Friday, November 21, 2008

Southpark Becomes Reality

You know you've made the wrong move when you back Eric Cartman. Or, at least you should.

Apparently, a group of little shitheads out in Comox and up in Prince George haven't figured that out though. Inspired by a Southpark episode from I think it was 2 years ago (maybe only last year), they've tried to organize a "National Kick a Ginger Day" today on Facebook. The fact that this thing attracted nearly 5,000 people, many pledging to follow through with violence against redheads, makes it disturbingly like Cartman's Omega Man-esque cult (spawned simply as a means to achieve his dream of eliminating Kyle).

It's one thing to chuckle at the ridiculous lengths Carman goes to in the episode to persecute Kyle - last Christmas at a party a buddy and I were tossing around lines from that episode, and I'm a redhead myself and found it funny (he called me the "Daywalker" because, like Kyle, I'm a redhead who doesn't burn quite as quickly as other, fairer gingers do). But it's quite another for some braindead, sadistic hillbilly punk to figure he oughta start phasing-in Cartman's plan and get others to join in.

Clearly, they were too stupid to pick up on what that episode was really about - that Cartman is a hateful little shit and one way or another that kind of persecution is bound to fail. And then Wendy will eventually kick his ass a year or two down the line, to the approval of everyone else. The question is, why we go easy on little bastards like that, and why wasn't the ass-kicking force of the law brought down on them harder for what, despite the comments of the RCMP spokesperson, really does amount to inciting hatred?

3 Years Already?

It was a foggy, wet Lower Mainland night three years ago when I sat down and wrote this first post on bloginhood, babbling about how Bradbury is kinda like butter. Since then I've mused about other authors and their books, movies, comics, TV, and geek culture in general; reported from 'cons; griped at TV producers; posted Battlestar photos; launched a spinoff blog; and even tried to stage a mock Martian invasion as an homage to two great storytellers with last names that sounded the same.

Three years later, it's a cold, wet, very, very windy Lower Mainland night and I still think Bradbury's kinda like butter, and somehow, despite occasional absences for weeks on end due to other requirements in my life, medical mishaps, or just plain laziness, I'm still here on the old soapbox of SF, still rambling on. It's been a lot of fun having a venue to spout off about SF, the greatest passion in my life - well, okay, that is the second greatest passion after my wife - unless she's nagging me to lose some weight, in which case SF is definitely the greatest passion in my life. And it's been a real pleasure to have all of you come around to share the experience. Thank you for joining me. Thanks especially to those of you who talk back - especially those of you who call me on the occasional mistake! As much fun as it is to sit here and think out loud, it's even more fun to have conversations with you guys. I've enjoyed every moment.

Here's to another year of SF-related rants! Welcome!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What Do You Get for an 80-Year-Old Rodent?

80 years is a long time for a human to be around, never mind a mouse. But one very famous mouse has found the key to longevity, sustaining himself on box office cheese and fronting a corporate empire that pulls in more cash than some small countries. Today is Mickey Mouse's birthday.

Love him or hate him (and his afore-mentioned fiscal fiefdom), you can't deny The Mouse has had a huge impact on Western entertainment and business culture during his time. For many of us, one of the first movies we got to see as children was probably a Disney film ("Pete's Dragon" for me), whether it starred Mickey or not. And we certainly would have encountered him and his cohort on TV on "The Wonderful World of Disney" (for my generation) or "The Mickey Mouse Club" (for an older generation), or in school in the form of books or read-along books & LP's that they used to have, or toys, or comics, or family vacations, or clothes, or... Everywhere you turned, The Mouse was there.

There are many who have criticised Disney, and rightly so, for watering-down/sterilizing/making boring fairy tales, or making the occasional potentially hurtful politically incorrect blunder like "Song of the South", or for churning out formulaic fare, or for mingling story-telling and marketing so closely that it's hard to know what the original intent was. I've also been saddened by the tendency, in its mad dash to crank out new product for the next generation, for Disney to forget its past successes, literally painting them over (as in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" - you won't find any trace of that ride at Disneyland anymore - it's been conveniently rebranded as "Finding Nemo") or chucking them in a back room and forgetting about them ("Tron" - unheard of in the arcade in Tomorrowland now, just a few years after its 25th anniversary, even though Disney actually had an arcade game developed and widely distributed back when the movie was released).

But the legacy of The Mouse isn't all bad - not by a long shot. As a wee little guy, I got a kick out of "Pete's Dragon", and as a kid I thoroughly enjoyed "The Sword and the Stone" and "Robin Hood" and "The Jungle Book" or some of the studio's shorter fare like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or "Lonesome Ghosts" (a very, very old short where Mickey, Donald and Goofy try a career as ghostbusters). As an adult, I can re-watch older stuff that I enjoyed as a kid, like "Tron" or even "The Black Hole" (I'm only half ashamed to admit to liking that one) and still get a big kick out of it, and newer productions (nowadays usually with Pixar) like WALL-E can certainly be entertaining. And yeah, the theme parks are fun. Mostly.

