Friday, December 28, 2012

Spoiler: John Dies at the End (a movie review-like article)

John Dies at the End is finally available on VOD services and it arrives about a month before it releases in theaters. I like it when movies do that. I don't always want to pay the ten dollars for the smaller flicks that pre-release on VOD, but I am happy to report Don Coscarelli's adaptation of the David Wong novel is worth it.

For the most part.

Pointing out the flaws in a movie like this is like refusing to go to bed with Marilyn Monroe because she has a mole on her face. All the great genre classics are flawed, from Escape to New York to Evil Dead 2. After time the movies become better because of their flaws and I suspect John Dies at the End will be no different. So, the occasionally goofy special effects aside, this movie's a crowd-pleaser for sure.

Coscarelli was the director who presumably broke out when he made the ultra-low budget Phantasm, a movie about a tall, demonic man whose bidding was done by dwarfs and sentient spheres of metal. It's not a very watchable movie these days, but I still have a soft spot for some of its sequels, particularly the gore scenes. There's some memorable stuff in there and, hey, who wouldn't want a four-barrel shotgun? The series also introduced me to a little known actor by the name of Reggie Bannister, who's apparently referred to as "The hardest working man in horror." There's just something charming about this guy. The reason it's awesome to see him play a hero in movies is because it's so damn unexpected to see someone like him in movies at all. Tom Cruise, eat your heart out.

Speaking of Phantasm, "The Tall Man" (Angus Scrimm) makes a cameo in John Dies at the End as a priest.

Not very long ago, Coscarelli made Bubba Ho-Tep, in which the real Elvis Presley (played by Bruce Campbell) switches places with an Elvis impersonator to escape the smothering aspects of fame and fortune. Naturally, it's the impersonator who died while the real Elvis is old and dying in a nursing home with what he refers to as "a growth on my pecker." His best friend is a black man (the late, great Ossie Davis) who thinks he's JFK, but his skin has been dyed black by the CIA. At night, a mummy sneaks into the nursing home and slays the elderly, one by one. Only Elvis and the black JFK can stop it.

I mention Bubba Ho-Tep because that marks the beginning of Coscarelli's transformation into the stylistic director he is today. I think it's safe to say this guy isn't making a ton of money. He's making movies way better than they have to be because it's obviously what he likes to do. Sometimes the ideas are better than the execution, but you try making a movie for a hundred thousand dollars or so.

John Dies at the End is even harder to summarize than Bubba Ho-Tep's whacky plot. It's about a couple of slackers who're addicted to a drug that makes them see things from another dimension. There's an alien subplot, too, and a sometimes confusing order of events. I'm still not exactly sure when one of the opening scenes took place. Damn it, there I go again pointing out the flaws.

Just watch the trailer. If that appeals to you, then so should the movie. I have to go now. My hot dog is ringing.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sinister won't receive any complaints for false advertising

Sinister is the best horror film in a long time.

That isn't saying much. Horror is currently in a lazy, intellectually offensive place right now because more than ever before it's marketed to idiotic kids who wouldn't know a good horror film if it splattered them in the face. Sinister isn't made for kids and it reminds me of a time when they used to advertise Stephen King books on daytime television. Horror movies back then weren't just made for children.

spoiler-filled trailer... watch the movie first

The film opens in grainy 8mm film. There's a family of four—husband, wife, two kids—hooded and bound. There are nooses around their necks, the ropes of which are loosely draped over a tree branch above them. We see a pole saw cutting another tree branch where the ends of the nooses are tied. As that branch goes down, the family is slowly strung up. It's a pretty effective shot and by now most of you should already know if it's the kind of movie you want to see.

Enter Ethan Hawke, his wife, and two children, who are moving into the very house where that family lived. Hawke is a true crime writer who dreams of becoming the next Truman Capote. He got a taste of fame and fortune a few books ago, but proved to be a hack in the time since. Somehow his wife doesn't know the history behind the house they're moving into, which I found to be kind of silly; there's usually red tape involved when buying psychologically distressed properties, isn't there? And seriously, how often has your spouse gone to buy a house without involving you in the transaction?

The first act of the film, as with any horror film with a superficially idyllic family, is fat and bloated (see: the film version of Pet Semetary). Hawke's character stumbles upon a box in the attic containing a bunch of snuff films and a home movie projector. The film canisters are labeled innocently enough: Family Hangin' Out '11. Pool Party '66. Sleepy Time '98. BBQ '79. And my personal favorite is Lawn Work '86 as it makes shocking use of a Honda lawnmower. (I don't think that was product placement, by the way.)

Hawke, like any smart person would do, calls the police. But when he's put on hold, he see his best-selling book on a shelf and realizes his discovery is going to make for a hell of a book. So he hangs up. And we groan because we know there are going to be at least as many thin excuses to keep Hawkes and his family in danger as there are genuine scares.

Things do indeed get sinister. Following a lead provided by a typical movie deputy, Hawke gets in touch with an occult expert (Vincent D'Onofrio) who says the symbols seen in each of the films reference a child-consuming demon. Demon or not, considering the scorpions and snakes in Hawke's attic, I would have moved out of that fucking house on day one. This isn't much of a spoiler and I feel it needs to be mentioned: it's yet another horror movie in which there are "spooky" children in it. I know I'm not the only one who's getting sick of that trend.

At the end of the day, it's almost a worthwhile picture, just a little slow. Yeah, the term the filmmakers would probably prefer is "suspense-building," but I don't know. It didn't really work for me. There was hardly anything I haven't seen before. The film is certainly a little creepy, but it isn't exactly scary. Although I'm not entirely disappointed I saw it despite the predictable ending and the fact that it, like most horror films today, has nothing to say.

A lot of people complain they don't like Ethan Hawke. I do. Gattaca is one of the better examples of science fiction in film and Training Day is nothing short of brilliant. Hawke is integral to those movies working. He's capable of playing a kind of character few can pull off (or maybe it's a character many don't want to try to attempt), but it's a necessary character for many films. Here's a hint for moviegoers who don't like him: a lot of the time you're not supposed to like him. That's why he's good at what he does. I mean, did you ever see Tape?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Flash Gordon fans: do yourself a favor and watch Ted

Mad Magazine knows what's up

I'm not the biggest fan of Family Guy. The last time I saw it I was in a bar and couldn't even hear it. Yet I occasionally see creator Seth MacFarlane in interviews and think, "He's a surprisingly intelligent guy." What really impressed me was his love for science as well as his involvement with the Cosmos reboot, which will hand Carl Sagan's torch to Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's also an outspoken fan of Star Trek so he must be pretty cool, right?

So I bit the bullet and watched Ted. As narrator Patrick Stewart tells us in the opening reel, Ted was a celebrity when his story swept the world: there is a living, breathing teddy bear living among us. He became so famous he even appeared on Johnny Carson (this is done with Forrest Gump-like special effects). "But people eventually ceased to give a shit." Fast forward several years later and Wahlberg is a thirty-five year old with a shit job who's trying to keep his relationship with Mila Kunis from falling apart. Meanwhile, he still clings to his living teddy bear who sounds suspiciously like Peter Griffin and smokes a ton of pot.

You've seen the trailers. Whereas a lot of comedies spoil the funniest parts in the ads, Ted's redband trailer opts to show most of its raunchiest moments instead. That's practically all the raunch in the movie. What's so surprising about Ted is the fact it's a pleasant, unoffensive movie as far as modern comedies go. Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of politically incorrect jokes and fart humor, but it's far less offensive than, say, anything with Kevin James in it. In fact, the movie was so easy to digest, I wasn't even sure I liked it...

Until about halfway through the movie.

Ted and Wahlberg's love for Flash Gordon manifests itself in a series of scenes that had me rolling. I don't want to give it away, but I found myself saying to the screen, "Holy shit! It's really... I can't believe... holy shit!" I have a feeling if it weren't for my own love for Flash Gordon (my childhood cat's name was Flash), I wouldn't have liked Ted nearly as much as I did. At the end of the day it's a pretty basic comedy, but that's not the review it deserves. Even the average cookie-cutter screenplay can be done well and MacFarlane (or his script doctors) prove as much.

