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Month: January 2006

Ripping good time

Is there anything you would like to tell us about the Academy Award nominations this year?

“It’s not the first time a Cronenberg movie has gotten a nomination.”

Really? Wait — Spider didn’t get nominated. Was it M. Butterfly?

“No. Movies about gender issues are in the spotlight this year; M. Butterfly was 1993.”

That’s kind of unfair. Hillary Swank’s Oscar for Boys Don’t Cry was in 1999.

“OK, yeah, I’m just being catty. Anyhow, it wasn’t any of those Cronenberg flicks. Nor was it Naked Lunch.”

It wasn’t Crash. I don’t even have to check to be sure of that.

“Nope. Want a hint?”


“Not only was a Cronenberg movie nominated for an Oscar, but it won.”


“Yep. The Fly won for Best Makeup.”

… well, that’s not very prestigious.

“Maybe if he’d accepted the director’s chair on Return of the Jedi, he’d be better off.”

Measuring stick

The liberal blog community just had the limits of its power defined. I expect the argument about whether the Alito cloture vote represents an improvement over the Scalia vote or an embarrassment will continue for some time. Either way, a lot of it was about the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the aisle, the conservative blog community has decided to set up their own power-defining moment. The Republican members of the House vote for their floor leader on Thursday; it’s a three way race between Roy Blunt, John Boehner, and John Shadegg. Shadegg is the reformer. RedState wants Shadegg, Glenn Reynolds is making non-endorsement endorsements, and so on.

It’s an interesting narrative, since endorsing Shadegg is a tacit admission that DeLay was corrupt and that he represented a corrupt culture. It’s going to be more interesting to see if Shadegg wins. I really don’t have any predictions; I don’t have any sense of how influential the conservative blogs are. (Or vice versa; RedState is run by professional Republican political operatives, and cannot be honestly characterized as a grassroots blog.)

Palace intrigue

Everyone and their cousin is gonna be linking to this, but here’s the Newsweek article on the internal struggle over presidential powers in the Bush administration.

It’s a blatantly biased article. Illustrating an investigation of internal debates with a picture of an Iraqi being tortured? It’s my bias, though, and I find the article strokes the pleasure centers of my political brain.

Now, he speaks!

This morning I recorded the first chapter of The Man of Bronze onto MP3. Audacity is perfectly functional and perfectly free. My USB headphones worked fine too. So I guess that means I can podcast, huh?

I want to get a couple of chapters ahead, but then I’ll start weekly Doc Savage podcasts, a chapter at a time.

Trail of blood

A History of Violence is nearly simplistic. This is the American fable of the vigilante. A man’s family is threatened. He takes action, reluctantly. The villains suffer. They refuse to repent. Perhaps the man is tortured. He wins out, and his family is safe.

Or: he wins out, but his family is already dead. “I’m Batman.” “I’m the Punisher.” “I’m Mad Max.”

The alternate is perhaps the easy out from a narrative standpoint. It’s cleaner, not having to manage both a vigilante life and a family life. It’s just as easy to imagine a scenario in which a man’s family is threatened, but not killed; it’s simple to imagine a threat of sufficient magnitude as to generate this sort of violent revenge. We’re heartless crafters of fiction. Kill one member of the family, and leave the rest alive.

The alternate is certainly more common. It’s almost a binary choice. Either your family is alive, and you are not a vigilante, or your family is dead, and you are. Vigilante is not crime-fighter: Starman had his father, and many heroes had their spouses. Superman had his adoptive parents, and later his wife. It’s the violence which seems incompatible with normal relations.

Batman violates the norm, and that’s part of what makes him interesting in skilled hands. He works toward family in his inept, halting way. Batgirl. Another Batgirl. Robins. A love/hate relationship with the Huntress.

Cronenberg violates the norm. It’s a really simple story, and it’s told really simply. Also: unflinching. It’s possible to believe that there won’t be blood until, oh, five minutes into the movie. After that there’s no doubt. It’s the simple story of what happens when violence meets a relatively normal family; yes, Tom Stall has a past, but that’s just the trick by which he has a capacity for violence (and by which violence comes to him).

Well. And it’s the necessary tweak which enables the story to rise from two-dimensional comics or film and move into verisimilitude. Which, after all, is the point of the movie. In an odd sort of a way, it’s Cool World without the bad acting. What would it be like, to be a cartoon character in our world?

Tom Stall finds out that it’s difficult. Maybe untenable. You can interpret the ending as you wish; the propulsive thrust of the film scatters into a million pieces around that dinner table. The family falls apart. The family rebuilds. The family is never the same. The narrative arc runs from the unspeakable simplicity of the choice two thugs make at a motel to the shattering range of choices the Stalls have in the end.

