Category Archives: Down With The Sickness – Rants

Rants on whatever topic. Combine with other categories for maximum effect.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Departure

First off, let me begin this by saying, ‘Go see the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’ It was a very fun movie, and I can’t wait to see the Goblin Town sequence in a video game (hint hint, designers).

That said, there were a few decisions that the production team (writers, director, and producers) made that seemed out of place, strange, or just plain pointless.

Warning: Everything below is a spoiler.

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The Blame Game

On December 14th, 2012, a man picked up several firearms, went to the school where his mother taught, and began killing people. This was a horrible, horrific event that shocked and sickened me to my core. That this was not the first time something like that has happened in no way lessened the horror.

In the aftermath, as I watched the feeds on Twitter and Facebook, I began to notice two trends.

The first trend was people expressing their emotions: offering condolences to the families of those slain, or expressing their disgust and outrage, as personal tastes dictated.

The second trend I noticed was people using this as proof that either all guns should be banned, or as an example of why every American should be packing a gat on their hip. Some day, I will find the humor inherent in the fact that both the pro- and anti-gun lobbies are using the exact same event as ‘proof’ that their beliefs are correct. Not today, however. It’s still too close.

But then I made the cardinal mistake: I replied to the FB post of an acquaintance.

I really should know better.

My acquaintance posted a link to an article on Thinkprogress.org titled, “It’s Easier for Americans to Access Guns Than Mental Health Services.” I responded flippantly that there are many things in America it is easier to get than mental health services. Then I sarcastically named a few, including garbanzo beans (because I really like that word. Garbanzo).

An acquaintance of my acquaintance then jumped in to berate me for ‘making mental health care seem ridiculous.’ This surprised me, as that was not the point of my reply at all. All I was trying to do was shine a light on the fact that the author of the original article was using this tragedy as a platform for his own personal anti-gun stance, and doing so in a deliberately misleading and frankly absurd way.

‘Guns are easier to access than mental health.’ No s#!t, Sherlock.

Guns are physical, manufactured items. I’m not an expert on firearm factories, but I can’t imagine it takes more than maybe half an hour to manufacture a Glock on the assembly line? And given the asking prices, I predict it costs somewhere in the vicinity of $50-$100 to make one. On the other hand, to ‘manufacture’ a therapist takes years and years of college, and tens if not hundreds of thousands in school loans. And once you’ve ‘made’ your therapist, curing someone of whatever mental ailments they suffer from isn’t instant, that also takes time and money. It has been a while since I last looked at the prices for an hour of therapy, but back then it was around $200. For $200, I can get a LOT of garbanzo beans.

But as I sat here and thought about this semi-argument I was almost having with a complete stranger, I started to think about what this says about us as a species and a society. I composed several follow-up posts in my head, and although I never posted them, they got me to thinking.

See, here’s the thing. Right now, a lot of people are blaming this tragedy on guns. Leaving aside the absurdity of blaming the tool for the way in which it is wielded, this is simply the latest in a long line of excuses that society has come up with in order to avoid having to put the blame for events like this where it actually belongs.

In the ’60s, it was Rock’n’Roll music. If someone killed someone or committed suicide, it was Rock’n’Roll’s fault. In the 70s, it was Heavy Metal. In the 80s, the cause of every evil was Dungeons and Dragons. In the 90s it was video games, and in the 00s, it was violence on TV and in the movies. And now, the fault lies with guns.

It is interesting that we’ve moved beyond the social and are now blaming the method, but that’s not the point. The point is, we keep pointing fingers at things that are, at best, peripheral influences on unstable people and crying ‘Satan is in the Rock’n’Roll/Heavy Metal/D&D/Video games/Violent TV shows/Guns.’

The fact is, sometimes people go crazy. They’re broken. Maybe it’s environmental, maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance, maybe it’s a non-supportive home life, maybe it’s stress. But people sometimes go nuts. And sometimes, when they go, they take others with them. It’s horrible and sad and scary, but it’s not exactly ‘news’ that sometimes people snap.

So why do we blame these other things, these external forces? Why does society feel the need to point fingers at rock’n’roll or heavy metal or video games or guns and cry ‘Demon! Unclean!’?

I ask this, but the truth is, I know why.

Fear.

Each and every one of us, in the darkest hidden parts of our minds, where we don’t like to go and hate to even acknowledge that we have, we know that the guy who picked up a gun or a knife or a bomb and killed a McDonalds full of people could have been us. ‘There but for the grace,’ and all that.