People expecting MacFarlane's typical Family Guy humor probably won't be nearly as pleased as I was, but if you're a fan of Flash Gordon, be sure to check it out.

Have you seen it? What'd you think? Spoilers allowed in the comments.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Star Talk with NDT

Few things make me happier than watching Wil Wheaton explain the inter-species sex in Larry Niven's Ringworld series to Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Ah, The Nerdist Channel... it's like The Sci-Fi Channel as it existed twenty years ago (believe it or not, it was actually pretty bitchin' back then).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My thoughts on the Wii U

Throughout the day Sunday, I kept watching reviews of the Wii U and decided to go on the hunt sometime around nightfall. Two hours and several stores later, I found one in a Sears. They informed me had I gotten there any earlier, I wouldn't have gotten it. Apparently they screwed up a shipment or something. So, lucky me, I bought the deluxe model for $479 including tax. 

What puzzled me was the lack of an ethernet port (I would have liked a dedicated optical port for audio as well, but I understand most people wouldn't need it). The exclusion was fine for Wii as it wasn't really geared around online multiplayer games, but isn't the Wii U supposed to feature "hardcore" games that could really benefit from a hardwired internet connection? And I've got a router that's literally two feet away from my Wii U so it's a shame I can't plug it in. Anyway, my assumption Wii U would get more involved with online play was apparently wrong. So far, most of my games only offer local multiplayer and the online features are typically social networking options.

My next complaint is understandable, but it still sucks. It's the day-one patch that takes an hour to download. If you bought one of these for your kids on Christmas, you should probably wait until the little bastards are in school and secretly set the system up early so they won't chew your ears off while they wait for it to update on Christmas morning. You don't need to update if you only plan on playing disc games, but to do anything else (including accessing a disc game's online features) you will have to update. Not only that, but every single game I've tried requires an individual update, which can take ten to thirty minutes.

Lastly, I just want to say something about the graphics. No, graphics aren't everything, but it's nice to have the option for good graphics for the Call of Duties and the Assassin Creeds. And when you play AC3, you're probably going to be pretty disappointed by the limited draw distances (objects pop in and out of view) and the way shadows and hair take on a strobe effect. It's really hard to believe this is a next-gen system just by looking at it.

So Nintendo shouldn't be your choice for FPS games and AAA action titles. If that's all you're into, wait for Microsoft and Sony to release their next consoles (or, better yet, just beef up your home computer). But if you're looking for something different the Wii U might be for you. Although the system feels more like a toy than a gaming unit, it's a fun throwback for those of us who grew up playing games with friends on the same TV.

The things that I liked:

1. The gamepad

It looks big and bulky and uncomfortable, but the second you pick it up, you'll wonder how they crammed so many electronics into such a lightweight device. It fits in your hands nicely and the touchscreen works like a charm despite the lack of multi-touch controls. It's just as cool as the Wiimote was in 2006, but mostly because it didn't end up making the entire unit $600+.

2. The gamepad's functions

Maybe I should have included this in the heading above, but what I didn't expect was the option to pair the gamepad with your television. That's right: last gen brought us the era where we didn't need to get off the couch to turn the system on and this gen brings us the era we don't even need a remote for the TV. It sounds insignificant, but I love it. 

3. Internet browsing

Ever tried browsing the net on a PS3? Don't. It sucks. It sucked on the Wii, too. In fact, every other TV web surfing experience has sucked for me. Now, the Wii U browser isn't nearly as good as browsing on a computer, but it's a lot better than its competition. My favorite feature about the built-in browser is the ability to "close the curtains" on the TV while you continue to browse on the gamepad's screen. This means if you have a roomful of people, you can close the curtains and input any passwords or sensitive user information in private. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's a smooth launch day for Black Ops 2

I thought I was done with Call of Duty. As the reviews came tumbling in this morning, I got excited about the latest installment, which released today. In particular, it was videos of the newest additions to zombie mode that got my attention. So I bought it and downloaded it while I was at work.

And holy shit.

It's good. It's different. Everything that people dislike about COD games has been addressed... well, almost everything. I still think there are a few too many button prompts in the campaign mode, but there are a few stretches of balls-to-the-wall entertainment during which I can't believe it's a COD game. Amazingly enough it runs better on my system on launch day than MW2 and 3 do after being out for months. I can't say that I've encountered any memorable bugs in the three hours I've played it, either.

The sound is crisp and clean, but Treyarch's default mix of sound levels seems uneven on my speakers, which I admit are a little wonky at the moment. Joining games has been a breeze for the most part and although I lagged a couple of times, so far it's been pretty smooth. I like the customization. I like the futuristic weapons and tactical gear. I like Call of Duty again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The time travel movie of the future: Looper review

The year is 2044, thirty years before the invention of time travel. A voiceover tells us that as soon as time travel is invented it's outlawed, but the most powerful criminal networks in the world continue to use it. So Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. Loopers are essentially hitmen, but not the Joe Pesci variety who sneak into your house and shoot you in the back of the head. No, they just wait in a field for a target to be sent back to their time. When the target arrives the looper blasts him away and the body can't be found in the time in which it belongs.

Targets arrive in a kneeling position. There's often a hood over their heads and their hands are tied behind their backs. After killing the target, a looper strips the unfortunate soul out of his jacket to find his payment strapped to the body. Typically the payment comes in the form of silver bars which can be cashed for age-appropriate currency. But there's a reason we call these hitmen loopers: when the future employers decide to retire a looper, they send the future looper's self back to be executed by his younger self. When a looper finds gold strapped to a body he knows he's been retired in the future and he essentially killed himself. It's called "completing the loop" and the main character tells us people in his line of work aren't exactly forward-thinkers.

If this sounds needlessly complicated then that isn't a fault of the film. It does a better job explaining in it five minutes than I can in a few paragraphs. Why would someone decide to get a job with such a lethal retirement plan? When we see that Joe lives pretty well in a future where very few people are well-to-do, we can see the attraction of the looper's job. The real question: Is looping really as clean and effective as Joe makes it out to be? Satisfactory answers to that question aren't prominent, but that's the fault of the two-hour movie format, not the movie itself.

If you've seen the trailer, you know this much: Joe's future self (played by Bruce Willis) is sent back and Joe fails to kill him. You probably expect a cat and mouse game between the two characters. It's not. It's more like a cat, mouse, dog, and tiger game in which timelines and alternative realities twist and tangle like pasta. While there is the occasional paradoxical plot hole (the fault of time travel movies in general, not the movie itself), the film is as close to a classic science fiction novel as you can get. As long as the trailer is the only introduction to Looper you've had, twenty minutes into the movie you're going to realize it's nothing like what you expected. So as not to spoil the fun, I won't mention any more of the plot.

Obviously I'm a huge fan of science fiction (see: this blog), but what I'm usually not a fan of is Hollywood science fiction. The last absolutely great one was Minority Report, a film I actually disliked the first time I saw it because it was yet another mangled Philip K. Dick adaptation. Well, there was District 9, too, and I must say Duncan Jones's Moon and Source Code certainly fit the bill of "real science fiction." Those are really the only recent standouts I can presently think of. I'm thrilled to say Looper stands among them.

Writer/director Rian Johnson actually tops Brick, a film I went absolutely crazy over. He presents us with a dystopic future, but it's one that we've never seen before. Sure, most people are living in poverty, there are flying motor cycles, and giant, futuristic skylines, but the brushstrokes are of a variety we haven't seen before. There are hints that Joe's city situation isn't the same all over the world. When Emily Blunt's character is introduced, we see that some people live very well indeed. So there's a lot of dark stuff in this movie, but it isn't bleak and it's never completely hopeless. 

Another creative decision I applaud: people from the future don't appear with all the CGI bells and whistles you'd expect from a modern film. They just appear in crude stop-motion, as if Barbara Eden nodded her head on I Dream of Jeannie.

