Monday, May 24, 2010

Media Monday

0. Luv.
I don't watch the televisions at the gym, and can't listen to them (why they haven't figured out closed captioning, I have no idea), but in context, there is no amount of stationary biking I could do, no number of squats--and playing tennis never got me close--that could ever fill out my woefully flat, quintessentially white-guy hindquarters. And that's why I was looking--I'm just sensitive to these things.

I was too far away this morning (and honestly, I was trying to not look) to realize that Venus Williams was, in fact, wearing flesh-colored bottoms on her bottom, and that the presentation spread coverage the attention that was given to her outfit across five simultaneous screens was relatively unfounded. I suspect the usual combination of titillation and disapproval was being employed by the networks, bringing in the entire middle American Good Morning America demographic, both the prudes and the unhappy people they're married to. ABC was definitely showing her off as they scowled, and the local news didn't hesitate either. Oddly, Fox and Friends made their angry faces without highlighting any revealing serves. (CNBC and the NFL network did not mention the incident at all.)

And if she looks that good, well, who can blame her for showing off? Venus is a badass cool.

1. Lost.
I still haven't seen a single episode, not even the pilot, which I avoided only due to the usual confluence of business trips and mild aviophobia. I don't necessarily shun commitments requiring lengthy analysis of lesser art, and even though I consider my time too valuable these days to comb the waste for improbable diamonds, I can't deny that I've wasted many happy hours discovering how the discussion and speculation can blow up into something far more entertaining than the story itself (and sometimes the story can pleasingly confound your expectations too).

Anyway, I got into a conversation with the microscopy guy on Friday about this very thing, and he attempted to convince me (as others have tried) that Lost really did so have it all plotted out from the get-go, and that it's totally worth the five years of your life. I've got far too much invested in being a non-watcher at this point, so I'm not likely to engage until well after the post-mortem, if at all. Nonetheless, it's fun to have opinions, and here's my top five predicitons, based on knowing not a goddamn thing about this show:

  • It was all a dream. (c.f., The Wizard of Oz.)
  • It was all a simulation in which the characters have participated, willingly or no. Something universal about human nature is asserted, in this case probably at the last minute, through the experience. An experiment on humans by higher beings is a likely possibility. (c.f., The Matrix. Also a number of sf books, my possible favorite of which is The Deep by John Crowley.)
  • It was a mysterious simulation, and these characters dissolve in a horrifying fade-out with the realization that none of them are "real". (I'm sure I've read or seen more than one story of this type, but I've got no canonical example. My favorite short along these lines is Forlesen, by Gene Wolfe. Maybe The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathon Hoag by Robert Heinlein qualifies.)
  • They all died in the crash, and the time on the island has been a sort of Purgatory, as they unknowingly defend their lives for the appropriate torment, or else it's the last mad flailings of their minds before they all let go and pass on to oblivion. (The prime example is A Strange Occurrence at Owl's Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce. For a more afterlife-themed version, see the movie, Jacob's Ladder. Aging is such a weird, slow disappointment that sometimes I wonder if I'm really in the back of an ambulance back in 1994 or something, hallucinating the whole thing.)
  • They're participating in some alternate reality, that is possibly just as true, due to death or delirium. The increasing madness of life on the island is a symptom, or maybe an unconscious metaphor, of trying to break free into "real" reality. (My favorite example of this is The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick.)

    What do I win?

    2. Iron Man 2
    (Okay, let's note a certain method to the numbering here. Ain't I something.)

    Speaking of surpassing expectations, there was a lot to like about the first Iron Man movie. To be sure, there was quality acting (including the Dude taking a turn as a meticulous, technologically savvy villain) that could sell it, but there was almost a--I don't want to go so far as to label it verisimilitude--there was also a low threshold for suspension of disbelief that let me accept Tony Stark flying around at unsurvivable accelerations and looking totally kickass. It's fairly obvious that they hired a technology consultant for the films, and even if putting a little fusion reactor into his chest made little medical sense (what, it was an electromagnet meant to prevent the migration of shrapnel? That's silly.), what makes Iron Man believable over Marvel's panoply of mutants is that you could convince yourself that these are merely engineering challenges overcome, not outright magic. The reactor in particular was a smart touch, with throwaways that it was a long-running failure by the company. It resembles a tiny tokamak (and the one in their lobby was a a more plausible big one, if you could imagine they'd build 'em with glass walls, or would keep one running down the grid as a demo piece), a real device and actual long-running failure, which is screaming for some revalatory inspiration from a gifted scientific mind. The suit too, in a compelling discovery sequence (a directorial achievement given its length) had its struggles and successes, to the extent that it was believable enough to warrant viewer apology (we assume that Stark Enterprises must have already developed some wicked shock absorbers, etc.).

