Wrongview

“I fucking hate Green Day Now. They’re bunch [sic] of commercial cock suckers.
There [sic] old school shit was great though! ” – punkerchick411, via YouTube

Ah, Green Day.

I first encountered Green Day in the early nineties, when most of my free time was dedicated to Magic: The Gathering or Super Nintendo (hey, don’t you fucking judge me).  In between CDs by our fellow geeks and nerds, the gang and I would occasionally spin a record by some amusingly unambitious stoners.  They played simple, yet catchy, pseudo-punk: hard-rocking distorted guitars and raucous drums, but nothing so heavy that melodic, on-key vocals and classic pop song structures were lost in the blitz.

But Billie Joe Armstrong is no longer a twenty-something stoner jerking off in his bedroom.  Nope, now he’s a thirty-something superstar jerking off in a recording studio (oh, and good luck cleaning the semen stains off your copy of Quadrophenia, Billie Joe).  Oh, sure, his songs are still fast, melodic three chord pop-punk numbers.  But they’ve somehow lost the charm they had fifteen years ago.  I mean, he was never a great songwriter, no Lennon or McCartney, no Townshend; no Cobain, even.

Sorry, Billie.  You just aren’t.

Still, he always had a sort of charm to him: he knew what he was doing (slightly polished poppish punk) and he did it well.  One couldn’t blame him for not being great, because he never claimed to be great, and never pretended to be great.  He was just a punk playing punk.  What you see is what you get.  Simple.  Classic.

Now he doesn’t seem like he knows what the hell he wants to be.  Ever since he inflicted that godawful acoustic ballad on us.  All of a sudden it seemed he wanted to be great…or, at the very least, wanted to be better than he was.  He still built songs around only three or four chords, still cranked out melodies that were simple, even predictable, but in his rush to seem serious and deep and whatever the hell else he was going for, he abandoned everything that made his work worthwhile, trading the distorted, kiddie-punk sound for acoustic guitar and a goddamn string quartet.  Suddenly, in an apparent effort to make his songs seem more respectable, he instead inadvertently underlined their weaknesses.

And so it is with 21st Century Breakdown.  Pianos and strings and gimmicky sound effects (“Hey!  It sounds like old-timey radio!”) appear here and there, just as they might have been on any peak-period record by the Beatles or the Who or any of Armstrong’s other apparent heroes.  But the other, more fundamental trademarks of these great bands (clever compositions, complex arrangements, spirited performances) are missing.  The songs themselves are boring, forgettable, predictable.  Vaguely political lyrics and slick (over) production can’t hide this from anyone inclined to listen.  Armstrong has gotten so excited over his album concept and his elaborate production details that he’s forgotten to write any damn tunes.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against rock operas or concept albums or whatever.  I like them.  I’d like to see more of them.  But not at the expense of the songs (you know, those things that albums are ostensibly composed of).  Bands who venture into these waters generally have a songwriter who’s worth his salt (if I may mix my metaphors for a moment).  21st Century Breakdown feels like a cart trying to pull a horse, or a tail wagging a dog, or a…you know…metaphor…thing.

Which isn’t to say the album sounds bad, as such.  It’s nice enough.  But it doesn’t sound exciting or interesting or original.  It doesn’t sound like the work of a band that’s been in this business for 15+ years (and has allegedly evolved in that time).  It certainly doesn’t sound like punk (unless Avril Lavigne is punk).  And it doesn’t sound like the four-and-a-half-star masterpiece that Rolling Stone has seen fit to declare it.  What it does sound like is the sort of album Rolling Stone would give a great review to: ambitious and elaborate, music that sounds impressive on paper but just feels sort of pale and boring when actually listened to.  Maybe that’s why the album bothers me: not because it’s not great.  But because it’s trying to be great.  And people are saying that it is, for no reason I can fathom.

I don’t have anything against you, Billie Joe.  I still enjoy The stuff you did back when you were doing what you do well.  Put out a simple, basic, rough sounding record instead of an over-polished piece of Grammy-bait, and I’ll be the first to enjoy it.  Champion it, maybe.  But as long as your reach exceeds your grasp, and you seem more interested in being fawned over by rock critics than in rocking out, I’m done with you.

