Keith Z-G

still has a blog for some reason

What else did you expect? I mean I'll probably post something else here eventually, or lose steam on this current incarnation of What To Do With My Personal Website, but for now, here we go.

TV Shows

Equinox (2020)

It's fine for a show to be slow-paced; it's even fine for a show to be predictable. But to be both . . . ah, that's a lot less excusable. Especially when you posit a mystery, and theoretically follow a protagonist trying to unravel that mystery. And still I think there's enough pieces here that if arranged differently it could have been compelling! There's good performances, evocative imagery, a lot of drama set up, and tons of thematic threads that could be pulled on. Instead, it skates forever on the edge of actually coming together, the show it could be perpetually hiding just around the corner, more successful a thriller on a meta level than diegetically.

The weirdest thing is, baked right into the premise is a better structure for a series paced like this one is. The protagonist is working as a podcast host, and decides to make a podcast about the disappearance of her older sister and 20 other classmates on a day decades ago. This was the first and only time the show surprised me, because I assumed then that the framing device would be her creating a Serial-style episodic podcast with the interviews taking up the bulk of the time. It seemed so obvious, and an early piece of old videotape provides some great hooks. Okay, so lets track these people down! Get into long conversations that slowly unravel the threads of the mystery while exploring characterful drama! Noooooope. Instead, the podcast conceit is dropped almost instantly, and our protagonist just stumbles around. What little we as the audience don't immediately guess will be invariably shown to us through the parallel flashbacks that take up much of the running time; the protagonist in turn seems to just intuit this information, rather than gleaning much from her abbreviated chats.

I kept re-cutting the show in my mind with a Danish Koenig (ba-dum-tish, hey look this is a better pun than you probably think it is,but to get it you'd have to watch this show, so don't worry) voiceover and I swear that would improve the show. I could in fact go on for several further paragraphs about ways to improve the show, but there's not a huge amount of point; I think you get the idea.

...okay sorry, let me complain a bit more for a second. There are kindof two big categories of hooks for a series like this. One is the mystery side of things; the other is the character drama side. The mystery is doled out so slowly yet also obviously and haphazardly that it doesn't provide much in the way of thrills. But then the character side is somehow all the more unsatisfying! Thanks to people barely having conversations in the present day portions, nothing sown in the flashbacks is allowed to be reaped.

If you understand Danish, I bet it'd be worth checking out the original podcast, because the story really seems better suited to a conversational medium and focus. A shame, considering the obvious effort put into bringing it to the screen. A triumph of the EU's equivalent of CanCon requirements more than of television, I reckon.

Where: You can watch it on Netflix, but I can't really recommend doing so; even a slow burn should leave a mark.

Well that was disappointing. But all's not lost! A similarly short show from very closeby in the world, but from a decade earlier:

The Deep (2010 miniseries)

It's far from perfect, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I watch so much "genre" TV that I'm surprised this wasn't on my radar (not a pun! if it was a pun I'd have said sonar! okay I guess I made it a pun), and there's a number of actors on here I know well from other scifi/fantasy, UKian tv, or both, and most of them get some meaty but not too overwrought bits to play here.

James Nesbitt's character is a Bit Much at times, admittedly, and the show seems overly sympathetic to him, but it actually all pays off in the end, and the format of being a true miniseries rather than having to hedge for future possible seasons lets the show balance things a lot better (and more surprisingly) than I was fearing.

It doesn't even have that much embarassingly bad CGI! I usually expect that from the Isles; they seem to not notice things looking pretty shoddy, or perhaps their computer animation studios invested big in 1998 and they're really really trying to amortize their investment, but this 2010 show looks a lot better than some high-profile stuff I've seen from a decade later. It probably helps that the ocean depths can largely just be murky darkness and that can be exciting itself; you can just show the practical cockpits of the submersibles and rely on the actors to react and pull the audience along.

I won't say much more because it's a short series with a lot of plot, sometimes hamfisted but rarely belaboured. It gets in and out in 5 episodes, doing its best to play with its toys in the ways you'd hope and then not overstaying its welcome.

Where: At least here in Canada, it's up on Prime Video.

Can we got even more silly-but-enjoyable? Yes, we can:

Fate: The Winx Saga

I will forever be baffled by . . . no, wait, that's not right. It's entirely natural and sadly unsurprising, in fact. But I will forever be vexed by the fact that the most popular entry in the vast vague genre of "special kids go to fantastical boarding school" is the absolute worst. This new Netflix series is perhaps the starkest exhibit for how it is basically impossible to make something in that vein that isn't better than J.K. Rowling's excrement, because on paper one would expect something like this to be the absolute bottom of the barrel. It's literally a gritty live-action reboot of a children's cartoon! And yet, like literally every other such series, it's vastly superior to the ostensible crown. (So often in fiction, the fiction within the world feels sanded-down and not fully realized compared to real-world fiction or the work containing it, which makes an early namecheck of Harry Potter houses feel weirdly and unintentionally apropos.)

The worldbuilding in this series is more outlandish, yet simultaneously more realistic, and as such it's far more evocative than the Potter faff. It posits two worlds; one our own, and another a world of faeries (who lost their wings long ago; gee I wonder if that'll come back up). We see almost nothing of this world of the fae other than a single boarding school and the woods surrounding it. That's fine! Keep it evocative, but keep the focus on the characters and their drama. And there's drama aplenty: Do we follow a troubled secretly-chosen-one protagonist who immediately turns heads and accidentally upends status-quos upon their arrival, and slowly begins to suspect things are being hidden from her? Of course we do! The rest of the main characters (presumably pulling from the source material) are similarly easily differentiated and archetypal, creating mostly predictable but nonetheless fun dynamics.

A particular standout for me is the bad-girl character a bit on the periphery of our main cohort, manipulating things for drama and some plot-related ends, and the actor clearly has a lot of fun in the role. The show is at its best when she's onscreen, or similar interpersonal drama is taking place. It flounders a bit in action scenes, but they're fairly brief, and even in the final episode more time is taken for heightened one-on-one conversations where a character reveals something important and Very Dramatic about themselves than the fight sequences (why can't I do this thing? Well that's because Secret Painful Backstory I will now finally reveal in an emotional monologue!).

I do wish it was longer, however; 6 episodes is far too short, and while the setup for the next season promises a fun change in school dynamics as well as keeping some of the most interesting existing tensions and story generators, it would have been better (both in terms of this season itself, and in feeling the change in the status quo) if we had something more than a mere quarter of a traditional television season. But oh well! Still well worth watching if you're in the mood for teen drama at a boarding school with strong Genre elements, and in some ways the short runtime makes it even easier to recommend; far better than slogging through a dozen movies or poorly-written novels from a certain bigoted and classist author . . .

Where: You can dip into this junkfood teen genre drama over on the Netflix.

Movies

Synchronic (2020)

It starts out strong, and in many ways it ends strong, but . . . hmm. It doesn't have the budget to go really big or entirely sell the time travel, but nor does it develop the characters enough to feel entirely compelling at its small scale. Far from the worst movie I've watched lately, and if you're just really in the mood for a time travel movie then it might scratch the itch. Just don't expect anything too impressive or surprising.

Where: Only one batch of the pills was made, and they're all used up now.

Outside The Wire (2021)

Not the first silly high-concept sci-fi movie starring Anthony Mackie I saw the same week, but while Synchronic gave Mackie more time to showcase his acting, Outside The Wire focuses on him being a stoic badass, and features a much higher budget and focus on action scenes. Unfortunately both movies are fundamentally hampered by never being at all surprising, or nearly as thoughtful as they seem to think they are. This one at least has more fun dumb action sequences, although it truly fumbles the ending.

Where: Just around the corner at Netflix.

