Friday, December 29, 2006

A Milestone in Total Quality

That's right, Holiday blog-readers: MOONSASH has upgraded to Google Blogger Blog-Me-Do 9,000 Professional 2K6 Ultimate Edition! You'll find basically the same look and same lackadaisical updating schedule with no significant new features - the MOONSASH way! Here's to the FUTURE!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merrye Solstyce!!!

If anything represents the Reason for the Season, it's a day-late photograph of Zelda cosplayers used without their permission and with entirely snarky intent.

Wishing all of Moon Sash's Fans a Safe and Delightful Holiday Season

Thursday, November 23, 2006

More Notes from my Fiction Career

Utne Reader reviews Beeswax magazine, favorably! They don't specifically mention my story, but I am pretty sure they were just being coy.

- Review of Thomas Pynchon's new novel Against the Day; I should have this read by QIII, 2009.
- A review of Cormac McCarthy's new dramatic novel The Sunset Limited.
- Perhaps, finally, a highlight reel of Warhammer 40K fiction. Of course much of Pynchon's new book takes place at a blimp convention in the year 40,800, so I may be able to kill two birds with one stone here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tristes Tropiques

In my groundbreaking review of Final Fantasy XII I mentioned a 1990s semi-interactive screensaver about a man marooned on a desert island. The Internet has generously provided me with a wealth of detail on this subject: the screensaver is Johnny Castaway, a 1993 Sierra On-Line production. In my callow youth I adored screensavers, and I remember weeping many a salty tear because I would never have "flying toasters" because it was only for Apple computers. I did have Johnny Castaway, which even then I felt was kind of a disappointment. It was one of those screensavers that was essentially way too complicated to use for its intended purpose. Basically, it was an extremely slow-paced cartoon which consisted mostly of Johnny shuffling around his island in his tattered rags. Occasionally a little canned event would play. On holidays, Johnny would set up seasonally appropriate decorations. It was probably not worth waiting an entire year to watch Johnny string up from VGA tinsel on his palm tree. The whole thing bore an air of melancholy and although I thought it would be amusing to write about this little-missed piece of software ephemera, it's actually kind of depressing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Start Digging some Nerd Holes

A Review of Final Fantasy XII

As many of you (actually, just EHastings) may know, the demo of Final Fantasy XII filled me with disgust and I swore I would never buy it. It did not, at first, seem like a game, it was more like one of those semi-interactive screensavers that were briefly popular in the 1990s (Castaway Jim?). Yet here I am, having just spent about ten hours playing it, and it’s really awfully good.

Online review sites have, as usual, been gushing about the top-notch plot and characters. They are, as usual, giving Square-Enix entirely too much credit. Here’s the basic sketch: a disaffected, spiky-haired orphan teams up with a quiet princess to fight a cruel, mechanically-inclined empire. Is this sounding familiar, O People of the Internet? Within the first half-hour of the game, the protagonist’s female best friend plants her hands on her hips and tells him to be careful, something that every female character in every Japanese RPG is required to do as often as possible (don't worry, she gets kidnapped just a little later). The princess, whose name is something like Ashleigh Starla Modeine IV, confines herself mostly to spluttering and saying things like “I’ll never surrender!” Thomas Pynchon, this ain’t. On the plus side, although the things the characters are saying are stupid, the localization is very good, like a pretty good fantasy novel. Lord Vayne, the effeminate, long-haired villain (sound familiar again?) actually makes a very interesting, rhetorically ornamented speech early on.

The characters themselves are shopworn wares from the FF series stock – a determined knight, a determined plucky lad, a determined female sidekick, a determined princess, and a sarcastic but nonetheless determined sky pirate. The highlight character is Fran (yes, her name is Fran), an oddly accented furry who is screwing Sky Pirate Balthier in what must be some extremely awkward and unsatisfying virtual grappling. She has a neat, kind of vaguely Bjorkian accent but is otherwise a standard FF weirdo elf rabbit creature thing.

So as usual the plot and characters should be ignored, but the game mechanics, OH DOCTOR are they good. Two radical changes improve the combat system: no random encounters (all the enemies are already on the map and you fight them without transitioning to a battle screen), and no controlling your characters. The Gambit system, which EHastings accurately described as an autistic programming language, means that you can set general tactics for your characters and then just watch them level grind for hours on end. Somehow, they made this really, really fun. This isn’t as big a revolution as you might initially think: famous old PC games like Baldur’s Gate did basically the same thing, as did the more recent (and vastly better-plotted) Knights of the Old Republic series. FFXII’s gambit system is nonetheless a big improvement on the automatic combat of these other titles: the gambits let you set, in detail, actions for most possible scenarios, and the simple, intuitive system is nonetheless very powerful. You can take just a few seconds to set a behavior like, “If any of your allies are injured, heal them, unless they’re really severely injured, in which case you should give them a potion, and if no enemies are around you should recharge your magic and then heal everyone.” Afterwards, you can experience a brief moment of reverse Schadenfreude when you realize how excited you got over programming the behavior of a virtual rabbit-woman archer.

Anyway, the trademark of Final Fantasy has always been the endless parade of tedious, enervating random battles, and they are gone from this version. What could have been boring (watching your cyberdudes fight) just makes the game feel fast-paced and constantly new. Fighting, say, fifty enemies in a row take about ten minutes, gives measurable rewards, and requires only periodic nudges. Everything else is pretty much standard: you have a standard level board instead of the monstrous “Sphere Grid” from Final Fantasy X, so if you want to customize all your characters in bizarre ways, you can. If only there were a way to turn off the repetitive, vulgar music score this would be perfect. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reviews you can Use

NB – No one will ever be able to use these reviews for any reason.

LAMY Safari Fountain Pen.

This is an inexpensive aluminum* fountain pen – no precious resins, pewter wizards or fragments of Abraham Lincoln’s DNA interrupt its smooth, industrial surface. It has a snap-on cap with a sleek but ultimately useless wire staple clip (as you can see in the picture, it’s U-shaped, so it bends whatever you clip it to; it’s also very tight). It’s very light and pretty large and the shape is very slightly squared. You could use it to write a check for €250 to a store in Munich that sells only stainless steel paperweights. The nib is almost without ornament, nearly black in color, and has a Teutonic rigidity. It seemed a little scratchy at first until I got the hang of it; it needs a very light touch despite its brutalist looks.

In a marketing move that could only come out of Germany this pen is advertised as being youthful and fun, as if “youthful” and “fun” weren’t already synonymous with fountain pens!. It comes in a variety of ultra-gay colors. If Lamy were an American company their ads would doubtless use rapping exotic animals or snowboarders. I can’t really conceive of any reason for a person other than me to buy this pen, unless you think you might like to write with a fountain pen and don’t want to invest too much of your inheritance in it.

* Mine is aluminum - they're also available in plastic for around $20.


David Fisher moves to Miami, teams up with Richard from Sex and the City and becomes a serial killer. Also, he is no longer gay and is dating Darla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He is going to be so pissed when he founds out that she has Received the Dark Kiss of the Immortal Blood Rose of Seduction Vampire Style. In all fairness, this show is incredibly good. Dexter’s sister is appealing, the plot has been tight and, in a reversal of Showtime’s usual policy, the characters have depth and interest. Especialy Dexter. The writers have not made him a white knight who slays the guilty; he’s definitely a serial killer, a man who only feels alive and connected when he’s sawing someone’s head off.

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

This $20 Xbox game imagines a situation in which dynastic instability and violent conflict in North Korea result in a huge, disastrous war. Huh. The forthcoming sequel is set in Venezuela and is already drawing fire from that country’s legislature because they fear it is a tool of intimidation. This games takes the Grand Theft Auto formula to an actual warzone, but unfortunately they’ve brought along the GTA staples of uneven difficulty and unwieldy controls. If Venezuelans are afraid of tedious escort missions, getting run over by a van just as they’ve finally completed a 45-minute long operation for the fourth time, or being shot from nine miles away by some jerk-off with a rocket, then they may be right.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Zombie Adventure 3-D

A review of The Road

I have written previously, gentle readers, of the fact that we live in the Age of Zombie Fiction, and as everyone knows zombies are the foul handmaidens of Death himself, come to scour the world of all the living works of man. Of course most zombie fiction actually offers a fun and exciting world, an escape from the boring problems of the everyday to a land filled with limitless enemies and equally limitless opportunities for ingenuity, bravery, and wit. The apocalypse, in these fictions, strips away the silly problems that we have invented to spin out the wheels of our days and provides us instead with survival in its sinewy and physical glory. The tough survivors of, say, Land of the Dead, I Am Legend, or Steven King’s Dark Tower series (the last two not strictly zombie fiction), basically live enviable lives. Beneath their thin and sexy layer of grit and danger, they’re doing what we all would really prefer. What’s more fun, filling out grant applications, or knocking out the staircase so you can shoot zombies in the head at your leisure? My networking associate tMa and I have frequently discussed the escapist allure of this fiction, the jolly physical fun of testing your zeal for living against the unlimited hordes of the dead, of building a secure new fortress life without having to do anything boring or inessential ever again.

Cormac McCarthy’s searing* latest novel, The Road, shows us a dirty, scoured world where the only things men can build are stockades of severed heads and meat lockers for their slaves. McCarthy has drawn a more vivid and infinitely more hellish apocalypse than any other writer I can think of. Life for the unnamed father and son protagonists of The Road is not stripped down to its fun, video-game essentials. Each day they contend with unglamorous and agonizing death. They spend the entire novel pushing a shopping cart through the horrifying wastes of an unnamed part of America, scrounging wherever they are able for canned food, old smoked meat, anything remotely edible. They sleep most nights curled together, the boy shivering for a long while, too afraid of other men to make a fire.

