Monday, August 31, 2009

Random Movie Rant - Star Trek V

So many years ago someone came up with the Odd Numbered Trek Film Rule, which stated that the only good Star Trek films had even numbers, beginning with #2. While #3 is an odd one out in my opinion, the rule still rings true for the remainder.

On the heels of Star Trek IV's success, William Shatner raised a big stink about having his chance to direct one since Nimoy was successful with #3 and #4. Taking the directorial reins and dealing with a sub-par script turned it into the biggest Failboat ride since the first feature.

Now, this is not to say the basic element of the storyline was bad; in fact it was a common thread in many original series plotlines, that being God is not really a deity but a megalomaniacal, possibly insane superpowerful alien being who sees humans as toys or pawns in a chessgame. It was the one issue that many writers had with Roddenberry, and the character of Q became his last hurrah in the Next Generation series. Even though John DeLancie did a decent job with the character, the annoying, omnipotent entity playing with the crew became very old, very quick.

This feature was no different, with an A-plot surrounding a half-brother of Spock, Sybok, who gave up Vulcan logic to become a sort of evangelist, using his telepathic abilities to isolate and remove emotional pain from people and allowing them to live happier lives. A specific element of this was a seeming form of mind control, in that those he 'cured' were immediately in line with Sybok's goal: To discover Sha-Ka-Ree, a fabled Vulcan Eden where he would ultimately find the one who gave him the original vision, God. Sybok uses his talents to control a group of colonists and ambassadors, and later the main crew of the Enterprise. Eventually Spock and McCoy--their deepest pains uncovered by Sybok--seem to be in alignment against Kirk, who objects to this treatment, seeing the removal of emotional pain as a fantasy and in conflict with the human desire to succeed in spite of odds.

As we do eventually find out (again, the denouement for most of these Roddenberry-like stories) is that God isn't really a god but an insane, violent, non-corporeal entity who thrives on being worshipped, with Sha Ka Ree (a planet kept behind a powerful energy barrier at the center of the galaxy) as a prison designed to contain it. We destroy wannabe God, hug Spock, subdue the Klingons and a good time is had by all. It had almost all the makings of a sexy party. Almost.

Now, the one element in the movie I had the biggest issue with was the singing. Yes, I know that both Nimoy and Shatner released various musical albums that were more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, but the singing around the campfire bit had to be the most awful, cringeworthy bit in the entire run of movies. I would have hoped by the 23rd century we'd have learned ways to refrain from making asses of ourselves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Charlie and the Childhood Molestation Factory

Movie adaptations of books (especially those the various cognoscenti deem as "classics") are always a difficult enterprise.

Take Lord of the Rings. Beautiful, harmonious, taking the best elements from Tolkien's seminal work and combining it with elegant acting, state of the art CGI and one of the most compelling issues of our time, notably whether someone who does motion capture and voiceover work deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best "Virtual" Actor/Actress. Andy Serkis, you were sorely insulted, my friend. Regardless of how well received it was (despite the 22 endings of the 3rd film), Tolkien purists lambasted it in many cases. You will never make everyone happy, and as one Talkbacker once said on Ain't-It-Cool-News, The reason Jesus Christ hasn't had his Second Coming is that even HE can't live up to the fanboy hype.

Regardless, the topic of this rant is Willy Wonka, specifically the adaptation that Tim Burton made. About 8 months ago, drugged with medication for kidney stones, I watched about oh, 50 minutes of this film. At the time it sounded interesting, and having listened to the audio book of Dahl's original (read pleasantly by Eric Idle), I was pleased that many elements of the original story were in the film. The wiki article and others are quite vociferous in their assessment that Dahl hated the original film and his estate worked closely with Burton on this remake. So, in essence, I guess you have to say that for the film to be better adapted to the book is a good thing, right?

Not exactly. As usual, Burton puts his goofy artist spin on the tale, dragging out yet again his apparent issues with father-son relationships. It was in Edward Scissorhands, in Big Fish and now it's in this one, with Christopher Lee playing Wonka Senior, a humorless dentist obsessed with encasing young Willy's head in gear out of some orthodontical nightmare and at the same time completely opposed to any sweets. Hence we get the impetus of why Willy did what he did growing up. I just got really tired of seeing this storyline brought out yet again.

