Wednesday, December 31, 2014

io9's best science fiction & fantasy books of 2014

Well, the only books I've read from the list are The Peripheral, The Martian, and Lock-In, which just goes to show I should really read more new stuff (I blame this on my pulp addiction). I actually thought The Martian and Lock-In came out last year, so I'm a bit more current than I usually am at this point in the year.

Here's their list.

And here's a fairly new video of William Gibson talking The Peripheral:

I love how the interviewer mentions he used to pretend he was Case as a kid

As for my New Year's Eve plans tonight, I have no idea. Frankly, I just want to sit around at home and watch the ball drop because that and The Oscars are the only two television "events" I watch all year. I just don't like getting drunk on the one day of the year everyone's drinking and yes, I realize how crazy-paranoid-silly that sounds. A friend reminded me of time zones and the fact China isn't celebrating the new year today, so theoretically there should be plenty of sober people to deal with a potential alien invasion.

Speaking of time zones, each year I'm reminded of Louis Wu in Larry Niven's Ringworld who, at the beginning of the story, decides to extend his 200th birthday by hopping across time zones via teleportation. Here's something I haven't realized until today: that novel's over forty years old. Man, we're getting old, aren't we?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Infobitt: the news version of Wikipedia

This might be cool: Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger is working on a Wikipedia-like site that ranks facts from the news in an interesting way. From the "short version" of the manifesto:
I’m co-founder of Wikipedia. Now think back to a time before Wikipedia—the 1990s, if you’re that old. If you didn’t know the answer to a question, and a web search brought no joy, you might have to take a trip to the library, or stay ignorant.
Today, if you don’t know the answer to a question, you can find one on Wikipedia within seconds. That’s a stunning development for humanity: we now have virtually instant access to answers. That’s a historical first. It changes how we learn, how we communicate, and how we think.
How did it happen? Millions of people from across the globe understood the vision of a free, open content encyclopedia and acted on it. It was my job to organize this effort. Wikipedia was the result.
Now I hope to organize people to summarize and rank the world’s news in a free, open content news resource. The project is called Infobitt.
If this sounds a bit like Digg or Reddit, it kind of is, but with fewer cat pictures and overused memes. During a recent AMA, Sanger was asked, "How will infobitt help me decide beyond my own gut whether a piece of news is correct or not?" His answer: "We are a 'mere aggregator,' but we do not aggregate articles; we aggregate facts which we find in articles." Elsewhere in the AMA he talks about solving the problem of needing several news sources just to get all the facts, but bypassing all the redundant (and sometimes wrong) information.

I have my doubts that lightning will strike twice for Sanger, but I'm nonetheless excited about Infobitt. For the record, every service I've ever been excited for went relatively nowhere (Anyone remember me banging the drum for Diaspora? Hell, does anyone remember Diaspora?), but if he does manage to combine the reliability of Wikipedia with the ease-of-use of Reddit, I think Infobitt is going to be pretty useful. While I was originally skeptical of putting too much faith in the accuracy of Wikipedia, I've since learned to use it for what it's best at: being a starting point for research and a handy collection of references. Today I love the featured article of the day and the "in the news" section, too. Luckily, Sanger is the guy who wrote "Wikipedia's neutrality policy" (according to him), so the problems you would except from "just anyone being allowed to contribute" will hopefully be mitigated as well as they are on Wikipedia.

The Infobitt team is holding a "pledge drive" for facts: "When we reach 100,000 pledges to add one fact, we’ll ask everybody to show up at once!" You can pledge here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Terminator series officially jumped the shark

I know the new Star Wars teaser is a tough act to follow, but come on guys. It doesn't even seem like you're trying. The trailer for Terminator Genisys (wow, I can't believe how icky it feels just to look at that spelling, let alone force myself to type it) feels like a lazy kid on YouTube edited it and tacked on whatever shitty music he already had lying around on his hard drive. Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese is such a gross miscalculation (here's proof) I initially turned the trailer off before it was over. That's never happened before.

To quote a hilarious line from Beavis & Butt-Head, "These special effects aren't very special, huh-huh." Watching a gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger dive into a helicopter prop is jumping the shark in the most disingenuous way possible. So is having a T-1000 chop off his own knife-arm to make a javelin. Speaking of the new T-1000, how is it physically possible for him to conceal all that liquid metal mass in something as thin as a car hood?

I'm not making fun of Arnie here—the guy's easily my favorite movie star ever—but he's gotta be sick of his famous catchphrase by now. According to Wikipedia, he's muttered the line (or an obvious variation of it) in over a dozen films. That's like forcing Travolta to dance in every movie he's made after Pulp Fiction. I know I'm not the only one rolling my eyes at this point..

You can read my review of Terminator Salvation here. In it I say Terminator 2 is the best in the series, but in the time since I've come to enjoy the original more. There's just something about it that's hard to define and Schwarzenegger seems more like a machine. Hell, the entire movie feels more like a machine, coldly logical and smoothy efficient.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Bullshit Awakens: Does anyone really care that John Boyega is black?

Answer: Not anyone who matters.

I'm really sick of this click-bait bullshit spreading like wildfire. Fans of Star Wars don't have a problem with the new lead's skin color. Rather, sleazy entertainment writers figured out they could design "news stories" around what know-nothing morons say in anonymous internet forums. And so it inevitably happened to Star Wars: suddenly there's a manufactured controversy.

There is no real controversy here. "Controversy" suggests Skywalker Ranch is getting picketed by nerds with lightsabers and nooses. "Controversy" suggests more than a vocal minority actually give a fuck. "Controversy," unfortunately, is nothing more than a buzzword that gets silly people to visit silly articles on silly websites like TMZ. The fans of Star Wars are too busy worrying about how a cross-hilt lightsaber works to care about an actor's skin color.

I'm an average fan of Star Wars who had an average reaction to the new teaser trailer. The second I saw Boyega's face pop into view, I breathed a sigh of relief. For one, I didn't expect to see a lead in the trailer at all. Two, the teaser immediately looks, sounds, and feels more energetic than most of the stuff we saw in the PT ("prequel trilogy" for all you muggles). Those were my only two reactions to Boyega's appearance and I've known and been around enough Star Wars fans to say with certainty that's a pretty universal response. The majority of us were thrilled when we originally learned the lead of Attack the Block had been cast... when the news was reported several months ago.

The only people who have a problem with Boyega's skin are anonymous internet commentators... you know, the people who don't matter in the real world because they don't even live in it. These are the same sheltered morons who believe humans never landed on the moon and that Obama is related to Saddam Hussein. So why, really, does anyone give a shit what they think on this matter when we don't give a shit about everything else they say? And why the hell haven't the rest of us figured out they'll keep coming back when we keep giving them so much attention?

Some fans are worried about the story continuity because they believe all post-PT stormtroopers are clones of Jango Fett, who wasn't black. But the most obvious indication that the reign of Jangos is over is that all the stormtroopers in the original trilogy don't all share the same voice or height. Yeah, I understand that the OT was made a long time before the PT and George Lucas may have just messed up. But given Lucas's reputation, we can be reasonably sure he would have dubbed over all the OT stormtroopers' voices in the newer editions if he had intended them to be clones.

But that's not our only indication that all stormtroopers are not clones. From the Star Wars wiki:

By the time the Galactic Civil War began in earnest, Jango Fett's clones were heavily supplanted by clones based on a variety of templates around 9 BBY,[13] followed shortly after by enlisted Humans.[19] Thus, the Fett clones were ironically reduced to a minority status after years of virtually filling the stormtrooper ranks in its entirety.

And even if all stormtroopers are clones in the new trilogy... who cares? I just assumed Boyega was wearing the armor as a disguise, the way Luke and Han did in the OT. It didn't even occur to me he might be a real stormtrooper until I started reading the comments on fan forums suggesting he was a bonafide deserter. (I still think he's just using the armor as a disguise, for the record.)

