Saturday, July 20, 2024

Longlegs (2024)

 So here's the solution to the murders in this movie: in exchange for not killing her daughter, Nicolas Cage's Satanist character got the FBI agent protagonist's mother to agree to go along with his evil plans: specifically, dressed as a nun, she visits families and gives them giant, creepy-looking dolls ("a gift from the church," she unhelpfully explains).  Then these dolls have a malign influence that causes them to start murdering one another.  For reasons too dumb to go into, these murder sprees all take place on or around the birthdays of the children.  So in the final scene of the movie (I can't bring myself to call it a "climax") our FBI agent protagonist goes to her boss's daughter's birthday party, and oh no, there's her mom, and there's the giant creepy doll!  Oh noes!  And they're all already acting all fucked up and shit so we know it's on.  FBI agent protagonist (if you expect me to remember anyone's name here, you can keep expecting) is pleading to no avail with her mother to stop it, while the boss says to his wife, hey, let's go into the kitchen, and CUT the cake.  CUT CUT CUT.  And it is extremely obvious that he is going to stab her to death with a kitchen knife, and you think, hey, FBI agent lady, maybe you should, I don't know, intervene or something?  I mean, I don't want to tell you how to do your job, but...?  But no!  She keeps arguing with her mom as we hear in the background the sounds of a knife being drawn and then stabbing noises, and you think: is this schlocky-ass horror movie supposed to be funny?  Because this scene isn't...not funny.  And I did briefly entertain the possibility that some things in this movie are supposed to be dark jokes.  There are a handful of other moments, where you think, hey movie, are you taking the piss?  Just enough to make you consider the idea, but far too few humor was the goal, though I don't think it was, it didn't work, and really, who are we kidding?  All the positive reviews see it as a straightforward horror film.

There's this one scene early on where FBIap is trying to figure out these secret notes written by Cage's character in, I guess, Satanic script.  These murders have been going on for twenty-some years, but apparently she no one else was able to do what she did, until she does it super-easily (in fairness, if that's the right word, there is some vague suggestion later on that FBIap may be psychic--yes, that's as dumb as it sounds--to try to semi-justify some of the goofier shit here, but it's really never much of a thing).  Then, she makes a chart of the days the murders happened (I said this was too dumb to go into, but that's what you GET for trusting me), and consulting a helpful reference book called A Guide to the Nine Circles of Hell, which she has just lying around (as you do), she figures out that they're meant to spell out some sort of Satanic sigil.  Well...that's that solved then, I guess.  

Seriously, how does this extremely terrible movie currently have a rating of eighty-six on rottentomatoes?  I will grant you that seeing Cage Caging it up in full-on camp mode will never not be entertaining, but one other thing it won't ever be is scary.  It WILL be extremely tonally weird, though, at least here.  And forget these big idiotic plot twists; the regular, everyday dialogue is bad enough.  All the characters are just total cyphers, there as the plot necessitates, the whole thing really, really uninvolving.  This is a super-weird comparison, but in some ways it reminded me of some of the weaker late-stage Gottfredson/Walsh Mickey Mouse stories, where there's no sense of there being any kind of logic and Mickey's just kind of staggering around in a vacuum (h/t to David Gerstein for that phrasing).

I'll grant that the movie does have a handful of striking images.  But it really is dogshit.  Very occasional moments of accidental levity do not, on the whole, make it any less boring and amateurish.  I rarely if ever have this reaction to bad movies, but this one actually made me angry.  How the fuck do you think it's acceptable to take people's money for this?  Blah.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars (1984)

Fun fact: the internet or my computer or someone does NOT like c-with-an-acute-accent.  The normal way of typing diacriticals didn't work; I had to copy and paste from the wikipedia page.  Anyway.

So there was this ethnic group called the Khazars--like, in the real world.  They had an empire in Western Asia from the seventh through the tenth century, before being conquered by who knows who-all.  Apparently they were fairly insular and not that much is known about them.  

