contemplating Sean Bean’s imminent demise

Sean Bean partially narrates this game I’m playing and it got me chuckling.  Once upon a time folks got to see Sean Bean brutally decapitated in Game of Thrones (that show I no longer watch).  This was the first of many main character deaths in that horror fetish of a series.  But at the time folks tried to rationalize what had just occurred.  I specifically remember saying to my brother, “It’s that much more dramatic because it’s Sean Bean.”

Wait, what?  That’s probably one of the dumber things I’ve ever said.  And man, do I spout some dumb shit.

For you see, Sean Bean does in fact die in everything he’s in.

And here’s even a Funny Or Die skit where Sean expresses his desire for a piranha based doom.

Sean Bean is only 58 years old, but perchance before he hits 60, he’ll be attacked by aliens.  They won’t come to conquer Earth, they’ll just come for Sean Bean.  And he’ll probably be smiling.

“Oh, hay there lads, got a ray gun I see?  Well, make it slow, if ya can.”

we reaffirm our commitment to “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”

The goons of humanity who try and remote control other people’s lives are shockingly transparent. So when the Communist Party backed a movie they placed supreme faith in, gee, who would have figured they’d lose their minds when it turned out to be the terrible, mindless, bad action flick everybody expected?

Beyond my original thoughts on all this, I’ll simply put down the international failure of this movie to two concepts:

1) Zhang got himself trapped (as many a good filmmaker has) by the power of special effects. Since computers allow him to do anything he wants, he lets his mind go insane. Simple decent scenes become a mesh of digital action nonsense so disconnected from reality that the audience can’t connect with the movie. It’s like watching a bad video game or seizure inducing Japanese anime. You don’t feel anything. See the Star Wars prequels or the Transformers films for similar forays into the awfulness.

2) Despite (1), a whole bunch of movies succeed in this format and make a ton of money, see Fast & Furious. I think the Red goons wanted The Great Wall to make an insane amount of money. If it did, it would have been a critical first step of an organic Chinese blockbuster. The problem is nobody cared. Folks probably saw the terrible trailers for this movie and were like, “eh, whatever”.

The movie debuts in America tomorrow. So I guess we’re about to find out just how dumb the American theatergoer is. If this movie makes $300M in the States, I’m moving to the Moon. But the Chinese theatergoer already figured this out, and they weren’t happy.

But hey, even though the movie sucks, it’s not the movie’s fault. But rather you, the viewer, who is wrong. Per The Economist, Xinhua (the Party mouthpiece) called the film “innovative” and accused online detractors of “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”.

I’ll wear that appellation with pride. As I hope every Chinese citizen who rightly criticized this movie online will. We can’t let the goons control human lives. To the point that the bad, is made to be good. Just because they say so.

The question again, is can you make good art, a good movie when the Party is pulling the creative levers? I don’t think so. Zhang used to make great movies, when he was a rebel and against the Party. Now he’s a team player and the art is over.

I hope he learns from this, dumps the handlers, and goes back to making great films.

The Great Wall

Human actor plays medieval part in movie about aliens who got to Earth on an asteroid and attack once every 60 years. Eh, wait, what? Well, what could go wrong?

first the circus, then the zoo

When I was a young lad I looked forward to many things, Christmas cheer, birthday presents, sports games, Sicilian thug poker, and my ability to selfishly find ways to fold space and time. But I only ever kept a calendar checklists for one thing, the circus.

In retrospect I have no idea why. I mean, I love the circus, but it wasn’t like I was going to visit the Moon in a spaceship filled with supermodels. But for whatever reason, I would X off those days until I got to the O and got to go see the elephants and all those lunatic performers.

Well, so much for passing down that tradition. With the circus set to close, millions of children everywhere will have to find some other cool event to count down to on their smartphone’s calendar application powered by Google Android Colossus (your kiddy’s calendar schedule is privacy ad fodder for Google’s maw).

Could Ringling Brothers have survived in our Internets era?  Gee for all our sakes I sure hope so.  I really hope modern entertainment entails something other than freaking VR hooked directly to our brain stems while we foam at the mouth.

But what I do know is the circus’ death was accelerated by the animal rights folks.  Even the elephants were already scheduled to go away, well before Ringling Brothers threw in the whole towel.  What’s a circus without the elephants?

Reading the animal rights folks coo over their victory makes me sad.  Wow, that circus sure was a lot of fun.  No more.  For you see, taking an animal from the wild (where nature is a vicious wheat thresher) and giving an elephant a longer life expectancy and quality of life while brining young children joy and knowledge of nature is barbaric.

