Keep Your Neutrons Flowin'

This is a blog about all the nerdy crap we love but are afraid to admit in public.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Top 6: Rug-Pulling Movies (Nothing is as it Seems)

A movie's going along at a great clip, the mystery is finally going to be solved, we're finally gonna find out what the deal is with everything, and then the screenwriter can't figure out how to end it so it ends up being a dream or a hallucination or some crazy shit like that. You think you're watching one movie and it totally turns into another. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but for better or worse, cinematic rug-pulling is here to stay. These are the Top 6 movies where it's all in their head.

Before I get complaints, this is littered with spoilers, so read on at your own risk.

This uber-gory slasher flick from France starts out as an above average "big-scary-guy-stalking-and-killing" movie and turns into a "that-doesn't-make-any-fucking-sense-at-all" movie. We start by following two young co-eds, Marie and Alex, as they travel to Alex's family farm for a holiday. Marie likes Alex's family, but not nearly as much as she likes Alex (wink wink), but soon it goes to pot when a big beefy guy with coveralls and a weird old truck breaks into the house, brutally murders Alex's family and kidnaps Alex for God knows what. Marie springs into action and tries to retrieve her poor friend from the big guy's clutches. A clever and nauseatingly suspenseful cat and mouse game ensues and we really fear for the lives of these girls. We're excited when Marie beats the scary killer to a bloody pulp and attempts to save her friend. It's a good movie. Then about 10 minutes to the end, we learn that Marie's the one who killed Alex's family and kidnapped her and the entire cat-and-mouse routine was in her head. But that can't be what happens, there are too many times when Marie was nowhere near the killer. There was a CAR CHASE for Christ sake! But in the end, instead of just making a good throwback movie, we get a silly twist that negates everything.

V - IDENTITY (2003)
Here's another thriller, which seems to be the bread and butter of this storytelling cliche. In this one, ten strangers meet at a roadside motel in the middle or a torrential downpour. There is a killer among them, picking off the strangers one by one, though when the known killer winds up with a baseball bat shoved down his throat, the mystery really begins. Throughout this, there are cutaways to scenes of a large, seemingly docile inmate is being examined by a psychiatrist with the district attorneys looking on. Could this man have some knowledge of what's happening in the hotel? What does this have to do with the ten strangers? The true story of why these seemingly unrelated people are gathered in one place and being destroyed is slowly unraveled until we realize the horrible truth: All ten people are personalities within the big inmate and the most violent one, who in yet another twist we learn is the little boy personality, is wiping out all the others. This movie works a little better because really anything can happen in someone's head, but given everything I know about multiple personality disorder (which is almost nothing), I am certain a person's mind isn't like The Matrix nor are personalities corporeal beings within it duking it out for supremacy in some Clue-like murder weekend.

Here's an example of this technique actually being quite effective, even though the end-result is still a cheat. This film tells the story of Jacob Singer who as a soldier in Vietnam witnessed atrocities and strange occurrences, and after the war has been having terrible, horrific nightmares. Throughout, we go from Jacob in Vietnam, to memories of his former wife and son, and to his present (which is 1975) with his new girlfriend, where his nightmares start to bleed through to his waking life. We learn that his young son was killed in a car accident before Jacob went to Vietnam and, as his hallucinations become more and more bizarre, Jacob learns of chemical experiments performed on soldiers during the war. It seems that one of these chemicals, a drug codenamed "The Ladder," reduced the recipient to their most primal urges, but that the soldiers it was tested on didn't target the enemy but attacked each other indiscriminately. His visions, which consist of people shaking their faces wildly and his girlfriend either being raped and destroyed by or turning into a large lizard-dragon creature, must then surely be a result of these tests, right? Well, we learn at the end that Jacob never even made it out of Vietnam. His body is lying in a triage tent and he's just about to expire. What the entire movie has been is a neural spike before dying. Jacob's experiences appear to have been a form of purgation in which he releases himself from his earthly attachments, finally joining his dead son Gabe to ascend a staircase (Biblically known as Jacob's Ladder) toward a bright light. The visuals in this movie are disturbing and haunting to the point where I was actually glad they were a dying man's fever dream.

III - David Lynch
I was debating whether to put a David Lynch movie on my list, as a lot of his movies have elements that are within the parameters of the list, yet don't contain enough of a pay off either way to make them fully part of it. So I decided I would split the difference and just put David Lynch himself on the list. Most of his movies feel like hallucinations to begin with, but couple that with surreal imagery and disjunctive narrative and you get something other than else. In ERASERHEAD (1977), a man living in industrial hell has a hideously deformed worm-baby out of wedlock that he is forced to raise on his own, he has a tiny woman with a big, creepy face living (and singing) in his radiator, and eventually his head pops off and is made into erasers. In LOST HIGHWAY (1997) Bill Pullman talks to The Devil, gets accused and jailed for killing his wife, then released when he wakes up as Balthazar Getty with no memory of anything and gets wrapped up with a woman who looks exactly like who was his dead wife when he was still Bill Pullman. And, lest we forget, The Devil. Then there's MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) where a whole bunch of unrelated things happen to characters we're not really sure about, a woman loses her memory and tries to get it back from a blue box, maybe was also another woman who was murdered by her girlfriend who may also have been an actress or an aspiring actress, and a guy is scared to death by a thing he dreamed about, or something like that. And of course, the entirety of "Twin Peaks," (1990-91). David Lynch constructs such troubling and twisted stories, it's really too hard to pinpoint whose fevered mind they inhabit: the character's, David Lynch's, or our own.