Okay, so that's reality.  Then, there's this book.  The idea here is that the Khazars were REALLY unknown, so someone assembled this book, which consists (aside from some inevitable appendices) of information about the Khazar from, respectively, Christian, Muslim, and Islamic sources.  The book posits that the Khazar Empire fell after the emperor (okay, not the "emperor," I know he's called the "kaghan," I READ THE BOOK, it just seems like an irrelevant detail) converted to one of these three religions, though nobody knows which one and its a subject of some contention for modern scholars.  The central event of this book, to the extent that there is one, is called the Khazar Polemic, an event in which representatives of the Abrahamic religions were asked by the emperor kaghan to present their best cases for their religions so he can decide what the empire should convert to.  The upshot of this varies according to the religious affiliation of the accounter.  But really, calling that the main thing is probably giving the novel more credit for coherence than it deserves; it's really just one thing after another, and not always just people who lived in putative Khazar times; there are long entries on people involved in the assembly of the book in the seventeenth century, ones about contemporary scholars, and some where it's sort of hard to discern any relationship with the history.  

I mean, this stuff is obviously all cool as fuck.  This is a book that I've LONG known about, and constantly recommended by amazon, but now I've finally gotten to it.  So what's the experience of reading it?  Well...I'll say, not that this is the book's fault, that going into it, I thought it was going to be a much more grounded sort of affair.  Obviously the history is fantastical, but I thought that within that framework, it would be "realistic," like a Borges story (I'm aware that me using the word "realistic" to describe Borges could use some unpacking, but this is not the time or place!  Get rid of it!  Not so, at all.  It's all casual surrealism.  The back cover copy describes it thusly:

...featur[es] three unruly wise men, a book printed in poison ink, suicide by mirrors, a chimerical princess, a set of priests who can infiltrate one's dreams, romances between the living and the dead, and much more.

And yes, obviously, that sounds great.  But the reality of reading the book is a lot of utter nonsense that only occasional sort of seems to add up to something.  "What's your problem?" you say.  "You love shit like that."  Well, kind of, but it has to be done right.  Look, let me just give an example:

It is believe that at one time Satan lived under this name [Nikon Sevast] in the Ovchar gorge on the Morava River, in the Balkans.  He was unusually gentle, addressed all men by his own name: Sevast, and worked as the head calligrapher at the St. Nicholas Monastery.  Wherever he sat, however, he left an imprint of two faces, and in place of a tale he had a nose.  He claimed that in his previous life he had been the devil in the Jewish hell and had served Belial and Gebhurah, had buried golems in the attics of synagogues, and one autumn, when the birds had poisonous droppings that seared the leaves and grass they soiled, had hired a man to kill him.  This enabled him to cross over from the Jewish to the Christian hell, and now in his new life he served Lucifer.

You may or may not find that amusing, but let me clarify that you will see A LOT like this, and a lot of dreams, and a lot of theology, with a lot of different people, and none of these fantastical details actually have an impact on the book.  Now, you can argue, and I guess I wouldn't disagree, that this all creates a certain mood, know how postmodern novels work.  There's not going to be an easy, concrete meaning to come to.  All true, and I DID want to like this a lot more than I did, but I'm not gonna lie: that shit got old, and I found large parts of this a bit of a slog.  For a while I tried comparing it to Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino, but I don't for a minute believe that the aimed-for effect here is Sorrentino-esque hermeticism.  I'm reminded more of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which I also found a bit labored and tedious.  There are things to appreciate here!  Don't get me wrong (I did appreciate the sort-of murder mystery at the end, which at least seemed to lend the text SOME level of cohesion)  But it's not my favorite thing.  That is all.

That's why I say "hey man, nice shot."

 See, this is what I'm saying: Trump almost getting killed just isn't a real thing.  Obviously, that's not to say it didn't happen in a factual sense; I'm not a false-flagger.  But it might as well not've.  If Trump were an actual person--not a good person, I mean; just a human being capable of human feelings--even ardent liberals would react to this with shocked sympathy.  But not here.  Any empathy expended on Trump is wasted; he has no interest in it, no capacity to accept it, and indeed no understanding of the very concept of such "soft" emotions.  And so, we react with at best indifferent disgust.  Don't like that, Repubs?  Well, maybe in that case ya shouldn't've chosen the single worst person in the country as your nominee, djever think of that?  I mean, yes, of course you did; and you did it in large part because you knew it would horrify and enrage decent people.  So, you know, reap what you sow.

