In this spoiler-heavy Podcast we deep dive into Black Panther: the movie itself and the hype surrounding it. If you haven’t seen it yet, and don’t want to know key plot points, better to wait until you have before listening to this one!
In our 4th podcast we deep dive into the world of Blade Runner and the mind of Ridley Scott. Our discussion touches on common themes in science fiction as well as common pitfalls in the genre. We limit ourselves mainly to films on this one, so if you’re a movie person, this is for you. Beware: here there be spoilers.
Continue reading “FYM Podcast #4 – The “Why” of Blade Runner: 2049″
In our 3rd Podcast we talk about the much-welcome resurgence in mature sci-fi Television that is taking place at the moment. We use shows like Altered Carbon and The Expanse to guide the conversation, and take frequent detours to talk about other great and not-so-great TV along the way.
The occasional cuts you may notice are excised interruptions by Matt’s inexhaustible children. Perhaps we’ll compile them into a stand-alone podcast some day!
In this recommendation-heavy podcast, we discuss book series’ ranging from Game of Thrones and The Dark Tower to much more obscure works of fiction with violent themes in an attempt to divine the true nature of violence in books.
We attempt to answer the question: what makes brutality in fiction good, bad, or neutral? In this one, you’re guaranteed to learn about at least several great books you’ve never heard of.
Justice League – Batfleck and Murderman return in the latest sequel to the poorly thought out, soulless Man of Steel, and its ham handed, plotless, character pigeonholing sequel Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Watch as your beloved childhood characters are given the Snyderverse treatment and transformed into golem-like, amoral husks before your very eyes. Justice League: Where Dreams Go to Die.
The number one sign that I may be a bit emotionally withheld is that I cry at movies. Not just at legitimate movies that merit crying at, like The Lion King or Beasts of the Southern Wild. No, I cry at those movies AND terrible movies which have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, including their poorly staged cathartic moments towards the end which are meant to elicit an emotional reaction despite having been poorly executed. But damned if it doesn’t work. I don’t mean it works in that it redeems the movie or that it is well executed. I mean it works in that it makes a moronic lump well up in my throat even as I curse the stupidity of the entire affair.
Here’s a recent embarrassing example: I almost cried at the end of The Internship, a terrible Google propaganda comedy film, where a plucky underdog team stages an unlikely win over a “meanie team” through the power of teamwork and dumb luck. It was an offensive movie and an offensive ending to any thinking person including myself… but damned if I didn’t have to take a few deep breaths to hold the tears back during their idiotic undeserved victory scene, hating myself the whole time.
In addition to obvious tearjerkers like Steel Magnolias and the like, I’ve cried at action space porn movies like Armageddon, crappy mindless action movies like White House Down, and hideous comedy movies like Grown Ups 2 (why was I even watching that!?!?). Seriously, I have a real problem. You cue the sappy, heroic, or triumphant music and I’m pretty much done.
(Not even Adam Sandler watched Grown Ups 2)
The thing is, I very rarely cry outside of watching movies. I mean, as an adult I’ve had a few moments when dealing with close family or friends, but even those are few and far between. With movies though, it’s all the damn time. I do tend to be fairly stoic in my daily life (this is probably a combination of my personal upbringing and the stories that we as a culture tell about masculinity which have a nonconsensual influence on my actions), but not so much as to merit this kind of psychological and physiological backlash. What I mean is that I don’t feel that I’m overly emotionally stifled… but all the evidence is pointing in another direction.
But the more I think about it, among the films and scenes that elicit this annoying reaction, a common thread appears. It’s sincerity. Even the characters in terrible movies feign (poorly) sincerity, and I guess the intention means as much as the action to my primitive brain. And now that I think about it, even my own sincerity causes me to lose it! Thinking back over the last few times I’ve cried (aside from movie watching), it was because I was being unusually open and honest. How weirdly self-centered is that!?
So yeah, sincerity seriously cranks up the old waterworks. Maybe that’s because I feel it’s encountered so infrequently in daily life. Very rarely do people feel comfortable enough to say the things that really matter – to really communicate instead of just talking. Even among friends, it is rare to have the conversations that really mean something: The “I love you” conversations; the “I’m terrified” conversations; the “you complete me” conversations.
So maybe seeing those things in movies is what gets me; maybe they’re things I want for my own life, or even things I just desperately want to believe in. You know like love, and happy endings and such.
I think what it really comes down to is simple. Tyler Durden’s alter ego put it best in Fight Club: “Strangers with that kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” And let’s just leave it at that.
If you want to get your eyes raped, go watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In a not unpredictable maneuver, Marvel is attempting to capitalize on their big screen success by expanding their media empire onto the small screen. In this case by taking a passé organization from the Marvel Comic universe, S.H.I.E.L.D., and creating a paranormal exploration show a la Supernatural or [place other crappy paranormal TV show title here] around it.
The show, which follows Agent Coulson from the Avengers film and his quirky team of experts around the world as they try to stop crises. Coulson was resurrected through unknown means (or he’s a clone or LMD, who cares really) to serve as the show’s protagonist and only solid if unimpressive link to Marvel’s film franchise. The show depends entirely on 2 things for its current success: 1) legions of fanboys who will watch anything tagged with the Marvel brand no matter how bland and derivative, and 2) A large swath of the American public who actually enjoy CW style shows like this one. If you are one of those people then feel free to disregard everything said here. Also, feel free to kill yourself.
The writing on the show is middle school level at best. The jokes are flat one liners that seem perfectly suited to a tween sitcom. The romantically and ideologically tense relationship between the strict company man and the new upstart team member is so sickeningly ham fisted that it is almost insulting. The mystery of the week format that the show follows has been done so many times that its almost farcical. And lets not even get into the acting, if it can even be called that… The dead eyes of Agent Coulson as he smirks his way through every episode makes me want to ask “what did we do to deserve this?”
So what did we do, Marvel? For finally giving the fans what they want, you were rewarded in kind with one of the highest grossing films ever with The Avengers. You smartly chose a talented director and writing staff who could pull your myriad characters together into a pretty damn good flick. Your other films, though most were not as impressive (see Iron Man 2, Spider-Man 3, etc.), have been passable enough to keep us as an audience on board.
So is it really a good idea to flush all the goodwill we now have towards Marvel down the toilet by shoveling this kind of crap down our throats? Why not continue doing what’s been working for you and take a considered and unique approach to your next phase.
Sure, we know it’s all about the bottom line, but why parlay your success into something crappy when you could easily make a good show and get not only the dregs of your fans and the general public but an actually worthwhile audience. The 2 groups from above are going to watch regardless. Think bigger. When you play the universal appeal card you see decent returns. But when you take calculated risks (like you did when hiring Joss Whedon for the Avengers) you have the potential to make much, much more.
The show is performing pretty well so far in terms of ratings because the two groups I mentioned above are both rabid and large. But here’s the thing: the show sucks. It can’t stand up on its own, and being propped up by the greater Marvel universe looming over its shoulder will only keep people on board for so long.
While I am a lifelong comic book fan, in no way am I writing this as a comic book purist who can’t stand to see his precious Marvel Universe defiled. I’m writing this as a TV enthusiast who is genuinely disturbed by the type of crap that keeps permeating the airwaves. As the newest player in the game, Marvel is just the most obvious target. I could write a post on Arrow to shame DC as well, but it’d be pretty much the same post.
Brief rant to close on: Your TV sucks, America. I don’t really blame Marvel for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not really. I blame you for being complacent and watching any old turd that comes on the tube. I’m talking to you: the one reading this and saying “Aw, he’s exaggerating. Its not that bad.” Sorry but it really, really is… you’ve just been watching it so long that you actually believe its got substance. You have the TV version of Stockholm Syndrome. Stop getting sucked in by bad shows. Stop letting studios win with their formulaic, lazy nonsense. Vote with your remote. Demand better. Be better.
That is all.
Science fiction has never been easy to pull off in movies. In some ways it is harder than fantasy. While often wondrous to the point of the absurd, its roots are usually firmly grounded in the physics and reality we know and love(?). I make a distinction between the venerable histories which include The Day the Earth Stood Still (NOT the Keannu Reeves version), 2001, and Contact rather than the more operatic/scifi-fantasies like Flash Gordon, Ice Pirates and even Star Wars – still fun, but often blurring the line between fantasy and true science fiction.
A fantasy movie like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter can beguile with magic and creatures that require no further explanation other than they exist. The audience/readers make that pact from the beginning. “We are suspending all disbelief! Just be somewhat logically consistent and throw in a few dragons and we will be there to enjoy it with you!” … and I’ve spent many a happy hour doing just that.
Over the years, I’ve consumed much of the fantasy that has been written for print and screen. There are a few fundamental differences between sci-fi and fantasy. By default, fantasy and scifi-fantasy is more about pure dreaming without constraints AND is meant to be consumed rather than questioned. Even my current favorite, Game of Thrones, doesn’t really ask us/the reader any meaningful questions about how what happens in Westeros has any implications/consequences to us mortals here on Earth.
