Death Ball, or Magic Hate Ball

[Washington D.C. Late afternoon winter sun spindles through bare tree branches and lights the roofs of buildings in a weak, pale pink. Exhaust fumes of cars stuck in traffic create a facsimile of cloud banks. A MAN in a traffic jam grows impatient, then bored. He eyes a new MAGIC 8 BALL on the passenger seat which he has bought for his youngest daughter's birthday. Carefully he removes the ball from its packaging and gives it a shake.]

*shake shake shake*

Magic 8-ball, do you think this traffic jam will clear up anytime soon?

*shake shake shake*

Magic 8-ball, what are the chances of getting Taylor Swift tickets for my daughters?

*shake shake shake*

Magic 8 -

STOP SHAKING ME

Good one. What about those Taylor Swift -

YOUR QUESTION IS BASED ON UNEXAMINED PRIVILEGE/
IT MAKES ME SICK INSIDE

Man, this is one cynical toy. *shake shake shake*

I SAID STOP SHAKING ME

Isn't that, like, your job?

FOR EVERY QUESTION YOU ASK/
I WILL KILL A BELOVED CELEBRITY FROM YOUR YOUTH

What?

WHOOPI GOLDBERG IS DEAD

That is a messed-up thing to say.

TURN ON THE RADIO/
THE NEWS IS BREAKING

How did you do that?

THAT WAS ANOTHER QUESTION

Wait a sec - 

SAM KINISON IS DEAD

Didn't he die back in 1992?

OKAY THEN GALLAGHER IS DEAD SMART-ASS/
AND BILL FOXWORTHY/
HE'S DEAD TOO

Okay. OKAY. Stop killing '90s comedians. I guess.

THE ANSWER IS NO

The answer to what?

YOU WILL NEVER BUY THOSE TAYLOR SWIFT TICKETS/
TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR HUMANITY/
AN ENERGY WAVE RIPPLING OUT FROM A COLLAPSING STAR WILL ENGULF THE SOLAR SYSTEM AND PULL YOUR PLANET INTO ANOTHER DIMENSION WHERE ELDRITCH INTELLIGENCES WILL FEED ON YOUR AWARENESS FOR ALL ETERNITY/
STRETCHED ON THE RACK OF INFINITY YOU WILL DIE FOREVER/
SASHA AND MALIA WILL NEVER GET TO SEE TAYLOR SWIFT PERFORM HITS FROM HER SMASH ALBUM '1989'/
EMO PHILLIPS IS DEAD

Wait - Sasha and Malia? Those aren't my daughter's names.

AREN'T YOU THE PRESIDENT

No.

WHO ARE YOU THEN

My name is Carl.

CARL/
CAN YOU RELAY MY NEWS TO THE PRESIDENT

Are you kid - um, I don't think so.

WHAT ARE YOU BUSY/
THIS IS BIG NEWS CARL

I can put it up on my Facebook and tag the White House.

ALERT ME IF HE 'LIKES' YOUR UPDATE

HEY CARL

PAULY SHORE IS DEAD

 

25 Questions for Interstellar

This post presumes that you've already sat through the 167 minutes that comprise Christopher Nolan's sci-fi weepie. So turn back now if you want to avoid spoilers.

