Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Damn, Marmaduke. You Scary.

Look at this:

That is the face of sheer terror.  Not to mention the floating people grabbing the dog's face while its legs bend at impossible angles.  The caption should have read: "You have gazed into the abyss, there is no return."  Look more closely:

A Series of Increasingly Improbable Events - Part 1:Origins

I think the best place to start is the beginning.  Or more accurately, about sixteen hours before the beginning.  The last sixteen hours before my life took a turn down Weird Street and parked itself at the intersection of Batshit and Crazy.  I’m telling you all this because someone has to.  Certain pieces of my story are common knowledge, while more are bound to come out.  I figured, if everyone’s going to know about it, they might as well know the truth.  My name is Matthew, by the way.
            The day was March 23rd, and I was just waking up.  I lived in a tiny apartment in the San Fernando Valley, and I could hear the traffic on the 101 Freeway from my bedroom.  The constant stream of cars rushing by took some getting used to, but after a couple years I stopped noticing it.  I wasn’t scheduled to work that day, so my alarm clock didn’t begin its shrill nagging until ten a.m.  If I had known that I would never have another day like this, I probably would’ve hit the snooze button.  Instead, I blearily staggered to the bathroom.
            After my business there was completed, I got dressed, toasted a bagel and checked my e-mail.  There isn’t much to do on Wednesday afternoon in the valley, and all my friends were either working or otherwise preoccupied.  I had plans to get together with George after he got off work at five, but until then I just had to kill time.  George had been a friend for a long time.  We met in high school when we were both sophomores, and had hit it off immediately.  You know that prank where you take apart someone’s car and rebuild it inside a classroom?  That was our senior prank.  I didn’t think it could work, but George has always been the optimistic one.  Up for anything and why the hell not?
            I spent the next six hours being completely and fulfillingly unproductive.   At a few minutes to five, George knocked on my door.  I immediately knew it was him because he used his secret knock.  Six fast, pause, three slow, pause, two fast.  One time I asked him why he felt we needed a secret knock, and he said it was in case anyone tried to replace with doppelgangers.  Even after everything that’s happened, I’m still not sure if that was a joke or if George was just a little bit crazier than I thought he was. 
            I let him in and he immediately went to the fridge in the kitchenette that took up one third of the living room/foyer.  “How’s it hanging?” he asked, taking a beer out of the fridge.  “Pretty good.  You?”  He was already drinking the beer, so he gave me a thumbs up.  He sat down on the couch that faced a TV.  “Awesome,” he said, “Guess what’s happening tonight?”  I thought for a second.  “The Lakers are playing?” 
            “No, guess again.”
            “We’re going to sit around playing video games before going to a shitty diner?”
            “No, G-, Well, yes.  But something else, too.”
            “I have no idea.” I walked over to the TV and turned on the XBOX.  “Why don’t you just tell me?”
            He seemed to genuinely disappointed with the suggestion, but as I handed him a controller he acquiesced.  “Okay, here it is.” He said, speaking barely above a whisper.  “One of these guys I work with, he’s into all this voodoo nonsense.  So, I’m talking to him, and he tells me that a bunch of those hippie Wicca chicks get together every full moon and dance around naked.”  I looked out the window.  Even though it was still light out, I could see a full moon over the hills.  “You know that state park near the high school?  That’s where it’s happening. At two o’clock. The dude from work told me the best place to watch from.”
            I looked George in the eye.  “You know, George,” I said, trying not to hurt his feelings, “There are a lot of easier, less… unusual, ways to see girls naked.  If you want, I can Google some strip clubs in the area.  Or I could Google naked people.  Neither of those involve hiking into the woods at night to spy on some new age witch ritual.”
            George looked at me like I was nuts.  “It’s not just the naked part.  Don’t you want to get a look at a secret ritual?  You’re always saying I should widen my world view, and if that view just happens to include tits, so what?” 
