Prometheus and Humans

The internets have been ablaze with white-hot nerd rage over Ridley Scott’s movie,’Prometheus.’ “Absurd and unrealistic,” the masses cry. “Geologists getting lost?  Never going to happen!  People taking their helmets off on another planet when the risks are obvious? Nobody could be that stupid! Completely destroyed of my suspension of disbelief!”  And etc., etc., etc. and so forth.

As far as “people being stupid” is unrealistic, well, given the evidence that surrounds us — constant, non stop stupidity, I’m surprised that we expect fictional people to be smarter than actual people. In the real world you see people crowding around those concrete ashtrays with cigarettes outside of hospitals.  I wonder how many of those smokers are going to go take care of cancer patients after their smoke break?  If you didn’t think the eidence was clear that humanity is a pretty self deluding species, consider this: Burger King thinks a bacon sundae is a good idea. And then there are those three words that prove that humanity is just smart enough to get itself into all kinds of complicated messes but not smart enough to get out of those same messes: sub-prime mortgage crisis.

And as far as geologists getting lost in tunnels, well, I can completely buy that.  NASA spent 125 million dollars on a Mars probe in 1999 that failed because one team was doing calculations in metric while the other was doing calculations in miles and quarts and pounds. I would have thought someone at NASA would have asked, “What does this ‘km’ after this number mean?” or something similar before they sent 125 million up into space, but apparently not.

And a helmet isn’t going to help you anyway:

Fred Phelp’s nightmare.

Entertain Me

Not a scene from Prometheus… this is a parasite in some dude’s eyeball

Due to a combination of getting a new day job (been on it since May 2nd so it still feels new)… and this being gardening season (so I’m doing a some work outside on the garden — and, yes, it is a garden since we are growing food and flowers and not  grass and shrubs) plus some commissions, I’ve been pretty busy and the blogs have been languishing a bit.  I’ve closed the other ‘word press’ blog down for now just to reduce the number of things I am ignoring, intending a re-design. I don’t know when I’ll get to that… if I never do, no big loss.  Since I’ve been ignoring the blogs and haven’t been writing anything controversial or interesting anyway, my readership seems to have plunged, so I guess the world can afford to wait.

I never know how much to say about commissions I have been working on.  If it is for a published product, I think it is probably best to let the publisher make the first announcement, and, once they do, I’ll try to make a mention of it here. I think I can say that there are some crowdfunding projects I have been associated with that are bearing fruit and others that are not without stepping on any toes. There are also some new adventures and things coming out of Goodman Games that I have been working on (some for DCC game, others not specifically aligned with DCC but more ‘general game freak interest’ things).

I have a bunch of artwork I would love to put in the etsy shop, but have been having trouble even imagining first matching scans and prices and sizes and descriptions with artwork, then loading all that info up on Etsy, then packing it all and shipping it out… taken by themselves, each of those tasks seems tiny, but you add ‘em all up and start wondering where your break-even point is as far as hours and aggravation spent versus dollars obtained.

Finally got around to watching  “John Carter” (or trying to) but we gave up long before the end of the film.  I haven’t read those ‘Barsoom’ books in ~20 years, and, while I think the costumes, etc., looked a lot like what I imagined Mars looking like (maybe because they looked a lot like the ‘John Carter’ comics I read as a youngster), we just didn’t enjoy it and Annie looked at me about 30 minutes in and said, “Do you want to give up on this?”  Since she was the one who put it in the Netflix queue (the ‘Friday Night Lights’ guy who played John Carter is her guilty pleasure), we popped it back in the envelope and mailed it back to Netflix. The one thing I did like is the pained look on John Carter’s face every time the green Martians called him ‘Virginia’ (they didn’t quite understand that “Virginia” was where he was from and not his name), but maybe that’s because I think that small bit of gender confusion would drive Burroughs crazy.
We also went to see “Prometheus” in the theatre this weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m trying to work out what the difference is between a movie that is puzzling and thought provoking (Prometheus) or just muddled and disorganized (the first 30 minutes of John Carter). Both films had some great acting talent in them; I just think the Prometheus writers nailed down an interesting and thought provoking story that used the talent of the actors and John Carter had a good-looking hero in a loincloth who could jump really high and a lot of other characters I could not keep straight. Both movies featured actors whose work I enjoyed from the TV show, ‘The Wire.’  “John Carter” had Dominic West (aka Detective McNulty) playing a villain and “Prometheus” had Idris Elba (aka Stringer Bell) playing the captain of the ship upon which the characters are travelling. “Friday Night Lights” never lit up my pleasure centers the way it lit up Annie’s (she loved it, but, since she is a writer, she loves character/dialogue driven narrative), but I think the actor who played ‘John Carter’ is a good physical actor, i.e.: when he is supposed to look pensive or angry or indifferent he can do that without having to resort to saying, “I am thinking… I am pissed off… I don’t care,” — there just wasn’t enough of a story there for him to show any of those things (at least not in the first 30 minutes)… but, if memory serves, the original E.R. Burroughs source material doesn’t have any ‘internal drama’ anyway, so maybe Disney was just trying to hew closely to the source material, ha ha.

