Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book Review: Our Final Invention

    I have found the true heir to H.P. Lovecraft, and it is documentary filmmaker turned herald of the AI apocalypse, James Barrat.  No, his book is not a tale of a tortured artist who learns too many of the secrets of the universe and is driven mad by it.  Or is it?  Whatever the case, he presents a vision of the world so soul searingly, existentially terrifying that it belongs on the shelf with the master of cosmic horror.  This is a sobering look at the very real, very possible ending to all of us, building right below our very noses, and under our typing fingertips.  For a pro-tech, futurist like myself, this book is a grim dark side for my usual upbeat visions of a world without want.

One of the less grim scenarios...

    Barrat looks into the building wave of artificial intelligence, the possibilities of human level (and more, superior to human) intelligence, and does not doubt that it’s on the way.  What he doubts, is that it will be a good thing.  I believe…well, I want to believe…that we’re moving in the right direction (overall), and that the future is bright.  I also have an instant mistrust of folks who preach fear of advancements and refuse to look on the bright side of technology.  I’ve also never much bought into the idea that superiority equals maliciousness, which is all part of the slave mentality that infects us as a species.  That said, I can’t find fault in Barrat’s argument.  He makes an excellent case for the terrifying dangers the creation of a human level (or higher) computer mind.  The profound alien nature of a computer mind is where the key trouble lies.  And this, is where I first connected Barrat with Lovecraft.  Both envision something so far beyond our ability to comprehend or control that we would stand no chance against it.  The concept I found most chilling is summed up in the quote from Eliezer Yudkowsky.  “The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.”  It isn’t that Barrat believes a human or more level intelligence would want to kill us.  It’s that it won’t share our interests or values, and we might not be able to even understand what its interests or values are.  We may quickly find that we are little more than ants before its unknowing, uncaring feet.

    My hope is that we as a people can shift our thinking and action in the direction of safety.  I have hope.  I do.  But I have a profound worry, because I can’t pretend I don’t see the opposite every day.  With people steadfastly ignoring scientific findings all the time, from climate change to the benefits of genetically modified foods, and with so many willing to step over their mother for a chance at a few extra bucks, I have worries.  And thanks to this book, I find that I have a fear I never knew about.  I don’t want to die by incineration from the waste heat of trillions of nanobots assembling each other.  That may have just surpassed tidal wave on my list of things I most want to avoid getting killed by.

    This book should be read.  Futurists and optimists like myself need a dose of reasoned descent on occasion.  I think many of us become so inured to the fear mongering, backward looking anti-science of Hollywood movies and uninformed man-on-the-streets, that we build up a wall around our optimism.  This wall blocks our view of the very real threats that are out there.  With so many people crying wolf constantly, the real problems can easily be ignored.  And I think that James Barrat has produced a well thought out and sobering call to action.  He doesn’t preach a halt to progress or a return to ‘simpler times.’  He suggests a safe and cautious handling of a potentially cataclysmic technology that would make the atom bomb seem like kids play.  He’s not talking about a danger to a city or a country.  He’s not even talking about danger to our planet.  The kind of scenarios Barrat suggests are existence erasing, galaxy polluting disasters.  I do believe that our future will be tied with artificial intelligence, and that future could be amazing on a level beyond the wildest science fiction stories.  But the danger must be understood, and we must protect ourselves and our future.

Our Final Invention
Author: James Barrat
Publisher: Thomas Dunn Books
ISBN: 978-0-312-62237-4

-Matthew J. Constantine

Doctor Who Poll Results

    I can’t say the winner of our Doctor Who poll is a surprise.  But what surprised me was the runner up.  Tom Baker is still probably the face of the Doctor for many people.  He dominated the classic series from the time he took the reigns, casting a near impenetrable shadow over the remainder of the series.  For many in the States, he was the first (when PBS affiliates started showing it, they started with Tom Baker).  When we did a similar poll a couple years ago, focusing on just the classic series, Tom Baker won hands down.  No surprise.  I thought he might have a run for his money when we added in all the new guys, because of the show’s major popularity, and the number of new fans who only know the post 2005 actors.  I was wrong.  And this is where I got my real surprise.  David Tennant didn’t get the runner up spot.  I figured he had a good chance of winning, and if not, would obviously come in second to Baker.  Alas, no.  My favorite of the new guys, Christopher Eccleston tied for (a very distant) second with current Doctor Matt Smith.  I’ll admit, I like Smith a lot, but I’ve found his era saddled with bad scripts.  Sadly, I seem to be the only person to vote for Jon Pertwee.

