Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Guest blogger: My wife

In Books, The Sports Gal on May 31, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Today my wife finished the last installment in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn.  She has so much to say about it, she has requested my blog as her soapbox.  I’m not sure what to expect so here goes:

I’m not embarassed to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of the Twilight series. I don’t read  a lot of YA fiction in general but given the outragous popularity of these books, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. And yes, I did revert to a pre-teen girl in the process. I imagined that I was Bella, madly in love with a super hot vampire (Edward) while trying to stay friends with a super hot werewolf (Jacob) who had feelings for me. I allowed myself to get lost in this story. The adult part of me bristled whenever the abstinence theme surfaced (I’ll get to that in a minute) but mostly I was able to let go of my judgements. Until book four. That’s when I almost barfed with anger.

For those of you who don’t know, the Twilight series preaches abstinence. Edward and Bella are in love but can’t have sex because Edward might hurt her in the process. Yes, I know this is absolutely ridiculous. The portrayal of Bella as a breakable female that cannot hold her own in a sexual relationship is insulting. However, I was willing to let it go. Why? Because Bella really wanted to have sex with Edward. She tried. A lot. This abstinence rule was his, not hers. Now, that doesn’t make it okay but I was pleased to see that the author allowed Bella to experience desire. We often see stories where teenage girls are pure and teenage boys are horny devils they need to be protected from. I appreciated that Stephanie Meyer acknowledged that girls are just as interested in sex as boys. So I let it go. I decided to keep reading and reserve judgment.

Book four: the worst. Bella wants Edward to turn her into a vampire. He wants her to stay human. They negotiate an arrangement. Edward won’t turn Bella into a vampire until she marries him (I know, it’s stupid) and Bella won’t marry him until he agrees to have sex with her while she’s still human. So they decide to get married, go on a honeymoon, and then return home and turn her into a vampire. There are lots of other details in this arrangement but this post is getting long so I’m simplifying. Can you guess what happens? On the honeymoon they manage to have sex without Bella getting killed. Bella really, really likes sex so she thinks she might want to stay human a little while longer. Maybe it won’t feel as good once she’s a vampire. Maybe she’ll go to college for a semester and then turn into a vampire. But wait, suddenly she’s nauseous and moody. That’s right, Bella is pregnant. Pregnant. Guess what girls, if you have sex and enjoy it (married or not) you will be punished with a half demon baby that begins to eat you from the inside out. And it all goes downhill from there.

Edward takes her home and wants to abort the fetus. It’s growing at an alarmingly fast rate and she is clearly going to die if she sees this pregnancy through. But Bella (with help from some others) forbids this. Lesson two girls, being a martyr/mother is the best.

In the end, Bella survives the greusome birthing process (this scene is truly disgusting) because Edward turns her as soon as the baby is safely outside of her body. She wakes up a couple of days later as a beautiful vampire (this makes me angry too but that’s another whole post) to find her loving husband and baby waiting. Their daughter Renesmee is growing at an accelerated rate and will soon be a toddler and seems to have some special abilities. In the end, there is trouble with some fancy vampires from Italy and a battle scene approaches, blah blah blah, but it all works out in the end. Why? Lesson three, if you fall in love with an older man, give up your entire life to be with him, and sacrfice all of your independence to be a good wife and mother, then you too can save the day.

Vampires versus werewolves

In Books, Movies, Roleplaying Games, Science Fiction on May 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

My wife has started reading the Twilight books.  Well, that is not really accurate.  She started reading the first one yesterday, but considering she is almost done with the third, she will probably be done with the series by the time many of you read this.  Hell, she might be done by the time I finishing writing this.  Whatever.  I am not here to write about the young adult vampire/romance franchise stealing the hearts of the preteen girl living inside most adults whom should know better.  I am here to address the growing popularity of pitting vampires and werewolves against each other.  I might not have all the information (what else is new), but here are some of the examples I was thinking about.

