Wednesday, September 23, 2009

If you lose your disc or fail to follow commands, you will be subject to immediate de-resolution. That will be all.

Below you'll find a little clip of Daft Punk's main theme for the upcoming film Tron Legacy. Or, as I like to call it, the sequel to muthafuckin' Tron, bitches!

Anyway, it's appropirately technological and driving and all that. I actually really like it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I'm Bracing Myself

So, it's the season premiere of Heroes tonight, and I'm bracing myself for a possible suckfest of craptacular proportions.

I've written before of my dismay about how absolutely shitty the show has become since the heights of its genuinely excellent first season. I'm not going to re-rant and re-rave about what is wrong with the show now except to say that the problems of Season 2 were somehow only compounded with Season 3. Instead, I'm going to be more positive in that I'm going to offer a few specific, constructive ideas on how to make the show better.

1 - Get Your Feet Back on the Ground - One of the things that was great about the central concept in the first season is that everyone was basically a real person with a real life. Parkman was a cop. Hiro and Ando lived in Japan as cubicle dwellers. Peter was a nurse with an actual job. Nathan had a wife and kids. Claire went to school. The touches of reality grounded the show, keeping it from becoming a full-fledged comic book. Since season 1, what exactly do any of these people do for money? When was the last time anyone saw or heard mention of Nathan's family? And speaking of Nathan, he has got to be the most absentee Senator ever! When the fuck does he, you know, go to the Senate?! If they don't have some sort of a normal life to protect or retreat to, they are far less interesting and far more unbelievable.

2 - Real People Can Be Heroes Too - Ando and Suresh used to provide an important element to the show. As non-powered, relatively average non-spy, main characters they had an outlook on things that gave some much-needed perspective. Now, they're just freaks like everyone else on the show, and since they weren't designed to be powered originally, they really don't seem special and therefore are kind of uninteresting. Bring in a few non-powered people to pal around with our Heroes. How about a partner for Parkman who appreciates his powers in helping them catch crooks? How about rescuing Peter's Irish sweetheart from Season 2 who Peter abandoned in a nightmarish future New York (dick).

3 - Characters Can Grow - I'm looking at your Hiro and Ando. And Noah. And Claire. And Mrs. Petrelli. And Peter. And Nathan. Fuck, at EVERYBODY. Look, in Season 1, Hiro and Ando's naivete and earnestness was hilarious and made them the scrappy underdogs with hearts of gold. After two more seasons of them not apparently not gaining any sort of knowledge from their adventures, it's now more like they're mentally retarded. Hiro now runs a multi-national company doesn't he? So, he's pretty much Bruce Wayne. Let him be Bruce Wayne!

And stop trying to make me doubt Noah's motives. He's a good guy. That's the fucking deal. I don't want to see, nor will I buy, any more trust issues between him and Claire. After almost losing his family, what, eight times? You'd think he'd wise up and start telling the truth. How cool would it be to have the Heroes ably assisted by an ass-kicking, super knowledgeable former spook?

The only character who's gotten more interesting is Sylar, but that's only because Zachary Quinto totally owns that guy. He's certainly not written any better than he was in Season 1.

4 - Anything You've Done Before is Off-Limits - The repetitive nature of the show is the most brutal detriment it has. How many times has it shown us a hellish future? How many times has there been mention of a disaster? How many times has Isaac's paniting power been used? And he's been dead since Season 1! How many times have they had a "big bad" mystery threat waiting in the wings. And no more Company stuff. Ever. It's done. It's over. turn the Company into something completely different.

5 - Dump What Isn't Working - Suresh? That character hasn't worked since the first Season. Either radically change his direction or dump him. And Heroes makes baffling choices in this regard all the time. They killed off DL Hawkins for no apparent reason, and he was a great character. Then they killed off Niki, and okay, I guess, but she was nowhere near as dead-ended as Suresh. It's not like the character they replaced her with was any better. Niki's son Micah had a cool power, and was well played, and they shucked him aside, as well as his cousin with the cool physical super-power who barely got explored.

