Monday, January 31, 2011

Of lust, hellfire, infanticide and Disney

Until recently, I couldn't tell you three things about Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame except that I saw it in theaters and I'm pretty sure it was set in France. Hunchback was released 15 years ago to tepid reviews, and was quickly locked in The Disney Vault to be dismissed as a B-side release. Low earning potential meant that it would likely never see a wider re-release, which only made me more eager to see it again... if I could only find a copy of the damned thing.

The damnable copy was found recently at Costco of all places, and I snatched it up with a perverse glee unwrapping it as I drove home. The term perverse would be redefined once I sat down to watch it because, holy hell, this movie is way darker than I ever remember it being.

This song (Hellfire) serves as the best example of the mature themes which Disney did not shy away from when scripting this movie. Sure, much of the plot from the original book is changed (Frollo is a magistrate (not the archdeacon), Phoebus is the chivalric ideal not a patsy with a taste for dark meat, Esmeralda lives, etc) but all of the salient themes of Hugo's novel, namely religious hypocrisy, discrimination, racism, lust, and class struggles are addressed by Disney all while preserving the "G" rating of the film. Bravo.

If you haven't watched the above Youtube clip do so, and you'll forever change your opinions of other, lesser Disney villains. In this song, the antagonist launches into an impassioned and desperate supplication to the Virgin Mary as he attempts to reconcile his falsely perceived moral superiority with the feelings of lust that Esmeralda has stirred in him. The depth of the crisis of faith is so compelling, and so perfectly interwoven with familiar passages from the standard Latin mass (Kyrie Eleison, much of The Confiteor, etc.) that you may well forget that this is taken from a cartoon intended to be watched by children.

For example, in the course of his appeal to the divine for guidance, Frollo exemplifies the human condition all too well by transferring the blame for his failings on others. In this case, Satan...

"It's not my fault (Mea culpa)/ If in God's plan (Mea culpa)/ He made the devil so much stronger than a man. (Mea maxima culpa)"

After which point he decides to go for the gold medal of villainy by asking The Virgin Mary to either murder Esmeralda for seducing him and send her immortal soul to hell, or to transform her into his completely subservient sex slave. Y'know, whichever is easier. Thy will be done and all that...

"Protect me, Maria/ Don't let this siren cast her spell/ Don't let her fire sear my flesh and bone/ Destroy Esmeralda/ And let her taste the fires of hell/ Or let her be mine and mine alone."

In terms of establishing a villain as a villain, there's really nothing more that Disney needed to do than include this song rendering his earlier attempt at infanticide superfluous. Arguments can be made that Frollo is simply acting within the zeitgeist of 15th century France, but even so I doubt anyone in the audience expects him to make it to the end credits alive. To that end, while most viewers will be waiting for Frollo to meet a fitting, if terrible (and all-too-common) fate as a result of his megalomania, they probably aren't expecting him to be consigned to hell by the face of Satan after one of the most clear-cut examples of sanctimony to be committed to film.

It is completely understandable that most of the Disney fans have chosen to forget about The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a film which struggles to reconcile its adult themes with the juvenile audience which it is targeting. Several of the sillier moments of the films, namely the trio of comic relief gargoyles (lead by Jason Alexander), seem like hollow attempts to distract the audience from the darker moments of the plot. To the network comedy watching hoi polloi, Jason Alexander is amusing enough but he is too poorly utilized to lighten the bleak, brooding atmosphere that Hunchback establishes and never moves away from.

If the movie scrapped the zany musical numbers, or the hellfire and damnation themes, I think it would be stronger and better received, though I'm not quite sure how you'd produce a purely secular version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Hunchback of a Large, Municipal Structure Which Employs Non-Ecclesiastical Bells as a Means of Broadcasting Chronological Standardization Across a Medieval Hub of Commerce doesn't quite have the same... ring.

