20080819

Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem

This past weekend I watched Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem, which was probably one of the most visually misogynistic movies I’ve ever seen this side of American Psycho.

Now, the Giger’s Alien is a pretty horrid creature in and of itself, with it’s perverse use of the human body as an incubator after a borderline sexual assault from the infamous face hugger, the beast dehumanizes everything around it.

AVP:R was, in fact, even more violent and disturbing than I remember from what I caught in the theater since I saw the directors cut.

Originally, I saw it with a few friends of mine, one of whom is a staunch opponent of violence against children, pregnant women or animals in most contexts. The first time I tried to see this movie, he cried out with his signature, “Aw, heelll-naw!” as one of the creatures prepared to assault a pregnant woman and we left before the true nastiness could begin.

Through compulsion for closure on par with that of a high schooler, I decided to see the film again.

There’s a creature in this film that forces a tube down the throat of a pregnant woman, and her throat throbs luridly as it forces its spawn into her lower torso, where she already has a baby, because it only attacks pregnant women. Now, when taken out of context, the scene is extremely offensive. When taken in context, it’s is the icing on a cake of sci-fi depravity the likes of which we haven’t seen since Event Horizon.

On top of that, characters that should have lived, because they didn’t have sex at any point, die anyway. It’s a rule in horror movies that if you don’t have sex or do drugs you don’t die, making nearly all of them an allegory for wildly excessive retribution visited upon youth by outside forces. But apparently, if the horror is from space everyone is fair game. In the case of this film, especially the young and/or the pregnant.

In addition to this nastiness, I hate the idea that the Aliens apparently have made it to earth on several occasions, making Helen Ripley’s eventually fatal quest to keep them off-planet sadly moot, perhaps even more than her being cloned in the fourth film.

In the film, a hybrid of the titular Predator and Alien crash lands on earth in space ship of one of the Predator race, and the standing governing body of the Predator race apparently sends an elite “cleaner” who takes care of these sorts of things. This particular Predator is a gangly sort of cross between a CIA agent, a Green Beret and a park ranger. I found the concept of earth as a sort of intergalactic wild-life preserve to be rather funny, but when the only humor of a movie is more from the things you have to think of after the fact, something is lacking.

A good amount of action is spent in a massive sewer system that seems completely out of place in the small southwestern-western town of Gunnison, Co., standing in for the typical isolated, suburban Mainstreet, USA, where aliens, zombies, vampires and werewolves invariably schedule their showdowns with humans and each other in between spring parades and local music festivals.

There is a ton of little continuity issues through out the film, details that would ordinarily grab my attention are wrong, and details that I wouldn’t care about in any case are over-emphasized. One of the details I caught was one character coming from the U.S. ArmyMarines, judging from the half and half uniform she wears upon her arrival home from Inconsequencistan. She is a member of the branch that has female Stryker combat vehicle drivers, of which I’m fairly sure there are few.

On the other extreme, too much time is devoted to a character’s back story (whose name I don’t even remember, despite other characters screaming it before they die several times) about jail time and vague crimes that may have been committed whilst a member of the police force (though it’s never made clear). His entire “dark past” turns out to be wholly irrelevant in the grand scheme of an alien invasion, as most petty crime wouldn’t make you capable of handling sub-machine guns, let alone an extra-terrestrial shot-gun intended for creatures two feet taller than you.

Topping of all this nastiness is the inevitable, “Man is the real monster,” ending in which a shady government organization nukes the entire town of Gunnison to prevent the spread of the deadly phallus headed Aliens, killing the remainder of the towns initial 5,409, minus the survivors who escape on a hospital helicopter, which of course the surviving veteran ArmyMarine knows how to fly as well, which means she had one of those rare military jobs in which she learned to fly both a Stryker and chopper.

The argument could be made here that somewhere in her back story, she learned to fly a chopper as a civilian, but that’s giving the production far more credit than gave me as an audience member.

