Saturday, November 28, 2009

The 9th Beatle

CBC is reporting Christopher Eccleston will be playing musician John Lennon in a new BBC bio pic.

Eccleston played the 9th incarnation of Doctor Who, relaunching the series in 2005. Too bad he couldn't have done another season or two on the show. While I enjoy Tennant's performance as the 10th Doctor just a little bit more, there's no doubt Eccleston gave a powerful and entertaining performance as the Timelord. Anyway, it would have been a lot better than being associated with the train wreck known as Heroes.

Victoria Group Rides Desert Bus into Fundraising Success Again

Congratulations to Victoria-based comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun for surviving another fundraising odyssey involving the infamous video game Desert Bus!

According to a local news station, the group raised more than $132,000 for Child's Play (which buys video games and toys for hospitals) by enduring the Penn & Teller-designed bus driving simulator for more than five days.

The game, simulating a real-time bus trip between Tucson and Las Vegas, is said to be the most boring video game ever made.

This is the third year the group has done the fundraiser.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What the Star Wars Gang Would Post on Facebook

A friend pointed me in the direction of this awesome bit put up a couple of days ago: 5 Star Wars Status Updates.

I shouldn't have read this in the mall foodcourt today at lunch - I was smirking away doing my damndest to prevent myself from roaring with laughter when I was going through the updates from Luke and from Wes Janson.

True, it reminded me a lot of the dialogue from Family Guy: Blue Harvest, but it was very, very funny.

Many thanks to Nicole Yamanaka (aka Cole The Post-Apocalyptic Adventurer) for passing this along.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's a Jedi Warrior? The Men Who Stare at Goats

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: not as bad as leaving a burger in the sun all day to try to cook it)

We went to see The Men Who Stare at Goats this past weekend. Not necessarily SF per se, but containing enough in the way of SF-related jokes and references, not to mention characters who take the paranormal to be perfectly normal, to merit a mention on this site (unlike, say, Pirate Radio, which was really good, but had nothing to do with SF, so sadly it couldn't fit into the focus hereabouts).

The story follows the misadventures of Bob Wilton (played by Ewan McGregor), a college-town journalist who gets dumped by his wife and sets off for Iraq - to prove himself to his wife and maybe win her back, and to try to land a good story. Stuck in Kuwait and wishing he could run with the big time war correspondants, Bob falls-in with the intense Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who claims to be heading into Iraq to sign a deal to provide garbage cans. That all changes on the road when Lyn tells Bob he's actually a secret operative, trained by the military to use paranormal powers, and on a mission to find his old commanding officer, Bill Django (played by Jeff Bridges as a version of The Dude spiced with Tron's Kevin Flynn and Dr. Mark Powell from K-Pax). As the pair get deeper into trouble, eventually running afoul of Lyn's nemesis, Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), a failed SF writer (in what has to be slap against Hubbard) who gets off on mind control and power, Bob begins to belive that Lyn might not be entirely full of crap.

The Men Who Stare at Goats was deeply weird and, while not consistantly fall-out-of-your-seat hilarious, was funny enough to be worth watching. In fact, hearing a wide-eyed McGregor ask Clooney "What's a Jedi warrior?" was worth the price of admission. Other touches like the editor with the prosthetic arm who betrays him were nice little half-allusions to Star Wars and other SF. It's a film that has its points of menace and, in the hands of a cynic, could have become a very dark and disturbing tale about an unprepared journalist heading into a war zone, or about the lengths military and spy agencies will go to create new assets or to surpress opposition, but the tone is kept, appropriately, I think, light and it ends on a kind of fairy-tale note.

While I certainly didn't regret paying full price to see it, I think in terms of recommendations that the best value for staring at the screen for The Men Who Stare at Goats is to rent it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Misfit Memories

I was chatting with my buddy Steve the other day when he asked me if I'd heard anything about a new British SF series called Misfits.