I might be (am) a lunatic.  But I’ll just go say this right now: first the circus, then the zoo.  Every animal rights argument that you can apply to the circus, equally applies to the zoo.  Now that the haters have claimed one scalp, why would they stop?  I’ll just say (roughly) that within three decades or so zoos will be severely curtailed and/or closed.

And kids will only get to see a tiger or lion in a book, on their smartphone app, or on a safari for the ultra-rich.  To the activists I would say, think folks don’t care about nature now?  Wait until they close the zoo and kiddies can only see apes in books.

manipulation and that guy’s castle

The new gig requires me to commute via train for the first time in over a decade. I suppose I’ll write more about this later, but given yesterday’s delays now’s not a good time. But lately on almost every train car wall or station ad booth are these new posters for the upcoming season of The Man in the High Castle. This is the second season of the Amazon show that I’ve heard is quite good. I’ve not yet swallowed the pill and donated my psyche to Amazon Prime so I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my list though.

Here is an example of one of the rarer posters they’re using:

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I use the term rare, but I’d say north of 80% of them are this other poster:

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I may have a demented brain but the first thought I had when I saw this poster for the first time was the guy behind this marketing campaign is a genius. I want to conscript his talents to solve some of my more pressing life’s problems, like how to get my dryer to function more efficiently. For you see, I’m entirely certain that the 60 million Americans who voted for Hilary upon viewing this poster are going to immediately associate this visual concept with Trump.

You’ve got New York, you’ve got Nazis, you’ve got a motto about changing the future, and no other extraneous information presented to contradict this initial impression. For example, they could have shown an Imperial Japanese guy in the lower left corner too, but that would take away from the implicit message. Also, if you look very closely as I did this morning, there is a man in Lady Liberty’s head. Face-to-face with this poster, I swear it looks about as close to Trump’s face as they could make it without it being overt.

Again, I haven’t seen this show, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Trump or anything related to the election. But advertising is about impressions. Once those 60 million folks decide to go check out what The Man in the High Castle is, at least some portion of them will decide to stick around and actually watch the show. I wonder how many of them will also realize that in doing so, they were being skillfully played by the Giant Octopus in Amazon.

Manipulation is a creepy thing. I’d like to think I’m not paranoid, but perhaps I am. Or perhaps I’m just insane. Or both. Every news article I read, or ad I see, or whatever, I’m constantly asking myself what the hidden message is. Because like it or not, impartiality doesn’t exist, if it ever did. Somebody wants you to do something or think a certain way for their own (or their cause’s) benefit. Free person that you are, you have to be watchful.

As another example, I’m sure most of you saw this news and social media push of the Santa who had a young boy die in his arms. What a heart tearing story for the Christmas season. Well, it turns out that it probably wasn’t true. But if you’ll remember, this was front page news earlier in the week. On only in a few places will you find the retraction. So a whole ton of people who read and believed, are never going to find out that they were played by this maniac.  I only found out it was fake because I read Deadspin for NFL purposes and this was on the margin.

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Unrelated photo of manipulator

Hey speaking of Nazis and manipulation, also in the news today was that Austria has decided to forcefully procure Hitler’s birthplace.

I guess there’s a lot of history behind this place and the lady who owns it. But for years it seems the Austrian government was paying her straight cash in an effort to prevent various modern Nazi groups from renting it to hold séances with Hitler’s ghost. So now Austria will seize it, buy out this lady, and do something with it. I’m sure they’ll either blow it up or turn it into a memorial for all of Hitler’s victims. Either option works for me, I guess. I mean, it’s just a building. It’s not actually Hitler, so who cares?

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If you ask me, let’s manipulate the shit out of this place. Oh, the modern Nazis want to use it for their rally? How about we let them. The following manipulation shall occur in designated order:

1) The Austrian government announces the property has been purchased by an obscure billionaire known only as Herr Schmidt.

2) Herr Schmidt announces on clandestine Nazi message boards that he actually worships Hitler and the property is thus now open for visits by the faithful.

3) Special keys are handed out via covert mail for those diehard Nazis who wish to visit. They are provided instructions on how to access the property.

4) When they get inside the house, various patriotic Nazi signs direct the acolytes to the special room. For example, they could just repurpose the High Castle poster with Lady Liberty. And various signs reading, “This way to worship our Fuhrer.”

5) And they all get inside the special room, and it turns out it’s just a place with a bunch of chain guns.

6) We get robots to clean up the room.

7) Repeat as required, until no longer required.

