Saturday, March 28, 2009

Code Nimoy: "Monsters vs Aliens" is a Full-On Laugh Attack

We went for some Saturday afternoon cartoons today, taking in the new animated flick "Monsters vs Aliens" at the local bazillionplex, and hours later we're still chortling over some of its one-liners.

This newest offering from Dreamworks is the story of Susan, a young woman on her way to get married to her overbearing boyfriend when she gets hit by an asteroid and transformed by its mysterious energy into a 50-foot woman with super strength, super durability, white hair, and a wedding dress that, while made of normal fabrics, has the power to assuage the concerns of censors rating a family-friendly movie by vastly increasing in size to protect her modesty (which is kinda too bad). Dragged off by the military to a secret facility, she's renamed "Ginormica" and locked up with a group of other "monsters": Dr Cockroach, PhD - a man-roach hybrid produced when a lab experiment went awry; The Missing Link - half ape, half fish, thousands of years old, cocky as all hell and determined to make it to the beach in time for Spring Break; Insectosaurus - a friendly grub the size of Godzilla; and BOB - a one-eyed pile of blue goo. When an alien attempts to invade the Earth (and drain Susan of the energy that powers her), it's up to the monsters to stop him.

Lots of great laughs and action sequences in this film, and the SF references fly as fast as meteorites (the president's attempt to communicate with the alien's robot probe is a funny encounter you won't forget, and any film that references Mel Brooks' SF offering is automatically tops in my books). BOB, voiced by Seth Rogan, steals many of the scenes, especially with his opinion of dessert and his (sort of) famous last words (which are probably the second-best famous last words I've heard or read yet - right after Jetboy's final remarks in the first "Wildcards" book). And TV's Stephen Colbert has a nice supporting role of the President in his Strangelovian command center.

Monsters vs Aliens is definitely worth full price of admission - even the inflated rate for IMAX. Your kids will love it (we were in a theater full of them - and all of the little ones applauded and cheered when the final credits rolled) and, as you can tell from this spiel, there's enough in it to make it pretty entertaining for adults too. And getting back to IMAX, I'd highly recommend you see it in IMAX 3D. It's one of the best 3D experiences applied to a Hollywood movie I've seen (sorry, Count Floyd), and unlike others, this isn't a glasses come off again-on again flick - it's 3D the whole way through.

Now, if only some mad scientist (cockroach-crossed or otherwise) could figure out how to design some 3D glasses that don't leave monsterous marks on my nose for the rest of the day!

Monday, March 23, 2009

1951 Short Story Predicts Post BSG Life for the Colonials: Nasty, Brutish and Short

Warning: Spoilers
(BSG spoilage factor: about the same as that one donut from the variety box at Timmy's that no one likes the flavour of and thus gets left on the office counter for a week)

Last weekend's BSG finale put me in mind of an old short story. As the refugees of the Fleet when traipsing off happily across the African grasslands, confident in their prospects for challenging but happy futures of living wild and free among the Earthlings (cousins by a Cylon Earth.1 refugee colony?) and unfettered by technology, all I could think of was H. Beam Piper's "Genesis" (originally published in 1951, but I came across it years ago as a teen when I bought the just-released anthology "Isaac Asimov's Wonderful Worlds of Science Fiction 6: Neanderthals").

Piper's tale concerns a group of aliens (Martians) fleeing their dying world, forced to evacuate their colony ship as it suffered a cataclysmic accident, and forced to survive - and try to rebuild their culture/repopulate their species - on a primitive Earth with their few supplies steadily dwindling, without the benefit of modern medical care, and under frequent attack from hostile locals (in the case of the short story: Neanderthals upset at the presence of the interlopers and possibly looking to add them to the menu; in the case of the BSG Earth inhabitants: possibly the same). In short, far from being a refreshing change of pace, these aliens find themselves in a life not too far off from Hobbes' state of nature: nasty, brutish and short.

The story's final section put the fate of the colonists' descendants into fast forward and explained everything in a fashion about as subtle as a sledgehammer and, in a way that was ultimately unecessary. But the bulk of the story is a good, well-paced adventure about the concerns of people who might find themselves in this kind of situation. Concerns which, if they'd occured to the people of BSG's Fleet, might have encouraged them to rethink their strategy and maybe have kept them in a city with modern conveniences, and possibly with working ships still in orbit.