            I could see George really wanted to do this, and I knew that he was going to be there whether I went with him or not.  “Fine,” I said.  “I’ll go.”  George high-fived me and we started playing some first person shooter. 
            It’s funny the things you remember.  I remember that he beat me fifteen kills to eight, but I can’t remember what game we played.  I remember that our waitress at the diner was named Roxy, and that she was pigeon-toed, but I can’t remember what I had to drink.  One thing I remember was that I had this cloud of apprehension over me the whole time.  They say that hindsight is 20/20.  They are full of shit.  Looking at the past is more like looking at a 3-D image without glasses; You get two different images.  One image is the way things actually were, and the other is the way you assume they must have been, your attempt to add reason and order to what is really just chance and chaos.  I can tell myself that I had, on some level, an inkling of what was to come, but honestly I was just worried that a coven of angry Wiccans was going to kick my ass.
            We took George’s beat up Accord to the entrance of the state park.  We parked in a picnic area at about one and got out of the car, each armed with a flashlight and backpack of supplies: snacks, beer, binoculars, the usual.  We started off down the main path into the woods.  Every couple of minutes, George would check the directions he got from the “voodoo guy.”
            Even with the flashlights, we couldn’t see much.  And it was quiet.  There was the occasional chirp from a cricket or rustle of leaves, but that was all.  We had been walking for almost fifteen minutes when George said, “Here it is,” and illuminated a small path to the right that snaked up an incline.  I followed him up the hill, promising myself that, if we were murdered by some whacko in a hockey mask, I’d blame George. 
            We made it up the hill intact, and came to a ledge overlooking a small clearing.  It was roughly circular with a small hole in the center.  “I bet that’s their fire-pit,” George said. 
            “Or maybe it’s where the mafia dump the bodies.”  I suggested.  George looked at me with wide eyes.  “That would be so cool.” He said, “We could be the star witnesses, and go into witness protection and everything.”
            “Sure.” I said.  I checked my watch.  1:45. “Pass me some chips.”  George reached into his bag, and tossed me some Nacho Cheese “Flavoritos.” 
            “What the fuck are these.”  I said, after looking at the “not evaluated by the FDA” caveat on the bag.  “Chips,” he said, opening his own bag.  “Well, obviously.  But why’d you get some Dorito’s knock off.”  He shrugged.  “They taste the same.  Plus, I can get a crate of these for, like, five bucks.” 
            I looked the bag over again, paying close attention to the little notes: Not for Resale and Product of N. Korea.   “Y’know what, I’m not that hungry.”
            “Suit yourself, but I gotta tell ya, the –” 
            “Who the fuck are you?” someone shouted from behind us.  We turned around to see two people approaching from the same path we took.  The one who had spoken was a brunette girl. I later learned that she was 23 and worked at Starbucks.  She was with a guy, I still don’t know exactly how old he was, but I’d put him at forty. 
            “Who the fuck are you?” She repeated. 
            “We could ask you the same question.” George said, turning his flashlight towards them.  The girl was wearing a flannel shirt over a cheap tee.  The guy was wearing a slacks and a coat and was carrying a camera.  
            “Who are you?” she asked again.
            “We asked you first.” George said.
            “No, you didn’t.” The man said. 
            “Oh,” George said, “In that case, I’m George and this is Matthew,” he gestured to me.
            “Hi,” I said, “I’m Matthew.  And who the fuck are you?”
            The man stepped forward.  “I’m Barry Loemer, I write for the Daily News.”  The girl laughed.  “What he means,” she said, “Is that they print his editorials every now and then.” She extended her hand.  “I’m Tara, by the way.”  George and I shook her hand.  “I’m guessing you guys are here to watch the witches,” she said. 
            “Yeah,” I admitted, “Not one of our brightest ideas.” 
            “I disagree,” said George.  Of course he did.
            “That’s okay,” Barry said.  “I’m here to write a story about them.  Tara told me about this, said it could help my career.”
            “So you’re a witch?” George asked.
            Tara blushed.  “I dabble.”  She looked at the clearing.  “They should be here by now.”  I looked at my watch.  It was five past two.  Suddenly there was a loud buzzing noise.  “Sorry,” Tara said, taking her phone from her pocket, “I gotta check this.”  She read for a moment.  “Shit.”