Apparently it's about a group of young offenders who, while out doing community service, are struck by lightening and endowed with super powers.

Sounds like an interesting concept in teen drama programming, but it wasn't a show I'd heard anything about.

The only SF "misfits" that came to my mind were from the American TV show Misfits of Science. Now that was an unexpected flashback. I don't think I'd given that show any thought since I'd watched it as a kid during its original broadcast back in '85.

Misfits of Science was an SF action comedy about a group of people who, one way or another, come to a big corporation's super science and paranormal research lab and eventually form a team that investigates the weird and sometimes saves the world. Dr. Billy Hayes (played by Dean Paul Martin) was the defacto leader. Hayes was one of the research scientists at the company and a bit of a well-meaning screw-up - think a combination of Judge Harry Stone from Night Court and a watered-down Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. Hayes was the one of only two people on the team without powers. The late Kevin Peter Hall, generally known for towering over everyone while wearing a mask in films like Predator and Harry and the Hendersons, played Dr. Elvin Lincoln, a 7-foot-4 man who could shrink himself down to the size of a Ken doll. The running gag was that despite his height, he couldn't play basketball. Johnny "Johnny B" Bukowski (Mark Thomas Miller) was a rock 'n roller cool guy who could shoot lightning from his hands and run very fast. A young Courteney Cox (I'd forgotten how hot she was back then - not like these days when she's so boney that she could pass for Skeletor - ironic since she also starred in the Masters of the Universe movie with Dolph Lungren, fighting the skull-faced bad guy) played Gloria Dinallo, a powerful telekinetic who'd had been in trouble with the law for (in a bit of mild Carrie inspiration) wrecking the odd shopping mall when the other teens made fun of her. The team was rounded-out by Jane Miller (Jennifer Holmes), Gloria's parole officer, Hayes' love interest, and the only other person on the team without powers; and (in the pilot at least) Arthur "the Iceman" Beifneiter, a man who'd been cryonically frozen for decades and woke up with the ability to freeze things, super strength, and apparently lost most of his brainpower except for a fixation on "Amelia" (presumed to be Amelia Earhart).

In the pilot, the group has to free the Iceman from the clutches of the badguys: the company's new boss and a rogue Army general (MASH's Larry Linville doing not a bad Lance LeGault impression); then destroy a "neutron beam" weapon that has the power to potentially annihilate the Earth.

I was curious to see if my memories of the show matched the real thing, so the other night I rewatched the pilot on Youtube (the site actually has several of the episodes available, and it was funny to see the TV station's programming change clip at the beginning of the pilot that showed KITT with the voiceover telling the audience that Night Rider would not be seen so that they could present Misfits of Science).

At one point while watching it, my wife came in and wondered what was on the screen. After getting the gyst of the show from me and watching a minute or two, she gave a snort of derision and left. Clearly they didn't have Misfits of Science airing (translated or in English) in Hong Kong when she was a kid, or if they did, it never got onto her family's television set - might've interferred with The Golden Girls or whichever of the 5 English language shows they watched from time to time. I guess there are limits to her geekdom.

For my part, it was quite a trip to see all of those old 80s hairdo's and fashions and hear that synth-heavy pop music. But I have to say, aside from the visuals and the music dating the show, the story itself stands up. Sure, in some respects it's typical network fare, but for all that, it's ultimately not a bad little underdogs-save-the-world adventure and it does have its funny moments from time to time.

