Thursday, August 28, 2014

Adam Savage empties his pockets on Tested

When I sit down with a sandwich and feel like watching TV while I eat, I tend to turn it to the Tested channel on YouTube before anything else. In this video, Adam Savage shows us what's in his pockets. And even that's interesting despite the fact that, most of the time, I don't even care what's in my own pockets. I must say I was surprised to find he doesn't carry a Leatherman, especially having seen him build a custom case for one in this video.

I think I've figured out the appeal to Savage's appearances on the channel. The Mythbuster is obsessed with objects and the stories behind them. Naturally, that enthusiasm translates to the viewers. For people who work with their hands, he's like the male version of Martha Stewart. Hear him talk about the subject during a TED talk:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Zardoz: The gun is good. The penis is evil.

I'm accused of liking bad movies, but this isn't true. Last night I tried watching Ice Pirates for the first time in two decades and just couldn't get past the scene in the castration factory. That's a bad movie. What makes Ice Pirates bad and the eighties version of Flash Gordon good is simple to define: one's a Star Wars cash-in which tries too hard to be funny and the other is a genuine love letter to its source material. Can you imagine a Flash Gordon reboot today? I'm guessing it'd have dubstep and loads of unnecessary CGI. Zardoz is in the same camp as Flash Gordon. Casual moviegoers may snicker, but then again casual moviegoers are the reason Katherine Heigl still has a career.

The 70s was the absolute best era for movies. Filmmakers were consistently dragging their cameras out of the studios and onto real locations. Realistic portrayals (and consequences) of sex and violence emerged. Movies were made for adults rather than teenagers. Not only that, but the film stock itself just looked better than it does today—it's the difference between a painting on canvas and a painting on copy paper. I want film grain back, damn it.

"Big budget" back then meant maybe a million or two million dollars. Filmmakers had to get creative with problems rather than simply throw money at them. This is the decade that gave us The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Godfather, The Deer Hunter, Rocky... are you beginning to see why it's my favorite era of film? Woody Allen was in his prime, Scorsese was at his most visceral, and Richard Donner gave us the definitive, most enjoyable film version of Superman.

Director John Boorman was right at home in the era. Hell, he still makes movies reminiscent of the 70s style. I immediately think of two movies whenever I hear Boorman's name: Deliverance and Zardoz. He's made other kick-ass films that I admire very much, but Deliverance is the one I think about every time I go on a float trip and Zardoz is the one I like a little more every time I see it.

Zardoz is pulp fiction at its finest. It's 2001: A Space Odyssey if directed by Fellini. It's colorful, ambitious, blasphemous, and equal parts pessimistic and optimistic. Speaking of Kubrick's 2001, cameraman Geoffrey Unsworth turns in cinematography here that could've, no should've, won an Oscar. Besides all that, where else are you going to see a movie star of Sean Connery's stature in a red diaper and knee-high boots? (Before Connery signed on, the role was supposed to be played by Burt Reynolds, but he got sick.)

The only problem with Zardoz? A lot of people didn't get it. This is painfully obvious in the scene tacked on to the very the beginning of the film, which basically has a principle character explain to the audience what they're about to see in a showy, William Castle-esque intro. Boorman admits they added it in an attempt to clear the confusion after initial audiences scratched their heads. He also admits the scene "didn't work."

The year is 2293. Sean Connery plays Zed who's part of a post-apocalyptic group of barbarians who worship a floating head statue called Zardoz. Zardoz shows up from time to time and commands Zed's group to rape and kill the peasants who live on the countryside. The god even supplies the weapons and ammunition in exchange for sacrifices. This goes on for several decades until, one day, Zardoz commands them to start agriculture. The Brutals begin to question their god, so Zed smuggles himself aboard the floating head to get answers. He then finds himself within The Vortex, a domed city where the Immortals live.

Then things get weird. Well, weirder. The Immortals don't like life so much. It turns out that after you've lived for an inhuman amount of time, life gets rather boring. As their advanced machines have eliminated the need—and subsequently the desire—for sex, one can easily see why they're so bored. Most of them are thrilled to find Zed has infiltrated their compound. It's the only exciting thing that's happened in ages. At one point the more academic of Immortals decide to test exactly what kind of stimuli gives Zed an erection. The scene is nothing short of hilarious.

Immortals, by the way, don't have policemen or prisons. Criminals are aged by way of telepathy, and repeat offenders end up in a the senile home. Which reminds me: this is some of the best aging effects I've ever seen in movies. I've seen movies with a thousand times the budget that couldn't age an actor worth a damn. Zardoz, which cost less than two million to produce, manages to age half a man's face more convincingly than most films.

To explain the plot any further, which doesn't unfold sequentially, would be ruining a good deal of the fun. It's a hell of an entertaining picture, one that John Boorman felt that he had to make. The result is apparent. Maybe the people who made it weren't stoned out of their minds, but it sure makes the audience feel as if they are.