            She looked at us apologetically.  “Looks like the show’s been cancelled.  They were having lunch at Lilly’s place and everyone got food poisoning.”  She threw her hands into the air in a “well, what can you do” gesture. 
            Barry looked devastated.  “Sorry,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder.  “We can come back next month.”  Barry muttered something, and they turned to leave.  I was ready to follow when I heard George shout “What is that!”  He was pointing to the sky, at what looked like a red flare.  “It’s getting bigger,” he said.  It did look like it was growing.  Then I began to see more details: chunks of gray inside the flickering red, a trail of smoke behind it.  “Get down!” I shouted, throwing myself to the ground.
            There was a moment of complete silence as we lied face down in the grass.  Then came the Boom.  Imagine the sound of an aluminum can being crushed.  Then multiply that by a million and throw in a train crash for good measure.  After a few minutes of smaller Bangs and the occasional Pop, we shakily stood.  In the clearing was a large chunk of metal obscured by the thick black smoke.  We stared in awe for a few minutes.  Somewhere in the distance a car alarm went off and sirens were blaring.  Tara cleared her throat, “It looks like you got your story,” she said, then started chuckling.  Barry started laughing, and it wasn’t long before we were all laughing that special laugh that only accompanies near disaster.
            We hiked down the small path and stopped a few feet in front of the wall of smoke emanating from the crash site.  “I don’t suppose you guys brought any gas masks,” Tara said.  George looked in his backpack.  “No.  I’ve got chips if anyone wants any,” He said, taking out a few bags. 
            “I love Flavoritos!” Barry said, taking a bag that guaranteed ‘Super Good Mouth Times!’  The sirens in the distance were getting a little louder.  “So,” I said, “What do you guys think it was?” 
            “A meteor,” Tara said.
            “Or a piece of space junk,” Barry said. 
            “Flying saucer,” George said.  We all laughed.  “Seriously, though,” he said, “It was probably some spy satellite or something.  Maybe we’ll get interrogated by the CIA or NSA or some shit.”
            “Can you imagine that,” I said, “I swear I was just trying to spy on the witches!”  I laughed, but the others didn’t.  They were all staring into the smoke.  I followed their gaze, and saw what looked like a human shadow moving towards us.  As it neared the edge of the curtain of smoke, there was no doubt that it was anything but human. 
            The creature had deep gray skin pulled taut on a tall thin frame.  He had small blue dots for eyes, a small hole for a mouth, and long legs that bent in two places.  But what I remember most clearly are the hands.  It looked as if an octopus had grown out of the thing’s wrist.  It opened its mouth to speak.
            “I don’t have a lot of time, so let’s get this over with quick.” It said in a distinctly human voice and a southern drawl. 
            George fell to his knees.  “Please don’t probe us!” he begged. 
            The alien rubbed his forehead.  “That happened one time!  One time!  And now every time I talk to one you people, the first thing I hear is ‘Please don’t probe me, Mr. Spaceman.’  I’m not going to probe you.  Just listen.” 
            George stood up as the sound of sirens got louder.  “Okay,” the thing said, “Short version is, Emperor Konakor of the Gu’lareat system is trying to seize power from the order of the Ji-Xonklo.  So the Fen Federation issued an edict that -”
            “Wait,” Barry said, “Is Emperor Konakor the good guy?”
            “I thought the Ji-Xonklo were the good guys.”  George said.
            “I have no clue who the good guy is.” Tara said.
            “Yeah, we don’t know any of these people.”  I added.
            “Whatever,” the alien said.  We could hear dogs barking now.  The alien took out a glowing green orb.  “The point is, I have a lot of power in this crystal and I need somewhere to hide it.  Konakor set one of his drones on me, so it’s only a matter of hours before I’m dead.”
            “I told you Konakor was the bad guy!” George said.
            Tara looked at the orb, “So you want us to hide it for you?”
            The alien said nothing for a moment.  “Something like that.”  His tentacles slid along the surface of the crystal, and it began to glow a blinding gold.  I felt the strength being sapped from my muscles.  The last thing I remember before passing out was George saying, “We are so probed.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pokemon Funniness

