Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (4 of 8)

INTERLUDE by Damian

A mutual friend told me that Ivy would be dancing at Distrikt today. Since Distrikt is almost directly across from the Duckpond, I don’t mind making a sweep of the massive, gyrating crowd. But 15 minutes was the limit I put on this little Where’s Waldo? exercise. I’m not chasing anyone this year. Searching for people, waiting for people, at Burning Man will devolve into “Waiting for Godot” before you know what happened.

I’m about to leave when here comes a tall, beautiful woman. She has jet black hair and is wearing some sort of skin-tight, space corset adorned with esoteric symbols. She very beautiful. Many would say she’s too tall for a man my height. Honestly, I’m a little intimidated.

Then I remember that I don’t give a shit. I’ll never see this woman again and have nothing invested in this interaction. I go for the easy opener.

“What do those symbols mean?”

She stops and stares at me without a hint of emotion.

“You’re the first person to ask me that,” she says.

“Really?”

I look again and realize her techno-corset is actually painted on; she’s completely topless. It’s so well done that it really resembles a textured fabric from a short distance. Better to just pretend I knew that the whole time.

Her green eyes are already searching for a more interesting location than my immediate company.

I ask, “Are you saying most people are too busy gawking at your body?”

“Pretty much.”

“I guess you should keep better company.”

“And that would be you, right?”

“I may have a little time later.”

“I’m flattered.”

“I’m Damian.”

“Francesca.”

“Good to meet you.”

“Excuse me, folks,” says a young guy walking up to us. He’s wearing a steampunk vest, an army helmet and has a video camera wrapped in plastic. “How’s it going? I’m doing a project and I need some volunteers. I’m making a time capsule for people who come to Burning Man 10 years from now. Can I record both of you separately giving some brief advice to future burners?”

“As long as it’s from the neck up,” Francesca say. He points the camera at her face as he steals a quick glance at her sci-fi painted breasts. Which are fantastic.

“And… go,” the man says. I wonder why he didn’t say “action.”

“DON’T BE SO QUICK TO FORGET EVERYTHING YOUR PARENTS TAUGHT YOU. HANDS TO YOURSELVES, BOYS. ASK BEFORE TOUCHING. ‘NO’ MEANS NO. IT MAY BE THE DESERT. WE MAY DRESS LIKE SLUTS AND SAVAGES, BUT YOU STILL BETTER BEHAVE LIKE GENTLEMEN.”

“Ouch!” I say. “That’s a serious preemptive scolding for the future.”

“You can’t coddle them,” she says without looking at me. This whole moment is clearly a forgettable interlude for her. “Who says there’ll even be a Burning Man 10 years from now?”

“Your turn, sir,” says the camerman. I think for moment.

“MAKE NO MISTAKE: YOU ARE A CAUSE OF THE VERY ENTROPY YOU BITCH ABOUT. YOUR GENERATION IS NOT THE OUTCOME OF NATURAL SELECTION. THE KINGDOM IS FULL. DON’T BRING YOUR SOCIAL DECAY TO BURNING MAN. THE EFFIGY IS INSIGNIFICANT. THE PLAYA HAS CHANGED. BLACK ROCK DOESN’T WANT YOU KIND ANYMORE. IT HAS A NEW GOD… and Safety Third.”

The young guy laughs, turns off the camera and thanks us. Francesca is staring at me.

“That came from deep,” she says, holding back a smile.

“Yours was so good, I felt I had to escalate. I don’t even know what most of that meant.”

She squints her eyes at me me for a moment then says “You ever think about sitting down with someone?”

I grin and say, “My camp’s bar has some comfortable seating. It’s right across the street.”

She laughs.

“I’m actually going to dance at Distrikt for a while. You can join me… if you can find me.”

“You any good?”

She makes a gasp/scoff like she genuinely can’t believe I had the nerve to ask that. Interestingly, she had barely flinched when I said the crazy shit.

Without another word, Francesca does a saucy little strut towards the dance floor to the beat of the music, looks back at me once and disappears into the crowd.

I take my bike and pedal out into the street feeling strangely satisfied.