The landscape which they wander is scoured of all life and likewise scours the reader: it terrifies in a way that no other description of scenery has ever done for me. The world has burned, and a thick layer of ash dances forever between the opaque sky and the dead ground. The sun is gone and with it all the natural colors. Everything has turned black and grey. McCarthy’s usual landscapes are still there, under their pall of ash, but there is not life to them.

The father and son have to struggle so constantly against the cruelty of this new world that they never accumulate any of the neat equipment that so many other post-apocalyptic narratives feature. They have a gun with only two bullets; they’re afraid even to fire it lest it bring the attention of the other survivors, vile, tough men long accustomed to eating human flesh.

McCarthy’s novel is, in some ways, rather conventional for a post-apocalyptic story: it maintains the great post-apocalyptic narrative traditions of clever scavenging, ruined cities, and insane and bloodthirsty new clans. McCarthy, with his signature skill and economy, has boiled these clichés down to their bright white bones, unveiling a truer vision than many of his predecessors. McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic warrior bands have none of the panache of the usual imaginings of the end of the world: they’re not the leather-clad, sexually ambiguous monsters of Mad Max, nor the pale ghouls of Omega Man. They are mostly simply men, wrapped in layers of ugly rags against the permanent cold, bearded, armed with long steel pipes. They are indescribably more sinister and real than the more lurid imaginings of other post-apocalyptic worlds.

Out of these elements, the man and his son, the dead landscape of America, and the rapacious remnants of the rest of mankind, McCarthy weaves a graceful, moving story. The relationship between the man and his son is finely drawn and imagined in heartbreaking detail. Their constant, bitter grasping for survival repeats and repeats, but McCarthy’s unsurpassed prose skill keeps the wound fresh. Each minor victory (a few precious days spent underground in a never-used bomb shelter) and each horrifying setback (their cart stolen, a run-in with a warrior band) stings afresh. The ending, in its terse and rare beauty, is maybe even better than the finish to No Country for Old Men, itself a short masterpiece. The novel, with its bitter winds and cruel vistas, sticks in my mind, like a little snowglobe that I can shake and look into, hearing the uncaring wind and the little boy’s plaintive “Papa…Papa…” A sad, rewarding book.

PS – This Review is notable for having the most inane possible kicker in the history of the world: “Cormac McCarthy sends a father and son on the scariest road trip he can imagine. Seat belts fastened?” To me, this is equivalent to reviewing the New Testament under “God sends his only begotten son on a wild ride with an ending that will leave you on the edge of your seat!”

* The National Reviewer’s Association requires every review of this book to call it “searing” at least once.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Tradition of Heritage

Milestones in Total Quality

Moonsash turned one year old a few weeks ago – I celebrated by drinking Hoffbrau out of an empty, clean shampoo bottle, and also by forgetting about the anniversary entirely.

Movie Review Roundup

The Black Doodah
Fine actors, slavishly allusive cinematography, and exhaustive period detail can’t save this shallow, dull movie from itself. Apparently Brian de Palma is an auteur non pareil, and his movies are viewed as the crème de la crème, but I’m afraid that watching this one was more of an auto-da-fé than an experience of joie de vivre. De Palma is continually fascinated (so the New York Times says) by voyeurism and especially femmes fatales; why then are his femme fatale characters so thin and amateurish, and his scenes of voyeurism so clichéd?

The Illusionist
Fine actors, slavishly allusive cinematography, blah blah blah. Eerily similar to The Necromancer (considered to be the first gothic novel), this dull vampire LARP of a movie convinced me that Paul Giamatti is actually a fine actor, and that Rufus Sewell should be in more movies, but nothing else. Pretty boring, shot on a very few (nice) sets, uninteresting performances by Jessica Biel and Ed Norton.

Important Fountain Pen News

Many (none) of you may have followed my recent attempts to get Cambridge top-folding staple bound notebooks, in legal yellow, with a reinforced cover (available at the Princeton U-Store in years past, now apparently retired from Mead’s offerings). These notebooks, with their creamy deluxe paper and built-in cover, are perfect for taking field notes in fountain pen. They’re sturdy and they don’t immediately reveal your confidential notes (“nice lobby”, “another impressive lobby”, “good lobby restroom”) to everyone. But you can’t buy them anymore, and regular office stores astoundingly don’t offer anything comparable.

So I eventually settled on the Moleskine, an ultradeluxe notebook for people in Ivy club who want to burlesque note-taking during their vacation to Brazil (also Kean had one before they were cool at Princeton at least). I was extremely loath to take this step since Moleskine has a sizeable following, and I did not particularly want to make a statement of membership in an obsessive, twee group with my notebook (putting this much thought into notebook purchases, and then blogging about it, is of course neither obsessive nor twee). Also, Moleskines cost on average $15 a piece, so I might as well be writing on finely cured and pressed cocaine.

It also turns out that people from the internet have an ongoing argument of about the intensity level of the Council of Nicea about whether Moleskines work with fountain pens. I am here to tell you that in certain cases they do; I use one with a Visconti Van Gogh steel nib F fountain pen, with black Visconti ink, and the experience is perfect. The pen glides over the page like a finger dipped in butter and dragged along a sheet of glass, although the experience is (arguably) less psychosexually dynamic than engaging in a form of frottage with baking equipment. The ink doesn’t bleed or feather, and it doesn’t mark through the page. My particular Visconti has always written rather dry, so even the same pen and nib may not work for everyone. I have also tried writing in the Moleskine with an F, steel nib Faber-Castell fountain pen that I bought in Switzerland (Of course I jaunt off to Switzerland to buy office supplies! Hah hah! Tirrah!). This did not become a lovely memory. I was using a cartridge, and the ink flowed like the Tiber in March, feathering and beading everywhere and humiliating me in front of the luxury boat operators on Lake Geneva. It was, without a doubt, the most tragic thing that has ever happened to anyone I know.

Links for the obsessive and the bored
- the particular notebook I favor, for sale.
- Moleskine's unbelievably pretentious and poorly translated site.
- Possibly misguided list of pens that work with Moleskine (a lot of these Moleskine+Fountain Pen coma wedding sites suggest using Parker Quink, which I consider a grave perversion; I will probably never buy "Noodler's" fountain pen ink because it makes me picture a fat, balding man with a huge grey moustache, wearing a green Sears sweater, annoying a diner waitress by insisting on using his own pen to sign a credit card recipt for $6.48. For Christ's sake, why not call it Fayetteville Fine Inks or something? Jesus Christ.).
- The blog post that started this whole sick show.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

He's Old, and his Skin is Cold

I like George Bush, because he's willing to tell everyone else what he's thinking, no matter how innapropriate or crazy it is (link).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine

See, I like Katherine Harris because she's willing to say what everyone else is thinking, no matter how insane everyone else is:


and I dislike Katherine Harris because she helped engineer the fradulent, illegal non-election in 2000.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Spend-o-Crat Problem in Central Russia

A Quick Note on my Fiction Career

California fifth or sixth estate representatives Beeswax Magazine have sent to print the second issue of their literary journal, one which contains my only notable non-fan fiction writing, “The Narwhal.”  The issue is now available for $6 plus shipping and presumably contains the works of artists and writers other than me.

A Quick Note on my Dance Career: A Review of Step Up

In this toes a-tappin’ dancetacular dense-faced Coach Carter alum Channing Tatum stars as Trance Banderwagon, a white boy from the ‘hood of Baltimore (AKA BODYMORE MURDALAND!).  A wholesome lad, he wiles away his time dancing at high-concept houseparties, shooting hoops with his pals Mac and Skinny, and also stealing a huge number of cars.  After a particularly ribald evening of spastic dancing at the local salon our hero and his friends indulge their sweet tooth for vandalism with the most delicious morsel of all: an ugly and amateurish stage set at the local performing arts school.  Their black crime disclosed, our heroes come to grips with the ministrations of justice found body in a security guard; our hero takes the fall for his two friends and is assigned 200 hours of community service at the scene of the crime (I plan to commit a crime at the Bikini Inspectors training academy as soon as I finish this blog).  This sets the stage for the true star of the movie: dancer/actress Jenna Dewan’s shrugs and bolero wraps.  Dewan sports a new wrap or scarf or dance pinafore in almost every scene, to the extent that it begins to feel like they cut a subplot about her having terrible OCD or aphasia or something.  The rest of the movie is charming and ultimately a few minutes too long.  Watch for Six Feet Under’s Rachel Griffiths as the oddly wooden and bizarrely accented head of the dance academy, and The Wire’s usually fun Deirdre Lovejoy as Dewan’s mother.  Griffiths seems heavily medicated and Lovejoy just sits around her Baltimore townhouse all day, oiling and re-oiling the furniture.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Christmas Ape's Calypso Adventure

Give a hoot! Read a book as belonging to an essential category!

University of Minnesota English professor David Treuer, an Ojibwe Native American, is publishing two books which attack traditional ways of reading literature by or about Native Americans (New York Times article). Prof. Treuer is annoyed that academics read both kinds of writing as ethnography rather than literature. Native American writing and writing about Native Americans should take its place, he argues, alongside all other literature and should be read as such, rather than as a sociological document or piece of fieldwork data. This argument has a somewhat musty odor since it relies on the idea that we should read documents in particular, regimented ways; I’m not interested in getting into a theoretical citation contest here, but my experience in anthropology (the home discipline of ethnography) has been that everyone reads novels as ethnographies and ethnographies as novels or any other permutation of the two, whatever is most interesting. Insisting that literature be read as literature assigns essential and enduring qualities to literature as an object and is thus rigid and unreflexive. Dr. Treuer’s ideas are interesting and welcome and certainly persuasive (I am no expert on the scholarship of Native literature, so I have reason not to believe that it generally gets read as ethnography), but I find it more interesting as a description than as a manifesto. Certainly, he should draw attention to how the writings get read, but trying to re-assign them to a more correct category ignores their existence as a object in full contact with academic and popular readings. It’s also puzzling that he spends time criticizing Louise Erdrich for screwing up important details of Ojibwe language and regional dialect; if we are supposed to read her writing as novel rather than ethnography, imagination rather than empirical document, why should we hold her to such exacting standards?