It seems as though the time was right back then for a resurgence of SF, or in general, the weird on TV. Sure there had been SF and Fantasy-based series in the early 80's (some good, like Mr Merlin, some that were accepted at the time but seem kind of lame now like Night Rider, and some that were completely sucktastic like Automan, Manimal, and, horror of horrors: Galactica 1980), but I seem to recall that things were dying down a little bit - the typical cycle of popular programming subject matter on TV. Then Ghostbusters exploded onto the movie scene in '84 and suddenly everyone in Hollywood seemed to be looking to cash-in on paranormal adventure, especially if it was a bit admittedly goofy. Thus, Misfits of Science was given a shot in '85, as, I think, a direct and unabashed attempt to capitalize on Ghostbusters, with a bit of comic book influence thrown in. A similar type of show, Shadow Chasers, also hit the screens that year. And though less tongue-in-cheek, The Twilight Zone was reborn that year, and that's also when Spielberg introduced Amazing Stories (which was deliberately a bit silly). If it had come along a couple of years later when the SF/Fantasy/paranormal/whatever fad died down in TV land, Misfits of Science may not have been given a chance to air.

Now that I've rediscovered Misfits of Science, I'm not sure that I'll bother to go back and rewatch every episode that's available online, but I certainly haven't regretted indulging in the memory for a little while.

4 Years

Four years ago, it was a quiet, foggy, vaguely eerie, Bradbury kind of a night when I launched this blog. Tonight, it's a screamin' wind, poundin' rain, Roland Emmerich retro 70's disaster film kinda night, and in some ways I can't believe I'm still standing on this electronic soapbox (well, mostly sitting with my legs dangling over the side, heels kicking against the side of the thing once in a while) babbling away about science fiction, fantasy and all points in between and just off to the side.

Thank-you to all of you who have visited this page over the years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Waters of Cool

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as rinsing a shiny new carrot in water from a Martian glacier)

The rain's bulleting against BC in the third night of a windstorm that's pretty much determined to put the smackdown on life in these parts. A night of wild elements like this is perfect for watching The Doctor square off against some decidedly hostile H2O. A perfect night for The Waters of Mars.

This latest Doctor Who installment has the Timelord fall in with the crew of the first human colony on Mars right around the time when they fall prey to something in the water. The tension cranks to the breaking point as the lifeform takes over one crew member after another and the station is brought down around their ears. As things get utterly hopeless, the last-minute rescue shows there might be something more terrible than water monsters - the Doctor's ego.

As with any of the 10th Doctor episodes, the characters do so much running around that you're left breathless and experiencing chest pains just watching them. A couple of good jokes about this too add enough of a gear-shift every now and then to remind us it's a Doctor Who episode rather than a James Cameron film.

It was deeply absorbing to watch the Doctor struggle with his conscience throughout the episode, but especially to see the scenes where the colony's leader, Captain Adelaide, holds him to account.

Certainly a fine addition to the series as the clock winds down for the 10th Doctor.

Thanks to Steve for passing this one along.

Sighting a Rare Beast - the E-Book Reader

Coming down onto the Canada Line platform after work today to take the train to meet my wife, I saw a woman with one of the Sony e-book readers. Not a common sight in these parts. In fact, it's the first I've seen around town.

I never gave the absence of the 'readers much thought though... always figured they were late in entering the Canadian market (even in Vancouver, new toys can be delayed) or that if they had, no one cared (and rightly so, in my books).

But this was a first. And not only that, it was someone putting it to what's probably one of its ideal uses - as something to ease the long commute to and from work without the weight of a book.

I didn't have time to ask her how the thing handled, so I don't have an owner's perspective, but as an observer, I've gotta say I wasn't terribly impressed. Not sure what model it was, but even though it was nearly the same height and width as a paperback, it was thicker than my Apple iPhone, and the screen wasn't much larger than an iPhone's either.

It begged the question: if the hardware is larger but the screen isn't significantly larger, why bother? I can download all kinds of ebooks (both free and for fee) for the iPhone, and the phone is infinitely more flexible in terms of its abilities than an e-book reader. Why spend the money on the extra toy when the phone can do the job just as well?

Makes me think the e-readers may be an evolutionary dead-end in technology. After all, if there are models of 'readers with larger screens, you're losing out on the portability factor, and if you're at home you can just read off of your normal computer screen. On holiday? I suspect it won't be long before you'll be able to load a book onto your phone and plut it into or beam it onto your hotel room screen.

