Friday, December 28, 2012

Stupid Movie Title

     I'm preemptively declaring the worst movie title of 2013: The Haunting in Connecticut 2: The Ghosts of Georgia.  Apparently, this is the sequel to the 2002 TV movie, A Haunting in Connecticut (despite the two films having no direct connection).  As the title of the "sequel" suggests, it takes place in Georgia, not Connecticut.  Yes, it's using the same logic as Reno 911! Miami, but without any awareness of how contradictory the title is.

Book Review: Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis

            Lunar Park is, to use an overplayed term, deceptively complex.  At once an autobiography, a ghost story, and therapy, Ellis tells the story of an edgy writer named Bret Easton Ellis who was catapulted to fame at a young age with the publication of Less Than Zero, only to come crashing back to Earth in middle age.   Bret (the character; I’ll refer to the author as Ellis) gets married to the movie star mother of his 11 year old illegitimate child and a six year daughter and moves to the suburbs to try to escape his past.  But his past comes back to haunt him, quite literally.   

            Ellis maintains the sleek writing style of his previous novels, but the tone is very different.  In his first three novels (Less than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, and American Psycho (I have not read Glamorama, and so will not comment on it)), the lifestyles of the privileged youth are depicted as shallow and ultimately meaningless.  While certainly depressing, the characters are in no hurry to leave that lifestyle behind, leaving the reader with the sense of the directionlessness and ennui the protagonists experience.  But Bret finds meaning and stability.  This book is about his (Ellis and Bret’s) coming to terms with maturity and responsibility and acceptance of the past.

            A particularly emotional theme running through the book is Bret’s unresolved issues with his father, and how those issues manifest themselves in his relationship with his son.  If Less Than Zero gave us a glimpse into Ellis’s world, Lunar Park gives us a glimpse into his psyche.  Over the course of the book, we see Bret grow emotionally in a way that we don’t see with any of his earlier protagonists. 

            As far as the horror goes, it was not as solid as the other genres wound into the book.  While genuinely scary at points, the horror scenes were on many occasions too bizarre to be taken seriously.  Likewise, Ellis draws out the process of reaching conclusions the reader makes pretty quickly, which throws the pacing off. 

            Overall, I’d recommend Lunar Park, especially to Ellis fans.  Lunar Park draws from previous works, both explicitly and subtly (at one point, Bret has a meeting at one Dorseah Diner) and offers a peek at the man behind the book.

     Favorite Quote: When you give up life for fiction you become a character.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Trolls and Censorship

            Anyone who spends time on the internet is familiar with trolls.  They pop up again and again, and anytime one gets taken down two more show up in its place, like a hydra with a third grade reading level and no social skills.  We have collectively accepted their incessant pestering as an inevitable part of internet culture.  But Cracked columnist John Cheese made a very good point in his article Four Easy Solutions to Problems We All Complain About: Most sites have a way to report trolls.

            Unsurprisingly, many of the comments were shouts against censorship on the internet.  There’s a difference between censoring the internet and reporting people for violating the rules of a site.  For example, I think the KKK is an odious, evil organization, but I respect its right to have a website.  I respect the right of its members to have their disgusting blogs to spew their vitriol.  But when they do that on someone else’s site, they have to follow other rules.  How about an analogy: A klan member holds a barbecue for some of his buddies, at which they shout racial slurs and generally act like complete assholes.  I don’t agree with it, but by all means that’s within their rights.  If that same klan member were to go to a crowded shopping mall and shout the same awful things, he’d get kicked out of the mall.  Replace the barbecue with the KKK's website and the mall with Youtube; it's the same premise.

