Feminists cry foul over Fat Princess, says the headline. Gee. I wonder why. Maybe is has something to do with the fact that “the colorful Fat Princess is a capture-the-flag game with a twist: you can thwart capture attempts by locking the once-thin princess in a dungeon and stuffing her full of cake, thereby increasing her girth and making her harder for your enemies to haul back to home base.”

But Ben Silverman, who brings this little item to our attention, responds to the fact that the game was apparently designed by a woman with a dismissive “Hmmm...hope the game's detractors don't mind eating a bit of crow.”

A bit of crow? Right. I get it. It’s okay to exploit society’s dysfunctional views of women’s bodies because the concept artist who designed the game’s look is female. Or maybe Silverman is totally missing out on the notion that a woman playing into the whole helpless-ugly-fat-girl stereotype is herself part of a social pattern of misogyny. Yeah, that’s more like it. Collaborationism.

What really tickles me about this whole thing is how okay people are with video games embodying nasty ideas. I’m talking about violence, of course, with games whose purpose is explicitly to murder characters in the goriest ways possible. Sure, there is no proven “direct link” between games and real-life violence. Maybe there’s no causal link between real life and the way women are portrayed in games – and men too, really. But the relationship between games and reality goes two ways; they reflect and influence each. Games, at least, we can really control; we don’t have to have games whose point is to stuff a woman to make her too fat to carry. We don’t have to have games that involve hacking limbs off. Life may have its misogyny and violence, but if we deliberately keep that shit out of games, we can at least break that cycle of influence.

Oh, but it’s all fantasy and entertainment, right? Well, what does it say about us that overweight women getting made fun of, or people dying horrible deaths, entertains us?

That’s one reason I really liked “Get Smart”. In one of my favourite scenes, Smart gets it in his head that he’ll show up Agent 99 for dancing with a suave baddie. He goes up to a group of pretty socialites and asks that fateful question: would you like to dance with me? The head pretty girl looks at him and turns him down with a sneer. But Smart isn’t bothered; she’s not the one he was talking to. The socialites part and there, looking lovely in an evening dress, is the last woman the stick insects believe would get asked to dance. Yet, despite not being a sickly toothpick, Smart not only dances with her, he kicks ass. I loved it. A movie that doesn’t make fun of characters’ because of their physique.

As one of the feminist bloggers pointed out, Sony could have come up with any number of ideas that would have preserved the gameplay mechanics without resorting to hateful imagery. But they didn’t so I say: pox on them.


new column: it's the stupid economy

This week's column is a chilling tale about the green stuff. In the role of villains are the number-shufflers with their deadly weapons; really scary vocabulary that may not even be English, let alone ethical. The protagonists? That's right, Mr. and Mrs Q. Public, bled dry and then some. The Power That Be would like us to think that they know what's going and what needs to be done. But whom are they kidding? In the first of a series, I take a look at these ivory tower economists.

It's the Stupid Economy


new film reviews: the dark knight and wanted

One of these movies is great. One of these movies is trash. Take a guess which is which.

The Dark Knight


As always, both reviews are available at my film review archive, www.inkandashes.net.


gather 'round...it's trailer talk!

The Spirit: I really don’t get the marketing campaign for this film. First, we get posters and a teaser with dialogue so badly pulpy it’s mush. Now we get girls, girls, girls and the film’s villain, the Octopus, wondering what it is about the Spirit and women. I’m wondering too. Not that I mind girls, girls, girls, but still - where’s the crime fighting? And is this focus on the film’s women an attempt to appeal to teenaged hetero males? That would be so comic bookish. If I have any curiosity about the film, it stems from knowing that the Spirit is a classic comic book hero – I remember reading some of Will Eisner’s work, but it apparently didn't take – and that Frank Miller knows how create a visually dynamic film world.

Watchmen: The long-gestating adaptation of Alan Moore’s notoriously complex work is showing signs of life. Director Zack Snyder, like Dr. Frankenstein, is finally pulling the lever that sends thousands of volts of electricity through the body of his film. This early tease, however, is disappointing. Connoisseurs of the book will recognize key scenes and visuals from the book. Everyone else will see pretty pictures. But here’s the question: can anyone say what the film is about based on the trailer? Anyone? As a flavour of things to come, this trailer just doesn’t cut it.