Gretel & Hansel (2020)

A strong opening, and the relatively bold choice of making a film in 2020 that's not in a widescreen aspect ratio, misleads. This is fundamentally a very unoriginal movie that plays it quite safe. That doesn't make it without its charms, to be clear. I'd rather an unoriginal film have a sense of style than not, and it's fun to see the star of Netflix's sadly canceled I Am Not Okay With This playing in many respects the same role in a very different setting. Just don't go into this expecting anything terribly artsy; this is Hollywood through and through.

Where: You can watch I Am Not Okay With This on Netflix. Dunno where you can watch this film.

Psycho Goreman

There are many movies out there these days which ape low-budget fare of decades past. The best of them tell a fun and inventive enough story regardless, and Psycho Goreman is definitely in that camp (with an emphasis on camp). The aesthetics of a Power Rangers (human-scale portions only) ripoff combined with a Spielbergian tale of kids discovering something magically alien, all filtered through a mostly-delightfully cynical script where the primary protagonist is a sociopathic little girl. Runs maybe a bit too long and underdevelops many things it briefly touches upon, but remains inventive and funny enough throughout that I was willing to easily forgive that. A great example of how to have a lot of fun on a very small budget, fitting considering the material it's parodying.

Where: If you live in the U.S. I think it's on Shudder?

Back in September, I wrote the following:

This is about as much of a roll as I've managed with a series of blog posts in a long, long while; you'd have to dip back into the archives of my blogging (and not even the archives, but, like, the archives) to get anything with such relatively minor gaps. Lets keep riding this wave, then, as problematic as the idea of a wave may sound to contemporary ears.

Well, only one review from then was actually written, and I've been derelict enough in my self-assigned duties here that things have languished since. At least I'm getting back to posting some reviews here now, and seem to be setting a precedent for posting them on the 24ths of months—particularly notable this month, of course. Merry Christmas and all that jazz!

Update December 29th: Backfilled a few more reviews.

TV Shows

The Wilds (season 1) and Alice In Borderland (season 1)

Two very different shows in practice, but very similar on paper; both were just released here in Canada on major streaming services, and both are about young characters who find themselves unexpectedly on their own, separated from civilization but mysteriously being monitored by whoever has put them in the emptiness they now find themselves in.

In many respects The Wilds is the better show. For most of its run it's tightly constructed, not unlike Lost in its structure with each episode showing the whole group plot moving along but telling a discrete story per episode that focuses on a single character. Like Lost, the story is also separated chronologically; it's not too much of a spoiler to say that each episode flashes back to a tale of that character before they found themselves stranded on the island. It complicates this by having the framing device be a third time period of after getting off the island, and for the most part this avoids feeling like overcomplication but rather gives the episodes a reliable structure that many other binge-ready streaming shows lack.

The other touchpoint I'd reach for is Skins; the young, all-female (at least for the characters stranded on the island) cast has clashes of personality and drama not unlike Skins, and the plots of their individual flashbacks certainly recall the types of different tales Skins would tell more than Lost. In fact it's similar enough in tone and tenor that at times I thought to myself that whomever is toiling away in Amazon Prime Video's analytics department and thought "hmm what about Lost + Skins" deserves a raise they're definitely not going to get while working at a place with Dread Pirate Bezos as captain. If that prospect tickles your fancy, you'll probably enjoy it. It's certainly not as good as Lost or Skins, but it's a hell of a lot better than, say, the U.S. version of Skins (some amazing music choices in that ill-fated and ill-considered remake notwithstanding).

I really only have two major bad things to say about The Wilds. First and foremost, it really seemed like it was a neat, self-contained story, and could have been (and largely was) resolved within this single season, maybe with one or two more episodes. Instead, the show ends dangling a second season in front of the viewers; perhaps not surprising from a show indulging in so many more classic (relatively speaking, at least) television structural tropes, but the others were welcome and generally well-executed throwbacks (they even shot the pilot beforehand!), whereas this is a bit of self-sabotage on the show's part. It's such a clear setup for a second season that actually making that second season almost feels redundant, and I feel less inclined to watch it than if they had wrapped things up neatly here. Reportedly, this was a matter of network notes from Amazon, and I gotta say, once again the execs fucked up the art and the business.

(Sidenote: There's a central theme to The Wilds that I haven't touched on at all here. In part that's because it could be considered spoilers, as it's at the heart of What's Really Going On, as well as the 'hook' for the second season; mostly, however, it's because that seems more the sketch of an idea than something fully fleshed out. It does add some flavour to the proceedings, but it could have been ditched entirely and the plot wouldn't really have to change much at all. In fact for all the characters in on the secret, especially for the last reveal, the show has established more individual motivations which actually seem more plausible than the bigger-picture motivation given. Perhaps that's part of the point, though, that these high-minded ideals are just a thin veneer on individualized experiences and resulting drives that can't actually be generalized, and the characters who think they can be are misleading themselves? It at least avoids being hamfisted enough that one can ponder this question, so points for that.)

The other problem isn't really with the show itself, but what reasonable expectations one might have. The premise feels a bit Lord of the Flies or Battle Royale, but the show never quite indulges in that degree of conflict. That's arguably for the better, as it makes the moments where violence does break out land harder, but it can feel like it's not delivering on an implied promise. And that's where Alice In Borderland, a show that leans very, very heavily into the death and mayhem, comes in.

The aforementioned Battle Royale is definitely a touchstone here, although in many ways it reminded me more of Gantz, and it probably owes debts to both of those and more. While the protagonists of The Wilds were teenage girls nearing the end of high school or just out of it, Alice In Borderland focuses initially on three boys who have long left highschool behind but remain in a perpetual adolescence. One works at a sketchy bar; one is slack at an office job; and then we have our protagonist, the titular Arisu. Identical to how folks in Japan would mispronounce Alice, this is a major letdown of the show. Arisu is a typical Shonen protagonist and thus incredibly bland (he plays video games, and . . . that is his entire characterization) yet somehow everyone who isn't shitting on him is thinking he's the Second Coming.

One might think, after devastating deconstructions of this by the likes of Evangelion, we'd have left this behind years ago, but no. And I hold a grudge against the show for this especially because one assumes the titular Alice will be female and indeed there is a female lead of sorts that ends up as part of the show and she's far, far more interesting a character. But we spend very little time with her, and her own journey is always a distant second to Arisu's, so much so that I am writing this having entirely forgotten her name. Characters are constantly yelling for Arisu, but Clearly Better Protagonist Girl? Nope. She even spends the final act of the show just trying to rescue Arisu, who the show wants you to believe is some genius strategist in the mould of one of the leads of Death Note or Legend of the Galactic Heroes but rarely sells.

The show itself, though, is a lot of fun. It's grim, cynical fun, mind you; in stark contrast to The Wilds' restraint, by the end of the first season of Alice in Borderland people are carrying out quite literal atrocities. If you can stomach that and the over-the-top violence, though, it makes for a good double-binge, with The Wilds feeling very grounded and real while Alice in Borderland starts out a bit heightened and gets gleefully absurd by the end. It's not as well-paced as The Wilds, but the times it gets to its fireworks factories they sure do explode. I do have to emphasize the "if you can stomach that" bit though, because again: literal atrocities. It's also pretty misogynist, although not as misogynist as I feared from some early warning signs (a woman pressured into letting her boss fuck her is largely treated as a villain herself, using her dastardly feminine wiles). Arisu keeps being treated as the protagonist despite others, mostly women, being the ones to actually move the plot along and often being several steps ahead of this bloke that's inexplicably held up as a genius. Hard not to see misogyny in that, and just frustratingly illogical.

Speaking of Japan's cultural conservatism even compared to ours, there's a trans character played by a cis actor, too, which is two steps forward and one step back. The character herself is at least handled well in total, although the flashbacks telling her backstory highlight the pacing problems of the show and made me long for the clean Lost/Skins structure of The Wilds. We finally learn both her backstory and another eye-catching character's backstory in a one-two punch of flashbacks interrupting the action in the dying hours of the season, not only not really giving their stories time to land (although they're well-told within their small allotted time) but also weirdly interrupting the flow of action. Having neither read the manga nor watched the anime adaptation, I suspect but don't know for sure that this is rotely mirroring the source material's structure, and very much to the detriment of the television adaptation.