As an afterthought, it is nice to hear that Square-Enix is including Hunchback as a playable world in the new Kingdom Hearts 3DS title Dream Drop Distance since this may help the movie enjoy a well-deserved, and much needed, resurgence in popularity. In the world of Square-Enix, one can imagine the hypocritical and genocidally inclined Frollo finding a fast friend with the mass-murdering, nihilistic megalomaniac Kefka Palazzo.

Now that would be some yaoi I'd pay to see!
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fantastic Four snuffs Torch

While issue #587 technically qualifies as a snuff film, I wouldn't get off to it

Things haven't been easy for The Fantastic 4 lately. In an age where older superheroes are receiving slick and sexy modernizations in a bid to keep them relevant, The Fantastic Four remain what they've always been: a chick who can turn herself invisible, a super-stretchy smart guy, a stone giant, and a flying guy who can light himself on fire. The 2005 film adaptation was a progressive step in this direction, but it was all but undone by its 2007 sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer. Sales dwindled as fans admitted the characters were feeling a bit long in the tooth.

Therefore, it was a logical progression something had to be done to shake up sales of the floundering franchise. Writer Jonathan Hickman dug shallowly into the well of comic book plot ideas and decided the best course of action would be a highly publicized death of one of the Four in issue #587 (spoiler, it isn't the stone giant, stretchy guy, or invisible lady!) Fans issued a collective yawn as this is a plot contrivance more at home in professional wrestling than it is in the medium of (graphic) novelization. Famous comic book characters have been killed before and in all cases they come back. Fans no longer mourn the death of their tight-wearing champions because they know they'll come back or, perhaps, were never really dead in the first place. In short, few fans cared about The Fantastic Four before this death and fewer fans will care afterward since comic book fans are especially adept at noticing a desperate bid for ratings when they see one.

Which of course reminds me of the other big news in the comic book world this month: the incredibly talented Anne Hathaway has been officially cast as Catwoman in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises. While few doubt that her performance could be anywhere near as terrible as Halle Berry's, critics are wondering why the highly successful franchise would want to tie-in a character like Catwoman who endured one of the worst box-office beatings in years.

Oh, right...
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pretty smart just became a whole lot prettier

You can tell I'm educated, I studied at the Sorbonne

A controversial study from six years ago has been receiving a lot of press as it circulates around the blogosphere this week. The contentious thesis of the study is that beautiful people are more intelligent than the statistical average. This is a great watercooler piece for discussion for those of us who have cursed Orlando Bloom for his easy good looks but drawn solace from the fact that we are at least probably smarter than he is.... but the main issue with the article is that it is a theoretical study with absolutely no research methods to speak of.

I didn't feel like shelling out the $31.50 to make it past the paywall, but the article's abstract makes it abundantly clear that the thesis of the article is based on logical assumptions which lead to something of a Socratic argument. Consider...

5. Empirical evidence for the assumptions and the theorem
5.1. Assumption 1. More intelligent men are more likely to occupy higher status than less intelligent men
5.2. Assumption 2. Higher-status men are more likely to mate with more beautiful women than lower-status men
5.3. Assumption 3. Intelligence is heritable
5.4. Assumption 4. Beauty is heritable
5.5. Theorem 1. More beautiful people are more intelligent


There's a lot to disagree with in there, naturally, but keep in mind that it is all conjecture and presented as such. This is perfectly fine and valid for a discussion piece and theoretical article used to pad an academic's CV, but the article does not unequivocally prove that beautiful people are more intelligent than non-attractive people. Such a conclusion would would require data gleaned from research methods that could be easily replicated (hurrah, science!) which the authors never pretend to have.

I am a little curious to read their third section ("Using the current architecture of the brain to make inferences about the ancestral environment") since the EEA is more often the research provenience of evolutionary anthropologists or evolutionary psychologists, not sociologists and economists, and I'm bettering there are some choice gaffes in their inferences.