As boring and un-frightening as a horror film could possibly be. Even the angular charms of Veronica Mars’s Kristen Bell can’t save this badly-paced, dull tale of evil ghosts who fax themselves to their unwitting victims. Led by a pasty white naked Sir Ben Kingsley, these ghosts travel through cellphones and IM to sap the life from their victims, leaving them deadened and without a will to live (much like the movie does to its viewers). As The Onion pointed out, the riot-proof apartments of downtown Romania don’t stand in for Ohio very well, especially since everything is covered with a thick layer of blue Final Cut filters. When I went to the bathroom after this movie a man with huge sideburns and his little son told me, unsolicited, “Whatever you do, don’t see Pulse.” Too late!

The Descent
It occurs to me that the monsters in this movie actually look almost exactly like the ghosts from Pulse, but have the advantage of being so scary that I had to have major heart surgery during the credits. The Descent is basically The Cave sans Piper Perabo and plus about a zillion times more directorial talent and nerve-wracking cinematography. Six no-name British or possibly Norweigan actresses enter a cave complex bearing climbing rope and emotional baggage and OH SHIT CAVE MONSTERS BITING EVERYONE’S FACE OFF OH SHIT A PIT OF CONGEALED BLOOD EVERYONE’S DEAD OH MY GOD! Highly recommended.

Miami Vice
I thought this was the big-screen version of Dr. Katz, but it turns out it’s Miami VICE, not ADVICE. That’s a little psychiatry/media humor just for you, no charge this time! This movie was very good but was so plotty that the actors didn’t have much room to move – Gong Li was the exception, delivering a long slow reveal of an interesting character and somehow seamlessly going from sharp-faced shrew to beautiful movie star without any obvious changes. You know the setup for the movie so I won’t summarize, but it’s definitely fun and worth seeing.

Talladega Nights
This was a pleasant surprise: Sacha Baron Cohen’s evil French NASCAR driver steals the entire movie, but even the scenes he’s not in bore a relatively light touch and were actually funny, unlike Anchorman and Elf. Watch for John C Reilly’s nuanced performance as imbecilic sidekick Cal Naughton (seriously).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Life of the Party

I'm sure that none of this will come as a surprise to any of you, but once again the Republican mystic insane religious zealot cabal and I have disagreed on a major issue, this time stem cells. This has been a Cirque du Soleil of ultra-conservative mastery of bad rhetoric: who can forget Bush appearing amid the throngs of Snowflake Babies, senator Brownback's memorable assertion that stem cell research would have killed Mother Teresa, John F. Kennedy and (!) Ronald Reagan, and Michael Steel of Maryland's well-publicized comparison of stem cell research to Nazi medicine? Oh, oh, this makes me tired and mad, almost too mad to blog. As I have said repeatedly over the last six years, this particular ultra-conservative constellation is almost impossible for me to understand. Starting a war in Iraq in order to line the pockets of Bechtel and Halliburton (even I will admit that this is probably not the only reason) is evil but nonetheless comprehensible since it's about money. But blocking stem cell research (like fighting evolution) just doesn't make any sense to me: there's no money in it, and (if the New York Times is right) it doesn't even play well with the moderate conservatives.

Bush has repeatedly justified our continued presence in Iraq as a kind of homage and compensation for the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives there in order to protect American and Iraqi lives in the future. Yet he has no trouble condeming scientific research that consumes stem cells as morally evil? This is classic Party of Life biopolitics: the state is responsible for fostering the production of killable, technically living bodies, not making sure that anyone has a decent life.

If we extend his logic, which casts fertility clinic doctors and research scientists as premeditated murderers, shouldn't we make masturbation and menstruation capital crimes? Every woman who cruelly and selfishly allows herself to go un-pregnant for a month could be murdering the next Martin Luther King! Every man who jerks off to a crudely photoshopped picture of Britney Spears as a centaur could be slaughtering the next Strom Thurmond! In some cases, in the womb, two eggs are fertilized and larger, more viable blastoma consumes the weaker one: FIRST DEGREE MURDER! As soon as the baby is born, it should be sent to a special infant's prison, and its perfidious mother should be tried as acessory or at least beaten with a strap by her husband.

Perhaps reading the Times editorial page or almost any other media outlet will give a more coherent and less histrionic picture of the situation, but this is what happens when we somehow have let ourselves be governed by a bunch of superstitious wierdos who base their decision making on opinion polls and the Book of Revelation. More and more poltical cartoonists and editorialists are catching on to the fact that our home-grown fundamentalist authoritarian oligarchy is not too too different from the Universal Islamic Calihpate that we are supposed to fear so constantly. If my fieldwork weren't turning out to be so oddly, surprisingly uplifting and positive, I would be really depressed now. It's a black pass we come to when the international pharmaceutical industry is doing a better, dramatically more humanitarian job than our government.

A Spotter's Guide to Whelks

We Don't Live Here Anymore
An intimate, very unhappy movie with only four actors and a lot of hugging, but what actors, and what hugs! Naomi Watts, Laura Dern, Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause are the stars, and the hugs are naked and sometimes against a painful-looking tree. The basic plot is that two couples cheat on their spouses in almost every possible permutation (it's what Closer might have been, had it been a good movie and not an embarassing Livejournal). It sounds leaden and depressing, but it's actually quite funny and completely riveting. From two Andre Dubus short stories. For fans of Six Feet Under, or people who just want to see Laura Dern step in cat poop, this is the can't miss hit of the summer!

Southern Belles
For maybe six minutes I tried to like this independent comedy about two obnoxious girls who (in one of the film's many twee touches) are both named Belle (OK, one is Bell, the other Belle). They live in rural Georgia and are trying to save up enough money to move to Atlanta (in real life, this would take maybe $80). This is an indie movie, and boy does it show, from the inexpert camera work to the NYU film school script filled with alternating leaden moralizing and faux-natural dialogue that sounds as fresh and unaffected as a Harold Pinter play. It stars Anna Faris and some doe-eyed no name - I adore Anna Faris, but she really was not very good or even very funny in the admittedly limited role of Belle (who, unfortunately, is the sidekick). This film looks like it was supposed to be a love-letter to the idiosyncratic south, but was instead a parade of idiotic, un-selfconcious cliches and one-note characters. Terrible.

This could have been a fun voodoo-and-murder filled romp, but instead was just kind of boring. Evil gas station attendant Ray (who I will call Ray Harryhausen) gets attacked by a magic devil suitcase filled with CGI snakes, then turns into a voodoo zombie intent on killing all the sexy teens who wronged him by either flashing their boobs at him or being polite to him. Too slow moving, and too much emphasis placed on the literally colorless bad guy, who kills people with such implements as a crowbar and at one point a tree. Mostly just the crowbar. This does fit into the interesting pop-media theory that post 2000 is the Year of the Zombie (wheras the 90s were for vampires, and the 80s werewolves). Give it a miss.

Movies I would like to see made: Devil Suitcase, Fatal Ablution, The Great Cuttlefish Caper, Those Two who would Steal the Moon (English remake), M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense Two: Ghosts in Da Hood (let me just point out here on the internet, where my voice will really be heard, that I hate Shyamalan and his work about as much as his rival overrated airhead childish auteur Tim Burton)

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Poo World

A Review of The New World
I usually enjoy Terrence Malick (to the extent to which you can “usually” enjoy the work of a guy who has made like three films).  I thought Days of Heaven was spectacular, and I would pick Malick over Tommy Lee Jones to direct a film adaptation of Blood Meridian.  But The New World bored me when it was not unintentionally making me laugh.  All the reviews of this movie have told the truth: the story of Pocahontas’ love with Colin Farrel and marriage to pioneer/psycho Christian Bale does not sustain the movie’s three hour length.  Malick also aligns the Indians with nature and truth and the settlers with artifice and falsehood.  How original.  For all the love that Malick’s gaze lavishes on the Indians, it invests them with very little humanity.  In an early scene beautiful ingénue Q’Orianka Kilcher and her brother play with one another in a field, mimicking antlers with their hands as if to say, “I am so innocent and connected to nature that I can’t tell if I’m an animal or not.”  In a very tired and predictable way this film ennobles and cuts us off from its savages.  Watch it for some sweet fish-burying scenes and in order to pretend that Christian Bale is about to murder everyone, but don’t expect any character, plot or insight.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Devil Wears Blundstones

A review of The Proposition

Never watch a movie written by a musician.  Australian goth-rocker Nick Cave wrote this movie and it quite clearly reflects his sensibilities of hot, rural, sleazy violence.  I actually kind of like Cave’s music (which doesn’t show up much in the film, except for a moronic ditty about the sun and the moon that Guy Pierce hums on occasion), but his screenwriting so far is not winning me over.  This movie is about Australian bushrangers in the 19th century, and continues that subject’s unblemished streak of sentimental, unsuccessful productions (Ned Kelly, both book and movie anyone?  I’ll admit here in cold cyber-print that I have a particular loathing for both).  It stars Guy Pierce, who basically just grimaces his way through the role of hardened killer Charlie Burns, and Ray Winstone from Sexy Beast, who turns in a wonderfully understated performance as a rural police chief (if you don’t count the first scene, in which he keeps repeating “I will civilize this land!” and acts entirely unlike he does for the rest of the movie).  The titular proposition is the deal that Winstone and Pierce strike: Guy Pierce has to kill his brother, Danny Huston, to save the life of his other brother, who looks like Pippin from Lord of the Rings and whose name is not important.  The New York Times complained that Danny Huston was miscast as a sociopathic bandit with a penchant for elaborately orchestrated rapes, but I thought he did OK. The landscape and characters reel by in a relentless, lurid parade of ugliness and grit, but the plot is at once thin and contrived and the dialogue is wooden in the manner of pop lyrics, unsurprisingly.  Sentimental and too gross, but not an entirely bad film.

