Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ghost in the Shell and the "Whitewashing of Hollywood"

So... I'm racist because a robot wasn't Asian? Really?
As often happens with movies I was late to the party on this one, but I just watched Ghost in the Shell. It's been out for ages now, so there will be spoilers herein and I won't feel any remorse for them. You've been warned.

For background purposes, I'd never seen the original comic book or movie or whatever the hell it was. All I knew was that it was some sort of animated Japanese thing.

The verdict, in short, was that I very much enjoyed it. Will it be on my top 10 favorite movies list? Probably not. Would I watch it again some day? Sure.

From the very little research I did, it seems that people's biggest reason for not enjoying it (among those who actually watched it; more on that soon) was that it didn't live up to or was unfaithful to the source material.

Again, I know nothing of the source material so I'm cool with that. And in broader strokes, it really kind of hacks me off when people bitch about that. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for example, was a lovely little film that veered pretty wildly from the source material (to the chagrin of morons everywhere) but you know what? That's fine. I've already read the books. I don't need to see them again. In fact, I watched the British TV version of Hitchhiker's and it was line-for-freaking-line the exact same as the book. I was bored to death. It was awful.

Movies should differ from the source or they risk being stale.

Ghost in the Shell gets my official Walrus of Approval. There's my review, and it was short because there's something else we need to talk about here.

When this movie came out, I remember there being a major uproar about how Hollywood was being whitewashed because Scarlett Johansson was playing an Asian person. My response to that was "Yeah, that seems a bit wrong. Bad move on the studios part, but..."


People get roles outside of their race all the time in the movies, and right or wrong it's honestly not shocking anymore.

My feeling was that it was silly and maybe a bit of a turnoff, but in a country where Asians are nowhere near the majority of the population, the big name actresses aren't going to be Asian. Therefore, while I expected it to bug people, I figured it was just a business decision to get a big name actress into the lead role so people would see this very expensive effects-laden movie and the studio wouldn't lose money.

The rest of the world, of course, took it a little harder than I did. After all, it's 2017 and everyone's hobby seems to be some combination of staring at their phone and getting offended by stupid shit, so why stop now?

In one respect, my assumption was correct--the studio wanted Scarlett Johansson instead of an Asian actress because she's a major name that will draw attention and fans.

Here's what I didn't know: Scarlett's character isn't an Asian person. It's a robot.

For those of you who need a slap or two to figure out why this is relevant, robots don't have race. They're robots. What race is your microwave? Your fridge? Your iPhone?

Scarlett's character is a robot with a human brain. Yes, that human brain turns out to have belonged to an Asian person, but with the people who built her wanting to obscure her past, why is it hard to believe that they'd put her Asian brain in a body that doesn't appear Asian? Wouldn't that actually be more likely so as to throw her off the trail of her true past?

"Durr but it's Japanese source material taking place in Asia so the lead character must be Asian!"

Firstly, the movie has British people, black people, Asians, white people of unknown descent, and people of indeterminate race all inhabiting the same area. It's pretty diverse. Scarlett isn't out of place.

Secondly, are we really going to say that changing the apparent race of a character to something different from the original is racist? 
Ford Prefect in the earlier-mentioned Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a regular white British fellow in the books, but he's played in the movie by the obviously black Mos Def. If I say that's wrong, I'm pretty sure the racism police would be at the door in a flash.

A recent remake of the Broadway classic Annie had multiple characters (including the lead) transmuted to black. Again, if I say that's wrong and bad and an affront to the source material, I'd rightfully be labelled racist.

In more recent times, the previously white Wonder Woman was played by Gal Gadot--an Israeli--to near-universal acclaim.

So why is it racist for Scarlett to play a character that once appeared (appeared not was, mind you, because she's a raceless robot) to be Asian? It seems that the toxic notion that only white people can be racist is rearing its ugly head again.

One can only assume that ignorance is to blame for this. A handful of morons began shrieking "Injustice!" and the vast multitudes of ovine dimwits that populate the internet parroted the complaints without bothering to check any facts or use their brains at all.

My apathy led me to similar ignorance, so in that respect I suppose I'm not entirely blameless, but you can be sure if I'd felt the need to join the hordes trying to drown you all in a river of righteous tears about Scarlett's alleged misdeeds I would have read up on it a bit first.

Another thought for your consideration: this movie underperformed at the box office.
Now Scarlett Johansson isn't about to go broke; she made millions for this film alone. The studios are likewise probably doing fine. But there are a lot of people involved in a movie with vastly differing situations. What if someone lost their job because of your idiotic protest against nonexistent racism? What if this was someone's only chance to work on a movie set and now that chance is blown because the movie didn't live up to financial expectations because you and your fellow cattle boycotted it and spread half-truths and outright lies about it?

