Currently viewing the tag: "soviets"
  • images (2)I wrote a thing about Harley Quinn (or Harleys Quinn, considering her different origins) for Bounding Into Comics. Be gentle, boys, it’s my first time writing about comics (even if I am mostly writing about a cartoon).
  • Fascinating B.K. Marcus piece on — among other things — the etymology of “Nazi” and what “national socialism” is or isn’t.
  • Tom Cotton is the worst, and someday he will be president.
  • Joan Walsh is joyfully voting H. Clinton, in spite of her “wonder[ing] whether she’ll be more hawkish on foreign policy than is advised in these dangerous times.” (That is the single sentence devoted to the issue in a long, luxurious piece about how feminism and something something glass ceiling.)
  • The author of a new (for the US) bio of Raoul Wallenberg is convinced he was indeed executed in 1947, and did not die of a heart attack as the Russians still claim. (There were wild rumors of Wallenberg alive into the ’70s, which are arguably more horrifying than if he had just been killed in ’47.)
  • Someone needs to tell the Christian Science Monitor that Vicki Weaver was shot in the head by an FBI sniper, and did not die in a “shootout.” They should also mention 80 Branch Davidians did not die by gunfire. I wrote my thesis on this, AND I know how to Google.
  • Today in 1967, the Apollo 1 capsule caught fire during a test. Gizmodo has an interesting, short piece on how that influenced NASA safety (including inspiring them to make Snoopy a mascot, which explains the names that came later).
  • RIP Concepcion Picciotto, who you may have passed outside of the White House once or twice.
  • Well, the Guillotine is more humane for the death penalty, but also the governor of Maine is nuts. 
  • Several people I like and whose work I follow came out of or have written for Wonkette, and God damn do they make Gawker look sincere and serious sometimes.
  • Possibly the Onion might chill with Hillary Clinton.

Today’s video reminds us that if they weren’t so amusing, Flight of the Conchords could have done more of a Milk Carton Kids thing (well, except that the one dude in the Milk Carton Kids is hilarious, so never mind):

Frequently, the most terrifying part of an apocalypse movie or show is any snatches of news that leak through the haze of confusion and fear that comes after, say, a nuclear attack. The key is to tell the audience and the main characters a little (Jericho) but not too little (How I Live Now) about what’s going on in the outside world. Sometimes a flash of something is more terrifying than seeing the whole thing. Or at least more disturbing. The Day After makes you queasy, Testament makes you cry. Pick your poison (sorry, they’re both fallout).

Knowing this, and knowing about the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast — regardless of the myth of the mass panic, it’s a damned good broadcast! Especially the straight ersatz news parts! — it is no surprise that a nuclear war plot makes a fine radio play. I found The Last Broadcast thanks to Youtube algorithms which know me all too well.

We interrupt this broadcast” and sudden, dead air has been used in all sorts of scary things since 1938, and it still works. None of us have ever heard or seen a program interrupted by news of nuclear war or alien invasion, and let’s hope we never will. But we’ve seen enough bad, big news that the aesthetic still chills. There seem to be quite a few TV movies, most from the ’80s and 90s, which use this framing as well. I may dive into them next.

It’s the ’80s, and the Soviet Union has invaded West Germany and has invaded our regularly scheduled ’50s throwback hour on an Ontario radio station. The news gets worse from there, and if the static seems slightly fake, the accents suspiciously Canadian except the one news person who clearly fell out of the ’40s, and nobody can say “nuclear” correctly, it’s still an eerie and disturbing hour and a quarter. It helped that I listened while drowsy, with eyes closed, thereby enhancing the surreal feeling (especially when I got up and was still in my boyfriend’s parents’ killingly normal apartment).

The play is amateur, but impressive for all that. The only information I could find about its origins was that it was made and voiced by Canadian students. Not sure if it’s highschool, or college, but I definitely didn’t do anything this much scary fun in either. (I know I didn’t go to highschool, shut up).

