The Usual Suspects

Last week, Montreal thespian Tristan D. Lalla got pulled off a city bus by the cops, surrounded by squad cars, placed in handcuffs, searched and questioned. All this in the middle of a busy street, in front of all sorts of strangers, to his great embarrassment. His crime? He matched a vague description of somebody who had just committed a crime. Our intrepid police force, always on the vanguard of criminology, decided their armed-robbery suspect might be fleeing the scene, one stop at a time, on a bus.

You can read the account of his fun commute here. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t the armed robber they were looking for.

It got me thinking: hey, I got detained by the cops once because I matched the description of a suspect they were looking for. No backup squad cars converged. I wasn’t handcuffed or searched. My questioning consisted of a few polite inquiries as to where I was heading, followed by a computer search of my I.D. to confirm there were no warrants or arrest records. After about twenty minutes of waiting, which I’m sure was mostly a test to see if I’d make a run for it, they decided I wasn’t the guy they were looking for and sent me on my way.

It was a very different experience, worlds apart. I wonder why. Well, here’s a hint: the last time I saw Tristan, he was on stage playing Othello.

That’s right, he got hassled because he’s an actor. You, see they’re considered a much greater potential threat than writers. It’s a good thing Tristan didn’t tell them he performed in some of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games or he would have gotten the taser.

We simply must stop this shameless profiling of actors by the police. I know they have a reputation for being coked-up sexual deviants who deliver bad dialogue in terrible movies, but they’re not all bad. I swear I’ve met some good ones from time to time, and they’re just like the rest of us. More or less. I wouldn’t want one marrying my daughter, but I’d be cool with them being friends. Maybe not best friends but, you know, friendly.

So please, Montreal cops, cops everywhere, stop this persecution of our acting underclass. The deck is already stacked against them and they have enough to contend with. If it’s not you and your petty prejudices, it’s film and theatre critics. Must they face your bullets as well as their barbs? Thank you.

ADDENDUM: This just in. Tristan was not cuffed and searched because he’s an actor. Huh. Well then why else…

Oh.

Oh dear.

Sigh.

Mike Stamm, director of Ashes to Ashes, has a Kickstarter project going for his short animated film, The Ottoman. I’ve been following this story for years and it looks like the crew just needs that final financial push to bring it home. Fans of Steampunk and mechs smashing each other to bits should take note and check out the production blog and the existing footage.

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Raw Halloween Treats

It’s the happiest time of year for morbid ghouls like me! Halloween is an autumn celebration of horror movies, chilly weather, dying leaves, and Christian fundamentalists getting their tits in a knot over the pagan roots of the holiday – which is totally different from proper holidays like Christmas and Easter that have absolutely no pagan roots whatsoever *cough cough* Soli Invictus *cough cough* rabbits and eggs *cough*.

I always like to add what I think of as proper Halloween content to the website around this time of year. Past entries include Hot Pennies, my short story based on my own totally true childhood memories, and Monster, the Frankenstein comic story I wrote for an anthology years ago.

On the Twitter front, I’m 40 characters into my series of 140 Horrible Characters, timed to coincide with this time of year. All the related tweets are collected on Eyestrain as they currently stand with more to come. For the hell of it, I also contributed a few ideas to the fad thread #ScaryStoriesIn5Words, which may be taking minimalist fiction a step too far.

As far as something new and substantial (as opposed to merely new and trite), I’ve decided to dump my novelette, Raw, here for you to look at and be disgusted by. Lengthier than what usually qualifies as a short story, this is a crime fiction yarn that takes a slow slide into horror and features material that my long-suffering proofreader (also known as my long-suffering wife) found too horrific to read. No, seriously. She has to live with me and gets the Shane-Simmons experience unfiltered, but she still had to skip some paragraphs before resuming her duties as copy editor.

So, um, yeah. Enjoy that. If you can. I guess.

If you’re in the mood for something lighter, here’s a completely arbitrary Halloween-safety film from 1977 called, creatively enough, Halloween Safety.

I didn’t get to see this as a kid (neither did many of the kids who actually appeared in it), but I was the right age to be the target demographic in 1977. I certainly remember that era of costume-and-candy paranoia designed to strip all the fun out trick-or-treating. Of course we ignored that crap and went back to running around in the dark in black costumes, getting hit by cars, and dodging hot pennies and other kid-maiming traps.

That film was spectacularly dated the same year it was released. I guess that’s why, only eight years later, a sequel was produced called, extra-creatively enough, Halloween Safety (Second Edition). It was geared for a whole new generation of trick-or-treaters (no doubt because all the kids in the earlier film had been wiped out, Final Destination-style, by a series of tragic Halloween mishaps), and addressed pressing current issues such as produce-bashing hate crimes, Quaaludes in the candy (it was 1985 after all), and, apparently, animated vomiting ghosts.

But we’re past all that. These safety films seem like quaint reminders of a bygone era now. Today, obviously, we’re living in such a nanny state that kids are barely allowed out of the house without an armed escort, and are frequently banned from having any fun whatsoever by municipalities and school boards alike because fun is dangerous. And culturally insensitive, as evidenced by the big kids who go to McGill University and must keep their costumes politically correct and inoffensive enough to be allowed into the party. Damn! And I was planning to strip my shirt off and go in full-body blackface as a Mandingo fighter. McGill, you’re no fun anymore! I expect this uber-lefty bullshit from Concordia, but not you. You’re where the people with money go to learn how to make more. You should know better than those assholes on the hippie campus!

