Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why Kwame Sucks

I would never tell Kwame Brown that he sucks to his face. The guy's 6'11". A friendly back slap from this guy would put me in the hospital for weeks.

Yet tonight, I felt perfectly comfortable lobbing this insult towards him from not very far away. (He was also informed that his perpetual sloth and lackadaisical attitude towards his occupation resembles a co-worker of mine named Rupak, though I'm thinking that sort of inside reference would go right over his head. If such a thing were possible.)

Through a benevolent act, 20 co-workers and I managed to get into one of those luxury boxes at Staples Center to see the hometown Lakers (sometimes known as the "Gay-kers" to those who insist upon hating on popular basketball franchises AND homosexuals simultaneously) take on the Portland Trail Blazers. It was, in a word, awesome. In two words, it was "totally awesome."

I am not a basketball fan in any sense of the word. In fact, going into the Staples Center tonight, I realized (to myself, of course) that I could only NAME two active Lakers. Kobe Bryant, who is a celebrity icon and alleged rapist first and a famous athlete second, and Lamar Odom. I have no idea how it is that I have come to know of Lamar Odom, and not only to recognize and remember his name but to know his team affiliation. It must be some kind of holdover from my days of living with rabid sportsman Matt, who would take advantage of my perpetually stoned collegiate inertia and dominate the television for weeks at a time.

Matt's theory went something like this...All I wanted to watch were old TV shows like "The Simpsons," most of which I had seen and all of which would surely be re-run at some future date. He, on the other hand, wanted to watch live sporting events or sports recaps, programs that could only be seen and enjoyed at that exact moment in time. (Recall, these were those horrible, dark days before the advent of TiVO and the DVR. How did people manage to entertain themselves?) Most of the time, I was too spaced out or lazy to argue.

I thought I had forced all of that "SportsCenter" information out of my head and replaced it with rock songs, film theory and shrill anti-Bush blog posts, but some random scraps have remained.

For what it's worth, I also remember that this guy looks creepy:

...and that this guy...

...was arrested in 2001 with 213 pounds of marijuana in his van.

Which is hilarious on many levels. Who breaks traffic laws when they're driving around with 213 pounds of marijuana? Who even needs 213 pounds of marijuana? I mean, obviously it wasn't for personal use. Even Nate couldn't be that many tokes over the line. But being an NFL player, you're already making a lot of money and, even worse, you're extremely visible. Which is the last thing you want to be if, you know, you're a fucking drug dealer!

Anyway, despite the above references being pretty much the extent of my sporting knowledge (okay, I also know that Barry Bonds is a dick and that Ice Cube can get a triple-double, even when he's just messing around), I had a great time at Staples tonight.

And it wasn't only the free booze and food and the kickass suite, although that stuff never hurts. A fridge full of Heineken keg cans, some garlic french fries, pulled pork sandwiches and Snickers Pie will, in fact, buy you several hours of my time and not a small amount of loyalty. But beyond the sybaritic delights, I actually enjoyed just watching the basketball game. Perhaps all this time, I have been bored by basketball because it is on television, which consistantly renders live events as flat and uninteresting, or because of bad views in horrible seats. Really, I'm not sure I've ever attended a sporting event before and had what anyone would reasonably consider a good seat. So, like, of course I've always found them boring.

Well, not baseball. That's genuinely boring. I mean...come on...There's a liesurely game and then there's a bunch of dirtbags spitting and scratching themselves and sometimes trotting around in a circle. It's not even a particularly fine line. The only people capable of really getting into baseball are seriously confused nerds. See, they should be focusing all that energy on exciting careers in accountancy or in the high-growth field of Star Trek memorabilia collection, but instead, they have become obsessively focused on compiling and arranging meaningless statistics. Reading an intense baseball fan blog is pretty much identical to reading an advanced academic paper on String Theroy. Except in the latter case, brilliant minds are struggling to answer the grandest, most significant questions our species has ever posed about the universe, and in the former case, a bunch of douchebags are trying to figure out which left-handed sluggers are the most consistant in windy conditions. Otherwise,'s uncanny...

In fact, I think there's very very little chance I could ever become a fan in any way, shape or form of any sport aside from basketball. I prefer it to all other sports because it is well-paced, the games and seasons are short enough to remain interesting all the way through (though the Playoffs take too long) and because it is not baseball.

My infrequent opportunities to watch and enjoy basketball is no one's fault but my own, of course. I don't like sports and would never set aside any resources of my own to attend a sporting event. If I go, I go because someone else invites me, and why would they shell out hundreds of dollars on my non-sports-caring-about ass?

Think of it in these terms. If you had only ever seen Lawrence of Arabia on a video iPod, or projected on a bedsheet 100 yards away, you probably wouldn't think it was a terrifically interesting movie. But check it out in 70mm widescreen some time.

I'm bringing up this theory as a remote but intriguing possibility, not because I firmly believe it to be true. I mean, I know that one reason (among many) that I can't get into hockey is because it's too taxing to follow a tiny little puck as it races between the legs of hulking guys wearing body armor around a big white rink for several hours at a time.