Punisher War Zone: This actually looks pretty interesting, in a glossy B-movie kind of way. Better production quality that the Dolph Lundren vehicle, a gritty yet comic bookish look, and the actual semblance of a plot – this movie might actually have some pull. Nothing I saw of the Thomas Jane edition made me want to see that movie, and the critical consensus hasn’t changed my mind. But this newest film, an independent endeavour from the previous two, might actually be on to something. I say this despite the silly bit in the trailer in which the Punisher dangles from a chandelier in yet another of those slow-mo gunplay ballets. As of this writing, a new trailer is due in 21 hours.


new column: mccain and the dreaded "S" word

And no, the "S" word doesn't have four-letters. It might as well have, though, given the way it makes Republicans break out into hives. But isn't it a bit silly? Sure. It's also more fearmongering from good ol' McCain. Read all about it in this week's column at TFPO:

McCain and the Dreaded "S" Word


new film reviews: hellboy 2 and cubes

It's a double-dram of film reviews this week:

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army



(Also at www.inkandashes.net.)

And, in honour of The Dark Knight opening this weekend, a DVD recommendation:

Batman: Gotham Knight - An animated interlude set between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Gotham Knight consists of six related short films. With the exception of the first short, Have I Got a Story for You, the animation is top-notch eye-popping stuff. The stories are quality too, from Batman field testing new technology to a young Bruce Wayne traveling the world to learn how to control his pain. Major brownie points for Batman fans: Kevin Conroy, who voiced Bruce Wayne/Batman in the great animated series, lends his voice again.

send karl rove to jail!

A video and petition, courtesy of Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films:



globalization and too much government

Democracy Now has a fascinating interview with Naomi Klein on the topic of the shock doctrine, oil, climate change, Obama, politicians, free trade, and the surveillance apparatus being built in Shenzhen, China. A few highlights:
  • The Shock Doctrine is Klein’s hypothesis that disasters are used to push otherwise unpopular solutions for the benefit of corporate profits. She gives as an example Bush’s push to lift bans on off-shore drilling – a bad idea that will not help our energy situation, but will greatly profit oil companies and perpetuate the energy crisis.
  • Obama is of a conservative economic mode, much like the Clintons. From his advisors to some of the things he said, Obama isn’t always strictly progressive: “…I think what we actually saw with Obama is that he started pretty much at a conservative point on economic policy, and Clinton—and the campaign with Clinton, because she was moving so far to a populist position, he then moved. And as soon as she dropped out of the race, he moved back. So I think there are some real points of disagreement, and I think that there are some places to point to much more progressive outlook in Obama’s roots, particularly on foreign policy, but I don’t think economic policy is one of them.”
  • Ultimately, American politics are undermined by the unconditional nature of the support politicians receive. In other words, voters have to be clear that they will only support an elected official provided certain conditions are met. If not, they’ll throw the bum out. (This was precisely the topic of my most recent column: vote for Obama, but scorch the earth in 2012 if he, along with Democrats, doesn’t catalyze meaningful change.)
I think globalization really is the underlying issue making all these crises so hard to get a grip on. Instead of local self-sufficiency, we have a globalized network of economic and political connections that make local changes hard to deal with because they’re tied in to a bigger system. But like the old saw about the butterfly in China, any disruption in the system, however small, can have a tremendous impact in other parts of the network. Which brings me to a problem related to globalization: too much government. We have city and state governments – and county, on top of which is a national government. Then we have innumerable international regulatory bodies each of which exert some sort of authority. And much of these governments and regulatory entities operate outside the ordinary person’s immediate scope – job, house, food, and so on. With it being extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to stay reasonably informed about what all those government people are doing, it’s not surprising that a lot goes on that is against our interests and without our knowledge or informed consent.

