Numskull is one of the first writers
for cityonfire.com (Vic Nguyen and Dan-O, being the other "firsts" circa
1996-1997). In my opinion, Numskull's creative, humerous and unorthodox
reviews have played their part in making cityonfire.com the alternative
Asian film review site that it's known as today. Today, his reviews are
still going strong, and he continues to rip and rave 'em the Numskull way.
MPM: Why doesn't your
name have a "B" in it?
NUMSKULL: I just figured that
a numbskull, a very stupid person, would not know how to spell the word
correctly. I wanted a nickname that would reflect my self-defecating...uh,
deprecating sense of humor, and came up with it back in the days before
it was quite so fashionable to misspell words intentionally on the 'net.
The delicious irony, of course, is that I am in fact a pretty big stickler
when it comes to spelling and grammar and I often give people shit for
being sloppy in those areas. Considering the degree to which internet jargon
has penetrated the American mindset both on and offline, I have a LOT to
"stickle" about and will probably give it a rest when, some day, I fully
realize how futile my silly little struggle is.
MPM: When did you start writing
reviews for cityonfire.com?
NUMSKULL: I've been writing
reviews for cityonfire.com since it first came into existence...which,
if memory serves, was in 1999. Before that, it was Jackie Chan: Fist of
the East Star, and before THAT, it was Jackie Chan: The Ultimate Filmography.
The first review I submitted to JC:TUF was for the movie "Dragon Fist"
and I believe it was in the autumn of 1997, or perhaps the early winter.
Fuck, I feel old.
MPM: Who wrote the first review,
you or Vic Nguyen?
NUMSKULL: Vic Nguyen was writing
reviews before I was.
MPM: How would you describe
your unorthodox writing style?
NUMSKULL: "Anything for laughs."
I think a lot of my reviews are pretty plain, actually. There are some
funny lines here and there, and some lines that aren't funny but wish they
were all over the place...but I can't think of too many reviews, at least
not recent ones, in which I said "damn the torpedoes" and just did something
totally off the wall. They're out there, to be sure...mostly Jackie Chan
stuff from the days when I felt more compelled to stand out...but they're
like the movie review equivalents of one night stands...a few were worth
it, but most of them were bad ideas. Mind you, I've got 235 reviews posted.
If you were to read them all at once, I'm sure you'd see a fair amount
of repetition. I'm also sure you'd start eating roadkill and howling at
MPM: Many would describe you
as witty, sensible, and most of all, cynical. Would you agree?
NUMSKULL: Once in a while,
yes, and no, in that order. I don't think (THINK, mind you) I'm as cynical
as I once was, although there are plenty of people out there who feel (FEEL,
mind you) that my views are too sour, too dim, too pessimistic, too whatever.
But, from my viewpoint, I'm just thinking realistically. I'm sure many
people dismissed as cynics say the same thing. As for being sensible...yes.
As one of the eight or nine English speakers on Earth who knows that the
verbs "think" and "feel" are NOT interchangeable, I believe I can pride
myself on being level-headed and rational. Nowadays there's a recording
you get on your phone when you dial an inactive number that says: "If you
FEEL (emphasis mine) you have reached this recording in error, please hang
up and try your call again." How the fuck do you FEEL something like that?
The conclusion that you have either misdialed or been misinformed is, quite
obviously, reached through a simple mental process, not an emotional one.
I guess, since thinking as opposed to feeling is so out of fashion in this
day and age, people can't even tell the difference between the two anymore.
Well, not this kid. Refusing to let my emotions get the better of me has
served me pretty well in life. It takes stupidity and/or uncivilized behavior
of an immense degree to make me fly off the handle...and yes, I freely
admit, that includes Miramax and their Americanizing bullshit, so don't
think you can "get" me by bringing that up.
stupidity and/or uncivilized behavior of an immense degree to make me fly
off the handle..."
MPM: What is your take on
everything happening in the world today?