But we don’t want to believe that it could be us. Our subconscious minds, quite often, refuse to even accept the possibility. But if ‘crazy’ is a result of environment or stress or genetics, all these things that we tend to believe we have no control over, then we have no control over going crazy. And that is simply unacceptable.

So we find other reasons. Reasons that we, ourselves, don’t do. “That kid who did these terrible things played video games,’ your mind says. “But I don’t like video games, and I don’t play them. Therefore, if video games are the reason he went insane, then I’m safe. It can’t happen to me.” And just like that, we have rationalized away our fear that we could be next and put the demon of insanity into the sacrificial pig of things we don’t like, things we don’t do, and things we’re safe from.

A man picked up several firearms, went to the school where his mother taught, and started killing people. And because someone doesn’t like guns, it’s the guns’ fault.

Obviously, that’s horsecrap. People were going insane and killing each other long before we had easy (or any) access to guns. If there were no guns, that man (he was 24, according to the news report I read) could have gone into a liquor store and bought several bottles of Everclear and made Molotov cocktails out of them. Or made a bomb from various products found at Home Depot. Or picked up a knife (20 of the 28 people he killed at last report were children).

We are all descended from someone. We all live in environments and we all eat and breathe. We all have stress in our lives. So if those things cause insanity then we’re vulnerable. You are vulnerable.

But if you don’t like guns and don’t own one, then guns are a ‘safe’ target. Guns can be the culprit, and you are secure in your invulnerable ivory tower of sanity.

Good luck with that.

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A Grimm beginning

Last week, ABC debuted a new show based on fairy tales in the real world, called Once Upon A Time. Not to be outdone, perennial fourth-rank network NBC this week released Grimm, touted as being “from the producers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.”

This brag is not entirely untrue. David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf are among Grimm’s executive producers. Greenwalt was an executive producer for part of the run of each of those shows, and Kouf was a “consulting producer” on Angel. However, when most people think of the ‘producers’ of Buffy and Angel, they are thinking of Joss Whedon and Tim Minear, or possibly the Kazuis, none of whom are involved in Grimm.

And frankly, it shows.

Grimm tries to be a ‘modern’ take on fairy tales, under the framing device of a hidden world and a hidden battle being fought between the Grimms and the as-yet-unnamed monster groups. The Grimms are the descendants of the Brothers Grimm, and, unlike most people, have the ability to see the monsters when the monsters ‘lose control’ of their emotions. The hero, Nick (David Giuntoli), is one of the last Grimms, newly awakened into his power when his aunt discovers she had terminal cancer.

The show goes for moments of levity, however they never manage to rise above the ‘wry snicker’ level of humor. Much of the attempts actively induce eye-rolling. The fact that the wolves fetishize the color red elicts, at best, a minor smirk. Silas Weir Mitchell as Eddie Monroe gets a slight grin with his sarcastic, “What are you, and idiot?”

The acting is, for the most part, mediocre. Russell Hornsby and the always-excellent Sasha Roiz gamely try to raise the bar, but as neither of them is the main character, there is only so much they can accomplish.

And then there are the plot holes. Dear lord, the plot holes. Beware, beyond this point there be spoilers.

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And All For Ray

Jennifer and I saw the new Three Musketeers movie on Sunday. It is interesting to me how each retelling of this story chooses to emphasize certain elements and utterly ignore others.

This is inevitable, of course. If every single scene in the book were filmed with utter faithfulness, the movie would be about as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a script writer and as a director, you have to chose what to include and what to leave out when adapting a book to a movie. I’m not explaining a great mystery here, anyone with half a brain can understand this. It is the choices that are made that I find interesting.

It gets even more obvious when you factor in things like changing social norms, and the desire to include a bunch of Steampunk stuff, because Steampunk is cool, right?

Actually, Steampunk is cool. And I can forgive the director, Paul WS Anderson, for wanting to include it. Cannon-mounted airships are cool. That honestly didn’t bother me. I feel fairly certain that if Dumas had ever heard of Steampunk, he would have included all those elements himself. After all, this is a book about guys called Musketeers who actually use muskets maybe once in the entire book (and never in the movie).

This is the first adaptation in recent memory that included the servants. Well, one servant. They sort of rolled them all into one guy. Probably because the movie already ran the risk of having too many people to keep track of. But still, the servant was there. And like the book, Our Heroes treated him like garbage. So that made it in, but the fact that Constance was married did not. I guess modern society can get behind verbally and emotionally abusing hired menials, but not adultery? Yes, the fact that they left the rape scene out surprised exactly no-one, but the adultery thing caught me off-guard.