The final insult in all of this is after the survivors land, they are confronted by a group of face painted commandos who insist they were “only following orders.” That’s not what got to me, though. What got to me was the surviving woman who was supposed to also be a member of the military, regardless of branch, should have kicked that guy’s ass until candy came out and asked him if it would be acceptable if she nuked his hometown in the process of “following orders.” Instead, she shrugs it off, and looks wistfully at the sky where we see her slight resemblance to Sigourney Weaver.

Aggressively terrible as that ending was, it doesn’t compare to the films actual tacked-on ending, in which a man in a suit, responsible for war-crimes at this point after tactical-nuking more people than were killed in 9/11, delivers the Predators’ shotgun-like weapon to a Ms. Yutani. Dun-Dun-Dun! This last scene was a of course, a desperate grasp for continuity with the series, as Yutani is the other half of the soon to be Weyland-Yutani Corp. We met Weyland’s CEO in the first AVP, and, as in this film, we didn’t much care then either.

On a final note, a film snob moment: The finest scenes in any film involving the Predator are the scenes where the Predator is alone on screen and doing its thing, telling a story entirely with physical acting. It is pure cinema to have an actor tell a story through motion alone, rubber suit or not. I found it fascinating in the first Predator, and still interesting in the second. AVP sorely lacked that little touch, and AVP:R at least had the good sense to bring it back, however, that’s really all the sense it had.

20080815

Darfur In Brief

I often find the pacifism is generally practiced at a great distance to where it would be a real question of survival to do so.

I doubt there are pacifists in Darfur. I'd imagine the contrast is grimer. Men with guns, and those at their mercy, and if anything coming out of Darfur true, mercy is in extremely short supply. However brutal it may be in the region, it is still a preventable, stoppable genocide, where some application of military might may actually prove more fruitful than playing nice.

But before we look at the reasons why it might be a better idea to put boots on the ground, let’s look at what has failed miserably and why.

1. Humanitarian Aid Supplies- Failed miserably because the Sudanese government is attempting genocide through attrition. Essentially, any supplies that western powers attempt to deliver the Sudanese government will stifle.

2. Trade Sanctions – Sanctions are an okay way to get a point across, if you have a large enough population that will suffer as a result of the sanctions, they will prompt their government to do something. Maybe. However, if the intention of the government is to incite one half of the country to wipe out the other, everything bad that happens can be blamed on the target population and the furor for the their blood will increase.

3. Humanitarian Aid Technicians – Sending a large contingent of unarmed medics into a combat zone is really, really unwise in general. In particular to the Sudan, it is a horrendous idea because once again the perpetrators of genocide are in control to start, and they can stop the medical personnel from doing their at any time through the threat of force.

4. Cease-fires, treaties, accords – Once again you have to take the intentions of those hell-bent on destruction into account. There is absolutely no reason to follow up or follow through on any treaty signed until the killing stops. Janjaweed and other factions care only for the deaths of their “enemies” at this time, and outside influence will do very little good. Imagine you are playing a game of soccer, and someone wants to talk about quantum physics in the middle of the game. You’re going to ignore them until you’ve won your game of soccer. So too, will Janjaweed ignore the physics of international politics until they have completed their goal.

The problem with all of those is that they deal with problem in the abstract, and they assume too much about needs and capabilities of the local populations, and specifically what the dynamics are. If you’re going to deny goods and services to a nation, be sure that one half isn’t killing off the other half and in all likelihood deriving most of their supplies from those they kill.

It’s extremely important to note that it is not an invasion force that is committing atrocities in Darfur, but, as stated, one half of local population. Were western powers to intervene on a level beyond what we already have (less than 10,000 peace keeping troops, whose objective appears to be even less clear than typically ambiguous military objectives: “Observe.”), they would have to take into account the “home team advantage” that their enemy would have. Initial action against military forces will probably be as it was in Iraq- piece of cake- however guerilla forces will continue long into the night. But there is an abundance of intelligence available.