This brings me to a problem.  I like a lot of ‘bubblegum’ movies for what they are… thrills and action and near-mindless entertainment… so it seems unfair to compare ‘John Carter’ with ‘Prometheus’ simply because Prometheus was much more ambitious in its storytelling.  And, honestly, the only reason I think to compare them are the fact that they are both ‘sci-fi’ and we happened to see them both on the same weekend.  In the end, ‘John Carter’ failed for me because after the first 30 minutes I was willing to turn it off, whereas halfway through Prometheus I had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to leave the theatre because I didn’t want to miss any of it. And I guess that was the key difference between the two films for me.  One of them left me not caring whether or not I saw it and the other had me wanting to see the whole thing.  Maybe thats the thing I want from art/entertainment/whatever. I want it to be like an addictive drug.  I want it to make me keep wanting it.

The Pack (movie)

Continuing my fascination with French horror cinema, recently I watched The Pack (2010), in French with subtitles, directed by Franck Richard and starring Yolande Moreau, Émilie Dequenne and Benjamin Biolay. It is a film that gets mostly bad reviews, but I enjoyed it despite a few gaping narrative holes. Spoilers abound; read no further if spoilers bother you.

The movie starts with a tattooed, chain-smoking punk rock girl named Charlotte driving across a really creepy and isolated part of the country, nursing a broken heart and listening to CDs.  She has an encounter with some bikers who harass her and picks up a hitch hiker named Max. Note that these bikers are not ‘Tour-de-France’ bikers, they are leather-clad motor cycle riders. She and Max strike up a friendship of a sort. They arrive at a greasy diner where the bikers catch up with them; the rape of both Charlotte and Max seems eminent, but the owner of the diner, a tough old woman, pulls out a shotgun and tells them to bugger off.

Max goes into the bathroom to wash up after the fight and disappears. Charlotte decides there is a mystery afoot, talks to a fat, lewd and retired alcoholic policeman who is hanging around the diner and discovers what looks like a secret door in the washroom.  She comes back that night, after the restaurant is closed, to find out what the secret door is about and to try and figure out what happened to Max. She gets hit on the head from behind and ends up in a cage in the cellar along with some other unfortunates.

Max and the old woman are, it turns out, are mother and son and have been capturing travelers and torturing them, draining their blood for nefarious purposes.  Charlotte and ‘John Wayne’ (a fellow prisoner in a cowboy hat) end up hanging from a scaffold set up in front of a shack at a nearby abandoned mine site while mother and Max watch.  During the night, eyeless goblins in coveralls (perhaps mutant miners or their offspring?) crawl out of the ground and drink their blood.  ‘John Wayne’ is torn limb from limb and a weakened Charlotte is returned to her cage.

The fat, lewd, retired alcoholic policeman finds Charlotte’s car hidden under a tarp and decides that the woman who owns the diner has been lying to him about Charlotte having moved on.  He breaks into the cellar and frees Charlotte.  They kill/cage the evil mother and declare temporary truce with Max.  Max tells them they have to take care of the ‘goblins’ and he and Charlotte set off for the mine while the fat lewd policeman gets strangled by the evil mother who isn’t dead after all.