#1  Tom Baker

#2 a tie between Christopher Eccleston & Matt Smith


Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Icerigger

    When I was a lad, my father pointed me in the direction of some Alan Dean Foster novels.  I think he told me specifically about the Flinx and Pip books, which oddly I wouldn’t go on to read for two decades or more.  But none the less, I was fascinated by Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth, and I picked up a handful of books and read them over the years.  Among the first I bought were the Icerigger trilogy…which I again, didn’t read.  Until now.  I found the trilogy as ebooks on the cheap, and figured now was a good time.

    Icerigger introduces us to Ethan Fortune, a merchant looking to make a name for himself and get a cushy job back in the core worlds, caught up in a kidnapping attempt that quickly goes from botched to totally screwed.  Soon, he finds himself one of the survivors of a crash, marooned on a hostile ice world, with no expectation of rescue.  Here we meet, among others, the mad Viking of a man, Skua September.  In Edgar Rice Burroughs fashion, Fortune and September embark on a journey of discovery and adventure, involving inhuman natives, swashbuckling, politics, and romance.

    Foster’s Humanx novels are direct descendants of classic space opera, mixing the pulpy fun of Burroughs’s Mars books and C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, with the huge scale universe building of Asimov’s Foundation and E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen.  Similar to Larry Niven, A. Bertram Chandler, and others, he crafted a wide, wild universe to play in, creating galaxy spanning civilizations and local potentates.  Though the action of Icerigger is limited to one world (and briefly, it’s orbital space), you are constantly aware that events take place within a larger setting.  Fortune and September are certainly fun characters to follow.  Fortune is a relatable guy.  Smart, competent, and driven, he’s able to roll with a lot of punches, but still reacts in a way the reader can understand.  September is a wild beast of a man; a hard partier, lover, and fighter.  If I have a complaint about this novel, and I don't know that I do, it's that the story reaches a natural climax and conclusion, only to keep going.  It feels like the book is over, but there's a sort of novella tacked on to the end.  Odd, but not necessarily bad.

    Fans of space opera must check out Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx books.  If you’re only familiar with him from his incalculable number of movie novelizations, forget that and read some of his original work.  His universe is more consistent, and more consistently good than the Star Wars or Star Trek universes, while filling a similar niche.

Author: Alan Dean Foster
Publisher: Open Road Publishing
ISBN: (ebook) 9781453274088

-Matthew J. Constantine

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (11/17/13-11/23/13)

    I’ve continued to enjoy the heck out of my Criterion viewing, getting in another 5 this week (though Kiss Me Deadly is available from Criterion, I saw it on the big screen, not on disk).  It’s been interesting seeing a bunch of various classic and art films, stuff I’ve heard of but never seen.  And I think I can say that I’ve become something of an Ingmar Bergman fan.  I’m surprised at how grounded and relatable most of his movies are.  When people mentioned his name, I imagined movies like The Magician, which were surreal, vague, and obtuse.  But the movies I’ve seen have been quite earthy, even if the framing and staging has been artificial.  And this week took Brad, Ben, and I out to the AFI Silver for a screening of one of my favorite movies, so that was nice.  But the week started with the awesome Fantastic Fest tour at the Alamo Drafthouse.  Sadly, because of scheduling, neither Brad nor I were able to see any of the earlier screenings, but Sunday we got to see three movies back to back.

