Maids and masquerades, this shadow depression… I appear to be watching rotten films

The problem with holidays is that every day feels like a weekend.  This lack of structure and urgency is further compounded by my insomnia.

In one sense, these are not good things.  I’m one of those people who needs structure and regularity, if for nothing else but messing with that structure and regularity.  The structure and regularity gives me something to which I can respond.

In another sense, it is quite liberating.  I’ve enjoyed the beach, caught up on a vast amount of reading, played a frighteningly large number of gaming hours, and watched a few films.  I’ve resisted the urge to blog about everything I read/watch/do/play because it becomes tedious and isn’t interesting for other people.  On the other hand, this blog isn’t terribly interesting so it might be forgiven.

In the past two days, I’ve watched two awful, awful films: I Am Number Four (accurately renamed ‘I am Number Snore’ by i09.com) and The King’s Speech (wacky pun from io9 forthcoming).

I Am Number Four (a.k.a. ‘You space kids stay off my lawn’)

TVTropes.org explains Chekhov’s Gun fairly well.  When you’re creating a science fiction world with aliens and alien technology and alien intergalactic politics, this sort of thing is important.  First, it cuts down on clutter (if the alien death ray isn’t going to shoot somebody, it doesn’t need to exist in the story) and it prevents deus ex machina endings.

I Am Number Four is a slave to Chekhov’s Gun.  The first twenty minutes of the film is nothing but running through all of the guns which will resolve the ‘plot’ crisis.  Oh, the lizard shape-shifted into a dog and the bad guys have massive dragons?  Oh, there’s a girl hunting down the ‘protagonist’ who isn’t ugly and is invulnerable to fire?  And so on and so forth until the film ham-fistedly gets to the angsty teenage rebellion of modern school life (bullies and girls and nerds, oh my).  At this point, the film pretty much forgets about the dog and the fire girl until they reappear at the conclusion of the film.

There’s nothing exciting about the film.  The lead character couldn’t act.  The interesting character dies Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, leaving the protagonist the opportunity to find his destiny.  Blah, blah, blah.

But why were the bad guys are bad?  The film suggests it’s because they’re ugly.  When I finally got bored with the narrative, I imagined that they were retaliating for some terrible war crime committed by the main character’s race.  Fueled by revenge, they were wiping all trace of their former oppressors from the universe.  For all I know, the bad guys were the last five guys from their race because Number Four’s dad used the Force to swallow their home planet, or something.

That’s what I want to see: a film where I understand why the villains are so evil.  This would also help me to understand why the protagonists feel that the only suitable response is murder.  There have been far too many films lately which tell the audience ‘This is the bad guy and trust us that he’s bad and needs to die.’  I’m sure there’s some political statement to be made here about Americans.

The King’s Speech (a.k.a. ‘When supporting characters wanted a bigger role’)

Historical fiction is the oldest kind of fiction.  You would think that we would be better at it.  Perfected by Herodotus and Livy, the point is to explore some great question about the human condition through real people and events.  The King’s Speech gives absolutely no exploration of anything worth exploring, and somehow manages to make interesting characters into wallpaper.  Helena Bonham-Carter has neither the presence nor the ability to convey the strength of the Queen Mum.  Timothy Spall trots out a weak caricature of Churchill.  And Derek Jacobi — probably the most adept actor in the film — barely gets to say boo.

There’s nothing terribly inspiring about the film.  As a person with a very slight stammer, I felt stammerers were exploited by the film (stammers are just caused by maladjusted childhood!  A bit of music and rolling around on the ground will fix it).  Lacking clear direction and a sense of purpose, the film bounces rapidly off the abdication and the rise of Nazism (both quickly noted as Bad Things) before the yawnfest of the climax (OMG, he delivers the very famous speech.  Who would have known?).  No time is allocated for character development (montages get rid of the worst of the stammer) and any tension created is resolved within three minutes, lest the audience becomes too excited.  Not a word of a lie, there is one major conflict between the two main characters (which is the protagonist?) which lasts all of about thirty seconds.  I began to write an SMS ‘An hour in and we finally get some tension’ but didn’t get to the word ‘finally’ before it was resolved.

Are there any good films coming out soon?