And that's all beside the point anyway. I'm a die-hard fan of real paper. Reading off the phone (or any other device) is an option of last resort. Nothing equals the comforting weight and smell of a good book in your hands, and the sound of its pages turning. And aside from some of the more gigantic series installments these days, most books are already pretty portable and don't require a power source. Will economics or environmentalism put the kybosh on paper-printed books eventually? Possibly, but for now, the fact that they're around and they're cheap means there's no reason to waste money on an e-reader.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Edward Woodward Dead

Sad news from the acting world: Edward Woodward has died today.

I used to enjoy watching Woodward as The Equalizer back in the 80's (forget the A-Team or MacGyver, this old character could handle any challenge by himself and had something they didn't: that signature British combination of cutting wit and class), but he had a number of genre roles to his credit over his long career.

My favourite was his appearance as Alwyn the technomage (not to be confused with Brother Alwyn MacComber the Ranger/monk from the far-future lookahead episode at the end of B5's fourth season) from one episode of the short-lived Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade. Must have been a treat for him to star opposite his son, Peter, who played Excalibur's occasionally resident technomage, Galen. Woodward (the elder) gave the character the perfect combination of brusque crotchetiness, wold-weariness and humour. And who doesn't love a character that can conjur up a 500-foot-long golden dragon?

Edward Woodward was 79.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

13 an Unlucky Number for the Devil and His Witches

The CBC is reporting ABC will cancel Eastwick (based on the John Updike novel The Witches of Eastwick) after its 13th episode airs.

It's too bad. I wasn't able to watch more than two episodes because the hours of my new job require that I turn in a little earlier and I kept forgetting to tape it, but from what I saw it was a well-built show. Paul Gross revelled in his devilry, but gave us a different small town prince of darkness than Jack Nicholson did back in the 80's in the cinematic version, and made it work. And the rest of the cast, including Rebecca Romijn, did a great job too.

I was hoping to be able to catch this one in reruns between seasons, but I guess it's bad luck all around.

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day.

Take some time to reflect on the sacrifices of those who fought in the wars and the peacekeeping actions to preserve our freedom. Be thankful for their efforts.

Lest we forget.

And if you're looking for some good SF reads set against the backdrop of the wars and peacekeeping actions, check out the short list I included near the end of a post a couple of years ago...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brought to You by the Number 40

40 years of Sesame Street.

When I was a little guy back in the mid-late 70's, Sesame Street was a major part of the day. In fact, here in Canada, we got a double dose of it - I remember you could watch it on CBC and it had some animated sketches in French... then change the channel over to PBS when it was done, and you'd get the original American version (sometimes the same episode, sometimes a different one) with some animation voiceovers in Spanish instead.

Aside from those early second/third language lessons (which were a heck of a lot more entertaining and did a better job of sticking with me than that annoying and vaguely grotesque live action show with the hobo clown that TV Ontario used to run as a means of inflicting French on us little Anglophones), I'll credit to Sesame Street for helping to teach me (or at least positively reinforce) my letters and numbers and various factoids.

Over the years, the show's taken a lot of heat from people claiming that its short sketches have created a couple of generations of kids with the attention spans of fruit flies. But anyone who's ever watched a child become utterly absorbed in something they love or that's new knows this theory is bullshit. I wasn't effected by Sesame Street in this way in the least during my formative years, nor were any of the other kids I grew up with. The flashiness and rapid-fire pace of Sesame Street was offset by more sedate programs like Mr Dressup and Mr Rogers' Neighbourhood, not to mention life in general beyond the tube which included books. If there's a finger to be pointed for an alleged generational short attention span, it should be pointed squarely at parents who didn't make time to give their kids a little more variety in terms of viewing material or life experiences, or who didn't take time to bring home a couple of Richard Scarry or Doctor Seuss books from the library.