330px-This_Is_Not_a_Test_VideoCoverThis Is Not a Test (1962), directed by Frederic Gadette: This is a strange, low-budget, grim little movie. A cop who progressively becomes more and more creepy stops a few cars full of people in the hills above Los Angeles. The missiles (The Missiles) are coming, and they’ve got to prepare. Most of the characters are unlikable, as they include a murderous hitchhiker, one of those tediously self-sacrificial elderly characters, and the scary policeman. Oh, there’s also a woman who randomly cheats on her husband before the end. Basically, after yelling and flailing, the plan becomes let’s all secure this supply truck as much as possible, and hide in the back. The police officer gets more and more nuts, and the rest of the folks kick him out. The young and in love couple head for the hills, leaving behind grandpa. It’s supposed to be real people in peril, and perhaps it’s so realistic as to be unpleasant. Or it’s just not very good. The scary highlight is snatches of radio reports from the cop and other motorists’ radios. As is so often the case.

twd-season-1-main-590“Days Gone By” — The Walking Dead pilot: I long ago lost track of this show, having left it behind during the end of the God-awful second season of sniping. I may or may not ever pick it up again, though I’ve been meaning to read the comic for ages. Regardless of everything that came after, however, this is a hell of a pilot. Pilots are naturally awkward, much of the time — characterization and usually everything else is off. Even half-decent ones are still inferior to what came ever: The X-Files putting a much more timid Scully in her underwear for borderline-gratuitous reasons comes to mind. But, ah, The Walking Dead knew how to start things off, even if it didn’t know much of what else to do. Sheriff Rick Grimes gets shot, ends up in a coma (poor showrunner had to defend the coma thing, thanks to 28 Days Later), and wakes up three months later in zombie land. (Meanwhile his annoying best friend, wife, and child are busy being alive. Whatever.)

The scenes of Rick waking up in the hell of the abandoned hospital; the barricaded door with hand reaching; the camera pulling back and showing more and more body bags in the parking lot — they are morbid perfection. Hell, I’d almost argue that the show went downhill the moment Rick meets the half-destroyed, crawling “Bike Girl” zombie. Except, no it didn’t, because there we get to see Rick’s complete horror, bordering on a conviction that he is still asleep, because he has to be. I love when heroes, especially male heroes who have been strong in their earlier lives, need a moment to gather their sanity while dealing with the new world around them. The rest of the pilot has great detail, and good characters. Rick hides with the dude from Jericho who isn’t Skeet Ulrich, and zombies claw at the windows, and things become more horror movie familiar. You get that amazing shot where Rick is riding his horse towards the dead city, with cars that were fleeing all piled up his left (where is that show? I want to watch the show on the poster). It’s all so good, and then it ends on a cliffhanger where Rick is about to met all the annoying people who made the show the worst.

scaled.reddawn1984Red Dawn (1984), directed by John Milius: I first watched the ’80s epic when I was 14, and though I saw the potential camp value, it was a little too violent and its ending a little too bleak for me to really feel the joy of it. Plus, C. Thomas Howell, man, I thought you were Ponyboy, sensitive greaser cleaning up the broken potential-shiv from the parking lot so nobody punctures a tire. This C. Thomas Howell whose hate for the Ruskies keeps him warm is a little too much for me.

Successive watching has made me appreciate this movie for the historical document it undoubtedly is. Every then-relevant ’80s teen together in the Rockies clutching firearms. Also, Powers Boothe is there. A vital lesson in guerilla tactics. Oh, right, it’s totally about the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. Awkward in the most fascinating way. Is it a conservative wetdream, or a secret bit of satire? It is all things.  It is idiotic, and it still a little disturbing.

It’s so stupid, and so unlikely, and on 9/11 — before I saw this movie, I think — I had a brief moment of imaging some imminent invasion, and all of rounded up into camps. Here you can almost get into the spirit of the horror of an invasion — the opening scene of the parachuters coming to the school, and then our heroes fleeing the town is cheesy, but not enough to escape its unsettling quality. Some of the violence is both campy and vaguey disturbing for what it suggests. I have never been able to fully laugh at most disaster movie violence, even when I know it’s funny as hell.  The group of patriots being gunned down while they sing the National Anthem comes is absurd, but reminds me of actually horrific scenes in other, real movies. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen’s father yelling “avenge me!” like an angry ham is hilarious, but then Swayze gives his all, bless him. Nobody told him what movies this was. Nobody told any of these people how funny, dated, and awkward this movie was. (“Wooooooolverines!”) Everything about Red Dawn both mocks and endorses the most terrified of Cold War feelings. This movie is so weird, and it gets weirder all the time.