And poor Aramis. No one knows what to do with him. Other than Jeremy Irons in 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask, Aramis is usually treated as ‘oh and there’s him too. Isn’t he precious, with his quaint religious beliefs.’ For some reason, almost none of these movie adaptations show off the womanizing lech side of him. Again, I guess modern audiences can get behind the idea of a man leaving the priesthood so he can be violent, but not so he can have sex?

Porthos, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. For a world still trying to wash the mental images of Oliver Platt and (*SHUDDER*) Gerard DePardu out of their minds, Ray Stevenson’s Porthos was everything the character should be: A sensualist who plays the dumb brute, but is actually intelligent and devastatingly effective at fighting. Of course we ARE talking about Ray Stevenson, so much like Jeremy Irons as Aramis, there was almost no way this COULD go wrong.

The same, sadly, could not be said of Orlando Bloom’s Duke of Buckingham. And it is sad, because if you remove Bloom’s performance from the issue, you can see that the writers did him justice. The character, as written, was every bit as calm, smart, machiavellian, and deadly as the Cardinal. The scene where they just decide to ignore their respective kings and hammer out the peace treaty between them was just as it should have been. But then they turned Bloom loose on the role.

The thing is, he’s not a terrible actor. He really isn’t. He’s just comfortable in certain roles, and this, his big break into villainy and a ‘serious’ role, wasn’t it. He tried way too hard. Every moment on screen was either him playing “Look at Me! I’m EVIL!” or “Look at Me! I’m INTENSE!” and neither worked for the part. Contrast this with Christoph Waltz’ Cardinal Richelieu who was brilliant, and you see why we spent the majority of every scene he was in Rifftraxing his performance in our minds.

And someone, for the love of PETA, release that animal on his head back into the wild.

Amusingly enough, the two ‘big name’ Hollywood stars in the movie, (Bloom and Mila Jovovich as Milady DeWinter) were by far the most awkwardly cast of the ensemble. Everyone else was at least competent at their roles (even Mads Mikkelsen’s Rochefort was adequate if not great). D’artagnan was as bland as that role normally is, and Matthew MacFadyen’s Athos could have read the phone book out loud and we would have been utterly captivated.

I had to caveat “hollywood” stars in that last paragraph before people start telling me about how big a star Waltz is in Germany or MacFadyen is in the UK. They are awesome actors, and the fact that they are starting to break into American consciousness is wonderful (MacFadyen in Frost/Nixon and Robin Hood, Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Water for Elephants), and I look forward to seeing more of them. But so far, they are not household names in the States the way Bloom and Jovovich are. And oddly, I think the movie would have been better without those two, who seemed like they were cast just so there would be ‘known names’ to try to fill seats in US theaters.

So in all, it was a fun time, not very deep. You won’t remember it years later, and other than the one bit already famous from the trailer, no one will be quoting it decades from now. But it was entertaining, swords flashed, swashes were buckled fiercely, and there were airships. Was it worth the $6 we paid? Yeah. Was it worth much more? Not really.

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Chai Cola is Back!

An Unusual Review

 

A few years ago, Jennifer and I visited a store in Eagle Rock called Glaco’s, which claims to have the largest supply of rare and hard-to-find sodas in the Los Angeles area. And indeed, I have seen nothing to make me think that this boast is false: they are a largeish (although not warehouse sized, more like the size of the inside of a large McDonalds) location packed to the proverbial rafters with different sorts of sodas. They have your usual Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up, sure, but they also have things like a mint julep soda, a hundred variations of ginger ale/ginger beer (some of them QUITE strong), entire runs of things like Jack Black’s and other, more rare brands.

And they had a line of sodas by a company called XTC that included a chai cola soda. It was delicious.

Chai, if you’re unaware, is a spiced Asian tea (mostly famous for being from India, although some neighboring countries also brew it). It is a black tea, with ingredients like cinnamon, clove, cardamon, and other, regional variation spices. For a long time, the only place you could consistently get it was Indian restaurants, and the Ren Faire. Then it suddenly started becoming popular, and now you can get it at most coffee shops like CBTL and (a very bad version at) Starbucks. Other than the CBTL one, however, they tend to be powdered mixes, or syrups that sort of vaguely taste like Chai. CBTL is the only major chain I’ve seen that actually makes it with real tea. But anyways, back to the cola.

We bought a couple bottles just to try them out, this XTC Chai Cola, and found they were awesome. So the next time we were in the area (Eagle Rock isn’t exactly a convenient location for us) we bought a whole bunch, to ‘last us.’ Yeah right, they ‘lasted us’ about a week. But still, about once every 3 or 4 months, we would find ourselves close enough to that store to justify going over there and loading up on it.