Shattering worlds. That’s the Cronenberg trademark, isn’t it? This is no eXistenZ, with a million overlapping frames. It is, though, a movie about leaving one reality and entering another. Tom left his criminal world behind before the movie begins; later, he leaves his family life behind. The transitions are just as acute as anything Cronenberg’s ever done.

The other Cronenberg trademark is the search for intimacy. All Cronenberg protagonists want to make connections. (Many of them fail.) “Maybe the next one, darling… Maybe the next one…” Tom and his wife want to preserve their connection, which is just as interesting from another direction. There’s the sex, which goes from fantasy to harsh reality over the course of two scenes. There’s the ability, or lack thereof, to talk. It’s a match with the rest of Cronenberg’s work.

Speaking of connections: one of the unanswered questions, at the end, is the nature of Tom’s connection to his son. I’m left wondering; will Jack’s new found capacity for violence bring him closer to Tom? Will it be a reminder of the reality Tom’s fleeing? Unanswered.

I didn’t see enough movies last year, but this one was my favorite.


You can do worse than the lurid fantasy worlds of Games Workshop when it comes to novels. I blame it on Britain; like 2000 AD comics, Games Workshop’s Black Library seems happy to allow authors to indulge their hallucinogenic whimseys as long as the canon is consistent. And the canon is a fever-dream to start with, so you’ve got a rather fertile base for excess. What more can one ask of RPG novels?

Start with The Vampire Genevieve, by the estimable Jack Yeovil. At home, he’s Kim Newman. This weighy paperback is a compliation of all his Genevieve novels, and they’re grim gloomy romps with a wicked sense of humor. In the introduction, he notes that he wanted to write a book about what happened to the heroes of a fantasy epic afterwards. Tasty and moody and even a little wistful in the descriptions of the decrepit assassin-dancer and the fat old bandit king.

You could also check out his Dark Future books; I believe only Demon Download is in print. It’s not as good, but wow, that’s a post-apocalypse United States to be reckoned with. GW released Dark Future as a competitor to Car Wars, back in the day, so it’s a ruined US in the Warhammer timeline. Expect spiky crawly Chaos. Also expect mad Mormons, Vatican black ops, and very fast heavily armed cars. The later books also have Elvis. Like I said, not as well-written, but palpably insane.

Stuart Moore has a new Dark Future book out: American Meat. I’m only halfway through, but it’s lovable. You know Stuart Moore as the chief editor of Vertigo Comics for a number of years. It’s hard to tell if someone’s a great writer from one of these; I can say I’m enjoying it. Who doesn’t like robot monkeys and vegetarian biker gangs? I dunno why GW is putting out more Dark Future books but I’m kinda guiltily glad they are.

Final nod goes to Honour of the Grave, by Robin Laws. Not at all bad, and it’s the first of a series, which is a plus for me when it comes to popcorn reading. There’s always something really measured and intellectual about his prose, which is an odd framework for a pulp dark fantasy novel, but it’s Warhammer so it works pretty well all in all. And hey, cool heroine. Not enough fantasy novels about graverobbers.


Speaking of sports — actually, first, a note on my previous. When your favorite athlete thanks God for the win? That’s probably not a casual reflex. Read this piece on sports as an avenue of proselytization.

Anyway. Dr. Z writes a column for Sports Illustrated on the NFL. Fun, breezy writer; well respected, he’s been around forever. Here’s a throwaway comment from him this week:

“Come in Mike H. from Wellington, New Zealand, do you read me, over? No, he doesn’t read me because I’m speaking to a piece of paper with writing on it, which shows how much I’m slipping. One more word, before I get to his question. Can you exert any influence to get the Flaming Redhead and me citizenship papers, plus help in opening an account at the Bank of NZ? If they ask what I can do, tell them I can cover rugby and do a really snappy column about the great NZ wines. Last I heard, New Zealand is a country where they don’t torture people, right?”

Just a data point.

Power of prayer

Pat Robertson said that God was punishing Sharon by sending him a stroke. We are, of course, horrified. What a cruel thing to say!

Then again, it’s in the same logical category as something that’s said every day, broadcast on TV regularly, and so on. “… and I thank God for helping us win this game.” Which is equivalent to “I thank God for making sure my opponents lost the game.” Which means God’s making choices about who wins and who loses. He’s gotta choose sides there.

Maybe it’s more reasonable to claim that God is making choices about relatively unimportant things like sporting events. But… the culture accepts the idea that God reaches down and affects the outcome of everyday events. We don’t object when an athlete makes that claim. We ought not be surprised when that claim shows up in other arenas.