Wednesday, December 28, 2005

12-27, another pretty good show...

Life During Wartime, Tuesdays 3-5pm on CJSR...

Devo -- Swelling Itching Brain
Little Richard -- Rip It Up
T-Model Ford -- Sugar Farm
Gibson Bros. -- The Sperm Count
Fun100 -- Computer
Twin Fangs -- Vinland Map
Modernettes -- Teen City
The Young Canadians -- Beg, Borrow and Steal
Ween -- I Fell In Love Today
Malibu Kens -- Party's Over
Albatross Note -- In the Evening
White Hassle -- Please Don't Make a Sound
Ramsay Midwood -- Fisherman's Friend
Jayhawks -- Sixteen Down
Wilco -- Jesus, etc. (live)
Gordon Lightfoot -- Sundown
Neil Young -- T-Bone (this was the 4:20 track)
The Hidden Cameras -- In the Union of Wine
Jens Lekman -- Black Cab
The Girls -- Chico's Girl
Tangiers -- That Russian Bastard
Giant Sand -- Catapult
Royal City -- Daisies
Mekons -- Wild & Blue

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Infinite Lives: Ebert on games pt. 1

Have I mentioned that I saw the Doom movie? It's weird; I keep forgetting I've seen it. Every time I remind myself I did indeed sit in a theatre and watch it, some other, higher-priority memory -- a funny thing my cat did; the price of canned organic navy beans at Save-On; the name of my cousin's dog -- moves in and nudges Doom out my ear and into the gutter. The process started about ten seconds after the end credits; walking out into the lobby, the film was already indistinct... something about a martian super-race and the "soul chromosome", zombies trapped in walls, the Rock turning into a crazy mutant... something something something... I dunno; it's almost all gone. The worst was two days after the screening, when I turned to my buddy Steve and said, brightly, "Hey! We should go see Doom!" He just stared at me with this look of crushed despair. It was a real Flowers For Algernon kind of scene.

It's axiomatic that movies based on game franchises suck ass, hard. The only good game movie -- I'm taking back my self-hypnosis-induced enthusiasm for Resident Evil; sorry, everybody -- was (maybe) Mortal Kombat, and that only because of that one song about Sub Zero (Whooooa / Chinese ninja warrior / with your heart so cold...). Game movies are so terrible that even people who like terrible things -- and judging from sales figures and box-office receipts, that's most gamers and moviegoers -- can't stand them. They're so terrible they make games themselves seem worse than they are. That must be part of what happened in the mind of Hollywood Tastemaker Roger Ebert. Check it out; it started with his review of Doom, when he thumbed that piece of shit down so hard a tiny little smidgen of feces flew off across the boundaries between media: "The movie," Ebert wrote, "has been 'inspired by' the famous video game. No, I haven't played it, and I never will, but I know how it feels not to play it, because I've seen the movie. Doom is like some kid came over and is using your computer and won't let you play."

"I haven't played it, and I never will" is a pretty standard critical pooh-pooh phrase: it's no doubt factual, and it's not really malicious, but it's hard to read it without hearing an accent of snobbishness and condescension. That hint of snobbery is enough to punch the buttons of gamers who, like every variety of nerd, are touchy little princesses. Defensive emails began to flow into his mailbox, and in his "Answer man" column, Ebert clarified his position on videogames:

"I believe books and films are better mediums, and better uses of my time. But how can I say that when I admit I am unfamiliar with video games? Because I have recently seen classic films by Fassbinder, Ozu, Herzog, Scorsese and Kurosawa, and have recently read novels by Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Bellow, Nabokov and Hugo, and if there were video games in the same league, someone somewhere who was familiar with the best work in all three mediums would have made a
convincing argument in their defense."

Now, that's some weak shit... games are inferior to books and movies because he doesn't know of any great games. How could a "convincing argument" for the greatness of a game be framed in such a way as to be persuasive to him? Great movies argue themselves when you watch them, great books argue themselves when you read them... how could a great game argue itself to Ebert, who will not play it -- probably cannot play it, since full participation in all but the simplest of games requires a more elaborate set of basic physical and mental skills than does viewing a movie, a skill set Ebert (stereotypically, for one of his generation) lacks and does not care to gain?

Arrgh... anyway, Ebert's statement was less an argument than a challenge, a challenge the gamer community took up with enthusiasm in message boards and blog postings, throwing up names like Shigeru Miyamoto and Will Wright as counterparts to Nabokov and Scorsese, titles like "Full Throttle" and "Final Fantasy" as analogues of "Ran" and "Little Dorrit". Wankjob listmaking, a nerd specialty; also, it was firmly established that Roger Ebert was in fact stupid, fat, old and probably a fag. If you know how gamers write, you can imagine the subliterate screeds Ebert's email drones had to wade through to find something printable to respond to. And in that response, Ebert took the fight to the level he should have taken it to from the beginning:

"Video games by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.

"I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art."

Ah. Now Ebert's tossed a few good sticks of dry birch onto the smouldering debate over whether or not video games can be considered art. The answer, to a flexible-minded person, is an obvious "yes"; Ebert's reasoning here shows where he's hung up. The problem is a fixation on narrative; Ebert can't see games as art because he can't get his head around the idea that a work having a different ending, a different middle, and quite possibly a different beginning for each participant can be coherent to the degree a novel can. He can't understand that authorial control in games extends beyond "telling a story" and into the art of creating play experiences -- a very young art form, and one he and many others cannot fully appreciate, but valid.