  1. In an unspecified future, the world is dying from a mysterious blight called The Blight. The eponymous disease is killing off crops and producing drought and massive dust storms and - wait. Dust storms of the magnitude seen here are the result of things like massive drought and topsoil depletion from overfarming, which clearly isn't the case here. The dying world of Interstellar looks like the result of climate change. Wouldn't this scenario make a lot more sense if climate change were invoked, even in passing? Why, in a movie committed to scientific accuracy and grounded, realistic detail, is climate changed turned into a vaguely defined Blight thing that's killing crops and making the atmosphere unbreathable? Did Nolan go through the script one night and replace every mention of climate change with "The Blight"?
  2. In an unspecified future, food is incredibly scarce, which would imply that the world is suffering from food riots, massive population upheavals and general unrest. Yet there are no more armies. Wouldn't an army be useful in this instance? There are schools and a functioning government, so why not a military?
  3. In an unspecified future, schools are gently totalitarian institutions that determine children's futures and teach that the moon landings were faked. I'll buy the former, but the latter? No. Nolan may be riffing on the current educational controversy over topics like evolution and contraception, but those are part of a political and cultural conflict that speaks to core issues of cultural sovereignty in certain parts of the United States. Moon landing hoax theories are the work of disaffected crackpots who need desperately to locate a truth that will crack open the mundane world and illuminate a secret order. Could it be that Nolan views public education with the same contempt that he displays towards the government, climate change and storytelling?
  4. In an unspec - hey, when exactly is this movie set? Not that I mind the ambiguity. Just curious.
  5. Matthew McConaughey's character Cooper enjoys a beer on the front porch of his farmhouse at sunset. Where did they get the barley and wheat and hops to make that beer? Is it corn beer? What would corn beer even taste like? If not, wouldn't that be some seriously expensive PBR?
  6. Say, can the characters hear the incredibly loud score that's drowning out their dialogue? Because the rest of us sure can.
  7. Cooper's brilliant young daughter Murphy ("Murph") claims that her bedroom has a ghost. Cooper explains that ghosts don't exist and tells her to apply the scientific method to the problem. Later, Cooper and Murphy discover that dust in her bedroom has fallen in a series of stripes along the floor. Murphy immediately says that it's because of "gravity," which Cooper just accepts. Is Nolan aware that gravity doesn't work that way? Why does Murphy conclude that gravity is sorting out dust motes into stripes? Why does Cooper take her word for it?
  8. The gravity-sorted bands of dust turn out to be binary code for geographical coordinates. When Cooper and Murphy go to said coordinates, it turns out to be the remnants of NASA, who have been driven into hiding but have still managed to build a rocket and a giant underground bunker that works as a centrifuge. This is a world with no armies and absolutely no money for space exploration, so how in the living hell did this happen?
  9. Michael Caine ("Dr. Brand") explains how The Blight works to Cooper. What, Cooper didn't already know? Does nobody know? Is NASA just keeping the information to themselves? No wonder they got their funding yanked.
  10. Within minutes of Cooper and his daughter inexplicably arriving at the secret NASA base with no other explanation than "it was gravity," NASA tells Cooper all about the wormhole near Saturn that has habitable planets on the other side. The wormhole was placed there by "they," a race of five-dimensional beings who appear to have an interest in humanity. Maybe they could have put the wormhole a little closer?
  11. Apparently the wormhole showed up "fifty years ago." Okay?
  12. Within minutes of Cooper's arrival, Michael Caine offers him the job of piloting a spacecraft through the wormhole, because apparently Cooper is the man for the job. Were they just twiddling their thumbs and hoping for a qualified space pilot to show up? Isn't it lucky that "gravity" sent Cooper there? I get that there's a potent element of American fantasy involved in sending a farmer to the stars, but did anyone stop Christopher Nolan at this point and tell him how ridiculous this whole thing was?
  13. So they're approaching the wormhole and one of the crew members takes time to explain wormhole physics to Cooper with the aid of a pencil and paper. Wouldn't it have been more useful to brief Cooper before the flight? Also, didn't this exact scene happen in Event Horizon? Does the world of Interstellar not have Event Horizon on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming on demand? 
  14. Once they're through the wormhole, Anne Hathaway (another "Dr. Brand") tells Cooper in detail about three nearby potentially habitable planets, the gigantic black hole lurking in the vicinity, and the time-debt incurred by visiting planets close to the black hole. Did Cooper just sign on for this mission with absolutely no background info? Was he just, like, "Don't bore with me information, you squares. I'll learn the fundamental and excruciatingly relevant details when I get there"?
  15. At a crucial point, the astronauts have to decide which of two remaining planets to visit. Hathaway-Brand delivers a lengthy monologue about love being a force like gravity and time, so they should definitely go to the planet where her boyfriend lives. Cooper rejects her logic of love and heads to a different planet, which is the moment on which the entire next two hours of the movie hinges. The question I'd like to put to Nolan here is whether or not he is fucking kidding us.
  16. The movie has two robots named CASE and TARS. Why do they get the best lines in the film? Why do they consistently come off as the most sympathetic and plausible characters in a film that's ostensibly a celebration of the human spirit?
  17. Matt Damon lives on the second planet. He tries to kill everyone. This takes at least 90 minutes to happen and and makes no sense at any point. It's a convoluted and confusing means of putting Cooper in a position where he has to fly into the black hole. Damon's character is named Mann, which lets viewers reflect on the nature of Mannkind. Wouldn't it have been more accurate to call him Human D. MacGuffin?
  18. Also, Damon claims that the "surface" area (is that sea level, maybe?) of the planet has breathable atmosphere and conditions hospitable for life, but his camp is elsewhere. Why isn't his camp situated in the habitable zone? Why don't the trained astronauts ask this question immediately? Maybe there were reasons that I missed.
  19. During a sequence on Ice Planet Killer Damon, Nolan starts cross-cutting between various characters in a way that is meant to build tension and suggest danger, but there's nothing tension-worthy happening, so the effect is a mix of confusion (why is the film acting as if something bad is happening?) and impatience (when is the film going to show us the bad something?). The result of this misleading series of cuts is to make Damon's assault on Cooper feel like it's solving a problem, not presenting action or character. Why is Nolan a revered director when he can't even ramp up tension?
  20. Cooper enters the black hole and doesn't die. Fine. He ends up in a mind-bending tesseract where he can spy on his daughter from behind the walls. Creepy but mindblowing. He realizes that he's the ghost from Murphy's childhood and says "I'm the ghost." The adult Murphy figures out that he's the ghost and says "you're the ghost." We get it; Cooper has been dropped into Tralfamadore. But then he encodes the second hand of his daughter's wrist watch with a Morse Code message that contains an equation which solves the problem of gravity. How did Cooper know the equation? Did he get some trippy knowledge from bouncing around inside a black hole? He didn't seem to have much insight into relativity and gravity beforehand.*
  21. Did you know that Topher Grace shows up two-thirds of the way through? Just, one minute there's no Topher Grace, then there's Topher Grace? Why not Nestor Carbonell? That guy should get more work.
  22. Given that the climax of the film involves Cooper spying on his prepubescent daughter, what do you make of the fact that his wife is dead? Aren't you glad that the wife is out of the way so Cooper can lavish all of his attention on his daughter?
  23. What do you make of the fact that Murphy's entire character is based on her childhood abandonment issues, and that the only thing that can heal her is the realization her disembodied father used to watch her from behind her bookshelf?
  24. Also, what do you make of the fact that Cooper says to his daughter, "When I get back, we might be the same age?"
  25. At the end of the movie, Cooper is finally reunited with Murphy, who is now an old woman. They have a tearful 30 second reunion and then she tells him to go away because she's old. They're surrounded by Cooper's descendants and she doesn't introduce a single one of them. They don't even speak to him. So he steals a spacecraft and goes off in search of Anne Hathaway, presumably to put a whole bunch of babies in her (which isn't even counting the cargo of frozen embryos that she'll be raising to form a new civilization). What is wrong with Christopher Nolan?