Of course, if I was to shell out $31.50 to read their broad brushstroke sophistries, I would also be refuting the main point of their article since I'm far, far too pretty to be that dumb.

Take, that science!

Edit: Apparently, there are research methods based upon this study. Unfortunately, quantifying anything as subjective as attractiveness (self-esteem, etc.) and basing inferences of intelligence around it is all but asking to have the word "eugenics" hung around your neck... but kudos to the second subsequent researcher for his efforts.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I'll believe it when I see it (in 3-D!)

Nintendo's latest attempt to conquer the world


Handheld gaming is about to change, so says Nintendo, who launches the first glassesless (mark me, that will be in Merriam-Webster shortly) 3D gaming system in March for the not too ridiculous price of $249. By contrast, the PSP Go debuted at the same pricepoint almost 2 years ago and that, while admittedly a sexy handheld system, doesn't support 3D gaming, or removable media for that matter. Unsurprisingly, the price of the PSP Go was slashed dramatically to increase poor sales... but that's neither here nor there.

Many gamers are skeptical at the quality of the 3D experience, and the lower pricepoint isn't doing much to assuage their fears. Autostereoscopy is a relatively new 3-D technology with little commercial testing. Basing a system around it that that offers 3D gaming, dips its toe in the pool of augmented reality, allows viewing of 3-D movies, and supports backware compatibility all for little more than the cost of a Wii almost seems too good to be true.

What's also interesting about the 3DS is Nintendo's apparent about face on the issue of web connectivity and downloading games. The Nintendo eShop will allow 3DS owners to shop for games to download, similar to Sony's Playstation Network and it will also support an optional web browser... which is a pretty big step for Nintendo, who was all but terrified of adding a web browser to the ubiquitous DS.

There is a paucity of launch titles available for the EDS (30 will be available by June), but several big name franchises are already banking on the 3DS marketshare. Most notably, Square-Enix's alliteratively named Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance and Level 5's Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, which should be enough to entice many reluctant purchasers.

I think I'll personally wait until the summer before jumping aboard, in case of a disappointing reception and lowered pricepoint... but one thing's for certain about all of this. Whether Nintendo can deliver everything it promises or not, the 3DS, cannot be any worse than the virtual boy...
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Your city. Your drugstore. Your growler, sir.

Duane Reed, proving that it does community outreach like no other retailer ca

For those of you not fortunate enough to live in the New York Metro area, you are likely unfamiliar with the Brooklyn hipster identity. Take your normal fedora-wearing hipster, add the expected New York City chip on the shoulder, mix in a dash of sanctimonious pretension, and finally finish with the authority to declare when a trend, independent band, or venue is officially "over". While none can say for certain where the hipster subculture originated, its modern epicenter can be traced squarely to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Williamsburg hipsters are famed for their ferocious defense of Brooklyn's independent shops and eateries which is only matched by their ferocious hatred of chain retailers, restaurants or- heaven forfend- coffee houses. Any chain store that wishes to set up shop in Williamsburg faces the daunting task of convincing the hipster hoi polloi that they fit in with their beloved indy paradigm. Starbucks, as you might expect, has yet to succeed in this particular challenge.

New York pharmacy chain Duane Reed, on the other hand, has accomplished this task admirably by opening a Williamsburg location that features a beer bar (stocked with only independent brews) right next to the pharmacy counter. Unfortunately, they don't serve pints in the store, but they do offer tastings and growlers to go which is kind of awesome.

Time, and returns, will tell whether buying your beer, tampons, and antibiotics in the same place will fulfill the irony quota that most hipster would need before setting foot in a chain store but based on the decor and beer selection I must say that this Duane Reed certainly looks promising.

...and also ten times cooler than the equally suburban and pedestrian CVS that I'm forced to frequent when my magic brain medicine runs out.
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

BoneCraft in MMOs: not just a tradeskill anymore!


