Avatar - a review or 'Giant Robot Blue Monkey Knife Fight Says What?'

You remember TRON, right? Jeff Bridges is a computer programmer reduced to scamming on teenagers from his loft above the video arcade (remember when you had to GO SOMEWHERE DANK AND SMELLY if you wanted to play video games??) because he got fired from his cush job designing games like STAR INVADERS and BLASTEROIDS. But he gets sucked into the COMPUTER WORLD via laser digitization when he tries to get the goods on the bastard that stole his KILLER robot tank game and has to fight for his life against DOS programs and bloated, whiny spreadsheet software armed with nothing but a glowy blue frisbee.

Well I saw THAT in the THEATER (Yeah yeah, I know. I’m OLD. Now shut up and get off my lawn.) and it was AMAZING!

I remember reading an article about the cutting edge graphic development that went into it. One of the lead designers talked about how they had a terrible time getting the computers to make the gridlines that described the landscape of the computer world to DIM as the lines receded into the distance rather than grow brighter.

In the twenty-odd years since then computer generated special effects have… shall we say… made some improvements…

TRON is to AVATAR, the new James Cameron movie just out today, as poo smears on the walls of the monkey house are to the Sistine Chapel. In most cases (and given that I know there IS no moon called Pandora inhabited by 10-foot-tall HOT bipeds of pseudo-feline extraction) I couldn’t tell where the film ended and the effects began.

The movie is beautiful. It is an amazing spectacle and for that alone, I recommend going to see it. If nothing else, you’ll get to see a couple hours of really pretty design. The textures are amazing, the movements smooth and natural. And I don’t mind telling you, the Na’Vi are really pretty hot across the board.

Furthermore, the concept plays DIRECTLY to the escapist fantasies I’ve harbored for the vast majority of my life – trade my pudgy, fragile, humdrum human existence for INSTANT HUGE AND AWESOMENESS BY LAYING DOWN IN A POD LINED WITH MEMORY GEL! I mean really… Who WOULDN’T sign up for a service where they grow you a new body that is BETTER IN EVERY WAY, has bones laced with carbon fiber, organic neural interfacing, and just happens to match a race of UNIVERSALLY ATTRACTIVE aliens who have no hang-ups about running through the forest naked.

…Well, maybe a couple of folks in Utah…

As for the story… well…

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a BAD story exactly…

Okay, so maybe it is a bad story, but it’s familiar and hits a bunch of pre-installed buttons, so… y’know. There’s that.

It’s been done a few times over the years: White guy is disabled and disenchanted with life/society/the world he lives in. White guy goes to land of savages to serve as Ambassador/Outrunner/Bastion bringing the glory of Whiteness to the Red/Blue/Yellow/Purple people. White Guy gets an in with the natives and finds out they’re really a hell of a lot more civilized than their lack of firearms would imply, begins to learn their ways. White Guy is accepted by the open/happy/gentle-but-don’t-screw-with-’em natives just in time for the WHITE EMPIRE to come along and spoil it all by murdering a whole bunch of pretty rainbow people. White-Guy-Gone-Native does the Rainbow People thing better than the folks that made it up and becomes the savior of the poor naked savages, leads Rainbow People to fight Panzers with Toothpicks and wins (director’s choice as to whether victory is AWESOME PRIMITIVE ASS-WHOOPING or NOBLE DEATH AS MORAL TRIUMPH). Either way, White Boy saves the day the Native Way ‘And then they named me their chief…’

Story-wise, Avatar is almost identical to Dances-With-Wolves, except Wes Studi is blue instead of red, and chief instead of warleader. (And I TOTALLY looked at his character the first time he came on screen, back to camera without uttering a word and I thought ‘Is that Wes Studi??’ And then he spoke and it WAS!!) Oh – and Kevin Costner (or rather, his analog) gets his own black braid and blue dragon. Plot developments are telegraphed YEARS before they happen (seriously – I got them in the mail for my 23rd birthday. Fifteen years I’ve been wondering what the hell that was all about…) But then another big blue butt swings by on a vine and it doesn’t seem to matter quite so much.

(It’s also almost identical to The Last Samurai, except that Ken Watanabe is played by Zoe Saldana and Tom Cruise rides around in a 10′ tall blue box of awesome and is heterosexual.)

(I’m just sayin’…)

All in all – a FINE piece of entertainment. I’m gonna go see it again. :)

How Not To Write Your Novel: Moving

I think I may have hit on something here – a sort of magic bullet for use against the impending Bad End of finishing a novel. As you may have gathered from the title (You’re bright kitties, aren’t you?) MOVING is it.