            When people talk about the internet, they act like it’s one homogenous glob instead of a vast system of overlapping communities, each with its own rules.  There’s a difference between saying that members of a community should enforce the rules of that community and supporting censorship.  In regards to racism, censorship would be saying that no one could post anything racist anywhere on the internet.  John Cheese is talking about individual communities making sure users follow the community’s rules.  Censorship would be demanding that the KKK get off the internet altogether, what I’m talking about is getting people who follow their philosophy to stop spamming other sites.  They can have their barbecue, but once they start ranting in the shopping mall, they get kicked out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Trailer Trash: Dark Skies

            Horror is hard.  You want to scare the audience, and you don’t want to go the torture porn/slasher route.  Judging by the trailer, “Dark Skies”goes for the haunted house/possession subgenre.  But don’t expect  “Dark Skies” to be the next  Shining or Exorcist.  I saw the following trailer in theaters yesterday:

            You know your horror movie is broken when the audience laughs at the previews as much as they did at the screening I attended.  What starts out as a standard (if a bit cliché) horror movie set up quickly takes a turn for the comic when Mrs. Barret (played by Felicity star Keri Russel) finds her husband (played by 1992 daytime emmy winner Josh Hamilton) standing unresponsive in the family’s backyard at night.   She approaches as J. K. Simmons’s voice-over warns them about strange behavior and loss of control.  She places her hand on her husband’s shoulder, turns to face him and sees…

            It only gets sillier from there, as moments later we see Keri Russel banging her head against a glass window with complete disinterest.

     On the bright side, it will probably be funnier than A Haunted House.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Darth Vader Is Really the Hero

Darth Vader is the archetypal villain; even his theme song is enough to denote evil.  After all, he kills his own men and destroys innocent planets for fun.  Yet, I believe that he’s the hero of the Star Wars series.  (I’m only counting the films.  I don’t care what the extended universe says happened on Stavromula Beta or whatever, we don’t mention that here.)

Seriously, screw this.

Let’s look at the facts.  Anakin Skywalker was prophesied to restore balance to the force, but turned to the dark side and had all the Jedi except for Obi-Wan and Yoda killed.  Both of whom exiled themselves to desolate lands.  When you first meet Obi-Wan and Yoda (in the original trilogy) they seem like wizened hermits devoted to spiritualism.  It’s easy to forget that the Jedi used to have a skyscraper and an army of clones.

They take a vow of poverty, like the pope.

The Jedi were extremely powerful and, for a group that’s supposed to be operating for the sake of the light side of the force, did extremely well financially.  With their new army, is it that hard to believe that they’d convince themselves that it was okay to do bad things for good reasons and vice-versa?   Imagine if the Empire were run by a council of Jedi, instead of two Sith lords.
While most people point to Vader saving Luke as proof of his inherent goodness, that was the worst thing he could have done.  The force has the power to corrupt even the best of men, and if Vader, Palpatine, and Skywalker had died on the Death Star II, everyone who knew how to use the force would be dead.  Anakin Skywalker was supposed to bring balance to the force by killing everyone that could use it for their own means.  The same human weakness that made this drastic action necessary is what prevented him from letting his son die.
So don’t forget, Vader eliminated the Sith, and prevented Jedi control of the universe.
Truly, he was the hero the galaxy deserved.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Box: Uncanny Stories by Richard Matheson (book review)

            The Box: Uncanny Stories (originally titled Button, Button: Uncanny Stories) was released in 2008 and contains stories published between 1950 and 1970.  The name was changed to capitalize off the (then upcoming) film adaptation of the previously titular story, Button, Button. 

See The Box on Goodreads

            Button, Button is a good place to start when discussing Matheson’s short stories.  Most of his stories have a compelling “what if?” scenario behind them and end with a sort of poetic justice twist.  While reading this collection, I immediately made comparisons to The Twilight Zone.  A quick bit of research on Matheson turned up that he was a writer for The Twilight Zone.   Another comparison I’d like to mention is how some of his stories are reminiscent of the old radio program Suspense.  The stories Dying Room Only, No Such Thing as a Vampire, and Clothes Make the Man are very suited for a radio adaptation. 

            What follows is a brief (spoiler free) review of each of the twelve stories in the collection.