In the digital age of MMOs, the benchmarks for when a game has officially jumped the shark (or, if you prefer, nuked the fridge) continue to evolve. As one of the oldest running and most popular MMOs of all time, World of Warcraft has created a blazed past criticism after criticism without reaching the heights (depths?) of ridiculousness... although most will agree that it is growing to be a bit long in the tooth these days

During the life of the game to date, WoW has spawned an army of clones and immitators as an expected price of success. The addicted playerbase has lead to the creation of a Pop psychology publishing niche, to say nothing of highly-publicized documentaries, debating the pros and cons of MMOs. WoW has been satirized by the likes of South Park and American Dad (among others), spawned a Mountain Dew softdrink promotion and yet it continues to endure, with groundbreaking sales, all without passing the point of ridiculousness.

This all may change in the year ahead when adult videogame developer D-Dub Software releases the erotic RPG spankfest that is BoneCraft on the unsuspecting world. Sure, World of Warcraft is no stranger to derivative porn meant to capitalize on its fanboys' desire to see elf chicks getting it on... but to date, those porn offerings have only existed in in the medium of film and fan art. BoneCraft, on the other hand, is an actual game (with, so help me, developers and a budget) in which players have the opportunity to get their elf freak on.

By rights, the game appears to be a bizarre mashup of WoW porn and Avatar porn (right down to the rapacious space marines) and it makes me wonder if American gamers have even heard of Bishoujo dating sims. Still, I can't say it's entirely bad since- like so much teeange Real Dolls- it provides a fetishist with a healthy outlet for their respective tastes without hurting anyone.

This isn't meant to equivocate WoW fantasy fetishism with pedophelia, of course, but rather to state that it's probably in your average BoneCraft customer's best interest to purchase this game and enjoy it in the privacy of their own homes instead of bringing a pair of high quality prosthetic elf ears with them on their first dates.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

In Soviet Russia, Apple bites YOU


After years of attempting to tear the bloom off of AT&T's exclusive rights to the iPhone, Verizon let the worst kept secret in the history of the tech world slip yesterday when they announced that they, too, are now beholden to Steve Jobs.

Early reviews of the Veriphone are disappointing, at best. The iPhone will be shackled to Verizon's CDMA network, and not their faster LTE network which- while not Verizon's fault (hint: it was Apple's. They did not want to redesign the phone to accept an LTE chip) means the phone will browse the web more slowly than its AT&T counterpart, and not allow for simultaneous voice/data communication. Browsing the web while talking on the phone may not be a necessity to most (any?) of us, it's still a solid point in AT&T's favor. Verizon attempted to counter this by enabling it to be used for hotspotting which left many an Apple fanboy scratching their heads as to why such a feature would be needed.

What's more, Verizon also dodged any specifics- such as cost- of the iPhone's data plan, which likely means Verizon customers can be prepared to pay through the noise, ears, or whatever other orifice Big Red desires. To wit: On Verizon's iPhone FAQ page, they all but tell their customers to limber up and prepare to take it:

"iPhone customers will need to choose from any of the current Nationwide plans. Customers will also be required to activate a data package, pricing will be announced at a later date.

Finally, history has shown us that it rarely pays to be an early adopter of Apple products. With Apple having an established pattern of releases, it is all but guaranteed that a new model of iPhone will be released in either June or July of this year.

So, if you're on Verizon: keep it in your pants for the time being and don't jump on the iPhone bandwagon just yet. As for myself? I am remaining resolute in the face of corporate posturing and bickering and won't be lured into their sectarian politics. I figure I can hold out until iPhones are available as (mandatory) surgical implants. Welcome to the world of tomorrow!
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I sincerely hope that Broadway is done with vampires.


With TV's True Blood breaking ratings records and Twilight seeing a glittery $400 million box office gross, it's understandable why live theater would consider angling for a piece of the vampiric pie, but history and vampires have never been Broadway's friends.