Maybe everyone's fine. Maybe these protests are just a foolish little grain in the sands of time. Either way this culture of self-appointed martyrs, pathological victims, and imagined racism continues to make me ill.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Alligators Can Climb Trees" -- A Poem

"Alligators Can Climb Trees"

You agonize over your clothing
And trips to the grocery store
You've got tendonitis
And maybe arthritis
And fear that there isn't a cure

You fret over taxes, faxes, and emails
You worry your dog may have fleas
You fear that your houses
Will soon be your spouse's
Once you are declared divorcees

But I do not worry about any of these
Because alligators can climb trees

You spend hours daily on makeup
And fixing your eyebrows and hair
You're often made restless
By your many investments
And the state of your Microsoft shares

You fear that some day you'll all be put away
In retired folks' nursing facilities
Your children won't write you
Or even invite you
To your grandchildren's birthday parties

But I do not worry about any of these
Because alligators can climb trees

Alligators can climb trees!
Alligators can climb trees!
Just when you thought it was safe to go out
Alligators can climb trees!

We've got spiders and tigers and black bears
Wasps and echidnas and bees
Vipers and adders
But none of that matters
The gators are up in the trees!

You thought you were safe because you were watching 
The area down by your feet
They'll drop from above you
They'll certainly love you
Because you're delicious to eat

They've mouths full of teeth
And clawed feet beneath
They can swim through the water with flair
But now that they've taken
Arboreal stations
I can't help but think that's not fair

I steer clear of swamps, of marshes and lakes
I avoid all the rivers and seas
Just to be sure
I don't go near the sewer
But holy shit, now they climb trees?

I thought I could venture outdoors
With my body remaining intact
Don't go for a hike!
Don't go ride your bike!
They'll leap from the trees and attack!

There's nowhere that's safe from this terror
There's nothing left for you to do
No shelter for miles
Because crocodiles
Are climbing up into trees too

ALLIGATORS CAN CLIMB TREES!
ALLIGATORS CAN CLIMB TREES!
Just when you thought you were safe on dry land
Alligators can climb trees!

Friday, February 10, 2017

TV Series Review -- "Powerless"

Vanessa Hudgens as Emily (source)
Every superhero movie has at least one big climactic fight scene where the hero and the villain fly through the city beating the crap out of each other. They smash through windows, topple buildings, crush cars, and leave a vast swath of destruction in their wake. While most people are contentedly shouting encouragement at their favorite caped crusader, I'm usually sitting there thinking "Jesus Christ, who's going to clean this up?"

These movies rarely mention the faceless millions who have to deal with this sort of thing. How much must car insurance cost when there's a decent chance Superman will use your car to bash in the brains of whatever enemy happened to show up that day? How hard must it be to rent someone an apartment in a high-rise building when Batman might throw smoke bombs through the window at any moment to chase out Random Villain No. 5?

This slightly distracting line of thought is the exact premise of Powerless.

The story takes place in Charm City (basically the New Jersey to Gotham City's New York), where superhero battles are an everyday occurrence. Traffic reports usually include some sort of disaster caused by either a villain or the hero aiming to corral them. Random acts of evil and destruction are so common they're greeted with annoyance and frustration rather than the terror we're accustomed to being shown.

Emily, played by Vanessa Hudgens, is hired to lead a team of researchers whose job is to come up with inventions to protect people from these hazards--umbrellas to repel falling rubble and antidotes to the Joker's laughing gas are the sort of things they're expected to churn out.

In addition to these unusual tasks, Emily has to survive her underlings' contempt for her and a boss (played by Alan Tudyk of Firefly fame) who wants to be anywhere but where he is.

The show's biggest strength is its premise. We've been absolutely inundated with superhero movies of late, and it's nice to see a different spin on the genre. Instead of being a show about superheroes, it's a show where they happen to exist but are mostly seen off in the distance or on TV. Another plus is that Powerless is DC Comics-affiliated, so they can actually come right out and say Superman, Batman, and similar characters' names without having to dance around with made-up generic knockoff versions that would cheapen the story lines and annoy viewers.

Unfortunately, the show delivers a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of its characters. Vanessa Hudgens (in addition to being a pleasure to look at) does well as the naive out-of-towner optimist who serves as a contrast to the jaded, annoyed curmudgeons around her who don't share her enthusiasm for their work. Alan Tudyk similarly is well cast as their boss--an outcast of the Wayne (as in Bruce) family--and his assistant plays the foil to his shenanigans nicely.