Sorry, man.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to me whine, though.

Hungry like the Wolverine

He’s wild.  He’s dangerous.  He’s sexy.

And, surprisingly enough, he’s Canadian.

Yes, it’s summer again (at least it is according to Hollywood…and when have they ever been wrong?), and that means: Summer Movies.  Big, flashy extravaganzas full of action and explosions with witty one-liners sandwiched almost comfortably in between, the whole spectacle fueling an industry that moves more money than a high-stakes poker game between Bill Gates and God.

Summer Movies mean comic book adaptations.  And since the limb-snapping, city-destroying, gleefully sociopathic Watchmen was a bit too…well, a bit too sociopathic (what with the limb-snapping and the city-destroying and all) to win the PG-13 rating that a successful Summer Movie requires, the season is officially kicked off with everyone’s favorite hairy, indestructible Canadian killing machine.  No, not Joni Mitchell.  Wolverine!

Wolverine, as just about everyone probably knows by now, is the X-Men’s Violent Bad Boy With A Mysterious Past™, and it is exactly this Mysterious Past that X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries to portray.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a lot, as it turns out.

The film opens with us learning that Wolverine (or “Logan“, as the nerds call him) was raised in Canada’s Northwest Territories in 1845, where he…well, I dunno.  Something about his mom having an affair with the groundskeeper, and some violence, and some death, and some mutation, etc, etc.  The specifics aren’t really clear, since the scene is incredibly brief, and the movie doesn’t bother to reflect on, or even acknowledge, the events depicted therein after the opening credits roll.  The upshot of all this is that Li’l Wolverine either watches or causes the death of everyone who has any plausible claim on being his father, and runs off with his half-brother Victor, aka Sabretooth, shortly after the first manifestation of his mutation appears: bony claws protruding from the backs of his hands.  “Cool,” he says, “but these would be fuckin’ awesome if they were made of metal!”

Well, no.  He doesn’t actually say that.  But pretty much everyone in the audience was thinking it.

And after a nifty-ish History of American Wars opening credits montage, the movie unravels – excuse me, unfolds – in the standard action movie fashion.  Wolverine and Sabretooth join a black ops team lead by William Stryker (Danny Huston, looking not dissimilar to X2‘s Brian Cox), and consisting of the waiter from Waiting, the hobbit from Lost, the hologram from election night, a fat dude, and an Asian dude.  They kill some guys, blow some shit up, steal a rock – you know, the usual black ops stuff – until Logan says “I never wanted to do this.  I wanted to be…a LUMBERJACK!!!!”

Well, no.  He doesn’t actually say that.  I’m paraphrasing.  But he does quit, become a lumberjack, and settle down with a nice girl (good thing she’s not gonna die or anything).

For those of you keeping score at home, yes, the movie just glossed over 130+ years of history in about fifteen minutes, because apparently by “origins”, the film makers meant “that one time in the seventies when Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton and a bunch of shit blew up”, rather than “a balanced overview of all 170 years of Wolverine’s life”.  ‘Cause, y’know, they gotta sell some tickets to this thing.  Hell, Jackman alone cost $20 million.

Anyway, the usual Summer Movie stuff happens.  Explosions.  Chases.  Wire fighting.  It’s pretty much what you’d expect.  In fact, it’s almost exactly what you’d expect.  Seriously.  If you have a vague awareness of the Wolverine back story implied in X2, and a familiarity with the cliches of Summer Movies, nothing here will surprise you.  There will be explosions, and badasses will walk away from them nonchalantly (does anyone ever do anything chalantly?  Just wondering).  Heroes will cope with tragedy by looking at the skies and yelling “Nooooooooooooo!!!!!!”  A hero will come real close to killing a villain, but decide against it at the last minute, because that would make the Good Guy just as bad as the Bad Guys.

You think I’m kidding.