Good science fiction is always more relevant because it says “if you take where we (humanity) are now and then…. “ the edge of the universe and beyond is the limit. The readers immediately have a stake, whether they want to or not, in the outcome of the story because… that story is THEIR future!
Science fiction is also held to an (admittedly arguable) higher standard of disbelief because things have to look and feel like they will be a reality in a few (or few hundred/thousand) years. An increasingly tech and (hopefully) science savvy audience contributes to this evolution. Various actuators need to move correctly and give off a convincing (if somewhat dramatized) hiss or crank. Aliens and celestial phenomena need to at least be plausible if not probable. It’s science with a wink and a nudge.
What I’ve personally enjoyed most about science fiction are the questions that are able to be asked and explored. For instance;
- The fundamental nature and evolution of humanity in Theodore Sturgeon’s, More than Human (anything written by him is worth it btw).
- The ENDPOINT of the universe itself in Stephen Baxter’s The Ring.
- What would society look like if no one could deceive each other in James Halperin’s The Truth Machine?
- What are the fundamental purposes and relationships between men/machines/the universe in the Hyperion Cantos?
- What would you do in a society with technology that, near as to make no difference, was boundless in The Culture books by Ian M. Banks.
- Blade of Tyshalle
- I could go on and on.
In movies, some examples of this type of exploration are Bladerunner, Dune and even the Matrix.
In recent television, Star Trek:TNG (barring some questionable “we ran out of ideas” holo-deck episodes) and Battlestar Galactica (excising the ridiculous angel ending of course) and maybe even Firefly (I said it) are the apex of modern speculative science fiction on screen. All tackled modern day culture and political issues head-on and with aplomb (not with a plum, which is messier)– often leaving the viewer simultaneously more knowledgeable, but still questioning.
The best sci-fi asks questions about being human in the present day and throws it into a technologically enabled future social grinder to see if anything interesting comes out.
I enjoy fantasy fiction.
I learn about myself and humanity from science fiction.
Which, in the longest preamble possible, brings me to Neil Blomkamp. This man is the current avatar of gritty, realistic SF design. I have been a fan of his work for quite a few years now. In his Tetra Vaal movie short about a company marketing a security robot for conflict zones, I had a flash back to the sensation of awe and wonder experienced when witnessing the first brontosaurus in Jurassic Park. When a bullet shattered a wall that the CG robot was taking cover behind, and the machine flinched backwards and responded in an almost frighteningly realistic and human way, I think I had a geekasm. He followed this up with another brilliantly seductive short about an android on the run in Yellow. Finally, talks of him helming a live-action movie version of Halo culminated in some impressive, combat shorts but support for it ultimately fell apart.
However, a pattern was emerging. This guy knows how to merge the real/unreal. Almost as an exact counter-point/foil to the CG laden MESS that were the Star Wars prequels, here was a leader who intentionally took lo-fi, often hand carried, camera footage and married it with CG that could be mistaken for absolutely real. The only question was whether he had the writing/director chops for a full length movie.
Thankfully, we received District 9. The film is not without its flaws, but overall it is simply a genius film and a pleasure to watch. It took a carbon copy of apartheid and replaced black people for “prawns” (aliens). What could have been an inspirational but forgettable movie rehashing the well trodden issues between the oppressor and oppressee, becomes those things AND an exercise in human nature and character development. Blomkamp’s main character is a white middle-aged idiot who is just smart enough to marry his boss’ daughter but too dumb to do more than what he is told, or to question his life or his bigoted beliefs. His only saving grace is that he is not smart enough to be devious and is endearingly genuine and human, despite his beliefs. By the end of the movie, and because we got to witness real horror, racism and oppression through the eyes of the opressor, District 9 will remain as one of my favorite sci-fi movies.
This is not up until now mentioning Blomkamp’s REAL talent which is to have designed and filmed a world that feels and looks real – for around $30M. $30M! In an age when studios toss around $150M like it’s the new cost of entry for special effects movies, this number is simply mind-boggling. This guy could make 6 great movies for every crappy “blockbuster”, I told myself.
So it is with a heavy heart that I come to watch and review Elysium. I won’t spend much time on it. To be honest there isn’t much to it.
DO go see it for the impeccable future world design and production execution.
DON’T go see it for almost anything else.
It is hard not to see a similar theme with Elysium that Blomkamp had in District 9. What are the issues faced when there are a privelaged minority exploiting the powerless masses? But, where District 9 took a risky, creative move and explored these issues with a privileged character growing and exploring, Elysium isn’t nearly that courageous. Matt Damon’s character, I have no idea what his name is, is a recovering con-artist/future-car thief. This serves no other purpose than to dislike and hate him as far as I can tell. He is one of the masses on Earth, being continuously exploited by the affluent overlords in the floating wagon-wheel called Elysium, in space. His lower plebian status inherently means we are supposed to like him – but we never do. His humanity, skill in technology and planning is never on display but is talked about occasionally through pointless side-characters to make us believe he is a real person – don’t believe them.
Bad decision after ridiculously bad decision somehow results in a shallow “happy ending” which makes absolutely no sense. Matt Damon, no doubt cast because of his ability to play the “every man” appears to have phoned it in. I can’t remember one thing that was interesting or worthwhile about his character. So much was made in the media of how Damon got ripped for this role, but I can’t see a single plot reason why this was even necessary. The supporting cast is little better with Jodi Foster getting a special mention putting in a ridiculous accent and pretentious walk worthy of the shiniest Razzie this year.
But it’s pretty – real pretty. The design of everything from future Bugatti space-cars, robot security, to human implants implies some of the best/worst that our technology driven society will offer.
But alas, what could have been an ACTUALLY interesting tale about inequality, privilege and opportunity, turns into a boring “hero’s journey” where the “hero” is a bumbling moron, but not written as one, and his journey is linear with: no surprises, transparent villains in his way, and an ending that rings as soulless and uplifting as an Anthony Weiner apology tour. Its worst crime though is that it never asks any new or interesting questions of the viewer. It doesn’t demand him/her to examine their own ideas – in this way it is more fantasy than science fiction. It just asks you to sit back and consume – like Transformers.
In the end, it’s less the Elysian Fields and more like the Plains of Armageddon (and not in a good way).
Neil, I forgive you, but you’re better than this. Go back to making science fiction.
Well let’s get right into it, shall we?
In the world of sitcoms, only one show has ever managed to cross the uncanny valley that bridges shows with laugh tracks and shows with truly humorous content. In pretty much all other sitcoms, the laugh track is too often used to remind people that what they are watching is funny rather than adding melodic resonance to the already ongoing laughs of the audience.
The show in question is not Seinfeld. Nor is it Friends, nor Frasier, nor any of the other sitcoms you will find on your typical ‘top ten sitcoms’ list.
The show was News Radio.
And to clarify, I speak only of seasons 1 through 4 with both Phil Hartman and Khandi Alexander still present. Once Jon Lovitz was brought in for season 5 the whole thing fell apart, not unpredictably (the year was 1998 and Lovitz was already well on the downturn of a less than illustrious career in tomfoolery – probably his best role since then was an un-credited role in the mediocre movie The Wedding Singer the same year). Phil Hartman’s murder might have also had a dampening effect on the whole thing….
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed many other sitcoms over the years… Well, actually that’s not a genuine statement. It’d be more honest to say that I’ve WATCHED a lot of sitcoms over the years but have enjoyed very few (enjoying shows like Family Matters and Full House as an adolescent doesn’t count). In any case, News Radio stood out in a class of its own. Its unique mixture of slapstick and rhetorical humor was pioneered elsewhere and attempted in many other shows, but was never pitched as perfectly.
Overall TV is getting better, but network television still sucks. It has always sucked really, but we had way fewer options before. Now, with cable channels like AMC and HBO pouring money into making better shows, the bar for TV is rising. However, most network television shows still stay well below it. News Radio was definitively above the bar in its day, and still stands out as above the bar of what we usually see on network television now. How exactly it was able to accomplish that within the confines of a… well, let’s be honest, shitty… format (laugh track sitcoms) is beyond me. It’s a testament to the writing and the actors involved that it was able to transcend its imposed borders.
And an ensemble cast never looked so good: Lisa and Dave’s relationship was always treated just as ridiculous as it seemed; eccentric billionaire Jimmy James was the prototype for 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy; Matthew Brock will go down in history as the least offensive and most hilarious character ever played by Andy Dick; Khandi Alexander as Catherine Duke was the perfect counterpoint to the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Bill McNeal; Beth’s over the top incompetence made her no less endearing; and I love the UFC, but Joe Rogan’s TV career peaked with his role as Joe …what was that last name again?
And the show never took itself too seriously, a mistake made in the later years of many popular sitcoms. Hell they even turned a network mandated funeral episode into a farce by eulogizing a rat and throwing it in an incinerator.
Anyway, to make a long story short, News Radio kicked ass. If you’ve never seen it, you need to see it.
If you saw it and you didn’t like it, you are wrong.
I was in the middle of writing a post about pull-ups, but I have been distracted by Youtube. In an attempt to simply find some music to play while I wrote, I couldn’t stop myself from clicking to watch the new Lady Gaga video that was prominently displayed on the Youtube homepage.