This is all to say that this is Star Wars, not Duck Dynasty. Nobody gives a shit what color your skin is in this fandom. The ones who do just aren't welcome and they never have been.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

William Gibson: "How I wrote Neuromancer" @ The Guardian

From the article, written by Gibson himself:
My fantasy of success, then, was that my book, once it had been met with the hostile or indifferent stares I expected, would go out of print. Then, yellowing fragrantly on the SF shelves of secondhand book shops, it might voyage forward, up the time-stream, into some vaguely distant era in which a tiny coterie of esoterics, in London perhaps, or Paris, would seize upon it, however languidly, as perhaps a somewhat good late echo of Bester, Delany or another of the writers I’d pasted, as it were, on the inside of my authorial windshield. And that, I assured myself, sweating metaphorical bullets daily in front of my Hermes 2000 manual portable, would almost certainly be that.
Read the full article here.

Timothy Leary on Neuromancer:
"It's the way the world is going to be in ten years, like it or not."

I don't think there is, nor will there ever be, another story that makes as much sense to me as Neuromancer.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sci-Fi Channel's 1999 "Thanksgiving Scinemathon"

Star Wars: The Hype Awakens

UPDATE: I wasn't aware of the following Tweet when I wrote this post yesterday:

so we won't have to endure camera phone footage after all!

The original post is as follows:

The Force Awakens still hasn't grown on me as a title yet, but give it time. It took ten years for me to admit that The Phantom Menace is not only a thing, it's canon. I have a feeling JJ's movie is going to stick quicker than that one did. And to be fair, I'm glad Phantom exists, if only because it gave us Qui-Gon Jinn, a dual lightsaber, and the podrace scene, which is one of my favorite big audio moments in all of movie history. The only thing I truly dislike about the prequel trilogy is the fact some misguided parents show it to their kids before showing them the real trilogy.

Speaking of the podrace, do you know what other sounds I love? The sounds of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park movies, specifically at a theater which isn't afraid to kick up the decibels. That sound is chilling, man. So the first decent Jurassic World trailer dropped yesterday and, in case you haven't seen it, here it is:

I loved Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy, but this trailer doesn't exactly do him justice. It sounds like the acting in a made-for-Youtube movie. "Hey, watch out. This thing can kill you. You hear what I'm saying? And genetic modifying is bad, 'kay?" He kind of looks confused about where he's at. And I'm not sure how driving with the velociraptors works unless they're all being chased by something big and bad. But if that's the case why doesn't Pratt look at all worried?

Remember how they fed cattle to the dinosaurs in the original film? And how you don't actually see the dinosaurs responsible for shredding up the cow's harness until later? That's Jaws awesomeness right there. Or when the kids realize the goats are gone. That was brilliant.

So in the trailer above it was great to see there would be a new dinosaur who eats sharks. That's exciting. What's not exciting is the trailer blows its load and shows us the dinosaur in full. Why does promotional material screw surprises up so badly? I would have gone to see the movie just to see what kind of dinosaur eats sharks.

I digress. As you know, Bob, Disney is showing the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens this Friday, which certainly makes sense: it's historically one of the biggest days at the box office, the day after Thanksgiving, otherwise known as the day idiots feel justified in going bonkers at Target. You think, "Well, obviously Disney wants as many people as possible to see it, so that's why they're releasing it that day." But then you hear they're only releasing it in thirty American theaters (originally it was reportedly nine) and you remember why you hated Disney in the first place.

Because Disney is run by assholes. That's why.

Seriously. The leaked trailer is going to end up online faster than the speed of light and it won't even look as good as the first time we saw The Phantom Menace trailer on shitty-ass Real Player at 56 kbit/s. As for all of us who are pretending we're not going to watch it... well, we're assholes too, because we'll be the very first who do. We won't hear a thing above the nerds' applause and the tapping of plastic lightsabers, and we won't be able to see shit other than the fact it appears to have been shot by a Parkison's victim. But we'll watch it a million times and Walt Disney's corpse will be laughing its ass off from a cryogenic grave. 

I'm still holding out hope that Disney has a surprise (UPDATE: They did!!!) that turns out to be a little more palatable than all this, but so far this decision sounds like pure corporate bureaucracy. They already know what happened when they tried to restrict the Age of Ultron trailer. Short of disabling all the electronics in the audience with an EM pulse, how are they going to keep this one from leaking, too? Perhaps they don't care if it leaks, but wouldn't it be better if we all saw it properly?

If I had to guess, the trailer will be officially streaming by Monday. And in case you're wondering: No, I don't blame a corporation for trying to make money with this, but again, couldn't they make more of that money if they showed it in more than thirty theaters? It's just such an odd decision in the internet age.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Summer Camp: an upcoming video game straight out of the VHS horror section

announcement trailer

Tom Savini is in on this. So is the composer who created the original Friday the 13th score. It's pretty promising, but let's not get too excited until we see some real gameplay. Read more here.

* * *

Hitler just wants to teabag a dinosaur

So it's been over two weeks since Halo: The Master Chief Collection released and I was pretty excited to get a copy. Unfortunately, the multiplayer matchmaking system does not work. I don't know who to blame—the developers or the publisher, or a mixture of both, and maybe even XBOX LIVE itself caused some of the issues. I don't know enough about this technical stuff so I won't point fingers, but goddamn. In the fifteen days since I got it, I've played a total of fifteen online games. In fact, since last week's patch, I haven't successfully connected once. (To be fair, I've kind of lost interest in trying at this point, but since the patch, things are noticeably worse for me.)

I was disappointed in Civilization: Beyond Earth, too. I know a lot of people are defending it because... well, I don't know why, exactly, but it's just not a fifty dollar game at this point. Although it worked well (for me) early on, that's not a bonus, it's just a realistic expectation. Rather, it used to be a realistic expectation for a game to work on launch day, but the only game that's really kicked ass in that department lately was Shadow of Mordor. 

And that's fucking sad. Again, I don't know who's to blame for Halo turning out so shoddy, but someone needs to be blamed eventually. Then there's talk of compensation for our troubles, but what's the chance it's anything any of us give a shit about? With the exception of Beyond Earth, I (mostly) stopped pre-purchasing games ever since Duke Nukem Forever. I don't want to have to stop buying games on launch week, too.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chatbots have a conversation

Have I posted this before? I don't remember, but it sure is amusing. 

I've got superintelligence on my mind tonight. I was going to post this NPR article, but the title is pretty silly: Should Science End Humankind? 

Hmm. Let's think about this one for a bit.

I'm thinking no. No, it should not. Now, should journalists refrain from asking silly questions in their headlines? Yeah. Probably. But what do I know? 

Let's ask Cleverbot:

That's conclusive.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chappie trailer

The robot looks great. Die Antwoord are awesome. A scaled-back Hugh Jackman should be interesting. 

I'm all in.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Verge reviews Halo: The Master Chief Collection... and it sounds awesome

One thing Xbox has always done better than Playstation is the Halo series. There's nothing I love more than science fiction and megastructures, and Halo has never disappointed in those categories. I remember the first time I played Combat Evolved thirteen years ago. The elusive holy grail of shooters back then was actually being able to drive an enemy's vehicle... to this day I'm still frustrated I can't drive whatever I see in most video games. Halo: CE, however, finally let you do it. While the game was mostly linear, there was the feeling many battles could be bypassed completely as you tooled around on your hijacked Warthog or alien tank. And the first time you see a Banshee and realize, Holy shit, I can actually fly this thing! was a moment very few video games have recreated since.

From The Verge review:
... The Master Chief Collection represents such excellent value. The four mainline Halo games all look and play great on Xbox One, although the precise details of their upgrades differ. Halo: Combat Evolved is based on the 2011 anniversary remake for Xbox 360, this time running in 1080p resolution and at 60 frames per second. Halo 3 and 4 are essentially the Xbox 360 games with the same 1080p/60fps boost.
Check out the full review here. Sounds like this is the best gaming deal since The Orange Box... and that was seven years ago, believe it or not.

This weekend, if I can find the time, I'll be playing the spin-off title Halo: Reach since it won't be included in The Master Chief Collection and I doubt I'll be going back to the older games after the new collection comes out. Reach still looks pretty good on a big HD screen and there's a really great sequence which has a space elevator collapsing to the ground... the only thing better than megastructures is watching them get destroyed.