Confession of Murder:  Oh, Korean film industry.  You sure put out a lot of vaguely interesting, but ultimately boring films.  I love the cast, and I think they do a great job.  The plot twists aren’t especially interesting, however, or particularly ‘twisty.’  And the pacing is brutally, grindingly slow.  I was shocked to find out it was under two hours, as the last third of the movie seemed to drag and drag and drag.  And there were several places where not only could the movie have ended, but the movie absolutely should have ended (that POV flashback would have been the perfect fade to credits for a very emotionally devastating ending…but it kept going…).  The subplot about the victim’s family trying to do a kidnapping caper bloats the film, adding virtually nothing to the overall piece except excruciating runtime.  The movie would have been stronger (not to mention mercifully shorter) without any of that.  And the CGI action bits looked like crap.  There.  I said it.  The action looked like crap.  And this is an action movie.  So that’s not good.  Overall, it was OK.  But it wasn’t especially good.  And it continues an almost unbroken stream of disappointments from Korea, for this film viewer.  I think The Good, The Bad, The Weird remains the only Korean film I really like (OK, and maybe The Warrior’s Way).

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons:  This martial arts fantasy film is fitfully funny, wildly zany, and surprisingly good.  I’m generally not a fan of comedy films from China, but Stephen Chow does a pretty good job with humor that crosses cultural boundaries.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Shaolin Soccer, but it was solid, and Kung Fu Hustle is fantastic.  This movie takes on the Journey to the West’s early stages in a way I’ve never seen done before (granted, I’ve only seen maybe 5 or 6 variations on the classic tale, and I know there are many more).  I enjoyed the story, the cast of characters, and the very bent sense of humor.  It’s nasty, weird, funny, and freaky.  It’s also got a very fun performance from one of my favorites, Shu Qi.  This may be the most cracked and over the top she’s ever been, and it was great.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?:  OK, look.  I’m not much of a Japanese film fan.  Certainly not when it comes to the last 30 years or so.  It’s a lot of things, from the pacing, to the repetitiveness, to the frequently squandered intriguing ideas.  And ‘gonzo’ Japanese films hold very little interest.  So, take that in to account when I say, “holy f’in nuts, this movie is one of the craziest, most insanely fun things I’ve seen.”  It’s almost impossible to explain what the movie is like.  You’ve just got to see it.  I’ve watched a trailer that shows some scenes, but it’s not even the tip of the iceberg of how batshit the film actually is.  And the cast takes each bit of madness and runs with it.  They sell it.  The mob bosses?  Awesome.  The filmmakers?  Awesome.  The poor schlub?  Awesome.  It’s hallucinatory.  It’s repulsive.  It’s profane.  And it had me in stitches throughout.  I don’t know what I’m going to call it, but I feel like this and movies like Crank and Crank 2 need to have their own subgenre.  If I could put in writing, Henry Silva’s pre-murder scream from Sharky’s Machine; that’s what I’d call it.

Dallas Buyers Club:  A depressing, but also somewhat uplifting film about a hard partying hick who gets the AIDS and learns some valuable lessons.  It’s well acted, well shot, and doesn’t feel overlong.  It also doesn’t feel the need to go into too much detail, or obsess over the unimportant elements, as many ‘true story’ films do.  It’s probably one of the better films of 2013, though I can’t claim it as one of my favorites.  While a fine film, I don't see myself ever watching it again.

Through a Glass Darkly:  A family getaway brings out some old wounds, as four damaged people come together and try to deal with their various issues.  A writer who has ignored his family, an emotionally immature young man, a woman descending into madness, and her put-upon husband.  Each has secrets and desires to get out, each must face personal demons.  Bergman puts family drama against the stark beauty of a vacation spot, and shoots it all in stark black & white.

Au Hasard Balthazar:  Not at all the movie I was expecting.  Not even the kind of movie I was expecting.  The only thing that could make this more stereotypically French would be for it to smell like piss and constantly insult you.  The characters all suck, everyone’s a scumbag, and there’s a donkey.  A slow girl is the object of lust.  Pointlessly rebellious young people act like turds.  It’s unpleasant, and ultimately detached.  Blah.