But here I am, endlessly criticizing yet another show I heartily enjoyed! With both of these shows though many of the problems are far easier to talk about without spoiling anything than the good things were. Alice in Borderland is the more surprising and enjoyably outlandish, while The Wilds is the more satisfyingly predictable, but both land some twists and beautiful moments. And neither setting is liable to be anything like the confined circumstances you find yourself in during this pandemic, and so with the caveats outlined above in mind I propose both of these shows as entertaining escapes to other places. The Wilds is the better show; Alice in Borderland is the more extreme show. I had a lot of fun with both.

Where to watch:The Wilds is streaming on Amazon Prime Video (with the first episode available for free to non-subscribers apparently), while Alice in Borderland is streaming on Netflix.

Movies

Unpregnant

Fans of the inimitable Sweet/Vicious will not be too surprised to see Jennifer Kaytin Robinson's name appear as one of five credited writers on this film. A breezy comedy (with some dark undercurrents, and the villain ultimately being the patriarchy) about two mismatched female friends certainly seems in her wheelhouse, and filtering through the many cooks in the kitchen helps explain how the movie feels polished yet a bit unfocused and overstuffed.

Overall, a nice disposable movie of particular interest if you're feeling the chill of winter on the horizon and the regrets of being currently unable to travel; why not then take a short energetic road trip across a swath of the southern United States? There's just enough of a point to the movie that it doesn't feel vapid, and only rarely does it get cringely strident. Not that I can fault anyone for getting up in arms about American culture, particularly when it comes to abortion and related issues of puritanical patriarchy, but it's by avoiding nakedly didactic storytelling that progressive values have made their inroads in American (and friends) culture, particularly in the realm of comedy. Contrast the joy and straightforward humor this movie has with screeching of right-wing "comedy" and I think it's clear why The Right is so often exasperated about losing the "culture war"; the best way to win someone over is to show that your side is a better time. Excepting a pretty terrible soundtrack, this movie delivers on that.

Where to watch: Dunno, it's been a while, probably somewhere.

Breach (2020 film)

It's immediately clear that what little budget this film had was eaten up by the actors. But even there, this Alien ripoff falters. Because there's nothing necessarily wrong with being derivative, but if you aren't bringing anything new to the table you should bring something good, and this film squanders its cast. It's a pretty fun cast; Bruce Willis shows up early and sticks around! Rachel Nichols makes it nearly to the end! Thomas Jane largely bookends! These are all actors who are comfortable with Genre Stuff, and ably commit to the lacklustre script, but inexplicably our main character is none of them. Instead, we follow a guy who's a perfect example of Reverse Hollywood Casting, which is to say I know someone personally who seems like they'd be the person you'd hire to play this guy in a movie. He's not a compelling performer by any metric, brought into sharp relief by the others around him.

Late in the movie, Protagonist Man's significant other briefly gets to demonstrate her badass training; she has in fact one of the few well-choreographed action sequences in the entire movie. It lasts approximately 3 seconds, after which for no reason in particular both she and the film again step back to give all the room back to the least interesting character.

It's not like if your plot is derivative it won't be an interesting movie. One could summarize this dreck as "generic guy has a somewhat abusive older supervisor, they and some other randos have to survive on a ship full of passengers in cryosleep leaving a now-dead Earth while tempers fray and something mysterious starts killing them one by one", and beyond just a grab-bag of standard sci-fi movie tropes you've also literally described one of my favourite space movies of all time, 2009's Pandorum. It's a matter of execution; rather than tense and well-shot, this is sagging and amateurish. If you're at all tempted because you just want something vaguely like Alien, just watch something like Pandorum instead. Hell, even the lone season of Nightflyers did a much better job than this, and that's one of the rare space TV shows I wasn't at all sad to see cancelled!

There are a few brief highlights. With the movie so easily hateable and the protagonist so bizarrely favoured by the film, it actually feels pretty good to watch Bruce Willis bully the guy. Rachel Nichols continues her strange tendency to have her wildly different hair colours look wholly natural on TV yet almost unsettlingly unnatural in movies, a baffling trend even more surprising here since the movie looks more like an older SyFy Original TV show than anything else. And Thomas Jane charismatically hams it up in what little time he's given on screen. And . . . hmm. That's about it, probably. And you know it's not a good movie when it's set in space and mentions the Fermi Paradox and even I'm saying it's not worth a watch.

Where to watch it: Naw, just don't.

The Twentieth Century

What does any given Canadian know of their national history? Nothing but bits and pieces, generally disconnected from any real context. Matthew Rankin has created a film wholly embodying that, constructing a tale that rather than even feigning adherence to history places a host of half-remembered historical figures (or folks with their names and possibly job descriptions, at least) in a science-fiction scenario. Is Canada actually any less fictional than the Canada depicted here? That implicit critique of national mythmaking is however as far as the film really gets into saying anything meaningful about Canada specifically, and is more about such mythmaking in general, as well as the damaged people who would hold onto such fictions. Without even a lick of knowledge of Canadian history one can easily get this point and enjoy the wonderfully realized retro aesthetic and, in keeping with the stage play feel of many of the sets and performances, the tragic and classic tale of lust for power (and plain ol' fashioned lust) dooming a lead character.

Where to watch: I don't belive it's streaming for free anywhere; I personally bought it on Google Play.

And so the "this blog is a general review blog" conceit continues! Lets get right to it, shall we?

TV Shows

Absentia (Season 3)

There's a sense of paranoia that pervades and makes the law enforcement of it all go down easier; nobody in authority is ever to be trusted, your fellow agents are likely to be monsters or traitors or both or more, hell even that grandpa? He used to be a cop; he's maybe not to be trusted; these sorts of facts are not stated to be related, but they dance around in proximity to eachother, and it's a pretty suggestive dance. Maybe this is intentional, maybe this is just a happy coincidence, or maybe it's halfway between those possibilities, dawning awareness seeping into the subconsciousnesses of the writers and the actors. There's other indistinct markers of social awareness, although they're subtle yet hamfisted in ways that similarly muddle the intentions at play here.

It's all just serious enough to make it more fun how heightened and ridiculous it all is; enough weight to make a close-quarters brawl on a train speeding through the Alps more visceral, some salt to bring out the sweetness. Again, I'm unsure to what degree this is intended, but, you know, death of the author, etc.

Also your mileage may vary depending on your stomach for 24/Homeland/etc stuff; in particular I do wish they'd tone it down with the torture. It's thankfully less constant (and more often done by villains, and without success) than the Rah Rah America of later-season 24 or Homeland. Which are very meaningful points of comparison particularly since some of what I like most about this show feels like a bit of a return to the tone and perspective of La Femme Nikita, the first of the three shows in that lineage.

Where: Seasons 1 and 2 are up on Prime Video, presumably season 3 will be eventually too.

Dark (Season 3)

Dark has always been a show that thought it was more obscured and clever than it actually is. This is intertwined with how the craft and thought put into the plotting has always seemed sub-par compared to the rest of the production. At the end of the last season, I thought I saw exactly where they were going; they took until the last episode of the season to finally go halfway there. I often still enjoyed it, but I was also quite often bored. It'd be one thing if, instead of following the thematic and sci-fi threads they'd started pulling on, they had focused on the characters. I like most of the characters! But by the end of the season I felt like I hadn't gotten enough time with them and the plot still hadn't even moved past the end of the second season, even if in the very very end some slight aspects of character and theme had barely inched forwards, and the plot was concluded.

If you made it to the end of last season, feel free to try and carry on, but I would suggest starting on Cura Te Ipsum instead, especially if this season leaves you wanting more or you slide off it. I feel like many of the ideas in Dark, particularly in season 3, are done more fully, imaginatively, and evocatively in that webcomic. Which I actually never finished, as it was only maybe halfway through its run when I caught up to it and subsequently forgot about it; maybe I should start that one again and finish it this time.