II - FIGHT CLUB (1999)
An insomniac who lives in an Ikea world finds comfort first in the shared grief of people with debilitating diseases and then, once that's ruined by Marla Singer, another phony, in the organised chaos of men beating the living tar out of each other. The latter escape is the brainchild of himself and his new best friend, the handsome rabble-rouser Tyler Durden. Soon, Tyler's machinations turn the ever-growing group of fatherless nomads into domestic terrorists, bend on causing as much damage to the status quo as possible. The man, whose name we never learn, begins feeling alienated by Tyler, who beds Marla and does things without consulting ____. The narrator's world is finally turned upside down when he discovers that he is actually Tyler Durden, or more accurately Tyler Durden is part of him. What's more shocking to him is that Project Mayhem has become an unstoppable force of its own that not even Tyler can reel in. The first time I saw this movie, I was suitably shocked, as was the point. It's one of those movies that benefits from having no prior knowledge of and the first viewing will always be the best. Still, this is one of my favorite movies of all time and, like THE USUAL SUSPECTS, offers a great deal to people in the know.

If you haven't seen this movie, you're not a human being and probably have never been a child. For those from the planet Skaro, OZ tells the story of Dorothy who is a precocious Kansas girl who feels under-appreciated by her family and longs for somewhere else, perhaps over the rainbow. Well, a damn tornado appears and takes her farm house from black and white to full-blown Technicolor where she encounters Munchkins, flying monkeys, a wicked witch, and a whole slew of people mostly played by Frank Morgan. She is aided in her journey back home by anthropomorphic things that would scare the living crap out of anyone in a different movie. She finally returns home only to find that she got knocked the hell out during the tornado and has been in a coma for several hours. She swears it was all real, but probably she was just dreaming. Either way, there's no place like a shitty little dustbowl farm during the Great Depression. THE WIZARD OF OZ sets the benchmark for movies where it was all a dream, but never once do you feel gypped while watching it. For being one of the first and best examples of someone's imagination creating an entire other-worldly adventure, this movie gets the honor of being the best rug-pulling movie ever.

After writing this whole thing, I woke up and realized I'm actually a World War I fighter pilot who got shot down over Frankfurt and was hovering between life and death for many hours. My entire life as I know it was the result of the synapses in my brain creating an alternate reality, complete with feeling, love, loss, and the ability to enjoy and write about nerdy stuff. When I finally came to terms with the fact that my own reality is that I'm lying in the middle of a battlefield in Eastern Europe and soon to be taken prisoner or killed by a German spike-helmeted soldier, I promptly cracked my skull on a rock and returned to my trauma-induced existence. Sometimes it's just better that way.

You're welcome.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Nerd Girl of the Week - Alison Haislip

Another feature for this silly blog of mine that I'd like to make regular is Nerd Girl of the Week, where I take a look at a woman who is not only super attractive, but is also a nerd. For the first entry, I need look no further than G4 correspondent Alison Haislip.

The lovely Miss Haislip appears on the infinitely entertaining Attack of the Show, doling out geek news on The Feed and giving field reports on various awesome things. Nothing against regular co-host Olivia Munn, but I secretly hope for days when she is out sick so we get a whole episode's worth of Alison.

HERE are some EXAMPLES of Alison in ACTION

Whether bantering with Kevin Pereira, testing her mettle on a ninja obstacle course, or just informing the greater populous about the latest iPhone app, Alison shows she's more than a pretty face; She's a pretty face with a brain to match.

Thank you, Alison Haislip, for your contribution to nerdkind. I'd like to date you.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wither Monsters?

About a year ago I went through a phase of watching all of the Hammer horror films from the late-1950s until the mid-1970s. They're a bit campy and melodramatic, but the environments are lush, the bosoms heaving, and the gore technicolor. Hammer Studios out of England made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who collectively starred in 85% of the studio's output. Hammer began doing remakes of the Universal Classic monster movies and expanded to doing a brand of horror all their own, and even a little sci-fi. Between 1957 and 1974, they turned out 9 Dracula movies, 7 Frankenstein movies, and 4 Mummy movies. They also dallied with werewolves, zombies, phantoms, ghosts, and more vampires than you can shake a fairly large stick at. Hammer films represented Gothic horror at its most theatrical and were hugely successful for their time. A fair amount of the films they made were less than stellar, I'm looking at you "Satanic Rites of Dracula," but for all the stinkers, they made monster movies in the classic sense of the word.