NUMSKULL: EVERYTHING? I'm
not omnipotent, you know... I laugh a little whenver I see a bumper sticker
that says "America United." I think it's safe to say that the US hasn't
been this divided since the Vietnam war. We call ourselves the "United"
States and we have the word "indivisible" in our silly-ass pledge of allegiance,
yet, on a concrete level, we have two major political parties...the most
divisive arrangement possible...and on a more abstract level we have Liberals
and Conservatives. The latter group, it seems to me, is much less willing
to attach that label to themselves, mostly because they're usually too
busy ranting about how Gay Marxist Liberals Want To Take Away Our Guns
and Gay Marxist Liberals Are Destroying America and Gay Marxist Liberals
This and Gay Marxist Liberals That. Not subscribing to the "pick your side
and start swinging" philosophy that so many Americans whole-heartedly embrace,
I find it infuriating that one statement that more or less coincides with
the typical beliefs of one group is all it takes to be sneered at by the
opposing one. In favor of separation of church and state? You must be one
of those godless heathen Liberal commies. Opposed to affirmative action?
You must be one of those neo-Nazi conservative tightasses who still thinks
black people should have to ride in the back of the bus. It's a no-win
situation for people who are smart enough (not that it's all that tough)
to come up with their own opinions rather than just going along with every
prevailing belief on one side or the other. There are some Liberal ideals
I very much favor, and others that I find thoroughly repulsive and stupid.
The same can be said for Conservative ideals, but it's not an even mix.
I'm probably about 65% Liberal and 35% Conservative, if you really want
to simplify it to that degree.
So, anyway. You're obviously looking
for my stance on the war in Iraq and the prison scandal. The thing that
I find mind-boggling, more than the atrocities committed by Lynndie England
and her sneering fuckwad comrades, and more than the fact that there are
still fools out there who believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11
attacks, is the distribution of the media spotlight on the casualties of
this war. The number of US troops who have been killed in Iraq over the
past year or so is still less than a thousand, if I'm not mistaken... I'm
not trying to trivialize the matter, but the death toll for Iraqi civilians...not
soldiers, not terrorists, not Saddams-in-training, but CIVILIANS, is about
TWELVE thousand, quite possibly higher. Hardly ever a mention of them in
the mainstream media, but we're expected to shed buckets of tears for the
American troops who, while they certainly shouldn't have had to die, represent
but a small fraction of that number. Um, hello? One thousand people are
more important than twelve thousand other people, just because they're
from THIS country? Bullshit. America isn't the center of the universe.
A human life is a human life.
Now that most people are certain
that Iraq's WMDs will never be found (hmm...shocking), they can say, "Well,
at least Iraq has been freed from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."
And if that's all they say, then sure, they're right. It's not like Iraq
was a model of liberty before Bush invaded. There is no question that the
world is better off without Saddam Hussein in it. And perhaps, just perhaps,
in the long term, some good will come of this mess. But how much further
is that 12,000 civilian death count going to climb? One questions the wisdom
of setting fire to the garden just to clear out the weeds.
people are more important than twelve thousand other people, just because
they're from THIS country? Bullshit"
Additionally, there's the matter
of Bush not giving a rat's ass about the Iraqi public and knowing all along
that the WMDs were mythical; he declared war because it was in his own
best interests to do so. (Lest I be accused of leaning too far to the left
here, let's not forget that Bill Clinton pulled a similar stunt when the
Monica Lewinksy scandal was reaching its climax by delaying punitive action
against Hussein until a point at which he desperately needed the public
eye looking at something other than his genitals. How's that for a mental
image?) If he (Bush) were really concerned about the burdens of poverty
and dictatorship under which the people in Countries X, Y, and Z struggle,
then there would be more effort to liberate them. But hey...ain't no oil
in Countries X, Y, and Z. People here got Hummers to worry about, y'know.