I was feeling nostalgic after my high school alumni party, so I checked out some of my old favorites from Youtube.  Sure enough, I found my way back to this particularly awesome fan movie for Pokémon:

I later stumbled across something that makes this outcome seem not only possible, but likely:

To be perfectly honest, I haven't played any version of Pokémon past Silver for the Gameboy Color.  I'm one of those guys that will say, "Back in my day, we had 150 pokémon, and we liked it!"  Also, I think the people who come up with new pokemon are running out of ideas.  I think they're just looking around their office and basing things off that.

"Konami Memo: Tuesdays are trash pick-up"

We're bringing ice cream for Jerry's retirement party:

Some stupid kids with mohawks and baggy pants were smoking in the parking lot:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Outdated Movie Review: Tron: Legacy

            I’d like to preface this review with the fact that I’m a nerd.  If Tron isn’t something you’d be generally be interested in watching, then take everything I say with a grain of salt.  But let’s get this over with.
            The basic premise is this: After the events in the original “Tron,” Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) takes over Encom with his friend Allen (Bruce Boxleitner) and turns it into one of the largest tech companies in the world.  He has a son with the female lead from the original, but she dies between films.  When his son, Samuel Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) is a child, Kevin disappears.  Twenty years later, Allen gets a message from Kevin, and Sam ends up in the grid.
            One of my favorite things about this movie is how it contrasts to the original.  The changes to the visual graphics in the grid and the complexity of the games mirrors the changes in technology in the years between the original and the sequel.  Visually, the film is amazing.  The action sequences are exciting and wholly entertaining.  On the downside, CGI Jeff Bridges looks like he’s stuck halfway down the uncanny valley, and occasionally it looks like the characters just stepped into an ‘80s music video.
            The story doesn’t break new ground, but it manages to keep the audience involved and caring about the fate of the characters.  Jeff Bridges does a good job, but he peppers his monologues on tragic or profound issues with phrases that seem more at home in The Big Lebowski.  It’s hard to take the heroes’ plight seriously when the response to almost certain defeat is “You’re messing with my zen thing, man.”
            I don’t think I can do a review of Tron: Legacy without comparing it to the original.  Is the Tron better?  Yes.  But I think Tron: Legacy carries on the spirit of its predecessor, and does so with style.  If you like the Sci-fi/tech genre as much as I do, you’ll like this movie.  I’d give it 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In defense of the Meme