And I don’t mean, you know, leaning back and forth from one butt cheek to the other. No see, that’s EXERCISE. We’ll handle that kind of moving another day. I mean – let’s not go crazy, you know?

The moving I’m talking about is RELOCATING. Trading one domicile for another. Packing up the carnies, small hands, mysterious cabbage-y odor and everything, and trundling on down the road.

Have you tried it? ‘Cause I have. In fact, I’m in the middle of doing so right now! (No – not RIGHT now, genius. Right now I am imparting to you Great Wisdom. And most generously, I might add. You didn’t even ASK me, and here I am giving you advice for free!) I’m telling you – the whole process has worked fabulously to prevent any sort of writing from going on. Even THIS. I tell you, the cat is in serious danger of converting to Dust Bunny-dom. (And keeping kosher just isn’t within the realm of her capabilities. So you can see how that might be a problem, right?)

Here I sit, reconnoitering the local market. Scouting, as it were – scanning the listings for the perfect manor (or at least one we won’t won’t have to share with dangerous things) and there she sits, at my feet, mewing forlornly, her breath coming out in little dusty puffs. That’s right, my pretties, this moving business even keeps me from vacuuming the cat, let alone writing a novel!

Between looking for a suitable place (and believe me – this could take MONTHS), to waiting to get approved, to packing up the OLD lair (dwelling, den, lodge, or home), and actually MOVING, you could avoid writing for years!

For best results, I recommend repeating this process at least annually. By the time you’re finished settling into your new place enough to be at risk for doing some serious writing, it’ll be time to pack up again and shuffle down the road!*

And now, kiddies, I have to go find a box big enough to hold my bezoar collection. (It’d help if they weren’t so darn moist…) You all be good now, you hear? Do me a favor, too. If you see a modest-sized, mewling dust-cloud wandering around your yard, run the Dyson over it once or twice, eh? She’ll appreciate it and I’ll be happy to credit it to your account.

Good night, my wee dollies, and whatever you do…

DON’T WRITE

*If you happen to be an ACTUAL carnie (and the chances of you being a carnie AND a novelist are, frankly, so slim as to be practically impossible), then I’m sure you know that annual relocation just won’t cut it. Despite their freakishly diminutive phalanges (and the curious tendency to spontaneously generate a potent aura of sauerkraut smell), carnies are remarkably efficient when it comes to vacating premises. IF you are one of that rare breed of imminent carnie novelists, move once a week, at least. For your safety as much as anything. It’s all fun and games ’til the townsfolk get their pitchforks.

When the Vac is away…

Sometimes the cat vacuums itself… Stay tuned, faithful readers – more to come…

Late Night: A Conversation (Or why I won't watch Jay Leno)

JAY: <rings doorbell>

FX: DINGDONG

JAY: Huh. Never heard one actually SAY -ding- -dong- before. Weird. Is that weird? It’s weird, isn’t it?

FX: door opens

CONAN: (dejected) Jay. Hey… how’s it going.

JAY: Oh ahh, well it’s going great, buddy! Hey, ahh… I heard about your divorce. Sorry to hear it.

CONAN: Yeah. Thanks, I…

JAY: Yeah, real shame that. Real shame. I mean seriously, you know?

CONAN: Yeah. I don’t know what happened, really. I don’t really feel like she gave it a chance.

JAY: No? No… Well, you know.

CONAN: …it’s only been six months…

JAY: Seven.

CONAN: What?

JAY: Months, ahh… seven months. But hey – You win some you lose some, right? Real shame, it is. I’m tellin’ ya.

CONAN: I suppose so.

JAY: Well, I wanted to tell you I’m here for ya, buddy. I’m here for ya.

CONAN: Hey, thanks man. I apprecia… hey, wait a minute. Is that my wife?

JAY: Hmm? What? YOUR wife? Where?

CONAN: Right there… going into your place.

JAY: Oh… ahh. Yeah. Well, you know we dated before you two got together.

CONAN: I know. But you broke up, Jay. Remember? It was all agreed.

JAY: Sure… sure…

CONAN: …and she married ME, remember?

JAY: (nodding) Yep. Yep.

CONAN: And now what?? She’s moving in with you?

JAY: Well, ahhh. Yeah. Yep. That’s about it. Ahh – she did say maybe she could come over here afterwards, you know. When I’m done. Say… 12:05?

CONAN: After just six months?! Jesus, Jay…

JAY: It was seven…

CONAN: I can’t believe this!

JAY: Well, uhh. You know – she still wants you in there. She just wants me in there first. You know? I mean – what could I do? She asked me.