Hey, remember that Osama guy that
we were so worried about? Nope, didn't think so. Demonizing an enemy that's
easy to pick on to draw attention away from your failure to eliminate the
bigger threat. One of the oldest tricks in the book. It worked for Julius
Caesar and now it's working for Bush. Maybe Bush will be stabbed to death,
too. As Yes sang on that shitty "Union" album: "Without hope, you cannot
start the day."
The worst case scenario is that Bush
will be President until January of 2009. Yeah, that would suck, but we've
got bigger problems. The most significant threat to the Earth right now
is overpopulation, and no, the irony isn't lost on me after what I said
a few paragraphs back. The world's total population has increased by more
than 50% in a mere three decades. Right now, we've got almost six and a
half billion people living on the planet. Barring a catastrophe of Bubonic
Plague proportions, that number will increase by another billion in just
ten more years. This is insane. And what's being done about it? Are we
going to colonize the moon? Please. NASA may have beaten Russia to the
moon, but that's about all they've done. So, should we live in domed cities
under the ocean? Give up on land entirely and hire a bunch of scientists
to grow humans with gills? Or STOP HAVING SO FUCKING MANY CHILDREN WHEN
A HUGE PORTION OF THEM ARE STARVING TO DEATH ANYWAY and see if we can maybe
get the numbers under control? (A gold star and a scratch-n-sniff sticker
to whoever can figure out which approach I favor.)
NUMSKULL: Like the bumper
sticker says: "I love Jesus...it's His fan club I can't stand."
No, seriously...I have a much more
positive take on the subject than many people. It's very fashionable these
days to blame this, that, and the other thing on religion and on any degree
of spirituality in affairs of state, no matter how minor. These fucks who
make a huge stink over 30-second prayers before football games, claiming
that other peoples' religious beliefs are being "forced" on them, are even
more odious than the preachy zealots that they believe most, if not all,
religious people to be. I had a sort-of Catholic upbringing, and while
I vehemently disagree with some of that particular faith's teachings, I
still believe in the basics. Mind you, I've looked inside a Bible about
four times in my entire life, and I haven't attended church in about six
years. It's important to make distinctions between "religion" and "dogma",
as well as between "religious" and "spiritual." Belief in God, whatever
you choose to call Him (the major monotheistic faiths are, to me, just
different approaches to the same goal), does not necessitate mindless ritual
or the condemnation of opposing viewpoints. This is something that many
people who take constant pot shots at the religious Right fail, spectacularly,
to make distinctions between religion and dogma, as well
as between religious and spiritual."
MPM: If you were 8 years old,
would you feel safer with Michael Jackson or a random Catholic Priest?
NUMSKULL: Michael Jackson.
If he tried to molest me, I could just tap his nose with my finger and
then run away while he tried to pick it up off the floor.
MPM: When you think of "overrated",
what comes to mind?
NUMSKULL: I've begun using
the word "overpraised" as an alternative adjective after getting tired
of hearing people whine about "overrated" being used excessively. What
comes to mind? Of course, that depends on what the discussion is about.
So, what IS it about? Movies? Books? Restaurants? Help me out, here.
MPM: All of the above.
NUMSKULL: MOVIE - Enter the
Dragon. If it starred anyone but Bruce Lee, it would be long forgotten,
and rightly so.
BOOK - The Catcher in the Rye. Every
third sentence is "That killed me." And I was about ready to kill J.D.
Salinger. I can't believe I actually finished this piece of shit.
RESTAURANT - Red Rose Pizza in Springfield,
MA. We have a free news and arts weekly newspaper in this area called the
Valley Advocate and every year they have a big-ass "best of" poll...best
tattoo parlor, best liquor store, best whatever. Red Rose invariably wins
Best Pizza Restaurant every year. My assumption is that it's because they
have a full service bar and when people go there, they get so drunk that
they don't notice how much the pizza sucks. It's incredibly oily, it's
not cut pie-style so the pieces in the middle are paper-thin, and the list
of toppings is pitifully small...but that doesn't matter much since they
slide right off anyway, along with the cheese and half the tomato sauce.
Get some Domino's instead, or go to any number of hole-in-the-wall pizzerias.