Sure, Mickey isn't my favourite character in the Disney stable, but I have enjoyed some of his features like the afore-mentioned "Lonesome Ghosts" or "The Brave Little Tailor" or his bit in "Fantasia". And because of that, and because he was the catalyst for the creation of an entertainment empire that has created some of my favourites as an SF fan, I'll add my voice (off-key though it may be) to the chorus singing "Happy Birthday" to Mickey today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

It is Remembrance Day today. For many, I fear as the years go by, this day is increasingly becoming just another day off. More and more kids seem to be growing up not learning about its significance. I see more and more people on the streets this time of year who aren't wearing poppies. I worry that people are forgetting.

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One. Over the decades, November 11th has evolved to pay tribute to those who fought not only in WWI, but also in WWII, the Korean War and the many peacekeeping actions and other wars right up to the present. Their sacrifices in long years past bought the freedom and relative peace that most of us enjoy today. Their continuing efforts today are giving others the hope for this same kind of peace. The least we can do is remember them and thank them.

Like any other significant event in our culture, the wars have acted as backdrops to or inspirations for great works of SF. Take some time to read short stories like John Brunner's "In the Season of the Dressing of the Wells" or Dave Whittier's "Coming Back to Kabul". For something strange, try Christopher Priest's "The Separation". For lighter fare, pick up Harry Turtledove's "Worldwar" series. Or, going deep again, far less rooted in the world we know but carrying many of the same shadows, read Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". For terrible foreshadowing, watch the Doctor Who series 3 episodes "Human Nature" and "Family of Blood". "The Empty Child" is another worthwhile episode of the Doctor, this one set against WWII during the Blitz. The Doctor's spinoff, "Torchwood", also did a powerful episode set during WWII: "Captain Jack Harkness".

But in addition to all the fiction, if you couldn't make it to a ceremony today, be sure to watch some of your local news coverage on Remembrance Day ceremonies in your area, or pick up a history book and learn about the wars, or better yet, talk to a veteran - listen to what they have to say, and when they're done, be sure to thank them.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Review: "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"

warning: spoilers (spoilage factor: about the same as coffee beans that have been dumped on porno actors during a shoot - oh, that would be a spoiler itself, wouldn't it? Oh well, just see the movie!)

It's a rare occasion that a comedy can get me out to the movie theatre these days. To put up with the lines, the price, the unreliable concession service, post-apocalyptic washrooms, stupid parents bringing small children to grotesquely inapropriate films, ringing cellphones, and inbreds talking throughout the flick, it's gotta have really cool won't-look-the-same-on-the-big-screen-tv-at-home SFX or it's got to be a truly special comedy or drama. "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" was just such a film. But then again, Kevin Smith movies are almost always worth going to the theatre to watch right away.

You've probably all heard/read the plot run-down before: longtime platonic friends and roommates Zack and Miri are short on cash and decide to, well, as the title implies, craft a piece of cinematic adult entertainment. Raunchy hilarity ensues.

It's obviously rooted in best-friends-of-the-opposite-sex-unknowingly-in-love-with-one-another romantic comedy films, but told from a typical Smith perspective of regular people trying to get by in a tough world (rather than the usual chick flick setup of glamourous people in enviable jobs frolicking in upscale settings) who may be deceiving themselves but who see the world in an honest, intelligent, frequently foul-mouthed, no-holds-barred kinda way. It's also likely a nod to Smith's own "Clerks" experience of putting together a film on a shoe-string budget. Initially there's also the looming presence of the momentous mediocrity of the highschool reunion that people allow to scar themselves that we saw in "Grosse Point Blank". And from time to time it has the behind-the-scenes feeling of "Boogie Nights".

The only downsides to the film were the sense in the pacing that it had been edited down a little awkwardly from some earlier, better cut (probably the result of the NC-17 battle with the US ratings authorities), and a shot of Jason Mewes' frontside that I really, really didn't want to see. At this point I'm hoping that when the DVD is released it'll include a version that feels more complete.

So why talk about a modern-day comedy on an SF-oriented site? Because it's a Kevin Smith film, and no Smith flick would be complete without a couple of sci-fi refences. He is a fanboy himself, after all. The most obvious (and frequently mentioned in other reviews) is Zack and Miri's initial vision to create a skinflick called "Star Whores". The costume tests for that segment were great, as was the speculation about sequels. But ultimately I thought their earlier brainstorming session for possible titles was a lot better. The SF reference scene that took the cake, however, had to be the Buck Rogers bit near the beginning. My wife, who loved "Zack and Miri", hadn't seen BR as a kid (any version - much less Universal's Gil Gerrard extravaganza that I grew up with) and couldn't quite figure out why I was laughing so hard at that point. Aside from the snide pop culture reference, the BR bit is even funnier when you remember what Twiki looked like.