For one, there is the popular White Wolf series of roleplaying games through the 90’s.  I’m sure there are some Universal monster movies I’m failing to pay attention to, but this was my first exposure to these monsters contending with each other.  For those who don’t know, the games had players take on the roles of monsters, such as Vampire: The Masquerade or Werewolf: The Apocolypse. They had to contend with the complexities of living in the world of mortals while avoiding the pitfalls of political society within their monstrous cultures.  It was heavily influenced by the ideas of Anne Rice but it was pretty cool, nonetheless.  While there was a great deal of variety amongst the monsters in these games, the vampires were basically immortal schemers vying for power while staying hidden from human eyes.  The werewolves, on the otherhand, were raging eco-warriors fighting to preserve the world from corruption.  The two peoples were natural enemies whom often came to blows when they met.  I liked this setup just fine.  I feel like the motivations of the peoples made sense and the background in these games was deep and well-written.  Sure, it could be a little pretentious, self-important, and moody.  It was still effective for creating a place where serious gaming could be done and darker themes could be explored.  For that, I appreciate it.

Marble?  A Rose?  These vampires seem awful classy, don't they?

Green marble? A Rose? These vampires seem awful classy, don't they?

I feel like, personally, the bar was set pretty high and most the of media that followed failed to live up to it.  I am going to skip to the Underworld franchise to show how a basic and pretty cool idea could be pretty nicely fucked up by stupid execution.  I know, I know.  I’m not mentioning Oz and his place in the Buffiverse, but 1) I’m not a huge Buffy fan. 2) I don’t think his being a werewolf added a ton of interesting material to this dichotomy.  So, anyways, back to Kate Beckinsale.  Underworld poses vampires against werewolves as enemies for centuries, battling it out because the werewolves used to be slaves to the vampires but they actually share a descendent in the immortal Alexander Corvinus but blah, blah, blah.  Whatever, its’ not that compelling nor does it make a ton of sense, so fuck it.  I didn’t have big hopes for this franchise but it was actually a little too dumb to be fun.  Here’s why:

1) The vampires and werewolves have an arsenal of weapons that hurt each other, like silver-nitrate bullets and sunshine bullets.  Sure, silver nitrate is way different chemically than pure silver.  Sure, it looks like salt at room temperature, not silver liquid.  And a bullet that shoots UV light might seem needlessly complicated compared to a UV flashlight or something.  My complaint, however, is that is makes vampires and werewolves into combatants easy to kill with guns aka normal people.  I swear, there are scenes of “werewolves” and “vampires” fighting that look like normal dudes in a gunfight.  How is that cool, fun, or novel?  It’s like: “Let’s have a movie with two opposing ninjas but their final showdown is them fighting it out in muscle cars in a demolition derby.”

2) If you were an immortal dating back to the 11th Century or whatever, what would you do for fun?  According to Underworld, it consists of hanging out in a Victorian mansion, posing for nobody and wearing uncomfortable latex or leather clothing.  I guess it’s supposed to be Gothic chic or some shit, but it just seems laughable to me.  There is a scene in Underworld 2 (yes, I did the sequel to a movie I didn’t like) where a normal-dressed character, Michael, is walking around with Kate Beckinsale’s character, Selene.  Michael is wearing jeans, boots, a jacket, flanel shirt, maybe?  Selene is wearing heeled leather boots, black latex, skintight pants, and a fucking corset.  I shit you negative.  I remember thinking: “How are these people in the same movie?  Why isn’t the normal dude asking the bondage chick ‘What the fuck are you wearing?'”  Then I realized that geeks like attractive women in hot clothing, logic be damned.  Fine.

When hunting werewolves, the most important things are comfort, protection, and the ability to blend in with a crowd.

When hunting werewolves, the most important things are comfort, protection, and the ability to blend in with a crowd.

So, I had plans to go on to Van Helsing and then onto this Twilight thing, but why bother.  A lot of it is kinda deritivative.  But, at the core of it, I like vampires fighting werewolves and would like to see more.  For the record, I like werewolves more.  Maybe because I’m kinda a dog person.  Maybe because I’m interested in pack mentality?  Maybe because werewolves are furious, claw-wielding badasses while vampires are mopey, pretentious, ego-maniacs.  What say you?

Put a helmet on!

In Science Fiction, Video Games on May 29, 2009 at 8:32 pm

What is wrong with this picture?