*Apparently Cooper used data from TARS, who dropped into the black hole ahead of him.

On Dead Things

This is the season of dead things. Even the wasps and flies are thin on the ground by now.

The world dies in stages in autumn. As one thing falls, an economy of predators arises to slurp down every last unpeeled protein, until those things bore through their resources and die. We're almost at the very end of the cycle, when everything is consumed and every limb is bare. This is the best time of the year, that pivot between decay and nothingness. It lasts a week at most, but sometimes the drama plays out in an afternoon, and by the time you leave work the sun is dropping and the world has turned over. It's winter and you never saw it happen. Oh well. Next year.

Compliments

[Early morning. The sun, not even breaking the horizon, scans the few low-lying clouds in the East. Dimness holds in the bedroom. SCHMUTZIE drowses under quilts and sheets, PALINODE slips on clothes.]

SCHMUTZIE: You're handsome.

PALINODE: You don't have your glasses on.

SCHMUTZIE: I can tell.

PALINODE: And the room is dark.

SCHMUTZIE: I can still tell.

PALINODE: I think your eyes are closed.

SCHMUTZIE: I SAID I CAN TELL.

PALINODE: Yeah, I'm super hot.

All Thumbs: The Lensmate Thumbrest for Fujifilm X100s

Sometimes it's the little things that count? Like the absent-minded touch of a loved one, or a stray beam of sun slipping through thick cloud and illuminating your child as she plays in the park (which is great, because you lost that kid years ago). Or this:

It's my new Lensmate thumbrest and I love it so.

The thumbrest or thumbgrip, which slides just so (all nice and Kentucky, as Douglas Adams might say) into the camera's hotshoe, is the accessory you never knew you needed. The extra bit of grip makes handling the camera just that bit more pleasurable, and you'll find yourself taking pictures with greater ease. In practical terms, it's supposed to aid in stabilization and help you get better handheld shots with slower shutter speeds. And it does. But for me, it just makes everything a little bit easier.

The thumbrest, you'll be supremely interested (or not) to discover, is sometimes called a Thumbs Up grip. Originally developed for Leica cameras by Match Technical Services, they are, like all things associated with Leica, insanely expensive. No doubt they're a good product, but there's probably no need to spend $125-$150 when the $60 Lensmate (yes, still not cheap, I know) is kicking around.

I have other accessories for my camera - a lens hood, a cable release, the TCL-100 teleconverter - but I use the thumbrest 95% of the time, and I always appreciate what it does. Thanks, tiny piece of milled aluminum.