You'll pay half as much, wait half as long, and get a much better pizza.
Dragon. If it starred anyone but Bruce Lee, it would be long forgotten,
and rightly so."
MPM: What do you think of
Canada and its people?
NUMSKULL: I know nothing of
this "Canada". In fact, it took me 40 minutes to locate it on a map. But
hey, anyone could miss Canada, all tucked away down there.
MPM: If you were asked to
pick a title for an upcoming Mickey Rourke bio-movie, what would you call
NUMSKULL: "Showgirls 2." That
way, more people would go see it.
MPM: When it comes to TV,
movies and videogames - which is worse, sex or violence?
NUMSKULL: It depends on the
context. If you're asking which one I think is more dangerous to impressionable
young minds and that sort of nonsense, then the answer is violence. Sex
is a natural thing. A lot of Americans are too uptight about it. Me, I
hate it when movies throw in sex scenes and romantic subplots just for
the sake of having them. They're often totally dispensible. Studio executives
should learn to stop having them in movies that are better off without
them instead of insisting that they be there and then slicing bits and
pieces out of the rest of the film.
So, that's movies. As far as TV goes...well,
I don't watch TV anymore (new Family Guy episodes next year, though), so
I don't have much of an opinion on that. And video games...well, I've never
seen one with a sex scene in it. But hey, I love the leggy chicks in fighting
MPM: Greatest musician(s)
of all time?
NUMSKULL: Skyclad, motherfucker!!!I
find it impossible to believe that Skyclad will ever be dethroned as my
favorite band. Their music is a mixture of hard rock and English folk.
No, NOT like Jethro Tull. Heavier, catchier, better. Their songs are more
addictive than crack and they're the only ones with which I will actually
sing along in the car. Well, actually I don't sing, I mumble, but that's
a hell of a lot more than I do with anybody else. Martin Walkyier (the
guy that Sanban Koroshiya has for an avatar) was their singer and lyricist
for about ten years, and when he left, there was concern that Skyclad just
wouldn't be Skyclad anymore, even though the same people (Steve Ramsey
and Graeme English, the other two "from the very beginning" guys) would
still be writing the music. But, their newest CD, "A Semblance of Normality",
dispelled those fears. It's got some instant classics on it, especially
"Anotherdrinkingsong". Less of a folk element than usual, but it's still
a significant presence.
Other bands that I like, just not
quite as much:
Amorphis, In Flames, and Sentenced
- These guys all started out as pretty generic Scandinavian death metal
bands but their music matured tremendously before too long. Amorphis has
gone in a '70s prog rock direction, In Flames now sounds more like traditional
heavy metal devoid of extra adjectives, and Sentenced has more of a Goth
rock sound. They're still categorically heavy metal, though.
In Extremo and Subway to Sally -
More folk metal, but from Germany. In Extremo is heavier, STS is folkier,
although their newest CD, which I haven't heard, is supposed to be more
of a pure hard rock release.
Blind Guardian, Therion, and Crown
of Autumn - Heavy metal (not all that heavy in BG's case) with symphonic
and operatic elements. Crown of Autumn was a two-man project from Italy
which, to my knowledge, only released one CD. That's a damn shame, because
it's an incredible album.
Decoryah - New age heavy metal. No
better way to describe it. Sometimes relaxing, sometimes spooky, always
very atmospheric. They only had two full length CDs and a mini-CD called
"Breathing the Blue" that I've never been able to find (if anybody out
there can help me out with this, you'll have my eternal gratitude).
I'm also a big Enya fan, and I'll
also toss Howard Shore's name in here because the Lord of the Rings trilogy
has the best cinematic musical score I've ever heard, and I doubt there
will ever be anything better.
MPM: What is your take on
music nowadays in light of recent events about the downloading of music
and how artists feel they've been ripped off. Do you, as a general practice,
NUMSKULL: No, I don't do it.