In the last month, I've rewatched both Logan's Run and The Omega Man, but Zardoz sits high above them. It's not so bad it's good, it really is good. Silly? Sort of. But isn't the future already looking a bit silly in real life, too? Boorman's vision of the future is no less legitimate than any other we've ever seen. Who says everyone won't be wearing colorful towels on their heads while speaking telepathically? It's better than trying to have a conversation with someone whose face is glued to a phone screen.

Dragon V2 infographic is sick (Space X)

Ever notice how the real world designs look like they come from the science fiction covers of the golden age rather than the modern stuff? This is so, so cool, Mr. Musk.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is a bad ass space opera

When you've been writing a space opera for nearly two years and you go see Guardians of the Galaxy, it's easy to feel inadequate. Sure, what I'm working on is a novel and Guardians is a movie so I really shouldn't compare the two, but this stuff is nothing short of bad ass. Imagine my envy when I saw the bad ass spacecrafts, the bad ass bad guys, and the bad ass set designs. To see Knowhere on film is truly something that's... well, bad ass.

Director James Gunn has what's gotta be the oddest filmmaking spread. He wrote the best ever Troma movie and it's my opinion he just directed the best ever Marvel movie.

I wondered why the star of Gunn's horror-comedy Slither didn't make an appearance. I'll be damned if I didn't find out later that Nathan Fillion did show up. Like Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Josh Brolin, you're just not going to recognize him. The practice of getting name-brand stars and hiding them so deeply beneath makeup and CGI doesn't sound like a very good idea, but it seems Gunn is more interested in their talents than their faces. Even though I know Cooper is Rocket Raccoon, I still don't recognize the voice. But I recognize good acting when I see it so I can see why these roles, though excellent disguises, appealed to their stars.

The film opens in 1988 with the death of Peter "Star-Lord" Quill's mother. Many of you will think you're in for another drawn-out origin story, but this one has a pleasant surprise. No more than three or four minutes into it, Peter is abducted by an otherworldly ship. Fast-forward to the present and we find him bopping out to his mother's Walkman while kicking rodent-like reptiles left and right. I haven't watched Parks and Recreation and I can't recall having ever seen Chris Pratt in anything else, but I believe we have one of the most likable movie stars since Tom Hanks' rise to fame. And this guy has a six-pack on top of everything else.

Soon he meets Zoe Saldana (playing Thanos's adopted daughter, Gamora), an actress I've admired from the beginning, but I just like her more and more. Here she's the toughest of the bunch and believably so, even when she's sharing screentime with mixed martial artist Dave Bautista. I've always had an odd attraction to green alien women and I hope the success of this character convinces someone in Hollywood to greenlight a She-Hulk standalone. For far too long, little girls have had few characters to look up to outside of princesses, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quickly changing that. Why not add Jennifer Walters, lawyer/superhero extraordinaire, to the mix? I know it's hard to find directors as creative as Gunn, which is all the more reason to hate the recent firing of Edgar Wright, but somebody out there must have the talent to make a believable She-Hulk film, right?

And speaking of Dave Bautista, here's another rising star I've never seen before. The guy looks bigger than Schwarzenegger, but he's just as charismatic. His comedic timing is excellent, too. He gets the biggest laugh in the movie. The only thing that made me feel uneasy about going into it was how Rocket and Groot would translate to film. Well, they come out marvelously. I also had no idea the severely likable character actor Michael Rooker was in the film and he might very well be my favorite cast member. And holy shit, this is a really great cast.

At the end of the day, Guardians just wants to entertain the hell out of you and I've seen very few pictures that do it so well. Flaws? I'm sure it's got 'em, but it just pushes you so hard into the creative, nonstop action you don't even want to stop to take notice. I've read exactly two of the GOTG comics in my life so I was never distracted by such silly questions like, "Oh, why is she dressed like that?" or "Why doesn't he have his helmet?" I just walked in, ate my popcorn, and enjoyed it without having to worry about nitpicking Hollywood's take on it all.

The most sensitive of parents might take issue with the language as it goes a bit farther than most Marvel films. Having said that, I have a feeling most kids who see it are going to be much more engaged by it than the recent Turtle flick. I guarantee you most of them will be able to remember the names of all the principal characters, much the same way every character remembers who Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 are. In the Venn diagram of "child-safe" movie and smart movies, the overlap is very small, but Guardians lands smack dab in the middle. Lighten up—your kids really aren't going to get that Jackson Pollock line unless you make a big stink over it.

I love this movie. It is so, so refreshing. I honestly can't wait to see more. I've heard of the Avatar blues, but damn it, I've got the Knowhere blues. That place was so cool, so bad ass. And that end credit sequence. Holy shit, James Gunn is out of his mind. And bad ass. Don't forget bad ass. May he forever drown in the riches.