A review of The Devil Wears Prada

If this film could have decided if it felt that the fashion industry is an elaborate farce or a vital organ in the body of society it would have been better.  In fact, it should have been a sweetly dumb comedy about the idiotic affectations of New York’s high fashion crowd, but instead it turns into a disingenuous and boring meditation on whether Anne Hathaway should stay true to herself and her two-dimensional boyfriend Adrian Grenier.  Early in the film Meryl Streep (as Miranda Priestly, Lauren Weisberger’s caricature of Anna Wintour) gives a long speech about how Anne Hathaway’s cerulean sweater was actually the product of a complicated series of decisions spanning years and miles but ultimately finding their sole author and parent in none other than Streep herself.  This silly speech is supposed to raise the question of hey uh maybe like fashion is actually important?  But luckily it isn’t.  The movie is at least an hour two long and has too much Hathaway and not enough plot.   I haven’t read the novel but my expectations, should I ever choose to do so, remain very low.  Capable but entirely unimportant.

Friday, June 30, 2006


A review of Superman Returns

The day before I saw this movie I managed to catch a Discovery Channel special called The Science of Superman.  In it various physicists and materials scientists discussed Superman’s abilities as if he were a real person. The directors and writers for the movie (who all looked about fifteen years old) also appeared to brag about how “realistic” they had made the film – they lavished special gratification on their research for a scene in which Superman rescues a commercial jet.  “We actually got the stress test data for the wing of a 777,” the director warbled, cutting right to the quick of what makes a good movie: accurate stress and tension characteristics faithful to the specs of real-world airframes.
     I still had a little hope for the movie thanks to Kevin Spacey and (especially) Parker Posey, but unsurprisingly the director sidelines Spacey’s surprisingly nuanced jailbird fop Lex Luthor and Posey’s delightful re-cap of her signature drunk-n-crazy character.  He focuses instead on Bland Turgidson, the new Superman, and pretty girl/occasional actress Kate Bosworth.  He also, for reasons which I pray came from focus groups in Wisconsin, includes an actual tow-headed moppet who performs, on seemingly innumerable occasions, Chopsticks.
     If the boring characters and bad acting have not warned you off, consider yourself on notice for the bombastic direction, oleaginous plot, and stale cinematography.  The film continually congratulates itself for referencing old, better Superman movies and the comic books. Not the point of a sequel/adaptation.  The last hour of the movie is one hideous cacodemonic roar of explosions and disasters; the first two hours suffer calamity equal in import but lesser in noise.  Superman is, by custom, a hard character to deepen: he’s basically a nice guy with none of the daddy issues of Batman or the psychotic rages of the Hulk, but this putrid film doesn’t even try. Awful beyond even the reach of humor (tMa and I kept up the wisecracks for about the first hour and a half, but then succumbed to an intense fatigue and depression).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Christmas Ape goes to Summer Camp

As most (or "both") of my readers may already know, my short story "The Narwhal" has been accepted for publication in the new San Francisco-based literary magazine Beeswax. I stumbled across Beeswax, and its call for submissions, through Chris Onstad's Achewood, a webcomic which most (or "both") of you know I admire. It's a very interesting, very new magazine, and the publishers have experience in printmaking, which resulted in a first issue which reflected an attention to detail usually manifested in the devotional works of anchorites, an especially impressive feat given that it contained both prose and graphic art. The second issue is on pre-order for $5, and I urge each and every one (or "both") of you to secure a copy for yourself. Leaving it casually on the coffee table will guarantee the success of any romantic assignation that you schedule, at least if you schedule it near the coffee table.

POSTSCRIPT: Some ("none") of you may have read my microfiction "The Narwhal" in the Nassau Literary Review of 2003; although this story shares the same basic plot and characters as the piece published in Beeswax, it's about one-eighth as long and does NOT feature the protagonist's fraught and tender relationship with his father. It is closer to the very old original microfiction, an email written at four in the morning in which Tower factotum Tim Skerpon forcefully couples with a narwhal. If you're out there reading this, Tim, you probably don't even vaguely remember who I am or understand why I would want to write fanfiction in which you outrage an endagered sea mammal. I'm not sure if I understand it any more either.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fixin' Towards a Bloody Outcome

Motor Trend
For those of you who have been following my car trouble saga (and I know very well that there are none of you), they appear to have finally fixed the Jetta.  Tomorrow I face the melancholy prospect of returning the lavender Kia Spectra loaner, a car that has fixed for itself a wide and spacious place in my heart, and has made itself indispensable both for trips to the video game store and in the purpose of pulling in major babes.

The Omen
Dreary, overlong remakes seem to be the highest new star in Hollywood’s firmament.  There are a few good points: Julia Stiles has just the right mixture of cheekbones and upper-class entitlement to play Damien’s disaffected mother, and the fact that she tries to deal with her son’s literally Satanic evil by seeking therapy is the movie’s only interesting point.  Stiles gets about half an hour of screen time, spending most of it in WASPy catatonia, failing to enjoy her colossal British mansion and focusing on her own (legitimate) misery.  So much for the good.  The director inexplicably gives most of the rest of the film to Liev Schrieber (AKA Liv Tyler), a dour flounder of a man who has practically no face at all.  Schrieber reacts to his wife’s death and the, again literal, revelation that his son is the Devil with the level of irritation you would expect from a business traveler who has been bumped off the concierge floor.  Pete Posthelwaite appears as himself yet again, and a bearded man plays a photographer who apparently also does some freelance crime scene investigation.  Honestly, the movie was so 3 out of 5 mediocre that I can barely write anything about it. If you didn’t get enough scary bible-themed conspiracy from The Da Vinci Code, by all means see The Omen.

Veronica Mars Update Watch 2K6
The first season of Veronica Mars was totally sublime, but was so television-y that it can only be described as a chimera of other shows: Twin Peaks plus The O.C. with, as the box copy says, a dash of Buffy.  Charming, funny, and with a full-season plot so convoluted that it would fill almost a quarter episode of The Wire.  Thoroughly worthwhile.

Deadwood season premiere
Since it generally takes me four to five viewings to make sense of any given episode, I’ll confine myself to remarking that it looks just about as good as always, and seeing Bullock and Swearengen come together against Hearst is going to be amazing.  The New York Times recently reported that HBO has killed the show after this season, which is disappointing but perhaps timely, since Deadwood’s vertiginous forward motion is one of its signal virtues, and nothing can kill original plot like a few unnecessary seasons.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Killer Cars + Capsule Reviews

Well, let's see. On my way back from Princeton last Tuesday some witches hexed my brand new VW Jetta turbodiesel, souring all the milk I had in the trunk and causing the car to start driving itself, speeding up a slowing down with great and terrifying whimsy. I got to spend a fun couple of hours waiting on the shoulder of I-87, reading Suttree and looking up every 0.01 seconds to see if the tow truck had arrived. Now I have the ultimate Volkswagen loaner car: a 2002 Volvo S-40. We'll see if the ol' TDI ever actually returns from the tender mercies of the Wappinger's Fall VW Repertory Automobile Mechanics, who have not so much as glanced at it in three days. This is the first car that I have actually leased and paid for entirely on my own, so it breaks my little heart to see it brung so low.

ALSO, see this post by tMa, which points out a horrifying truth about the Bush adminstration that I hadn't yet heard about and been enraged by.

Also, does anyone watch Veronica Mars? I know that Veronica herself had a wacky guest spot on Deadwood in which she runs afoul of Cy Tolliver, who hits her on the head so hard that she gets brain damage, then has her and her brother killed and fed to pigs. I suppose that kind of thing doesn't happen on Veronica Mars since it's on UPN or something.


Stick It
Really, this movie was 100% delightful, actually much better than its older clone sibling Bring it On. Star Missy Peregrym (coincidentally, also the name of her LARP character) has some charisma and is legitimately super hot. She also has the over six foot height so much in demand in the world of professional gymnastics. Jeff Bridges, the grizzled coach, puts in exactly the same performance he does in every movie, which is fine, and the supporting cast of weird preteen mutants actually seem like they might really be bizarrely sheltered gymnast types. Not much on plot or character or anything else for the serious, Apollonian viewer, but very fun for those of us who see several movies a week with their sarcastic friend.

X-Men III: Wolverine and the X-Me-Do
This movie gave me exactly what I wanted from it, but would have been improved if Magneto (Ian McKellen) had been more frank about his titanically stupid outfit. Also watch for some girl who can walk through walls and is clearly puttin' the spurs to Anna Paquin's boyfriend, and who spends the entire climactic battle scene looking either stoned or comically disinterested in the Brotherhood of Mutants' ultimate weapon: exploding mid-priced family sedans.

On Demand Crap Roundup

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
Not as good as the original, in case you had not used your detective skills to figure that out. Grosser and less nice - when the she-johns actually have horrible deformities, it's just not funny.

The Incredibles
More like the incredibly overrateds.

Sky High
More like the incredibly good.

King Kong
It was like looking in a living, whimsical mirror whenver Jack Black was on the screen, but after only two hours and forty five minutes it got a little stale.

