Category Archives: Movies

Taking Another Look at Contact (1997)

I just re-watched the 1997 movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster and adapted from the Carl Sagan book.  I hadn’t seen it since the late 90s or so, but it was sitting on Amazon Prime, so why not?

But the one thing that I think has really changed since the last time I saw it is my reaction to the religious content in the movie.  Last time, from what I can remember, I tolerated it.  This time I absolutely hated it.

I honestly had a rather violent reaction this time, truth be told.  When the religious assholes were demanding that Jodie Foster’s character couldn’t go because she didn’t believe in God, I wanted to throttle them. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot less tolerant of religious horse shit.

I mean, I still like the movie in general, but I’ve started to notice that it really makes Jodie Foster’s character start to look a lot more religious, especially at the end.  She has to play into every single religious trope that they set up in her path, she had to parrot back all of the mindless religious tripe they had said to her throughout the movie.  And in the end, there was a grand religious conspiracy to keep her discredited.  Religion clearly won in the end, although it was an underhanded, devious victory.

And that’s not how the book ended at all.  But I haven’t read the book in a very long time either. Either way, the movie really pissed me off this time through.  I would have been much happier if it had been Arroway fighting against incessant irrationality in the world and winning, but she lost.  Irrationality won. And that’s just not the kind of movie I want to see.  I know Sagan died before the movie came out but something in me wants to think that he’d be metaphorically spinning in his grave over what it turned out to be.

But hey, what do I know, right?

Cooking the Numbers for Diversity

They’re blue, stop making it about race!

There’s a recent news story out that says that “more diverse movies make more money“, saying that movies that have more than 50% non-white actors make more money than movies that have all white actors.  Um…  not really, no.

All you have to do is look at the highest grossing movies of all time.  Now I agree that it’s hard to gauge Avatar, the #1 movie, because it features a lot of blue CGI characters, but of the human characters, you have Michelle Rodriguez, Dileep Rao and Scott Lawrence and maybe James Gaylyn.  Sure, there are other non-white actors providing voices for blue people, but not on screen.  The overwhelming majority of actors in the movie are white.  Sam Worthington, Steven Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, Matt Gerald, Jason Whyte, Jacob Tomuri, the list goes on.  I’m only trying to list major characters that appear multiple times, not bit parts.

Or what about Titanic, which still lands at #2?  Again, almost entirely white actors.  Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Gloria Stewart, Bill Paxton, Frances Fischer, Victor Garber, Bernard Hill… I could go on and on.  How many major non-white actors?  None.  Okay, maybe this one isn’t fair because it’s a period piece and I grant you that one, but still, Titanic has made $1.843 billion dollars worldwide so far.

Okay, the new Star Wars flick, it falls at #3, how did it do?  Well, it does have John Boyega and Lupita Nyong’o and that’s about it.  But for white actors, it has Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Gwendolyn Christie, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, plus the whole original cast, all of whom were white.  Are we seeing a pattern here?

One more.  Jurassic World, which comes in at #4.  Non-white major cast includes Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, B.D. Wong and Brandon Richardson.  That’s not bad.  But the white cast has Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onfrio, Judy Greer, Jake Johnson, Katie McGrath and a host of others.  In short, not one of the top four movies of all time has what this article describes as a “diverse cast”.

So what does this tell us?  It tells us that this article is a load of nonsense.  The movie-going audience goes to see good movies, not diverse movies.  This is a perfect example of correlation not being causation.  Even if the figures are correct and movies with a diverse cast do make somewhat more than movies without one, that doesn’t mean that the diverse cast is the cause of the movies making more money.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter to anyone… except the racist liberals who pay attention to nothing but race and gender and sexual orientation, who are looking for quotas and not paying the slightest bit of attention to the quality of  the movies.  But that’s what sells.  Good films.  Quality movies.  Flicks that people really want to see.  That’s what makes money, not slavish attention to the skin color, genitalia and orientation of everyone hired to be in the thing.  That’s just stupid, but then again, we are talking about liberals here, aren’t we?

Should Kids Get Scared?

This seems like a pretty good topic for Halloween, so good in fact that I’ll do two posts on Saturday.  I subscribe to a couple of movie review YouTube channels and one of them is the Nostalgia Critic.  He’s usually funny, his reviews are entertaining, but you don’t turn to any of these channels for in-depth, inciteful film analysis.  That said though, he put up a video on scaring kids in movies that I thought was quite good and I wanted to aim some people his way and talk about the subject.  I’ll include the video later in the post, but to go take a look at his channel, click here.

Americans, by and large, have really turned our kids into a bunch of pussies. Helicopter parents refuse to allow their children to fail, to face the problems and pains of real life, they want to keep them safe and protected from the world and, to a certain degree, there’s nothing wrong with that.  Every parent wants to keep their kids safe, but there’s a difference between keeping them safe and keeping them ignorant.

Whether they like it or not, sooner or later, and it’s becoming later and later unfortunately, these kids are going to have to face the real world alone, on its own terms, complete with all the horrors and pain that it holds and far too many of them are just not prepared.  That’s why they go running home to mommy and daddy, because they have never been prepared to face reality.

I think this is very true in the movies we let kids see today.  As the Nostalgia Critic points out, older kids films are downright scary.  I think that they should be scary.  I think that children’s entertainment has become far too coddling, due to the increasing intolerance of anything remotely uncomfortable by helicopter parents, and this is not preparing these children for the reality that they’re going to face when they grow up.  Being scared is a good thing.  I’m not saying terrify your children into a paranoid mess, I’m saying that they need to be exposed to the reality around them.  Don’t lie to them.  Let them know the truth, even if the truth is going to make them uncomfortable.  If they cannot deal with the truth, how do you expect them to become self-sufficient and able to raise children of their own?  You are not doing your kids any good in the long run by treating them like china dolls.  They need to learn how to handle the real world because if they don’t figure that out, they are going to break into a million emotional pieces the first time they are faced with any kind of adversity.  Scares in movies and on TV and in books, those help get them ready to accept that things might not always go their way, that things might not always be rosy and that’s a tremendously important lesson to learn for every single person, everywhere.  It’s just a shame that so many will never be taught that lesson by their parents and will spend their lives unable to deal with reality.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tst_xE53Z0′]

Planet of the Apes: An Apt Example

Planet of the ApesRecently, I sat down and watched all five of the original Planet of the Apes movies again.  It has been many years since I’ve seen them, but it immediately struck me that the plot of the first Planet of the Apes movie was very appropriate to the creation/evolution “debate”.

In the movie, Dr. Zaius, chief scientist and defender of the faith, knows the real history of his world, he knows that evolution is true but he can’t bear to let anyone else know.  Instead, he imprisons those who violate the religious order and discredits anyone who doubts the ape scriptures.

Doesn’t that sound pretty familiar?

In the original 1968 film, Dr. Zira asks Zaius, “how can scientific truth be heresy?”  However, Zaius and the rest of the tribunal of orangutan elders holds that it is, no matter how much evidence there might be for it, they refuse to see it.  Near the end of the film, after Taylor and Nova escape into the forbidden zone and Zaius leads troops to recapture or kill them, they come upon a cave where Cornelius had led an archaeological expedition.  There, they found human artifacts including a child’s doll.  Zaius refuses to even go into the cave, he doesn’t care what evidence is there, all he cares about is his doctrinal purity.  In fact, much of what we see in Planet of the Apes is a topsy-turvy replay of the concepts behind the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Today, we see the same thing among modern-day creationists, they can’t possibly be so stupid not to know that evolution is supported by an absurd amount of evidence, they just don’t care.  They are only concerned with doctrinal purity, not factual reality.

One interesting bit from the film that I’d really like to be true comes at the end of the movie when Cornelius, Zira and Taylor take Zaius prisoner and he admits, perhaps not in so many words, that he knows it won’t be long before the old ways come down but he’s going to fight for them for as long as he possibly can.  I’m hoping that today, almost 50 years later, creationism and other such primitive beliefs are in their death throes.  They deserve to be and the sooner they become a relic of primitive human thought, the better.  We’re better than that as a species, isn’t it about time we stop letting these monkey assemblies run the intellectual argument over human origins?  Cornelius and Zira had it right.  Evolution happens.  The orangutans had it wrong.  Religion is nonsense.  Unfortunately, Charlton Heston turned out to be a creationist all along.  I guess you can’t win them all.

I Threw Away My Cable Bill

No-CableActually, I did this a while back but I was recently contacted by DirecTV who has been desperate to get me back since I dropped their service more than 5 years ago to go with Verizon’s FIOS.  That kind of got me thinking about the whole thing and while I was thinking, I came up with an idea that I have no idea why they don’t use.

But first, the backstory.  We had DirecTV for probably 10-12 years, it worked great, we never had any problems with the quality, it worked virtually all of the time.  However, when we finally had FIOS available in our area, something we had been looking forward to for several years, we dropped DirecTV in favor of FIOS-TV, simply because there were more channels available and when we bundled our super-high-speed Internet, TV and phone together, it was cheaper than anything DirecTV could do.  We still have our old DirecTV dish on the roof, I could go back to them any time I wanted, I still have the box and all the rest, I just have no desire and they can’t beat the prices.

Back in September, Verizon started  bugging us big time to sign up for a new 2-year contract.  Ours had run out some time during the summer and we figured we’d just keep going month to month because we had no interest in changing anything, but it gave us the opportunity to switch plans if we ever had the need without having to pay fees and all of that.  Verizon kept making thinly veiled threats that our “special deal” that we were getting might “expire”, although we all know that’s a load of nonsense, so we’d better sign up again!  It made us remember something we’d realized a long time ago.  We don’t even watch the damn thing!

It’s true.  We virtually never turned it on and when we did, it was just for background noise.  Anything we watch is either downloaded or on DVD/Bluray.  It was a lot of money to be spending for a box that acted more as a digital clock than a cable box.  Add to that the fact that we were headed into election season and I dreaded the endless political calls.  We virtually never got a single worthwhile call on our landline, it was either advertisers trying to sell us something or political calls trying to sell us something else.  The only reason we’d kept it is out of tradition, we’d had the same number for more than 15 years but we couldn’t come up with a single other reason why we ought to continue to pay for something we got no positive use out of.

So we didn’t.  We called Verizon and cancelled both our FIOS-TV and landline phone, then we boosted our Internet speed to the fastest it could go, both upload and download.  We’re still saving a ton a month, plus we’re not locked into a contract, we’re month-to-month so we can change any time we feel like it.

I told that whole story because I wanted to tell this one.

Pretty much everyone knows I download 100% of my television viewing, I make no secret of it and I don’t feel bad about it at all.  I guess one reason I kept paying for the TV as long as I did was a misguided thought that hey, I’m paying my cable bills which helps to fund these channels and therefore it shouldn’t matter how I get the content, you’re still getting my money.  Of course, nobody cares about that, including Verizon, who really doesn’t give a damn what anyone downloads. Sure, if they get a complaint, they have to pass it along and wag their finger and say “naughty naughty” but they really couldn’t care less.  I momentarily thought, maybe I ought to go download these shows from some of the “legal” sites, where you pay by the episode, but that immediately went out the window, doing that would cost more than just keeping the cable and you’re still stuck with the commercials.  No thanks.