Somebody just needs to show off his new haircut.

Somebody just needs to show off his new haircut.

Or this one?

In war, the first casualty is innocence.  The last...wacky facial hair.

In war, the first casualty is innocence. The last...wacky facial hair.

This is a pet peeve of mine.  I hate when people go the trouble of wearing a ton of body armor and can’t be troubled to wear a goddamn helmet.  I know there have been periods of time when helmets were not worn, such as Napoleonic battles, but I think the noggin is something worth protecting.  Let’s ask these guys:

macedonianphalanx

frenchknight

soldiers07

These guys seem to think that helmets are important.  I’m no military historian, but I imagine that maybe besides the shield, the helmet would be the first thing you would incorporate into the wearing of protection.  So when I see a Warhammer 40K picture of a swirling gun-blasting, chainsword swinging melee and I see a commander going  helmet-less, it just seems stupid.  Maybe the Warhammer fans can explain it to me.

Or when I see Marcus Fenix (sigh) and his band of gung-ho band of roid-raging lunkheads fighting with a mid-size sedan worth of body armor and not as much as a steel bucket for head protection, I wonder “Why?”  I think there is a Gears of War 2 throw-away line about needing to spot snipers.  Yeah, because in the future they couldn’t incorporate any visual enhancements into the HUD of a helmet.  Who needs infrared or motion detectors when you have the naked, hard-ass stare of Soulpatcheo the Great.  These guys fight in subterranean caves and crumbling buildings.  A rock the size of their shriveled testicles could take them out of the fight.

It’s probably done for character recognition or so that the protagonists of the narrative can emote.  But it really hurts the credibility of the action and does more harm than good, in my opinion.  What say you?

Theatrical mathematics

In Roleplaying Games on May 29, 2009 at 12:07 am

I just got home and I am tired so I will be keeping this brief.  I was thinking about one of my favorite hobbies, tabletop roleplaying gaming, on the way home from my parents.  It got me thinking about how I am currently trying to get a superheroes game going with some friends and how it is hard to get off the ground.  I mean, we all want to play and we have a lot of good ideas.  We have character concepts and an increasingly solid setting.  There are tons of plot hooks based on deep back-stories.  Why are we not playing this game presently?

Well, general rules of inertia are certainly part of it.  It is hard to get any game in motion, especially with some new players.  Also, the logistics of trying to coordinate a group of adults can be difficult.  Yet I think a major obstacle for many of my friends is the mechanics of roleplaying games.  Most, if not all games, have some kind of mathematical system coupled with a means of engaging variable probability to simulate the accomplishment of tasks for player characters.  This usually also has the translation of character abilities into quantifiable statistics to measure one character against another.  These systems can be complex or simple but one thing is usually consistent with them.  They require an entire different set of skills than creative storytelling.  This dichotomy of different, and maybe even opposing, skill sets can make running a game a daunting task.

The great equalizer.  It possesses the power to make great the weak and terrify the mighty?  But what does it have to do with original stories or interesting characters?

The great equalizer. It possesses the power to make great the weak and terrify the mighty. But what does it have to do with original stories or interesting characters?

Some people favor the story over the mechanics, fudging the rules whenever necessary to keep the narrative moving and the characters interacting.  Others are much more mechanics focused, designing amazingly complex scenarios, challenges, and combat situations to challenge the abilities of the players.  Personally, I like them both and have enjoyed playing in games that push me to excel on both sides of the equation.  It takes a rare gamemaster, such as the guy who ran one of the best games I ever played, who is excellent at creating amazing stories and synthesizing that with mastery of the game system.  Once you have enjoyed such a game, it can be hard to start again.  I wonder if this is the problem?

Scary is beautiful

In Movies on May 28, 2009 at 1:31 am

I know I spend a decent amount of time on this blog writing about my childhood.  Part of this is due to my generation’s obsession with nostalgia, no matter how crappy the idealized object of our memory (see the optioned Thundercats movie).  Yet, there is another part that I think is worth examination.  Geeks are molded through experiences with new and interesting things, yet there needs to be something weird in us at an early age to set us off in that direction.  There are two movies that I want to comment on that I think are telling about my development.