If you see one chilling historical drama about the Wannsee conference, origin of the Final Solution, see this one. The best and only, but mostly the best.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Oh Draconian Devil! Oh BABA BOOEY! (With a special bonus for lovers of Pete Hegseth)

[Insert "So Dark the Con of Man" variant here], A Review of The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code is getting ciritcally panned, and has aroused a Christian furor equaled in stupidity only by the fear that Harry Potter would cause the youth of the world to take up devil worship. All this aside, it's quite a fun movie, capably directed and acted, visually pleasant, and not boring despite its considerable length. Tom Hanks is charming as always, Audrey Tatou is not annoying, and Jean Reno (who many of you may remember from his famous role in Genma Onimusha III: Demon Siege, although I hear he has also been in some French films) is delightful and intense. Paul Bettany shines as the lunatic albino monk Silas. His performance was so powerful and nuanced that it has caused me to develop an indelible prejudice against albinos, who I now believe are all murderous ascetics. I didn't even find the movie's plot particularly confusing - it was much less complex than some of the more baroque storylines in Angel, and the characters naturally had to explain what was going on to one another, so the exposition never bogged down. Delightful summer fluff.

Special Bonus: HegsethWatch 2K6
Again Mr. Rafil Bonerston-Smith has favored us with a delightful news item, a report on Guantanamo Bay which features quotes from Princeton war hawk/lesbian icon Pete Hegseth. It is available here if Mr. Bonerston-Smith has not already emailed it to you (this page will attempt to print when you navigate to it, I believe because of the "Hegseth Code"). I once had the pleasure of watching Mr. Hegseth shoot the leader of the campus Democrats with a paintball; Mr. Hegseth moved like some kind of white tiger robot, designed to protect Lex Luthor's gardens.

All Your Face are Belong to Us

So I had my fieldwork proposal defense yesterday. This is a charming academic tradition in which the PhD candidate stands on a stool in his underwear and the faculty circle with permanent marker all the parts of his body that they feel are too fat. They then take a polaroid which is placed in a "Burn Book" and kept in the thesis room, on file, for posterity. My project was judged somewhat more harshly than others, so they also compelled me to carry a tiny Dora the Explorer backpack around for the rest of the day. All in all, not an entirely pleasant experience.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Please Go Away, Ramesh Ponnuru

I don’t know how many of you saw Ramesh Ponnuru on the Daily Show yesterday. He was hawking his new book, The Party of Death, one of the endless recent parade of popular nonfiction books on politics. This particular book takes the stance that the Democratic Party is the titular Party of Death, encouraging murder and disrespect for life on a worldwide scale. The fact that Mr. Ponnuru is a senior editor at the National Review should let you know what to expect before even reading his book (and I will freely admit that I have not nor will I ever). Jon Stewart took a pretty hard line with Mr. Ponnuru and was gentleman enough not to point out that Ponnuru is a squeaky-voiced little wiener who has never touched a boobie.
Whether or not Mr. Ponnuru is a wiener has little to do with the argument of his book (though it may have quite a lot to do with the fact that he chooses to make this argument). Basically, abortion is the main issue: Ponnuru sees abortion as being wholly and indelibly defined as a lust for death, a state sanctioned murder, and an erosion of “our fundamental right to life.” Ponnuru claimed on the Daily Show that he advances a principled, ethical, rational argument against abortion that does not rely on Biblical interpretation (what this could possibly be I don’t know, and he didn’t say). He also claimed that he could make the same kind of scientific argument about stem cell research (one wonders if he also opposes blood tests, or surgery). Jon Stewart asked him how the President could justify shedding innocent blood in Iraq to defend us from the (imaginary) weapons of mass destruction while at the same time steadfastly opposing abortion and potentially revolutionary research on stem cells because it represents a sacrifice of innocent life to save other lives. Good question, Mr. Stewart.
Basically, this all boils down to Benveniste and Agamben’s Culture of Life. Mr. Ponnuru calls the democratic party a culture of death and champions a conservative valuing of life as an inalienable, sacred right. Yet when we make life sacred and inalienable, at the same time we absolve the state of any responsibility for its quality. No wonder we do not have national health care yet we enjoy unprecedented tax cuts for the immensely wealthy. No wonder the Bush administration and its conservative and evangelical allies assault sex and science education. This insistence on the sacredness of life cannot emerge from a scientific ethics; my opinion is that the current pusillanimous championing of the rights of the blastula comes from a bottomless hatred and fear of women, and a neurotic, consuming desire to control their reproductive organs. I’m really so, so sick of this. See my previous post for a better explanation of the culture of life idea.

Classic Review Corner

A Review of Krazy Kat the novel
Jay Cantor, 1987

Jay Cantor wrote Krazy Kat in 1987, before Michael Chabon wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and before Jonathan Lethem wrote Fortress of Solitude. Krazy Kat contains no superheroes, since Cantor has borrowed most of his characters from Coconino County, home to the titular Kat and setting of the celebrated comic strip Krazy Kat. Drawn by George Herriman, the strip ran in the Hearst newspapers from 1913 to 1944. It little resembled our contemporary comics. The action in Coconino County took place on a full page, and the characters had room to do and say more than, say, Garfield or Beetle Bailey. The core cast was small: Krazy Kat, a natural philosopher and great mispronouncer of words (before Family Circus made the practice nauseating), Ignatz Mouse, who paid no attention to the law or to Krazy, and Offisa Bull Pupp, a bulldog cop who kept the peace in Coconino. Krazy, it so happens, loved Ignatz, and Offisa Bull Pupp loved Krazy; Ignatz, however, did not reciprocate the love of the Kat. He preferred to hurl bricks at Krazy’s head. Krazy took this as a token of affection and Bull Pupp took it as a crime. Many strips ended with Ignatz locked in Coconino’s jailhouse.
Cantor uses Kat & co. as a cast, letting them loose in five vignettes. The technique is academic. We see Cantor’s various themes through the opinions of the Kat, the mouse, and the bulldog: character steps in for theory. His themes too have an academic resonance, and Cantor aims high: he begins with Krazy reacting to the development of the atomic bomb (which coincided with the end of the strip’s press run), passes through Freudian psychoanalysis and revolutionary theory, skewers the culture industy and ends up in an intense consideration of the link between violence and sex. Cantor doesn’t just decorate his novel with these themes: his characters literally live through them, like performance artists. In the section on psychoanalysis, for instance, Ignatz gives a virtuoso reading of Freud by treating Krazy’s neurosis – it’s edutainment and I love it.
Krazy’s neurosis, which she picks up in the first chapter, drives the plot (which scarcely matters because the characters and images are so dazzling). Krazy and Ignatz have been out of work, and Ignatz, always meddling, takes her to see the atomic bomb tests at Alamagordo – after seeing the horror of the bomb Krazy changes; a piece of fallout burns a patch of her perfect black fur white. After this, Ignatz’s bricks begin to hurt, raising stars of pain rather than hearts of foolish love. Coconino County is a plastic place, and Cantor paints its shifting landscape, mesas blurring into clouds and clouds precipitating into cactuses; cartoon Krazy stands still against the backdrop, but after the tests she has to change, she cannot repeat her triangular drama with Ignatz and Bull Pup. No wonder Ignatz reaches for Freud.
So the rest of the book details Krazy’s efforts to become a person, what she calls “round”, as opposed to flat, like a cartoon or movie. Ignatz suggests that sex might be the best route to this, though he has only a hazy idea of what sex is – “I think they pee in each other”, he writes in a letter to Bull Pup. Since Krazy starts out as a full-fledged, interesting character her change works as a classic psychological narrative – she may think of her transformation as change into a new person, the fallout “giving her an inside,” but really she is becoming more herself, emerging rather than transforming.
Despite all its melting landscapes and intense theoretical involvement, Cantor really devotes his novel to character – Kat and mouse both grow and change throughout the narrative, but because they are cartoons Cantor can let them act these internal changes out in arrestingly direct ways. Krazy, for instance, goes rigid after some traumas (Ignatz compares her to “a Danish Modern coffee table”), and Ignatz has a chance to try his crackpot theories, playing psychiatrist, producer, and revolutionary in turn.
Cantor does eventually shift away from the cartoon in the final chapter, “Venus in Furs” (a reference to the classic Velvet Underground paean to S&M), which he originally published on its own in Playboy. Krazy appears here as Catherine Higgs Bosun, patient of Doctor Ignatz and daughter of a prominent physicist – a woman, not a Kat. Ignatz and Kate (The Kat’s new-minted name) waste no time in transgressing the doctor/patient relationship and plunge into a sexually inventive affair. In this final chapter the Kat is no longer strictly speaking a cat, Ignatz no longer a mouse, and Coconino resigns into Boston. We’re definitely still in a cartoon, one that stings and saddens the reader but in places lets the candy colors and startling lines of Herriman’s original vision shine through. Kate and Dr. Ignatz are cartoonish in the manner that most people I know are cartoonish – they fight, mock, and joke ferociously but not in the least unrealistically. When Kate, drunk in some horrible bar and separated from her mouse, leaves Ignatz messages on his answering machine we smile and cringe at the same time, but we never doubt that Kate the Kat would taunt him so: “‘I’m in Paris and I miss you terribly, darling, I wish you were here with me. Why couldn’t you have turned a new leaf over, so your baby could be your slave? Oh Ignatz,’ she snuffled, ‘Why couldn’t you behave?” Ignatz, still a lover of technology, replays the message to search for “French-sounding static.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

