REVIEW: The Condemned

It’s with some kind of sick irony that I realized, watching the astonishingly loathsome “you’ve-gotta-be-shitting-me” Big Meaningful Speech moment of “The Condemned,” that THIS deplorable crapfest might actually BENEFIT from the recent Virginia Tech tragedy by striking some of the more easily-led in the world as a “meaningful” peice. Y’see, what the trailers aren’t telling you is that – I kid you not – “The Condemned” fancies itself a political “message” work: What we have here, believe it or not, is a ham-fisted screed against media violence, the “irresponsible” entertainment industry and the pervasive eeeevil of the Internet. From the WWE.

The only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad message-movie… And the only thing worse than THAT is a bad message movie that aims to condescendingly contradict it’s own base of appeal. Even removed from that aspect of it’s existance… “The Condemned” is, far and away, the worst film to have yet emerged in 2007. A complete abomination on so many levels it’s hard to put into words. Best-described as “aggressively irredeemable,” it’s the kind of work where you run out of things to critique and start looking in vain for anything nice to say about it. Off the top of my head, the nice things you can say about the latest opus from WWE Films are: It wasn’t directed by Brett Ratner, it does not involve anyone directly affiliated with “American Idol” and it does not star Chris Tucker, Dane Cook, Cedric the Entertainer or Carlos Mencia in any capacity.

In the broad strokes, the film is a combo/ripoff of “The Running Man” and “Battle Royale,” framed primarily as a star-vehicle for onetime professional wrestling star “Stone-Cold” Steve Austin. He’s cast as Jack Conrad, one of nine death row inmates “purchased” from Third World prisons by inscrutable millionaire Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) and dropped onto a camera-covered desert island with orders to fight to the death for the amusement of customers via a pay-per-view internet feed; with the promise of freedom and cash going to the Last Man Standing. Given that all the other convicts are even LESS noteworthy as “names” than Mr. Austin, (save for Vinnie Jones as the nominal bad guy) and given that Jack Conrad turns out to be a betrayed U.S. Special Forces vet who just wants to get back to his farm, his bottle-bland.. er.. blonde ladyfriend and her two moppets; AND given that the eeeevil Internet Baddies sneeringly select Jack hoping to (I shit you not) exploit worldwide anti-Americanism as an audience-getter (“They’re gonna looooove to hate this cowboy!!”) you can kinda-sorta guess how this turns out.

Ineptly directed in irritating “shaky-cam” by Scott Wiper (is that a name or a recyclable bathroom product?) this is an “action” film that contains not one memorable or interesting action scene – just jumbled flurries of grunting and pummeling to the tune of the foley department taking out a week’s worth of agression on raw meat and pleather sofas. Of the (innevitably) Baskin Robbins assortment of multicultural “players,” we do get ONE Japanese martial-artist; but it becomes readily apparent that he’s only there so that the old “Raiders of the Lost Ark” gag of a show-offy Eastern fighting-as-art master quickly smacked-down with Good Ol’ Fashioned American quick-kill can be ripped off for the umpteenth time. Yawn. That Austin has all the personality of the tree-trunks his physique chiefly resembles isn’t much of a surprise, (his initial claim to fame as a wrestler was “shunning” character gimmicks and style in favor of simply embodying a bullheaded, beer-drinkin’ bar-brawler,) but it’s genuinely shocking how little physical presence he has onscreen – he stomps around with all the grace of a pack-mule, and most of the time seems to be searching in vain for his mark. It’s enough to make you miss Brian Bosworth.

As if just being dull and incoherent wasn’t enough, the film has a truly off-putting nasty streak when it comes to the targets of it’s violence. Nearly EVERYONE in here is on-hand to get stabbed, smacked, shot or blown up… but there’s something inescapably “icky” about how much this supposed “bruiser-vs-bruiser” slugfest concentrates on violence against it’s female characters. There are two drawn-out, protracted and explicitly-violent rape scenes – one attempted, the other a sucessful gang-rape/murder. The Internet Baddies’ skeleton-crew of computer technicians is disproportionately staffed with women, all of whom are there to be gunned down in the finale by a vengeful ‘player’ who lectures them on the evils of their profession. When the film wants to let us know it’s time to start really hating Breckel, he gives his girlfriend a slap across the face. This is lightyears beyond the kitschy homoerotic-phallicentrism of “300”… this is real-deal misogyny, plain and simple. (Incidentally, Mr. Austin has a domestic abuse arrest on his rap sheet. Charming.)