The reason I bring up Hammer and their House of Horror is that for some time now I've begun to lament the dearth of acceptable monster movies produced in recent years. It seems to me like all of the classic monsters have been picked apart, dissected, analyzed, and cauterized until they aren't scary anymore. The post-modern horror movement has made forays into modern horror very passe. Most of the classics have been done to death and if one tries to revitalize it, it ceases to be classic. Yet, I ask: Can there be a truly original yet classic horror monster in this day and age? Let's run down the ol' favorites to see if they can be made relevant again.

Vampires. Vampires are dead. Well, yes, I know the creatures themselves are dead, specifically undead, but the monster as an entity in popular literature is dead, which is a shame. Vampires and their historical context could make for fascinating films forever. However, since the bloodsuckers got turned into tortured, brooding, lovelorn pansies, they have lost all their mystique. We've gone too far into the mind of the vampire and given him too much pathos. What makes Dracula such an interesting character is that he is despicable and yet still alluring. Vampires are now just sissies who happen to need to drink blood. Anne Rice is partly to blame, but I'm going to lay most of it on the Goddamned Twilight franchise. Vampires will no longer be scary until they can shake off the tween image and stop shimmering or sparkling or whatever the hell they do in those stupid books.

Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a very specific story, about a brilliant but arrogant scientist who thinks he's better than God and attempts to create life on his own. There is very little else to be done without it just being a rehash, so lets break it into its two base elements: the mad scientist and the man-made monster. Mad scientists have been around since science was first borne. There have always been those who sought to use science for nefarious purposes. Science is where it becomes difficult to use them in this day and age. As technology and medicine advance, so too would the mad scientists' aspirations. It's conceivable in today's world, but his evil plan would have to be pretty monumental and then it might run the risk of being silly. The man-made monster angle has been relegated to victims of nuclear fallout or chemical warfare. Usually now they're the product of an unseen group and not a particular person. For them to work in this day and age, it surely would involve some genetic test gone awry.

Mummies. There wasn't really much hope of making these monsters viable again, but after the increasingly crappy Brendan Fraser vehicles. After destroying Egyptian mummies and tainting Chinese terracotta army, the only ones left to ruin are Inca mummies from Peru and Chile. And lets face it, there are only so many ancient curses that can be unleashed upon unsuspecting adventurers.

Zombies. I love zombie movies. In many ways they're the punk rock monster, less a character than a force. They began as mindless drones controlled by voodoo, then in the late 1960s, thanks to George A. Romero, they became a unstoppable horde of flesh-eating corpses that represented a revolutionary society literally and figuratively devouring the old regime. Zombies lost their mojo in the 80s and 90s until "28 Days Later" revitalized the genre. Now, unfortunately, zombies are played out. The 2000s saw a barrage of Romero impostors and re-hashers, to the point where it seems every fourth horror movie is at least partially based on zombies. And with movies like "Fido," the zombie has again lost its potency. Once you slow dance with a zombie, it ceases to be scary. While the thought of a zombie apocalypse is still haunting, there isn't much more that can be done cinematically with this particular breed of shuffling ghoul.

Werewolves. Werewolves are the one classic monster I think could have a good turnaround. Since Universal's monster heyday, there've only been a handful of really good movies to discuss lycanthropy, the best in my opinion being 1981's "An American Werewolf in London," which achieved the rare distinction of being both funny and genuinely frightening. There, sadly, have been very few films in the cycle, and even fewer are worth watching. For instance, skip entirely any of "The Howling" films. The recently released remake of "The Wolfman," though I've heard good things from some people, remains a financial flop and a critical mess. Still, despite their connection to the "Twilight" realm, I think it's only a matter of time before a really good werewolf movie crops up again.

So out of four classic and one contemporary monster, only one is still a possibility for good, old school horror. That's a shame. I only hope one day, when the pigtails and acne cream set has gotten their fill of them, that these once noble figures of fear will regain their place as the Sultans of Scream. It might take a studio like Hammer to fully jump start their careers again, and that would definitely be a good thing.

Some Hammer films to check out:
Curse of Frankenstein (1957) dir. Terence Fisher
Horror of Dracula (1958) dir. Terence Fisher
The Mummy (1959) dir. Terence Fisher
The Brides of Dracula (1960) dir. Terence Fisher
Curse of the Werewolf (1961) dir. Terence Fisher
Paranoiac (1963) dir. Freddie Francis
Nightmare (1964) dir. Freddie Francis
Kiss of the Vampire (1964) dir. Don Sharp
Plague of the Zombies (1966) dir. John Gilling
Quatermass and the Pit (1967) dir. Roy Ward Baker
The Devil Rides Out (1968) dir. Terence Fisher
Scars of Dracula (1970) dir. Roy Ward Baker

You're welcome.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Top 6: Pathetic Alien Threats

Today I decided to look at that time-tested movie trope of the alien invasion. Almost from the time we realized there was an outer space we've been dreaming about the life that might exist somewhere among the stars. And almost as immediately, we decided they were probably hostile and would kill us, the paranoid meat sacks that we are. However, some of these "threats" posed in popular fiction have been slightly less frightening than, say, a blender turned to frape. Whether too ridiculous, convoluted, or just plain timid, these are the alien invaders we could easily give a swirly to.