One thing Darfur has going for it as place for action of any kind is this: heavy, heavy documentation. Before anyone military force goes anywhere, it demands intelligence. This can be as basic as population figures and relief maps, or as exhaustive as the six books and four documentaries. This means that data about the area is not only readily accessible to the military, but also the inevitable NGO’s that would inevitably augment the peacekeeping efforts.

In addition to an abundance of intel available for free, one primary advantage of the Sudanese forces in their grim work is air power, which can sabotaged on the ground or fought outright with Western air power. (Those who oppose the acquisition of more F-18s as I did, take note, they may yet be a useful tool in this scenario).

One final benefit of action in Darfur, and this is completely self-interested, is that the new African Command (AFRICOM) can stand up with an initial peacekeeping mission that will help gain a foothold not only in terms of capability establishment, but also in terms of establishing the intention of AFRICOM as an entity bent on aide and assistance, not merely the flexing of might.

All of this seems very, very simple. Get in, bring force to bear, a police the area for several years. The biggest factor that prevents this action is the fact the primary perpetrators of the genocide are Africans with a Muslim or Arabic bent. Those that western forces would be protecting are not. One imagines that if true might were brought to bear, it quickly degenerate into “Look at what they’re doing to Muslims!” and a call to action would spread throughout the Islamic world, stressing that Arabs are once again being subjugated by callous western powers, once again, a feeling like Iraq creeps in. Nevermind that in this instance, Islam has little to do with the actions or the reactions of Darfur, it will once again become about the religion of either side.

Year of the Lonely Hero

This past summer has given us many heroes, all of whom appear to be totally alone in their struggles.

The Incredible Hulk gave us a Dr. Banner who begins an isolated expatriate in South America, and returns to America to only to be hunted by the government. Banner is completely alone even when he’s with the woman he loves, because once his heart rate gets above a certain point, he risks become a physical manifestation of rage. His life’s mission has been to find a way to become normal and lead then lead a normal life. The government however, plans to use his “discovery” as a weapon.

Batman is not only a loner-type but also the means by which Bruce Wayne gets to be alone. In the Dark Knight, wealthy socialite Wayne uses the mantle of the bat to escape the pressure of being a public figure that appears to be of little use to public at large. Indeed, as Batman, Wayne is indispensable to the public as a symbol of hope in addition to his actions as vigilante. The film imagines a sort of male Paris Hilton, whose uselessness and attitude is a front so no one would dare believe he is, in fact, a selfless hero fueled a limitless well of rage. At the end of the film he even accepts even further alienation from the people he protects in order to secure their faith in a better tomorrow.

Tony Stark is an equally useless-to-the-public person, and arguably he does far more damage, because no mere playboy, he is in fact a weapons designer and dealer selling ways and means of killing on such a massive scale who knows the number of deaths that he could be responsible for. Stark has more money than Bill Gates and yet he is an empty character initially, deriving little joy from his life and not really sure why. Then comes his kidnapping and near death at the hands of the very people who would be targeted by his weapons, and who, indeed, want to use his weapons for the purpose they were intended: wiping out their “enemies.” Stark initially puts his genius to use to save himself, and then realizes he could go further, and save others. He then transforms his celebrity from something useless to society, to something society won’t dare say it can live without: a hero.

Hancock, the most unorthodox of all the summer heroes, is subjugated by his abilities. He has no life outside of being a hero, and no concept of himself outside of public perception, so his entire sense of self-worth is based upon the reaction of the public, which is often so negative that he feels compelled to drink himself into oblivion when he isn’t effectively yet carelessly, fighting crime. The true revelation of Hancock, when the character finds out he is, in fact, a demi-god that must remain at a great distance from the only other demi-god in the world, is that a true hero is alone. He is the only one who can do his job, and the more good he does, the more good he will be expected to do, so the heroism will consume his life into infinite.