Definitely worth the read if you can find it.

Quick Thoughts on the Finale of BSG

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as food in the backpacks of the colonists in the heat of... oh, well, that'd be a spoiler, wouldn't it?)

It was alright but not great.

I saw the first run of the finale Friday evening on Space, and then again this afternoon when the channel re-ran it.

The mysticism didn't impress me. And before you get protesting that BSG was full of religion, let me point out that it's one thing for a show to portray a culture that has a regligion or a couple of religions, and quite another for mysticism to factor into the resolution of the plot. The whole "God wanted it that way", the Kara nonsense, and the casual acceptance of the miraculous same-ness of the local humanoids was cheap and unnecessary.

And then there was the giving up of the technolgocially-enabled life for facing down hungry predators of unknown size and cunning, not to mention potentially hostile native humanoids? Uh-huh.

And then there was the outcome of the final battle itself. I don't want to come off as bloodthirsty, but that was way too much of a complete victory for the Colonials. Cue the prolonged happy ending.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike the finale. There was some good character development (especially in the form of some of the flashbacks), and the battles (space-based and aboard the Cylon colony) were pretty cool and had me on the edge of my seat.

But at the end of it all, I wasn't left sitting there stunned. While I was somewhat emotionally engaged, I wasn't emotionally spent by the end of it like a show of this calibre with an ending of this scale should have left me.

More later.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Prediction for the End of BSG

Here's my prediction for tomorrow's big BSG finale:

The dream of the opera house says it all.

We know Adama's going to take a limping Galactica in for one last slugfest against Cavil's Cylons in their black hole-surfing (USS Cygnus anyone?), vaguely B5 Shadow vessel-looking, also vaguely naughty-looking colony to try to rescue Hera. He's got about half of his crew volunteering to go on this Charge of the Light Brigade with him. Dying President Laura Rosalin is among them, as is Karl "Helo" Agathon.

One notably absent face from the crowd of rescuers is Gaius Baltar. I'm betting that's going to change. For some reason, probably as a gesture of apparent faith and courage but in fact really in an effort to maintain control of his religeon, possibly also to enhance his group's status among the Fleet, but for some reason anyway, I think Baltar will change his mind and by hook or by crook remain aboard Galactica when she sails off to glory.

No sign of whether Sharon/Athena has made her choice - I didn't see her in the crowd, but maybe I missed her - but I figure she'll snap out of her depression enough to volunteer to come along, if for no other reason than for blood and revenge.

When the attack comes, there will no doubt be a boarding party. At this point, I think Sharon/Boomer will succumb to her new-found affection for Hera and spring the kid from wherever she's being held. I'm betting Galen Tyrol and the other Final Five will be among the boarding party, and it'll be the Chief that finds Boomer. At that point, my bet is the Chief, despite his love for her, will probably kill Boomer.

As to how Hera gets away from the fighting and back to the safety of the Fleet, I think this is where the opera house dream comes in. Remember that both Rosalin and Sharon/Athena were chasing after the girl in the dream, but neither was able to get to her? I bet this means that Rosalin, whether she stays at Adama's side aboard Galactica, or whether she stumbles after the boarding party wheezing her last breath, will not survive to reach the child. Sharon/Athena's thirst for revenge and belief that Hera is already dead will probably mean that she'll be in a Raptor in the thick of battle, or part of the boarding party and hunting for Sharon/Boomer. Either way, I think she'll get killed before she's able to escape with her daughter. That leaves us with the rest of the dream, where Caprica Six and Baltar take Hera into the theatre section of the opera house. We know that Six is among the volunteers, and I'm guessing she'll take part in the boarding party. My bet is that Baltar will be with her. Together they'll be the ones to find Hera and get her to safety.

And as for Adama, Galactica, and the rest of the crew? Death and glory. There's a part of me (and probably every other fan) that kind of wishes that the old ship will triumph one last time against incredible odds and jump battered but intact back to the Fleet. But Battlestar Galactica has never been about total victory for humanity. Nothing in that universe comes without a price.

