Monday, June 29, 2009

Hollywood SF Lessons: Fear Hot Blonds

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as a model's diet in an ice cream factory after getting dumped)

For years, people have been debating "what kind of message" Hollywood is sending to audiences with its movies. Say what you will about the causes du jour in film these days, there's one message Hollywood has been sending unwaveringly for years through its speculative fiction: Fear Hot Blonds.

That's right. If you value your life, beware of hot blonds.

Time and again, in SF movie after SF movie, including the recent Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the message is pretty clear that if you fall in with a beautiful blond, you're taking your life in your hands. And this will be for one of two reasons: she'll either be a ruthless killing machine that'll grind you up with most deliberate, frightening intent, or she'll be a nice enough girl who will just happen to have an unfortunate, uncanny knack for attracting disaster which will, most likely, smash you to painful little bits - the end result thus being the same.

Don't believe me? Let's check the record:

In T:ROTF we've got Alice, a normal enough college hottie on the surface, if a tad agressive and creepily obsessive, who turns out to be a Decepticon fembot who's idea of giving tongue back in the dorm is to throttle Sam with a metal tenticle. Makes you wonder what would have happened if she'd got that thing down his throat - could have gone all the way through and like a pig on a spit. Either way, she's big trouble.

Speaking of fembots, how about in Austin Powers, where Doctor Evil's cybernetic seductresses were mostly blond and bent on slaughter rather than sex?

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines gave us a new model of cyborg, the T-X, played by Kristanna Loken. Again, blond, beautiful and with a mind focussed solely on carnage.

How about Natasha Henstridge as Sil in Species?

Or Pris in Blade Runner?

Then there's the queen of all perilous blonds: Six from Battlestar Galactica. She'll seduce, manipulate and bully humans like Baltar all in a day's work, and as one of the Cylons, she takes killing to a whole other level with near total genocide (although the apocalypse was not nearly so uncomfortable and viscerally frightening as when she snapped the baby's neck in the market).

And the list goes on.

And as far as the nice girls with golden hair who just happen to be a good way to help your relatives cash in on your life insurance policy? That's a tradition that goes all the way back to Fay Wray playing Anne Darrow in King Kong in 1933, where half the freighter's crew got killed going after her. And the tradition has been pretty solid ever since, with notables including Buttercup in The Princess Bride (because if Westley hadn't felt the need to reclaim her, he could have led a life of contentment as a pirate, instead of being mostly killed).

Oh sure, there are a fair share of lethal brunettes out there, your Ripleys (Alien franchise), your Maggies (Escape from New York) and your Xenas, and there are even a couple of redheads who would be some major trouble if you got them mad, like Lyta Alexander of Babylon 5's season 5. But really, when it comes to causing death and destruction (either deliberately or merely by attracting bad luck) the blonds seem to have more fun.

Hollywood's lesson seems clear, gentlemen (and ladies, if you're so inclined): if you value your life, fear hot blonds!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformers 2 Stays True to the Shape of an Action Movie

Warning: Spoilers!
(spoilage factor: about the same as the cake at the frat house after Sam finished pawing it for his Cybertronian equations)

Most of the bad things you've heard or read about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen are true. The plot was filled with plenty of holes large enough to drive Optimus Prime through (where do we start?! I know, how about if the Decepticons can field an infiltration bot that looks like a hot college girl, why do they need to show up with their big guys like Megatron - never mind the supersize model Devastator - which draw too much attention and lots of pesky, and, in this movie, pretty effective firepower from the natives? Let the fembots do the legwork, track down the Cube or the Tomb of the Primes or the all-powerful Pencil of the Animator or whatever, snag it, and boot it back to Cybertron in half the time and with no loss of Decepticon resources?), it rarely stopped long enough to have a breather, let alone explore any of the issues that it could have touched on if if it was smarter, it was limited its female characters to sex objects (I'm no prude - I enjoyed watching the shots of Megan Fox as much as the next guy - but I just wish that her character had more of a role to play than to scream and jiggle and put up with leers from humans and aliens alike. The scene with the leg-humping, mini spy bot was truly, irredeemably stupid and offensive.) or clucking mother hens, and some of the fight scenes moved so quickly that it was difficult to tell who was busting what move on who. To name just a few problems.

That being said, all in all, it was exactly what it was meant to be - a fast-moving summer popcorn special effects movie that loved to make things go kablooey. It never pretended to be anything else, and anyone who went into this flick expecting anything approaching profound philosophy should have been disabused of that notion when right up front in the opening credits, toy company Hasbro was given its due.

The fight scenes were amazing (even if some of them were too fast to tell which punch was being thrown by which bot), especially Optimus and the "I'll take ALL of you on!" match in the woods.