And, yet, even for all those sins, “The Condemned” would be easily dismissable as another Z-grade actioner for the pile if it didn’t committ the one gravest sin in all of bad filmmaking: It’s got “something to say”… and it’s preachy.

Toward the end, when the shit has hit the fan and all the viewers and lackeys are starting to See The Error of They’re Ways, we’re treated to a gravely-serious lady reporter’s televised interview with head-baddie Breckel – who, by the way, is sure to pepper his every bad-guy speech with words like “blogger” and “chat-room” so we know EXACTLY whom the film is training it’s moralistic finger on. She takes him to task for what ‘entertainments’ like his are doing to the culture, especially the children, and the film poses Breckel as a sneering hypocrite hiding behind “it’s the parent’s responsibility.” Incredibly, after Breckel is shown mouthing these words, the Voice of God lady reporter tells him that that’s a “cop-out” and that the industry MUST take “responsibility” for what it’s putting out. She then – and I swear to you, I’m not exaggerating this – turns to face “the world,” he face filling the screen, and sagely intones how very, very ashamed of ourselves we should be for watching things like… well, like this movie… because (again, NOT kidding) when we do “…it is WE who are really The Condemned.”

I stand before you stupefied, beholding what I have beheld. I didn’t think I’d live to see another “message movie” as moralistic, inane and insulting as “The Island”… but here we have it. A heavy-handed pro-media-censorship “action” movie, brought to us by the makers of “See No Evil.” I shudder at the thought that the year is young, and that I may yet see a movie that’s actually worse than this.


Fire burns. Water flows. History repeats.

Once upon a time, there was a blockbuster movie.

It hadn’t even come out yet, but everyone already knew it was going to be huge. It didn’t really have any huge stars in it’s lineup, and yet it didn’t seem to need them. Because it was a “franchise” adaptation, a big-budget Hollywood re-imagining of older material. The material in question was of somewhat “dubious” origin, at least as far as the old-guard critical press elite were concerned: An import from Japan, made legendary in the U.S. as a fixture of Saturday Morning kiddie TV and toys. It’s lead character wasn’t even human, and would be created entirely using CGI… a prospect which sent eyes-rolling and tongues-clucking throughout the aforementioned critical elite. But the fans knew better. Who needs some overpriced marquee-name “human,” or even a B-list tagalong? They knew who the REAL star was.

And yet, among the fans there was concern and discontent: They’d been down this road before, and they knew the danger of trusting the makers of megabudget summer popcorn films to understand the essential “soul” of the material they sought to re-configure into The Next Big Thing. Would the “specialness” of the franchise be gutted in order to appeal to a lowest-common-denominator “mass audience? Would the character(s) be changed beyond the point of recognition by studio-dictated designs with little to no respect for what had made them iconic in the first place? There was every reason to believe that such was almost… innevitable.

The key bone of symbolic contention between the fans and the filmmakers would become the design of the signature character(s), with rumors swirling in the fanbase of radical (and radically-underwhelming-looking) reworkings underway. Fanning the flames was the fact that the character(s) had yet to be fully-glimpsed, doled out in teasing images of limbs and details. For the longest time, the film’s signature peice of advertising key-art was simply a closeup of the main character’s EYE…

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And then there was the filmmaker(s) themselves. Proven they were, yes, at the making of enjoyable genre-fluff. Films which many of the fans had greatly enjoyed, though perhaps in a somewhat ironically-detached “whee, it’s just a ride-movie!” fashion. Oh, the filmmaker(s) in question had been greatly suited to those. But to THIS? For all the pyrotechnic skill previously displayed, were they REALLY the best choice to be helming something which – however quirky – had always worked best when infused with a certain degree of sincere respect and intelligence? Or was it merely an indication that those in charge had no intention or ability for sincerity here… that they saw merely the chance to crank out a generic, dumbed-down genre-entry for the summer season, hoping that the in-name-only connection to this “culty” franchise would be worth a few extra million bucks of “fanboy” lucre?