The problem is worse than that, as corporate interests are increasingly synonymous with government interests. I’m not saying the solution is isolationism, but independence that focuses on the local and encourages self-sufficiency as much as possible. Maybe it’s time for the dormant anarchist movement to wake up again, to bring to the discussion the vigourous ideas of social organization without government. Even if a peaceful condition of anarchy is a pipe dream, anarchist theory can at least help cut through this tangled socio-politico-economic knot we have been bound with.


why I won't watch heroes anymore

Every so often, I'll dip into the vast pool of information that is Wikipedia and bone up on what's going on in the world of comics. Everytime, I'm reminded why I'm not into comics with the exception of Mike Mignola's brilliant Hellboy and the odd stand-alone book like The Long Halloween or something by Alan Moore. For example, check out this summary of DC's current story arc, Final Crisis. Then, follow the links you find to read up on various comic book heroes, villains, and so on. It's all rather dizzying...an array of characters who undergo everything from death, resurrection and possession/manipulation, parallel universes and dimensions, gods, wizards, scientists, aliens. You'll find everything, including the proverbial sink, in play in the DC universe - something that applies to the Marvel universe as well. But how is it that a fictional universe can put non-powered characters like Batman and the Question alongside superheroes like Superhero, sorcerors like Dr. Strange, and even Neil Gaiman's sandman characters? In other words, what kind of fictional universe is it that sees science, magic, the divine, the hellish, and the supernatural co-exist? Answer: a narratively bankrupt universe. When anything can happen in a story's universe, the experiences characters have don't mean all that much.

It's the mad path of anti-climax, with all the drama and emotion sucked out of the story because the writers/creators are unwilling to set down limits that even they, as storytellers, can't cross. This is what happened with Season 2 of Heroes. Tim Kring and the writing staff not only jumped the shark, but catapulted themselves across it by indulging the very soap opera theatrics of mainstream comic book storytelling. Instead of killing Sylar off - he did get rammed through with a sword - they keep him alive, yet depowered, for an inane plot that does not develop his character but instead becomes a time-filler for him to regain his power and resume his wicked brain-eating (!?) ways. Instead of killing Nathan off - a noble sacrifice for his brother - he too is kept alive. But the clincher is Noah Bennett's death and ressurection. Forget that Mohinder was made into a douchebag and that it was probably not a good idea to stage Noah's death; the writers killed him and they should have had the guts to stuck with it. It was, after all, dramatic and filled with the promise of all sorts of interesting dilemmas for Claire. But no. He had to be revived. With Claire's blood. Now all the show's characters have to do is run around with an epipen filled with Claire's blood and jam in their legs whenever they get a big bad boo-boo. And to top it off, the Heroes graphic novels hint strongly that the immortal Adam, whose horrific but strangely poetic live burial created quite an impact, might yet be released from his from his underground prison. So there it is: no death, no permanence, no reason to care what happens because it can all be reversed at a writer's whim. And no reason to watch Heroes anymore.


new column: change or bust

At the beginning of the year, Kucinich dropped out of the race ushering in the need for tactical voting - voting against Republicans more than voting for Democrats, in essence. With all the kerfuffle surrounding Obama's so-called turn to the center, not to mention Dear Maverick's inexplicably enduring appeal, is it time to change tactics? Is Obama becoming enough of a disappointment that it's worth risking McCain getting elected?

That's the topic of this week's rant over at the Front Page Online. Because in the end, it's either

Change Or Bust


new review: hancock

I went again the grain. Yessiree, I did. The tomatometer's at 30%, and I'm with that 30%. Do I feel guilty? Not at all. I may be a critic, but I actually go to the movies with the intention of enjoying them.


Oh, and the titles aren't mine - in case you were wondering. Sometimes, the pen just runs out of ink. (And that's a clean metaphor...honest!)


apple is great!

It is. It is soooooo great. It's better than sex. It's better than chocolate. It's better than chocolate-covered sex. AND it's better than sliced bread, fire, the wheel, and flushing toilets - all covered in chocolate, of course. Quick, then. Line up for hours! Get yours!

Software problems bug Apple's launch of new iPhone


capsule reviews: inland empire, the notebook, king of california

Inland Empire: Here’s a film to add to The List. Where Mulholland Drive was a contrived grab-bag of surrealist gimmicks in an attempt to relive the glory days of Twin Peaks, Inland Empire revisits the gritty urban mindscapes first manifested in the severely underrated Lost Highway. “A woman in trouble,” says David Lynch. Yes. And, for all the metaphorical density and layers upon layers of enigmas, a coherent interpretation of the film’s psycho-drama is possible. But more than representing what Lynch can do with a holistic vision - instead of trying to slap on an ending on previously filmed material as he did with Mulholland Drive - Inland Empire is a gorgeous masterpiece of cinematic art. The digital cinematography, the colour saturation, the industrial settings, the soundtrack, the ominous banality of simple rooms, a volcanic performance by Laura Dern: all these make for an experience that burrows deep, deep inside. Inside what? Everything.