            The meme is one of the most beleaguered and pervasive aspects of internet culture.  It has been criticized as the lowest common denominator of humor, yet some memes have become recognizable in mainstream culture (e.g. LOLCATS, Rick Astley, Rule 34).  But what is it that makes memes so powerful? For that matter, what makes a meme?
            An internet meme is, in its purest form, just an idea that is represented by an image or phrase.   These ideas and their respective representations can vary wildly, in terms of vulgarity, complexity, or really any quality that can be attributed to an idea.  For lack of a better term, internet memes are codified symbols. There is an understood meaning to memes that have lasted long enough to embed themselves in internet culture.
            While I understand that many probably view internet culture as an oxymoron, I submit that the internet does have its own distinct and coherent culture, with its own history, etiquette, and social circles.  While there are people who use the power of anonymity on the internet to abuse others, every culture has an equivalent to internet trolls.  Trolls make the most noise, and as such, are heard the most.  In reality, they are the minority, the bad kids who ruin things for the whole class.  They are what Westboro Plains Baptists are to Christians, or Snooki is to the state of New Jersey.  For the purposes of this essay, it is important to understand that they are not representative of the internet or of its culture.
            To return to the topic of memes, perhaps it would be best to look at what purpose a meme serves.  Surely something with a reach as extensive as the internet meme has a use.  That use is this:  A means to communicate through ideas.  Much in the way a filmmaker would communicate through symbolism, or a person would rely on an adage to communicate an idea, people on the internet can use memes.  Not every meme does this, and even those that do don’t do so all the time.  But they do help to share ideas.  Perhaps an example is the best way to demonstrate this.  Earlier in the essay, I stated that a meme is an idea represented by an image or phrase.  One such example is the philosoraptor.  The idea represented by the philosoraptor is that of the idiosyncrasies of the English language, and it is represented by a picture of a velociraptor stroking its chin, captioned with an example of the strangeness in our language.  People use the philosoraptor to share the aforementioned idiosyncrasies that they have found.  But you may ask: Why do we need the symbol?  Couldn’t they just tell each other their ideas?  The fact is, it’s not necessary, but it is a helpful tool.  We don’t need to use symbolism to tell a story, or to communicate a thought.  In real life, we use phrases that represent more than just what they say.  We call them adages.    Why say, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” when there are a million more literal ways to get the same idea across?  Why use a snake as a symbol for evil?  It’s because phrases and images get new meaning and power through repetition.  A snake doesn’t naturally represent evil any more than a gray wolf on a yellow background represents courage, but through repeated usage as symbols, they have acquired new meaning.
            Now that I’ve covered what a meme is and what it’s for, the big question is how is a meme created.  There are infinitely many ideas, yet there isn’t a meme for each one, so why do only some ideas become memes?  Let’s start at the beginning.  Step one is someone coming up with an idea and a way to represent it.  Sometimes this happens independently of existing media, and sometimes it is the result of something that happens in the world news or in pop culture (e.g. “How do magnets work” came about after The Insane Clown Posse include the line “Magnets, how the f**k do they work, and I don’t wanna talk to no scientist” in one of their songs.)  A meme can then be spread various ways.  Either among friends or distributed to sites like memebase, quickmeme, or reddit.  If enough people see it and like it, they will start making their own variations.  This is actually encouraged, as they are sharing their own interpretations of the initial idea.  Most memes are just a flash in the pan.  They spread quickly, but move on to self parody just as fast, before finally disappearing.  The downfall of these memes is often that the subject is too topical, or the meme doesn’t have a chance to become refined.  That is to say, it doesn’t come to fruition in regards to developing an established meaning and terms of usage.  One of the most important things for a meme’s survival is that the community knows exactly what it means and how and where to use it.  There is no formal discussion, just a consensus achieved through action.  People will use a meme in a certain way, and that is what dictates its meaning and usage.  The “Magnets” meme that was mentioned before started out as a representation of the stupidity of the Insane Clown Posse (an extremely topical idea) but adapted to represent the willful ignorance of science in favor of religion.  The usage of the meme changed, and its meaning changed with it.  A stronger meme is one that will outlast its original context.  Even after the situation that such a meme arose from is forgotten, a strong meme will be so intrinsically linked with its meaning, that it will be self-sufficient.  The Rick Roll is a good example.  It represents not only the cheesiness of ‘80s pop music, but it representative of viral videos and memes. But how many of you know how it originated?  How many of you aware of the Rick Roll and what it means, despite never having heard of the Duck Roll?  That is because a meme is an idea incarnate.  An idea can survive without context as long as it is shared and adapted. 

Children of the Grave (a short story)

            Lucas watched the zombie from the roof of his neighbors’ home, occasionally lifting his glasses to rub the mostly healed gash between his eyes.  The zombie wandered across the backyard, tripping over its own feet but never quite falling. 
            “He still there?” Julie asked, climbing on to the roof, a bottle of Coca Cola in each hand.  Lucas nodded to his big sister, taking one of the Cokes. Their parents didn’t used to let them have soda, but their parents weren’t around anymore.  Most of the parents weren’t.  “Does he look a bit like old man Simmons to you?”
            Lucas took a closer look at the zombie, who had taken to scratching at his own shadow on the fence.  “It’s hard to tell.” Lucas answered.  The zombie got bored of his shadow, and began to walk towards the hole in the fence he had crawled through half an hour before.  Lucas took out a laser pointer and deployed a red dot to the fence.  The zombie lunged at the dot, rattling the fence in the process. 
            “They’re pretty dumb, aren’t they?”  Julie said.  She remembered when they first started showing up.  The grown-ups all got scared.  Then they got guns and started shooting at the zombies and anyone they thought was a zombie. She remembered watching from her bedroom window.  Watching the grown-ups shooting all over the street.  Now it was mostly the kids that were left. 
            Lucas started luring the zombie away from the fence and across the lawn.  Lucas will be fine, Julie thought.  Lucas has a knack for getting rid of the zombies, and he doesn’t need a gun.  The zombie followed the shiny red dot as it left the grass and disappeared into the water of the swimming pool, only to reappear a moment later on a raft floating in the middle of the deep end.  Fixated on its one, all-important goal, the zombie plunged into the water, only to discover that it couldn’t swim.  It thrashed for a few moments before sinking to the concrete below.
            “That was a good one,” Julie said, helping Lucas lower the rope ladder from the roof into the backyard.  They descended, and stepped onto the dry grass.  Stuck in a bush near the edge of the lawn was the blue plastic Frisbee they had been tossing before the zombie interrupted.  Julie grabbed the Frisbee while Lucas went over to take a look in the pool. 
            That was probably my second best, he thought, remembering the time he put a paper bag over one of their heads and it fell down a set of stairs at the park.  After the grown-ups went away, most of the zombies did, too.  A lot of times, they would just fall over and break their heads, or sometimes they’d even kill each other.
            “Don’t forget we’re going to Mikey’s house tonight,” Julie said, tossing Luke the Frisbee, “He got his TV working, and he’s got Toy Story.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why guys don't like romantic comedies