One is the The Dark Crystal.  I was fascinated with this unique, all-puppet, fantasy movie at a very early age.  Even at 4-years old, I knew I was watching something special, despite not really understanding all that was going on.  But the weird thing that I remember, however, is the strange creatures I thought were the best.  Was it the gelflings?  Jen and Kira were likeable enough protagonists, but I never really liked them at all.  How about the adorable Fizzgig, Jen’s little furball pet?  Nope.  The gentle and wise Ur-ru?  The graceful landstriders?  No and no.  I loved two specific creature types.  The first were the cruel, vulture-faced Skeksis.  To this day, I am obsessed with the design of these monsters.  Yet, my true love from Dark Crystal were the Garthim, the horseshoe crab- like servants of the Skeksis and all around badasses.  Born from them was my love of the terrifying and my fascination with the effective henchman.

Is is wrong that I wanted a stuffed animal of one these when I was a kid.  And when I say kid, I mean yesterday.

Is is wrong that I wanted a stuffed animal of one these when I was a kid. And when I say kid, I mean yesterday.

One of the other films that I have a vivid connection with from a similar time is The Last Unicorn. My memories of this film are far hazier, as I did not really love this film, save one aspect.  Even as a little boy, I loved the Red Bull.  I guess I knew he was the bad guy and all, but I still rooted for him.  He was huge, fiery monstrosity.  It seemed right that he should vanquish the far lamer unicorns, right?  When the unicorn faces him at the end and drives him into the sea or something, I remember thinking: “What are you doing?  It’s a tiny unicorn.  Eat it!  Gore it!  Burn it!

Adorable

Adorable

These are two examples of my attraction to the scary things in my early experiences.  There are other examples such as the Stormtroopers versus those lame rebel soldiers on the Corellian Corvette in the beginning of Star Wars.  Or the introduction of Brutus in The Secret of NIMH. I was just impressed by these figures.  I wonder why?

Monday’s…er, Tuesay’s “That Guy:” Peter Stormare

In Movies, That Guys on May 26, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Yeah, so I screwed up.  I forgot that yesterday was Monday, meaning I forgot to post Monday’s “That Guy.”  Silly me.  Fret not, for I am about to remedy this oversight.  Writing about Constantine recently got me thinking about the scene with Satan in that movie.  While I can’t remember much of the dialogue, I remember being creeped out by the Morning Star himself.  He was wearing a white suit but had some kind of black muck on his barefeet.  It was a nice image, both horrible and unlike the average portrayal of  Old Scratch.  Of course, what made it most creepy and effective was the actor playing the part: Peter Stormare.

Stormare is not a find from my childhood, but someone I was drawn to in my late adolescence when I first saw him in Fargo. He was the kidnapper who was not Steve Buscemi.  He was quiet and seemed almost lethargic, but he oozed menace.  He seemed the kind of guy who wouldn’t kill you with a roar, but with a yawn.  Sure enough, when he executes a police officer and two unfortunate witnesses, I was shocked but hardly surprised.   When he commits his last slaying, you kind of don’t see it coming, but you should have.   Stormare was the real danger in this movie, a broken human being unable to be reasoned with or really even communicated with.  It was a great and under-rated performance.

If this guy wanted pancakes, I would be getting him a tall stack.  No silver dollar bullshit.

If this guy wanted pancakes, I would be getting him a tall stack. No silver dollar bullshit.

Stormare’s other iconic performance was the role of Karl Hungus, aka. Nihilist #1, in The Big Lebowski.  He plays a similarly unresponsive human being, yet it is quite different than his role in Fargo.  Hungus (not his real name) speaks little and, when he does, usually to threaten or to install deine kabel.  Stormare does something different, however, making the character pathetic, powerless, and as much a victim of circumstance as anyone in that movie.  While a very funny character, Stormare never winks at the camera, playing it straight right to the end.  These two performances, both Coen Brothers films, reserved him a place in my “That Guy” pantheon.

Example of what to wear when intimidating someone with an aquatic mammal.