I Wish this Game were Bad, so I could call it God of Bore

A Review of God of War

Like most people, I bought this game thinking it was the playstation version of the 1998 Brendan Fraser/Sir Ian McKellen vehicle Gods and Monsters. I was looking forward to a robust pool-cleaning sim interspersed with awkward intergenerational gay sex. This turned out to be something of a misconception. God of War is actually about a pale, extremely violent man named Kratos. Kratos sports a gothy pallor, an extreme sports goatee, and a livid red tribal surfer tattoo, yet he clearly could strangle with his muscular legs all of the subcultures which these affectations represent. He would not put up with any come-ons from Sir Ian McKellen either.
Kratos is living out a healthily bastardized version of the Hercules myth, but much like Hercules he is not enjoying most of it. It seems Ares, as Greco-Roman gods do, has made Kratos go nuts and kill his family. Kratos is out for revenge, big-style, and he will stab any number of people or mythological creatures to get it. The plot, a ridiculous pastiche of Greek myth, commits to being grim and nasty and thereby avoids the pitfalls of the singularly boneheaded Japanese video game style of allusion. You don’t have to collect the three Sacred Stones of HyperOlympus, and if some doe-eyed bobblehead suggested to Kratos that by working together and trying their best they could save the environment, Kratos would probably push her off a cliff. Shion from Xenosaga would last about one minute around Kratos. He would not appreciate it if she brought him curry.
Crossover fanfiction aside, this is a very good game. Kratos is a huge bad-ass, as mean and violent and singleminded as a character in a Cormac McCarthy novel, but he also fights his way through the game with a sinuous grace. Once you master the combat system, Kratos’ leaps and dodges become as important as the wide balletic arcs of his blades, and though Kratos may be a contender against Ian McKellan or a tiny, futuristic Japanese robotics engineer, he’s a little outclassed by most of the enemies in God of War. The game has one of the best balancing jobs I have ever seen: you never face a fight that’s impossible or unfair, but you never face an easy opponent either. Most of the monsters Kratos fights are Greek mythological figures given a sinister update: slavering, mad-eyed minotaurs and skull-faced Satyrs both make an appearance, as well as a colossal hydra and a fair number of centaurs who look as if they have wandered off a particularly savage chest-tattoo. Most of these enemies are bigger and stronger than Kratos, and they come at him in swarms, so be prepared for a challenge that may make you yell so loud at the TV that your frighten the dogs. The monsters are not Kratos’ only enemy: one particular challenge in which Kratos climbs giant, rotating bladed cylinders was so difficult that I developed carpal tunnel syndrome so severe that I now have to keep BOTH hands in leather gloves filled with Vaseline.
These hiccups aside, God of War delivers a much better experience than almost any other recent game (Resident Evil 4 rivals it, but suffers from some annoying Japanese video game clichés). The combat is always fun and rewards deep, ethnographic knowledge of the fighting controls (and the blocks and evasions are not simply ornaments!), there are some interesting puzzles, including a violent, ancient Greek version of Tetris, and Kratos manages to take the typical mindless rage of the video game protagonist and turn it into a satisfying character. At one point in the game, Kratos has just completed a ridiculous, enervating, grueling trial in order to obtain Pandora’s Box, which turns out to be the size and weight of a Toyota Scion Xb. He needs to bring the box back to Athens, and he is out in a giant temple in the desert, a temple that took three days climbing up sheer cliffs to reach. Kratos doesn’t even pause before he begins to push the box inch by tortuous inch back to the city. Perhaps the designers realized that actions sometimes can show character much more effectively than dialogue (and certainly better than the RPG stock phrase “…”), and that video games really ought to be relying on action. Eighteen thumbs up – it’s a Player’s Choice or something now too, so it’s only $20.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

AMDB, yeah you know me

A Site Plug, plus a review of Destroy All Humans

Recently, I have been spending a very great deal of time at (having navigated there from x-entertainment). This site is probably beyond old news to everyone, but they seem to be consistently pretty funny, in a nerdy way, and they also relatively recently added a feature called the Awful Movie Database, a pitch-perfect parody of the IMDB. The idea is not that innovative: they copy the format of IMDB, then fill out the template with fictional movies like Hard Eagle (1993, Steven Segal) and Cannibal Barbarian (1982, Dir. Alan Smithee). The execution is perfect down to the smallest ethnographic details (Cyborg Warp's IMDB message board consists of six or seven posts by "CyborgKnight", all variations on "DVD??????"), but the actual substance of the parodies bears all the hoofmarks of a group of rather clever friends cracking eachother up, and furthermore is just very funny instead of impenetrable and in-joky. Take this triva from Hard Eagle:
Steven Seagal was furious when he learned that over sixty bald eagles were killed during the making of the film. In the director’s commentary track on the 1998 DVD release, Harold Wells explains that “we didn’t tell Seagal we were using real eagles, he would have shit his self. But what the fuck, a real eagle and a permit to be cruel to it costs way less than a really good fake eagle. We must have shot fifty takes of the scene where Geoffrey Lewis beats up that eagle and tears it apart. He kept asking for more takes. He loved it, he loved the feeling of power, I think. Plus we needed to kill about a dozen more eagles for the feathers on all those Indian… you know, those hats. We got really good at killing eagles, between Geoffrey and I. About as good as anyone ever has been, maybe.”

Worth a lengthy perusal. SomethingAwful's other sections are also pretty delightful, generally.

Destroy All Humans
If you want an Xbox game under $20, you actually have many, many options, most of which are better than Destroy All Humans. The premise seems like it can't miss: you play a wise-cracking alien in the style of 1950s schlock science fiction, bent on destroying the earth with your death rays and evil plots. The problem is, the developers go for humor with this. The reason that bad sci-fi is funny (much of the time) is that it's NOT played for laughs. But this game is definitely straining the sinews of its digital limbs trying to be wacky. The results brims with all the freshness and verve of Shrek II.

Maybe this would have worked if the jokes were actually funny: hearing an alien (for some reason doing a z-grade Jack Nicholson impression) crowing "It's probin' time!" before painfully electrocuting a kidnapped government agent is not really all that funny, and coupled with the game's extreme violence it embarasses rather than amuses the player. I don't know if they hired a professional writer for the jokes (my money's on "no"), but they are all of the same obvious and dim level. Your alien can (and unfortunately must) scan the minds of the unwitting humans around him, and they are all thinking something stupid that might perhaps seem screamingly funny to a group of foul-smelling men who have developed elaborate tics around their mousing technique. The male citizens of the game make searing assaults on 1950s conformity ("I have to keep up with the Jones! If only I could remember who the Jones were!") and the women think about nothing but sex and their own sex organs ("There's that not-so-fresh feeling again!"). The parentheses contain actual quotes from the game, in case you were wondering. Embarassing.

This would all be OK if the game were good, but it isn't. It's like Grand Theft Auto if your in-game character were a quadraplegic. It gives you very few things to do, and veers maddeningly between soporific ease and unbeatable difficulty. Save your money: only six thumbs up.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Just My Lack

A review of Just My Luck
Starring Lindsay Lohan, Chris Pine, Samaire Armstrong (from Entourage) and some indistinguishable British moppets.

Really, who doesn’t like Lindsay Lohan? From her adequate acting to her basically orange color, Lohan has something for everyone, from the film’s target audience of teenage girls to the balding lone pervert who made this particular cinema experience extra special. Watch it for up-and-coming British “indie” rock band McFly (you can hear their repertoire expand from one to three songs!), an even more twitchy than usual Samaire Armstrong, and a bunch of onscreen animal feces. I give it nine thumbs up. Also, at one point Lohan’s luck gets so bad that she demonstrates an Antigone-like perfect acceptance of the death drive; this places her in the space between life and death, the eerie realm of Das Ding and the Homo sacer, the zone of creation and annihilation populated by monsters and monstrosities. She uses this opportunity to wear bowling shirts and learn to repair fluorescent lighting fixtures.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

As in the Cylinder

Dear everyone,
To graduate does not take a direct object as a verb when used to describe an individual graduating from an institution. "Kimiko graduated college this spring" means one of the following things:
- Kimiko conferred a degree upon college this spring.
- Kimiko gradually changed college by degrees this spring.
- Kimiko arranged or divided college into steps or grades this spring.

I think people find that using graduate as a direct object verb in this way makes them sound smart or British or both (like Sir Ian McLellan), but in fact, to me, it simply sounds affected. Of course everyone will understand you perfectly, and I'm sure that in a few decades this usage will be standard and acceptable, but what is a blog for if not airing completely inconsequential grievances to a largely uninterested public? Here are some grammatically acceptable usages of to graduate.

- Hollywood Upstairs Medical School and Discount Electronics graduates a class of 200 this year.
- Elutherius Abednego Constington was graduated from Harvard in 1810.
- Barring further assault convictions, the university plans to graduate her this spring.
- I graduated from college.

Comments? Objections from Wobblies and Levellers?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Colossal Review Roundup

Alright BLOGOSPHERE, get ready for a large number of very short reviews culled from this depressing month of April.

Scary Movie 4
If the writers had chosen to parody something other than War of the Worlds and The Grudge (which is a bizarre choice, given that the last Scary Movie parodied The Ring, which you need a scorecard to differentiate from The Grudge), this would have been a much better movie. Anna Faris is charming and very funny, and it would be nice if she had some sharper material to work with. Probably worth seeing on Stars, or if you are already at the mall waiting for a hairdressing appointment.

Silent Hill
Once I played Silent Hill 2 for about fifteen minutes and then got so scared that I literally couldn’t sleep for a week. This was in January of this year. This movie is not that scary, but it is extremely grimy and skin-crawlingly unpleasant. The movie fails to evoke the “oh shit, oh shit!” terror of the games, but does manage to weave together a pretty coherent, kind of interesting plot. Laurie Holden is compelling as freaked-out police officer Sybil Bennet, and Sean Bean is entirely misspent in a secondary role that looks like it was filmed as a response to focus-group viewing of an early draft of the movie. The monsters were somehow less terrifying because you can see them clearly; some of the mystery is eroded, so there’s less room to fill in the gaps with your personal psychosexual horrors.