Early on there's a movie death that's absolutely chilling despite the lack of blood and on-screen violence. There's also a few places I absolutely could not believe a modern Hollywood film would go, moments which remind me of a scene in... well, I better not say, but it was a western, not a science fiction film. 

Jeff Daniels is in this picture. He's a bad ass. At first you believe he's the main villain of the picture. Then you think someone else is the main villain. After you're given a few more possibilities, you finally give up trying to figure it out. Looper doesn't give a shit about movie standards that came before it. It really is like nothing you've ever seen and either you like that kind of film or you don't. 

People keep griping about how movies were so much better in eras prior to this one, but I'm not sure this film would have been made in any other time. I'm not sure it could have been made in another time, either.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

X-Men Rise... wait... The Amazing X-Men? (First Class review)

The Spider-Man review reminded me to write the Batman review. The Batman review reminded me to write this X-Men: First Class review. So uh, where shall we start?

The movie opens in a concentration camp. The boy who will one day become Magneto is separated from his parents by Nazis, which causes his mutant powers to unlock. Stricken with rage, he discovers he can bend metal gates with his mind. Cut to Professor X's childhood home, circa the same time. Young Charles Xavier can read and interact with minds. He demonstrates this ability when he discovers a young Mystique in his kitchen—yes, she's the blue chick from the other films in case you forgot.

Fast forward a few years later and an adult Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is searching for the evil Dr. Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) who studied the mutant boy's powers of magnetism, not to mention murdered his mother. We learn that Charles (James McAvoy) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) have been mutants-in-hiding ever since they met. Mystique (she's a shape-shifter, remember?) is forced to appear in her human form whenever they're in public. This irritates her because she thinks men are unlikely to find her attractive in her true form (um yeah, right).

To make a long story short, Schmidt has escaped to America where he masquerades as a regular joe known as Sebastian Shaw. There's a scene where a female CIA agent (Rose Byrne's Moira MacTaggert) notices a group of strippers walking into the Las Vegas club where Shaw is staying. How does the beautiful agent sneak into the club? Why, she merely strips her clothes off in the middle of the street and walks right in. I really hate scenes like this and no, it's not because of the gratuitous near-nudity—that's actually the only thing going for it, really. Screenwriters have been coming up with stupid security workarounds for decades now. According to them, you could sneak into The Pentagon with nothing more than a silly accent and a threat to call someone's superiors.

It's quickly revealed that Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw is a mutant, too, and he wants to incite nuclear war. See, mutants were born of radiation so they will survive the nuclear apocalypse. Normal humans, however, will not. And when you've got mutants as dangerous as Shaw, it kind of lends credence to the government's desire to catalog and track them.

To make a long story short, Charles Xavier is recruited by the government to go after Shaw. He convinces Magneto to join him. They're going to need a team, of course, and for the first X-Men roster they scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel. See, the first ninety-three issues of Uncanny X-Men (#67—93 were actually reprints as Marvel had kind of given up on the franchise) there was a problem: it was kind of a mediocre comic. It wasn't until Giant-Size X-Men when the team got interesting. Which begs the question: Why bother making a film about the X-Men team no one gives a shit about?

So it's time for a disclaimer: I love Uncanny X-Men and own over a hundred issues from the Chris Claremont era. I typically like (not love) X-Men movies, too. I'm even a fan of this film's director, who made wonderful movies like Layer Cake, Stardust, and Kick-Ass. But try as I might, I could not get into First Class. I wouldn't say it's a terrible movie, but it's a huge disappointment for me personally.

Magneto is a character who intrigues me more than almost any other comic book character in existence. Sure, most superhero powers would be a lot more useful than his, but there's something admirable about everything Magneto accomplishes despite his relatively weak power. His greatest power might be his resolve. There's something endearing in that.

I'm not saying they screwed Magneto up, but there's a bit of the Hannibal effect going on: when you have a character as legendary as he is it kind of takes the fun out of it when his life history is detailed so thoroughly. It's to be expected in a comic book that drags on for hundreds of issues—how else would they pad the story out?—but it seems like you're wasting valuable time when the series is due for a reboot any year now. I just think it's more interesting when we sympathize with Magneto when we don't know why. Why justify his actions? We were all on board, anyway. No need to run it into the ground.

My other gripe pertains to prequels in general. I don't give a shit how a character's most mundane details came about. Doesn't matter, they're going to show us anyway.

I hope to watch this again in a few years and discover I was wrong, but I don't think so. It just didn't work for me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Batman ends (I finally saw The Dark Knight Rises)

When I wrote the last post about the new Spider-Man movie, it dawned on me that I forgot to mention that I saw the latest Batman movie like a week or two ago. Here are my thoughts...

Most people who give a shit about Batman have probably already seen The Dark Knight Rises. What can I say? I'm a slowpoke. Going to the multiplex often fills me with as much dread as getting up for work after a night at the bar. Now that we have Blu-Ray players and TVs that are actually capable of reproducing the deep blacks you get from a projected image, what's the point, man? At home I don't have to wear the cheap 3D glasses, the popcorn tastes better, and I can pause whenever I need to visit the bathroom or—and this is becoming a lot more frequent as I get older—when I need to take a nap.

I didn't fall asleep once during The Dark Knight Rises. I'm not saying I expected to, but I had lowered my expectations enough not to be disappointed. I wasn't expecting to be disappointed, either, but after seeing the second in Nolan's trilogy, I knew there was no way to top it. Or equal it. I was right.

This is just the opinion of a guy you don't know, which is a dime a dozen on the Internet, but as far as comic book movies go, I enjoyed Dredd more than Rises. I may have even enjoyed The Avengers more than this one. I don't know. One thing I do know is I don't regret that I watched it. Sometimes that's the best you can get. People complain that movies suck today, but I counter with the argument that movies have always sucked, we just don't remember them as much as the recent suck-fests...

Like Iron Man 2. But I digress because I find myself in the awkward position of wanting to see part three.

I have the feeling Nolan wasn't ready to make the third film in the series. If it took him so many years to write Inception (didn't he claim it was twelve?) I can see how one could be pressured into wrapping the series up.  I certainly wouldn't envy anyone in that position. I'm just saying, if I had gotten the job to write the third film, I'd feel like I'd need several years to come up with something worthy of its predecessor. I mention all this because Nolan did a remarkable job considering. The dark forces behind the scenes probably kidnapped his wife and sent him a finger in the mail each week he didn't turn in a script.

The Dark Knight Rises opens with an airborne heist. We've seen that a million times in the movies, including a few James Bond films. Other than the introduction of Bane, the film's villain, there really isn't much to see here. I mean, they're not hijacking gold bars or nuclear launch codes or anything as tired as like that, but it just wasn't all that exciting.

Cut to a charity event at Bruce Wayne's manor. We learn it's been eight years since the last film. Gotham is mostly crime-free thanks to the Harvey Dent Act, Commissioner Gordon comes this close to telling a crowd of people that Dent turned into a psychopath, and Bruce Wayne has become a reclus√† la Howard Hughes. That night, Wayne catches a cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) stealing his mother's pearls.

That's where the movie lost me. Forget comparing Catwoman's character to the context of the other films—in the context of this film, the character is too goofy, too Hollywood, and far too unbelievable. I've seen Schwarzenegger films with fewer one-liners. Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises is like the ewoks in Return of the Jedi. This piece just doesn't fit here, not like this.

That's my biggest complaint. My second biggest complaint is Wayne's love interest in the film, Marion Cotillard, who you'll remember from Inception. Movies need more class acts like Cotillard (she's on the level of Johansson and Portman), but her character in this movie is pretty lifeless and dull. And then there's Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I love this guy in most movies, but here he's a little too predictable. We all knew it when we saw the trailer, so let's not even pretend the following is a spoiler: He's Robin.