And what about Claire? Well, having an invulnerable character does tend to invalidate any jeopardy you may feel. But, killing her off? Man, that would be the incredibly bold. It would energize the Petrelli's in a huge way, not to mention Noah. It would show that literally anything could happen. Let's face it, is she doing anything of interest? Has she trained to kick ass so her power makes her more than simply a punching bag that can't get hurt? Is the actress capable of injecting her with more than one dimension? Sadly no, no, and hell no.

Harsh? Agree? Disagree? All I know is that if Heroes does the same old tired, boring, nonsensical stupidity of the last couple seasons, then they will have killed the golden goose in a major way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I have found my Nemeses?

So, remember back when I warned the rest of mankind about the existence of the Big Dog robot? Since then, I have heard from a number of people about how damn creepy that thing is, so I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Well, it turns out that I can now give a name to the main instigators of my robo-phobia, and that name is Boston Dynamics. They're the company that makes the Big Dog, and it turns out, they also make a wide variety of deeply unsettling robots that seem to have only creepy and/or military applications.

a selection of some of their insectoid marauders. First, let's start with the Little Dog, which is just like it's bigger brother, except it's nearly silent, smaller and doesn't even have the cover story of acting as a "pack mule":

we have the RiSE. Now, I'll admit, this one is not the most terrifying specimen, but it does look like a fucking spider, and spiders are universally despised and feared, so, good design call:

comes the RHex, which is, to me, second only to the Big Dog for sheer creepiness. This thing can survive seemingly any impact, and it absolutely will not stop. Add, "until you are dead" to that last sentence and you've pretty much got Reese's speech to Sarah Connor in The Terminator. By the way, the most terrifying part comes when the thing goes into the water.......and fucking swims:

, and finally we've got a little thing called the SquishBot. This is the thing they're working on right now, so while it sounds like the most horrifying thing in the history of robotics, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that it only theory. Here's how Boston Dynamics describes the little fella:

SquishBot is a program to develop a new class of soft, shape-changing robot. The goal is to design systems that can transform themselves from hard to soft and from soft to hard, upon command. Another goal is to create systems that change their critical dimensions by large amounts, as much as 10x. Such robots will be like soft animals that can squeeze themselves through small openings and into tight places.

Tight places. Tight places. That is one fucking ominous turn of phrase. Picture this thing squeezing itself into your small openings and...tight places. Here's what it looks like:

All right, first off, that looks like the kind of robot that would pop up in a David Cronenberg movie. And not his later ones, like A History of Violence. Nope, I'm talking his Videodrome, Long Live the New Flesh period.

I would not be surprises if the next thing these guys come out with is a M.O.D.O.K.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

RIP - Patrick Swayze

After a 20 month battle with pancreatic cancer, actor Patrick Swayze died yesterday at the age of 57.

The actor was most famous for his roles in Dirty Dancing and Ghost, and was a sex symbol the world over for his combination of good looks and physical grace.

He was born and raised in Texas, but moved to New York to study dance after completing high school. He made his Broadway debut in 1975, and the same year he married Lisa Niemi, with whom he would spend the rest of his life.

Although he made his film debut in 1979's teenybopper comedy Shaketown, USA opposite Scott Baio, he would hold off on following Baio down the teen star route. In 1983, he broke out as one of the stars of Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of SE Hinton's classic novel The Outsiders. Starring opposite young unknowns like Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Matt Dillon, he seemed to be lost in the shuffle of wild star power on display.

Following the success of The Outsiders, he would become a bankable star with leading roles in films like Red Dawn, and a starring role in the classic Civil War TV miniseries North and South.

But in 1987, he finally broke through into the top tier of stars with Dirty Dancing, in which he played tough but romantic Johnny Castle, a resort floor show dancer that sweeps a guest off her feet. The film cemented Swayze as a major leading man. It was an effective performance in what would become one of the iconic films of the decade.

A success like Dirty Dancing would be hard to top, but in 1990 Swayze did so when he starred in Ghost, a hybrid of thriller, horror, action, comedy, and above all, romance. As Sam, a murdered architect whose spirit cannot move on until he feels the love of his life is safe, Swayze had the role that largely defined his career. He excelled at playing the tough but decent man with a romantic bent. Ghost was a massive hit, earning five Oscar nominations and becoming one of the most successful romance films of all time.