Where: It's up on Netflix.

Warrior Nun

One of the giveaways that this is by the same person who did Continuum is that this first season goes through some very different phases. It feels decently well-paced at that; while I wish it had been entirely in the Skins-with-some-superpowers vein it dabbled at early on, it might have felt like a bait-and-switch for much of the audience then. Instead it does eventually become the high concept superhero show it promises, which is probably for the best, and it only occasionally verged into territory that bored me with overly familiar genre faffery. It takes good advantage of its Italian setting at some times, although it doesn't seem as relentlessly filmed on location as its even less promising sounding predecessor Ghost Wars was; a better show that Ghost Wars, but perhaps a lower ratio of how good it is compared to how terrible one would expect it to be from the title.

Where: You've probably already seen this advertised on Netflix.

I Am Not Okay With This

Speaking of Skins-with-some-superpowers, I watched this show what feels like ages ago now; bringing it back up here because it turns out Netflix has cancelled it due to Current World Events. That's a shame; still, while it left me eagerly anticipating a second season, the first season is charming in its own right and has a thematically complete arc, so if you're looking for something fun but not wholly insubstantial that you can blow through quickly, check this one out.

Where: Yeah you guessed it, on Netflix.

Movies

Palm Springs

One of the many ways you can tell that I'm only solo-LARPing as a critic here is my tendency to use some variation of "this seems to be a genre now", which is basically media criticism version of a conspiracy theory. But on the other hand, I really do feel like this movie hits the exact same vibes as [redacted for spoilers, click for by-way-of-reference spoilers], and that's very much a good thing in my books. Particularly because this movie has a lot more style (there's a lot I liked about [redacted] but "visually cinematic" wasn't really one of them). A+ but also as of this writing I'm feeling fairly euphoric so there may be some grade inflation. Edited later to add: I have since re-watched the movie and must revise the grade to ~9/10.

She Dies Tomorrow

Mostly well done, but there's an obsessive compulsion towards hard cuts that seriously undermines the moments of reverie, constantly jarring the viewer (or at least myself) out of the flow and feelings of the characters. There's also some unneccessary achronology (some of it works, but a lot of it just blunts the momentum of the film) which, combined with the fairly abrupt and untidy ending, gives the impression that this was incomplete and edited together roughly to finish it off. Which may well not be true, but that was certainly my takeaway. Enjoyable enough, but quite imperfect.

Project Power

Feels like a throwback to an earlier era of superhero films, where things had to be a bit more grounded but were almost more comic-book in their approach. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that this seems like a Dark Horse book; lower stakes and no superhero costumes but the same kind of menagerie of superpowers. Fun but, other than some visual iconography, fairly forgettable; I watched it just the other day and I couldn't tell ya how it ended, the climax just entirely slid off my memory.

Beverages

Root Sellers' Pedal Hard Ginger Beer

The fuck is this? It just tastes like apple juice that's gone off. That's not hyperbole at all, I truly would not be shocked if it turned out they canned the wrong beverage and it's actually some watery cider of theirs. I've long ago ceased hoping to find something that matches Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer but this was truly, deeply disappointing nonetheless. To put it in less abstract terms: sickly sweet, seemingly no ginger at all, a faint taste of rot. Edited later to add: Other folks seem to like it, so imagine my review in a positive way and that might well be your experience. Hit me up for one from my fridge if you like; I won't be drinking it.

Crabbie's Ginger Beer

Hadn't drunk Crabbies in ages, but at this point I've seemingly committed myself to reviewing every ginger beer I can find, and it seemed long enough ago it was worth a re-evaluation. There's nostalgia here; not just for Crabbies itself, sipping an oversized bottle at The Artery as I waded through crowds searching for someone I knew, but also just drinking a ton of Canada Dry ginger ale as a kid (my mother generally refused to buy pop, but ginger ale managed somehow to get a waiver on that restriction, perhaps because it was something she'd gladly enjoy a half can of herself). Feels like it's on that side of the ginger-ale/ginger-beer divide to me, now, particularly because it is not actually improved by Angostura bitters. Pretty close in colour, too. In summer, I dunno, it's alright. Hell of a lot better than that Root Sellers' one, certainly.

Hitachino Nest Ginger Beer

Not that ginger-y; bitter in a way that verges on being interesting but settles on being disappointing instead, certainly by the time a bottle is finished.

Like many people, much of my time during quarantine has been spent fruitlessly ensconsed in entertainment. In the continued fiction that has animated this blog since before I even owned this URL lo so many years ago, I will now review a bunch of what I've metaphorically (or in some cases literally) ingested through the course of all this for the edification and perhaps utility of you, The Reader.

This is of course not a complete list; I've wasted far more time than what is implied here. But if I tried to be complete I'd never get around to posting this, frankly maybe I should post it already. Wait it's already over a month since the last time I touched this draft? Dammit, even "don't worry at all about quality, just take any excuse to write something" (which has been my operating philosophy for the past half-year on this blog) apparently doesn't get me to post often.

TV shows

Missions

A French (albeit trending multinational; French is the default but more other languages are diegetically spoken than would be in, say, an American production) sci-fi series that mines the vein of the more philosophical sci-fi of . . . well, frankly a lot of euro sci-fi, so I guess that's not surprising. It opens with the first man who died in space, Vladimir Komarov, and I suppose I just spoiled it a bit if you didn't know your space history but before the credits roll in the very first episode the show has taken a sudden left turn, and it's far from the last surprising swerve the show takes. It's emblematic of the show in general; there's a real, fascinating story here, and Missions tells that grounded story as part and parcel of a tale that gets increasingly cosmic and Ancient Astronaut-y.

I have yet to watch all of it—only the first season and an appetiser of the second—and it is not without faults, but I nonetheless highly recommend at least giving it a shot, particularly not having read any more about the show. Yet another weird aspect of it is that the episodes are mere 25min or less; I think this helps make more palatable both the weirdness and the sometimes languid (or to put it more charitably, thoughtful) pace.

Where: Available on Shudder's bespoke streaming service or the Shudder channel on Prime Video.

Into The Night

Lets get to the other French sci-fi show while we're at it. Chances are decent enough you've already watched it, since Netflix (as it is wont to do) highly advertised it for a while. It's a fun 6-part thriller show that's low on budget but leans heavily on a score that's as unoriginal but enjoyable as the rest of the series. It doesn't quite do as much with its premise (daylight brings death; an airplane has to race away from the sun searching for safety) as I might hope, but if judged by the standards of disaster movies it's a very solid one.

Also, at one point they land in Alberta, in fact in Ed...son?

Where: You probably already saw it on Netflix.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Generally speaking I hate the long anime shows. Hunter x Hunter? Boring. Inu Yasha? Ughh. Kenshin? The one dark OVA was great, the show was interminable. Dragonball Z? Look, I respect people finding it fun, but it's not good. There are a lot of problems when you pump out a hundred episodes or more, but the biggest for me might be that such shows tend to find a stasis and stick to it. One might argue you can't blame such shows; how could you make so many episodes without keeping to a comfortable and stable premise? But my argument has always been, if the story you're looking to tell isn't that long, then just don't make it that long. And if you do I'm sure not gonna watch it.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes definitely takes its time at points. But it's a novelistic way of passing time, taking detours to explore the setting and tossing characters into entirely different sorts of circumstances. Characters we think will be important get killed; characters that seem like bit players blossom and get their own storylines or entire episodes devoted to them.

