Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why Dressing Up in Funny Clothes With Lots of People is Awesometastic Fun-Times

That is a picture of me dressed up as my villainous alter-ego, the Defenestrator. His superpower is throwing people and things out of windows. I didn't crack out the leather and goggles on my own, though. The getup was for a pub crawl hosted by the Alter Egos Society, an organization in Portland dedicated to, well, dressing up like superheroes and supervillains. This last weekend several of Portland's enthusiastic geeks donned crazy clothes, took on the persona of characters of our own devising, and cavorted throughout town.

Now, why the costumes? Why not just go on a regular pub crawl? Why not just get a bunch of people together and have a night out? That's possible, certainly, but dressing up in crazy clothes gives it an extra amount of specialness, of awesome-osity.

Costumes are an outlet for creativity

There were some fairly impressive getups on display, from a quartet of horn-sporting demons to a mad scientist character who had an extremely impressive metal mask. I myself worked a bit on a logo for the Defenestrator that I appended to the back of my jacket, and settled on a distressed-looking down arrow that suggested dramatically crashing into the ground. (Several people asked me "Are you supposed to be the economy or something?")

While it's perfectly possible for me to go to an art store and load up on canvas, charcoal, and fixatif any time I want, knowing that I was going to attend a themed pub crawl gave me a reason to start scrawling out a symbol for my own fictional villain. Having a reason for something, a deadline, and looming event fires the productive imagination much more than most things.

Costumes are an instant conversation piece

While I can occasionally get pretty extroverted, it is still sometimes difficult to start conversations with strangers. I found myself talking to plenty of people I didn't know, though. The demons I mentioned earlier- they'd rigged up pitchforks that shot flames out of the end, and of course several of us started using them to light clove cigarettes. Socializing ensued. People commented on my leather pants, I talked to a guy who happened to be wearing an "Ike and Nixon" button, and briefly chatted with a man in a luchadore mask. All of these interactions were smoothed by the presence of weird clothes. "Dude, awesome costume!" was an instant conversation topic.

Costumes can change peoples' personalities

A friend of mine was dressed up as an evil mastermind he called Lord Skullfucker. Now, he's normally a pretty demonstrative guy, but got no shortage of joy talking about how he was going to initiate amorous relations with various peoples' ocular cavities. Likewise, my girlfriend was dressed as the deadly and beautiful Rocktopussy, and found herself voguing and striking David Bowie poses much more than she normally does. A guy dressed up as an 80s metal themed hero kept flashing the horns, and the various heroes and villains pretended to hate each other to amusing effect.

With crazy costumes, you can try on not only clothes, but a whole other bombastic and weird persona that you wouldn't use in real life. I know this is a bit of a cliche, but it's wonderful to see in action, with folks trying on personalities to go with their new tights and masks.

It's fun to freak the mundanes

Obviously, not everyone in Portland was dressed up in crazy duds. There were plenty of perfectly normal people out and about, and we got a fair amount of stares. Most of them were very appreciative, and several cars honked in support of our wackiness. Of course we waved back. Several onlookers from the Portland Streetcar pressed their noses to the glass of their vehicle as we walked by, and we responded with waves and whoops.

I'd venture a guess that most of them later told their friends "Hey, guess what I saw!" and we managed to improve their evening, just a little.

Weird stuff is a source of civic pride

This is probably specific to Portland and cities like it, but I'm quite grateful that I live in a city where quirky stuff happens on a fairly regular basis. The evening before I dressed up a the Defenestrator, I'd been playing extreme mini-golf. This weekend I'll probably see the mayor of Portland dressed up a robot. On Sunday, there's roller derby to be seen. Say what you will about Portland being self-consciously weird, it's not boring.

Of course Portland has other events like this. There's a pirate themed pub crawl. And the one where everyone dresses up as Santa. I hope to be at both, filled with joy at living in one of the funnest towns ever.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In Which I Finally Watch Scarface

Scarface has been one of those pillars of pop culture that I've somehow avoided seeing all my life. I'd heard of it, certainly, and I'd heard "Say hello to my little friend" quoted again and again, but I'd never actually sat down and watched it.

Then I read that someone was making a $1000 special edition of the thing, and I finally decided to see what the fuss was about. Also, I'd been feeling ill and having a very long movie to take up my time sounded good. I plopped myself in front of my computer, and watched Al Pacino unleash his characteristic bombast.

Short review: Scarface is kind of overrated.

Long review: The film tells the story of Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who rises up the ranks of Miami's cocaine-dealing hierarchy. He starts as a lowly foot soldier and then becomes lord and master of a coke-funded empire.

The story arc was fairly predictable, but I wondered if that was an artifact of me watching it in 2011. All of the rags-to-riches-to-rags tropes seemed to be in place, and I wondered if the movie would have seemed less clunky and obvious in the early eighties. A predictable movie, however, can be overcome with great characters and good writing, though. Unfortunately, there wasn't very much of that.