I’m not chasing anyone this year.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (3 of 8)

LOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE by Pinball

So I know what they say about me. Just between you fine readers and myself, about 80% of it is kinda true. The trick is to shift that 20% bullshit in the right places. Don’t be fooled: Bullshit is not always a problem. It can be a cosmetic. Your job. Your family. Your social circles. It’s always one unspoken masquerade or another. If you keep your mask on and dance well, you will be rewarded. Burning Man is no exception. Amongst the desert-goers, we construct “playadentities” on a number of levels. They’re like art cars for your ego.

I didn’t invent these rules and I never claimed to be good at them. Judge me all you want. Consider any sense of moral superiority I inspire in you as my gift to the community. Everything I’m going to tell you is true, but you didn’t hear it from me.

But in the spirit of honesty, my memory of most of the week is a dusty fucking blur. The chronology is especially hazy, so I’ll condense what I can into a fast-forwarded approximation:

Alright so my camp the Duck Pond is having our Early Bird Sunday night party. We’re balls-deep in a full-tilt rager by the time the gates are scheduled to open. The Pond may spend all year sharing duckie photos but when the clock strikes partytime they’re All-Pro. Madrone asks for my help moving Freddie who drunkenly passed out in the wrong tent. Turns out he got dosed with date rape drug but luckily Freddie didn’t get fingered. I meet a girl with blonde dreadlocks who might’ve qualified as my “Mondaynighter” if we had bonded more. We slam shots of bourbon, share vitamins in my tent, make out and I crash. Next thing the sun is up and I’m pissing behind some cars with NO MEMORY of getting up to pee. When I get back to my tent the girl is gone but this isn’t a problem. I ponder this mystery a few seconds before sleeping off a few more hours of the inevitable hangover. After I can no longer hide from consciousness behind my eyelids I go sit at our front porch. This area of community shade has become cozy with hammocks, a table stocked with booze, a bean bag chair and an unnecessary sign that reads “FRONT PORCH” (which I wonder if belonged to the camp known as the Front Porch). Plenty of lush trappings that can lull you into a self-congratulatory stupor, but like all things at Burning Man it’s refreshing in moderation. I have a strange conversation with Bolivar who won’t come out of his tent for some reason which is probably self-pleasure related. He’s an intense weirdo who thinks he’s a tough guy. Some people think his outfits are clever, but I’m not the only one from whom he earns blank stares. I try to be nice even though he’s too old for the angry college dropout vibe he gives off. Whatever. It’s his problem and we’ll go on pretending to be friends for years. I leave camp and head over to the French Quarter. It’s impressive and the 2nd story balcony is packed. Advertised treats include coffee, lemonade and gumbo but I have no patience for the long lines and move on. The air is dusty but hardly apocalyptic. Center Camp is as uneventful as ever and host to a more undesignated breed of burner as I weave through the hula hoop aficionados, capoeira show-offs and the Black Rock equivalent of street urchins. I hit my threshold for sage and B.O. before finding a punk rock show on the back of a flatbed truck with a DPW mosh pit next to a dragon art car. I stop at a bar called Homojitos which I didn’t immediately recognize was a gay bar. I stay for a mojito anyway (excellent) and converse with the bartender while another man with a camera takes about 40 photos of me. On the way back to camp I spot a massage workshop with a posted schedule which I note but never revisit. The daytime party at the Pond is raging so I stick around. Melanie (who I’d made an effort to be nicer to) haplessly fucks up our tenuous rapport by telling me my “work ethic has greatly improved this year.” God knows why she thinks her opinion is important but I consider that her problem. I meet a cute college senior from Vancouver who studies film. Back at my tent, we discuss Guillermo del Toro movies and her budding bisexuality before we make out. I jot down where she’ll be later which I promptly but unintentionally forget. Later I enjoy my campmates’ anecdotes, jokes and little white lies like fine hors d’oeuvres before dinner, which consists of a lovely Cuban spread. I ask Joe if I should feel guilty for kissing a 21-year-old but he assures me that she should feel grateful. I stuff my face like a hog and lay in my tent where I start to dream before I’ve fully fallen asleep. 4 hours later I wake up mumbling about fascist dystopias before slamming an energy drink and meeting Jason for a night ride. Turns out he’s a formidable road dog whom I hadn’t gotten to know before. We drift from one sound system to the next and find some people with a flat tire. Amazingly Jason has a spare tube in his hydration pack along with a pump. He fixes the wheel, saves their night and thinks nothing of the deed. We discuss life, women and Alaska as we cruise the playa and I silently reassess my own merits. Robot Heart is rocking out as the dawn shines its rays on our night-weathered faces. I spot the blonde dreadlocked girl I made out with earlier snuggled up with an older guy on an art car/giant chair known as Chairman of the Bored and I decide not to wave. Leaving my bike I wander aimlessly until I come face-to-tentacle with El Pulpo Mechanico aka the Steampunk Octopus. Its originality, craftsmanship and very existence is awe inspiring and represents everything I believe is right about Burning Man but I am absolutely unmoved by the wonder I find here which is a sign of me being dead inside and possibly having a problem.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (2 of 8)

