The Picture Show II

Saw some movies recently (Encore had a free week). Thoughts.
  • Flash Gordon is a weird movie. I mean the one with Queen music and Max von Sydow as Ming the Merciless. It somehow works, basically by only being silly in the way the original comics and serials were silly, rather than camping everything up deliberately. Also, has anyone ever noticed that every evil overlord in everything ever, even unto Darkseid, is Ming?

    Also, doing the Hawkmen as, basically, Standard Issue Dwarves, is interesting; I hadn't previously realized they were like that. Odd take on bird-people. And am I the only one who wonders why nobody has noticed that all dwarves, apart from in the actual books by Tolkien (and the Rank and Bass adaptations of same) are, basically, Brian Blessed? You'd certainly think TV Tropes would've noticed, they're obsessed with him.
  • Battle: Los Angeles is good. I mean, really good. Sure, it's basically Halo, but so is every other military SF movie. The only thing keeping it from being perfect (other than Michelle Rodriguez playing the same character she plays in everything, including Halo 3) is...water? Really? The aliens shouldn't give a shit about our water. Yes, it is unusual that our water is liquid, but y' know, there's an easy way to get ice to become liquid.

    What's so irksome about it is, the fact we have liquid water is actually something you would invade Earth for. Namely, if your biology were comparable to ours, you'd want a Goldilocks-zone planet with this sort of atmosphere, and you might be willing to kill to get it. That would be a far more plausible reason for aliens to want Earth.

    Oh yeah, while we're at it, the idea that when you invade for resources, you wipe out the indigenous population...huh? No you don't. African colonialism was much more purely for resources than New World, and the native populations were much less touched (that mostly because they had more disease-immunities in common, though). Actually other than the English in North America, nobody, no matter why they were colonizing, even tried to wipe out the indigenous people, so...okay, another point against the movie that still doesn't ruin it.
  • Red Sand is a forgettable little horror-flick, about a unit of Army guys in Afghanistan who get tormented by a jinn after breaking the statue it's trapped in. It wasn't terrible, though it did hit every stupid talking-point in Hollywood's portrayal of the War on Terror, but uh...guys? Afghans are Persians. They wouldn't have any ancient trapped jinns. They're not Arabs, they've only had the concept of "jinn" for about a thousand years. There are much scarier things in Persian legend than a jinn, anyway.

    Also, the thing, when you actually see it, is a ghoul, straight out of Pickman's Model, not a jinn. Jinn look just like humans, when they have "earth" bodies at all; those dog-things are ghouls, which are only sorta associated with jinns and much more associated with humans. Also? Jinns don't, precisely, hate humans, any more than fairies do; they're dangerous, but mostly because you can't assume they're always hostile.
  • Pandorum (I actually think this was on the Syphilis Channel). This. Movie. Sucks. Horror movies in general (actually Red Sands was largely a welcome exception) have plots that only work if everyone is an idiot, but seriously, whoever designed that ship should die. What possible design reason is there to put a bunch of chasms into a spaceship? And what in the hell it would send you to are the reset controls for the reactor doing that close to the reactor itself?

    Also, minus a hojillion points for apocryphal population apocalypses, and minus another for those stupid Falmer-looking mutants. The ending, by the bye, may be the lamest thing since whatever Joss Whedon last worked on that wasn't someone else's idea—let's just say engines for space-travel don't work so well under water, and leave it at that.


Ab spuriis non frendaris

Latin. "Don't let the bastards grind you down." And here you thought it was "Illegitimi non carborundum", didn't you?

Thought I might deflate some common criticisms of things.
  • Someone needs to remind the people who complain about steampunk not being punk that it was only a historical accident—wordplay in a review of Difference Engine, I believe—that the subgenre is called that. And that was only a play on cyberpunk.