Winter Light:  Holy flippin’ crap, this is a danged dark film.  A pastor who has lost his way struggles with his lack of faith, while destroying the lives of those around him.  He’s such a humorless and monstrous human being that it’s hard to sympathize with him at all.  You end up feeling a lot more for the folks around him, who try so hard to reach him.

Kiss Me Deadly:  Thanks to the AFI Silver, I got to see this new favorite on the big screen.  When I first saw this film in 2012, it was a bolt from heaven.  Mike Hammer is a monster.  A dirty, violent, brutal monster.  His vacant grin while he crushes a man’s fingers; his slapping of a fragile old man; whatever he did to Sugar Smallhouse that made Charlie Max loose his nerve.  And yeah, Hammer is the ‘hero.’  He just can’t stop pulling at the threads that will bring about a revelation and an apocalyptic ending.  It’s hard to explain the movie.  You’ve just got to see it.  And when it goes where it goes, get ready to have to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Ministry of Fear:  A man leaves an institution after many years, only to immediately get wrapped up in a strange conspiracy of Nazis and cake.  Or is he mad?  A twisting, turning story of paranoia and ever threatening danger.  Those danged Nazis might be anywhere.  The movie is beautifully shot, stylish in that Lang way, and convoluted and weird.  The rooftop shootout is wild, and the ending is nuts.

Dragonwyck:  “Every now and then, you say ‘golly.’”  A pretty young woman goes to live in a colossal mansion as a sort of governess.  But all is not as it seems, and the house is hardly a home.  Gene Tierney is the plucky woman.  Vincent Price is the rather dastardly, snooty master of the house.  Conflict between classes, between the moneyed families and the salt of the Earth farm folk are just the tip of the Gothic iceberg.  It’s sort of a higher budget precursor to Price’s later work in Poe adaptations for Roger Corman.

Murder, My Sweet:  “It ain’t personal.  We don’t like you.  But it ain’t personal.”  I like the script, but Dick Powell, while likable, doesn’t feel right as a hardboiled detective.  It’s a solid noir, but not an amazing one.  It’s worth checking out, and has some of those great little Noir quips.  But Powell is a bit goofy.

Pandora’s Box:  Everyone wants a bit of Louise Brooks, and generally, she’s willing to share.  And that’s where the problems begin.  Everyone seems to love her, but she just wants to have fun.  This leads to wild parties, marriage, murder, messing about, and all the things a woman gets up to when she’s not barefoot and making babies.  Louise Brooks plays a flapper-monster, but somehow remains charming.  She’s not the kind of aggravating Betty Boop of Clara Bow.  She seems like she’s got more going on behind her eyes, and that she may just be the evil the courts think she is.

    That’s about it this week.  But hey, Fantastic Fest at the Alamo and a trip the AFI mean this was a good week for this Dork.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

50th Anniversary Doctor Who Poll

Today is Doctor Who's 50th anniversary.  Half a century ago, a crotchety old Doctor, his precocious young granddaughter Susan, and her teachers Barbara and Ian all entered a police box in a junk yard in England, and began a cosmic adventure of grand proportions.  When the lead actor grew too old/ill to play the part, the show was still hugely popular, and a decision was made that would alter the course of the show and give it legs nobody saw coming.  The Doctor was an alien, right?  So he 'regenerates.'  This let the show continue with a new actor in the title roll, and history was made.  Now, 50 years later (with a break in the 90s), Peter Capaldi is about to take up the roll as the twelfth Doctor.  There have been good times and bad, and each person who sees the show has their own favorite moments and characters.  So, once again, we here at In the Mouth of Dorkness ask you the reader, who is your favorite actor to play the part of the Doctor?  Please take a moment to look to the right of the page and vote.  Voting ends on November 30, 2013.  Thanks!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Brad's Week in Dork! (11/10/13-11/16/13)

I took it easy this week.  Nothing too exciting or revolutionary was consumed.  The best bits involved John Carpenter and everybody's favorite inmate.  I cranked out one new film from 2013 (too bad it was a meh), and our latest meeting of The Ultimate Justice League of Extraordinary Graphic Novel Book Club was a rip roaring success.  Still, I will have to do much better next week.  (Pssst...since this is going up several days late, I can tell you that next's week's entry is waaaaaaaay better.  Two words - Fantastic Fest!).