On that note, I’ll sign off by wishing you all a very dangerous Halloween, filled with unfortunate accidents, Emergency Room visits, tainted candy, and wildly offensive and inappropriate costumes. Please get yourself kicked out of at least one party. For me.

The Face That Launched a Thousand Quips

Did you hear Renée Zellweger just Jennifer Greyed herself out of a career?

The web has been abuzz since she debuted her new face at the ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards on Monday. Questions were posed like, “Who is that?” and “No, seriously, who is that?” and “Won’t somebody please tell me who this woman we’re taking pictures of is?”

Like the infamous nose job that “fixed” Jennifer Grey’s schnoz and abruptly ended her rising career because she no longer looked like Jennifer Grey, Zellwegger has taken the slice/dice/nip/tuck that extra step and now looks like someone who has just been processed by the witness-protection program.

Who are you and what have you done with Renée Zellweger?

Who are you and what have you done with Renée Zellweger?

Such snide comments have led to the inevitable backlash. How dare anyone criticise her choices as she attempts to remain young and vibrant in an industry that rarely has anything to do with women past the age of 40? Well, sorry folks, but the quest for eternal youth in sexist Hollywood isn’t the issue here. The issue is that Zellweger, in an effort to remain marketable, has laid waste to the single most marketable thing about her: that she LOOKED like Renée Zellweger, an established actress from many hit movies.

Famous men and women both have had lots of work done over the last century of cinema’s vain train. Some work has been subtle, some not, some successful, some disastrous. But unless they were addicted to plastic surgery like Michael Jackson, they usually came out looking like new, improved models of themselves, albeit with much tighter and frequently expressionless faces. I don’t care for it myself, but lots of stars say it’s essential. Considering it’s elective surgery that’s actually tax deductible as a business express, it would seem even the IRS agrees with its usefulness for maintaining a successful career. You know, like all the prescription meds stars take as well. But, just like prescription meds, if you do too much at once, you overdose.

How do you know when you’ve taken plastic surgery too far? Well, if you’re a celebrity and your biggest fans couldn’t pick you out of a police line-up, then yeah, you may have taken it too far. Imperfections are what make you stand out from the crowd of beautiful, perfect people. Jennifer Grey’s big nose made her charming. Renée Zellweger’s cheruby whateveryouwannacallit face made her charming. To some. I guess. I was never a fan.

Would Bette Davis have been THE Bette Davis if she had “fixed” her eyes? Probably not. Would she have had a hit song written about those eyes? Definitely not. Sometimes your worst feature is secretly your best feature.

Look at Charles Bronson. He was an ugly, ugly man with a craggy, nasty face. That’s what made him awesome. That’s what made him look like he could kick your ass. And that’s why his late-career decision to get pretty-girl eyes is all the more baffling. What the hell was he thinking?

Did this magnificent squint need to be made pretty?

Did this magnificent squint need to be made pretty?

Look, get some work done if you must. Lose a mole here or there if it bothers you. Get those plugs to stave off the inevitable if you want to pretend you still have a full head of thick, luxurious hair. Pin back those crow’s feet behind your ears where nobody will think to look for them. But don’t go nuts. Because every once in a while it turns out your money-maker isn’t your tits or your ass. It’s your ugly mug.

Having said that, I can only hope Steve Buscemi got that tooth growing out of the roof of his mouth fixed after cashing his Armageddon cheque.

Behold, the single least-flattering celebrity close-up in cinema history.

Behold, the single least-flattering celebrity close-up in cinema history.

The Last Chapter

Chapters on the corner of Ste. Catherine and Stanley in downtown Montreal isn’t just closing anymore. It’s all the way gone, shuttered and empty – soon to be replaced by the second largest Victoria’s Secret outlet in the world. Because sex sells. Oh, I’m sure Chapters moved its fair share of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s nothing compared to the mark-up to be had on the lacy contraptions ladies wear next to their most private of parts. Thoreau can’t compete with a thong. That’s a fact.

People have been quick to point to this as a sign of the demise of the physical bookstore and the dominance of ebook sales online. The numbers don’t bear this out – not yet at least – but that’s the conclusion many will jump to. In reality, the loss of this cornerstone of Montreal book sales has more to do with mishandling, a confused business model, a hobbyist approach to management, and a foolhardy attempt at monopoly. The whole sordid tale is a matter of public record for those who wish to dig beyond the surface of a fanciful comedic blog, but if you look at the provided photo closely enough, you’ll see a key piece of evidence.chapters1

It’s there on the second level of the three storeys (plus basement) that housed Chapters. Those are café tables you can see through the windows. I knew it was the beginning of the end years ago when so much of the floor space was devoted to seating and the selling of coffee instead of books. The idea was that customers were welcome to sit down – for hours if they wished – and read books for free as they sipped coffee. Does that sound charming to you? Well, it sounds idiotic to me. It means if you shopped there, you were buying supposedly new books at new book prices that had been pawed at and sipped over by freeloading hipsters who couldn’t even be trusted with a library card. If I want dog-eared, manhandled books that have been eyeballed to death by strangers, I’ll go to a second-hand bookshop and buy a scarcer, more interesting edition for a fraction of the price.