The only question in my mind is will the show end with the Fleet find a new home, or just drift off into space and the credits and infinite, if unsympathetic, possibility? I seem to recall reading an interview with Ron Moore where he said they'd tie up the loose ends, so I'll go out on a limb and say the "Earth" discovered earlier in the season may have been the original home of the 13th Colony, but, in fact, is not our Earth. My bet is that the Fleet will discover another habitable planet, one settled by the 13th tribe after they left their devastated world, and one that they renamed "Earth" - one that became our Earth. There's certainly partial precedent: in the old series, which the new BSG does make nods towards from time to time, the Fleet did encounter a planet called "Terra", which they initially thought could be Earth, but later discovered it wasn't. Took them some time to find the real deal later on. And, in the new series, the Fleet's first attempt to rebuild their civilization was on New Caprica, named after one of their old worlds. It's certainly possible that refugee 13th colony folk, having left their Earth behind, would have settled another world and named it New Earth and, over time, just dropped the "New" from the name. Ultimately, I think while Galactica may perish, humanity - and the new Cylons - will live on. That's the trade: survival bought in blood.

But who knows? I could be wrong. My predictive track record hasn't been that accurate lately, as evidenced by the short lists for the Auroras and Hugos! At any rate, we'll find out tomorrow night in the last Battlestar.

Not Much Luck with the Hugo Nominations Either

The Hugo Award finalists were announced today and, not surprisingly, very, very few of my nominations made it to the short list(s).

Three of my picks for the best dramatic long-form presentation made it - WALL-E, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man - though no surprise there since they were widely released and were all very good. Although I'm a little surprised Cloverfield didn't make the cut.

And BSG Revelations made it through to the finals for the best dramatic short-form presentation.

At any rate, congratulations to the finalists!

Now, I'll have to see if I can catch up on reading some of the short-listed nominations before voting time, otherwise I won't have much to vote for.

Books Are Not Sponges

Note to self: do not leave a pile of half-a-dozen books stacked beside your computer desk where a glass placed upon said desk can spill its entire contents onto them, when you, being a clumsy git, knock it over.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aurora Award Short List Is Out

The short list for the Aurora Awards is finally out. Looks like I missed a lot of the more popular nominees, but hey, my picks seldom match the finalists or winners from year to year. I just nominate what I liked best. That being said, getting recognition from the fans is no easy feat when there's a lot of works to choose from, so those that did make it to the final list have certainly earned their place. I'll have to see if I can track down some of the short-listed works I haven't read yet prior to the end of the voting period.

At any rate, congratulations to this year's Aurora Award finalists!

I'll follow-up later with my final ballot picks and a note on the awards when they're given out at Anticipation, the Montreal Worldcon, this summer.

Help Me Introduce a Twilight Fan to Books that Are Worth While

Okay, folks, I need your help on this one. Recently, one of my much younger cousins has finished reading the "Twilight" books (I applogize for sullying this blog with mention of that... stuff) and has put out a request for recommendations of what she should read next.

I'm normally one to let people read what they want to and stick to my own business, but when there's a call for SF literary help, I can't ignore it. Now's the crucial time to steer her towards good speculative fiction, rather than the dreck she's just inflicted on herself.

My initial recommendations were, if the Twilight aberration was a sign of an interest in urban fantasy, that she give pretty much anything by Charles De Lint a try. Yes, I know, read more than two of his books and they all start to look the same, but in limited quantities they're entertaining enough. I also suggested Cory Doctorow's "Somone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town".

But I thought I'd put the question out to you. You might think other books are a better way to nudge her into reading better fare. Maybe you think urban fantasy is the wrong direction and you have a different take on where the interests of a Twilight fan might point to in terms of sub-genres (aside from cheesy romance novels).

What are your gateway recommendations to introduce a Twilight fan to good speculative fiction?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Watchmen Definitely Worth Watching

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as the basket of fries in the prison caffeteria after Rorschach got finished with it)

It was about as faithful a big-screen adaptation of the comic classic as you're gonna get, and while it wasn't perfect, it was good enough. Good enough to pay full price for an IMAX ticket. Good enough to wait an hour-and-a-half in line on opening night last Friday (with a highschool princess braying behind us in line the whole time - but that's another story). Good enough to see a late showing after a long day of work. "Watchmen" was a damn good movie about good people damned by having to make a compromise to make a damned world a bit better.

The opening sequence (including a shockingly graphic depiction of Kennedy's assasination at the hands of the Comedian) did a good job of laying out the recent history of this alternate world, along with enough glimpses of the backstories of the early superhero pioneers, the Minutemen, as well as the newer generation. It was enough to bring the uninitiated up to speed and let the film get on with its business - killing Eddie Blake and getting on with the unfolding conspiracy.