You can't say much about the quality of the blue movie that Zack and Miri were cobbling together themselves, but Smith's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" is good enough to see in the theatre.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obit: Michael Crichton

Word's come down that author Michael Crichton died on Tuesday of cancer at the age of 66.

Admittedly, I wasn't much of a fan of Crichton's.

"Sphere" was okay (at least, it was when I read it as a teen), with some frightening squid sequences. Although I didn't like the cheap resolution at the end where the survivors "wished" away their powers. And the theatrical version was down-right terrible - how could they have such a top-notch cast and do such a bad job not only on the script but the performances?

"Jurassic Park" was also a fun read. It's sequel, "The Lost World" was limp, if not terrible. The first JP movie was entertaining enough, with inarguably astounding SFX, but the sequels suffered immensely.

As for his other fare, "Westworld" was fine for the kind of late-night, Sci-Fi Friday programming that local cable TV stations used to host, but I wouldn't go out and buy it. Kudos though for Yul Brenner's role as the murderous cowboy android that I figure (whether it's ever been acknowledged or not) must have provided some inspiration for "The Terminator". And "The 13th Warrior" was an alright flick to spend a couple of hours with (bonus points for being shot up in Campbell River!), although I never read the novel.

I didn't read or watch the much-applauded "The Andromeda Strain", and was never a fan of ER.

Ultimately, Crichton's talents as an author were, in my opinion, middle-of-the-road, but I will give him credit for bringing SF to mass audiences - even if they didn't know it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

America Joins the Future

Today's election of Barack Obama to the presidency has ushered in a new era for the US. They have finally (for the most part) put aside old prejudices and stepped into a time when anyone can do anything. Congratulations, America. Welcome to the future.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Simpsons Hallowe'en was more Trick than Treat

The only thing "really scarifying" about his year's Simpsons Hallowe'en Treehouse of Horror (XIX) was that it wasn't that funny. Not downright awful like Treehouse of Horror II was way back when. Just bland.

Admittedly, I got one or two chuckles near the end with (vague spoiler ahead - on the order of a jack'o'lantern that's been sitting outside for about 4 days after Hallowe'en) the spoof of the Charlie Brown classic, but overall, the three vignettes left me feeling as though I'd seen them before in previous years' Hallowe'en offerings. They were also lacking in the energy and spirit that the Simpsons has traditionally shown with their spooky specials.

Maybe the ghost that's haunting the Treehouse of Horror is the same one that's overshadowed "The Simpsons" in general for the past several years - the sense that its best years are behind it, that it's feeling its age, and it's starting to stare into the television grave. Already (and this would have been blasphemy a few years ago), I miss the regular Simpsons episodes on a fairly regular basis. The ones I do catch don't seem to impress me much anymore. In 20 years the family's lost the edge off its wit.

The one holdout for a few years now has been the Hallowe'en episode. But not this year. Now it's slumping into mediocrity with the rest of the show. Sadly, if this is to be the calibre of Hallowe'en specials in the coming years, I wouldn't be surprised if I started taking a miss on the annual additions to the Treehouse of Horror franchise.

What have things come to? D'oh!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Jack'o'lanterns that want to ex-ter-min-ate!

A belated Happy Hallowe'en to all of you. I hope you enjoyed the festivities as much as we did this year.

Things got off to a start Friday morning at the office for me - staff were encouraged to wear costumes and we had a potluck lunch later on. While I'd wanted to dress up as the ultimate super hero of all time - Captain Chaos, I didn't have time to make the cowl properly, so I settled on my second (but none-the-less very cool) choice: Silent Bob. Didn't manage to find a wig for the long hair under the cap, but my coworkers thought the likeness was good enough that I came in third for best costume.

I found a great Hallowe'en treat when I came home later in the day: my wife had the day off from work and had finished carving jack'o'lanterns (I'd done a couple on Thursday evening but didn't have time to do all of them because I'd been rushing upstairs every hour to update my entries in Blog Like It's The War Of The Worlds) and had done one very, very special pumpkin for me: a Dalek! We'd seen some video on SF Signal not too long ago of a robotic Dalek jack'o'lantern that some guy had made and were inspired by it. While my wife's version didn't roll around the floor, it was an excellent likeness of Doctor Who's nemesis, done in a gourd medium, and looked great when it was lit up as well. It was so good, I just had to share it with all of you:

The Bookstore's Gone to the Dogs - Again

We dropped by White Dwarf Books (Vancouver's SF bookstore) today for my last binge buying of books before Christmas (have to cut off my purchasing as of November so I'll leave something for the gift list) - hadn't been there for about a month or so - and saw that the store has gone to the dogs - again. And that's a very good thing. This summer, Roland, the store's resident basset hound, passed away. The place just wasn't the same without him. Today, we found a new basset hound, Judd, keeping an eye on the door. Great dog, and his presence makes White Dwarf feel the way it should again.