Saturday, February 16, 2013

More Music for a Saturday Night Zombie Apocalypse

After a sterling Saturday emceeing the Jazz and Poetry presentation for Black History Month at the US Air Force Academy—imagine me in a suit actually interacting with people—it’s back to the basement to get Bleeding Kansas moving in the direction I got it pointed in at 2 a.m. this morning. I’ve set up the stakes and all that will be lost. Now it’s time to set about losing them, with satisfactory degrees of style and drama and good old fashioned gore.

We need some suitably dark and frenetic music for this, and “Red Flags and Long Nights” by She Wants Revenge from their self-titled 2006 album is our sine qua non for tonight’s activity. For what it’s worth, I’m royally off-with-my-head raging at myself for not ripping my own MP3 to a static photo of the album cover. This is the best I could find sound-wise, so please never mind the artsy-fartsy, pseudo-sexy B&W photos of bulimic chicks in red underwear. 

I often like to think of She Wants Revenge as “Bauhaus 2006,” because that’s the sound this former hip-hop duo were going for, and sho ‘nuff got. However, given that they outdid Bauhaus on that entire album for dark, banging, rhythmic gothic rock on their self-titled album, it’s really a disservice to She Wants Revenge to refer to them as such, even if the lead singer sounds exactly like Bauhaus’ breakout star Peter Murphy. Which, I hasten to add, is a studio effect—there are a couple of live videos out there in which you hear how the singer really sounds. Good stuff, but not quite as compelling as the original album track.

So it’s time to pour the wine, crack an ale, and get to work. Minimize the vid to your taskbar and crank the audio. Unless, that is, malnourished young women with legs you can floss your teeth with turn you on. Hell, I’m writing a zombie apocalypse trilogy and this grosses me out!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

More Music for a Saturday Night Zombie Apocalypse

On Facebook, Pee-wee Herman posted a still of him rescuing the snakes from the burning pet store in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure by way of welcoming the Chinese Year of the Snake. This caused me to think of some of my favorite lines from my favorite hymn, which you’ll hear at approximately 1:26 into this video. I’m not a fan of posting official videos with my songs, but this one in particular is a dark, surreal classic of the form to rival Peter Gabriel’s infamous videos for “Shock the Monkey” and “Sledgehammer.”

In my opinion, “Black Hole Sun” from Soundgarden’s 1994 masterpiece Superunknown is probably the greatest thing they ever did. But you all know I’m a sucker for a Great Rock Anthem. This one is the cri de couer of a man so gone in depression and despair he would take the entire universe out with him if he could. Been there, done that multiple times. What’s not to love? 

Put this one on full screen and crank the audio. It’s from the band’s official YouTube site, and they did this chicken right.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Sittin' Out the Super Bowl

I’ve got no dogs in this year’s fight. I’m sorta-kinda for the Ravens as they’re the only team named after a poem. (Baltimore was Edgar Allan Poe’s adopted hometown. The Ravens are named for his Greatest Hit, which Poe rewrote throughout his brief career for re-publication and whatever it was he was drinking at the time.) I’m somewhat curious to see whether Baltimore gets treated like the Seattle Seahawks did during Super Bowl XL in 2006—ignored when not outright disrespected, with shamelessly crooked calls made against them in favor of the Storied Veterans of Super Bowls past. (I lost all respect for Pittsburgh, their fans, and John Madden following that one. Astute observers have noticed that particular Super Bowl has been long since shoved down the memory hole by the Propaganda Ministry.) But I’m not that curious.

Usually I’m up for the drinkin’ and snackin’ and hollerin’ at the TV. Any excuse for a party for this Good Time Charlie. Not this year. Just not feeling it. The Super Bowl is just weird to begin with, and not in the cool, “edgy” way. Football in February is flat unnatural. And I’ve got all the rest of the year to look at those commercials. All that, and I rather resent the notion I’m supposed to be going cuckoo for Coco Puffs for this, all because the TV told me all the Kool Kids are doing this, so I should, too. No thank you.

Instead, I’m putting up all my completed chapters of Bleeding Kansas in Web posts. I like how reading these things on a Web page forces me to look at them another way and edit them down. Once I’m satisfied with how the first five chapters work I’ll publish them. I’m hoping to do this by Saturday, and resume publishing the later installments every Monday.