Then some things happened in our lives, and we stopped even occasionally going that direction. We were sad, but always in the back of our minds was the idea that we would find XTC somewhere else. And eventually, we did.

BevMo started carrying it… for about 6 months. Then they stopped. We were sad again. A couple of years went by.

A few months ago, we discovered a big beverage warehouse place in Culver City that, while mostly devoted to spirits, did have a wall of soda. So naturally, we checked. They didn’t have XTC. So I asked the guys who worked there if they could order it. They had never heard of it. They tried looking it up online, and found that the website was down and there was no reference to that company at all. Another victim of the recession, it seemed. Once again, we were sad.

Last weekend, on a lark, we stopped by Cost Plus World Market in El Segundo to take advantage of their red wine sale. And by total accident, we noticed a bottle of soda that claimed to be Chai Cola. Not XTC, mind you, this one is from a company called Taylor’s Tonics Botanical Brewery. We figured what the heck and picked up a few bottles.

I’m here to say that this stuff is awesome. It is not as sweet on the tongue as most sodas you are probably used to, but it is very flavorful and delicious. I highly recommend it, especially if you are tired of the overly-sweet regular sodas available to you.

According to their website, they sell through Cost Plus (which I knew), Whole Foods, and BevMo (which I’m skeptical about, having never seen it there), as well as a bunch of other places I’ve never heard of. Do yourself a favor and check them out.

They also have a Light version as well as Aztec and Mojito inspired sodas  (none of which I have yet tried).

So RIP XTC, we’ll always remember you fondly. But Long Live Taylor’s!

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Good Odds for a Casino

So, Jennifer and I have just returned from an enjoyable Sunday out. We had lunch, visited the wine shop, and washed the car.

But before all of that, we went to see 50/50 at the before-noon $6 showing at our local AMC. If you like movies, and there is an AMC theater anywhere near you, you’re seriously missing out if you don’t take advantage of this deal.

The movie, about a man (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who finds out he has a fairly rare form of cancer, was surprisingly charming and amusing. Adam (JGL) and his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) refuse to let the cancer ‘win,’ and maintain a generally positive attitude. Despite this elevator pitch, the movie does treat the subject with maturity and respect. Adam isn’t always cheerful and happy, and the longer his struggle goes on, the more his spirits flag. But still, overall it was a very cute movie and well worth a viewing.

In addition to great performances by JGL and Angelica Houston, look for a wonderful, non-goofy-hijinx performance by Matthew Frewer in the first non-silly role I’ve seen from him in over a decade.

The title, 50/50 (as well as the title of my post) both refer to a line in the movie (and all the trailers so I don’t think I’m -really- spoiling anything) where Kyle asks Adam what the survival chances are for this type of cancer. Adam, who has looked that very question up on WebMD, says that he has about a fifty-fifty chance, and Kyle responds by saying “That’s great. If you were a casino game, you’d have the best odds in the house!”

If you know anyone who has or had cancer, I recommend this. Jennifer’s mother died of cancer in ’99, and even she (Jennifer, not her mother) thought this was a good movie. So why are you still sitting there? Pick up your keys and go.

Now.

Shoo!

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Bad Boys

Let’s face it: girls like bad boys.

I imagine it drives men nuts, right? It’s the old cliche: they try to do everything right, try to be polite, treat a girl well — and what happens? The girl runs off with some asshole with a fancy car who’s going to sleep around on her and expects her to clean his toilet. The phrase ‘nice guys finish last’ is a cliche for a very good reason: apparently it happens. A lot. Make jokes about girls with daddy issues all you like, but no one’s denying that bad boys don’t seem to have much trouble catching the girl — or the attention of the audience. Look at how Draco Malfoy is depicted in the Harry Potter novels (hint: it’s not flattering,) and then look at how many stories are out there utterly romanticizing the hell out of him anyway (hint: a lot.)

Mike and I sometimes have our personal shorthand for certain phenomena in writing and entertainment, and this one we like to call the Alex Effect (after Alex from A Clockwork Orange.) It’s a simple premise: a character can be as thoroughly nasty and evil as you could possibly want, but as long as they’re charming, witty and crack the occasional joke, the audience will love them anyway. They can even dispense with the jokes as long as the they’re driven by some horrible wrong done to them or come from an underdog background before they began their mad crime spree (Magneto, I’m looking at you.)

Seriously, what is wrong with our species?

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