Secondly, I prefer the original Ooompa-Loompas. In the remake a diminutive Indian named Deep Roy does all the parts, supplanted with various special effects. I was also rather sad to see Geoffrey Holder, he of the amazing "crisp and clean" voice narrating the film, only to find at the end it was just another goddamn Oompa Loompa with a deep voice.

The Elfman songs were catchy, but overall it just got annoying. I missed my old music. To me walking into the Chocolate Waterfall scene and not having Wonka sing "Pure Imagination" was just a letdown. It defined the original film in my opinion and framed the entire character perfectly; Wonka was part morality tale, part magic act, but in the end it was all about the FUN. I never got that clearly with Depp's portrayal, and maybe it's me who misinterpreted the point of the book.

Regardless of the apparently minimalist approach to special effects, I thought the character designs were irritating. Maybe it was the HD video I saw, but everything looked overly made up, overexposed, painted. Wonka looked so fake, like at any moment he'd peel his face back to reveal some hideous visage, and the big chompers made him look more like a predator. I understand each actor does what they can with the character, but even aside from Depp's portrayal none of the child actors had the same impact. Veruca Salt will always be that spoiled little girl with the lovely singing voice, even though they did a solid to Dahl's original with the remake in the squirrel nutcracking scene (one which wasn't possible in the original film).

The musical elements themselves were lacking, and I just felt the heart of the original movie carried it further along. Wilder's singsong Wonka was just unpredictable, and throughout the whole thing, even up to his end-film trickery with Charlie ("I said good DAY, sir!"), you can't help but wonder that the guy is batshit crazy. The Depp Wonka from the outset is just this neurotic, germphobic, anti-child weirdo with daddy issues.

I am sure those who never saw the original (My boys--six and three--LOVE the 1971 film and watch it often) will glom onto Burton's adaptation with glee, but as someone who would look upon something like Sound of Music 2 - Maria's Reichstag Revenge with absolute disgust (and you know some asshole producer somewhere wants to remake Sound of Music with someone like Miley Cyrus or some shit like that, placing it in Torrance instead of Germany), I'll stick to the classic.

Then again, at least it wasn't Marky Mark and the Funky Planet of the Monkey Dudes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dude, just let it go...

I'm a Wil Wheaton fan.

Seriously. Not just a Wil Wheaton but a Wesley Crusher fan, which I know puts me on the bottom rung of Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, just right above that mucus left behind by Denebian Slime Devils as they crawl across the ground.

For thems who haven't been out of their cave since the late 1980s, Wesley Crusher was the vicariously youthful representation of Gene Roddenberry on the aforementioned TV show. The child of the Chief Medical Officer (and later paramour of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, winkwink, nudgenudge say no more), Wesley was what producers thought every kid who watched Trek wanted to be - the local Brain Trust, pilot and general plot complication. It worked for maybe 2 episodes, then got silly, then got REALLY silly, then Wesley grew up, got laid, became angsty, then finally a time-traveling demigod and all was set right (at least in the Trek universe).

In reality, I think it was really a way for Gene to write himself into the show as this teenage wunderkind, helping all the incompetent adult officers by saving their collective asses on a weekly basis. Easily fifty of the brightest minds in the Federation Starfleet running the Big-E (not to mention a hideously intelligent android), and the Great Virgin of the Galaxy has to save them by pulling a non-oscillating neutron flow spin resonator out of his butt at minute 42:30.

On the heels of his casting in ST:TNG was the release of the film Stand By Me, based on a Stephen King novella (blogger's note: King's best work is always non-horror fiction--it's true--everyone writes him off as this cottage industry of weirdness, but author fellating aside, King does his best work writing about real people doing real things). SBM put Wil on the map so to speak, and while it was a landmark role for him, reading his blog and books puts forth the premise that even talented child stars who avoid the drugs, crime and general failboat driving still have trouble making it work in the industry as adults.

One common theme I read about in Wil's blogs and articles is his work on SBM. It's there often enough that to me, it gets a little annoying. It's a blog about his life, SBM was a big factor in his life, and I get that but really. It's in there even today, yet another recollection of a) how cool it was, b) what a change it made in his life and career and c) how his sense of wonder about the movie business still resonates with that feeling he had making SBM so many years ago.