But how about Trumpists: at least THEY care about this and take it seriously, right?  Well, no, clearly not.  I mean, they wouldn't any way; they don't have that kind of relationship with him and never had.  But beyond that, they've been thunderously hollering for so long about how oppressed they are by trans people existing or whatever that when they're faced with an actual, real thing that they should by all rights care about...they can't.  They are utterly unequal to the task.  They can't experience a genuine emotional response; they've rendered such thing impossible.  All they can do is frantically try aestheticize the event.  As you know, they're already flogging t-shirts; you'd THINK that maybe people might want to sleep on it a bit before getting the "Trump with blood on his face" tattoo, but...well, you'd think a lot of things.  But they just can't make it mean anything, it's just another piece of kayfabe, because they've created a world where NOTHING means anything; where they're constantly faking everything.  They damn well know in their hearts of hearts that they're just play-acting all of their alleged deeply-held beliefs. 

(Of course, it doesn't help them that the would-be assassin seems to have had no discernible ideological motivation, but even if he HAD been the crazed leftist of their wet dreams, their response would be different in degree but not in kind.  They just don't DO "real."  Either way, though, this is why you should've waited on the "fight fight fight" tattoos.  If he was just "fighting" a disaffected twenty-year-old, they might--hard as it is to believe--look a little bit silly in hindsight). 

As an example, look at this from Candace Owens:

Yes, Owens is perhaps the most blatant grifter on the right--as we can see from the hastily-thrown-together t-shirts!--but you can still get a sense of where the right is from this.  I guess she's joking about throwing away her kids' things (and what kind of fucking alien refers to superhero toys are "memorabilia," seriously?), but she's kidding on the square, you know?  She is trying WAY too hard to make this a thing, and it's just not becoming a thing.  Fuckin' bummer, eh?  If you can't profit off of attempted assassinations, what CAN you profit off of?

Anyway, this is why, whatever happens, I don't think any of this is going to make any material difference in November.  You've made a postmodern world; now you've gotta live in it.

Thursday, July 04, 2024

Induhpendance Day

Happy, uh, Holiday.  Look, I just want to say one thing to Democrats: what the fuck is wrong with you?  I mean, look, I've never been particularly partisan in the sense of just mindlessly rooting for Democrats.  My rooting is purely based on the fact that I'm not stupid and they're the only possible alternative to our upcoming authoritarian nightmare.  You take what you get!

But the point is, that very fact is why I'm sort of uncomfortable giving strategic advice to Democrats, but here we are, so listen up, shit-for-brains: all this wailing and hyperventilating about Biden's debate performance was the stupidest fucking shit you could possibly have done, and it boggles my mind that even people I'd thought were savvy commentators talking about replacing him.  This is very fucking simple: if anyone asks you about it, spout some boilerplate about how Biden is telling the American people the truth, and then as quickly as possible pivot to the malignant lies of that utter psychopath.  This shit is RUDIMENTARY, and yet instead you've run around like headless fucking chickens, and at this point you may have shat the bed so badly that there's no coming back.  You certainly did our possible non-authoritarian future no favors.

Obviously a younger candidate would have been preferable, although as an erstwhile Sanders supporter, I don't have room to complain.  But I'm of two minds: on the one hand, these memes creating equivalency between the two--oh, the one's old and the one's evil whatever shall we do--are facile bullshit.  Obviously there's no meaningful comparison between the two.  On the other hand...we do live in a world defined in large part by image.  That's just the way it is, and as such, it might be better to have an election season that doesn't look like the "Two Tribes" video but with less gravitas?  Maybe?  Are we really THAT into being an international laughing stock?  Bah.

