So I Just Watched: “The Cider House Rules”

Fourth in a series of disorganized thoughts I am left with immediately after watching something.

Was this movie kind of a big deal when it came out or something? Product of its time, I guess. I will feel no great sadness if I never see it again.

First of all, the title… not too long ago, a friend and I were having a discussion about titling things, and how obtuseness and assumed lyricism do not often serve a potential audience’s interest. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. “The Godfather”. “Romeo & Juliet”. “The People vs. Larry Flynt”. These are your utilitarian titles. One can look at them and pretty quickly know what a story is probably going to be about.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have thematic and evocative titles that are novel and intriguing, and wind up having some greater subdermal implication to the story at large. “Cat’s Cradle”. “Gattaca”. “No Country For Old Men”. “There Will Be Blood”. “The Bad Sleep Well”.

Then you have a murky grey area in the middle, where titles are self-consciously trying to be evocative and bridging some sort of thematic/poetic gap, but falling short. “The Constant Gardener”. “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. “Secondhand Lions”. “Million Dollar Baby”. And for me, “The Cider House Rules” is there too. What are these stories about? Who knows? Plus, I can never get through without interpreting it at least once as if a Ninja Turtle is saying it… the cider house rules, dude!

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So I Just Watched: “Arthur Christmas”

Third in a series of disorganized thoughts I am left with immediately after watching something.

Okay, so I didn’t just watch it… it was a few days ago, when I was at my parents’ for a holiday break.  I was vaguely aware of the movie when it came out, but had no interest whatsoever in seeing it.  It was a confluence of multiple vectors of disinterest!  First, Sony Animation has not done us well, historically.  “Open Season“?  “Surf’s Up“?  “The Smurfs“?

Second, holiday-themed animation is always a mixed bag.  Zemeckis’s “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol” are itchy, uncomfortable affairs.  I had no interest in “Hop” based on the previews, and a cursory look at the critical and audience reception shows I was right to be skeptical.  Plus, I’ve never really been a fan of those Rankin/Bass stop-motion specials.  It’s like the ugliest crap at the flea market came to life to teach you trite moral lessons.

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Happy End of the World Again

It’s that time again… as December 21, 2012 looms above us, thoughts turn to annihilation and worldwide destruction.  But not really, of course.  I read somewhere that, accounting for leap years, the world already ended several months ago if we are to believe the rolling-over of the long count calendar.  Why are we so fascinated by the imminent threat of our own demise?  As we are not entirely sure what (in anything) is the grander meaning of our existence, the reminder that it’s going to end (and perhaps an occasional abstract ominous capital-‘E’ Event every couple years) may spurn us to create a meaning we are satisfied with.

As a non-religious scientist type, I am not in search of any higher order of intelligence guiding our existences.  There is a cosmic order to science, an equilibrium and structure that I can take comfort in just fine, thank you very much.  Why are we were?  Why will we one day not be here?  YHWH?  Shiva?  Odin?  Zeus?  Etcetera?  Outer space turtle stack?

“In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.” – Edward P. Tryon, physicist

Ruminating on it too long, I do sometimes am gripped by existential angst and, looking around at the trappings and systems and requirements of this civilization, am struck by the urge to run wild and laugh and scream through nature, and cast off the persona of ‘man’ and see how ‘animal’ suits me (but not Manimal, he got cancelled toot sweet).

Anyway, the end of the world is such a grand recurring theme in fiction that I think we get plenty of opportunities to indulge in the fantasy.  It’s a notion as old as storytelling itself, this grand final chapter, as evidenced by the persistence of several fantastically evocative “elder words”.  Just look at them.  Say them aloud, listen to the ancient power they convey.

Apocalypse.

Ragnarok.

Annihilation.

Cataclysm.

Armageddon.

Considering that in stories, often, the end of the world is not truly the end of the world but merely the beginning of a new epoch (usually a horrible apocalyptic one, though), it could come from a deep-seated anxiety about our human progression.  Have we plateaued as a species?  Are there new peaks we can ascend?  Will we lead to something truly greater than we were?  I mentioned Neon Genesis Evangelion earlier but I always liked the central conceit of that series, which was that mankind had grown stagnant, and it would take some grand transformative event to move us to the next plane.  There is even an attempt made to show what such a reality would be like, in the film The End of Evangelion.  It is such a vivid and concrete depiction of an intensely abstract idea… people literally burst apart into a sort of primordial soup, mingling together, the boundaries of self, body and mind broken down irreversibly, the planet awash in a new interconnected hyperconsciousness.

Though in the Evangelion universe, the end times begin following a catastrophic event in 2015, I have to remind myself that our planet already has a definite expiration date.  However, it’s nearly 8 billion years into the future when the sun expands to sufficient size to swallow the planet in flames.  What life will look like then, and what humanity’s ultimate fate will be, is so far beyond comprehension that my head hurts thinking about it.  However, the fate of the biological mechanisms of life will undoubtedly be ticking away in some form or fashion.  In the words of the great comedian Louis C.K, when asked by his daughter “what happens when you die?”

“Well, other people keep living.”

There’s a grim elegance to that notion that I find both appealing and chilling.

But, so, how could the world end?  Fret not, there’s a fascinating website called Exit Mundi that has been compiling doomsday scenarios for a very long time, which you can flip through as the sun rises uneventfully tomorrow morning and I have to go into work, sigh, instead of running for my very existence as a wall of fire and destruction passes smoothly across the surface of our star-sailing spaceship (imagine that I have so many new age crystals in my hands that I can’t hold them and they’re spilling all over the place).

Maybe, though, all the tectonic plates will become unmoored as our poles shift, the magnetosphere dissipates long enough for an unavoidable torrent of radiation to cut through us all, and ancient caldera and volcanoes will spring to life, spewing forth molten chaos.

Maybe a lava bomb will come down as obsidian upon our heads (this is a geological impossibility, because obsidian only forms at the edges of slow magma floes, but I really want to make the following stupid joke):

In the words of Michael Jackson…

You’ve been hit by!

You’ve been struck by!

Some smooth minerals!

dana-nana-nana-nah-nah. nana-nah-nah, nana-nah-nah

Man, that’s a damn good song.  I listened to it, and the Alien Ant Farm cover earlier today (before the world ended).  Somehow I remembered the cover as being more impressive than it actually is.  Maybe that’s part of it.  So afraid we are of leaving a lackluster legacy, we’d rather burn our past than reflect upon it.  I dunno.  At least, come the morning, we’ll finally have a few months’ peace until the Extinctionists latch onto some other target date for our inevitable demise.  For real this time, honest!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (But I Have a Space Heater in My Sex Dungeon)

Christmas is all up on us.  People be puttin’ they lights up.  Stores be gettin’ they sales on.  Radios be playin’ they holiday musics.  Maybe it’s because we only hear them once a year (over and over and over), but holiday songs can get away with a lot.  Weird old men deifying a filthy barn urchin.  Sinister ice pixies chewing peoples’ noses off!  Santa Claus is a reckless driver, running over old ladies with reindeer.  He’s a peeping tom.  He sees you when you’re sleeping!  He’s making a list, and jackin’ it twice, doesn’t matter if you’re naughty or nice (okay, I skewed that one a bit).

So it’s all pretty horrible.  Asocial acts prettying up the capitalist equinox (p.s. I love Christmas!  Give me presents).  But what about that holy grail of inappropriate subject matter?  Could a holiday song dare to cross the rape line?

Yes.  Enter the American songbook standard, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.

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