I might take a break and rake the yard. Or take a nap. Maybe catch up on some reading. It’s Sunday. I’m not the least bit religious but I’m a strong believer in having one day out of the week in which we’re not all running around like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off. I made the mistake of going out this morning to go to Costco and the grocery store for provisions. Ye gods. Not doing that again.

Oh, and one more thing: if Jay-Z shows up to “support” his wife Beyonce at the halftime show, they’ll be the Steve and Eydie Goulet of hip-hop. Which I find amusing. But not enough to sit through that. I’m still trying to figure out why Madonna was brought in last year.  

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermind.”

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Music for Cleaning Your Basement Office on a Saturday Afternoon

It’s a shame the Grateful Dead come with such baggage. I knew a lot of Deadheads back in college and what bothered me was how it was less about the music than making the scene. I saw the Dead on Halloween 1985 at the Carolina Coliseum in my hometown of Columbia, SC. I envied the people who could go from town to town following them around, but it was more about hanging out and not working and traveling cross-country from one stoner party to another that appealed than the phoned-in performances.

It’s another shame altogether this band peaked in 1970. They released two albums that year, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty and aside from “U.S. Blues,” the standout track from their 1974 album From the Mars Hotel, that was it. It’s an opinion I’ve had to keep to myself for a long time. 

I’ve always been about the songs, though. And if you dig good acoustic guitar songs, with melodious, harmonious singing, then put all that stupid goose-stepping teddy bear and skulls-and-roses stuff aside—seriously, has the iconography for any other brand been more mismatched?—and you’ve got songs that make you want to pick up your guitar and sing and play along. The following case in point is the first track from Workingman’s Dead, and the most fun you’ll ever have in the key of G.

I find the song especially appropriate for this time of year. The first full month is behind us and don’t you know...

Oh the first days are the hardest days
Don’t you worry anymore

Because when life looks like Easy Street

There is danger at your door.

So I guess I’m all right, then. Good to know.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Belated Notes on Belatedly Watching Prometheus

I write this under the assumption that everyone has seen and/or formed an opinion about this movie now. If you haven’t, that’s okay, too. You likely won’t understand a thing I’m talking about. I’d heard/read spoilers about Prometheus for six months since its June 2012 release and it was still a rather unique experience to see it for myself.

I found a copy of Prometheus on DVD at the library last week. I’d read all the negative reviews, heard it was a waste of two hours, etc. Regardless, this was the great Sir Ridley Scott returning to the very franchise/universe that kicked off his career 30-something years ago. I had to see how he screwed this up.

According to the general consensus on the Interwebs, most of the blame for Prometheus’ failure goes to co-writer Damon Lindelof, the guy who supposedly messed up the last season of Lost. (I never saw an episode of this much-written-about TV series, so I don’t know, except for all the people complaining of being disappointed throughout its run.) Lindelof supposedly drove the film’s emphasis from being an Alien prequel to another narrative maybe/just a little/somewhat related to the events of 1979’s Alien.

I can understand the desire for this—to a small, statistically insignificant degree. The bottom-line reason we were all excited for Prometheus was that we were assured it was set in the same universe as Alien, and rumor had it we stood a good chance of gleaning the True Origin of the Xenomorphs, the hideous quasi-reptilian critters which gave the world nightmares in 1979. 

We sorta-kinda got that. This handy chart, courtesy of will walk you through it, in case you suffer an excess of concern:

What I found interesting was how all my extensive post-viewing readings failed to mention the numerous shout-outs to that first movie. For something that was supposed to be a prequel, but not quite, it did a lot of pointing, waving and winking at its cinematic progenitor.

We’ll start with the title card. Thin, vertical line segments appearing out of the darkness, followed by other very thin, very vertical lines which make up the one-word title/logo of the movie. 

If you’re looking for God in outer space, you’re going to have a bad time!

We can let that one go. It’s only the first of so many.

The next one that comes to mind is the Poor Working Stiffs in Space Because They Need the Money angle that worked so well in Alien. We get that with a character named Fifield. There’s a scene in which one of the characters confronts him with something like, “Aren’t you excited to be on this Grand Adventure With Us Bright-Eyed Earnest Young People?” and Fifield snarks, in a working stiff’s accent, with a working stiff’s insouciance, that he’s only there for the money.