SOLITARY REFINEMENT by Bolivar

I had a plan to maximize the use of my time at Burning Man. In classic playa fashion, my lofty camping resolutions have fallen completely by the wayside.

– Directive 1: Complete the construction of all costumes and accessories before coming to Burning Man.

– FAILED. My nighttime costumes and daytime apparel are at various stages of completion.

– Directive 2: Keep an itemized list of all personal effects and their stowage designations. Maintain proper stowage throughout the week.

– FAILED. I did afford myself a minimum level of organization with the purchase of a pair of 3-drawer carts. Six drawers labelled for toiletries, food, etc. It may sound efficient, but it was improvised. The point was to have it plotted out in advance.

I’m crouched on the carpeted floor of my tent surrounded by costumes, hardware and scrap material. The Nevada sun shines brightly through the Nylon walls. We are well into Day One of the event and I have only left my tent for tools and bathroom breaks.

– Costume A centers around a Mad Max jacket I constructed in 2010. Football shoulder pads are painted and riveted to the jacket with a couple of spikes for accent. A piece like this threatens to take itself too seriously. That’s why I’ve lightened it up with a few goofy buttons on the lapel. I also slapped on a large Duckpond sticker. It further softens the looks, fills in a blank spot and shows my campmates I’m not too anti-branding to represent.

– The only work this requires is the addition of the LED touch lamp. Multidirectional and nicer than the ones at Walgreens, I can attach it easily with wire and zip ties.

I recall a conversation with Joe while using the machines in his workshop. I said that if given the choice, I’d rather wear an unlimited array of sophisticated costumes than have amazing sex everyday on the playa.

Toiling away, I try to ignore the music and the cheers outside.

– Costume B is the “Tactical Tux.” It consists of a paintball vest, amber safety glasses, white formal gloves, and any combination of pants, footwear, and thermal top. The vest has been outfitted with various metal, plastic and nylon parts to not only give it a “future SWAT” look, but also resemble a tuxedo.

– This takes a lot of hole punching, drilling and screwing. The outfit will do for the Wednesday formal. I wish I had been smarter with the trousers.

I’m covered in sweat. My fingers are sore. This is detention. Purgatory. Follow-through is the only escape.

“Bolivar,” a man’s voice calls from outside. Judging from the opaque shadow, he’s standing about 3 feet from my tent.

“Yeah,” I call back as I struggle to fit the last screw into the vest.

“Hey bud! The fuck you been?”

Fantastic. It’s Pinball – the absolute LAST person I need to talk to when my own mistakes are keeping me from having fun. I already know how this conversation will go.

“In here, trying to finish up some projects,” I say.

“Projects, you say? You mean you’re not entertaining a lady or two?”

“Why, did you bring any?”

Pinball laughs, “Well the games have just begun.”

“Not for me they haven’t.”

“You really been in there all day? Everyone’s been asking about you.”

His condescension is thinly veiled today. All of the veils we wear in the default world become very thin out here.

“Everyone?” I say, thankful that I don’t have to look at his smug face. “That’s a stretch. I’m sure you’re keeping the Pond wildly entertained in my absence.”

“You must be making your world-famous costumes,” he continues. “You’ve got some discipline, Bolivar. It’s mid-afternoon and I for one have been waiting all goddamn year for this. I would’ve said ‘Fuck it!’ and dropped everything hours ago.”

“That’s your philosophy, right?” I deflect, trying not to reveal my shock that it’s mid-afternoon. “Not just a camping strategy, but Pinball’s world-famous approach to living.”

“It’s a Zen principle with universal applications. You should try it sometime.”