Interstellar: Grapes of Wrath meets 2001: A Space Odyssey

This isn't a review. It's more of a "first impressions" post as I just got back from seeing the movie. I still have my giant "small" soda in hand. I should probably think about the movie some more before talking about it, but man, I really want to talk about it before I conk out from the exhaustion that comes from seeing a three-hour movie on a work night.

What we have here is a very good science fiction film. Like, exceptionally good. The only problem is it's suffocating inside an undercooked melodrama. Okay, okay, that's not the only problem, as much as I hate to admit it. About three-quarters into the movie, things get extremely frustrating when we're forced down a detour, which insults us with the same kind of routine action that completely derailed Danny Boyle's Sunshine. Why Hollywood insists films like this must have a human villain, I'll never know. Is flying through space in a tin can not harrowing enough?

The Earth stuff is quite good before McConaughey departs on his journey. Early on the film champions NASA, though not enough, and gives us a startling prediction about what could happen to a scientifically apathetic culture: you know how creationists are constantly trying to sneak their ignorant propaganda into school textbooks? Well, in Interstellar's future, the odious moon nuts have managed to do away with any textbooks which mention the Apollo missions. Talk about a dark vision of the future. I wish more big movies dealt with issues like this. Here, McConuaughey gets his daughter suspended from school when he defends her decision to show her classmates a real textbook.

Speaking of the daughter: the actress who plays her younger self is much better than the one who plays her as an adult. Which brings up another point: there are movie stars in Interstellar you're not going to expect and, surprisingly, the trailers don't spoil that they're in it. Yes, the trailers show way too much, as they always do, but not as much as usual. So there are still plenty of surprises left.

My only problem with the opening act is there's a painfully obvious setup which I don't think many people will fail to piece together. Sure, nobody's going to figure out how it's going to resolve exactly, but they're probably going to know what the filmmakers are up to just the same. I just don't think the story is being as clever as it thinks it is as the clues are anything but subtle. Then there are some plot holes, which I didn't really catch until my girlfriend pointed them out, but now I can't stop thinking about why the hero did this, then immediately did that, which contradicts his desire to... well, I've said too much. (Update: actually, it makes sense when you think about it.)

Yes, it's more than fair to compare this film to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because this film makes it clear it isn't dumb enough to pretend 2001 doesn't exist. But having seen Interstellar, Kubrick's decision to focus on emotionally-neutral characters seems like a better move than ever before. By doing so, Kubrick actively avoided the pitfalls Nolan willing dives into headfirst. How Kubrick knew this kind of drama wouldn't work in a film like this is amazing, and it just makes 2001 seem all the more important. Don't get me wrong: I think the drama confined to the spaceships was good stuff. But trying to infuse that story with what was going on back on Earth just diluted the whole thing.

I know I'm nitpicking here, but it's extremely irritating when a secondary character has to use the ol' pencil-through-the-paper trick to explain wormholes to... you guessed it: an astronaut. Yes, McConaughey's character is an astronaut/scientist/engineer, yet when he sees the wormhole in person he needs a grade-school visual aid. But then this offensive moment is quickly and completely eclipsed by one of the best parts of the movie: the wormhole itself. Is that really what a wormhole would look like? Well, I don't know for sure, but I'll be damned if it isn't compelling.

And exciting, too.

In fact, all the space stuff in this film is absolutely fantastic. That just makes it all the more frustrating that the Earth scenes stretch on for so long after they're welcome. The spaceships all look and feel believable, the lack of sound in space is refreshing, and to merely describe the special effects as "dynamite" would be an understatement. What I loved the most, other than the wormhole and the black hole of course, were the robots. Have you ever seen cooler robots in a film? We've come a long, long way from stuffing little people into plastic shells and calling them robots. But then again, I've liked a lot of the movies that did that (Silent Running, for one, Star Wars for another) a lot better than this movie.

Oh, well. Science fiction fans will love it (I did, despite my complaints). Everybody else, though, might think it's a little flat.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Star Wars Episode 7 now has an official title

Sounds a little strange to me, but I'm sure Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi sounded strange when they were first announced, too. Honestly, I still can't believe another Star Wars film is coming out before I'm dead. I feel like Final Destination happenings are going to be haunting me all the way up until the release date. It just seems too good to be true.

Interstellar's physics

Interstellar, which comes out tomorrow, just might be huge. Gravity, although a damn fine picture, was hyped beyond belief yet is rarely talked about anymore less than a year later. Something about Interstellar—if you'll allow my gut instinct a moment to speculate—tells me it might have more of the staying power that 2001: A Spacey Odyssey did. I think it's less of a gut instinct and more of an educated wager: consider Christopher Nolan's filmography up to this point. I think it's pretty obvious he's been building towards a really huge movie all along now. Is it so hard to believe Interstellar might be that movie?

Then again, it might just bomb, so there's no point in reviewing the movie before the movie's even out. So far the only "review" I've heard was from the lead actor himself, telling the media he cried all three times he watched it. Reviews be damned, Interstellar is one of those very rare movies for me: the kind I've gotta see on day one, something I haven't done much of since I was a kid. (The next movie I have to see on day one is Star Wars Episode 7, and that's more than a year away.) Naturally, I'm rooting for it.

What I think is interesting is how the film is being promoted. The marketing material has focused on the drama while revealing more and more of the plot's technical side as we get closer to the release date. We don't have to see the movie to talk about that.

When the teaser trailer for Interstellar premiered nearly a year ago, I immediately wondered how director Christopher Nolan would create a believable story in which his human characters travel to another star system. When you think about all the space travel films so far, they tend to fall in one of two categories (and forgive me for simplifying because I am not saying one category is better than the other). It's typically "serious" filmmaking if it's set within our own solar system (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Right Stuff, Blade Runner, etc.) or it's "leave your brain at the door" space fantasy if it's set anywhere else in the universe, specifically if it includes FTL travel (Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Galaxy Quest, etc.). The closest we've gotten to a movie that closes the gap between the two categories is the uneven and overproduced adaptation of Carl Sagan's Contact, which some argue was a classic, but I beg to differ if only on the basis it included a CGI Bill Clinton.

A second trailer of Interstellar revealed "[Earth] ran out of food" and had us believe Matthew McConaughey and friends were setting off to find a suitable planet to colonize ("We're not meant to save the world," Michael Caine says during the preview, "We're meant to leave it."). Yet the film doesn't seem to be set very far into the future, which is possibly a warning sign that this is typical Hollywood science. Nothing wrong with Hollywood science, it's just that I would be very surprised to see Nolan's brand of human drama work within the confines of such a film, even if it did play nice with Batman.

Now, do I doubt scientists and engineers (and despite what one trailer says, the world will always need engineers, particularly in this scenario) would kick into high gear if our home planet was in serious trouble? Not at all. But traveling to another star, not to mention promising your kids you'll be back before they're dead of old age, is a bit of a stretch. All I'm saying is you don't see that kind of space travel (in other words: the all-but impossible kind) promoted in films with scenes as potentially heart-wrenching as the one in which McConaughey tells his daughter, "We have to fix this before I leave."

Then we got the third trailer. In it, McConaughey's character said something that simultaneously excited and worried me: "Are you ready to say goodbye to our solar system? To our galaxy?" And at that moment we knew beyond a doubt: this isn't just a space film, it's a drama with FTL travel in it. They're not only talking about going to another star system. They're talking about going to another galaxy. (I guess "Interstellar" makes a more poetic title than "Intergalactic," and the latter term certainly encompasses the former in this context, so we'll let that slide.) Now, I have my doubts humanity will accomplish such a thing in the next million years, much less in the near future. Then again, I sometimes have my doubts we won't.

Nonetheless, the idea intrigued me. While I try to stay clear of the promotional material of a film I've already decided is must-see, Interstellar was one that lured me in too much to stay entirely away. There were just too many questions. I couldn't help but peeking at the Wikipedia article and I'm pretty pleased there's already an entire section devoted to the film's scientific accuracy. I'll post an excerpt, but check out the entire "scientific accuracy" section here. I don't believe it contains even minor spoilers unless you're extremely serious about going into a movie "fresh."