It was nice to see more characters added to the ranks of the Autobots and Decepticons. I was always a fan of Soundwave, so seeing him revamped as a spy satellite was a real treat but I would have liked to see him actually do something - throw a punch or two - rather than just kind of float around feeling-up other sats and being the mouthpiece. Ravage the panther was extremely cool though. The twins, Mudflap and Skids, had their moments (when they put in their first appearance in Shanghai and one of them had the form of an ice cream truck, I had to give myself a pat on the back for hitting pretty close to the mark with last week's list about rejected choices for Transformers), although at times they were annoying enough to approach Jar Jar Binks territory. One one hand, it was good to see the introduction of some female transformers with Arcee (who, in this version of Transformers, took the form of 3 motorcycles), but on the other hand, she didn't have much of a speaking role (really was more of an occasional background presence) and the bikes were pretty flimsy when pitted against their much larger Decepticon foes. It would have been much more enjoyable to watch (and a better character for girls in the audience to identify with) if they would have done something cool like bring in a big black Humvee voiced by Queen Latifah or someone with some oomph to their personality. Ah well, missed opportunities and too narrow a focus on the 14-year-old boy audience. The real treat in terms of additional characters though was Jetfire. What a great way to bring in a pretty obscure character (he was only in one episode that I can recall) and reimagine his story! Making him into a vain, grumpy old man was a brilliant move that worked out perfectly. In fact, Jetfire was probably the most fully-rounded character (robot or human) in the movie. I only regretted that they didn't have him take to the skies in a aerial duel to put Starscream in his place. But having him put the boots to Scorpinok and Ravage was adequate.

As summer action flicks go, I didn't regret paying to see it in Imax, although if I could do it again, I'd probably save a few bucks and see it in a regular theatre - maybe at a discount matinee or cheapo Tuesday night.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top 5 Rejected Ideas for Transformers

The Transformers sequel is about to invade theatres across pretty much the whole universe, with upgraded special effects guaranteed to make the big bots look better than ever (even if some early reviews say the plot isn't looking so great). Over the years, from the early days of the comics and cartoons in the 80's, to the revamped versions on TV in the late 90's and over the past couple of years, and, of course, the Hollywood extravaganzas in the theatres, it's always been interesting to see what kinds of shapes the writers and artists would tap for new robots to add to the Autobot and Decepticon armies. Take your pick of cars, jet fighters, guns, animals, and yes, even cities. But I was always left wondering what ideas might have come up during brainstorming that were ultimately tossed aside because they were just too stupid. Here are some of my ideas for vehicles that could be used as Transformers, but are probably best left in the discard pile:

5) Zamboni
Sure, this vehicle's got some mass to it, so it could probably make a squat, powerful, sumo kind of robot - possibly armed with a laser hockey stick and explosive pucks. Problem is, it would move very slowly - and only in circles and ovals - and would only be good for combat on ice.

4) Septic tank cleaning truck
Another big vehicle that would probably transform into a fairly large, tough mechanical brawler. But if robots have olfactory nerves, none of the others would go anywhere near him. Let's not even talk about his potential weaponry.

3) Riding lawnmower
Small, but with a lethal spinning blade, you might think that this Transformer would be a worthy addition to either army. Unfortunately, if it's on wet grass, or the grass is too long, the blade will get jammed, leaving the robot defenceless. It's weaknesses would also include sunny summer days when every fat dad in the neighbourhood would grab the wheel and a can of beer and charge into battle not against the Decepticons who might be sucking energon out of the hydro substation down the street, but against the dandylions in the back yard.

2) Segway
Granted, the size of a vehicle/machine/device/animal/construct/whatever has never had any bearing on the size of the robot in the Transformers universe, so this little sucker could conceivably become some ultra heavily-armed, 100 metre beheamoth with a foul temper. But in vehicular mode, there's nothing less intimidating than a pogo stick with two wheels. Come on, we're basically talking T-Bob from MASK here.

1) Ice cream peddle cart
Great for making kids happy during the hot days of summer; not so good in the potential offensive capabilities category for either vehicular combat or transformed robot hand-to-hand fighting. Sure, the ability to play the same nursery rhyme tune over and over and over again might drive some opponents to distraction to the point where they'd make fatal mistakes that could be exploited. But this one's ultimately a no-go because you'd never want a story that included an alien robot suffering the indignity of having some sweaty guy (possibly in a speedo - there were rumours in Winnipeg, once upon a time) riding around on it all day. Not cool.

What are your ideas for Transformers that are probably better left on the sidelines?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Rose by Any Other Name

We've been rewatching the new Doctor Who seasons here in the old bloginhood household, and I have to say I was awfully glad to have finally started on series 3 (with David Tennant in his second season as the 10th Doctor). The main reason: the Companion. Oh wow, am I ever glad to have put Rose Tyler (played by Billie Piper) behind us (for the time being, anyway) and moved on to the wonderful Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman).