“I look forward to purchasing your calendar of daily affirmations.”

“Ya wanna know what the calendar says today? It’s Day One of motherfucking Burning Man!”

“Well, shit. I must’ve lost track of time.”

“Get outside and play,” he says, finally walking away. “It’s fucking bananas out here.”

“Thanks for the forecast,” I shout after him.

In the distance, I hear him reply, “Quack!”

“Dick.”

Pinball, like the actual game, is better in occasional, nostalgic doses. Some of the ducks seem to like him. I’ve never been impressed with the tales of his supposed sexual misadventures. The playa has enough psychic vampires.

– Costume C (FAILED) is maybe my 5th reimagining of the “Clockwork” look. The bowler hat is opened in the back and fit with a brain-shaped piece of plastic from a Halloween gelatin mold. LED “shoelaces” loop into holes drilled into the brain. Joe cut and assembled this “thinking cap.” I’ve also bolted a longhorn belt buckle to the padded, martial arts codpiece that is worn over the pants.

– Unfortunately, I fucked up the army jacket. It needed a tiger-print fur yoke, lapel spikes, and a few odd and ends. But it’s only adornment is the “Nietzsche is my Co-pilot” patch I pinned on the back, and several letters have fallen off of that.

So what? Let it go.

Fucking Pinball. My mind has been running in circles all day in this goddamn tent. My inner voice didn’t need encouragement for skepticism. I brought all these materials and half-finished pieces out here. I’m won’t leave them to take up space in a corner while I go around Black Rock dressed like a pedestrian.

You’ve been unemployed for months. Getting this done before Burning Man was the least you could’ve achieved.

My budget was small and my funding came late. I had to take care of the essentials first. Costumes and accessories are a premium package.

But the premiums ARE essential for you. Plenty of people are having a great time right now (RIGHT NOW!) without the cosplay. What do you get out of this?

That’s the point. Not enough burners are stepping up. Virgins try too hard to fit in. Veterans don’t bother to stick out. Creativity has taken a backseat to debauchery. I want to demonstrate how Burning Man is a blank canvas. That anyone can shape the culture in the moment.

So you want to be an inspiration? What a pretentious contribution!

Maybe. But “Radical Self-Expression” implies a risk of ostentation, doesn’t it? That’s what an expression does. It tells the world something. And I’m willing to sacrifice an entire day of Burning Man to do that.

Oh, you are. It didn’t have to come to that.

Live and learn.

You never learn. You’ve been making this same mistake all your life. No real organizational skills. No follow-through. This is why you washed out of your last job.

That wasn’t my world. This is.

Someone in the camp shouts that it’s dinnertime as the final piece snaps into place.

Flame Retardant: a questionable account of Burning Man 2012 (1 of 8)

ARRIVE by Damian

It’s Saturday afternoon and we’re finally approaching Black Rock City. We’ve been on the road since dawn hauling our camp’s infrastructure in a rental truck. Our early morning disorientation was a fitting precursor. Now Pandora’s box is finally in sight and the familiar unreality is setting in.

My friend and driving partner, Medium Tim, is in the passenger seat looking dispassionately at the ever-slowing procession of cars in front of us. Don’t be fooled by the name; he’s 6’3” and built like an Alabama cinderblock shithouse. You’d never guess from his intimidating physique that he was a San Francisco software engineer with a heart of gold. (That proverbial heart, by the way, is cast entirely from the thin gold flakes that float in bottles of Goldschläger.)

Traffic has now slowed to a stop. We’re officially in line. A few people have gotten out of their cars and are socializing. One acne-scarred young man is walking aimlessly in a utilikilt without a shirt. His thin pale torso and unconfident posture suggest he doesn’t attend many outdoor festivals.

“No!” Medium Tim shouts. “It’s not time to party yet. Get back in your fucking cars! Express yourselves later. Or how about you don’t?”

I chuckle and he asks if that was mean of him. A cheesy rock song is playing on the radio. It will be the last of the non-electronic music we hear for the next week.

I glance over at the SUV next to us. There’s a man with long hair, a woman in a sequin-studded cowboy hat and a little boy in a child safety seat in the back.

“Well the good news,” I say to Tim. “is that we finally made it to Disneyland.”

“You got a problem with children?”

“I love children. Just not at the movies and not at Burning Man.”