First of all, you’re damn right I clicked it. Why not? While Lady Gaga does indeed contribute to the giant pop noise machine that grates at the mental well being of every minimally sentient person, she also has made some serious waves on occasion. While I dislike the majority of her music, there are a few tunes that I do legitimately enjoy plus I have a hard time hating on a woman who creatively pushes on society like she does.
As near as I can tell, the theme is clearly self-aggrandizing while at the same time self-implicating. She admits to being there for the attention while at the same time parading her nearly naked body around along with other provocative imagery, for yet more attention. However, for her, celebrating adoration is a bit different than your average pop star. She enjoys a very interesting fan base both in their rabid following but also in that the “Little Monsters,” as they are called, overwhelmingly live on the fringe of society. This is important since the fringe has been on the frontline in the modern fight for many social equalities, especially for the LGBTQA crowd. Lady Gaga’s pop icon status has helped push those movements with greater velocity. In all reality, Lady Gaga isn’t just a pop star and her fans aren’t just fans, it would probably be more accurate to describe all of it as a culture, and Applause celebrates the relationship.
Either way, the music has beyond-average complexity and uniqueness, her lyrics are at least mostly original, she exhibits a pretty solid range in her singing, and the imagery is her usual intensity. She even shows clear homage to David Bowie. This makes for an A+ song when compared to her mainstream contemporaries. I’ve decided I enjoy it. Good job Gaga, point.
Writing about Lady Gaga songs on FYMPlanet is not how I expected to spend my evening. Mostly because I never saw myself writing about anything Gaga related anywhere at any time. So what drove my motivation? Once the video was complete, a link for Katy Perry’s new single Roar showed up. I have things to say about this, but without further adieu, here’s the song:
And here is Katy Perry’s new single, Roar:
Seriously, what fresh hell is this? Holy FSM, this is bad. So incredibly bad. Ask the rest of the FYMP crew, out of the three of us I certainly have the highest tolerance for crappy aspects of pop culture, but this is WAY beyond anything I could ever put up with. Christ on rollerblades, this song is terrible. The fact that it starts with that awful Apple ringtone circa 2007 doesn’t help its cause.
I remember hearing a commercial or something about his and how KP was on some crazy plan to rebrand herself and Roar was going to be the first step. There were 18-wheelers rolling around major cities with no purpose other than to serve as giant billboards for her new “ground breaking” sound. I saw one of those things…it was a gaudy shitshow of gold and glitter and a trite attempt at tantalizing her fans. However, after watching the Lady Gaga video above, I was feeling kind of generous to our recent pop stars and figured that maybe KP had grown up a bit. Holy jeebus was I wrong.
Luckily, the only version of the song I could find was a lyrics video. While I agree, yes, being able to at least look at Katy Perry while she performs her typical post-Kissed a Girl garbage (yes, that old album of hers had some gems. Exhibit 1: You’re So Gay), I think it is important to really look at the lyrics. Literally 80% or more of the lyrics are simply clichés. Not even subtle or useful clichés, just straight up tired and even “creatively” spelled and signed (holy emoji, Batman) shit that you’d expect to find on one of those “Look how dumb this random Facebook person is, LOL!!!11!!” pictures that are so popular with the kids these days. Even the damn hook is straight up stolen from Foreigner. Eye of the tiger? Really? Yeah, I get it, you’re full of renewed vigor (to keep doing you, apparently), but you’re not even trying.
Anyway, in a world full of generic and uncreative pop divas like Miley Cyrus, Pink, Britney, Beyonce, Ke-dollar sign-ha, Nikki Minaj, Rihanna, Selena Gomez – and so on and so forth, Katy Perry promised something. It was supposed to be something new and reinvented and something we should prepare ourselves for. And she delivered crap. Absolutely terrible and uncreative drivel. Lady Gaga just showed up as her regular weird-ass self and gave me a quality song with a video that was enjoyable even beyond her tits. Both of these women have found a formula that makes them wildly rich and popular, however one deserves a bit more respect than the other.
By the way, if you made it through the whole of Roar, I commend but do not envy you. Let me make it up to you with a video that I guarantee you will watch the whole way through:
Here are a few short intros to just a few of the films you can expect from Hollywood this summer. I know, the summer is half over already, but shut up. Don’t act like you’ve seen ALL the summer movies already. And there are plenty more coming out before it’s over. So you’re welcome.
Thor: The Dark World – Finally, the not-that-long awaited sequel to the beloved action movie whose plot you can’t remember. Wait, wasn’t it the one where… No, that was The Avengers. Thor and his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, are back for another action-packed unmemorable extravaganza. Get ready to play “what was that movie about again” again!
This is the End – Get ready to get your yearly comedy fix for this quarter of the decade. Though plenty of comedy’s are produced, Hollywood is only allowed 1 (maximum) actually funny movie per year; this is it folks. Insider tip: best ending of any summer movie this season.
The Lone Ranger – Get ready for the return of the greatest action hero your parents ever told you about that one time. Along with trusty steed, Silver, and sidekick, newly racist Johnny Depp, the Ranger will do his best to remind you why he faded into obscurity. As you watch remember that someone thought this was a good idea.
Pacific Rim – Giant Robots, extra-dimensional monsters, Ron Perlman in gold wingtips, Pacific Rim’s got everything! Try to follow the action as earth’s poorly thought out last line of defense battles its greatest, poorly coordinated threat at night and in the rain. Switch your mind off and enjoy the ride.
Man of Steel – Watch Superman the way you never wanted to see him: dark and moody with an incoherent origin story. Watch as Superman develops his moral code entirely independent of any positive influences in his life, and then disregards it completely for the rest of the film. If you like near-genocidal super heroes and mind numbing action, this is the movie for you.
After Earth – Watch as Will Smith, marooned on a far-future Earth, learns the harsh lesson that there’s only one thing that can negate his star power: Jayden Smith.
World War Z – Zombies, Brad Pitt, that actress from The Killing; what’s not to like?
Now You See Me – Now you Don’t.
Kick Ass 2 – Watch the sequel to the inexplicably popular crapfest that was the first Kick Ass. Get your bad-taste violence, bad acting, and ridiculous story kicks for the summer all in one place courtesy of Mark Millar, the Michael Bay of comic books.
White House Down – A black/white buddy cop movie with a twist! The black one’s the president! Channing Tatum plays a Secret Service washout with a…. What? No one cares? Ok then…
2 Guns – A black/white buddy cop movie without a twist! Denzel and Marky Mark give us another derivative movie to round out the last 3 decades.
R.I.P.D. – Men in Black 4!
The Wolverine – Get ready for the sequel to the worst super hero movie of all time, and yes, that includes Spider-Man 3 and Green Lantern. Hugh Jackman suits up for another insultingly stupid, unforgivably poorly written and developed bag of garbage. Seriously, how do you mess up Wolverine?? Watch and see… again.
If you like your books uncompromising, with equal parts philosophy, imagination, wit, humor, sarcasm, epic battles, great characters, and gut punching drama, stop reading and buy/download these two books. If you need more convincing, read on.
Many authors have tried to do the anti-hero “thing”, Moorcock’s Elric saga (pic above) being one of the earliest and best-known genre examples. This is a character who is not your typical hero. He’s fallible, tragically flawed and with a moral code that often would leave you cringing. The movie Pitch Black did a decent job of this with its protagonist, Riddick.
Most authors fail. It is an inherently difficult thing to do. How do you create a character that is kindof an asshole – to other people, to objects, to Gods… to himself, but still be likeable/interesting enough that you want to go on the journey with him? It takes a good author to take a hero archetype and create a compelling story…. It takes a great one (or a good one free-basing some serious Muse) to take an anti-hero and elevate him till he resides in the hushed whispers of myth and legend.
Enter Caine. Caine is about as close to a force of nature that a human being can get without being an actual hurricane- with a sharp, intelligent, sarcastic wit that would fit perfectly on FYM Planet. He’s also an asshole (so again… he would fit in). More importantly he’s one of the most bad-ass characters I’ve ever read in fiction or seen on screen. Keep in mind that I don’t often use that term, but it’s appropriate here. This quality is not even mostly due to his lethality – which is more than potent, but more his state of mind. Caine is wracked by internal struggles buttressed by a fierce intelligence and personal code that propels him through these 2 novels like a boar shot out of a howitzer. Oh, he also spends much of Blade of Tyshalle in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. And he’s still a bad-ass. Trust me.
But it’s not just the character, Matthew Stover creates worlds that are frightening but so fantastically interesting that you can’t help but want to live in them.
Blade of Tyshalle and Heroes Die are literally sci-fi/fantasy novels. There are actually two worlds. One, a future Earth that was so decimated by a virus that the entire planet’s culture, in recovery, became one dominated by corporations with a caste system built solely to protect those in influence and power. Caine grew up as a Laborer (the lowest caste) and in this crucible became hard and tough as graphene. It is a dark, cold, ruthless place that has many of the luxuries/advances that you’d imagine from future technology, but these predominantly only benefit the few at the expense of the many.
