Monday, March 11, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/3/13-3/9/13)

    What can I say?  Not a lot changing or going on in this Dork’s life right now.  Though, Sunday night I did catch another episode of Dimension X on The Big Broadcast.  The episode was “The Universe,” based on another Heinlein story.  A guy on a quest to find out the truth about his world and break the chains of superstition travels through levels of the Ship, the whole world he knows.  There are mutants roaming the corridors, legends of a creator who made the ship, an afterlife taking ‘the Trip,’ and more.  I need to track down more Dimension X.  The two I’ve heard so far have been fantastic.  I know Gunsmoke, Johnny Dollar, and Dragnet are all popular, but Dimension X is really more my speed.

Farscape Season 3:  “Stop, stop, stop!  This makes no sense.  YOU make no sense!”  This season does what Farscape has done since the beginning, ratchets up the stakes, the passions, the dangers, and the operatic insanity to new heights.  The adventures of John Crichton and his band of intergalactic ex-con friends and “…the nightmares I’ve seen…the wonders I’ve seen.”  Everyone is taken through the ringer, bent, twisted, broken, burned, doubled, and put through things only science fiction provides a canvas for and possibilities for redemption you don’t see in other genre.  And of course, it all builds to a totally insane cliffhanger finale.  Several long time cast members, including one of the original crew, don’t make it out of this season alive.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril:  Open on a killer topless lady!  You have my attention.  These movies have taught me one thing, that Japan was full of wandering musicians, most of whom were also trained killers.  In this fourth installment, father and son are separated.  When little Daigoro meets the Japanese John Travolta, the pieces are put in place for a fight.  You know this guy is going down.  A temple full of ninjas?  It’s not long before they’re stumped.  More strange morality from an honor driven society.  The use of flashbacks is also an interesting feature in this series.  Each film reveals more about our heroes as it reveals more about various new characters.  Ogami kills an unbelievable number of people.  And are they setting up for the eventual end of the series?  Time will tell.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons:  Crazy.  So five guys, each with one fifth of his pay, and one fifth of the job’s details are dispatched to test and die by Ogami’s sword.  OK.  Seems like an inefficient system, but OK.  Wave Slashing Technique!!!  Life seems extremely complicated in Feudal Japan.  But little Daigoro is pretty hardcore.  He takes a beating just to prove a point.  If that kid makes it out of this series, he’s gonna turn into one bad mo-fo when he gets older.  Is it wrong that the under water ninja fight made me chuckle?  I think it was actually meant to be funny, so hopefully not.  The final fight inside the home/palace is nuts.  The way the shots are framed is very odd, but kind of cool.  Often focused just off the action, on some piece of scenery, it give the fight a different feel.  And so, so much blood.  Not a lot of film franchises feature a hero beheading a mother and child.  That’s one of the things that makes this series kind of unique.  After the near fatal finale of the previous film, Ogami comes out of this one relatively unscathed.

Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire:  “A pox on them all, if they can’t take a joke.”  Oh, crap.  Somebody’s D&D game got turned into a movie with Kevin Sorbo and poor man’s JCVD, Olivier Gruner?  How did this not sweep the nation?  I was marveling at the dreadful script, poor acting, and just general awkwardness of the opening credit narration and flashback, when a name came out of the mist.  Albert Pyun.  Oh, man.  Listen, Albert Pyun is behind a couple movies I love (perhaps in spite of their quality).  But he is also behind some of the most amazingly awful movies I’ve ever seen.  This was obviously gonna be fun.  A magic hair-style princess wants help.  Instead she gets Sorbo.  There’s a porno vibe to the movie.  The cast and filming technique all have an extra dose of sleaze.  Super, super cheesy CGI lends to the overall feeling of home-made video.  The story hops around, skips key sequences, narrates over bits to try to connect scenes.  It’s really, really not good.  Michael Pere’s amazing wigs are something to see, though.  At the end of the day, the movie doesn’t really make a danged lick of sense.  And what also doesn’t make sense is 10 minutes of credits (though they do help pad the runtime to almost an hour and a half).  Just dreadful.  But somehow almost enjoyably bad.  That kind of bad that lets you know, if you had the time and inclination, you could do better.

Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker:  My doppelganger Ewan McGregor is secretly a James Bond type adventurer.  When Winter from Band of Brothers kills him, his annoying nephew is forced into the business.  There are probably enough movies like this now that it could be considered a full-on subgenre; the kid spy movie.  Spy Kids and its sequels, Agent Cody Banks, etc.  This one has a pretty good cast of adults (excepting Alicia Silverstone), but the snotty kid lead is, well, the snotty kid lead.  The jump-cut style of action in the movie is annoying, and out of place in what is otherwise a made-for-TV feeling film.  With the editing style and the music choices, it’s obviously trying really hard to by ‘hip’ and ‘appeal to the young people.’  But it feels false, which it too bad.  It also feels like big, probably important parts of the book didn’t make the screen, mostly the parts that would make the viewer care about anyone.  Stephen Fry adds some class, while Mickey Rourke adds some crazy.  Overall, it just feels like there isn’t enough interesting at the core of this to bother.  It’s not that it’s badly done or whatever.  It’s clear a lot of work went into the making of the film.  It’s just not that interesting.

Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie:  “Burn heretics!” Half of me says, ‘how did this ever happen?’  The other half says, ‘how did it take this long?’  The 40K universe begs to be realized visually.  Artwork has been a key element since its creation, and seeing it as an animated film makes sense (though live action would be welcome).  Unlike other movies based on table-top games (Mutant Chronicles, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.), it’s clear this was created by people familiar with the game (writer Dan Abnett is among the most popular author of Warhammer novels, so I guess it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise).  It gets nothing wrong when it comes to details.  The tech is right, the style is right, the themes are right, the names and places are right.  This IS a Warhammer 40,000 movie.  In a lot of ways, this is about as generic a story as they could tell.  Space Marines (Ultramarines, no less) VS. the Black Legion (the demon looks Khorne, but I’m not up on my Chaos armies).  Other than Imperial Guard or Tyranids, I don’t know who else might have worked and still been approachable to John Q. Public.  Still, I’d have liked to see Slaanesh, Tzeentch, or maybe even some Eldar and Orks?  Anyway, the CGI isn’t bad, and the voice acting is pretty good.  The script isn’t amazing, but it’s serviceable.  Space Marine dialog is almost destined to be somewhat stilted by their nature.  There isn’t much of a story.  And the pacing is oddly slow.  Not boring, but slow.  I would have liked a good battle hymn during the last stand, though I don’t know that a casual viewer would accept a bunch of sci-fi soldiers singing as they face unbeatable odds.  But you know what, for a first attempt at a 40K movie, this was pretty good.  And it’s one of those all too rare adult animated science fiction films.  Nice.

Moon:  David Bowie’s kid and that squirrelly guy (Guy) from Galaxy Quest somehow came together to create one of the all time best science fiction films of all time.  Who’d have thought?  An homage to films like 2001, Outland, and Silent Running, and a darned good science fiction film on its own, Moon is a quiet, thoughtful, emotional movie.  Made on a super-low budget, it manages to pack quite a punch.  Visually excellent, great music, and a powerhouse performance from lead Sam Rockwell.  A must.

Attack of the Puppet People:  “What would I do in St. Luis?”  John Agar!  I love my NetFlix queue.  I never really know what will come in next, and it’s like a little fun challenge to watch and enjoy them all.  This Bert I. Gordon classic features the Once and Future King of B-Movies, John Agar and his terrifying…er…handsome face.  John Hoyt (Enterprise doctor before McCoy) is a super-creeper doll maker bent on dastardly deeds.  And his particular brand of pseudo-science is kind of awesome.  The movie is Bert I. Silly, Bert I. Goofy, Bert I. Fun.

Chung King Express:  “When an apartment cries, it takes a lot to mop it up.”  A young cop who just got dumped is out looking for love.  A coke running femme fatale looking for a place to hide.  A beat cop trying to come to terms with his lady leaving him.  And a music loving young woman (manic pixie dream girl) working at a fast food place.  Relationships, what might have been, what was, and where they’ll eventually take us, for better or for worse.  I don’t always like the style choices in the film.  The weird trailing effects in the opening chase sequence, for example.  But the romance with the Stewardess sequence is really good.  In fact, the whole second half of the movie is excellent.  The music is weird.  The soundtrack features some solid, evocative songs.  But the score reminds me of that electronica jazz from Blade Runner, which feels weird in the 90s (it wasn’t all that normal in the early 80s).  I remember watching this movie years ago with the anticipation that it was going to be some kind of exploitation crime film.  I was sorely disappointed and took 10 years to come back and give it another go.  This second viewing (prompted in part by reading The Film Club a few weeks back) was much more enjoyable and I was in a much better place to see the film.  The sadness of two men in the aftermath of their women bailing.  The tentative steps of reaching out to someone else.  Adorable but painful and awkward fumblings toward connection.  Manic Pixie’s secret housekeeping is totally crazy (TOTALLY CRAZY!!!), yet manages to be extremely cute at the same time.  There is a bit of strong violence in the early part of the film.  But otherwise, it’s a very light, romantic film.

Witches’ Hammer:  Europe’s witch fever is the subject of this Eastern European film from the 60s.  Pretty good production value and a strong cast help.  And the Hammer Horror storyline and semi-exploitative nudity make for entertaining viewing.  But that sick, sexual malediction inflicted on people by their obsessive and oppressive clergy is at the core of the movie.  People sublimating their sexual need with orgies of wrathful violence.  And obviously, the rampant hatred and demonizing of women (can’t talk about Medieval/Renaissance Christians without bringing that up…Oh, how times have changed…Oh, wait!).  Not a great movie, and relentlessly downbeat.  Still, it’s well made.