Then there's the lighthearted comedy relief. It's not as bad as, say, Johnny Knoxville in any non-Jackass movie he's ever been in, and it's not even bad, really. It's just not right for this film. I know Rises was actually intended to be lighter than the last film (alluding to Dent's speech about it being darkest just before the dawn and, hey, whaddyaknow? this is the dawn!), but the second heist in this film, and the ensuing car chase, struck me as a little too routine. And the scenes where Batman and Catwoman fight side by side are way too reminiscent of Batman Returns. I really hate comparing Rises to the other films, but damn it, all of its action sequences would fit better in the previous Batman series.

My complaints are all out of the way... well, other than the choice of casting when it comes to Bruce Wayne's doctor, who informs the vigilante he has no cartilage left in his knees. The moment you say "Hey, it's that guy!" you get pulled out of the movie a little bit.

The rest of the movie is pretty good. Tom Hardy as Bane makes very interesting choices. His voice is just as jarring as Christian Bale's voice was in the first film. I love villains as they make or break these kinds of movies more than any other ingredient. This is a good villain. Bane has the distinction of breaking Batman's back in the comics so you know he's a tough SOB. In this version, he's downright menacing. Nothing like the cheap piece of shit he was in Batman & Robin... damn it, there I go making comparisons again.

About halfway through the movie, Nolan begins dropping hints to the conclusion. He wants us to know what happens in the end because there's more to it than what you would expect. It's vague, sure, and when I saw it it didn't necessarily work for me. But thinking back on it... yeah, it works, I guess. It kind of grows on me the more I think about it. Let's face it: as far as the third entries in trilogies go, Rises is among the best. That's a rare honor even if the competition isn't all that thick.

If you give a shit about Batman, and you should, go see it. Or wait for it on Blu-Ray. World won't end if you wait, dude. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man

When I heard they were making another Spider-Man origin story I groaned. I'm just not into origin story movies. Or maybe we're just getting too many of them at once, like vampire and zombie movies. I needed a breather. I don't mind superhero films, I just don't want to see these characters' life stories repeated ad nauseam. These stories are pretty much our country's mythology. Does anyone really not know where these characters came from? Anyone who doesn't know by now won't be found watching a movie like this anyway, so what's the point?

And do we really need a complete reboot every ten years? They don't even do it that often in comic books.

It looks so shitty, doesn't it?!

So I had no desire to see The Amazing Spider-Man because A) Spider-Man 3 sucked the biggest balls ever B) it essentially told the same story as the 2002 version with Tobey Maguire, right? Well, I don't want to say I was pleasantly surprised. That doesn't even begin to describe what I felt. I was knocked out of my seat.

Here's the deal: Mary Jane's nowhere in this movie. Proper fans will know about Gwen Stacy, who was hastily squeezed into the last entry despite the fact the women in Parker's life (Felicia Hardy's Black Cat is my favorite, and I can only hope they introduce her properly someday) are kind of a big deal to the mythology. She's Peter Parker's first love and this time she's played by Emma Stone, an actress I already admired, but she might be better than ever here.

Peter Parker is played by... I don't know this guy's name. I don't feel like Googling it. It doesn't matter because you've never heard of him anyway. That's cool. I like fresh faces in big films. Sure, this movie plays it safe, but not nearly as safe as most of these flicks. Think about it: this is a billion dollar franchise and yet you've never seen the guy who plays the main character. How often does that happen?

Skipping past the origin, because you know it anyway: Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is murdered by a street thug Parker should have stopped. Night after night, Parker patrols the dark alleys for his uncle's killer. He decides to wear a costume inspired by a luchador after a lowlife warns him, "I know your face!" Oh, and Parker's genius is on full display here: he rigs a pair of custom-made bracelets to spit webs from his wrists. All this stuff is purchased online, which really means the cops could have caught Parker early in the first act, but this is a fantasy movie. Just let it slide.

Let it slide because this is a good fantasy movie. Really good. This one's better than any of the movies that tie into Avengers. Dare I say it? It's better than The Avengers itself. Hell, I liked it better than Christopher Nolan's latest Batman movie. (Crap, I forgot to even mention that... I saw that recently, too. I guess I should make a post about it.)

Anyway, this is that rare summer film that's worth the ticket price. This is why I wade through action movies, most of which suck, time and time again. Movies like this recharge me, make me excited about movies the way I used to be when I was a kid. Just because it's about a guy who dresses in spandex and fights crime at night doesn't mean it has to be stupid.

Romance? Got it. Action? Plenty. A great bad guy? Well... two out of three isn't bad. I wouldn't go so far as to say there's anything new in this movie, but the way it goes about it is magical. I'm a tough egg to crack, so if you get me absolutely believing the silly far-fetched shit in your movie (and this one has lots of it—which isn't a critique) I'm all in. It's as close to perfect as these movies get.

Catch it on DVD on November 9th. Tell me what you thought about it in the comments. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Atari Presents Mario Bros." (Comic book ad)

I found this while flipping through some old comics (Fantastic Four #273 in case you're interested). That's someone else's Flickr scan, though. I didn't feel like taking a picture of it myself.

Atari Presents Mario Brothers

What blows my mind is I had a million Atari 2600 cartridges, but not one of them was Mario Bros. I want to say I remember Mario Bros. on Atari, but I'm not sure I do. Check out this shitty commercial, which is only 23% as shitty as the movie version with Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper in it:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NPR's Ira Flatow tells us why science is sexy. Seriously, don't miss it

Two Hitchcock biopics for the price of... well, two

Two Hitchcock biopics are coming out, one for HBO and one for wide release in theaters. While HBO isn't exactly known for lowering any bars in their productions, I'm more interested in the bigger film that stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock. (Although, I must say HBO has piqued my interest as well; casting Toby Jones and Sienna Miller as Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren is interesting if nothing else.)

I said recently I thought Scarlett Johansson was a class act, more so than most of today's Hollywood stars. Seems the producers of Hitchcock thought so as well; she'll be playing none other than Janet Leigh. In fact, with a cast that includes Helen Mirren, Toni Collete, and Jessica Biel appearing surprisingly well-cast as Vera Miles, the whole production is oozing with classy ladies bringing Hitchcock's infamous obsession with blondes to life.

Many of the motifs and perhaps a few of the plot elements will overlap, but I'm probably going to watch both. HBO's The Girl primarily focuses on Hitchcock and Hedren's unhealthy relationship during The Birds while Hitchcock seems to be focused on the production of Psycho... and I would imagine Hitchcock's unprofessional interest in his female leads in general.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Argo: the true story of how the CIA used science fiction as a cover

When it comes to rating films on my Netflix account, I don't throw five stars out lightly. One of those rare movies was Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck and based on the superb detective series by Dennis Lehane. Say what you will about Affleck's acting, but as a director I consider him a master. Here's the trailer for his latest film, Argo:

The movie will star Affleck himself, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin. Casts rarely get better than this. It opens this Friday.

So far it reminds me of a movie about a similar sting involving the FBI called The Last Shot.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Revisionaries trailer: There's ignorance, then there's stupidity

The Revisionaries trailer is absolutely flabbergasting.

I know it could be taken out of context (not that any possible context could make it even slightly better), but anyone who tells children that dinosaurs were on Noah's ark (or confuses myth with fact in the first place) shouldn't be allowed to have the word Education in their job title.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pwned by the Owner: a hilarious account of a computer thief's public humiliation

You probably shouldn't steal computers, but if you do, don't steal a hacker's computer. Despite being roughly as funny as any Chris Rock act, Dr. Andrew "Zoz" Brooks (who earned his PhD at MIT) reminds us that our computer security is only as strong as our weakest oversights. What kind of guy steals computers? The kind of guy who can't even spell his own name right on his Facebook page, that's who. 

Dredd is a surprisingly good movie

Don't call it a remake. Dredd is exactly what the Sylvester Stallone vehicle should have been in the nineties. Not that Judge Dredd was a horrible movie, Rob Schneider and Sly's catchphrases notwithstanding. I always thought it was better than most people claimed. It's just that it kind of bent the source material over a rail and had its way with it. I'm not entirely familiar with the source material, but I've read enough of it to know 2012's Dredd respects it. This isn't a movie made for kids and the violence, though graphic, doesn't contain an ounce of unnecessary shock value.