Aside from those few, we don't get much to shout about. Pretty much everyone--including those I mentioned--is extremely eccentric, to put it nicely. To put it less nicely, they're all batshit crazy. This show painfully lacks a "straight man," the character who takes things seriously and acts serious even when nothing is serious. Think Graham Chapman in Life of Brian or Bud Abbot of Abbot and Costello. Tudyk's assistant attempts to fill this void but comes across more like Kif from Futurama, portraying comedic disgust for her boss rather than actual loathing for the horde of lunatics that surround her.

A little bit of zany is expected in a comedy, but when everyone's zany it's just too much. There's a fine line between funny and stupid, and there's a fine line between being eccentric and being an unrealistic caricature. The characters of Powerless too often find themselves on the wrong side of these lines. It's not just that they're unlikable either. Unlikable characters can work; these lack believability. Poor Vanessa Hudgens is greeted by eye rolls and groans every time she enters a room despite constant efforts to socialize with her coworkers. In reality, she'd have received marriage proposals from half the city in her first week on the job. Are we to believe that every man in her company is gay and every woman is straight? It's an annoying trope that lost all credibility long ago--the attractive, friendly, likeable character that no one finds attractive, wants to be friends with, or likes.

Additionally, it's probably not politically correct to say this (like I've ever cared about that), but when you have a cast of only six people and two of them have a lisp... It just seems like someone didn't think thith... er... this... out properly.

If asked whether I'd recommend this show to someone, you'd probably expect a resounding "NO!" given the thrashing I've dealt out to the characters, but I'm not sure. The premise is just so damn good. This show took my half-joking musings from watching superhero movies and made an entire series out of them. How can I not watch?
That said, a house made of newspapers and cow shit will fall over in a stiff breeze even if it's built on a sturdy foundation. If something isn't done to tone down the goofiness factor, this show will get stale quickly.

You've got my viewership for now, Powerless, but can you keep it?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Barry Bonds is a Hero ("What If" Vol. I)

Source
Anyone who follows baseball at all knows that Barry Bonds holds the records for most home runs in a single season and most home runs in a career.
They probably also know him as a steroid cheat.

For the uneducated, let's start with some back story.
Barry was a good--perhaps great would be a better word--player from 1986 to 1999. Then he suddenly embiggened himself and started thumping the shit out of the ball, hitting 49 homers in 2000 and a record-setting 73 in 2001. That he did it with help from steroids is for most people an obvious conclusion, as players don't suddenly have the best years of their career after playing for 13 years. That's when decline starts, not sudden improvement.
A perplexing question for many is why Barry turned to steroids. He would have been a potential Hall of Fame candidate if he'd retired in 2000 instead of ballooning into a gigantic home run monster. Continuing his career for a few more years with his usual .300ish average, 30 home runs per season, etc. would have made it a lock. So if he's on pace for a Hall of Fame career and has already made enough money to be rich as all hell, why bother with the steroids?

I propose the following "what if" scenario:

What if Barry Bonds is actually a hero who sacrificed his own legacy to put an end to the steroid era?

It's 1999, and Barry has just seen Mark McGwire break the single season home run record. McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Brady freaking Anderson of all people, and countless others are jacking 50, 60, 65 homers per season now like it's nothing. Barry looks at his 13 years of being a consistent hitter with decent power, base-stealing skill, and respectable fielding. 
He sees that no one cares. All they care about is home runs. 
Now, Barry hits plenty of home runs. As I've mentioned, his 30 or so per year were enough to qualify him before the steroid era as a viable home run threat. But that's not enough. He's one of the best players in the game but he's being ignored in favor of one-trick ponies whose only skill is injecting themselves with Gila monster venom and smashing home runs halfway to Australia. 
He sees the way the game is going and realizes that, if unchecked, the game he loves will turn into a crapfest and stay that way forever. Something must be done.
"I'm one of the most skilled hitters there are," he thinks. "Give me some of that muscle juice and I'll not only be a better contact hitter but a better home run hitter than every single player in the game. I'm good enough already that with the proper pharmaceutical assistance, I can fuck up the record books so bad that people will have no choice but to pull the blinders from their eyes that have allowed them to pretend they don't know what's happening to baseball.
"For a while, people will love me. I'll be a hero in my hometown, I'll sign a mega-millions contract, and I'll have my name in all the record books. But it'll come with a cost. In time, I'll be vilified. I'll be hated. My already tense relationship with the press will develop into full-on hatred. Next to my name in those record books will be a big fat asterisk implying that my accomplishments were bogus. My Hall of Fame ticket will be torn up and flushed. The word 'steroids' will be synonymous with my legacy. But by God, it'll be worth it!
"Yes," says Barry. "I will free baseball from the bonds (tee hee) of steroids!"
And oh my, did he. 
Barry did just as my hypothetical scenario laid it out and fucked up the record books big time.
Everyone came to their senses, baseball (mostly) cleaned itself up, and once again a "power hitter" is someone who hits 30 homers in a season--probably not 50, not 60, and definitely not 70.
Is this really what happened? Did Barry Bonds turn himself into a cautionary tale simply to save baseball from its steroid problem?
Probably not.
But what if he did?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Comparing Soccer to Other Sports