Example of what to wear when intimidating someone with an aquatic mammal.

Peter has been in other things, for sure.  When he showed up in Lost World: Jurassic Park II with uh, Jeff, uh, Gold, uh, Bloom, I was happy to see him despite knowing he could be up to no good.  When he played a russian cosmonaut in Armageddon, I was sure this mission was going to have complications.  When he played a creepy street doc in Minority Report, blowing his nose into his hand before performing optical surgery on Taps star Tom Cruise, I finally placed what is so special about Peter Stormare, beyond the fact that he always forced to play any northern or eastern European nationality.  He has a creepy quality to make any situation he is in that much more uncomfortable, unhealthy, and unpleasant.  His performances carry with them a hazy film of wrongness that I can’t quite describe, but I insist exists.  The ability to bring something so special to the table makes Peter Stormare this week’s “That Guy.”

Readability

In Books on May 26, 2009 at 12:57 am

Have you heard the Bud Light advertising gimmick, showcasing the beer’s superior “drinkability.”  I guess this sounds better than “watery” or “tasteless,” but it is kind of a ridiculous statement.  This beer is easier or more suitable to be imbibed than other brews, I suppose.  It made me think about a lot of science fiction and fantasy books.  Some of them have amazing ideas, well-realized settings, and deep characters, yet are really hard to read.  Whether they are just not very compellingly written (sorry William Gibson) or really challenging to the point of being maddening (looking at you Gene Wolfe), they are lacking in readability.  There are tons of books that are either too poorly written or too well written that they fail to connect with me.  I lack the confidence to tell which ones are which, but that is a topic for another time.  Speaking to a friend today (thanks Josh), I was reminded how a series of books that have not aged well, for me, in their quality but retain a certain extraordinary readability.  These are the Dragonlance: Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

The companions pose, hoping some tinker gnome will invent a camera before the fire goes out.

The companions pose, hoping some tinker gnome will invent a camera before the fire goes out.

I have zero interest into writing reviews, especially for books 25 years old.  I really want to concentrate on why these derivative fantasy novels hold a special place in my heart.  Why books that I look at with a strong feeling of embarrassment still hold up, on some level.  These are some of the older D&D novels before they had infested an entire shelf of your local Barnes & Noble.  These were books I read in 5th or 6th grade, finding them among my brother’s books after he had moved onto Stephen King novels.  I re-read them about 4 years ago because I had received a copy of an annotated version of these books and I wanted to see the creative process behind them.  Simply put, these were novels based on AD&D roleplaying adventures authored by the same people.  The books were limited by a connection to D&D rules and followed a similar structure including dungeon crawls, loot hoarding, and leveling-up.  How could something so artificial as game tie-in novels be anything but hollow and horrid?

The novels work because Weis and Hickman, for all their flaws and lack of originality, are really good at character.  While the prose seems flat and the plot tired, the duo could run a clinic on adding characterization to a group of characters.  Somehow, they keep a lot of balls in the air (to use a juggling metaphor) when it comes to the balancing of a lot of characters.  The ten or so companions traveling at any given time all get time to shine and interact with each other.  The characters are unique and interesting, with unique relationships with each other that are explored with surprising depth.  While I would not call these novels “good,” they are amazingly “readable,” despite my cynical and hard-to-please sensibilities.  It is a lesson that I wish more interesting and original writers would consider learning.

Customers love Skynet 2009: “More user-friendly than ever.”

In Movies, Science Fiction on May 25, 2009 at 12:07 am

I just watched Terminator Salvation. This movie has given me a ton of food for thought on many subjects close to my heart.  Time travel, giant robots, Christian Bale’s hilarious growling, etc.  The one thing that I thought was amazing, however, was how accessible the evil computers made it for their enemies, humanity, to infiltrate and destroy them.  At one point, someone goes to Skynet central, where the big computer exists, to deal with it once and for all.  He shows up in what appears to be a pretty nice office space to deal with a complex user interface, complete with intricate keyboard and cool monitor.  Anyone see what’s weird about this?  Why would a computer create an interface so that people would use?  They don’t need to be user-friendly!  They’re trying to kill the user!  An office space?  Skynet is a artificial intelligence running a hivemind of robots.  These are basically extensions of its hyper intelligent, calculating consciousness.  Why have any monitors at all?