“London Calling” by the Clash: Stop pairing this in cheesy, cheery teen movies and sitcoms with your 7-10 shots of London that you purchased to prove that the characters are totally going to England. This song is about the apocalypse.

London is not calling you because you are going to have a super cute time “across the pond.” It is calling because it is drowning, and did Joe Strummer’s weird shrieks not hint to you that something has gone seriously awry? Even Paul Simonon’s bassline is menacing. It is wonderful.

r4ru2qdrwzm954iylcmr“As Good as New” by Charlie Jane Anders: Anders is the best full-time staff member who has ever worked under the banner of anything remotely affiliated with Gawker. Her short story, unlike so many short stories, contains happenings — big happenings. The end of the world is already over and done with when our story begins, but that’s just the start. The end of the world, a genii, and lots of quips about theater, this story has most everything you need. It’s funny, it’s unexpected, and the disparate elements work much better together than they have any right to. The ending is touching as hell, and doesn’t go for the most obvious “and she didn’t remember anything” trope. The prose is witty, smart, and not New Yorker obtuse. It’s direct, but it’s not simple, or stupid, no matter the fanciful absurdity of the plot. Read it.

Leven 7 by Mordecai Roshwald:  This 1959 novel has some of those short story-like problems with (arguably) unnecessary opacity. We do not know the enemy country of our protagonist’s country. His name is X-127, and he’s among the crowd of special military folks who are to be send underground permanently in case of nuclear war. Not for safety reasons, but rather so that the most well-protected people in the nation are those who are able to push The Button. These individuals are to marry and have children and have a whole new society without ever leaving the bunker again. [Spoilers ahead] X-127 doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life under the ground, but he doesn’t really question his situation until another man has a mental breakdown rather than push The Button once the war begins. During life below, X-127 gets a horrible mate, he tries to cope, he learns about music, and eventually those on Level 7 realize that radiation is affecting the folks in different bunkers all over. Eventually it hits their neighbors at 6. It also hits the unnamed enemy. There is communication with them, and exchange of of oddly juvenile quips, and then they go silent, too. Finally X-127 is the only one left, and he passes away on the final page. The book isn’t bad, but it’s less artful in its basicness than the Anders story, say. The details of the conflict are missing for a logical, albeit every society sort of reasoning. We do eventually learn that the danger of automation is part of the message — The Button didn’t need to be pushed, it pushed itself. The world blew itself up. As far as humanity (or some version) going dark novels, Leven 7 is not one of the best. Worth a quick read, however, as it still brings the vital nausea that nuclear doom fiction must.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin: To clarify, there’s nausea like the ending of A Canticle for Leibowitz, or even the more prosaic On the Beach, which is welcome. And then there’s just unrelentingly unpleasant. Strangely enough, this Young Adult novel that doesn’t even involve the end of all humanity manages to be grimmer still than we’re all doomed stories. Perhaps because nuclear war fiction, even when the worst happens, can be seen as a crisis to be averted — with Rod Serling saying this is only one of many possible futures, so beware. A novel about what happens after the Yellowstone Caldera goes off has no teaching moments, just the unsatisfying message that nature will fucking destroy you if she feels like it. But it’s not just the bleak descriptions of endless ash, and dark skies that makes this book such a slog. There’s rape, murder, more murder, probably cannibalism (our hero is given meat by a scary guy, and it tastes like wild pig, but it’s got a disturbingly long bone) and none of it is literary, and none of feels like it has a purpose. I am usually not one to complain about survival tales, since they were my obsession as a child, but this book just feels like a laundry list of one. And it certainly seems absurd to complain in an apocalypse themed review series that there is nothing redeeming about this tale of woe. Yet, in spite of Alex, our 16-year-old protagonist, finding love, it feels that way. Life is going to be exhausting in the wake of the supervolcano going off, and that’s all. Maybe at the end of the day, I prefer the tales of human annihilation to the paint by numbers survival descriptions — and this is long-ass book. Perhaps it’s the vintage, yet rarely kitschy threat of the big one. Anyway, perhaps I’m the nihilist, but somehow this book still feels more like one. (I’ll probably still read the rest of the damn series if I get bored.)