VI - WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953, 1988, 2005)
This one goes at the bottom (top) of the list because these aliens and their tripod spacecrafts actually do kill a great deal of people. It's the perfect plan: "Martians" attack us in order to use our planet as their own. They begin growing their vegetation and pretty much decimate the planet. The only problem, of course, is they couldn't get passed our first, best, and only line of defense... which is a germ. These sophisticated alien invaders must not have any immune system to speak of because they wither and die in a matter of minutes after catching some unnamed bacterial infection, leaving nothing but empty husks. When the novel was written by H.G. Wells in 1898, this was probably a viable answer to the problem. Now, on the other hand, it's kind of a cop out. I hope if the aliens do invade, they're this lame. I have a cold right now, let me cough on the fuckers.

V - THE BLOB (1958)
Similar situation as War of the Worlds, this little nugget features Steve McQueen as a teenage drag racer facing off against, well, the Blob. It's basically just that. An alien that is nothing more than an amorphous mass of red gelatin that engulfs whatever's in its path. It seems pretty horrible, until you find out that it can be easily stopped by a fire extinguisher. Apparently, the pressurized CO2 can render the entire thing useless and indeed freezes it utterly. Once it can't blob after anyone anymore, the military drops it in the middle of the arctic circle, which is great until the polar ice caps melt. So soon we're going to have to deal with global warming AND huge gooey alien things. Thanks again, military! If you get passed the silly horror, The Blob is actually a very thinly veiled warning against the growing Communist threat. A huge, seemingly unstoppable RED thing is sucking everything into itself and making good, honest Americans a part of its evil marauding. Not bad for 1958. All credibility does go out the door with the easier than necessary solution, and of course this hysterically out of place theme song.

Here's a message to all you would-be alien invaders out there: If you're going to invade a planet and do the whole "gas them with your weird arm toxin" thing, maybe don't invade a planet made predominantly of the ONE THING THAT HARMS YOU!!! I do not dislike this movie, in fact as far as house/family under siege movies go, it's probably one of the best. M. Night Shamalamadingdong does a good job of keeping the aliens more frightening by only giving us small glimpses of them, like a foot in a corn field, or a hand under a door, but then the end of the movie comes up and the whole thing is ruined. Apparently, these aliens and their infinitely advanced cloaked spaceships and coded crop circles are harmed by good ol' H2O. Goddamned WATER brings about the death of these things. You know what planet has no water? Statistically, every other planet in the whole frigging universe. Pick one of them instead. Did you not do your homework at all? Way to fail so horrendously, aliens. I'm glad Joaquin Phoenix beat the tar out of you. You're stupid.

The poster for this movie is a complete misrepresentation. If a group of things that looked like that invaded Earth, I would legitimately be afraid, but the critters are actually little, carnivorous balls of fur. It's like some Trekkies got high one night and said, "Dude, what if Tribbles could, like, eat you?" And his friend, undoubtedly said, "Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude." That's the general conceit of this movie. But, we're lead to believe, these koosh balls with teeth are so dangerous that two shape-shifting alien bounty hunters need to be dispatched. Really, anyone with a nine iron should be able to take these things down. Or just, like, a ruler. I think it was really just an excuse to make a monster movie with hand puppets. I liked this movie the first time I saw it, when it was called "Gremlins."

This is the saddest I've ever been in a movie theater, and I saw Spider-Man 3. A little piece of my childhood died in the summer of 2008 and went to join the part of me that used to like Star Wars. Apart from being just an all-around stupid movie, it also has the distinction of being the only Indiana Jones movie that proves that science is actually less believable than magic. Nazis seeking enlightenment from The Ark: Good movie. Commies seeking enlightenment from Mayan space aliens: Awful movie. The actual alien portions of this movie play like any other Aliens-Were-Always-Here flicks, and, sort of like Mission to Mars, don't make any sense. If the aliens were willing to give the ultimate knowledge in the universe to someone, why didn't they just go find that person instead of waiting for someone to find them? And then they have the audacity, nay, the balls to pass judgement on those that arrive? If I were Indiana Jones, I would have punched all of them in their weird, oblong crystal skulls.