So that got me thinking, why doesn’t Verizon and other ISPs just charge $15-20 a month, give that money to whatever group controls TV piracy, and anyone who pays that can download any TV shows they want, from whatever source they want, with no legal penalty?  Oh, I know the TV producers would never go for it, they want that advertiser revenue, but for people like me, people who are not going to watch their commercials no matter what they do, and who are now not even going to pay the few pennies a month that goes to the individual networks, at least they get something.  They can’t stop piracy, they might as well profit  from it.  I know, it makes sense and ISPs can do similar things for people who download movies and software, or just do a “$50 a month for everything”, where people don’t have to pay for VPNs and spoof their IPs and all the rest of that.  They can do what they’re going to do anyhow and not have to worry that Big Brother is looking over their shoulder.

The unfortunate reality, one that I’ve pointed out before, is that so many of these media companies are living in the dark ages and have to be dragged, kicking and screaming into the light.  The recording industry had to be forced to be successful by iTunes and now, there are tons of sites where you pay a flat fee and listen to as much music as you want all month long. The movie industry hated the idea of home video and fought it tooth and nail.  Now it’s a massive money maker for them. The old ways are old for a reason, the world keeps moving on and these people need to get it through their heads that the world changes, with or without them.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to figure it out.  They’ll just go on fighting the wind and losing money while the planet changes around them.

Business with Racist Overtones

mighty2I get really tired of having to explain reality to liberals.  I’ve talked about this a couple of times before, but the liberal stupidity keeps rolling along and I’m putting this here to keep from overly politicizing my other blog. For those in the dark, there’s been a “movement” of sorts, I suppose, to pressure Marvel Comics to put out more predominantly black comics and if they don’t do so, they’re clearly racist.  This whole  debacle started when it was revealed that the new Mighty Avengers comic, which has a largely non-white cast of characters, was being “underordered” by comic retailers, thus, comic retailers must be racist!  These people are clueless in the highest degree and have no clue, or interest, in how business actually works.

Comic book retailers operate on a shoestring profit as it is, they have to be very careful what books they order for their shops and which ones they don’t.  They have to gauge, based on their experience, which ones will likely sell immediately and which ones will just sit around for months and have to be sold at a loss to clear space.  By and large, and I certainly can’t say this is true of everyone, but for the vast majority, the owners don’t give a damn who the team is or what color they are, they just want to make money.  The lowest-selling comic in July, 2013 was Aspen’s Legend of the Shadowclan.  The fact that most retailers didn’t order many, if any, of that title doesn’t mean that they’re biased against ninjas.  It’s absurd.

The fact is, comic shop owners have no control over who comes into their stores and buys what.  Neither does Marvel for that matter.  It is a fact, whether anyone likes it or not, that the top-rated comic superheroes, both for Marvel and DC, happen to be white characters.  That isn’t necessarily a racist thing, these are almost all characters that were created between the 1930s and the 1970s and have demonstrated their popularity and longevity.  It is an undeniable fact that, in the comic book world, the overwhelming majority of characters created in the past 20 years have failed to garner much popularity or  traction with comic book fans.   Therefore, it’s only common sense that a company would cater to their demonstrable audience and sell things that people have proven they’re willing to buy.

See, that’s how business works.  I know liberals seem incapable of understanding this so I’ll go slow.  Business exists to make money.  It does not exist to make social statements, it does not exist to engage in social engineering, it does not exist to push a social agenda.  It’s there to make a buck.  Full stop.  Sure, some companies can work some social justice into their business plan, lots of companies donate money to different causes, both for the tax write-off and for the customer good will and additional purchases that it invariably creates.  Charitable donations are not losing any of these companies business, trust me.  Liberals seem to think that business exists to make them feel good and if the business has to lose money to give them an ego boost, so be it.  They don’t seem to care that they’re wrong about pretty much everything across the board.  These are the same folks who are out trying to get minority actors in movies and on TV, just because of the color of their skin.  Movies and TV producers aren’t racists either, they’re trying to make a financially successful product.  They want to keep their show on TV so they keep getting paid.  They want to be high in the ratings so advertisers are willing to spend more putting their ads on during the show.  This is how it works.

Yet these crazy liberals are convinced, for some reason beyond my comprehension, that there are secret back rooms right now where rich white men are twisting their mustaches and working out devious means to put even more white actors on TV.  It’s utterly insane.  I just don’t understand where they get the absurd idea of racist bugaboos hiding under the bed, waiting to pounce on the unwary.  This is the stuff of the conspiracy theorist, not of any rational, intelligent person.

Now you can argue until you’re blue in the face why some characters are popular and some are not, it doesn’t change the fact that, at least at this moment in time, characters that happen to be white happen to have the most popularity.  But it isn’t the fact that they’re write that makes them popular, it’s the fact that they’ve had a long history, have been well written and have struck a chord with comic book readers.  Whether those readers are reading them because they’re white or not, I can’t say, all I can say is that I pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the skin color of the characters I like.  Heck, in comics, half the time the characters are green or blue!  It doesn’t matter, to anyone, except these people!  They’re the real racists!  They’re the only people who are making a big deal about skin color!  And they’re the ones who scream the loudest when you point that fact out to them.

I guess that’s yet one more thing liberals are clueless about.

Considering DC Superheroes

BatmanComic5I was talking today with a friend who went to see the midnight showing of Man of Steel.  Now I am not a Superman fan, in fact, I’m not a big fan of any of the major DC superheroes, I have a fundamental problem with the way that DC handles their characters.  DC, at least traditionally, is more concerned with having costumes than characters.  They always want a Superman.  They always want a Batman.  They always want a Wonder Woman.  If anything happens to their characters, say… Doomsday comes along and “kills” Superman (we know nobody ever dies in a comic book), they find someone else to get into the costume, or at the very least, someone with very similar powers to put on a very similar costume so that the fung shui of the DC universe is not damaged.

Now it’s been decades since I first made that observation and I will admit that Marvel has tended to do the same thing for it’s big properties, although at the time they didn’t.  There is only one Wolverine.  If Logan goes down, they don’t find someone else to don his duds.  I can only think of a handful of times where someone jumped into another man’s outfit in the Marvel Universe, Captain America and Winter Soldier comes to mind, it’s just not the way they do business.

Anyhow, this isn’t about costumes and it isn’t about Superman.  I told him I’m not a big DC guy and he asked if there were any recent DC superhero movies that I liked and… nope, not really.  Didn’t care for the previous Superman outing, Superman Returns.    Didn’t like Green Lantern.  Didn’t care for Watchmen, which isn’t really a DC universe movie, but still.  In fact, to get back to some DC movies I liked, you’d have to go back to the Burton Batman in 1989 or the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  But what about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy?  Nope, not my thing, and in fact, my least favorite of them was The Dark Knight.  I hated Heath Ledger’s version of Joker, but then again, I hate Joker.  Worse than Joker, I hate the whole Batman menagerie of villains and how they are handled in the DC universe.

Now I understand that everything I’m about to talk about is a marketing and merchandising decision, but I don’t buy into the idea that marketing and merchandising ought to fundamentally affect the way you tell stories, even if, in the real world, they often do.  See, I think Batman should have killed Joker a long time ago.  Yes, I understand Batman’s “code against killing”, but the fact is that Batman doesn’t kill Joker because Joker is a valued licensed character (see the aforementioned marketing and merchandising).  However, in the context of the Batman storyline, it makes no sense that he, or someone else, shouldn’t have offed the majority of the Batman rogues gallery long ago.  Now depending on what version of Joker you’re going with, he may have been the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents.  He’s certainly the madman who has killed thousands of innocent civilians, who crippled Batgirl (in the pre-New 52 continuity), who killed (with the help of fans) Jason Todd, and of course the whole “Death of the Family” thing, when does there come a point in time where enough is enough?  It’s not just Batman’s family that has suffered greatly from this madman, but all of Gotham (and the entire universe if you read the Emperor Joker stuff).  When does it end?

And even if it isn’t Batman that takes him out, I have a hard time believing nobody else would.  Why, in all this time, hasn’t a guard at Arkham Asylum pulled his sidearm (or any weapon for the matter), stuck it in Joker’s mouth and pulled the trigger?  But let’s talk about Arkham for a moment, it’s just a  giant revolving door for psychos.  Why is it still open with as many escapes as crazies have made from there over the years?  Batman drops someone off at the front door and it’s about 30 seconds later that they’re running out the back door.  What gives?  The whole criminal justice system of the DC universe is absurdly flawed.  It’s not just Joker that should have been offed years ago, it’s the majority of Batman baddies.  Penguin?  >BLAM!<  Clayface (any version)?  >SQUISH!<  Killer Croc?  Poison Ivy?  Mr. Freeze?  >KA-BOOM!<  Give me one rational, legitimate, comic-world reason any of them should be kept around.  It’s clear that none of them can ever be rehabilitated, it’s clear they’re going to escape from Arkham over and over again.  Why hasn’t there been a public uprising demanding the heads of these villains?  Makes no sense to me.

comic_06Now outside of the mainline DC universe, people like Frank Miller have turned Batman into the semi-badass that he should be, in fact it was Frank Miller who came up with the Dark Knight concept, but he’s still not open to really protecting society and getting things done regardless of the circumstances.  I always thought that Batman should be DC’s version of Punisher, without the insanity and without the utter bloodlust, someone who was willing to do the job that needed doing.  If Batman was introduced today, without the 70 years of history and backstory, maybe that would be possible.  Now, though, rebranding Batman as anything other than a non-killing hero is virtually impossible.

Now I know I’m railing against the Warner Brothers marketing department, nothing really bad will ever happen to any of these villains, or to any of these heroes.  As I said before, nobody ever dies in comics because they’re too busy milking their properties for money, both in comics, and now in the movies.  That’s why the Arrow TV series is such an anomaly, it doesn’t follow the “code against killing” schtick from the comics, the Hood kills a dozen bad guys an episode.  Yes, they are faceless minions, by and large, but big-name baddies always get away, but it’s a show where people die and I suspect, nobody besides Oliver Queen is really truly safe from the writer’s hatchet.  That’s the way I’d like to feel about comics and about comic movies.  The story is the thing and anyone who gets in the way of the story is expendable.

I know that’s too much to ask from Hollywood, or from the comic producers.  I guess that’s why I pay so little attention to what they produce these days.  Oh sure, I’ll buy Man of Steel when it comes out in DVD, just like I did with the Batman trilogy and Green Lantern, but I suspect it’ll get the same kind of negative reviews from me that the others did.  I don’t expect absolute realism from a comic book movie, after all, we’re talking about people flying around in spandex fighting crime, but I do expect some human reactions and some human behavior, something that we largely don’t get from these movies.  That’s why so many of them are so utterly forgettable and that’s a shame.

