Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weird Al does it again

Weird Al is releasing one new music video a day on his website. This is the third. There will be eight. The only disappointment so far is the first two videos weren't about food. This one is. Sort of:

My all-time favorite Weird Al parody, for reasons I can't quite explain, is I Love Rocky Road. It's just so wonderfully stupid.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Corman's World, the Roger Corman doc, is apparently free now

I paid something like twelve bucks to see this movie the first time and now it's free from Starz Media. There are commercials, unfortunately, and I can't embed it, so you'll have to click here to watch it. Let me tell you something: I love this documentary. It helps that I love Roger Corman movies, but anyone should be able to get a kick out of it.

On a related note, I saw Death Race 2000 again two weeks ago, which had me laughing as much as ever. Kids today with their Sharknados and other animal/disaster hybrids will never believe it: B movies used to matter.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Don't worry, folks, Mars is the same temperature as Earth! — Academia

You have no idea how much easier this makes my current science fiction novel, which is partially set on Mars. Perhaps "Academia" can publish their findings on Martian gravity, proving that it's exactly as it is on Earth. That'll make my life, and the production of several Hollywood movies, even easier.

relevant xkcd

I know a lot of Kentuckians are probably ashamed of this guy right now, but as an Oklahoman, I'd argue my Senators are even dumber. Certainly seems they're in the news for saying dumb things more frequently. So don't judge a state by its senators. This is not a problem with the fine state of Kentucky, this is the problem with ignorant and/or lobbied politicians. To be fair, which is more than this twat deserves, I do believe him when he clarifies on Twitter that he had a brain fart, if only because I don't want to believe anyone could possibly be so stupid. The problem is his statement still doesn't make any sense. And if you're going to become an obstacle to greenhouse gas regulations, making sense is probably the first fucking thing you should do.

This is not simple ignorance. This is pure, ought-to-be-publicly-shamed stupidity. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with science as long as A) you actually know and understand the decades of research you're allegedly disproving and B) you provide actual evidence to back up your extraordinary claim. I don't know why that's so hard for people to understand: if what you believe is at odds with our highest form of understanding, the burden of proof falls on you. We're not shutting you out because of some mass conspiracy. We're shutting you out because you're naive and gullible or, as in the senator's case, a fucking idiot.

Either way, I would like to elect Senator Brandon Smith as the first President of Mars. We'll just one-way ship him out there with the tens of thousands of people who've already applied for the unlikely Mars One project. He already reminded me of this applicant's quote:
Ma Qing, a 39-year-old bookseller, said, "I think the chance to be part of the project is a cool way for me to change a dull daily life. Besides, the air on Mars must be much cleaner and easier to breathe."
The only difference is Ma Qing, bless his little pumpkin heart, isn't a fucking U.S. Senator and probably wasn't afforded the education this twat chose to disregard.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Who Wants to be a Doctor? The "deadly game" subgenre and why The Hunger Games is a welcome addition

I hear it constantly, both in real life and online forums: "The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale!" People are desperate to prove they saw Battle Royale long before they heard about The Hunger Games, as if that keeps their nerd cards current. I saw it first, too (*flashes nerd card along with an old imported copy*), but to say The Hunger Games is a rip-off of Battle Royale is like saying Interview with the Vampire ripped off Dracula.

Before Battle Royale there was The Running Man. Before that there was the novel it was based on, written by Stephen King as Richard Bachman. The Bachman pseudonym paid homage to Richard Matheson, who also dealt in high concept ideas. I don't remember where the proudly stupid Deathrow Gameshow figures into the mess, but the concept isn't new: it goes back almost a century to Richard Connell's The Most Dangerous Game and the subsequent movie. Seriously, if you're reading this, then that story is most likely older than your parents.

That's not to say Battle Royale is a rip-off. All I'm saying is the deadly game is an awesome subgenre (TVtropes has over twenty examples of the deadly game in film alone), one which has yet to be driven into the ground like vampires and zombies. Yes, these stories share the same idea, but ideas themselves aren't protected by copyright in the United States. Only the execution of the idea is copyrighted, which means you're free to write stories about deadly games all you want. And you should. It's as the kids say: "a hella fun." (Okay, I obviously have no idea what kids say anymore.) My tiny contribution is included at the bottom of this post.

Cutting Cards, my all-time favorite Tales from the Crypt

I think it's easy to see the appeal of the death show subgenre as long as you're honest with yourself:

A) It's satire of what passes as entertainment on television. Geraldo, Morton Downey Jr., and Jerry Springer have left behind a sick, disgusting legacy the bottom half of American culture isn't going to cure anytime soon. The other day I was told there was a new show where contestants are dropped in the middle of the wilderness buck naked. When I asked what channel it was on, the reply was, "I don't know. I think it was Discovery or The Learning Channel." Jesus.