In the 1990s, Swayze's star fell, although there were films that have since become cult favourites, such as Road House and Point Break. In 1995, he surprised many with his excellent performances as a drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. In recent years, appearances in good films were few and far between, a notable exception being his strange performance in Donnie Darko.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Even though pancreatic cancer is considered to be one of the hardest forms of the disease to conquer, Swayze fought hard. Given only six months to live when originally diagnosed, he beat that prognosis and even returned to work, starring in the dark A&E series The Beast, and winning solid reviews for his portrayal as a shady FBI agent.

Rob Lowe, who appeared in two films with Swayze, had this to say:

He was an expert dancer, he wrote hit songs, he starred in hit movies, he was an amazing horseman. But the thing I will remember him most for was his amazing love affair with his wife, Lisa. He played my brother twice, in The Outsiders when I was 17, and then in Youngblood. Tonight I lost a brother.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Moore

Like any self-respecting liberal in North America, I must confess some love for Michael Moore. The reason for the slightly guilty tone you may detect in the preceding sentence is that Moore can simultaneously be the most inspiring and infuriating media personality around.

When he first made his mark, with the brilliant Roger & Me, it was a very different time. You see, up until the very early 1980s, the working class in the U.S. were resolutely liberal. The working class were the backbone of the Democratic party. Then came Jimmy Carter. Now, Carter has long been deified by the left, but he was, frankly, an indecisive mess as a president. He tried to rewrite the wheel so much that he came off as a detail obsessed kook who wanted to put solar panels in the Rose Garden. And then came Ronald Reagan, a man who appealed so much to white, blue collar voters it was simply unreal.

So, Democrats lost the white working class, and they've never really gotten them back. The odd thing is that the 1980s were pretty depressing for the white working class. Jobs were being shipped overseas, labour unions were beginning to die a slow, agonizing death, and the government had embraced the rah-rah capitalism of the times and were using it as a machete, whacking great sections of the working middle class into the lower working class. Whole towns dried up. Towns like Moore's Flint, Michigan, which was dependent on the GM plant to survive.

So, Moore, who even at this point seemed more of a propaganda machine than a documentarian, made Roger & Me, a funny, ironic and searing examination of the effect of GM's plant closures on his hometown of Flint. It touched a nerve with people because they needed a voice, a guy who would stand up to the corporate and government interests that effectively controlled every single aspect of their lives.

I'm not going to go through the rest of his resume, because we all know it, don't we? If you don't, Google the guy and find out. Suffice to say, he has become a polarizing figure. while I usually have nothing but support for the premises of his films, I always get embarrassed by how far he goes to support his point. Bowling for Columbine was by far his most even keeled film, and even that one could only be characterized as an attack on the values of the right.

So, when someone recently asked him about the state of newspapers in the US, in his customary way, he started off sounding totally reasonable and logical, and ended up sounding like a crazy person.

Here's the beginning:

I interviewed David Simon, he used to work at the Baltimore Sun, and of course did The Wire and other projects, and he was talking about way back in the early 90s, when he left, when he was bought out, when they were trying to downsize the Baltimore Sun, they got rid of the courts beat, they got rid of the crime beat, they got rid of the labour beat, they got rid of the poverty beat reporter. I don't know if you've ever been to Baltimore, but poverty? Courts? Labour? If you stop reporting on the things that the people in the town are really concerned about, they may stop reading your newspaper. But the bottom-line bean counters who've come, the corporations who've bought out these newspapers, they come in and they say, 'How can we get more news for less money, less employees?

Makes sense. He's decrying the profit oriented concerns that have overwhelmed creating the best possible product, right? Now, here's a little later:

How did we create so many illiterate and ignorant people? It's because we have made education such a low priority in the United States. And what party has led the way? The Republican Party. Every convention they have a thing in their platform about dismantling the Department of Education. Americans, right, they want to get rid of the Department of Education. They hate the teacher's union. They give it as little money as possible.

Now, look, I'm not saying that he isn't right a little bit. There's absolutely no question that the American school system is in serious trouble. But to lay ALL the blame at the Republicans is the type of over-simplification and propaganda that makes a lot of liberals embarrassed for Moore. There's Democrats out there who have done just as much damage to the school system. And there's some Republicans that have propped that system up with both hands, doing everything they can to help.