I’m talking, of course, about the 1998 American remake of “Godzilla.”

BUT, as I trust most of you already gathered, I’m ALSO talking about “Transformers.”

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In any case… At one point in the great Godzilla debacle, a bit of “leaked” visual information appeared on the web that seemed to confirm that the G-Fans’ worst character-design fears had been not only realized… but exceeded. It wasn’t so much that American Godzilla (or “GINO: Godzilla In Name Only”) was “different,” but rather the VOLUMES that the difference implied – when coupled with all the bad news and worse rumors that had come before – about the complete lack of understanding, appreciation or even CARE held by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich in regard to the franchise they were taking the reins of. Faced with this, the filmmakers issued statements claiming that the designs were “fake,” or “decoys,” or several other curious-sounding explanations.

Trouble is, it turns out that wasn’t true. What people had seen was a real, and the bad feeling it gave them was justified: “GINO” was a financial dissapointment, a critical disaster and remains an industry-punchline and film-geek cautionary tale to this day. As you can see, the paralells between the “Godzilla” disaster and potential “Transformers” fan-bust are somewhat hard to ignore, so much so that it already has an intentionally familiar-sounding moniker in the circles where it counts: “TINO.”

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Recently, the part of the web that covers this stuff had ANOTHER “leaked peak” moment on their hands. A video clip that seemed to confirm (or at least strongly-indicate) that the already much-maligned re-design of “Transformers” lead-good guy Optimus Prime was set to give trans-fans even more to be down about. Faced with this, director Michael Bay offers his denial: (scroll down to the 2nd 4/22 entry.) Short version: It was a test-shot. Um… or it was a marketing thing. Or it was the Europeans.

Uh-huh. Now, I’m reasonably confident that given the “fuss” over this we won’t see it in the movie when it’s released. But I’m almost not really buying the explanation(s). So many bad ideas in this have already been seen, evidencing nothing more complicated than lack of good design-sense or franchise respect… why should THIS one require some bizzare explanation? Can “European marketing test-shots” also explain away Prime’s moronic “dude-Fast-and-The-Furious-is-da-illest-movie-E’VA!!!!” flame-decals? “Alien Jet?” Starscream looking like the bastard offspring of Donkey Kong and a fried chicken-breast?

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For what it’s worth, I’m not the only one. is skeptical as well:

And, for perspective, let’s keep in mind that Joblo was founded by dudes who didn’t like that there wasn’t a place where you could find film writers who actually liked Michael Bay’s “Armageddon.”,9171,1612687-1,00.html

P.S. To the folks who’s additude on this is “yeah, but maybe we’re still getting a kickass giant robot movie out of it even if it isn’t a particularly great Transformers movie, so it’s good for the genre, right?” I was with ya for awhile, but ask yourselves this: How many monster movies did we get as a consolation prize for “GINO?”

Miyamoto / Time100 UPDATE!

Cool, exceedingly cool.

As of this time last night and holding, doubtlessly thanks to web-based get-out-the-vote “campaigns” like the one I posted here (and were posted all over the geekscape, it’d seem) Shigeru Miyamoto has risen to the #2 most-influential spot on Time Magazine’s official “100 Most Influential People of The Year” list.

Good job, now keep it up! Here’s a fresh link:

He’s pulled ahead of JK Rowling, who for now sits comfortably at #3. In the #1 spot? Stephen Colbert. That’s right, the respective creators of Harry Potter, the Super Mario Bros. and Tek Jansen currently lead for the gold, silver and bronze of worldwide-influence… well ahead of ANY politician, figurehead or policymaker on Earth.

Welcome to Planet Nerd. Official mood: Awesomeness.

Let’s do something nice for someone

“TIME” magazine is having their annual vote for the “100 Most-Influnetial People” kerfluffle, something I usually don’t pay attention to as it tends to just be an entirely-unsurprising roster of celebrity do-gooders, of-the-moment noteworthy’s, ‘hip’ comedians/imported pop singers that the magazine is a year or two behind in “getting on board with” and whichever foreign politicians most of the U.S. just found out existed this year (currently leading the votes this year: Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand. Yes, that Bhumibol Adulyadej.)

