Monday, October 23, 2006

Idiocracy [Movie, ****]

If you haven't heard of this movie, I can't blame you, because it's received essentially no marketing at all. There isn't so much as an online trailer in existence.

I'm talking about Idiocracy, the new Mike Judge movie that has been in some markets for a month. Mike Judge is, of course, the director of Office Space, which I don't need to point out has a huge cult following, and also the creator (and voice) of "Beavis and Butthead" and "King of the Hill". I'm aware that some people really like him and some don't.

Here's the high concept in a nutshell. At the beginning of the movie, a narrator explains that evolution doesn't necessarily favor intelligence; it simply favors those who produce the most children. In fact, in recent times, there's an evolutionary drawback to intelligence, which is that smart people carefully plan their families and have few children, while the dumb ones breed like bunnies.

Then Joe (Luke Wilson) shows up, representing "everyman" so precisely that he is shown to be the most perfectly average person ever known. He's not exceptionally bright or stupid; he's not a particularly hard worker; he's just trying to hang on to his menial army job until he can collect a pension. The army decides to use him in a year-long cryogenesis experiment, which Luke would never have agreed to if he'd ever watched "Futurama." Naturally, he wakes up 500 years later to discover a world where evolutionary pressures have gradually dumbed down the population to the point where Joe is now hands-down the smartest person on earth.

Now, nobody knows how to write stupid like Mike Judge. I remember an old interview Judge once gave, where he said that he envisioned Beavis and Butthead as two characters who were so dumb that nobody in the audience could possibly identify with them. He pointed out with amusement that this turned out not to be true in reality; one day he realized that people were laughing with B&B when he intended people to laugh at them.

If Judge's ambition was to make characters that dumb, I really hope he has succeeded this time. When Joe speaks with a typical 21st century accent and vocabulary, the citizens keep making fun of him for "talking like a fag." In Judge's future -- which is equal parts "hilarious" and "depressingly bleak" -- enormous consolidated mega-corporations run America. Carl's Jr. sponsors nearly everything, under the catchy slogan "Fuck you, I'm eating." One guy even says "Brought to you by Carl's Jr." after every sentence in casual conversation, because he gets advertising dollars for it. A future version of the Gatorade corporation employs half of America and water is something that is only recognized as "that stuff that comes out of the toilet." The most popular show on TV is called "Ow, My Balls!" and seems to be an entire half hour of one poor guy... well, you can guess what happens to him. However, Fox News still exists and seems to be more or less unchanged.

Judge's future is bleak in the same way that the corporation in Office Space is bleak, only ten times more so. There are some really terrific special effect shots, which I hear were donated by (Spy Kids director) Robert Rodriguez. In panoramic shots of the city, you see vast mountains of garbage towering over inhabited areas; crumbling buildings tied together with giant rope; and a CostCo that spans several counties at least. ("Where's the electronics section?" "Uh, it's about an hour from here.")

This is both a very clever satire, and a completely unsubtle farce. What you have is Mike Judge clubbing you over the head with the message "No! Beavis and Butthead are not the guys you're supposed to imitate! THIS is what happens!" It's hard to say whether Judge himself has been partly to blame for the ongoing idiocratization of kids, or whether B&B were merely comically accurate exaggerations of what he already saw out there.

But I do think that Idiocracy is worth seeing, especially if you already like Mike Judge's past work. If you're not into Mike Judge (and I know some aren't, and that's okay) then you should bear in mind the fact that this is more of Judge's humor ratcheted up to an even more absurd degree. Bonus: the movie also features a cameo by Stephen Root with a Wolverine haircut. Root is a guy who now just has to appear on screen and my Pavlovian reaction will immediately force me to start laughing before a word is said.

My rating: **** out of 5

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jesus Camp review

I've written a blog entry, but it's not here... it's at the Atheist Experience blog.

I went on Friday with about ten fellow Atheist Community members to see Jesus Camp, but I hadn't gotten around to posting my review until now. This has already been discussed on both The Non-Prophets and The Atheist Experience, but I'm offering up a written version for your perusal.

First of all, this is not a pleasant movie in most respects. What it is boils down to watching an hour and a half of child abuse, at least from my perspective. If you experience the sort of morbid fascination that comes from watching a bleak horror movie, you may get the same sort of feeling from this movie: you're not having fun while you watch it, but you may feel like you got something out of the experience of having watched it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Kingdom of Loathing

The Kingdom of Loathing is the stupidest game that I've ever been unable to stop playing. It's now been over a year since I joined the kingdom, and I decided that it is time for me to confess my shameful enjoyment of this diversion.

So you're this... stick figure, right? The good king Ralph has been kidnapped from the kingdom by the Naughty Sorceress, and it's up to you to save him. It's kind of a role-playing game, but your character classes have names like "Seal Clubber" and "Pastamancer". On the way to save the king, you'll fight a bunch of badly drawn monsters. Like you'll visit "The Misspelled Cemetary" where you take on "ghuols" and "skeltons." Or you'll go to the Hippy Camp on the Mysterious Island of Mystery, so you can fight filthy hippies and steal their filthy overalls. And at one point, the game temporarily turns into a parody of an old-school text adventure.

The game is riddled with pop culture references -- nearly everything you do will result in 2-4 inside jokes and you'll get maybe half of them. And also, you'll get drunk. You'll get drunk a LOT. In fact, if you are not making your character absolutely as drunk as you possibly can every day, then you're not playing the game to its full potential. Trust me on this one, you'll figure it out eventually.

In the year that I've been playing, I've gone through 19 incarnations of my character, accumulated approximately 1.7 million meat (the Kingdom's unit of currency), and acquired four out of six pieces of rare stainless steel armor as well as one out of six ultra-rare plexiglass items.

What's fun about it is that even though it's the stupidest game you've ever seen in the beginning, it's surprisingly deep because it has multiple levels of gameplay. As you play through the first time, you'll be focused on levelling up your character and experiencing all the wacky things that happen to you for the first time. At the end, you'll fight the epic battle against the sorceress, where you will die a lot but eventually "win". And then you get to ascend to a higher plane of existence, for a short time, before you voluntarily decided to return to the Kingdom and do it all over again.

Once you start getting into ascensions, you get to hold on to all of your items from previous lives as well as permanently save your favorite aspects of each character. You start to appreciate the power to combine skills like Transcendental Noodlecrafting with Saucemastery, while playing Ur-kel's Aria of Annoyance on your stolen accordion and infusing your pets with Empathy of the Newt.

The best part is, it's free! Sign up for a while to try it out. Just one piece of advice though, and I speak from experience. When a shady stranger offers you something in a dark alley, don't take it. You'll be really sorry.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Republican hides behind children

Facing a press conference with embarrassing questions about his cover-up of the Mark Foley child-buggering scandal, Republican campaign chairman Tom Reynolds decided on a bold strategy. He surrounded himself with little children, then refused to make them leave the room when questions of an adult nature came up.

The video is here.

This reminds me of a scene in the first Burton Batman movie. While being beaten up by Batman, the Joker reaches into his pocket, whips out a pair of glasses, and puts them on. Then he says, "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses, would you?" (Note: Greg Kuperberg reminds me that Bugs Bunny did that joke first.)

Also, doesn't this remind anybody of a certain OTHER organization that is well-known for internally covering up evidence that high ranking officials were taking sexual advantage of little kids?...