I lived with just my mother and sister from age 10 onward. The classes in the schools I went to were 80% female.

Women are not now, nor have they ever in memory been, mysterious to me. I mention this because the blogosphere seems awash in dating advice (Ace) this morning (Althouse) and to me it is all so much hieroglyphics.

After 4-5 years of hormonal torment–some of which could have been disastrous had I acted on one set of impulses rather than another set–I decided that my best bet for happiness was to get my own self together and not worry about having a relationship with someone else. (In contrast with the times, and perhaps dysfunctionally, I was more interested in finding a life partner than a sex partner.)

A few months later, I became best friends with a girl. A few months after that, we started dating. A little while after that came marriage and not too long after that, children. I’m glossing over some of the messier details and completely eliding the romance; such things are hackery and puffery when you consider that the story arc I’m describing is pretty close to the way previous generations operated en masse (in situations where one was allowed to choose one’s mate).

The stuff I read–the dating advice, the stories of dating, the game playing, the unhappiness and lack of fulfillment, the questing for some mythical other that will, one way or the other, keep a person from having to get his own self together–makes me think we made the right decision lo those many years ago. Life has had many challenges, to be sure, and to have gone through them together has created a shared experience that is really otherwise unattainable.

It gets really weird for me when Allah and Ace talk about alpha males. They paint a picture of the beta male that wants but cannot have because of the alpha male. I’m no biologist, but animals (specifically chimpanzees) who are beta defer to the alpha. They bow down, they appease, they propitiate. They essentially fear the alpha male, and this keeps their behavior (and presumably their weak-ass genes) in line.

The beauty of being a human–especially one in a society without governmentally-backed royalty–is that you never have to defer to anyone. Right? Isn’t that what all those old westerns were really about? A Man for All Seasons? Horton Hears A Freakin’ Who? They talk about being beta as if it were their genetic birthright, but if you’re a man, isn’t it really always a choice? (A choice with some occasionally hugely horrible consequences, like beheading or being made into beezlenut stew, but if it were easy, it wouldn’t be particularly admirable, would it?)

Maybe I’m oversimplifying. It’s worked for me.

Fading Stars

IT IS interesting to me while watching TCM to note which of yesterday’s stars have faded from memory, and which seem (in retrospect) to make you think “What was the big deal?” versus which oversights seem tragic.

Jean Arthur, in the latter category. A silent actress who made the transition to talkies, and starred in such classics as Only Angels Have Wings, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (and reprised virtually the same role in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington), and later in her career, Shane.

It’s probably because she was never a sex symbol and retired early. Whereas, say, Katharine Hepburn worked and was fairly visible well into recent years, and, say, Rita Hayworth was a sex symbol.

I thought of this because Warren Beatty is 71 today. Over in the Althouse bad movie thread, we were talking about Ishtar, which probably deserves to go in the “forgotten mediocrities” category rather than the “greatest disasters of all time category”.

Despite the negative pre-press (which was extensive, including absolutely vicious attacks on Elaine May), the movie opened at #1, probably due to the staggering drawing power of Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. (I can’t even tell if I’m being facetious at this point.)

However, I gotta believe that Warren Beatty’s drawing power at that point was limited to those who remembered his break-through role in the late ‘60s (Bonnie and Clyde) and his few notable other films through the mid-’70s.

Those whose earliest experience was the pleasant (but not astounding) remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan confusingly titled Heaven Can Wait–and the original, classic Heaven Can Wait was on TV often enough for that to happen even among younger viewers–or worse, the 3-and-a-quarter hour commie-love epic Reds were unlikely to be turning out in force for Mr. Beatty.

At some point, movies and movie stars fall into the category of “old”. It has less to do with their age and more to do with their activity level. Like Mac Culkin could be seen as “old”, as could Pauley Shore or even, to a lesser extent, Haley Joel Osmont. Any of these guys could come back and start a new career that put them (and intriguingly, their old movies) back into the light, like, say, Virginia Madsen or John Travolta (several times!) but if not, or when they get past the point of no return (say, by dying, as even Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy had a revival in the ’80s that brought their older movies back into the light), then they just become answers in the big book of movie trivia.

I think Warren Beatty’s window was really quite small. He really appealed to a segment of the Boomer population for a few years, and that carried him through for the next couple decades of turning out the occasional, largely forgettable flick. And a lot of that “carriage” may have been due to his sex symbol status, and probably tons of favorable press generated by his politics.

Compared to, say, Jack Nicholson, whose 71st is coming up in a few months, and whose drawing power has been considerable for 30 years. It seems likely that in a few decades, both will fade from the consciousness, though hard to imagine that Beatty will be more of a footnote, and Nicholson’s penchant for delivering memorable movie moments (“You’re not gonna pull that hen-house shit today, are you?”, “Honey, I’m home!”, “You can’t handle the truth!”) will keep him elevated above Beatty.

But you never know. Jean Arthur should be better remembered, shouldn’t she?

Another Day, Another Dumb-ass List

Here’s a list from Popular Mechanics of the 10 Most Prophetic Science Fiction Movies Ever (via Instapundit).

I really need to get me one of them jobs where you get paid to write crap. (I do get paid to write crap for tech ‘zines from time-to-time, but it’s crap that takes a whole lot of research and time.)

The best thing about this list is that a great many of the ones that he picks are simply movies that reinforce his current prejudices. His #1 pick is GATTACA.

Genetic engineering is still centuries away, but the opportunity to decimate free will, by way of well-intentioned genetic early warnings, has already arrived.