Maybe I'm a bit distanced since I'm not an actor. I think back to what I took pride in at age 14 or 15 and it involved little more than rolling a good Dungeons and Dragons character and trying to picture what cup size Julie (the overdeveloped girl in my freshman class) would be in this week. At some point I guess I'd stop being nostalgic and try to use my current expertise to win roles. Reliving Trek on a weekly basis I get completely. It was a much larger chunk of his career, put him on equal footing with arguably one of the best actors of that generation, plus the Wes Crusher character is still topical; it is maligned and castigated to this very day by angry fanboys who feel it cheapened ST:TNG. Yes, going back on old classics is one thing, and I can understand why Scorsese and many others keep going back to films like The Godfather, or why George Lucas will always be judged by the first trilogy he did 30 years ago, but SBM...I don't hold it in the same category. Like the Jay and Silent Bob characters of Kevin Smith, sooner or later you need to let that ship just sail.

And also, not to be a preachy guy, but Wil, dude, count your blessings. Let's just do a rundown of those gentlemen from that film:
  • One died in a drug overdose outside of a nightclub, dead far too young given his talent.

  • The fat kid got skinny and procreated with Rebecca Romijin, arguably one of the hottest women on the planet, and it makes a helluva lot more sense than the Ocasek/Porizkova hookup. Now he's going to become an attorney (we hope) and not in some parallel universe where actors all eventually become lawyers, doctors and politicians.

  • The other two were in a series of teen films about vampires and romance, and both of them were on the rocks for years with drugs, booze, women and lack of options, finally opting out for a hideous reality show that was anything but.
You and Big Jer are definitely at the top of the heap in this one, no question. Roll with that and take pride in your current achievements. We all know what you had to go through to get there.

But then again, maybe I just had to BE there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What every nerd cave needs

Top 20 Awesome Computer Desks.

Sweet, merciful Zeus, it's hard to pick just one. The surround sound speaker one looks cool but a bit claustrophobic, but that Lego

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


And now a much less emotional, more light-hearted take on the museum. He sums it up simply: Horseshit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CreoZergs, Creation Museums and Dino Saddles, oh my!

For the past 6 years, Minnesota biology professor P.Z. Myers has maintained the blog Pharyngula as a means to communicate his research, but also to establish firmly his perspective on religion, creationism, Intelligent Design and their various incompatibilities with modern science and the phenomenon of "New Atheism." That is, Myers and numerous others (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens), all respected scientists, journalists and philosophers in their fields are outspoken activists who espouse the state of atheist/agnostic life (specifically the U.S.), criticize the de facto respect that religion seems to expect in light of it's popularity and overall involvement in world affairs, and the objection to various religious groups (e.g., Discovery Institute) who openly and covertly act to discredit science education, influence political lobbies and attempt to control school curricula around science by the election of pro-ID school councils and textbook selection committees.

Dr. Myers' indirect enemy of sorts for many years has been Ken Ham, director of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, notably in a 2007 blog summary of the museum's opening and general public review. A group of Pharyngula-followers, fellow scientists and atheist/agnostics began a crusade earlier in the year to plan a large-scale march on the museum, intended to merely discover the truth of the museum's teachings and to hopefully stage an intellectual discourse around various topics presented there. Earlier blog entries deal with missives back and forth from the museum security group indicating behavioral expectations (all members of Myers' group were required to sign a release indicating they'd follow museum 'rules'). This group, dubbed the CreoZergs (in deference to a powerful, insectoid hive race in the popular game StarCraft) descended upon the museum last week. Their overall journal begins around this post, and continues to the present.

Now, one can begin by saying that the museum is a privately-funded edifice pandering to a specific subset (that being Young Earth Creationists) of Christianity. My mind reels with the possibilities of what 26 million in donations could do for a local museum of science and history, but never underestimate the things Americans will donate money for. It's mission is to present a literal Biblical interpretation of creation, biology and human origins and with the overriding rule that any scientific finding in direct conflict with this is rejected in favor of the Biblical interpretation. That statement alone biases it and makes it "not" a museum in the traditional sense. You can't claim that a certain tenet of science supports your museum's teachings (e.g., their Darwin room claiming that human variation can be explained biblically) when a thousand other points in that same scientific inquiry are in opposition to your fundamental rule. It's cognitive dissonance at best, really bad science at worst.