Each one of these stories speaks to the isolation of heroism, and how it affects the person who does as much as it helps society. These heroes are both augmented and limited by their abilities. They have near limitless physical capability, but are boxed in by their social contracts. A figure with god-like power that cares nothing for well being of the world is but one thing in these methods of story-telling: a villain.

Each of these heroes, more so than other forms of story telling, was defined by their villains.

The Incredible Hulk had the Abomination, with the same abilities but with a much lesser regard to the people around him. While the Hulk risked his life to save his lady-love, the emotions of Banner clearly bled into the Green beast, the Abomination cares little for collateral damage and in his attempts to defeat the Hulk, destroys the entire battle field in their climatic battle.

The Joker of Batman is certainly a contrast, but they are both working for a goal that can only defined as “Because I want it that way.” Batman wants order and peace and safety for reasons rooted in a bad childhood. The Joker wants chaos and war and fear because it is merely what he wants. While Batman operates on a seemingly limitless budget using the latest technology, the Joker is of “simple tastes” using dynamite, gasoline and cell-phones for his improvised explosive devices.

Iron Man’s foe is Obidiah Stain, who would utilize the same technology as Stark to make a mint for no other reason than he can. Stain is essentially Stark before his revelation of needing to be a champion, coupled with a desire for power that far exceeds anything reasonable. The two men are different sides of the coin of economic development, and what its rewards can be. Stain is the complete self-benefit and Stark is the society benefit. One will attempt to rule the world, and the other to protect it.

Hancock is the most complicated of all these, where his villain is defined by the fact it is not another all-powerful villain or chaos driven terror-monger, but rather an anonymous veteran. A man with no public persona until he crosses Hancock, and when Hancock brings full force to bear, this anonymous man is clearly no toe-to-toe match for him.

However, the less obvious motif of all of these films, is this: Heroes create new villains even as they defeat the old ones, if for no other reason than calling attention to themselves.

The Abomination is created solely to combat that Hulk. When Batman triumphs over The Scarecrow and the mobsters of the first film, he rises to a level of prominence that attracts the attention of the Joker. Starks technological marvel awakens a perhaps dormant lust for power in Stain. When defeated once, Hancock’s villain regroups and rallies other people who have borne the force of the heroes power and they nearly succeed.

This is final way in which the heroes are rendered as loners, because in the very act of doing what they feel they must, the become targets as does everyone around them.

20080803

Terrorists Destroy Deathstar! Imperial Forces Prepare to Mobilize!

The story of the war waged by the Empire the final (first released) chapters of the Star Wars trilogy is an insurgency speculated on a galactic scale. The enemies come from within, rather than from without, and in fact are the unknown children of a major player within the regime.

The first figure we are introduced to in the large terrorist cell in Star Wars is the Princess Leia Organa. Raised by Bale Organa, a major player in the old regime, rendered mute over the years by the new power structure, Organa apparently raised a fierce and single minded young woman whose only goal is restore the old regime at potentially great cost to herself.

She did so boldly, using nearly anyone loyal to her to strike a blow against the Empire. She employs spies and eventually, with the help of a member of the Imperial Navy, secured the plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon. The Death Star was a costly endeavor, no doubt, judging from it’s size the amount of personnel required to run it. Damaging or even destroying it would strike a huge blow against her enemies economically as well as politically.

When she sought to enlist the help of Obi Wan Kenobi, living under an alias in isolation far away from politics and the war that he clearly lost, she reached out to another potential terrorist who, upon realizing what’s at stake, may believe that success against the new regime is possible.

When Kenobi found out that Leia has been captured, he decided to go to Alderan to inform Bale Organa of the situation, possibly before staging a rescue. Were she any other guerrilla, he could have easily justified no rescue and instead warning the rebels directly, but Leia is not only a major player but also the acceptable political face of a messy war that has certainly had it’s share of collateral damage wrought by both sides.