It's not the most awful thing a person can do, but nonetheless I think
it is beyond dispute that burning entire CDs for free is theft. Although
I typically don't like, and often despise, a lot of popular music, these
"artists" (some of them don't deserve that label) have a right to be pissed
off. They may receive bigger payoffs from concerts than from CD sales,
but consumers bypassing the part of the transaction where they have to
part with their precious beer money obviously harms the incentive for them
(the artists or "artists") to continue putting out new material.
There are certain instances in which
my annoyance at this sort of thievery is waived. Name an "artist" who clearly
has no musical talent is only successful because of their image (Britney
Spears, NSYNC, Avril FUCKING POSER Levigne, etc.), and I'll laugh in their
faces when people steal their "music". But then, I'll look at the person
doing the stealing, and ask: "Why the fuck are you wasting your time with
that shit in the first place? It's not worth listening to even if you don't
have to pay for it."
I also think there's nothing immoral
about making copies of CDs that are long out of print and hard to find,
the aforementioned Decoryah disc being a perfect (and convenient) example.
Skyclad's second CD, "A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol", also falls into
this category. Thank God I've got THAT one.
Since the number of musical acts
that I really like is small, I have no problem with just buying their newest
CD without hearing it first. Compared to movies, books, and board games,
the amount of money that I spend on music is of little significance.
artist who clearly has no musical talent is only successful because
of their image (Britney Spears, NSYNC, Avril FUCKING POSER Levigne, etc.),
and I'll laugh in their faces when people steal their music."
MPM: Greatest filmmaker?
NUMSKULL: If you'd said "favorite"
instead of "greatest" then I would have said Peter Jackson without hesitation.
I'm still tempted to say it anyway. I don't think any active film maker
(as opposed to just "director") today can compare. Wes Craven? No way.
George Lucas? Please. Quentin Tarantino? Fuck you. Brett Ratner?
Well, let me think about that...
Look at Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles,
and especially Braindead...way, WAY more fun than such lowbrow and low
budget material ought to be. The grave digging scene in Braindead (aka
"Dead Alive") made me laugh harder than any movie has done before or since,
the first time I saw it. I just about pissed myself. And, even
people who can't stand the subject matter have to admit that the Lord of
the Rings films are phenomenal on a technical level. On his commentary
track for The Two Towers extended DVD, John Rhys-Davies (who plays Gimli
and does Treebeard's voice) says of the trilogy (to the best of my recollection):
"It's a different chimera. It changes what can and can't be done
on film." I'm willing to concede that there's some fanboy influence
here, but I honestly believe that that's true. Almost everything about
those films is top fucking notch.
But, as far as "greatness" in a more
widespread sense goes, I'm sure it's Orson Welles or Alfred Hitchcock or
some other classic filmmaker with whose work, I freely admit, I am not
all that familiar. They set the standards for greatness in their day and
Peter Jackson has done it more recently. As with most art forms, the ones
who come later have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of their predecessors.
MPM: What are your dreams/ambitions
NUMSKULL: Let's see...European
board games have become a passion of mine over the past year and a half
or so and I'm in the process of designing one of my own (despite the fact
that I'm not European). It's almost done, actually. Of course I plan to
try and have it published, but if there aren't any bites, what the hell,
at least I can play it with my friends.
Then there's the book. I started
writing a novel a few years ago and it's been on hold for ages. One factor
in that has been a BIG increase in responsibilities at my "real" job, but
I'm on 3rd shift now, and I've got more free time than I know what to do
with. I spend a lot of it reading, but I do get productive with reasonable
frequency. When the board game is finished I'll get back to that.
Those two things are enough for me
right now. I'll try designing more games and writing more books but the
two that I'm on have to come first, and, really, there's no rush. I've
got a secure full time job that I'm comfortable with and, frankly, good
at. Also, unlike most people, I don't feel compelled to search for
a soulmate with whom to get married, have kids, buy a house with a white
picket fence, and do all sorts of other foolish things. I'm pretty happy
with what I've got. "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."
- The End -