The space wasn’t always a Chapters, but it’s been a bookstore my entire life. I’ve attended launches and readings there, bought many books, discovered many authors. I’d lament it more, but these days I can browse online, find just about anything I want in or out of print, and have it delivered to my door with free shipping within a few days, often less. I can’t say I miss swinging by in person, hunting through the various sections, trying to guess if the author I’m looking for qualifies as a wordsmith worthy of the literature section or has been dismissed as just another hack and delegated to one of the genre ghettos, and then finding they have copies of all his other books, just not the one I need.chapters2

Once the café idea was introduced, it didn’t take long for much of the rest of the store to get clogged up with all sorts of other merchandise that had little, nothing, or absolutely zero to do with books. It would never occur to me to go to a bookstore for candles, or a clock, or some goddamn gift basket. I think towards the end they were gambling on impulse purchases by making the cash counter a maze of shit you don’t need but might buy on a whim. They rolled the dice (on sale, half-off, aisle four, next to Dickens) and they lost.

At least if I’m looking for music, there’s still HMV across the street – if I can find which corner they swept the music into. The last time I was there, I almost had to stop one of the staff to ask them if they sold anything other than DVD movies, bobbleheads and novelty pint glasses.

On the subject of books I’ll be appearing in, but will never be for sale at the downtown Chapters location, there’s been some news.

The release of Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Vol. 3, with my story “Young Turks and Old Wives,” has been pushed back to a February 17th release for technical reasons, and has been renamed Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded for branding purposes. No cover yet, but I’m going to make a bold guess that the final imagery will include a lady with an eyepatch and a shotgun – loaded of course.

The cover for The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir has been revealed. Still subject to change, it might not be the final version that will arrive on bookshelves. But if this is what they go with, it will instantly become THE single most homoerotic cover my work has ever appeared under. Or maybe I just have a dirty mind. Given the name of my story is “Choke the Chicken” (I’ll mention that this is an old and popular euphemism for male masturbation in case you’re one of the rarified innocents) perhaps I do. Still, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb mentioning that guns are often phallic symbols and the dude on the cover is puckering up for something.exilecanadiannoir

Oh? He’s just blowing gun smoke out of the barrel?

Of course he is.

My Twitter project, 140 Notorious Characters, is complete and collected on this site under the appropriate sub-page. 140 Horrible Characters has commenced in time for Halloween and will run through till nearly Christmastime. You can keep current with these postings by following me on Twitter.

Mighty Mighty Movie

Supposedly I wrote a TV movie. At least, that’s what the imdb tells me.

Here I was thinking it was only an hour-long animated special, but someone somewhere along the way decided it was going to be called a movie, and that’s all there was to it. I guess it’s a movie the same way various world film institutes have decided that a feature film is anything that runs longer than 40 to 45 minutes.

Shrug. Whatever. If Mighty Mighty Monsters were a regular series instead of three hour-long specials, it would just have been an hour-long episode.

My work on the project ended nearly two years ago now. Preliminary discussions with the producers began over a year before that. The upshot was that I wrote two entire hour-long episodes/movies, both of which were supposed to be the third and final special. My first screenplay was paid for and ditched because it was decided, late in the game, that they wanted to tell a different story for part three of the trilogy. The second one I wrote is what got shot.

With literally years of my life ticking away in the interim, I didn’t really pay attention to what was happening with the show. Apparently the first two special-TV-movie-episodes aired and did well. My closing part of the trio was originally slated to run on Teletoon in April and then didn’t. Post-production may have dragged on, I don’t know. But apparently it’s done now. I only know this because I’ve seen stills and a little bit of footage.

Here are all the individual frames I’ve been able to collect online that are verifiably from my episode, Pranks for the Memories. I’d say SPOILER ALERT, but it’s a cartoon for children. If you’re expecting any great Machiavellian plot twists, turn the channel and go watch HBO.

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MMM4

MMM5

MMM6

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What’s most intriguing to me is the poster. This is the first time I’ve had my name on an actual promotional poster for a release. I guess having a poster for the episode helps make the argument that it’s really a movie after all.

MMMSpecial3

Best guess is that Teletoon will sit on the Mighty Mighty Monsters finale until late October/Halloween, which seems appropriate. Will more TV movies or an actual series follow? Again, shrug. I dunno. I’m just the writer. Nobody tells me anything.

Let’s Ruin Reading for Everyone!

Is there anything technology can’t fuck up? If there is, wait five minutes. Someone will come up with an app for that.

There have been a couple of articles about the lost art of reading that have recently come to my attention. The common thread was that they amounted to two different technological “solutions” for the slow, tedious process of looking at the written word and absorbing it.

The first is Hemingway, a piece of software designed to streamline your prose by pinpointing things like style, complexity and individuality and recommending you cut that shit out. Although it was named for Hemingway, the author of this NPR article quickly discovered the app’s disdain for Ernest when some of his writing was plugging in for a quickie-computer rewrite. The results, concluded the reporter, were an improvement on the work of one of the most celebrated scribes of the 20th century – presumably because it turned his prose into something closer to literary Pablum. It was easier to swallow, bland and tasteless, and required little effort to digest.

HemingwaypunchI’d like to think Hemingway would respond by getting liquored up and punching this NPR flunky in the face.

Okay, now that we’ve ironed out all the bumps and surgically extracted the heart and soul of a piece of writing, how can we cram it down our gullet even faster?

I’m so glad (and dismayed) that you asked.

The Spritz app is designed to force your brain to absorb text much faster than normal reading speed. It’s like speed reading, but with a knife to your throat and your eyes pried open Clockwork-Orange style. Individual words are flashed at you, each with a single letter highlighted in red (presumably to keep you focused) at adjustable speeds that range from painful to tortuous.

Looking at the fastest setting gave me an instant headache. You couldn’t have given me a headache any faster if you’d hit me in the head with a lead pipe. It lingered all day after only about ten seconds of exposure. But it certainly worked. I could read fast. Extremely fast. And it was a horrible, unpleasant experience.