Yeah, you tell him. Except Fifield turns out to be a geologist who only slouches, smirks and snarks like a general laborer. Definitely the bottom of the barrel as such scientists go, and how on earth did he ever get hired for this trillion dollar mission? What did the Owner’s Vanity Project and Suspected Wild Goose Chase to Find and Meet the Creators of All Life on Earth even need a geologist for? Was Weyland Corporation hoping to find oil, too? 

Even worse, Fifield is the galaxy’s most stupid geologist. He has floating “pups” map the entirety of the buried spacecraft they’re exploring, but he can’t find his way out of said spacecraft when he gets scared, despite being in communication with the Prometheus and presumably having some sort of tech that could allow him to home in on the mothership’s signal.

What made the Working Stiffs in Space meme work so well in 1979’s Alien is that, midway through the film, we understood that these were just regular guys and gals being sent to their deaths by faceless, lizard-hearted suits in Corporate. We felt for them, because we could see such a thing happening to poor working stiffs like us. 

This conceit built on the then-radical images of a “lived-in” futuristic setting (however long ago or far away) from 1977’s Star Wars. These weren’t squeaky clean Starfleet flag officers debating applications of the Prime Directive after receiving direct orders from the fleet admiral on the viewscreen in the executive briefing room. These were flesh-and-blood people with dirt on their faces who would be lucky to brush sleeves with a low-ranking middle manager, and not get yelled at for it. 

Here in Prometheus it’s nothing more than a touchback to the original Alien—a reference that makes no sense in the context of a movie that’s supposed to be a prequel except when it’s not. In the end Fifield is nothing more than an abrasive, thick-headed chunk of monster kibble, like the not-so-working-class, but also unbelievably stupid biologist he gets lost to die with.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Guess what sprays out of the space-cobra when the Dumbest Geologist in the Galaxy tries cutting the space-cobra from where it’s wrapped itself around the Dumbest Biologist in the Galaxy’s arm? Although the acid blood apparently isn’t that acidic, as it only burns through the guy’s glass (!) faceplate to his face—as opposed to taking his head off, as that acid would have done in Alien, where the acid kept burning through deck plates on three or four or more levels of the Nostromo until it stopped. I guess this was an early stage in the evolution of mean-critter acid blood.

Yet another shout-out to Alien comes with the slime the android David comes across while he’s trying to work the control panel outside a large door. The translucent green slime was an indicator of the presence of the xenomorph in the first and second movies. You come across that slime and it’s time to check your weapons and your exits.

Here, it’s just—there. No reason. No xenomorphs, except as shown in this bas relief mural, which would indicate that the Engineers knew of these bitey-stabby, rip-you-apart horrors 2,000 years ago.

This is what happens when Georgia O’Keefe licks a psychedelic toad and begins working in bas relief. 

So where did the slime come from? Why is it on the control panel? Did a really tall xenomorph use this door last? (David has to climb to get to it; the Engineers were 12-feet tall, the Law of Inverse Cube be darned.) How long ago? Does that stuff never dry?

The android David, incidentally, is yet another reference to Alien, namely, the Tricksy Android With a Sinister Hidden Agenda. Except in Alien we didn’t know Ash was an android until he started bleeding milk. And Ash was operating under separate orders from “the Company,” as Weyland Industries was known then.

In Prometheus, the android David is answerable only to the CEO of Weyland Industries and would have no reason whatsoever to put that dab of black goo into the archaeologist’s drink except out of curiosity or perversity or both. No Sinister Company Agenda here. Tricksy Android is tricksy because, well, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if he wasn’t.

This is a good time to hit the pause button on my lists of complaints and gratuitous Alien references and talk about what I did like about Prometheus. That could only be Noomi Rapace as Ripley stand-in Dr. Elizabeth Watts and Michael Fassbender as David the Tricksy Android. 

“Good grief, how many gaping holes are in this script, anyway?”
“At least they’re not dripping slime. Unlike a certain agent I’m going to fire when this gig’s done.”

Not that their characters make a lick of sense. In a series of cuts during the mission briefing scene that made me question Ridley Scott’s ability as a director, it’s implied that this story is mainly about Dr. Watts and David. Which it is and it isn’t. SPOILER ALERT in case you’re really invested in seeing this, but they are the only two characters who get out of this alive. So there’s that.