Positive Outcomes in Media

bright-future-ahead
I’d really like to think this was true in entertainment media.

Believe it or not, I’m a die-hard optimist.  I know it might not seem that way to read some of the things I write, but I want people to generally succeed, I want the situation to generally improve and I want people to overcome obstacles and become better people for it.  In fact, that’s one major reason I want to do away with religion because I don’t think the human species can really improve while it’s so weighted down with irrational beliefs.  I want a better world.

Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the entertainment media that I consume.  I want to watch generally hopeful stories about a future world that I’d actually want to live in, where the people can and do overcome their problems and generally end up in a better situation than they started in.  Yes, I understand this isn’t necessarily always realistic, but it’s my enjoyment, I can make whatever requirements I wish.

That’s why I generally dislike dystopian futures, where mankind generally fares badly.  I want a story where the “heroes” have issues, and they can be truly horrific issues to overcome, but they succeed in the end and the future looks, if not bright, than at least brighter than it had previously.

This applies to all forms of entertainment: television, movies and books.  It also applies to all genres of entertainment, including, and this might surprise people, horror movies.  I love good horror movies, I’ve talked about it before, but a lot of things that go on in the modern horror genre really are a turn-off for me.  I want humans to win in the end.  I want the monster to be defeated.  That is  very, very important to me. There’s been an unfortunate trend in recent years where the people are doomed, the zombies are going to win and the only point to the movie or the TV show or the book is to put off the inevitable extinction of the human species for a few more days.  Why would I want to read that?

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the heroes in the story have to survive at the end though.  I watched John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing the other night and I think that’s one of the top 10 best horror films I’ve ever seen.  It hits all of the bases.  It’s got a moderately realistic monster, it sets up the situation well and in the end, while we’re supposed to be left wondering if the monster really died, both MacReady and Childs sit in the snow waiting to freeze to death, with the understanding that they’ve saved the world from alien takeover.  It’s very dark, it’s very depressing, nobody survives and you’re not even positive that the alien isn’t going to go dormant in the snow and still take over the world when the rescue crew shows up in the spring, but there’s a certain hope that these twelve men have, through their sacrifice, saved the world, even if you never know for certain that it’s so.  Take that and compare it to a movie like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the characters spend the whole movie fighting the zombies, finally getting to an island where they’re supposedly safe, only to find that the island is overrun with zombies and they all die.  The end.  Um… what?  Why did I just waste two hours of my life on that depressing crap?

Every book I read, every movie I watch, I want to feel like the people are going to win in the end, that they are going to improve their situation, that they are going to be better off than they were when they started.  It might not be a huge improvement and I certainly don’t want any utopias, but moving forward, even incrementally, is what I’m looking for.  It’s such a shame that so many movies today, especially in the horror genre, but in most genres to a certain degree, only want to show the most dark, dank, awful future possible, one where people are destined to fail, where everyone is going to die and where the bad guys, be it a criminal or a monster, is going to win in the end.

Someone please explain where the positive outcome is in that!

Beautiful Cinematography, No Story

Eye_candy8I love sci-fi, but one thing I seem to love and everyone else on the planet hates is a good story.  Contrariwise, one thing everyone else seems to love and I hate is mindless eye candy.

See, while I went to school for a while for a career in computer animation, the one thing I’ve never cared for is splashy graphics on screen as a substitute for a compelling plot.  I want an intriguing story, complex characters, well-written dialogue and an in-depth plot that comes together to make a truly memorable movie or TV series.  Far too many directors in Hollywood (Michael Bay) think that explosions and CGI make up for all of that and unfortunately, there are far too many movie-goers who are only too happy to buy into it.

Here are three sci-fi shorts that, while beautiful, let’s be honest, are little more than extended fight sequence and effects masturbation.  I ran across them while poking around one night and, yes, they are well done pieces and I think all of them have won awards for “short subjects”, but in reality, are they any more than effects reels?

Bad Motherfucker:

This may have the most plot of the three, but it’s paper thin.  You’re dropped into the middle of an action sequence between an unnamed agent and another group of unnamed men, in a running battle to recover a teleportation device.  It’s from a first-person perspective and very well done, although it takes about a minute to get oriented, but there’s really nothing to it beyond “ooh, look what we can do!”

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Rgox84KE7iY’]

Ruin:

All three “films” are done with a mad chase sequence and this might be the most entertaining of them.  Some unnamed kid in a post-apocalyptic wilderness (I hate post-apocalyptic stuff, sorry) gets chased by a futuristic drone bent on his destruction.  All action, no story.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doteMqP6eSc’]

Rosa:

The final one, done in an anime-style, tells the “story” of an android girl presumably named Rosa, who awakes in the middle of an empty post-apocalyptic city, the last remnant of the “Kernel” project, meant to jump-start the planet’s eco-system.  She is almost immediately set upon by two male cyborgs who want to kill her (and eventually do) and every drop of her “blood” causes plants to grow.  Um… okay.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MG11zhX6_jo’]

I’m generally cool with nice effects, but these people are pretending to be filmmakers, not effects guys and artists and one of the biggest elements of being a filmmaker is being able to tell a compelling story.  I’ve seen plenty of shorts where they manage to tell a quite complex story with a beginning, middle and end, with good characters, why does it seem you have to pick one or the other?  Style and beautiful effects or story and good writing?

Why can’t we have both?

What Movies Should We Watch Next?

Toler Chan
Sidney Toler as the inscrutable Charlie Chan

My wife and I have been watching a lot of classic television and movies lately, and by classic, I mean old.  Very old.  Black and white old.  I’ve seen most of it, my wife has not so it’s fun to go back and see all the very old series, both television and movies, that I haven’t seen in a long time, plus to share it with someone who is new to them.

So far, we’ve watched all the way through the classic 39 Universal Monsters films, ranging from The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 to The Creature Walks Among Us in 1956.  We’ve rewatched the series of Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies from the late 30s to mid 40s.  We did the 8 Mr. Moto movies made between 1937 and 1939.  We’ve seen the majority of Charlie Chan flicks in all of his guises, from Warner Oland,  to Sidney Toler to Roland Winters.  Of those, Toler is my favorite.

There are so many more to watch though, I’m just not sure what I should pick next so I’m opening it to the reading audience.  Which ones, of the following that I have, should be the next on the viewing agenda?

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Does Atheism Affect your Suspension of Disbelief?

Suspension of Disbelief

This is something I’ve become increasingly aware of lately and I wanted to get other people’s take on it. As everyone knows, not only am I an atheist, I’m a serious geek.  Well, I’m not sure how serious I am about it because, let’s be honest, I have a healthy take on fandom, I am not a crazed fanatic, nor one that knows every bizarre detail about every geeky thing that I take an interest in.  I am a fan.  I am not a fanatic.

However, I’ve realized that I’m just not able to suspend my disbelief nearly as far as I used to be able to when I was a Christian.  I used to be a big fan of fantasy books.  Today, I can’t stand them.  Why?  Magic.  The second I see magic being used, and I mean the “serious”, wave-your-wand, flying on broomsticks, totally-absurd kind of magic, I start to lose interest, it takes a very well written book to keep me reading if it has magic in it.  While I honestly don’t remember the details, I remember the book series that put me off fantasy forever, it was the Belgariad series by David Eddings.  I even remember where I was when I put it down.  I was maybe 15, I was laying out by the pool at my grandmother’s house, reading the book, I realized that half-way through, the author completely changed how magic worked because he had written himself into a corner.  I closed the book, put it down and never picked up another high fantasy book since.  I really hate fantasy as a genre.  Even in some badly done sci-fi books, where technology is just a disguise they hide the abracadabra under, I typically get very bored very fast.  I want my tech to be reasonable, not supernatural.  Of course, while I’d like it to be believable, I don’t tend to go in for the super hard sci-fi, where it’s just technology porn and no plots, no decent characters, those all exist for the sole purpose of providing science fapping material.  I like technology that is scientific, that follows specific rules, that is predictable and has an impact on the world.  I really hate shows where it’s painfully obvious that the technology ought to have far-reaching effects, like the transporters in Star Trek, where there should be no death because everyone can be regenerated out of their transporter matrix, but they put forward some lame, nonsensical excuses for why it doesn’t happen.

So recently, I’ve started to look closer at this, I wanted to know how deeply it goes.  Take the Japanese One Missed Call series for example.  I sat down and re-watched it a couple of months ago over the course of a couple of days and I noticed something about it that I hadn’t noticed before.  While I really liked the first movie, in fact, I used to have the One Missed Call ringtone on my phone a long, long time ago, the other two… not so much.  The reason, as I’ve come to understand it, is that they dramatically changed the “rules” in the second two films.  The premise of the first film was that you received a missed phone call, a voice mail that let you hear the last few seconds of your life, sent from some point in time in the future.  When you met your usually grisly end, someone in the contact list on your phone would be called with their last few moments of life.  The movie is one of the scarier movies out there and it doesn’t get too absurdly supernatural, which is why it’s quite good.  The second movies, however, entirely miss the boat.  The second movie asks the question, what happens if someone answers the phone when the missed call comes in?  Worse yet, what if someone besides the intended recipient answers it?  That, in itself, might be an interesting idea, but by the end, they have people purposely sacrificing their lives by answering other people’s phones, it stops being so much about horror and more about self-sacrifice.  By the third film, they had totally gone off the deep end and now, the only way to keep from dying when you got the call was to forward the voice mail to someone else, so you had a group of teenagers on a field trip purposely screwing each other over to avoid being killed.  Across the three films, there just was no consistency and that killed my enjoyment more and more as time went on.  I keep meaning to watch the One Missed Call TV series to see how it fits into this newly identified paradigm, maybe I’ll get a chance soon.

I honestly don’t know what it is, the second something stops being believable, be it in a book, movie or TV series, I stop being interested in watching it.  Lots of people say that the TV series Grimm is good, but almost immediately after I started watching it, I identified a lot of reasons why I couldn’t continue.  In fact, there are a lot of shows like that recently, like the now-cancelled Alphas that I had to force my way through the first season for.  It’s not the writing or the acting that drives me away but the very premise and the way it seems like nobody bothers to think of the ramifications or the interaction of the concepts they try to combine.

I’m a realistic guy.  I like reality.  I’m not reading sci-fi to escape from the real world, I’m doing it because I enjoy it.  All I ask is that the writer or the director think about what they’re doing before they do it.  I guarantee you, I will be thinking about what they do, I can’t help myself and when it’s so absurdly obvious that the creative minds are just trying to tell a quick, one-off story instead of generating a cohesive world, why should I want to be along for the ride?