This movie is full of examples of what seems like no consideration for how a supercomputer would fight humanity.  Don’t call me a traitor for giving ideas to any human-exterminating computers, but here are a few hints to help any homicidal artificial intelligences out there.

1) Don’t create shit we can use.  At one point, John Connor, as played by Christian Bale, disables a motorcycle robot.  He then proceeds to drive it!!!  If a motorcycle droid has a computer brain, why install a throttle, break, or anything for a person to fucking hold on to.  Maybe your weapons should, you know, only be usable by you.

Complete with scary red eyes that really say "Grrr...I'm mean!"

Complete with scary red eyes that really say "Grrr...I'm mean!"

2) Humanity thrived due to our brain, not our physical bodies.  I always thought Terminators were infiltration units.  They could wear living tissue to look like people to get close to us to kill us. Then in T-2, we see a scene of T-800 model Terminators with no skin fighting on a futuristic battlefield.  I thought: “Oh, Skynet must be doing badly to have to send such shitty killing machines against humanity.  They must have lost some serious production capability to have to send such forces.”  I mean, humans are smart and resourceful, but we’re hardly the most tough creature in the natural world.  Put us naked against a tiger and see how we do?  You know what, take a chimpanzee half our mass and see how we contend?  People are not designed for strength or speed, really.  So if you can make robots to be any shape and size, why build tons of human-shaped robots as your stock troopers.  Why not something with four legs, 6-arms, and 360-degree telescopic, thermal vision.  Instead we see armies of basically human-shaped bipedal robos firing miniguns with crappy precision.  You can’t create a machine that can aim?  Really?

Skynet central has worse security than a local Denny's.  Nice design on your mechanical Barney Fife.

Skynet central has worse security than a local Denny's. Nice design on your mechanical Barney Fife.

3) As a machine, maybe you can lose the ego?  At one point, Skynet brags to a captured enemy how they are part of an intricate plot to deceive humanity.  Then gives this enemy an opportunity to do something about it.  I would have thought the human emotion of smug pride and needless plot exposition monologing would be something a computer would want to avoid.  But no, Skynet, it turns out, is kind of a dick.  John Conner asks his troops, at one point, what the point of saving humanity is if we decide to act like machines.  The other side is, if robots can retain human-style d-baggish behavior, maybe our legacy will never really die.  Kinda comforting.

I want to say many things about Terminator Salvation, but I will save them for later.  Now, to bed I go.

Geek osmosis

In Science Fiction, Television on May 24, 2009 at 2:33 am

I have a pretty good memory of my childhood.  I remember being too small to reach a glass from my parent’s cabinet.  I remember leaping onto the counter so I could reach the tall drinking glasses.  I remember not being able to read and the suprisingly fast acquisition of that knowledge.  In first grade, I was learning the “at” family (bat, cat, rat, mat, etc.) and by third grade I had read Sphere by Michael Crichton (my first “grown-up” book).  So, with this relatively sharp early memory, I have no idea how I learned as much of minutae and random trivia as I currenly have stored in my cranium.  I’m not bragging about myself, personally.  Most geeks have at least a working knowledge of other geek shit even if they, personally, are not that into it.

For example, I was never a huge comic fan as a little boy.  My brother read G.I. Joe and I read Transformers.  That was it.  Well, that was it for a while.  By 1989, I got really into Batman ( I wonder why?) and started collecting that comic too.  Yet, I cannot recall not having a pretty decent working knowledge of comic book trivia.  Since I was a little boy, I think I knew who Wolverine was.  Hell, I knew that Daredevil was Matt Murdock and that didn’t hit the mainstream until…nevermind, that never happened.  I don’t think I read any X-Men or Daredevil until I was well into high school.