Proposals to intern “likely criminals” go back long before GATTACA. Genetic analysis is just the latest in the series of excuses used. And genetics, of course, was the justification behind Hitler’s happy fun-time camps. What’s different now? Oh, right, we have the science to actually identify genetic markers. Except of course, we don’t really.

In other words, it’s still science-fiction. Just like Minority Report’s cumbersome user interface.

Santana would be rolling over in his grave with his pick of Soylent Green. Climate Change is a reality, while overpopulation isn’t? But we had computer models of overpopulation proving there would be 40 million people in New York! SCIENCE!!

In fact, the big irony is the use of today’s junk science to proclaim the hits and misses of yesterday’s junk science. Blade Runner gets high marks for the constant rain, apparently. (It’s going to make New York a perpetual summer but L.A. a perpetual rain forest or something.)

Once again: Bah.

Gray In L.A.

When it’s gray in L.A.
I sure like it that way
‘cause there’s way too much sun around here

I don’t know about you
But I’m so sick of blue skies
Whenever they always appear

That’s Loudon Wainwright III singing from the Knocked Up soundtrack. Not his best work, but I cut the guy some slack. He’s written over 200 songs by now and there’s very little duplication. (I’ve seen him respond to fans who point out that one song is like another by saying “Yes, all of my songs are the same.” Still, how should one respond to something like that? I suppose I’d say, “It’s good enough for Vivaldi, it’s good enough for me.”)


It’s gray today here in the city, which is sort of a relief. The heat here has been almost summery (in the ’90s!) and it was unbearable to think we were going to go the next six months with nothing but blue skies and heat.

Thank you, Global Cooling!

Ikariam Goes Pro

I’ve been playing Ikariam all month and sort of wondering the whole time whether or not I actually enjoy it. As I marveled here, the fact that it was free amazed me.

A few days ago they upgraded to version 0.20, which included a new “ambrosia” feature. Ambrosia is a thing with wondrous powers, and it costs cold hard (real) cash to get. So there’s one mystery solved.

At the same time they did this, they introduced a bug which makes the game nearly impossible to play. And a dubious feature that made it harder to expand (and expanding was hard any way).

An unfortunate bit of synchronicity.

Worst. Movie. Ever.

Althouse has a post up about bad movies, featuring a quot from someone who has very specific ideas about what it takes to be worst.

“Bad” is interesting. Take, for example, the After Dark Horror Fest. If you asked a group of people who saw the movies, they’d agree that some were quite good and some were among the worst movies ever made. This IMDB thread for Lake Dead illustrates it quite nicely.

For me, it’s all about the boring. I’m never bored in real life. Not since I was a kid have I been bored. Even in “bad” movies, I can usually find something to entertain me. So Lake Dead was almost unbearable because there was so little original in it.

But others have different criteria. For example, a movie that is undeservedly (in the critic’s eyes) popular seems to irk people enough that it earns the sobriquet “worst” for some people. For Trooper York, the mere presence of Robin Williams will do it, while others feel that way about Hugh Grant or Barbra Streisand. Reader_iam cringes at the thought of John Wayne playing Genghis Khan, so in her case, mis-casting is the worst.

There isn’t anybody I hate enough to allow ruining a whole film for me (not even Robin Williams, who ruined the otherwise sublime Adventures of Baron Munchausen or Barbra Streisand, who ruins everything when she’s not singing).

Mis-casting can also be highly amusing, as can bad acting.

A movie’s message can kill it for others, including me, but I can overlook a bad message if the movie is otherwise entertaining. Conservatives have to do that a lot. I suppose liberals have to do that with, I dunno, Heinlein, or something. Actually, Heinlein’s a good example of someone I can’t read at all because his message (which is something like “everyone should have sex with everyone else”) intrudes on otherwise good storytelling.

So…what punches your buttons? What pushes something into the “worst” category for you?


In my previous page-filling rant I said I hadn’t heard of any of Scottish movie producer Hamish McAlpine’s movies.

That’s not true. He did a film in the mid ‘90s with Chris Walken and Joan Chen. I’ve even seen several scenes of it, though it didn’t grab me.

Also, his “Funny Games USA” (a horror movie!) was actually playing locally last week. I almost went to see it.

We at the Bit Maelstrom regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Based On A True Story

The “Based On A True Story” scam is an old one. Ed Wood used to figure it would give his films “gravitas”, I’m sure, having Criswell speak in sonorous tones of how “future events such as these may affect you in the future”. (I prefer Futurama’s tag line: “You can’t prove it won’t happen!”)

Lately, though, these have been taking a particularly scuzzy turn, as with Wolf Creek. The “meat” of Wolf Creek is, essentially, torture porn (and not the good kind). But the “true story” it was based on had one survivor, who isn’t around when the torture is going on, and the bodies of girls were never found. (To the point where the lone survivor was a suspect.)

WTF? So, the producers just made up the middle stuff?

Possibly worse is Open Water, where the entirety of the movie takes place between two dead people. I’m sorry but how is this “based on a true story”? It’s, like, “two people drowned and this is how we imagine they spent their final hours”.

Worse still is the sequel, which I mention below, because it features six people, and dramatizes all sorts of little scenes between them. Once again: No survivors. (Or at least none that can talk.) I’m guessing this one is “based on a true story” like Plan 9 From Outer Space was based on the sworn affidavits of the poor souls who survived it.

Bah, I say!