Silo, a short film by David Soll: This is a short film that feels like it should be a cartoon — so much so that I can picture how it might look. It’s kind of silly, and I have a million questions about the ending. On the other hand, as io9’s Lauren Davis noted, the setting of an actual ICBM silo makes it fascinating to look at. This film is cute, I just am not sure it should be, all things considered.

There Will Come Soft Rains, a Soviet short film based on the short story by Ray Bradbury: This is is a haunting little piece of art. I don’t know the short story, but I do know enough of Bradbury to be unsurprised that the robot with its deep, scary Russian automation is first disturbing, and then I feel bad for it. I won’t spoil anything, because it’s all about the animation, and its deeply distressing loveliness. I will say that in the first two minutes, I got a genuine chill down my spine. I stopped chewing on gummy bears and just watched. Do the same.

[Via: Jesse Walker]

Ansel_Elgort_43600Once, unsure what sort of movie I was in the mood for, I asked twitter if I should go for nuclear war or ’80s teen movie. My then-colleague Tim Cavanaugh answered the only logical way — why choose, when there’s WarGames?

Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, earnest ’80s pleas for peace, and menacing Cold War terrors, and the impossibility of computers that can actually communicate with computers; this movie fulfilled those two genre urges like no other one can. It is dated in all the right ways. (Why is dated a pejorative again? I love dated.)

I don’t presume to know anything about hacking, except for what I learned from Cracked lists about what it doesn’t look like. But WarGames, the story of Matthew Broderick’s David Lightman almost starting global thermonuclear war when he thinks he’s playing a game with a computer named WOPR (War Operation Plan Response)/”Joshua” is reportedly a pretty solid portrayal of it. The exception is the cinema-ready self-awareness of the computer itself, but certainly the scene where David calls different computers to find one with a modem — thereby finding his way to Joshua — is the opposite of the Hackers-style flash and dash bullshit. The movie explains backdoor passwords, and shows much more than frantic typing in order to explain how computers function or react. This seriousness is why the Vegas hacker conference is named in the movie’s honor. Or rather, confusingly, it is called DEFCON — for the NORAD levels of defense readiness which we all learned from various alien/nuke movies. (DEFCON is important to the movie, and puns are great, but that’s still a silly name. Why not JoshuaCon? WOPRCon? MatthewBroderickCon?)

This is a fairly slow-paced movie. The acting is good enough to go unnoticed.  The hackerness is all respected, meaning the computer intrigue before the accidental near-nuclear war is given its due. Later there’s David being taken by the FBI into NORAD. He escapes, and he and lady friend Ally Sheedy make their way to Joshua’s creator to plead with him to save the day. In true Cold War (movies, if nothing else) nihilism style, Joshua’s creator is initially too depressed about the inevitably of nuclear doom to do anything to stop the events. But just in time, he is convinced, and the three heroes make their way back to NORAD just in time to play the great, metaphorical tic-tac-toe that ends Joshua’s attempts to kill us all with the terrifying fiction of a Soviet ICBM assault.

The computer’s famous ending lines are cheesy, and they somehow work within the earnestness of the moment. Tic-tac-toe/Mutually Assured Destruction is a: “Strange game, the only winning move is not to play.” (So “How about a nice game of chess?”) Notably, before Joshua is tricked, then taught — an AI that learns, also an alarming concept! — with the game of tic-tac-toe, the military men at NORAD must be convinced to hold off on a counter-strike against the (non-existent) Soviet assault on their own.  Now, there’s an endlessly topical lesson, applicable to the US and Israel and other muscly nations — maybe you don’t automatically fire back, melting a few civilians in the process. Maybe you take a minute to consider your options, even when you are being attacked. Maybe you just don’t play.