But nestled snug among the sea of Bonos and Gores is a guy who’s never been on the list before, despite being a huge worldwide influence and possibly the most significant player in his industry for decades: SHIGERU MIYAMOTO, the often-hailed Spielberg of video-games,” creator of the Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Zelda, etc. The man who’s contributions to the culture (there would not have BEEN an NES or a home-console revival without the original SMB) saved gaming from losing it’s shirt amid the Crash of 83, and who’s commitment to resisting fads (you’ll never see an “XTREME MARIO!!!” abomination while he’s drawing breath) and contributions to the legacy-focused Wii may yet save gaming from losing it’s soul in the age of Sony and Microsoft’s corporate-synergized behemoths.

His (and his other Nintendo in-house stalwarts) autumn-of-a-career return to prominence in the wake of The Wii plays out like a kind of cosmic justice: As the sudden “mainstreaming” of gaming has a previously-clueless mass culture heralding “Madden” and “Halo” as if it had all just showed up overnight, threatening to render the format’s real original pioneers mere pop-cultural footnotes, he’s back to make sure everyone knows full well who Daddy still is. He’s one of those guys like Jim Henson, who’s tremendous influence and import aren’t fully appreciated because the form in which they’ve chosen to work isn’t precisely “mainstream” or fully respected in their own time. Except that this is the age of the internet, which if nothing else is THE premier tool for ‘hooking up’ guys like this with the credit they might otherwise be denied.

You know where this is going: Here’s the link to the TIME profile:,28804,1611030_1610841_1609873,00.html

Wanna do something nice for a guy who there’s a pretty good chance has done some nice things for you and your’s? Take that little bar in the upper right-hand corner, drag it over into the realm of “100%” or thereabouts and click “submit.” Vote like the dead in New York: Early and often. As of this posting, he’s in the Top 5 – just behind Stephen Colbert, Korean pop singer Rain, Bono and the King of Thailand. #1 might be a bit much, but to keep him in the Top 5 for publication would be AMAZING and entirely appropriate especially if he remained neck-and-neck with Colbert. C’mon, this’ll be fun. Take a minute or two, vote a couple hundred times, and give a good guy a break.

REVIEW: Hot Fuzz

“Hot Fuzz” is basically working the same British movie-geek joke that Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s last movie, “Shaun of the Dead,” was: Take a done-to-death, principally-American genre and drop it incongruously into a gently-satirical vision of merry ol’ England. “Shaun” found comedy gold by having a formula “zombie apocalypse” break out in the middle of a London suburb. Now, in “Hot Fuzz,” a Jerry Bruckheimer movie breaks out right in the middle of cottage country – with a plot deftly transplanted-by-inversion from “Beverly Hills Cop” and a style that’s half-mocking, half-celebrating every overblown actioner that followed “Bever Hills Cop 2.”

Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is the (literal) supercop of London. A weapon’s-specialist, martial-arts expert, master investigator and by-the-book badass who’s 400%-and-climbing performance record is making the rest of his department (superiors included) look shabby by comparison. To rectify, they arrange to have him shipped off to a new position in Sandford, a picture-perfect pastoral village way out in the middle of nowhere with a crime-rate so low the big city Angel is reduced to busting under-age drinking, escaped swans and unlicensed rifles just to keep busy.

The downtime does, however, afford him the opportunity to work on his (standard movie-cop issue, of course) lack of social skills. Fellow Sandford cop Danny Butterman (Nick Frost,) an easily-distracted but good-natured oaf obsessed with police action films, takes an immediate shine to Angel – recognizing him as a “real” vision of the movie-cop’s he so admires. It’s here we get the first indications that this isn’t just another snarky takedown of action cliche’s. Like “Team America” before it, “Fuzz” is having fun goofing on the sillier points of the likes of “Point Break” and “Bad Boys 2,” but it also ‘gets’ what makes them so endearing – in this case the affectionate “buddy-cop” bonding routine.

It also ‘gets’ the fun of Michael Bay-style hero worship (ahem… Sergeant Angel), as Nicholas finds himself unable to turn off his detective-skill paranoia, and starts to suspect that Sandford’s comically-high “accident” rate may be concealing some kind of sinister criminal conspiracy likely involving a local Supermarket bigwig (Timothy Dalton) who – like any good heavy of these movies – spends an inordinate amount of time strutting around acting like an obvious bad guy with something to hide.