    Good stuff, but on to the sequel, and we're running into problems. First of all, palladium is a noble metal, and considering it doesn't react with things very much, I am not convinced that it's especially toxic. (Hey Tony, I realize that in the comics universe radiation often gives you powers instead of kills you, but maybe the neutron damage is, you know, the problem.) You encounter this in science, where a limited set of material properties (usually with complicated interdependence) gets in your way and I suppose with enough computational effort, you could identify hypothetical materials that are more amenable (and then hind them in your futurama floorplan for some reason). But a new element? What the fuck is up with that? Did they find a new number between 1 and 107 that no one has thought of before? And that shit isn't toxic and radioactive? Let's ask the science consultant how one might go about doing this. It was great that Tony built a particle accelerator in his garage, on top of old milk crates and piles of laundry, though I'm even more impressed that he could shoulder it and wing around a glowing beam like a laser. (See all that stuff inside, Homer? That's why your cyclotron didn't work.) And all he had to do was hit that little slab with his harmless high energy proton beam (or whatever), and blammo, a little coathanger made out of unobtainium. Man, if nuclear chemistry is that easy, then I'm back to the basement to work on my gold machine. Meanwhile, some nerd chucks off his glasses in disgust.

    It's the sort of thing that makes me look for other flaws. The antogonsist Ivan Vanko, now given the run of a defense contractor's full secret facilities, can run giant production items without using any of the people on the floor, no people at all, except an occasional complaining visitor. Ivan had great potential for a character, and Mickey Rourke damn near sold him as both an impressively scary motherfucker and a brilliant physicist, but given his origin story, whatever's contributing to this guy's amorality really needed to be filled out. Revenge is usually a passionate enterprise, you know? (Also, did Iron Man just cold-cock him in a suit powerful enough to throw a tank? And he lived?) And Sam Rockwell was unpleasant and non-technical enough, but I'd no indication of how he could possibly run a big company. So at least that part was plausible.

    Of course I wish that I could age as well as Robert Downey Jr.. Getting older has only made him better looking, and I was surprised to learn that Gwynneth Paltrow shares this quality. Scarlett Johanssen plays an alluringly blank-faced enigma, which, beautiful as she may be, might best be described as her "entire range." The silliest casting was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, a pointless excercise that lengthened an already-long movie with sequel tie-ins: have they learned nothing from casting this guy as Mace Windu?

    And they dared to crack open the military/technology/arms race can of worms, but then left it there stinking up the joint. Maybe it was better that way, at least approaching some basic philosophical challenges about the very existence of this stuff and leaving the questions open to the fanboys. I found myself thinking that the world would be bad enough off with one Iron Man, accountable to anyone only by his acquiescence, but an army full of them was even more terrifying. I'm not expecting deep political analysis from a superhero movie (and it's implied that Iron Man, as well as a number of other too-dangerous-for-just-anyone technologies will be relegated to oversight by special entities which would never, ever be tempted to fight covert or unjust wars), but no good is coming out of this. Didn't anyone regret the collateral damage when 20 giant robots started blowing up Madison Square Garden?

    At least in comic book land, we can count on moral resolve from the good guys when we need it.

    3. Treme
    I like this show enough to only stay a week or two behind. There's the well-developed character dramas, of course, but you can watch it for the music alone, for what it means (and doesn't mean) in the culture. Sneaking in that many of the local artists was an act of sheer brilliance, but I want to tell Mr. Simon that there's a threshold for this sort of thing. Anyone who's routinely featured on television, or who's crossed the bar in record sales is going to be conspicuous, and their introduction needs a deft hand. When the dialogue reads, "Oh my god, that's Elvis Costello, famous musician and record producer," then something's a little off in the way you're bringing in your special guest cameos, even if some characters might actually talk like that in the situation. "That's Tom Colicchio, and he brought along Eric Ripert and Wylie DuFresne. They're notable New York chefs!" Or maybe there's just no good way. Why wouldn't people like that show up? Of course they would.


    Keifus said...

    Just an addendum to the list item that was already running long. The history of comics is, of course, deeply tied into the second world war, and how that flowed over into the nuclear era. All that super-powered jingoism had to develop a question mark as it crossed into a world that now had powers that were too big to be safe, proliferating, and which the world was probably better off without. If there's any coherent philosophical probing to be found in there at all, it's dancing around the questions of capability and responsibility, and those ideas haven't been lost in the newest incarnations either. I don't remember the comics ever coming down as antiwar or anti-military though, even if pretty much every hero was only reluctantly violent.

    Second, it's a comfort that Stan Lee is still alive though. Pushing 90 he is, and still seems to enjoy it. Sergio Aragones, who drew Groo up there as well as a million other things, is also still at it at 72. This makes me hapy.

    Keifus said...

    Oh, and Smutty, if you're reading, I made that crack about a home-built accelerator last week before I saw the movie, hard as it is to believe.

    Schmutzie said...

    Haven't seen Treme, but I noticed Rundeep, Iso and Topazz were interested in discussing it, so I'll trust all of you and try to make it a point to tune in.

    I assume you came up with your home-built accelerator idea long before you mentioned it to me, and certainly long before they wrote your idea into the IM2 script for sure. I've heard others give an ehhh review of the movie.

    Keifus said...

    IM2, uh, had all the ingredients, but the souffle fell in anyway. Too bad, sorta.

    If Iso is plugging the show, then it's a good sign. I'll go and try and find the thread--not a whole lot of extra time lately. (And yet I post...)


    switters said...