I can't say I hated Rose. I just got tired of her really quickly. She was whiney - her constant refrain of "It's not fair!!!" was grating and almost needed to be accompanied by a childish stamping of feet. She wasn't particularly bright. Not much to look at either. She treated poor Mickey like garbage. And the constant flirting with The Doctor (often in front of Mickey) grew tiresome. Sure, she kicked some major Dalek ass as the Bad Wolf when she sucked up the time juice or whatever from the heart of the TARDIS, but her annoying traits more than outweighed whatever cool factor she'd earned with that stunt. And the whole kid-from-meagre-means-makes-good/Cinderella story thing fell flat because it's been done time and again - in SF and in mainstream fiction - and done better (Harry Potter, anyone?). Ultimately, Rose behaved like a stereotypical teenager, which some would say was appropriate since she was, in fact a teenager. And yet I've known plenty of teens in real life and read/watched plenty of youth characters in fiction who weren't nearly that annoying. Makes me wonder what would make the Doctor fall so hard for her. Mysteries of the last Timelord, I guess.

But at last we moved on, and in the wake of the Battle of Canary Wharf and the spider infestation of Christmas, we were introduced to a young medical student named Martha Jones. Right from the start, I liked Martha a lot. Her character is smart, sophisticated, adaptable and not easily rattled. She's also a nice person. And oh yeah, she's very easy on the eyes. Her introduction in episode 1 of series 3, "Smith and Jones", set the tone for her entire role in the series. When she finds herself and a hospital full of panicked patients and staff yanked off to the moon by a squad of instellar mercenary rhinos, Martha keeps her cool and figures out that the worry isn't explosive decompression (because, she reasons, if there wasn't something preventing it, it would have already happened and no-one would be around to worry about it) - it's running out of breathable air. Martha's got enough brains to keep up with The Doctor as he tries to figure out the situation (as opposed to Rose, who usually just nodded and tried to look like she understood) and has the guts to take the Judoon to task, and takes an active role in the adventure.

The real pity is that over the course of series 3 Martha ends up falling for The Doctor, even though he's still holding a torch for Rose. Martha would have made for a far more adult, complex and ultimately rewarding love interest than Rose. Where Rose was really the ultimate tag-along, Martha was more of an equal. It was a pity that The Doctor couldn't reciprocate her feelings. The saving grace though is that in spite of her love for him, Martha has enough self respect to know she has to do what's best for herself, and that means having the strength to leave him on her own terms. The only question is whether the Doctor truly appreciates what he's missed-out on. And yet, isn't that so often the case with near-misses in love, even when the other party isn't the last survivor of a dead world?

Rose may have been the first of the Companions of the new era in Doctor Who, but Martha was the best.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top 10 Dads of SF

Father's Day is just around the corner, so here's a Top 10 tribute to dear old Dad:

10) Joseph Adama - Caprica
We've only just been introduced to this man through the recent direct-to-DVD release of Caprica, but already I like him. Here's a guy who, in the wake of family tragedy, does his best to reconnect with his son, teach the boy pride in his heritage, and is wise enough to know that sometimes the dead should stay buried. Looking forward to the new series actually hitting the air so we can become more familiar with him.

9) Darth Vader - Star Wars
Okay, so Vader was an absentee father for all of Luke's life up until the original trilogy when he then focusses on trying to kill the little do-gooder, and actually succeeds in hacking off his hand. But you have to give the Sith Lord a little credit: after all, he did offer Luke a share in the run of the Empire if he'd agree to help his pop knock off the Emperor. And in the end, he did turn back to the good side and destroy Palpatine, sustaining ultimately fatal injuries in the process, in order to save his son.

8) Mr Incredible - The Incredibles
Bob Parr puts up with a lousy job and holds back his super abilities in order to live by the rules and create a normal life for his kids. And when things go south and it's time for the family members to start using their powers, Mr Incredible is still there to take care of them, even as he leads them as the world's newest super hero team.

7) David Dunn - Unbreakable
Unlike Mr Incredible, David Dunn takes a while to figure out the extent of his powers. When he's not trying to come to grips with the reality of what he is, this otherwise normal guy is also trying to rebuild a shattered marriage and maintain a relationship with his emotionally fragile son. It's Dunn's life of realistic challenges, especially those with his non-powered son that earn him a higher spot on the list.

