Friday, October 29, 2010

The Nature Of Sleight Of Hand.

In the magical world of Ca-Na-Da, where kids eat bacon with their maple syrup and dollar coins are bigger than 25-cent coins, they have a show called Just for Laughs. It's segments of the Montreal International Comedy festival, cut up into half-hour bites of several comics. It used to be on CBC, then was on the Comedy Network, just before Whose Line Is It Anyway.

It was on this weekly, then nightly bastion of rerun that I first saw Penn & Teller, stage magicians. This was far before my current interest in magic, which was reignited with Brian Brushwood's work on Scam School making it accessible (cutting through the curtain that made magic seem impressive, astounding, but overall difficult and the amount of effort put in inequal to the amount of interest given by those watching).

In the 3-minute sketch, Penn played bass and Teller moved through the motions of putting out a cigarette and lighting a new one. Thanks to the magic of Youtube, I don't have to explain it. Just watch:

You see? You see? My 14-year-old mind was blown. It was the mysterious and astounding being shown as ordinary, then it somehow, through critical thinking and explanation, tends to come back around to astounding. To imagine the amount of practice, brainstorming, stage design, rehearsal, and troubleshooting involved in making something look as absolutely ordinary as this... well, it's astonishing. And it's only once you know that you understand.

It may be bullshit, but hey, they tell you that it is. And once you know it's bullshit, it frees you to understand it.

I think I lost myself with that last sentence. But I think people understand.

You understand, right?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Family Values! Now with costumes!

After watching the "Family Values" episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (season 3), in which several non-traditional couples are features, including one who each had a girlfriend and a boyfriend who lived with them, a foursome essentially, Tanja and I had this conversation (while I was cleaning up after making dinner):

T: I think the only way I'd have another person into our marraige was... wait a second. I could have two of you?
L: Yep. One of me could be rubbing your feet while the other cleaned up the dinner he just cooked.
T: Well, one of you would have to love dusting and making the bed.
L: Well, yes. Otherwise, I'd be stuck doing that.
T: So we could go to someone "Don't care about tits, don't care about cock, just need someone to do the dusting."
L: Tanja, you do realise that what you're describing is essentially... a maid, right? You're saying our marraige needs a maid.
T: Well, a maid... who puts out.
L: Okay, so a maid... who's a slut.
T: Yeah, pretty much.
T: He'd have to be a guy of course.
L: Whoa, whoa, whoa, don't go changing it up. You said a maid who's a slut, a slutty maid so to speak, and my brain went to one place in particular. I'll thank you not to change it.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gremlins, Timezone Displacement, and YOU!

Tanja and I were discussing Gremlins on the way home from the grocery store.

I first saw Gremlins at my friend Matthew Harding's house. I think most kids have a friend like Matthew: I never would have met him had he not lived next door, and he often had things that even my fairly-permissive folks would not get me. It was in this very same house where I played many Nintendo games for the first time, where I first beat a game (Guerrilla War for the NES, though we had to use a Game Genie and a 6-hour marathon session), where I first saw many PG-13 films (such as Stay Tuned, Back to the Future 2, and others that blew my 8-year-old brain), and ate too much junk food (like the discovery that if you bite off both ends of a Twizzler, you can use it was a straw)*. The reason Matthew always had new games and movies was because his parents were divorced, and his dad indulged him on the weekends he was these by renting him anything he wanted from the Shell station down the block, which was also our video store (it was the 90s, shut up).