What unspools, much like “Shaun,” eventually lets the genre-spoof take a backseat to outright genre-worship, and “Fuzz” unveils itself as an honest-to-God kickass action-comedy (after all, can you really “parody” something that’s already as much of a walking-joke as Michael Bay movies?) and also a surprisingly biting crack at the expense of rural British hyper-pleasantry. It even has some subtle fun goofing on Tony Scott-esque Ritalin-deprived editing tricks. And it’ll be hard for any other actioner this summer, “serious” or otherwise, to top it’s bullet-riddled third act for sheer audacity.

Short of “Grindhouse,” there isn’t a single move playing right now that’s more fun that this. See it.


The sheep find their scapegoat

Gotta admire the speed at which the weak, the cowardly and those who prey on them have moved on this. The VT Massacre isn’t even a week old yet, and they’ve already found the pop-culture item that’s going to be blamed for “causing” Cho Seung-hui to murder people. Because, y’know, it can’t just be that random evil and insanity sometimes simply happen. No, that’s too scary. That’s too hard to face. Something must have “caused” it, and if they can just find what it is and raise a fuss, they’ll feel better.

Weaklings. Fools.

So, what’s it going to be this time? Chan Wook-Park’s movie “Oldboy.”

Why? Because apparently Seung-Hui had seen it, and because in one of his snapshots he was holding a hammer, and “Oldboy” killed guys with a hammer in one scene.

How perfect, eh? How clever the Encyclopedia Browns out there are: “OMIGOD! South-Korean movie! SOUTH KOREAN KILLER!!! IT ALL FITS!!!!” And, not for nothing, the film is a foriegn import, just like Hui himself, so they don’t even have the SLIGHT element of introspection that comes when they put the blame on American music/movies/whatever. Super, eh? Pro-censorship for one set of idiots, xenophobia for another.

What a disgrace.

The face of evil

I’m going to keep writing about this Virginia Tech massacre so long as there are things to say about it. This will, however, be the last time I include any images of Cho Seung-hui.

I include it here because it’s new and relevant, and because I think it actually is important we take a look at this creature and consider something.

So, look at him. Look at this posing, narcissistic, petulant little shit. Standing there before his own camera taking his army-guy dressup glamour shot, wearing his carefully-practiced “yeah, boy! I’m soooo gangsta!” scowl. Right down to the last detail of his obnoxious backwards ballcap. Look at that, and realize: That’s the last thing some poor innocent people saw on this Earth.

If there’s a Hell, he’d better be burning in it.

BEHOLD… Galactus?

(NOTE: May or may not be considered spoiler-esque. Strictly rumor-ish, one site had it under “spoiler,” another did not, I’m leaving some space just in case, click outta here if you’re really touchy about anything possibly spoiler-ish.)

Well, not exactly. But apparently it may not be all that far off:

And, before the responses kick up… I KNOW AICN isn’t exactly the New York times (not even the New York Post, really) but A.) It was put up by their most consistently reliable regular contributor, who is now their most “inside-the-system” regular contributor; and B.) It “sounds real” to me. Waaaaaay back even before we started seeing pics of the Silver Surfer, we were hearing that IF Galactus was to turn up in “Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer,” he’d probably be closer to “Gah-Lak-Tus” (The “Ultimate Marvel” Galactus,) who’s basically a hivemind of billions of spacefaring insectoid robots which resembles a massive cloud at a distance.

For futher circumstantial evidence, we now have Variety…
…confirming that Laurence Fishburne is NOT voicing Galactus, as many outlets initially reported (giving rise to hopes that a human voice would logically equal a “traditional” humanoid Galactus) but rather the Silver Surfer.

Egh. Keep `em crossed… keep `em crossed…

On the plus side, if your name is Michael Bay, you can relax: You may get of lucky and end up as only the director of the second most-hated “tentpole” movie of 2007. See? God (…zilla 98) never flushes a turd without opening a window 😉

What can I say?

It doesn’t feel right to have a forum on which to say things and NOT say something about this most-recent shooting tragedy. On the other hand, I’m not sure I feel right trying to “think” of something to say when, overall, what can I possibly add? It’s a tragedy, it’s horrible, and… what else? This is a hideous act of seemingly-random evil that no one saw coming, proof both un-asked-for and un-needed of the cruelty and randomness that too-often “is” life… the very type of horror for which the term “unthinkable” was coined.