But maybe that’s the point. Hemingway tells us that the written word must be uniform and streamlined, while Spritz shows us that reading is a painful experience best rushed through and ended quickly. These technological innovations expose reading as a burden that should be glossed over and dismissed. Words are not something to sit with, absorb and think about. Language and nuance are for pansies. Books must be downloaded into our brains as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s all about speed. Comprehension is optional – undesirable even. In the time you waste thinking about one book, you could have flown through three more.

As for short stories, articles or, heaven forfend, blog posts, you better be able to swallow that disposable crap in the blink of an eye. You have places to be, important things to do, other apps to download and install to run and ruin your life.

In fact, why the hell are you still here reading this? Shouldn’t you be done already?

If you’re one of those philistines who still clings to reading fiction and wallowing in words, you might be interested in two more of my short stories slated to appear in upcoming anthologies.

“Young Turks and Old Wives” will be part of Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Vol. 3 from One Eye Press. It’s out in November.

“Choke the Chicken” is to be featured in The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. That will come out sometime in 2015.

More details will appear here once we’re closer to the release dates or, more importantly, I have sexy cover art to show off. Until then, you can check out this cool fantasy mock-up for Canadian Noir that one of the writers threw together on a lark.

If you’re sold on the idea that everything must be high tech, I’m sure both collections will be available as ebooks for various tablets and devices and electronic doodads. Or you can curl up with these books the old-fashioned physical way. Order a copy or buy one at a book store – provided you can still find one of those antiquated archaeological dig-sites on a map.

Those of you interested in reading character-based crime fiction but are unwilling to invest more than five seconds at a time may want to check out 140 Notorious Characters. The genre is Twitter Noir and the project has just passed the half-way point. All the tweets are ultimately collected here, but you can also enjoy the twice-daily updates as they spill out of my brain, fresh and offensive, by following me on Twitter.

 

Breaking Brutal

Unsurprisingly, I’m now officially a terrorist. Oh sure, the NSA and various other American alphabet-soup agencies are quick to label everyone a terrorist for anything these days. Left the toilet seat up? Terrorist. Didn’t replace the bog roll after using the last strip? Terrorist. Didn’t wash your hands after going to the bathroom? Terrorist (this one I agree with).

But now it’s Scotland Yard that’s designated me a terrorist. Why? Because I watched the James Foley beheading video recently released by ISIS as a warning against American military intervention in Syria. According to The Yard, merely watching this video can be considered an arrestable act of terrorism. I wish they’d tipped me off in advance, because I only found out about this decree five minutes too late when doing further research on the incident. Oopsie.

So why, exactly, did I go have a look at this horrible, brutal execution that’s so readily available on the Internet? I mean, other than the fact that I’m a morbid, twisted, sick fuck (obviously). Well, it seems I don’t like major media outlets offering me the latest justification for war while refusing to show me the specifics because it might offend my delicate sensibilities. I also don’t like governments telling me to avert my eyes and take their word for it when they try to sell me on a new war on a new front. They always place the ugly specifics of executions and war crimes on a need-to-know basis. Well, as it turns out, I’m a taxpayer in a democracy. So I need to know. I also need to not be patronized, condescended to, or subjected to state propaganda. But they do a lot of that just the same.

As I’ve mentioned via social media in the past, I have a checkered past with the Four Word Film Review site. They turned down some of the very best material I wrote for them. But I still like the format. Four words can convey a lot about a film. Here’s my four-word film review of the James Foley decapitation video:

Overproduced. Anticlimactic money shot.

Am I making light of the murder of a journalist? Nope. I wish the western news media would pay more attention to real journalists, out in the field, in war zones, getting killed in the line of duty. But they’re too busy pointing the camera at themselves in nice safe studios. You know them, these pretenders who aren’t real journalists, but play ones on TV. Posers like Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and anyone who’s ever appeared on Fox News in any capacity whatsoever.

Look around on the Internet and you can find some truly horrific stuff to watch. I’ve written about it in past blog posts, and have already offered the various Islamic extremist groups my critique on their methods when it comes to documenting their own war crimes. I’ve offered no criticism about how they actually execute their fight against The Great Satan because I don’t know shit about IEDs. But I know a lot about film, so once again I have to speak my mind and explain to them, as patiently as I can, why their latest snuff film left me cold.

Okay, jihadists, listen up. I appreciate that you took some of my last round of notes on your decapitation videos seriously. I see a real effort to improve here. You got yourself a better camera. You bought a tripod. The video quality is very nice. So is the lighting (although, let’s face it, it’s the desert, so natural light is kinda plentiful). The audio is crisp, clear. Even the subtitles are well done and spelled correctly (Hong Kong film studios, take note!) But, sorry to say, you didn’t quite nail it this time. I know you thought you hit it out of the park, but this is only a second draft. And I have more notes.

First off, we’re not watching your snuff film to see a recap of Obama speeches. Admittedly, I find presidential speeches pretty scary. I see one, and I immediately flashback to the ‘80s when Ronald Reagan used to pre-empt The A-Team damn near every week with more bullshit. Troubling times. But most political speeches amount to little more than a talking head. We’re here to see heads roll, not talk.

And therein lies my most important note. The beheading. All this build-up and you tastefully cut away from the actual act. Tastefully cut away? For fucksake, you’re ISIS! You’re the guys al-Qaeda thinks are over the top! And you cut away from the deed like it’s a fade-out from a 1948 Hollywood love scene? Look, I would expect you to cut away from a love scene because sex and nudity and love aren’t exactly your cup of tea. But the execution of an infidel? You own that shit. It’s your thing.