6) John Crichton - Farscape
We don't see a lot of Crichton in the role of father, except in the series-closing TV movie, but what we do see is pretty impressive. For years, Crichton's been holding out on revealing the secrets of making wormholes, but finally, in an effort to put an end to the war that will most certainly threaten the life of his son, he unveils the terrible truth to everyone, at the cost of perhaps not only killing his enemies, but also himself, his son, his wife and friends, and perhaps even the galaxy. All to teach the bad guys a lesson that will make them back down so the universe will be safe for his son to grow up in.

5) Admiral William Adama - Battlestar Galactica
Bill and Apollo begin the series with a pretty wide gulf between them. But despite this initial uneasiness, despite having been something of an absentee father (and one who pushed his boys to follow his career path), and despite occasional philosophical differences that cause Apollo to follow Rosalin when she splits the fleet or to leave the military for politics, Adama still loves his son and lets him know it now and again. He even takes on a father role to Starbuck, endangering the fleet by staying in one location to search for her when she crashes during combat and much later by providing her with a ship and crew to follow her hunch about the road to Earth. The "Old Man" may be tough (tough enough to step into a boxing ring and hold his own), but he loves his kids.

4) Ben Sisko - Star Trek: Deep Space 9
Sisko's a single father who does a great job raising his son while holding down a demanding and dangerous career as a Starfleet officer, developing a relationship with a woman, and finding time to keep up with his kick-ass cooking. Oh, and did we mention that even though he leaves his son, new wife and unborn child in the end, it's to go off and become a god? Jake Sisko is a kid who's gonna win every time that he gets into a "my dad could beat up your dad" spat with another kid.

3) Mr Weasely - Harry Potter
Here's a guy who holds down a job as a mid-level bureaucrat in the Ministry of Magic and is still able to find time to take care of his large and rambunctious family. When the chips are down, Weasely is also ready to put his life in jeopardy by joining a group of wizards taking a stand against the seemingly unstoppable Voldemort. He isn't rich, he isn't the most powerful wizard to stalk the land, and in playing a solid beta role in his group of heroic wizards he won't ever get renown despite his hard work, but Weasely shows up none the less and gives it his all because he wants his kids to have a good world where they can be happy and safe and have opportunities, and because he knows what's right.

2) Charles Halloway - Something Wicked This Way Comes
The father in this Bradbury novel doesn't have any special abilities or hold a position of authority. He's just smart and determined and loves his son enough to face down the forces of evil when a dark carnival comes to town and tries to take the boy away.

1) Saul Weintraub - Hyperion
Saul loves his daughter Rachel so much that when the Shrike gives her Merlin's sickness, forcing her to age backward day-by-day from her mid-twenties and forget each day that's just passed, he crosses the length of humanity's territory searching for a cure. The humble scholar uses every trick he can to badger authorities into letting him join the Hyperion pilgrimage. He carries on raising the girl after his wife dies, and finds the strength to lie to her every day about where her mother is so she won't be sad, even as he still mourns her. Saul defies an otherworldly voice that continues to order him to sacrifice his daughter. He loves her enough to give in to Rachel's request that he allow her to be sacrificed. And, in the end, he loves her so much that when, despite his advanced age and the strangeness of a new world ahead, an opportunity comes to raise her from infancy again, he immediately takes it. Saul Weintraub is a man that the other great fathers on this list could look up to.

In The Doctor's Waiting Room

Can't wait for the final episode of Doctor Who featuring David Tennant? Click over to radio doctor who for a little bit of photographic spoilage.
(Thanks to Steve for sending this along.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Anime-zing Number of Fans Descend on Con

Interesting recap in the Vancouver Sun of this past weekend's anime conference here in the Lower Mainland. Anime Evolution saw about 5,000 people drop by, which is pretty impressive for an SF-related con in this town. The annual V-Con (Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy and Gaming Convention) doesn't see anywhere near those numbers. Didn't go to AE myself because, while I enjoy anime from time to time, I don't think I'd be in for a solid three days of it. That being said, I think it's great that they can draw that kind of support.

It was disheartening though to see some of the comments that accompanied the article on the paper's website when I first saw it earlier today (it appears they now have been taken off). There were at least two jackasses who'd left snotty remarks making fun of the con-goers for their interests and for dressing up. I don't dress up at cons, but I certainly don't have a problem with people who do. If that's your thing, cool. Some people put a lot of work into their costumes and some of them are pretty impressive. A friend of mine put together her own Aeon Flux costume for a Hallowe'en party a while ago, and not only did she do a good job on the costume itself, but (and I say this in a purely platonic way) she was smokin' in that thing. I don't think anyone would have objected to seeing her wearing that getup. So why make fun of some other people for wearing their costumes to a con? Why a couple of losers feel the need to go to the comments section and make the effort to mock these folks is beyond me. Why is it acceptable for sports fans to go to their favourite team's games in jerseys, face paint (or, worse yet, no jerseys and body paint to accentuate their decidely unathletic forms) and stupid foam fingers (I can make fun of those things because I've owned one of those foam fingers myself in the past, and wore it at a game or two), but people who dress up at a con are somehow fit only for cruel, childish insults? Ultimately, there are always going to be assholes in the world who feel the need to pick on others because their interests are different. But it's comforting to know that geeks can walk past the assholes and go to cons where they can meet others with similar interests, have fun and know they're not alone.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Big Push