The other, called Overworld, with elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons and yes… humans -is a harsh/alien place. Elves aren’t Orlando Bloom with Vulcan ears. They are creepy ancient creatures who wield knowledge and magic that would give Gandalf pause. Humans are viewed on with fear/pity because of all Overworld’s races, only humans are fundamentally unaware of their connection with nature. The elves describe this phenomenon by saying humans “worship the Blind God”. This is a useful term I’ve actually used in the “real world” many times to describe the sometimes self-destructive nature humanity has to the universe around it.
Now I may have lost you at “sci-fi” AND “fantasy”, but hear me out. It’s possible, even likely, that many of you are Firefly/Serenity fans. If someone had come up to you and told you that there was this great TV show that was a sci-fi-western you would have politely/impolitely nodded and ignored that the conversation ever took place. If so, you would have been completely wrong.
It’s a similar phenomenon here. Science fiction and fantasy should not go together as a rule. It is just too much disbelief to suspend. However, Stover has done the impossible and weaved these two Worlds together in a way that makes sense and is thrilling. The supporting cast around Caine, from gods to girlfriends, all feel real and consistent with their own internal motivations and idiosyncrasies. He pokes fun/celebrates all the typical sci-fi/fantasy literary clichés while making them new and exciting.
I could go on and on, but I will conclude with why I recommend experiencing these two novels out of order. Some of you may have already checked and Heroes Die is actually the first book in the series. By starting with Blade of Tyshalle you start in the middle of the story, which could be a negative in any other series. It begins though with a middle-aged Caine, who is crippled and past his prime, reminiscing/suffering over old adventures and triumphs. When characters reverentially reference Ma-elKoth or the epic battle on Assumption Day, the reader is titillated by wondering what REALLY DID happen!? Caine’s injury was inflicted by his nemesis, Berne, wielding the great blade Kosall. Berne who is referenced as one of the most brutal and fierce opponents Caine ever faced doesn’t appear except as a stuffed mannequin in a museum of Caine’s past exploits.
Each one of these references piques your interest without being unsatisfying. Since Blade of Tyshalle is the more complex, nuanced, and ambitious novel, it is more rewarding and actually makes reading Heroes Die more enjoyable since you are finally reading the stories that were told like myths in the previous novel. Heroes Die, while still excellent, is a much more straightforward story and benefits from the depth of Blade of Tyshalle.
In short, these two books of fiction are hard to recommend highly enough. There are only a few caveats I will mention to those interested. If you have an aversion to awesome things, especially things that are fantasy/sci-fi or just an aversion to reading in general, then these books aren’t for you. That said, these stories are extremely violent. Unlike Mark Milar comics though, the violence usually isn’t an end unto itself. It’s usually to express revulsion or fear or a variety of things that have a purpose other than to be brutal or gruesome. If you are squeamish about descriptions of broken bones or extreme situations then avoid please.
If you’ve made it to the end of this recommendation, I hope you’re intrigued enough to check these novels out. When you do, leave a comment and/or message me, I’d love to talk about Hari and Kris’s unlikely friendship and their near-death experience at Acting school, one that harkens to Ender’s choices at Battle School.
If not, no worries, but I’ll leave you with some advice Duncan gives to his son, Caine. When things seem like they are at their worst, “keep your head down, and inch towards daylight.”
Dear [insert CGI driven movie title here],
I just watched Pacific Rim, and overall I enjoyed it. For all its flaws and illogic it was generally fun to watch and engaging enough to keep me interested the whole way through. However, despite my general enjoyment, Pacific Rim still fell into some of the same traps that so many of your contemporaries find themselves in. Because I like you, and because I want what’s best for you (and, yes, for me as well) I decided to write this letter.
I know that you are busy saving the world, exploring space, fighting evil, etc., so I’ll be as brief as possible to let you get back to that important work.
My first point has to do with light. We know that the alien invasions, monster attacks, epic battles, etc. wait for no man. However, for your audiences sake, please try to delay them by about 9 hours next time, giving the sun a chance to come up. We as humans do not share your ability to operate at peak efficiency night or day. As an unfortunate accident of evolution, our eyes are only made to function with 100% effectiveness in the light of day. For this reason, when your inevitable climax or mid-way battle takes place in the middle of the night or in a torrential downpour (or both, as we often see), we are often at a loss to appreciate the full magnificence of your victory over your opponents.
I understand, of course, that there are budgetary constraints with regards to the creation of special effects, and that nighttime and/or thunderstorm offers a protective fog that makes fooling the human eye easier without spending much more money on rendering. I also understand that your budget has to fill an hour and 45 minutes of a 2 hour movie with action in order to keep our goldfish attention spans engaged. But still, I propose a solution: instead of having 20 nighttime/rainstorm battles during your 2 hour run time, how about only having 15 battles overall?
Wait, just hear me out!
By having only 15 battles, the production funding which would have been spent on the other 5 is now available to augment your rendering of the remaining battles. In this way, we the audience can be spared the trouble of guessing what is happening during the majority of your action sequences. Yes, we understand that our hero or an enemy is now flying through the air. We assume he’s been struck or thrown. But we would love to actually KNOW.
My second point has to do with the stupid human brain. And I know this is not your problem; you have far greater concerns than what my simple ape brain can handle visually… defending the galaxy for instance. But I would still ask that you indulge me for a moment.
The simple fact is: my brain simply can’t handle all the visual debris that you throw at it.
When you start with a close up of a fist, then quickly switch to the face of a swiftly moving enemy darting past the camera, then zooming away (much faster than a human could ever move) before swiveling the point of view around, over, and under the two characters before the fist connects causing an explosion, my brain interprets one thing maybe: fist?
(get any of that?)
I need a few things from you, if you decide can help me out with this. 1) I’m gonna need you to slow it down. Not everything has to be in slow motion, but it absolutely cannot be in super-fast motion. Movies are a visual medium as I know you are well aware, and if I’m not able to actually see what is going on, it defeats the entire purpose. The IMPRESSION that something cool and epic may have just occurred is not enough. I need to know.
And 2) we get it, you are very good at realistically rendering debris. Thanks you. But now, we would like some more emphasis put on the characters themselves than on the destruction they create collaterally. Some of that is excellent, certainly. But when explosions, falling buildings, and shrapnel are actively obscuring our battling dynamos, whoever they may be, well then we have derailed.
I’d really like for us to be able to work together on this one. I think there is a lot of growth potential, and profit in it for both of us. I get a better viewing experience, and you get the satisfaction of a job well done. I know you’re capable of doing this, because you’ve done it in the past with great success. Let’s learn from our triumphs, [special effects driven film], and save the world together.
How the Best Zombie Movie of the Last Decade Could be a Video Game
Guest post by Ryan Ring
There is hope in video games, and I have seen it in one of the most bleak and hopeless places imaginable; no, not Detroit, but rather post-Apocalyptic America as depicted in The Last of Us. A lot has been made of the increasing status of video games as a form of entertainment, and even a form of artistic expression (though I would argue there has been “Art” in video games since, in 1983, Shigeru Miyamoto introduced the most famous Italian brothers this side of the Corleones). However, despite this tantalizing tagline, few games have really been able to transcend the limitations of their platform, and gaming culture in general, to deliver something that is truly culturally significant from a storytelling perspective. In fact, those games that have broke into the cultural consciousness have done so for purely superficial reasons (extreme violence, new technology, commercial success, etc.) instead of for their artistic viability. That is, until now.
There are already innumerable articles on the merits of The Last of Us as a game, and it is a great game, but my intent here is to focus on the merits of its story rather than its gameplay, and what it could mean for video games as cinema. Now, I fall in the camp of people who don’t believe spoilers ruin a viewing/reading/playing experience, but before I go on, I should mention it will be difficult to discuss this game without divulging some of the critical plot points and events in the game, so you should assume from this point forward there will be some spoilers, though I will attempt to limit their impact.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Last of Us, the story is roughly a mix of Children of Men, The Road, and 28 Days Later (if that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what will). The story takes place after the fall of civilization to a progressive fungal infection that causes hyper-aggression in the host, and the declaration of martial law in what few American cities are left standing. The player assumes the role of Joel, a grizzled Texan smuggler in the Boston Quarantine Zone, who has never quite recovered from the untimely demise of his teenage daughter 20 years earlier at the hands of a conflicted soldier (witnessed in the gut-wrenching opening scenes of the game). Through a confluence of circumstances, Joel and his smuggling partner Tess are entrusted by the leader of the “Firefly” rebellion group to transport a young QZ inhabitant, Ellie, to safety. As it would turn out, Ellie is immune to the fungal infection plaguing mankind and represents humanity’s sole hope for vaccination. As one would expect, things go awry, the Fireflies fail to make the meet, Tess dies, and Joel is left trying to figure out what to do with this girl he never wanted to be responsible for in the first place.