And then I watched the news, the very night of the event, during which time we did not yet even know this young monster’s name. I knew it was coming. I knew it was just a matter of time. I knew that their arrival was as innevitable as that of vultures to a carcass. I just thought it would take at least a day longer. But no, there they were.

The cynical, opportunistic “anti-gun” advocates of the so-called “left.”

The cynical, opportunistic pro-censorship advocates of the so-called “right.”

Both vile, both subhuman, both ready-by-reflex to “spin” this tragedy into an argument for their personal agendas. Disgusting. Depraved. Predictable.

NOW I have something to say.

GUNS DID NOT CAUSE THIS. My personal opinions and/or political thoughts on the subject of the 2nd Ammendment are not connected to that, it is merely a simple statement of fact. “Gun-control” laws, weapon-bans, regulation and any of the other “fixes” peddled cynically by the anti-gun guys in these instances are not a practical solution: The sick and the depraved will merely find other implements for destruction – not a single gunshot was fired, after all, in the carrying-out of 9-11. The Unabomber and Tim McVeigh both used explosives. Those who seek to destroy will seek to destroy, limiting their options merely makes them creative.

EXPLICIT MOVIES, TV, MUSIC & VIDEO-GAMES DID NOT CAUSE THIS, EITHER. My feelings on this are no secret. There has never been, nor is there ever likely to be, conclusive proof or even reasonable evidence to suggest that there has ever been a film, television show, song, game or other work of art that “makes” people do horrible things. Censorship (“self” or otherwise), stricter-ratings, the enforcement of the “family hour,” or any of the other “fixes” peddled cynically by the pro-censor “conservatives” (and “liberals,” too: looking at you Mr. Lieberman, Mrs. Clinton) are an even less practical solution: The sick and the depraved will simply find other sources to claim “inspiration” from: Hitler loved Wagner. Manson loved The Beatles. Ben Franklin had it right: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

You know what caused this? A CRAZY MAN. You know what worsened it? APPARENT MISMANAGEMENT ON THE LAW-ENFORCEMENT SIDE.

I know that that’s not especially comforting. Even though most of us know it on one level or another, no one “likes” to confront head-on the idea that life can be – and so often IS – cruel, unjust and random. That sometimes bad things happen without some definable, “removable” cause. That horrific evil can occur without warning and end without justice. It’s not “right.” It’s not “fair.” And it’s entirely understandable… indeed entirely human… to be tempted to believe that there always MUST be something to “explain” it, something to have “caused” it. Something which we can find, grasp and maybe even “cut-out” like a polyp or an infected hangnail. But when we succumb to that temptation… when we drop to our knees and beg (knowingly or otherwise) for someone – anyone – to come along and give us something – anything – tangible to “blame”… we leave the doors to our very will open – keys still in the ignition – for anyone to come along and take control of.

Our spirit, our will, our very selves… become weak. And the charlatans, false-prophets and demagogues on all sides and of all stripes specialize in preying upon that very weakness. They want to use your fear, your insecurity, your desire for an “answer” in order to bend you to their will and add your voice to their agenda.

Don’t let them.

Don’t be weak.


Strength is built through resistance to force and pressure. In this case, resistance to the force of sadness, horror and injustice that beat down on us in these kind of dark times. And the the pressure of those political snake-oil salesmen. who’d use any sign of vulnerability to bend you to their agenda. If you support gun-control, censorship, whatever… fine – but support them because YOU honestly do, not because some sleazebag pundit convinced you supporting them would be a “get-meaning-quick” fix.

Be Strong. Stand eye-to-eye with LIFE and let it know you are not afraid. That you are well aware of how cruel and random and unjust it can be… but that you’re still here, with a strong will and a free mind… and you can take it.

P.S. Members of the news media: We are now all aware that this is now “officially” the “worst firearm massacre in American history.” We get it. It’s significant, it’s a moment in history, and you got to cover it. Fine. Now can we please stop announcing this little psychopath’s body-count like it’s some kind of goddamn sports statistic?? Remember, the thing about keeping records is that someone is always looking to break them.