“Whatever, dude. You’re a monster. Child-hater! You should just dress like Freddy Krueger and creep around Kidsville every night. They’ll beg their parents to never bring them to Burning Man again.”

“That’s so wrong… and genius. Let me rephrase this. There should be some limits to the age and/or number of kids running around out here.”

“So you’re not Freddy Krueger. Maybe just the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

“I’ve never actually seen that?”

“Are you shitting me? You’ve seen Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas 700 times but you’ve never seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? You are a goddamn monster.”

“I’m a child of the 90s. Fuck yourself. Look at that kid in the car next to us. He’s, what, 3? Does he really need to be here? How many parties would you bring a baby to?”

“My kids is a dog and she’s almost 20. That’s beyond octogenarian in dog years.”

“She looks good for her age.”

“I’m not on the pro-kid side of the debate,” Tim says. “There are too many fucking debates. I just like to bust your scrote. You’re always nostalgic for an era of Burning Man you’ve never been to.”

“Let’s not deny we’re in an age of decline here. We got the ticket lottery, plug-and-play camps, growing police presence, guerilla commodification stunts…”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve read your blog. It’s like the rantings of the Unabomber. You spend too much time feeding the Facebook trolls.”

“So you’re not cynical, Tim? This is like your 12th burn.”

“13th. And I am cynical. I don’t know if I’m getting everything out of it that I want anymore.”

“But we still come back. There’s still something here we can’t get elsewhere, right? Something more than the sum of its parts?”

Tim doesn’t answer. Neither of us subscribes to the myth that BRC is a utopia where everyone’s dreams come true. Make no mistake: You can be left to wallow in your misery like some archetypal tragic fool. Every year, burners come here with their hands out and their hearts open, ready for the playa gods to gift them some grand, serendipitous blessing. At the end of the week, more than a few find themselves alone in their own custom-crafted hell, holding onto the random pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit anywhere.

We’re almost to the gate when the DJ on the radio announces that someone has lost a cat. As he gives a description of the animal, the restrained contempt in the DJ’s  voice suggests that his disgust at such an avoidable occurrence matches our own.

“Now I gotta worry about running over toddlers and cats,” I say. “God, wouldn’t that be fucked up? People die here every year, but if a kid died it would be a catastrophe.”

“You think that’d be the end of Burning Man?”

“Potentially. I don’t know. That would definitely be the end of the accused.”

“You would go to prison if you ran over a kid,” Tim says. “Even by accident, the courts and the media would crucify you along with the whole fucking event. They’ll say you were a anarchist and a hippie and someone will rape you in Nevada prison.”

“Are you saying I’d be raped because of the ‘anarchist/hippie’ label?”

“No, you’ll be raped for the label of ‘sweet meat’ you’ve got written all over your androgynous face. Quit worrying about yourself and your own violated poopshoot, you selfish bastard! The goddamn future of Burning Man is at stake here!”

“Eat a medium dick.”

We finally reach the ticket takers. I roll down the window and say, “What seems to be the problem, officer?”

The ticket guy grins. “Wanna tell me why you were going so fast?”

“My wife here is going into labor,” I say.

“I just need to make it to Camp Stork-n-Torque in time to have a safe and blissful delivery,” says Tim.

The ticket guy looks at the large, muscular man in the passenger seat and chuckles as he scans our tickets and early arrival passes. He says, “Newborns are always party-appropriate.”

I open the back of the truck to show him we’re not hiding stowaways or contraband. While I’m back there I retrieve my goggles and the over-decorated respirator I call a “riding mask.”

“Speaking of the Unabomber,” Tim mutters.

I say, “If you can’t handle the freaks, make haste exiting the kingdom.”

The ticket guy hands us back our papers and says, “Well you folks drive slow and have a good one. Welcome home.”

Tim screams “God bless us everyone!”

“That’s a mighty fine lady you got there.”

“She’s a looker,” I say.

Review: Django Unchained

Image

This was the dose of unadulterated asskicking we needed for the holiday season. While not technically a “revenge” story, Django Unchained certainly feels like one. A lot has been said about the blood and gore, which is plentiful but not to be mistaken for gratuitous. The violence perpetrated by the movie’s villains packs the added weight of complacent injustice; they never feel the need to hide or apologize for their actions. It leaves the audience particularly uncomfortable knowing that such deeds were once common place.