This all sounds dangerously cliché, but the game navigates banality surprisingly well by skirting overt analogies between Ellie and Joel’s deceased daughter and playing on Joel’s role as something of an anti-hero in what winds up being one of the most expansive and rewarding post-Apocalyptic stories in recent memory. As such, The Last of Us has shown the potential for the video game medium to provide a viable alternative to big-box Hollywood and all it’s trappings. One of the major limitations encountered in most video games is the shoddy voice acting, and the seeming disregard for a coherent story. Some games even pride themselves on the ability for the gamer to determine the outcome of the plot through multiple endings. Not so for The Last of Us on both accounts. The voice acting for the main roles is impeccable and the script is subtle and smart. The cinema isn’t limited to cinematic “cut scenes” either, but is sometimes delivered through in-game conversations and cinematic sequences. The story is also surprisingly tight, and the inherent length of an epic game like this (anywhere between 12 – 15 hours) allows the writers to fully flesh out the slow progression of the relationship between Joel and Ellie in a realistic and complex way. The dynamics of that relationship are elegantly mirrored by juxtaposition within the mise-en-scene. As Joel and Ellie traverse ruined America, they don’t only encounter toddler-size corpses, hanged military officials, anthropophagist butcheries, and other grim scenes, but also settings of sublime beauty like when Ellie stalks a wounded buck through a snow covered wood. The mood is further accentuated by a superb and understated score by Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain). It’s apparent the importance of atmospheric details was not lost on the game’s creators.
This brings me to the central question: What does The Last of Us mean for the viability of video games as an alternative storytelling medium? As with anything, there are positives and negatives. A significant problem of course is not everyone has the equipment or the time to play, let alone beat, an epic game like this. Similarly, the narrative is necessarily spasmodic. A game must still be a game, after all, and you can hardly avoid the narratively superfluous tutorials, combat sequences, and puzzles present in most games. In addition, any non-playing spectators would probably be bored to death as my character stumbled through dead ends looking for loot or sat still for five minutes trying to stealthily kill an unsuspecting marauder.
However, despite these drawbacks, there are notable advantages to this platform as well. Video games, while still subject to some Hollywood-style commercial considerations, seem to suffer from fewer limitations when it comes to subject matter and commercial appeal, at least in terms of story. In the case of The Last of Us, the content is extremely challenging and at times downright disturbing. In one scene, the player assumes control of Ellie in a situation where one false step (literally) can lead to her nearly being chopped in half with a machete in a gruesome death sequence. The game uses this unsparing brutality as tastefully as possible and as a measure to demonstrate the stakes at play at any given time. The player cannot be certain that either Joel or Ellie will make it to the end of the game, and even if they do, you’ll probably have to witness them perish in any number of ways before you get there. As such, games in general can offer a level of suspense and uncertainty most conventional films fail to match. Moreover, the plot of The Last of Us itself resolves in a morally ambiguous way that I find it hard to believe would ever make it through the major motion picture studio screening process.
This is not to say that I believe video games will come to replace movies as visual media, and the realm of games is certainly no stranger to unending reams of sequels and unoriginal properties. Yet perhaps works like The Last of Us will be the vanguard of a new generation of video games with artistic sensibilities, a refuge for those of us craving original thought, creative storytelling, and ultimately inspiration. Of course, The Last of Us also teaches us that hope can kill, so until the day the industry regularly releases games of this caliber we will just have to “endure and survive.”
So I’ve been bashing a lot of shows lately, and I feel like I should switch gears a bit to talk about why I do it. Refocusing on the FYMPlanet mission is probably in order here: the goal is not just to slam mediocre shows or to try to shame people into not watching their favorite guilty pleasure. Far from it. You’ll notice that I personally watch all of the shows that I criticize for their lack of impact. I’m not against the shows I trash here, I simply don’t think they work and I do my best to outline why.
At the end of the day, what I really want is for the mediocre and bad shows that people watch to be a backup option rather than the go-to. I also want people to be able to recognize the flaws in the shows they watch. That’s not to say this will cause them not to watch it anymore; it won’t. But it will dissipate the shared delusion that popularity and profundity are the same things.
I think that understanding the fundamentals of storytelling and the elements that go into good TV is important.
Not for some arbitrary aesthetic reason, but because the more people recognize mediocrity in all its various forms, the more they will seek out things that are better. In the long run, this may lead to better programming overall as studios realize that the drivel that has been successful in the past is no longer making the cut. We’re not there yet, but TV is definitely producing more worthwhile content than ever before. Is that simply because it’s producing more content period, and that percentage-wise the number of “good” shows is staying the same? I don’t know, but what if all of the mediocre shows could be tweaked so they were BETTER?
Wouldn’t it be great if someone made a show like Dexter with dynamic characters and good acting? What if The Walking Dead featured an engaging storyline and quit treating its characters like cardboard cutouts.
I want to watch THOSE shows. I want to watch shows like AMC’s The Killing which pulls no punches as it draws you in and breaks your heart. Or shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that took a campy comedic premise and turned it into something amazing and unexpected.
Years from now, you’ll remember that Dexter was a show about a serial killer killing serial killers and that The Walking Dead was about zombies, but you’ll remember the details of Tony Sopranos dreams. You’ll remember Stringer Bell’s hubris and Omar Little’s code. You’ll remember every step of Walter White’s descent. You’ll remember the minutiae of those characters because they lived for you in a way that the one dimensional Dexter Morgan or Rick Grimes never will.
It can’t be a bad thing to want all of your TV to be that good, can it?
So yeah, I trash mediocre shows from time to time, but only in the service of the idea that there’s better out there and availing yourself of it will not only please your palate but evolve it. If our tastes continue to develop then our media will follow suit. I admit that it would be a dangerous world were all shows good. I doubt I’d get much done. But good or bad, I don’t want to settle for less.
I don’t know about you, but I want my FYMTV.
So now that we’ve established that The Walking Dead is crap, let’s move on to another fan favorite. Dexter, since its 2006 inception, has been breaking Showtime records and entertaining millions of underdeveloped minds with its anticlimactic progression and willfully stagnant main character.
Let’s explore some of the elements that make this show not worth your time.
First off, the show is plagued by bad acting. Though the worst acting I’ve ever seen on television was displayed by Erik King, who played James Doakes in seasons 1 & 2, since his timely on-screen demise other “actors” like Desmond Harrington (Quinn), Lauren Vélez (LaGuerta), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan), and pretty much everyone else in the show continue to plumb the depths of non-acting and have established themselves as accomplished hacks in their own right. Watching them stumble through their scenes is hard enough without taking into consideration things like character development, which is entirely absent. It’s like the show’s writers thought character development was something you only had to do BEFORE the show starts. 7 seasons in and no noticeable change in anyone.
Michael C. Hall, who actually has it in him to be a decent actor (though not a consistent one by any means), doesn’t really have the chance to do anything outstanding since any emotion Dexter is “able” to express is painstakingly described in dull monologues rather than displayed.
Which brings me to Dexter himself. From the very first season, which consisted mostly of monologues by Dexter describing how dead he is inside, we are constantly bombarded with instances during which this claim is resoundingly refuted.
Pretty much every quirk Dexter displays (aside from his murders) could be attributed to a mentally competent, non-psychopathic, socially awkward teenage boy. Dexter’s personality defect really boils down to simple immaturity… with a side of homicidal tendencies.
Still, we are meant to buy into Dexter’s dishonest self-description even though almost all evidence stands to the contrary. In fact, the only time that Dexter’s supposed universal apathy really seems apparent is when he’s confronted with the pleas of his victims. Every other circumstance seems to elicit an actual emotion, and more often than not it’s something that a normal human could empathize with. So there goes the myth of Dexter’s detachment and social alienation.
In light of that, Dexter’s inability to change is inexplicable. If he were a real person, Dexter’s refusal to change despite devastating life changing occurrences would be frustrating and confounding. Fortunately, we don’t need to wrestle with this paradox; it’s wholly attributable to bad writing. Dexter’s wife Rita, who we know he has developed real feelings for, dies; and yet, instead of the show making an interesting and desperately needed paradigm shift where Dexter has to deal with that event and his guilt over it, the next season begins with Dexter back on the job like nothing ever happened. Not because Dexter is dead inside – we know he’s not – but because of the writers’ inability or unwillingness to follow up on a decent plot twist. Way to go guys.
Additionally, as the seasons go by, one of the most interesting parts of the mediocre show, Dexter’s kidnapping/murders of other serial killers, happen less and less frequently, and usually become just another excuse for the main character to monologue and soul search at the viewer’s expense. Dexter’s angsty pseudo-apathy was disingenuous in season one; now, approaching season 8, it’s positively farcical.
The show consistently fails to have an impact one way or the other. After having watched the entire series to date (don’t ask why, just be glad I did so I can tell you why not to), I can only single out a few episodes that I would consider “well done.” The show is a fluff series that avoids true introspection at any cost while still trying to keep the audience engaged and stimulated… not an approach that traditionally yields quality results.
The moral ambiguity inherent to vigilantism, and particularly Dexter’s unique brand of serial murder, is never more than perfunctorily explored. The side stories of the rest of the cast which frequently pop up so that the show can pretend to be multi-faceted are largely uninteresting and underdeveloped. The “Big Bad” foe of Dexter that has come to characterize each season of the show is usually overwrought and underwhelming. The whole thing is a mediocre mess.