Why should I know better by now… Tron: Legacy is awesome. So very awesome

I need to write more nerdcrap posts.

I went to see Tron: Legacy.  You should do the same.

Mind!  Don’t go see it if you expect a plot or character development (or particularly healthy perceptions of women).  That’s not why you go to see Tron.  You go to see Tron because it’s a sensory explosion of sound (thank you, thank you, Daft Punk) and visuals.  That’s what this film is about: it sounds and looks stunning.

The film does two things to let the audience know what sort of film it is.

The first is the rather lengthy (a bit too lengthy) stealthy part at the beginning where the main character is avoiding the police on a motorbike and then infiltrating the computer company.  You get a ‘Okay, we’ve seen this sort of thing in other films and we’re tired of it’ feeling watching the scenes.

Within about ten minutes of entering the computer world, both the motorbike and infiltration bits have been done again but, this time, there’s all the adrenaline and freshness missing from the first run through.  It’s almost as if the real world is merely a dress rehearsal.

Second, after getting suited up by incredibly creepy girls, the main character is placed in a gladiatorial arena.  Nothing screams spectacle like gladiators.

Unfortunately, people are going to the film expecting a deep and philosophically profound plot.  There’s this amazing scene where Jeff Bridges informs everybody that his digital world is going to revolutionise science, philosophy, religion, the way we store non-perishables, and force everybody to hang their toilet paper the right way.  Your brain desperately tries to catch up to this absurdly nonsensical statement but, before it can fully get back in control, Disney hits you with a light and sound show better than I’ve ever seen before.

And, of course, Daft Punk.  When evil cyber ninjas (or whatever the damn hell they were) attack a club where Daft Punk is doing its thing, everybody flees the scene except Daft Punk.  Daft Punk is so awesome that it fears not and provides a stunning soundtrack for the fight playing out on the dance floor.

Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer wish they were as fearsome as Daft Punk.

In related news, I’m so over 3D films.  I went to a cinema where they had magic goggles which were triggered by an infra-red blah blah blah blah blah.  I don’t care.

I go to the cinema with friends so that we can watch a film communally.  That’s what the cinema is for.  You’re supposed to be able to lean over to the person next to you and make snarky comments.  You’re supposed to be able to pull faces at the person next to you.  You’re supposed to be able to get seduced by the person next to you, much to the annoyance of others in the audience.  That’s the whole point of cinemas.

3D glasses ruin it.  Instead of watching a film with a group of people, you become isolated behind ridiculous glasses.  You might as well watch it by yourself in your bedroom.

Plus, it makes everything super dark and discoloured.  Forget that.

With technology making it more and more difficult for people to enjoy interaction with other people, why take cinema away from us?  What next?  Bars where you wear headphones so you can enjoy the music more?

We’re not alive, we’re not alive… Story-telling and science fiction

I’ve been getting into the structure of stories lately, trying to work out why some movies are really gripping and interesting and why others are confused and dull.

It came to a head yesterday when I had a Superman marathon which went from the films to the television series, Smallville.

I think I got up to season five when I used to watch Smallville.

While I’m probably going to be derided for poor taste, I think I prefer Smallville to the films.  I think it’s because the television series is better constructed than the films.

The first film, for example, doesn’t get going until about 45 minutes into the film.  It opens with Jor-El conducting a trial of Zod.  It’s tense and interesting, then Zod is sealed in the Phantom Zone and shot off into space until Superman II.

Oh.

Then Jor-El has a massive fight with the Krypton Council and decided to send his only begotten son to Earth.  As you do.  There’s ten minutes of Clark Kent being a teenager and suffering identity crisis before he goes to spend 12 years off camera in the Arctic in his Fortress of Solitude. Continue reading

New York, I love you but you’re bringing me down… but not as much as the Doctor Who season finale.

io9.com produced a list of Doctor Who plot devices they wouldn’t mind avoided in future.  I’ve just finished watching the season finale and I was all like: Meh.

In the Harry Potter novels, there’s always that bit which lasts about five pages where some Chekhov’s Gun is explained in tedious detail.  Rowling has noted that she developed certain characters whose sole function was to explain piece of magic #45786-B and then fade into the background.