Overall, the film had the same feel as the comic. Sacrificing a lot of the secondary story lines, narratives and add-ons (although some may argue, and rightfully so, that the stories involving the other characters like the newsman and the comic reader, the psychiatrist, Nite Owl I, the black freighter comic, etc orbiting that of the conspiracy were actually primary storylines in their own right) took away from the depth of the story, but allowed for greater focus on the conspiracy and enabled a slightly faster pacing. I say "slightly" because with all of the flashbacks and the reminiscing conversations, the movie's pace was thoughtful, methodical - which is as it should be. The story's about reconciling the past as much as it is coping with the present and averting or ushering-in the future. Anyone who came to this film looking for a relentless head-banging action piece like "The Increadible Hulk" was blinded by the fact that there are superheroes in the movie. Yeah, these people are costumed vigilantes, but they're people - highly damaged people - first and foremost.

The casting was pretty much spot-on. Jackie Earle Haley was Rorschach and got cheers from the audience with his delivery of the "You're locked up in here with me!" line. Billy Crudup's voice work for Jon was distant, vaguely appologetic, matter-of-fact, and utterly creepy. And Patrick Wilson did a great job as Dan Dreiberg. Wilson had to carry a lot of weight on his shoulders for this role - and I'm not talking about the owl suit. Rorschach may get the ball rolling and let us know what's going down, but he's a complete nut and we, as an audience can't ever really connect with him. Dreiberg, on the other hand, is more-or-less a normal guy and provides the real emotional window to what's going on. Being something of a geek, he's the perfect choice for a character to focus on, given the comic readers and SF fans who make up the primary audience for the movie. Because of this, I was actually a little disappointed that Dreiberg wasn't given more screen time for his backstory (I think it was just a quick throwaway line about liking birds), but, admittedly, his is probably the least interesting of the personal histories. In a way, it's also kind of a-propos that his backstory gets marginalized - as a geek in our society, he's overlooked anyway. But as the film unfolds (as in the comic) we see Dan come into his own and become more confident. If there's anything to nitpick, it's that Wilson didn't pack on enough weight to show off the paunch Dreiberg has in the comic, but that's certainly not a story-killer.

On the subject of nit-picking though, what I didn't think was necessary for the film was the addition of so many concocted scenes with Nixon and his gang. His part is quite minimal in the comic (in fact, I don't recall that his face is ever seen in the comic - or if it is, not for more than a frame or so). It's enough to know that the US and Soviets are squaring off, and if Zack Snyder wanted to ramp-up the tension while staying true to the original story, he could have done so with panic on the streets or more TV newsflashes. Don't get me wrong, I've got no problem with anyone picking on Nixon - it's entirely justified. My issue is with taking up extra screen time with him unnecessarily. Those were minutes that could have shown us something else.

Lastly, there's the end. No doubt many fanboys will complain about the absence of the manufactured giant squid alien and the substitution of Manhattan-esque explosions by Veidt to carry out his scheme to sow unity through mutually-shared fear of the superman. I didn't have a problem with this. It was logical and consistent with the story and with what Veidt was capable of doing. What's problematic about it for me is that it creates in the movie a noticeable departure from Ozymandias' character in the comic. The Adrian Veidt of the comic would not have framed Jon with the attack/disaster/mass-murder because he would have known that Manhattan's repsonse to the fear and hate generated around the world by the explosions would have prompted him to leave for good. And that would be the last thing that Veidt in the comic would have wanted. In the comic, Veidt manouevered the situation to get Jon off Earth, but I never got the sense that he wanted that to be the case permanently. Ozymandias sees (in a way, worships) Jon as his only superior. He wants to learn from Manhattan, to get validation from him. And Adrian's mighty upset that Jon leaves without giving him the answers he wants. It's one of the few times that he displays true humanity (which underscores how different he is from Jon). Movie-Veidt, on the other hand, doesn't have much to say when Manhattan toddles off on his merry way to make some life on the other side of the cosmic tracks. Movie-Veidt is in many ways as inhuman as Jon. Because there's no sense of loss in the film for Ozymandias, his personal victory is total (aside from the need to grow/breed another souped-up kitty). And I think the movie loses something because of that. It's this loss of the final exploration of flawed humanity that's more significant as a weakness of the moive than the lack of the other sub-plots of other characters who have been cut out or minimized.

