All purpose vertically integrated publishing empire for cynicism, hopelessness and misanthropy. Mild nausea is common when using this product. Other symptoms may include, but are not limited to: dizzyness, headache, homicidal rage and yellow discharge. Rarely, users may begin to hear voices urging them to kill. If this occurs, discontinue use and seek psychiatric attention. Do not read when pregnant or nursing; the author thinks that's gross.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Most Hilarious Web Advertisement, Ever

I suppose this makes me a bad person.

I don't know if finding this ad utterly hilarious says more about me, or about the kind of people who'd be this crass to sell insurance.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Watchmen, Coraline and Adaptation

Reading This Preview Will Make You BlindSo I've been meaning to write about Coraline for a long time, and say something about Watchmen since I saw it last Sunday.

The two movies taken together, though, make for an interesting contrast in how to adapt a book for the screen. Both make large changes to the original source material, altering characters, events, trimming and adding to the story, in addition to the obvious changes one might make telling a story visually rather than with the written word, or in the case of Watchmen, sequential art.

However, one fails monstrously, and the other, I think, succeeds brilliantly. So what's going on?

First, let's discuss the failure. Coraline.


Coraline is the worst, most insulting, most viscerally repulsive mainstream movie I've seen in many years. It's the worst adapted work I've seen since Starship Troopers. It made me feel ill to watch it, and I almost left.

I know, I know; your average critical response was positive. Why did I hate it?

Because Coraline the movie takes all the heart, wit and charm out of the book, stomps it into a bloody paste, and pisses on it. The movie Coraline is coarse, rude, reeks of being written by a marketing department, and is full of absolutely rank misogyny.

It's truly awful.

Coraline the book is a story Neil Gaiman wrote, according to the About the Book section in my paperback edition, for his daughter(s).

More than ten years ago I started to write a children's book. It was for my daughter, Holly, who was five years old. I wanted it to have a girl as a heroine, and I wanted it to be refreshingly creepy.

After a discussion on the lengthy process he used to write it, he returns to the subject of the heroine of the story:

A decade before, I had begun to write the story of Coraline, who was small for her age, and would find herself in darkest danger. By the time I finished writing, Coraline had seen what lay behind mirrors, had a close call with a bad hand, and had come face-to-face with her other mother; she had rescued her true parents from a fate worse than death and triumphed against overwhelming odds

The primary reason I detest the movie version of this story is that, in MOVIE Coraline, none of that is true.

Coraline is not small for her age. She's not the heroine of her own story. She doesn't triumph against anything.

Coraline is, in fact, constantly rescued; by the Cat, by ghost children, by deus ex machina, and most odiously, by Wybie, a male companion invented solely for the film so that audiences wouldn't have to sit through a movie where a GIRL did all the exciting parts.

Seriously. Wybie doesn't exist in the book at all. From the first moment I saw him, I knew we were in trouble. He rides up on a dirtbike wearing the 3-eyed mask from Splinter Cell, for fuck's sake. He's not just the male character, the hero, who has to tell Coraline everything she figures out for herself in the book, and at the climax of the movie, RESCUE THE HELPLESS LITTLE GIRL... he's also XTREME.

So, a story written for girls, featuring a heroine as the main character, has turned the female lead into an also-ran who is constantly rescued by two male characters, a cat and a Marketable Boy.

It gets worse.

In the book, Coraline's mother is a kindly, harried woman, busy with work and moving to a new home, who dotes on her at-times difficult child.

In the movie, she is a total bitch. She hates Coraline. She literally cuts a deal with her to destroy the wall of a house she doesn't own, hacking at the wallpaper with a knife, just to get her own daughter to leave her alone.

Her mother talks to Coraline, in the book. She tries to entertain her. She makes sure that Coraline has food to eat in the house, even though, like many difficult children, she refuses to eat what everyone else is having and insists on very specific frozen foods. Coraline's mother is patient and kind, if tired, and her worst sin against her daughter is to refuse to buy her a pair of neon-green boots, and get her sensible clothing for school.

I know; what a whore, right?

In the movie, there's no edible food in the house. The fridge is full of rancid fruit (despite their having moved in days before... which is just odd. Whose food is that?)

Coraline's father looks like he's halfway into chemotherapy for a terminal cancer, and fading fast. He's constantly bullied too, by Coraline's bitch of a mother, who hectors him about his work until he retreats into his office, where he's presumably dying from the bone marrow out.

(He gets to use a 20 year old green screen computer; she uses a laptop. Everything is over the top and oppressive, in their relationship and in their home. They want us to pity him, and hate her, you see.)

So when Coraline goes to the Other World and sees her Other Mother, it isn't like the book, where she's making a subtle bargain with a very slick Devil figure. In the book, Coraline is tempted to sell her soul for a *slightly* better world, where all the petty annoyances are gone, and you get whatever you want.

In other words, she almost barters herself for instant gratification.

In the movie, Coraline gets real food, and a father who isn't a walking skeleton, and a mother who doesn't (appear) to hate her.

That's hardly the same choice.

Everything in the movie is like that, though; the heart is ripped clean out of the chest of the book, and the resulting film is hollow, shallow and cold. But not to worry! It's PRETTY and full of shiny visual distractions! Like a musical sequence (not in the book), giant bug robots (not in the book), and magical milkshake dispensing chandeliers that must have arrived as refugees from a claymation Willy Wonka remake (you guessed it, not in the book at all)

The shallowness extends to the supporting cast, naturally. The upstairs neighbor, a kindly, slighly bonkers individual in the book, is recast as a flamboyant Russian circus performer who does superhuman feats of acrobatics while speaking in an accent right out of Rocky IV.

