots, war in the woods, etc)
Harry Potter (hippogriff-human
Jurassic Park (much more
fauna, salvation by predator on predator)
Last of the Mohicans (elk
hunt, cross-cultural romance, strung-up semi-crucified tribal enemy,
Finding Nemo (Isn't Pandora
really under water? All that blue...)
Aliens (Sigourney, of course,
man-operated monster robots, foul-mouthed Hispanic military chick
doomed to die)
The Matrix (Neo, waiting for
Neo while the killer thingies dismantle the ship where his body's
Apocalypse Now (Flight of the
Valkyries, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning")
The Road Warrior (symbolic
post-death experience, salvation by outsider)
I'm sure there are others. And I know it's possible to make the case
that there are elements of myth and meaning that are common across
human experience and the media in which they are rendered, thus arguing
that Cameron only seems
plagiarizing his rivals. But if myth
writes in broad strokes and fundamental oppositions of good and evil,
that still does not mean there's no difference between myth and
cartoon. My essential point is that Avatar
is the world's most
elaborate and expensive cartoon, and nothing more than that. It's a
parade of images without substance of any kind.
The use of all the borrowed resonances from other movies and other
stories is a kind of promiscuous freeloading on emotions earned not
here but elsewhere. Are the Nav'i elves or
Native American tribes? Seems like it would matter, doesn't it? One is
a semi-divine magical race possessed of wisdom and a profound written
poesy. The other is a primitive culture perfectly at home with warring
against other tribes and, lest we forget, torturing their enemies
horribly to death, including women and children. To cast the
contradiction into sharper relief, elves are meta-physical beings in
the strictest sense -- meaning, beyond the purely physical. The tribal
Indians encountered by the 19th century U.S. Cavalry, on the other
hand, were like every single primitive culture ever discovered in the
wildernesses of earth: their lives, however natural and estimable, are
intensely and basally physical -- incredibly hard, short, laden with
toil and disease, and in any terms
that we celebrants of their 'naturalism' would recognize, only
But Cameron is pasting together a Hollywood collage of scenes designed
equate one with the other. In order to make us
feel guilty. For what? When you
start slapping together emotionally wrenching scenes from other movies
across genres, you're in the business of manufacturing moral
Frankenstein monsters. So Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now
is napalming angelic
elves? and if we identify (somehow) with Cameron's buffoonish hero, we're all
Neo resisting a matrix which is concealing from us that the Nature our
ancestors invented civilization to protect us from is nevertheless
benign and more worthy of worship than the hard-won moral codes which
separate us from the jaw-strength justice meted out by hyenas in the
If you're a human being, pantheism is nonsense, a fantasy far more
far-fetched than Star Wars
. The chief
distinguishing characteristic of Nature is that it doesn't care
lives and who dies. As Avatar
actually acknowledges right before its climactic battle scene, when
Yodette tells Jake that "Eywha" exists only to preserve the balance,
not to take sides. The only species ever
to care about who lives and who dies is Mankind. (Is it rebuttal or
marketing which turns this one accurate observation on its ass in the
It's tempting, I know, to back away from all the artistic oxymorons
and see this dumb movie as a nested series of ironies we're supposed to
mull and learn from. But not all unexpected things are ironies.
Sometimes they're just careless and unexamined contradictions
accidentally juxtaposed by the superficial and pretentious ones who
have convictions aplenty but no accompanying thinking process, or
Now to the big question I posed at the beginning. Was the $4.99 worth
it? I dunno. Maybe. I've now seen the archetypal post-modern
an expensively produced scrapbook of stuff torn out of older, more
thoughtful works of art and pasted into a glitzy album of hijacked
photos claimed under one name on Facebook. Kewl.
Think I'm overstating? Consider the one most marvellously imaginative
visual conceit of the planet Pandora: The Floating Mountains where the
heroes went to hide. What an act of imaginative genius to conceive of
such a thing....!
Look familiar? Rene Magritte, 1898 -
is to movie
masterpieces what a lap dance is to true love. An imitation
experience. I retract
what I intimated earlier. Not worth the $4.99.