Max and Charlotte arrive at the mine shack only to discover that the bikers have taken up residence there.  The bikers announce that they intend to rape Max and Charlotte, but then evil mom shows up with her shotgun and starts shooting at them, blowing holes into their feeble shack.  Max shows the biker that there is a stash of weapons hidden in the shack and they board the place up in anticipation of the blood goblins arriving and wanting their blood.

One of the bikers goes outside the shack and mortally wounds the mother.  As he stands over her, gloating, the evil old woman tells him he is fucked and smiles as the blood goblins come out of the ground, rip out his heart and eat it in front of him.  Max, Charlotte and Biker #2 blast away with shotguns while Biker #3 reads a novel.  Unfortunately, the blood goblins won’t stay dead and they really want blood.

The shack ends up on fire, we don’t know what happened to Max and the bikers all die messy deaths.  Charlotte manages to escape, but gets caught in a snare and tracked down by the blood goblins, one of whom starts either chewing on her thigh or giving her cunnilingus (or maybe both).  Suddenly we see that she is pregnant and running the diner with Max, but, no, that is just a dream…  The film then ends with her hanging from the scaffold, one of her legs chewed off, and she is obviously not long for this mortal coil.

I don’t think the origin of the blood goblins is ever explained.  Max says something about his mother losing it after the rest of her sons were killed in mine accidents before the mine was shut down and that the miners had dug too deep buth if this means that the blood goblins are his brothers in some undead form is not made clear.  When I saw Charlotte pregnant, I assumed we were going to find out that the blood goblins were the offspring of people in the area, but then it turned out to be a fucked up dream so never mind.  The people in the film didn’t call them ‘blood goblins;’ that’s just my name for them.

The film is equal parts “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes” with some “Frontiers” thrown in for good measure.  I can understand why it got bad reviews, but for Eurotrashsploitation horror cinema I found it pretty enjoyable.  On my personal French Horror Film scale, not as good as The Horde or Frontiers, but better than Prey.

Videodrome (1983)

In David Cronenberg’s film, Videodrome (1983), an ethically challenged cable news station manager is becoming addicted to snuff film videos, and, while watching them and fondling a Walther PPK pistol (James Bond’s gun), he discovers that a vaginal-like slot has appeared in his stomach. So he does what any reasonable person would do in that situation — he begins to nuzzle the strange opening with the barrel of his weapon, finally jamming the whole pistol and hand in there (which seems to be either painful or orgasmic)… and losing his pistol when his stomach vagina suddenly dissapears.

Given that he has made ‘body horror’ films like Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch and Videodrome, I wonder if Cronenberg’s mother read things like Kafka’s Metamorphosis to him when he was in utero.

Despite the datedness of some of the technology (pirate video involving Betamax tapes and cable scramblers), the movie was great. The wikipedia entry calls it “techno-surrealist” (which is pretty apt) and it’s interesting to try and go back to when “cyborgism” and William Gibson techno novels were still new concepts. The paranoia in this film would make Phillip K. Dick proud. Debbie Harry is great as a seductress/masochist and there was a lot of wierd shit in it, which allowed me to forgive the clunky dialogue. Plus there is an exploding hand that blows a perfectly timed escape hole in the back wall of a store that is like a cartoon — funny and wierd. The protagonist escapes through the hole into a street full of people who are ignoring the fact that a wall just exploded and a dude with a vagina in his stomach came running out. Perhaps that kind of stuff happens pretty often in Toronto. James Woods stars as the stomach-vaginaed Max Renn.

Why do they do this?

In almost every single movie where someone on foot is being chased by a car, the person being chased always seems to run along the road rather than off of the road. Why is that?


There is a very short post by James M. over at Grognardia which has garnered 70+ comments and counting. James M. stuck up the picture at right (which is of the actor who is playing the part of Thorin, leader of the dwarves, from Jackson’s “Hobbit” film) along with a caption saying who it was. Most of the comments (I haven’t read them all) seem to be debating the issue of whether or not this ‘looks’ like one of Tolkien’s dwarves or not.

I’m less interested in whether or not this ‘looks like Thorin or not’ and the other issue it raises for me: If I read a book and then later see that same book made into a film, sometimes I feel like the images from the movie will actually replace those of my own imagination, which is strange and somewhat disquieting. I know I read ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ long before I saw the films, but when I imagine what Frodo looks like today, I imagine Elija Wood instead of whomever I might have pictured in my mind’s eye before that (who knows: perhaps I imagined those huge eyed midgets from the Rankin-Bass cartoon and singing goblins?).