None of the characters in Scarface "pop." All of them are pretty broad and one-dimensional, and the supporting cast is never really given anything to do except react to Tony Montana. The movie really is all about one guy. Tony Montana says something, and the supporting casts reacts. He does something, and the plot moves forward. He gives a speech, and the other characters react with rapt attention. It was as if the people who weren't Al Pacino just disappeared when they weren't on screen.

Pacino himself was fine, but to tell the truth I found his goofy faux-Cuban accent get in the way of his acting. For the whole movie I could not shake the thought "Wow, that's a really stupid voice that Al Pacino is doing." Pacino is great and quite fun to watch, but I found myself wishing I was watching one of his better performances, like his turn as Satan in The Devil's Advocate.

I also didn't find Tony Montana to be all that interesting of a main character. The movie is largely about what happens when a poor guy suddenly finds himself extremely wealthy. Tony doesn't do anything particularly interesting with his money- he buys a bunch of gaudy gold shit and a big house that he can be bored in. I know that the movie was trying to say something about the emptiness of materialism or whatever, but I had trouble buying it. I sort of wanted to shout at the screen "Why don't you go take an interesting vacation or something?" I know that Montana is supposed to be something of an uneducated yokel, but I found his gross lack of creativity hard to empathize with.

Also, he's an utter scumbag. I don't usually mind following evil characters as long as they're interesting, but Tony Montana has the drawback of being both a nasty human being and not particularly smart. Late in the movie, the viewer is supposed to empathize with him because he refuses to kill a child. That didn't get my sympathy, though. Refraining from kid-killing is a fairly low bar to clear, and the scene felt manipulative and false.

So it has a predictable plot, and uncompelling characters. The thing that saves Scarface (a bit) are two very well done scenes. One is a tense scene towards the beginning that ends up with a guy getting killed with a chainsaw, and a subsequent gunfight. Another is the ending, wherein Tony's mansion is stormed by a small army of hitmen.

When the line "Say hello to my little friend!" did finally jumpt out of the speakers, I did enjoy it, and the bombastically violent finale is fun in an 80s action movie type way. There's blood and bullets and a nice sense of finality when Tony Montan finally, finally dies.

But Scarface left me cold. It's not as good as The Godfather, Goodfellas, or even Casino. It's not really Pacino's best performance. The action sequences are good, but not enough to carry the movie. Had I seen it with no expectations, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but it certainly didn't live up to its reputation. Anyone who actually gets the $1,000 special edition of this thing is, I'm afraid, something of a chump.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Your Scooter is Stupid: An Invective

During the past week, I've had a few non-good traffic experiences with scooters. Not terrible, mind you, but small instances that drove home what a colossally stupid machine the scooter is.

Recently my girlfriend's car was stuck behind one on a sizable road with no passing lane. We had no choice but to follow the puttering thing at a slow and inefficient 30 mph., as it was squarely in the center of the lane and we had no means of going around it.

A few days ago when I was riding my bike to work, I was attempting to merge from a bike lane into a proper lane so I could merge. With cars, this isn't a problem. However, an obnoxious scooter was right beside me and would neither accelerate nor decelerate in order to let me in. I made a forceful effort of it, passed, him, and got in fine, but there was the brief temptation to go all Ben-Hur and his puny vehicle so I could get myself a spot in the lane.

Lastly, I saw a scooter while waiting for the bus the other day, and it simply looked and sounded dumb, as if a grown man were riding Baby's First Motorcycle.

The scooter seems to operate in a weird netherworld between bikes and motorcycles, embodying the virtues of neither.

With a bicycle, you get exercise. You can use bike lanes, don't consume any gas, and produce absolutely no annoying "put-put-put" or "whirrrrrr" sound as you ambulate about the metropolis. Bikes are virtuous, green, and allow their riders a totally deserved measure of smug satisfaction as to why they are Part Of The Solution. Scooters, however, go about as fast as bikes and offer none of the benefits related to the environment or personal fitness.

Motorcycles are awesome. Even though they're somewhat dumb vehicles, I have a soft spot for motorcycles, and the chrome-plated two wheeled machines would probably be my preferred method of dealing with a hypothetical midlife crisis. I implicitly assume that all motorcyclists are killer badasses, and probably know some weird, messed up way to kill a man using only one's own left pinkie. Scooters, however, are about as intimidating as a basket of doe-eyed baby otters.

If you're riding a scooter, the message I get is "I'm too lazy to ride a bike, and too much of a poncy Little Lord Fauntleroy to ride a real motorcycle. I don't like making physical exertions when I move, and neither do I wish to wear full length man-trousers."

I know The Who rode them. I know that they were chic and mod and all that back in the sixties. Whatever. They hold none of the virtues of other forms of assisted movement, and for that, they will get nothing but my sneering derision as I pedal past them on my bike.