"I am not the hero that Gotham deserves"

It appears a soccer stadium could be in our future.
This of course is perfectly fine with everyone despite the fact that talk of building a football stadium caused waves of outrage and rivers of tears that threatened to drown us all in righteous indignation, you great lot of hypocrites.
Anyway, to better educate everyone on the sport that may soon be coming to our fine city, today I'd like to talk about one of the most maligned aspects of soccer.
Call it "diving," "flopping," or "being an obnoxious little pansy," but whatever you choose to call it, players taking hyperbolic falls to try and draw fouls against the other team have given soccer a bad name. To put everything in perspective and restore a more realistic view of soccer, let's compare players' acting habits in other sports to those of soccer. 

Baseball:
A pitch whizzes by the arm of the batter. It is unclear whether or not the ball hit him.
The player clutches his elbow and exclaims "I say! I've just been struck by a baseball! I had better go to first base now, hadn't I?"

The umpire agrees that he was in fact hit and sends him off to first base.

Football:
A wide receiver is bumped slightly by the opposing cornerback while running his route. He throws his hands into the air and falls to the ground, shouting "Egad! I do believe my opponent has committed the illegal act of pass interference! Certainly the officials will assess a penalty for this infraction!"
The referee does so.

Hockey:
A player is bumped slightly by his opponent. He throws himself to the ice, perhaps bouncing his head lightly off the boards for effect and exclaims "Oh, hey! That must've been a cross-check there, eh? Aboot time you sent that hoser off to the penalty box, eh, ref?"
The referee does so.

Soccer:
A player is bumped slightly by his opponent. He flings himself to the ground, clutching his eye with one hand and his ankle with the other while conjecturing that he has likely sustained a lacerated spleen as well, not to mention he's just caught a nasty cold.
He writhes in agony on the ground while one of his teammates insists that the medical staff be summoned to examine him. The medics diligently inspect his various maladies and determine that a stretcher is needed. They gingerly place him upon it, being extra careful to immobilize his head and neck due to the potential spinal trauma he may have sustained.
The player is rushed to the hospital, the ambulance weaving in and out of rush hour traffic and causing three fender-benders along the way. The roadways are jammed for hours thereafter.

Upon arrival, the player informs the doctors that they need not bother treating him as he has in fact just died.
He is taken back to the stadium and all present are informed that it was his dying wish to be buried on the sidelines by his mates so that he may forever remain a part of the game he loved so dearly.
As the casket is being lowered, the referee delivers the eulogy, says a brief prayer, gives a final blessing, and assesses a yellow card to the opposing team's player.
Next of kin are notified, lawyers are summoned to read the player's will, and obituaries are typed up for tomorrow's papers. 

The television cameras show his widow grieving silently in the stands, consoling herself in the knowledge that at least her dear husband died doing what he enjoyed most. She gently dabs at her tears to prevent her mascara running and tries not to think of the years of loneliness and solitude that lay in front of her now that the love of her life has perished so tragically and at such a young age.
A few minutes later the player decides that he feels all right after all, digs himself up, and rejoins the game no worse for wear and having missed only three minutes of playing time.
This happens eleven more times before the half ends.


Soccer is stupid.

Images:
Diver stolen from arsenalarsenal.net, finger kid poached from knowyourmeme.com.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Things People Should Stop Saying



Dear Everyone,
Please stop saying these things.
Thanks.

With Love,
Jake

1. "You shouldn't kill spiders because they get rid of bugs!"


You know what else gets rid of bugs? Me. And I'm not about to outsource my insect murder to some eight-legged hellspawn.
No, I don't want bugs in my house but neither do I want spiders. How 'bout I just squish the lot of 'em?

2. "Rectum? Damn near killed 'em! Hur hur hur!"


I really don't get why people say this. Just stop.

3. "If you want people to like you, just be yourself!"


Unless "yourself" happens to be attractive, charming, and/or extremely wealthy, this doesn't work. If you want people to like you, be who they want you to be. If you want to be yourself you're going to have to not care whether or not people like you.


4. "I know, right?"