Enter Luke Skywalker. Like most front line fighters in a terrorist organization, Skywalker had no prospects: no chance for job advancement, little education and boredom. Skywalker is reluctant at first, until the Empire makes the mistake, as it probably had countless times before, of killing Skywalker’s family, leaving him with nothing to loose and cause for revenge.

Another addition to the group that will finally deal fatal damage to the Galactic Empires is Han Solo, a disenfranchised former member of the military and his traveling companion, Chewbacca a member of one of the many crushingly oppressed alien minorities.

Solo is a mercenary initially, and as long as he is left alone and able to settle his underworld debts, it appears as though he doesn’t care who wins. However, as a criminal, it would be in his interest to see the supporting structure of federal galactic law enforcement crumble for no other reason that it would wipe whatever record he might have.

The destruction of the first Death Star, with a personnel capacity of over a million by some estimates, was devastating on many levels to the Imperial forces. Imagine an aircraft carrier the size of Manhattan being utterly devastated by a terrorist bombing, and imagine the political, military, economic and social fall-out that would entail.

Dealing such a damaging blow against any government would have consequences for any opposing force. A terrorist cell would be hunted to the ends of the earth were they wreak such destruction upon an Earth-bound super-power.

The attack on the rebel base of Hoth was probably one of many acts of retribution the Empire brought to bear against the Rebellion in the coming year after the attack at Yavin. It is entirely possible that if the empire used the same degree of force or greater on other outposts, the rebels were successfully routed all over the galaxy.

It is important to note that episodes IV-VI focus on merely one terrorist cell and it’s characters. It’s possible that there were other, more successful attacks against rebel bases through out the galaxy, and since tactics vary in style, the may have been far more devastating to the Rebellions numbers.

However, that each one of those attacks could very well have destroyed families, killing fathers, sons, daughters or wives that would have incited even more of those governed by the Empire to join the rebellion. Essentially, even as the Empire routed Leia’s cell, anyone killed in the attack could very well have been replaced by family or friends who realized the true brutality of the regime.

Solo’s knowledge of Imperial procedure, having been discharged as lieutenant, allows him facilitate Leia’s escape from what could have been her second capture. As it is clear judging from the fire power and troop strength used by the Empire, that their goal was first devastation of the rebel ranks before considering capturing anyone. When the smoke cleared, if Leia was still alive, perhaps she would have been taken prisoner or perhaps killed.

At that point the history of the rebellion, either would could have been considered an important victory.

The Empires treatment of alien minorities also gives the Rebellion a massive edge, in that all a potential recruiter need to is show more care as to how that species is treated and a whole new pool of defectors is created.

One of those defectors is of course Skywalker, whose war-fighting abilities make him an ideal candidate to go to the Dagobah system, which is analogous to any sort of religious-based military training.

When he arrives, Yoda pretends as though he is unworthy to motivate him. Such a tactic, especially when used against a young man who has already made drastic changes in himself in order to achieve devastating results against enemy forces, would surely yield an even more aggressive and capable soldier, not only in terms of combat but also in terms of leadership because it first convinces a potential candidate that it’s what they want. In fact, such tactics can be seen in Marine Corps. recruitment advertising (“No contracts. Only commitments.”)

Forcing potential leaders to endure different manners of hardship has long been an accepted form of building good officers in most military forces, formal or other wise. It was apparently the case with Skywalker’s father as well; however his inability to cope led him down a path of another rebellion against the previous regime in alliance with the current despot, against whose regime his son fought.

It’s possible that the entire reason that Skywalker has coping ability is due to his not knowing his father. Instead he was raised in an, as far as we know, stable household far away from chaos. Farming of any kind is certainly a daily routine, and the son of Skywalker is disciplined enough to accept all of the training his father had, and still be able to make moral, rational decisions to an extent.