B) Humans really had entertainment like this, most memorably in the days of Spartacus. I know people like to think they're above being fascinated with death, but have you ever seen traffic proceed smoothly past a car wreck, even when the wreck isn't on your side of the divider line? I think it's hardwired into us, this fascination for the macabre, not because we're sick, but because it's important for us to know What Can Go Wrong with our flesh vessels. Which is why I scream inside when I hear people whine about how distasteful the horror genre is—you'll never convince me the first stories told around campfires weren't ones of gruesome death.

perhaps my favorite film example of the deadly game

I think the biggest reason certain people dislike The Hunger Games is our precious, kooky interests are finally becoming mainstream. Yes, it sucks that all of John Carpenter's movies are becoming pointless remakes. And yes, a lot of us actually found comfort in being ostracized from the cool groups with our love for speculative fiction and all weird things. But damn it, The Hunger Games is a surprisingly great interpretation of the death show. I'm glad kids are getting sophisticated stuff like this as opposed to Twilight and other superficial speculative fiction stories.

Most of all, I'm glad the death show subgenre will outlive me, that future generations will be much more accepting to the high concept weirdness literary critics used to shun. That's growth, people.

So several years ago my girlfriend was making fun of how ridiculous television was getting and said, "What's next? Who Wants to be a Doctor?" At which point I immediately walked into the other room and wrote a story to said title.

Who Wants to be a Doctor?
a short story by Grant Gougler

The figures slammed the foot end of Mark's gurney through a couple of doors which led backstage. Here he could hear the crowd on the other side of the curtain. They were riled up out there, absolutely frenzied. In regards to the question posed by the show's title—Who Wants to be a Doctor?—it sounded like everyone in the world did.

The stagehands who rushed him here weren't paying any attention to him. He tried to lift his head, kind of succeeded, but couldn't plead for mercy. If his lips even moved, he couldn't tell. They'd shot him full of drugs. The drugs didn't work on pain. They only worked well enough to keep him quiet and subdued.

He heard the announcer's omnipresent voice: "Jane Slotham, come on down!" Then the theme music played while the randomly chosen audience member made her way down to the stage. She took the mic and introduced herself as a thirty-two year old homemaker from Ohio. She said she was a huge fan of the show. Her family never missed it.

"How 'bout that," the host said. The host was once a celebrity contestant on a reality show, but Mark couldn't remember what his claim to fame had been. Maybe, Mark thought, he was only famous for being on a reality show. "So you probably know the rules, Jane, but some of our newer viewers may not. Remind us, Sal."

"The goal is simple, Jane: operate on your patient, return his status to a stable condition, and sew 'im back up. If your patient lives, you win... one million dollars!" 

The crowd went wild.

Mark heard Jane shriek in excitement. Probably hopping up and down, clapping her hands, stifling the need to wet herself. Mark was wetting himself, but with blood or urine he wasn't sure. He remembered the incident as if it were a dream: he'd been standing around in the courtyard, avoiding eye contact with the skinheads, when someone shivved him in the kidney. He'd stumbled around a bit, touched the wound, then looked at the blood on his fingers. That was all he remembered before ending up here.

The host said, "All right, Jane. Are you ready to meet your patient?"

The men in scrubs left Mark's side. Four unrealistic women took the men's places. They were dressed in tiny nurse costumes made out of PVC. They shoved Mark towards the stage. He caught glimpses of a laser light show as it swept fog machine clouds. The patient-intro music played. It sounded something like the Benny Hill theme—silly horns set to a speedy rhythm.

And the crowd went wild again. But not for him. They were cheering the four assistants as they mugged for the cameras and wheeled him to center stage. The assistants parked him beneath the giant screen. Then they blew the audience kisses on their way out. From this angle he could see himself on the big screen in the background, which reminded him of the JumboTron from the ballgames his father would take him to. He was shirtless, shoeless and pale. Not a human anymore, but a cold, soulless corpse which hadn't realized it was dead yet. That corpse was strapped to a thin mattress of vinyl, puddled with bodily fluids.

 The screen had been tilted not for the audience's benefit, but for his own. He would have to watch whatever surgery they performed on him.

The music faded away and the host opened a sealed envelope. He read, "Jane, this is Mark Saddle. Up until a few hours ago he was serving two consecutive life sentences at the World Correctional Facility for—get this folks—cheating on his wife."

The crowd heckled until the host patted the air to pacify them.