I thought the point of this video was to warn America, to threaten all Americans everywhere, to strike fear into their hearts. Trust me on this one, if you’re going to shock America, you have to come up with something more gruesome than, say, any given episode of Game of Thrones. You know, like the one with the duel? And the teeth? And the squishy-squashy skull? That was AWESOME! This…this was not awesome.

Here’s your other problem: Because you didn’t show it, everybody in the conspiracy community thinks you faked it. They’ve gone through your video, bloodless frame by bloodless frame, and they’re calling bullshit. This is not your desired response, I’m sure. You want their reaction to be along the lines of one alternative news-media reporter who referred to the victim being “killed in the most brutal way imaginable.” Okay, clearly he either doesn’t have much imagination or he’s never read any history. He should look up scaphism some time (AKA The boats). Now that’s brutal. And another means of execution from your neck of the desert, I believe. See? You’ve excelled at brutality for thousands of years, so what’s with the no-budget found-footage mockumentary editing? I just don’t get it. Unless the conspiracy community is right and this is some false-flag op meant to escalate tension in the middle east and push for more conflict and military engagement, thereby diverting public attention from an impending global economic collapse.

Nah. I think you just fucked it up. I wouldn’t want to go believing the conspiracy theorists, because the fake reporters on CNN and Fox keep assuring me those people are CRAZY. And the mainstream media triple checks all of their facts and never lies about anything.

Also something in the news I just HAD to mention. Did you hear the one about the high-school student who got arrested for turning in a creative-writing class assignment with a fantastical reference to shooting a dinosaur with a gun? Obviously, everybody is required to lose their shit when any student mentions guns or shooting them. Because, well, think of the poor dinosaurs! That’s probably how they went extinct. I think I heard something about Noah shooting them and dumping them overboard when the last two dinosaurs made a light snack of the last two dodo birds. Something like that. I’ll have to double check my text book from that old Intelligent Design 101 class I sat in on.

If a teenager can get busted by the cops for writing something this innocuous as a school assignment, I’d hate to think what they would have done to me in grade three. I used to write some seriously hardboiled shit back when I was eight – gruesome detective fiction full of tawdry murders and crimes of passion. Then, for art class, I’d draw some mermaids with exposed breasts and my big black dog with an anatomically correct big red penis.

They’d probably sentence me to death by lethal injection – which, depending on which state is botching your execution, could be more brutal than most beheadings. Keep at it Oklahoma, and some day you might get your “humane” executions to last as long as the good old days of scaphism.

Social Media Frenzy

Astute readers will have already noticed the buttons to the right, offering links to my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Despite my better judgement, I’ve allowed myself to be slowly but surely drawn into social media. First blogging, then Facebook, now Twitter. Before you know it, I might send my very first text, and then you’ll know my corruption is complete. Even now I’m resisting the urge to type this on a full-sized keyboard with my thumbs.

Following me on Facebook will allow you access to the amusing, albeit briefer, things I say there. I use that space to spout off about everything I don’t have a whole blog post worth of gripes to purge. And I also post links to cute cat videos like every other goddamn person on Facebook. All my posts are public, so hitting the “follow” button will allow you to read everything without the inconvenience of “friending” me. You don’t want to be my friend anyway. I’ll only curse in front of your children, leave the toilet seat up, and blame my farts on the dog – even if you don’t have one.

Twitter, I’ve discovered, is where I can say even briefer things that contain as much amusement as you’re likely to squeeze out of measly 140 characters. They’re like witty brain farts in a hurricane. To my horror, I’ve found myself preparing a vast creative project to throw out into the Twitterverse that will debut with little fanfare, less attention, and no financial compensation whatsoever. You’ll be able to experience it from the very first tweet. Why am I working so hard on this when I have so much other work to do? Procrastination. Nothing helps me avoid one project quite so well as starting another.

Follow me now and I promise to lead you nowhere enlightening or good for you. But it might be worth a giggle.

Zero Distribution

When is a pirate not a pirate?

I can hardly go to see a movie now, or pop a newly purchased DVD into my player, without somebody screaming at me that piracy is wrong wrong WRONG! Don’t I know, the disc I just purchased with my own money for twenty bucks tells me, that I’m stealing food from the mouths of hungry studio executives and billionaire stars? Can’t I look into my heart, the giant multiplex screen asks me, and not pirate the movie I bought a ticket for (and sat through twenty minutes of commercials to get to) with that camcorder I don’t have stashed in my pocket?

Oh, fuck off.

I’m a subscriber to Netflix, The Movie Network, HBO and a host of cable outlets. I own thousands of DVDs, all bought and paid for. I’ve suffered inflated entry fees at the box office to see thousands of other films over the years. In the past, when such things were viable, I paid to rent movies on VHS, laserdisc and DVD at a wide variety of video stores and mail-order services like Zip.ca. Over the course of a lifetime of movie fandom, I’ve shovelled six-figures of cash at studios, distributors and venues in order to watch the endless number of films I considered worth my time and attention.

But have I ever illegally downloaded a film to watch on my computer? Ever? Even once?

You bet your goddamn ass I have. Many hundreds of times.

Why is that? Is it because I’m a criminal who can’t wait to fleece those poor struggling Hollywood conglomerates? You know, those wonderful people who keep poisoning the well with nine-figure budgets to produce B-movie crap, colossal celebrity salaries that would be enough for any reasonable person to retire on after just one picture, surcharges on already overpriced tickets for gimmicky 3D bullshit I don’t even want with my movie, endless upgrades to the same popular flicks on DVD, Special-Edition DVD, Extra-Special-Edition DVD, Blu-ray, Super-Duper-Extra-Special-Virtual-Blowjob Blu-ray and fucking 3D Blu-ray? Is it just because I’m such an awful person?