That being said, "Watchmen" remains a thoughtful and well-crafted story and is certainly worth seeing.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reaper Takes a Slice Out of a New Season

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as a gob of cheese dried onto the inside of the pizza box that Sock... well, that would be a spoiler, wouldn't it?)

It was a solid enough start to season 2 of "Reaper" tonight. Not a great episode, but entertaining. Sock's dilemma with his newly-acquired sister was a hoot, and Sam had a nice escaped soul takedown. All it needed was a little place-the-vessel-on-the-mat action with Gladys.

My problem was with the sub-plot about Sam and Andi's tiff. They've been through that kind of thing already. Hell, that was most of the first season. You'd think that with Sam bringing Andi into the full truth of what's going on, and with her accepting it, at the end of season 1, they'd be past all that by now. You might argue that's precisely Sam's problem, that he still can't get his shit together, but I don't think so. His finally-realized relationship with Andi at the end of season 1 was significant enough that he would have let her know he was roadtripping, or taken her along (like any sane guy with a scorching hot girlfriend that he's head-over-heels for would do when she feels the same), instead of just taking off like some little wuss with only a note to be sent by the least reliable person he knows. The whole set-up for their fight just seemed like the writers got lazy. Let's hope the rest of the season doesn't have any repeat performances of this nonsense.

The question remaining from last season of course is what's the deal with Sam's father (meaning the father he grew up with who was buried alive in the finale - and then uncovered by Sam's mom) and mother?

And then there's a new question for the new season: has the escaped soul from the end of the episode really gotten out of his deal with the devil, and if so, can Sam cash in on the same kind of strategy? Somehow, I have my doubts. Funny that when the devil showed up at the end in his red muscle car to congratulate Sam on a good take-down he didn't rag on him for letting the soul escape like he normally would. Seems like a convoluted trick is in the works, and I'm guessing, that in some way, in the end, the joke will be on Sam.

The Allegedly Renovated Doctor's Interdimensional Spacecraft

The word from the (thanks for the heads-up, Steve!) is that the powers-that-be over at the BBC have ordered a reno for the interior of the TARDIS as part of the switch to the 11th Doctor. The report says the exterior of the vessel will get an improvement to its quality.

While the organic and somewhat dark interior of the current TARDIS design is a bit weird, it's also condusive to a somewhat intimate feeling and does a good job of focussing the audience's attention on the interplay between the Doctor (9th or 10th, take your pick) and whichever Companion is along for the ride. It's also got the feeling of being aged and well-used - something that's tramped its way across the universe a few times, gotten beaten up along the way but always able to face the next challenge.

So if the old girl is going to get an interior design treatment, what sort of new look to you think it should have? (aside from the claims in the report of it being "intricate" and "hitech"?)

I'm thinking an early 80's tiki bar. You heard me: wacky tiki god idols on the walls (and maybe also as stools), a grass overhang above a bamboo bar, brightly-coloured drinks topped with fruit and paper umbrellas, Don Ho music playing in the background, and the Doctor presiding in a loud Hawaiian shirt. ; )

Monday, March 02, 2009

Where Trademark Lawyers Have Gone Before

The town council in Vulcan, Alberta is asking CBS for a license to use the Star Trek trademark, according to the local paper. While this town at the edge of the Badlands only by coincidence, for years it's used its monicker to attract Trek tourists like Tribbles to, well, any kind of food. The cost of a license is $5,000. You just know that somewhere, the one resident who isn't making money off the tourist traps is probably howling: "Dammit, Jim, I'm a taxpayer, not a Trekkie!"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Take Your Dolls and Go Home

I'm finished with Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse".

Friday's episode was like a bad combination of a mediocre installment of "Quantum Leap" and "The Bodyguard" (a lame offering from Costner). Not only was it boring and uninspired, it was downright annoying. Nothing could make me want to turn the channel faster than a couple of 20-something characters strutting around congratulating themselves on how cool they are and letting their egos explode during their argument near the end.

The one scene in the episode that had the potential to redeem it was the confrontation between the security chief and the lead programmer of the Dollhouse (whatever the company is called, I can't be bothered to remember or even check) about Echo going off-track, but it felt forced and ultimately fell flat.

"Dollhouse" is now 0-for-3, and I've got better things to do on a Friday night than sit around hoping it'll get better and be consistently disappointed.