In creating the wormhole and rotating black hole, Dr. Thorne collaborated with visual effect supervisor Paul Franklin and a team of 30 computer effects artists at Double Negative. Thorne would provide pages of deeply sourced theoretical equations to the artists, who then wrote new CGI rendering software based on these equations to create accurate computer simulations of the gravitational lensing caused by these phenomena. Some individual frames took up to 100 hours to render, and ultimately resulted in 800 terabytes of data. The resulting visual effect provided Dr. Thorne with new insight into the effects of gravitational lensing and accretion disks surrounding black holes, and will lead to the creation of two scientific papers; one for the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community.[54]

"Dr. Thorne," by the way, is the theoretical physicist Kip Thorne who worked on Contact, which also starred Matthew McConaughey and dealt with wormholes. This time, Thorne also serves as executive producer on the picture.

And I'm cool with that: that the film is about exploiting natural wormholes. That still leaves a lot of questions (For one: how does one find a natural wormhole, then get there and back within a lifetime?), but that's already a lot more plausible than, say, "World was messed up so a bunch of scientists got together and invented an FTL drive just in time to save the planet." In the context of a (presumably) near-future movie, I think what they've got going on is very exciting, not to mention a step in the right direction for big Hollywood films. I can't wait to see it. Man, I really cannot wait.

For more on the subject of Thorne's work on Interstellar, check out this article from Wired. I haven't read it all yet for fear it's going to spoil too much of the movie, but I plan to check it out as soon as I'm back from the theater.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Outland: High Noon in space?

You frequently hear Outland (if you've ever heard of it at all) being described as High Noon in space. That's misleading. The first three-quarters of the film is a mash-up of a serious science fiction movie and a somewhat routine (but solid) 80s cop flick. Sean Connery plays a space marshal who's been assigned to a mining outpost on IO, one of the moons of Jupiter. Early on his wife, frustrated with Connery's job, leaves him because their son hides pictures of Earth rather than the kinds of pictures boys usually hide at that age.

Peter Boyle plays the operation manager who is obviously mixed in with the drug-related subplot. When Connery introduces himself to the crew he's welcomed warmly. That is until Boyle's character has something to add: a thinly disguised warning to look the other way every once and a while. Everyone picks up on it. And, instantly, we know Boyle is the villain even though the clues are subtle.

Jumping back: the film opens during an otherwise routine mining job on the surface of IO. One of the miners (John Ratzenberger, nearly unrecognizable in a space suit) begins screaming about spiders. He's hallucinating, but the other miners think he's just joking around until his suit is depressurized and, well, his head explodes. Yes, this is one of the many science fiction films which believe human bodies explode in a vacuum and space habitats magically provide Earth-like gravity. You know what? This one gets a pass. There will be many more head/body explosions and each one is as dazzling as the last. The fact that, within the colony, there is seemingly one gee of gravity is probably less of an oversight and more a restriction of the budget.

It's not the first instance of a miner going berserk in the colony. Sean Connery quickly discovers an imported drug may be to blame. As the investigation unfolds, he makes friends with the outpost's head doctor, played by the extremely likable Francis Sternhagen. The way the banter flies between these two is as real as it is entertaining. It's a bit flirty and often very funny. Peter Boyle (also very good in the movie) doesn't like what Connery's up to and tells him something along the lines of "If you're after more money, you're very smart. But if you're serious, you're very stupid." Connery isn't after more money, of course, and we wonder why he's being so suicidal in his plan to bring Boyle down. There isn't a clear answer, yet it doesn't seem like a cheat, either. Connery, like Gary Cooper  before him, just has to be the hero. We, as an audience, are above questioning that.

Later on the film changes gears. Boyle hires some hitmen to kill Connery. They're on the next shuttle from the nearest space station and there are clocks placed throughout the colony, counting the hours down until its arrival. Naturally, Connery tries to recruit some of the miners and other policemen to help him, but everyone's too cowardly to stand up to Boyle's regime. One of the miners says, "Don't you have men to help you do that?" Connery replies, "My men are shit." Yes, it's very much like High Noon and it's unashamed that it is. That the last quarter of the film plays like the classic western isn't a detriment, it's the entire point.

But there's a plothole here: Boyle wants to kill Connery so he doesn't tell corporate about the drugs. However, the comms aren't severed. All Connery has to do, in theory, is call corporate and let them know what's going on before the hitmen arrive. Hell, that's all anyone has to do to put an end to Boyle's rule, but not a single person thinks to do it. Doesn't matter, though. Outland is still a very fun movie, especially if you're a Sean Connery fan. And really, who the hell isn't?

The best thing about Outland is its set design. The civilian quarters look more like a prison than a comfortable place to sleep, which is pretty accurate to what living in space will really be like, at least when compared to other movies: oxygen is going to be relatively rare out there. There's no reason to think a real mission in space will afford privacy to each of its crew members, not to mention haul around so much extra oxygen for something so nonessential. It really grounds the film in reality by relating the miners with real-life offshore oil workers.

I say the movie is routine, but not as a critique. High Noon itself was quite routine in terms of script development and it's still a classic. Director Peter Hyams is quite good at routine. Plot has always been one of his strong suits and his technical abilities get him steady work in Hollywood. Some artists are good at working within the system. Some can only exist outside of it. Both are equally admirable, at least when they manage to produce something as good as this. Think about it: Hyams later made a pretty decent sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a feat which was all the more likely to fail miserably than be good. That alone is an indication of his talent.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

PKD's music playlist

October's over (actually, it's October 23rd as I write this, just to give you an indication of how I sometimes write stuff in advance... Present Me, your Past Me, is twenty minutes away from the release of Civilization: Beyond Earth and he's super excited). So it's back to the usual here at The Goug' Blog: mostly science fiction.

Like free music? Chorus of headbangers fist the air and scream: "Yeaaaaah!"

PKD, proving all writers should have beards

Open Culture has compiled a playlist of the music Philip K. Dick may have listened to while writing. From their page:

What did Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly author Philip K. Dick, that visionary of our not-too-distant dystopian future, listen to while he crafted his descriptions of grim, psychologically (and sometimes psychedelically) harrowing times ahead? Mozart. Beethoven. Mahler. Wagner.
Go straight to the Spotify page here.

So how's the future, future folk? More of the same? No alien invasions yet? Good, good. It's not even November yet in my timeline, but I can already tell it's going to be a busy month.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Yet another thirteen of my favorite horror films (fourth part)

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.  

And so it's Halloween.

I've already given you thirty-nine of my favorite horror films and here are thirteen more. I had fun shifting over to horror this month (I plan to do it again next year), but I look forward to getting back to this blog's usual topic: science fiction. William Gibson's got a new novel out and so far it's pretty awesome. And don't forget Interstellar releases in a little over a week. Hopefully I can scrounge up thirteen more horror films for next year, but for now, this is the last one.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Another thirteen of my favorite horror films (this is part three)

See, I knew I was forgetting a bunch of horror films when I wrote the other two lists. After a few days to think about it, here are some more of my favorites. I'm sure there will be a fourth list, too. In fact, I've already started it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thirteen more of my favorite horror films

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.  

Here are thirteen more of my favorite horror movies to complete yesterday's post. By the time this posts I should be deep into Civilization Beyond Earth. Which makes me wonder why you're reading this crap instead of playing that crap. (In case you're wondering, there will eventually be a third list of thirteen, so don't give me shit for not having Mario Bava or some such director on here yet.)

In no particular order....

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thirteen of my favorite horror films

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes. 

Okay, I'm phoning this one in. Civilization Beyond Earth comes out in about ten hours and I know this blog will likely suffer. Here's a bullshit list that doesn't mean anything. I know, lists suck.