Another example is Star Trek.  I was watching the new Trek a few weeks ago and I realized how much I already knew about this universe.  I guess I had caught a few episodes, here and there, of the original Star Trek but was never a devotee.  I’d seen maybe a dozen TNG  episodes, half a dozen DS9, and a couple of Voyagers.  Yet, the other day I made a Captain Janeway reference.  Hell, I’m not sure I ever saw a Seven of Nine episode, yet I recall calling her “Seven-of-Boobs.”  I should have called her Seven of Thirty-Six Double Ds or something but my early sense of humor wasn’t the honed razor it is today.  Hell, I know off the top of my head that Seven of Nine was played by Gerry (I checked.  It’s actually spelled Jeri) Ryan.  I didn’t even like this incarnation of a franchise I wasn’t really into.  Why am I aware of the actress who played a secondary character introduced later in the series?

As much as Star Trek tried to hide it, Jeri Ryan does, indeed, have large breasts.

As much as Star Trek tried to hide it, Jeri Ryan does, indeed, have large breasts.

I think it comes down to geek osmosis.  Information of  a geeky nature flows naturally into our brains with our consent or control.  Being in a comic book shop, even if you’re buying Transformers#10 (the introduction of Devestator, the combined form of the Constructicons), somehow you will also learn that the Hulk is Bruce Banner, Charles Xavier is in a wheelchair, and that the Submariner digs on Sue Richards.  Just being into sci-fi will give you some weird empathy into understanding the Kirk/Spock dynamic.  Hell, I even know some shit about Dr. Who and I’ve never even seen that one at all.  Our interests act as gateways for more useless information to come in and find a home.  I’m curious.  Do any of you have weird yet specific knowledge that you have no memory of acquiring?

Henchmen morale

In Movies on May 23, 2009 at 3:27 am

You know what must suck?  Imagine you are involved in some elaborate heist with huge risks but even bigger rewards.  Things are going great until something goes wrong.  All of a sudden, you catch a random slug to the belly.  You’re bleeding badly and not sure what to do.  You look to your employer, a rare criminal mastermind, for some idea of how you are going to get out of this.  Instead of aid, however, he grins maliciously, spouts a mean-spirited one-liner at your expense, then kills you in a horrific manner far worse than the fate your were facing.  Welcome to the plight of cheesy action-movie henchmen.

I call this phenomenon the Qualen but many may think of it as the Botticker (for those Robocop inclined).  Qualen, of course, comes from the Cliffhanger villain Eric Qualen played by Raising Cain-like menace by John Lithgow.  During the course of this amazing film, Qualen demonstrates his complete contempt for the people in his employ.  When one of his men is shot during a daring airplane-to-airplane robbery, Qualen decides to throw the wounded thief out of the airplane.  Why toss this man who is neither dead nor in anyway a hindrance to the robbery?  Better yet, why throw out the quip “Get him to a hospital…fast” before throwing him from the airplane?  Not only does this line make little sense (I guess falling to the earth is fast…but how is that getting him to a hospital at all?), it just seems mean.  It’s not the cold decision of an icewater-in-his veins- professional, but the cruel actions of a gibbering psychopath.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  Why do henchmen put up with this shit.  If your peers are treated as expendable slaves killed at will by the unpredictable whims of your boss, why wouldn’t you kill this lunatic at the earliest convenience?  Or at least be nervously careful around this clearly dangerous person.  Yet in Cliffhanger, in particular, but many movies like this, in general, the henchmen go along with this behavior, somehow thinking it couldn’t happen to them.  But it does keep happening.  Qualen not only kills the dude during the robbery, he murders his most competent lieutenant and maybe special-lady just because he needs to be the only person who can fly a helicopter.

If your villainous boss starts doing shit like this to you, it means you're moments from a dirtnap.  Who could have seen it coming?  Umm...everyone?

If your villainous boss starts doing shit like this to you, it means you're moments from a dirtnap. Who could have seen it coming? Umm...everyone?

Doesn’t this hurt the morale of the team?  Or at least make it hard to hire people for this shit?  Why did any of these people expect to get paid?  I suppose filmmakers think that villains are especially evil if they would turn on their own.  I say, the henchmen should require a background check of anyone who hires them.  Or maybe unionize to prevent these kind of abuses.  The plight of the henchman is close to me, for no good reason, and something I would like to return to at a later date.