Ain't Them Bodies Saints:  Not quite Bonnie & Clyde or Badlands, this tale of outlaw romance is too one sided to claim kinship with superior films, but director David Lowery certainly seems intent on imposing Terrance Mallick's self-important lingering eye on the characters and setting.  After several years of incarceration, Casey Affleck escapes the state pen in a mad dash to reunite with his wife and daughter.  Rooney Mara hides too much emotion, and the question of her undying love for Affleck is more frustrating than compelling.  If I liked anything about this wannabe Texas Noir, it's the side players.  Ben Foster stretches beyond his usual rage fueled persona, and actually captures a sadsack with his portrayal of Deputy Wheeler, lost in the gaze of the equally lovelorn Mara.  And of course I love Keith Carradine playing a scumbag cowboy of yesteryear.  If the film actually took his point of view than maybe I would have given a damn about the plot.

Man of Steel:  There is so much that I love about this film - the birth of Kal-El, the destruction of Krypton, Russell Crowe's badass space daddy, and yes, the third act nonstop devastation of Metropolis.  But there is also so much that I hate about this film - Michael Shannon's screaming Zod, the nonstop shaky cam, and Pa Kent's desperate fear for his alien son.  Still, I was quick to snatch up the blu ray this week and it's looks gorgeous in high definition.  You will believe a man can fly.  Then I watched the Honest Trailer.  Yikes.  "...this is the reboot for you psycho."  The Screen Junkies have a special ability to cut to the quick of Blockbuster Idiocy, and their latest Man of Steel ribbing just might be the most brutally accurate attack yet.  Funny as hell too.  Man of Steel is not garbage, but it's also not The Dark Knight it so desperately want to be - Snyder certainly doesn't understand or appreciate the differences between DC Comics's flagship characters.  Which is not only a shame, but utterly pathetic when you think of how Marvel Studios seems to have cracked the nut of not just their Avengers, but the god damn Rocket Raccoon.  Madness.

Thor - The Dark World:  Coming off my Man of Steel rewatch, I'm even more impressed with the universe building going on at The House of Ideas.  This God of Thunder sequel certainly doesn't reach the heavens like The Avengers or even Iron Man 3, but I really appreciate the adventurous spirit of this science-fiction fantasy.  Space Ships and Lasers and Elves Oh My!  Marvel Studios doesn't seem interested in elevating the super hero genre, only in establishing it's comic book roots into the multiplexes.  Are the films as good as the funny pages?  Not yet.  But we're well on our way.

Escape From New York:  "You gonna kill me now, Snake?"  Kurt Russell does Clint Eastwood in yet another faux Western from John Carpenter, and its a masterpiece of 80s machismo.  Escape From New York manages to walk the line of camp and super cool TNT.  It's the 1990s.  America has gone to pot.  Manhattan has been transformed into a maximum security prison to house the very worst of its home grown scum.  Murderers, Rapists, Cab Drivers.  When Air Force One crash lands behind the walls, Lee Van Cleef's warden can think of only one thing to do - send in celebrity outlaw Snake Plissken to take down Isaac Hayes's overlord and retrieve POTUS.  Sure, that makes sense.  Everyone might think he's dead, but Kurt Russell's Snake is very much alive as he dispatches a cadre of freaks - my favorite being the shark toothed Frank Doubleday.  Man,  that dude is scary.  Escape From New York is packed with great supporting players like Harry Dead Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, and Donald Pleasance.  None of them get terrible amounts of screen time, but all seem to take great pleasure in chewing the scenery.  "You're the Duke!  You're A Number Onnnnnnnnne!!!!!"  Seriously, if you've been watching movies for more than a decade than hopefully you already know the giddy joys of John Carpenter's Escape From New York.  Gosh, why they attempted to retread this script in LA is beyond me, but I'm ready for a proper sequel.