If there's a remake by the same title, I'll use the director's name to differentiate between titles. Also, none of this is in any particular order other than Dawn of the Dead, which just happens to be first.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ABCs of Death 2 is now on-demand

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

If you read my post about the original ABCs of Death, you'll know A) I'm a sucker for anthology films and B) whether or not the movie will be up your alley. Just to be clear: if you've ever been morally offended by any movie ever, you will not like these films. In summary, the original ABCs of Death was certainly sick and twisted, not to mention a helluva ride.

The sequel is almost as twisted, but there just isn't as much momentum. I think most of the films in the sequel look better than the films in the previous collection, but I just didn't laugh as much. Then again, that's probably a problem for horror sequels in general: you just can't be as fresh as you were the first time. There are some bits here that are wonderfully out of control (I will never forget the awesome insanity of the last film no matter how long I live) and the special effects are usually a lot better, but I think the first collection had far more memorable shorts. Dogfight, the masturbation contest, Fart,  the claymation stuff... I really do remember more from the first film even though I just saw the newer film last night.

That's the thing, though. If you liked the first one, it's only a little better than this one. It's probably safe to say this one is worth the $12.

* * *

Fangoria's Blood & Guts is back... sort of. Now it's called Scott Ian's Bloodworks, but it's just as good as it's ever been. I love Scott Ian's gleeful passion for cinematic gore. Here's the first episode of the return, but be sure to check out the newer episode, too.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Horns is available on-demand before it hits theaters

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

A movie adaptation shouldn't be judged by the quality of its source material. It's impossible to avoid, though, especially when the material is so admirable. The adaptation of Joe Hill's legitimately insane Horns suffers in the typical three-act screenplay form. Whereas the novel opens with a guy who wakes up with devil horns, the film gives us a typical movie opening, putting off the horns for just a little too long. And the reason he gets the horns in the first place—the violent desecration of a memorial, if my memory serves me correctly—hardly appears in the film version at all. My girlfriend asked me, "Why does he have horns?" Then I realized the movie is a better companion to the book than a standalone feature. Maybe judging it by the book is excusable in this case.

That's the bad. The rest is quite good actually, at least when it's not trying to play it too safe. Sometimes it feels the filmmakers pussyfoot around the demonic aspects of the story, which kind of misses the point. Otherwise, there is plenty of snake-charming, plenty of startling confessions from seemingly normal people. To call this horror is misleading. Dark urban fantasy is a better label.

The plot: Ig Perrish is a twenty-something whose childhood girlfriend has been murdered. Everyone thinks he's the killer, including his parents. One day after a hard night of drinking, he wakes up to find devil horns have sprouted from his temples. The horns have an effect on people. Nobody seems to think the horns are out of the ordinary and they feel compelled to tell Ig their darkest secrets. Heather Graham's character, a waitress, confesses she's telling the cops lies because she wants to be on TV. A bartender tells Ig he wants to burn his establishment down for the insurance money and Ig tells him to do it. He does, laughing hysterically. The confessions are the funniest parts of the movie.

I'm happy to report Daniel Radcliffe doesn't suffer from the same fate as most former child actors. Whenever I look at Fred Savage or Elijah Wood, I still see them as children. But when I see Daniel Radcliff, I see an adult, which is good. He makes a good Ig Perrish. The rest of the cast is just as good. I particularly liked Juno Temple (I usually do) as his girlfriend, Heather Graham, David Morse, and the casting of Ig's parents: James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan, two generally underused actors.

It's a good picture, just a little rough in spots. Also, I'm not sure it's quite worth $10.99, but I hope it does well when it hits theaters.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What the hell happened in The Walking Dead Season 5 premiere?

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.   


Even though I've had a few days to think it over, I'm still wondering what the hell I just saw on Sunday.

When The Walking Dead's fourth season concluded, I was psyched. (This stands in sharp contrast to the previous season finale which spent too much time building up to one of the most anti-climatic "battles" I've ever seen.) Here were the Season 4 highlights for me:
  • The blonde finally went missing (she'll be back, of course, but in the meantime we don't have to hear her stupid singing).
  • Carol didn't hesitate to shoot a little girl who totally had to go. This is much cooler when you think about all the whining Rick would have done for 3+ episodes before finally arriving at the same decision.
  • The Governor was in danger of becoming sympathetic, which I thought was unnecessary, but then he was all like, "Nah, lol, fuck you" and killed a bunch of people, further rising in the annals of TV villainy.
  • The people at Terminus turned out to be cannibals.
  • And the high point of the entire series: the introduction of Eugene Porter, a redneck scientist with a mullet and an affinity for video games. I don't know why, but I like the three new characters more than any of the existing ones. I really don't give a shit who they kill as long as they don't kill Eugene and friends.
So here's what we knew up until last Sunday: we had zombies outside Terminus. We had cannibals inside. Nearly all the surviving heroes of the series were more or less fucked. It was shaping up to be a great big mind-fuck of a suspenseful season. But that's not what we got. What we got, instead, was pure action. Don't get me wrong. It was very satisfying action (that ridiculous bit with the pathetically aimed bottle rocket notwithstanding), but I can't help but feel some potential horror was wasted here.

First of all it's a horror show, not an action movie. While I appreciate the writers' attempt to give it some urgency (let's face it, the series drags sometimes), I had blown up what I thought was going to happen in my head. I certainly didn't want to see them spend an entire season in Terminus, but I thought that, at the very least, we were going to spend a few episodes wondering, "Who are the cannibals going to eat next?" Think about the potential for terror there! I kind of figured what we got Sunday wouldn't come along until the mid-season finale.

This is all to say that my expectations fucked me. The more I think about it, the more I realize the writers probably made the right decision. If they had done what I was expecting, I probably would have been complaining it was predictable.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Netflix October pick: The ABCs of Death

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

In the opening scene of The ABCs of Death, you're going to see a man's hand hacked nearly in half, which is quickly followed by a facial cleansing with boiling grease. Each director has a different short film, each short film chooses a word beginning with that letter for its subject. D, as it turns out, is for "Dogfight," F is for "Fart," and I don't even remember which letter provides us with a forced masturbation contest that awards the loser impalement. Of the twenty-six stories, that one's among the most memorable, not to mention one of the most twisted.

At this point you should already know if this movie's for you or not. If it is, keep reading. If it's not, skip it. Really. Do us both a favor. One of my friends proclaimed it was too extreme for him when he suggested it for me. I didn't think I'd like it, but you know what? I really did. More so than the first two V/H/S/ films. And if you're the type who thinks it's possible for cinema to go too far, avoid it like the plague. Taboo isn't just a recurring theme here, it's all-but celebrated.

I've had a love-hate relationship with the horror anthology film ever since Creepshow's "I can hold my breath for a loooong time!" became a popular movie quote. ("I want my Father's Day cake!" was just as household in my family.) The good thing about an anthology movie: you don't have to wait as long for a payoff when far too many horror movies take their sweet little time giving you one. The bad thing about an anthology movie: at least one of the stories will be a drag, which is true even of Two Evil Eyes, the Argento/Romero mash-up which features only two stories.

At more than two hours long, ABCs of Death has a lot more than one shitty story, but overall I found it way more entertaining than Sturgeon's Law suggests: we get twenty-six stories from twenty-six directors and far less than ninety percent of it is crap. Sometimes the word the filmmakers came up with is a stretch, sometimes the story works better in theory than in execution, sometimes they just plain fucking suck. But where else are you going to see a Japanese Dr. Strangelove and something as gratuitously offensive as a plane painted on one bare tit and the World Trade Centers painted on the other?

More often than not, the stories in ABCs of Death are at the very least well-made and, at the very best, a wild ride. This is the nature of the multi-authored anthology. With the exception of Dangerous Visions, I don't remember ever liking every single story in an anthology. Usually, it all can't be good. The ABCs of Death, however, pulls it off much better than V/H/S/ did, that's for sure.

Friday, October 10, 2014

D'Amour and Pinhead finally meet in The Scarlet Gospels

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.  

There are few things that make me feel like a kid again. Here are some of them:

  • Sword fights in books and movies. 
  • The fact I'm going to see a proper Star Wars sequel (hopefully). 
  • Crossovers. 