No, it's far more likely that the beer, the chicken fingers and the lively, enthusiastic company made the game compelling. That and the newness of the experience. (I had only been to Staples once before, and it was for a Crosby Stills Nash and Young concert, and I was in a normal bleacher seat. I believe the last time I watched a professional basketball game was when I was 8 or 9 years old, back in Philadelphia, checking out a Sixers game at the Spectrum. I could be mistaken about that, but I don't think that I am.)

That and the fact that it was an abnormally involving match-up, fairly close almost the entire night and notable for a startling, barely-human feat of strength from Kobe Bryant. Probably all of the above.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Funny, She Doesn't Look Simlish

I usually don't like directly posting corporate propaganda here, but this is just too strange to pass up. Lily Allen has re-recorded her hit "Smile" entirely in Simlish, the language of Electronic Arts' incredibly boring Sims game. I tried playing Sims, in which you simulate the life of an individual or couple living in a bland suburban enclave. But before I had a chance to do anything, my characters kept pissing themselves. I'm serious. Your characters have to pee all the time, but there's only one bathroom, so if one character needs to shower to go to work, the others all wind up pissing themselves. This would happen pretty much every time I played, until I decided that such a thing was simply undignified, and gave up on the experience entirely.

Admittedly, I'm not very good at video games, but you shouldn't have to be The Wizard, starring Fred Savage, in order to avoid urinating on yourself in a game. I hadn't installed the Crohn's Disease Expansion Pack or anything...

So, anyway, long story long, I'm not into The Sims. But I did enjoy this music video, created entirely within the game and spoken in its eerie, gibberish language.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Is Zach Snyder's adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel 300 an ode to George W. Bush and his doctrine of pre-emptive war in the Middle East, or is it merely a cartoonish depiction of one of history's most famous battles? It certainly feels like a statement on the need for aggression in foreign policy and the inherent weakness of compromise or capitulation.

Certain sequences seem to directly respond to contemporary American politics. When the Queen (Lena Headey) pleads with the Council to send more troops to the front lines, her rhetoric rather directly echoes our Congress' recent debates on a similar matter. When King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) argues about the need for war to protect "freedom" from "tyranny," one can't help but by reminded of America in the Spring of 2003, the pressing need to "fight them over there" so we won't have to face our enemy here. And, of course, the depiction of said enemy as diabolically evil, sexually perverse and physically malformed recalls the blatherings of every right-wing scumbag from Michael Savage to Michelle Malkin to Ann Coulter, who insist that there can be no settlement with our present-day Arabian and Persian foes. Only slaughter.

A common counter-argument to this view, that 300 the film has been designed as propaganda for Bush's war, is that it's based on a book written well before the Bush regime came to power. What utter nonsense. Certainly, the decision to make a film out of the book occured post-Bush. As did the decision to write this particular version of the script and film it in this particular style with this particular perspective. Not to mention that I have read the novel and the film is considerably different. (That scene I mentioned with the Queen isn't in the book at all, if I recall correctly). You heard the same bullshit when V for Vendetta came out. Sure, the book was about Thatcher's England. But the book is not the movie...Done. Care to try again?

So it's entirely possible that the film was meant as an argument in favor of Bush's Iraq Adventure (and possibly an Iranian one to come). But I don't really think this is the case. 300 represents something much older than George Bushism. Snyder's film and Miller's book have tapped into a regrettable sub-genre that runs underneath much of our culture - war porn.

300 may be the most offensive piece of war porn I have ever seen. Seriously, if you screened this film for Leni Riefenstahl, she'd say..."It's really good, but could you make it a bit more subtle? I just feel like we're hammering people over the head with this thing."

300 fetishizes violence in a way that is not at all reasonable, or even entertaining; it magically transforms sadistic cruelty into heroism and fascism into freedom right before your eyes. If Generalissimo Franco had a nightmare that was guest-directed by Mel Gibson after a 10-day coke binge, 300 would be the likely result. Warner Bros. must have hired some expert sound editors, because otherwise I swear you could hear Snyder and Miller jacking it during some of the rousing speeches and frequent beheadings. I left 300 a bit disgusted, but more than that, exasperated. How could you reason with someone who thought that this ugly, gruesome spectacle has any merit, as popcorn entertainment or otherwise? Certainly, it goes without saying that I would do my best to avoid anyone who shares its worldview, which is pretty much universally hateful, hostile and an affront to thinking, sophisticated, modern people everywhere.

It's also incredibly boring and repetitive.

The armies of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), god-king of the mighty Persian Empire, coalesce outside the Greek city-state of Sparta. They have come because the Spartan king, Leonidas, refused to bow before Xerxes and, in a show of pride, murdered a Persian messenger. Unfortunately, the corrupt Ephors and Councilman who control the Spartan army have refused to aid in the city's defense, so it's up to 300 brave Spartan warriors to defend all that they hold dear against the largest army in all of Asia.