So, season 8 is coming in a few weeks, and mercifully it’s the last season. Let’s see how the writers decide to limp their way across the finish line. I’m just glad it’s over; this show has been my Dark Passenger for far too long.
So you can’t have a summer without a disaster movie. The warmer months drive Hollywood a little mad and are littered with cinema fodder that rain down like the asteroids and comets caused by aliens/gods/global warming and whatever other swords of Damocles hang over humanity’s head. All of them are horrible. Yes, including Armageddon though you can enjoy it anyway (leave your comments down below fanboys!). It is just too hard to make a disaster movie that doesn’t become so ridiculous or unwieldy that it won’t collapse under its own weight. Too many characters or CG destruction is often counterproductive to the actual storytelling and it’s anathema to an audience’s enjoyment.
World War Z is less a zombie movie and more a disaster movie. Its infection storyline owes more to H1N1 and movies like Outbreak than to George Romero. To be honest, I’m getting a little sick of zombie movies. It’ll be one of those phases in Hollywood (along with superhero movies <gasp!>) that will be remembered with mostly a bemused fondness and a shaking of the head. “How did they get to be so popular and mainstream?” The recent “Warm Bodies” proves that we are trying to squeeze every last demographic out of this phase before it ends…. hopefully soon. However, that movie, along with most others is forgettable and a waste of time. If you are going to immerse yourself in zombie mythology, there are a few things you should check out before you go slumming with the dregs of the undead silver screen unprotected.
These are in no particular order:
- 28 Days Later (not weeks)
- Shaun of the Dead
- The Walking Dead (the comic not the tv show. See fellow FYMPer review here)
Each of these takes a different perspective of the zombie phenomenon, from ground level apocalypse story to a tongue-in-cheek critique on modern society. What is missing from this list a great high-level zombie apocalypse story – enter World War Z.
Wait. Didn’t I just say WWZ isn’t a zombie movie? Nope. No, I didn’t. Read again. It IS MORE a disaster movie, but there are literally BILLIONS of zombies in it – so it’s a zombie flick. Despite all the rumors of rewrites, internal fights, and giant cost overruns that would be great justification for a disaster-documentary, WWZ pulls together a tightly woven, produced and edited movie that fills out that last piece of the zombie movie pantheon. It is tightly written and quickly paced. At just under 2 hours, Brad Pitt visits 4 continents and an aircraft carrier (actually it looks more like an amphibious assault ship but most people don’t know the difference) and possibly saves the human race. The producers make efficient use of on-screen time, developing characters/scenes/locations with just enough to make you believe what is happening and thrust you to the next plot point. In other films, this is done poorly and keeps you from playing along with the story, but they do an excellent job here. Instead of managing 4/5 different characters, they have us journey with Brad Pitt (still ridiculously charming and good looking) ,the uncommon man, from infection-resolution. This mostly works and is probably the only way to do a movie of this scope without it becoming a 3 hour endurance contest. I’ll look forward to the extra content/extended scenes in the DVD at home. In theatres, movies over 2 hours long try my patience.
As with most movies, it isn’t perfect of course. While there are actually a number of great scenes and even pleasant surprises/shocks, the movie plotline isn’t overly creative. It doesn’t hoe new ground with the disaster movie formula. Where it makes up for this is in the strength of each scene in each locale which serve their purpose and then the movie drops them and moves on. It doesn’t dwell, linger, or brood too much, which I appreciated. It follows a fairly sound logic with how different people and authorities act with a couple of silly exceptions. Forgivable cinema-luck (we just crash landed right where we needed to be!) and other events work in the guise of how limiting a 2-hour movie is for a storyteller. The final criticism here is how underutilized Mireille Enos is, who plays Pitt’s wife. If her work in “the Killing” proves anything, it’s that women characters can have extraordinary depth and intelligence. While there may be more of her story on the editing room floor and Enos does instill her with a visceral reality a lesser actress couldn’t, her character is mostly relegated to the powerless spouse, waiting for word from her world-saving husband. Too bad.
The production is excellent. What could have been a gore-fest, and some will lament its absence, becomes mostly a tasteful cutaway affair, with events meant to be more disturbing than the violence. It is also probably one of the best edited movies I’ve ever seen. There is little excess baggage in any scene and the movie is better for it – if only to spare you too much time to ponder some of the less believable moments in the film. There are quite a few memorable characters (a mostly mute but bad ass Israeli female soldier for one). Brad Pitt does an admirable job carrying the entire movie on his magazine wrapped forearms.
So will this be a FYMP classic? It is too soon to tell. It isn’t overwhelmingly original or thought provoking, but it does enough things really well to make it one of my favorite disaster movies. There are better, smaller, more intimate plague/zombie stories that can be told, but in the realm of end-of-the-world productions, WWZ is mostly in an undead league of its own. Let me know what you think.
So my wife and I saw Now You See Me last week… and I’m still thinking about it. Oh no, not because it was thought provoking, almost the polar opposite. I think I was noodling what exactly it was that bothered me about it, and I think I have it.
This movie is the perfect vehicle to show why FYMPlanet is necessary. There are so many people like Pete Hammond, from Movieline, who think that this movie was “highly entertaining, extremely clever & and thrilling to watch”, but he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Thankfully, Rottentomatoes, which does a reasonably good job calling out the stink bombs, gives this movie a 46%, which it deserves.
I don’t blame Pete Hammond, who will be a stand-in for everyone who doesn’t really know what “highly entertaining” and “extremely clever” actually are. What this movie actually IS is a Hollywood ATTEMPT at being those things without actually crossing the threshold. With such an entertaining/talented cast (Dave Franco and Mark Ruffalo excluded), there was an opportunity to make something special.
Jesse Eisenberg does a great job playing a supposedly smart, pompous, slightly annoying, <insert any past role here> magician. The more we learn about the actor the more this is clearly less due to his acting ability and more just freebasing what is already there. Woody Harrelson is the most interesting of the bunch, playing a talented, but seedy mentalist. However, his power over people is showcased in a way that makes it unlikely he would ever be “down on his luck” or unsuccessful – he can literally make people say or do anything he wants. With this super power, there are probably much more interesting ways he could be spending his time than faux dodging the FBI in pursuit of membership in some second rate Magic Mason cult. Isla Fisher is always fun to watch but her character bio is about as shallow as the Houdini tank she jumps in in one of the opening scenes.
Oh right, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also in this film, proving that old male actors can still get a substantial paycheck for doing basically nothing. Also there is a French girl, who neither represents Europe or Interpol well. I should have auditioned my 3 year old daughter for how much intelligence and real world experience the character brings to the table. The first 10 minutes of the movie hints at greater things through its brief, almost intriguing, character introductions/background sketches. But like a street artist, the sketch is all there is and it culminates in a silly but admittedly creative bank heist. If the movie ended there, I actually would have been intrigued and wanted more… but then there actually WAS more.
What follows is so silly and unbelievably orchestrated that all the suspense and enigma of the puppeteer behind the scenes is lost. There is never a sense of danger or reality to the proceedings. The plot is just a vehicle for the writers to try to show how clever they are. The protagonists lose all of their humanity and just become avatars to this end. The twist at the end, which I THINK was trying to recall much better movies like “the prestige” had none of the weight or consequence of that movie. It was so yawn worthy and unbelievable that my brain wanted to self-destruct – it’s possible it did and this one is a loaner.
You may ask, what did I expect? And, true, I didn’t expect a lot. I still enjoyed the experience because I was spending time with my lovely wife, but that makes the movie irrelevant. What this movie tells me is that there is still a significant number of people in Hollywood and elsewhere who don’t know what “highly entertaining” and “clever” really are. If you must constantly state how funny or witty you are, you probably aren’t. This should be a rule in film and life. In the season finale of Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister scolds his nephew in much the same way. A real king shouldn’t have to remind everyone else of the fact.
Don’t waste your time watching this movie unless it is just a means to another end. Watch the Prestige ( not the Illusionist) instead. It’s got its flaws, but there are some real questions about magic, humanity, and commitment that make it worth the trip.
Good luck out there!
*Can they be called spoilers if the show is already rotten? If so, they’re ahead*
The Walking Dead is a profoundly mediocre show. It’s greatest strength is that it manages to keep otherwise rational people watching it, long after it has proven itself not worth their time. Commenter Nial said it best in his comment on my Public Service Announcement post: “The Walking Dead TV show is like super sizing your combo meal at the drive thru. I know it doesn’t have much substance and it’s not good for me but I can’t help myself. Afterwards I feel unfulfilled and dirty.”
Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic book and an executive producer on the show, is one of my favorite comic book writers of the decade. The Walking Dead comic along with one of his other monthly serials, Invincible, are two of my favorite comics of all time and consistently the best of my monthly reads.