I love that stuff. I'm absolutely tickled by the following news, and I loathe that phrase.

Clive Barker's paranormal detective, Harry D'Amour, is going head-to-head with Pinhead in The Scarlet Gospels, a 300+ page book coming out May 15th, 2015. That's... I mean... holy shit. I know they've already met in the comics, but I wasn't really a fan. I wanted to like 'em, but sometimes cups of tea just don't belong to you no matter how much you want them to. And if you really love a cup of tea, you should let it go... fuck, I'm mixing metaphors here because I'm on about two hours of sleep.

Speaking of D'Amour, Lord of Illusions is such a weird movie. It's got 90s CGI and some other distracting creative decisions, but I can't help but love it. Daniel von Bargen makes a strangely effective bad guy and Kevin J. O'Connor was one of the faces that helped feed my lifelong fascination with character actors. The movie may not be the most convincing in the world, but straight-up horror movies about adults, for adults, are such a rare thing, especially when they're this entertaining.

More about D'Amour and Pinhead's meeting can be found here on Barker's website.

* * *

Damn it, I'm a Tom Cruise fan. I wasn't always a Tom Cruise fan. Something about his real life personality clashes with my own (I think the word I'm looking for is intense), but in the last twelve years he's starred in four science fiction movies, all of which were watchable and two of which were great.

Edge of Tomorrow is the second one I'm calling great. Hell, I liked Jack Reacher, Mission: Impossible 4, and a handful of his recent outings, too, but Edge of Tomorrow is seriously bad ass. As for big movie stars, he's the only one who was big when I was growing up who's still big now. Even Bruce Willis has slipped into the straight-to-video domain recently. I guess nowadays it's called "straight-to-on-demand," but that just doesn't have the same ring.

The movie's available for rent. You can do worse on a Friday night. For instance, I'm about to fire up Farm Simulator 2013. Don't laugh. I've always wanted to try my hand at agriculture.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Never thought I'd say this, but this Lifetime movie looks great

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes. 

On an unrelated note, I thought I'd have something to say about Alien: Isolation by now, but here's the thing: I haven't even bought it yet. Work got busy and, besides, Shadow of Mordor is way too awesome to give up right now. The way the game feels is amazing and the ability to interrogate orcs in order to reveal who their commanders are is something I've never seen before.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Novels to read this month

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

Right now I'm reading Blindsight, which is hard science fiction with a vampire and a handful of horrorible moments. Blindsight is one of those novels that don't come around often, something along the lines of Snow Crash and Pandora's Star in terms of balancing balls-to-the-wall entertainment with hard science fiction. I'm trying my hardest to savor the hell out of it. Each time a chunk of the puzzle is revealed, I go back and reread the first few chapters to see how it all ties together. I always notice something I didn't notice the first time. Some may say it's silly to have a main character who essentially lacks the ability to feel empathy, but they're wrong. I feel a warm connection with Siri Keeton and I don't think that says more about me than Siri himself and how Peter Watts has written him. You simultaneously pity him as well as envy his unique position among his fellow humans. He's a lot more human than he lets on.

Peter Watts on writing SF

And the novel's terrifying. Strictly speaking, it's undeniably science fiction, but it's the kind that unsettles you and everything you believe (in other words: the best kind). Watts has said he doesn't really believe the argument the book makes, but it's the kind of argument that's as plausible as it is mind-fucking. And it's fresh, so fresh. Without giving too much away, Blindsight supposes humans really are special little snowflakes in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps that's not a good thing. When the book was initially released, the publisher didn't give it the marketing it should have had (according to Watts) so Watts released it for free, which boosted sales after all was said and done. You can check out the free version here. The sequel just came out, too.

Another book that's in the "technically SF, but also horror" category is Greg Bear's Hull Zero Three. Although I found it to be disappointing, it's probably easier to swallow than Blindsight if you're not an SF junky. Come to think of it, Bear's Blood Music was pretty terrifying as well and it might be his best book. While we're on the subject of horror written by science fiction writers, FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard (yes, that Hubbard) is worth any price you can get, and Donovan's Brain by Curt Siodmak was a lot more influential on both science fiction and horror than most people realize. FEAR and Donovan's Brain are easy reads, the kind of stuff you can read in one day.

The older I get, the more I like Stephen King. There was a time I was annoyed his name was forever connected with horror (and repeatedly mentioned), but let's face it: he's earned it. I think my favorite thing about King is the fact he's rich as hell, but hasn't lost an ounce of the everyday charm that fuels his stories. The guy has pumped out so much stuff it's hard to assign just one as "my favorite," but as far as pure enjoyment goes, Misery is probably number one for me. In terms of legitimate scares, however, The Shining takes the cake. I don't know what it is about that one in particular, but I love it.

It's not often I love each book in a trilogy equally, but Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lector series kick all kinds of ass. Those who have only seen Hannibal the movie may wonder what it's doing on this list, but the book is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay better. The ending is much better than the film version and overall it's a worthy conclusion to Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Clarice's final destination may have been too sick for Hollywood to film, but it's the ending we all deserved.

Joe Hill is, hands down, my favorite newish writer (I know he's been around for a while, but it seems like yesterday when his first novel hit the stands). As for novels, he's three and three with Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2, the latter of which I have thought about every single day since finishing it. The Gas Mask Man (Bing, Bing, you terrible thing) got into my head. I can't wait to see what's next.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Some of my favorite short horror stories

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

I haven't read much H.P. Lovecraft since I was a teenager, but he's the natural progression from Edgar Allan Poe. Lovecraft's influence on pop culture is undeniable. Direct movie adaptations include The Re-Animator, The Dunwich Horror, In the Mouth of Madness, and about thirty others. It seems every other board game these days is either about Cthulhu or has a Cthulhu expansion. You can find a complete list of his writings at The H.P. Lovecraft Archive.

A review posted on Dreadit reminded me of Robert "Psycho" Bloch's Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. Bloch's fascination with Jack the Ripper continues in A Toy for Juliette, which was a story in Dangerous Visions. Oddly, Harlan Ellison wrote a sequel to Juliette called The Prowler in the City at the edge of the World, which is nothing if not insane and graphic. It's also included in Dangerous Visions, which is still the greatest anthology ever published if you ask me.

Speaking of Ellison, I doubt anyone reading this blog hasn't already read I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, but why not read it again? I can think of few scarier stories.

A story I couldn't live without is Who Goes There? by science fiction legend John W. Campbell Jr., which served as the basis for The Thing from Another World and John Carpenter's The Thing.

Among my favorite horror anthologies is probably Clive Barker's The Books of Blood. I just couldn't believe what I was reading when I got to In the Hills, the Cities. That anybody would come up with that, then have the balls to publish it with a straight face, made me feel inadequate as a writer. That one in particular has stuck with me.

From Richard Matheson, who wrote I am Legend and Hell House, Prey is another short story I read a million years ago which has somehow stuck to my usually nonstick brain. Chucky has nothing on this fucked-up little doll.

That's all for now. I'll try to post some more recommendations next week.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Every horror movie on TV this October

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

Now this is something. The Atlantic has posted a schedule of every horror movie that's playing on TV this month. Makes me wish I still had cable.

Here's an excerpt of what's playing today, though I'm not entirely convinced some of these qualify as horror:

9:00 a.m. Stephen King’s Rose Red, SYFY
10:45 a.m. The Children, IFC
12:30 p.m. The Eye, IFC
3:00 p.m. Psychosis, SYFY
3:00 p.m. The Thaw, Chiller
5:00 p.m. Death and Cremation, Chiller
5:25 p.m. The Witches, HBO Family
6:20 p.m. Warm Bodies, HBO Zone
7:00 p.m. Shutter, SYFY
7:00 p.m. Hush, Chiller
9:00 p.m. American Psycho, Chiller
11:00 p.m. My Soul to Take, SYFY

* * *

Don't forget that Alien: Isolation is coming out tomorrow and The Evil Within is one week away. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Forest is a great "little" horror game

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

The Forest is one of those games I hadn't heard much about, but the user reviews were mostly positive and, at $14.99 (Early Access price), it just felt right. I purchased it, downloaded it, fucked around with life for a few hours, and finally got back to find a jewel of a game sitting on my hard drive. It's a bit glitchy at the moment, so stay away if that sort of thing bothers you. I also debated whether or not I should write about the game in its current state here because the less you know, the funner it is. Feel free to stop reading as soon as you feel like I'm giving too much away.

a mostly spoiler-free trailer

First of all, it's single-player only, which makes it a different experience from Rust even though it also drops you into the wilderness where you'll have to gather, hunt, and survive by any means necessary. When the game opens, I'm riding in a passenger jet that predictably hits turbulence and crashes. After I wake up in the wreckage, I begin snatching everything in sight, from a metal axe to soft drinks and snacks. When I'm outside the plane, considering my next move, they show up. The others. The mutants.