First, they spend what feels like hours stalking around the countryside in underoos, showing off their grased-up abdominal muscles and celebrating their imminant martyrdom. In voice-over, Dilios (David Wenham) goes on and on about the "warrior code" of the Spartans, how they never surrender, how they begin learning to fight at the age of 7, how they detest any sign of weakness and respect only stoicism and on and on and on. We see Leonidas kill a wolf as a child, just in case we didn't get the message that he's a badass who don't take shit off no one, even Mother Nature.

(This isn't really a fault, but 300 is also one of the gayest movies I can recall. Not terribly surprising, I guess, for a movie about Ancient Sparta, even though the movie would never admit that all its leading male characters have, at one time or another, dabbled in the homoerotic arts. At one point, a character mocks the Athenians as "boy-lovers," a clear attempt to distract audiences from the fact that they are watching a film set in Ancient Greece starring a cast of naked men pledging their undying devotion to an oily Gerard Butler while a narrator emphasizes repeatedly that they are "hard and strong, strong and hard." It's like Logjamming on steroids.)

300 was shot much like the previous Miller adaptation, Sin City, with the live actors set inside a digitally-created background. Director Robert Rodriguez used the technique in that film to simulate Miller's black and white comics, bringing an antiquated panel style to new life on the screen. I thought it was largely successful, visually innovative and a lot of fun. Zach Snyder comes up with a few nice-looking sequences in 300, my favorite being the shot of Leonidas and his men as they watch Xerxes' ships get knocked about in a storm, but the film overall looks pretty awful.

Daylight is always brown, nighttime is always blue, and they both look washed-out and muddy. Though there's lots of fighting, there are very few establishing shots to give you any real physical sense of the action that's taking place in the big picture. What remains may be brutal and gory but it's not terribly cinematic.

What's more, Snyder seems to be developing a case of latent Peter Jacksonism in terms of the use of slow motion. Action scenes that should whip past are slowed down, dulling their intensity, making what should be some of the movie's most striking moments and images feel overblown and silly. (A shot of one of the Spartan heroes dying at the hands of a Persian on horseback is a perfect example. Like Jackson's King Kong falling off the Empire State, it would have more impact if it didn't take 10 fucking hours to go down.)

Evidence of Snyder's affection for Peter Jackson is evident as well in the Persian army's "creatures," many of which do not appear in the book and look ridiculous. An oversized troll, really just a misplaced Middle Earth troll, has an dreary, predictable back and forth with Leonidas. A hunchback named Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan) looks entirely fraudulent. I can't tell if the character was digitally retouched at all; it looks like a man wearing a silly rubber costume. How did Snyder even think he could get away with this, post-Gollum?

I mean, I went in expecting the politics to bother me, and they did, but at least I thought the film might be aesthetically pleasing. No such luck.

As I said, the film's not really all about Bush, as some online liberals have argued. You'd have to be delusional to conflate the buff, heroic Leonidas, who bravely rushes into battle 10 feet in front of his men, with Commander Codpiece. Bush is more like Xerxes, anxiously awaiting news of the battle from atop his golden slave-drawn chariot. The film's just about the glory of war, how great it is when attractive nude men attack one another for sport and to bring glory to their leaders (particularly if you get to watch it from the comfort of a movie theater).

It's designed specifically to delight those odd authoritarian military junkies who are in our midst and always have been, even before Bush. You know who I'm talking about...Nerdy loners, usually men, who hang around in the Borders "Military History" section, post comments on the Free Republic forums, frequently turn the conversation around to martial arts they know or weapons they own, and can't wait for some dirty brown foreigner to start talking smart so we have an excuse to drop some bombs. War is what gives them their sense of self, I suppose, or what sets them apart from the loathed intellectuals and hippies living off in their elite urban enclaves.

Regardless, I'd expect some will savor every stab wound, every slash of the sword and arrow to the eyeball. Insecure white men, those who feel threatened by the unknown, by women and minorities, will see a film like 300 as confirmation that their suspicions were always correct. Their manlitude is a gift from the gods, they represent the greatest single development in the whole of Creation, and history calls upon them to fight any and all comers. Remember, it's okay to root for deplorable violence, provided it's delivered upon a person representing a foreign, decadent culture.

300 is very very big on the notion of Western supremacy. The Greeks of the film aren't just defending their long-ago destroyed city (how many modern Americans are even aware of the past existance of a place called "Sparta"?), they're defending all us good, civilized Whites against the Foreign Hordes. They fight to save Us from Them. The "beasts," the "brutes," the "barbarians," as they are repeatedly called. When we get a look inside the court of Xerxes, everyone's naked and writhing around. There are monsters, freaks and, of course, lesbians. No lesbians in Sparta, no sirree. They're not allowed because they aren't strong and hard, hard and strong.

Watching this movie is like spending 2 hours inside Charles Krauthammer's head and it made me decidedly uncomfortable. That is, when I wasn't laughing at the cheesy ludicrousness of it all.

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention the reprehensible use of nu-metal on the soundtrack during some of the battle scenes. Honestly, it's shocking that any filmmaker would actually use this kind of lazy Korn knock off during a battle scene any more. That is so ridiculously overdone. All this "Let the Bodies Hit the Flooooooooooooooooooooooooooor" shit went out in, like, 2002, dude.]