Silliness is Golden

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Mon, Jun 12, 2006

Go read Narbonic. Kiss your free time goodbye for the next week.

My favorite web comic, Narbonic, just went from paid to free archives today. Unfortunatley, navigation on the new site is still somewhere between 'rough' and 'impossible.'

Over the five-year run of the strip thus far, creator Shaenon Garrity's art has progressed from lousy to decent, but her intricate plotting and character-driven comedy started out strong and just got better.

If you're willing to take my word that it rocks, you can start at the beginning. If you'd rather risk a few spoilers to see it at its best first, try Professor Madblood and the Doppelganger Gambit, the plotline that promoted me from an occasional reader to an active fan.

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Sat, Mar 04, 2006

Night Watch

Went to see Night Watch at the Kendall with Mieke last night. Damn, that was a good flick. Of particular interest to comix geeks, it's the first movie I've seen to take advantage of the power of lettering to shape mood. It's in Russian and subtitled, and the subtitles shift in color, position, and size to underscore the content of the dialogue. Similarly, throughout the movie, special effects are often used in a subtle, corner-of-your-eye way so you're not even certain of what you saw for a moment.

Basically, the story is Matrix + Highlander + vampires + lots of vodka - huge budget - taking yourself too seriously, with big dashes of Star Wars and LotR added in. It's a big gritty grainy grimy grisly entertainment, long on atmospherics and inventive visual effects, and rather short on exposition. The actors--even the pretty women--have wonderful lived-in Russian faces, with far too much humanity for Hollywood. It's set in contemporary Moscow, where you got your supernaturals--called Others--arrayed into secret armies of Light and Darkness in an uneasy truce. The Night Watch of the title is the Light Others who keep an eye on Dark Others to make sure they don't break the terms of the truce. The powers and vulnerabilities of Others are kept conveniently vague, allowing subsequent rabbits to be pulled out of that hat.

When someone discoveres he's an Other, he has to pick sides. It's implied that this is irrevocable, but the movie leaves wiggle-room if they want to mess with this later. One thing Night Watch does very well is to suggest how there might be actual difficulties around that choice. For a movie about the war between Good and Evil, there's a lot of real moral ambiguity floating around. Our more shallow fantasy-genre moralists (coughGeorgeLucascough) make their character's dilemmas look grotesquely inane--dude, which is better--Good? Or Evil? but the choice in Night Watch not only has weight, but it doesn't utterly define the characters. Our protaganist, a Light Other, happens to live across the hall from a Dark Other, who shows impulses to be friendly, and has to be reminded by an older relative that they are enemies.

Perhaps more than Light vs. Dark, the conflict appears to be Order vs. Chaos. Light's leader works in an immaculate business suit at an imposing but cluttered desk. Night Watch members wear vaguely official-looking uniform coveralls and patrol in a vaguely official-looking beat-up van (albeit with a Batmobile engine). Good appears to be working on something of a budget. Much is made of their issuing licenses to Dark Others, although the details are unclear. Dark Others look like gangstas, fetishists, and pop divas (the last played by an actual Russian pop diva), and generally appear to be having rather more fun, though they do spend a lot of time snarling and sneering.

After all the pieces have been put in play, the last third of the movie kind of drags. When the two major plot threads resolve, one ending feels rushed and arbitrary, and the other is incoherent and unsatisfying. Yup--it's Part One of a trilogy. Part Two has just been released in Russia, so hopefully it'll find its way here with reasonable dispatch. I'll certainly be in line for it.

ADDENDUM:

On further consideration, Night Watch has a couple other interesting distinctions from other recent fantasy adeventure movies.

For a movie marketed as a horror/fantasy crossbreed, though there's plenty of blood, there's remarkably little death. Near the beginning, a Dark Other is killed by the Night Watch, and, unless I'm forgetting something, it's the sole onscreen death. The Dark Others' grief and rage at the loss of their comrade drives much of the rest of the movie. We're not made to sympathize with the character who died (and made hamburger of our hero along the way), but we are encouraged to feel some of the pain of the Dark Other friend and lover who miss him. Compare this with the wholesale slaughter of cannon-fodder bad guys in your average CGI epic of the month.

Not only is there not a single gun in the movie, but there's no exposition of why. Presumably all or most Others are resistant to gunfire to some degree, but it's never discussed.

Now, I'm not putting forward Night Watch as a morally profound work, but despite the explicit video game metaphor that it uses at a couple points, I do think it does have much more a human heart than many of the American models it draws on.

CORRECTION:

An old woman with about a minute of screentime dies of semi-un-natural heart failure towards the end. In addition, there are the kinds of explosions and power failures that would cause dozens or hundreds of deaths in the real world, but generally end up bloodless in movies.

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Tue, Dec 27, 2005

things I learned from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"

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Sun, Mar 20, 2005

Slippery Symbolism

Dow engineer Charles Baldwin gets the credit for creation of the biohazard symbol in this much-referenced New York Times piece. However, a close reading shows he didn't design it. Who did?

"We saw a need for this kind of a symbol and proceeded to develop some symbols with the help of the Dow marketing people -- the package-design department, I think it was called. The only parameters that I set down for them to noodle through were, it had to be unique and something that would be striking enough that it would be remembered....

"We tested the sample symbols across the country -- the marketing department had survey groups to test different labels for Dow products. There were half a dozen of our original symbols in this survey of 24 different symbols....They were asked to look at them and then asked to guess at what each one meant. The biohazard symbol got the fewest guesses."

Apparently, as a tattoo, the symbol has become a defiant statement of HIV+ status.

Others look at the same symbol and see something rather different:

Many seekers on the pagan & occult path would recognize it as a secret symbol of the goddess that represents the maiden, mother & crone plus the other metaphysical aspects of pagan culture and associated magick. Always worn to improve inner psychic abilities, ESP, channeling, PK, astrology, tarot, herbalisim[sic], healing powers, etc.

Baldwin got huffy when his baby was 'misused:'

"I ran into a peculiar situation one time a couple years ago when someone was putting on a seminar on biohazards. As gifts for the participants, he devised a beautiful tie with little biohazard symbols all over it. This got me upset, and I sent him kind of a nasty letter saying this symbol was not designed to be used sartorially."

Makes me want to send him a goddess pendant just to wind him up..

fda-bioterror-advocacy-groupsUPDATE: Just encountered this article about the confirmation hearings for acting FDA head Lester Crawford, with its provocative graphic, on Google News. If anyone can figure out the reason for the binary background, please let me know--I'm stumped.

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Fri, Mar 04, 2005

Afternoon nap

Good news—DJ Dusty's streaming radio show is back online. I'm not hip enough to actually know anything about the Downtempo genre, but I consistently enjoy Dusty's selections a lot.

If you enjoy internet radio, you may also want to know about Streamripper which will rip streaming tracks right to your hard drive. It's questionably legal, but damn useful.

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