It’s dull and unimaginative story telling.  In the season finale of Doctor Who — SPOILER ALERT — most of the episode is taken up with explanations of what’s going on.  While some of it is clever (how did I miss the lack of references to Amy’s parents in the first episode?  Touche, Moffat), most of it caused me to reach for Angry Birds.

What was even more strange was that the person doing most of the explanations — the Doctor — had admitted earlier that he didn’t have a deep understanding of the Pandorica on account of it being a ‘fairytale’.  As if by magic, he came to realise the finer points of the Pandorica and could even hack its mainframe or something to cause a second Big Bang when flown into an exploding TARDIS.  How he knew the Pandorica could fly, I have no idea.

The high point of the series was definitely a return of the Weeping Angels.  They are absolutely terrifying and they disrupt my sleep for about a week after an episode.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them in future episodes; particularly if the script is careful not to add more powers to the Angels as the plot demands.

The low point continues to be River Song.  Holy frijoles, I hate that character.  The worst part is that we know when she dies (two seasons ago) so she’s effectively immortal.  There are going to be no episodes in which she dies within twenty seconds of the opening credits.  She’s just an irritating, unfunny, uninteresting character.

But when all’s said and done, I’m enjoying this Doctor a lot more than the last.  Matt Smith seems to have the quirky aspect of the Doctor mastered, making it seem a lot more like Classic Who.  Tennant’s angsty Who ran out of steam when Martha left him.  Martha remains the best companion.

All of the boys and the girls here in Paris… also think there are objective moral wrongs

I endured Steven Spielberg’s A.I. last night (and if you’re morbidly curious what my running commentary was like, you can find it here).  One part in particular stuck out for me.  As you’re never going to watch this film, I’m sure a SPOILER ALERT isn’t needed, but here it is anyway:

SPOILER ALERT.

At one point, the nasty humans — or ‘Orgas’ as they’re known in the film — go hunting unregistered robots — a.k.a. ‘Mechas’ — and hold a circus where the Orgas torture the Mechas.  One Mecha pleads for its ‘life’ before it’s put into a cannon and shot.  The last we see is its burning face sliding down the cage wall while the crowd cheers.  A disturbingly attractive Mecha — played by Clara Bellar — has acid poured on her and the crowd cheers as she dissolves.

They draw the line with the protagonist because they mistakenly think it’s a real boy.

This neatly touches upon a broader problem in philosophy caused by the dominance of the rights discourse in modern applied ethics.  Most people are intuitionists: they can’t tell why what they’re doing is moral and correct, but they can generally spot the difference between good actions and wrong actions with bellyfeel.  It’s one of the roles of the philosopher to help people elucidate what they believe and how they can reason with others about what they believe. Continue reading

Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.

They need to teach aesthetics.  It ought to be a mandatory class.

It seems that even Ebsen Storm thought that Subterano (the film I rubbished in my last post) was terrible: he was credited as ‘ Mort S. Seben’ .

We can appreciate art in two ways.  The first is to appreciate its form.  The second is to appreciate its substance.

My classic example illustrates the first: The Old Man and the Sea.  It’s amazing but it has absolutely no substance.  Wagner is another good example: the substance is ugly (Germanic people are the shiznit, yo), but the form is magnificent.

It’s more difficult to find good art which can be appreciated for its substance alone.  The works of the Beatles, I think, satisfies this.  Musically, it’s rubbish.  Its message was an important reflection on its era (at least, the later stuff was).  Godzilla films were about the fear of science post WWII in Japan.

SPOILER WARNING… not that you’ll go watch the film, but it’s always best to be polite.

Subterano is about a dystopian future (shock!) where computer games (shock!) are a big deal and there’s a rebel who’s trying to escape from the authorities (shock!).  A group of polar opposite personalities (shock!) have to bond together in order to escape a death game (shock!).

The resolution to the film is that the protagonist and a few of his women escape the death game.  The death game was being conducted by a sociopathic adolescent who is upset that he failed to kill the protagonist and his women, so he starts up another game with a new set of victims… Continue reading

I’ll love you in the morning when you’re still hungover… and we need to reboot the Prequels

Let’s face it: the Star Wars prequels sucked.  There were two and only two good points:

1. Yoda fighting; and

2. Aayla Secura.

These are facts.  But even (1) is a poisoned chalice: it makes it even more baffling why Yoda didn’t fight Vader.  Vader would have been no match for Yoda and yet Yoda hides out on Dagobah.