Dracula, the Musical lasted just under 5 months before closing its coffin for good in 2005. Following on the heels of that failure, Anne Rice and Elton John combined their starpower to launch the critically derided Lestat which folded after a paltry 39 performances. Both of these pale in comparison to 2002's Dance of the Vampires, which closed after 56 shows, was hated by almost everyone involved in the project, and lost the producers $12 million dollars for their trouble.

This week saw Dracula, an Off Broadway production of Bram Stoker's famous fanged folio, close after only 4 days of runs. The production gained publicity last month when American beauty Thora Birch was unceremoniously ousted from the lead role due to numerous complaints from her fellow cast members against her father and agent, (70's porno) film legend Jack Birch.

In terms of Broadway vampire flops, this one might actually challenge Dance of the Vampires for the throne of "Worst fange failure since Blade: Trinity. It says nothing for the production that Thora being fired as a result of the creepy meddling of her ex-porn star father was actually less embarrassing for her than staring in all four days of Dracula would have been.

Since Dracula folded before Thora was involved in any preview performances, I don't even have a still (much less a video) to use in this post to show you all the full range of her acting talents. So instead, I'll have to content myself to watch that topless scene she shot when she was 17. What I do for the service of Thespis...
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Friday, January 7, 2011

Ever wonder what a viking on LSD would look like?

Apropos of J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday this week I thought I would post this incredible, and incredibly trippy, video of a sword being swung... from the sword's perspective.

The video was taken in Gothenburg, Sweden at Swordfish 2010, a weekend long celebration of "the European martial arts" such as hitting people with a sword, throwing them to the ground, punching them, and pummeling them with the pommel of your sword. Derision aside, the video and premise behind Swordfish is pretty awesome and if the middle ages, 30 years war, and Ikea customer complaint department have taught us anything, it's that Swedes know how to use a sword better than anyone else on the planet.

Considering that Swordfish 2011 is likely to be after my wedding next year, I'm thinking a Scandinavian honeymoon is in order.
The Friday Five!
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The case for thicker skin (part III)

Maybe we shouldn't have been so hasty to pass the anti-bullying law...

Outspoken anti-unionist and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn't the most popular figure in the Garden State at the moment. He made national headlines last year by leading a statewide charge against school budgets which sent a great number of teachers to their county unemployment offices. After that, he redefined the Republican platform of small government by placing the state government in charge of Atlantic City's casino district and all associated municipal services. After that, he encouraged voters to see the anti-NJEA smear campaign of professional douchebag James O'Keefe who attempted to discredit a woman whom Bill Clinton lauded as a hero with an incriminating soundbite which was taken out of context and was surreptitiously recorded by an actor sent to "seduce" her and record an incriminating statement or two.

Most recently, Christie failed to cancel his holiday vacation plans in the wake of potentially disastrous weather conditions bearing down on the state and was notably, and deliberately, absent when a post-Christmas blizzard struck, leaving the State Senate President as the temporary governor in charge of the cleanup. Sure, Newark's maverick mayor Cory Booker helped... but the point is, Chris Christie is a douche without peer.

However, even doucebags of Christie's magnitude have their redeeming values and his signing of one of the most strict pieces of anti-bullying legislation is certainly one of them. Admittedly, Christie had nothing to do with the authorship, research, campaigning, lobbying, or defense of the bill... but the fact that he didn't veto it is certainly a point in his favor.

The bill (full text here) aims at implementing aggressive, statewide anti-bullying measures which ALL schools (k-12, as well as public universities) must adhere to. As certain hauntingly beautiful bloggers have mentioned, bullying and the modern generation's inability to deal with it in a non-suicidal manner has become something of a high-profile epidemic lately and public schools are ill-equipped to adequately police their student bodies well enough to curtail it in any appreciable manner. Thankfully, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act addresses this issue by bringing some fairly sizable ammunition to bear on the problem. Highlights include...