Are you asking me if you know? What am I supposed to say to this? I usually hear it used as "I agree with what you just said" but that's a pretty stupid way to try and express your agreement. Quit it.

5. "It is what it is."


Everything
is what it is. I've yet to encounter something that is what it isn't. You're basically admitting that you have nothing to add to the conversation but wish to continue making noises with your mouth. Instead, try beeping or honking.
Better yet, remain silent.


6. "I listen to all kinds of music."


Ask someone what music they like. 95% of them will say they "listen to everything."
Oh, so you like opera then?
"Ew, no."

Death metal?
"Umm... I don't like any heavy metal really."
Jazz? Blues? Classical?
"No, none of those."
OK then.
If all you listen to is pop and country, just admit it. Yes, you're terrible for listening to such shitty music but don't make it worse by being a liar as well.


7. Anything about "adulting."


We've discussed this before.
 


8. Anything at all.


You know what? Why don't we just enjoy the silence. Sshhhhhh.
 


Tape-mouth image pilfered from teamsofdistinction.com

Monday, August 29, 2016

What Instrument Should I Play?

Being the altruistic person I am, I've decided to put my years of having slogged my way through various bands to good use.
The following is a guide to selecting what instrument you should play if you've decided you want to be in a band (and let's face it, who doesn't want to be in a band?).


Bass Guitar:
Kotoyuki doesn't like the bass, but the bass likes him.
The vast majority of bassists are fat guys or hot chicks, so if you fit either of those descriptions you've found your calling right here.
Bass is also a good place to hide whichever member of your band is least musically competent. While no instrument is easily mastered, anyone with the proper number of phalanges can semi-coherently bang out a tune on bass after a week or two of practice. Besides, the sound guy will have you so buried in the mix that no one will be able to hear how badly you're fucking up the songs.



Drums:


Do you hate money? Do you speak mostly in grunts and smell like a yak? If so, drums are for you.
Your instrument is the most expensive of the lot and you'll consistently smash it to bits and have to replace parts of it. It's an endless loop of poverty.
You will, however, have the shortest commute to band practice as it'll most likely be held at your place by virtue of your instrument being a pain in the ass to move. Of course, you're so broke that "your place" is more accurately described as "your parents' basement" so it really isn't worth it.



Guitar:
Guitar's upside down, dude.
Second in prestige to the singer, you're playing a "cool" instrument. Despite this, no one gives a shit that you play guitar because they all play guitar too and think they're better at it than you are.
Guitarists are a dime a dozen, even though 11 of that dozen can't play worth a damn. Most of your time will be spent listening to people tell you that their cousin Frank plays guitar too and he's really good and you should let him in your band. In the rare case that you choose to act on this information, you'll find that the only instrument Frank owns is a kid-sized acoustic guitar in his closet that's missing two strings. He hasn't played it in three years, and only got as far as learning how to play a clumsy rendition of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
He would, however, be interested in joining your band if there's still a spot open.



Vocals:
Bobcat Goldthwait?
The holy grail of band membership.
90% of the audience will notice you and only you. Your fans will tell you how much they love those songs you wrote while your guitarist (who is actually the one who wrote them) gnashes his teeth in rage.
As long as you're moderately attractive you can have pretty much any man or woman you want, regardless of your gender or sexual orientation. Dodging thrown panties while on stage will quickly become one of your many talents.
Your instrument is part of your body and thus doesn't cost you a cent unless you buy your own microphone, and even that costs a pittance compared to what the rest of your band spends. Be sure to complain about it anyway.
Your greatest struggle will be coming up with excuses not to help your bandmates load their equipment into the club.



Keyboards:
No one knows why you exist. All of their favorite bands use keyboards in the music, but they can't be bothered to pay a live keyboardist and just play with the keys on a backing tape. Thus, you are considered by the masses to be odd and superfluous. You'll be known as "the weird one" and on the rare occasion someone notices you they'll expect you to do something eccentric. Might as well embrace it and paint yourself green or something.



Any Other Instrument:

Don't bother. You'll join the keyboardist as "the weird one" unless you're a good-looking female, in which case it really doesn't matter what you're playing. You could stand on the stage hitting a trash can with a sledgehammer (Warning: this technically qualifies you as a drummer) and you'd still have people telling you how great you are.



Hope this was helpful to everyone. By now, you should have your instrument picked out. The next step is to commit yourself to a lifetime of disappointment and a yearly salary of $20. Enjoy.


Photo thievery sources:
Caveman: leanandmuscular.org 
Singer: 123rf.com
Kotoyuki: Getty Images
Jimi: outsidethebeltway.com
Xylophonist: leftlion.co.uk
Alien keyboardist: popartdecoration.com