And most importantly (at least for me, and particularly in high-concept sci-fi space settings like this one), the macro level plot progresses too. It took Voyager 172 goddamn episodes to get home. Legend of the Galactic Heroes drops us into a war that has been ongoing for over a hundred years, but it starts us at a point where the stalemate is starting to wobble, as are each of the sides. The Empire is a autocratic monarchy slouching towards progressive reforms, slowly relaxing its draconian rules; The Alliance is a democracy founded on laudable principles that has since fallen into corruption and centralization of power. Each changes dramatically as the series goes on, as does the war itself, which is in fact resolved before the series is halfway through its 110 episode run.

It's not perfect; for example personally I found the Alliance's complications far more interesting than the courtly drama of the aristocratic Empire for much of what I've seen so far. And the main protagonist on the Empire's side isn't as interesting to me as the one on the Alliance's side either, although they make for interesting foils: the Prince wielding increasing power within the Empire based largely on his military victories is counterpointed by a similarly military-genius young officer on the Alliance's side, but who shares none of the Prince's taste for glory in battle. He'd rather do as little work as possible, kill as few people as possible, and hopefully get his pension and return to his dream of being a historian, thank you very much.

So in some ways this plays like many a classic 1v1 anime story of two young male geniuses pitted by circumstances against eachother. But the setting is complicated and realistic enough that it's rarely anything even approaching a direct contest of wills, like one might expect from, say, Death Note. In fact in many respects the show is about the intersection of theories of history; can one person really make a difference? Even if they seem to, was it just inevitable that someone was going to come along at that time? And then even if we presume that such a Great Man theory of history could be correct, what happens next?

Where: Good question, seems to be hard to find legally.

Movies

Becky

I feel like this is quickly becoming a genre, and I can see why; all you need is a single compelling lead actor and a large house and you can make a compelling film on a modest budget. I didn't like it nearly as much as Ready Or Not, but it's different enough to have its own charms; less stylized and more grounded, with a score that verges on rythmatic breathing or a pulse. So, worth watching when you can crank the volume up and feel it, like you're water tubing down a blood vein, which is a very random metaphor to try and use here but I stand by it, particularly since it alludes to this film's at times very gory nature. Which is another caveat I suppose: don't watch it if you're squeamish about gore, it's by no means constant but it's pretty visceral (pun not intended, except I left it in so who am I fooling?) at times, for example at one point someone's trying to cut through an eye stalk with safety scissors. If you just went "oh hell no", do know you can just avert your gaze a bit and such scenes don't last too long, but the film is probably best enjoyed if you're a fan of a deliberate pace where graphic violence occasionally breaks out.

Oh and with my above description you may be somewhat surprised to learn that Joel McHale is a main character. A lot of aspects and threads of this movie that seem a bit surprising but also never quite go anywhere, never add up to anything greater than the sum of the parts. But we're grading on the scale of movies here; it's not as substantial as a well-done TV series but it's a lot more substantial than the last Disney movie I saw, which I can't remember if it was a Star Wars, or maybe a Marvel thing? Case in point, I guess.

Where: You can rent or buy it on Google Play Movies or on YouTube, which are confusingly different although also kindof the same (anything you buy on one will show up on the other too).

Color Out of Space

There are a few threads in this movie that I don't feel ever fully connect, and I do kindof wish the titular color wasn't just variations of purple-y pink. But beyond those quibbles it's a fun, solidly-constructed movie that knows how to use Nicholas Cage in a way that lets him go quite unhinged without having to make the movie entirely about him. (And if you're thinking "man, but I'd want the movie to be entirely about him!" well then you're in luck, there's a movie from 2018 with very similar color scheme called Mandy that you should check out.) Not the most Lovecraftian of Lovecraft adaptations, but not the least so either, with a more deliberative and existential horror to it than most.

Where: I could have sworn it was streaming for free on Prime Video, but it seems like it's only available for paid rental/purchase (ex. on Google Play or YouTube.

Planet of the Humans

Sparser when it comes to solutions or cold hard facts, but as a documentary about the ways in which the big Green organizations in the U.S. have been coopted by capital and how many of the proffered 'solutions' to the impact of fossil fuels on the world are little more than greenwashing it's solid, not to mention well-paced and entertaining.

Where:

It's officially free to watch on YouTube, having returned after being taken down for 4 seconds of copyright infringement.

Radius (2017)

Featuring That Guy From The Blacklist and a co-lead whose acting seems to fluctuate a lot (but I mean hey maybe it's a series of choices, it's a pretty extreme scenario after all), this is a movie that left me with a lot to think about, although it's not necessarily very good. But it feels like it *could* have been, condensed down to an episode of an anthology series. Which is a confusing conclusion for me to come to, since I don't like anthology series's. So I'm really gonna be mulling that one over for a while in my head!

The movie itself is alright, solid low-budget genre fare. I wonder if Manitoba wants their money back, because this movie makes the province look pretty bleak.

Where: As I said, Manitoba, and not terribly flatteringly.

Sea Fever

A nice grounded film that plays like Alien on an Irish fishing vessel. I don't think it really sticks the landing, but it's definitely a cut above the schlock and jump-scare reliance of most horror movies, particularly ones with budgets this low. Watch it if you want a short vacation off the coast of Ireland with some looming dread.

Where: Sadly doesn't seem to be available for streaming or even for purchase here in Canada (can't buy it on Play Movies, for example), even though it seems to have premiered in this country. So pirate it, I guess.

The Willoughbys

Particularly if you're looking for some kids-y entertainment for whatever reason (I mean hey, if you're old enough you're still reading blogs, maybe you're old enough to have a kid, for example; or maybe you're just looking for something comforting), you could do a lot worse. Burtonesque, but brighter and yet with maybe more of a bite to its comedy. A more interesting modern animation style than the shit you normally see (looking at you, shitty new Stand Alone Complex) makes it fun to look at. Somehow Ricky Gervais adds to, rather than detracts from, the movie, which is itself an impressive accomplishment in the year 2020.

Where: Streaming on Netflix.

The Vast of Night

I'm very conflicted on this movie; I like the style, and I like the story, but I feel like they're at odds with eachother. Although maybe that style layer is papering over the limitations of a modest budget? But even there, I feel like the tale may have played better being done fully straight, without the (admittedly fun!) nondiegetic flourishes. Still, a fun (if sedate at times; don't watch this if you're looking for quick thrills) movie that has me hoping for more from all involved, because the talent is clear even if it never quite coalesces, and with a mere fraction of a budget of a big studio flick they accomplish a lot more.

Where: Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Beverages

Annex Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic)

The can's text touts not being "some weak, watered-down ginger ale" but rather claims to be "real ginger beer, packed full of as much lemon and ginger as chemistry allows". This is demonstrably untrue, as it lacks the immediate ginger kick of Royal Jamaican (the gold standard) or even Reed's Extra-Ginger Ginger Ale; out-gingered by one of the "ginger ale[s]" this Calgarian company scoffs at, not a good look.

That being said, it sure does seem to be very lemony, and if it's not the peak of ginger science it's also nicely unsaccharine. So if you were looking for a soft drink that's decently gingery, very lemony, and not too sweet, well here ya go. Overall more of a bougie Sprite than its ostensible category of beverage.

Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic)

Okay technically I have drunk non-alcoholic Royal Jamaican brand ginger beer before, but it was always with alcohol added, so does that really count? I don't think it really counts (although it is definitely a good way to make a dark & stormy). So, now I've had it. Maybe too sweet, was the alcoholic Royal Jamaican always this sweet? Maybe a little of some bitters would be nice as a final touch, add a little of that je ne sais quo.

Giffard Banane du Brésil

If you're looking for a liquer that isn't just "banana flavoured" but rather is actually bananas as a liquer, this is the one. I mean there might be others out there, but this one is so delicious, so much like if your banana bread turned out really good but inexplicably liquid and alcoholic, that I'm not inclined to go searching for alternatives.

Giffard Abricot du Roussillon

Harsher in some ineffable way than their Banane du Brésil (the theory from Neuffy was that some of the 'junk alcohols' normally present were absent from Banane du Brésil but present here), but still delicious I think. I particularly appreciate the tartness of it; the sweet/sour balance apricots have is preserved in this liquer.