The Fog:  "Something did happen once."  That quote pretty much sums up my feelings for this Carpenter misstep.  I dig the opening campfire spook story, but the actual plot involving pirate ghosts in the mist is real dullsville.  Tom Atkins costars without his mustache and that's probably the first mistake in a string of them.  The other big one being the leading lady split between Adrienne Barbeaux's DJ Mama and Jaime Lee Curtis' mop-topped drifter.  The film never seems happy with its direction, jumping from scene to scene, and providing a kill when the filmmakers have no clue on what to do next.  Dean Cundey's cinematography is typically moody, and you can never hate on a John Carpenter score, but The Fog never finds its footing and none of the actors seem too bothered to be there.  Scream Factory goes all in with the blu ray, but all the special features in the world can't save this snooze.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang:  Check out Matt's review for a little more depth, but I found this dueling graphic novel to be exceptional.  The first book follows China's Boxer Rebellion from the point of view of young Bao, a child who's fatherly hero worship is wrecked when Pop is horrendously beaten at the hands of "foreign devils."  Under the tutelage of Red Lantern Chu & Master Big Belly, Bao is possessed by the gods of China and leads a revolution against those that would enslave their land and culture.  What begins as a Kung Fu romp quickly turns to stomach churning genocide.  The second book, Saints, explores The Boxer Rebellion from the point of view of young Four-Girl.  A child cursed by her family by simply being alive.  Her quest for Devilhood and familial banishment eventually brings Four-Girl into the not-so-open arms of Christianity as well as the confused spirit of Joan of Arc.  Not the happiest of comic books, I was surprised to discover that everyone in our Graphic Novel Book Club loved the dueling stories...but not for the same reasons.  And as such, Boxers & Saints turned out to be one of our more successful discussions and I would recommend it to anyone looking beyond the capes & spandex of the four color form.

CBGB:  If you loved Randall Miller's Bottle Shock or Noble Son than you'll love this follow up.  The problem is that you didn't love either of those movies, you just thought they were o.k.  So is CBGB.  It's always fun to see Alan Rickman in a starring turn, and his Hilly Krystal is a fun bit of morose enthusiasm.  And I guess its cool to see Malin Akerman as Deborah Harry or Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome.  But if Punk music is more than just The Sex Pistols to you than you'll probably role your eyes a bunch during the film's run time.  Painfully slight, but not the worst way to kill 90 minutes.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: I Wonder

    As I don’t have kids, and probably never will, I don’t focus a great deal of my time on kids books (Philip Reeve’s work being the usual exception).  However, I thought this one warranted some attention, because it’s such an uncommon thing.  Annaka Harris has written a book about the joy of realizing you don’t know something.  No, it’s not a book that celebrates ignorance.  It celebrates recognizing the ends of your knowledge and the beginnings of your quest to learn.  It’s a book that lets a child (and adult) know that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know;” to wonder.  Wonder is how it all begins.

    The art by John Rowe is gorgeous, and intensely colorful.  It’s somehow impressionist, but with a photographic quality, and is really something to look at.  It features the kind of images I’d have been absolutely lost in as a child.  This is the sort of visually striking thing I always craved, and rarely found.  The stuff that propelled me in to wanting to read more, to learn more, and to create more.  Pictures like these were inspirational when it came to early attempts at writing and at art.

    For parents who want to encourage their children to learn, to quest for knowledge, to admit they don’t know the right answer (and to try to find out what is the right answer), this is a great pick.  And honestly, how many kids books have a recommendation from a physics & astronomy professor on the back?

I Wonder
Author: Annaka Harris
Art: John Rowe
Publisher: Four Elephants Press
ISBN: 978-1-940051-04-8


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (11/10/13-11/16/13)

    I’m still working on several books, but at least I finished a couple this week.  Otherwise, I’ve been continuing my Criterion kick, with a few others to spice things up.