But getting back to the magic of Sesame Street, part of the attraction was the assortment of weird and colourful characters. My favourites were Kermit the Frog and Oscar the Grouch. Kermit had the personality, and as for Oscar, sure he was a bitch, but my imagination exploded whenever that green monster was doing a sketch as I tried to figure out what his secret home within the garbage can looked like. Mr Snuffleupagus was okay too, but I was always trying to figure out if he was some kind of freaky wooly mammoth with a tail, and any enjoyment I got at watching him heave his bulk around while wearing a top hat and singing was subdued a bit by the annoyance factor of Big Bird.

I'll tip my hat to the show's creators for their selection of human characters too. Sesame Street presented a neighbourhood full of people of different ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. I enjoyed watching Mr Hooper and Gordon and Maria interacting with the muppet characters. Others, like Bob (and I'll give him credit for being the frontman for the Children's Charity Lottery here in BC) were okay, but for some reason don't stand out in my memory as well.

And, of course, there were the special guests who would join certain episodes. Again, many of these are a blur (it's been a while since the 70's) but I do remember Buffy Sainte-Marie coming to the Sesame Street neighbourhood once, and appearing in the episode where they went to Hawaii.

I have to admit though, it wasn't the full episodes that really made a big impression on me so much as some of the individual sketches or songs. "C" is for "Cookie" by Cookie Monster is, of course a classic. Anything with Kermit was cool. I still remember the Ladybugs 12 song very distinctly. And an obscure one that has always stayed with me, especially because of its SF element, was The Lonely n Song.

Ultimately, the biggest role of Sesame Street, in my opinion, was that it laid much of the groundwork (in addition to the sketches on SNL that caught the eye of the adult audience) for Jim Henson to launch his work of genius, The Muppet Show. But November 10th is about Sesame Street, so rather than getting off track, I'll stick to giving the original program its due.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Sesame Street!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Leftovers from the Bottom of the Trick or Treat Bag

Well, Hallowe'en may have been over for more than a week, but I'm not entirely ready to get dragged into the Christmas season yet. Here's one last stab at the spooky season: pix of a couple of our genre-themed jack'o'lanterns from this year:

First off, one of my wife's contributions. It took her about 3 hours to get the detailing right, but in the end it was worth it... kids who came to the door gasped: "That's no pumpkin! It's a space station!"

Not sure if this out-does her Dalek from last year, but it certainly kicks ass. Now how is she going to top herself next year?

For my part, I tend to stick to simple faces. Nothing too fancy in the way of detailing. This year, though, that was just fine in terms of SF-related pumpkin styling. I took some inspiration from the new Hallowe'en TV special Monsters vs Aliens - Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space and carved Wicked Jack. Luckily - for him - he didn't make a grab for my candy!

I hope all of you had a safe and happy Hallowe'en.
Now, how many sleeps until we get to trick-or-treat again?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Doctor Who, Barrister & Solicitor

CBC's reporting the man who played the 10th Doctor Who will be starring in a new sitcom on NBC called Rex Is Not Your Lawyer. In it, David Tennant plays a Chicago lawyer who stricken by panic attacks in court. To avoid the unpleasantness, he coaches his clients to represent themselves.

Now, I like Tennant, but does anyone actually think this show has more than a snowball's chance in hell at lasting a full season?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

V - Very Much in Need of Work But Still Watchable

Warning: Spoilers!
(spoilage factor: about the same as the hamster in the original TV movie)

The remake of V was one of the TV shows I was eagerly anticipating over the summer months. Another SF show to shake up the cop-heavy evening TV roster these days (although one of the lead characters is an FBI agent! Ugh.) is a good thing. And while I remember the original V being reasonably good when it hit the air back in the 80's, sometimes, as BSG has shown us (although it's inspiration was a crap-fest, so there was nowhere to go but up in that case), a remake with a new twist or two on the storyline can be a breath of fresh air in the world of entertainment (aside from The Bionic Woman, that is).