Books

Yesterday's Man: The Case Against Joe Biden by Branko Marcetic

There was a lot in this book I knew already, but it was interesting to read it all in context; there was also a lot I didn't know, in part because a political career as long as Joe Biden's is bound to have more details than any casual observer will know, but also just because of the sprawl and interconnectedness of the world. For example James Blunt makes a brief appearance, possibly saving the world from World War 3 (the connection being that Biden would later try and help the bloodthirsty general in question run for President).

All together, it's worth going through as a narrative to see all the reasons why the now-presumptive Democratic nominee is in fact a terrible pick to be President, particularly all the ways in which his faults and failings mirror Trump's; for example the almost compulsive lying is easy to downplay until you read it all together and in context. Well-written, and a quick read, although it took me ages because as Biden's nomination became more and more certain each page became harder and harder to swallow. That's politics for ya, though.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

In a lot of ways the genre this book is actually in is . . . I dunno, whatever genre the Anita Blake novels and such are in? (Not that I'm pretending ignorance of such books; in fact I've read countless books of that variety. I just don't know of a pithy genre tag for them.) It's like that, but without all the fucking. Or maybe such novels were always classic mystery novels but with all the fucking and vampires (or werewolves or whatnot) added in? Anyways in this one instead our protagonist just does a lot of drugs. It is otherwise the same tone and structure, with the protagonist hyper-capable yet troubled and with a trail of semi-spurned acquaintances left behind her who wearily go "oh no, not you" when their paths cross again. There's an overarching mystery that is gestured towards but unresolved in this opening novel, which is only spoilers if you've never read anything of this sort before. It's set in New Orleans but narrowly, maybe very meaningful if you've spent some time there but largely failing to convey a sense of place, just a series of details that feed back into the investigatorial story.

So, it's Anita Blake but with drugs instead of sex and detectives instead of vampires and such, basically. I guess I could have just said that at the start and not written that whole paragraph above. Anyways from that description you'll instantly know if you'll like it, and if you find that description mystifying you probably won't like it, although maybe give it a shot if you're just looking for something pulpy.

This post was prompted by, as has not-infrequently been the case, me cutting myself off from a rant and quipping that I could write an essay, only for someone to call me on that maybe-bluff. I sat down this evening to finally write that essay, and here is the result. I give it a B-.

Art lives in the space between novelty and familiarity. This essay will be full of footnotes[1] but this, this I do not believe requires external substantiation. I'm not even claiming that art requires this to exist per se; my claim is weaker and more fundamental than that. It is merely a twofold claim, essentially of tautology:

  • For one, without novelty something is, at best, entertainment or skill or talent. We may respect the practice that made perfect the forgery of a painting, but we do not credit them the same as the original artist.
  • For two, without at least some familiarity, no audience can hope to comprehend a work of art, will have no entry point into it, nothing to grasp onto and follow, or sink into. Without finding purchase, knowledge and appreciation of this work won't travel from person to person, won't be noticed any more than white noise drowning out a radio channel. And so something wholly unique and new may or may not "be" art, but it certainly won't live as art; it will be stillborn.

So, this is not to argue for some purity of "art for art's sake". Rather, I'm claiming that the fertile ground that art grows and spreads in lies in the range between such hypothetical purity and crass commercialism. And even from that crassly commercial side of things, rarely is a big hit wholly unoriginal. As Rowan Kaiser wrote while accurately predicting the inevitable failure of it's ending,

Game of Thrones has derived an astonishing amount of power from being both a traditional fantasy story — one where kids come of age, embark on magical quests, and discover that they’re the true heirs to the throne — at the same time as it subverts traditional fantasy story tropes. Ned Stark and Robb Stark’s deaths, the rises and falls of Stannis Baratheon, Daenerys Targaryen’s difficulties in Meereen, and especially Jon Snow's betrayal and murder at the hands of the Night’s Watch are all tragic stories that traditional fantasy doesn’t normally tell.[2]

Heroes born to rule but cast into exile; dragons and undead raised through magic; prophecies of triumph or apocalypse. All these are longstanding fantasy tropes, and yet many a movie or TV series depicting them has languished in obscurity. That HBO threw an ungodly amount of money at it, and that the worldbuilding exposition was so commonly paired with nudity as to birth a portmanteau[3], certainly helped. But much fantasy over the years has been expensive, purient, or both, yet failed to find even a fraction of the success Game of Thrones found.

And of course this power of strong familiarity is by no means unique to television. As one set of preachers panicked over rock music wrote,

As a language, however, music has the capability to communicate only to the culture which produces it. It often confuses outsiders, even as people with different languages sometimes fall prey to misunderstandings and frustrations due to communication failure . . . For those who do understand a particular style of music, there is a sense of belonging, a sense of shared identity and purpose.[4]

Later, in the same book's instructions for innoculating kids against rock music (presumably one of the few types of innoculation such parents would be wholly enthusiasitc of), the writers suggest parents

begin purchasing top-quality Christian contemporary and wholesome secular music. Although your young adolescent may not appreciate the music at first, start playing it occasionally to acquaint him[5]

And here we start to slide into the jaws of familiarity; there is a deliberate trap being advised for construction there, one not unlike that thing from that movie we all know in hoping to trap and slowly digest someone. And familiarity is, to one degree or another, always such a trap. While it may sometimes (as is claimed proverbially) breed contempt, it perhaps more often breeds acceptance or even dependence.

Okay, you say, but what the hell does any of this really have to do with chain letters and such? Fine, lets try to get into those and loop back around. While there are many facets of chain letters, their history is long and perhaps the key feature of them is that innovations propogate quickly and naturally. To quote at length from a study by Daniel W. VanArsdale:

Texts that appeal to superstition to encourage their copying or publication have circulated for over a thousand years. For English language letters, beginning around 1905, copy quotas and deadlines appeared and claims of divine authorship and magical protection were removed. These innovations probably began in other languages and were translated into English. The resulting "luck chain letters" eventually spread worldwide, and in over four thousand generations of copying (with variation) they accumulated ways to sustain and increase circulation that challenge our understanding.

Using a collection of over 900 dated paper chain letter texts, I have identified types and variations that appear and disappear over the years. Unexpectedly, it was discovered that, repeatedly, a single letter bearing some new innovation had propagated so abundantly and rapidly that within just a few years its descendants replaced all similarly motivated letters in circulation.

...

Most successful variations first appear as deliberate innovations; but often the reason an innovation had an advantage over competing letters was likely not anticipated. And some highly successful variations first appeared as copying errors (for example, the demand for 24 copies instead of 5 copies within 24 hours). By testing hundreds of thousands of variations, chain letters have discovered and exploited our secret fantasies and vulnerabilities. In addition to this relentless probing of the human psyche, chain letters have an internal and irreversible history marked by fortuitous changes that emerged from the deadly competition between variations . . . Chain letters are "designed" to replicate . . . anything that increases replication becomes part of the tradition.[6]

Viewed through this lens, the lack of a monetary component to the recent spate of Facebook chain posts does not at all disqualify them from being part of the same lineage as chain letters. And even within a strict and recent lineage, this transformation isn't new.

When chain letters migrated to the internet in the late ’90s and early aughts, they changed; their purpose went from get-rich-quick scheming or harvesting email addresses from suckers to something more playful, and social media was the architect of that change.

. . . Chain letters, naturally, proliferated [on social media] because they were uniquely suited to the format . . . they’re popular enough there that there are chain posts to protect users from… the ill-effects of chain posts.[7]

That article dallies with the question, as comes up in other reporting and studies of chain letters, of the superstitious nature undergirding much of chain letters. But while that is certainly a huge portion of why I've loathed chain letters as far back as I can remember, that's not actually at issue much with the modern format (particularly the type that prompted this essay in the first place). Instead, I'd like to focus some ire on another aspect of these chains. The article cited above concludes with the claim "participating in a chain is really about the act of sharing. Which is one of the things that makes us human." And, sure, I can see the argument there. But.