The Uninvited:  “Dinner will be late.  It’s the lamb being awkward.”  There’s something very strange about this ghost story.  A brother and sister buy a house with a bit too much character.  There’s a long, slow build to strange events, and a most British way of dealing with things.  And there are deeper layers to what’s going on.  An interesting film, if not an amazing one.

Coriolanus:  “Make you a sword of me.”  Ralph Fiennes is an engine of hate that grinds the enemies of Rome beneath his booted feet.  When politicians turn their backs on him, depths of revenge he will descend to will shake the very foundations of the world.  This adaptation of the Shakespeare play takes place in a modern-combat world that resembles the worst of the Balkan fighting.  Vile hate, bloody vengeance, and the passions of angry and proud men.  It’s Shakespeare, man.

Repo Man:  “I blame society.”  Punk rock meets weird in this wild, strange, and totally 80s flick.  A lot of philosophy and surrealism, as strange people of all sorts come together in a search for a mysterious car with a trunk full of…something.  Obviously, not a movie for everyone, this is a must see for those willing to try something unusual.  The music is great, the performances fun, and the whole movie is, uh, special.

Crash and Burn:  In a grim, wind swept desert of a future, conspiracies and danger abound in an outland TV station.  There are hints of The Thing, as tests are done to try to figure out who is a synth and who is human, who might be an shadow agent for the obligatory evil government.  This movie was from the golden age of Full Moon, when the low budget studio seemed like they were still trying, presenting some interesting ideas that were more ambitious than successful.  And when it comes to science fiction movies, I’ll take ambitious failures over lackadaisical successes.

Robot Wars:  I respect the ‘go-for-it’ attitude of this film.  However, the script isn’t good.  And the acting…well, it’s even less good.  I think, when all is said and done, it’s more of a robot tiff, than a robot war.  But it’s OK enough to get through the fairly short runtime.  The lead male feels like a half-assed Rowdy Roddy Piper.  And the two ladies are kinda terrible (including the relatively un-surgeried Lisa Rinna and Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton).  An OK entry in the Full Moon robot based science fiction file, but not one to stress out about seeing.

Hotel Chevalier:  A short film, and first chapter to the full length film The Darjeeling Limited, this takes place in a hotel room in France, where a lost guy is found by a former love.  The relationship isn’t fully clear, but it’s not good.  There’s not a lot to it, but the music is nice, and it’s full of little Wes Anderson quirks.

The Darjeeling Limited:  “Where’s those nuts at?”  Three cracked brothers meet up on a train in India, for what’s supposed to be a spiritual journey.  But that doesn’t really pan out.  As they travel from one site to another, having little adventures, each one tries to fix their relationship.  But none of the brothers has any idea how to fix themselves, much less a tattered fraternal love.  Outside of a James Bond movie, I don’t think India has ever looked more beautiful, or more like somewhere I’d want to have an adventure.  And while the train, The Darjeeling Limited, feels like a typical Wes Anderson hyper-artificial set, it’s interesting seeming him filming on real locations, taking his odd style to places that aren’t built from the ground up for his purposes.  The movie is cute, sad (very sad), funny, and of course, exceptionally bent.

Godzilla VS Biollante:  The 90s Godzilla films (this 1989 film was the second in the run) were not good.  They’re cheaper looking and sillier, but silly in a not so fun sort of way.  I like that, starting with The Return of Godzilla (aka Godzilla 1985), they tried to bring it back to its monster movie roots, making Godzilla a force of nature, not an ally of humanity.  Sadly, they’re just not good, and this is no exception.  I like the monster design, if not the execution.  A weird plant-Godzilla hybrid is seriously weird, and seeing it shuffle across the countryside makes me wish the movie was better, because that could have been terrifying.

I Declare War:  “I have killing techniques.”  Visualizing the imaginative and violent play of childhood, this film feels like something out of my own youth.  I used to play ‘guns’ with kids in my neighborhood.  Of course, we didn’t have a sociopath playing, so it never got this dark.  In fact, I think we always kept things pretty civilized.  The movie is certainly interesting, and I’m sure will stir up some controversy because of the portrayal of kids and violence.