Bit that’s just one small problem in the sea of problems that is post-Prequel Star Wars.  For a good run down on the major and fundamental problems, see this.

But let us be constructive and not destructive.  What would have made a more satisfying set of prequels? Continue reading

And under our blue skies – marble movie skies – I found a home in your eyes… but blue cat aliens might upset other people

When seeing their favourite scifi hero has travelled light years to a distant planet which has sent out an audio-visual distress signal in English to help the locals, nerds get distressed.

They don’t whine that faster-than-light travel is impossible.  They don’t mention that faster-than-light communication is impossible.  They don’t mention that audio-visual distress signals are impractical or that English as a universal language suggests that colonialism has a bright future ahead of it.

For all the problems that they could highlight, a small amount of angst has popped up on the internets once again about scifi aliens that are basically humanoid Earth animals.

Boohoo, the Na’vi look like cats, Gamorreans look like hogs, and everybody in Star Trek looks like a human with a silly forehead.  It’s all so terrible.

The problem with this whining is that it assumes — from the outset — that alien life forms are not going to resemble Earth lifeforms.  Philosophically, that’s a bad way to go. Continue reading

A ragged cup, a twisted mop, the face of Jesus in my soup… And what the McFreak is Ten up to?

While I’d like to be able to gloat that I totally called it, it didn’t really take precognition to know that Stargate Universe was not long for our televisions.

Why did they even bother?  I mean, really?  The problem with science fiction is that it’s always going to look like science fiction.  Sometimes, you can get away with it.  This year, Star Trek and Avatar managed to do extremely well despite being science fiction movies.  There was enough crashes, bangs, and solar flares to excite the non scifi crowd, and there was enough dorkiness and white guilt to pull in the scifi crowd.  It was a good match.

But television shows are an entirely different beast.  You only endure a movie for a few hours.  In order to attract an audience back week after week, it needs to appeal to something that inspires loyalty.  For most people, that’s not going to be escapist fantasy.  For some very strange, almost inexplicable reason, people want to watch people like themselves in rather horrid situations.  Soap operas rate best during deaths and weddings.  Murder-of-the-week shows are a dime a dozen.

Science fiction shows routinely fail on Australian television.  Nothing’s lasted in the daylight hours (with the possible exception of Star Wars: The Clone Wars screening at noon on Saturdays).

So why would Channel Ten continue their kamikaze approach to science fiction programming?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

The science fiction audience is a weird beast.  It’s — almost pathologically — loyal to the shows.  If Channel Ten had kicked the show to eleven p.m., it would have rated solidly.  Science fiction fans are usually single, cashed up males 16-35: an advertiser’s dream demographic.  So you have a loyal audience with expendable income that will follow the show anywhere across the spectrum of the broadcasting schedule… and Channel Ten decides to put it in the prime time slot where the advertising is much more generic and where it has to compete with the mainstream.

Putting an expensive show on late night television also messes with the network’s traditional advertising schedule: cheap, cheap pr0n adverts.

Instead of selling the demographic to advertisers, broadcasters tend to consider the group too much effort.  And it’s not hard to blame them: why try to exploit a tiny group when you can throw spare change at a reality television show, or a random countdown of pop culture hosted by Bert Newton?

So farewell, Stargate Universe.  My TiVo has you on season pass just in case you resurface in the wee hours of the night.

Joy to the world! The Lord is… HUNT THE RANGA!!

I find racists a bit weird.

You know when you’re at the beach and you find a bit of something that sort of looks a lot like jelly but isn’t jelly and you wonder if it might be from a jellyfish but you don’t think it could have come from a jellyfish?  That’s how I feel whenever I’m talking to a racist.

Mind! I don’t mean the sort of everyday very common racist who doesn’t mean to be racist but really is when it comes down to it.  I mean the über-racist: the sort who proudly assert that people who aren’t white are somehow, through some fault of their own, inferior people.  I find it difficult to understand whence it comes.  It can’t be fear.  I’m more likely to get ripped off by whitey than any other group — which seems to be reflected when I do the implicit association test.  Or maybe it is fear and I’m just not accounting for people’s ability to be irrationally afraid of things.