And thus, the world would be rid of the extremely small portion of humanity who are so worthless that they still believe in a Nazi message that was destroyed 70 years ago. So let’s give the Nazis what they want, and we’ll just use the house for this other purpose. It’s win-win.

The dude in the castle is not Hitler or Trump or fake Santa whatever, it’s Herr Schmidt. We are Herr Schmidt. We carry on the legacy of the war 70 years ago that made sure The Man in the High Castle concept never happened.

I don’t care about robots

So there’s this Westworld thing that premiered over the weekend that’s supposedly pretty good.  It’s got a great cast, it’s likely well shot, slickly made, and probably fairly entertaining.  HBO is sure hoping it’s the next Game of Thrones.  But I don’t care.  I’ll not be watching.

So last year there was this Ex Machina movie that was supposedly pretty good.  They said it had a great cast, interesting dialogue, and a strong plot.  I didn’t see it.  I don’t care.

I don’t care about robots.  The very thought of the concept on screen just bores me.  I’d loosely heard about Westworld and was mildly interested.  I worship Westerns and was hopeful that HBO was going to attempt another go at the genre.  There’s a lot of room left to still make something as good as Deadwood if people actually tried.  But then I read Westworld was about a robot theme park.  When I heard this, I immediately fell asleep due to boredom by osmosis.  My dogs had to revive me with smelling salts.  They still won’t tell me where they got them from.

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Yeah lady, I know.  I’d need a nap too.

I already know how Westworld is going to play out.  The robots will become more human over time and contrast themselves with the barbarity of the humans who made and abuse them due to our own primal nature and we’ll have to see in the robots what it really means to be human and maybe some of the humans in the television will see the robots and remember what’s it’s like to be human and for you see philosophy and the human psyche are concepts that transcend, … [sleeps]  [sleeps]  [dogs dart over with salts]

Oh, that and graphic violence and gratuitous nudity.  You need that in smart psychological dramas too.  There’s apparently a vicious rape scene in the very first episode of Westworld.  Don’t believe the HBO lie that it has anything to do with the plot or some high minded concept.  It’s there for shock value and eyeballs.  As is the overall level of brutality and nakedness.  Apparently Ex Machina had an excessive amount of nudity and violence as well.  I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

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Yeah lady, I know.  I’d need a nap too.

Robots are not human.  They will never be human.  So the very idea of spending multiple seasons watching Westworld and trying to develop some kind of intellectual connection with a robot character is beyond my comprehension.  How can you relate to or root for a character that’s not really alive?  I’d feel more remorse killing a spider in my bedroom than watching some robot get hurt on screen.  If I was forced to watch Westworld with a girl on the couch, and she starts talking about how she understands the trials of Robot Emma and finds the show entertaining, I’d likely remark in my most deadpan condescending voice imaginable, “Why?  It’s just a fucking robot.”  And that’d be that relationship, and I’d have to begin a new online search.

Once upon a time I used to be in the 1’s and 0’s business.  I hated it.  I will never go back.  But I’ve learned enough to know that artificial intelligence is a crock.  A robot can be programmed to solve math, play chess, or even enslave humanity.  I admit it could happen.  But at its most base level that doesn’t mean a robot can attain self-awareness.  It’ll still just be a machine programmed by a human to fulfill tasks, even if in theory it can also self-learn.  1’s and 0’s is not consciousness.  Humanity is not God.  A robot is not alive.

Just about the only time I think I’ve ever felt any sympathy for a robot on screen is Data, or Arnold in Terminator 2.  You’ll remember that factory scene, right?  Despite the fact that Arnold was bound for the path of an adulterous failed governor and Edward a coked out mess this whole exchange is just awesome, as is the whole movie.  The scene really gets to you.  Arnold’s generally a likeable actor and really does a good job of turning this faceless killing machine into a sympathetic character.  You laugh at him, you root for him, you’re sad when he dies.  This I cared about, sort of.  But in the end it loses its impact over time.  Because in the end after you’ve lost the initial first time edge of the power of this scene, you remember it’s just a robot.

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“I know now why you cry.  But I still don’t have a beating heart.”

The same basic concepts hold true for Data.  You care about him too.  You get to see him grow for seven years.  But I’ve always had this distant attachment with Data.  I can root for him, but have always felt him distinctly apart and separate from the other characters.  And, I guess once you’ve seen that robot development story done, it’s done.  Why bother seeing it done again?  That show was like 15 years ago.

In the end I suspect the way Star Trek told Data’s story is going to be infinitely smarter and more entertaining than anything Westworld can churn out for the masses.  And with 98% less nudity and bloodshed too.

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Oh man, do I sure miss the low key, intelligent, entertaining ways of this show.

On Nazi gold, trains, Wolfenstein, and Indy

So a pair of lunatics are digging up part of a Polish mountain thinking they’ll find a lost Nazi gold train in there. A bunch of smart dudes say there’s no train in there, but whatever, these two dudes are going to dig anyways. Good for them. At least they have a goal for their lives. I know I sure don’t. Maybe they’ll find a gold train, maybe they’ll find nothing, or perhaps they’ll just find an awfully large number of bugs. Or maybe they’ll find Mecha Hitler:

Mecha Hitler

Dude should have brought more than just a knife before digging up a Nazi tunnel.

 

 

The possible existence of said train is called local folklore or whatever. Meaning it might not have ever actually existed, but folks said it did. Or it became a rumor, a legend, worthy of exploration. Indiana Jones 5 needs this plot. Apparently Harrison Ford is going down this road again even though he’s now 89 years old. The fourth Indy movie is perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever seen. So Indy needs to get back to his non-awful-alien-movie roots. Who doesn’t hate Nazis? Indy sure does, he told us. The movie can still take place in the 1960’s, it just has to involve the gold train, Nazis, and somebody other than Ford to do all the punching.

Mecha Indy

Remember when Harrison Ford / movies were this cool?

 

Hey speaking of hating Nazis, the latest games I’ve been playing are the two recent ones from Bethesda: Wolfenstein The New Order & The Old Blood. After being stuck in a bit of a rut playing games that ended up as shit, or had garbage endings, or got trapped in Open World Hell, I find these two games to be rather delightful and refreshing:

 

1) No Moral Ambiguity Bullshit – you get to shoot freaking evil Nazis

 

2) A Clear Plot – you fight to stop the evil Nazis

 

3) A Clear Objective – you don’t have to walk around an open world for 43 minutes trying to figure out what the fuck to do

 

4) A Decent Ending – bask in the glory of a video game that doesn’t have an ending bathed in weirdness, nihilism, total nonsense, or an attempt by the designers to appear smarter than you

 

So I’m calling it right now, the next Wolfenstein game needs this plot too. They find a Nazi gold train. Wind up plot. Go.

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We know Indy, we hate Nazis too.  So we follow your holy example.

Matt Damon and Zhang Yimou whitewash their souls

Dark days are ahead for China. There be monsters north of the wall. Winter’s probably already here, or something like that. Everybody’s scared, the army’s not ready, disaster looms. But don’t worry, Matt Damon will show up to save everybody.

 

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Remember when this guy wasn’t an action movie star?

 

Except it’s a big trick. For the monster is not some type of mythical creature that eats life. Instead, it’s the devil incarnate of bad action movies. This hideous demon spawn was born from an unhuman blending of the reproductive organs of Michael Bay’s Transformers and Zach Snyder’s Superman. China doesn’t stand a chance, even with Damon’s purchased-sculpted-boxer-physique.

 

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Just take a gander at the stereotypical bad action flick awfulness that awaits the poor Chinese theater audience.

 

The Great Wall is China’s most expensive movie production ever. It cost $160M in pure gold pressed latinum and is a massive gamble by both Hollywood and the Chinese film industry. Legendary Entertainment does the production as the now full-fledged member of China’s business community since they (sold out to) were bought out by Wanda Group.

Bankrolled by Wanda Group’s overlord, Asia’s richest man, and expert 1930’s style tap dancer Wang Jianlin, this flick’s meant to serve as a key mark on what Wang and many, many Hollywood suits hope will be a very long and lucrative alliance. If it’s not already, China will soon be the world’s largest film market. And you’d better believe Hollywood wants in on all that luscious cash.

This forthcoming epic masterpiece will hit theaters in China this December followed by a February 2017 debut in the States. This is a bit strange, as February is usually second only to January as a dumping ground for garbage films. Maybe they’re hoping a sparse market will help the film perform better? Maybe they’re hoping they can rope in the Valentine’s Day audience as 11th Century Chinese warriors are viciously beheaded by evil monsters?

 

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Eh, I’m pretty sure The Mongols. Why do I need to pay $13 to see a movie when I already know the answer to the poster’s wise quest question?

 

Anyways, in our current modern media culture, we can’t have anything without a race based controversy. And boy does The Great Wall sure have one in the entirely accurate accusation that they whitewashed the cast by adding Damon when an otherwise all Chinese cast would have made a lot more sense.

They claim Damon plays a mercenary or something. Maybe he’s there to assassinate Jason Bourne? It would have to be something specific like that. Because from what I know about the Song Dynasty, I’m pretty sure the Chinese army didn’t lack for limitless raw manpower. So there’s nothing that would require them to hire to creepy white guy from Medieval France who’s on the lam for stealing Her Ladyship’s already stolen virtue.

Whatever. This aspect of the flick doesn’t really interest me. Damon’s presence is really rather simple. Wang and his minions want to make cash worldwide. In order to do that you need a global star. Damon is a global star. There’s not a single Chinese actor that comes even close to his worldwide appeal. That’s why he’s there. There isn’t much else to it. Money!

Except to perhaps ask the question: Why isn’t there a Chinese actor as world famous as Damon? Ah, yes, now we get to the parts I actually care about. First off, let’s take a look at the director in the brilliant Zhang Yimou. I really like Zhang, the dude’s made some incredible movies and knows his craft well. In particular, To Live and Hero are quality movies. To Live even approaches the realm of masterpiece in my mind. But that was then and this is now.

Then, Zhang got himself banned from filmmaking by the Communist goons because To Live did such a great job tearing down the hypocrisy of said dictatorial state. Now, Zhang is their errand boy. So he thus produces flicks of questionable messaging and quality such as The Flowers of War, which also had a conspicuous hunk-white-dude lead in Christian Bale.

Now Zhang is working for Wang. And before he made billions in real estate, Wang was a regimental commander in the PLA. He’s also a mint condition delegate to the rubber stamp National People’s Congress. In other words, Wang’s the consummate Communist team player. Which helps to explain why Wanda Group is so successful given his connections. Although Wang is probably also a genius, so that helps too.

But if you were Zhang and you once made movies of conscience, perhaps you’d hesitate before getting into business with a guy like Wang who is so clearly tied to a Communist Party organization that censors movies like the ones you used to make. Hell, if somebody banned me and my movie, I’d be pissed. Maybe Zhang’s just more forgiving than I?

But you see, as a now Chinese owned studio, Legendary has to get The Great Wall entirely past the censors. This means that every line of dialogue, every scene of horrible computer generated action has to support the message of the Communist Party.

And therein lies the real crime of this movie, not the color of Damon’s skin. If I ran into Wang on the street (as in if I stowed away on his jetcopter) I’d like to ask him straight to his face if all of Legendary’s future movies are now going to have to be approved by the Commie censors?

I ask this because Legendary has made some damn good movies throughout the last fifteen years. I’d like to know in advance before stepping into the theater whether my movie experience got approved by some undersexed-degenerate-apparatchik-tool.

Hollywood (in theory) is supposed to be a land of consummate free speech. After all, it’s freedom of speech, freedom of the arts that enables Hollywood to function. It’s what gave birth to this pinnacle location of the film industry at the start of the movie era a century ago.

But money talks, and Hollywood (most, but not all) values money over principle. So Damon and a whole bunch of other people are perfectly happy to climb aboard a production that is essentially bankrolled by anti-free speech goons provided they get their tasty paycheck.

Seeing as how, like most celebrities, Damon does substantial humanitarian and human rights work, if I ran into Damon on the street (as in if I stowed away on his autogryo) I’d like to ask him straight to his face what he thinks about hundreds of Chinese human rights lawyers and activists being rounded up and convicted in show trials? Or that they’re being forced to read Cultural Revolution style confessions to the public like in one of the heart tearing scenes that Zhang used to put into his movies.

Did I also mention that Wanda Group owns AMC Theaters? Do you like movies? I sure do. Do you like free speech? I sure do. Well, as far as I can figure, I think these two concepts go hand in hand. But if you’re Wang, Zhang, or Damon, I guess you can respectfully disagree. Money!

Here’s the problem though. Wang and Zhang are placing a bet that you can have quality movies in a realm without free speech. It’s the same gamble that the Communist Party is taking all throughout China’s culture. For example, the Communist Party is backing efforts to dramatically enhance scientific research and development, but without the freedom of speech and academic liberty that normally comes with it.

I suspect, just as it’s awfully hard to invent cool shit when the censors are all over you, that Wang and Zhang are going to discover that without freedom of creativity that they can’t make decent movies. They might make a lot of money (see Transformers for the ability of bad movies to make billions) but not actual good art.

Until China’s film industry can make consistent, freethinking, actual good art, they’re never going to produce a true global star like Damon. I just don’t see it happening. True art requires true freedom. End of story.

Maybe The Great Wall will be fairly decent. Like I said, Zhang is a superb filmmaker. And I really do like Damon as an actor. But for the future of movies, I hope this film tanks.