Only a couple of weeks left until the deadline for Hugo voting. While I've downloaded my Hugo electronic package of freebies with the nominated stories (or, at least the shorts), I haven't started reading them yet. Part of the blame goes to not being able to successfully transfer the files over to my iPhone so I can read them on the go, but mainly, admittedly, it's been a healthy dose of procrastination as I've read other things. No more. Tomorrow I'm printing those suckers out and I'll be powering through them until I finish them all, or until the deadline comes, in which case I'll vote based on what I've read if I feel I've read enough of them to cast a ballot in good conscience.

The bonus, of course, is that reading all of those short stories will top up my tally (a bit anyway) for my 365 Short Story Challenge - in which I'm falling behind at an alarming rate.

Lost & Found: Doctor Who season 23

If you're a fan of the Colin Baker years of Doctor Who, a company called Big Finish Productions is producing the lost season 23, according to Wired. (Thanks to Steve, who nearly always has one eye fixed on The Doctor, for the heads-up) The episodes were supposed to hit the air back in '86 but were cancelled due to cost-cutting. Big Finish Productions will now be producing them as audio dramas, with Baker coming back to voice the Sixth Doctor's part and Nicola Bryant returning to voice her role as Peri the Companion.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jeff Bridges Talks about What Made Him Look Evil in Ironman

Actor Jeff Bridges has been in Vancouver for a while shooting Tron 2 and today made an appearance local radio station Rock 101's morning show with host Bro Jake to play some vinyl and shoot the breeze.

At one point during the show, amidst the typical DJ banter, Bridges was asked about Tron, Tron 2 and Ironman. Aside from mentioning a weird, Tron-inspired drawing on Bridges' website (scroll down through various weird drawings), nothing particularly noteworthy came up in the discussion about the videogame-related movie or its sequel-in-production. However, when they turned to the subject of Ironman, Bridges (now sporting a full head of hair again) was asked whether going bald made him feel evil. The actor responded that it was actually the beard that made him evil.

You can watch the entire 2-hour Jeff Bridges interview and record-playing session on the Rock 101 website. The SF-related talk is on Part 1, at the 00:13:10 mark. While the schtick from the DJ's is tiresome and the commercials are, well, commercials, the show's also worth listening to for Bridges' music picks, including some of his own tunes, which are pretty good.

So beards are evil and bald is okay, huh? (Star Trek lied to us all those years - insinuating that a goatee was enough to be evil!)

Does that mean I should shave my beard off and quite fretting over my receding hairline, or get rid of the mop that's left, get my beard all big and ZZ Top lookin' and be a total badass? Okay, with me it's more like total fat ass than badass. So much for aspiring to be a supervillain. Sigh. May as well leave the beard as-is, accept the gradual hair loss, and stay in the mediocre middle. Let's hear it for average!

Top 5 Lines from Ghost Busters

In honour of the 25th Anniversary of Ghost Busters this past Monday, I thought I'd present a list of the Top 5 lines that still crack me up after all these years. There are a hell of a lot of great lines in this movie, and it pained me to leave some off the list, but these are the best:

5) "I feel like the floor of a taxicab."
Egon, admist the wreckage of the roof-top temple, covered in Gozer/Mr Stay Puft marshmallow goo. (I've used this line once or twice, though not having been covered in the exploded remains of a giant marshmallow man)

4) "You know, you don't act like a scientist. You're more like a game show host."
Dana deals with a love-struck Venkman in her apartment.

3) "We've been going about this all wrong! This Mr Stay Puft is okay. He's a sailor. He's in New York. We get this guy laid, we won't have any trouble!"
Venkman's solution as the 100-foot marshmallow man advances on the Ghost Busters.

2) "You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked for the private sector. They expect results."
Ray gives Venkman a dose of reality after the university gives the boys the boot.

1) "He slimed me."
(was there ever any doubt?)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Captain Canuck Returns

An update from the world of comics (courtesy of Steve, of course): Captain Canuck is returning. According to the superhero's official website, IDW Publishing will be releasing another adventure this month.

Now, Captain Canuck was certainly a national milestone (or should that be kilometrestone?) on the superhero scene, and there are those who like Alpha Flight, and legions who follow Wolverine, but when it comes to Canadian superheroes, no one beats Mr Canoehead!

