Friday, March 31, 2006

Random Reviews

by Chris
Mysterious Skin

I am a big fan of Gregg Araki's movies, but I simply could not roll with this one. The story, acting, and direction were all top notch, better than any of his films to date. The problem was that the subject matter was just too goddamned awful to bear. I expect comedy in an Araki movie, and there was none of that in Mysterious Skin. All you get for the 99 minute running time is near-constant child molesting. There are maybe 10 minutes of the movie where a child is not getting molested, and that ain't a good ratio.

Random Rating: 4 N.A.M.B.L.A.s out of 10


Normally I avoid reality TV. I try really really hard, but occaisionally a show comes along that looks genuinely interesting and even enlightening. Black.White. is one such show. The makeup is pretty good, but the really interesting angle is seeing how these people change (or don't) when they don the makeup.

The teens don't make much of it, they behave as they normally would and resist "acting" black or white (Rose even has emotional difficulties pretending during a poetry class and eventually "comes out" to the all-black class because she can't stand it any more). Brian and Rene Sparks are the black parents, and they really bring the perspective to the show. You can tell they really understand what this series can teach us. Brian seems like a smart guy, funny, and he's a fantastic sport about the whole thing. The segments where he works, in makeup, as a bartender in an all-white neighborhood are fantastic. You don't see much of Rene in makeup, I assume because it isn't very convincing, but she provides a lot of insight with her talking-head pieces and is always very good at explaining to us why the Wurgel parents are so ridiculously ignorant.

Which brings us to the real reason to watch this show; Bruno and Carmen Wurgel. Oh my, the pathos! They are the kind of suburban, clueless people who insist that they aren't racist, but exude racism from every orifice. Rather than try to explain, I'll just bullet some tidbits:
  • Carmen, when selecting a tasteful Sunday outfit for church, choses elaborate African dashikis. With headdresses. At church, Carmen and Bruno hoot and holler while doing the raise-the-roof dance during choruses.
  • Bruno Wurgel insists that racism doesn’t exist in today’s society. His explanation: black people have bad attitudes and only see racism because they seek it out.
  • While Rose's poetry class was visiting their home, Carmen became so moved by their words that she felt she had to say something about each of the members. She proceeded to insult each and every one. She calls someone a "beautiful, black creature," and to another she says, "I don't know if you're gay, or straight, or what!?"
  • Bruno will take any opportunity, and will create opportunities at times, to use the n-word around Brian. He really seems to think it's cool, and Brian always lets him know that it is clearly not.
The real meat of this show is watching the mind-boggingly ignorant actions of Bruno and Carmen. The Sparks' reactions are priceless, as they are not afraid to confront the Wurgels when they do something stupid (every 10 minutes or so). When Brian and Rene get to go over the day's events, we share in their incredulity. This is why I think this show is important, because it shows us that we still have a long journey towards equality, if it is possible at all. For the time being, we should recognize each other's differences and try to celebrate them.

Random Rating: 7 dashikis out of 10.

The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks

I've always liked the Kinks but I have had a hard time finding this album in stores (I know amazon is good, but I just like going to record stores). Something Else by the Kinks and Muswell Hillbillies are two of my favorite albums. Everyone I know says that Village Green is their best, and now that I've finally found it and spun it a few time, I agree wholeheartedly.

This is one of the best rock albums. Period. In fact, the Kinks will now be replacing the Beatles on my top-5 musician list's generic classic band slot. I think there are levels of music fanaticism for that particular slot. First is the Doors, then you move up to Pink Floyd, next is the Who or Zepplin (one or the other, never both), then Beatles, then Kinks, then Velvet Underground. At that point the music snob sheds his flesh and becomes a being of pure sound.

Random Rating: 10 phenomenal cats out of 10

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

So I finally got my Xbox 360, microsoft found a new manufacturer so you will start to see more and more units popping up in stores. I have been pretty unimpressed with the games I've played so far, except for Burnout Revenge which doesn't really count since it was designed for the previous generation of consoles. But the killer app has been released, it is fucking rad, and it is called Oblivion.

It is a worthy succesor to Morrowind, actually, a huge step above it. The world is bright and green, not murky and brown like the previous game. The dungeons are improved as well, just the right mixture of dark and creepy, and easy to navigate while still providing plenty of danger and surprises. The textures are crisp and detailed, the only thing keeping the game from being photo-realistic is the weird way the light bounces off of the character's faces. I've yet to see a game that uses dynamic lighting get this right.

The combat and leveling systems are pretty much identical to Morrowind. The more you do something, the better you get at it. You gain blade skill by hitting things with your sword, you gain magic skills by casting spells, and more (you can even gain acrobatics skill by jumping.) The character creation system is fantastic, all of the facial features have sliding scales so you can make your face look however you want. The races are the same as Morrowind, with all the normal human and elf subraces, orcs, cat people, and lizard dudes. There are many character classes that cater to different playstyles for you to choose from, or you can just select your favorite abilities and create your own class.

The story is sweeping, the standard "you are the hero destined to either save or destroy the world" schtick, but there are plenty of twists and surprises along the way. Whether you want to actually do the main story is up to you. The world is 16 square miles, with many cities to get quests from, factions to join, and additional storylines to uncover. Also, you can break into people's homes, kill them, remove their clothes, and use the rag-doll physics to drag their bodies into funny positions on the stairs. Additionally, when you shoot arrows at enemies they stick to the bodies, so you will often find arrows poking out of monsters' butts. Need I say more?

Random Rating: 10 butt arrows out of 10.


Blogger jaydro said...

I was going to do a random review post, but I keep not getting around to it....