The question I have is, yes, our American freedoms allow someone like this to build what I consider a monument to the fear of reason and science, but what about something like a Holocaust Denier museum? I am certain they too could find numerous factoids and arrange for interesting, convincing and even Biblically-supported displays that pardon the Nazis for their atrocities in light of "slanted news". People will argue the "lie" of the Holocaust outright even in the face of eyewitness accounts and concise, detailed documentation of the murdered Jews (something we only have fragments of in the creationist argument). Let's back away from the Godwin canard for a moment and give an example of a museum dedicated to white supremacy. An Anti-Abolitionist museum could find numerous accounts and facts arguing the Biblical support of slavery, even in Christian texts and surely enough supporters exist to fund such a place. Would either of these places be given de facto respect with a supposed goal of free speech and their respective curator's interpretation of the facts?

I know people who approach the human origins/evolution question from both sides, and generally the atmosphere is people have the right to agree to disagree. Assuming that Ham's museum continues as a privately funded site not supported by my tax dollars, it's their right to preach their 'facts' to a ready audience. People can go and jeer and poke fun at the (in some cases) ludicrous and outright false claims, but in the end the CM is not for them. I wouldn't say go to the museum to heckle, but rather request of the curator to post some sort of signage indicating that this museum will outright reject certain scientific facts that are incompatible with the Biblical creation. Give me a disclaimer ahead of time so that the scientific treatment of a geology exhibit someone is viewing may not reflect what is in the accepted literature of that discipline. If you're so proud to engage in intellectual dishonesty, at least own up to's the Christian thing to do after all.

Overall, I think the museum is a comforting, silky pillow of safety for people who truly see science as evil, or have some inability to reconcile it with their deeply respected Biblical creation story. The way the museum lays out the subtle iconography (snake symbols for human interpretations, straight lines for Biblical) gives further credence to the overall mindset. My only concern is the take home message. Some of the children will go here with their parents, parents who either home school them or otherwise control how scientific fact goes into their education. In some cases these children will grow up espousing such a mindset, and it's not unlikely that someone who was raised with a "Flintstonian" view of ancient Earth could be elected to office and vote on a piece of scientific funding or a bill that has a specific slant that is in conflict with their worldview. THAT is the concern that I have. Just because I think Cinderella's castle at Disney World is an amazing attraction doesn't make it my default source of information on Medieval fortresses.

Friday, August 7, 2009

So much for that Breakfast Club sequel...

In a surprise event, John Hughes died yesterday of a heart attack, only 59 years old.

It would be a foregone conclusion to say that anyone who was a teenager from 1983-1990 felt his voice in the movies of the day. His amazing fusion of teen issues, relevant music and lighthearted humor made the films poignant, enjoyable and above all, memorable. I recall many Thanksgiving aftermaths, the tryptophan weaving it's magic on our conscious minds, watching two misfits drive the wrong way down an icy highway and giggling our asses off. I remember the Q&A with Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck and how Hughes brought out Candy's amazing physical and gregarious humor on screen.

I remember being older and watching She's Having a Baby right after my son was born and having it take on a completely different meaning, hearing the Kate Bush song in my head and thinking how freaked I would be in a similar situation. Then again, I also thought about how cool it would be to name my kid Queeg, Blye, Nargausius, Rolo or Vortiger.

It's sad that he did so little in his later years, his key demographic growing older, going to college, moving past the high school drama that he so eloquently captured. His stars grew up, became adults, parents and in some cases, corpses. The freaky kid who was crapping his pants in Weird Science became Tony Stark in Iron Man. The neo maxi-zum-dweebie bulked up and became a TV psychic based on a Stephen King character. Bueller's sister got a nose job and never looked like herself again. Ed Rooney was convicted as a pederast. I guess as we get older, in the same vein as Allison says in The Breakfast Club, it's not our hearts that die, but rather our heroes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's not the money...

As a child I lived in a world of financial dissonance. I had a mother who loved to spend and a father who questioned every purchase, hoarded every cent. Money was at the root of 95% of family squabbles, and it continues (albeit to a lesser extent now that their kids are on their own) to this day to varying degrees.

I remember being around15 and going with my dad to the local store. I had just seen Back to the Future, and loved the version of "Johnny B. Goode" from the film, the one obviously sung by someone other than Michael J. Fox. This was in the day when a cassette tape was still around $12, and singles of the song were not generally available. I had my gas cutting money/allowance with me, ready to go. My father spent approximately 30 minutes in the car using various reasons to dissuade me from purchasing the album. His contention was that the original version of the song was superior (and free on a copy of the American Graffiti soundtrack LP we already had at home), and it was silly to buy an entire album just for one song. While I tried to explain to him that 1) there was more than one song on that album that I wanted and 2) I actually liked this new version rather than the old one, it nevertheless didn't deter him. At some point, I capitulated and didn't buy the album. I actually never bought it and ended up finding it on a yard sale rack for $1 years later. That cover song remains my favorite version to date, notably because I grew to dislike Chuck Berry over time. I guess you could say in the end I came away $11 richer.