Kinsella Presented with Lifetime Achievement Award

W. P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, which was adapted into the film Field of Dreams, has been presented with the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, according to the CBC. The prize goes to a British Columbian author for an enduring contribution to the literary arts.

Not only will Field of Dreams be remembered as a modern rural fantasy in its own right, but, as I've said before, anytime I see that dawn scene from the new Star Trek movie with young Kirk riding along the road through the fields and looking off towards the bulk of the Enterprise in its drydock, I can't help but think that any minute Kevin Costner will step out from between the rows of corn muttering "If you build it, he will come." - which, given that they are building the Enterprise, and Kirk does come to it, makes the statement even more appropriate in a cross-story metaphor kind of way.

Futurama Coming Back in the Near Future

CBC news is reporting Futurama, Matt Groening's brilliant homage to SF, is making a comeback. Comedy Central and 20th Century Fox have apparently ordered 26 new half-hour episodes to air on Comedy Central in mid-2010.

Although I watched occasionally when it first aired in '99, I was too busy beating the bushes at odd hours as a young reporter to follow it consistently. It wasn't until it began re-running that I became a true fan. This time around I'm definitely going to be glued to it as soon as it hits the air.

The recent direct-to-DVD movies (later aired on TV) have been pretty entertaining (we finally got around to seeing Bender's Game not too long ago and had a blast watching its savaging of fantasy and RPG tropes), and as a means for the network to test the waters, they were pretty successful in generating positive buzz. No suprise then that Fox and CC are proceeding with reviving the show and ordering new adventures for the Planet Express gang.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Thumbs Up for "Up"

Further to my pre-viewing thoughts on Up the other day, I don't have much to add. The newest Pixar flick was a lot of fun (though - no spoilers here - devastatingly sad at the end of the first 10 minutes - people in the audience were crying) and worth every penny of the ticket price. My initial guess about it proved true - while it certainly has a dash of the 20's/30's era of, say Indiana Jones, and while the bulk of the story is set in the present day, the story itself is very retro-Victorian.

Feeling a Bit Like Lister

On my own in the house with the cat this week while my wife's away on business. Coming home from work with no-one else but the fuzzball underfoot, I feel like Lister aboard the Red Dwarf -without Rimmer, Kryten, the dreadlocks and the curry stains, that is. Alone in a godless universe and running low on Lays ketchup chips.

Or maybe we're more like Mr. Passenger and his cat from The Secret Railroad - minus the transdimensional steampunk adventures and without Simon tagging along. (Yeah, yeah, some of you will call me on this one saying that it was Mr Passenger who was actually Simon's sidekick, but tell me how far that kid would have got in his rescues of Stella without Mr Passenger and Melanie the cat to rely on? Besides, my theory du-jour is that Mr Passenger may in fact have been Simon himself in his old age having travelled back in time to help his younger self!) Then again, I'm not that old (yet) and I'm missing the funky stovepipe hat.

While she's away, I've put on hold our Doctor Who re-watching marathon (we just finished series 1 with the 9th Doctor the other day). Instead I'll resume watching the British series Merlin (thanks to Steve for the loaner), which I was about half-way through before other stuff pulled my attention away. Then on to Krod Mandoon (another nod to Stevage). That being said, she's become quite the fan of SF and it's always fun to geek-out on the couch with her in front of one of our favourite series. Temporary bachelordom isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Batman's Dead?

I really have been out of the comics scene for a long time. Seems like over the past couple of years I'll turn around and find out one of the old standards has finally met a challenge he couldn't overcome. It started many years ago with Superman, then, about two years ago, Captain America fell to an assassin. Just yesterday I was at the office chatting with Steve (who, beyond being my source for a good deal of Doctor Who news, is also a comic fiend of the first order), who informed me that Batman was dead.

Quite the shock for me. I collected comics up until about '93 (I still buy the odd title once in a blue moon) and had never been much of a Batman (or DC in general, for that matter) fan. Sure, I bought the Batman vs Predator crossover, but that's because I was collecting Predator comics at the time, more than any interest in the Caped Crusader. But even though I didn't collect him, I never thought Batman would get killed. Yeah, all bets were off for A-list superheroes when Superman was snuffed, but it never occurred to me that they'd do it to Batman.

At any rate, take a gander at Steve's site for some of his thoughts on Batman's fate and what DC has done with the Dark Knight's legacy afterward.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ghost Busters' 25th Anniversary

25 years ago today, the boys in grey hit the silver screen to slug
it out with some pretty pesky poltergeists - not to mention
demonic dogs, possessed love interests, a sexy demi-god who transforms into a 100-foot marshmallow man, and worst of all, a weasely bureaucrat with the EPA who's looking to make a name for himself - and Ghost Busters still has people laughing.