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.[8]

In forwarding a chain, we remove this element of imagination, and in its place substitute raw evolutionary pressures akin to those of insects. We've excised the human element, or at least minimized and constrained it. The format of forms is, I'll admit, at least better; "List your top 3 etc" still provides some leeway for self-expression. But should we not aim higher? After all by contrast art

finds the necessary rhythm of words for dark and vague moods, it brings thought and feeling closer or contrasts them with one another, it enriches the spiritual experience of the individual and of the community, it refines feeling, makes it more flexible, more responsive, it enlarges the volume of thought in advance and not through the personal method of accumulated experience, it educates the individual, the social group, the class and the nation.[9]

Chains are a lapsing into unthinking in an unfortunately pure sense, free even from the input provided in art by the serendipitous or the subconscious (which is often referred to as if thoughtless but is in fact the reservoir of much of our selves, with our conscious minds but ambassadors for the sovereign states they answer to).[10] Chains clutter up our channels of human communication with memetic overgrowth, like water choked in dense mats of some invasive plant species, leaving little room for anything else and stagnating what could be vibrant and diverse.

Or that is to say: chains suck. Pass it on.

Footnotes:

  1. Or not; I am writing that sentence, and this footnote, right as I start on this essay, and I do not yet know if I will be using as many footnotes as I might expect to. I do know, however, that I am loathe to go back and edit things.
  2. "Game of Thrones will disappoint us in the end", Rowan Kaiser, Vox
  3. For some background and thoughts on this, see "Game of Thrones – “The Night Lands” and Sexposition" from the originator of the term Miles McNutt, who along with the previously-cited Rowan Kaiser wrote for The A.V. Club much in the past.
  4. From page 33 of the alarmist Christian book "Why Knock Rock?", which includes this admonition among its many more hysterical and relgious ones: "The information in this book was compiled to be used, so we hope you'll do more with it than just read the book and set it on your shelf . . . [b]ut whatever you do, please acknowledge your source: the Peters brothers and Cher Merrill." That is the extent to which I will 'credit' them.
  5. Ibid. page 236, which also hilariously/chillingly suggests "Finally, see to it that family times displace some of the vacuum the trashing of rock music will create. Individual 'dates' with your teen, family football games, and hot-dog roasts in the fireplace will all create memories to savor in the years ahead, as well as providing an alternative to the debilitating effects of much of rock music."
  6. "Chain Letter Evolution", by Daniel W. VanArsdale, which I came across through a Snopes article.
  7. "Forward this or you'll die in seven days: On the persitence of chain letters", Bijan Stephen, The Verge.
  8. If you were waiting for this shoe to drop, wait no longer: I have now quoted Marx in this essay.
  9. Now that the seal is broken, I'm citing yet another communist; this time, Trotsky.
  10. See for example Trotsky on the relationship between the subconscious and art:
    One cannot approach art as one can politics, not because artistic creation is a religious rite or something mystical, as somebody here ironically said, but because it has its own laws of development, and above all because in artistic creation an enormous role is played by subconscious processes – slower, more idle and less subjected to management and guidance, just because they are subconscious."
    Or for the other side of my sweeping claim here, see Peter Watts' notes for the novel Blindsight:
    Sometimes electrical stimulation of the brain induces "alien hand syndrome"— the involuntary movement of the body against the will of the "person" allegedly in control29. Other times it provokes equally involuntary movements, which subjects nonetheless insist they "chose" to perform despite overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary30. Put all this together with the fact that the body begins to act before the brain even "decides" to move31 (but see32,33), and the whole concept of free will—despite the undeniable subjective feeling that it's real—begins to look a teeny bit silly, even outside the influence of alien artefacts.
    I of course highly recommend that book and the notes section at the end, not the least of which is because the first section is entitled "A Brief Primer on Vampire Biology".

I've been slacking a bit; this playlist has remained untouched since late February, when it kindof encapsulated the feeling of knowing winter would end soon but not really feeling it. Oh well, maybe the weather will take a turn for the worse again and it'll be apt again! Or perhaps together, hypothetical reader/listener, we can reconceptualize this as just a reflection upon the winter that has passed, or impatience as we wait for it to fully end.

2018C: No Standing Army

  1. Born Ruffians - Forget Me
  2. Mothers - It Hurts Until It Doesn't
  3. Jom Comyn - Long Life
  4. Jom Comyn - Couples
  5. Jom Comyn - Stay Inside
  6. Groenland - Immune
  7. The Twilight Sad - I Was Hoping That Winter Was Over

Bandcamp Corner

Speaking of the thaw, thisquietarmy has a new album called "Isbryter", the Norwegian word for an icebreaking ship. Seems like it can't be a coincidence, releasing it just as spring starts to assert itself in the northern hempisphere of our globe.


I'm not going to do that "I'm going to start posting again" thing and then just leave it forever. Nope, I'm going to update my website at least twice this year!

2018B: Peat and Plastic

  1. Marlaena Moore - Gaze
  2. Dommengang - Color Out Of Space
  3. Total Control - Laughing At The System, Pt. 2:
  4. Ought - These Three Things
  5. Total Control - Luxury Vacuum
  6. Suuns - Watch You, Watch Me

Starting this stretch out with the opening and title track from Marlaena Moore's Gaze, which I've continued listening to incessantly. And Dommengang gets another track this time around, too. Blame Past Keith; I mean, it's a song that sounds like early Everclear that's also referencing H.P. Lovecraft, I'm 85% sure I daydreamed about that in Junior High.

The Suuns and Ought songs are in some respect placeholders. Not that I don't like them, but they're also there because I'm reminding myself to listen to their new albums as they come out. Suuns is promisingly just like Suuns always is, although considering I never really got into their previous album I suppose that doesn't guarantee that this one will grab me. Ought seems to be going in a more synth-y direction than previously, which does give me a bit of trepidation considering how that went the last time an Eastern Canadian band went from guitar-heavy to synth-heavy (that is to say, I really loved The Darcy's Warring and just bounced right off of Centerfold) but so far so good.

Only-On-Bandcamp Corner

Okay, I'm super confused about release dates apparently.

Firstly, we have a new album by Shakey Graves. I got a notification it was released back on the 9th, and immediately purchased it sight unseen (so to speak). But then hey, I can download it all now? So I did, and listened to it after downloading the tracks, and I was all set to include perhaps "Cops and Robbers" (which is really catchy) or maybe something else from the back half of the album like "Mansion Door" or "Big Bad Wolf" (both of which take advantage of the glossy sheen of the production work on the album) on a playlist, but not only is the album not on any streaming services yet, it's apparently just outright not released until May 4th?

Meanwhile, the diving rod of social media gave me the impression that some sort of album involving Motorbike James is coming out, so I went hunting for further clues. I eventually came to believe it's probably a new Royal Tusk album, since apparently they have another one slated for 2018 (at which point I guess I'll have another chance to finally get into Royal Tusk, who've never quite clicked for me). But in the meantime I discovered that there was already another Motorbike James album . . . back in 2011?

Well, whatever. Lets just hope time starts making sense again at some point and end this then with a band that I know doesn't have a full album out yet: Isolato, who put on a pretty fantastic show at the Sad Boys Club this weekend. That I can make sense of in space and time.

It's been quite a while since I updated "my website" here. In the meanwhile, people having their own websites (rather than just Facebook pages, Twitter handles, Tumblers that Oath deigns to allow still exist, etc etc) continues to be on the decline, and with that, music blogs. At least, I think they're on the decline; perhaps, instead, I'm just slowly falling into the "oh, I don't listen to new music anymore, just podcasts" territory that comes with old age. And there's probably a bit of that, creeping in from the corners. But I do blame the increased centralization and concentration of the internet onto Capital-P Platforms.