In the future, Judges are also cops and executioners rolled into one. The film starts with an obligatory cold open. Dredd is chasing some bad guys who are high on slo-mo, a drug which makes users perceive time at 1% of reality. The following isn't really a spoiler: Dredd sentences them all to death, the last of which is dispensed in one of the coolest movie deaths I've seen in years. Afterwards, Dredd is assigned a new partner, Judge Anderson, who failed her tests, but their superiors are interested in her because she demonstrates psychic abilities.

Dredd's job is to assess her throughout the day. If she passes his testing, she becomes a Judge. (I can't believe how tired this all sounds in writing, because it actually plays very well in the movie.) Their first day together on the beat involves fielding distress calls. Dredd tells her it's a fact of life that Judges can only respond to a fraction of the calls. He lets her choose which one they'll take. Anderson chooses a two-hundred story slum which just happens to house the distributor of slo-mo, an absolutely evil woman named Mama.

During the course of an investigation that involves three bodies (skinned alive) the Judges kill a few perps and make an arrest. As they're leaving, Mama hacks into the building's security system and closes the blast doors. There's no way to get in or out. Mama makes an announcement to the tenants of the building: she's not opening the doors until Dredd and Anderson are killed.

That's the entire movie. It doesn't sound like it's particularly fresh or entertaining, but I'll be damned if I didn't feel engaged throughout. The film is very well made and rarely offends your intelligence. I've rarely seen subject matter like this that's handled so tastefully. 1995's Judge Dredd was way too over-the-top in terms of performances and action. This film's keyed down and that's exactly where it belongs.

For one, there's the slo-mo gimmick. The filmmakers restrained themselves from abusing the tactic and it makes for some really interesting photography. Another thing is the movie doesn't insult us with the usual buddy cop bullshit. When Dredd is told he has to take on Anderson, it isn't, "Like hell I will!" It's simply, "Okay." That's five to twenty minutes of bullshit right there that are thankfully left out. And although Dredd is expectantly stern with Anderson, you always get the feeling he respects her, something most of these movies save as a cheap payoff for the end.

Which isn't to say there aren't missteps. When four Judges are revealed to be bounty hunters who'll kill Dredd for money, I felt the movie meandered. I'm not talking a total derailment, but I wondered why the filmmakers bothered. There's also a damsel-in-distress subplot that appears at an awkward time. Other than that, the movie escapes the usual standards by which I view movies. How? By simply being good—exceptionally good. It's a certain type of movie that's nearly gone extinct, but it's a fine and solid example thereof.

In the trailer, Olivia Thirlby (she was Juno's best friend) seems like a terrible choice for Judge Anderson. In the context of the movie, however, she's pretty good. In the 1995 production, the producers were too uptight to put Stallone in a movie in which he never shows his face; he spends more time with the helmet off than on. In this one, Karl Urban never takes the mask off. You could call his portrayal of Dredd monotone, but I gotta hand it to him: it's hard to be taken seriously when you're wearing a costume like his and speaking in a gravelly voice.

These movies are only as good as their villains and this film has a good one. It's cool to see a woman in a role like this. When Mama beats the shit out of a man twice her size, you believe it. When I saw the trailer, I thought that character above all would be my biggest complaint. Turns out it was my favorite aspect. As far as these comic adaptations go, this one is superb. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of the origins story. It's nice to see something start in the middle of the action. It's a simple film, sure, but there's an elegance and very few things explode.

I miss movies like this. In the nineties, you could market R-rated films to children (there used to be Alien, Predator, and Terminator action figures), but the era of the multiplex brought stricter parents and movie theaters that actually carded. It's a sad fact of life that Hollywood has pandered so much to children in recent years, who are now turning their backs on movies for video games and mobile technologies. Adults rarely have a good excuse to go see a movie, but Dredd's one of the better ones. As of this writing it hasn't recouped half of its modest budget. It's a shame, too, because I'd actually be interested in a sequel.

Note: I didn't link to the trailer because it's got more than one significant spoiler in it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Romney supposedly likes science fiction

The response from most science fiction fans: What the fuck is he talking about?


He claims to like Star Trek, the show which preaches tolerance, condemns military-obsessed societies, and espouses the dream of humanity one day leaving capitalism behind forever. And have you ever seen anyone pay for healthcare in sickbay? That's a curious form of entertainment for someone with Romney's stances. 

Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt interviewing Romney in 2007:

“I hope your favorite movie isn’t ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,” Hewitt joked. 
“I’ll stay away from that,” Romney said laughing.

Huh? How many science fiction fans would "stay away" from one of the finest movie examples of the genre? And seriously, fuck Hewitt for suggesting there's something wrong with liking it. It currently holds a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, dipshit—could you possibly be more out of touch?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Keeping the fringe alive: a Troma special on CNN

I thought I'd share this CNN piece on Troma from a few years ago. As of right now, Hollywood is remaking Toxic Avenger (spoiler: it's going to suck) and Lloyd Kaufman is directing the fourth installment of Class of Nuke'em High. Be careful where you open that link; there are less pornographic trailers for actual pornos.

Kaufman has said for years that Troma's in financial trouble. According to the grapevine, it's in more trouble than ever before. It seems Troma's response to their difficulties is uploading their library of films to the net to watch for free. I guess the idea is to generate revenue from the ads that display during the movies. You can watch their movies here

My two all-time favorites are Tromeo & Juliet and the more recent Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, a chicken-zombie musical that skewers the fast food industry.

Friday, September 21, 2012

James Rolfe's tribute to TNT's Monster Vision

I can't embed the video here (at least I don't think I can) so here's the link.

I'm not particularly persuaded by nostalgia, but hot damn, Joe Bob Briggs is one of my favorite people alive. Perhaps it's because he's a fellow southerner who somehow doesn't seem retarded. Not many people can get away with wearing cowboy boots and bolo ties, certainly not while checking off lists that count the number of breasts and severed heads seen in a movie.

Things that surprised me about Rolfe's video:

  • There was a Monster Vision before Joe Bob Briggs. I'm sure I knew about this back then, but either way, I didn't know it now. 
  • Penn & Teller once hosted the show for a month. 
  • Monster Vision ran longer than I suspected it did. It wasn't cancelled until 2000.
Here's the link to Joe Bob's official website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big Think: Excellent speech on why the technology itself shouldn't be feared

The bluetooth keyboard that fits in your pocket

AUGUST 2015 UPDATE: Inexplicably, this post has been getting a lot of views lately, but it's pretty old. I thought I'd point this similar keyboard out. (That's not an affiliate link, by the way. I make no money directly off of this blog.) The linked keyboard is, at the time of this writing, $35 and it's got good user reviews. If anyone cares about the original post, here it is:

I love it.

the Jorno pocketable keyboard

One of the things I like about writing all my documents in Google Drive is the fact that when I go to bed, I don't have to get back up and go to my computer when I think of something to add to a story. I just grab my phone and touch the Drive shortcut on my home screen. It takes maybe two more clicks to find the last document I was working on. The only thing that sucks, however, is typing on a virtual keyboard.

If you take advantage of Jorno's Kickstarter project, you can get one for $79. After that, it'll retail for about $119.

Ethan Hawke's in a horror movie that's flying in under the radar

I think it's safe to say old fashioned horror films just aren't going to be made anymore. Not in this country, not for mainstream audiences. The sooner you accept this sad fact, the sooner you can enjoy trailers like the one below. I'm 60-80% convinced it's going to suck, but hey, I want to believe.

Release date is October 12th. Via io9.

Friday, September 14, 2012

FTL is an instant classic in space sims (FTL review)

This is the game I've been waiting for.