I remember Ghost Busters taking the movies like an unearthly storm back in '84. There were lineups to get into the theatre, sitcoms like Diff'rent Strokes were falling over themselves to imitate it and cash-in on the popularity, and later in the year, people were dressing up like the paranormal investigators/eliminators for Hallowe'en parties (yours truly included - that autumn, I was in Grade 5 and I cobbled a proton pack together out of stuff in the basement and got approval from my classmates, meanwhile, at the school Hallowe'en party, the principal was sporting a rented and very cool authentic outfit from a costume shop, complete with flashing lights). The story was a riot, with cracking dialogue and perfect casting. Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson all brought something different to the team, and Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts had some good moments as well. While Murray's sarcastic Peter Venkman had a lot of the great lines of the film, the rest of the cast had memorable jokes in their own right. Throw in some great special effects for its day and a fun Elmer Bernstein score, and you've got the magic combination.

One of the things I remember most about going to the theatre to see Ghost Busters was the famous "He slimed me." scene. It had been promoed on TV and in trailers at the cinema for weeks: Slimer, the gluttonous, disgusting blog ghost, takes a run at Venkman, leaving him prostrate on the hotel floor covered in goo. Ackroyd's Ray Stantz arrives and asks what happened. "He slimed me." comes the response. It didn't matter that everyone had seen the essential elements of that scene already, when it finally happened on the big screen, the whole theatre erupted in cheers and applause. In all the movies I'd been to before - including the Star Wars films - the audience had never exploded like that. In fact, I didn't see an audience cheer like that for another 13 years until the Star Wars movies were retooled and re-released in cinemas in the late 90's and the fanboys turned out in droves and howled with glee at their favourite moments. A cheer like that is a pretty significant achievement when you're talking about politely subdued Canadian theatregoers in the 80's.

The film went on to spawn a sequel - not quite so funny or inventive as the first, but charming in its own right - along with a cartoon, video games, the afore-mentioned sitcom allusions, toys, fan films, and a breakfast cereal ("Ghost Busters tastes great, with milk and juice and toast - a delicious breakfast with a ghost!" - no, I never ate the stuff, I just have a terribly effective memory for pop culture drivel). And now, as another video game is being released, Dan Ackroyd and Ivan Reitman have brought the old gang back together again for a third movie. I'm generally pretty cautious about this sort of thing - there are too many things that can derail a production before a movie gets a chance to start filming these days - but with all of the original cast back and what seems to be a heck of a lot of optimism, I have to say I've got a good feeling about this sequel.

I don't know how may times I've seen Ghost Busters over the last 25 years, but having watched it again this evening, I can say I still love it. When a movie can still make you laugh after that amount of time, you know there's something supernatural about it.

Who you gonna call?
(sorry, couldn't resist)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Is "Up" a Kind of Steampunk?

Sitting in the theatre waiting for Pixar's latest offering, Up, to begin and after having seen all the previews and commercials, I suddenly find myself wondering if it's a kind of steampunk.

Now, before you jump all over me howling "you have no idea what steampunk is, cretin!", just hold onto your top hats or petticoats and listen for a minute. Sure, there aren't any clockwork automotons or coal-fired horseless carriages or brass-and-wood-trimmed astro vessels, but the general framework of the plot is very Victorian.

An old man with a dream, some ingenuity and a plan for an epic journey, a plucky young fellow along for the ride (by accident or design), and a magnificent, unusual travelling device - I mean, a balloon-lifted house is nothing if not a poor man's airship! Then there's the strange place they arrive at with a reclusive scientist and his strange invention (OK, translating dog collars, rather than, say, a nuclear submarine). Really, this could have been a one-off from Wells, Verne or Burroughs - if they'd had a Jim Henson sense of humour.

OK, movie starting. Must post and turn off phone. Up, up and awaaaaay!

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Top 5 Desert Worlds

It's damn hot. Unseasonably hot these past few days - up into the upper 20's and as high as 30, and that's just here on the coast, and it's only the beginning of June. Normally, even at this time of year we get a little rain now and then, but not lately. The wildfire warnings are already in effect and it won't be long until someone starts grousing about impending water shortages, drought and catastrophic global warming (forgetting, of course, the unusually cold and protracted winter we just had, which followed an unusually cold and wet entire 2008). Being a geek, the weather, of course, has got me thinking about some of the famous hot, dry places of SF, leading to this week's list: The Top 5 Desert Worlds. Grab yer sunscreen & shades and enjoy.

5) Kakrafoon - from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Any scorched dustball that warrants a mention in that most famous of handbooks for interstellar travellers (especially in connection with the all-important Towel entry, no less!) automatically merits a place on the list.