They're not so mutant I can't recognize them as being human for the most part, but they act more like animals than anything. The AI here... well, if this is just the first draft of what the developers have in mind, then we're really in for a treat. In the beginning—and this is a good time to quit reading if you want to go into it fresh—the mutants cautiously approach you. The first time I ran into them I ran fast and far, until my character finally had to slow down to eat and rest. The next time I ran into them was when I was trying to complete my first shelter. This time I held my ground.

During the day, the mutants have a tendency to sneak up on you, but they generally keep their distance. They'll get closer to you if you have your back turned, but they'll back off as soon as you turn around. Some are more aggressive than others, but you begin to think they aren't a threat and start pushing back, shouting at your monitor the way you'd shoo a racoon. Sometimes they'll take a swipe at you, but hey, no big deal, right? You've got an axe. All they have, at least as far as you know, is their hands. You, too, begin to act territorial: This is my land. Fuck on off right outta here, pal.

There's danger in trying to beat an animal at its own game. Sometimes it's fatal.

One night, one of the mutants took a swipe at me while I was collecting the contents of suitcases strewn across the beach. This damaged my health so, without really thinking about it, I retaliated by chopping her into a bunch of a small pieces. Kill or be killed, right? Well, I go right back to collecting supplies and when I look up, I see a light emerging from the edge of the forest. Fuck this! I think. I drop what I'm doing and take off running, but the mutant who has united this band of hunters is a cut above the rest. He wears faintly ceremonial attire and has a stick strapped to his back, which extends a scavenged light over his head. One look and you know the light's purpose: for hunting prey.

And you are that prey. When the mutants hunt, in packs, they're a force you don't want to fuck with. That's how they gain their confidence. That's when they become a lot more aggressive. And dangerous.

A lot of the time the mutants will simply kill you when they get the upper hand, and the way they surround you usually happens so gradually you don't know it's happening until you're dead. Other times they don't kill you. Instead... well, I don't want to spoil it. This game is terrifying and it does it in a way AAA titles don't: sometimes in broad daylight. If you liked Rust and you like horror, you're going to love this one.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Recently added horror films on Netflix (10/1/14)

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes. 

Netflix Instant isn't the greatest source for horror films, but it's okay in a pinch. You'd think they would have added more than five horror films for the month of Halloween, but I'm not sure how the on-demand licensing works. The "new" movies, in addition to the fourth season of The Walking Dead, are as follows:
  • Shivers
  • The Rage: Carrie 2
  • Shadow of the Vampire
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1989)
  • The Fly (1958)
The Shivers is Cronenberg's first film, which I haven't seen in well over ten years, but I remember liking it just a little more than Scanners. Pass it up if the director's more recent "body horror" flicks have left a bad taste in your mouth, but if you're a fan of his, it's essential.

Although I haven't seen The Rage: Carrie 2, I can say with certainty it's probably safe to skip unless you actually enjoy late-90s' sequels to films made in the 70s. If that's the case I think it's past your bedtime. I personally hated the way horror movies looked in the years between The Craft and Saw. Carrie 2's trailer suggests it's among the era's worst offenders.

Shadow of the Vampire, which asserts the actor who played Nosferatu was a real-life bloodsucker, is far and above the other films on this list. You get Willem Dafoe, John Malcovich, and Udo Kier all in one movie so it's a no-brainer. I'll probably re-watch it tonight.

The Fly should appeal to anyone who likes old monster movies, but let's face it: it's one of the rare examples of the remake being superior to the original. Perhaps it comes down to which famous catchphrase you prefer: "Help me! Pleeease, help me!" or "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

As for the 1989 version of Phantom of the Opera, I've never seen it. It's got Robert Englund in it, but beyond that I know nothing about it. Maybe I'll check it out. Maybe not. Maybe fug yoself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Silent Hill 2: The Director's Cut (PC)

It's October. Time to talk horror. I'll focus on horror-related posts until Halloween comes and goes.

Anyone who played the original Resident Evil almost twenty years ago remembers the hellhounds. For those unfamiliar with that scene, it goes like this: you, as a player, are lulled into a sense of security. You're still trying to figure out what kind of game Resident Evil really is as you slowly move from room to room via a series of static camera angles. You walk into a hallway and you sigh because you think it's yet another pointless space you'll have to cross. Then an undead Doberman leaps through the window and stops your mother fuckin' heart. Anyone who tells you they didn't jump is a liar. 

Up until then there had been games like Alone in the Dark, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and a little forgotten gem called D. Those were and still are great, but back then the horror game was usually just a puzzler in a creepy environment. The moment Resident Evil had hellhounds leaping through windows, horror in games became a palpable experience. The earlier portion of the Silent Hill franchise improved upon the formula, managing to milk every second of the dread. Things don't jump through windows as often as they lure you into them.

pretty cinematic for a game that's thirteen years old, huh?

The main character of Silent Hill 2 reminds me of that kid every school had, the one whose lips seemed to be permanently stained by Kool-Aid. Everyone looks odd in Silent Hill 2. On second thought, everything about Silent Hill 2 is odd, from the purposely distracting noise filter to the initially odd controls. The 2012 HD Collection rerecorded the voices, which probably would have been for the better had they not used even shittier actors.... or so I hear. (I've only played the PS2 version, when I was eighteen, and this review is based on the PC version.) Or maybe the voice acting isn't as bad as it is melodramatic. Let's face it, however: video games have almost always been weak in the dialogue department. That doesn't really matter, however, as the game quickly suspends your disbelief, making the surreal nature of it all reality.

The player takes control of James Sunderland who expects to meet his dead wife at their "special place" in the town of Silent Hill. It opens in a nasty bathroom with James questioning his sanity in a mirror. At this point new players will be expecting the appearance of a health bar to signal the game has begun, but there is no such health bar, no UI overlay whatsoever. It's just you, your character, and a whole lot of visual noise.

You bumble your way outside, not because the controls are bad, but because they're unusual. You find you're in the empty parking lot of a lookout area above Silent Hill. The character pauses to look out over the lake and sees very little through the fog. We're talking insane amounts of fog here. Is this a dream? one wonders. Would anyone in their right mind descend into such a place? Of course not. James just got an invitation from his dead wife and all but RSVP'd. He's obviously insane. He's also your surrogate, as unreliable as he may be, so you're stuck with him.

You take the steps down and the fog only intensifies. Your visibility is maybe ten feet. You walk and you walk and you walk, all the while hearing noises off the beaten trail. Your first run-in with an enemy doesn't have it leaping through the window to get you, but baiting you to fall hopelessly deeper into the town. And that's what the first twenty or so minutes of the game does: it isolates you, it makes you feel lost and hopeless. Sooner than later you find a pocket radio, the static of which grows louder the closer you get to an enemy. From here on out, you'll hear static more often than you see what's causing it. That's suspense. That's terror.

To say anymore would ruin the game. It's something to go into without any guides, without having seen any gameplay videos, without knowing just how deep and dark it all gets. Silent Hill 2 could very well be the best horror game ever made. If you're nervous about the graphics, don't be. They're more than sufficient. On the PC, they're even better than I remember.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

How I became a fan of Highlander 2: The Quickening... stop laughing at me

Highlander 1986

Don't get me wrong. I loved Highlander when I was a kid. I even followed the film series enthusiastically up until part three, which came out when I was eleven. Eleven was apparently too old to enjoy Highlander sequels anymore. Or so I thought....

