Thursday, August 28, 2014

Adam Savage empties his pockets on Tested


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

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



Friday, August 22, 2014

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Dragon V2 infographic is sick (Space X)


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


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy is a bad ass space opera

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

You're gonna need a bigger boat: Shark Week's biggest show was unapologetic bullshit


I haven't had cable in so long I didn't know how bad the networks' programming had become. Yeah, I've heard of such bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings as Ancient Aliens and Finding Bigfoot, but I assumed nobody actually bought into that stuff outside of the Weekly World News readership. All but the hopelessly gullible will know the Ghost Hunters stuff is faker than suntan in a bottle, but according to the video above it appears a megalodon program was carefully constructed to trick even objective viewers.

your typical Weekly World News article

Neal Stephenson insisted that a hundred years from now, the majority of people might think the moon landings were faked. I thought that was farfetched, but now I'm not as optimistic. Cable networks are really turning to shit in the factual accuracy department and they're among the biggest opponents of net neutrality in the world. If we lose internet freedom (and there's a huge chance we will lose it), does anyone think the "educational" programming on privately owned television networks will suddenly get better? It's hard to imagine cable programming getting any worse, but they have always found new ways to lower the bar just a little bit more.

It will get worse and there's currently no sign it will ever get better. Let's not pretend it's completely Discovery Channel's fault. Obviously someone's watching this stuff. At least a few of them believe every bit of it, too. If the internet becomes what the major telecoms want it to become, I believe Mr. Stephenson is right: people will be watching a lot more cable TV, not to mention visiting the kinds of websites put out by the same people who control cable TV. That's gotta have a negative affect on the average humans' bullshit radar in the long run.


Sharks, man. Seriously.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Young, fun, and dead before 31: Logan's Run


I recently read that you can't excuse a science fiction piece's lack of science by emphasizing the word "fiction." It's like calling a story "detective fiction" even if it doesn't have a detective in it. By this definition Star Wars isn't really science fiction and it's really not even a science fantasy, either. Space fantasy is a better classification for it, but if we've got to label it at all (and we really don't), I think fantasy, period, works.

The same can be said of Logan's Run. It takes place in the future, sure, but it has about as much science in it as a wet fart. It shares a lot of concerns of science fiction and even superficially appears to be science fiction, but upon closer inspection: nope—not really science fiction. For those who haven't seen it, it's a movie that's impossible to explain, really. I can tell you what it's about, but that doesn't even scuff the surface. They could hardly explain what to expect in the trailer without resorting to intentional vagueness:

Don't worry: that shot of the sun actually isn't the end of the movie

Logan's Run is one of my favorites. The first time I saw it was probably around the time the Encore cable station was new. Seeing it again, this time after the age of thirty, casts it in a new light. (The fact it's on Blu-Ray now certainly doesn't hurt.) The idea that a society would murder anyone who reaches the age when the human brain finally begins working objectively is nothing short of terrifying. But I remember thinking as a kid, "live in luxury, die at thirty? Sounds good to me!" The main character seems to think of the big Three-O as a long time off, too, even though he's only got a few years left as indicated by the color of the crystal implanted in his palm.

Yeah. Everybody has crystals in their palms. When it turns red, it's bye-bye life.

Here's the deal: Logan Five (Micheal York) is a sandman in an otherwise utopian city in which citizens are executed at the age of thirty. What's a sandman, you ask? Why, he's the guy paid to track down runners who attempt to escape their thirtieth birthday spankings. Logan in particular loves the chase. He and his partner toy with their terrified victims before violently dispatching them. The glee on Logan's is truly vile. The way he dispenses the word "runner" is analogous to the way a white supremacist screams racial slurs in a hate speech: "Run, runnah! Run!"

Another thing the movie wants to get off its chest: people under thirty are stupid. That's true, for the most part. The twenties is that awkward age where people still believe A) they're smarter than everyone else, B) old people are yucky, and C) all that shit about changing the world they heard at graduation. The film's young and insanely attractive citizens carelessly mill about their city, the last city left on the war- and pollution-torn planet, in slinky costumes and sex-crazed mindsets. There's not a bra in sight because hey, they're young and fun! And fun is the key word here because, like so many would-be science fiction films of the era, it's out of its fucking mind. I can't think of many films more insane than this, but Zardoz comes to mind.


I've got this in my Netflix queue, but unfortunately it's not going to be on Blu-Ray

There is, however, a second option for thirty year olds who don't want to die. All they have to do is ride The Carousel... and now that I'm tasked with explaining this device, I'm not sure I can. Basically it's a big machine in which thirty year olds go topless, wear hockey masks, and get magically levitated into the air where they're exploded spectacularly. Meanwhile a crowd gathers to cheer the midair detonations of their loved ones as if it were merely a fireworks show.

God, I love this shit. As far as movies go, it's the closest you can get to the kind of pulp science fiction that writers like Philip Jose Farmer and Roger Zelzany unleashed upon the world. You're going to see a lot of analog future technology, an unbelievable amount of sex, violence, and nudity for a PG-rated film, and a shit-ton of sheer awesomeness in the truest sense of the word.

Get this: the very first time we see citizens "riding" The Carousel, Logan shouts gleefully at their deaths like a crazed soccer fan. Then he gets a call on his 70s-futuristic walkie-talkie, which informs him there's another runner for him to terminate. At first you think Logan and his partner are really bad shots, but it soon becomes apparent they simply love torturing the shit out of this poor guy, whose only crime is he doesn't want to die. After disposing of the runner, the sandmen wonder, "Why do they run?" It's obvious it's not the first time they've wondered that and it won't be the last.