Conversely, the violence inflicted against the bad guys plays far more cathartic than The Bride’s revenge in Kill Bill. Nearly every death dealt by the heroes feels like an overdue blow to an ugly status quo. (In that regard, the last Rambo movie comes to mind.) Grim, yet sweet comeuppance is what ultimately fuels this latest Tarantino yarn.

Jamie Foxx was far more believable a slave-turned-bounty hunter than I had expected. Django is a fast learner and a latent crack shot. While he’s haunted by the quest for his long-lost wife, he also seethes with a growing contempt for the people who view him as subhuman. But the fun is in watching his swagger as his newfound liberty emboldens him more and more.

Christoph Waltz plays a similarly ruthless but well-mannered manhunter as he famously portrayed in Inglourious Basterds. But in Django Unchained, it’s far more refreshing to be able to root for the morally ambiguous Dr. Schultz. One of the film’s underplayed charms is seeing the reaction he provokes from other characters. They resent his liberal, European sensibilities but begrudgingly respect his authority and social status.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the slimiest fucker of his career as Calvin Candie. He’s the sort of bourgeois sadist that brings to mind corrupt noblemen of Ancient Rome. Candie is so utterly convinced of his entitlement, you feel like any fate he meets by the end of the movie is too good for him. And I’m not saying that his relationship with his sister was implied to be incestuous. But I think the fact that I wondered this was no accident.

Samuel L. Jackson garners much of the movie’s laughs as an unexpected villain. His character Stephen is the most hilariously over-the-top Uncle Tom since The Boondock’s Uncle Ruckus. At the same time, he’s quite cunning and evil in his own right. His very existence in this film gives it a small but appreciated level of complexity.

Although Django’s wife, Broomhilda, was little more than the classic damsel in distress, Kerry Washington played the card well. Every time she was on-screen, she either inspired or emoted despite having very little dialogue. She sold the constant unease of a woman too beautiful to ever be safe as a slave.

I have very few gripes with the film. Perhaps it’s longer than it needs to be, but I was never bored. Compared to Inglourious Basterds, with its multiple character threads, Django Unchained is a simple story. Almost disappointingly so. The climax was a bit hammy, but by that point you just shrug and enjoy the ride.

Um, the nudity was unexpected. Tarantino just said “Fuck it. I’m going there!” But in its defense, the context was meant to be uncomfortable.

Speaking of Tarantino, this may have been his dumbest cameo ever. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why James Remar had to play two characters.

Regarding the N-word, obviously it’s used frequently, but I think critics are over-sensationalizing that aspect of the movie. Personally, it wasn’t nearly as offensive here as it was when Tarantino’s own character used it in Pulp Fiction. Clearly it’s been a LONG time since such a racially-charged movie was in the spotlight.

Spike Lee found Django Unchained’s setting of slavery to be in bad taste. Although I understand where he’s coming from (his issues with Tarantino not withstanding), I respectfully disagree. That particular time in history is starting to be omitted from basic education. If some clueless teenagers walk away from this bloody spectacle of an action movie with even a hint of how huge and horrible slavery was, then I consider that an added bonus.

I give it an A-/B+.

Review: Looper

Image

This movie could’ve gone flying off the rails any point. But with a fraction of the budget and twice the brains, Looper runs circles around the over-inflated Prometheus hands down.

This is writer/director Rian Johnson’s third feature, his first being the neo-noir Brick, one of my favorite indie movies of the last decade. Aside from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper contains a number of similarities to that film: startling dreamscape transitions, curiously discreet love scenes and quirky, stylized criminal underbellies are just a few.

(Note: I haven’t seen The Brothers Bloom yet, so I can’t compare that one.)

While Brick exists in a universe where SoCal teenagers talk like a 1930s crime novel, Looper’s genre-bending cultural mash-up comes in no small part from the story’s dystopian setting.

In 2044, America is in economic squalor. The yuan has replaced the dollar, poverty is rampant and the only lucrative industry seems to be crime. The Kansas of the movie has maybe slightly more homeless people than modern-day San Francisco.