So I find it fitting that it was here I saw Gremlins. Gremlins is also one of the few films from my childhood I have not revisited as an adult. I'm not going to go in depth about how I reacted to the film's plot, etc, but I will bring up a few key ideas I came away with. Warning, spoilers, if you've lived under a rock for 20 years.
  • The death of the old lady via stair-lift was far scarier than anything in the much-more graphic kitchen scene (though, of the kitchen scene, the microwave was scary, while the blender went past scary and into funny). Possibly because we had one of those stair-lifts at our church, whereas we had no blender.
  • You're not to feed any Mogwais after midnight, lest they turn into Gremlins. Simple, right? No. My 8-year-old brain instantly came up with "After midnight? Technically ANY time can be after SOME midnight. And when does "after midnight" become "next day"? 5am? Daybreak? What if the Mogwai is on West Coast time, having recently gotten on a long flight? So if all times are post-midnight, how could a Mogwai eat at all without transforming? Tanja and I discussed that, as the Mogwais and Gremlins are mystical creatures, they may not need food at all to sustain their lives and power their actions. But then, why give Mogwais the urge to eat, and thus give them the means to fall into temptation? And if that IS the case, is starving a Mogwai an act of cruelty, or pure practical safety?
  • Also fitting the mystical angle, is the spell that changes Mogwais into Gremlins dictated by the perceptions of the owner, or the Gremlins? One could posit that the owner's time-zone and interpretation could determine what constitutes the post-midnight-danger-feeding-zone, or PMDFZ. Otherwise, the "it's always after midnight somewhere" rule could apply. Then again, the film itself contradicts this: one of the Mogwais unplugs the clock, making it stay on a pre-midnight time, so Billy feels safe to feed it. Had his perception shaped the spell, they should not have changed. However, we are discounting the perception of the Mogwai itself, which was stronger than Billy's, due to his knowledge of the true time, through the fact that he unplugged the clock. Perception+reality+willpower overrides perception alone. And speaking of willpower...
  • Why is Gizmo the ONLY good Mogwai? All the other spawned Mogwais are seeming little bastards right from the start who actively want to become Gremlins. We're past discussing the urge to eat. We're now into "actively practicing deceit to transform into a more powerful creature and wreak havoc." All Mogwais we see in both films act this way, except Gizmo. Is it because Gizmo is special? Is he Mogwai Jesus**?

    Although, how cool would that be?
    You could continue the intellectual fanwank into the fact that Gizmo himself was good, but his earthly spawn were thus tainted by the sinful nature of humankind and their actions. They had the urge to be bad, but not the willpower to control it, thus precipitating their collapse into anarchy, chaos, and sin. Repent, ye sons of Gizmo, the wrath of Billy & his mighty Blendtron 3000 be upon you! The light of his eyes shall destroy ye!

You know, once I'd like to do an in-depth look at a film without it descending into religious allegory and spouting Scripture-sounding gibberish.

*incidentally, I also saw my first pin-up calender there, in his basement. It disappeared after we saw it, and whenever I asked Matt about it, he looked hunted and said he wasn't allowed to talk about it.

**Okay, a google search for "Mogwai Jesus" just got me a bunch of Mogwai album covers, so I made my own.

EDIT: And of course, TVTropes provides the answers for a few of my questions:
All There In The Manual: The Novelization has a prologue that explains that Mogwais were genetically engineered by an alien race called the Mogturmen as the perfect companion. However, the vast majority of Mogwais turned out to be dangerous, not to mention the unforseen Gremlin problem. Gizmo is one of the few Mogwais to turn out right.
Always Chaotic Evil: Any of the Mogwai/Gremlins who aren't Gizmo.
Fridge Logic: Don't feed them after midnight? Since the day technically begins at midnight, would that mean you're just not supposed to feed them? Obviously, you can't feed them at night, until the sunrise. When the dark forces are strong in the world and all that.
Woobie Destroyer Of Worlds: One particular Mogwai, stated as Earl in official media, is hinted in the film and novel as being one of the few Mogwai blessed with a more docile personality similar to Gizmo, that is until he is taken to the university to be experimented on and then happening on that sandwich, destining him as another psychotic Gremlin and to the same ill fate as all his other bretheren.
Fridge Horror: What would he have been like if Gizmo had become a Gremlin?
  • Possibly shown with "Earl". The novel states that even good Mogwai are converted into murderous sadists upon transforming into a Gremlin.

Oh, and it reminds me of this brilliant line from the second film:
"Incredible as it seems, ladies and gentlemen, after their bizarre, bloodcurdling rampage of destruction, these strange creatures now appear to be mounting what seems to be... a musical number."

Thank you and good night.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

4 Unrelated Comments

1) I introduced Tanja (and myself) to Penn & Teller's Bullshit! series. I've been watching Penn point for a few months now and have seen Penn & Teller at just for laughs, but the show, for once, has done exactly what I wanted it to do. It's stimulated debate without causing argument. It has hit the metaphorical sweet spot of couples conversation. We've also agreed that underneath it's vulgar showing of nudity and profanity, the show is rather sweet, wanting to think the best of people and asking them to think for themselves, ask questions, and apply critical thinking to everything. Most of all, though, they don't blame the victims. They point out that the villians are those who are running the scams of reflexology, talking to dead people, and self-help, not the scammed, who just want something to divert them from the pain in their lives.