I don’t think the above ‘Thorin’ looks how I pictured him. I lived in Germany as a wee kid and had access to all kinds of really old fairy tale books as a kid which somehow made me imagine dwarves as somewhat more stumpy, grouchy looking garden gnomes with wrinkled faces and impossibly long beards. I know that’s just a step away from the somewhat maudlin Walt Disney Snow White cartoon, but Disney’s images and mine may have been drawn from the same sources (we had a pile of illustrated German fairy tale books that I think inspired me to want to draw, some of which were old when my mother was a child. Among them is Heinrich Hoffmann’s “Struwwelpeter” which is probably still in reprint today and continues to guarantee that German kids grow up somewhat perverse and twisted — but there are no dwarves in Struwwelpeter; just kids getting killed, mutilated or humiliated).

I sometimes feel like my brain is a crowded house, and when I introduce new things into it, other things get shoved out the back door and forgotten. People who study brains and learning assure me that the human mind does not work like this, but sometimes I think conceptualization and imagination does. One of the strengths of stories like ‘The Hobbit’ is that the author gives a lot of little details in the course of telling the story but lets the reader paint his or her own picture of what the character may look like. We know that Bilbo is fat and out of shape because we start by learning about how the dwarves invade his comfortable middle class house and take advantage of his hospitality and he is out of breath from running back and forth trying to fill all of their requests for beer, cheese, wine, etc. Later in the story he complains about being hungry or not having even the smallest items of personal comfort like a handkerchief. Waistcoats and round doors and hairy feet are mentioned, but part of the pleasure of the story is taking all of these little details and creating a character image from it as you read rather than having the author give a visual inventory of Biblo Baggins at the start. If memory serves, Tolkien does not tell us a lot about how the dwarves look other than saying that they have cloaks and beards and hoods. Thorin is noted as having a silver tassel on his hood and being treated with respect by the other dwarves but I don’t recall a great deal of specificity in their individual description. The only dwarf who stands out is Bombur, who is noted as being very fat. As a reader I may have just assumed dwarves were shorter than humans because they are called ‘dwarves.’ I don’t know if that was ever specifically stated in ‘The Hobbit.’ (And, while we are on the subject, is ‘dwarves’ really correct? Should it be ‘dwarfs’?)

I don’t feel qualified to argue whether my ‘dwarf image’ is better than Jacksons… mine is probably pretty dull and predictable given what I was exposed to as a kid… but my dwarf image is mine and feels like a gift from both my own brain and the author.

I know when The Hobbit finally hits theaters I will see it. But part of me doesn’t want to. Part of me thinks that every specific image of the imaginary I expose myself to in very immersive technologies like movies risks replacing images I mentally generated in my own more piecemeal fashion, and that feels like I am perhaps giving something up.

Who is Charles Foster Kane?

Citizen Kane was one of those movies that they used to show us in school to illustrate the ‘art’ of cinema and I think most of the kids watching resented it because we really didn’t want to see some ‘old’ movie where nothing blew up, no one got shot, there was no shower scene and we had to pay attention to what people were saying in order to understand the point of the film.

Despite my immaturity at the time of the first viewing, I remember thinking Citizen Kane was a great movie, even though, as a kneejerk teenager I was probably predisposed to hate everything that a teacher might have said was worth watching. What I continue to like about it is that it is one of the few films in which the ‘hero’ (Welles’ “Kane”) transforms from a charismatic, idealistic and energetic reformer into a tyrant. Usually we get to see it go the other way around (the ‘bad man’ gets a shot at redemption).

I understand Rupert Murdoch’s career has followed a similar trajectory, except without the “once having been a nice guy” part. According to folks who knew him ‘back in the day,’ when he was in college he was an outspoken leftist and continually publically pilloried his fellow students for perceived defects in character or ideology. As the son of a wealthy Australian newspaper owner, he was apparently one of those people who claimed to ‘love the common man’ without ever wanting to actually go through the inconvenience of having to be a common man. He dropped the ‘Labour’ party bit like other folks droped flares and found his raison d’etre as a “kingmaker.”