Well, here's a review of his new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, a film that apparently calls for the socio-economic systems's complete eradication. I'm not sure he's wrong, but I am sure that he's going to be hit with the same complaints he always gets hit with; that he's too one sided, that's he's liberally biased, that he's more of a rabblerouser than a serious documentarian.

Well, here's his reponse:

You asked me back there, 'You're biased. You have only one side.' Well, yeah, I have a bias. I have a bias on behalf of the little guy who doesn't have a say. I'm lucky enough to be able to have this bully pulpit, to be able to say the things I say, on behalf of the people who don't have a voice. The pharmaceutical companies and corporate America, they've got their voice. They own the networks and they can say whatever they want, all the time, and they do. So can we just have two hours for this side to have their say? I hope so, I think so. That's what I'm trying to do.

So, yeah, sometimes he makes me cringe as he goes waaaay too far. But at least it's too far in the right direction, right?

RIP - Jim Carroll

Poet, Punk Rocker and Outlaw Enfant Terrible Jim Carroll died on Friday in his Manhattan home. He was just 60 years old.

He was a teenage basketball star for the elite Manhattan private school Trinity when he first became addicted to both heroin and poetry. The combination of all three aspects made his 1978 memoir of those years, The Basketball Diaries, a cult classic.

While still a teen he fell under the spell of words, spending any time not on the court at St. Mark's Poetry Project in the East Village. In 1967, he self-published a pamphlet called Organic Trains, which won him a small following. His 1970 follow up, 4 Ups and 1 Down was even more successful, and his fame was compounded when The Paris Review published excerpts from his journals.

Now acclaimed by such lights as Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg as the most original poet of his generation, he began a frenetic period, briefly attending Columbia and falling in with Andy Warhol's factory scene. He lived for a time with Smith and artist Robert Mapplethorpe.

After Living at the Movies, his first poetic work with a mainstream publisher, was released in 1973 to great acclaim, he fled New York for California. While there he cleaned up, got married and got divorced. He also published, in 1978, The Basketball Diaries, beginning his series of publications of his journals. The memoir was widely acclaimed and became one of the seminal wild youth cult books.

Around this time, with some encouragement by Patti Smith, he formed The Jim Carroll Band and released his first album, Catholic Boy. With its classic single People Who Died, the album has been hailed as the last great American punk album of its time. Carroll was seen as the heir apparent to fellow rock n' roll poet Lou Reed. Though their follow up albums weren't as successful, Carroll kept his hand in music, writing for other artists and recording as late as 2000.

He also continued to release books of poetry. His last collection, Void Of Course, was published in 1998.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Comic Observations: Warner Bros. Hugs DC Tighter......Tighter!!

In a move that seems like a counter-punch to the Disney/Marvel merger, Warner Bros. has just announced the formation of DC Entertainment. The new division encompasses what used to be DC Comics, once a separate subsidiary of Time Warner Inc, and now a division of Warner Bros.

The move more closely aligns DC with Warner's to maximize DC's line of characters across film, television, animation and video games mediums. The new president of DC Entertainment will be Diane Nelson, who previously has been overseeing Warner Premiere and the Harry Potter franchise for Warner Bros.

Current DC Comics President and Publisher Paul Levitz, who has held that role since 2002, will, according to a press release, will now become a Writer, Contributing Editor and Overall Consultant to DC Entertainment. Previously, Levitz had reported directly to WB chairman Alan Horn, so it's pretty hard to see this move as anything but a demotion for Levitz.

So, much like the Marvel move, this doesn't seem to be too negative in terms of its impact on comics, except in one way. Like the Disney/Marvel merger, it suggests that the evolving relationship between film and comics is growing ever more intertwined. Are comics becoming nothing more than development engines for new movie franchises? It certainly seems that way. But as long as the creators of comics continue to direct their own stories, and not have their subject matter dictated to them by corporate execs with their eyes on box office, there are only benefits for the comic industry.

As for Paul Levitz, well, the man's a legend. In the early 1970s, while still a teenager, he went from writing a fan-zine to becoming a freelancer for DC, writing letter pages and creating DC's in-house fan-zine Amazing World of DC Comics. By the age of 20 (20!), he was the editor of Adventure Comics, the title then starring The Legion of Super-Heroes. It was during this time he began writing comic scripts.