I'm not what you call an early bird, but this morning I woke up at seven as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. I checked to see if the game had gone on sale earlier than I expected. It had! Maybe it was a glitch, but the price tag was only $9. I tipped them an extra dollar and received my Steam key within seconds. Two minutes later, the game finished downloading. Five minutes after that, I'd finished the tutorial.

The gameplay is as deep, but picking it up is easier than Microsoft's Freelancer. This is a game that would be perfect for mobile operating systems like Android and iOS (and a comment made by one of the site admins suggests it will eventually make it there).

There are three crewmen available from the start. I name one Grant (he'll be the captain, of course) and keep the randomly generated names for the other two: Sem and Maria, who primarily man the engine room and the shield generator respectively. So we set sail into the wide unknown, pushing the outer edge of the final frontier. I don't care how nerdy I sound right now... who the hell hasn't dreamed of piloting a friggin' starship?

After a couple of dogfights which couldn't be avoided, a distress call turns out to be a pirate ship wedged between a couple of space rocks. It'd be easy to blast the wounded ship to oblivion and collect whatever scrap and cargo survives, but I remember Captain Picard's policy of keeping the peace. Unfortunately, the trapped ship is destroyed during my attempt to save it, anyway. I then make the light jump to the next destination, satisfied in knowing I did my best.

Then there's a decision to be made. While the evil rebel fleet is hot on my ship's trail, we can travel through a hostile sector or try to make our way through a nebula, which will shut down certain portions of the system's electronics. I decide it's better to risk the nebula and, hopefully, avoid a number of space battles in the process.

Traveling through a nebula is eerie, not to mention dangerous. Despite the simple graphics and the cheerful chip tunes, the ship's sensors shut down and I'm piloting more or less blind. We encounter a few hostiles along the way, but most of the time we can use the nebula as cover and slip by.

Most of the time.

The worst encounter in the nebula involves pirates who board the ship. Because the sensors are down, I don't know what's going on in the ship beyond the rooms that contain crew members. So, blindly, I open all the outer doors and try to flush the hijackers out. Did it work? I have no idea... but then the door to Maria's shield room turns red as the pirates breach it. I command her to escape into an adjacent room and open all the doors between the outside of the ship and the shield room. The hijackers run out of oxygen just in time. Another narrow escape.

Every escape in this game is narrow.

Scrap is currency in FTL's world. The more you fight and survive, the more scrap you earn. I'm more interested in flight than fight, however. I avoid encounters whenever possible and help wounded enemies rather than capitalize on their misfortune. I don't make much scrap as a result. I come across some good deals in the cosmos, but can't afford to partake.

One distress call turns out to be a planet on which an infectious disease is spreading. The government there can use our help, but it would be wise for my crew to keep moving. I send a party down to the planet, anyway. Seriously, though, what would Captain Picard do? (WWCPD?) We successfully help them stop the infection from spreading further, but one of my crew is showing symptoms of the illness himself. I'll be damned if it isn't Captain Grant.

Sem and Maria leave him behind and share piloting duties. Things go pretty smoothly despite Grant's absence.

Maria's later killed when asteroids rain down upon the ship during an escort mission. Sem narrowly escapes, but helps a wounded ally to safety. For the first time the ship is wealthy in scrap. At the next stop, Sem hires two alien crewmen to take up Grant and Maria's duties. All is well until they encounter a seriously overpowered rebel drone in the most hostile of environments. There's no hope for Sem and his alien crewmen, but they put up a hell of a fight.

There is no loading of previous save points. No second chances. "Game Over" truly means your game is over. FTL truly is rogue-like in that respect and I only wish there was some end goal to obtain. Otherwise your only goal is to see how far you can get, how much you can explore. In the end, I've destroyed ten ships, collected more than four hundred units of scrap, and responded to forty-eight distress calls.

I also wish the game recognized who you consider the captain, the lieutenant, and so on. It'd be great if you could ask other members of the crew for advice when difficult decisions have to be made. Nonetheless, FTL is one of the best games of the year and it will more than hold me over until Tuesday's release of Borderlands 2. In fact, if you're a fan of frequently returning to Freelancer, you're likely to get a lot of mileage out of FTL.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have another ship to command.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Notch talks about 0x10c in Penny Arcade interview

I'm sitting here doing everything I can to take my mind off the upcoming release of FTL.

I love space games, so when it was announced Markuss "Notch" Persson (developer of Minecraft, the hugest indie game ever) was making a space game, I've been following the news every week since. One of the best resources for this information, other than Notch's Twitter account, is Reddit's 0x10c sub. Notch himself occasionally pops in to speak with his fans. (Recently, he apologized for the lack of updates with a surprisingly personal excuse: he was going through a painful breakup. He promised to get back to work right after PAX.)

So how do you pronounce 0x10c? Straight from Notch himself:

"Yeah! You can pronounce it any way you want."
(In case you're wondering, it seems the most official way to pronounce it is, "Ten To The Cee.")

Read more of the interview here. I'm just hoping FTL holds me over long enough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Boy And His Dog. Why don't they make trailers like this anymore?

A trailer reminiscent of Clockwork Orange's irreverent marketing campaign:

"an R rated, rather kinky tale of survival"

Fantastic article on the Wachowskis, makers of Cloud Atlas

On the monitor screen, Tom Hanks’s eyes, in extreme closeup, flickered through a complicated sequence of emotions: hatred, fear, anger, doubt. “Cut!” Lana Wachowski shouted. The crew on Stage 9 at Babelsberg Studio, near Berlin, erupted in a din of professional efficacy, preparing for the next shot, while Hanks returned to his chair to sip coffee from an NPR cup. Lana and her brother, Andy, who are best known for writing and directing the “Matrix” trilogy, were shooting “Cloud Atlas,” an adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 best-selling novel of the same name.

Read more at The New Yorker. I typically skip these kinds of pieces, but this one kept me up the other night when I made the mistake of reading it past my bedtime. Cloud Atlas, which will either be one of the greatest movies ever made or the worst, seems to be pretty damn good if this journalist is to be believed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Every issue of Omni Magazine is now available on The Internet Archive

Click here to go there.

As a huge fan of Omni Magazine, I can't put into words how happy this makes me. I rarely see back issues at used bookstores anymore so this is a fantastic treat even if the scans aren't that great. (Okay, "aren't that great" should read "nearly dismal.") Nonetheless, there are different formats including epubs and Kindle files.

A "Best Of" edition edited by Ben Bova and Don Myrus. Sorry, my scanner's on the blink.

More info from the site, via Wikipedia:
In its early run, OMNI published a number of stories that have become genre classics, such as Orson Scott Card's "Unaccompanied Sonata", William Gibson's "Burning Chrome" and "Johnny Mnemonic", Harlan Ellison's novella "Mefisto in Onyx", and George R. R. Martin's "Sandkings". The magazine also published original sf/f by William S. Burroughs, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Carroll, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and other mainstream writers. The magazine excerpted Stephen King's novel Firestarter, and featured a short story, "The End of the Whole Mess". OMNI also brought the works of numerous painters to the attention of a large audience, such as H. R. Giger, De Es Schwertberger and Rallé. In the early 1980s, popular fiction stories from OMNI were reprinted in "The Best of OMNI Science Fiction" series and featured art by space artists like Robert McCall.

Friday, August 31, 2012

John Bonner's Neuromancer comic

Click here to read the comic. 

Tor. com is one of the best sites on the net. Frankly, some of the original stories they publish scare me off writing altogether—they're that good. Now comes a comic about 21st century readers wading through the murky waters of Neuromancer. Sure, some of the technology details haven't aged well, but there are some days when I think William Gibson's classic could be one of the greatest adventures ever written.

A ton of Rudy Rucker stories, free and legal

Rudy Rucker has posted his Complete Stories online. He calls it a free sample and you can buy the book if you're so inclined. It's been a while since I've done Free Story Friday here at Goug' Blog, so hopefully these will help make up for that misstep.