As Luke trains on the remote planet, Vader pursues other members of the terrorist cell relentlessly. At his disposal is a vast network of information funded by government, about former the former lieutenant Solo. Surely he would have found the connection to rouge-turned-businessman Lando Calrissian.

If the imperial forces arrived in cloud city before the rebels or just after is unclear. What is clear is that Vader is, probably through the threat of federal government sanction, able to persuade Calrissian to assist him in his plan to capture Skywalker.

Calrissian becomes the businessman ruined by government intervention. By the end of the film, he has lost everything, in part due to his own decisions, but it’s inarguable that had the military left him alone his fortunes would be drastically different. Yet another misstep in which the Empire has made it harder to put down the widespread insurrection of the rebellion.

What ever resources Calrissian still has at his disposal—surely a former smugly wouldn’t tie up of all his money in legitimate institutions that could be seized by the government—they will now go toward the rebellion, as victory for the rebellion could conceivably be the fastest way for him to regain his merchant status.

With each action the Empire brings its enemies closer and closer together, adding hard legitimacy to Leia’s words to Grand Moff Tarkin: “The tighter you close your fist, the more galaxies will slip through your fingers.”

Vader is clearly working well outside the standard confines of Imperial law, as he gives Han Solo to the bounty hunter Bob Fett, who works for the Jabba the Hutt. The Hutt families are a criminal class, and the Empire has tried several times to break their power, since apparently the galaxy isn’t big enough for two criminally corrupt institutions.

The first battle between Skywalkers Sr. and Jr. is the perfect metaphor for military might against a well-trained guerrilla force. While Vader “wins” the battle, Luke certainly gives him a run for his money, since they were trained by the same people and the victory comes down to learned practice where Vader has the advantage. However it is clear that Luke’s innate ability, with more training, will certainly be formidable enough that their next confrontation may have a different outcome.

The other half of that battle is the fact that Luke has learned Vader’s true nature, and is now given the same advantage his father had when tracking him.

When we see the cell again, Luke, Leia, Lando and Chewbaca must rescue one of the higher-ups in their organization: Han Solo. Solo, now like Leia and Skywalker, is not a disposable foot soldier but a crucial component to not only to rebel strategy but also to rebel moral. After all, if capture by the enemy is merely an inconvenience from which you will be rescued, it wouldn't concern anyone.

By the time we see the rebel alliance again the ranks have expanded to include other humanoids, no doubt oppressed under Imperial doctrine, and quite tired of it. By this time, word has certainly spread about the destruction of the first Death Star. If such a blow was dealt by a very small force of “stunt-fighters” then certainly a larger force would certainly succeed against another weapon of the same make and model, shield generators be damned.

The final confrontation takes up much of the narrative of the last film, and is pretty much the illustration of the advantages of not only force diversity and flying columns, but also of expanding your ranks through promises of peace as opposed to your enemies who just show up and take over. That method might have been why the Ewoks were so hip to help the rebels, as the Imperials had shown up and either ignored the Ewoks in the best case, and perhaps killed them in the worst.

This is to be final battle, everyone’s chips in the game, and certainly they are playing for keeps. As many of the various cells of the rebellion have come together for this battle massing what could be the first fleet large enough to oppose the Empire since Palpatine officially came to power.

While that battle rages, Vader and Luke are now locked into their own final confrontation. Luke has devoted a great deal of thought to his father’s fate, and even if his skill has not improved much since their last battle, it’s possible his understanding of why they are fighting gives him an even greater advantage than knowing how.

Vader and Luke are essentially the same person at this stage, toe to toe battling for a cause that they have faith in. Victory for Luke is almost written in stone, since his faith is based on reform, rebuilding and friendship. Vader had no cause to believe that the universe could be any other way, since he actually believes that he was first betrayed by Kenobi and his wife. His son has proven several things that Vader might have wished to believe but turned his back on. You can trust people, and people can trust you, and you can fight against a massive military force and win.