Let me see if I can understand this plan, known to the aliens as "Plan 9." Since the American government did not respond politely to your barrage of flying saucers, you will reanimate the corpses of the recently deceased to, what? Kill everyone? Terrible plan, right? Well, what you don't know is that the first eight plans from outer space were even worse. I happen to have access to the previous plans from these diabolical heathens and will share them with you now.
Plan 1 From Outer Space: Let loose a flock of angry sea turtles
Plan 2 From Outer Space: Throw lit matches at everyone
Plan 3 From Outer Space: Send a giant robot down to Earth and kick Brit Hume really hard in the shin
Plan 4 From Outer Space: Replace all the chocolate in the world with less-delicious chocolate substitute
Plan 5 From Outer Space: Miley Cyrus (this one actually worked)
Plan 6 From Outer Space: Act really aloof and sarcastic in hopes Earth won't know we secretly love it
Plan 7 From Outer Space: Tap everyone in the world on the shoulder and then run away
Plan 8 From Outer Space: Burrow deep into the Earth's crust and lie dormant for millions of years until such time as an expedition makes its way toward the core of the planet and then step out and tell them we're happy to take their literature but we're just not very religious
This is that movie Edward D. Wood, Jr is most known for, and with good reason. It makes no sense. Widely regarded as the worst movie ever made, though I would personally give that dubious honor to "Manos: The Hands of Fate," "Plan 9 From Outer Space," is that rare kind of bad movie that is so unbelievably atrocious that it has actually become entertaining. Made for about $.35, it shows that anyone can make a movie as long as they throw some zombies and flying saucers in there.

And there you have it. Aliens pose no threat.

You're welcome

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Value of Brevity in Television Series or: Hurry Up And Finish Already

For quite a long while, good television shows were a novelty, with most of the decent programs being of the sitcom variety. Then, in the early part of the 2000s, dramatic television got really good, and with cable making up the bulk of it, there was a lot to choose from. If a show is successful both critically and commercially, there is a desire to keep it going as long as possible. While a lot of shows can do that effectively, with revolving cast members and standalone stories, some get tired and pass out of the sphere of relevance. The reason for this phenomenon is these shows fail to realize the one element that is paramount to good storytelling: The End.

LOST, has become a show I both love and despise. I've lost count of the number of times I've gotten so frustrated with its twisty, turny narrative and "What the fuck just happened?" cliffhangers that I'd thought about never watching it again. But the creators of LOST did a smart thing, and that was to announce a few years ago that the sixth season, of which we are four episodes in, would be the program's last. With a show like this, the concept of "The End" is possibly more important that the entire sum of the episodes that have come before. How will the mysteries be explained? What will be the big revelation? What happened to Walt? The finale probably won't answer all of these questions, but at least we'll go away knowing there isn't any more to know. And six seasons is a pretty good span of time for a show like this. The X-Files tried to stretch it to nine and suffered greatly for it. There's only so long people can put up with a premise.

With the advent of dvd box sets and sites like Hulu, it's become all too easy to catch up with shows you like. One summer, I plowed through four seasons of 24 in probably a three week span, watching the first ten episodes in one day. Binge-watching has become a way of life and one of its many advantages is that it allows the viewer to see the season as a single entity instead of 24 weekly jaunts. As such, it's much more difficult for writers to get away with unexplored threads and throwaway references. Shows like 24 seem like they were made for the binge-watching crowd to the point where watching the episodes once a week like everyone did just ten years ago diminishes the effect. Now in its 8th season, 24 may be looking at its finale as well. Even with dvd, the concept of a single day being depicted in "real time" can only be done so many times before it loses its edge. 24 could have ended after its phenomenal fifth season and gone down as one of the best shows ever, instead it might fade away as a cliche of the decade.

The Office is another good example of a show that might be losing some of its effectiveness as time goes on. Sure, the jokes are still funny, but how long can an audience buy that these people are being filmed by a documentary crew? In the current season, Dunder-Mifflin, the show's fictional paper company which serves as the titular building, is in huge financial trouble and has just recently been bought by a larger corporation. Surely, if this were indeed a true "documentary," the television network would have paid for access to the building and staff, and if it has been popular enough to be on into its sixth season, surely there would have been some talk about giving the office workers endorsement deals or movie contracts. The original UK version of The Office lasted just 14 episodes and one Christmas special, the length an actual camera crew might realistically follow these people around. Just food for thought.

Speaking of the good ol' Brits, they do things with television much differently than we Americans. Here in The States, a successful network show might run 5-7 seasons of between 22 and 26 episodes and a cable series might run 3-5 seasons of 13 episodes. This is common practice based on commercial revenue. England's television is largely government funded and they only have about four channels. Each season (called "series" across the pond) is 6 or 13 episodes, usually the former, with rare occasions of a 7 or 8 episode series. Usually these series are intended only to last their allotted episodes and no more meaning they have exactly six episodes to tell an entire story from beginning to end. If the show ends up being very popular, a year or more down the road they might commission a second or third series and tell another complete story. Good examples of this are Life on Mars, Spaced, and Coupling. The downside of this way of approaching television, from an American perspective anyway, is that if a viewer likes a program, they only have six episodes to watch and it may never return. The upside is that both the viewer and production team can have closure. They won't generally have to worry about being cancelled prematurely and never being able to finish telling their story.

So many shows here get cancelled before they can hit their stride. Firefly only got twelve episodes and didn't get a proper finale (until the movie Serenity which was pretty sweet). What would have happened if Firefly were made in England and their twelve episodes were a complete tale? This is a show I discovered because of dvd and would have liked a few more episodes to round out the narrative. It might behoove us to follow the English mentality simply for practicality sake. Even shows I like now, I secretly hope will end so I can be free of the commitment to them. I want closure. CSI is in its 10 season, SVU in its 11th, and the original Law & Order is in year 20. These shows aren't bad, but doesn't it seem to be too much? The Sopranos lasted six seasons, Battlestar Galactica four seasons, and Deadwood only three (a real shame) yet I don't count them any less a triumph than shows that have been on since the first Bush was president. Quality not quantity here folks.