This brings us back to my original question, does this have to do with my atheism?  Probably not directly, but it has to do with my rationalism almost certainly.  I can’t help being rational.  I look at the world rationally.  I think about everything rationally.  I can’t help it.  I naturally look to form connections between disparate pieces of data.  I assume that, in the imaginary world that I’m considering, that at least some other people would do the same.  If it’s so bloody obvious to me that transporters could be used to confer effective eternal life, why is no one doing it?  You can argue all you want the moral and ethical problems with such a thing, but there are many dozens of species in the universe that the Federation in contact with, they have the same technology, you can’t argue that they all have the same human morals or ethics.  Surely some of them would have done it.  Why do we never hear about it?  When it gets to the point that I can no longer watch the show or read the book without realizing how inconsistent it all is, something breaks inside of me and I have to stop.  That’s why I really can’t stand Star Trek anymore.  I love TOS, I tolerate TNG to some degree, but everything else… like the prequels in Star Wars… they just don’t exist as far as I’m concerned.  They are inherently broken and I cannot concern myself with broken things.  My suspension of disbelief doesn’t stretch that far.

So what about you?  Have you noticed the same thing or am I all alone here?  Let me know!

Thoughts About Skyfall (2012)

skyfall-banner

As anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows, I don’t go to the theater.  Ever.  The last movie I saw in a theater was the original Transformers in 2005.  I see no point in paying an absurd amount of money to sit in a crowded theater with sticky floors and kids kicking the back of your seat to see a movie that I can just wait a couple of months, pay 1/3 the price for, and enjoy in the privacy of my own home.  I can imagine no movie that could ever be made that would get me into a theater, but that does put me behind the curve, I don’t get to see movies until most other people have already seen them.  Therefore, this isn’t really a review of Skyfall, it’s a look at what has become of the Bond films over the years.

Knowing that the new Bond film was coming though, my wife and I did a marathon, watching the entire Bond discography in order, including all of the non-canon films like the Peter Sellers’ Casino Royale.  If it’s Bond, we’ve seen it.  We’ve seen Bond documentaries.  Heck, we even saw the James Bond special on Top Gear.  There isn’t much about Bond that we haven’t sat through in just the last couple of months.

This brings me to Skyfall.  Lots of people have been acting like this is the best Bond film ever.  Unfortunately, it’s just not.  Oh, it’s a really good movie alright, I’d just argue that it, like all of the Daniel Craig films, just aren’t James Bond.

The problem is, they’ve recast Bond in the same vein as the Jason Bourne movies.  If you go back to the first Bond films, James Bond is a super-spy with access to all the latest and greatest gadgets, he was suave and debonair, all the women wanted him, all of the men wanted to be him, etc.  That was the archetype of James Bond and I think that it was best carried off by Sean Connery.  However, the one common concept that carried through all of the first Bond films was that Bond was the main character but the stories were never about Bond.  They were about stopping the nefarious schemes of people like Auric Goldfinger, Francisco Scaramanga and Ernst Blofeld and the agents of SPECTRE.  The series grew up in the age of the Cold War where people wanted to believe that there were super secret agents out there working to keep the world safe for democracy.

I guess that went out of style though because in the new Bond films, particularly the Daniel Craig films, the movies aren’t about what Bond does, but about Bond himself.  All of the last three movies have focused on who Bond is, what Bond wants and Bond’s background, with a healthy amount of attention given to his relationship with M.  The dangers in these movies are smaller, not world domination, but either silly schemes in small countries or, most often, aimed directly at Bond and MI6 itself.  The thing is, I’ve found that I really don’t give a damn about James Bond.  I don’t care about his background, I don’t care who his parents were, I don’t care where he grew up, I care about the super-spy he’s become, not his motivations for doing so.  In that way, he’s very much like Indiana Jones, another character in the same vein.  Indy has adventures.  Indy goes and does things.  If Indy has a romance, as he did in every film, it came as a consequence of the adventure, the adventure did not exist to bring the romance about.  In the first Craig Bond film, let’s be honest, the whole point of the adventure was to bring he and Vesper Lynd together, which led to 2 movies of him moping around, until in Skyfall he finally got back to his old bed-hopping self.

The other problem, I think, is that in older films, I think the filmmakers knew that the whole thing was a bit silly so they kept the tone light and spent a good deal of time winking at the audience, letting them know it was okay to just have a good time.  The more recent films are far too serious and dark.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Daniel Craig is bad in the part, he’s an exceptional actor and he really makes these movies as enjoyable as they are, I’m just saying that, no matter what name you stamp on the character, he’s really not playing James Bond.

Craig has already said that he wants to stop being Bond and I can understand that, it’s a very strenuous role and, like iconic characters like Dr. Who, staying in the role too long can harm your acting career because people see you only as that particular character.  He is committed to two more films for a total of five and after that, I hope he stops, not because he’s a bad actor, but because I want the Bond franchise to rethink it’s decisions with this particular Bond.  As much as these are fun adventure movies, they’re not really any different than the aforementioned Borne films.  There’s nothing to set these apart, unlike the Bond of old, where as soon as you heard that distinctive intro music, you knew you were in for a fun ride.

That’s really what I’d like to see them get back to.  Bring back the real James Bond.

Can We Have Good Horror?

classic-horror-artwork-black-and-whiteI have a ridiculously large video collection that spans almost every genre.  As we’ve run out of things to watch for the moment, my wife and I have started turning to older film series that either we haven’t seen together or we haven’t seen in a long time.  We started watching the entire run of James Bond movies, in order and then moved on to the whole Mr. Moto series from the late 1930s.  Afterwards, and this is where it starts to matter, we decided to start working our way through the classic Universal Monsters films, most of which my wife has never seen.

And that brings me to my point.  I used to love horror films but today, they largely leave me cold.  Oh sure, I love the original Dracula and Wolfman flicks for their nostalgia factor, I can point to a lot of horror movies over the years that are still a lot of fun to watch, but none of them can scare me.  None are really, well… horrible.  And maybe I’ve outgrown actually being scared by these movies the way I was as a kid, although I’d love to have it happen. So much of what is called horror these days is really nothing but gore.  It’s cheap scares and buckets of blood thrown at the screen, designed not really to terrify but to disgust.

I really don’t want to be  disgusted, I want to be scared.  I mean a serious, long-term, psychological scare.  You remember the kind, where you watch a movie and it doesn’t just remain with you until the end of the credits, it’s  there on the way home, it’s there when you’re walking through a dark hallway, it’s there when you get into bed and hide under the covers.  Hell, the really good ones can last days or weeks, where you find yourself in a place and in the back of your head you think “what if…”  But those aren’t the movies they make today, and granted, I’m a lot older now and a lot more rational today than I was at the time that scary movies affected me that way.  I know I look at these films quite differently now than I once did, in fact, I know I’m quite critical of the logic behind a lot of these monsters than I once was.  I really can’t ever totally suspend my disbelief and go with whatever silly premise they throw up on the screen, I have to think it through and decide if it’s reasonable enough to follow.

Also, I’ve thought about it enough to realize that I have a particular taste in these kinds of movies.  I want people to survive.  I want the humans to win in the end.  I want the monsters to be defeated.  I want the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose.  Being human, I have a vested interest in survival, either my own or the characters I’m supposed to be focused on on-screen.  In far too many modern movies, these things don’t happen.  Especially in horror films, the “heroes” either barely escape with their lives or don’t escape at all.  In far too many, the bad guys are victorious.  In an unfortunately large percentage, the “heroes” are real dicks that I want to die, leaving me with nobody to root for.  Any of these things will immediately garner a bad rating from me, these are not the films I want to watch.

I just wanted to revisit some of the classic movie monsters, or at least the classic movie horror archetypes and see what’s really there.

Vampires:  Let’s be honest here, neither Anne Rice’s vampires nor the sparkly variety by Stephanie Myers are worth considering at all so let’s toss those away.  I’ve never really been impressed by the erotic nature of the vampire, only the idea of the dead feeding off the living.  However, let’s be honest, traditional vampires come with a whole host of serious problems.  They burst into fire in sunlight.  For some reason, crucifixes terrify them.  Holy water operates like acid and a stake through the heart is pretty much a bad idea for anybody.  In the modern world, where full-spectrum UV lights are relatively commonplace, being a vampire has got to be a pretty damned dangerous profession.  The reality is, there is nothing fundamentally evil about vampires that couldn’t easily be handled today.  They don’t have to kill to get their blood supply, they could use donated blood.  Heck, I’m sure there are people out there who would volunteer to donate a pint here and there directly, no blood drives required.  These people could be night clerks or work third shift, their aversion to sunlight would hardly be a detriment, maybe we could even develop SPF1000 sunscreen, they could easily be functional members of society and never hurt a soul.  Sorry, just not scary.

Werewolves:  Werewolves and the like display the horrors of the potential animal nature of man.  You can throw in experiments gone wrong like The Fly.  Limiting it to werewolves for a moment, they have just as many downsides as vampires, although clearly, their problems are hardly as commonplace in the modern world.  Sure, they have an aversion to silver, but  silver bullets just aren’t that common unless you try to attack the Lone Ranger.  Wolfsbane?  When’s the last time you knowingly came across some?  It is, after all, highly toxic and probably not planted in public often.  Come to think of it, where a vampire could easily overcome their particular problems, a werewolf only has an issue one or two nights a month anyhow and only while the full moon is up.  How hard is it to restrain yourself somewhere for a couple of hours a month?  It might even be a new business opportunity, renting hardened storage lockers by the day to lycanthropes.  They lock you in at sunset, let you out at sunrise, they can even display the lockers as proof of the hardiness and security of their facility.  When your monster is only a monster 1/30th of the time, it’s just not scary.

Human-Built Monsters:  Be it Frankenstein’s monster or the latest genetically-manufactured horror, there might be  good reason to be afraid of these human-built monstrocities and the very concept can indeed be adapted into just about any other “class” of monster movie.  Human fictional-science could probably manage to build vampires and werewolves, generate massive hulking monsters or make zombies, so this can be a very catch-all category.  Yet, the real point here is what happens when science goes wrong.  It may be simple unintended consequences or it may be mad scientists bringing about horrors on purpose.  This seems a likely candidate for a scary property, lots of people are worried about the things science can potentially create, from secret government programs to bio-terrorists, coming up with something that can cause massive destruction isn’t all that far-fetched.  This might  be scary, done right.

It Was The Age of Atomic Mutation
It Was The Age of Atomic Mutation…

Atomic Menace:  Everything from Godzilla to Cloverfield, these big monsters have been a staple of movies for decades, but are they really scary?  Really, no.  Let’s be honest, while things like Godzilla are undoubtedly cool, they’re absurdly unrealistic.  Back in the day when people really didn’t understand the effects of radiation, having a lizard blow up to a million times it’s normal size probably seemed plausible, but today we know better.  It just doesn’t happen.  Then you take a movie like Cloverfield, which while it was conceptually interesting, in practice it was laughably ridiculous, they didn’t even have an on-screen suggestion where such a thing might come from, etc.  I don’t think it’s really possible for 50-foot tall monsters to be all that scary.