No, actually. It’s because they won’t give me the movies I want to see in a timely fashion. So I look elsewhere.

Let’s look at five recent examples of films I’ve seen fit to pirate (plus one more for further discussion), just so I could finally see them.

Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho, 2013, South Korea)

A dystopian sci-fi train movie from the director of The Host? I had to see this immediately. Thanks to shitty distribution, it bounced around in overseas markets for an entire year before it came to these shores. And only then with no real ad campaign and a limited release in Canada (“limited release” in Canada usually means “one screen in Toronto, fuck everybody else”). So I downloaded a copy because it was already out on Blu-ray in foreign regions. And you know what? I’ll buy a DVD when one’s finally made available anyway.

Dom Hemingway (Richard Shepard, 2013, U.K.)

There’s a new Richard Shepard movie out with him doing for Jude Law what he did for Pierce Brosnan in The Matador? Where can I buy a ticket? Nowhere? But it’s been out in the U.K. for nearly a year. Tough shit, because there were low expectations for its box office potential in North America. Oh, they got around to a limited release eventually. In the meantime I downloaded a copy because it was already on Blu-ray in the U.K. And you know what? I’ll buy a DVD when one’s finally made available here too. Because I want my Richard Shepard collection to be complete – even though there are titles that have never been released on DVD, and the interlacing on the disc for The Hunting Party was all fucked up (Thanks, Weinstein Company! If you need some help on the technical side next time you digitally transfer a film, let me hook you up with a twelve-year-old nerd who knows what he’s doing).

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013, U.S.A.)

A Jim Jarmusch film starring Tilda Swinton as a vampire and set in the ruins of Detroit? I’m so in! I’ve known about this project since Jim was still trying to finance it. And then it finally got shot in 2012. And finished in 2013. And released in 2014. On four screens. In the States. I got so sick of waiting to see it, I finally downloaded a copy with burnt-in Asian subtitles. Not an optimal way to see it, but at least I got to see it before I dropped dead of extreme old age. And you know what? I’ll buy a DVD when one’s finally made available. I even keep my pirated copy in a folder with other films called “Buy and Delete.”

Five Graves to Cairo (Billy Wilder, 1943, U.S.A.)

How did I get this far in life without seeing this classic bit of Billy Wilder wartime espionage propaganda? Easy, I couldn’t find it. But you know who had it? One of the pirate sites that respects film history (unlike the people who own the rights to all that film history). And you know what? It turns out a DVD was released only last year. Seventy years after the fact, but who’s counting? I would have bought it had it been made available in a timely fashion, right around the same time I bought EVERY SINGLE OTHER Billy Wilder movie that was out on DVD. I mean, hey, he’s one of the most beloved writer/directors in history, right? And yet! All of his films STILL aren’t out on DVD, 17 years into the format.

Bad Company (Robert Benton, 1972, U.S.A.)

I got tired of having not seen this early Jeff Bridges acid western, so I went shopping for the DVD. Only then did I discover it was out of print. And I really didn’t want to pay 30 bucks for a crappy old transfer on the secondary market. Except I probably will now because having downloaded and watched it and really liked it, I want a better copy than the even-lower-rez download I found. Too bad no one’s looking to release an upgraded special edition of this DVD. Nah, they’re probably hard at work on the tenth edition of Army of Darkness. Fine film, sure, but who needs ten DVD copies of it?

I usually watch movies on the basis of who wrote and/or directed them. I have a long list of people whose careers I follow closely. One of those people is Terry Gilliam. Obviously. If you haven’t been following his career for decades, then I guess you don’t particularly care for cinema in general. I own all of his films on DVD, including multiple editions of some. And I’ll be buying The Zero Theorem one day too. But I’ve also pirated it. Why? Because it was recently announced it’s not even getting any sort of theatrical release in Canada. A Terry Gilliam film. No release. For real.

Mongrel Media has since backed down, embarrassed into offering some sort of Canadian distribution after an email campaign by fans shamed them into it. But why was that even necessary? Simple really. The bottom dollar.

The Zero Theorem is one of those odd, contemplative, existential science fiction movies filled with mystery and symbolism and metaphors that need to be deciphered, capped off with a big fat ambiguous ending. Marketers have no idea what to do with one of those. It’s a lost cause. Better to wait for the next bang-bang shoot-em-up-with-lasers science fiction movie to dump their ad campaign dollars into.

As for me, two words, “Terry” and “Gilliam” sold me instantly. But I’m not most people. Hell, they couldn’t even convince people to go see Tom Cruise blow up aliens in Edge of Tomorrow. They’re never going to convince Joe Boxoffice to buy a ticket to see a bald Christoph Waltz feel alienated while he works on an insolvable problem from his home computer. It was a business decision, pure and simple. To save face, Mongrel will probably end up giving it a token limited release. You know the drill. One screen in Toronto. Two weeks tops.

So where does that leave someone like me? Downloading a torrent, of course. And no, I’m not a bad person for doing it. I’m not stealing the last morsel of bread from Gilliam’s children’s mouths. I’m just a film fan who wants to see the fucking movie now because I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. If it’s finished and ready for public consumption, make it available. There’s a world of technology that makes this possible, guys. Figure out the business model and make it work. And stop trying to sell me on the idea of commuting to see it on the big screen at an inconvenient time, after a bunch of ads for products I’ll never buy and a bunch of trailers that spoil the plot for every movie they’re promoting, next to a mob of chattering troglodytes eating stinky nachos and lighting up the dark theatre with their smart phones while they check to see if they got any interesting texts in the last five minutes.