That said, most video games -- like most movies and most books -- stink on ice. The games industry, like the movie industry and the publishing industry, relies on safe formulae and lowest-common-denominator pandering to keep the black ink flowing. And it's all getting worse, not better, and... and we're outta time. Let's pick this up in two weeks, kids.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Life During Wartime, Dec 20

After two weeks off air with a shitty cough/cold/flu thing -- right after "winning" CJSR's AWOL Volunteer award, no less -- I came back with a pretty good show this week. I mean, I think. I have MP3s if anyone's interested.

B52s -- Song for a Future Generation


Seu Jorge -- Five Years
The Albatross Note -- In the Morning
Country Church v. Crotch Rockets -- Sneaky Roach


Yoko Solo -- These Are the Beeps
Breakestra -- See Sawng
Jimmy Castor Bunch -- Future Time


Shanghai 5 -- Just What I Needed
10 Foot Ganja Plant -- Suits & Ski Masks
City Streets -- The Queen (something something... didn't write it down)


The Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir -- What It Takes
Man... or Astro-Man? -- A Reversal of Polarity
Death From Above 1979 -- Little Girl


The Maynards -- 781.66092
Pere Ubu -- Raygun Suitcase
The Hated Uncles -- Name on a Gravestone


Morphine -- Down Love's Tributaries (this was the 4:20 track)


The Black Keys -- The Lengths
Geraldine Fibbers -- A Song About Walls


Richard Buckner -- Emily Sparks
Okkervil River -- Last Love Song For Now
Townes van Zandt -- You Are Not Needed Now


Neil Diamond w/ Brian Wilson -- Delirious Love

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

AEON... oh god i guess it's mandadtory... SUX

Waiting for my moviegoing companion, leaning against the dented and tarnished brass rail of the City Centre atrium well, two chiefs grabbing cash from the third-party ripoff ATM:

GUY 1 -- What movie are we seeing?

GUY 2 -- Aeon Flux, dude.

GUY 1 -- [wincing, drawn-back, just-whiffed-shit grimace]

GUY 2 -- Dude, there's nothing else.

And that's how it works in movies, just like it works in auto racing: the distributors see their hole, find their line, and WHAM -- number two at the box office. "Nothing else" is a little harsh, though; dudely dudes seeking action and adventure could always take their cheap-night dollars to... uh... Harry Potter? Yeah. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're gonna get a downbudget sexy acrobatic catsuit-lady kung-fu machine-gun science-fantasy anime adaptation into the world, there's only a couple of windows you can toss it through.

I'd only seen Peter Chung's original Aeon Flux animated shorts -- a series of highly stylized six-minute dystopian sci-fi espionage sex fantasies -- a couple times, but I knew three things about title character Aeon: she's sexy, she's silent, and she dies a lot. Purists beware! In deadpanning a string of thudding action-movie lines (few memorable) and steadfastly refusing to be killed by any of the challenges in her feature-length obstacle course, Charlize Theron only manages to hit one of the cardinal numbers. And even her sexiness is a bit iffy, wonderfully limber and self-stunting as she may be, just another Serious Actress sliding her impossibly lean and personally-trained body into a slinky battlestocking. Maybe that's your thing; she's got Halle Berry's ludicrous Catwoman beat, anyway.

The plot she moves through is standard, servicable sci-fi bullshit solidly in the Heavy Metalvein, which I don't entirely mind. There's a battle for the human race, a creepy succession of sibling clone overlords, conspiracy, murder, betrayal. Lots of futuristic henchgoons in black armor. It all makes about as much realistic sense as holstering a pistol between your shoulder blades -- ie., none -- but it works for what it is. The only problem with this Heavy Metal stuff is that it takes itself so damn seriously; Aeon Flux is as serious a movie as ever there was. There's barely a hint of humor (you'll know it when/if you see it), and not the slightest twitch of a wink -- another thing lost from the original shorts. Too bad; there's a lot to have fun with here, and I would rather have been laughing *with* the film, at least once or twice, than laughing at it. It's the bad kind of campy.

At least director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and her art people didn't go for a "dark and gritty" futuropolis, managed to stay off that tired, rusting, waterlogged path, with all its eerie crepuscular light shining from behind slowly rotating ventilation fans. Aeon Flux's enclave city of Bregna, last refuge of the remnant of humanity, is a bright wonderland on the surface, a utopia of plazas, gardens, and organform architecture populated by healthy, happy multiethnic future people who take their fashion cues from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The action and intrigue takes place in the shadows -- not deep, spooky shadows; regular shadows -- of this sunny sci-fi city, the nasty side of Paradise. It doesn't really make the hack backflipping, necksnapping and machine-gunning any better, but it keeps it from getting worse.

My flu started running me a temperature about halfway the movie, and even the beginnings of a looping fever dementia couldn't spice up this stilted action pantomime. Low point: an utterly tedious "climactic battle" that looked like a high-school "action movie" video project and sounded like an Xbox with the trigger taped down. High point: Pete Postlethwaite as a tired, sick old man... or hologram. Or whatever.