Game Boy Review Roundup – Normal People Stop Reading
Many of you may know that I recently purchased a game boy advance, or as some like to call it a MicroNanoBoy. I did this so I could play games on the subway or train, and in fact it allows me to achieve this goal. The games, however, are not really all that good. Most people think that the game boy is a system for children, but most of these games would cause a carefree young child to convene a Stuffed Animal War Tribunal and sentence the game boy to being used as a very small skateboard ramp. The games are very, very difficult in the manner of classic Nintendo games like Kid Icarus, games that I mastered to such a low and spastic degree that I rarely made it past the opening credits.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
If you are autistic, you will really like this game. Very Japanese, very into punishing you down the road for decisions you make before you really know what you’re doing. I played it for many hours a day for about three weeks then got disgusted and quit. The graphics were charming but the whole experience felt somehow antiquated. The class-switching system is fun, the Laws system is definitely not fun. I liked the equipment management system. I did not like having some of my best soldiers look like deformed rabbits.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Very good. Too short, a little bit too difficult, but all in all a dreamboat.

Metroid Fusion
Made me want to throw the game boy into a storm drain. It seems like it consists of incredibly hard battles interspersed with fun use of your swell cyber-powers, but it’s actually just the typically annoying video game progression where by the time you get your awesome powers, they are not all that awesome. Why would I want to pay to have my alter-ego repeatedly killed by something that looks like a retarded bat wearing an airport metal detector?

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
This made me want to throw the game boy into some kind of special storm drain that is twice as deep as a normal storm drain. Coupling graphics and inventory management straight out of Ultima Three with a delightful mechanic in which if a character dies, he or she is dead forever, this game was absorbing for about ten hours, then the scales fell from my eyes and I realized that I was replaying the same mission for the ninth time and that I secretly wished that all the characters were dead.

Advance Wars II
Shit sandwich.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga
Since E. Hastings endorsed Paper Mario, I thought this Mario RPG thing might work. Again, this game looks like it might be for children but is in fact better suited to mutant superchildren or baby robots or something. Puzzle minigames: way too hard and annoying. Princess Peach escort mission: abominable. Also, grow some fucking balls, Mario and Luigi! You’re like 40 years old!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Heads You Live, Tails you HOLLYWOOD MAGIC!

A Review of Domino

At one point in Domino Tom Waits shows up in the middle of the desert, driving a classic convertible, bandages on his hands and stubble on his long and wolfish face. He tells Keira Knightley, her boss, her violent, sociopathic Latin lover, and their Afghan terrorist RV driver that they must sacrifice their lives to pay for a $300,000 operation for the grand-daughter of a 28 year-old DMV clerk/ Jerry Springer guest named Lateesha. During this scene 90210 alumnus Ian Ziering (playing himself) dances in his underwear, socks covering his hands, babbling hysterically after having drunk coffee larded up with mescaline instead of non-dairy creamer. This is indeed the weirdest scene in the movie, but not by too long a stretch. How could I not love it? I give it nine thumbs up. A. O. Scott recently wrote an article about how there were no great artistic flops produced anymore, that movies were focus-grouped and noted into safe mediocrity. This movie may be neither great nor artistic, but it is definitely not mediocre.

Monday, April 10, 2006

She Blinded me with Very Poorly Conceived Science

Take this delightful test from the Harvard psychology department. Come back when you finish - I'll be waiting right here, in the BLOGOSPHERE!

Ok, basically, this test is supposed to measure your association of certain racial groups with negative ideas, in this case black people with weapons. The researchers claim that this is designed to detect the unconcious roots of racial profiling in almost everyone. In the debriefing page for the test they lament the fact that people who take the test most often associate harmless objects with white people and weapons with black people.

The test works in the following way: you can sort an object or person into one of two categories. it starts off with black on the right and white on the left; then it goes to weapons on the right and harmless objects on the left, then to black OR weapons on the right and white OR harmless on the left. Then it switches categories so that blacks are paired with harmless objects and whites with weapons. My test came back that I had a slight tendency to associate blacks with weapons and whites with harmless objects (cellphones were one of the representative examples, although I don't really think of them as harmless).

Here's the thing: the test measures how many mistakes you made and how swiftly you selected categories. I made many more mistakes in the final category (black and harmless objects versus whites and weapons). Is this because watching American History X in high school turned me into a big ol' racist? NO, it's because I got used to where the categories were on the test! It would be like suddenly having the turn signals on your car reversed: what you associate with them (left and right turns) has no intellectual or decision-making content. You simply know to push the stick down for left and up for right, and if these directions suddenly reverse you're going to make many mistakes. I cannot believe that this actually passes for statistically robust research even in a field as decayed and idiotic as psychology. Even in the dim and badly organized sociology and statistics class I took sophomore year they specifically told us not to design surveys like this, since they cause an egregious bias. The study is so flawed and so unimportant to almost every human being that only the blogosphere can pass judgement on it. The sentence? Death by drowning.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Our Stupid Country

Oh holy fucking motherfuck sonofabitch, I am SO SICK of the insane and idiotic religious obsession abroad in our rapidly-getting-less-great nation. Fundamentalist Christians: you won. You control the government of the country. Please stop whining and focus your energy on stripping our civil rights and lobbying against women’s’ right to drive. I really, honestly love America but these people are SEVERELY trying my patience and they seem to be here to stay.

Tresa Waggoner, a Colorado music teacher (and devout Christian!), basically lost her job because she had the Satanic pride and daring to actually teach music. She showed a video of Faust in her middle school music class. Parents objected in quite strenuous terms, because they thought the opera might cause their children to worship the Devil. The school suspended Waggoner. The mayor of the town resigned. No one bothered to mention Faust’s central role in the Western canon or its deeply Christian underpinnings. Hysteria and superstition triumphed.


See this week’s New Yorker for an article about how the Bush administration is prepared to oppose a vaccine for the Human Papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer. They are concerned that vaccinating against one of the many horrifying possible results of sexual intercourse might lead to young women (who, surprise! are the only ones who suffer from cervical cancer) having premarital sex, and, God forbid, possibly enjoying it. They would prefer that young women across America ACTUALLY SUFFER FROM A DEBILITATING CANCER AND DIE RATHER THAN HAVING SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE. Giorgio Agamben, you’re our only hope! The new model for the world really IS the death camp!

COMING SOON – A review of Galactic Civilizations II!

I somehow forgot this one: South Dakota banned abortion, even in the case of rape or incest. Guess who the only people who can have abortions are - if you guessed women, you're right! Of course according to Fox News, 90% of rape victims were totally asking for it and in fact enticed their rapists over Myspace. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Deadeye Dick, "You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages - they haven't ended yet."


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Apparently 40 Years was not Long Enough

A Review of The 40 Year Old Virgin

Wow. Steve Carrell is charming. He looks like a charming, ironic weasel and is appealing in his many dorky polo shirts. This movie is not charming. Perhaps the writers were in a bit of a rush and just stuck with the first draft of the script. Or perhaps they actually thought that lines like “If he starts waxing his pubes, I’m outta here!” were funny. Maybe, deep beneath the thick, trollish skin of this movie there are some good ideas. But they lie beneath an agonizing rubble of infantile, tired, dull-edged jokes. Sorry to all the (many) people who recommended this movie to me, and a big f-word you to all the newspapers and websites that gave this movie rave reviews. A sour, unfunny, unwatchable mess.

Monday, February 27, 2006

DestiNations 2K6

First in the series of Rafil Bonerston-Smith Travel HotSpots, Ave Maria Florida:,,2089-2058771,00.html
Bring the kids, and the obedience!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Resident Weevil

A Review of Resident Evil 4

We live in an era in which our desires are identified and answered before we even become aware of them (thanks, marketers!). For instance, I had no idea that I had an intense desire to be terrified and to shoot virtual Spaniards until I played Resident Evil 4.  This latest entrée in the series (and the only one I’ve ever played) leaves the Engrish shores of Raccoon City for a vile and nameless Spanish village.  The story starts out idiotic and then takes a back seat to the amazing, absorbing gameplay; basically, the President’s suspiciously Japanese-looking daughter has been kidnapped by some manner of Spanish cult (perhaps on her semester abroad in Seville?), and the task of her rescue falls to superagent Leon Kennedy.

     Poor Leon!  Over the course of this game his fate dooms him to being shot with arrows, burned, caught in bear traps, vomited on by gigantic insects, pummeled by gigantic oafs, shot at with catapults, attacked with chainsaws, and condescended to by a guy named Luis.  This is only in about the first two hours, too.  As in all Resident Evil games, Leon’s primary duty if to fight zombies, although in this case he is fighting uniquely Spanish zombies (only at this late date in the Playstation 2’s career have we possessed the technology to convincingly animate the Spanish zombie).  These zombies initially seem a little off, since they are not dead nor do they wish to eat Leon’s brain; eventually, you figure out that they have been infested by a parasite called the Plaga.  These creatures occasionally emerge to wave their hideously deformed and barbed limbs when Leon shoots the villagers heads off.