The Lady from Shanghai:  “Some people can smell danger.  Not me.”  Orson Welles is a poor Irish sap who crosses paths with hokey-smokes hot Rita Hayworth and her google-eyed lawyer husband Everett Sloane.  I’m kind of used to Welles as either a pampered intellectual/artist type or a bloated old beast. 
This weird, in between stage, with him playing something of a badass going to seed is somewhat disconcerting.  But he pulls it off.  Heck, I even forgive him the James Cagney-type Lucky Charms accent.  Welles was a master of portraying the ugliness of human relations, especially among the rich and/or powerful.  This movie is some pretty danged twisted stuff.  Beautifully crafted.  It’s extremely stylized with strange use of rear projection and ADR.  But that help enhance the madness of the tale.

Branded to Kill:  “My hope is to die.”  I’ll admit it.  For quite a while I had no flippin’ idea what was going on in this movie.  Something about hitmen I guess.  One of ‘em is a useless drunk.  They drive around.  I thought with a corpse in the back seat, but it turns out the guy wasn’t dead.  Or there was another guy.  I don’t know.  And I have no idea what happened during the big shoot-out around the 15 minute mark.  The geography of the scene didn’t make any sense I could figure.  And what’s Puffy Cheeks’ deal?  Again.  I don’t know.  He sure likes rice, though.  And sexin’ the ladies.  The sex scenes are pretty weird and wild.  Watching this, I have to wonder, did the Japanese audiences watching it when it hit theaters think it was as crazy as I?  I’m guessing yes.  I’ve seen enough Japanese movies from that time to have a pretty good idea that this would have been strange no matter the viewer’s native tongue/culture.

    “You’re going to fire me at a planet?  That’s your plan?”  I started off the week with the first disk of the new Doctor Who’s seventh season.  The new series is its own monster.  I like it, but it sometimes feels like its emotional extremity is wound up to such a crazy level that it loses its impact.  I salute them for going for it, but occasionally toning it down to 11 might help balance the series out.  I was glad to see the return, in a way, of the Silurians.  They’re one of my favorite, infrequently recurring (sometime) foes.  And hey, Farscape’s Ben Browder shows up as a Western town sheriff.

    Reading a good history book can be thrilling.  Seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated events, piecing together a deeper understanding of places and peoples, how things came about, why some people are famous and remembered, while others languish in obscurity.  History can be amazing.  I’ve developed quite a taste for reading about it.  But it can also become danged depressing.  Seeing all the times the world was on the right track, that things were building to something amazing, only to be dashed by some wave of religious zealotry or ethnically motivated violence (usually both).  It becomes somewhat grim.  Removed from the events by time and with my modern perspective I want to grab these people by their jerkins and shake them until they wake up to the stupidity of what they’re going to do.  Without really noticing it, and because my interests were hopping between different subjects and time periods, over the last couple years I read almost exclusively history, memoir, and philosophy.  I’d moved away from another subject near and dear to my heart, science, specifically technology.  In fact, one of the only science books I’ve read recently was The Greatest Show on Earth, which was an excellent discussion of the up to date understanding of biology.  Not a lot about technology in there, beyond those things that allow us to gain deeper understanding of how biology works.  So, without realizing it, I think I’d put myself into an intellectual funk.  Reading so much history started making me feel bad.  I became so frustrated with humanity and all its many mistakes and stupidities that I was getting pretty blue.  A couple weeks back, I was looking at my book shelves and saw a book I’d picked up a year or so ago, The Vertical Farm.  “I haven’t read a science book in a while,” I thought.  Oh, man.  What a cathartic relief.  I need to remember to throw in something like this every once in a while to balance out my other reading.  A positive, future looking book about things we are doing and can do to improve ourselves and our world.  And a reminder that while there is still plenty of darkness in the world, today really is the best time in this history of humankind.  There has never been a more peaceful, enlightened, connected, free time ever.  Does everyone enjoy it?  No.  But more people do than ever have before.  And it can get better.  Riding that high, I wasn’t ready to come down.  After so many books about various times humanity dropped the ball, I needed a bit more about picking it up and running with it.  So I grabbed another book off the shelf, The Department of Mad Scientists.  Even better.  A look at some of the amazing strides we’ve made in the last 50 years, and hints at some of those on the horizon.  The world has so much potential for getting better and better.  I’m glad I live now, as opposed to before.  But part of me wishes I lived later.  Which I think is why I’ve come to embrace a degree of immortality.  I want to see what comes next, and then, and then.  Where will we be in 50 years, 100 years, 10,000 years?  What will humanity have become?  I want to find out.  And if these DARPA folk and others like them keep pushing boundaries, maybe I’ll live to find out.


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