The new version that aired tonight was reasonably entertaining and has the potential to fill a season or two. But it was far from perfect.

My biggest beef was the TV interview scene where journalist Chad Decker (played by Scott Wolf) folds like a cheap deck chair when alien commander Anna (Firefly's Morena Baccarin) gives him the "only ask the nice questions or the show's over" routine. Ah, no. It would be believable for a cub fresh out of journalism school to be intimidated and fall for that, but not a seasoned reporter who's been around long enough and done enough to earn a spot on a major TV station, especially one who's news director trusted with the assignment of covering the arrival of the aliens. Oh sure, the scene makes an attempt to be credible by having Decker say something to the effect of "that's not how we do things around here", and after it's over he grouses about it, but the bottom line is no self-respecting journalist would fall for that kind of blackmail. I've been a reporter and I can tell you that in reality, that scene would have played out in just the opposite way: seconds to air and Anna bats her big brown eyes and gives the my-way-or-the-highway schtick. One of three things would then happen: 1) the reporter would shrug and say something like "let's see where the conversation takes us" or "let's see what happens" and then proceed to ask whatever he'd intended to all along, including the tough questions (very likely); 2) the reporter might lie and say "okay" and then ambush the alien with the rough stuff mid-interview (less likely, but plausible); or 3) the reporter sticks to his guns and insists he's asking whatever questions he wants to, and the story -rightly so - goes from "polite sit-down interview with Commanderette Zircon" to "what are the aliens trying to hide?" - and he might even tell her quite bluntly that this would be what would happen if she didn't agree to sit down and answer all the questions, the good and the bad, as he asked them. Scenario 3 is also very, very likely.

I was also somewhat annoyed at universal healthcare being used as a tool of the Visitors to win over the unsuspecting human population and put the Earth one step closer to the shadow of their nefarious schemes. Fact is, this offer would utterly fail to influence most of the developed world. Most industrialized nations have some form of universal healthcare. The Americans are among the few holdouts. Most of the rest of the world that doesn't have it wants it, and the clumsy attempt by the writers to imply that it might be sinister, or, heavens to betsy, an alien notion, will probably be lost or laughable to audiences outside the US. This is cheap theatrics at its worst. At a time when Americans are debating whether to do the smart thing and adopt some form of universal healthcare to ensure people get the help they need, this sort of snide association with bad guys cheapens the discussion. Makes me glad to be in Canada where if Visitors tried to entice us with that offer we'd probably reply: "Oh. That's nice. Not a bad idea. We already have it though. Tommy Douglas and all that."

Then of course there's the whole "they've been here conspiring against us in secret for a long time now!" sub-plot that's been done to death and is completely unnecessary. Simplicity, guys! Simplicity! This really doesn't have to be the X-Files to work! Although, since they do seem to be determined ot make this a major crutch of the plot, I did like Morris Chestnut's Visitor-in-disguise character, Ryan, and the choices he has to make. In a way he reminded me of the Simon aboard the fleet in the recent BSG movie The Plan, however the advantage of the Cylon is that his plot was able to explore this dilemma succinctly and effectively in occasional scenes during a 2-hour feature, while the Visitor may have to hash his issues out over an entire season or two, which runs the risk of becoming tiresome.

Lastly, killing-off Alan Tudyk in the pilot was lame. I don't say this as an irate Firefly fanboy (although, while not a Browncoat, I do quite enjoy the exploits of Serenity's crew). The fact is that the man's a good enough actor that it would have been a treat to see him play an alien double-agent.

On the up side, Baccarin's (I hate to say it) serenity is very effective at making her character intensely creepy (especially since we know pretty much what these planet-leapin' lizards are up to). And I'm interested to see how the series plays out and what sort of deviations they'll make from the original.

Of course, the real question is, when will Marc Singer and Michael Ironside make an appearance and start kickin' ass and taking names?