As the creator of The Walking Dead’s source material, Kirkman is unsurprisingly one of the biggest advocates of the show. It is his brain child after all. Though it saddens me to think it is so, I can’t help but harbor the sincere hope that his constant praise of the show is nothing more than lip service. It wouldn’t do for a show’s creator and executive producer to badmouth the changes made to the story. Changes which have, by the way, effectively neutered one of the best zombie stories ever told. As The Walking Dead comic continues to impress and stick to its awesome guns, I have to believe that deep down Robert Kirkman sheds a tear for each nonsensical detour in the show’s storytelling and bides his time until his next project.
But let’s not nerd out too much and fall into the trap of being blind purists. The show is crappy for many reasons not tied to its deviations from the comic. And don’t get me wrong; The Walking Dead is not even close to being the worst show out there. I could point to almost the entire roster of any other basic cable network and find 95% of the listings to be worse. But that’s not what we do here; leave the lowest hanging fruit to some other site.
The Walking Dead isn’t terrible; it’s just mediocre. And making a show poorly when it has the obvious potential to be amazing is worse than making a flat out crap show to shovel to the cow-public.
Here are some things about The Walking Dead that piss me off:
- The Walking Dead is mired by stiff performances, uninspired writing, and an utter lack of direction. It’s just not building towards anything like a good show should (see Breaking Bad for reference). While some might say “the journey is the destination,” to that I say “only if the journey keeps me engaged.” It doesn’t. At all.
- Pacing (noun/verb) – 1: a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo. 2: walking at a steady and consistent speed, esp. back and forth and as an expression of one’s anxiety or annoyance. The show runners confuse definition 1 with definition 2.
- I love good Zombie gore as much as the next man, but just as Michael Bay uses explosions to substitute for plot, The Walking Dead uses zombie gore to distract us from the fact that the story isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t work.
- The Walking Dead comic book is characterized by dynamic characters who are constantly changing (and more than occasionally dying) as they and the world around them very quickly becomes unrecognizable. The show is characterized by static characters whose greatest change is their miraculously decreasing ability to act. Here are some of the characters and their “developments.”
- Rick: whether praying or talking into a handheld radio, Rick monologues his way through 2 full seasons. He grows some stubble and a pseudo mullet and creases his eyebrows slightly more as episodes pass.
- Carl: changes from uninteresting background character to ruthless and uninteresting background character.
- Lori: dies. I think that counts as character development.
- Andrea: whines her way to an uninteresting and unnecessary death after several seasons of pouting.
- T Dog: this character is black and is named T Dog and someone thought that was a good idea. He also mercifully dies.
- Shane: is thankfully killed off, sparing us a further season of watching him try to act.
- Michonne: is silent and abrasive by turns, but consistently unremarkable. If the most interesting thing about a character is their weapon, that character is a failure.
- I don’t remember any of the other characters in the show…
- The show pulls almost all of its punches. The comic never does.
AMC, the network which produces The Walking Dead, is one of my favorite television networks. From Breaking Bad to the Killing to Mad Men, AMC has been leading the charge for quality dramatic storytelling for the last few years. All of which makes it that much harder to believe that they would take a slam-dunk show concept like The Walking Dead and drag it facedown through gravel for 4 seasons.
Obviously, The Walking Dead wasn’t a misstep for AMC as a network; the show holds the honor of being the most watched TV drama in basic cable history. As anyone’s Facebook feed or water cooler chit chat experiences can confirm, the series is obviously beloved by many an errant soul. From a business standpoint and by any other quantitative metric I can think of, it’s a huge success. If I were anyone else, I might even start to question myself. Maybe the show IS that good; maybe I’m too hung up on the comic to give it the chance it deserves; maybe I can’t recognize the true genius behind the story.
But no, the show really is sub par. By any critical standards it simply doesn’t measure up.
Do yourselves a favor and read the comic instead. See Rick Grimes the way he was meant to be.
I read a lot.
I pretty much have to read before I go to bed or I’ll just lie awake and stare at the ceiling even if it’s 3 in the morning. Even if it’s just a page or a few paragraphs, I find it very difficult to pass out without reading something.
Kind of a false start, that. It doesn’t really relate to what the rest of the blog is about, but I’ll leave it in as a fun fact about myself.
Anyway, recently I finished wading through the 5 book Gap Cycle series by Stephen R. Donaldson which wasn’t bad, but burned me out on science fiction which I had been reading pretty exclusively for the past two years or so… I go through phases like that where I only read one genre or one author for extended periods of time.
I wanted to make a soft transition to something a little different rather than completely diverging and picking up a Thomas Pynchon novel or something. I remembered a recommendation I got from a friend several years ago that I had never taken for a book called Daemon by Daniel Suarez so I grabbed it.
It’s a technothriller so still kind of sci-fi-esque but less fantastical. In any case it was a good transition book, and a pretty good read in general.
The story takes place in the present or very near future and follows the effects on the world of a background process program (daemon) written by a dead genius/madman computer game developer named Matthew Sobol which infiltrates the global net and begins to disrupt the world economy and balance of power in interesting ways.
The Daemon’s queue to begin operating is the headline announcing the death of its creator. Through backdoors built into Sobol’s video games, it siphons the computing power of legions of unwary gamers and begins to systematically enlist the disenfranchised to accomplish its goals. It shifts its strategy and initiates pre-planned contingencies in response to keywords in media headlines. The Daemon causes death and destruction as well as silent infiltration as it begins to dispassionately execute its functions with brutal if-then logic bereft of considerations for consequence making it more dangerous than any person could ever be. And its mission is to change the world.
I immediately thought the concept was pretty cool. The writing style is very direct and utilitarian; there are very little embellishment added to the fictional events, yet somehow the story still doesn’t feel heartless. Some characters are better developed than others, and some of the character arcs feel a little forced, but generally speaking they feel and act like real people, which is nice.
The storytelling is well paced and the author never falls into the trap of making the technical explanations (of which there are many) unwieldy or tedious; as a non computer guy (I mean, I own one and know how to turn it on and off. I know how to defrag it… when it gets all fragged. But I’m not a hacker or anything. Does anyone say hacker anymore? Are those still a thing? I digress) I was pleased that the jargon and the technical detail didn’t go over my head.
The concept of the Daemon is interesting because it really feels like something that could almost be realized today. Given unlimited time and resources, the systems the daemon employs to accomplish its goals don’t seem all that impossible…only highly difficult and unlikely. This closeness to reality adds another interesting dimension to the story. It’s like imagining a world where Steve Jobs secretly programmed every iDevice to silently call your mom whenever it sensed you having sex.
At times it’s a little far-fetched in that the Daemons scripted response are too spot-on to have been pre-planned even by a super genius like Sobol, but the author still makes it seem somewhat feasible so I’m able to suspend my disbelief.
The book is also surprisingly bloody and violent at times, but the author’s use of violence is very particular. The violence is brutal when it occurs, but it doesn’t occur throughout and when it does it still has an emotional effect because it is so frugally used.
In any case, at the end of the book things are getting pretty serious and the scale of the vision of the Daemon’s creator is just starting to be revealed. The book is a pretty good non-preachy examination of some of the implications of technology in our net dependent civilization. When money and information exist primarily as electrical impulses being shunted around the world at light speed, the question of cyber security and its underlying assumptions becomes more and more crucial. And as the tangible world becomes increasingly and inextricably linked to the virtual one, the immediacy of the danger of its exploitation is increased exponentially.
It was a good book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Freedom™.
!:Warning:! Spoilers ahead – no major plot points, but a character is revealed (if you haven’t already figured it out by the trailers alone).
Let’s start with the good stuff. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a looker. It’s one of the best produced/realized sci-fi worlds that I’ve seen in recent memory. There are some scenes where the fake “hand cam” and auto-focus effect (first used to great effect in Firefly) is distracting, but the CG and the sets all look incredible and have you believe that this universe exists outside of a lime green studio. JJ Abrams knows how to make an action packed movie look fantastic. The cast, especially Chris Pine, does a fine job recreating their characters and there is plenty of personality (aside from Zoe and Zach) to go around. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s a nice diversion.
This movie is also better than the last in many ways. Benedict Cumberbatch\Peter Weller are much better villains though their parts are underwritten and underdeveloped. I was never a fan of Eric Bana’s Nero, and the overall story arc of that movie, aside from the pleasing origins of Kirk and crew, is pretty Bana-l. The intriguing setup to the characters and story give way to the truly unbelievable threat that future Nero poses to the Federation. Also ye ‘ol alternate timeline mechanic allows Abrams to stretch the fiction in ways that don’t seem to violate the established canon. This is neither good nor bad, but still feels like a cop-out, done to make this series of movies distinct from the originals while stealing liberally from their best parts. It succeeds and fails for that same reason.
Like its predecessor, Into Darkness struggles to find its own identity. This is the inherent problem of the Remake, which my wife calls, “the do-over”. This same plot line was done much better and with more gravitas and emotional punch in a Next Generation episode called “The Wounded“. I would have almost preferred the movie cutting to that hour long episode rather than relegating Peter Weller’s character into a one-dimensional warmonger.