    Though, as I've said before, cyberpunk isn't actually punk, either; it would've been called "New Wave Noir" in a cosmos where names had to make sense. And most steampunk now is neither New Wave nor noir, though that tends to be to its credit; "the New Wave writers" and "people who try to write noir" are damn high on any list of "most pretentious writers". Has anyone ever read William Gibson?
  • People always act as if DC comics having more heavy-hitters is somehow an inferiority, and made Marvel's heroes more "relatable". Only, how come DC manages to get its plots...from its past continuity, while Marvel gets them from evil twins, amnesia, ripped-from-the-headlines preaching, and every other trick we've come to expect from soap operas and Law & Order? (Yeah, let's all mentally make the "Identity Crisis" exception, I'll wait.)
  • Anything that uses "we need our evil side" as an argument is, ipso facto, justifying every mass-murder and terror-state in human history. It violates an absolute moral imperative, far more categorical than Kant's: "One may not do evil that good will come of it."

    Worst are those, like non-Maimonidean Jewish theologians, who assert that, without "evil", nobody would ever do anything. Sure, if you identify rational self-interest as evil. Which nobody who had the arch ever did—evil, in real thinkers, is "goods desired disproportionately" (e.g. selfishness is wrong because the self is loved to the detriment of other goods, not because the self is not good); evil, as such, has no real existence.

    What's always funny to me is that people really do think that this imbecility is a challenge to Christianity (they never use it as a challenge to Hinduism or Buddhism, even though those both also have the Greek conception of "evil"). Your view says self-interest is evil? Speak for yourself, my self-interest is only as evil as I let it be. Also, pro-tip for theologians who think this answers the "problem of evil": you just made God the author of all evil. Maybe not an optimal solution?
  • I am perhaps alone, outside of some Indologists presumably, in being annoyed with how people use the word "karma". If something bad happens to you, sorry, it's not karma for something you did. Not in this incarnation, anyway. The word you are looking for is nemesis.

    Also? Buddhists don't want good karma. While they prefer to avoid bad karma, good karma just leads to incarnations (as a god or a very wealthy person, for instance) that will blind them to the suffering of the cycle of rebirth, and stall their progress toward salvation. In absolute terms, to a Buddhist, all karma is bad, some of it is just more pleasant.

    ...Which isn't really deflating a criticism, it's just making a criticism. Nevertheless, the point stands, especially since I've heard people argue from the above-discussed misconceptions in criticizing Indian thought.
  • Speaking of arguing against a misconception when making a criticism—an unwitting strawman fallacy—the stars being distant has nothing whatsoever to do with the (in)validity of astrology. Remember, ancient Greco-Roman astronomy believed the stars were infinitely distant; read Ptolemy's Almagest. We think the stars are closer than they did.

    Actually, if one is a "scientific" determinist, like many so-called thinkers still are, one is actually forbidden from disbelieving in astrology, at least in principle. After all, the same immutable physical laws that (in their risibly bad worldview) predetermine all human acts, also predetermine the stars, and in principle one might divine the future motions of the former from those of the latter.

    Fundamentally no materialist-determinist has a right to criticize astrology; the only difference between astrology and many of its critics is that astrology is an unusually poetic method of denying free will and human moral agency.
  • On the other hand, and despite what people often think, belief in divination is not directly correlated with a belief in fatalism. If you were to ask what premodern cultures came closest to Christianity in their respect for free will, your list would be topped by ancient Rome and pre-Meiji Japan. And both of those cultures had massive, state-funded divination bureaucracies.

    Even more interestingly, it's actually because of those state diviners that Rome and Japan believed in free will. See, while a perpetual theme with the Greeks, e.g. in Oedypus, is "the oracle has spoken, attempting to avoid the prophecy will only fulfill it", "here is how you can avoid the dark fate forecasted for you" is one in Rome and Japan. Why?

    Because the onmyôji and the augurs' mamas didn't raise no fools. Why would people bother consulting diviners if they can't avoid their fate? But if they can escape—by following advice from that self-same diviner (which is of course another paid service they provide)—then the diviner gets a lot more business.