Over the next few years, Levitz became one of DC's star writers. He took over All-Star Comics, but it was as the writer for The Legion of Super-Heroes that he really made his mark, culminating in his masterpiece, The Great Darkness Saga.

As he moved up in the company, he was responsible for some major innovations and talent discoveries, helping to bring luminaries such as Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman and John Byrne to DC. He was a mentor to assistant editor Karen Berger, who would jump start the British invasion of comic book talent through her hiring of Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan, as well as her creation of DC's hugely successful Vertigo line of books.

But it is his impact in the relam of creators' rights that Levitz is revered in the industry. He helped created DC's standard of compensation for creators, which includes royalties for freelancers, reprint payments, art returns (which artists generally sell for additional funding), as well as having creator credits on the covers of books.

Here's how writer Len Wein describes his impact:

As I said, the difference between the two companies; DC and Marvel, is I see money off of all of my characters at DC in any incarnation. If they do paperback books, if they do movies… I also created Lucius Fox, the character Morgan Freeman plays in the current run of Batman films, and I do absurdly well off of him being in those films, financially. Because Paul Levitz made sure I signed creator equity contracts whenever I create a character. Even on something potentially so unimportant…as I said to Paul when I argued with him about signing a Lucius contract, “It’s a middle-aged guy in a suit.” He said, “Sign a contract. You never know.” He was right.

Quite a mark to make. Here's hoping he enjoys his new role as elder statesman and occasional writer.

Sci-Fi Tech That Will Kill Us All (8)

Okay, I realize that this feature has basically devolved into a showcase for my raging robophobia, but I feel it's important to warn the world about the imminent robotic takeover.


Whoo. Okay.

So, over at a site called BotJunkie (shudder), they're reporting on a new development in swarm robotics, which is a horrifying philosophy that says robots should be made simpler and smaller and cooperate to complete tasks.

Here's how they describe what are basically robotic ants crawling all over your house:

These tiny (4 millimeters on a side) robots are members of the I-SWARM project, which stands for Intelligent Small-World Autonomous Robots for Micro-manipulation. Each robot is simple, with three legs and a little poker to manipulate stuff with. They’re designed to work in large, cheap, mass producible, replaceable groups doing things that insects would be good at… Surveillance, obviously, but they could also do things like clean your house by taking care of one bit of dust each.

Imagine these little bastards climbing up your pants leg and using their little poker to manipulate your "little poker". Gahhh! That'll keep me up nights.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hollywood Isn't Even Trying Anymore

So, The Vancouver Sun just put out a story stating that UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is in town to prep for his role of B.A. Baracus in the upcoming feature film adaptation of the the 1980s TV show The A-Team.

Okay, this leads me to ask of Hollywood, have you just given up on original ideas? I mean, is this it? Look, I have as fond memories of The A-Team as the next guy (I even think the last couple of seasons with Frankie Santana and Gen. Hunt Stockwell were the coolest the show ever did) but since re-watching a number of famous and beloved TV shows of the era I've come to a rather shocking conclusion.

All the 80s TV shows we want to remake sucked balls. There are some great TV shows that debuted in the 1980s, and yet these are the ones we don't want to revisit. I'll admit no one's clamoring to see new versions of St. Elsewhere or Hill Street Blues or China Beach or thirtysomething.

But what about other shows that lend themselves to more easily to big-screen or small screen revisitations? How come we haven't seen a new version of Cagney & Lacey? Or L.A. Law? They've been trying to make a Magnum P.I. movie for years and can't seem to crack that particular nut. Ironically, the only good 80s show that did become a feature was Miami Vice, and it was nowhere near as effective as its source, even though the same exact people were responsible.

But the shows that do get snapped up and green lit; Knight Rider, The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, Transformers, G.I. Joe. You go back and watch these shows and they appear to be written by and for the functionally retarded. I know, I know, they were primarily kids shows, but the live-action shows were big hits with adults. Fuck, how does that even happen?

You know what I heard not long ago? They were considering a big-screen version of The Fall Guy. The. Fucking. Fall. Guy.

Hey, if you're going to remake stuff, Hollywood, please start with something good (Wiseguy would fucking rock as an HBO series).

I mean, who knows, an A-Team movie directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson as Hannibal could be incredible, but man, consider the source.