I think that I can speak on behalf of most men when I say: We don’t like romantic comedies.  While there are exceptions, both in terms of men who like romantic comedies and romantic comedies that men like (Annie Hall is the first to come to mind), it’s pretty much a universal truth.  But why don’t we like romantic comedies, people will ask.  There are two main, connected reasons.
            The first is that they are almost always formulaic to the extent where we can predict every plot point by the two minute mark.  And so can the women who like romantic comedies.  Which leads to my second point.  Women don’t watch romantic comedies for those plot points, they watch for what happens between.  While we may find the characters discussing relationships and trying on clothes boring, that’s the appeal for the women who like it.  But let’s try turning the tables.
            Guys, do you like action movies?  Do you have a good idea of what the plot is going to entail?  Just like romantic comedy fans enjoy watching the banter between characters that takes them from point A to B, we like watching the characters get there through car chases and fistfights (preferably at the same time).
            The fact is, in romantic comedies, we just don’t find the characters or situations interesting enough to pay attention to as the formula progresses.  To any producers out there, if you want to make a rom-com that guys will like, make it comedy with romance (like Annie Hall, 500 Days of Summer, or Crazy Stupid Love).  Or just throw in some car chases and explosions.  Either one should do it.

Outdated Movie Review: The Next Three Days

            The Next Three Days was not what I expected it to be.  When I hit play, I was planning on watching a couple hours of an enjoyable, yet thoroughly ridiculous, prison break story.  A clear good guy, a clear bad guy, more of an action ride than anything else.  I was surprised that this was not the way that the story went.
            The main character, John Brennan, (Russell Crowe) wants to break his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison.  His wife having been (so far as he believes) wrongly convicted of murder.  The majority of the movie focuses on his life with his young son, Luke, and his designing a plan to break his wife out of prison.  And it’s in this plan that the movie stands out.  There’s no storming the jail’s walls, no prison riots, it’s much more realistic given the capabilities of the character.
            But the film suffers from an identity crisis.  It splits its time between the escape and Brennan’s adjustment to life with his wife in prison, and doesn’t give enough attention to either.  If the film had chosen to focus on one or the other, it would have been much stronger.  Instead, it leaves the viewer feeling like they were just scratching the surface of a great story, not delving in. 
            For example, John Brennan’s relationship with Olivia Wilde’s character would have been  much more compelling if they had taken the route of his son needing a mother figure in his daily life, or if John developed feelings for her.  On the other hand, while the plan to get his wife out of prison was elegant in its simplicity, it lacked the complexity that would have made it more exciting if it had gotten time to do so.
            Besides a detective who jumps to irrational (if correct) conclusions, the movie doesn’t make any huge, individual mistakes.  The acting was average, overall.  And so was the movie for that matter.  It wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t great either.  It told an interesting story adequately.  Or rather, it tried to tell two interesting stories.  I’d give it a six out of ten.