Guys in Masks:  Now I will be honest, this is a category that can go either way  for me.  If it’s done well, human villains hiding behind masks can be quite enjoyable to watch and quite scary as well.  However, it’s often not done very well and these supposedly human baddies quickly turn into superhuman killing machines.  Take Jason or Michael Myers for example.  Both started off completely human.  Both routinely got damage done to them that would kill ten normal men.  Both survive those injuries, time and time again, with absolutely no medical attention.  The only purpose of this kind of “monster” is to see how many interesting and innovative ways they can come up with to kill off hapless teenagers and to see just how goddamn stupid these teenagers can be.  “There’s a mad killer in the woods, everyone, let’s go skinnydipping!”  These films more often fall into the “gore” category that I detest so much, but have become so ludicrous that they are the widespread object of spoof and satire.  I don’t know that anyone could make a really scary movie like this today, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Zombies:  I am not a fan of zombies.  In fact, I positively hate them.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of zombie movies and TV shows that I like, but that’s mostly in spite of the zombies, not because of them.  My problem with them is quite simple, there’s only a very tiny window where the humans have any chance whatsoever in stopping the zombies, barring some godlike interference.  Once you’re past that, and virtually all zombie movies happen outside of that window, humanity is dead, it’s only a matter of how long they can hold out.  Oh sure, the humans can be smarter than the zombies, although let’s be honest, in lots of horror movies, the people are dumb as bricks, but it’s a matter of numbers.  In order for the humans to take out a classic zombie, they have to perform a head shot or decapitation, nothing else will do.  You can hack them in to little pieces and, for some entirely unexplained reason, the pieces will keep coming after you.  Of course, you cut off the head and everything stops.  Why did the arm keep moving after you separated it from the head, but you separate the head from the body and it all dies?  Makes no sense.  Anyhow, that’s the only way to kill one.  However, a zombie just has to get a tooth into you anywhere, just needs to splatter an open wound with it’s puss, etc.  It can get you anywhere and once it gets you, you change sides.  You increase the numbers of the zombies but when you kill a zombie, it doesn’t wake up and rejoin the world of the living.  Therefore, you have three possible camps in a zombie movie:  the humans which can only remain human so long as they are not bitten; the walking dead, which get to claim all of the dead humans as their own; and the dead dead, which are of no use to anyone at all.  Sure, the humans can breed but that’s a very slow process and, let’s be honest, it just makes the pregnant woman both an ineffective fighter and a big target for the shambling corpses.  Sooner or later, most likely sooner, the humans are toast.  Therefore, zombie movies aren’t all that scary and more often than not, they’re just not that good.

Aliens:  To be honest, this is the only category that I think has dramatically improved in realism over the years and it’s one of the few with any degree of plausibility.  When we look into the cosmos, with the billions of stars and billions of galaxies, it’s hard not to think there could be many, many other lifeforms out there.  If any of them got to Earth, no matter how implausible that might be, what havoc could they wreak?  However, this also brings up a rather interesting conundrum, if these aliens are smart enough to make it all the way to our planet, what point would there be in attacking us?  Wouldn’t they be advanced enough not to need to start some shit?  It isn’t like, once you have significant space technology, there aren’t enough resources to last a virtual eternity freely available in space.  Probably, by the time you can traverse the vast distances between stars, you can terraform planets.  We have an idea how to do it right now and we can hardly get off of this rock.  Still, maybe some primitive alien species hitched a ride on the ship of an advanced species and they’re the one causing trouble.  I suppose that this is one possible candidate for a modern-day horrible horror film.

In the end, while only two, perhaps three, of these “classes” really seem that applicable today, the human-built creation gone wrong and the alien, with possible honorable mention going to madmen in masks, I don’t know that any of them are really capable of giving me that long-term rush of fear that I really miss.  When I walk out of the metaphorical theater, having seen the best of the best of these movies, will it stick with me?  Will I still be afraid when I get home?  Will I hesitate before walking down a dark hallway or alley?  Will I bury myself under the covers at night, unable to get the thought, even though I know it was just a movie, out of my mind?  Probably not.  I fear those days are gone, not just for me, but likely for everyone.  I cannot imagine modern movies actually providing that kind of long-term terror, probably because filmmakers are afraid of being sued for being too successful at their craft.  It’s a shame, I wish such things were still made today.

So what about you?  What kind of horror movies do you like and what movies, either specifically or by genre, have given you that really visceral, long-lasting scare?  I’m always looking for new movies to watch!

30 Years Ago, Anime was Great!

30th Anniversary AnimeMy wife came across this image celebrating the 30th anniversary of a couple of anime series that hit the airwaves back in 1983.  All of the shows listed were fantastic, but it got me thinking, there was more put out in 1983 than just these!

Of course, those were just from one studio and there’s certainly more than one animation studio in Japan.  1983 was in the midst of the heyday of giant robot anime, when science fiction ruled the Japanese animated airwaves and a lot of really smart shows were coming out year after year.  This was after the Gundam revolution of 1979, when mecha became realistic tools, not the magical, spirit-infused giant samurai armor of the early to mid-70s, and before it became the wispy-thin, angsty Evangelion-esque nonsense of the 90s.  It was a great time to be an anime fan.

Therefore, I wanted to take a moment to revisit 1983 and showcase a couple of great movies and TV series that came out that year.

Armored Trooper Votoms:  Story: The original Votoms story focused on Chirico Cuvie, a special forces Armored Trooper pilot and former member of the Red Shoulder Battalion who, at the tail end of a centuries-long war, gets mysteriously transferred to a special unit which is performing espionage on his own side.  Now, on the run from the military, seen as a traitor, he seeks the truth behind the whole operation.  His focus, a beautiful young woman he was assigned to capture that holds the key to the conspiracy.

Review:  Let’s be honest, giant robots are pretty silly when you think about it.  Cool, yes, but silly and unrealistic.  Why build a huge human form to pilot around when you could be much more efficient and just make a spaceship?  If you’re going to do a human formed craft, why make it 50-feet tall?  Votoms is at least more realistic, with smaller personal powered armor instead of skyscraper-tall robots.  Votoms is more of a hard sci-fi show than most, which has made it quite durable.  They’ve been making sequels, spinoffs and side-stories for 30 years now with no real end in sight.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8hwDQJRU7E’]

Aura Battler Dunbine:  Story:  Sho Zama is a biker and a punk who suddenly finds himself in the world of Byston Well, a magical world  filled with dragons and fairies and powerful robots called Aura Battlers.  When it turns out that Sho has a powerful aura, which makes piloting one of the robots possible, he is drafted into the military forces of Drake Luft who has designs on ruling the world.  However, it soon becomes clear that Luft isn’t only after Byston Well and Sho has a decision to make.

Review:  Then you can go to the other end of the spectrum.  Dunbine takes place in an alternate fantasy universe where fairies and “magic” are real and where their giant robots are not so much technology but biology.  Dunbine is unlike a lot of other classic mecha shows in that it is anachronistic, giant robots set in a very medieval setting.  The show is a production of Yoshiyuki Tomino, the same one that created and directed Mobile Suit Gundam so you know it’s going to be well done.  It also means it’s going to be deadly to a lot of characters and Dunbine has the singular distinction of managing to kill virtually every named character in the series in the final battle.  If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary with a fun story and a lot of great action, you can’t go wrong with Dunbine.  It went on to several sequels as well.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajiAvb_XfNM’]

Barefoot Gen:   Story:  This might seem strange in the middle of a sci-fi giant robot fest, but Barefoot Gen has a solid place in anime history.  It is the autobiographical story of Keiji Nakazawa, who was 6 years old when the nuclear bomb fell on Hiroshima and destroyed his town.  He wanted the world to know what it was like living through the devastation.  A series of his short stories, “Ore wa Mita” and “Hadashi no Gen” were published in manga form and were made into a live-action film in 1975.  Mori Masaki then made them into this animated film that focused on the horrors of the bomb and the after-effects on small-town Japanese.

Review:  This may have the look of a children’s animated film, but it certainly is not, it was made for adults and is quite graphic.  Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus, said of the film, “A vivid and harrowing story that will burn a radioactive crater in your memory that will never let you go.”  A highly recommended film, told from the perspective of a man who was actually there.

Barefoot Gen

Crusher Joe:  Story:  Joe and his small crew take a simple mission, transporting a cryogenically frozen heiress to a medical facility, when something goes terribly wrong, their warp drive fails mysteriously and they are held responsible when their cargo goes missing.  Space pirates have done the seemingly impossible and left the Crushers holding the bag.  Not one to take such things laying down, especially since his father runs the Crushers, Joe and crew set out to uncover the truth and regain their tarnished reputation.

Review: This originally started as a series of light novels by Haruka Takachiho, one of the founders of the animation studio, Studio Nue, responsible for such anime blockbusters as Space Battleship Yamato, Macross and, also in 1983, Orguss.  The series of 10 novels culminated in this theatrical film that tells the tale of the son of the most elite of the Crushers, Crusher Joe.  Crushers are intergalactic jack-of-all-trades, they’ll take on any legal job for the right price.  One of the most interesting elements to Crusher Joe, this is the first animated appearance of the Dirty Pair.  It was just a silly film, shown in a drive-in theater, on-screen for less than a minute, but it was so popular that it sparked multiple series, movies and specials for the disastrous duo.  Here’s the opening credits, right past the naked chick with the nipple tubes.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0913WqJYJrQ’]

Genesis Climber Mospeada:  Story:  In the not too distant future, man has developed a new hydrogen-based fuel called HBT which has allowed him to colonize Mars.  In 2050, however, the alien Inbit invade the Earth and easily conquer it, wiping out the majority of humanity, leaving pockets of civilization scattered across the globe.  Small cells of freedom fighters have gathered to fight a holding action against the Inbit while other refugees have escaped in shuttles to the moon bases.  Mars, however, starts to build up the military might to try to retake the Earth and in 2080, sends an expedition to do just that.  It fails and a few survivors, along with some freedom fighters on Earth, form a rag-tag fighting force dedicated to first finding out what the Inbit want and to eventually force them off the planet.

Review:  Mospeada was turned into the third segment of  the American show Robotech but is much better watched as originally made, although of the three, Mospeada is probably the least screwed with.  The original intent of Mospeada was to focus on the seven characters heading together to Reflex Point, the main base of the Inbit.  Each had their own reasons for going but they banded together for a common cause.  It was an intentional reference to Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, a masterpiece which was redone with a western theme in The Magnificent Seven.  It’s no wonder then that Mospeada takes a lot of classic western elements and makes them it’s own.  If you listen to one of the tracks from the soundtrack, “Sasurai”, it sounds suspiciously similar to the theme music for the western show “Gunsmoke”.  In Robotech, the Invid invade Earth to protect the last place in the universe that their food source can be found.  The idea that they will evolve to fit in here is purely secondary.  In Mospeada however, evolution is the whole point, that’s what “Genesis Climber” means, the Inbit are here to evolve into a higher lifeform.  In Robotech, they create genesis pits in order to study human evolution.  In Mospeada, the pits are intended to clean up Earth’s polluted environment and by the end of the series, the planet is largely a primeval wonderland, when the Inbit leave, humanity has been left with a pristine world, free from pollution, with animals recreated that had been driven to extinction.  It’s a fun show, something to take a look at especially if you’ve only seen it as a part of Robotech.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqy55RqyTyo’]

Super Dimension Century Orguss:  Story:  In the near future, the world is at war between two factions, fighting over the “space elevator”, a means for quickly transporting people and materials from the surface into space.  Whoever controls the space elevator will rule the world and one side decides that it’s better to destroy the elevator than to allow it to fall into enemy hands.  They launch an attack with their latest weapon, a Space/Time Oscillation Bomb.  When something goes wrong, the bomb fragments reality into five separate universes, sending pilots Kei Katsuragi and Olson D. Verne spiraling into an alternate world.  However, Kei and his friend are linked to the transdimensional rift that develops and as five universes fight against each other, Kei and Olson have to find a way to put the fragmented reality back together before everyone dies.

