May 2009


Blogger Hans Perk posts this invitation from a Disney party in 1932, and comments that “This is how Mickey should talk”.  Here’s a sample:

minnie an’ me’s gonna have a big shindig over t’ th’ studio on june 25th on account of we’re gonna say good-bye t’ columbia an’ hello to united artists, an’ we want you should help us… an’ this invitation’s good for two people, so’s ya can bring a guest if’ya like…

My question is… who talks this way?  Or ever talked this way?  Even given that some of the slang is outdated, is this supposed to be urban, or rural, or childish, or what?  It seems like a mishmash that says nothing about where Mickey is from (except that he evidently never went to college).

It’s linguistically interesting, though annoying, when writers reproduce supposedly substandard patterns that are actually near-universal in speech.  Who actually pronounces the d in and in “and dancing”?  I assume the apostrophe in t’ and th’ represents a shwa not an elision; again, who says [ovr æt ði studio] instead of [ovr ɘt ðɘ studio]?  Perhaps there was still a contrast in 1932, or perhaps it was a tired bit of pseudo-folksiness even then.

We saw a few movies lately and you should see them too.

Dim Sum Funeral— a Chinese-American mother dies and her four squabbling children have to endure each other for a traditional week-long funeral.  Naturally they learn more about each other than they wanted to (though, as the film was made by Canadians rather than Europeans, this turns out not to be as grim as it sounds).  Features the cutest lesbian couple ever.

Sita Sings the Blues— Nina Paley’s Flash-animated melding of the Ramayana, ’20s blues singer Annette Hanshaw, and her own personal story, the common theme being the inscrutability of love and heartbreak.  Absolutely delightful.  One of the highlights is the narration, provided by three modern Indians who half-remember the story.  Sita and the blues go together surprisingly well; Nina’s personal story remains perhaps too mysterious.

The Soloist— The true story of an LA Times columnist, Steve Lopez, who befriends a homeless street musician, Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, who studied at Julliard but was torn apart by schizophrenia.  I was expecting something soppy, but it’s nicely hard-headed, portraying the columnist as a bit of an asshole (though a well-meaning one), and not skimping on the musician’s dysfunctionality.   An attempt to visualize the music is a bit risible, but fortunately doesn’t last long.    Lopez’s original articles are quite interesting and offer more nuance than the film (e.g. explaining in more detail why treatment can’t be forced on people).

I’ve been playing Mirror’s Edge lately.  It always looked intriguing, and there’s something hypnotic about the picture of Faith on the cover— perhaps that fact that her mouth is too small— but I was scared away by Yahtzee’s review

Fortunately, Yahtzee was wrong; it’s really a lot of fun, though of that peculiar sort of fun that involves enormous amounts of swearing and pointing at the screen with a gun hand making shooting noises.  A lot of the moves require very precise timing, and there aren’t enough savepoints, so if there’s a particular spot you’ve missed you have to keep trying not only that bit but the half-minute leading up to it, giving you a chance to re-blow previous moves you already accomplished.  You can’t save the game at all on your own.  On the plus side, this means you tend to actually learn the moves rather than bungle through, and it’s a real thrill to get a sequence right and fly across the rooftops.

For me, whose last experience with what the kids are calling “platformers” was Lode Runner, it’s a neat, novel form of gameplay.  A million games let you be a swordsman or shooter; it’s more interesting to be a parkour specialist.

The visual design is spectacular; rather than the usual dystopian muddle, the designers have gone for a bright white palette with accents in bright colors.  It’s really a beautiful game.  Key objects are highlighted in bright red (e.g. the bar below), though if you’re an insane person you can turn this off and figure your own way around. 

A relatively dark and forbidding image, by Mirror's Edge standards

A relatively dark and forbidding image, by Mirror's Edge standards

I’m only partway through so I can’t say if the plot elements turn out to be interesting or not.  I’d venture to say it’s going to require a certain suspension of belief: every element so far turns out to require a long trek over the rooftops.  Doesn’t Faith ever just take a taxi?

I’m guessing that some of the criticisms derive from the original price and short gameplay.  It’s just $20 on Steam now, though, which seems like a bargain.

One complaint: there’s no manual, so when I’d forgotten how to do a particular maneuver I had to replay the tutorial.  It was left-shift, by the way.  It’d also be nice to have integrated third person… I see that there’s a way to hack this in, but the results look clunky– unlike (say) Fallout 3, the designers obviously spent most of their time on first-person mode.

An excellent piece on Winston Churchill didn’t torture Nazis:

in Slate

Just to balance that, here’s an uncharacteristically stupid story by Jacob Weisberg claiming that the whole country is responsible for Bush’s torture.  The proof of 300 million people’s guilt?  Three pundits defended torture!  Not a word on what Jake wanted us to do instead, or even whether his charges include himself.