David is interesting inasmuch as we see him puttering about the good ship Prometheus for the two years it takes to reach its destination. He’s alone while everyone is in hypersleep. While ordinary humans would spend the years going insane, David occupies himself in between routine maintenance duties watching movies and taking in interactive video lectures on ancient languages, all the better to communicate with the Engineers when the ship reaches its objective. (Couldn’t he just download all that info into his head Matrix style? Never mind.) He takes an interest in Dr. Watts’ childhood memories, which he can observe by tapping into the hardware of her hypersleep pod. David also styles his hair like Peter O’Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

David gets picked on a bit by the male archaeologist (whose name I’m not looking up; he was such a cipher) and the only reason I can think of why David would spike his drink with the X-Files-ish black goo (a lot of people made that connection; they really should have come up with something else) was out of some sort of petty revenge.

Still, he’s a smooth, perfect foil for Elizabeth “Ellie” Watts. “Ellie?” Like “Ellen Ripley?” Yes, I’m such a geek I know Ripley’s first name. And, no, they couldn’t have been this cheesy. No. I refuse to believe it. The writers couldn’t have been this lazy....

In another shot I saw telegraphed from the git-go “Ellie” and her boyfriend link hands as they look at the 35,000-year-old cave painting showing a constellation that would have looked a lot different at the time because everything in the universe is in motion, etc. Yet I never believed their relationship. Or that she was such a die-hard believer in Jesus. As far as I could tell, the cross she was complaining at decapitated David to get back was nothing more than sentimental value, something that tied her to her father, who died of Ebola on some African missionary gig. Of which David knows about. And rather coldly, sadistically teases her about. Among other things. Why? David’s weird, that’s all.

Her relationship rings false and so does her faith. Major narrative fail. Except this is Noomi Rapace playing this poorly scripted character, and  I just can’t stop looking at her:

What do you get when you cross a Spaniard with a Swede? One of the most perfectly sculpted faces on any woman I’ve ever seen...and, ladies, you can’t fake what’s in those eyes. The lights are on, and someone is most certainly home. 

I can’t think of any other actress I could have watched throughout this. My heart aches even more seeing what stupid things the stupid script puts this perfect vision of womanhood though. By the way, does this scene look familiar?

My Internet must be broken. My Google search rendered me this not-quite-desktop-worthy shot of a bloodied Noomi Rapace in her underwear. 

An attractive young woman in her underwear working against time. It still wasn’t as bad as the Dark and Stormy Night in which so much gratuitous sex and murder occurs. Yes, we’ve got that, too. 

Let’s look at more pictures of Noomi Rapace. 

Such a beautiful profile in such a gorgeous set in such a stupid movie. Why, O Lord, why?


All right, that’s IT. Screw you guys, I’m going home.

And that’s it. I loved looking at Noomi Rapace. Michael Fassbender was delightfully warped and interesting to watch. Otherwise, there was so much fail in this story I came to lose respect for Sir Ridley Scott. As a director he should have known better. There was so much failure in character development, believable science (they took their helmets off in an alien atmosphere; are you kidding me?), believable action, narrative logic—I have since come to the conclusion that Ridley Scott isn’t the Great Paradigm Setting Director he’s been hyped as for the last 30-odd years. He’s simply been very, very lucky with scripts.

There’s supposed to be a second movie in which Noomi Rapace and the disembodied head of Michael Fassbender will encounter the Engineers on their home turf, which I’ll probably watch just for Noomi Rapace. And maybe Micheal Fassbender’s android will do something interesting against the godlike beings whom Ridley Scott has already determined as hostile. Scott is of the school If You’re Looking for God in Outer Space You’re Going to Have a Bad Time. Too bad Scott and Gene Roddenberry never got together to have a conversation about this.

I frittered away the better part of a night clicking around the Internet after watching Prometheus. If you wanted to like the movie as badly as I did and are interested in What It Could All Possibly Mean, this is a good site. As for (almost) everything wrong with the film—so much I didn’t even get around to covering here—there’s a site called Honest Trailers that sums it up quite hilariously. They do quite the number on other movies, too. Based on what I saw there it’ll be a while before I bother with The Avengers, either. 

Besides, I’ve long known Joss Whedon is tremendously overrated. But Ridley Scott? Sir Ridley? The man who gave us Alien, Blade Runner, even Thelma and Louise? This is just so much harder to take.