Review:  This is still my second favorite anime series of all time, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Immediately following their success with Macross, Tatsunoko rolled out Orguss, a second series in their Super Dimension series.   The story is deep and nuanced, it’s not just a simplistic sci-fi adventure, the characters are well developed, the story extremely convoluted, with different events happening in different worlds and the ending is honestly one of the most controversial in anime history, there are still people debating exactly what happened 30 years later.  See it.  You won’t regret it.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YByEqzHIFl8′]

Urusei Yatsura: Only You:  Story:  It starts with a flashback to a 6-year old Ataru, playing an innocent game of shadow-tag in the park with an unknown girl.  Ataru lands on her shadow and it’s revealed that the girl is an alien princess and Ataru’s act is actually a marriage proposal.  She promises to return for him someday.  Flash forward eleven years and Princess Elle returns to claim her fiance but Ataru has forgotten all about it and besides, he’s with Lum now.  However, the second he realizes that Elle is beautiful and rich, all that goes out the window and it’s a madcap battle to keep Ataru from marrying Elle, complete with huge space battles, giant monsters and a surprise reveal at the end.

Review:  In the middle of the long-running comedy series Urusei Yatsura (1981-1986), they started doing theatrical movies featuring Ataru, Lum and the gang and this was the first of those films.  Released on February 11, 1983, directed by Mamoru Oshii, who would go on to do such films as Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell, this is the movie that Urusei Yatsura creator Rumiko Takahashi says is closest to her original vision for the series.   Here’s the opening credits from the movie, with all of the wedding announcements being delivered to a shocked and generally pissed off audience.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZKL745KLWo’]

There’s so much good anime out there, I just might make this a yearly segment, highlighting the best of 30 years ago.

Hobby Loyalty

Einstein InsanityEinstein InsanityI seriously don’t get the desire of hobbyists to have utter loyalty to the source of their hobbydom, even when that source is really screwing up.  I see this kind of fanatical devotion in a lot of hobbies, in fact, maybe in all hobbies, where people think they somehow owe it to companies or organizations to overlook their shortcomings, even when they have nothing but criticism for those shortcomings.

Case in point, as everyone knows, I collect stamps.  I have been highly critical of the number of stamps the United States Postal Service releases every year, it’s an absurd amount and increasing year after year, specifically to sell more stamps to collectors.  There was a time when you could buy an entire year’s output of stamps, adjusted for inflation, for a few bucks.  Today, it’s a few hundred dollars.  There’s no reason for it, other than to screw the collector.  So in 1993, I opted out.  I no longer collect new issues of U.S. stamps and have never regretted that decision.  However, holy shit, you tell most U.S. collectors that you’re not buying everything the USPS puts out and they are aghast.  How dare I not support them to my very last dollar!  In fact, when I tell people that I hardly send anything through the mails, I get criticized for sending the USPS spiraling down into bankruptcy.  Sorry, their mismanagement is not my problem and since I couldn’t care less what stamps they put out today, I really don’t care if they go out of business entirely.  In fact, I hope they do.

The same is true of action figures, which I pretty much gave up on this year.  I still keep a toe in the hobby so I know what’s going on, but likewise, there are people who think that no matter how expensive it gets, no matter how bad the quality gets, no matter how horrendous the distribution of action figures gets, we somehow owe it to Hasbro and Mattel to keep buying every crappy thing they put out, no matter how much we don’t want to.  It’s our responsibility to prop up an industry, no matter how bad it gets, because we’re fanatically devoted to getting our new plastic fix.

Another group that has this same problem are MMO gamers.  Over the years, many of them assert that the MMO industry has gone downhill, the games are simplified to the point of absurdity, they’re not fun, they’re stupid, yet the concept of not playing an MMO, even one they hate with a passion, is beyond considering.  They will pay money month after month for a game that they detest and spend all of their time sitting on a forum bitching and whining about because they cannot bring themselves to admit that they’ve outgrown the industry and they want something that so few people want, there’s no chance that a developer is ever going to make a game they’ll like.

To be honest, the more I think about it, a lot of hard-core comic book fans are the same.  They complain long and loud about how awful comics have become and how much they hate all the decisions made by comic companies.  When DC came out with their New 52, lots of people were up in arms, claiming it would ruin the industry.  However, suggest to those people that they stop buying the comics they detest and you hear cries of “heresy”!  They can’t possibly do that, how else will they get their comic fix?  They would rather pay for things they detest and then complain about it than to take a stand and vote with their wallets and just go find something different to do.

Hey, not to leave anyone out, what about music or movie fanatics?  I can’t tell you how many times I see people whining loud and long about how bad music is or how expensive it is or how horrible anything coming out of Hollywood is, but they’re the ones with terabytes of music on their MP3 players and they’re the ones standing in line all night to get into the first showing of the next movie.

Sorry, that’s not for me.  I have never been fanatical about, well, anything.  I collect because I want to collect.  I get what I want to get.  When I stop wanting to collect a particular thing, I stop.  I don’t get the jitters.  I don’t get upset.  I don’t have withdrawal symptoms.  I just stop.  It was fun while it lasted.  I will enjoy what I have and move on to something else.  I do not understand the kind of obsessive/compulsive personalities that have to get a particular thing, no matter how awful it gets.  I play games because they’re fun.  When they stop being fun, I stop playing them.  When books stop being good, I stop reading them.  When movies aren’t interesting, I stop watching them.  I don’t have any absurdly strong attachment to any particular thing, my life does not revolve around any specific action or event.  If I stop wanting to do something, I simply stop doing it.  I just don’t get people who cannot bring themselves to do the same.

Unfortunately, I see the same thing happening in the atheist community as well.  So many people bitch and whine about how much they hate Atheism+, how they wish it would just go away, yet they spend all their time following all the asshats around, following their every move and commenting on their every word, even though they know for a fact that it’s that very attention that keeps Atheism+ going.  It’s about as ridiculous as the people who hate religion, who say they wish religion would vanish, who adamantly want religion to stop impacting on their lives, then they follow the religious around like rabid lunatics, they constantly harass them on Twitter, post to religious hashtags specifically to cause an adverse reaction, then whine about how the religious are bothering them.  It really gets ridiculous.

People seem to be their own worst enemies, they don’t seem to be able to just walk away from things they hate, they don’t understand that nothing will change for the better if they keep up the status quo.  You don’t like how video games are?  Stop playing those video games.  Vote with your wallet.  You don’t like those toys or stamps or comics?  Don’t buy them!  You can’t stand being around a particular group?  Stop being around them!  I don’t think this is rocket science, it’s common sense, but unfortunately, as is all too painful these days, common sense isn’t terribly common.

I Could Use Some Input

johnny5-need-inputAs anyone who reads the blog regularly knows, I write about a wide variety of subject matter here, from atheism and religion to movie and TV reviews and I think that a lot of the non-atheism-related posts go largely unappreciated.  You know me, I don’t really care about readership, but as I was talking to someone on Twitter earlier, my TV Thursday posts, for example, hardly get any hits, they virtually never get any comments, and while I like doing them and want to continue, it’s become pretty clear that Bitchspot may not be the venue for them.

So I’ve been kicking around the idea of spinning off a new blog that only focuses on the more geeky subject matter so that this blog can just be about atheism and religion and closely related subjects.  It’s not like I don’t have a ton of posts available to fill in the gaps here.  I have no idea if anyone else does this, but I am scheduled out an absurd distance at all times.  As I write this, I already have posts scheduled 5 days in advance and it could be more except some things, like TV Thursday, require writing almost up to the deadline.  I also have other complete or near-complete drafts that I could schedule, currently I have 35 drafts in my queue, over and above what’s already scheduled, and I tend to add 3-4 new post ideas every day.  I’m not going to be hurting for posts, I tend to write so damn fast that it honestly bugs me to have so many things sitting in the queue for so long.

Now we come to my questions.  Does anyone actually read or care about the non-atheism material?  I know there’s an audience out there, probably even a bigger audience than for my atheism material, for TV and movie reviews, books, comics, collecting, games and the like, I just feel like I’m boring people with it where it is and probably driving away any legitimate audience with all the anti-religious stuff.  It’s two separate interests that really don’t go that well together.

I’ve been trying to expand my reach a little, people are aware that I rejoined Twitter a while back and have now added a Tumblr account, both of these really function in a lot of ways as a means to keep the blog interesting, Twitter lets me post short comments, etc. that really don’t qualify for full blog posts and Tumblr is a means to post pictures and videos that, again, aren’t interesting enough to make into a real post.

Therefore, I beg of people, please give me some input, tell me what you think I ought to do.  Keep it here or move it elsewhere?  My inquiring mind desperately wants to know.

What a Nightmare!

I have a huge video collection, thousands of DVDs and, let’s be honest, there isn’t enough time to watch them all.  Oh, I do my best to see them all at least once, but there are a few on my shelves that have been sitting there for years unwatched.  A couple of years ago, my wife gave me the complete original Nightmare on Elm Street collection, but since she and my youngest daughter adamantly refuse to watch horror films and my oldest daughter is too busy to sit through 7 movies with me, they just sat, unwatched and unopened on the shelf.

Until now.  I’ve recently started trying to work through movies I either hadn’t seen or wanted to rewatch.  This week’s mission was the entire Nightmare series, in order.  I had seen the first four films before and parts of the fifth on TV, but six and seven were new.  Then I sat down and watched the 4-hour documentary “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy”.  I figured since it was all fresh in my mind, I ought to give my impressions of the series.

Of the classic 80s teen slasher franchises, I always liked NOES best.  Jason was just a mindless killing machine, a force of nature, there was never any real reason he did what he did, he just did it.  Michael Myers was a damaged kid that somehow developed the magical ability to never die from injuries that would kill any normal human.  Freddy is, for lack of a better word, a cerebral killer.  He became, as the series progressed, a wise-cracking sociopath that fed on souls and gained a pretty interesting backstory in the process.  Jason and Michael were mute killers that just killed because that’s what they were on screen to do.  I’m not going to go into depth on most of the plots, I figure most people who are interested have seen them already.  That doesn’t mean there might not be spoilers, there will be.  I’ll also give a quick rating for each film, entirely my own opinion but I’d like to hear what other people think.