His lesson did not have the desired effect, because for years I would buy CDs for just one song, and once the age of MP3 and iTunes came about, I could easily just buy the songs I wanted. I also realized that his perspective was a combination of growing up poor, undiagnosed ADD and a general cost/benefit analysis to his purchases. If I had chosen to spend the $12 on fishing lures, he would have no doubt applauded my efforts, but would nonetheless try to steer me to the clearance rack. To this day it remains the reason why I refuse to discuss financial matters with him.

His other passion was gun trading. He spent untold amounts of money and time going from show to show, buying and trading shotguns, rifles and pistols. I think my moment of moral relativism came when I found out he had in hand two places selling the gun he wanted, but one was 40 miles more away and was $20 cheaper. He then spent $10 in gas and almost 2 hours getting this cheaper gun, and in the end spent the day applauding himself for saving that money. I guess I only look at it as shortsighted, because to me it was an awful lot of legwork and time to go through for such a meager payoff, and unless it was something you did on a regular basis. I didn't see it as him being a cheapskate, just miserly and very much convinced that it is indeed the principle of the thing, not the money, that brought him the most satisfaction. He should have been a bazaar owner in Marrakech.

If only he could have saved the self-congratulations for his own purchases and let the rest of us fend for ourselves, I think a lot of the financial turmoil in the house could have been lessened.


So most of America has heard the details of the PA Gym Killer, George Sodini and how it was all planned out for at least a year ahead of time. As he indicated, I am certain it will be studied as an example of the thinking process that leads someone to commit mass homicide.

One thing I garnered from reading this is it's hard to get it to fit our relatively rational analysis of the world. Have some of us felt 1 or more of these things in our lives? Certainly: Alone, misunderstood, sexually unfulfilled, angry at parents or religion or the relative 'injustice' of romantic availability? There are some days when these feelings juxtapose and you barely feel like getting out of bed, and I am sure most or all of it never involves the fleeting notion, hmm, someone has to die for making me feel this way.

Whatever we try to do to understand him, it's clear he clearly had an undiagnosed mental disorder, and in many cases they don't make for ease of understanding. Whether someone blames mom, brother, society, religion, well-hung white-girl-loving Blackzillas or 20something teases who wouldn't give the time of day (otherwise belittled their bedroom prowess), many of us have had to deal with one or more of the above issues or prejudices. It's the fact most of us haven't planned on gunning down a room full of women for over a year that separates us from him. The dispassion of his rant also lends to the air of scariness. His written 'struggle' with it, aside from chickening out early on, appears very distanced, almost robotic. Clean, calculating, with just enough emotion to indicate his resolve. He walked a fine line he could have stepped off of at any point, whether with the help of a safe relationship or the intercession of a friend or loved one.

I guess you could call that dividing line morality or sanity. I don't feel pity for this guy, because as someone who was also not gifted with many social graces in his youth, I nevertheless kept my wits about me and never used it as justification for some sort of murderous tirade against society. It's the difference between a misanthrope and a sociopath. The only guys I knew who thought that the fact women were not flocking to him in droves was THEIR problem--not his-- were ones who had a severe case of narcissistic personality disorder, in which case nothing any of us could say would have mattered (we're either wrong our out to ruin him). Sodini had the money and employability to be appealing to someone (even monsters like Richard Ramirez have a wife) but it seems he either chickened out of a real dating situation or sent up to many red flags from the getgo to attract the type of women he wanted (which I think were younger 20somethings who may have been a limited option to begin with).

It will be interesting as time progresses whether his blog was ever public before this, and if so why no one read it or called attention to it. I would assume those who knew him on a personal basis are still shaking their head, and I am curious whether media attention will bring his mother or brother into the fold, under some ludicrous title like "Architects of a Fledgling Killer". Then again, we may never know, and in the end it will just be like Detective Somerset's analysis of John Doe in Se7en: "just his mind, poured out on paper".

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sugar-coated topping...

Apparently the demise of the relationships of today are not due to infidelity or misunderstanding, it's all the fault of the goddamn vampires.

Also, the perfect encapsulation of my thoughts about the Twilight series:

Image du Jour

Image du Jour