2) Dear comics artists: if I can't tell the people in your story apart, you have not done your job. The writer can do their best job they can putting different voices to characters, but if you make them all look the same, or at least similarly nondescript, I won't know what the hell is going on. Then I'll focus on my frustration instead of the story you're telling, and I'm out of the picture, viewing your work purely as an artistic exercise instead of a work I'm interested in. Sure, I can blame it onMark Texiera on the Moon Knight series "God & Country" but it's an issue I've had before.

3) It's ridiculously easy how one comment from someone we like can puncture whatever security or confidence we have. Yes, I know that confidence comes from within, and thinking that everyone must like/agree with you is a road to misery, but still. One comment, meant in jest, or casual conversation, can, distinctly, cut like a knife. Just sayin'.

4) I can't remember what the 4th comment was.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Cooking Monday: Aussie Berko

So yeah, that whole "I'll do this every week thing? That was a crock. I suck at deadlines. So i'm using this Monday off to take back up the torch (wow, way to grammar, guy).

I was going to put another easy-to-vegan recipe here, but Ted has informed me that he's just bought like 3 vegan cookbooks, so needs no new things right now. So yeah! Meat.

AUSSIE BERKO (or osso bucco)
This is a survival ration (the ingredients are dead cheap), but it's also a warming, filling comfort food dish. It's also stupidly easy, so if you're worried about not having much time to sort something out for a dinner party/movie night, this is your Woodstock.
serves 4

  • Plastic Bag
  • Casserole Dish (one that has a lid, can go on the stove AND fit in the oven)
  • Tongs
  • Knife
  • Oven mitts
  • Ladle
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 4 pieces of gravy beef "osso buco" (BEEF, not VEAL. Ask your butcher. Make sure you get the pieces with the bone in (teehee). This is a REALLY cheap cut, often less that $9.95 a KILO. For serious)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 carrot (roughly chopped)
  • 1 celery stalk (roughly chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (squished)
  • Small handful of whatever fresh herbs you have (rosemary, basil and parsley work well.)
  • Half a 400g tin of chopped or whole Italian tomatoes
  • 1 longneck (750 mL) of decent stout or dark beer (get Coopers, or Sheaf if you can, avoid the hell out of Guinness, it's too sour for this)
  • Loaf of good bread (optional. I like carbs with my foods)
    Chop up your celery and carrots and squish your garlic. Don't be too fiddly, they're going to be cooking for a fair bit. Rip up your herbs, but avoid the stems if you're using rosemary or thyme or anything that has stems.
  • MEAT
    Get your plastic bag. Be sure it's decently thick, as you're about to put meat into it and shake it around. So put in your meat and tip in the spoon of flour. Close the bag and give it a shake so the meat is coated.
  • Preheat your over to 150 C (300 F, gas 2)
  • Put your casserole dish on the stove on medium heat. Pour in your olive oil and let it warm up. Once it's hot, put the meat in. This is why you want a decent sized casserole dish, so the meat can all lay flat and brown evenly. Let the meat cook and brown, turning it only once. When both sides are looking cooked, use your tongs to take the meat out.
  • If the base of the pan is looking a bit burnt, add a bit more oil, then toss in your carrot, celery, garlic and herbs. Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring often. While this is going on, drink half your stout. Make sure there's about 375 mL (about 1 and a half cups) left.
  • Turn the heat up as high as it'll go, and return the meat to the dish. Pour in the remaining stout and half your tin of tomatoes. Give everything a big stir. Let it come to a gentle simmer. Once it's bubbling about the edges, use your oven mitts to put it into your oven.
  • Wait 45 minutes, then take the lid off and turn the meat over.
  • Wait another 45 minutes. Hey, you could watch a movie and drink more beer in this time! :D
  • Pull your dish out of the oven and have a look. The meat should be just coming away from the central bone (teehee).
  • If you've got bread, cut a few thick slices and put it at the bottom of each bowl.
  • Put each piece of meat in a bowl, and ladle over some of the sauce and veggies. Be sure to eat the marrow in the middle. It's good for you, and will put some chest on your chest.
And that's it! You could serve potatoes or rice with this, but why guild the lily? Booze suggestion: stout! If you're a wine person, get out the big gun shirazeseses you've been holding onto. Hunter Valley ones with a bit of age, or South Australian n00bs if'n you're cheap.