  • Under the new law, teachers and other school personnel must report incidents of bullying to principals on the same day as a bullying incident. An investigation of the bullying must begin within one school day. A school must complete its investigation of bullying within 10 school days, after which there must be a resolution of the situation.

  • America's first anti-bullying law to provide for an anti-bullying coordinator in every district, and an anti-bullying specialist in every school to lead an anti-bullying team that also includes the principal, a teacher and a parent.

  • America's first anti-bullying law to grade every school on how well it is countering bullying – and to require that every school post its grade on the home page of its website. Also on the home page of its website, every school must post contact information for its anti-bullying specialist.

  • America's first anti-bullying law to ensure quality control in anti-bullying training by requiring the involvement of experts from academia and the not-for-profit sector.

  • America's first anti-bullying law to provide training to teachers in suicide prevention specifically with regard to students from communities at high risk for suicide.

  • America's first anti-bullying law to apply not only to students in grades K-12, but also to higher education. Public universities in New Jersey will have to distribute their anti-bullying policies to all students within seven days of the start of the fall semester.

  • The law applies to extracurricular school-related settings, such as cyberbullying, school buses, school-sponsored functions and to bullying off school grounds that carries over into school.

  • The law requires a school to notify the parents of all students involved in an incident, including the parents of the bully and the bullied student, and offers counseling and intervention services. * The law mandates year-round anti-bullying instruction appropriate to each grade, and an annual Week of Respect in every school that will feature anti-bullying programming.
So while I still don't think this addresses the core issue of why suicide is being viewed as a viable response to bullying, the bill is a step in a progressive direction in that it should at least reduce the intensity and volume of bullying incidents to more good natured, haze-the-freshman levels.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's official: Angry Birds is taking over

Seeing these adorable costumes almost makes me regret my decision to live a childfree lifestyle. Almost.

Rovio Mobile took the mobile gaming world by storm in 2010 by developing the game that you, your spouse, your mother, and anyone you pass in the subway has most likely played to completion by now. In terms of a commercial success, Angry Birds and its 50 million+ cross-platform downloads is unprecedented... but I was still more than a little surprised to see it available in the Playstation Network store this morning.

By all accounts, Angry Birds is actually a bit better on the PSPgo than it is on smartphones thanks to the the improved graphics but... what the hell? Does Angry Birds really need a new mobile market that Sony itself admitted was "not as big..." as it had hoped? Are the iPhone and Droid markets not generating enough revenue?

Then again, I suppose Rovio's move makes sense since real gamers are probably the only people left in the world who haven't played Angry Birds yet...
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Monday, January 3, 2011

A toast to Tolkien!

You can choose to remember The Professor in your way, and I'll remember him in mine...

2011 is shaping up to be quite the year for J.R.R. Tolkien. No mean feat considering his age (119) and the fact that he's been dead for the better part of 37 years.

Snowblind Studios, a small game shop most famous for their 2001 Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is hard at work on a new fantasy offering Lord of the Rings: War in the North which has fanboys of the franchise perking up their prosthetic elf ears and sharpening their replica Glamdrings. Little has been released about the gameplay itself, but what is known is that War in the North is being billed as a cooperative action RPG which appears to be doing everything it can to distinguish itself from Lord of the Rings Online. Except maybe not so much...

Meanwhile, Orlando Bloom and Cate Blanchett are creating a stir since they are apparently both in the final stages of signing on to Peter Jackson's 2-part LotR prequel of The Hobbit. While neither Legolas nor Galadriel were named specifically in The Hobbit (mostly because Tolkien hadn't quite created them yet), it would make a large degree of sense for them to be featured in the movie since Thorin & Co. are held prisoner in Legolas' father's palace for a month or so.

Considering the fanpower that Orlando Bloom commands and the sophisticated beauty of Cate Blanchett I'll give Peter Jackson the benefit of the doubt on this one and raise a glass of promo-sparkling cider (which I did NOT receive from Snowblind Studios...) and toast to Tolkien's (legacy's) health in the year to come.
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