Prince Avalanche:  “I’m pretty optimistic about next weekend.”  2013 seems to be the year of the lone wo(man).  Being alone, being lonely, or being separate has been a key ingredient of many of the year’s films.  Two guys, working together out in the middle of frickin’ nowhere, deal with various versions of being lone and alone.  Products of the City, they’re finding a slice of something (happiness? peace?) out in the Wild.  The movie isn’t amazing, or especially profound.  But it’s an enjoyable watch, funny in its way, and worth checking out.  It also looks very nice.

Barbara:  I’m still fascinated with the Cold War, likely because of growing up in its shadow, and my odd feelings toward the 50s and 60s that I won’t get into here.  I’m also interested in different perspectives on events, places, or times.  This drama focuses on a woman living under scrutiny in East Germany, while she tries to work at a hospital, and seems to be planning some kind of escape to the West.  She’s a cold figure, beautiful, but unapproachable and reserved.  But as the film progresses, I became more and more curious about just who this woman was.  Seeing a more idyllic, less industrial nightmare version of East Germany makes the ever watchful Big Brother that much more sinister.  What seems ubiquitous in an urban sprawl seems horribly out of place in the green and beautiful countryside.

Thor: The Dark World:  I continue to scratch my head as I watch this massive Marvel comics mythology building on the big screen.  As far as I can figure, it’s unprecedented.   Multiple series, all connecting into a greater whole.  It’s madness, and it’s wonderful.  And I’m not even a Marvel fan.  The second outing for the God of Thunder isn’t quite as cohesive as the first film, and I don’t think it’s overall, quite as good.  However, it’s still a great deal of fun.  I love that the movie spends relatively little time on Earth, cranks up the mad sci-fantasy, yet still keeps those little bits of awkward humor (the scene on the subway cracks me up).  I’m not sold on the style of filmmaking, which feels a bit too shaky, and blurred.  Which in this day and age means kind of generic.  Though that was hardly so extreme as to ruin the film.  It’s hard for me to review the movie, honestly.  I’m just dumbstruck by the fact that this is happening.  There’s a Guardians of the Galaxy film coming.  They’re really doing it.  How has this come to be?

    On Friday night, we met again for the graphic novel book club.  This time around we discussed Boxers & Saints, a historic fiction (with fantasy elements).  The group had a lively discussion, with lots of different opinions considering everyone seemed to like the book.

Summer with Monika:  A young woman trying to find love in the world, and a young boy with his head in the clouds come together for a bit of romance.  Their awkward awakenings to sex and love are charming and melancholic in that Bergman way.  And their adventure on a boat is full childlike wonder on the one hand, and emerging sexuality on the other.  Unlike so many movies of this type, it shows the consequences of actions.  There are several moments when you feel like the movie is going to end, when it reaches the point a movie normally would cut to credits, but then it tortures you with an ‘and then…’  It’s rough when things go from idyllic and pretty to…well…not.

Bad Day at Black Rock:  “I live a quiet, contemplative life.”  A guy gets off a train at a town full of secrets.  Things don’t go too well after that.  Spencer Tracy seems a bit too old for the part he’s playing, but he’s quite good.  And as he and Robert Ryan face off, it gets uncomfortable.  Lots of good character actors play goons of one sort or another.  It gets mean.  Real mean.

Rules of the Game:  They didn’t have to deal with the Hayes Codes in France, I guess.  This funny, but ultimately somewhat tragic examination of upper-class twits is sometimes disconcertingly contemporary.  It’s funny, it’s risqué, and it works well as a time capsule from another time.  The director, Jean Renoir, also has an important supporting role in the film, and is quite good.

    So, over the course of the week, I was able to finish Boxers & Saints, and A Manual for Creating Atheists.  Both were pretty good in their own way.  Not too much else going on.  But by next month’s graphic novel club meeting, I’ve got to come up with my choice.  I’m weighing some options.