A Nightmare on Elm Street:  The original and my favorite.  It had everything going for it, as most first movies do, there was a lot of mystery to what was going on that you just can’t match in sequels.  It was the first theatrical role for Johnny Depp as Glenn, Nancy’s boyfriend.  It introduced something that really didn’t exist in the other slasher franchises, the idea of an intelligent heroine who didn’t exist just to run around and scream a lot.  Oh sure, she screamed, but she didn’t just run away, she made a conscious decision to fight against Freddy and even though in the end, she didn’t have the ability to save anyone but herself, she still took control of the situation.  Wes Craven had originally wanted the movie to end with Freddy irrevocably dead and I can make arguments both for and against that idea.  Yes, I do think that the “villains never really die, they always come back at the end” trope has been seriously overdone, that most of these films never have a satisfying conclusion because they’re constantly setting up for the next sequel.  I think the idea of Freddy Krueger is too good to just have a single movie, but the end of the film really did take away from the idea that Nancy simply took away the power that she had given to resurrect Freddy in the first place.

Nightmare 2: Freddy’s Revenge:  Then the series had a hiccup.  Wes Craven wasn’t interested in continuing so they brought in another director who really had no clue what was going on.  He didn’t understand Freddy Krueger.  He didn’t understand that he lives in dreams.  This led to his poolside rampage that was, really, ridiculous.  It led to casting a male lead and creating what has got to be the most homoerotic horror film in history.  Naked guys tied up in the shower getting whipped, anyone?  Impassioned pleas that “there’s something inside of me!” to your best friend in his bedroom at night?  Scriptwriter David Chaskin did it on purpose but nobody on the crew caught it during filming.  Really?  It’s painfully obvious, even the director admits it in retrospect.  Does that mean there’s nothing worthwhile here?  Wait, I’m thinking… Anyhow, the bad first, I guess.  The exploding lovebird scene was pointless and Clu Gulagher as Jesse’s father was a complete moron throughout.  Okay, there were some funny moments, like Jesse’s sister eating “Fu Man Chews” cereal and digging in the box for Fu Man Fingers, but those were few and far between.  I also caught a continuity error with the first film, where they were saying that Nancy’s mother committed suicide in the living room.  No she didn’t.  She was sucked through the front door by Freddy.  I hate movies that try to rewrite history because they’re lazy.  The worst part was Freddy terrorizing a pool party while everyone was wide awake, something that ought to be entirely impossible.  Freddy can never exist in the real world, only in people’s dreams.  Really bad writing, passable acting, something best forgotten, just like the Halloween sequel, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch 1/2

Nightmare 3: Dream Warriors: This is where the series took a turn for the better and the reason why, of course, is the return of Wes Craven, at least as the initial scriptwriter.  Of sure, it has it’s problems, some of the scenes are pretty campy and there’s a lot of phallic imagery, but conceptually, it was a great idea.  Nancy returns as a counselor to children with sleep disorders in a hospital that houses the last of the Elm Street children.  They band together to fight against Freddy as a team, something that hadn’t been done before.  This was the first theatrical appearance of Patricia Arquette as Lisa who lead the team due to her ability to bring other people into her dreams.  It ended up being a combination of fighting Freddy in the dream-world and Nancy’s father and doctor friend destroying Freddy’s bones in the real world that took him down, a novel approach to the problem.  Certainly, both have been done separately but putting them in tandem worked.  Craven, who had never wanted the original film to become a franchise, killed Nancy off and wanted to ensure that Kruger was dead forever, but we know that never really happens in these films.  Plus, it’s got a bitchin’ song by Dokken!

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtR6IrvxeFs’]

1/2

Nightmare 4: Dream Master:  Another movie, another resurrection, this time Freddy is brought back by dog pee.  Yes, I’m serious.  It’s not a bad movie by any means, it’s just not as good as Dream Warriors was.  Here, we bring back Lisa and the two surviving team members from 3, but Patricia Arquette wasn’t available or they couldn’t afford her, nobody is really saying which, so Tuesday Knight is brought in to fill her shoes and it really doesn’t work so well.  However, it doesn’t really matter since the three holdovers are killed off in the first 15 minutes of the film and the reins are turned over to Alice, played by Lisa Wilcox, who inherits Lisa’s dream-pulling powers.  I found that a very interesting concept, that as her friends are killed off by Freddy, she absorbs their abilities and gets stronger and more self-confident as time goes on.  We see Freddy become more wise-cracking in this film, a trend that has been increasing since the second movie, and usually Robert England can pull off the jokes and still remain creepy.  This film has some really great effects, particularly the one where Alice falls into the movie screen to become part of the movie.

Nightmare 5: Dream Child: And now, Alice and Dan are getting it on but Freddy is back and quickly kills Dan in a car accident.  Alice can’t find out how Freddy got free when she was awake, until she learns she’s pregnant and Freddy is using the dreams of the fetus to come back to life.  In fact, he’s feeding souls to little Jacob to make him into a newborn Freddy clone.  Of course, Alice has a new group of friends, she has to because all the old ones are dead, that are happy to come to her aid and end up worm food.  I really wasn’t impressed with the dream sequences in this movie and especially the dream powers.  Ever since Nightmare 3, the kids who went into the dreams had pseudo-magical powers with which to fight Freddy, and most of these powers are pretty ridiculous.  In 3, you had the guy who was a proto-Harry Potter and the chick with the giant mohawk and the switchblades.  Here, you’ve got the comic artist who turns into a gun-slinging superhero.  When it works, it works, but 5 is very inconsistent, some characters are depicted as having powers and some are not, or at least they never get to use them.  I’d rather have seen better powers that weren’t quite so laughable, things that could be used to seriously fight against Freddy and not silly costumes. 

Nightmare 6: Freddy’s Dead:  The worst of the films, as much as I hate to say it, but it was totally pointless.  Freddy, ten years down the road, has managed to kill all the children in Springwood and is now trying to branch out.  In a nearby town, children are routinely thrown into shabby asylums with bad doctors and worse security.  When a kid with amnesia shows up and thinks he might come from Springwood, she takes him back there, along with three other kids who stow away and the nightmare is unleashed once again.  I know that director Rachel Talalay specifically wanted to make this a lighter film but she made it downright silly.  From Freddy playing video games with his hapless victim to ridiculous cameos, like Alice Cooper showing up as Freddy’s father and Tom and Roseann Arnold appearing as obnoxious wannabe parents, to the addition or meaningless 3D at the end, it was just a laughable experience.  What was the point of having the most depressing town fair in history?  Why did all of the adults know about Freddy and do nothing about it?  Continuity was pretty much non-existent here, they introduced entirely new elements, such as Freddy’s daughter, out of the blue, the writing was awful… I can’t recommend this at all to anyone.  Even if it wasn’t billed as the final nightmare, it was so awful, it probably would have killed the franchise anyhow.

New Nightmare:  Once Freddy was killed in the last movie, New Line decided to stop making movies for a while, at least until Wes Craven approached them with a new idea that broke through the fourth wall.  In it, all of the actors played themselves as actors in a story about Freddy escaping the film world for the real one.  While I thought it had some intriguing ideas and it certainly was a better movie than the couple that preceded it, I think it suffers from some problems.  First off, and I’d have thought they’d have learned this in previous films, people go to see these movies to see Freddy hack people up in different and interesting ways.  There was nothing new of different here.  Not that many people died, I can only remember 4, and of them, it was all tame or redone stuff.  The two FX guys get it at the beginning with the robot glove but it just jumps on them and stabs them.  Heather’s husband dies in his truck, but it’s just the glove stabbing him in the chest.  The most interesting was Julie in the hospital but it was a retread of Tina’s death from the first movie.  There was really nothing we hadn’t seen before.  The ending was silly as well.  Supposedly, the evil essence that became trapped in the films the first time around could only become trapped again if they made another film.  That’s why Wes Craven was writing the screenplay and had invited Heather to play Nancy again, forgetting that Nancy had died in the 3rd movie, but hey, continuity isn’t important!  Anyhow, at the end, Heather defeats the Freddy-essence, comes back to the real world and finds the completed script with a note in it from Wes, thanking her for being Nancy again.  That’s all well and good, except they never actually made the movie for the evil essence to be trapped in!  It’s not a bad film, especially for a completest, but certainly should have been better.

Overall, I think the biggest problem that the series suffered from was it’s lack of singular vision.  Nothing against New Line, but when you have a studio pushing hard to crank out movies, just to have movies come out, rather than because you have a good idea for a movie, quality is going to suffer.  This became painfully clear, especially at the end of the classic series, where they were giving directors 5-6 months to write, cast, film and edit an entire movie to get it out by a pre-scheduled release date.  A lot of the problems with later films could probably have been alleviated by simply giving them more time to write the movies and more time to make the movies.  I’m convinced that the primary cause of the death of the franchise is New Line themselves and their desire to milk it for all they could.

Clearly, the Nightmare on Elm Street series had a significant impact on the landscape of horror films.  Wes Craven was turned down by every studio in town for more than 3 years, convinced that nobody would find a monster that inhabited your dreams scary, yet once it was shown to be a success, those same studios started putting out a lot of low-budget dream-monster movies of their own.  There are still a lot of good ideas in the Freddy concept, but unfortunately, when they remade the film in 2010, it didn’t capitalize on any of them and it failed in the box office.  It shows quite clearly in it’s review on Rotten Tomatoes, where the original film scored a 73% fresh and the new one scored only 15%.  It’s sad, although sort of predictable since it was made by Platinum Dunes, the same company that has tried and failed to reboot Friday the 13th, Amityville Horror and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Platinum Dunes was started by Michael Bay.  Anyone surprised?

I’d really love to see more horror franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, films that aren’t all about throwing blood at the screen or piling up a body count.  Two of the movies only killed 3 people each, these were not high-gore, they were higher-concept.  We need a little more of that in modern horror, it might actually get me watching more of it.

Danger!

The Japanese come up with some of the weirdest movie concepts out there.  I’ve seen a lot of them, although some that threaten to make your brain explode, like Tetsuo: The Iron Man, I haven’t gotten been brave enough to watch.  I’ve got them, mind you, I just haven’t seen them all the way through.

Others, such as Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl and the ever-classic Robo Geisha, are disturbing on a level very few American movies can match, part mind-bendingly weird, part gut-wrenching gore and part falling-over absurd.

Now, however, comes the latest gore thriller, called… get this… Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead.  Yeah, the title might make you roll your eyes and maybe it should, but let’s take a look at it anyhow, shall we?

Directed by Noboru Iguchi, who is well known not only for his bizarre mainstream movies, like Machine Girl and Cat Eyed Boy, but for his outright porn.  He’s also known for being obsessed with anything anal, which is where this movie comes in.  There’s plenty of nudity in most of his movies too, if you’re into that kind of thing, but usually, it’s covered with blood and freaky mechanical devices.