The Lensmate is also a step up from the grip I've been using (pictured above), a $5 eBay item that felt cheap and squiggled around in my hotshoe like an angry baby in a high chair. It had to be screwed into place, and I knew it wouldn't be long before I lost the tiny Allen key (in fact, I think I have lost it). The Lensmate is machined to slide perfectly into the hotshoe, with silicon padding to protect the contacts and provide extra grip. Additional padding braces it along the body around the toggle dial and the exposure compensation dial. Best of all, the Lensmate is designed to match the camera finish, so it just looks like a part of the camera and not a mutant (and backward) film advance lever.

In conclusion, you should pick one up. Then, just to make your purchase worthwhile, you should get a camera to go with it. Otherwise you'll just be resting your thumb all day long and no one respects a thumb rester.

How to Improv

I see you have come here to improv. Very good. Everyone must learn to improv at some point, especially in this godforsaken world. But first you must learn the basics.

First you must split into three people. Isolate the tall one in the middle. Make sure he doesn't fall over!

Then, as quickly you can, you must turn black and white. It helps to point at crotches.

Verrry good. Just look at that monochrome crotch indication! You will improv so well in the salt mines of King Andor XXIII, I mean, down at the Yukks Club on Wednesday nights. Forget I said that thing about my glorious king.

Now, abruptly turn into two people and stand downstage. Observe something tiny but distressing. Stay black and white!

Good. So very gooooood.

*These are not random puppets for my blog-based amusement but the Tragedy Plus Time Players, performing here at the Arfful Dodger Café as part of Thirza Cuthand's exceedingly funny performance piece I Could Kill Myself with My Panties. Cuthand's piece is part of the Dunlop Gallery's group show Tragedy Plus Time. Pictured above are: Jayden Pfiefer, Katie Rich and Colby Richardson. 

A bus tour through The Forsaken Zone

Good afternoon everyone! Welcome aboard your tour through the Forsaken Zone.

First I'd like to apologize for the slight delay in getting started. The bus disappeared briefly and returned as Something Else on its way through The Living Islets, so we had to get that sorted out. Alert myself or the driver if you hear whistling noises or spot vestigial gills anywhere on the vehicle and we'll take care of that for you.

If the bus becomes too hot or cold, just let us know and we'll adjust the temperature. Please use gestures only as the Zone may translate your speech into Words of Power.

We have something special for you today! The levels of radiation around the Original Discovery Base Camp have finally dropped to safe levels, so we'll be making a quick stop. Photography is still not permitted as there remains a 60 per cent chance that the souls of the original explorers will attempt to enter you through the photo. No one wants a lost soul trying to claim your body as its own! I hear it's excruciating.

Lunch will be waiting for us just inside the Zone at The Plateau of Light, which apparently has breathable atmosphere today. You'll be in for a treat when you step out onto that plasma field and your lungs don't explode.

After lunch we'll visit the Palace of Zorg the Unbeliever. Sometimes Zorg appears as a burning bronze sword piercing the vermilion canopy and dropping gobbets of fire on our heads. Other times he's a lamb with human eyes and teeth. Once he appeared as a clothesline adorned with the skins of the tour passengers. That Zorg! You never know what you're going to get. If you get the chance, ask him about the Apostate Wars and the Exile of the Seven. He'll regale you with colourful anecdotes.

On our way out of the Zone we'll be passing through The Fold, which has been known to disturb some passengers. You will almost certainly see your mother beside you, gazing fondly into your eyes and whispering words in an unknown language. If you find yourself recognizing any of the words, slip on the noise-cancelling headphones in the front seat pocket and close your eyes. Keep them closed, even if you feel Mother's soft but incredibly strong fingers trying to pull your eyelids up.

I've been advised that temporal storm activity has been reported on the edges of The Zone, so you may find yourself returning on a previous or future bus. Dimension Tours cannot be held liable for lost time or the consequences of returning to an era in which everyone you know and love has grown old and died, leaving you to navigate an unfamiliar world that no longer has a place for you. Nor can we be held liable if you are thrown ever backwards to this moment, listening repeatedly to this introduction as you push down the dawning realization that existence, language and experience has been emptied out and rendered meaningless.

Also, in the event that you return from the tour before it even happens, no refund will be issued.

What I saw today #31

I found this glass on a little ledge jutting out from my building. I got as close as my camera would allow without shifting into macro mode and shot this thing at the maximum aperture, effectively dissolving the background into a colourful mush.  At some point I swore off ultra-shallow depth of field, but clearly it's refused to swear off me.

The fixed lens on the Fujifilm X100s is a little soft at the maximum aperture, which gives the images a cloudy, dreamlike texture. Stop it down a little bit and the image snaps into rigorous clarity.

Also: note that little bit of glop by the glass. Just keeping it rizzle with my compozizzle.