            Button, Button (originally published in 1970): A stranger offers a married couple $50,000 if they press a button.  However, pressing the button will kill someone they don’t know.  The real effect of this story is in the ending, which you can find for yourself.

            Girl of My Dreams (originally published in 1963): The story follows a woman who dreams future tragedies and her exploitative boyfriend.  Together, they sell the information the woman receives in her dreams to those that would be affected.  Like Button, Button, there is a definite Twilight Zone poetic justice air to this story.

            Dying Room Only (originally published in 1953):  A married couple stops at a diner in the middle of the desert, and the husband disappears.  This is more of a mystery/suspense story than a sci-fi/horror story.

            A Flourish of Strumpets (originally published in 1956): What if prostitution became a door-to-door business?  That’s the premise of this story, which leans toward the humorous.

            No Such Thing as a Vampire (originally published in 1959): A Romanian doctor’s wife starts to succumb to symptoms of vampiric assault.  The story’s prose is very melodramatic, the first sentence describing the how doctor’s wife “awoke one morning to a sense of utmost torpor.”

            Pattern for Survival (originally published in 1955): A very short story about the dreams of a writer.

            Mute (originally published in 1962): At nearly 50 pages, this is the longest story in the collection.  It follows the story of a child named Paal, who is adopted by the town’s sheriff and his wife after the boy’s parents die in a fire.  Paal cannot speak, but has some telepathic ability.

            The Creeping Terror (originally published in 1959):  Despite having the most cliché title of any story in the collection it is the most original.  It’s written as a college paper (with brief interludes of third person omniscient narration) about a historical event known as the L.A. Movement.  Not only is Los Angeles alive, but it’s spreading.  This is a humorous story, which pokes a bit of fun at Los Angeles (as an Angelino, I’m all for this).

            Shock Wave (originally published in 1963): A church organist is convinced that the organ has gained sentience.

            Clothes Make the Man (originally published in 1950): There is a man who cannot think without a hat, walk without shoes, use his hands without gloves, etc.

            The Jazz Machine (originally published in 1962):  This is the only story where the prose is worth mentioning.  Written in non-rhyming verse, The Jazz Machine is the first person narrative of a jazz musician who is approached by a man who claims that he has a machine that can translate jazz into the sentiments it is meant to express.  While I’m not a fan of beat poetry, this story is very well written.

            ‘Tis the Season to be Jelly (originally published in 1963): A slice-of-life story about mutants living in a (presumably) post-apocalyptic world.  This is probably the strangest story of the lot.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Time Machine to the Future

            There are some forces that can never coexist peacefully, that, when they meet, must play a zero sum game for power in which one will always be dominant.  The McFlys and the Tannens are such forces, drawn together again and again throughout history only so one can exert control over the other.  The Tannens were always more powerful and would have stayed so if a McFly hadn’t befriended Doc Brown who was able to retroactively aid the McFly clan.  Not only that, he went to the future to make sure that the McFlys had the upper hand in all future generations.

            Travelling across time and space in his flying train, Doc Brown aided the future generations of McFlys against the Tannens as their numbers grew.  Eventually, most of the world’s population was either a Tannen or McFly descendant, and those who weren’t had to pick sides.  There’s no way to tell how many times the final battle was fought, Doc Brown effectively rewriting any time stream in which the McFlys lost.  But eventually the brutish Tannens were vanquished and forced underground while the spritely McFlys and their allies enjoyed life on the surface during a technological golden age.  Satisfied that all was well with the world, Doc Brown flew off into the sunset.   

            Time passed, hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection changed the two societies so that those on the surface and those beneath barely resembled the men they once were let alone each other.  Eventually another time traveler arrived, in the year 802,701 A.D.   This time traveler had never heard of the McFlys and the Tannens or their war for supremacy; the traveler only saw the distant echoes of what they once were.  So he came up with his own names to describe the descendants: Eloi and Morlocks.