*original recipe from Cooking Under The Influence by Ben Canaider and Gregg Duncan Powwell, two of my favourite food, wine and beer authors. Like seriously, buy anything these two write. I do not claim to own this recipe, I just make it a lot. Dude, why would I claim this is mine? I don't want to get sued.

The Sliding Scale and Perpetual Overcome-ances of Frustration and Anger

Overcome-ances is totally not a word.

I am finally playing Bioshock.

I downloaded the demo when I first got my PS3, and was intrigued by the art-deco steampunk feel of Rapture and the story. What I didn't like, and frankly, it's what I never like, is when games try to scare me.

Okay, seriously, video games. I'm 28 years old. I've lived on two continents where much of the wildlife is actively trying to kill you (like mosquitoes in Canada, and everything in Australia bar some of the sheep). I have enough actual phobias to fill a textbook. You don't need to foist a fear of the dark, fear of creepy children, and fear of disfigured monsters into my head. It won't all fit, like when I took that home-brewing course and forgot how to drive. But I digress. FEAR, that's it. Basically, video games, creepy children and disfigured monsters don't scare me. They won't scare me. So you shoving them into my face going "See? SEE? You have to harvest the Adam while horrible clown people try to eat you." is just annoying. I feel like I have to wade through the attempt at scaring me to get to the actual game.

So the game, and the titular sliding scale. Bioshock, you are a good game. Sometimes. However, you are also an extremely difficult game. Even on Normal mode. Ammo is scarce and occasionally non-effective. Your plasmid attacks use so much of your meter that you only get a few shots before you're out. I didn't discover the fine aim/zoom button until 6 hours in. Hacking the machines is hard and frustrating. And if you DON'T hack, you're killed by rapid-fire machine-gunning robots. The respawning system seems to choose a point at random when it brings you back, so you have to spend ten freaking minutes going "No, it wasn't this destroyed, dripping corridor, it was another destroyed dripping corridor." Early in the game, you have only two plasmid spots. One is electric, the next is fire. Then you're offered a telekinetic one. "Cool, says I, "I'll switch out for a second and if I don't like it, I'll switch back." WRONG. Once I swapped out the electric, it was gone. And did I mention electric is the handiest non-hacking way to kill the robots? Because it is. And now that's gone.

I also reached breaking point when facing one boss (the doctor). I fought him, dying 5 or 6 times, then running back and attacking, then dying again. He'd regenerate health in between. There was a point where I stopped and realised that I had little-to-no-health, little-to-no-Adam, no first aid kits, no syringes, no ammunition, and no money. I actually, physically sat back on the couch and said "No, I don't want to do this." and turned off the game.

Later, as I was playing again (shut up), I fought a Big Daddy for the first time, dying 7 or 8 times, then running back. Happily, he did not regenerate. I defeated him. "YES!" thought I. "Now where's that Little Sister?" She was gone. I combed the level, but all I found was another Big Daddy, who happily began to slaughter me again. WTF, Bioshock? I beat your hurdle, and then you glitch out my reward? You know what? Fuck you!

So anyway, I found, like I said, some bits of the game to be immensely satisfying. The minute you get the shotgun, the fun multiplies. I've also heard from others that the upgrade system late in the game is interesting. But why do I have to grind and grind through endless frustrations to get to the fun?

I had a similar moment in God of War 3. It's a game I've come back to a few times, play a bit of, then put away for a few months. This latest time, I was slashing along, having fun, when suddenly I get to a puzzle. Most puzzles in God of War are hard, but you can work them out.

This was not.

This was a version of Guitar Hero, using a controller. You have to get 45 consecutive button presses correct, including some two-button presses. Any mistake knocked you back to the start.

After 15 attempts and not getting more than halfway, I walked up to the TV, put down my controller and turned the game off. It's now sitting on the shelf, mocking me. I know that any time in the future that I want to play that game, if I want to progress the story, I'll have to beat the stupid mini-game.

Frankly, I couldn't be fucked. There's a moment Tycho from Penny Arcade describes in one of his posts about WoW, where he refers to the moment of transfer between leisure and obligation.

I've transferred.