     The game is unremittingly gritty and unpleasant looking (without the white-hot intensity of the Silent Hill series, which is a good thing since it can be played without a double fistful of Xanax).  Plenty of surprises keep the tension up, but the game actually manages to instill dread, the acme of a horror series.  It’s just as scary to turn a corner and see a flock of parasite-riddled degenerate Spanish monks lurching slowly towards you as it is to hear the plaintive shriek of a Novistador, the game’s resident giant homicidal insects.  Resident Evil inaugurated the survival horror genre, and the staples are still here: restricted supplies, save point, and stiff controls.  However, someone at Capcom bucked the trend of Japanese software design and decided to emphasize fun.  Thus, ammunition and weapons are scarce but sufficient (you never have to ask yourself, “do I really have enough ammunition to shoot this blind, insane gladiator?”), and the controls are slow enough to instill a little bit of anxiety, but responsive and tight nonetheless.  You will rarely find yourself blaming Leon’s truck-like turning speed when you get killed, but you will get killed, and frequently, until you get the hang of things.  The game has a forgiving continue system, and is generally so fun that replaying most sections is actually pleasant.

     The plot and voice acting are pretty weak, and the writers keep doubling up on articles when they use Spanish phrases (“The Los Illuminados” for instance), but the most interesting parts of the story spring from the action itself – all the desperate gun battles and insane booby traps tell a much more interesting tale than Leon’s conversations with his controller or the Castellan, a perverted and diminutive holdover from Spain’s feudal days.  I give it nine thumbs up and a hearty recommendation to anyone (I played it on the PS2, although a graphically superior version was released first for the Gamecube, as if anyone who read all the way through the review didn’t know that).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New Russians

A review of Nightwatch

Nightwatch, in one of its many subplots, features a deadly, world-ending curse. The movie itself suffers the curse of The Matrix: a puerile love for building an inconsistency-ridden mythology, the substitution of visual style for character, and woefully uneven plotting. Nightwatch even comes first in a trio, but unlike the original Matrix does not even provide any fun, male empowerment fantasy gunfights.

The movie follows Anton, an unlikable and greasy young Russian who has a bad run-in with a witch that opens his eyes to The Others. These Others live among us and come in two flavors: light and dark, although they all seem to be greasy Russian vampires. And some of them claim that they can change into animals, but they don’t. And his buddies the Light Others drive a magic utility truck. And Anton can see the future, only not very accurately and not after about half an hour into the movie, when the writers seem to have forgotten that he had that particular power.

Anyway, Anton runs afoul of a vampire hairdresser who stabs him repeatedly with scissors. He also finds a mysterious boy who is clearly going on to big things but spends the first part of the movie wandering around with a nosebleed and cowering. At one point the boy watches a few seconds of the episode of Buffy where she meets Dracula (this got a bigger reaction from the theater audience than any of the set pieces). At the end of the movie Anton fights a big villain who uses his own spine as a weapon (inexplicably, this is mirrored in scenes from a fictional video game, which looked a lot more fun than the movie; a similar technique is used to marginally greater effect in the abominable French action movie Samouraïs). He also makes friends with a magic owl who turns into an unattractive Russian actress. The visual effects, which are the only possible reason one might see this movie, are generally headache-inducing and unnecessarily gory; also, like the rest of the movie, they rarely make sense (why does Anton’s arm grow waxy and blue when he and his owl sidekick are voyaging through the spectral realm of the Gloom?). Terrible.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Looks at Books!

The Third Policeman
Flann O’Brian

I was never able to get through Beckett’s Murphy, if that is indeed the Beckett I am thinking of, but I read The Third Policeman in about two days.  Of course, TTP had the massive benefit of not being written by Beckett at all – it’s by obscure, extremely stereotypically-named Irish author Flann O’Brian (not to be confused with Seamus O’Leprechaun or Top O’ the Morning).  The novel follows the misadventures of the nameless narrator, a would be scholar of de Selby with a wooden leg.  For those of you who don’t know de Selby, O’Brian made him up, and commentary on his works forms a footnoted intertext.  O’Brian handles this potentially annoying interruption with a light touch, and de Selby’s bizarre theories remind me of a cross between The Brothers Quay and Ben Marcus’ The Age of Wire and String, both powerfully weird and interesting artists.
     The actual plot, however, follows the aftermath of a murder/robbery, wending its way to a bizarre police station home to two policemen who seem to have wandered off the avant-garde stage and spend their time monitoring bicycle crime.  In the great absurdist tradition of Franz Kafka the narrator becomes embroiled in the machine of justice, with sexy results.  O’Brian handles his narrator’s predicament surely, and his frequent and sure touches of Irish humor give the story a lightness lacking in, say, Kafka’s parable of the door (which itself is of course not without humor, though not Irish, except for the part in The Trial in which K. pisses himself after Colin Farrell kicks him in the stomach).
     The chief joy in O’Brian’s novel is his language – he writes dialogue and action as surely as he does description.  He is funny, trenchant, sometimes moving.  I suppose you could call this a novel of ideas, but it has none of the annoying gravitas associated with people who use phrases like “novel of ideas.”  O’Brian is always and simultaneously puckish and serious.  The finale leaves something to be desired, but you will remember the images and episodes from The Third Policeman.  Quite wonderful.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More like KRAPka

A Review of Kafka on the Shore

Once when I was a lad I read The Cider House Rules and liked it very much. I must have been around 16, the age at which one is most susceptible to John Irving’s adolescent sexuality and capable handling of language. I decided, as teenagers do, to become a John Irving fan, so I began reading his books one after the other. A Prayer for Owen Meany was the last on my list and I only read the first hundred pages. A Prayer for Owen Meany was so preachy, boring, contrived, egregious, and profoundly annoying that not only did it suck in and of itself, it caused all of John Irving’s other novel to suck by association. Where before I had seen sense and beauty now all I saw were vile reflections of Owen Meany.
I fear that Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore may have the same effect on the Murakami that I’ve read (notably The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, which everyone seemed to be reading about a year ago). In Kafka, Murakami indulges in every sin that mars Japanese pop culture – irresponsible allusion, woefully abstract language, and weirdness for its own sake. The irresponsible allusiveness is what bothers me the most – by irresponsible allusion I am referring to the Japanese taste for selecting Western materials in much the way I decided to become a John Irving fan. John Irving sounded like an interesting, sexy author, so I picked him out without actually knowing much of anything about him. If you have ever played a Japanese RPG you will know what I’m talking about – characters with names from Wagner show up, they throw in figures from Mesopotamian or French mythology, any big spaceship is named The Durandal, yet none of it actually bothers with the substance of allusion – it’s bricolage in which the author has assembled the pieces based on an extremely shallow appreciation of them. They have picked names out of a hat.
Take the title – the book only makes one direct reference to Kafka (a rather shallow remark on “In the Penal Colony”), and unless I am being deliberately thickheaded, it makes no implicit comments on any of Kafka’s work at all. The problems really arrive when Murakami actually tries to allude responsibly, because he doesn’t know as much about his interlocutors as he thinks. Sure, we have a bunch of public-library biographical detail about various famous composers thrown in, which is fine and probably accurate, but he seriously mars his story with, say, his vapid reflections on the Oedipus myth.
Most of these reflections come from the mouth of Oshima, who claims to have a woman’s body but the mind of a gay male. The mystery of Oshima’s body seems thematically tantalizing at first, by the way, but Murakami doesn’t really go anywhere with it and it ends up merely seeming like another piece of charming Murakami weirdness. It’s clear that Murakami thinks that Oshima is very smart, since Oshima frequently and volubly discusses everything from German philosophy to classical music with Kafka, the Mishima Yukio-esque protagonist. The problem is that Oshima sounds like he’s contented himself with the back covers of most of these books (and before you fire across my bow, E. Hastings, I maintain that Murakami ACTUALLY wants us to think Oshima is smart, and is not providing him as a comic pseudointellectual).
Murakami also suffers from a very bad ear for dialogue (and I don’t blame the translator for this). His character spend most of their time discussing things in extremely abstract terms They ask questions like what kind of life should one lead? What is the purpose of memory? Why do men make war? Stoned teenagers ask the same kind of questions, and nobody wants to read about them. Also, and this may border on the racist, but the characters take a typically Japanese conversational track and repeat questions (and quite a few statements) back to the people who ask them. Such a realistic touch feels out of place in the middle of such profoundly mawkish, unrealistic dialogue, plus it is boring as hell.
Murakami also loads the book with an astonishing amount of clichés. On occasion his language indeed does become beautiful, arresting, unique, but more often than not he contents himself with telling the reader what things are like instead of showing. For instance, Oshima keeps patting and grasping and otherwise reassuring Kafka – every time he does this, Murakami tells us it’s a “completely natural gesture.” Why? He also describes a bizarre, otherworldly chord in the song that lends the book its title – he doesn’t, actually, describe it, just tells us that it is bizarre or otherworldly.
His characters lean on clichés as well (which, up to a point, is OK as long as the clichés are in dialogue – people do use them). In some cases, notably Nakata’s frequent non sequiturs about “taking a dump,” this works to comic effect, but most of the time it just reads as if Murakami was trying to pad out the novel. All of his writer’s tics are here: frequent overlong descriptions of meals, uninteresting ruminations on pop music, people driving or getting driven around, things getting compared to wells, cats, missing women, sexually voracious 2-dimensional women, prostitutes, etc. Many people told me that Kafka on the Shore read like a remix of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, which is apt, but I found that Kafka lacked the charm and vulnerability of its predecessor. And I worry that if I ever re-read Wind Up Bird I will be blind to its virtues and focus instead on the faults it shares with this mannered, useless novel. I would recommend reading some decent Warhammer 40,000 novelizations instead (or Steven King’s dopey but entertaining Cell, which I may review anon).

[The image, by the way, is Mishima Yukio as Saint Sebastien. Mishima used to get a boner whenever he saw paintings of Saint Sebastien, so posing for this picture must have been very special for him. I am aware the Murakami and Mishima are not the same person.]