The story, what there is of one, is simple.  A group of teenagers go camping in the woods.  While fishing, they discover a worm-like parasite inside one of the fish and teen model Maki swallows it whole, believing that eating worms and beetles will keep her thin.  That, as should be obvious, was a mistake.  The group is attacked by a horde of poop-covered zombies that escape from an outhouse toilet and chase them into the house and arms of Dr. Tanaka, whose experiments on both worms and the undead in order to save his sick daughter Saki, place everyone in danger.  Faced with a mad doctor and his insane daughter on one side and crap-covered undead and fart-causing parasites on the other, they fight for their lives.

Of course, America has managed to come up with a couple of really absurd poop-baased movies too, such as Monsturd (2002).  Yeah, I didn’t believe the title when I first heard it either.  It’s the kind of thing we would really expect out of Troma without batting an eye, but I think it’s in such bad taste that even they wouldn’t touch it.

Monsturd centers on the story that a young girl tells her father during a lightning storm about an evil corporation called Dutech which has been dumping chemicals into the sewers where, conveniently, violent escaped criminal Jack Schmitt is hiding.  The mixture turns him into the titular Monsturd, a giant shit monster that comes up through people’s toilets.  Can the police hunt down the monster before the town’s great chili cook-off?

I know these movies are just too much for most people, after all, the very idea of the scatological can make lots of people gag, but neither one is all that serious, even if they try to play it straight.  They’re both ridiculous B-flicks that, if you have a strong enough stomach, are fun to watch and you will be laughing your way through both of them.

Monsturd has been available on DVD for a while now and you can get it dirt cheap on Amazon.  Zombie Ass came out in Japan a few months ago, but Media Blasters just announced they’ve got the rights to it and it will be released in the U.S. at an unknown, but hopefully speedy date.

There’s weird crap and then… there’s weird crap.  These are both, um, both.

The Look of the Future

I’ve been kicking this around in my head for a while now.  Originally, it started as a comparison of the DC and Marvel superhero universes and why I preferred one over the other.  Then I realized that it applied not just to comic books, but to TV and movies and books and, honestly, to my very outlook on the future.  It colors why I enjoy some genres and why I hate others.  I think that’s worth exploring.

See, I want a future that’s hopeful.  I want to see a future that’s bright.  It doesn’t have to be rosy and perfect, certainly I’m more realistic than that, but I want to think that tomorrow is going to be better than today, or at the very least, no worse than today.  That’s why I reject some futuristic genres out of hand.  I detest cyberpunk, for example because  I hate the concepts that make up the genre.  I don’t want a dystopian future where people are just tools, where society has broken down and where throwing away one’s humanity is not only expected, but glorified.

This is true across pretty much every type of media.  In film, I conceptually dislike movies like Blade Runner and Gattaca (although artistically, that may be another matter).  In books, I hate the writings of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.  In fact, now that I think about it, this is one of the major reason I hate most zombie movies, and in fact, most modern horror films.  There’s usually no indication that the humans are going to survive or triumph over the bad guys, at best, they buy themselves another few days before their utter destruction.  I really hate films which depict humanity as a rapidly devolving, failing or doomed lifeform, buried beneath an ineffective government, corrupt corporations and abusive technology.  I don’t necessarily mind if those things appear as elements of a storyline, so long as we see, through the plot, that humanity is improving in relation to those things.

Take, for example, the movie Aliens.  It’s certainly the best of the Alien franchise, but it does give us a lot of the elements I would normally hate.  You have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which we see through the story uses humans as pawns and has no problem sacrificing them for profit.  You have monsters which are portrayed as superior to humans in just about every way, which, very much like zombies now that I think about it, will continue to replicate and grow stronger so long as humans exist, and will go on long after the humans are extinct.  Yet, humans in the movie do survive and defeat the enemies.  Burke, the representative of W-Y, gets captured after trying to sacrifice Ripley and Newt for the profit of the corporation and ends up getting killed, very satisfyingly, by the very aliens he sought to smuggle back to Earth.  The humans struggle and are nearly defeated, but in the end, the alien nest is destroyed by human technology and the survivors get away.

By the same token, I don’t care for post-apocalyptic stories either, for much the same reason.  I view the future through the lens of advancement.  We get better.  We get smarter.  We get more advanced.  Anything that interferes with that metric doesn’t get much admiration from me.  Sure, there may be things that happen that cause a misstep, we can have disasters, we can have problems and wars and the like, but those should be pebbles in the road that trip us up, not massive boulders that smash us down again.

Even if we look at a movie like Mad Max: The Road Warrior, which happens long after the apocalypse, it has a brighter future as the survivors escape the horrors of the desolate future and head for a safe place to rebuild.  Sure, along the way you’ve got the crazies in the wasteland, in a future where, strangely, they fight over gas but spend most of their time just driving around, yet nobody knows how to make bullets.  It’s not a bad movie, certainly it’s the best of the Mad Max films, but it’s not those elements that make it good.

And hey, since I mentioned zombies, which are my most detested horror movie monsters, let’s touch on them for a moment.  I hate zombies.  Sure, they can produce some fantastic comedy, such as Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, but if you think about it at all realistically, just about every zombie movie or TV series is a long-term death sentence for humanity.  Once the plague starts, you just can’t realistically stop it.  To kill a zombie, the human typically has to score a clean head shot and destroy the brain.  Shooting it anywhere else just delays the beast.  Zombies, on the other hand, just have to land one of their infected teeth into any convenient piece of flesh and the infection takes it from there.  You can go human-to-zombie but you can never go zombie-to-human.  Zombies “reproduce” much faster than humans can, they have every advantage and eventually will win, unless you catch the plague in it’s infancy.  In fact, most modern “serious” zombie movies never show the zombies losing, the “victory” for humans is getting somewhere not currently infected and eking out a primitive life until you die of natural causes.  Not exactly an uplifting moment.

In comics, which started this whole thing I’d like to thank Grundy who commented on my article for reminding me of this, but about the same time as Ex Machina, another Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Y, The Last Man was going on.  It was the story of a world where almost all of the men were killed by an unexplained plague, leaving one man and his male monkey pet in a world of women.  Sure, that might be the dream of lots of men… immature men, but in reality, that’s a death sentence for the species.  Genetic diversity has gone down the drain, no matter how many of him they can clone, or what few other men they manage to make copies of.  You need many thousands of different men, at minimum, to guarantee species survival.  From issue 1, it was the end of the human race, no matter how they tried to get around it, and it was just delaying the inevitable.  Bad future?  Absolutely.  Why should I want to read about it?

Seriously, let me ask people who like this kind of fiction, what it is that they enjoy about it?  The more I look at it, the more I think about it, the more I encounter it in games or TV or movies or books, the less I want anything to do with it.  Isn’t the future supposed to give us hope?  Isn’t it supposed to show us the way to improve?  If I want to know about the problems the world faces, I can just look outside.  Entertainment is supposed to make us feel happy, it’s supposed to show us that the future is a place we can look forward to, where they’ve solved the problems of today and, even though it has it’s own problems, it’s not the end of the world around every corner.

So what is it that appeals to people about these dystopian, apocalyptic futures?  I honestly don’t get it.

Some People Don’t Comprehend Retirement

It wasn’t that long ago that Leonard Nimoy announced his retirement from acting.  He figured that, with a new generation of Star Trek actors taking over the reigns, he owed new Spock, Zachary Quinto, the spotlight by stepping down forever.  It was hardly the first time that Nimoy said he was through and certainly, he’s earned a break.  At 79, he’s had a long and very illustrious acting career and if anyone deserves to rest on his laurels, it’s him.

So, effective, he said, with the season finale of last year’s Fringe, he said he was done.  His Spock ears came off, he was done being William Bell, no more convention appearances, he was going to spend whatever was left of his golden years relaxing.  Good for him!

Except I don’t think he knows how to retire.  In less than a year, William Bell came back on Fringe and now he’s announced that he’s going to make an appearance, not as Spock, but as a generic vulcan, in the next Star Trek film.

Come on guy!  Enough!  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Nimoy, he’s a great actor, I love seeing him, but when you say you’re done, be done already!

I guess some people just don’t know how to let go.

Review: Captain America (2011)

Just saw it last night, as everyone knows, I refuse to ever go to a theater, I wait for the DVD release and after getting one bad disc and having to exchange it, I finally sat down to watch.

Just so you know, I wasn’t expecting much.  I’ve never been a fan of the character, nor have I ever followed the comic book.  The character always comes off as being either too rah-rah pro-American or exactly the opposite, America sucks in every way.  I really don’t think we need a specific character which represents the nation, it’s just not something that appeals to me.  Therefore, as I said, I wasn’t expecting much. Continue reading Review: Captain America (2011)

And You Wonder Why People Pirate?

I have a massive DVD collection, I buy more than 100 DVDs a year, I’m one of the people who keep the movie and TV industry in business.  I was looking forward to the release of the latest Pirates of the Carribean movie that came out on Tuesday, so I stopped into Walmart last night to pick it up.

Well guess what?  Only the Bluray version came out, if you want the DVD version, you have to wait another month.  Oh, I know that the Bluray comes with the DVD and “portable” versions of the movie, but that’s not the point.  I only want the DVD version.  Sure, we have HD in the living room, but my kids only have standard definition TVs and DVD players and they watch these movies in their rooms all the time, thus we usually buy the lower definition, which honestly I’m fine with.  You can’t get 1080P on TV’s smaller than 40 inches and they just don’t have room for that in their entertainment centers.

Therefore, you know what I did Disney?  I pirated your stupid movie.  Yup, I downloaded it and I’m not going to buy it.  Ever.  Sort of ironic that a movie about pirates gets pirated, don’t you think?  And you know who you can blame?  Yourself.

It’s a shame.  I bought the other three movies.  In fact, I bought the big special editions of them.  Now… even though I was perfectly willing to give Disney my money, their stupidity has cost them a sale, as will any company who pulls this kind of stupidity in the future.  I refuse to be told what I ought to be buying.  That’s my decision.

So I stopped at Target on the way home and bought a couple of season sets for a TV show, spent more than I would have spent on POTC: On Stranger Tides, then came straight home and downloaded that movie.  When Disney stops being stupid, they can have my money.  Until then, fuck you.

Review – Battle: Los Angeles

As anyone who has read this blog for any length of time can tell you, I don’t go to movie theaters.  Ever.  I can tell you the last time I sat through a movie in a theater, it was the original Transformers in 2007, and that was only because it was a really hot day and my wife and I figured we had nothing better to do.  I see no purpose sitting in a crowded theater, full of idiots talking on cell phones, getting the back of your seat kicked and having your feet stick to the floor, and being ass-raped financially to do it.  No thanks.  The DVD comes out in a few months, I can wait.

So I really don’t get to review movies, or even see movies, until most people have forgotten about them.  It doesn’t bother me in the least, I can pay $15 or so, can sit back in the comfort of my own living room, watch at my leisure as many times as I want, pause, rewind and generally enjoy myself without having to deal with rude idiots in the row behind me. Continue reading Review – Battle: Los Angeles