You know the tagline even if you don't know the movies: There can be only one. Why can there be only one? When the French Christopher Lambert (playing a Scot) asks questions like that, the Scottish Sean Connery (playing an Egyptian) replies with another question: "Why does the sun rise?" That's a cheat—in reality we all know why the sun rises, but we'll never really know why Immortals have to fight. Probably because someone thought it would be pretty bad ass.

To outsiders—and for nearly twenty years I was one of them—Highlander's popularity can be a bit mystifying. Let's get some of the bad stuff out of the way. Here's the biggest problem with the original Highlander: there are no answers. None. Zilch. The sooner you accept that the better because there's a decent movie lurking beneath the cheese. And who doesn't like sword fights that produce roughly as many sparks as a bumper car grid?

Yesterday, I watched the original film. The Queen music was awesome, the beheadings were satisfying, and the bad guy (played by the grossly underrated Clancy Brown) is a totally bad ass "seven-foot tall lunatic."

The rest isn't Shakespeare. Let's say you're a Trans-Am-driving gun nut who happens to pass a dark alley in which two strangers are sword fighting. Do you A) drive to the nearest payphone and call the cops or B) get out and shoot at these people? If you chose B, you belong in this movie.

The pacing is a bit rough, too, while the acting is just good enough. Even so, you're going to be scratching your head and making MST3K quips throughout. So when the movie was over I popped in the Blu-Ray edition of Westworld and all but forgot about Highlander. Then I went to bed where distant memories of the infamous sequel began to haunt me.

I remembered Sean Connery was in it and (minor spoiler coming up) just had to know what kind of movie magic they spun to bring his character back to life. I had frequently read how awful the movie was, which was at odds with how much I enjoyed it as an eight year old. So this morning I shelled out four bucks to rent it on demand.

I may never be able to enjoy another movie again.

Highlander 2 (1991)

See, other movies are not as good because other movies aren't Highlander 2. Other movies don't have the mysteriously likable Christopher Lambert, Michael Ironside, and Sean Connery—the trifecta as far as I'm concerned. Other movies are too logical, make too much sense, and have way too much taste, which is ultimately their undoing.

Every movie I have seen since I watched Highlander 2 has fallen flat.

I've said before I enjoyed Johnny Mnemonic in spite of how badly it managed to butcher its source material. Turning Molly Millions into a damsel in distress was unforgivable, but come on: it's the film that both managed to bring cyberpunk to the mainstream and kill it at the same time. I just take enormous pleasure in the 90s' ridiculous vision of the future. (See: everything from Van Damme's Cyborg to Billy Idol videos.) None of this stuff could even come close to holding a candle to the set design in Blade Runner, but it's as comforting as an old sweater nonetheless.

Highlander 2 is set in such a dismal future world. For the most part it's a pretty convincing one, though a little on the rich side, and it looks like they got more bang out of their budget than Freejack and Johnny Mnemonic combined. Some of the movie was even set on an alien planet at one point, but those versions of the film have been buried. All this jumping around takes the series out of the domain of fantasy and ushers it into science fiction, where I'm most comfortable.

When we first see Lambert's MacLeod, he's elderly and speaks in a hilariously phony voice. Why is it so high-pitched? Chalk it up to a brave yet misguided acting decision if you must, but never mind that. Just look at how big budgeted this all feels. The opening crane shots in and around the grand opera house are like nothing you'd see in a typical B movie.

That's because there was a shit ton of money spent on the production. Rumor has it the people who put up that money are partially to blame for the film's "problems."

The theatrical cut, the version I saw on Pay-Per-View when I was eight, corn-holed the entire mythology of the original film within the first few minutes. It accomplished this by asserting two things: one, the Immortals were (surprise!) aliens all along and two, MacLeod and Ramirez didn't meet for the first time in the original Highlander, but a long, long time before that.

Luckily for the director, this bit of contradictory dialogue had been filmed with characters who spoke telepathically, without moving their lips. The obvious fix was to phase out the original version and rerecord the dialogue. In the subsequent versions, and I'm not sure if I saw the director's cut or the newer "Renegade" version, all verbal references to the aforementioned alien planet are edited out of the dialogue... but the visual references remain. That way audiences are led to believe, if they're still paying attention, that it's not an alien planet, but Earth a long time ago.

The changes didn't really help the film, though. If anything, they made it a little more confusing. But hey, that's part of the reason I love it. I'm really not being ironic here. I fucking loved this movie.

beginning at 1:30, Siskel & Ebert don't agree with me

I've never seen anything like it before. That's probably the best compliment I'm capable of giving any movie. Look, it's not so bad it's good—it's so good it hurts. Seriously. It hurts in a way that it makes your stomach knot from tickled laughter, some of it intended, a lot of it not. Yet I found a lot more to make fun of in part one because this one didn't bore me for a second, while engaging from one end of the film to the other.

Highlander 2 shows absolutely no restraint in its crusade to not only give you what you expected, but absolutely everything you could possibly want. You get hover boards. You get bad guys who look like they're straight out of a Hellraiser film. There are jet packs with unfolding wings. There are numerous sword fights and awesome beheadings. And you will never see a hero have sex with the heroine so quickly after meeting and, ahem, I do stress the word "quickly."

Guess what. All of that awesome stuff happens in the first thirty minutes.

Adding to the plot's confusion, the world's ozone layer has deteriorated. MacLeod himself helped create an artificial layer of atmosphere to deflect the sun's radiation. I know he's immortal, but it must have been very busy life to go from warrior to antique dealer to world-renowned scientist.

Meanwhile, Virginia Madsen's character and a group of environmentalists break into the shield generator's complex and discover the real ozone layer may have repaired itself in the time since the artificial one went up. Madsen is so surprised by the discovery I have no idea why she broke into the complex in the first place—for shits and giggles? With MacLeod's shield in place, the world is constantly dark now and if her findings are correct, it's all for nothing. Madsen, by the way, is one of millions of people who have never seen a blue sky. You'll think, "Oh, the blue sky is going to be the payoff at the end of the picture." Yet it's not.

This movie is too insane to even follow convention.

Here's where the alien planet retcon screws up the current version: so the Immortals from the past watch the events in the future unfold as if they were being broadcast on live TV. Think about that for a moment. They're watching what's happening in the future from the fucking past. They also have teleporters time travel on their planet in the past. So you wonder why the villain didn't just travel to the point before MacLeod remembered he was an Immortal (I forgot to mention: our hero had amnesia at the beginning of the film) and chop off his head then. On second thought, it really doesn't matter at this point.

What matters is the film feels like the result of people who were legitimately crazy. Remember when I said I was dying to see what kind of movie magic they would use to bring Connery's character back to life? The answer is none. They used no magic at all. MacLeod screams the character's name and, inexplicably, Ramirez appears on a stage in Scotland during a performance of Hamlet. I'm not kidding or exaggerating here. That's literally how it happened.

The bulk of Ramirez's screen time is making the journey to America while acting not like an Egyptian, but an older James Bond whose flirtatious jokes have gotten a lot raunchier. "I don't eat anything I can't identify," he tells a flight attendant before looking to the woman beside him and adding, "Well, that's not entirely true." A pussy-eating joke!

And man, does Connery look like he's having fun or what? Meanwhile, you catch glimpses of Lambert's frustration with the doomed production. You occasionally see a flicker of How the hell did I end up in this turkey? in Virgina Madsen's eyes, particularly when she has to deliver a stupidly complicated piece of exposition. But Connery is having a blast and it shows. I've always been a fan of Connery, but I think I like him more than ever now. What grace. What charm.

Highlander 2, as it exists today, just doesn't deserve its sour reputation. It's too damn entertaining for its countless inclusions on "worst movies of all time" lists. Mediocrity is much more offensive than terrible. Highlander 2 tries—I mean it really fucking tries. It gets an A for ambition alone.