CONAN: …

JAY: (shrugging) I always did love her time slot…

How Not to Write Your Novel: Chatroulette... ahhh, on second thought...

So I heard a story about this new(ish) site on the web called Chatroulette.com. NOW BE CAREFUL IF YOU CLICK THAT LINK!!

See, Chatroulette is this new… hmmm… game. Yeah – let’s call it a ‘game’. In this game you click a button and are magically connected to some stranger with a webcam who happens to be playing too…

You see where this is going?

If you’re fairminded at all, you’ve got your own webcam enabled, so this stranger can see you and you can see… oh, let’s just say for the sake of argument HIM.

What do YOU think would happen? I’ll wait while you sort it out…

No I won’t – what point is there in having a blog if I don’t get to answer my own questions?

I’ll tell you what happens, or rather what HAPPENED when I tried it out. The first time I tried it I clicked four times. Ostensibly, that means I get connected to four different strangers. Two of those clicks yielded nothing but a blank, black view and a quick ‘Partner has disconnected’ message. The other two were: #1- A guy (naked from the waist down) busily flogging the bishop and #2 – A guy fondling a pair of oranges he’d stuffed in his t-shirt.

(I will note for EVERYONE’S edification that I was fully clothed and I swear on all that is holy there was no clergy-abuse perpetrated in MY house this day.)

(That said, I can’t really speak for the family produce.)

Rest assured, I was -prepared- for weird. I was ready for freaks. You have to be, really… I mean just logging on to the internet at all you have to steel yourself for SOMETHING weird. It’s inevitable! But TWO out of FOUR tries?? Come on!

I have to say, though – it didn’t BOTHER me, exactly. I did log off. I figured after one willy and two molested fruits, the luck I had just then wasn’t something I wanted to press any further. But it made me wonder what the hell the thought process is behind that… PARTICULARLY the guy stroking pole! Honestly, dude… Just how many women do you expect to see sitting there naked. You’re far more likely to see guys like YOU than women interested in watching you tug cod.

And of course it could be that it was the guys like him he was there to see, but I find it unlikely… Something like 1 in 10 adults is homosexual, and half of them are women (give or take, dude – you want scientific rigor, try a site that DOESN’T suggest pneumatic feline hygiene maintenance asĀ  a means to enhance… well, anything really).

I mean – you just have to do the MATH, man… Consider – how many clicks is it going to take to find the magic formula, hooking up with random strangers? Compare that to the number of clicks it takes to get to the same magic formula if you start out by typing www.google.com and then ‘Fodder for a Proper Wank’. SERIOUSLY – you’re ON the INTERNET!! Haven’t you heard? The Internet is FOR PORN!

And it occurs to me, too, that maybe it’s not the seeing, but the being seen that dudes like Captain Jack Fapper get off on. If so… well, I guess it’s better than having him stand outside the mall pulling porky in his raincoat.

Anyway – as Cat Vacuuming goes, I’d have to say Chatroulette.com is a bust (despite the sad lack of them on display). Unless, of course, you LIKE watching strange men choking Kojak. For me, though – I think I’m better off writing.

Good night, my pretties. Sleep well. And whatever you do…

DON’T WRITE

Tips for Failures

By which I mean: People Who Write, the Guardian has published some VERY IMPORTANT RULES

How Not to Write Your Novel: Piracy

The other day I had this feeling. And as I felt this feeling I said to myself, “Self? What IS this feeling?”

“That feeling is writing,” I said.

“Oh right! I remember,” I said to me. “It feels good! Maybe I should go and do some.”

“Ignore it. It’s a lie. The cake is a lie,” I said, confusing myself.

“I wasn’t talking about cake, I was talking about writing…”

“What?” I said. “I’m playing a game here.” And, “No, you don’t want to do that.”

“Why not? I kinda like writing and I have this book…”

“Writing books only leads to Bad Ends, much like the pursuit of false cake. Remember Hemingway? Dickinson? Hitler?”

“Did they chase cake?” But I had stopped listening. I still felt that feeling. “What if I baked a cake? Then the cake wouldn’t be a lie, it would be a cake. With frosting, maybe, and a delicious fruit filling.”

“Bad end!” I said. “Burroughs… Thompson… Stalin…”

“Then what should I do, self?”

Then my self chimed in (not the first self, the second one… no wait, the third one… it gets a little crowded in here), “What about piracy?”

“What about the RIAA? And really – how many copies of Waterloo and Painkiller do we need?”

“No, no. Buccaneering! High Seas! Shivering timbers and all that.”

“But we don’t have a boat,” I said, still feeling that feeling.

“We’ll commandeer one.”