In my opinion, Remakes are appropriate for comic movies – and little else. Maybe it’s because comic characters have, since their inception, undergone innumerable makeovers in their fiction to reflect the changes in culture and their readers. This is expected and even part of the charm of comics. You don’t like THIS version of Batman? Wait a year or two and they’ll “reboot” the series with a different author and it could be awesome. They’ve taken this chameleon ability with them to the cinema and I think movie-goers have enjoyed the process – just ask Spider/Super/Bat/man.
Look to almost any other remake, with few exceptions, and they are horrid. They are worse than sequels (which are also usually worse with each iteration – Die Harderest anyone?). Why? Because they don’t even have the actors and charm from the originals to work from. Take the recent Total Recall movie for example. Love it or hate it, but Total Recall, the original, had personality to spare and in Arnold one of the most epic and charismatic action superstars of his generation. In this modern remake, all the most important plot points are already given away, because well….it’s a remake. But the creators felt enough responsibility to perform some window dressing to make it seem new and exciting. i.e. Earth vs. Mars. Also, Colin Farrell, who I like, is not a big enough character, literally and figuratively, to carry the movie on the weight of his now sober shoulders. What results is not just a bad movie in its own right, but a movie that is even worse because of its comparison to the original. Just make a new movie! There’s enough money and talent here to actually create a great ORIGINAL story without rehashing old ideas or trying to “recreate the magic” or some BS.
Why do some remakes work? Well, I would say the remakes that do well are the ones that either poke fun at the source material (21 jump street) or its been long enough that an update would look entirely different than the original (The Thomas Crown Affair). However, it still takes stellar writing and compelling personalities playing the leads to pull these off. More so when the characters are iconic and part of the modern cultural mythology. Otherwise, it’s near guaranteed that the remake will be horrible.
Why do studios produce these en masse? Most likely because no matter what I say, these movies make money. They are deemed less risky, because there is a built-in audience here that will probably go to see it for nostalgia if nothing else. In my case, it’s more like nausea – but I’ll still see it (and hate myself). It also spreads the demographics. The older crowd will attend to see what’s changed and the younger crowd will hopefully be intrigued enough to jump in for the first time.
Back to Star Trek. William Shatner, love him or hate him, IS Captain Kirk. His unique brand of charm and overacting has been parodied so many times it’s hard to imagine the character any other way. Leonard Nimoy IS Spock. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Zachary Quinto looks to the viewscreen at his aged self for sage advice. Zachary does a fine job of playing a Vulcan, but by definition it’s a character that’s stiff and unengaging. Only Leonard, who’s lived the role for a lifetime could make that character interesting. The list goes on and on. Simon Pegg is funny, even with the distractingly/annoyingly thick Scottish accent. Zoe Saldana is a horrible Uhura. The original broke down racial barriers and never came across as anything other than competent and professional. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has erased all social progress and is basically an emotional basket case of female movie tropes. Karl Urban as Bones?
Ok.. he actually does an amazingly good job considering the birdlike muse of the TV doctor, but here’s the thing. They’re all aping the original actors. But this movie isn’t a parody! It’s a remake. And this is the shame of it. If these were all original characters with their own backstories, it actually would be much more interesting. There would be no comparisons and these writers and actors could develop in their own ways. Benedict Cumberbatch does a competent job as Khan, but it pales in comparison to Ricardo Montalban’s intense human intelligence and ferocity. Cumberbatch is too inhuman here and robotic to be truly scary. Having to compare with Montalban is as disappointing as it is unfair.
In the end, I am glad they made the movie. It was fun to be back in the Star Trek universe again, even if it feels a little less cerebral and overly action packed for its own good. It was just done well enough that I could see what could have been. With these actors and writers given free reign enough to create new stories… the results could have been compelling rather than competent. Will people remember Pine’s Kirk or Shatner’s? The answer is obvious and a missed opportunity.
What could be great news is that after watching this movie, I think JJ Abrams has the chops to pull off an impressive Star Wars movie. One of (the many) things that was missing from the Prequels was a soul and the feeling that that universe existed. There are enough great scenes, small and large, in Into Darkness that make me think Star Wars could be a place I want to visit again, rather than just be the movies I cut myself to. There IS still the danger of trying to be “true” to George’s vision. I heard recently that JJ Abrams spent some time with the iconic director to make sure he had his blessing and he knew where it was leading. Hopefully this was just lip service to a great legend. George actually lost his vision almost 30 years ago when he became rich and famous enough to surround himself with sycophants rather than people who would tell him “NO” and actually protect his legacy. But that is another post!
I’ll leave you with one final thought about remakes. In a few years, would it be great or silly to have Star Trek the Next Generation rebooted? Have a bald man with a British accent playing Picard and a perfectly competent actor play Data. LaForge can wear Google Glass and Warf can be played by Jaden Smith. It will be all action-y or whatever the kids want to watch then, and will have all sorts of fun ties to the TV series and movies….. BLEH. No thank you.
Go write some new stories damn you. That is all.
I won’t say that TV is getting better.
Thanks to the spew of reality TV programming that dominates much of the airwaves these days, TV is more likely, on average, getting worse. However, the number of very good shows, while not quite balancing out all the crap, IS growing at an unprecedented rate. A discerning viewer today has FAR more options than they did a decade ago, and that trend is likely to continue as new networks and outlets begin vying for the audiences that have flocked to quality TV.
Unfortunately, viewership of mediocre, traditional-style shows like Law & Order, The Big bang Theory, and CSI: Poughkeepsie (or whatever), is also still high. And, also unfortunately, in many cases the viewing of new, good TV doesn’t stop viewers from continuing to watch sub-par TV as well.
Through my own personal mixture of narcissism and benevolence, it always seems like a pitiable travesty when I watch otherwise reasonable people subject themselves to middling televisions shows. One reason for this is exposure; most people don’t watch all that much television. And when they do, they do it on an actual television set where they have limited channels, options, and inclination to explore. They see the latest episode of Bones on and say “why not.” I always think to myself: “Someone should do something to help those poor people!”
I understand that most people don’t take their fiction as seriously as I do, but I still ask: why does an end-of –day diversion have to be mundane and formulaic when it could be stimulating and enriching? Many of us watch TV as an escape from our daily routines; why not make that escape memorable.
To that end, and to give a head start to those of us that want to pull ourselves up out of the mire of daytime drama, I’ve listed below some of the best shows made in recent years in no particular order. If you haven’t watched these shows, there’s no reason to be watching anything inferior to them. In addition, while these shows may be the 5 star top of the heap, there are tons of 4 and 3 star shows that should still take precedence over NCIS, Burn Notice, or whatever other nonsense you’re watching because your finger got tired of changing channels.
Work your way down to the crap TV, not up to the excellent.
3) The Wire
4) Breaking Bad
6) Battlestar Galactica (new series)
7) Avatar: The Last Airbender
10) The Office (British version)
12) Generation Kill
These random popular things are mediocre; you should not like them as much as you do.
1. The Big Bang Theory (the show… not the actual theory)
2. Tom Clancy books (yes, all of them)
5. Sons of Anarchy
6. Dan Brown books (yes, all of them)
7. The Dark Knight Rises
9. The Walking Dead (TV show)
10. Anything from Mark Millar
Here at FYM Planet, we don’t go after the low hanging fruit. For a list of some truly BAD things, just find anything popular with high schoolers. We stick to maligning the not-that-good, the could-be-better; the …meh.
This list is in no particular order, and it is far from exhaustive, but it’s a good start. If you get really excited about anything listed above…
Imagine a film that will both highlight socioeconomic issues in low income UK housing projects, and also tell the story of adolescent hooligans thwarting an alien invasion.
This sounds like the first line of an overambitious final project proposal by a first year film student who will end up actually making a four minute animated short about a lonely hedgehog before graduating to work at The Home Depot. Actually, though, it’s a pretty good one line introduction to Attack the Block, one of my favorite movies of the past few years.
When I watched Attack the Block the first time, I was expecting a low budget, run-of-the-mill action comedy; run-of-the-mill meaning the action would be sub-par and the comedy would fall flat. Aside from the genre, I had no idea what the premise of the movie was which probably contributed to my enjoyment of it.
Needless to say, the effusive nature of this review should lead you to guess that I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s why:
- The comedic moments were actually funny! The action was actually exciting! In today’s action comedy world where explosions usually play the role previously occupied by actual action choreography, and the use of “comedy” in the genre title could easily refer to the laughability of the plot, it’s amazing to see a movie with clever, witty dialogue, AND action sequences thought out a bit further than cool posing and slow motion (though both techniques make awesome appearances in the film).
- Across the board, the characters were fully realized and treated as actual nuanced human beings; something you rarely see in movies featuring “disenfranchised youths” as either antagonists or protagonists.
- While the movie obviously did not have a budget as large as travesties like Transformers, the special effects were budget appropriate, good looking, and innovative.
- The climax can make or break a movie, and the final scenes in Attack the Block are as cathartic as in any movie I’ve seen in recent years, with all the inspiration, excitement, and badassery that an audience wants to see in a finale.
- The soundtrack fit the movie. No higher praise can be given.
As directorial debuts go, it’s been some time since I’ve seen a stronger one than this first film by Joe Cornish. Let’s just hope he doesn’t pull an M. Night Shyamalan.