4) the Planet of the Dead - from Doctor Who - Planet of the Dead
Nothing but blazing sun and endless dunes. And those dunes aren't sand - try the ground-up, digested remains of every living and unliving thing that used to be on the face of that world after the cloud of space-folding, flying, do-nothing-but-devour-everything-in-sight creatures got through with the place. Even before the monsters make their appearance, that world was frightening for its unrelenting emptiness and oppresive heat.

3) the Moon of Vega - from Spaceballs
Not only is this rock the place where Yogurt acts as the keeper of a greater magic - the Schwartz! (you may now gasp in awe) - it is also the centre of his massive intergalactic movie tie-in merchandizing operation. Merchandizing? Yes, merchandizing. With the help of his trusty sidekicks, the Dinks, Yogurt hawks everything from breakfast cereals to lunchboxes to flamethrowers. When you touch down in your flying winnebago, make sure to save a few spacebucks to buy a talking Yogurt doll for the kids. Oh yeah, and the vast, sandy wastes of the moon do a pretty good job at hiding you from the imperious forces of Planet Spaceball, no matter how hard the comb the desert.

2) Tatooine - from Star Wars
Baking under two suns, this is where it all began, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Yeah it's populated by Jawas, Tusken Raiders, galactic gangsters, sarlaccs and other critters, but more importantly it's the home of a young slave who would discover power and plunge the galaxy into darkness, and a farm boy who dreamed big and went on to save it. Because of the movie's deep footprint in pop culture, Tatooine is probably the most well-known desert planet outside of the SF community.

1) Dune/Arrakis - from Dune
Dune is home to the sandworms (was, before its destruction at the end of the series) and their spice, a commodity so vital for interstellar travel that the entire galactic empire's economy hinges on it. And that's putting aside the importance of the spice arising from its ability to allow some to see the future to varying degrees, or its addictive properties. The planet has also forged the unstoppable desert fighters, the Fremen, who would become the army Paul Muad'dib Atreides would use to avenge his father, usurp the throne and seize control of the galaxy. In terms of the amount of effort that went into worldbuilding for the story, this planet is a real feat of imaginative detail for an ecology. As desert planets go, Tatooine may be the best known among mainstreamers, but in the geek community Dune has had a solid reputation for decades as the setting for a powerful story and, within its story, as a world that's had the greatest influence on its universe.

Honourable mentions:
-Haven from Firefly/Serenity
-the Drazi Homeworld from Babylon 5
-Mars (okay, not a hot desert, which is why it didn't make the list, but a desert none-the-less and the setting for countless great SF tales)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Becoming a Fan of Fanboys

At long last, it's finally here, the real premier of Fanboys, the DVD release. Sure, it may have actually seen some screen time in a couple of theatres here and there in the US when it was finally released a few months ago, but that was so limited as to be useless for anything except sowing a little more buzz on top of what was already flitting around a geek community that was fed up with waiting and, for most of us, forced to wait a while longer ultimately.

But the wait was worth it.

I rolled The Ol' Porkchop Express (okay, it's a Fit, not a semi, but if Hutch can outfit his old van like the Millenium Falcon, then I can dream too, can't I?) into the electronics hippodrome on the way home and bought a copy, and we spent the evening howling through the movie and its attendant special features. The plot concerns the adventures of a group of friends who in 1998 trek (sorry, really the wrong word to use in connection with this flick!) - er, who journey from Ohio to California with the goal of breaking into The Ranch to steal a rough cut of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for their buddy to watch before he dies of cancer. Hilarity ensues (as a result of the adventures, that is, not the cancer). It's probably the best geeky insider joke-crammed road movie since Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. The banter of the main characters is funny enough on its own and keeps the film moving quickly, but the cameos punch this thing into hyperspace. And, of course, there's the bonus at the end with Kristen Bell's choice of attire.

Whether you're a die-hard Star Wars fan looking to indulge in a tongue-in-cheek "love letter" (to use the phrase tossed around like a practice remote in the special features) to the saga, or just someone who enjoys SF and funny movies in general, Fanboys is definitely worth adding to your collection.

A New Companion for the New Doctor

A couple of days ago, the ever-vigilant Steve sent me this link to the BBC site reporting that Karen Gillan will be playing the new Companion of the new (11th) Doctor Who.

You may recognize Gillan as a soothsayer in the series 4 episode "The Fires of Pompeii".

Now, I realize that with the selection of a young actor (Matt Smith) to play The Doctor in his next incarnation, it makes sense to have a young co-star. But at the same time, I can't help but worry BBC is setting up a Dawson's TARDIS scenario here. I know the studio is trying to maintain and add to the younger audience for the show, but in doing so it runs the risk of alienating older viewers.

At any rate, they've made good calls on the casting and provided solid stories (for the most part) for the previous four series, so I'm trying to stay optimistic.