My own hope is that, frustrated by the recent “News of the World” scandal, he will soon retire to his Xanadu where he will marinade in isolation and bitterness and eventually mutter the name of a beloved childhood toy before slipping off to the next world. Unfortunately, the real world is not like cinema and the grasping, cynical people seem to live forever.

Prey (2010)

Three generations of the Lefevre family go into the woods; only one Lefevre comes back out!

(At right: Grandpa says, “Look at the size of that porker!” Later, Grandpa becomes a boar snack…)

I normally like French horror films, but 2010’s ‘Prey’ (original title ‘Proie’) was less than satisfying simply because it stuck too closely to ‘there is a big critter out there and the hunters have become the hunted!’ without transcending any of these standard tropes. Since Prey was Antoine Blossier’s first film, perhaps his producers did not let him take a lot of chances; I’ll be interested to see what this director does next because I think the film was very competently made. Most of my complaints are that the story ‘played it safe’ and we pretty much knew what was going to happen early on in the film.

The Lefevre family owns an old farm that has been in the family for generations and a brand new chemical fertilizer business. Deer are found mutilated on the property, and a wild boar of enormous size is suspected. Accompanied by their daughter’s fiance (who is a doctor), the Lefevre men set off to hunt down the wild pig. Did I mention there is a lot of tension in the family? Apparently the older generation dislike the newfangled fertilizer business and the grown son who started the fertilizer business thinks his father and brother don’t appreciate his hard work and all of the money he has made for them. The doctor fiance resents the fact that his future father-in-law doesn’t want his daughter, a chemist, to leave the fertilizer business to get married. Despite the fact that his daughter is pregnant, he tells the fiance that “there will always be time for children later.” Clearly, dad is a douche (even Uncle and Grandpa think so).

There is a file of secret reports of some kind that fertilizer father and chemist daughter keep passing back and forth and the doctor future son-in-law notices chemical burns on the skin of the grandfather, plus there are frequent closeups of the chemical handling pumps and manufacturing plant, implying that all is not on the up-and-up in the Lefevre fertilizer business but douche-bag fertilizer father insists that his daughter keep it a secret.

The men head off into the woods to hunt the boar… but, in a series of events that a blind man could have seen coming a mile off we discover that the boars are mutated and evil and agressive due to some chemical shit that the douchebag son has contaminated the lake with in his desire to ‘remain competative’ in the fertilizer business. The hunters become the hunted and half of the movie takes place in the woods at night.

We never really get a good look at the giant wild pigs that are killing off the Lefevres and I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. One of my favorite horror films, Alien, almost never showed us the monsters, so the few times we did see it, it had a lot more impact… and I think Prey was opperating under the same principle… but the glimpses of boar’s heads, noses and tusks that we get just don’t look that convincing or scary. The only scene that made me sad is when the uncle’s dog gets killed by one of the mutant pigs but when ‘Dutch’ the dog was introduced at the start of the film, we pretty much knew it was just a matter of time.

Black Death (2010) Movie Review

Black Death (2010) is a “historical” thriller set in Medieval England (14th century?) during the worst years of the black plague.

The Premise: A young monk named Osmund has fallen in love with a woman named Avril. A hard hearted and dogmatic knight named Ulrich (played by Sean Bean) arrives at the monastery and demands a guide to a remote village which is supposed to be mysteriously free of the plague. Heresey and witchcraft is suspected. Ulrich’s job is to investigate and execute any “necromancers” using any means he deems necessary. Since the swamp is in the same direction as the place where Osmund’s girlfriend is to be found, Osmund believes this is a sign from God that he ought to leave the monastery and go to be with her; he agrees to guide Ulrich and his mercenaries (complete with a wagon load of torture devices) to the swamp.

Eventually they arrive at the remote village where everything is not what it seems and horrible events unfold. Spoiler: Oswald is reunited with his love, but the reunion is not a happy one. The movie starts off bleak and ends bleaker.