So with LOST and (potentially) 24 drawing to a close in the coming months, think about how you want your favorite shows to be remembered. Like finishing a good book, watching a season of good tv can be a triumph. The triumph can be lessened when you know there's just another long struggle for the characters you love close on its heels. You want these characters to have peace and happiness, or at least contentment and closure. You need, as much for yourself as for them, it to be The End.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Howdy, Fellow Nerds!

Gonna give my essay-writing a rest today and just talk about some news in the world of nerd.

Fresh on the heels of reports that Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan is going to oversee development of a new Superman movie, we get reports that self-proclaimed king of the world James Cameron is going to mentor new Spider-Man helmer Marc Webb. Webb wants to utilize the 3D filmmaking technology that Cameron used in his own hugely successful film Avatar, you may have heard of it. One can only assume this new rendition of Spider-Man will involve the web-slinger having pony tail sex with Carnage. Since this reboot of the franchise will focus on Spidey as a teenager in high school, I imagine we're going to see some sweet three-dimensional getting rejected by girls and popping zits. Can't wait.

After a couple years of postulating, it seems that the 2011 season of Doctor Who, the second to feature Matt Smith as the eleventh incarnation of the venerable sci-fi hero, will include an episode written by comic book and genre god Neil Gaiman. No word yet on what the episode will be about, but the title could be "The House of Nothing," which is about as vague as you can get. I'm sure it'll be one of the best stories so far. Gaiman is the man behind the Sandman series of graphic novels as well as the films Mirrormask and Oscar nominee Coraline. If you're real quiet you can hear a collective squeal from nerds everywhere.

Speaking of the good Doctor, this Tuesday sees the release of a couple new dvd releases from the classic series. From 1973 we have the box set entitled "The Dalek War" which features the six-part serials "Frontier in Space" and "Planet of the Daleks," which sees, my personal favorite, Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor embroiled in some alien politics and eventually having to fight his arch-nemeses, The Daleks. Extras in this set include full episode commentaries, multiple-part documentaries, and featurettes about the Third Doctor and Dalek comic books from the period. Keeping with the theme, the second release is a re-issue of "Remembrance of the Daleks," from the penultimate season in 1988 and features Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor. "Remembrance" was one of the first stories released on dvd in the early 2000s and was pretty light on extras. This redo gives us a second disc with a retrospect documentary and a feature on the different references made throughout the four parts. More Daleks than you know what to do with.

And finally today, E! News is reporting that "Death is coming" in the final season of LOST. Spoilers throughout, so read with caution, but it seems an inevitability that most of the remaining survivors will bite the dust before the finale. It's shaping up to be a great ending already so I only hope it's worth all the hours of anxiety I've been put through.

That's enough for today.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sci Fi: The Weirder the Better

Last night I watched Blade Runner with my good friends, The Larsons. They had never seen it before and that always makes me happy. Part of my enjoyment of movies I love comes from seeing the reaction of people who haven't seen it. I've seen the movie a bunch of times and so don't really watch it for the plot or the story, but seeing it through their eyes, it's pretty evident that Blade Runner doesn't make a lick of sense. It's held together by just the thinnest of plots and while it does make a point about the nature of what it is to live, you really have to be paying attention to understand how it gets anywhere.

And it got me thinking: why is this movie so awesome? As I said, I've seen it a number of times, but I do remember when I saw it the first time, close to ten years ago, I didn't understand what the hype was all about. Sure it looks great, but why is it remembered as being so revolutionary? I think the reason is because Blade Runner, like all good science fiction, offers more questions than answers. The best sci-fi, in my opinion, are the ones that need to be viewed multiple times and absorbed until the viewer makes up their own mind about the meaning. Ambiguity is key.

Look at what I consider the greatest sci-fi movie of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) directed by lord of all he surveys, Stanley Kubrick. I had the opportunity to see that movie in a theater within the last year, again with a first-timer. After the movie was over I asked her what she thought, and my friend said, "That was one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen; I have no idea what it was about." That's a testament to its power. It's about something, but damned if you can really decipher it. Granted, a movie that starts out with prehistoric apes, goes to a space station's diabolical computer, and culminates in our lead character turning into a giant celestial baby is hard to comprehend. The first time I saw it I thought it was just weird and it wasn't until a couple years later when I decided to watch it again (and again and again) that it affected me. I still don't know what it's about, but there comes a point where it's not really about that. As great and fun as the first Star Wars is, 2001 makes more of a thematic impact.

It isn't just weirdness for no reason, the best sci-fi tells us something about our own world and ourselves as human beings. A few years after 2001, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky made Solaris (1972) that is in many ways a companion to Kubrick's film. It depicts Earthlings trying to communicate with a planet that by all accounts is itself intelligent and alive. Unlike 2001, the aliens provide learning not from without, but from within, as the entity makes contact by appearing to the character as his deceased wife. But we, like the lead, are never sure if she's really there or just in his head. Indeed, we never know if he is even on board the space station or still on Earth. Nothing is explained, but the continual mystery is what makes the film so indelible.