When I read Colliding Branes (co-written with Bruce Sterling), I knew I wouldn't read a better SF story for a very, very long time.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Metal Gear Solid game (Ground Zeroes) is open world, set for current-gen specs

Kotaku has the full story.

The thing is, this is not just a tech demo. This is an upcoming, new, open-world Metal Gear Solid game. 
"This announcement is a challenge from Kojima Productions to the world," said Hideo Kojima.

Hideo Kojima is a writer first and a game developer second. In the early days of his career, many programmers resented his presence on the payroll because video games back then didn't even have stories. Thankfully, Kojima's one of the guys who changed that. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of my favorite experiences of all time. I've rarely seen a more satisfying ending in my life, not just in games, but even considering movies, books, and TV.

What do you think about the new MGS? Leave a comment below. Act now and we'll double the offer!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Grand Theft Auto IV: Hill Valley - [Back to the Future Mod Showcase]

Engaging travel mode just milliseconds before crashing into the police barricade is just about the coolest thing I've seen in a mod ever.

Says the uploader:
DISCLAIMER: There is no single "Download Link" for this mod. It's a HEAVILY CUSTOMIZED PC project from a die-hard BTTF and GTA fan. It took me months to tweak everything and finally get it working right but I couldn't have done it without the help of some truly great mod makers (credits/links below). Please don't just start modifying your game without researching and backing things up first. You WILL break it.

Dyson sphere search program: the official website (and Alcubierre drives)

File:Dyson Sphere Diagram-en.svg

An advanced intelligence wouldn't even dream of building Alcubierre drives and wormhole generators until they had mastered Dyson spheres. Short of intercepting designed radio signals, detecting this type of civilization is among the best bets we've got for discovering E.T. Click here for the official site for the search of Dyson spheres.

Discovery has a summary in plainer English.

Speaking of Alcubierre drives, io9 has a good article for why they just won't work, but could theoretically make a hell of a weapon.

Do you think an Alcubierre drive would work? Let's hear what you have to say in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Albert Brooks plays a science fiction writer who moves in with his mother

I always liked this movie. One of my favorite parts is when Brooks says something along the lines of, "What, you didn't like the character with the big hand?" when he faces honest criticism about one of his books. That one hits close to home, I'm afraid to say.

Mother by Albert Brooks

It should be noted that Albert Brooks really has written a science fiction novel (or sorts) called 2030: The Real Story Of What Happens To America. From the official site:
Is this what’s in store? 
June 12, 2030 started out like any other day in memory—and by then, memories were long. Since cancer had been cured fifteen years before, America’s population was aging rapidly. That sounds like good news, but consider this: millions of baby boomers, with a big natural predator picked off, were sucking dry benefits and resources that were never meant to hold them into their eighties and beyond. Young people around the country simmered with resentment toward “the olds” and anger at the treadmill they could never get off of just to maintain their parents’ entitlement programs.

I haven't read it yet.

Anyway, what did you think about Mother? Leave a comment below, if you want. Don't cost nothin'.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Curiosity's descent video digitally enhanced

YouTuber hahahaspam uploaded this enhanced edition of MSL Curiosity's descent.

Read more about the video editor's methods at io9.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Hammer Of God will bore you to death before it knocks your socks off

If you know me at all, you know I love the works of Arthur C. Clarke. As Woody Allen told Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, love isn't even a strong enough word. I need an entirely new word for how much I love ACC. Yet, I don't absolutely love everything he's written. I'm not so blinded by my fandom that I can't see the flaws in his method. It sometimes seems there are two ACCs, one who writes what we want and, well, one who almost seems like an impostor. Almost.

The Hammer Of God is a balanced mixture of these two ACCs. For the first half of the book, one catches glimpses of the world-building that made Rendezvous with Rama such a compelling read, but for the most part it's a dud. The first half is mostly filler. He probably could have cut 60% of it, but even with the first half intact, this is a very short novel. It's a one-day read, maybe two.

On the other hand, the second half of the book is more than worthwhile. I'm sure that's the half which interested Spielberg when he optioned the book into a movie. Why his production company made Deep Impact instead, I'll never know.

"I have great faith in optimism as a guiding principle."

A little background: humans are living not just on Earth, but on the moon and Mars. One of the world's fastest growing religions has been started by a woman who, inspired by a tour of duty in Desert Storm, decided to combine Christianity and Islam into something new. Partly because Chrislam isn't as prude as most religions when it comes to sex and other modern desires, it becomes popular pretty quickly. When Earth receives what appears to be a deliberate radio signal from another star system, Chrislamists preach it's a message from God. In the same way paranormal investigators unwittingly construct tools to give them the false positives they're looking for, Chrislamists use special methods to insure they get exactly the message they want to extract from the signal. More on these bozos later.

ACC recycles ideas. Since this is the guy who first wrote about the geostationary satellites we rely on today for communications, can you blame him? In Hammer of God more than 90% of all asteroids and comets in the solar system have been cataloged by SPACEGUARD. Does that program sound familiar? It's because he made it up in Rendezvous with Rama, but in the years between that novel and Hammer, it became a reality. In Hammer, he writes about the real SPACEGUARD, interestingly enough, rather than the one he imagined. Nevertheless, it's an amateur astronomer living on Mars who originally detects a doomsday asteroid on a collision course with Earth. 

(The real world implications are frightening. Consider: in the next thousand years, a catastrophic collision is expected to occur on Earth, the moon, or Mars. If you plan on staying on Earth for the rest of your life, as most of us will no doubt have to do, this is more or less like being forced to play spin the bottle with a loaded gun and only three players.)

Thankfully, there's a spacecraft within rendezvous distance of the doomsday asteroid (the same thing happened in Rendezvous with Rama), which scientists dub Kali, after the goddess of destruction. Astronauts plan to touchdown on the asteroid and attach a thruster system known as ATLAS, which will nudge Kali out of its current trajectory. ATLAS, however, requires a mindbogglingly large amount of fuel, which takes a month to acquire. By the time they get it, Kali is within the orbit of Mars—frighteningly close to the homeworld. No worries, though, because things seem to be smooth sailing once they get their fuel. The astronauts land on Kali, attach ATLAS, turn the system on and, surprise-surprise: it's been sabotaged by Chrislamists. It turns out they believe only God should decide whether or not the asteroid collides with Earth.

This is when the book gets good. And I mean really good. The astronauts devise one plan after another, only to encounter problems left and right. The scientists and politicians back on Earth decide to take out an insurance policy: a hastily constructed nuke which they plan to fire at the asteroid when all is lost. If the astronauts succeed, the scientists will simply send a deactivation signal. If the astronauts fail, they'll allow the nuke to continue as planned. As you can imagine, things don't work out as simply as that.

I'm tempted to tell readers of The Hammer of God to start at its halfway point. They shouldn't. The second half really is worth the first half. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Cabin In The Woods is the best horror film in ages

I remember when Scream came out, everyone was applauding it for turning horror cliches upside down. It was an okay movie. Personally I felt it was too self-congratulatory when it successfully flipped said cliches. I don't know. I guess it was kind of like the Spaceballs of horror films in the fact it was too silly to be taken seriously. Then again, it was too normal and embarrassingly mainstream to fully embrace its silliness. Hard to explain, really....

Ah, here's the word I'm looking for: mediocre. That describes the entire series, really. Horror movies aren't supposed to have a robust cast of returning characters. They're not supposed to be a fucking soap opera. Wes Craven's failure to kill Sidney by part four was a major misstep.

Evil Dead. Now there's a good horror series. Those movies were made for horror fans who were growing tired of the usual tropes. Scream, on the other hand, was seemingly made for non-horror fans who only thought horror fans were too stupid to get the jokes.

I'll swallow your soul!

Imagine my surprise when I saw Cabin In The Woods expecting your usual Hollywood horror movie "with a twist." It's about your typical teens in, uh, a cabin in the woods. Only it isn't. The poster gives away the fact there's more going on. So does the trailer. Those who managed to miss those hints would be pretty surprised by the opening seconds of the film. Who the hell are those guys? What is that place? Did I walk into the wrong movie?