The film is of modest budget (by current Hollywood standards) but the film makers do a lot with what they have. It looks like most or all of the film was shot on locations in Germany using period structures instead of building sets (and, other than one scene in which I noticed a decidedly non-period glass window in the background, this gives the film a gritty feel you probably couldn’t get from picture perfect sets). The color is intentionally desaturated and the air filled with smoke and haze while wretched looking peasants and hard looking mercenaries slop through the mud. There are no big-budget special effects and the fight scenes in the film are brutal rather than heroic. The music is spare and the dialogue terse.

The film is a thriller and seeks to set up the viewer’s expectations only to knock them down. At first the viewer thinks that Ulrich and his inquisitors must be the villains, but by the end you are not so sure. It might be ‘Name of the Rose’ meets ‘Apocalypse Now’ with a cupful of ‘The Stepford Wives’ in terms of story. Well worth a watch.

Dead Alive (1992)

If I had seen Peter Jackson’s film, “Dead Alive,” in 1992 and been told that Jackson would go on to direct 3 “Lord of the Rings” movies that would weigh in at a hefty 9 or so hours and make a gazillion dollars plus spawn a New Zealand tourist industry where people went to see the sets and locations where the film was made, I would have never believed you.

“Dead Alive” is a hilarious zombie movie, having more in common with Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Tom & Jerry cartoons and Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” than the psuedo-profundity of Romero’s Zombie films. To give you an idea of the aesthetic: In one scene a zombie baby gets slapped in the face with a frying pan and the pan malforms into the shape of the baby’s face — bonnnnnnng!!! It makes me wonder if between making “Dead Alive” and “LOTR,” Jackson had a brain transplant.

I don’t know what to call this film, but “slapstick horror comedy” comes close. The film starts with an explorer meeting a messy end while capturing a ‘Sumatran Rat Monkey.’ The rat monkey is shipped off to a zoo in New Zealand (where we later learn that the Sumatran Rat Monkeys are the result of tree monkeys being raped by plague infected rats). Lionel, a timid momma’s boy, slips out of the house to go on a date at the zoo with a Spanish girl named “Paquita” who works in the local grocery. Paquita’s elderly grandmother has done a card reading and convinced Paquita that Lionel is destined to be her one true love, so, despite an unpromising beginning to their relationship, she pursues Lionel with enthusiasm. Lionel’s mother, however, does not approve and follows them to spy on the couple and attempt to break up the relationship. Is it important that I tell you that this takes place in the 1950s New Zealand? So Lionel wears a sweater vest. Poodle skirts, petticoats, pompadours and rhinestone studded glasses abound.

While attempting to spy on the couple, Lionel’s mother is bitten on the arm by the Sumatran Rat Monkey (which looks like a naked muppet rat with a skin condition… see pic at left) and she demands that Lionel take her home to care for her. Lionel blows off Paquita and rushes home to care for his mother but her wound becomes infected and begins spurting pus that looks like melted raspberry sorbet.

His mother dies only to rise again as a zombie and kills the nurse as she is attempting to explain to the hapless Lionel that he is now an orphan. Now Lionel has 2 zombies to take care of… which he attempts to hide in the basement of his home and ‘keep down’ with tranquilizers… but they keep escaping and making more zombies. A dead clergyman zombie impregnates the nurse zombie and she gives birth to a baby zombie that looks like an evil Howdy Doody doll. Things continue on in this vein until Lionel is reunited Paquita and they are forced to battle the zombies together.

One needs to understand that half of the film, ‘Dead Alive,’ consists of slapstick battles with zombies involving lawn mowers, food processors, meat cleavers and other household items employed as weapons against an ever-growing horde of zombies. Thousands of gallons of blood (that looks like tomato paste) are spilled and body parts fly all over the place. Zombie entrails crawl across the floor or snake up Lionel’s pant leg like boa constrictors. In the final battle with “Mother” (she has now grown to gigantic size), Lionel is actually sucked back into her womb at one point. I suppose some people would find it very disgusting but it is not even remotely realistic. If gore were a regular part of the Muppet Show, it might look something like this.

I enjoyed the movie but need to warn viewers that it is a lowbrow splatter comedy where the film maker goes well beyond the frontiers of ‘good taste.’ In one scene, Lionel takes the baby zombie to the park in a baby carriage where he ends up kicking it like a football, ramming it’s head into a steel pole, etc., as horrified onlookers gasp. I’m not sure everyone would find playful ‘child abuse’ to be in good taste.