But the moment somebody shouts ‘Hunt the ranga!’, I’m the first one there with my pitchfork.

There’s something intrinsically fine about hating on red heads.  Even the Bible does it.  Genesis 25 tells the story of Esau (a ranga) who sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils.  Ho, ho.

It’s funny because he’s got red hair.

IN OTHER NEWS…

Nerd up, my fine friends!

For those of you who are thinking ‘I really haven’t been able to express my nerd pride sufficiently of late’, we’ve had several weeks of the heavens dumping nerdshit upon our doorsteps.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

This has been a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoy it.  It’s the sort of game you can enjoy casually while dying of heat exhaustion on the couch.  Plus, there is a crapload of ice in the game and just looking at all that ice makes me feel better about the world.  Sure, Yahtzee is right when he says that it’s the same as all the other 2D Mario games.  On the other hand, who cares?  Nobody’s expecting gritty Mario.  Nobody’s expecting intricate plot Mario.  Nobody’s expecting anything other than mindless 2D fun.  In other words, you get from this game exactly what you think you’re going to get from this game: a few hours of fun smacking Koopas.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

I much prefer this to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.  Okay, it could be that I have some completely unrelated emotional hangups about PH (the ex really liked the game and there was a trading function, so now my copy of the game is filled with things traded from her copy of the game, so it just induces panic attacks).  Not a big fan of the evil trains that can move more quickly than you and can hunt you down so you can’t avoid them.  That bit really sucks.  I’m also not a huge fan of the complete inability to turn around…  But, hey, you are supposed to be on a train.

I could also do without the scumbag NPCs.  Zelda is just about the only likable character in the game.  Everybody else is a demanding, annoying douche.  ‘Oh, I want wood. Bring me wood! Oh, I won’t work with a character with big antlers! Oh, do a roll into this tree filled with mother freaking bees!’

That last one pissed me off the most.  I thought, ‘You can’t be serious.  Why the crap would I want to roll into a tree full of bees?  Oh, well.  If you insist!’  Lo and behold, the bees freaking attacked me.  Then he laughed about it and demanded a free train ride.  I’m still a bit conficted about that, especially considering his mother didn’t seem to have the slightest idea of where he’s going.  Also, the turd is a liar.  I had to Googlewhack what to do with him because he’s such a rotten liar.

But, other than that, the game is ferociously excellent.

Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side

The release date was supposed to be tomorrow, but JB HiFi had them in stock today.  In truth, not as good as Blue Harvest but still an amazing amount of fun.  BH seemed to find humour in what was already in the Star Wars universe – Solo’s ‘few maneuvers’, for example.  SSDS seemed to rely more on recreating The Empire Strikes Back with Family Guy characters and then sprinkling jokes on the top.

Sure, BH did the same thing at times but it didn’t seem to be quite so dependent.  Also, I could do with several magnitudes less Herbert.  So, overall fun but pretty much just for fans of Star Wars and Family Guy.

Stargate Universe

I hate every military character on this show.  Freak me freaking sideways, I could swear they exist just to say asinine things and to disagree with people who can read without moving their lips.  Robert Carlyle is pretty much the only reason worth watching it at the moment (Channel 10, Monday nights.  Soon to be Channel 10, 1am Tuesday morning… TiVo!).

I also hate the trope of ‘Super smart outsider’.  In the original, James Spader had a theory which was not supported by the evidence.  Thus, he was rightly mocked for his unjustified beliefs.

But that’s not good enough for the country that invented Wikipedia.  Experts suck!  What do they know?  They’re just experts!

And so James Spader’s completely unjustified theory miraculously turned out to be correct.  Oooooh, he totally showed the establishment, didn’t he?

In this, the outsider is an out of work, university dropout who just happens to be able to work out maths homework in an alien language.  And I’m all like… ‘Right.  Lame.’

It’s sort of weird when you’ve got a television show which you really enjoy watching but only because you’re hoping that any of the non-Robert Carlyle characters will die horribly.  Unfortunately, they’re not dying rapidly enough at the moment.  But it is really enjoyable to watch.