That ship has sailed. I officially hate the theatre experience now. I have better picture, better sound, better company, and better odours at home. Now let me watch what I really want to watch when I want to watch it instead of spoon feeding me another fucking Transformers movie.

“But it’s the big screen! Some movies are meant to be experienced on the big screen!”

Fuck your big screen. And fuck that wad of gum that’s been stuck to it since some idiot threw it up there in 2003. Don’t you guys ever scrape that shit off?

The Zero Theorem is a dystopian-future science fiction piece, and like all science fiction, it’s really about the here and now. Dystopian-future speculation has been around for a long time, often as cautionary tales about current trends and where we’re heading. Whether it’s Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brazil or Blade Runner, they’re always slightly ahead of the curve – warning of present dangers, but anticipating how bad things might get down the road. Increasingly, however, such works of satirical speculative fiction have felt closer and closer to the mark. Or, more to the point, the world we’re living in has at last come to meet the lowest expectations of Huxley and Orwell.

Now that we’ve finally arrived at the dystopian future we’re all been waiting for, I find I don’t much care for it. Between the surveillance state wanting to know what we’re all up to every moment of every day, and corporate marketers wanting to track every transaction we make so they can better predict how to pick our pockets, I long for the good old days when the only thing looking over our shoulder was the grim reaper – because the black death was sweeping across Europe. Again. And kings and queens were plotting the next major war/population cull. Again. Things were simpler then. Deadlier, but simpler.

The Zero Theorem presents an all-too-recognizable future filled with isolation – isolation through technology, isolation through shallow human interaction, isolation by choice. Christoph Waltz is Qohen Leth, a man utterly alone, who nevertheless always refers to himself in the plural. He’s the latest in a series of computer technicians tasked with solving the zero theorem – an equation that will prove that one day the reverse of the big bang will occur, unmaking everything. He’s good at his work, but largely disinterested in what it’s all for. Unwelcome visitors thwart his ability to concentrate on what he’s doing and demand he form human bonds he doesn’t understand and has long avoided.

It is not an easy film. You will be left with questions like, “What did I just watch?” “What did it mean?” and “Did I like that or hate it?”

You should see it sometime. A time of your choosing, in a format of your choice. Just as soon as the distributors finally pull their thumbs out of their asses and offer it to you.

Or go ahead and find another way. We may be living in our very own dystopian future, but at least it gives us technological options when it comes to how we legally or illegally consume media.

Christoph Waltz plays a character who doesn’t want to be noticed, Matt Damon plays a character who literally blends in.

Christoph Waltz plays a character who doesn’t want to be noticed. Matt Damon plays a character who literally blends in.

Christoph Waltz seeks virtual psychiatric from a programmable Tilda Swinton.

Christoph Waltz seeks virtual psychiatric help from a programmable Tilda Swinton.

zerotheorem03

Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Thierry share one of those obsolete genuine human interaction moments.

Dystopian futures have lots of rules.

Dystopian futures have lots of rules.

Playing spot-the-symbolism will keep you busy throughout the 106-minute running time.

Playing spot-the-symbolism will keep you busy throughout the 106-minute running time.

Simsenfreude

Much as I enjoy gaming, these days I’ve been spending far too many hours writing to get in any serious play time. Oh sure, I’ve nipped off for a heartbreaking permadeath or two in Don’t Starve. I even bought Prototype 2 for ten bucks in the latest Steam sale just for the cathartic pleasure of liquefying a few thousand innocent bystanders for no better reason than they were standing there, irritatingly minding their own business. But on the video-game front, I’ve largely been amusing myself by watching industry developments from the sidelines, reading articles, and trying to answer the most pressing question of the day: Is EA Games about to lay waste to another beloved and venerable franchise?

Since being voted the worst company in America multiple years in a row by an online poll, disappointing everyone with the universally loathed ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, and laying waste to a mighty gaming dynasty with the catastrophuck that was Simcity 2013, EA can do no right. Now, with a September 2nd release date written in stone, casual and obsessive gamers alike are waiting to find out if they’re about to destroy The Sims once and for all.

After nickel and diming fans with The Sims 3 microtransactions for the last five years, it was time to con devoted fans into buying all the same shit all over again for The Sims 4. EA bean counters are rubbing their greedy fingers together in anticipation of all the greenbacks they’ll see from pre-orders, deluxe pre-orders, online store items, and future installments that will roll off the assembly line multiple times per year for the next five years, give or take.

There’s just one tiny problem. The development and promotion of this new installment has, thus far, been an unmitigated disaster. And as a result, I’m getting far more entertainment value for free from watching this slow-motion train wreck than I could ever get for a seventy-dollar sticker price in September. To varying degrees, I’ve played all the past incarnations of The Sims. I don’t know if I’ll ever touch The Sims 4, but basking in the associated nerd rage amuses the shit out of me.

When I say I play The Sims, that’s not entirely accurate. I fart around with The Sims. I while away the hours overdesigning creepy freaks and outlandish buildings and sinister lairs. I micromanage every shade of colour, every texture, every prop’s position, until I’ve created exactly the mood I want. Then I proceed to never actually play the game itself because who really wants to spend all their gaming time reminding virtual people that it’s time to go to work, go to bed, eat something, clean something, or poop?