The fun part is the odd mix of future, retro and ghetto: Beat up old cars slapped with solar panels. Flying motorcycles with engine problems. An updated blunderbuss for short-range executions along with a history-spanning variety of firearms (one large revolver referred to as a “gat.”) Not to mention the common occurrence of an utterly useless degree of telekinesis barely applicable as a corny bar trick. It’s the sort of awesome and eclectic sci-fi landscape I haven’t seen since Firefly. Okay, maybe Afro Samurai.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a fine, understated performance as Joe, a lowlife enjoying the high life in more ways than one. I was initially skeptical about the prosthetics to make him look like Bruce Willis, but it really is seamless.

Bruce Willis, although not exactly playing against type, exuded a surprising level of pathos as the older version of Joe from 2074. He’s breaking your heart one minute. The next he’s going full Bruce Willis and kicking ALL the ass.

There’s plenty of murky morality to go around. I found myself empathizing with both versions of the character at different moments. The audience’s loyalty is challenged when either young or old Joe makes a tough, nasty decision.

The movie itself makes some bold choices that I’m glad a major studio wasn’t around to micromanage. There was one sequence of unexpected time travel horror I don’t think I’ve ever seen committed to film before.

Looper isn’t flawless. I questioned a few character actions and the pacing seemed to dip here and there. Not every plot device plays smoothly. The time travel logic seems sound enough. Mostly. I’m trying not to think about it too hard.

Emily Blunt was decent but forgettable as a long-suffering single mother. She’s just one of those interchangeable actresses I can’t tell apart from 10 other’s just like her.

He may be a fine actor who held is own with Daniel Day-Lewis, but we can all predict Paul Dano’s role as soon as he appears onscreen.

Jeff Daniels was great. I particularly liked his character’s talk about fashion, culture and the future. But having seen Brick, I feel like more could’ve been done with him.

Noah Segan plays a good fool, but I wasn’t buying the accent.

Overall, this was the time travel film/thinking man’s action movie we were overdue for. In less capable hands, Looper could’ve gone the way of many brilliantly conceived, poorly executed, Hollywood sci-fi abortions (à la Surrogates). Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

I give a Full Price (or A-).

Post-playa re-entry: an update

The massive preparation for this year’s Burning Man is my excuse for the radio silence as of late. I arrived back home exactly one week ago, almost to the minute. There is a notorious decompression period after the event. I know this sounds strange to the uninitiated, but it is a real phenomenon and its intensity can vary. Since this was a relatively mellow burn for me, I expected a softer transition back to the “Default world” (aka Defaultia).

Perhaps I underestimated the unyielding clockwork of fragmented glaciers that is the city life of San Francisco. The day after my return, everything in the “real world” seemed a massive, cold monolith that was looming overhead. Every bit of unfinished business seemed to be pounding angrily at my door. The pedestrian masses resembled the daily marches inside a military prison (not that I would know).

I’ve been evading these mundane horrors through the ancient art of procrastination. Aside from two social outings, I’ve only left my apartment for food. Way too much of my personal gear is still covered in alkaline dust. My priorities have been sorting and uploading Burning Man photos and napping, which I almost never do. I’m finally making a dent in the bottle of Bulleit that I surprisingly only half-consumed the previous week. All of my dreams are a unintelligible mosiac of desert imagery – the mark of a playafied subconscious.

As far as the decompressing process, this is actually pretty tame.

But my subterfuge was soon threatened by… a job opportunity. It seems I can return to a career I spent a year trying to distance myself from with a company I once quit without a confirmed alternative. This required applying online, which required the Frankenstein, corpse-cobbling task of writing a cover letter. I hate writing cover letters. I would rather write my own father’s obituary. Especially a cover letter to the effect of “Hi guys! I know I left 3 years ago because I couldn’t take the bullshit intrinsic to this line of work, but I sure would like to re-enter the vicious cycle!”

As you can imagine, this is an uncomfortable dilemma to face so soon after stomping around the desert dressed like a post-apocalyptic ranch hand. (A more comprehensive report of that experience will soon be posted, then I promise to put the topic to bed for a while.)

So long story short, things are in flux. Today I managed to stave off my own malaise, as well as the gastrointestinal effects of bad Vietnamese food, to perform well at the interview. Decisions will have to be made. Compromises are inevitable.

What would be the opposite of a honeymoon? Whatever you’d call that, it’s over.

But for you, dear readers, that means I’ll be manning the soapbox very soon!

Mazel tov,

Damian