Anyways, the point is, I should dust off this site, and I miss music blogs . . . so why not make this a music blog? Or at least, one heavily leaning that way. I already lean towards making playlists as a way to get a handle on new music; it isn't much more effort to just record those here as I go.

So! With that in mind, here's my first one. Well, I should also link to my 2017 compound playlist, made up of the new-to-me music playlists I made throughout last year. But that's a big task to detail, and lets start small lest I falter at the firsts step. Here we go:

2018A: Step Forwards, Fearful Future

(I long have, and shall continue to, give my playlists ostentatious names)

  1. Jom Comyn - New Feeling
  2. Deep Frosty - Fire
  3. Marlaena Moore - Magic Knife
  4. Slow Place Like Home - Bats
  5. El Huervo - Daisuke
  6. Hannah Epperson - 20/20 (Amelia)
  7. Dommengang - Lost My Way
  8. Dommengang - Stay Together

I'll have more rants about music streaming services in the future, but I'm not ignoring them; here's this playlist on Google Play, and a Spotify playlist or a Play Music playlist you as the imaginary audience could theoretically subscribe to for updates as the year goes on.

Oh, and as a bonus track, here's a song I couldn't put on the music service incarnations of the playlist, since it's only up on Bandcamp (or originally on vinyl for Record Store Day 2014), but is quite fantastic; it's Teeth of the Sea very much in their dreamy and hypnotic mode, and I'm going to stop describing it now since I'm going to need a large reservoir of superlatives if I'm going to make this a music blog, yaknow? Give it a listen during a normal daily journey and let it wash over you as you remember for once to notice the endlessness of the sky.

Your desktop computer, at least. I'll update this later (including credit where credit's due to fabsh) but you can get perhaps the geekiest white noise ever pretty damn easily; basically all you need is SoX.

On Linux

  1. You probably have Sox installed already. If not, a quick apt install sox (or via your package manager of choice) should fix that.
  2. Alright, now in a terminal run play -n -c2 synth whitenoise band -n 100 24 band -n 300 100 gain +10 | play -n -c2 synth whitenoise band -n 100 20 band -n 50 20 gain +25 fade h 1 864000 1

On OSX

  1. You need to grab SoX. For my old iMac that's stuck on 10.6, I needed a slightly older version, but for any quasi-modern release of OSX you should just be able to grab the latest stable release.
  2. Unzip it; I think on OSX that happens automatically if you just click on the zip file?
  3. In a terminal now you can probably just run the following: ./Downloads/sox-14.4.2/play -n -c2 synth whitenoise band -n 100 24 band -n 300 100 gain +10 | \
    ./Downloads/sox-14.4.2/play -n -c2 synth whitenoise band -n 100 20 band -n 50 20 gain +25 fade h 1 864000 1

On Windows

  1. Probably as straightforward as on OSX, but maybe not? I'll test this tomorrow or something and update this post.
  2. Update, Nov. 23: Uhhh yeah so I seem to be failing at figuring out the right incantation; mostly the problem is SoX's ability to figure out the default audio device is apparently stymied by Windows' lack of a default audio device in the same sense that Linux and OSX have. Maybe it'd work if you install it through Cygwin?

And there you have it, the geekiest way to get some white noise yet invented.

For a person who posts so little to my various web sites, I actually have a surprisingly large number of takedown requests from people upset with me having posted one thing or another.

Here's the problem, though: I'm the kind of person who thinks that false beliefs are cancerous, and that the world would be better off if all of us humans were telepathic.

Of course people say to such thought experiments "that'd be terrible! If we knew what we all were thinking we'd be embarrassed and scared and everything'd be terrible!" And sure, that's probably true at first (and if it happened all of a sudden, it might be a very oddball apocalypse). But the thing is, much in the same way that society didn't collapse when we gave up on Victorian-era ideas of how women should dress, we'd get used to it. We, as people, often have a fear of "other" and a bad habit of failing to connect and engage with other people and ideas when even the slightest disconnect interrupts the flow of communication. So much of our time is spent either failing to understand others, or judging them for aspects of themselves that we either fail to grasp the context of, or believe are extremely uncommon and thus judge a person for. See, for example, how homophobia flourishes when people believe that homosexuality is rare. More truth and light leaves us better equiped to engage with the world around us, not less, and knowing more about other people eventually makes us less judgmental, not more.

Now, in this fictional scenario (and in anything approximating or reflecting it), again, the initial path is hard. And it may indeed exaggerate and encourage debate, because people wouldn't be able to pretend others agreed with them. And, I mean . . . yay, no? If society can only function when we never talk about anything of substance, then lets tear this motherfucker down (and you can quote me on that for all posterity, and if posterity doesn't understand the actual, more abstract meaning of specific idiomatic swear words then posterity can shut the fuck up and maybe show up some time for a nice cup of tea and maybe we can talk about how rarely language is even remotely literal---posterity, what do you feel like, I have some dried mint from my garden, is that good with you?).

Maybe life would get more dramatic, but it'd also get more authentic and progressive, I think. And we could all benefit from better understanding of other people, even if that understanding sometimes puts us at odds.

And truth, well . . . truth is kindof its own virtue. It has countless upsides: you realize vaccines don't cause autism and so your kids don't get measles and their friends don't get it from them in turn, the politician who lies gets caught in it and has to leave office to be replaced by someone whose policies are based more on facts than talking points, the old-growth forests are left standing when we actually weigh the real costs and benefits. But almost moreso, it's where real beauty comes from. Auto-tuned vocals singing focus-grouped lyrics will, for me at least, lose out every time to a faltering voice singing from the heart. The sound and fury of a Michael Bay movie holds no draw compared to staring up at the Milky Way in the country at night, and tentatively grasping what it means that we stand on a spinning sphere moving within all of that.

So when someone asks me to hide something that stands as a record of interaction between a bunch of people (in this latest case, one of them being me), I have an enormous philosophical bias against complying. The part where the conversation sitting in the public record includes them calling a friend of mine an asshole doesn't even have to factor into it.

The User asked the Machine to link to SQL tables in the first database from their ancient database frontend file.

"There is no driver installed" the Machine replied.

The User installed an ODBC driver, and again asked the Machine to link to SQL tables in the first database.

"There is no connection configured" the Machine replied.

The User then configured the ODBC driver and attempted to connect.

"Your driver is outdated" the Machine replied.

Sure that the problem was now solved, the User installed a modern ODBC driver.

"Your driver is too new for the program you use" the Machine replied.

Uninstalling the newer driver, the User tested again. Elated, they saw that their ancient database frontend now connected to the first database.

The User then asked the Machine to link to SQL tables in the second database.

"There is no connection configured" the Machine replied.

The User attempted to add to the ODBC driver configuration.

"There is no driver installed" the Machine replied, and the User was enlightened.

Okay, so I'm a bit late to the party of making fun of Diablo III. But the other day my housemates were talking about how silly the randomly-generated item names are in Diablo III, and I thought "well, surely there's a random item name generator out there for Diablo III". But either nobody has bothered or my Google-Fu is weak, because shrug.

So I thought, hey, why not just write one then? The initial version is below; source code is available (and thus you could submit pull requests with more words) at the GitHub project page.

?

Future development is intended to include more item pictures, some sort of overlay/change method to make it so the modifying words actually change the appearance (not 100% sure how I'll do that yet), and hell, maybe an Android app or something that'll let you save items.

Current item images:

Particularly meaty improvements I can think of would include then the ability to sell and trade the items with some kind of managed market using internal currency, which would be hilarious (especially when you think of the dynamics, since I'd make it so you could scrap any item for 1 unit of currency; if for some godforsaken reason people actually chose to play the game, then, inflation could quickly become ludicrous).

I hear everyone's raving about Bootstrap these days, so what the hell, lets just go and make this a Bootstrap-based site.

You can still find the old content at this page (or at a Bootstrap-ified version if you like).