Science Fiction isn't only about special effects, though that can help. There has to be a interesting, compelling story involved. A super-low budget indie film called Primer (2004) is a good example of zero special effects actually helping a movie. It's about two scientists who create a time machine in their garage and go back in time, but they have avoid running into themselves. That's about as dumbed down as I can make it, but there's a huge amount of scientific theory going on that I couldn't begin to comprehend. This movie made my brain hurt but I enjoyed the crap out of it. Another similar film is the Spanish film Timecrimes (2007) where an unassuming family man keeps getting sent back in time and has to make sure he's not in direct contact with himself. These movies show that people can literally be their own worst enemy.

So, take your Avatar with its $350 Billion budget and blow it out your ass. Give me an introspective journey into the psyche of humans any day of the week. If the story makes sense the first time I watch it, it ain't for me. For me, the best sci-fi makes you think and not just dazzles your eyes.

Films to check out:
It Came From Outer Space (1953) dir. Jack Arnold
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) dir. Don Siegel
La Jetee (1962) dir. Chris Marker
Alphaville (1965) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Seconds (1966) dir. John Frankenheimer
Quatermass and the Pit (1967) dir. Roy Ward Baker
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Silent Running (1972) dir. Douglas Trumbull
Solaris (1972) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
Stalker (1979) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
Blade Runner (1982) dir. Ridley Scott
Videodrome (1983) dir. David Cronenberg
Brazil (1985) dir. Terry Gilliam
Twelve Monkeys (1995) dir. Terry Gilliam
Abre Los Ojos (1997) dir. Alejandro Amenabar
Primer (2004) dir. Shane Carruth
Timecrimes (2007) dir. Nacho Vigalondo

You're welcome

Monday, February 15, 2010

Things Made Should Not Be Made Again

I read something on Variety today (full story here)that made my heart cry. The article said that rumors of Danish auteur Lars Von Trier spearheading a remake of Taxi Driver are true. It says in part:

The idea behind the project is similar to the film "The Five Obstructions" that Von Trier and Danish helmer Jorgen Leth made in 2003. In that film, Von Trier challenged his colleague Leth to do a remake of his own 1967 film "The Perfect Human." Von Trier gave Leth the task of remaking five times, each time with a different obstacle, such as making the film animated.

In the new project, Von Trier will challenge Scorsese and De Niro to remake their 1976 classic "Taxi Driver."

First off, Lars Von Trier is a prick. He has claimed in public that he is the greatest filmmaker alive. Now, he's not a bad filmmaker by any means, he makes weird and depressing art films, but what kind of sack does it take to openly claim to be the best? Von Trier has also made several movies about America depicting it in a less-than-flattering light. I'm by no means a flag-waver, sometimes I think our country is going to hell too, but I live in the United States; he's never even been here. He has a fear of flying or some such bullshit and so has never set foot in the country he deems so corrupt and vile. One rule I have, if you're going to bash a country and specifically its people, you need to witness it first-hand.

Second, this guy takes it upon himself to challenge Martin fucking SCORSESE to remake his own movie. Hey, Lars, why don't you remake Dancer in the Dark, but this time make it so I stay awake the whole time? It's Taxi Driver for Christ sake! He did a pretty damn good job on it to begin with. I've never sat down to watch that movie and thought, "you know what would have made this movie way better? If he'd done it with animation." And De Niro, is old now. He's still a badass, but there's no way in hell he's gonna be able to do all those pull ups, nor, I assume, will he be willing to sport a mohawk.

Why do people insist on remaking good movies? Taxi Driver is an American masterpiece, why in the name of Bronson Pinchot should it be remade? It seems like all we hear about anymore is how some studio is remaking, rebooting, or reimagining really great movies. And with each one, a little part of me dies, the part that feels love and happiness.

What's most infuriating is that the greater viewing public, who are pretty stupid, don't know that half of these movies are remakes. Anyone see the trailers for The Crazies? That's a remake of a George A. Romero movie from 1973. How about The Italian Job back in 2001? That was a remake of a Michael Caine movie from the late '60s. Even the Mel Gibson vehicle "Edge of Darkness" is a remake of a British tv series in 1985. I feel like people have lost an appreciation for film art. Someone's shoving a glossy reprint in their face and they aren't allowed to discover the originals.

If studio execs have to remake something, and apparently it must be done, why don't they remake stupid movies? Give them a second chance, see if they can float. I wouldn't mind seeing a version of Howard the Duck that's actually decent or an updated Plan 9 From Outer Space where the plan actually makes sense. I'm sure Ben Affleck wouldn't mind a Gigli do-over. There are literally thousands of crap-ass direct to video stinkers that could fill multiplexes for another ten years. Let's not forget, The Maltese Falcon was made twice already when John Huston made it the right way.