"Jane, what's your initial assessment?"

"Well Phil, because of the large amount of blood the patient has lost, I'd say that he's either the victim of a gunshot wound or a stabbing."

"That would appear to be the case, wouldn't it?"

"I'm going to go with knife wound. I don't see an exit wound and you did 'gunshot victim' last week."

The audience chuckled.

The host looked at the audience and smirked. "The advantage of being a longtime viewer, ladies and gentlemen." They laughed again. "All right, Jane. We'll get you prepped for surgery and, in the meantime, you folks at home stay right where you are. We'll be right back."

He winked at the camera.

More music played them out to a commercial break. A prop comedian kept the audience warm while they were off air. Meanwhile, a stagehand helped Jane into her scrubs. Another stagehand wheeled in a cart that carried stainless steel instruments, which gleamed like mirrors. Seeing the look in Jane's eye as she mentally prepared herself for the torture she would soon inflict, a sick and deeply suppressed part of Mark was glad he couldn't talk. He was the first of his friends and family to end up on television.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Blade Runner: a love letter to the best SF film ever made

Earlier this month, Giant Freakin Robot revealed Neil DeGrasse Tyson's favorite movies. There was a lot one would expect to see on the list. There was The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes, which are three of my favorite films as well. The adaptation of Carl Sagan's Contact was probably the least surprising considering Sagan's influence on Tyson. On the more surprising side was a Michael Bay film and Deep Impact.

And then Tyson mentions Blade Runner as a runner-up: "This story was simultaneously deep and scary. But I never warmed to it the way so many lovers of the genre have. Which makes this comment more of a confession than a review." So, to recap, a Téa Leoni movie somehow made it higher on Tyson's list than Blade Runner. No amount of science can explain that.

Timothy Anderson's pulp tribute to BR

If you had asked me ten years ago I would have said my favorite science fiction film is 2001: A Space Odyssey because I grew up reading Arthur C. Clarke. When I was a kid, the movie was something I could and did watch repeatedly. Blade Runner, on the other hand, was a bit of a mystery to me growing up.

I had the original version of Blade Runner recorded off of HBO or something and maybe watched it twice. One day, when I was about ten, I was browsing the video section of Wal-mart and came across Blade Runner: The Director's Cut. My parents bought it for me. While I liked it enough to watch it numerous times over the years (rewatching movies for me is somewhat rare, so that's already high praise) it never really clicked the way 2001 did. I think, at the time, I just liked the visuals, but found the rest a little too odd, a little too alien, to win me over at that age.

So sometime during the DVD days, I saw The Final Cut at Target. By then I was old enough to purchase things with my own money (this was less than ten years ago, mind you) and it was on sale for $15. I thought what the hell, I'll give it a shot. To this day I don't know what the differences between The Director's Cut and The Final Cut are, exactly, but I've rarely enjoyed a movie so much before or since I saw The Final Cut the first time. It was a revelation.

The film looks fucking amazing. The dialogue isn't once painful to listen to. The characters—even the "bad" guys—are completely sympathetic. There's a level of cool that harkens back to the Humphrey Bogart days. As William Gibson pointed out we've never seen a futuristic city such as that one:

"But the simplest and most radical thing that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner was to put urban archaeology in every frame. It hadn’t been obvious to mainstream American science fiction that cities are like compost heaps—just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent. In Europe, that’s just life—it’s not science fiction, it’s not fantasy. But in American science fiction, the city in the future was always brand-new, every square inch of it."

In other word the city is the most prominent character of all, not to mention the only, if vague, explanation of what happened in the time between present and future.

Whatever the changes were which warranted a new edition aren't important. I think the real catalyst has little to do with the changes in the film itself and the person I became. By the time I watched The Final Cut I had read the Philip K. Dick novel the film is based on, but as much as I love PKD, I think that had little to do with my enjoyment of the film. Only every other chapter of the book is similar to the film and Ridley Scott, the director, confessed he never even read the book. Blade Runner is a living thing, something which ages like wine. The closer we get to going to Mars, the better we get at narrowing the uncanny valley in android technology, the better the film gets. It doesn't just grow on you, it grows with you.

I fear that Blade Runner can only ever be enjoyed by the most serious of moviegoers. In my younger years I just hadn't seen enough movies to realize how special the film was. I don't mean that as a criticism of casual moviegoers, I just mean that if you try to "watch" the film while babysitting or in a setting where people are free to talk, you're not going to get it. It's a film that requires the utmost attention to appreciate, a film that needs to be treated as an event rather than something to pass the time.

It is, hands down, the best science fiction film I will ever see.