And what the hell... freakin' mermen?

I can't tell you anything else about the plot because knowing anything about this movie defeats the purpose of watching it in the first place. I will say I love the ending because I love crazy stuff. I was energized by the creativity and lack of restraint. I laughed, I cringed, and then I laughed some more. That's all they wanted to do: to entertain us while wearing their horror inspirations on their sleeve.

It's sad, really. We won't see another American horror movie as original as this one for a very long time. Bring on Paranormal Activity part... what is it now? 4? Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Official JPL Statement: "Holy shit!"

If you missed the live coverage, you missed out on one of the most amazing things humans have ever done. The press conference is still happening so I gotta go.

Science. Fuck yeah.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Ton Of Curiosity (MSL) Resources

We're just three days away from landing on the red planet in a way we've never landed there before. I just heard chief engineer Adam Steltzner call it "the craziest landing maneuver possible" in a live stream. That's exciting stuff. This isn't just the next best thing to landing a human on Mars—this is like landing a fully equipped geologist on the planet. For those of us born after the Apollo missions, this is going to be the most amazing feat of space exploration we've ever seen.
"That's not science fiction, that's going to happen on Monday?" — Stephen Colbert

If you're new to Curiosity, let me suggest as a starting point. If you're on Netflix Instant, search for "NOVA + MARS" for some great programs about Spirit and Opportunity, two previous rovers that exceeded all expectations. You'll get a first hand feel for just how daunting the challenge is. I can't think of many other jobs as stressful as what these men and women from a broad range of countries do.

A post on r/space brought to my attention additional resources:
You can view the stream at any of these places:
You can also follow along in parallel with 3D simulation at [4] ([5] here's a video of what it looks like).
You should also get the official NASA app for Android or iPhone as well as a Zulu (UTC) time app to get yourself on NASA time; Curiosity is schedule to land at 5:31[UTC] on August 6th.

Seriously, keep the children up for this one, even if you have to call them in sick to school the next day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Q&A @ Interstellar

My short story Fusion is about a young rocker and his rise to fame in the future. I wouldn't call it cyberpunk, but it's set in a bit of a cyberpunk future, including artificial intelligence, downloaded consciousnesses, and even a bit of cloning. You can read the free science fiction story over at Interstellar Fiction. (UPDATE: Read it right here.)

They asked me and each of the other writers in the issue to do a Q&A, but those haven't been posted yet.

Keep an eye out for the full Q&A, presumably sometime in the near future.


Monday, July 30, 2012


My short story Fusion will be appearing in Interstellar Fiction in a couple of days. Here's an audio excerpt.

I'm highly amused by the fact that my writing was responsible for a stranger saying the words: "cock on your forehead." Be sure to check out the rest of the site.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sally Ride Dead At 61

Ride wasn't only the first woman in space, she was the youngest American to ever go.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dirty Laundry

Despite a whiskey bottle that defies all physics, a handful of cliches, and a few "How is that even possible?" moments, a mysterious short film starring Thomas Jane that crash landed on YouTube yesterday has some fans calling it the best Marvel film yet. But it's not made by Marvel—at least I don't think it is. If it is, it's a clever piece of viral marketing, but Thomas Jane insists it's a fan film.

"I wanted to make a fan film for a character I've always loved and believed in - a love letter to Frank Castle & his fans. It was an incredible experience with everyone on the project throwing in their time just for the fun of it. It's been a blast to be a part of from start to finish -- we hope the friends of Frank enjoy watching it as much as we did making it."

Despite the flaws mentioned above, you can really tell it was a labor of love.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lonesome George, Stewart Brand, and De-extinction

The above news sparked a discussion on NPR's Talk Of The Nation. Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, spoke in detail about the possibility of bringing back extinct species including the dodo bird, woolly mammoths, and Lonesome George himself.

The most interesting thing Brand said was that this technology progresses even faster than computer technology. Whereas Moore's Law essentially states computer power doubles every eighteen months, Brand says the genetic science behind de-extinction multiplies eight times per year. His prediction for this decade: "semi-amateur" de-extinction specialists.

He also talks about Martha, the last of the passenger pigeons, who died in 1914 and how her death shocked millions of people into taking extinction seriously; when Europeans arrived in North America, there were 3-5 billion of the birds, "blacking out the skies." Brand theorizes this newfound awareness helped rescue the American bison.

Game Gear Modded For TV


These kids aren't your stereotypical high school students. Aside from their amazingly clear complexions, I buy that these are real kids. The first act of Chronicle sells us solid acting and just enough meaningless drama to make us believe this is indeed high school. It's one of those "found footage" movies; one of the characters is supposedly shooting the movie on a consumer-grade camcorder. Every once and a while, we get to see different angles from the phone- and blogging-cameras of eye witnesses.

So one night these kids stumble upon a hole in the ground. The hole opens up to a cavern. They enter and find something suggestively extra-terrestrial and leave with nose bleeds. Later they realize they have supernatural powers. If there's one movie I'd compare Chronicle to, it isn't a Marvel film. It's Carrie. Soon the kids are using their telekinetic powers to do exactly what kids would do with those powers: pranks. This involves scaring people at a toy store and moving parked cars.

When they push their powers too far, they get nose bleeds. One of them theorizes that it's like a muscle: if they use it too much they exhaust it. But it can be exercised, too. The main character finally steps out from behind the camera after exercising his own powers. Since he can levitate objects, including himself, there's no need for a dedicated cameraman anymore. This kid also gets beaten up by his drunk dad a lot. 

He's not stable. He's not a cool kid. He's where the Carrie vibe comes into play. You push someone like that enough, they push back. When they've got inhuman powers, they can be a force you don't want to mess with. 

Chronicle isn't necessarily everything I hope for in a popcorn flick, but it's entertaining and rarely insults the intelligence. We all know the camcorders and camera phones they have in this movie can't be of such great quality, but hey, it's easy to suspend that disbelief because it's so well-made. We've been seeing a lot of these found footage movies lately, but categorizing it as such gives potential viewers the wrong idea. This is a well written movie and they're not just using the visual device to hide the seams.

one of the co-writers of Chronicle talks about Superman

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Neal Stephenson Needs Your Money

Scratch that. Neal Stephenson deserves your money. The proudly geeky writer has moved into video games and he's fed up with all the gun-centric outings like Call of Duty and Halo. He and his collaborators intend to craft an ultra realistic sword simulator called CLANG. Spoiler: the video following video will crack you up. Keep an eye out for the unexpected cameo, too.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Poultry In Motion: The Making of Poultrygeist

When I saw Tromeo & Juliet years and years ago, I was no stranger to Troma Entertainment even though I wasn't even old enough to buy cigarettes yet. That one's probably my favorite of the Lloyd Kaufman films, but Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead is a very close second. For their 40th Anniversary, Troma has released much of its library on YouTube, which is a bit worrisome as Kaufman has stated on numerous occasions that the world's supposedly longest running independent studio is in financial trouble. When Kaufman announced Hollywood had bought the rights to remake The Toxic Avenger, the fans booed; Kaufman then told them without that single paycheck, Troma would shut down.

On the surface, Troma films are loud, obnoxious, gruesome—not to mention vulgar—all at the same time, but Kaufman is a surprisingly educated auteur who homages everyone from Federico Fellini to Sam Fuller. Troma is the equivalent of punk music and old Mad Magazine mashed up in movie form. Although you're assaulted with gags involving AIDS and abortion in almost every movie they've made since the eighties, there are usually some unexpectedly moving scenes to be had. 

Troma movies are made on insanely low budgets, so low that casting calls often warn potential actors "you'll get no pay and have to shit in a paper bag." Oh, and "nudity is required." It doesn't matter. Troma films are made for fans by fans, and the studio has produced a surprisingly long list of celebrities, much in the tradition of Roger Corman. The making of Poultrygeist, along with a ton of other Troma features, is now available on YouTube completely free: