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


Chronicle


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:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blade Runner Like You've Never Seen It Before

No, it's not the theatrical version, the extended cut, the director's cut, or even the final cut. It's not even a fictional narrative. What is it? It's a promotional film shown at conventions before the movie was released. You can read more about it at Giant Freakin Robot, which describes the featurette as "a fascinating relic with an awful soundtrack."

via r/scifi

Around the two minute mark they show the shooting of a scene that I don't think made it into any public cut of the film. It appears to be a classic interrogation scene, the kind of thing you've seen in countless detective movies since The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. I'm wondering if the noir elements were originally intended to be a lot more prominent than they ended up being. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus

First things first: Is is better than Alien? No. Is it better than the first sequel? No. Will it go down in history as a classic film? Not a chance.

The year is 2089. Scientists have uncovered ancient drawings which depict a far-away star system. Fast forward a few years later and the main characters are on a ship to that star system—yes, it really exists and it just so happens to be on a planet remarkably like Earth. Humans can't breathe on the surface, but....

I'm getting ahead of myself. Discussing the plot at all will pretty much spoil it. Let's just say, overall, Prometheus compares less to the science in 2001: A Space Odyssey and feels more like an extremely expensive episode of Ancient Aliens. Like that show, there are huge leaps of logic. This just isn't the film hardcore science fiction fans wanted. 2001 was great because it found a way to marry Clarke's respect for science to Kubrick's obsession with mysticism in a round, even relationship. Prometheus dumps the science angle entirely and prefers crapping out unadulterated doses of woo-woo.

To say Ridley Scott's Prometheus borrows heavily from Kubrick is putting it lightly. It borrows heavily, too, from the Alien films, but it isn't quite sure whether it wants to be a horror film, like the original, or an action film like James Cameron's sequel. The result is a constant tug-of-war between the two styles which makes for a stilted pace. If you're expecting a tonal prequel to Alien or Aliens, you're going to be disappointed. 

the space jockey

Fans have debated about the meaning of the so-called space jockey. We were promised a definitive answer in Prometheus. I can tell you A) the filmmakers make good on their promise and B) the answer isn't disappointing. No, the only thing that's disappointing about the big reveal is the way it's presented. 

Let's get the bland stuff out of the way.

Charlize Theron has never seemed so robotic in her entire career. The writers promised they'd fleshed out her character when they learned she was playing the role. Well, if they did, I can't imagine how one-dimensional the character must have been to begin with. Guy Pierce appears in old-age makeup that looks so phony you don't accept him as a character, but as an unnecessary special effect. See the video below: 


You couldn't make Pierce's character more distracting if you tried. You just don't need a young man playing an old man in a movie unless you see the character as both a young man and an old man in the same movie. What we have here is a young man playing an old man because that young man played the young man in a fucking YouTube commercial of all things. 

Another problem is the fact Prometheus attempts to avoid its Alien ancestry by dancing around the expected tropes. There are times it feels like one of the numerous Alien rip-offs from the eighties and early nineties. Most of the action takes place in caves and corridors, not on a ship per se, but the formula's still the same. It's an entirely new direction, sure, but it isn't in any way original. 

How many more flaws are there? Let's say about one every ten minutes or so. For everything that wanders off course ("sucks" is probably too strong a word), there's a little bit of awesome to make up for it. My strongest complaint is this, though: they shot a really spectacular movie. Unfortunately, I think most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. The film has way too much crammed into it, all of which is pretty good, but it just doesn't seem to spend enough time with each of its many elements to bother introducing them. It could have made a great novel or HBO miniseries, but two hours really doesn't do the ambition justice.

Here's my final complaint: they gave a lot more away in the trailer than they should have. If I say anymore, I'll give it away myself. But if you've seen the trailer and you have a decent memory, you'll probably be able to put two and two together long before you should have figured it out. 

When I went into this movie, I wasn't sure about Michael Fassbender as David the android. He turns out to be the most intriguing character of the entire seventeen-man crew, but most of that comes down to the mystery surrounding him. Does he really have emotions? If not, why does he act the way he does? How can he idolize Peter O'Toole if he does lack humanity? Or is he merely programmed to behave as if he idolizes O'Toole? 

I want to talk about what makes Prometheus watchable, but I just don't want to ruin it for you. The less you know about it going in, the better. Those questions I have surrounding David the android? There's a dozen other questions like it, left hanging in the air, and that's part of the reason Alien stood the test of time. It's as if Ridley Scott decided to answer some of our questions after thirty years, but wanted to give us even more to digest.

I'm okay with that, I guess, but I'll forever think the Ancient Aliens garbage is too disingenuous, if not downright stupid. Here's hoping there's an extended cut in the future. I'm looking forward to that more than a sequel... and let's not kid ourselves: there will be a sequel.