    Twin Peaks (Peeks?)

    You didn't miss much. It jumped the shark in the middle of Season 2 and never recovered.

    As far as the Iron Man franchise goes, 1 word: The Soloist.

    End of story.

    Great post.

    Keifus said...

    You know, I think the best thing that could happen to this Crystal girl is to come in second, but it's just not going to happen. Lee seems like a decent enough guy, but nobody's going to much remember that version of one of everyone's favorite songs...

    Also, there's been at least two mandos this season (one played by a contestant), and the judges used the opportunity to prove the extent of their insipitude. Fuck, Randy knew the words "Nickel Creek" without an inkling of why anyone'd care... I know you're watching.

    And yeah, I'm still impressed that Downey could pull off a black, schizophrenic music prodigy. Simply amazing.

    (And nice to see you. You still going up to the new place this weekend?)

    switters said...

    I think you're right. If Crystal loses, she could possibly avoid what rundeep called the "winner's curse", or something.

    I've always known that Terry Gross was one of the best interviewers working today. But a couple months ago, when Ben Stiller was on Fresh Air, I realized that she is indeed the best. Ben was promoting Finding Goldberg or whatever. And not only did Terry play the "Going Full Retard" scene from Tropic Thunder in its entirety, but she brought up the controversy of Downey playing a white guy playing a black guy, and the deliciousness of the irony that Downey got the nod from Oscar.

    I suspect I'll leave Memorial Day and hopefully get a plumber/electrician out there Tuesday to get some water running. But my mood's been all over the place, and I feel this amorphous dread/fear/anxiety. Pills, pills, pills. And beer.

    Nice to see you, too. I think daveto summed it up best, from what little I've read/heard from Lost. Also, everybody loves Treme.

    Cindy said...

    I'm having lunch with rundeep in about two hours.

    Am I the luckiest person or what?

    Keifus, I love this post. Perhaps because I, too, am an avowed non-watcher and yet I could easily be entertained by the serious discussions of who exactly IS the smoke-monster and when you see people seriously debating that you have to be very glad you've lived this long, don't you think?

    Switters, good luck!! Thinking of you .... we'll be passing pretty close to you as we head from Philly through OH, IL, IN and on to Seattle. Hoping it all goes smoothly.

    Schmutzie, is there a hockey thing happening? I think I've seen something in Philly.

    Keifus said...

    Huh, I guess people liked Lee. I'd say the previous two were more like gen-you-wine musicians though, which is a little disappointing, but they may be better off only being on the hook for that dreadful tour. Sure hope it's the last season of that show.

    Feeling's gotta be understandable, man.

    Cindy: I'm still jealous from the cheese steak thing. I am sure that rundeep is delightful in person. (I've only managed one of these real-life encounters. Met Sawbones in St. Louis a couple years ago. The opportunity just doesn't come up much for me.)

    I know what you mean about the lost thing. I like movie reviews too, even though I have little intention of seeing most of them.

    [Daveto says it was the "Narnia ending," which is kind of like the purgatory ending and kind of like the second one. The "real" world has been the trial one all along. Bummer. I was pissed at how Narnia ended back when I was twelve and loved everything.

    I also foolishly neglected to include the version where they all realize they are, in fact, characters in a story.]

    switters said...

    Cindy, I would greatly appreciate it if you would continue to keep me in your kind thoughts.

    Keif, at the risk of further hijacking your thread, let me just say this: If you're gonna perform "The Boxer", you'd darn well better sing more than 1 and a half verses and then repeat the chorus 20 times. That was atrocious last week, or whenever. And the power of that song resided to a significant extent in the Mother Mabel Carter picking style of the original. My brother Al and I were never sure if that was Paul playing like that or if they hired a ringer for the session. I'd go with the latter.

    [Six Characters In Search Of A Television Drama?]

    Keifus said...

    Are you kidding? Hijack away. Indeedy, that was precisely the "one of everyone's favorite songs" I was thinking of. My dad used to do it (a lot) better with his old jug band (his guitar friend is/was a fan of Mr. Simon), which is sort of my go-to point on that one. (And I'll note that Crystal at least failed to fuck up another of everyone's favorites..)

    switters said...

    I was raised on the Charlie Pride version and didn't hear Janice sing it until high school. More about this later.

    Anyways, what, they couldn't get anybody good?

    Keifus said...

    Damned talented people, I tell ya...

    (What's making me laugh about that clip, is that my dad--who sings a passable Art Garfunkel, by the way--would get really pissed about that dobro.)

    (Oh yeah, and maybe make it "dramedy," or one of those dramas with unintentional comedy, which I think is called a dramité .)

    Schmutzie said...


    Yes, there is a hockey thing going. It starts in about 6 hours. Game one of the Stanley Cup finals from Chicago. Smutty's Hawks vs Rundeep's Flyers. I'll be blogging about it as the carnage unfolds. I feel kinda sorry for Philadelphia, but the rules clearly state that the Eastern Conference Champ MUST show up, even if they have literally no chance, as is the case with the Flyers.