The cat, who has to prompt Coraline a lot more in the movie, is no longer a dry, witty, sardonic individual, but a smug know-it-all who, you guessed it, has to save the little girl. A lot.

Finally, you have the downstairs neighbors, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible. In the book, they're retired stage actresses.

"I played Portia once," said Miss Spink. "Miss Forcible talks about her Ophelia, but it was my Portia they came to see. When we trod the boards."

In fact, Forcible wants to get back into professional acting.

"Miriam, dear, neither of us is as young as we were."

"Madame Arcati," replied Miss Forcible. "The nurse in Romeo. Lady Bracknell. Character parts. They can't retire you from the stage."

So these are SHAKESPEAREAN ACTRESSES. Classical perfomers, albeit in some z-list Vaudevillian sense. Portia is from The Merchant of Venice; Ophelia from Hamlet, and of course they mention Romeo.

In the movie?

They're strippers.

I am not making that up. They were strippers in some tawdry burlesque show. Which they re-enact, in the Other World. For the kids.

This is my one-sentence reply to anyone who likes Coraline the movie:

"What kind of person adapts a children's book for the screen and says to themselves, 'You know what this story needs? MORE STRIPPERS'"


Watchmen succeeds, I think, despite being a very heavy adaptation, for precisely the same reasons Coraline failed. Coraline ripped the heart and emotion out of a story; Watchmen takes great care, even as it excises large chunks of the narrative or sidelines them for dvd-only releases, to keep the HEART. To keep the fundamental, emotional questions the book asks the reader, about power, apathy, and human connections, and what they mean in a world spiralling toward death, or to people who are no longer really human at all.

Doctor Manhattan, in particular, is great in the movie. I like the Snyder/Hayter/Crudup Manhattan *better* than the one Moore wrote, actually. In the book, Manhattan is, at best, a doting father figure, at worst, detached and adrift, lacking free will, drenched in superhuman apathy. The movie version is much more human, struggling with his loneliness and weakness, for as it turns out, even God may not be able to save people from themselves.

The movie's Rorshack struggles with his madness; the movie's Comedian finds out his armor of cynicism can't protect him from the real hurt in an uncaring world, and the movie Nite Owl/Daniel grapples with his feelings of inadequacy. These are core issues in the book, and adult concepts that require more thinking than most American movies are comforable with outside the indie circuit, and Snyder keeps them all in his film.

(I will admit, Silk Spectre II/Laurie is a bit weak in the movie. She's weak in the book too, though. As my roommate, and longtime Watchmen fan puts it, 'Watchmen doesn't give her much to work with.")

The most radical change is one of character, too. Ozymandias is a very different person in the movie. I like his character better here. In the book, he comes across as a bit of a superintelligent frat brother, fearsomely smart but soulless and self-important. For the movie, they take him in a different direction. If you had to sum him up in one word, it would be "resigned". Resigned to being 'The World's Smartest Man' and feeling, as he puts it, 'stupid' around other people. Resigned to the burden he assigns himself in the key events of the film. Resigned to suffer an enormous guilt.

I can see how you might prefer the earlier Ozy, and that's fine too. But it's worth noting that the biggest change in Coraline was to add a marketable male lead to a children's movie. The biggest change in Watchmen is that the writers/director had a different take on the emotional inner life of a major character.

Whether you agree with what Snyder did, or dislike his direction (as one friend of mine passionately does), you have to admit: he didn't tailor Watchmen to the marketing department. It's still set in 1985. It's still depressed, violent, and full of difficult concepts and imperfect people. It's rated R, which displeases the pundit class to no end, who love to predict its failure to turn a profit based on the lack of 'fanboys' being able to buy tickets. (Nevermind that, as the original book came out in the 80s, many of its 'fanboys' are middle-aged by now.)

Watchmen kept its heart, and Coraline sold its soul.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ho-Chunk Casino.. IT'S A TRAP

Admiral Ackbar tried to warn us!I've written before on the Ho-Chunk nation here in Wisconsin, and their charming PR campaigns on the local progressive radio station.

I love those things, as a fan of well produced propaganda.

Anyway, the Ho-Chunk operate several casino properties here in Wisconsin, the source of money they use, amongst other things, to sponsor radio I like to hear and propaganda that I love to listen to.

The casino part, these days, is not that out of the norm.

Their advertising for the casinos though, is something special.

Take a look at this Ho-Chunk Casino ad that has been floating around town on billboards for months now and tell me what you think:

Now, ok, I'm a white guy. I'm keenly aware that my ancestors perpetrated, then profited from, arguably history's most successful genocide (Australian Aborigines might contest that one).

So when I see a very large advertisement from a group of surviving Native Americans, encouraging me to come to their facility to enjoy myself, with the tagline 'It's Your Turn!'....

Yeah. Is it just me, or is that, in fact, more ominous than inviting?

It leads me to ponder certain scenarios in my blackly cynical imagination...

"Come on in Whitey! It's Your Turn! *ka-thud*"

"We're really good sports about your ancestors stealing an entire continent in a centuries long holocaust! Mind turning your back? We have... a surprise... for you! It might be cake!"

"Come for the blackjack, stay for the complimentary blankets!"