When you get right to the crux of the matter, it's all about money. Remaking a great movie is just a way to cash in on established fan bases. I understand fully the need to make money, but as a lover of the art of cinema, it feels like they're raping the visions of far better artists. Classics are the way they are because they stand the test of time. I fully expect in 50 years people will still talk about Citizen Kane, 2001, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as masterpieces and masterpieces cannot be duplicated no matter how much money you sink into them.

So whether or not Mr. Scorsese accepts Mr. Von Trier's challenge and remakes one of the seminal films of all time, the fact that we live in a world where such a challenge can even be extended and considered seriously is testament to how much the industry is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

You're Welcome

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hello, Welcome, and the first Top 6!

Salutations, Nerds!

I am so excited about this new blog I could shit. I'm a nerd and as such I feel more qualified than other people to give my opinion on all things, but especially those little nuggets everyone likes but few are secure enough to admit to liking. This blog will talk about pop culture, address film and television, review things, and, like today, give a Top 6 list pertaining to a certain topic. Why six? Because six is better than five. So check back here for my take on everything that's awesome.

TOP 6: Anti-Valentine Movies
As someone who hates Valentine's Day, I can appreciate the need to take one's mind off of love, or the lack thereof. I also know that's easier said than done. So instead of feeling like a big loveless loser, think of these six cinematic cold showers and be glad you're not these people.

VI - SPECIES (1995)
Who can't relate to a gorgeous woman trying desperately to mate with you and then devouring you when she can't? That's happened to me at least twice. That's exactly what happens in this b-movie from the mid-90s, except in this case the hot woman is part alien. Go fig. Natasha Henstridge is so hot that you might think being slaughtered by her is worth it, but the scene where she Frenches Alfred Molina to death is more than enough to make you never look at a leggy blonde again. For a little while anyway.

This weird Indonesian exploitation movie is basically just a poorly written rip-off of the Schwarzeneggar movie but instead of a muscle-bound Austrian it's, you guessed it, a lady. What sets this movie apart from its predecessor is that instead of being a robot, the title character is a sort of attractive college student possessed with the spirit of the South Sea Queen, a real Indonesian legend about a killer aquatic mer-thing. She is always on the look out for men to satisfy her and when they inevitably don't, the eel that lives in her vagina eats their genitals, causing them to bleed to death. Read that sentence again. Go on. As many times as you need to, I'll wait. We good? Yeah, that actually happens. Couple that with the all the gratuitous machine-gunning of innocent people and you'll always be wary of leather-clad women.

IV - FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
You're young, you're horny, you're good looking for an 80s movie, and you're up in the mountains; why wouldn't you get your freak on six ways from Sunday? There's horrific, bloody death, sure, but that shouldn't deter you. The conceit of Friday the 13th, and the slew of sequels and copycats that followed, is that if you have sex before marriage, you WILL get impaled with something sharp. The filmmakers always maintained they weren't consciously sending out pro-abstinence vibes, but it's easy to infer when a particularly gropy interlude leads to Kevin Bacon getting an arrow in the throat. I would never say Beyonce is right, but if you like it, it probably wouldn't hurt to put a ring on it.

Ingrid Bergman is ridiculously happy after a whirlwind romance with the dashing Charles Boyer, but once they get married and move back to her childhood home, things start to go pear-shaped. Bergman starts hearing things, seeing things, forgetting things, and generally feeling out of sorts. Her husband tells her she's losing her mind and all the evidence agrees with him. But she soon starts to believe he is driving her mad on purpose to get some hidden treasure in the house, but how can she prove it? This movie is rather infuriating for three reasons: A) the helplessness of being thought insane, 2) The total and utter betrayal by one you so completely trust, and d) the fact that Bergman's way hammy and melodramatic performance won her an Oscar.

II - LOVE STORY (1970)
Love means never having to say you're sorry. And that, dear friends, is a "liar-liar, pants on fire" situation. If anything, love ALWAYS means having to say you're sorry. You apologize for everything, and rightfully so; love makes you act like an idiot. This whole movie is full of ridiculous sentiments and superficial romance. Countless times during the movie you want to punch both Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw right in the nose for being so pretty yet so whiny. They're trying to convey the message that love is a struggle, but at the end of the movie the only message I see is "Fall in love and they'll end up dying of cancer leaving you more alone and sad than you've ever been before." No thank you to that.

This one isn't so much that love will lead to bad things, but cheating on your wife definitely will. This one movie made men keep it in their pants more than any episode of Cheaters ever could. Don't cheat on your wife and certainly don't call it off or your mistress will boil your pet rabbit and try to stab you and your family with scissors. Several times. What makes this movie all the more emasculating is that the dude's wife has to be the one to kill her, leading to the best instance of "The Look" ever on film. I bet he had to clean the hell out of the garage after that. Something else good to know, Glenn Close doesn't like to be ignored. All right, Glenn. Message received.

And there you have it. Next time you complain about not having a significant other, suck it up and count your lonely ass lucky you don't have to deal with any of this crap.

You're welcome.