The Notebook: With a title sequence so heavily drenched in syrup, like a particularly sentimental Hallmark card or Thomas Kincade painting, it’s no great revelation that the rest of the movie manipulates audiences with shamelessly sugary clichés that give formula a bad name. I liked the performances – who can argue with James Garner and Gena Rowlands? But the way everything is resolved confuses romance with exploitation. Senility and dementia are props intended to jerk tears, but the result is a big jerk-off instead.

King of California: This blip on the radar, a solid indie charmer, packs a nice little punch. Michael Douglas puts on the smart and crazy with charm and plays off Evan Rachel Wood’s maturity and exasperation with panache. It’s a quirky tale, to be sure; a father-daughter bonding movie in the guise of a quixotic – or is it? – treasure hunt. But it’s also poignant, with good writing and direction by first-timer Mike Cahill. The best part; we’re not sure until the very end if Douglas’ character really is tilting at windmills or whether he’s on to something. But better than actually getting an answer to the question is watching two endearing characters try to bridge a gap of years and experience to forge a meaningful relationship.


new column: olympic fever? turn up the heat!

This week, I wrap up my discussion on the Beijing Olympics and come to a decision about whether or not to get in the Olympic spirit. The answer, unsurprisingly, is a resounding "yes, but" - but I'll take it.

Olympic Fever? Turn Up the Heat!


new review: wall*e

I'm short on time, so without further delay I give you:

The Wondrous World of Wall*E

(also at inkandashes.net)


for the love of classical Indian dance

Ah, I just love classical Indian dance, particularly Bharata Natyam. Which means it was quite the treat to attend the annual program of The Shakti School of Bharata Natyam and its performing arm, the Shakti Dance Company. Read all about it here, at The Front Page Online.


obama the bridge?

So Obama moved to the center. Or did he? Trey Ellis thinks he's been there all along. Arianna Huffington goes with the perception that he's steering a middle course, and labels it a loser move. And then there's the news that Obama would continue with Bush's faith-based initiatives, albeit with tweaks.

"I get tagged as being on the left and, when I simply describe what has been my position consistently, then suddenly people act surprised," he is quoted as saying. "But there hasn't been substantial shifts there."
And he's right. That speech to AIPAC, those comments on Iran...all of these were spots to tarnish his otherwise shiny oh-so-so-liberal liberalness. But let's me be honest: Obama's no Dennis Kucinich, and he never was. Obama, like Clinton, was always an establishment candidate, never putting forth ideas like a Kucinich or a Nader, never really dealing with the unspoken structural problems of American politics, but adhering to those issues that differentiate Democracts from Republicans. (For example, a Democrat won't overturn Roe V Wade, or ban gay marriage, or privatize social security.) From a marketing standpoint, there's no surprise that his message may have changed with his audience. With the primaries over, he moves from core Democrats to the general population. While the way he talks offers an inspirational vision of trans-partisan politics, in practice this means that, by definition, he'll sit on the big fat bulge in the middle of the bell curve to offer something to everybody instead of the dipping into either end and alienating everyone else. You just can't be a bridge without a foot on both sides of the gap. This willingness to address issues of concern to Christian Evangelicals and the "right" is not necessarily a betrayal of the dedicated left, but quite possibly the mark of someone who aims to build consensus, however imperfect.

Having said that, Obama's desirability as presidential candidate remains relative. He didn't run an odious, intellectually dishonest campaign like Clinton. He's not McCain. His passionate talk of hope and change is talk we need to here, because we do need hope and change, regardless of whether he is able to deliver that change. He espouses, as I mentioned, the standard Democratic Party values. He represents the establishment in the positive, as opposed to the corrupted, malevolent establishment represented by Bush and McCain. And while a positive establishment isn't the reinvention that Kucinich or Nader represents, it's still better than the alternative.

In the end, the real test will be what he does when he's president, and how the people hold him accountable.