If it sounds like I’ve set my standards pretty high, perhaps unreasonably so, there’s a reason for that: I have.  And it’s because of a superhero movie I saw several years ago.  It was called, ironically enough, X-Men.  It had all the usual summer movie stuff, but it also had an all-star cast of great actors, a brilliant director, social commentary, and a complex and subtle moral ambiguity, going out of its way to make its villains as sympathetic as its heroes.  Then a sequel came along that did all the same stuff, only better.

And eventually, it would seem, the producers got tired of paying all of those brilliant and famous people, got sick of throwing all that talent and creativity at a franchise that was gonna make a mint with every movie anyway, and began churning out run-of-the-mill action movies under the X-Men banner.  Which totally makes sense, if you’re a fucking moron.  Nowadays, as high quality, complex, sophisticated superhero movies are becoming more commonplace, movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine feel like remnants from a cruder, less ambitious time (specifically, the ’90s).

But whatever.  Wolverine is great at the mediocre task it sets out to accomplish.  Like a really, really good Styx cover band.  You can’t really blame it for that.

Wait.  Yes, you can.  I just did, as a matter of fact.  Come to think of it, I paid $9 for the privilege.  Huh.  Maybe these guys do know what they’re doing.

Well, they won’t fool me again.  I’m through with getting suckered out of my hard-earned money by some over-hyped, mediocre, clichéd piece of shallow cinematic junk food.

On a totally unrelated note: tune in next week for my exclusive review of Star Trek.

Now Hear This (vol. 1)

Ok.

This needs to stop.

Seeing this has inspired me to officially call Shark on jokes about Dr. Manhattan‘s wang in the Watchmen movie.

Let it go.

Yes, it’s blue, it’s glowing, and, on a cinema screen, it’s about the size of Tom Hanks.

But let it go.

I dunno, maybe I’m over-reacting.  It just seems like every single review, blog post, conversation, etc I’ve experienced about this movie has included some variation of  “OMGBIGBLUESHLONG” and I’m tired of it.  It’s not just me, is it?

I can understand that the novelty of male frontal nudity in a major motion picture, to say nothing of it being infused with a soothing turquoise glow, is a bit of a conversation starter.  But there’s a LOT going on in this movie: attempted rape and snapping limbs and casual trips to Mars and mega-fucking-mass-murder (*SPOILER ALERT*).  Not to mention the political, ethical, and theological issues raised.  And, need I add, a middle-aged, limp-dicked nebbish dressed as a fucking owl.

WHY do I keep hearing about this blue guy’s majestic azure dick?

If Dr. Manhattan had been a lady, would we be hearing a bunch of geeks chattering about her big beautiful blueberry bosoms?  A couple of twelve-year-olds, maybe.  But I don’t think we’d be hearing nearly this amount of ostensibly witty commentary from genuine adults.  And any alleged grown-up who commented on them would immediately be dismissed as hopelessly juvenile.  Right?  Why is it any different because we’re looking at a cock?  Why do I keep hearing a bunch of otherwise mature, intellectual people giggling about this like we’re in middle school health class?

Am I over-reacting here?  Am I imagining the excessive reaction to this?  Am I losing my fucking mind???

dr-manhattan-2

Welcome to the Cocktail Party

Here’s to a new venture.

The Internet’s good friend Warren Ellis said:

I love print. I love magazines that commit and pay for long articles and long fiction. The web rewards neither approach. It’s a packeted medium, a surf medium. Short bursts are the way to go. The web isn’t a replacement medium — it’s “another” medium. That said, if your concept of a magazine is something designed in one-page bursts, or three pages that only carry 500 words due to the mass of images, then, really, you’re not doing anything the web can’t do better, are you?

The reaction to BoingBoing becoming a “band-managed” operation that paid its writers a salary out of the ad revenue should have been seismic. And it’s so obvious: what else is a groupblog but a daily (free!) magazine run according to the demands of the medium of the web?

And just a thought: if you’re an sf writer grappling for space in one of the fiction magazines for seven cents a word or whatever the rate is now — what exactly are you losing by teaming with writers of like mind, going to the web and convincing a friend to work out the monetising bells and whistles for you?

That’s what we’re trying for here.