To end this on a patriotic note: if Americans cared about FREEDOM as much as we claim, right now we'd have Supreme Court justices hanging from lampposts as a very fucking clear and unambiguous message about what we think about people who try to create American kings.  Just saying.  Our commitment to democracy seems skin-deep.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jealousy (1957)

I had been aware of Robbe-Grillet for a long time, of course; first from before I'd overcome my distrust of experimental fiction and viewed him with deep suspicion, and then after with the idea that, hey, maybe I should read him sometimes, what? but never doing it.  But after that fairly stultifying E.H. Young Novel, I wanted to read something that I REALLY WANTED TO READ, not just something I'd picked on an inexplicable whim.  Hence, this.

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Arguably-cathartic shouting

 I just cannot deal with this shit.  Trump is the most coddled fucking baby the world has ever seen; sure, laws are different for the megarich and us--and, let's face it, us and the actually-poor--but any other rich fuck would STILL be in deep trouble if they did what Trump has done.  But NO, we have to keep him around, and the fucking New York Times and fucking cable news channels HAAAVE to pretend that any of this is sane or reasonable AT ALL, and it drives me crazy.

Some fucking billionaires gives him some hundreds of millions of dollars to pay his bond, and you think MY GOD, SO MANY PEOPLE could be elevated by that money, but NO, we've decided as a society that it's okay for people to be billionaires, and as a result, sure, let's just shovel it down the throat of an enraged, shrieking toddler.  It's like something from a fucking Hieronymus Bosch painting.

And I REALLY just can't even with Trump surrogates and right-wing propagandists in general, spraying their poison through these dumb fucking compliant cable news shows and their youtube channels.  I can't see someone like [censored for legal reasons, though there are many, many examples] without thinking, this is a fascist.  And we all know what the only good fascist is (and we all know that if Trump said anything along those lines, the media would be tripping over itself to pretend that he didn't mean what he obviously meant).  I, personally, would prefer not to murder anyone, but it seems just indisputable that the world would be better off if they died.

I just hate the fact that nothing fucking means anything.  Obviously there's no point in "debating" fascists, or pretending that anything they say is useful or in any way worth hearing or considering, but society, even the saner portions of it, just refuses to accept this.  We have to let them go on, speech...constitution...slipping into a repeat myself: NOTHING FUCKING MEANS ANYTHING.  It's all just so many empty signifiers.  So fuck these people, and may they all die horribly in a river of burning feces.  Humanity had (has? how pessimistic are we being here?) SO MUCH potential, and these shitheads are absolutely desperate to just piss it all away to hurt the people they want to hurt.  Goddamn them all.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

How to Tell if Your Roommate Is a Dead Cassowary

So look, back in the day, when the web and I were young, there was this website I liked with that title.  I remember it pretty darn well. There were helpful diagrams along the lines of

A cassowary:

A dead cassowary:

and there was a numbered list of ways to tell, which became more and more baroque. Fuck me, I even remember how the last one conclude: The other speaker here is a child you have just met: "'You think that's bad--this guy's roommate is a cassowary.' 'My roommate's dead,' you say."

So this was a real damn thing that existed. It may have been silly and inconsequential, but it existed and I liked it. And now it is...gone, unless my search powers just can't find it (there's nothing on the wayback machine, fwiw). How many thousands of OTHER early websites have just disappeared from existence? Obviously, this is not in the top billion concerns that one might have with the world today, but damn, man. Imagine if BOOKS just...disappeared like that. You want to revisit that novel you remember from high school? Too bad; it is now non-extant. I have nothing profound to say here; nonetheless, bah.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

E.H. Young, The Bridge Dividing/The Misses Mallet (1922)

This was published first as The Bridge Dividing, then as The Misses Mallet.  Is that latter name more commercially appealing?  Maybe.  Everyone likes mallets.  As far as I know.  Interesting facts about Young: 1) she was in a long-term relationship with her lover and his wife; 2) She was an amateur mountaineer.  That first one MIGHT have some degree of relevance to the novel; the second-- seems doubtful.  Though I certainly WISH it did.

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Friday, February 23, 2024

I despair.

I really do.  The plight of the Palestinians is clearly one of the most, if not THE most, important issue today.  It warps reality with its gravitational field.  At first I was reluctant to use the word "genocide"--gawd, am I turning into a centrist?  I was worried on some level that it would make me look extreme or hysterical; there's no point in denying it.  But, I mean, the UN definition fits like a glove.  

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