Upon inspecting the remains, Logan finds an ankh charm in the runner's pocket. Then he goes home to unwind by channel surfing on The Circuit. The Circuit is like the internet, only instead of browsing porn, you're browsing actual people who have teleported into The Circuit. You choose the person you find attractive, he or she physically steps out of the device, and then the two of you have sex. Simple, right? At least that's the way it's supposed to work. That night, Logan's pick turns out to be a curious woman, a trait which is dangerous in such a society. It turns out she only wanted to see how a sandman lives (the answer: lavishly). At one point she questions, "Why is it wrong to run?" Naturally, Logan doesn't understand the question and considers shooting her for asking.


The following day, Logan goes to work, but there's a problem. The super computer at headquarters has discovered the ankh in his pocket and identifies it at as a symbol of those who run. An interrogation follows, presumably to make sure Logan isn't a runner himself, and he's forced to go undercover in order to find Sanctuary, the place where runners attempt to go. The only problem is, Logan's partner thinks he really went on the lam so Logan really does have to run, in a way that Spielberg's Minority Report undeniably owes homage. The next thing you know there's an oddly placed and perhaps pointless cameo by Farrah Fawcett, a lot of fiery deaths because the sandmen use flare guns instead of lasers, and a "big reveal" that pales in comparison to the one at the end of Planet of the Apes, and not only because that film did it sooner.

It's a hell of a spectacle, yes, but not a seamless one. Exteriors of the city look about as realistic as a hobby train set, which detracts rather than adds to the already goofy nature of the film. There's a robot effect so painfully obvious you can actually see the lips of the actor beneath the costume. The lead female (Jenny Agutter) starts out in an extra tiny wardrobe that gets so quickly shredded down to nothing that the production crew had to put panties on her mid-movie—which you'll see purposefully in many, many stunts. Okay, that last one wasn't a complaint.

The thing is, the film's far too fun and goofy to ever be taken too seriously, and I'm not sure it should be considered a classic, which means I wouldn't be entirely opposed to a remake. Look, we all know a remake would likely suck, but there's a good message here, buried underneath all the fun. There's a moment towards the end when the young meet the old and I've got to admit it's strangely touching. I love movies that make me grin like a bit goof, and few movies do it as well as Logan's Run, despite how dark and/or silly it is at times.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why The Omega Man is better than ever

Seeing Charlton Heston in glorious high definition reminds us that tough guys dominated the movies long before meterosexuals like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon. Man, I miss tough guy movies and The Expendables franchise isn't really filling the void for the real deal. The Omega Man is among the first tough guy films with witty one-liners, which is pointed out not only in the special features, but by Tim Burton. In one scene Heston crashes his car and decides to take another. He has a humorous conversation with an imaginary car salesman who, in Heston's lonesome mind, is trying to screw him over. Later, after being captured by the bad guys, Heston asks, "Are you fellas really with the Internal Revenue Service?"

The film opens with Charlton Heston's character driving a convertible through deserted Los Angeles. It's a pleasant day and he's listening to Theme from a Summer Place on the vehicle's 8-track player. Nothing can be mellower than this, one thinks, shortly before Heston spots movement in a window, which he immediately and recklessly riddles with machine gun bullets. (This is one reason the other survivors have stayed clear of him.) We instantly know then that we're in good hands: competent direction which fully understands the importance of contrast and a cool, hip style, all announced right there in the span of sixty seconds or so.



The film's so hip, in fact, the villainous ghouls wear mirror shades with their sacramental robes. Sure, it was silly in the 70s, maybe even distractingly so, but today it's just awesome. Outside of vampires, have you ever seen non-humans try so hard to be cool? At first you think they're wearing the sunglasses only because they're sensitive to light, but once they reveal their white irises at a convenient plot point, they more or less ditch the shades for the remainder of the movie. Which kind of makes you feel bad for the actors who had to deal with the painful contact lenses back then, but I digress.

While Charlton Heston isn't exactly the last man on Earth (an unfortunate cheat of which all three I Am Legend adaptations were guilty), it seems the last woman really is sassy black Rosalind Cash, who's not the only prominent character in the film who wears an afro. The first time she meets Heston it's with hilarious and humiliating timing, when he's caressing the curves of a female mannequin, unaware of Cash's presence. Naturally, she plays hard to get in the beginning, but we already know they'll end up in bed together sooner than later.

Like I said, it's all very cool, all very hip, and Cash's character makes it all the more fun. Whereas most post-apocalyptic films feature torn and tattered wardrobes, the characters in Omega Man are shown "shopping" on a daily basis in abandoned stores. And man, are their clothes cool or what? Even cooler: they refer to their shotgun as their "credit card."


The 70s cool factor is both the reason the film will remain too dated to be a classic and much more fun today than it ever was in its own time. The first words shared between Heston and Cash are at gunpoint: "My name's Robert," he says. She angrily replies, "Your name's mud!"

That's the kind of dialogue that makes me love movies like this, but I'm sure it was already feeling played out by then, what with racially tense dialogue dominating each and every exploitation film of the era and then some. Even though Heston shares one of the first interracial kisses in a major film, it feels like the screenwriters only put it there so they could get away with saying "right on" at predominantly white parties. That makes it all feel less about the changing times they were living in and more about the exploitation element alone.

And shit, I ain't complaining. Anyone who's ever read this blog knows I love me some gratuitous exploitation. The Omega Man's chock full of it. To try to enjoy it on any other level means not to enjoy it at all. Pull your head out of your ass and just let it entertain you.

As for how to watch it, the Blu-Ray edition looks great, although it's painfully obvious when motorcycle-driving Charlton Heston magically transforms into a stunt double with a very bad toupee. Also shitty is the inclusion of the same, bare bones special features which appeared on a DVD version ten years ago. Nonetheless, I haven't enjoyed the picture more. Watch it before Tim Burton inevitably remakes it.