“How do we steal a boat?”

“Commandeer. Nautical term.”

“You stole that.” But I was too busy imagining salt water and swashed buckles and cocked hats to correct myself again. “Can I be a writing pirate?”

“Bad end… King! Koontz! Grisham!”

“Hey wait – they’re not dead.”

I gave myself a sagely look. “Worse – they’re famous.”

“Ahhhh,” I said, beginning to see the wisdom. “Wouldn’t want that to happen.”

“We could sail to Fiji! They wear coconuts there. We like coconuts.”

“But what does piracy lead to if not a Bad End?”

I paused the game I was playing. “Increasingly improbable sequels and disgustingly large paychecks?”

I had to admit I had a point.

“…grass skirts. Roasted pig. Hula dancing…” I was losing me.

The feeling was beginning to fade at last. “Okay – why don’t we go commandeer a boat and see where it takes us.” I would need some new boots. And maybe a cutlass. And to think I might have finished my novel just then… dodged THAT bullet!

“Mmmmm – delicious poi.”

“I’ll be there just as soon as I finish this level, man.”

Batten down your hatches, my pretties. I’ll see you on the high seas! Until then though, whatever you do…

DON’T WRITE

How Not to Write Your Novel: Seattle

Go there! Look for me. Wave and make the Cat Vacuuming SOOP3R S3KR1T hand gesture!

(I’ll tell you all about it when we get back…)

Be good, my pretties! And whatever you do…

DON’T WRITE!

Interlude

A little musical comfort food for our friends back East. Stay warm, kiddies. -bwrs

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy? Seriously… PERCY?! First – What mother loves her son and names the poor schnook ‘Percy’? Second – Perseus (with whom dear Percy’s name is overtly linked by characters in the movie) was a son of ZEUS! And if we accept the premise of eternal fraternal near-war that is the basis for the whole story, Poseidon (good to see Kevin McKidd getting work that ISN’T crappy prime-time soap opera) naming his son after his prick of a brother’s kid?

You’re picking nits, pal. Get over it.

Yeah, I know… It’s a kids’ book turned into a kids’ movie. I shouldn’t be so critical, right?

Actually, I don’t think so at all. I think we should be more critical of the stuff we give our kids to read. After all, we do our best to feed their bodies the best food we can find, don’t we? Why do we so readily slack off in vetting the quality of what we feed their minds?

All that being said – and chalking up mythological inconsistencies to ‘artistic license’ – The Lightning Thief wasn’t a bad movie. In fact, it was fairly entertaining. It wastes not a moment before getting to the action. I give the author kudos for transplanting mythic trials to the modern world. I particularly liked his use of the Lotus Eaters, though the lack of subtlety makes me sigh. It’s not quite as mature as, say, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (despite its protagonists being a bit older than ol’ Harry is in that movie). But it’s entertaining, engaging, and fun. If you’re up for a couple hours of bright, flashy American kid-entertainment – go see it. You could certainly do worse.

[SPOILER ALERT] Read on at your own risk

There were a few things that bugged me about the movie. Things that raise questions in my mind and things I think worth mentioning:

  1. All of the powerful and important characters are white. And not even INTERESTINGLY white. The one black guy in the cast is saddled with a distressing set of stereotypical traits. He’s a SATYR, for starters. His job is to PROTECT THE POWERFUL WHITE KID. And his fate, as far as the story goes, is to sacrifice himself so that the white folks can go on and save the world. His reward? First – implied nookie. Second – a pair of TEENY TINY HORNS (talk about emasculation…).
  2. Two of the characters in the movie are disabled, and BOTH disabilities turn out to be cunning ruses to hide the fact that they’re not disabled at all, but secretly awesome. Was that really necessary? Couldn’t they have been awesome AND disabled?
  3. When his mother is DISINTEGRATED by an enormous minotaur RIGHT BEFORE HIS VERY EYES, our pal Percy barely bats an eyelash. There’s no shock or dismay. Not even a hint of distress. In fact, I blinked somewhere between Mom being grabbed and collapsing in a shower of sparks and I wasn’t ever all that clear that she HAD been killed. There was no reaction to confirm it! I mean COME ON! Gimme a LITTLE pathos, eh?

Anyway – once I put my critical thinking skills on hiatus, the movie was enjoyable and entertaining. At the very least, it provided enough distraction that I manage to avoid writing for several hours.

If you’ve got kids who like explosions and a robust capacity to suspend disbelief – go see The Lightning Thief. It’s better than a sharp stick in the eye!

…and that’s the word, my pretties. Be good. Take care. And whatever you do…

DON’T WRITE