In spite of the evergreen lesson of don’t kill everybody — and don’t let it happen by automation, which pops up in all manner of cold war fiction, for good reason — WaGames is solidly of its time. This makes talk of remaking it particularly baffling. What is a WarGames from 2014 or ’15 even about? Preventing a fake 9/11? There could be espionage and government secrets, but any variation would logically make this a different movie altogether. Personal computers are not the aliens that they were in 1983 — we now check them like we used to smoke cigarettes, with the same thoughtless tic. And we may be looking nervously at Russia more often than we were a few months ago, but fear of The Bomb is more passe than even space travel. Whether that is unwise remains to be seen — hopefully forever.

  • r4ru2qdrwzm954iylcmrNathan Salsburg, the fellow now in charge of the Alan Lomax archive has brought back his Root Hog or Die radio show, which can be listened to this a-way on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. EST to 4 p.m. Do it.
  • That very same fellow has also written up for The Oxford American a good look at the massive, Jack White-produced 400 dollar (so that’s not happening) box set Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917–1927).
  • My previous experience with Root Hog or Die is this amazing playlist (forever a grateful hat tip to Jim Epstein) which contains my first experience with weird-ass shapenote singing and other important thing like that.
  • My friend Rodge has weeks and years of killer radio shows. I’ll never get through them all, but he’s a great, weird, diverse, but country and old time-loving DJ.
  • Oh hey, there will finally be a Hank Williams Sr. biopic and a…British guy will play the lead. He looks right, but will he sound right? (On a side note, British people doing bad American accents remains one of the funnier damn things in the world. We all sound like John Wayne Valley Girls, it seems.)
  • In my dreams, there’s a site like Jezebel except it only reports on documentaries about conjoined Vaudeville twins. I very much watch to watch this.
  • How to dress like Gary Cooper
  • Overwrought VICE Motherboard piece on the fax machine brings up interesting points — maybe analog right before the internet is the only way to truly, securely communicate. Also, I do — mostly while wandering in antique or vintage stores, sometimes starring at eight tracks — wonder about all the stuff not old enough to be interesting, yet useless in the digital age. (On another note, I don’t get the hipster love for cassettes, I really do not. But then, I don’t understand 1990s nostalgia either.)
  • I haven’t yet clicked all the way through Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time, but I did laugh for a solid 30 seconds upon discovering the song title “She’s Actin’ Single, I’m Drinkin’ Doubles.” Perfect.
  • In honor of Tuesday Apocalypse: io9’s Vincze Miklos collected some of the most amazing, eerie Soviet Civil Defense posters possible. I desperately want them all. If I were rich, I would have the creepiest house in the entire world, I really would. I would have a room of gas masks, terrifying nuke pamphlets, and old weapons and everyone would think I was a serial killer. I know this. I accept this about myself.
  • Further Tuesday Apocalypse: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog’s Alex Wellerstein on the nuanced and myriad meanings of Robert Oppenheimer’s “I am become death, destroyer of worlds”  thoughts post-Trinity Test. (He may not have thought that all in the moment, but realized it sounded all epic and full of gravity more than a decade later.  He was right.)
  • This is not related, but a plea for your strong female character to actually do something for the plot. I approve. And on a side note that is more related, if you don’t understand why this matters to anyone, read Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, then watch the 1990s movie. Compare and contrast the portrayal of “Mary” between the two mediums after 50 years of what we all thought was progress. Sob into your pillow. Thank you.)
  • Also unrelated — unless 2003 is old timey — but I was pleased to see some fight in The Independents re necon bullshit. Former Ambassador John Bolton starts off the scuffle by accusing libertarians of being pro-Saddam Hussein and it goes down from there. (I also love that even when the show is at its most cable news-ish talking over each other, the yelling is about George Orwell and Iraq war casualties. Classy.)

Today’s video: Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua singing an unrecorded Fuqua number, to get us all jazzed for the new Old Crow album next month:

(and not to cry too much over it being sans Willie Watson — whimper). I did not see this show, nor have I seen them play this song, but I did catch their reunion tour, and it was amazing.

Oh, okay. Here. My hat is basically the first thing you see.