Anyway, I really disagree with you on Black. White. Carmen is a flake. Bruno is well-meaning but comes off as clueless. Fine. But the Sparks, particularly Rene, seem incapable of accepting the experiment--for them the Wurgels are white, and their attempts to try to be black are only an insult to them, even when they are trying to learn. Like the "bitch" incident. And if Bruno was black, Brian would not be as hurt by Bruno's language. And for Rene to take away evidence of pervasive racism from whites after talking to a drunk guy in a bar, who basically wasn't saying much that Bill Cosby hasn't been saying lately--ugh. And I completely understand where Brian is coming from, but he's trying too hard to demonstrate racism to Bruno so that he comes off as being too thin-skinned--a woman who doesn't look at you as you pass her on the sidewalk is not necessarily displaying racism, come on!

It seems all very one-sided--the Sparks don't need to learn anything about being white, nor do they come in for any criticism in their attempts to be white from the Wurgels, and the Wurgels' attempts to be black are just an affront even when they aren't wrong. It is that interaction between the Sparks and the Wurgels that is the meat of the show, and which speaks to the real racial divide, rather than the experiment itself. Yes, as you say, Chris, we should indeed recognize each other's differences and try to celebrate them--after viewing one episode I had to pull out one of my old Star Trek DVDs and see Lt. Uhura express exactly that sentiment to the ersatz Abraham Lincoln who expressed apologies at any perceived offense when he reflexively called her a "negress."

What happened to the Sparks' kid, anyway? He seems to have disappeared. But I'm one or two episodes behind right now.

BTW, I've seen people here wear perhaps more modest dashikis to church, so I didn't think Carmen was so completely wrong-headed, though it is a bit dressier than normal and would call attention to someone trying to pass for black.

3/31/2006 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

That's one of the interesting things about this show, they don't editorialize so different people take away different things. It feels more like a social experment in the vein of the first couple seasons of Real World, and less like a sensationalistic shamefest that you get with most reality TV. It's too bad the show is on FX where not as many people see it, a show like this could be starting a lot of discussions that need to be started.

I thought the dashiki was funny, because Rene was pointing out stuff that she would wear, and all the clothes she indicated were very plain and reserved. Then Carmen points out the Dashiki and is like, "this is nice, would you wear this?"

Nick didn't seem to want to play along. I think he might have been dragged onto the show by his parents, or maybe he signed up thinking it would be cool to be on TV and didn't realize that it was actually a serious show. I think that's why we haven't seen a lot of him. It's a shame too, because he really looks like a white kid in his makeup. I hope they fit him into some of the other episodes.

3/31/2006 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Kinks, eh? I don't know VGPS, but I love Arthur.

4/01/2006 01:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty drunk and writing this from from my friends place, but I have to say this;

Additionally, when you shoot arrows at enemies they stick to the bodies, so you will often find arrows poking out of monsters' butts. Need I say more?

About your mental state? No. ABout my metnal state, when considering to forgo food to get a Xbox 360? No. Stan, I understand.

-Nick (drunk on polish vodka)

4/01/2006 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Chris, after I wrote my comments I realized I was indeed two episodes behind (I'm living a TiVo life!), so there may be new stuff that might change some of my opinions. And of course, with any reality show like Black. White. the producers edit things down to distill it to the story they're trying to tell. There's usually lots of extra footage that may show people in a different light and paint them as more complex characters, but they decide to leave that out.

I may have come off sounding like I didn't like the show, and I didn't want to give that impression. I do like it, but I can think of all kinds of ways for it to be better. In some ways the people they selected are too mild. I liked 30 Days better--Morgan Spurlock takes people who think being gay is wrong or who don't understand Muslims, and immerse them in that culture for a month. When's that show coming back for its second season, anyway?

FX has become infectious for me. I use to scoff at it, I hated that they cancelled Lucky, but they lured me back in by adding Forest Whitaker to The Shield, a show I had always heard a lot about but never watched because I had a feeling it was too, I don't know, low-brow? That's the kind of vibe FX gave off for me. The Shield has really sucked me in now, then Black. White., and I'm looking forward to checking out Thief. Their promos must work wonders on me or something....

4/02/2006 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Uh, I'm rushing out my comments too much lately; I forgot to say: when I first saw Nick in his white makeup I said "Michael Jackson!" And then they said it, too. I thought the best makeup job was on Rose--she actually looked better in her black makeup than she did un-madeup. Bruno and Carmen almost look a little bit too much like silent-movie blackface at times. Brian just looks a little weird in his makeup. And Renee in white reminds me of a local TV news anchor here who is always wearing these really outrageous wigs.

4/02/2006 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Yeah FX has been on a roll lately. And I agree, Black.White. isn't even in the same league as 30 Days.

And though there are many ways it could be better, there are still a ton of ways that it could be much worse. Of course they would get better ratings the deeper into the barrel they scrape, so I give the producers a lot of credit for not going there.

4/02/2006 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I saw Mysterious Skin about a month or two ago. I liked it, but it certainly isn't for the squeamish. I'm amazed it got made, since after all, it has a scene where a man is anally fisted by a young boy.

4/03/2006 07:37:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

While we're talking about FX, "Rescue Me" has to be one of the best shows on TV. I'm looking forward to "Thief," which I DVR'ed but haven't caught up with yet.

"Black.White" is pretty good, but I agree with the assessment that "30 Days" was a lot better. I look forward to Season 2 of that.

4/03/2006 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I have been looking for these all week:

Arrow in butt.

The beauty of ragdoll physics.

4/06/2006 11:32:00 AM  

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