Well, apparently lots of people want to do that, and have done so for years, through three (going on four) incarnations of the game and more expansion packs, stuff packs and DLC than anyone has ever tried to count (FUN FACT: they once set Deep Blue to the task but technicians had to pull the plug after sixteen hours when it started smoking and stinking of sulfur and burnt rubber).

The big selling point of The Sims 4 is that your virtual people-puppets now come with emotions, emotions, EMOTIONS! Did we mention they have emotions now?

Okay, if you say so. Although I always thought the Sims looked pretty darn embarrassed every time they pissed themselves ten feet away from a perfectly functional toilet because they were too engaged in a rollicking game of chess.

When it comes to the new emotions system in the game, there’s only one emotion that comes to mind: Schadenfreude. From the moment EA minions announced that Into the Future would be the last expansion pack for The Sims 3, they’ve busied themselves laying waste to that future. The franchise now hangs on the success or failure of a sequel that has looked half-baked from day one.

Originally designed to be a multiplayer online experience like its Simcity cousin, the aforementioned catastrophuck necessitated a quick reversal on that front for fear of replicating one of the biggest disasters in video gaming history. Unfortunately, the infrastructure was already there, the engine was already built, and it was too late in the schedule to create the new game from the ground up. So now we have a single-player experience grafted onto a multiplayer design. The results are a massive leap backwards for the series, removing the open world of The Sims 3 in favour of lots and lots and lots of loading screens.

Ah, if only that were the sole setback this game had to deal with. Let us not forget the layoffs when EA cut its Maxis staff to the bone earlier this year. All sorts of beloved “SimGurus” featured in promotional play videos, product announcements, and tweets with the fans were given the unceremonious axe, leaving only two janitors and one accountant on staff to finish coding The Sims 4. As a direct result, the game isn’t ready. It isn’t even close to being ready. If it had another year of development time at its disposal, it might be able to get in the same ballpark as ready. Right now, it’s not even on the same planet as ready. But it’s getting a worldwide release in a little over a month because fuck it! EA gotta eat.

Nearly every single day for weeks there’s been a new announcement about what’s not in the game. EA is doling out the bad news incrementally to avoid a fan-base shock that would see all their preorders cancelled. It’s not really working. Preorders continue to be sluggish, and a lot of the ones they already had dating all the way back to 2013 have been cancelled. No Create-a-Style, no toddlers, no swimming pools, no basements. The hits keep on coming. Stuff that was promised to be in-game last year has since evaporated. Everyone is waiting on the inevitable announcement that cars and other vehicles will not be interactive in the base game. The silence on the topic has been deafening. Which means cars are out.

But did we mention your Sims will now have emotions? Yes, I think you did. Did I mention Sim fans have emotions too? They do. Rage, ire, disdain, hatred and malice. Read the forums sometime. The vitriol is poisonous.

Complicating the matter is EA’s typical tone-deaf approach to dealing with its customers. Videos, convention appearances and promotion for the new Sims title have been a joke. A badly told knock-knock joke with poor delivery, ill timing and no punchline. EA seized upon the opportunity of the E3 conference to provide no new information about the game whatsoever. After fans demanded to see actual in-game footage – any in-game footage featuring genuine game play and a user interface – EA responded with a contrived and woefully incomplete walkthrough identical to what they offered select members of the press back at E3 a month earlier.

SimGuru Graham, owner of one of the necks that avoided this year’s layoff chopping block, has been dispatched to calm fears and break bad news as sweetly as possible via Twitter and endless rounds of nearly identical convention interviews. The new Sim emotions may be garishly overacted and cartoony, but I think I can read some of the more subtle emotions going on just under the surface of those pandering interviews that hit all the talking points and never broach the subject of what’s gone so horribly wrong the game.

I’ve done those interviews myself, I’m been in those meetings. I’m sure many of you have as well. You know, the ones where you’re required to fake enthusiasm for a product you know is a steaming pile of dog shit? You pull your lips back, bare your teeth, and hope it resembles a genuine smile. You raise your voice to an artificially high pitch and volume and pray it sounds like excitement. But the eyes, ah yes, the eyes. Those haunted, soul-compromised eyes can’t hide the fact that you’re dying inside a little every time you present a false positive or nod in agreement with an idea you know is not just bad, it’s stupefying horrible.

Putting on a brave face, dying a little on the inside.

Putting on a brave face, dying a little on the inside.

More transparent is SimGuru Ryan, who continues to be tapped for interviews, announcements and gameplay videos. He’s been a constant frontman for the franchise for years, apparently thanks to his position as lead producer in charge of artificially positive spin. He comes across as so insincere, I worry the poor man fakes his orgasms when masturbating. Every time he opens his mouth in one of these clips, I feel like I’m being hard sold a lemon by a used car salesman. Except, of course, The Sims 4 won’t actually have real cars. That piece of bad news publically admitted to in three…two…one…

Of course there are fans who remain steadfastly committed to the title. Although the ongoing derailment of a fourteen-year-old billion-dollar video gaming cornerstone has sharply divided the community into bickering factions, that’s part of the appeal of watching everyone lose their shit and turn into a talkback troll. Stubborn supporters are very much needed to turn a critical panning into a lively boxing match. Without them it would be like having no delusional die-hards who stood up to defend the Star Wars prequels. Where’s the fun if everyone acknowledges the product on offer is junk and agrees to keep their money in their wallet?

You can read all the negative comments about The Sims 4 right now. The game itself, ready or not, comes out on September 2, 2014. Better-informed negative reviews commence on September 3rd.